Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Valentine's Day


Not much apparently.....

There were a few Saints named Valentine, two of whom have February 14th as their designated day. As with most Saints, stories of their martyrdoms are embellished and often contradictory.

Although taking place about the time of the persecutions by Aurelius, the first literary reference didn't appear until the 14th century, even then the link is tenuous. Chaucer wrote in 'Parlement of Foules' (1382) to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia

​              'for this was on seynt volantynys day,​whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make'  (......there to choose his mate)

It was assumed Chaucer was speaking of one of the February Valentines but the treaty of marriage was signed on May 2nd 1381, they married eight months later both aged fifteen. That would make Chaucer's Valentine (the first ever to be associated with love), Valentine of Genoa whose day is May 3rd and died around 307 AD.

So there it is, not only is everybody associating this love thing with the wrong Valentine, it was never about him anyway.

      Happy Valentine's Day!


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Armageddon Tired Of This

Just thought I'd share my thoughts on the Middle Eastern conflict. Most people have an agenda when looking at what is happening and it colours their thoughts. I have no such agenda, no bias, just pragmatism - the visceral kind. Although I am no expert in the politics of the region, I am not totally oblivious to what is going on. I've also visited many of the countries whilst in the merchant navy, so I know a little about the culture. This is how I see it........

Background

It would be easy to blame the current crisis on oil and in effect it would be true..... currently. Blaming the troubles on religion is absurd, if anything it's due to racism and the subsequent attempts at 'ethnic cleansing', not a fight over who God loves best. The problems in the Middle East began with agriculture, long before oil or religion. Agriculture took humans out of their comfort zone. The need to migrate as nomadic hunter-gatherers became a thing of the past, and city states sprang up.

Of course the downside to the huge growth in population of these city states was crop failure and famine. It is easy to see what followed, one state would then try and take away what another state had and war was invented. At first it may have been 'justifiable' in that it was a choice between fight or die if help was refused. Later it became all about greed. I'm not going to give you a complete history of the Middle East but let's just say the conflict between modern day Iran and Iraq has ALWAYS been a problem.

The problem wasn't just confined to Iraq/Iran. Nomadic tribes were claiming land as their own and forbidding access of others, others who had used the land for generations. It began the bitter dispute in Israel / Palestine, yet again BEFORE oil and monotheist religion. We see these ancient disputes today on a global basis. Native Americans, Aborigines, Maoris, Irish, Kurds, etc. etc. There is no doubt empire building and control of resources / strategic positions has resulted in many foreign invaders claiming land they had no right to but where do you draw the line?

Take for instance the Maoris. They claim the Brits cheated them out of land. The Maori culture had no concept of owning land so when the Brits offered them cash they took it not realising the implications. Today they say they were cheated out of their land and in effect they were. The Brits have been there for nearly 200 years though and the Maori people consisted of a number of different tribes similar to the Native Americans. These tribes warred with each other and territory was taken by conquest. So who does own the land?

The same applies to the Middle East, how far back do you go to settle a dispute over territory. It is impossible to answer and there are only two solutions. More attempts at conquest, or cooperation and redistribution of resources on a non-competitive basis. Unfortunately the latter cannot happen due to the way governments operate.

Protagonists

Putting to one side the dispute over Palestine, there is also the territorial dispute between Israel and Syria. This involves an area around the sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. If the strategic value was not enough there has now been oil found in the Golan Heights. Syria is backed by Russia and Israel by America. Add this to the fact that Russia also backed Iran and America backed Iraq in a series of conflicts. Iran is also a supporter of Syria. The Saudis would appear to support the predominantly Sunni Iraq but Daesh have complicated matters for them.

Iraq: The situation in Iraq is a bigger problem for the USA than it is for Russia. Putin must be rubbing his hands gleefully. It started with Saddam blowing the wealth of the nation on the war with neighbours Iran. From what I understand he demanded fellow Sunnis Kuwait and Saudi Arabia help finance the war with predominantly Shia Iran. When they refused he invaded Kuwait. What followed has divided opinions. Personally I believe all this weapons of 'mass destruction' nonsense was a Tory plot to discredit Blair, the most successful Labour PM for decades even though I objected to the 'New Labour' tag. Odd how Thatcher won an election by starting a war (Falklands) but Blair lost for the same reason.

