Tyranny of the Majority or just True Democracy?

This blog entry is based on a comment I wrote in response to an article at http://nationalinterest.org/feature/switzerland-the-ultimate-democracy-11219, which, whilst highlighting the pros of Direct Democracy, makes reference to the ‘tyranny of the majority’. This is my response…

This concept of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ always fascinates me, or more accurately annoys the hell out of me. Isn’t that actually true democracy? Exactly how can a small group of people (i.e. politicians) who ride roughshod over the will of the people, promoting their own political agendas, careers, and vested interests over the best interests of the nation as a whole be considered a better alternative? On whose say-so are the laws passed in a representative democracy in any way fair, or, to turn around the accusation, ‘non-tyrannical’ if they go against the will of the majority of the public? It’s a nonsense.

Switzerland’s population comprises 28.9% foreigners – outside micro states and the duchy of Luxembourg, the highest proportion of foreigner inhabitants in Europe. To say that these immigrants are in any way persecuted suggests that they are masochists. They are hardly oppressed enough to vote with their feet, so maybe the the touted ‘oppression’ isn’t quite ‘oppressive’ enough to make them want to leave.

The article raises the issue that there is a vague suspicion that the Swiss may have voted to ban ritual slaughter originally as a means to oppress the Jewish population. Is there any evidence for this outside the vague suspicions of the multiculturalist’s agenda? Perhaps it should be taken at face value that most westerners and animal rights groups find the slaughter practices of certain other cultures against our norms of decency with regard to the humane treatment of animals. In any case, it doesn’t seem to have had Jews fleeing the country in droves, unlike other more ‘culturally enlightened’ countries in recent years, where the active promotion of multiculturalism has led to an emboldening of less enlightened attitudes and practices. Witness the history of honour killings, child rape, veiling, Muslim patrols, and, ironically, the flight of Jews in droves from several European cities where Islam has taken a foothold. Most recently, witness the shocking events in Rotherham.

What’s often overlooked in the dash to promote multiculturalism is that a country’s inhabitants have a right to their own culture and they have a perfectly legitimate right to maintain that culture – part of the very aspect of the nation which attracts visitors and immigrants. Since culture encompasses morals and values, an indigenous population should have every right to seek to protect its own culture and to prevent the promotion of other cultural practices or symbols which conflict with the indigenous culture.

And yes, this even extends to preventing the building of minarets. In what sense does the desire of a minority to build a minaret trump the majority’s desire not to have a minaret any more than an individual’s request for planning permission to build an eyesore would trump the majority’s desire for the eyesore not to leave the drawing board? Is the minaret required for worship? Even if it were, why should the majority tolerate something they don’t want – even if their desire to not have it were regarded as baseless by others?

The ‘tyranny of the majority’ is not really tyranny, but represents another misuse of language, in the same way that ‘race’ has been misused to encompass religion, or Israel, the only viable liberal democracy in the Middle East, is incorrectly described as ‘apartheid’.

Muslims are still free to worship and even to build mosques in Switzerland. There is no suppression of actual human rights – merely behaviours which don’t fit in with the host culture, and the majority of a host nation has more of a right, as the established population, to a vague dislike of foreign cultural practices than a minority does to promote them.

The Swiss are clearly keen to avoid the ‘tyranny of the minority’ of elsewhere – where cultural vandalism happens on the say-so of minorities, or more often than that, not the minorities themselves, but a minority within the minority, or of cultural Marxists, keen to push their cultural relativist agenda, encouraging multiculturalism, segregation, misunderstanding, and ultimately behaviours which, whilst tolerated or normal in other cultures (child marriage, child abuse, wife-beating, homophobia), are illegal in Switzerland.

Can those who oppose ‘tyranny of the majority’ say in all honesty that they are happy with political decisions made on their behalf? I have yet to meet someone who is. A quick check on social media suggests otherwise. Even if they are happy when they ‘get their way’ and legislation is passed which they support, but the majority oppose, what kind of anti-democratic mind endorses this state of affairs?

True democracy means we occasionally don’t get our own way. A mature democrat will accept the will of the majority, even when it goes against their own views.

Ultimately, the majority doesn’t have to justify its actions to anyone. So long as it doesn’t transgress real human rights (as many of the immigrants’ own cultures do), it has an absolute right to do what it wants. And despite the protestations of some, the number of foreigners living in Switzerland tells us all we need to know about the reality of the situation.

