Purim Disqus

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It will soon be Purim; a Jewish Festival of enjoyment and celebration. I wrote about this very same festival last year around the time I celebrated with friends in North Manchester, great fun. But what is Purim? What is the story?

Purim is the story of Esther and how she saved the Israelite people of Persia:

There once lived a King by the name of Achashverosh, who ruled over Persia in the third century, BCE.

The story begins with a grand feast that the King was throwing at his palace. Irreconcilable differences propelled the King to divorce and seek a new queen. In search of a new queen, the King commanded his men to travel throughout the kingdom in search of the loveliest of maidens so that he could view them and choose the most beautiful to be his wife and the new Queen.

Around this time there lived a gorgeous woman named Esther. She lived in a small province with her uncle Mordechai. She knew that being the Queen of Persia would be good for her people, so she prepared herself to be brought before the King.

Once the King saw Esther he stopped looking and she became the new Queen of Persia.

One day while passing by the palace gates, Mordechai overheard two guards plotting a revolution with the intent to kill King Achashverosh. Mordechai informed Esther, and the militants were captured and executed. Mordechai saved the King’s life.

The King had an advisor named Haman. This advisor was power hungry and conniving. Haman disliked the Israelites, especially Mordechai. When Haman would travel throughout the towns, he expected the people to bow down to him, as he was second in command to the King. Mordechai refused to bow.

In order to gain favor with the King and rid himself of Mordechai and his people, Haman devised a plan to kill them all. Haman used his sharp tongue and twisted the thoughts of Achashverosh, alleging that Mordechai’s people would cause a problem for the King and that the King should lend his seal to a petition to have them destroyed. The King authorized the genocide and letters were written and sent to all the provinces of Persia bearing the King’s seal.

Haman drew lots to pick the date upon which the genocide would begin. The thirteenth of Adar (the month of Pisces) was the selected day for the mass extermination of the people. Remember this date.

When Mordechai caught word of this, he tore his clothes in mourning, dressed in a sackcloth and cried before the King’s gate.

When Esther was told about her uncle’s behavior she sent him new clothes, but he refused them. He sent her a message telling her to go to the King and plead for the lives of her people.

The law in Persia at that time was strict; no one was to approach the King unless they were summoned. To disobey was punishable by death. Esther sent word back to her uncle that the townspeople should fast for three days, she would do the same, and after the three days she would approach the King.

After three days, Esther went to the King who was so pleased to see her that he held out his scepter and asked her if he could grant her a request. Esther asked the King and Haman to join her in her quarters for a banquet that she would prepare on the following day.

As Haman left the Palace that evening he saw Mordechai. So full with hatred was he for Mordechai, that he resolved the next morning he would ask the King’s permission to hang Mordechai in a public spectacle on gallows fifty feet high.

That same night the King could not sleep and he asked to hear the daily chronicles, which recorded the events of the palace. There the King learned that Mordechai informed the King about a scheme to overthrow the kingdom and kill the King. Mordechai had saved the King’s life, but had not been rewarded for his loyalty.

When Haman arrived in the morning, the King asked Haman’s advice as to the appropriate manner to honor a person that has found great favor with the King. Haman, assuming that it was he who was to be honored, said that the man should be allowed to wear the King’s crown, the King’s clothes and should be led through town on the King’s horse, proclaiming that this man is favored by the King.

King Achashverosh accepted the idea and told Haman to give this honor to Mordechai. Enraged, Haman followed the King’s orders. That night was the banquet that Queen Esther had prepared for the King and Haman. The King was so pleased with her, that again he asked Esther if he could grant her a request. This time Queen Esther asked her husband to save her life, the life of her people, and her uncle, Mordechai, who the king had honored that day. The King was horrified that the life of his queen and his devoted Mordechai were threatened and demanded to know who was responsible for this. Esther replied that it was Haman.

Haman fell to his knees before the King and pleaded for his life, but the King ordered that Haman be hung on the very gallows that he had intended for Mordechai. Mordechai was then made the new advisor to the King.

However, the order of genocide could not simply be revoked, so the King ordered that the Israelites be informed and armed to fight in their own defense. Due to their awareness of the kabbalistic tools of unity, the 72 Names of God, and their understanding of the cosmic cycles of the kabbalistic calendar, the Israelites of Persia triumphed over the Persian Army. They awakened the power of miracles available in the month of Adar/Pisces. And moreover, they were able to alter their destiny.

(Story c/o livingwisdom/kabbalah.com)

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So what does this story tell us? what does it teach?

The story of Purim is a story that teaches that we must overcome one of our greatest enemies; doubt.

Esther could not affect the destiny of her people until she affected the cause of their impending calamity. By saying her people should fast for 72 hours and give succor to one-another she helped her people come together, to overcome the desire for self alone and awaken the energy of unity through the experience of sharing. The king armed them, they fought and overcame their impending doom.

