Tag Archives: God

Today I reveal THE MEANING OF LIFE and I don’t mean the Monty Python one

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

God, depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

I have never taken recreational drugs. The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

They were not available to me when I might have taken them.

By the time they were available, I had seen and read too much about people damaged by them.

But, when I was in my late teens, I remember there was a day when – for maybe ten minutes – maybe five minutes – I felt I could feel my position within the air around me, could feel my physical position in 3D or 4D within the room I was in… and that room’s physical existence within the house, within the street on the surface of the earth and that I was standing on the surface of a planet floating and rotating in space and its place within the solar system and the universe. I could mentally comprehend and feel my relationship within all those inter-related elements.

And I also simultaneously felt I comprehended my position in time – how time only exists as a ‘moment’ that, in a sense, does not exist because, as soon as it happens it is over and it becomes an infinity of time stretching backwards while the next not-yet-existing moment is part of an infinity of time stretching forward and, as you can narrow the existence of the exact moment of ‘nowness’ more and more and more down to the non-existent point of infinity, time exists as an over-all concept but the exact moment of ‘now’ never exists. I felt how, at the instant I felt this I could understand where I was in infinity with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and a woman scratching her nose in 1171 and an insect crawling on the sand in 5,000 BC and something that had not yet happened in the year 2373.

In the 1960s or 1970s I was told a probably apocryphal story about the rock guitarist Eric Clapton. Those of advanced years will remember common graffiti around that time proclaiming:

CLAPTON IS GOD!

The story was that Eric Clapton had taken LSD and seen God who told him the Meaning of Life, but he (Clapton, not God) then forgot the details.

The next time Eric went on an acid trip, he had a pen and paper by him. This time, he wrote down what God told him.

When he came down from the trip, Eric looked at the piece of paper. On it were the words:

“THE SMELL OF METHYLATED SPIRITS PERMEATES THE AIR”

That, as told by God to Eric Clapton, was the Meaning of Life.

The reason I think this 1960s story might be apocryphal is that there are other versions of it.

In his 1945 book A History of Western Philosophy, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (very trendy in the 1960s) wrote:

William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was

“A SMELL OF PETROLEUM PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

Before that, on June 29, 1870, the American physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered an address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University. An extended excerpt from the lecture was published in 1879. He said:

I once inhaled a pretty full dose of ether, with the determination to put on record, at the earliest moment of regaining consciousness, the thought I should find uppermost in my mind. 

The mighty music of the triumphal march into nothingness reverberated through my brain, and filled me with a sense of infinite possibilities, which made me an archangel for the moment. The veil of eternity was lifted. The one great truth which underlies all human experience, and is the key to all the mysteries that philosophy has sought in vain to solve, flashed upon me in a sudden revelation. 

Henceforth all was clear: a few words had lifted my intelligence to the level of the knowledge of the cherubim. As my natural condition returned, I remembered my resolution; and, staggering to my desk, I wrote, in ill-shaped, straggling characters, the all-embracing truth still glimmering in my consciousness. The words were these: 

“A STRONG SMELL OF TURPENTINE PREVAILS THROUGHOUT”

The other day, I was talking to someone about LSD.

He told me that, years ago, a girl he knew took LSD and, after the trip, she told her friends (who had also been tripping) that she had, during the trip, understood the nature of existence, the Meaning of Life and all the rest. But she could not remember what it was.

So they decided that, next time they went on an acid trip together, she would write down what she saw and felt. The next time they tripped out, there was a pen and a piece of paper. And, sure enough, again, she saw and understood the purpose and meaning of life.

She wrote it down.

When they came down from the trip, to keep it safe, they put the piece of paper in an envelope which they pinned to the ceiling for safety. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, of course, they forgot the envelope was there. They had been tripping.

A few hours or a few days later, someone spotted the envelope pinned to the ceiling and they remembered that the Meaning of Life was in the envelope.

They took the envelope off the ceiling and opened it.

The piece of paper said:

“IF YOU STAND ON THE CEILING, YOU CAN SEE THE FLOOR”

So there you are.

Life may mostly be methylated spirits, petroleum and turpentine but that could depend on your viewpoint.

