Hiatus

I want to apologise to both of my readers for not posting much recently. I’ve been rather distracted by other activities which I won’t discuss here. Nothing serious, I’m just busy and don’t really have time to post here. I’ve also not even been reading much of the Guardian recently, which is unusual for me. I’m not sure when I will get back to posting more regularly. I may just need to get sufficiently riled up about something relevant to get me going again. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Niall Ferguson and John Maynard Keynes

Niall Ferguson has been heavily, and quite rightly, criticised for suggesting that John Maynard Keynes’s economic ideas were influenced by his homosexuality and by his lack of children. The idea was that by not having children he was less concerned about the long-term impact of his economic ideas. Niall Ferguson’s claim is, in my opinion, highly offensive and entirely baseless. Niall Ferguson has now, however, produced an unqualified apology. As far as apologies go, this is pretty textbook. No excuses, no attempts to suggest that we needed to understand the context, simply an unreserved apology and an acknowledgement that he was wrong.

Okay, but this doesn’t erase what he has said and even if one can accept the apology, I don’t see how one cannot still conclude that, ultimately, Niall Ferguson is homophobic and that one should be careful about how seriously to take any future comments that he makes.

This reminded me, for some reason, of something I heard on the radio yesterday. The comment on the radio was that the Tory party would have to convince voters that they weren’t privileged and that they weren’t out-pf-touch with regards the realities of life in the UK. The first thing I thought when I heard this was that surely the only way they could do this was by lying. It’s fairly clear that a majority of leading Tories are extremely privileged and have lifestyles very different to the lifestyles lead by most in the UK.

The Tories could try to convince voters that despite this they can still govern in a way that would be acceptable to most and that their policies will be aimed at making the country better for all, rather than simply for those who are privilege like themselves. This is very different to convincing voters that they aren’t privilege and out-of-touch, but at least it would seem to be honest.

I guess, what struck me was that we now live in a world where people feel that they have to say what they think others want to hear. In a sense, I would rather that people were more honest. That’s not to say that I want to have high-profile people who are homophobic or government leaders who are openly dismissive of people who are not as privileged as they are. What I would like is to know what people really believe so that we can make informed decisions about who should be “allowed” to have a high-profile role in society. The media can choose not to give a platform to those who are openly homophobic (for example) and we can choose not to elect those who, deep down, don’t really wish to run the country in a manner that would be optimal for the majority. I know this is naive and simplistic, but I guess – to be honest – that’s probably what I am.

Richie Havens

I have just discovered that Richie Havens has died at the age of 72. He was famous for being the opening performer at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. I was aware of this, but didn’t really follow much of his later career. I have, however, seen his Woodstock performance and found it incredibly powerful. I thought I would post it below in case some have never seen it.

Thatcher’s funeral

So, Margaret Thatcher’s funeral is tomorrow and although I object strongly to the changes that Margaret Thatcher oversaw while Prime Minister, I can’t bring myself to celebrate the death of an old lady. I don’t, however, particularly object to others doing so. I agree with something I heard on the radio which was that we should, ideally, be making a distinction between protesting against Thatcherism and celebrating the death of an old lady. What I do disagree with is the decision to give Margaret Thatcher a Ceremonial Funeral with Full Military Honours which, as far as I can tell, is essentially a State Funeral in all but name. Amazingly, I agree with Peter Oborne in the Telegraph who writes that This is a State Funeral, and that’s a Mistake.

Essentially the UK is a parliamentary democracy with a Head-of-State (the Queen) and a Prime Minister who is an elected Member of Parliament who also happens to be leader of the dominant party in parliament. This then allows this person to form a government and to run the country. Simply being Prime Minister should not guarantee a state funeral (I appreciate that Margaret Thatcher’s isn’t, technically, but let’s accept that it essentially is). We do not need to respect this individual or hold them in high esteem. They are simply a politician who is also the leader of a party that essentially won an election. State funerals should be for heads of state and others who are genuinely held in high esteem by a significant majority of the population (or at least that’s who I think they should be for).

