Showing posts with label society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label society. Show all posts

30 December 2013

Food banks in the UK

Food banks are now common in the UK; many people are in difficulties because of the heavy cost of housing, ever increasing fuel bills and low income. These costs are unlikely to fall, and continuing pressure on earnings leaves many families unable to cope.

Part of the Food Bank warehouse
Part of the Food Bank warehouse
Food banks are operating in every part of the world, not just in the UK. Wherever the need exists volunteers are doing their best to help, but it's not always easy.

In Britain the Trussell Trust and FareShare UK make it relatively straightforward to start a local food charity.

Local action - The St Neots Food Bank in my own town was started by a group of churches in the summer of 2013 and began distributing food packages in October; they used the Trussell Trust model and have found the guidance, materials and expertise provided by them very helpful. The photo shows stored food being catalogued before being used to make up food packages for distribution.

The process - This is straightforward in principle, but needs dedicated time and effort by teams of volunteers.

  • The food is non-perishable (canned and dry products) and is donated by churches, schools, and individual shoppers via collection days at supermarkets.
  • Donated food is taken to the warehouse, weighed, labelled, sorted and stored in crates. Packages for distribution are made up in a range of sizes intended to last for three days.
  • Packages are taken to two distribution centres in the town.
  • Local organisations are given Food Bank Vouchers to give out when they become aware of a need. Voucher holders include schools, the Citizens Advice Bureau, doctor's surgeries and so forth.
  • People who have received a voucher take it to a distribution centre and exchange it for a food package.
This approach enables the Food Bank to focus on collecting, managing and providing food supplies without being involved in deciding who is in need. The voucher-holding agencies have the responsibility and necessary knowledge to do this.

Why are food banks needed? - It is, of course, right and good that churches and other groups are willing and able to provide this service to the community. And it's wonderful that the public and local businesses are willing to donate food and help in so many other ways. In St Neots a local furniture shop provides much of the warehouse and office space and additional storage has been given by another business.

But why is it necessary? Why, in twenty-first century Britain, is there a need (and, it has to be said, a steadily growing need) for food banks? [Tweet it!] There are a number of reasons and they have to do with the economy but also with government action (or lack of it, or too much of it). There has been some debate, but not enough appropriate action.

I'm not going to elaborate here, instead I'll point you to this recent article in The Guardian.


Questions:

  • Does it surprise you that food banks are becoming much more common in the UK?
  • How do you think government policy might be changed to reduce the need for them?
  • Do you think things will be better or worse in two years time?
  • Is there anything you can do to help address local needs?

See also:

03 March 2013

Ecotricity - greener, greener, green

Ecotricity builds wind and solar generating systems. They also supply green energy to commercial and domestic customers in the UK. Starting from small beginnings they have made a significant impact in the market and continue to grow rapidly in capacity and popularity.

Turbine blades transported by road
Ecotricity was started by Dale Vince who built a small windmill generator from reclaimed components for his own use.

Friends asked him to build similar generators and eventually he made a much larger one for a local farmer.

He then wanted to build something even larger to connect to the grid, but hit all kinds of difficulties and additional costs imposed by the larger companies and distributors.

Through persistent effort he managed to negotiate a deal and since then Ecotricity, the world's first green electricity company, has built many more large wind turbines and wind farms.

Innovation - Dale has had many interesting and innovative business ideas and has never been willing to take 'no' for an answer. He raises extra finance by issuing bonds, his company also sells wind and solar generated power to end users and offers (at slightly higher cost) a 100% renewable deal.

They have a policy of not having shareholders; instead, profits are ploughed back into building additional generating capacity. The company encourages new customers to sign up so as to use their power bills wisely, in other words to help build additional capacity. Their customer service is exceptionally good, polite and helpful.

More recently Ecotricity has also developed a green gas plant, generating methane by biodigestion of waste. Dale has built record breaking electric vehicles, both a motorcycle and a high performance car that recently set a new world land speed record for electric vehicles.

Caring for the planet - Surely we have a duty to care for the planet on which we live? Dale Vince is certainly doing his part to reduce environmental damage. If you live in the UK you could help simply by changing your electricity and/or gas supplier to Ecotricity.

In other parts of the world you may be able to help in other ways. We can all do our part by reducing our use of energy, by walking or cycling instead of driving, by flying less often, by taking the train, insulating our homes, turning down the thermostat, showering more quickly - the list is long.

But many small actions by large numbers of people add up to a significant difference.

Making the switch - You can switch to Ecotricity online (if you use this link I'll get a partner contribution from the company). If you prefer to speak to them by phone call 08000 302 302 and quote 'SCI1' and I'll still receive the contribution.

Questions:

  • Have you heard of Ecotricity before?
  • Are you doing all you can to reduce your household and business energy use?
  • Are you using green sources of energy where available?

See also:

21 October 2011

SOCIETY - Goodbye Facebook

Goodbye Facebook? Yes, I'm leaving, it was good to know you but I'm moving on. I'm tired of the constant changes. I have the feeling Facebook doesn't listen to its users as much as it should. The frantic response to Google+ was the last straw.

I won't be reading material on Facebook regularly from now on - follow me instead on Google+. You don't need to be logged in to read my public updates.

