Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

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I marched, but the media reported wrongly

I joined the March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March with around half-a-million others. It was an exciting day, and good to see people of all ages, including little children, and all backgrounds dancing and chanting along the Embankment and en route to Hyde Park. I got back to see BBC News coverage of the event, and was angry, albeit not that surprised, to see a very skewed view of what went on.  I have had around two-dozen friends say that they wished they had gone on the march, but were concerned about this or that. I have to say that this march was ultra-safe, and the babies and toddlers only cried when they saw Cameron or Clegg’s face on placards! If you stayed home and only know about the march from media reports, let me tell you something you have not yet heard: it was a great day out for all the family.

The main contingent of the march were the unions. There were lots of Unison, Unite and GMB banners there. There were firefighters marching in pristine uniforms. Teachers were marching, as were students. A huge Postman Pat was leading groups of posties. Plenty of Labour Party branches were there with banners, as were a few Green Party branches and the assorted other parties of the Left. Campaign groups were out, like Stop the War and UK Uncut. Many spent hours on coaches from Scotland and Northern England to get there. A group of carers for the elderly marched with placards, each bearing a photo of an older person and their message of support for the march — an old woman grasping her zimmer frame: “I would march if I could”. It took two hours for those at the back of the march to reach the starting point on the Embankment from which the front moved off. If each of us who marched has a handful of friends who stayed at home yet support us, the march represents many millions of Britons who refuse to accept the government’s rhetoric on necessary cuts. This is no minority, this is mainstream.

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Census awkwardness

Page from the Domesday Book for Warwickshire, ...

Domesday Book

Census day is almost upon us. Filling in the census form is not that difficult, and, seeing as it is used to direct government policy and funds, it is fairly important. Genealogists love those old censuses, like trainspotters anoraking for the Flying Scotsman, but as a statistical exercise the census is deeply flawed. Governments need information on their citizenry to function well, and we have been subjected to them since Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, and Will Conker got his hands on our Domesday Book. Fears about invasion of privacy, Big Brother and the database state are almost certainly overstated; of all the information held about citizens the census is probably the most secure and the most difficult to misuse. However, I am concerned that huge US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin have been given the contract to process the census forms. We have been given assurances that the data will be safe, and I believe them (after all, I do not think the CIA would find our census returns that interesting, as they can already locate and profile each of us in a dozen different way).

So, what is to be done? I do not recommend doing anything illegal with census forms. Not returning the form, failing to answer a question (except an optional question like the religion one) or supplying incorrect information can land us with a £1000 fine. However, I do object to Lockheed Martin getting public funds for census work. Their plan is to process your census form in a few seconds flat, using computers that scan the pages, rip the information and add it to the database all at once. My suggestion is that we make them work for their money. After all, if I make a few innocent mistakes on my form and turn their few seconds into ten minutes of entering data by hand, that’s less profit going to the arms dealer, and more to the minimum-waged workers at the processing centre. If enough of us are awkward enough, the casual workers at the centres will get more work and pay, and Lockheed Martin will make less profit. After a bit of searching I found some nice tips on how to be census awkward — short version / long version. Here is a very short guide of how best to fill in the census form:

  1. The bar codes help Lockheed Martin process the form really quickly, to slow them down a bit
    1. It is always fun to fill in some of the white spaces in the bar codes on most of the pages.
    2. It is very easy to loose the envelope and then have to fold the form twice to fit another envelope and write the Freepost address on it. This might prevent the initial registering of the form as sent (so someone might call round and ask if you have sent it) and make it difficult to feed the crumpled pages into the machine.
  2. The machine uses optical character recognition to rip the information of the form. It is far too easy to write in joined-up or go outside of the boxes, which means the machine cannot read the form.
  3. A few mistakes and crossings out, especially with those tick boxes, is inevitable, and just makes it more difficult to figure out.

Remember to be nice to the poor people at the processing centres (write ‘sorry’ when you make mistakes), and remember not to miss a question out (unless you supply the missed information by letter later, which will really slow them down) or supply incorrect information. Stay legal, and reallocate our tax money away from a cluster-bomb multinational to the people so desperate they signed up for casual work in their processing centres.

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The case against bombing Libya (via jonesblog)

Owen Jones has written this well thought-out piece about Western military intervention in Libya. Whereas I criticized those who suggested that nothing should be done, the gung-ho readiness for jetting off to Libya while totally ignoring violent repression of peaceful protesters in Arabia and the Gulf is problematic.

The case against bombing Libya The Arab Spring has given way to a cold snap: Tiananmen Square-style massacres of protesters in Yemen, the Saudi invasion of Bahrain and full-blown Western intervention in Libya. It was never going to be easy. The Middle East is the most strategically important region on Earth, and also boasts the biggest concentration of brutal dictatorships: no coincidence, of course. With United Nations approval, Western bombs are now raining down on Libya. Th … Read More

via jonesblog


Bright sadness: thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Those who know me know that I take fasting pretty seriously. That does not mean that I am a master of the fast; I get grumpy, get tempted when I fast; I am weak, ill-disciplined and self-centred. However, I am serious about fasting because I am slowly coming to understand that fasting helps me to understand those most deplorable qualities in me. It certainly is not pretty, but does give invaluable insight. It is a pain, but full of gain.

You see, the date of Easter is in the diary, it will come and there will be hallelujahs (that word was typed before Shrove midnight!) aplenty, but it can mean very little if we simply let it fall upon us. A few years ago I walked to the summit of Mount Snowdon. It was a great climb, but I was put out to see people arriving at the summit by train from Llanberis. They had not put in the time and effort, but just bought the ticket. However, I overheard their loud complaining about the weather or the less than perfect view, and I understood that my investment gave the greater enjoyment of the beauty and magnificence of that little bit of creation. We often arrive at Easter like those who roll off the train, and we might get something from the experience, but it is definitely worth arriving the hard way, for the hard way is the way of beauty.

The classic move of giving up chocolate is simply useless. I mean, what is the point or significance of that? Fasting need not be extreme (and should not be if you have health problems), but it should make some significant impact on our lives. This webpage offers some suggestions and advice on fasting. Remember that we can have Sundays off from fasting, and that is why there are 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. As the average British person consumes so much more than the global average, and not just in terms of food, fasting can have a social-justice focus too.

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