According to what I can find on Wikipedia, there have only been 12 non-royal state funerals since 1586 and this would be the first non-Royal Ceremonial Funeral since 1953. Those getting state funerals in the past does include some Prime Ministers, Churchill being the last to get a state funeral when he died in 1965. I don’t think it is fundamentally wrong to give a state funeral to someone who has been Prime Minister, but it should be the exception rather than the rule. So, what makes Margaret Thatcher’s premiership exceptional. She was the first woman Prime Minister, but I suspect that many would argue that she did little to promote the equality of woman in the workplace. I certainly feel that she was an exceptionally strong and motivated person who succeeded despite the obstacles that she faced, rather than someone who paved the way for others in the future. She led the country during the Falklands war, so maybe that’s enough but I’m not really convinced.

Essentially I think that a state funeral should be to honour and pay respects to someone who was generally regarded positively and regarded as having been, in some sense, exceptional. It shouldn’t be simply because they were the first female Prime Minister, or because they happened to be Prime Minister during a war, and certainly not because some core of the dominant party in Westminster happens to revere them. This feels more like we’re being told “you will pay your last respects whether you like it or not”, rather than something that genuinely reflects the feelings of a majority of the population. Maybe history will look kindly on Margaret Thatcher and those who strongly oppose what she did while in power, will be judged to have been wrong. Maybe she will be regarded, in the future, as one of the best Prime Ministers. That, to me, isn’t really the point. It is clear that the country, today, is heavily divided regarding Margaret Thatcher’s legacy and to decide to give her a state funeral despite this seems unfortunate. It seems as though the Tory party hardliners are quite happy to thumb their noses at all of those who feel that they have suffered due to the policies introduced by Thatcher. I had always assumed that despite different views on how best to run a country, most in government would like to do things that bring us together, rather than divide us further. It seems to me that deciding on a state funeral for Margaret Thatcher is a funny way of doing this.

I also think it makes it much harder to criticise those who protest at the funeral. If there had been a private funeral for family and friends to pay their last respects, I would regard protests as unacceptable. We should allow a private individual to be laid to rest in peace. Given that this is essentially a state funeral paid for with taxpayers money, I see no reason why protests aren’t entirely valid. Part of me hopes that the government doesn’t live to regret this decision, but another part hopes that this is a turning point where people start to recognise the true motives of those in power and start to do something about it.

Waxwings

Waxwing1_2013

Had a reasonably rare visitor to my garden yesterday evening. I’ve seen them in the UK once before. At that stage I lived in a semi-detached house in a small complex. I noticed a number of people in the driveway of the complex with tripods, cameras and binoculaurs. They’d somehow discovered that these birds were in the area and rushed over to have a look. This didn’t happen yesterday, but I do believe that it is quite unusual to see waxwings in the UK.

Pebbles on a beach

Pebbles

I’ve been away for a week or so and haven’t had a chance to post anything. Also, there hasn’t really been anything that I wanted to post. I’ve been getting back into photography, so – to keep things ticking over – I thought I would post one of my recent photographs (although this may actually be one taken by my wife – I can’t quite remember – but I like it either way).

Classical music

I’m not particularly familiar with classical music. As you can probably tell if you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I’m more familiar with the music of the 80s than with classical music. Last weekend, however, I went to a performance by a local chamber orchestra and it was absolutely fantastic. Without knowing much about the music I found it incredibly emotional. Sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes a little tense. Maybe I was just in a strange mood, but I don’t think so. I was just responding to the music being played. The orchestra was (I think) a particularly good one and so I was also enjoying the precision with which they were playing. I know that all music can evoke emotions but I did find this particularly beautiful. I don’t know if I’ll suddenly start listening to classical music on a regular basis, but I’ll certainly go to another concert in the not too distant future.

I’ve posted below one of the pieces that I found particularly moving. I have heard it before, but couldn’t have named it until hearing it in the concert last weekend.