For Jews the time of Purim is a time of celebration. If you go to a Jewish area wherever you find yourself, in whatever country you are you will almost certainly find a community in festive mood. Parties, cake, drink, face-painting for children and general merriment – a time of joy.

Doubt is an enemy of achievement an enemy of aspiration. Doubt of others is bad, but Doubt of yourself is worse. Be sure of yourself, know who and where you are in your life. Know who and where you would like to be in your life. Do not doubt yourself and go and achieve.

These are the lessons from Esther.

Nazi Teacher Banned

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A former IT teacher, Adam Walker who qualified in 2000, appeared before a conduct committee in 2010 after he labelled some immigrants “savage animals” on an internet forum using a school laptop. At a recent Administrative Court to appeal his being banned from teaching, the court upheld the life-time ban.

The Administrative Court sitting in Leeds, the 44-year-old – who now works for two BNP MEPs – claimed the decision to ban him for life was “prejudiced” because of his BNP support. But following a hearing at the Administrative Court sitting in Leeds last month, Judge Clive Heaton QC handed down a ruling which concluded: “I reject his argument as lacking any credible evidential base at all.

Adam Walker, who has been on BNP marches with the far-Right party’s leader Nick Griffin, was challenging the ban authorised by the Education Secretary Michael Gove MP which followed him receiving a suspended sentence for verbally abusing three schoolboys, chasing them in his car and slashing the tyres on their bikes with a Stanley knife. 

Last month, Rory Dunlop, for the respondents, said Mr Walker’s behavior with the unruly children on Tudhoe Village Green on St George’s Day 2011 (irony? I don’t think so), which resulted in convictions for criminal damage, possessing a knife, threatening behavior and dangerous driving, was serious.

Children look to teachers as their examples,” Mr Dunlop told the court.

When you have someone not just behaving extremely badly, endangering children, but also failing to take responsibility for that behavior and lying about it, what kind of example does that set to children?

Lets be quite honest about this, Adam Walker has chased, abused and damaged the property of children. He’s (was) a teacher! He happens to be a supporter of the BNP; a side issue to my mind. And he wants to carry on being a teacher. Honestly? Are we expected to take him seriously? His appeal would be laughable if it wasn’t serious.

He supports the BNP, so what you might ask. This is an organisation based on the premise of hate, prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. He has no place being a teacher when he holds such views, but of course we have a broadly speaking liberal society and he is therefore allowed (no joke). But he’s a violent, abusive man. The children he chased may be unruly, that’s possibly related to how they are parented, but they are minors in the eyes of the law and deserve better than to be chased, abused and exposed to violence from a Teacher of all people.

We fail our youth at our peril. We allow organisations such as the BNP at our peril.

People convicted of crimes such as Adam Walker should be made to pay not just by losing their job but by a prison sentenced. A prison sentence where he is put to work and the fruits of his work made to pay the cost of keeping him in prison. If he were to refuse to cooperate his sentence could be extended and he could be confined to solitary confinement without visitors. I also suggest that a sentence when passed is served, in full, no tariffs, no compromise.

Of course there are worse crimes and needless to say I might suggest a harsher regime and I would reintroduce the death penalty for some, but that’s a different blog post entirely.

Christine Lagarde iMF Managing Director

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Christine Lagarde is Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, appointed in July 2011. A French National, she was previously French Finance Minister from June 2007, and had also served as France’s Minister for Foreign Trade for two years.

Ms. Lagarde also has a previous career as an anti-trust and labor lawyer with the international law firm of Baker & McKenzie, where the partnership elected her as chairman in October 1999, holding the post until June 2005 when she took her initial ministerial post in France. Ms. Lagarde has degrees from Institute of Political Studies (IEP) and from the Law School of Paris X University, where she also lectured prior to joining Baker & McKenzie in 1981.

Managing Director iMF
Managing Director iMF

Ms. Lagarde is a supporter of women not because she is a woman but because she believes that women can help to change the economic world climate. Her position is that despite some improvements, progress toward leveling the playing field for women has stalled. Raising women’s participation in labor markets would benefit all in a number of ways. For example, she noted, if the number of female workers was raised to the same level as that of men in the United Arab Emirates, GDP would expand by 12 percent, in Japan by 9 percent, and in the United States by 5 percent.

Compelling to say the very least.

She has used her prominent position to urge governments and policy makers around the world to take real action and remove barriers to women participating in the economy. She has made the link of social benefits to participation in the workforce, training, or active labor market programs which can help increase female employment, she has said, the availability of good and affordable childcare and greater opportunities for paternity and maternity leave are central to women’s engagement in the economy.

Another area she believes will bring influence of global markets is the effects of the ‘Arab Spring’. One year on from the tumultuous changes in the Middle East and the state of play remains uncertain. She has said we are moving into the most unpredictable, difficult and risky period of these changes with outcomes very uncertain. the Arab Spring regardless of how it eventually manifests will present unprecedented challenges to the financial markets.

Further to the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing role of women and the Middle East is the specter of mass youth unemployment. For developed economies this is possibly the most urgent and pressing of issues at present and represents an enormous challenge for governments, NGO’s and the youth themselves.