My Google+ pageI'll continue posting blog articles to my Facebook wall for the time being, but nothing else.

If you choose to sign up to G+ yourself you will be able to respond to my updates just as you have on Facebook.

I've been happily using Google+ almost from its launch in the summer. I like just more or less everything about it, especially its clean, uncluttered appearance. The only drawback is that so few of my friends are on G+ but I've decided to lead the way by closing down Facebook sooner rather than later.

So remember -  Visit Google+ to read most of my stuff even if you're not on G+ yourself.
Set up a G+ account if you want to respond to me. Or stick to good old email if you want to say something to me but don't wish to join G+.

13 October 2011

SOCIETY - Food for free?

OK, who'd like some free, good quality food? Every year in the autumn there's a plentiful supply of free fruit ready for the taking - and almost nobody wants it or even realises it's edible.

Windfall pearsWalking home this afternoon I spotted an ornamental pear on a housing estate. The grass beneath the tree was strewn with little pears, ripe but only about 5 cm long and 3 or 4 cm in diameter. They will lie there until they rot, or the birds eat them, or they're carted away with the fallen leaves by the local authority.

What a waste! I had an empty shopping bag with me so sorted through them picking out undamaged and unbruised fruit. I imagine I took about a kg of fruit altogether. Back home I gave the pears a good wash and then sliced chunks off vertically, avoiding the cores and rejecting any slices with internal browning. No need to peel them, that would be a tedious job with so many small fruit.


Washed and sliced pearsI filled a medium saucepan with the washed pieces, added some sugar, and stewed them until they were soft; they created a lovely aroma. Then I took them off the heat and pulped them with a blender. Now to taste some. Ah, they had an excellent pear flavour but were distinctly astringent. They would have made good perry, maybe the tree is a perry cultivar or just a seedling from somebody's discarded pear core.

Not to worry, I roughly chopped some dates, stirred them in, and reboiled them for a couple more minutes. I used two or three dates to each tablespoon of pear mash. Check the taste again... Lovely. (Hint: If you find problems of this kind, experiment with small quantities before changing the entire batch.)

The finished crumbleNext I put the fruit in an ovenproof dish and added a crumble topping. I used brown sugar to make the crumble as it has a nice, rich flavour. The finished crumble went into a preheated oven at 180 C, and thirty five minutes later I removed my pear and date dessert from the oven and made a jug of custard. Not exactly free food I suppose, but at least the pears were free. And far more flavour than any pears you could buy at the supermarket.

Some people are anxious about food collected in this way, particularly where wild fruits, leaves or fungi are concerned. Providing you are absolutely certain about the identity of the material there is no need to worry. But please - if you are not sure of what you have - don't eat it.

As far as pears are concerned, the shape of the fruit, its aroma, the slighty gritty flesh, the characteristic leaves, the size and habit of the tree - all these are strong clues to identity. This was a form of Pyrus communis and therefore completely safe.

15 September 2011

Moggerhanger - Millenials meeting

< 13th September 2011 | Index | 16th September 2011 >

A series of three addresses at Moggerhanger in Bedfordshire brought together Clifford Hill, Wolfgang Simson, and Peter Farmer to share their thoughts on the current state of Britain.

We gathered in the evening on 14th September for soup, a welcome and an introduction to the Moggerhanger meetings.

Introduction - On 15th we began with some introductory thoughts from Danny Stupple. The intention was a day of consultation with Jesus and a sense that we would need to come like little children in open simplicity. Some other phrases that seemed important were 'body ministry', 'running with our eyes fixed on Jesus' and 'it's not about the steps we take, it's about the ultimate destination'.

Gathering at Moggerhanger MillenialsBody ministry - With that in mind here are some things that came out of an initial time of open contribution.

1 Corinthians 14:26 (body ministry) and Psalm 98 (sing and rejoice) were mentioned.

Wolf Simson mentioned Abraham and Isaac and asked, 'What is our sacrifice? What is our Isaac?' I shared a word from  the Lord, 'I AM. That is my name just as I told Moses. It is not your place to say, "I am" - it is my place to say "I AM" - my place and mine alone. I say "I AM" and it's for you to say, "You are"'.

Then there was a tongue and an interpretation. 'Finish the work, talk about how you will finish the work'. He has a plan for the end, a finished work - but it has to be worked out in practice. The river and the trees in Revelation 22 are for the healing of the nations (see also Ezekiel 47:1-12). There will be a crumbling of the existing order, a shaking as in Hebrews 12:26.

Further thoughts included Isaiah 48:14, the redeemer, peace like a river, righteousness, the river again, and leaving Babylon.

Isaac and the knife is about our reputation.

Clifford Hill - We heard about the history of British society leading to the current disaffection and deprivation and lack of hope. This was a valuable background for the ideas that would be set out by the next two speakers.

After sharing his own story of life and work in Brixton Clifford explained that his generation had the responsibility of helping us understand the present. He covered the history of slavery in the West Indies and the harsh conditions in the north of England during the same period (tantamount to white slavery) and outlined how this affects the first, second and third generations thereafter.

