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The Lesson of Chanukah

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As most people know Chanukah is seen very much in the vain of a Jewish Holy Holiday which this year begins today, 16 Dec. and ends 23 Dec. But should it be seen in this way? I think not.

Each night a candle is lit, one more than the previous night until all 8 candles are alight.  The significance is to do with the time of the Second Temple and the re-dedication of the Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire for Jews but it can be seen as so much more I think.

By adding the number of candles lit during the 8 day period we get to 36 which in Hebrew is denoted by the letters Lamed and Vav which also mean the word Heart.  The candles could be seen to signify the flame that burns in all our hearts, the flame of life so to speak. Within the light of life burns our hopes and desires, the essence of self but because it burns in all of us, Jew and Gentile we are all linked.

Chanukah; a festival for all of us to reaffirm our celebration of life through light.

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The Problem with OXFAM

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The problem with OXFAM is typical of most large NGO’s; the need for cash, and lots of the it. But if you listen to OXFAM you could be forgiven for thinking that the problem with OXFAM is SodaStream & Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett Johansson has been an OXFAM Ambassador for around 6-years and so she says, she’s rightly proud to have been associated with the organisation. However, as with many of these organisations there’s a but and big but at that. Scarlette Johansson has a sponsorship deal with a commercial organisation, in this case SodaStream. Nothing unusual in that sort of set-up, famous people are often associated with a brand to promote further brand awareness. Makes perfect sense.

And here in lies the problem for OXFAM; SodaStream are an Israeli company who’s operations are based in Judea & Samaria (Ezor Yehuda VeShomron), what most people would understand as the West Bank Palestinian Territories. Under international law this area is classified as occupied. This is debatable but not the issue at hand. OXFAM actively campaigns against the Israeli occupation.

I wont go into the spoils of war argument here but I could.

150px-Judea_and_Samaria_Area_in_Israel_(all)_(semi-Israel_areas_hatched).svg

But wait a minute, SodaStream who’s employee base is 15% Jewish Israeli and 85% Palestinian Israeli operates an equal pay and conditions policy for those doing the same work. Effectively their policies are colour blind. Scarlett Johansson recognises this and is proud to be linked to SodaStream on this basis.

In many other countries companies foreign owned or not are generally welcomed as wealth promoters and employers and as tax payers. So what does OXFAM say, well their stance is the same as those who support the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement (BDS). OXFAM is a human rights organisation. In their view the company is illegally based on occupied territory and they cannot have an Ambassador who is linked with such a company, its a contradiction that cannot be maintained.

Well they may hold that view but if they honestly do hold that view then they should have sacked her and not allowed her to leave. OXFAM have plainly took the gun, loaded it up, took aim and shot themselves in the foot!

The fact is that most if not all large NGO’s are heavily reliant on sponsorships for their finances. They have huge, almost crippling salary bills to pay and they therefore need the corporate support to survive. The issues of deprivation, human rights and equality become very quickly a secondary thought. In short OXFAM took the view that they needed Scarlett Johansson more than she needed them (she didn’t).

By contrast Ms Johansson has said she is proud to be associated with SodaStream as a company that promotes cooperation and interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestinians. She said the company was committed to “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.”

The reason, the real reason why OXFAM didn’t tell or even ask Scarlett Johansson to leave; she was no longer welcome as an Ambassador, is that they relied on her for good branding. I have to think that they may live to regret this decision.

As for Scarlett Johansson, well she has handled her self with dignity and has shone a light on the ridiculous BDM movement. Trade is without question a leveller and a conduit for peaceful cooperation.

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

Food Alert!

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If nothing changes by the end of 2014 the TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) will be in force; a catastrophe for those who believe that food and drink are serious issues not to be messed about with so much.

If the agreement comes into force as planned then you will soon be saying hello to genetically modified milk, beef hormones, and chlorinated chicken, not to mention shale gas and oil… And then you will have to say farewell to managed environments, free-range, freedom foods, and a pleasant and green landscape pleasing to the eye as well as our collective conciseness. The influx of products will adversely affect our European food security for what I ask? A populist agenda and cheap shopping!