She points to more targeted social protection systems which would help free up funds for spending on areas like infrastructure, education, and health while laying the foundations for inclusive growth. This would be a break from the past when generalized subsidies were used to appease the population while allowing the privileged to benefit from unfair practices. So, macroeconomic stability and inclusive growth can—and indeed must—go hand in hand.

The biggest challenge however as far as Ms. Largarde is concerned the redoubtable challenge presented by climate change. Whole ares of the planet will see dramatic (in some cases at least) changes in the eco-systems. Those economies reliant on agriculture will have to face the prospect of changing environments which may no-longer support centuries old ways of life.

All of these challenges may seem insurmountable to many if not most but Christine Lagarde is nothing if not resourceful and provides a pathway to follow to an eventual future of promise.

She looks back at history for the lessons it can provide;

1914 and the world was at its most integrated with trade being at its highest for all of history at the time. 1914, the beginning of the First World War, the Great War and the start of a 30 year slump. Nations faced with competition looked inward on themselves and nationalistic self-interest took hold. Being French she will without question be fully aware that although France was on the winning side so to speak, France was the biggest loser of that war in terms of numbers of people killed and the extent of devastation suffered.

Following this war the great depression suffered world-wide to be again quickly followed by a Second World War where once again France on the winning side was the biggest of losers.

1944 and the Bretton Woods Conference addressed by John Maynard Keynes a British economist who ushered in the birth of the iMF. A move to unity of nations in an attempt to overcome the nationalist attitudes prevailing at the time.

Best summed up as “…we fight together on sodden battlefields. We sail together on the majestic blue. We fly together in the ethereal sky,” said Fred M. Vinson, who later became chief justice of the United States. “The test of this conference is whether we can walk together, solve our economic problems, down the road to peace as we today march to victory.”

Ms. Lagarde recognizes the challenges of today are greater still. In a hyper-connected age faced by climate change and political unrest in pursuit of self determination and under the yoke of the present economic calamity Ms. Lagarde offers hope by way of a unifying mind, she brings a call to all to partake in the pursuit of humanity and economic equality of opportunity.

Logic or Loathing, the Scottish question

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There aren’t many things as bitter as a divorce and it very much looks as if Scotland is getting themselves ready to divorce the British Union (England really).

What those Westminster types appear to have missed is the way the arguments are being put; Scottish arguments in favor of independence are all emotion and national pride. The Westminster arguments are all financial logic, well that’s what they’d like you to think at any rate, the manner in which some of them frame their arguments leads me to believe they’ve had a frontal lobotomy.

I have to admit that there are compelling arguments for keeping the union together though, Scottish tax’s may well rise and incomes could be hit. These of course are the logic arguments but when logic, even compelling logic such as this rubs up against loathing of the sort the Scottish Nationalists display there’s no contest.

Bearing in mind I’m not Scottish, I try very hard not to go to Scotland; its on the whole cold, damp and honestly I struggle to understand the version of spoken English used to communicate up there, in short its not the kind of place that suits me, but I have to admit nonetheless that I have a secret respect for what they might just achieve.

They have all manner of energy resources and wide open spaces, and yes it looks very beautiful in the brochures. They also have the British naval base where the nuclear submarines are based and this could prove a bit of a problem for the whole of the union, never mind the suggestion of a Sterling currency union which the English don’t appear to like one bit. But really I think they might just do it regardless the logistical challenges. After all who wants to be part of a dog end of an empire?

What ever the Scottish decide I will wish them well because if they don’t actually get independence I’m certain they’ll get what was termed Devo-Max which basically means they’ll run almost as an independent nation, just with a few Westminster MP’s to pay for. If David Cameron and his cronies hadn’t been quite to pig-headed about not putting the Devo-Max option on the ballot papers he might have had a chance of salvaging some respect in Scotland. Win, Lose or Draw after the vote takes place I would probably bet that he wont be welcome North of the Border any time soon!

From the politics point of view Scotland is broadly speaking a Socialist nation while the rest of the UK isn’t, so you have to have some sympathy for them, they just don’t get the leaders they want. And I can see why the British Labour Party don’t want them to split away either, it’d mean the end of them as an opposition party in the remaining UK with no possibility of taking power for a long time to come. Basically the remaining UK will have a Conservative Government, unchallenged for quite some time to come. On this point alone I selfishly hope the Scottish people remain in the union, but I wouldn’t hold it against them if they didn’t, in fact I’d be quite the jealous one!

So the divorce papers have been served, the marriage is in trouble, the wife wants to leave after years of abuse and feeling like she’s been treated like an idiot. The husband on the other hand cant bring himself to believe she’ll leave, she wont be able to support herself he thinks.

Like most of these sorts of cases, she divorces him and the husband doesn’t see it coming till its actually happened and his suits are cut to ribbons in a bin-bag at the door of his now former home!

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.

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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.

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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.