And I would argue that taking LSD might be a confusing factor in thinking clearly.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Philosophy, Religion

The British comedian who battled anorexia and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act – and what God said

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

“Someone recently told me,” I said to comedian/actress Juliette Burton yesterday, “about a 26-year-old female comedian who was turned down by two major agents because she was too old. They wanted younger, inexperienced comedians who could be moulded by them. My reaction was: What does an 18 year-old know about except homework and things they’ve read in books?

“Most comedians I’ve met,” agreed Juliette, “need to have experienced the extremities of the experiences of life to have a slightly different take on things. I think anyone who’s been through some darkness in their lives… the only way you can come out the other side is to find comedy in some way. You have to have darkness to appreciate the light.

“For me, at the really dark times in my life, I discovered Monty Python and other things like The Muppets and Richard Curtis’ The Vicar of Dibley.”

On Saturday, I saw a preview of Juliette’s happy, life-enhancing Edinburgh Fringe show When I Grow Up in Stowmarket, Suffolk. Tonight, she performs the first of three previews at the Brighton Fringe.

Yesterday, I chatted to her as she passed through London on her way to Brighton.

“So you were sectioned under the Mental Health Act,” I said.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’d been in and out of clinics most of my teenage years. The first time I was sent to a clinic, I went in voluntarily… but, when I say voluntarily, it was because my parents wanted me to and I was very young. I was fifteen – my GCSE year. And then the next time I went into a clinic I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which was involuntary. They turned up in an ambulance and took me away.”

“I went into a mental home when I had just newly turned eighteen,” I told Juliette. “They seemed to think it was a bad idea that I had tried to commit suicide. So going into a mental home was suggested as a good idea. I had taken an overdose, which was a silly idea because I had always been very bad at chemistry in school… What did they say was wrong with you?”

“They said I was a month away from dying,” Juliette told me. “It was anorexia… To be sectioned, you have to have five people who agree you are ‘a danger unto yourself or others’. And I was a danger unto myself.”

“I’ve seen your show,” I said. “You’re a danger unto others.”

“In a positive way,” Juliette laughed, “ I hope I’m dangerously fun now!… But my mother had to agree to me being sectioned. Definitely my doctor and then some other medical people and people close to me. Then, after a couple of weeks in that clinic, I had a psychotic episode.”

“What’s a psychotic episode?” I asked.

“I’m sure you know,” said Juliette. “but it’s kind of similar to schizophrenia and it can vary for different people. For me, it wasn’t brought about by drugs or induced in any other way, it was just down to the mental and physical stress that my body was under.

“I personally feel that I was so underweight and the stress of going into hospital and losing all control over my life and the stress of that… basically my mind decided to give up and I went off into various different experiences mentally, so I wasn’t really aware I was in the place I was in.”

“You were hallucinating?” I asked.

“It was… Yes…” said Juliette. “It’s really tricky, because the people I’ve met who have had similar experiences… It’s so… It’s difficult because obviously your body is present in that room in the hospital, but mentally you are elsewhere. It’s a bit philosophical, but who’s to say what’s actually going on? I had experiences of seeing things that weren’t there.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Such as I saw God,” said Juliette. “And the Devil. And I saw angels.”

“What did God look like?” I asked.

Juliette was surrounded by white light

Juliette: a bright white light from God surrounded her

“I say I saw God because language is really limited,” explained Juliette. “Mentally, the way I processed it was I saw God. What I actually experienced was an intensely bright white light enveloping me, 360 degrees around me, and an overwhelming feeling of being unconditionally loved, like I’d been searching for all my life. Being completely safe and completely held. And I was aware of a figure but not aware of a face or anything distinct.

“I’m not saying this actually happened. It could be medically explained with chemicals. But my experience was that I remember asking God what the meaning of life was. And I remember being very disappointed with his answer, because I was expecting something deep and meaningful… I only got two words back – BE NICE – but, then, I think that is what all the major religions boil down to. And it’s the best moral code to live by.”

“I remember,” I said, “in the 1960s or 1970s someone took an LSD trip and saw God and realised what the meaning of life was, but he couldn’t remember what it was when he came down from his trip. So he decided next time he’d have a notepad and pen near him. He took another trip, saw God and again realised the meaning of life and wrote it down. When he came down again, he looked at the notepad and he had written: The smell of methylated spirits permeates the air…. What was the Devil like?”