Back to the wider point of Direct Democracy, we, in the representative democracy world, have widespread disillusion with politics, as has been clearly demonstrated by turnout in elections over several years now. The electorate knows that politicians, once elected, can ride roughshod over electoral promises or public opinion. Worse still, they can do that with absolute impunity and without the threat of recall. We have widespread criticism of politicians and the decisions they make across mainstream and social media, and the rise of the anti-politician, such as Russell Brand. This latter development is particularly dangerous. I wonder if we can cite any historic examples of charismatic ‘leaders’ preaching messages against democracy and advocating revolution. Hmm….

We see demonstrations almost every weekend around the country over a wide variety of issues, and yet it doesn’t take much to realise how ineffective these are in comparison to the power of the citizen initiative or referendum. And here’s the odd thing… Most demonstrations I can recall in the UK involve issues which one would normally associate with demands of the political left. The only exceptions which come to mind are the Countryside Alliance’s demonstrations and the marches of the EDL (although these were countered by the AFL, which, oddly enough, seems happy enough to march alongside proponents of conservative values, so long as they aren’t western ones).

Ironically, however, those who demonstrate in the streets to get their way, who complain about any proposed privatisation of the NHS or about UK intervention in foreign wars are not the ones who are advocating the kind of system which could see them win the argument – i.e. Direct Democracy. Rather, it is the younger political wing of the Conservative Party and UKIP (more commonly seen as merely an anti-EU party, or by lazy thinkers as BNP lite) which argues for initiative, referendum, and recall – the core components of Direct Democracy: people like Zac Goldsmith, Daniel Hannan, and Douglas Carswell: the latter having recently defected to UKIP following frustration at the lack of political reform in the Conservative Party.

There is a clear answer to the disenfranchisement of the electorate and that is Direct Democracy. Switzerland shows that, as conservative as it is perceived to be, liberal and progressive measures do make it to a public vote and occasionally become law, whereas such policies don’t usually get anywhere near becoming laws in representative democracies, due to the lobbying power of special interest groups and big business.

Wilful electoral withdrawal by the majority of the electorate and the governance of special interest groups and influence of big business is of far greater concern than any imagined ‘tyranny of the majority’.

Man Holds Conservative Religious Belief Shock

The funny thing about this loony UKIP councillor story (and I do not share the councillor’s views on same-sex marriage or religion) is how the media and public have rounded on this guy and he’s ridiculed for beliefs which are deeply held religious beliefs.

At the risk of sounding like I’m defending the guy (I’m not – I think my own views on deeply held religious beliefs are pretty well established and I’ll call bullshit bullshit no matter who produces it, even if I share common beliefs with this bloke about Britain leaving the EU), what makes this guy’s noxious beliefs any different from any other religious beliefs?

The thing that tickles me about this story and its portrayal, are the huge numbers of people rounding on this guy who stay remarkably silent when it’s not an old Christian bloke making these kind of comments.

To quote a UKIP spokesman…

“If the media are expecting UKIP to either condemn or condone someone’s personal religious views they will get absolutely no response. Whether Jain or Sikh or Buddhist or Sufi or Zoroastrian or Jewish or Muslim or Baptist or Hindu or Catholic or Baha’i or Animist or any other mainstream or minor religion or movement, we are taught as a tolerant society to accept a diversity of ideologies.

Freedom to individual thought and expression is a central tenet of any open-minded and democratic country. It is quite evident that this is not the party’s belief but the councillor’s own and he is more than entitled to express independent thought despite whether or not other people may deem it standard or correct.”

So, what I’m not clear on is why this guy’s views are more odious than the many Muslims (not just the odd individuals) who have openly called for the death of homosexuals on British streets. This old fruitcake is not advocating imposition of the death sentence for homosexuality; he’s stated that he is opposed to gay marriage and his profoundly held religious belief is that his god is against it too.

I utterly disagree with him on the issue of gay marriage, but what makes his beliefs any more particularly batshit crazy than the immaculate conception, resurrection, the Noah story, the moon splitting in two, the creation myths of all religions, winged horses, all of which are beliefs sincerely held by millions of people across the world?

Are they particularly odious because he is seeking to curtail the rights of others? He’s hardly unique there. Abortion laws in many Christian countries anyone? Women stoned for being raped in Islamic nations? I could go on and on about examples of religious powers curtailing the rights of others. There are literally whole books and thousands of news articles on the subject, and laws all around the world which curtail the rights of others.