This project opens the doors to American domination so that they can make by 2029 $0.03 per person with nothing in it for Europeans I venture. The deal will remove trade barriers and tariffs designed to keep safe our own food supply, our own farms and associated businesses. American companies will enjoy commercial equality with our European companies. European jobs will be lost, a new recession is peering at us over the horizon at the end of the decade.

NON

European social structures will be damaged, possibly beyond repair by this agreement. Social standards will be diminished, economic standards will be diminished, industrial, cultural, and personal freedoms will be diminished because this agreement will attack our basic democratic freedoms through an unprecedented level of influence that will be exercised by the American mega-companies vying to control our food supply chains.

What gain for Europe? Well its suggested that Europe will gain 0.5% of total European GDP but its also said that this figure should be treated with scepticism, it might not happen!

There is also the further very thorny issue of energy supply. The agreement allows for free trade across Europe of energy supply but there is no universality of agreement between European states on the status of energy supply. In some countries certain types of energy (shale gas) is illegal. This is without question a massive area of concern not currently addressed by the agreement or the EU. Democratic rights will certainly be trampled under the American free trade boot when it comes to energy supply.

The European project seems to be under threat from our American cousins attempts to sell Europe food and energy that it does not need or want in most cases. Do we honestly need more Americanisms? Our food is currently too fast, more not less McDonald’s cannot surly be a good thing.

The Hordes are coming?

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Schengen Agreement
Schengen Agreement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 01 Jan. 2014 Romanians and Bulgarians have had the restrictions on free movement lifted, 7 years since accession to the EU and now they are free to travel for work.

The Disaster Scenario for British PM David Cameron I guess. He announced that Romanians and Bulgarians would not enjoy the same freedoms as those from other European countries, no not a bit of it, they would be excluded from claiming the same social benefits freely available to others. Britain would not be over-run by scroungers!

David Cameron knows this ‘problem’ does not arise, they are coming to work in the main. But he nonetheless continues to agitate the populist radical right who are spoken to by UKIP. He will continue to do this right up to the European Elections in May 2014, after then who knows what his and his party’s position on the matter will be. Add to this political frenzy of over-speculation the British tabloid press coverage and yes we have a storm of Romanian and Bulgarian scroungers just simply queuing to get on planes, trains and automobiles to get to Britain, and only Britain!

This is no shock, back in 2007 when the 2 countries gained accession there were fears, deep seated fears. The British tabloids at the time imagined hordes would come, fill-up the remaining few British social houses, hospitals and school places.

At the time experts in immigration and population movement said that the effect would not be great. Yes, some would move to Britain but not so many as to swamp the country in feckless beggars and scroungers though. All that has to be remembered is that from 2001 Romanians and Bulgarians could travel freely in the Schengen area without a visa. There was no mass migration, there is no reason to believe that there will be a mass migration so spectacular that the social fabric of society will be torn away at the seams.

But at the time there was no UKIP, the political tone was much more moderate. This time the press and politicians outdid themselves and their hostile and xenophobic language has attracted amazement and bitterness in Bulgaria and Romania. Many articles on the subject are translated, and often make the headlines in both countries.

But there is a great paradox, in Bulgaria, 18,000 Britons have bought holiday homes in the resorts, enjoying an almost Mediterranean climate on the cheap. There is no animosity between the British and Bulgarians to my knowledge, except in the virtual space of the tabloids and the comments they generate from our political leaders.

So my conclusion: Bulgarians and Romanians do not have much to worry about Mr Cameron. You have expressed your doubts, you have agitated. Although in my opinion, it is losing the European elections that you are worrying about, not the moderate influx of people wishing to better their lives through toil and hard work. But for many reasons, the Bulgarian and Romanian have a bad image in the EU. This has nothing to do with Mr. Cameron and Sofia and Bucharest it is to do with the economic disadvantages of their nations. The EU is large and will do well to continue to enlarge itself for the time being.