“That appeared to me in shadows,” said Juliette. “I was aware I was in the room I was actually in but, in the shadows, there was some menacing form that was coming to get me… There was a time during that psychotic episode when I felt I was God. I thought I was in charge of the world. There was also a time when I thought that everyone in the hospital was talking about me, so that was more paranoia than anything.”

“Sounds more like what most performers hope for at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I was hearing voices,” continued Juliette, “telling me what to do. And that was also part of the psychosis. It only lasted three weeks, but I had an amazing adventure…”

“Definitely like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I thought I was time travelling,” said Juliette. “I went back to the Victorian age, I was a little girl and I was aware of a father not being there and I was crying. Then I was in another time when women ruled the world. I could see very bright flowers and it was lush and green and I was a High Priestess and I remember lots of people turning to me for advice, which was lovely. Then another part of it was when I saw aliens, which was exciting.”

“And they looked like…?” I asked.

“Again, it’s the limitations of language,” said Juliette. “I saw blackness and there was a red laser and it was trying to communicate with me and I understood that to mean that an alien communicated with me. But all of that sounds completely mad and it was over ten years ago…”

“When I was in the mental home,” I said, “they gave me happy drugs. Did they drug you every night?”

“Every day when they could get me to take them.”

“Did they not force you?” I asked.

“I think they must have had to sometimes. But I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening.”

“They gave me drugs,” I said. “The drugs made me feel happy without wanting to be happy.”

“I was put on Prozac when I was sixteen,” said Juliette. “It was really too heavy for me. I felt like a zombie. Yes, you don’t have any major lows; but you also don’t have any highs whatsoever. So what’s the point of being alive if that’s all there is?

“Lots of the anti-anxiety medication that I’ve been given over the years I’ve found actually made me more anxious. The drugs I had at the time I was having the psychosis I think did bring me back down to earth but there were a few weeks where, although I knew who I was and where I was, the paranoia was still strong.

“I remember once being out in Marks & Spencer’s in Chelmsford and I suddenly had an attack where it was like picking up on frequencies and thinking everything everyone was saying was about me and about what I was doing and they were judging me.”

“The Edinburgh Fringe again,” I said.

VanillaSky_poster_Wikipedia

Never watch if having a psychotic attack

“Never watch the movie Vanilla Sky if you are in the middle of a psychotic episode,” advised Juliette, “On one of my weekends out of the clinic when I was past the worst of it but not quite fully grounded, I was allowed back to my parents and we watched Vanilla Sky, which really screwed me up and set me two steps back.”

“Chinese medicine,” I said, “tries to cure the cause, whereas Western medicine tries to hide the symptoms, like papering over the top of the cracks but not filling them in. Giving people drugs just papers over the cracks, doesn’t it? So have you just papered over the cracks?”

“I’m not on any medication at the moment,” said Juliette. “I think the NHS has improved a lot but, for me, the answer is almost never medication. You have to deal with the root cause which, for me, is anxiety and being able to accept the things I can’t change.

“When I was fifteen, I was under-eating, at seventeen, I was very under-eating. At nineteen, something changed. Within three months of my 19th birthday, I doubled my body weight and, within six months, I’d gone from a size 4 to a size 20.”

“What are you now?” I asked.

“I’m a size 8 so, if anyone would like to send me any dresses, particularly any French Connection dresses…

“Back then, it went from food being, in my mind, something I wasn’t allowed to touch to being something I over-indulged in. And that was all about control. Anorexia for me was about trying to retain control. And the compulsive over-eating was about me trying to avoid taking responsibility for life by losing control.”

“How old were you when you were sectioned?” I asked.

“I was seventeen. I spent my eighteenth birthday in the clinic.”

“And with you, why was your anxiety all about eating disorders?” I asked.

“Food is one of the few things in your life,” explained Juliette, “that you can have total autonomy over. For a long time, I used food as a solution – because, if you focus on the details of life, then you avoid the bigger picture. For me, at that time, I wasn’t ready to deal with the bigger picture. Over-eating and under-eating are just flip sides of the same coin. Different symptoms of the same core problem. All the psychological problems I’ve had have stemmed from anxiety.”

“And yet your show When I Grow Up” I said. “is jolly and enthusiastic and life-celebrating.”