Is the guy fair game because he’s a clearly a capitalist Christian? No religion has complete agreement of beliefs across its adherents and this bloke is hardly unique in his religion. I have personally encountered many illiberal Christians who are illiberal because of their faith and we see regular examples of religious bigotry across the world.

Given that there is precedent in all the Abrahamic religions, the ‘desert dogmas’, for God flooding the Earth due to man’s sin, what makes his beliefs particularly ridiculous?

Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria, India, Iran, all Islamic theocracies, and countless other nations have religious-inspired laws which contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which countries subscribe when they join the UN, and yet the UN dedicates its time to condemn the one secular liberal democracy in the Middle East where homosexuals won’t be threatened with prison. violence, or death – Israel. It’d be funny if it weren’t so disgusting. Many of the people lining up to kick this guy are the same who defend Palestinians, who do a nice line in religious intolerance themselves, especially when it comes to teaching their children from birth and in their schools about the ‘flithy, stinking, Jew’ and promoting the murder of the latter in school textbooks. Right on!

Yesterday, liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz received several death threats from Muslims for saying that he was not offended by the Jesus and Mo cartoons. Take a look at his Twitter feed.

Fortunately, only 68% of British adherents to the religion of peace support the arrest and prosecution of anyone who insults Islam, only one third of British Muslim students believe that those who leave the faith should be killed or support killing in the name of Islam, and, relative to this news item, a tiny number, a mere 61% of British Muslims want homosexuality punished.

Ironically, Nawaz was defended by people like the former head of the EDL, Tommy Robinson, along with other liberal Muslims and people who appear to know more about Islam’s real history than many of that religion’s current adherents.

Where were the true liberals while Nawaz was being threatened? Rounding on an old duffer with deeply held religious views who hadn’t called for the death of anyone.

Still, when it comes to those who hold views incompatible with a liberal democracy, we all know who the real enemy within is, don’t we folks! A bloke who represents a fairly standard conservative view of Christianity that God is against gay people getting married, as opposed to the huge numbers who would happily kill gay people themselves, if the laws of the land would only be tolerant and multiculturally aware enough to sanction it.

Right, let me get back to bravely sticking the boot into an old, former Tory bloke I know won’t threaten me.

All children WILL attend ‘cultural awareness’ course… or be branded racist!

I was gobsmacked to read a letter sent by a headteacher to the parents of children at her primary school. I understand that parents were subsequently notified that they should consider the letter retracted, almost certainly following local authority intervention and in the face of the backlash, but clearly one or more parents were outraged enough to go to the press and the damage was already done.

The news item is now available on the BBC news site.

The letter, dated 20/11/2013, read as follows:

Dear Parent/Carer
 
As part of the National Religious Education Curriculum together with the multicultural community in which we live, it is a statutory requirement for Primary School aged children to experience and learn about different cultures.
 
The workshop is at Staffordshire University and will give your child the opportunity to explore other religions. Children will be looking at religious artefacts similar to those that would be on display in a museum. They will not be partaking in any religious practices.
 
Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child’s education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career.
 
As such our expectations are that all children in years 4 and 6 attend school on Wednesday 27th November to take part in this trip.
 
All absences on this day will be investigated for their credibility and will only be sanctioned with a GP sick note.
 
If you would like to discuss this further please contact our RE Coordinator, Mrs Edmonds.

At first glance, I thought it fake, but it isn’t. It’s unbelievably bigoted, politicised, and small-minded. I almost wish my kids were at this school, because I’d actually relish the fight with the cretin responsible for this kind of political threat and they certainly would have been withdrawn from R.E. lessons with immediate effect.

Somehow, I managed to learn about other peoples’ religions as a child by mixing with them socially. I didn’t need to go into the details of how often and in which direction they genuflected, when they fasted, or what particular types of superstition their particular brand of religion promoted.

I certainly didn’t need to go on cultural awareness courses when I was at school in Keighley! I knew kids of various cultures/faiths in my social circles and we got along pretty well in our comprehensive, mixed school. Indeed, my first best friend was a Jehova’s Witness, and without the benefit of ‘cultural awareness’ lessons, I somehow managed to figure out by myself that his family didn’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas like we did, or that he didn’t sit in our school assemblies. I didn’t need to go on a special course to discover that and, rather unsurprisingly it didn’t affect my life at all.

Until the Salman Rushdie affair, things rattled along fairly easily. It was when I saw members the Muslim community make blatant death threats towards a man for what he had written that I realised something was wrong and that not all faith groups were the same.

We have since discovered in reputable opinion polls that a sizeable chunk of the Muslim community support stances which are blatantly counter to western values of freedom of speech. Please check that link – you may be surprised/horrified.

On that basis alone, and the fact that we are bombarded daily with at least one item of negative item of news connected with this community, be it alleged offence in the face of free speech, sexism, homophobia, veiling of women and children, honour killings, terrorism, demonstrations, anti-western propaganda, misogyny, imposition of Halal foodstuffs and slaughter practices, child grooming rings, etc., means we are all only too culturally aware of Islam. And as much as people may protest about the way such news is reported, try as they might, they can’t dispute that the events happened or to which faith the protagonists happened to subscribe.

If we must be subjected to ‘cultural awareness’, I’d rather like to see some more emphasis on Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, and other faiths for a change: faiths which seem to fit perfectly comfortably into our society, because they accept our societal norms and don’t operate on the basis of trying to alter our societal norms to comply to their particular dogmas. But before we go there even, how about some cultural awareness lessons about our culture for everyone? As much as it’s been blatantly ignored and downtrodden, we have our own traditions, music, and other arts within England. I say England, because our friends in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are perfectly happy and at ease with celebrating their cultures. I know of people my age who have heard English folk music and mistaken it for Irish folk music, which is very revealing.

I am happy to tolerate anyone’s beliefs/cultural practices up to the point where they attempt to restrict other people’s freedoms, claim special treatment at everyone else’s inconvenience or at the cost of tax payers, or preach apartheid or hatred rather than integration. It’s as simple as that.

Unfortunately, there remains a sizeable minority which is the problem, and this problem is exacerbated by idiots like this teacher attempting to force people to respect a religion which needs to do a little more respecting of its host culture first.

When we have a week or even a day pass without news about events triggered by the naive belief that it is fine to just import incompatible or counter-Enlightenment cultural practices into this country without any attempt to integrate these people, I’ll be a little more predisposed to engage with this community.

I am all too aware of Islam and what its effects are in practice. I know that there are plenty of good Muslims too, because they are often in agreement with me and I with them over these kinds of issues and in these kind of discussions. There are indeed plenty of Muslims who are embarrassed and angry with parts of their own community and its indigenous apologists. The irony here is that many Muslims will not appreciate the efforts of this woman to force her political agenda on others with threats. Many Muslims are at pains to explain that they don’t need special treatment, that they don’t need Halal everything, that they don’t need protection of the ‘veil’, that they support free speech, that they are just fine with Christmas being called Christmas, and that, even if they are against it, that they understand western military action in Muslim countries is NOT a crusade against Islam (they remember our role defending Bosnian Muslims against Serbian Christians for a start) – although according to the polls linked to above, a large minority don’t think like that.

I don’t consider moderate Muslims to be the enemy. I don’t even consider the hard-line Islamists an immediate threat per se, and at least they have the clarity of thought and honesty to openly state their intentions to destroy democracy and supplant it with theocracy, as per their interpretation of the Quran.

It is often stated that not all Muslims are extremists. Well of course they aren’t, but you would be deliberately self-delusional to fail to spot the common factor in terrorism in the last decade. It is not Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Hindus which make the headlines every day.

No, I reserve true contempt for the multi-culti, ignorant, yoghurt-weaving apologist cretins like the woman responsible for this threatening letter, and those who can’t distinguish between criticism/dislike of something and hatred – who carelessly toss out the slur ‘racist’ (thereby Orwellianly devaluing its true meaning) and, adopting an angry, shouty, self-satisfied, smug stance, labelling anyone to the right of Marx a fascist.

They are the ones who cause resentment, misunderstandings, and who drive more impressionable people into the arms of the extreme right. They also, more cynically, achieve their objective by attempting to supplant ordinary decent people’s capacity for rational thought with received, politically correct opinion. Even a party like UKIP, whilst politically on the right, is actually really sincerely considered by otherwise intelligent people as racist! The fact that it has a membership, supporters, and even high level people of various ethnicities seems to put paid to any such claims, and its clear lack of any policies based around race, but apparently not, if received opinion is anything to go by. You can disagree with their politics, of course, but accusations of racism are false and frankly, pathetic. Of course, it serves the other parties to attempt to shame any UKIP supporters by branding them as such.

Anyway, what am I proposing here? That we should be dismissive of other cultures and traditions? No. Merely that we stop supporting the wrong people in the communities. Muslims are not demanding Halal food, cancellation of Christmas, or that the veil be worn at all times and in all places. If the PC likes of this headmistress made the effort to talk to the moderate Muslims, she would know this.

Children don’t need to attend cultural awareness courses. If we allow them to integrate, they get to know about each others cultures/belief systems quite naturally. Encouraging people not to integrate causes ghettoisation of communities and leads to tensions. So, to save people all the heartache and effort of organising special cultural awareness courses, I’ve written my own.

It’s OK to call out behaviour in other cultures you wouldn’t tolerate in your own. Use your brain. If something doesn’t seem right judged by modern western values, there’s a good chance that it isn’t right.

And branding children as racist for failing to endorse your own particular brand of cultural Marxism where the children aren’t even the decision-makers is right up there with things that aren’t right.

 

An eventful week

Well, quite an eventful last few days have passed.

I was down in Cheltenham last Wednesday for a business meeting, which was actually quite productive and interesting. I decided, despite the very cold weather, to go down on the motorbike. By the time I was a few miles from turning off the M5 to head into Cheltenham, my fingertips were freezing cold. In all the miles I have done on a motorbike and in all weathers, last Wednesday was definitely the coldest my fingers have ever been. I actually felt the cold biting at the end of my finger tips – there’s no better way to describe the sensation – and I wondered to myself whether this pain was indeed where the word ‘frostbite’ originates. Convincing myself otherwise, I rode through the pain and was soon at my destination.

Following the meeting, I made my way out of Cheltenham. After a few minutes and increasingly cold fingers, I decided to consult Google to find a motorbike apparel shop. Sure enough, there was a branch of Hein Gericke (a personal fave for bike clothing) on the outskirts of Cheltenham, which I had actually passed on the way in. Unfortunately, they had sold out of under-gloves, but the sales assistant offered to knock 30% off the price of a set of over-gloves instead, insisting that I made sure I was comfortable I could ride with them before I bought them by taking them out to the bike and ensuring that they offered adequate handling of the controls. They were a little bulky, but were good enough as far as I was concerned, so I bought them and went on my way home.

The same evening, I had planned to ride up to Grimsby, with a view to staying over at my mother-in-law, Joyce’s house before attending my Aunty Eileen’s funeral on Thursday. In the event, I was tired after the ride to Cheltenham and back, had spent quite some time sorting out the mess that was our cupboards in the vain search for a missing under-glove I knew I had somewhere. In the event, I didn’t find the glove, it was already 20:00 and the temperature was dropping further outside, so I decided to head up to Grimsby by car. It transpired that this was a wise decision, since the normal route I drive was closed towards the approach to Waltham, near Grimsby, and the diversion took me through some treacherous, ice and gravel covered lanes, albeit through pretty villages.

On Thursday, I attended the funeral of my Aunty Eileen – the wife of my dad’s brother Bob. Bob died a couple of years ago and I had been unable to attend his funeral through work commitments, so I had resolved to make it to Eileen’s. They were both lovely people who had raised four daughters, each of which went on to have wonderful families of their own. Bob was a bit of a comedian, and Eileen always appeared to me to be acting like the sensible one when they were out together. Unfortunately, the last few years had seen a decline in their healths, with dementia taking a hold on Eileen in recent years, so, in actual fact, we lost the real Eileen some time ago. Nevertheless, their family of children and grandchildren does them great credit.

The funeral itself was, as they tend to be nowadays, more of a celebration of Eileen, and it was clear that the vicar had known Eileen, so it was a little less impersonal than religious funerals usually are. Her daughter, Barbara, read a lovely poem about her (Eileen had enjoyed writing poetry, so it was done by way of a tribute). The wake afterwards was another opportunity to see family I met just a few weeks ago under similarly sad circumstances, following the death of my Aunty Elizabeth, only there were more of the Eileen’s grandchildren there this time, many of whom I hadn’t seen for years, so it was a nice opportunity to catch up with some of them.

I also learned that it had been arranged for my Aunty Elizabeth’s ashes to be interred at the same time as those of Eileen, the following day, and that was a nice thought, since the two had known each other very well, and it meant that Elizabeth’s final resting place would be next to her brother, Bob and his wife, Eileen – a little plot of Chivers family in Lincolnshire.

I headed back home on Thursday afternoon, taking Joyce with me in the car, since the forecast wasn’t good for Friday and Joyce’s husband Ron (my ‘step father-in-law), preferred that she come down with me and that he come and collect her on Monday. The roads were pretty quiet and we had a good journey back.

In the evening, I headed out for a BAiT rehearsal, at which we thrashed out ideas for an acoustic arrangement of one of the last three songs we recorded as a full band, Sunshine song. It was starting to come together quite nicely by the end of the evening.

Friday was back to work, and fairly uneventful in work terms, although I had quite a productive day overall.

On Friday evening, I had a gig with Ministry Of Beaver at the Kingswood Tavern, in my own town of Nuneaton. It’s one of my preferred venues, as there’s generally a good crowd there and they’re very positive about the kind of music we play. We always go down well there. Phil kindly brought along an extra monitor wedge for me to use. I haven’t been using a vocal monitor at all for some time, since they usually take up a lot of room – something which is at a premium for most gigs, and I have gone with the old view of ‘if I can’t pitch to the music itself, I shouldn’t be singing’. The reality though is that you do need to be able to hear what you’re singing and can’t rely on the sound you’re getting through your cheekbones.

Phil also started singing backing vocals and did a great job, although we need to agree on which of us is singing which part in many places – something we haven’t really had time to do properly, as Phil has been learning the bass parts and concentrating primarily on them.

It was another good gig there, despite the attempts of a few local chavs who turned up after we had finished and started to wind up a few people. A fight almost broke out, but the pub staff handled it well and things settled down again. For some time, I’ve had the idea of having ready a sample of some fast bluegrass music, featuring the obligatory three note start – Foggy Mountain Breakdown would be ideal, especially if accompanied by a rebel yell or two. I’ve never had the sample ready though and trouble is extremely rare – I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions where violence has happened at any gig I’ve ever played at – and it’s never been at the dedicated biker kind of places – always the town pubs.

On Saturday, I penned a long email to ‘hand in my notice’ to Ministry of Beaver. I have blogged about this in a separate entry, Nothing to do with the band, but to do with me switching priorities in life.

On Sunday, we made a trip to Ikea in Coventry. We went through a phase of going there very regularly, but hadn’t been for a while. The last time we went, we bought a really good desk for the living room computer for £10 – and a mighty sturdy one at that! We went back on Sunday to find a pedestal or set of drawers on which to place the printer. After much looking around at various options, we settled on a set of bedside drawers in a style we already have in our bedroom.

On the way to Ikea, I had noticed a slight change in engine noise, but, apart from mentioning it to the others in the car, thought little of it. However, on the return journey, as we pulled up at lights by the Ricoh Arena, the noise became very bad and smoke appeared from the engine bay. I managed to get across the roundabout and up to the parking bay before pulling over and examining the damage. As I opened the engine bay, we saw sparks dropping down from the timing belt (or cambelt) area and then saw that the belt itself had broken. This is bad news for a car, since it means the pistons are almost certainly bent and is a very expensive job to repair. Following recovery home (thanks to the quick response of the RAC again – for the second time in a year), and some research, I quickly established that a new engine might be the cheapest way to repair the car and so I resigned myself to the fact that our car, Mem Saab as it is known to us, is dead.

The old girl has done us proud. We paid £8,000 for her ten years ago and she has done 80,000 miles under our ownership (I tend to travel by motorbike whenever possible), so that’s not bad value, and I have to say, she hasn’t put a foot wrong besides standard wear and tear and corrosion. I have broken down three times in all that time and it was always (with the exception of this time) minor things which were relatively inexpensively fixed. She may have been a bit thirsty, but what a car! She got us down to Switzerland and back towing a caravan last summer without a single hiccough. She’ll be missed when she’s gone, that’s for sure.

Now comes the fun of investigating a new car. I’m only going to be looking at things on the basis of practicality and economy. I’m not really interested in looks at all – it’s very subjective anyway, and the cars most people consider to be beautiful, I’m not so keen on. I did have a thing for the Lamborghini Countach and the Lotus Esprit as a kid (those nice, ’70s cars with edges), but you can keep your BMWs, bling, and executive cars. They do absolutely nothing for me.

So, I guess it’s time to start doing some research. Wish me luck!

A politicised Wikipedia? What happened to neutrality?

So, let me get this right, Jimmy Wales…

I should start out by stating that I have read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Learn_more and I am aware that you have left access to Wikipedia open on mobile devices or by disabling javascript (fine for those of us who know how to do that – and to switch it back on again for the many sites on which it’s needed or useful), but…

In order to register your protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act – potential legislation being proposed in the United States, you’re going to punish the English-speaking world (not even just users in the United States) by depriving them of access to a service which they have built up for you.

This is legislation which is opposed by President Obama and already appears to be a non-starter, based on what I have read in the media. But, even if that is not the case…

I live in the United Kingdom. You may want to look on a map of the world to see where that is. I have no sway or influence over the politics of your sovereign nation, even if I wanted to. You do not appear to have a UK English version of your site, despite the fact that we are ‘two nations divided by a common language’, nor have you implemented your ‘protest’ in a way which uses visitors’ IP addresses to identify their country of origin, so you are not in the position to act in a way which only affects users who may, and I mean ‘may’, be able to have the tiniest impact on this legislation.

Wikipedia represents an open source of knowledge. It may not always be perfect, but the beauty of its open nature is that people in a position of knowledge do indeed have the option to correct errors instantly, and have their work reviewed by peers; something it does have over printed encyclopedias. Indeed, although the perception that Wikipedia is full of inaccuracies (hardly surprising given the vast subject areas covered), I have heard experts in various fields complement the site for its accuracy. The site presents sources clearly and I have found it to be an extremely useful reference in the past. I defend the concept of Wikipedia.

What I can’t get past is the logic behind this action. You may have consulted core members of the Wikipedia team (Wikipedians), but couldn’t you have offered a vote to your readers before you made your futile gesture? It is they ultimately and not just the hardcore Wikipedians who have built up your power and influence – all with their own time and effort, and in some cases money. And now here you are acting in a way which affects the very people who support you! It is fundamentally against the spirit of openness. Yes, I know that’s your point, but you are targeting the wrong people.

Support you? You’ve just alienated me and politicised a site which supposedly celebrates its ‘neutrality’. I don’t want to see your face at the top of the page asking for my financial support again after this fiasco. No wonder the head of Twitter called your gesture ‘silly’. Your visitors deserve better. And if you don’t think so, would you mind confining your actions to those who can have any influence over your politics. Google have behaved far more responsibly and fairly in their protest, by symbolically blacking out the Google logo on the US version of the website. Likewise WordPress, whose home page is very striking as I write this. In both cases, they make their protest in a powerful, but unintrusive way.

As one of countless similar comments (by a Wikipedian) on your own site has stated…

“I am saddened and aggrieved that some people want to use Wikipedia as a political tool. If people have objections to legislations they should make their protests known by acting as individuals, not by utilising the work that I and thousands of others have done. I am not contributing to Wikipedia to provide anyone with a means to add weight to their opposition to legislation. If you’re not happy, write to Congress – you can use OpenCongress, or some other means. A handful of vocal editors should not be able to force the closure of a website used by millions.”

Morris Dancing: You’ve Got To Laugh, Haven’t You?

Is there really a debate going on about whether Morris dancers or X Factor winners, Little Mix, should participate in the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics?

Got to say, I’m with the Morris dancers. For all the ridicule they get, they are bastions of this country’s folk dance traditions going back hundreds of years and it would be nice if, for a change, we celebrated our folk heritage as other nations do.

With a bit of imagination, a mass of traditional dancers, backed by a group of the finest folk musicians from the British Isles, I am sure a great show could be put on. Perhaps we could take the opportunity to teach some of our own islands’ inhabitants that our cultural heritage originates not in the streets of Harlem, but from the many varied regions and traditions which make up this collection of islands.

My own personal experience of people hearing English folk in particular is that they instantly assume it is Irish, due to the similarities in instrumentation and song. This is sad in the first place, because it illustrates immediately that they have no idea of how their own indigenous folk music sounds. English folk comprises jigs, reels, shanties, and other song forms – all from a variety of regions across the country, all with their own regional twists.

There was always a cross-pollination of musical influences across the British Isles, including Ireland of course. This in some way explains why, when British people, ignorant of their own country’s folk music, hear it for the first time, they instantly assume it to be Irish.

As for the ceaseless mockery of Morris dancing, people used to mock Irish dancing until Riverdance came along as the interval act of the Eurovision Song Contest and transformed people’s perception of that traditional dance form, making it and all things Irish ‘cool’.

Perhaps, in this respect, we should learn from our friends and relatives across the Irish Sea.

I don’t believe it!

Here’s my ‘paranormal’ story, since it’s Halloween.

In the summer of 1983, we took a family holiday to Scotland to a place called Crubenmore, near Newtonmore in the Scottish Highlands, and stayed in a wooden cabin next to Crubenmore Lodge. We had travelled up as full family: my mum, dad, and both my brothers. We were also joined by my dad’s sister, who used to accompany us on family holidays, which were always somewhere within Britain.

Thanks to the magic of Google Maps, I can actually show you a picture of the place.

The cabin was divided into three sections, with a bedroom and bathroom at one end, a large living room area in the middle, and a couple of bedrooms at the other end.

I was twelve at the time and had developed an interest in ghosts, as many of us do at that stage. I should say at this point that my father was a Church of England vicar, and so we grew up with a spiritual element to our lives, although it was a mainstream C of E church, and so there was no affirmation of faith through charismatic behaviour, such as speaking-in-tongues or any other such ‘magic tricks’ – just an ordinary and friendly congregation. I remember my dad and mum telling me at some point not to dabble with ouija boards and I took their advice, but heard the usual incredible stories from friends at school of their experiences, or their friends’ friends’ experiences.

Anyhow, for some reason, somebody mentioned during the course of the holiday that the actor Alec Guinness had died. He was actually still very much alive at the time, and had in all likelihood come up in conversation due to my fondness for all things Star Wars as a twelve-year-old boy.

During the course of a night, I woke up (or was at least semi-conscious). I was quite frightened of the dark at that stage and used to regularly ask to go to sleep with the lights on. As I lay in my bed, the following words entered by head, although I didn’t voice them out loud.

“The ghost of Alec Guinness, are you there? Knock once for yes, and twice for no.”

Suddenly, there were two very definite and clear knocks on the wooden panelling behind my headboard. I jumped out of the bed with a start and called out for my brother and aunt, both of whom were sleeping in the same large bedroom. I called out again for my aunt, but she didn’t respond, so I made my way towards the door in the dark, planning to make my way through the living room area to my parents’ room. I remember thinking that I’d be safe with my dad – he was after all a vicar and would have some kind of magical powers!

As I reached out to open the door, it swung open in front of me – not just ajar, but fully open. By this stage I was really frightened and pretty much ran across the living room to my parents’ room, where I insisted on spending the rest of the night.

Now, here’s the thing. At the time, I can remember thinking in the morning that I was actually quite happy with the idea of the existence of ghosts. I accepted it completely and actually saw it quite positively. If there were ghosts, there must be an afterlife. Fine! Putting the scary stuff to one side, that was great!

However, over the following weeks, I began to attempt to rationalise it. Perhaps I had imagined the whole thing. I was definitely not fully awake when it happened. Perhaps if the events I describe had happened, the knocks on the wooden cladding were my bed hitting the wall a couple of times, or my older brother moving around in the next room. The door opening may not actually have swung fully open – I had merely imagined that it had. If it opened at all, perhaps it was, as would be expected in such a building, due to my movement, a draught, or simply the building itself moving.

I had a further eerie experience on a separate occasion – in church. My dad used to repair the pipe organ. He had originally trained as a piano tuner and then took a very much hands-on approach to maintaining the church pipe organ, which resulted in pipes being made at home and hours spent routing around the back of the instrument at church. On one occasion, he asked me (or probably ordered me after I’d driven my mum to distraction) to accompany him there. I sat in front of the keyboards while he did what he needed to do maintenance wise, my feet dangling above the organ bass pedals, which I always loved to stand on – brilliantly farty notes. I now understand why I discovered a love for the low frequencies of synth bass pedals, beloved of Prog Rock.

I glanced around at one point and saw a ghostly figure as clear as day stood against the whitewashed wall. Its face was very vivid and its features extremely clear to me. I turned around in fright and then decided to brave my fears and to look back again, hoping that it had gone. It was still there. Somehow, I summoned up the courage to approach the figure in the pews. As I approached, the shape shifted slightly and it became clear that it was merely shades on the wall which my brain had formed into recognisable features, as our brains are wired to do. If I had taken a photo at the time, it would have been a classic ‘ghost photo’.

So, what do I think of these experiences now? Well, the second one taught me to confront those kind of scenarios and attempt to find the rational explanation. The first one taught me that the brain is very good at making you think you experienced things, or convincing you that they happened in a certain way. It has also presented my brothers with endless opportunities to mention the experience, or just Alec Guinness whenever possible, so if you can’t beat ’em…

Paul, Peter, and Alec Guinness in Crubenmore Lodge

Paul, Peter, and Alec Guinness in Crubenmore Lodge

It’s why eye-witness accounts have been shown on many occasions to be completely unreliable. People remember what they want to – good or bad. And if we are in a state of mind to expect ‘paranormal’ experiences, anything which validates that expectation gets the ‘stamp of approval’ in our memory.