During the recent Tottenham riots there was no racial tension, instead the trouble was caused by the third generation of both groups who find themselves pressed into the same mould of dysfuntional family life. When families break down, so does the nation. There's a deep need for good fathers.

The Old Testament has little about fatherhood until Isaiah 63 and 64. Clifford stressed that we're not to be building our own houses, but should focus on the Lord's house. We must recognise our sinfulness (Isaiah 64:6) and repent. And in John 15 we finally see that the Father's heart is truly our heritage.

Wolfgang Simson - Wolf noted that Britain is getting worse, every time he visits he sees deterioration. He spoke about the father of the Prodigal Son, in some ways it is not a good example of fatherhood. One son sees him as an employer, the other feels neglected. The father is like the church.

He pointed out that a crisis causes us to ask questions and only then will we be able to find answers. But we make progress by obeying the King and we desperately need to put that into practice. There's a difference between prophets (who point to the mountain) and apostles (who build a road to get there). 1 Corinthians 4 shows us the role of an apostle. Often an apostle is unrespected, comes out of nowhere and may appear foolish.

We have to go back to the first true radical - Jesus! We must repent and have the attitude, 'Your Kingdom come, my kingdom go'. We don't need a church religious system, we need the Kingdom, the domain of the Almighty's uncontested rule, our opinion is not invited.

The role of parents is to provide a phone number, a cheque book, and love. That's what the older generation is for - support; it's true in family life and it's a Kingdom truth too. Apostles and prophets set up a home.

It's time to stop merely preaching the Kingdom and to begin living it as Jesus intended. Father's initiative is to open up his house; we should do the same.

Wolfgang Simson set out for us the Kingdom perspective on the state of Britain in 2011. All is not lost, there is a roadmap out of this mess but we had better start paying attention to the King and begin doing what he says, not following our own ideas.

Peter Farmer - Right at the start, Peter shared that his wife, Marsha, is a cousin of Mark Duggan who was shot by police in Tottenham. Peter and Marsha have been working in the Meadows area of Nottingham for about eleven years and there is a clear sense of oppression amongst the people there. Peter described how the work they were doing was not accepted by traditional church leaders.

This follows the same pattern of trouble faced by people like William Booth, John Wesley, and groups like the Lollards. They brought transformation but faced severe difficulties. Paul had similar difficulties two thousand years ago.

Peter suggested there are two kinds of soil in the UK today. On the one hand there are those who grow well until difficulties come, but then they back off and the new growth withers. On the other hand others are distracted by the things of this world, things 'get in the way'. The answer to the first group is 'blessed are you when you are persecuted' and the answer to the second group is 'woe to the rich'.

Trouble and persecution are coming, the question is will we respond now or will we leave it until later? Of the prophets, Peter commented that there is no such thing as an unpersecuted prophet. Jesus himself said, 'Some you will stone and some you will kill'. They said things that stirred people up; we are not called to be comfortable.

Peter wondered how we are to train people to hear for themselves? How do we train people to read and understand the Bible for themselves? He believes the Lord will use us as spiritual mothers and fathers. We must bring the poor and the hurt into our homes. They will respond out of brokenness so it certainly won't be easy! We need to find (and follow) Kingdom principles of education, politics, and life. Projects that follow these priciples to work on the solutions will be loud and chaotic. Will we celebrate this work or persecute it?

Traditional church in the UK is prejudiced against the working class, we need to do more than give them soup and let them continue in distress. We need to release them to create and lead their own groups, not corral them into our existing ways.

The gospel needs to change people's hearts to allow a grass roots movement to develop. Will we get out of its way? Will we bless it and resource it? We'd better not criticise their methods or try to prevent them. Instead we need to let them do it their own way.

Concluding remarks - Danny pointed out that forty years ago today the Festival of Light was started. But within a year the power of the Spirit had been diverted, our vision had been that the Spirit would fall on 'Christian flesh' when truly is should have been 'all flesh'.

In Clifford Hill's view we now have a second chance. If so, we'd better take it!

< 13th September 2011 | Index | 16th September 2011 >

08 August 2011

SOCIETY - Riots in the cities

If you live in Britain you will be aware of the rioting going on in London and Birmingham right now. What are we to make of this, we know what is happening. But why is it happening? And why is it happening now?

Fireman dousing the flames
Last Wednesday a man was shot by police in Tottenham, London. He was travelling in a mini cab at the time of this incident. He died. The details of what happened are unavailable because the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating.

Bizarrely, I know the victim's cousin. This gives me an unusual perspective of the whole affair, I feel more involved personally, I can sense something of the family's pain.

Is there any link between this death and the current riots in various parts of London and in Birmingham? I think the link is extremely tenuous. As I understand it, following the shooting there was a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham. But the peaceful demonstration was overwhelmed and swept aside by other people wanting to cause trouble. Many of these people were not from the local community and had no interest in the shooting or in helping the man's family.

There is a pattern here. Similar disturbances have followed other peaceful events such as the student protests last November.

The people acting violently seem to be either angry or feel they have no future, sometimes both. They are almost entirely young, ranging from late teens to late twenties. They seem to be detached from the rest of British society. They lack empathy towards others and don't appear to care about harming people or property.

I believe most of these young people feel overlooked, discarded by a society that doesn't care about them. There are not enough jobs to go round, there is a squeeze on benefits, they have no chance to create a home or build a family or a career. They're trapped and the reaction of some is to hang out in groups with nothing useful to do and too much time on their hands.

Is it their fault? No, I don't think so.

What can be done? That depends on the rest of us. Are we prepared to spend the time and money and emotional energy to get involved? Are we willing to give up whatever is necessary to make it happen? If we just sit back and say, 'The government should deal with it', things are likely to get a good deal worse. The government will do their best, but it will be an impersonal and not very effective best.

Those of us who follow Jesus should be taking the initiative here. If you are one of his people you can begin by praying for your country with renewed vigour and asking him to reveal the practical things you could be doing in your local area.

Ask him to redeem the young people of Britain, to rescue them and give them hope and fresh opportunities.

Pray for the government, ask him to guide them and give them wisdom.

Pray for the rest of society, that they will realise the need for real change in their attitudes, words and actions towards the young and disenfranchised.

Pray for families, for fathers and mothers who care and love their children.

And pray for yourself, that you will hear and see what the Spirit is doing and saying in our day. Pray for a renewed spiritual life for yourself and others in the church, for a deep recognition that turning up on a Sunday morning and 'being a good person' is nowhere near enough.

And if you don't believe Jesus is the answer to Britain's dissolving society may I suggest you get to know him a little better. Begin by buying a good, modern version of the Bible and take a look at the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts. Ask yourself if the Jesus portrayed there and his followers portrayed there might make a difference in Britain in 2011. Could you use some of those ideas? And while you're digesting those books, consider how you might help the hurting people all around you. Begin with your next door neighbours and also with the kids that hang out around your area. Are there things you could involve them in that are constructive and fun and will meet some real needs?

Think hard and if you believe pray hard. Then act. If significant numbers of us don't do this things could get a lot worse - and nobody wants that.

(Related post, 'SOCIETY - The London Protests')

06 August 2011

SOCIETY: Between a rock and a hard place

The USA's credit rating has dropped from AAA to AA+ and people are upset. Like most economies, our friends in the USA are between a rock and a hard place. Most nations have over-borrowed, financing current expenditure by selling government bonds and securities.

Euro notes and coinsThe only ways out are to cut spending or increase taxation (or some combination of the two). Neither is palatable.

So what will happen next? Nobody knows! The BBC's Mark Mardell writes on the political aspects and Robert Peston covers the financial situation.

Here are some extracts that strike me as particularly interesting.

From Mark Mardell
  • The decision by Standard & Poor's ... puts the USA below the UK, Germany, France, Singapore, Finland and 14 other countries.
  • All America has been saying: Washington doesn't work.
  • America's debt will continue to balloon and [S&P] have little hope of the politicians fixing it.
  • They single out Republicans for ruling out tax rises.
  • Americans are likely to bemoan the failure of politicians to bridge an apparently unbridgeable gap between two different world views. They may put their faith in Washington politicians, in an outburst of patriotism and goodwill, stumbling on a synthesis that suits all sides. But I wonder whether any of them will muse that the system itself may not be fit for purpose.
From Robert Peston
  • Almost everything in the world - loans, goods, services - is priced in or priced off the dollar ... the dollar has a status in the financial system once occupied by gold.
  • Whenever investors believe that the world is becoming a riskier place, their instinct is to buy US Treasury Bonds, to lend to the US government.
  • When the price of US government debt rises and the yield on that debt falls, that typically means investors believe prospects for the global economy have deteriorated.
  • Last week ... global share prices fell on the back of concerns that the eurozone isn't gripping the problem of investors declining confidence in the ability of Spain and Italy to repay their debts.
  • The US losing its AAA rating ... is a very loud statement that there has been an appreciable increase in the risk ... that the US might one day struggle to pay back all it owes.
  • The fiscal and economic challenges are conspicuous: a substantial and intractable gap between public spending and tax revenues in the US at a time of anaemic economic growth.
  • Chinese news agency Xinhua said: "China, the largest creditor of the world's sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets."
  • Probably the only thing to be said with any confidence is that the downgrade could hardly have come at a worse time, in that conditions in global markets are febrile.
In other words the world is at an economic crossroads and we have no idea where we will find ourselves in the future - but none of the options look very promising.

Meanwhile Europe and the USA are both struggling with debt issues while China, the major creditor, is anxious about losing its savings.

The future doesn't look good, does it. Things could easily get much worse.

20 January 2011

RESPONSE - Making Links

Someone is disappointed and upset, the local paper gets hold of the story, and before you know it the front pages of the national newspapers have jumped onto what is becoming a rapidly growing bandwagon. What am I referring to? The developing furore over a small group of women called 'Making Links'.

Local news articleI'll say straight away that I am not a member of and do not represent 'Making Links', St Neots Town Council, or the Open Door Church.

It's easy to understand how frustrating it is to be told that a particular organisation is not for you. And it would be very helpful for the people involved to be able to talk about the issues in a friendly way over a nice cup of coffee. But the heat and anger now being expressed in print using heavily loaded words like 'banned' and 'racist' is making gentle dialogue almost impossible. It may sell more newspapers, but it doesn't help anyone understand the situation. And it's a great way of polarising opinion, stoking up anger, and setting people against one another.

I'm disappointed that some news organisations should promote dissension over understanding. Selling extra copies of a paper is held to be more important than fostering cooperation and harmony. Using loaded words trumps explaining the facts.

What are the facts? Despite the angry headlines we don't really know! The reports tell us that two British mums were turned away from a group created to help foreign women. It seems the group is funded by a government department, the local authority, a local church, and several businesses. There's a little more detail, some comments from the mums involved, from the group's administrator, and from someone at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It's not much to go on.

As a result of the news coverage the local MP and some of the funding bodies have already expressed opinions and are considering closing the group down (again, according to press reports).

Meanwhile it must be very difficult for 'Making Links'. What are they to do? The money was granted for them to help foreign women, they would certainly have been criticised for spending it on local residents who are not from overseas! It might be helpful to have a few British mums involved, but where would they stop and how would they decide who to accept and who to turn away?

There are no easy answers. But talk of closing the group without knowing more is surely over reacting and premature. What is needed first (and soon) is for the group organisers, the funding bodies, the local MP, and the offended mums to sit down together over that cup of coffee and find out what happened, why it happened, and what might have been done better.

But hey, don't pay too much attention to the strong, divisive, angry words in those newspapers. (This Google search will provide links to the story as it develops.)

As a non-involved resident of St Neots and a follower of Jesus I am praying about this situation. I am asking for cool heads, for hearts filled with love and grace, and for wise decisions based on information about what happened. I'm confident that this will happen.

Father, please bless the two mums who were turned away, their children, the foreign women in the group, the organisers and volunteers who run 'Making Links', and the people who fund the group.

13 December 2010

SOCIETY - The London protests

The recent riots in London are troubling. Things like this don't often happen in the UK, we think of violence on the streets as something that happens far away. We pride ourselves on the fact that British police don't need to carry handguns. So what went wrong?

Riots in LondonThe Big Picture has some clear images of the trouble. Both protesters and police suffered some injuries and there will be inquiries to clarify how these happened.

The cause of the rioting is widely supposed to be student unrest concerning a recent House of Commons vote agreeing to increases in university tuition fees. But more than 99.9% of students were not present at the rallies in London and the great majority of those that were marched and protested peacefully.

It seems certain that small, organised groups joined the student marches with the express purpose of stirring up violence. It reminds me of the violent clashes at football matches, political demonstrations, industrial disputes and more.

There is no excuse for violence. It's not a valid way to express a point of view. It contradicts the teachings of all the world's major religions, the moral convictions of most agnostics and atheists, as well as the laws of most of the world's national governments and the views of international organisations. By definition, violence is intended to harm people. And the overwhelming majority of people are opposed to it.

The difficulty we face is what to do about it. We can hardly just let the law be flouted, but meeting force with force is a last resort and is likely to lead to greater violence, at least in the short term.

As someone who wishes to follow Jesus I can only listen to what he says and do what he does. He tells me to love my enemies. He rebuked Peter for trying to protect him with a sword. He is the Prince of Peace. He came to heal and mend. He offers wholeness in place of injury and life in place of death.

Perhaps we need to begin in the places where we live. Just imagine if for every theft or burglary, and for every act of violence, a hundred people came forward to offer help, to restore broken or lost property, to act as counsellors for grieving relatives and support for the injured. Suppose we offered to help the injured policeman and the injured rioter without making judgements or distinctions. Offering help doesn't imply approval or disapproval, it's just help where help is needed, help to innocent and guilty alike.

(Related post, 'SOCIETY - Riots in the Cities')

10 May 2010

Biology and the economy

Humanity has become nothing less than a plague on the earth. The Bible calls us to be stewards of this planet, A crowd scene in Hong Kongbut instead we are well on the way to wrecking it.

A BBC News item today reports that loss of habitat and species will soon begin to have a major impact on the world economy. There is so far little evidence that governments have grasped the size of the problems or their urgency, perhaps we are paralysed like a child who has thrown a ball and broken a window. Denial is easier than taking responsibility, owning up, and attempting to make amends. This is in addition to anthropogenic climate change and other issues (pollution, overuse of water resources, dwindling mineral stocks etc).

What we face is little short of catastrophe, but we are doing so little about it. We talk about more efficient agriculture, power generation from wind, sunshine, tides, and waves, recycling of waste, but we don't yet realise that we are merely tinkering. The greatest problem is rarely discussed because it is so difficult - there are simply far too many of us sharing the surface of our small planet.

One good sign is that greater affluence is resulting in falling birthrates in the developed world. In Europe, North America, Australasia, and the developed parts of Asia, birth rates are close to or even below replacement levels. But the less developed areas of Asia and Africa and to a lesser degreee South America still have burgeoning populations.

We must do what we can to reduce the world's population. If we do not - and quickly - the world will do the job for us through steadily increasing starvation and disease. This is likely to be widespread through the developed world as well as less privileged regions.

05 March 2010

Climate change - An update

There is really no room for doubt that we are affecting the world's climate in a wide variety of harmful ways. BBC news item on the Met Offfice reportA new report from the Met Office finds the evidence has stacked up even more strongly since the IPCC report in 2007. Read the BBC's news item on the Met Office report.

There's more Met Office information on their climate change page. Well worth a look if you want to know more.

(This update is intended to add new information to my earrlier blog 'Climate change - Truth or deception?')

01 March 2010

Climate change - Truth or deception?

Most scientists are agreed, we have a serious problem on our hands. A typical glacierPossibly less severe than we fear but just as possibly more severe than we fear. Meanwhile there are plenty of sceptics who claim the data has been fixed or incorrectly analysed.

It's no good speculating and it's no good just crossing our fingers. We need to know whether the science is sound or not. It makes a difference. Do we need to stop releasing CO2 and methane or can we safely continue as we've been going?

Whichever side of the debate you are on, I strongly urge you to take a good look at Dan Satterfield's latest blog post. He has no doubt which side he is on. I agree with him and I really want to encourage everyone to read his post and its two main references and draw their own conclusions. This is one of the best posts on this topic that I have seen.

24 February 2010

USA thinks open source is piracy!

Now here is a very strange thing. It seems that the USA considers Canada to be guilty of a sort of intellectual property theft, Free Software Foundation emblemor if not exactly theft then at least some sort of underhanded anti-competitive practice.

The argument seems to be that if I write a piece of useful software and decide to give it away instead of selling it, I somehow undermine free enterprise. So things like Linux, Wikipedia, Media Monkey, the Gimp, Microsoft Bing, Google Maps, and thousands of other items used daily by millions of people are undermining free enterprise.

No. I must have misunderstood. Surely?

Well, take a look for yourself.
What is going on here? I mean - really? It will all be sorted out quite quickly once the Office of the United States Trade Representative thinks it through more carefully, right?

I thought the USA stood on the side of freedom. So if I write some software, or a book, I can give it away if I choose to do so. And if I want to use free software written by someone else I may do that too. How would that 'undermine intellectual property rights'?

I must have missed something...

Has the GNU project missed it too? Is Linux in the wrong? And Ubuntu? What about Open Office? Scribd? Wikipedia?

Has anyone told the Free Software Foundation?

29 December 2009

Movements - Long term success

There have been many movements in the world's long history. Political movements - philosophical, art, and literature movements - scientific and technological movements - and not least, religious movements. Romulus Augustus, the last Roman Emperor in the WestAlmost all of these have failed after a few decades or centuries, many are forgotten, consigned at best to dusty tomes on library shelves.

Every organisation created by human ingenuity and effort has a lifespan and runs its course. Consider Communism, the idea that the Earth is flat, the Roman Empire, ancient Greek culture in what is now Turkey, the Gaulish language once spoken in Europe, the British Empire, Woolworths, or Real Tennis. All gone!

Some of these movements depended on repression, terrorism, crushing military might, or technological superiority for their spread and survival. Communism, Islam, and the Roman Empire are movements of this kind. Others have depended on ideas or beliefs that have been accepted freely, and paramount among these is the church. The first disciples followed Jesus by choice; he called them and they decided freely to follow him. And although the church sometimes depended wrongly on abuse of military or political power (as with the Crusades or the Inquisition) these were temporary and clearly contradicted Jesus' teachings about love.

Even within the church there have been monastic, doctrinal, denominational, and revival movements to mention just a few. Again, most of these have failed sooner or later. Consider some of the great Catholic and Anglican monastic orders. Most of these still exist, but as mere shadows of their former selves.

So what distinguishes successful and failed movements? It seems to me that coercion sooner or later fails, and fails absolutely. But the teachings of Jesus remain as powerful today as they were 2000 years ago. They are still seized upon eagerly by those who understand that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He was, is and will always be a success in the hearts of ordinary people because of his love and compassion. Alone among the originators of the world's religions, Jesus is an entirely attractive character who harmed no-one and called his followers to do the same. And his movement is alive and well today.

Where it has been complicated by methods and organisations it has failed again and again. But always the ideas and teachings of Jesus have moved on, leaving the methods and organisations behind and growing again in fresh pastures.

So let's be very careful to avoid any kind of worldly power, control, or system of management. And let's get right back to the roots of our faith - loving the Almighty with everything we have and everything we are, loving one another and our neighbours with the love we apply to ourselves, and yes - even loving our enemies. Those are the hallmarks of a movement that will know no failure or premature end!

Jesus alone is the one who leads us, our role is always to follow. He speaks clearly to his people, individually, day by day, guiding and encouraging. We must die to self in order to truly live. In poverty we are rich, the humble are lifted up, the powerful are brought low, it's an upside down Kingdom. But it works! And it lasts!

But all human ingenuity, system, power, and organisation will eventually fail - within the church and outside it. For only the Almighty can prevail, and he is love.

04 November 2009

Weird and wonderful maps

I love maps and plans. I always have. Most likely I always will. They encapsulate a place, a landscape, an idea, a society, politics, history, The World at nightwhatever may be of interest to whoever created the map.

Maps convey so much in convenient, overview form. I can pore over a good map for hours and hours.

So imagine my delight at discovering 'Strange Maps', a blog that's updated every day or three with yet another wacky map. Some of these are awesome, most are amusing or intriguing, all are fun providing they're not taken too seriously.

Take a few minutes to view a few of the posts, you won't be disappointed. Here are some that I particularly recommend for the cartophiles amongst my readers.

17 October 2009

We don't need no more trouble

I'm reposting this You Tube video which I first saw on Kent Burgess's Faithfully Dangerous blog.Bougainvillea in Jerusalem

It's a lovely, laid-back piece of music from 'Playing for Change' with artists from all over the globe. It has a gentle but insistent theme. Everywhere is war. Some dying, some crying. We don't need no more trouble. What we need is love. Beautiful!

While we're on the subject of peace, for some extraordinary stories of reconciliation at work, read Julia Fisher's book 'Israel: the Mystery of Peace'.

And finally, back to the music. If you haven't already heard it, here it is...

30 August 2009

The electric car - but better?

Shai Agassi through his company, Better Place, has developed a system for building and operating electric vehicles - and it might just work. He claims that the car would cost less to buy and be more convenient to use than a Shai Agassi speakingnormal petrol powered car. And the cost per mile would be similar to current fuel costs.

Shai has thought this through in great detail and has persuaded companies (Renault and Nissan) and governments (Israel, Denmark, Australia for example) to make a start on building the necessary infrastructure and the new vehicles. He is a visionary but he also has business acumen, drive, enthusiasm, and good persuasive speaking ability.

Very, very interesting, and well worth watching the video. You will have to watch the sponsor video first (amusingly enough it's for an oil company) but then you can choose individual segments for yourself.

20 June 2009

A turning point for Iran

Today is a turning point for Iran.

Either there will be a change of direction as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backs down and is, perhaps, replaced by the Assembly of Experts; Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameneior more likely he will continue along the path he's chosen and will try to stifle the opposition and return to some semblance of the repressed normality that has been Iran for so many years.

If he does continue to threaten violence and pretends to pin the blame on the opposition, there could be a rapid growth of upheaval and things would then become extremely unpredictable.

So, if there is violence, who will really be responsible for it? When a member of the Basij points a gun at unarmed people in a crowd and fires indiscriminately, fear has become cowardice and the responsibility for injury or death lies with the one who fired the weapon. To say that peaceful disobedience to the Supreme Leader shifts the blame for violence onto the crowd or onto Mr Mousavi is a strange argument. Surely it is an argument rooted in fear and desperation!

If you strike me or shoot me or burn my house it's my fault, not yours? I don't think so! Responsibility lies with the one who pulls the trigger and with those who give the orders to do so or try to justify such an act in advance.

Ali Khamenei is no more a Supreme Leader than I am! The very title is an affront to the Most High in heaven for he alone is Supreme Leader over Iran, the entire world, and indeed the Universe. It does not befit men or women to act as leader because there is One who has true authority. The Koran instructs its readers to also read the Injil (the gospel), and there every seeker of truth will find Isa (Jesus) who said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life'. He is King, he is the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

No mortal man or woman has a heart great enough, a mind wise enough, a spirit true enough, or an ego humble enough to be a Supreme Leader. No, not one! And we also know that every single one of us has sinned. Let no one stand against the Most High, for he alone has the true authority and power over the lives of men. He will have his way, better not to stand in his path for he will sweep aside everyone who opposes him.

What did Isa say about the law? He said that to love the Most High and to love the people around us (even if they are our enemies) is the fulfillment of the entire law. How can anyone do harm to those they love?

To the reader I say, 'Pray for the people of Iran, for Khamenei, for Mousavi, for Karroubi, for Khatami. Pray for peace, pray for wisdom, pray for the Almighty's will to be done. Pray for those who may decide to go out on the streets today, for the police, the army, the Basij. Pray that they will all hear and obey the voice of their Maker.'

This is a turning point for Iran, a turning forward or a turning back. It could be a disaster or it could be a wellspring of hope. Time will tell.

Speaks for itself...

A video from Iran - poetic, moving, heart rending, quiet, powerful...

16 June 2009

Eyewitness report from Tehran

This is an eyewitness account of the events in Tehran on 15th June 2009. It was posted on Facebook, Street protest in Tehranwhere you can read the original version.

In case you can't see the Facebook copy, here it is in full...


I left my home in Tajrish along with my family at 3 p.m. We went down Valiast Street which is the main northern-southern avenue in Tehran and entered the Evin Exp'way which leads to Enghelab Street. We knew that people are supposed to gather in Enghelab Sq. (Revolution Sq.) at 4 and march toward Azadi Sq. (Freedom Sq.). From Gisha Bridge onwards, we saw people walking down. Cars were blowing their horns and people were showing victory sign. We went to Navvab Street and parked our car at the end of the street. Then we took a taxi to bring us back to the Enghelab Street. On our way, near Jomhouri Sq. (Republic Sq.), I saw a group of about 20 militia with long beards and batons on motorbikes. My hand was out of the car window with a little green ribbon (the sign of reformists) around my finger. One of the militia told me to throw that ribbon away. I showed him a finger. All of a sudden, about 15 people attacked me inside the car. They beat me with their batons and wanted to pull me out. My wife and my daughter who were sitting in the back seat cried and hold me tight. I also hold myself tight on the chair. They wanted to shatter the car windows. The driver went out and explained that he is a taxi and we are his passengers and he has no fault. After about 5 minutes,they left. My elbow hurts severely. Then, a young man from their group came and kissed my elbow! I told him: You know, I don't hate you. I am like you with the only difference that I know more and you are ignorant. He apologized and left.