Juliette Burton: happy and positive

Juliette Burton: happy & positive show

“Well,” said Juliette, “I hope it’s a positive, fun, uplifting show about me trying to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a child. So, in the last year, I’ve gone off and tried to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a kid – ballerina, baker, princess, pop star, artist, farmer and Muppet.

“I would really love people to see the show and feel positive. A lot of the stuff I’ve just spoken to you about is really dark and I have spent a long time turning into who I am now, but who I am now is somebody who desperately wants to make other people feel happy and connected and not alone. The only way I feel I can do that is though comedy and storytelling and taking people on a little escapist journey and come out the other side feeling Wow! I feel better about life.

“And people will go out with a smile on their face,” I said.

“Did you go out with a smile on your face, John?” asked Juliette.

“I did.”

“Awesome,” said Juliette.

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Filed under Comedy, Drugs, Food, Health, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

At the Edinburgh Fringe: a battered face, Russian Egg Roulette and thefts

Ian Fox’s injuries at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show was held last night at the Counting House in  Edinburgh.

Before the show started, comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  came along to say hello.

“Will you be staying?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I am feeling a bit nauseous. It’s going to be hot in there.” He was attacked in the street a couple of nights ago, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog,

He took his dark glasses off and showed me the damage inflicted on him and the three stitches used to sew the side of his nose up. Not a good look.

That is, perhaps, my most vivid memory of the show. That and three naked men in the same corridor.

The show lasted two hours with 24 people performing in 11 acts. I think we came in four minutes under time, but I have forgotten the exact figure. I saw more of it than I usually see of those annual shows but still not very much, as I was running around slightly. Well, at my age, tottering around. So, if anyone can tell me what happened, I would be grateful. And I don’t even drink.

Miss Behave comperes the Malcolm Hardee Award Show (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

I do remember the Greatest Show on Legs preparing for their Naked Balloon Dance by stripping off in the narrow corridor leading to the room, as there was a space problem backstage. This meant that a more-than-middle-aged couple who left the room to get drinks from the bar returned to find three naked men talking about balloon movements as they turned the corner. The woman looked simultaneously surprised yet pleased at the sight.

I also remember the extraordinarily superb compering of Miss Behave  in her skin-tight red costume. She head-butted a watermelon. What can I say? It exploded and was very messy.

The three Award winners were:

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality: The Rubberbandits

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award: Stuart Goldsmith

Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award: Trevor Noah

I remember those winners accepting their awards, of course.

And fairly memorable also was the sight of comedians Arthur Smith and Richard Herring smashing eggs against their own foreheads in our Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, World President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Andy Dunlop: Russian Egg Roulette supremo

Earlier in the week, I mentioned in a blog that Andy Dunlop and World Gravy Wrestling champion Joel Hicks had recently triumphed at the Worthing Air Tattoo. In my innocence at the time, I assumed this was an air event which involved planes. But, last night, Andy told me it was actually what used to be called the Bognor Birdman Rally transferred to a new seaside home in Worthing – that’s the one where people leap off the end of the pier with wings attached in an attempt to fly.

“The soles of my feet were sore,” Andy told me, “because you hit the water at about 35 mph.

Lewis Schaffer + Egg Roulette medal

The eventual surprise winner in our knockout Russian Egg Roulette contest last night was American comic Lewis Schaffer.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman newspaper later lamented to me:

“What have you done? The award winning Lewis Schaffer – We are never going to hear the last of that…”

As the winner, according to Andy Dunlop, Lewis Schaffer automatically becomes official champion Scottish Tosser, something of which Lewis Schaffer seemed inordinately proud.

His win at the Counting House was all the more impressive because, last year, he had been banned from the Counting House because, during his shows there, he kept turning the loud air conditioner off and, when it got hot, opening the doors.

Arthur Smith was an early casualty in the Russian Egg Roulette contest and made an early exit from the show to prepare for his legendary annual Alternative Tour of the Royal Mile, which started at 2 o’clock.

I missed about the first ten minutes of this, but was in time to see Arthur try to prove the non-existence of God by standing on the entrance steps to St Giles’ Cathedral and saying, if there was a God, then would he please provide a naked woman.

Unfortunately for Arthur’s thesis, a naked woman then did appear to join him on the steps only to leave almost immediately, mumbling something about it being very cold out.

