March  2013
31 March 2013  ~  Persecution  of  Satirists in Egypt

President Morsi's
Freedom and Justice Party came to power following promises to build a "democratic, civil and modern state" that guaranteed the freedom of religion and right to peaceful protest.  BBC

That claim does not fit with reports today that Egypt's lading satirist, Bassem Youssef, has been arrested. Among the accusations is one of "insulting the president, including by “diminishing his stature domestically and abroad.” NY Times

President Morsi needs to understand that what belittles him far more is his party's inability to accept free speech.

Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party
Led by President Mohammed Morsi
By not allowing satirists to be free
And threatening them with the third degree
Makes the party's name pure malarkey.



30 March 2013  ~ Carey Hints at Persecution  of Christians

The former Archbishop of Canterbury wrote an article for the Daily Mail on March 29 that included the following.

Yet many Christians doubt his (David Cameron's) sincerity. According to a new ComRes poll more than two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a ‘persecuted minority’.

Their fears may be exaggerated because few in the UK are actually persecuted, but the Prime Minister has done more than any other recent political leader to feed these anxieties.

I find it rather rich that Carey hints at persecution of Christians given the history of Anglicans persecuting and discriminating against Puritans, Catholics, Covenanters and Non-conformists. And let us not forget anti-Semitism. Anglican Bishops, including Wilberforce,  were among those who delayed the granting of rights to Jewish people living in England.  He held that the Jews lacked real religious feeling and  looked only to gain wealth.
(Frances Knight, 1992. 'The Bishops and the Jews 1828-1858'. In: Christianity and Judaism: Studies in Church History  ed. Diana Wood Blackwell  pp 387-398

“Judaism rejected the Messiah, cast itself into utter darkness, and became an empty and unmeaning, but false and blasphemous faith…Between the Christian and the Jew there was a gulf as wide as eternity itself.” ~ Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (House of Lords, 1848)

Anglicans enjoy several privileges as the state religion. And Christians in general have held and hold privileges in British society, such as government funding for their schools and a great deal of influence that resulted in the imposition of their values on others, such as bans on Sunday sport and drinking and people having to marry in either a registry office or a church until quite recently.

I suggest what Carey referred to is the slow peeling away of such privileges as more and more people either reject religion or want only marginal involvement with churches. This is the growth of equality and tolerance.

And references to persecution are all the more odious when many Christians still cannot accept other lifestyles and wish to discriminate against them.




27 March 2013  ~ With Apologies to Frankie and Johnny

If Pope Francis is so marvellous doing things differently, what does this say about Pope Benedict?

Frankie and Benny

Now Frankie and Benny were co-popes
Oh Lord, how they did love
Swore to be true to each other true as the stars above
They were both men and couldn’t do no wrong
Being infallible.

Now Benny went down to the country
Just to get away from the throng
He said I’ll leave the Vatican to Frankie
A man who wouldn't do me wrong.
Because he’s also infallible.

Benny’s valet said I ain't gonna lie papa
That Frankie ain’t singing your song
If he’s humble, you were vain
And if he’s thrifty, you spent without restraint
He's the man in Rome now but he's doin' you wrong.




26 March 2013  ~ A  Stunning Animation

Thanks to Romana who made me aware of this brilliant short animation, which seem far too good  for YouTube.  It's a fairy story with a macabre twist called The Magic Pen.


24 March 2013  ~ Tomas Young's Last Letter 

Tomas Young  is in very poor health following a bullet to the spine while he was serving in Iraq in 2004. He volunteered for the Army  after 9/11.

A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

This letter first appeared on the award-wining Truthdig website.

All I would like to see added to the letter is a mention of Tony Blair  and his  cronies who, by committing British troops to the invasion, lent credibility to the lies and criminality of Bush and Cheney.



21 March 2013  ~ Corruption Royale  and Repression in Saudi Arabia

They hang the man and flog the woman,
Who steals the goose from off the common,
Yet let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.

This protest rhyme comes from the era when the parliament in London passed laws allowing the enclosure of land that had been shared by communities for many generations. These enclosures were enacted by MPs elected by the well-to-do and by unelected aristocrats who for the most part already had great land holdings. Little wonder that the people who had no votes were robbed of rights that were important if not vital to their subsistence. On occasions, enclosures led to revolts.

I thought of the rhyme after reading about seven Saudi men executed for robbery in an Amnesty report that fills me with disgust at the regime in power in that country. The report speaks of confessions gained from juveniles by torture and threats to torture their relatives if the prisoners withdrew their confessions. The men had no legal representation at their brief trial and were not allowed to appeal.

The men were executed despite an appeal from the UN for clemency. "The charges against all seven persons were allegedly fabricated and all seven were convicted following unfair trials," according to UN experts in a statement.

And the connection to enclosures? The following quote comes from a policy brief issued last September by the Washington based Institute of Gulf Affairs.

La corruption royale

Corruption within the Saudi regime is endemic and systematic. The line between the nation’s wealth and the ruling family’s personal wealth is blurry.  Corruption within government has reached its highest level ever since 1932 and has dramatically increased under the reign of King Abdulla causing major economic calamities such as the collapse of the stock market in 2006 which was masterminded by members of the ruling family. The crash erased 350 billion dollars or 55% of the market value. The ruling family’s push to grabbing power, wealth and land has resulted in an unemployment rate of over 40%, and poverty rate of and over 25%. Land grabbers from the ruling family have fenced most of the usable land in the country. This is why housing ownership in the Kingdom remains one of the lowest in the world at less than 24%.

Protests in relation to land grabs by members of the ruling family have been held in the Jazan and Taif, while dozens of unemployed youths have committed suicide in past months.

Far from the UK and other countries protesting loudly at the corruption, they have queued up to facilitate huge bribes and many individuals in the west have grown rich by taking their share of the payola. Transparency International places Saudi Arabia among the biggest arms-importing countries that have insufficient safeguards against corruption in the defence industry.

An economic expert predicted in 2012 that  per capita income in Saudi Arabia would rise from US$20,000 to $83,000 if financial and administrative corruption in the Kingdom ended.  The director general of research and economic studies at the Council of Saudi Chambers, Dr. Maghawri Shalabi revealed that the private sector spends $20 to $30 billion per year on bribes, while the global corruption costs $2 trillion, according to World Bank reports. Source

And all this from the country that thinks its state-backed form of Islam, Wahhabism, is so wonderful it's worth spending money exporting it to countries that are far less corrupt, including the UK. Source



15 March 2013  ~ The Yellow Birds  by Kevin Powers

The corruption of youth by war has featured in many works of fiction. I doubted that a recent novel could arouse much of a response in me  But many people whose views I respect spoke of the brilliance of The Yellow Birds.

The war setting is the terrible mess left following the mendacious invasion of Iraq orchestrated by Bush with Cheney as his over-optimistic bulldog and Blair as grinning poodle. Most of the planning went into shock and awe and little thought was given to how to return the country to peace. After the defeat of Saddam’s forces, too many people who could have and should have helped restore stability were busy carpet bagging.

Into this mess and the battles that followed Fallujah, but were less reported if my memory is correct, steps Private John Bartlett aged twenty and his eighteen-year old friend, Daniel Murphy. All the main characters apart from the two mothers are youthful.

What makes this novel  exceptionally good is poetic language. This not only makes the writing compelling, it goes a long way to overcome the first person narration. There are risks for some authors in having to repeatedly use “I”. Powers overcomes this with what seems like effortless use of figurative language. The most mundane things are seen anew thanks to his ability with imagery. The book also succeeds through the use of the other two main characters, Murphy and the platoon’s sergeant, a hardened veteran at the age of twenty-four. Their perspectives and experiences complement those of dear John.

Even in the scenes set in Germany and the USA after the tour of duty, the narrator’s horrors hover and intrude. As someone who has worked with and written about survivors of extreme events, I found the alienation, ruminations and intrusive experiences portrayed more than credible. And this is done without the use of technical terms such as flashback or PTSD. It is very much a layman’s, albeit an articulate one, description of the collapsing world he finds himself in.

A news report today spoke of the higher levels of violent crime among the UK military who have seen active service. Several factors might contribute to this, but one is surely the brutality and grief of battle. Powers has gone a long way to making the awful truth accessible to those of us lucky enough never to have been in a war zone.



12 March 2013  ~ On Museum Exhibitions and Reliquaries

These thoughts follow recent visits to two museums. Sue and I saw yesterday the Ice Age Art Exhibition at the British Museum and two week ago we saw Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men at the Museum of London.

Among the privileges life has brought me are the museums of London and three visits to see pre-historic cave paintings. I was profoundly moved to see, for example, the spotted horses or the spray-painted hands (formed with a mouthful of pigment) at the Pech Merle cave in France. So I was very keen to see Ice Age Art exhibition.

The British Museum has gathered many treasures for the show. Yet, for all the sense of wonder generated by them, I came away feeling disappointed. Many of the items are very small and understandably they are kept behind thick glass with moderate lighting. But is it enough to stand a foot or so away from such small objects? I had the feeling the public were being asked to respond with the kind of awe that some Christians feel when they are near to one of the forest of splinters or army of nails that are claimed to come from the true cross. I felt at times like a mediaeval Catholic peering through the crystal of a reliquary at some minute fragment of a saint.

It would have been relatively easy to have mounted near some of the smaller items or the larger ones with intricate designs a backlit enlargement to allow for a more detailed study. There were a few drawn illustrations and two small screens towards the end of the exhibition, but I wanted a lot more exposition. Some people had audio guides that included pictures, but what small pictures.

Outside the Ice Age show’s entrance was a wonderful replica of a clay sculpture of two bison from the cave at Tuc d'Audouber in Ariège. Perhaps it was not seen as worthy of being inside because it was a replica. Yet it conveyed so much because of its size and the lack of a barrier.

The show includes a curious display of cave paintings. One enters a darkened room with one small and unsupportive bench for seating. Images appear for a few seconds to the annoying accompaniment of clicks. I had the feeling that the design took inspiration from fast food outlets that build in discomfort to deter people from staying. Of course, I do not expect to see chunks of cave wall. But some large pictures relating the two-dimensional images to the sculpted ones would have been more interesting and informative than the projected mishmash.

I had similar feelings at the Museum of London two weeks ago. Again there were a number of small items on display and several books behind glass with low lighting. Why were peoples queuing and then straining to read these texts when a larger copy could have been on display nearby?

I am used to  viewing high quality images on a fair-sized screen and some  art galleries with collections online allow the use of magnification to study parts of a picture. The web has led people to expect higher definition images and/or ways of looking at details. I think museums need to appreciate this for exhibitions in the same way that publishers have come to accept that large colour illustrations are required for art books if they are to sell.



9 March 2013  ~ MPs and Lords with Private Healthcare Interests

Social Investigations are doing great work on exposing the private interests and dodgy practices that are helping to push the NHS towards privatization. This is their summary of Key Facts.
  • 206 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections
  • 142 Lords have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
  • 124 Peers benefit from the financial services sector
  • 1 in 4 Conservative Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Labour Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Crossbench Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 10 Liberal Democrat Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
  • 64 MPs have recent or present financial links to companies involved in private healthcare
  • 79% of these are Conservative
  • 4 Key members of the Associate Parliamentary Health Group have parliamentarians with financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
  • 4 Patrons of the pro-reform think tank 2020health have Peers with private healthcare links
  • Nearly 40% of the most powerful individuals in healthcare are from companies with links to Lords and MPs.
  • 333 donations from private healthcare sources totalling £8.3 million has been gifted to the Tories.
  • 4 MPs and 1 Lord have worked for Huntsworth Health, run by a Peer who gave money to Cameron’s leadership campaign
  • 25 of the Finalists in the HealthInvestors Awards 2012 have parliamentarians connected to them
  • 2 companies, DACBeachcroft, Cumberlege Connections., which have Lords as a partner and as an owner respectively, moved themselves into a position to make money from the reforms as the Lords voted on the bill, and before the bill became Act
  • 5 organisations link to Baroness Cumberlege: Her company, Cumberlege Connections, Associate Parliamentary Health Group, 2020health, Huntsworth plc, MJM, healthcare solutions
  • 19 Lords and MPs have financial links to Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline
  • 9 Lords and MPs have received payment from a company run by Baroness Cumberlege, called Cumberlege Connections, which is a healthcare training and political networking company
  • 1 – the amount of times the BBC challenged Andrew Lansley in the last three years on his donation received to fund his private office when shadow health minister from John Nash the chairman of Care UK
  • All were able to vote on the Health and Social Care bill (now Act), despite having a prejudicial interest, which would not have been allowed at local council level



8 March 2013  ~ Jeremy Hunt Throws Stones in Glasshouse

The Minister for Health today delivered a homily on the need to eliminate mediocrity from the NHS. No one could disagree with such an ambition. But what about the mediocrity and worse in Cabinet, Parliament and the House of Lords?  Such as backing Sir David Nicholson despite his failures at Mid-Staffs.

It struck me that Hunt and his cronies have a few beams in their eyes that should also be dealt with. Below are excerpts from the Department of Health press release for Hunt's speech and how the words could be changed to apply to government.

For those who don't already know, I  an now retired and  only worked briefly  for the NHS  as a freelance organisation development consultant. My overriding impression was off  too much change  and much of it poorly planned and delivered by command . Yes, even the change was a victim of management by targets

Excerpts taken from DoH Press Release

Imagine for a moment that the main objective for our Olympic athletes was not to win but to ‘not come last’.  How many gold medals would we have won then?

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  But today I want to suggest that too much of the NHS is focused on doing just that.  Not on achieving world class levels of excellence – the gold medals of healthcare – but meeting minimum standards, the equivalent of ‘not coming last.’


I will also argue that putting this right must form an essential part of our response to Robert Francis’s report into the tragedy of Mid Staffs.  Because by focusing on ‘not coming last’ – avoiding the worst outcomes – we in fact make those outcomes more, not less likely.

If the sum of our ambitions is to not come last, if all our attention is on the avoidance of failure, how much more likely are we to then fail than if our aspirations are to be the best in the world?



We often think of the NHS as infallible. 

At other times, in the wake of things like Mid Staffs, the pendulum can swing the other way.



Neither paints an accurate picture.  For in reality, the NHS is a huge organisation with some good practice, some bad practice and a great deal that falls in between.

But unless we create a climate of excellence in the parts of the NHS that are neither good nor bad, we will fail to address the cultural challenge that Robert Francis describes.

So my question today is this: we celebrate excellence. We criticise failure. But do we do enough to challenge mediocrity? Because left unchallenged, mediocrity becomes entrenched, part of the culture.


And that is precisely the moment of greatest danger if we are to prevent the next Mid Staffs.



The weeds of failure grow more quickly in a garden of mediocrity.


I would never describe the majority of hospitals or wards in the NHS as mediocre – but I do believe our system fails to challenge low aspirations in too many parts of the system. This directly links to the failures of patient safety and compassionate care that we are now having to address.

Because even if a hospital complies fully with the CQC essential standards, even if ‘never events’ really do never happen, it wouldn’t mean it was a good hospital, just that it was ‘not bad’.

One of the biggest mistakes of the last government was to set up the CQC in such a way that hospitals, rather than being encouraged to aspire for excellence, were graded simply as  ‘compliant’ or ‘non-compliant’.

One of the most reliable indicators about the quality of a hospital is whether staff would be happy for their friends and family to be treated there.
Excerpts Rewritten

Imagine for a moment that the main objective for our Olympic athletes was not to win but to ‘not come last’.  How many gold medals would we have won then?

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  But today I want to suggest that too much of Parliament is focused on doing just that.  Not on achieving world class levels of excellence – the gold medals of governance – but meeting minimum standards, the equivalent of ‘not coming last.’

I will also argue that putting this right must form an essential part of our response to a number of exposés of greedy and inept politicians.  Because by focusing on sound bites, self-interests, short-termism and avoiding bad publicity we in fact make  poor governance more, not less likely.

If the sum of our ambitions is to hold onto our seats in the next election and be guided by ideology rather than good sense, and  if all our attention is on the avoidance of bad PR, how much more likely are we to then fail than if our aspirations are to be the best in the world?

No one thinks politicians are infallible.

 At other times, in the wake of things like the MP and Lords expenses scandals, the pendulum can swing all the way to public loathing.

Neither paints an accurate picture.  For in reality, the government is a huge undertaking with some good practice, some bad practice and a great deal that falls in between.

But unless we create a climate of excellence in both the Commons and Lords and the departments  that are neither good nor bad, we will fail to address the cultural challenge the country needs..

So my question today is this: we celebrate excellence. We criticise failure. But do we do enough to challenge mediocrity? Because left unchallenged, mediocrity becomes entrenched, part of the culture.

And that is precisely the moment of greatest danger if we are to prevent the more inept, corrupt and sleazy politicians desperate to hide information from the public.

The weeds of failure grow more quickly in a walled garden of mediocrity.

I would never describe the majority of my honourable colleagues as mediocre – but I do believe our system fails to challenge low aspirations in too many parts of the system. This directly links to the failures of wasted of public money and people regarding being an MP as less than fill-time job.

Because even if an MP or Lord complies fully with the existing standards, even if ‘never events’ really do never happen, it wouldn’t mean it was good government, just that it was ‘not bad’.


One of the biggest mistakes of the last century of government was to allow too much secrecy and lack of accountability and to fight FOI requests rather than be open to scrutiny.



One of the most reliable indicators about the quality of government is whether the public are happy with and trust those in power. Sadly, politicians are lumped with bankers and journalists.




6 March 2013  ~ Help Needed



Created by Crispian Jago.



5 March  2013 ~   Nicholson Refuses to Resign

Nicholson runs the NHS in Wales and England
Despite the blood that stains his hands.
When people entering a hospital
Are told to use soap or alcohol gel
How come soiled Sir David still commands?

He misruled Mid-Staffordshire with strategy and budgets
Managed the finances but not rates of death
Presided over a culture of fear driven by KPIs
That led to patient neglect, suffering, staff lies
And excuses such as "We were only following targets"

Accountability should apply to directors and to boards
For not knowing or stopping the abuses in the wards.
It's too late for spin doctoring to conceal the wrongs
When all the perfumes of Arabia cannot mask the pongs.
Come now, Sir David, and fall on your sword.



4 March  2013 ~   On a Weasel-Worded Admission

Cardinal O'Brien's belated and vague fessing up
Reads like a spin doctor's dressing up
Until the mea culpa has a maxima added
Any apology is going to sound vapid
So come clean, beat your breast and quit messing up

O’Brien's Statement issued through the Scottish Catholic Media Office

“In recent days, certain allegations which have been made against me have become public Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them. However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal. To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise.I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”   Link

Comments on the spin by one the complainants. The Observer