To my mind the potential weapons of mass destruction 'excuse' was immaterial. Saddam was attempting genocide and that was justification enough. Anyway, the tinpot dictator was ousted and a great void was left behind. I didn't really follow too closely after Saddam but it appears with much interference from America a Shia government was put in place. What could possibly go wrong. In fairness any government would have failed as the war was won by toppling a dictator but not defeating his army. It was a powder keg waiting for a spark and there were plenty of those flying.

Iran: There is a strange mix of democracy and fundamentalism in Iran. Is it a sham, a respectable 'front'? It is suspicious the Ayatollah calls all the shots and that is a worry. When Daesh is finally defeated what happens to Iraq then. It would certainly be a good time for Iran to settle a 5000 year old dispute. Should Iran start leaning towards extremism would they use nuclear weapons? Probably not against Iraq, there would be no need. Would America support Iraq and risk a nuclear war. It wouldn't hurt the fundamentalists, they're going to heaven anyway.

Syria: Assad seems to be another Saddam type regime, hell bent of ethnic cleansing. Assad is another to gain from Daesh. They justify attacks on 'terror groups' which gives him the perfect platform to get rid of his own people who oppose him. The biggest danger however comes from Assad's designs on the disputed territory around Galilee and the Golan Heights. To me, it appears Syria is in danger of becoming a patsy for Russia in starting a war with Israel.

Israel: The problems with the West Bank and Gaza strip have always been simmering but if a conflict with Syria ignites, it will no doubt boil over. Megiddo could easily fulfil Revelations. Again the question is who will support Israel. America? Nato? I can't see it. I think Israel will be sold down the river. There will of course be much fuss and ado, the question is how Israel will react to ultimately losing the disputed territories. Only with Putin's continued assistance could it happen, but I suspect Russia wouldn't appear to sanction such a move by Syria. Iran on the other hand....

USA & Russia: The big two are key. They both have strategic and economical interest in the region.. They both have dangerous men in charge. I wonder if they might start seeing common ground in the need to defeat extremists. It wouldn't be the first time America and Russia came together to defeat such a foe. Russia has always been distrusted, mostly due to Stalin, but as they gradually repair some of the damage America goes the other way. America a friend, an ally (at a price) in two world wars have regressed. Trump is not a politician and as a figurehead reminds me of an extremely obnoxious cheap copy of Boris Johnson.

Russia hold all the aces, they just have to sit and watch, occasionally antagonising America in Syria. Russia are there with permission and are merely trying to stop terrorists from overthrowing a legitimate government.  Yeah, crock of shit but such are judicial systems, Putin is innocent of all charges. America are up the proverbial creek without a paddle. They need the Iraqi government to be seen to defeat Daesh because foreign victors would put into question its legitimacy. Another consequence is that defeated jihadis that don't come to Europe will probably join Al-Qaeda.

Summary

The outlook is grim and a solution, though obvious, simply will not happen. As a species we are at a crossroads. This 21st century will be known as the century that killed or cured mankind. Our understanding will be taken to a higher level, or we will destroy each other. The biggest problem is false democracy. Many countries are guilty of it, some blatantly so. With most European countries it is more surreptitious, reliant on the stupidity of the masses. The elected governments are supposed to be representative of the majority of the people, this is rarely the case. For example, I don't believe the majority of the British people wanted to sell off our industries.

Every country is striving to increase profits and get out of debt. How can the whole world be in debt? How can a country be home to 2000+ billionaires yet be 18 trillion in debt? I don't need to spell it out. Government needs to evolve, globally. At the minute almost every country is behaving like those morons on Black Fridays. This is just a personal view, I would be interested to hear where I've misconstrued things.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Holy F*ck

In my merchant navy days I was blissfully unaware of politics around the world. It put me in some dangerous situations, yet I remained ignorant of the danger and came through unscathed. Perhaps it was because my ease confused people, or maybe it was just dumb luck. I tend to go for the dumb luck hypothesis, it seems to be a trait with my life. For sometimes bizarre reasons I find myself in situations normal people just don't get into, then I come through the other side when most would have died. This reinforces my 'twisted guardian angel' hypothesis. If there are such things I must have got last pick.
Less than a decade after I lost my religion and put my Catholic primary school days behind me, I had the chance to tour the 'Holy Land'. It was after I had noticed my weird (premonitions, apparitions, etc.), and had begun my research into the origins of human existence, so I was quite excited about it. I felt sure that if there was anything going on I would sense it. A bit of a stretch really, I wasn't even aware of the politics of the country. In fairness most of the news I had heard was more about the conflict with Lebanon rather than Palestine. The ship was an RFA tanker and we docked in Haifa in the north west of Israel.

It had already been quite a weird kind of experience. We had a ship's football team and our first game was against a Chilean Navy ship. We won 6-3 and I scored a hat-trick, it was in my top 3 all time games. The Chilean guys nicknamed me Georgie Best who had retired and was a bit before my time, but possibly the only British football player they had heard of. The fortunes for our makeshift team continued in Belgium where we entered a multi-national ships' tournament. We took the piss..... quite literally. In between games we were supping beer from the many crates we had brought with us for 'refreshments'.

After a poor start and just a draw in a game against a Finnish ship, we followed up with two wins and began to draw attention. The attention was mostly due to the speed with which we necked the beer between matches and during half-time breaks. There were over 30 ships taking part and each would play five games against randomly drawn opposition. We won the next game and we were elevated to a kind of celebrity status. People were amazed at how we were seemingly pissed as parrots by the last game, yet tournament leaders.

The last game was against the only team who could beat us, a Romanian ship which had 3 wins and a loss. We were one point ahead of them and only needed a draw. By half-time we were 2-0 down and started arguing with each other as we had our half-time cans. A few punches were thrown but it was handbags at ten paces and we settled down for the second half. I think we must have unsettled them because we came back to draw 2-2 and I scored the equaliser (my only goal of the tournament).

So back to Israel. As we approached the port of Haifa the radio officer organised a match for the next day. Due to our unbeaten status and tournament winners, he said "Good standard of play". Big mistake.... huge! We tied up in the evening and the following morning a coach arrived to take us to the venue. Looking at the countryside from the coach I was a little worried about the state the pitch would be in. I'd played before in Peru on sandstone and it was in similar terrain.

When the coach stopped at the huge stadium we were a little puzzled. We had only played on Sunday League pictures and here we were in a huge stadium. It was kind of spooky because there were only about 30 police in the stadium, apparently there to practice crowd control drills. The opposition gave us a little heart when we saw them, they were just kids..... youths, Israeli national youth team youths. Needless to say, they annihilated us.

The police had stopped watching and left the stadium by half-time where we trailed 16-0. Their goalkeeper was so bored he played for us in the second half. We still lost 23-1 and you can guess who scored our goal. Me? Not exactly, although everybody thought so and I wasn't going to disagree. In effect I was waiting on the halfway line when our (their) keeper punted it up field and I dashed to where I thought it would land. Their (our) keeper came out and we both jumped for the ball....... and both missed it. It went over our heads and into the goal.

I always justified my failure to own up about not touching the ball, by speculating the keeper would have saved it comfortably had I not been a nuisance. Having said that, it was our keeper in goal for them so nothing could be taken for granted. The other oddity is the fact that technically it was their goalkeeper that scored so their team in effect scored all 24 goals........ nah, I'm claiming that one.

Things started to go downhill from there. We were off the next day (it was actually Easter weekend) and three of us decided to hire a car and take a look round. One of the guys produced a road map of Israel from only he knows where and off we went. That's not strictly true, there were complications. We rented a car from Herz at Haifa airport and naturally opted for the cheapest. Unfortunately the cheapest wasn't available and instead we hired one with air-conditioning at a much higher price.

Fifteen minutes on the road and the car stopped, died, downed tools. After much ado, we sussed out that the car worked fine if we didn't use the air-conditioning. I should point out at this juncture that the following tale is from events around 30 years ago, so whilst I remember the incidents quite clearly, I'm not 100% sure of the order. We headed south from Haifa and came to a divergence in the road, giving us a choice of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. No competition, Jerusalem was our Mecca in a bizarrely twisted metaphor.

I remember seeing a sign indicating sea-level and then the seemingly constant downhill gradient that followed. The landscape was unlike anywhere else I'd seen. It was in the most part barren but every so often there were oases of lush tomato and orange groves. Kids stood at the side of the road holding out fruit for sale. We thought they were holding huge apples but they were in fact the biggest tomatoes I'd ever seen before or since.

Jerusalem was a bit of a let down in truth. It was chock full of bloody tourists, we had landed on the most holy day in the Christian calendar. We never saw the usual places of interest, just spent a bit of time in a market place. Bethlehem wasn't much better but I insisted we see the spot where JC landed and we queued to get into this church. We were led to believe it was the oldest Christian church in existence (built in 287AD if memory serves) and purportedly built over where Jesus was born.

To get into the church you had to practically crawl through a low 'doorway'. Inside some sort of service or ceremony was going on, the burning incense hung heavy in the air, almost choking. Fat sweaty tourists stood shoulder to shoulder waiting for a turn to see the most holy spot on Earth (for Christians). I just wasn't feeling it. I was getting claustrophobic when one of my shipmates asked what the 'smell' was. I was tetchy and a little incredulous of his ignorance.
"It's fucking incense you idiot" I told him.

It was one of those awkward moments you get in pubs, when loud music stops suddenly as you're halfway through shouting a sentence. The sharp intake of breath from all those close enough to hear went some way to alleviating the incense problem and cured my claustrophobia. Although people were crammed in like sardines, there was a healthy 3 foot space all around me. As you may have guessed, I wasn't struck down, although I was almost arrested right outside just seconds later.

We vacated the church and still overheating from the church I took my T-shirt off. Anybody would have thought I'd taken a dump in the middle of the street. I was soon surrounded by angry people - two of whom were in uniform - shouting what I assume was abuse at me. A fair assumption I think, considering the tone and gesticulation.  I didn't know what the hell was going on at first but it soon became apparent the sight of nipples deeply offends some cultures and I put my T-shirt back on.

I don't know if you are as ignorant of Israel's geography as we were, but up until leaving Jerusalem we had been in Israel. Now we were in Palestine and the yellow number plates on the Israeli hire car, sort of handicapped us. The Palestinian (West Bank) number plates were blue, something we were also unaware of but became apparent after the fact. It was our intention to go to the Dead Sea next but we took a short detour to see King Solomon's pools. They were 2,000 year old reservoirs and quite amazing. It was a lot more serene than Jerusalem and Bethlehem, very few people were around.

We stopped on the shore of the Dead Sea by what appeared to be a deserted visitor centre. There didn't seem to be anyone around so we decided to have a dip. It was strange because we had to wade out about 50 meters and still the water only came up to our thighs. The buoyancy was incredible. I lay back in the water and floated with my legs and chest above the surface. As we left the salt dried on us in thin 'slates' which I found strange. It was like having a very thin tile stuck to my forehead.

Driving up the Jordan Valley we passed what looked to be a city of one story dwellings, so vast were they. I wondered if it was the old Jericho but never found out. It was deserted except for a few goats and their herders. I imagined the river Jordan to be mightier than it looked from the road. It seemed to be little more than a stream. We followed it north all the way to the Sea of Galilee. The water was much colder and clearer than that of the Dead Sea.

Our final stop was in Nazareth and it was there we experienced the problem number plates could cause. We left the car to get a drink and something to eat, it was night time by then. When we went back to the car there were about a dozen local people gathered nearby. When they saw us get into the car they started shouting and gathered round, rocking the car. We sped away putting one of them over the bonnet as the rocks started flying. It was a long time later I finally realised why we were targets of hostility.

So there you have it, my tour of the Holy Land, though fascinating in some respects, was disappointing in that I felt nothing. Certain places give me that 'tingle' - St. Michael's cave Gibraltar for one - a sense that I'm in a very special place, Israel didn't really do it for me.