Martin Soan of the Greatest Show on Legs (currently in the spare bedroom of my rented Edinburgh flat) tells me that Arthur’s Royal Mile tours used to include genuine historical facts but, last night, this seemed to include only: “That’s some old church over there.”

Naked man stands proud in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile last night

Certain traditions were maintained, though – in particular, getting a punter to climb on top of a reasonably high object for £10, strip naked and sing Flower of Scotland and, further down the Royal Mile, Arthur getting drenched when someone threw a bucket of water over him from an upstairs window (also hitting a passing and entirely innocent cyclist).

One (I think new) addition to the tour was Karen O Novak being designated as an official kisser and comedian Shappi Khorsandi having a theatrical snog with her… and a punter saying he had to go to the loo and being persuaded that, for £10, he should instead piss on the cobbles in the middle of the High Street while the tour throng (perhaps 30 strong) stood in a circle round him with their backs to him. He said he couldn’t pee if we watched. I felt we should have watched.

There was also the appearance of a live and apparently untethered crocodile at what I think was the junction of George IV Bridge and the High Street.

Those, rather than my own two-hour show are my main memories of last night.

But, on a more sobering note, today I got a message from Lewis Schaffer which said:

Lewis Schaffer loses £600 in Edinburgh

It was a horrible day yesterday. Two brilliant shows from me and then I go to my venue to retrieve my suitcase and about £600 was missing. It was stolen from inside my bag there. I was a plonker for leaving money in the suitcase. A schmuck. 

I’m still in pain today. 

Your event was the best ever and not just cause you let me be in it. I loved the Greatest Show on Legs and Miss Behave was amazingly over the top. 

For me to beat Arfur Smith was a comfort as, on a few occasions, he’s trashed America on stage right after I’ve been on. Deliberately. So sweet revenge. 

And see what I mean about boiling Edinburgh rooms? No ventilation at all. A freezing cold evening outside and inside it’s boiling. A simple extractor fan would have cooled that room!

Lewis was not the only one whose property was stolen. I heard today of a comedian whose MacBook Pro laptop computer was stolen from inside a locked room at his venue. It contained all his scripts and the lighting cues for his shows.

Because it was an Apple computer, he had taken the precaution of activating the Find My Mac facility in the iCloud. This means that, using GPS, you can see on another device where the MacBook Pro is.

He traced it to a student accommodation block and to one of three rooms. He told the police, who said they could do nothing about it unless he gave them the IP address

Quite why (given that they had due cause to believe the stolen computer was where it was) they could not go and knock on doors to locate the stolen machine, is one of those mysteries of policing to rank alongside Is there a standard bribery rate card for the Metropolitan Police?

The increasingly prestigious critic and judge Kate Copstick

I heard about the stolen computer when I was having tea with Kate Copstick, a long-time judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

We were talking over ideas for Fringe shows next year and how best to honour Malcolm’s memory. Ideas included hosting a Biggest Bollocks competition and having famous male comics appear in full drag – the audience has to guess who they are.

It is ideas like this, I suspect which make the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show increasingly prestigious.

After that, we went our separate ways: she to have tea with a millionaire, I to see the Greatest Show on Legs strip off for their penultimate show at the Hive venue.

My life. Don’t talk to me about my life.

But things could be worse. I could be Ian Fox.

Before I went to bed tonight, I emailed him to find out how his battered face was.

“Starting to itch a bit tonight,” he e-mailed back, “and my teeth are starting to throb slightly, as the sensation is starting to return.”

This sounds at least hopeful.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Eccentrics, Scotland

The distortion of the UK tax system by socialist ideology

For a few months, when I was much younger, I read the Sunday Telegraph.

I stopped after reading an article on the UK income tax system. I could see no logical flaw in the newspaper’s argument, but it made me morally uncomfortable.

The article argued that a tiered system of income tax in which higher earners pay a higher percentage of their income in tax is illogical, unfair and both economically and morally indefensible.

Intellectually, I had to agree with the Telegraph‘s logic. The argument went like this…

In a capitalist system – or in the mixed capitalist system which we have – people are, by and large, paid their worth to the company and industry in which they work and to the country’s economy in general. The ultimate goal is always to maximise profits to the company and to the shareholders. So, with competition from other companies for the better executives and workers, a fair salary is reached for each working person by the workings of the market.