Britain was after-all the architect of Romanian and Bulgarian accession, she got what she asked for so why complain?

US Debt Crisis Oct. 2013

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English: Barack Obama signing the Patient Prot...
English: Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House Español: Barack Obama firmando la Ley de Protección al Paciente y Cuidado de Salud Asequible en la Casa Blanca (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a shade more than 2 weeks (16 days to be precise) the US debt crisis appears to be coming to a close, well for now at least. America came within a whisper of default on its national debt because the Republicans and the Democrats couldnt see eye-to-eye on a solution.

On Wednesday 15 Oct. 2013 the Democratic leader Harry Reid said that Senate leaders had found an agreement, with non-essential government services to be reopened; but only until a new deadline of January 15, 2014. America’s borrowing authority will be increased until February 07, 2014. Reid said: “The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs.”

Yet to outside observers, the past three weeks have been totally baffling; a perplexing cocktail of Tea Party, Ted Cruz, Obamacare and debt.

So how and why did the Washington Administration came so close to pushing the world back into financial chaos.

  1. From the beginning, what was the Default? The US government nearly defaulted on its debt because the two main parties (yes there are only two choices and neither of them are particularly attractive from my European perspective), the Republicans and the Democrats struggled to reach a deal to increase the country’s debt limit (of course this simply means they are allowing themselves to borrow even more, as if the debt isn’t already at eye-watering levels!).
  2. What does that mean? The debt limit set is the total allowable $ value of government borrowing. The limit, set by Congress is usually issued in the form of treasury bonds and securities. If the debt limit isn’t increased, then America can’t honor its debts to foreign countries. We all get to pay for America’s spending!
  3. And why is that so bad? The US $ is the world’s reserve currency (travel almost anywhere and you can get by with US $). If the US can’t pay its debts, the stock markets would react swiftly and badly, plunging the US and the rest of the world back into recession (as if we ever really got out of recession in the first place).
  4. So why didn’t they just raise it without all the argument? This deal was so difficult to reach because the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, was facing massive pressure from within his own party not to compromise with the Democrats. Amounting to, it would seem a ‘screw the economy’ attitude to get what they wanted or to those of us with a little more maturity, plain childishness!
  5. Right then, got that bit; but what did it all have to do with Obamacare? The Affordable Care Act, was passed into law in 2010 (that’s by both Democrats and Republicans), but is despised by the Republican Party, who see it as a violation of free market principles and an expansion of the state, a bit too socialist for them. It’s also President Obama’s signature achievement, making it a high value target for his opponents.
  6. And the Government Shut-down? The shutdown came about because Congress couldn’t (wouldn’t) agree on a debt budget for the country. The Republicans tried to tie the dismantling of Obamacare to the passing of a national debt budget deal. When the Democrats refused to cave-in on the healthcare law, the government closed. The Republicans then tried the same hostage taking tactic over the debt ceiling. Same result.
  7. Go on then explain why they threatened the debt ceiling? Breaching the debt ceiling would be a catastrophe; the US came to the brink of default because a small group of Tea Party-backed politicians (the lunatic-right) who just didn’t care if the government defaulted on its debts. They despise the Democratic government and they despise Obama even more. Had the US have defaulted, it would have happened on Obama’s watch, which would have been a victory of sorts for the Republicans after their failure to dismantle Obamacare. But screw the world!
  8. Right so we know why, now who? Led by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, this extreme right-wing (wrong-wing) of the Republican Party amounts to only 18% of the elected GOP, however it is hugely powerful thanks to the support of the Tea Party, who have threatened to challenge any Republican who voted in favor of a compromise with the Democrats.
  9. Okay, this takes money, where from? The Tea Party was able to threaten established GOP politicians because they have a lot of financial backing from wealthy businessmen such as the Koch Brothers. So any Republican politician that compromised would face a well-funded opposition campaign the next time voters went to the polls. Its all really about self interest.
  10. Got that, what do they stand for though? Even the Koch brothers didn’t want the US to default on its debt, that’s just bad for business. Meaning something else was driving the Tea Party; IDEOLOGY. The Tea Party came to prominence in 2008 after the global financial meltdown and the subsequent bailouts. They wanted less government regulation, less national debt and more fiscal responsibility! Not particularly bad when you say it like that but hang on just a second…
  11. Just tell me about the reality please? …2008 also saw the election of Barack Obama, the country’s first Black President (some people call him The Kenyan and some believe him to be Muslim, not that either is a bad thing as such but in some peoples eyes either one or both statements if true would be seen as a PR disaster). The Tea Party didn’t like this as they saw it representing a shift away from their view of “traditional America” (traditional America = Christian Right-Wing; the KKK is probably a good example of a Christian Right-Wing organisation in America). As such, they set about challenging everything Obama did, even if that meant bringing the US and the world to the brink of financial disaster. Great idea.