We joined the crowd in Enghelab Street.

Read carefully:

What I saw today was the most elegant scene I had ever witnessed in my life. The huge number of people were marching hand in hand in full peace. Silence. Silence was everywhere. There was no slogan. No violence. Hands were up in victory sign with green ribbons. People carried placards which read: Silence. Old and young, man and woman of all social groups were marching cheerfully. This was a magnificent show of solidarity. Enghelab Street which is the widest avenue in Tehran was full of people.

I was told that the march has begun in Ferdowsi Sq. and the end of the march was now in Imam Hossein Sq. to the further east of Tehran while on the other end people had already gathered in Azadi Sq. The length of this street is about 6 kilometers. The estimate is about 2 million people. On the way, we passed a police department and a militia (Baseej) base. In both places, the doors were closed and we could see fully-armed riot police and militia watching the people from behind the fences. Near Sharif University of Technology where the students had chased away Ahmadinejad a few days ago, Mirhossein Mousavi (the reformist elect president) and Karrubi (the other reformist candidate spoke to people for a few minutes which was received by cries of praise and applause. I felt proud to find myself among such a huge number of passionate people who were showing the most reasonable act of protest. Frankly, I didn't expect such a political maturity from emotional Iranians who easily get excited. My family and I had put stickers on our mouths to represent the suppression. Placards that people carried were different; from poems by the national poet Ahmad Shamlu to light-hearted slogans against Ahmadinejad. Examples include: " To slaughter us/ why did you need to invite us / to such an elegant party" (Poem by Shamlu). " Hello! Hello! 999? / Our votes were stolen" or " The Miracle of the Third Millenium: 2 x 2 = 24 millions" (alluding to the claim by Government that Ahmadinejad obtained 24 million votes) , "Where is my vote?" , " Give me back my vote" and many other.

We arrived in Azadi Square where the entire square was full of population. It is said that around 500,000 people can be accommodated in this huge square and it was full. Suddenly we saw smoke from Jenah Freeway and heard the gunshot. People were scared at first but then went forward. I just heard the gunshots but my sister who had been on the scene at that part told me later that she saw 4 militia came out from a house and shot a girl. Then they shot a young boy in his eye and the bullet came out of his ear. She said that 4 people were shot. At least one person dead has been confirmed. People arrested one of the Baseeji militia but the three others ran away when they ran out of bullet. At around 8 we went back on foot. On the way back people were still in the street and were chanting Allah Akbar (God is Great).

I was coming home at around 2 a.m. In parkway, I saw about ten buses full of armed riot police parked on the side of the street. Then I saw scattered militia in civil clothes with clubs in hand patroling the empty streets. In Tajrish Square, I saw a very young boy (around 16) with a club who was looking at the cars to see if he can find something to attack. I don't know how and under what teachings can young boys change into militia.

I came home. Tomorrow, people will gather again in Valiasr Square for another peaceful march toward the IRIB building which controls all the media and which spreads filthy lies. The day before Yesterday, Ahmadinejad had hold his victory ceremony. Government buses had transported all his supporters from nearby cities. There was full coverage of that ceremony where fruit juice and cake was plenty. A maximum of 100,000 had gathered to hear his speech. These included all the militia and the soldiers and all supporters he could gather by the use of free TV publicity. Today, at least 2 million came only relying on word of mouth while reformists have no newspaper, no radio, no TV. All their internet sites are filtered as well as social networks such as facebook. Text messaging and mobile communication was also cut off during the demonstration. Since yesterday, the Iranian TV was announcing that there is no license for any gathering and riot police will severely punish anybody who may demonstrates. Ahmadinejad called the opposition as a bunch of insignificant dirt who try to make the taste of victory bitter to the nation. He also called the western leaders as a bunch of "filthy homosexuals". All these disgusting remarks was today answered by that largest demonstration ever. Older people compared the demonstration of today with the Ashura Demonstration of 1979 which marks the downfall of the Shah regime and even said that it outnumbered that event.

The militia burnt a house themselves to find the excuse to commit violence. People neutralized their tactic to a large degree by their solidarity, their wisdom and their denial to enage in any violent act.

I feel sad for the loss of those young girls and boys. It is said that they also killed 3 students last night in their attack at Tehran University residence halls. I heard that a number of professors of Sharif University and AmirKabir University (Tehran Polytechnic) have resigned.

Democracy is a long way ahead. I may not be alive to see that day. With eyes full of tear in these early hours of Tuesday 16th June 2009, I glorify the courage and bravery of those martyrs and I hope that their blood will make every one of us more committed to freedom, to democracy and to human rights.

Viva Freedom, Viva Democracy, Viva Iran

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