It is morally correct that people who earn more should pay more to the community in taxes. But that ideal and morally correct situation is reached by a flat rate tax on earnings not by a tiered system.

Someone who pays 20% of a £100,000 salary pays far more to the community than someone who pays 20% of a £25,000 salary. They pay according to their wealth. As their salary increases, their tax payments increase. They are taxed according to their ability to pay at the same flat rate. And, of course, it is right that people who earn a low salary beneath a certain amount should pay no tax.

The tiered system we currently have in which people on a high salary may have to pay 40% of their salary while people who earn a lower salary may have to pay only 20% of their salary is not moral, is not fair, it distorts the market forces which create ‘fair’ wages and it is punitive on the more successful workers who should be not discouraged but encouraged.

The fact that some higher earning people may be able to ‘cheat’ the system with clever accountants is not relevant. Distortions like that are inevitable in any system and are the fault of the government’s incompetent bureaucracy – they should prevent those frauds. It does not affect the principle that a flat rate tax system is fair to all taxpayers and the fact that a tiered tax system is fundamentally unfair – a political decision not a moral or economic decision.

If there is a tiered tax system, it distorts the market forces which decide salaries because, if people are losing money for reasons of political tax ideology not for genuine economic reasons, their salaries will have to increase to take account of the loss. Thus you get distorted salary scales.

A tiered tax system makes no economic sense and is morally unfair. It’s object is to blindly redistribute wealth on ideological grounds.

I could not and still can’t disagree with the cold logic of this argument. Yes, someone who earns more should pay more. But why should they pay a higher percentage of what they earn? Taxing higher earners a higher percentage is blind knee-jerk socialist ideology not economics.

I felt morally uncomfortable with the fact I could not fault the logic in the article and stopped reading the Sunday Telegraph because I felt somehow my moral values were being undermined and skewed by cold logic.

This quandary in my erstwhile youth was brought back to me yesterday when I read a report in The Scotsman that RBS, which the taxpayer had to bail out with millions and of which the government owns 83%, was about to pay 100 members of its staff £1 million each in bonuses.

The chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, of course, has been awarded a pay-and-bonuses package worth £7.7 million for 2010. So his 300 underlings getting bonuses of £1 million are merely getting the left-over scraps.

These awards were made at the time RBS was making a £1 billion loss.

Coincidentally yesterday, I also caught up with a small piece in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph about Tony Blair’s Sports Foundation – a charity – which, in its first financial period, made £348,233 of which it spent £33,929 on charitable activities and £37,621 on its staff.

So I am in two minds about high earners and extreme right wing politicians like Tony Blair.

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Filed under Finance, History, Newspapers, Politics

Oy! Oy! – Anti-Semitism, a murderous Israeli cross-border raid and a Jewish joke from the Prime Minister

This week, I was talking to Israeli-born, London-based freelance journalist Daphna Baram, who wrote a fascinating book Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel about that British newspaper’s relations with and perception of Israel. (The 2004 hardback is currently on sale at amazon.co.uk for an eye-popping £94.98p)

The only prejudice I know I have is that I am unthinkingly pro-Jewish, largely because I went to a grammar school with a very high percentage of Jewish pupils. That prejudice in favour of Jews used to transfer equally to Israel.

Hey! – remember why Israel occupies the West Bank, the Golan Heights etc – it’s because, in 1967, the countries surrounding it were foolish enough to threaten to attack Israel (not for the first time) in an attempt to wipe it off the face of the map… They lost their gamble… and, in six days – spookily the same amount of time in which the Jewish God allegedly created the Universe – Israel created more defensible borders. Like him, they rested on the seventh day.

Egypt, Jordan and Syria miscalculated so badly that Israel’s defensive attack originally pushed the Egyptian Army back to the Suez Canal and threatened Cairo, while Jordan’s West Bank territories were over-run and Syria lost the Golan Heights. But, when I hear the words “Golan Heights”, I don’t think “wantonly occupied by Israel”, my memory is of the Syrian Army pouring heavy artillery shells down onto the farmland of northern Israel from the heights before the Six Day War started.

My automatic pro-Israeli thinking, of course, has lessened. Bulldozing the houses of terrorists’ families and taking ten eyes for an eye if you are attacked smacks of the Nazis in their occupied territories in the 1940s and makes me think Have the Israeli government never read their own history books? It was counter-productive for the Germans. It is counterproductive for the Israelis. When they bulldoze a house, does the name Lidice never spring into their minds?

They only have to look at a map. The town of Lidice is still there on modern day maps.

I am always a simplistic thinker.

If you constantly fire rockets into Israel, then Israel is going to react, possibly – and not unreasonably – by sending troops into the country from which it is being attacked. If the IRA had been repeatedly/constantly shelling Liverpool from positions just outside Dublin, the British government would have done more than send a few SAS men into the Republic of Ireland to assassinate people (as they did without the provocation of suffering rocket-attacks from foreign soil).

But I mentioned to Daphna Baram that I thought Israel’s image in the UK had mainly gone downhill since my erstwhile youth largely because of accents.

When I was a kid, the Israelis were automatically the good guys because they sounded like us and wore Western clothes, whereas the Palestinians/Arabs sounded like foreigners and wore costumes straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.

In my erstwhile youth, Prime Minister Golda Meir had an American accent and looked like a grandmother from Baltimore. Israel’s long-time Foreign Minister Abba Eban spoke like he had been educated at a rather stuffy English public school and dressed like the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, looked and sounded like a rather dodgy bloke up an alleyway in Casablanca or some similar black & white movie, selling dirty postcards to tourists.

I mean… Golda Meir – she was a Jew, the Israeli Prime Minister – and she titled her autobiography My Life… you have to admire her for having a sense of humour. Yasser Arafat did not look like he sat at home and watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus on TV. Golda Meir might have watched The Benny Hill Show.

It was around the time of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his successor Yitzhak Shamir that things started to go downhill for Israel in PR terms. This was, I think, mainly because Begin and Shamir both had a guttural accent when speaking English though – yes, OK – there was also the minor matter of them both being former anti-British terrorists.

Begin had been leader of Irgun and Shamir was a former member of both Irgun and The Stern Gang.

But that has never been an insurmountable problem for the British – from Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya to Michael Collins, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Ireland, we have always accepted terrorists as the political leaders of ‘our’ former countries.

The trouble with Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir was that they sounded as foreign and alien as their Palestinian rivals – and their suits were not as smart as Abba Eban’s had been.

Daphna did not really agree with me about accents changing Britain’s attitude to Israel, but she did tell me a story about Abba Eban.

In the late 1950s, when Abba Eban was Israel’s representative at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered an especially murderous raid across the border.

Abba Eban stood up at the UN General Assembly and made a particularly brilliant speech defending the raid. He than phoned David Ben-Gurion to express his utter outrage at what he considered had been an appalling and reprehensible attack.

Ben-Gurion listened to Abba Eban, then said:

“Well, I was having second thoughts about the raid myself but, after I heard your outstanding speech, I  was convinced that I did the right thing”.

A story more Oy! Oy! than Oy Vey! perhaps.

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World War 3, dead Australians, America’s wars, Randy Newman and God’s plan

Because the world, like the cafe in the famous Monty Python sketch, is full of spam, my preferences on this blog are set up so that I have to approve all comments before they appear.

When I woke up this morning, I was notified of a new comment on my blog of yesterday about Painting a New York fart, Tony Blair and Jo Brand. I would have approved the new comment this morning, but it seems to have been un-submitted. This is very sad. It told me:

“The crazy part is, World War 3 is not the most Earth shaking event to come within the next 4 years, The Pole Shift will cause even more damage and destruction, but in the case of the Pole Shift it will be for a Good cause with Divine purpose and for humankind to experience the 1,000 years of peace it has been promised for decades.”

Now, I watch the BBC News channel, Sky News and Al Jazeera regularly, some might say addictively, but this particular news had passed me by and I’m all for learning about new things and hearing original thought.

The comment came with a link to a webpage and perhaps may not be unconnected to the fact my Twitter account is now being followed by @ProjectJesus, the “Global Christian Community Appeal” which is “seeking one million fellow Christians to join (them) in a 21st century pilgrimage for Jesus.”

I presume @ProjectJesus is the same as www.projectjesus.com unless there are two competing projects – always a possibility as divine multi-tasking is not unknown.

I’m saddened this morning’s new comment was un-submitted not just because I enjoy original thinking, but because the concept of World War 3 is quite interesting. I think we may not know it has started until after it has finished.

The 1914-1918 war was originally called The Great War. (Note to Americans: that’s the 1917-1918 War, as far as you are concerned.)

So at what point did The Great War start being called World War 1?

Was it before or after the 1939-1945 war started? (Note to Americans: that’s the 1941-1945 War, as far as you are concerned.)

Surely you could not have had a so-called World War 1 until you had a World War 2… and it is only journalists, historians or political speechwriters who can declare World War 3 has started or happened.

Perhaps World War 3 started on 11th September 2001 when the World Trade Center was attacked. Good ol’ George W Bush (never primarily known as a great linguist) decided that this had precipitated what he called The War on Terror. He could just as easily have said it had started World War 3, though the economic effect of that name on stock markets around the world might not have been too good.

The so-called War on Terror and its ramifications and outbursts over the last ten years have definitely been worldwide. We may already be living through the mid-point of World War 3. Perhaps we won’t know until some clever historian or influential TV pundit  decides to re-name The War on Terror as World War 3, just as The Great War was re-named World War 1.

But, getting back to World War 3 Predictions, the web page says – without explanation – that World War 3 “would result in countries like Australia almost getting wiped out from the face of the Earth”.

This seems a little harsh. Even Randy Newman in his wonderful song Political Science in which he wants to nuke all countries which hate America, writes:

We’ll save Australia
Don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin’ too

What has poor Australia done to get wiped off the map in World War 3?

I think we should be told.

I want to hear more.

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Miracles, Part 2: The skeleton of a dogfish and the resurrection of Jesus Christ

I was surprised when the Turin Shroud was tested in 1988 and allegedly turned out to be a forgery made 1290-1390. I’m still not totally convinced it isn’t the real shroud. But, when the tests were taking place, it got me thinking about the crucifixion of Jesus.

I am no Christian, but it did take me back to the Religious Knowledge lessons at my school where our R.K. teacher was an ex-Army padre and he went into so much physical detail about the crucifixion that I had to leave the class. I was a frail wee soul whenever gross anatomical detail was discussed and prone to nausea at the mere thought of the innards of things. Let’s not even mention the skeleton of the dogfish in the General Science lesson.

But I do remember from R.K. that the reason Roman Citizens were never crucified was that it was such a horrendous way to die. You didn’t die from having nails hammered into your wrists and ankles (they were not hammered into the hands and feet, they were hammered into wrists and ankles to support the weight of the body more and prolong the agony). You died from exhaustion, dehydration etc and it could take a week or more to die.

Jesus, according to the Bible, managed to die in one brief afternoon. A bit of a surprise, that. He was then taken down from the cross. Normally, at this point, the Romans broke people’s arms and/or legs to check they really were dead. This did not happen, according to the Bible. Instead, Jesus’ ‘body’ was taken away by a rich man whose personal physician treated the body not with the normal oils used to anoint dead bodies but with medical oils normally used on live but injured bodies. A bit of a surprise, that.

It seems to me entirely likely that Jesus was not dead when he was taken down from the cross. But, given his body had been scourged, had had a crown of thorns shoved on the head and he had been stabbed in the side with a spear, it might take a bit of time for him to recover – let’s say it might take three days before he was up and able to walk around and talk to people. Let’s say he would rise on the third day.

After three days, the lad could have been talking to people – let’s say he talked to the uneducated and fairly simple fishermen etc who were his disciples – and, if you doubted that the Son of God whom you had seen with your own eyes crucified and die was now resurrected… well,  you could actually put your fingers in the holes made by the nails of the crucifixion. There would be no arguing with that.

If you were a simple fisherman or shepherd or prostitute, that would certainly convince you that a dead person had come back to life just as Lazarus had apparently been brought back to life by Jesus himself and you would be prepared to die yourself in the certain knowledge it was true and you had seen God’s only son re-born.

If Jesus had survived the crucifixion, though, with his injuries, he might only last about a week before he died from his wounds and/or disease from the injuries. After that he would die or, to re-phrase it, join his Father in heaven.

No surprise there.

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