 

So, the Americans have pulled-back but honestly is anybody fooled? This situation is set for a repeat January/February next year. In short; situation normal, round two set for after Christmas!

 

Ye-Haaa welcome to the wild west!

Cerebral None Event

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Flaubert's Parrot
Flaubert’s Parrot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The condition of being stupid is more common than you would at first realize. Take for example a recent incident I had to deal with:

  1. Employee A sells a BlackBerry phone to Employee B but refuses to hand over the phone after he gets the cash
  2. Employee B waits and asks for the phone for a couple of weeks
  3. Employee A keeps him waiting and eventually offers to return the cash when he gets paid
  4. Employee B is paid weekly so assumes that Employee A will pay on Thursday (the same day he gets paid)
  5. Employee A lets Employee B think this even tough he’s paid monthly
  6. Employee B finds out and realises he’s gonna have to wait another week
  7. Employee A books a week long holiday for the week he gets paid
  8. Employee B finds out and gets angry then even
  9. Employee B assaults Employee A, then takes Employee A’s bag with his phone, shoes and keys by way of a ‘no-phone tax’
  10. Employee A goes to the Police
  11. Employee A and the Police man come to work to sort out the mess
  12. Employee B hands back the bag less the phone which he agrees to hand back when he either has a working Blackberry phone or his money back

 

Employee A is stupid because he honestly thought he’d get away with the con even though he works at the same place as his victim; Employee B

Employee B is stupid because he trusted Employee A who he does not know socially.

Each suffered from a Cerebral None Event!

Stupidity:  bonehead, brainless, dense, dim-witted, doltish, dopey, dork, dull, dumb, foolish, gormless, mindless, oafish, obtuse, senseless, simple, slow, thick, vacant & weak-minded

Quotes about Stupidity:

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
― Albert Einstein

“I’ll take crazy over stupid any day.”
― Joss Whedon

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
― George Carlin

“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte

“Stupidity isn’t punishable by death. If it was, there would be a hell of a population drop.”
― Laurell K. HamiltonThe Laughing Corpse

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.”
― Oscar WildeThe Picture of Dorian Gray

“The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity.”
― Harlan Ellison

“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”
― Frank Zappa

“Far be it from me to ever let my common sense get in the way of my stupidity. I say we press on.”
― Sherrilyn KenyonInfinity

“To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness – though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.”
― Julian BarnesFlaubert’s Parrot

What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
― Christopher HitchensHitch-22: A Memoir

“Irony is wasted on the stupid”
― Oscar Wilde

“Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.”
― John SteinbeckEast of Eden

“[In the Universe it may be that] Primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare. Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”
― Stephen Hawking

“Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte

“I have defined the hundred per cent American as ninety-nine per cent an idiot.”
― George Bernard Shaw

“How stupid lovers can be! But if they were not, there would be no story.”
― Jean PlaidyThe Courts of Love

“If stupidity got us in this mess, how come it can’t get us out.”
― Will Rogers

“There’s a thin line between genius and bottom-barrel stupidness. I hover delicately on a tightrope between the two, wondering where I’ll land if I’ll ever fall.”
― Suzanne CrowleyThe Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous