Blog Archive

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Je suis Charlie, Politics this Year, Goodbye King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, I run 10 marathons, Churchill's Funeral.

The 7th January 2015 will forever remain one of those days that nobody forgets, that the world will never forget. It will be in our history books long after we have gone. A pair of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in central Paris, and gunned down and murdered with automatic machine guns, ten of the staff and two policemen. Charb, the editor was killed as were a number of famous cartoonists who had been working at the journal for decades as well as other staff at the paper, all in horrendous, bloody circumstances. The police hunted them down and they died in a shoot out 48 hours later at the same time as another terrorist held up a Kosher Supermarket in Vincennes in east Paris resulting in the death of another four innocent people. It later turned out that a Muslim man, Lassana Bathily, who had been shopping at the same time saved the lives of several of the hostages, although this is the only positive thing to have come out of it. The people of France are shocked as this is the first large-scale murderous attack in the country in decades. The people have been demonstrating in the streets in many major cities in France and across the world holding banners ‘Je suis Charlie’ and protesting in favour of free speech and defending the French values of Libert√©, Egalit√© and Fraternit√©. The terrorists targeted Charlie Hebdo because they regularly drew satirical cartoons lampooning pretty much everyone from the religious leaders to the political leaders of France and the world. This of course rightly included making fun of Muslims and the prophet Mohamed, as it would not have been right to leave them out. It is true to say that many of the drawings were the sort that some people would easily find offensive but within the context of a magazine that has a dig at everyone, this should be perfectly acceptable and constitutes free speech. There was never any incitement to hatred or violence. Just drawings. The staff of the journal knew there was a risk (their offices were fire bombed a few years ago) but they were determined to defend their right to free speech and courageously continued their work with a minimal police guard. The terrorists are of course too stupid to realise that their actions will in fact bring about the opposite of what they want. For example:

  • Charlie Hebdo was back on sale within a week with its print run increased 50 fold to 5 million copies and there is talk of it now being produced in foreign languages. All sold out as far as I know.
  • Copies of the offending cartoons are now being viewed by tens of millions of people worldwide who would never had even know of their existence.
  • Support for the far right wing parties such as Le Front National will surely increase as a result.
  • Muslims and mosques are now more likely to be attacked by extreme right wing groups
What our political and religious leaders need to somehow get across to the people is that it is not Islam that is to blame and that we should not blame our Muslim neighbours. The religion is being highjacked and distorted by a tiny minority of extremist murderers who are indoctrinated by evil fascists. I want to hear the Imams and Muslim leaders regularly preaching against this behaviour in the mainstream press as well as in the mosques. [To be honest this is unlikely as when they do this they are threatened and targeted by extremists. The Muslin newsagent in Broad Street, Oxford, cancelled his order for 500 copies of the magazine following threats to burn down his shop and peaceful demonstrations against his actions outside]. The people need to hear this and need to understand that most Muslims are peaceful people. I want to hear our politicians making it clear that our liberal democratic values, including free speech, are sacrosanct, here to stay, and that we must all abide by them; anyone who does not agree with them should be invited to leave. And I ask the media to broadcast these messages clearly, simply and regularly. We clearly have a major task in hand. During the one minute silence at French schools to show respect for the murdered, there are reports of Muslim children refusing to participate and saying their sympathies lie with the terrorists. In a Nice school one of these children was just eight years old.

Adopted by Millions of people in France and across the world.

The front cover of Charile Hebdo following the assassinations

It’s going to be an extraordinary year in politics. The Greek General Election on January 25th could lead to another Eurozone crisis since the anti-austerity far-left Syriza under the leadership of former communist, 40 year old Alexis Tsipras, won the election and is now starting to undo the hard work that is just starting to bear fruit in the economy. The worst-case scenario is a Grexit in which Greece leaves the Euro which would be a disaster for the Greek people (their currency the drachma would plummet and as nothing is manufactured in Greece, their imports would cost far far more than current euro prices), and has unknown consequences for the rest of Europe. I am sure the stockmarkets will be reacting strongly as we remain in turbulent times. In May we have the UK General Election in which there is likely to be no overall majority party again. The far right UKIP are likely to win more MPs and the balance of power could be held by the Scottish Nationalists, who will probably replace the Libdems as the third largest party due to the decline of the Labour party in Scotland. If this happens, daily political life will start to feel like a permanent Scottish referendum on independence. In Spain there is a General Election in December and the main issues are independence for Catalonia and the rise of the far-left Podemos party who have also sprung up rapidly from nowhere. They talk of political tie-ups with Sinn Fein and Syrizia. Again, just as it looks as if the Spanish economy is starting to splutter back into life. In France we are still a couple of years away from the election, but the piss poor handling of the economy by Hollande and his left wing 'gauche caviar' champagne sipping cronies, coupled with the recent terror attacks is leaving Marine Le Pen and her Font National party making more and more progress and unsurprisingly now gaining popularity at an alarming rate. The familiar themes in these three great countries are ‘far’ as in far-right or far-left, and a major change in the shape of national politics just as the economies are finally starting to recover. Are the voters going to use the democratic rights to screw it all up? Or are they insightful enough when it comes to actually putting a cross on the ballot paper to be a little less radical? Or perhaps they are correct and the accepted economic wisdom in Europe no longer adds up…..

Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza in Greece does not wear a tie.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia died the week before last at the age of 93. He had in effect been ruling the oil-rich country for about 20 years and the crown passes to his half brother King Salman. The main press coverage has been criticism of Global leaders including David Cameron and Prince Charles for attending the funeral in Riyadh because the country has such a poor record on human rights. Currently, a blogger who did no more that criticise the regime has been imprisoned for 10 years and every Friday is given 50 lashes in a public flogging which shreds his skin. Women are not allowed to drive and are poorly treated and so on. The lack of human rights and the religious extremism is of course barbaric and inhumane and has no place in the modern world; we should all condemn it. But King Abdullah has in fact been a friend to the West. Let’s first look at these facts about the country:

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. However, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (Islamic law) and the Quran, while the Quran and the Sunnah (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the country's constitution. No political parties or national elections are permitted. The Economist rates the Saudi government as the fifth most authoritarian government out of 167 rated in its 2012 Democracy Index, and Freedom House gives it its lowest "Not Free" rating, 7.0 (1=best, 7=worst) for 2013. So nice place. Must look into moving there.

Consider that his predecessor, King Faisal was assassinated in 1975 because he instituted modern and secular reforms that led to the installation of television amongst other things. You see the Saudi kings have no choice but to move slowly in introducing reforms; if they alienate too many people, not only are their lives at risk but the opportunity to reform at all may be denied. King Abdullah had been steadily reforming in an evolutionary manner; for the first time women are allowed in government. In 2013, he appointed 30 women to the 150-member Shura Council, the top consultative body that plays an advisory role within Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy. This year, women will be able to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections for the first time, and women have been elected to boards of chambers of commerce. Then education: the centrepiece is the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which has sent hundreds of thousands of young Saudis abroad to study at the government's expense. The aim is to develop a workforce of Saudi nationals capable of replacing expatriate workers in higher-skilled jobs in the kingdom, but also to bring a more modern, international outlook to the kingdom. At home, the country's first co-educational campus, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, was founded despite objections in 2009. He also opened his country up for foreign direct investment and committed huge sums of the country's oil wealth on infrastructure and mega-projects such as the $86 billion King Abdullah Economic City, announced in 2005. Perhaps more importantly to the West, he was a great opponent of Al Qaeda and Islamic State, both of which operate in neighbouring countries. So the King has to balance the need for peace in his region with any desire to modernise. And he has been a great friend to the West, supplying aircraft and financial assistance among other things to our struggle to defeat the extremists in the region and beyond. Let’s hope that the new King Salman becomes just as great a friend, as any significant changes in this highly volatile region could have calamitous consequences for everyone of us. Directly. Such as sky-high oil prices, the advance of Islamic State and even a war in the region and far beyond. Human Rights, yes definitely. But not at the expense of a bloody war that would bring death and economic disaster to much of the world.
King Abdullah died, aged 93.

The new King Salman, aged 79, is reported to be in poor health.

You may be surprised to hear that I run 10 marathons every year. Well, that is not strictly true. But according to researchers at the University of Chester, standing up for about four hours per day is equivalent in fat reduction to 10 marathons. I have been standing up every day for two years now. In fact I no longer have a chair at my office. He are the calculations:

Dr John Buckley and a team of researchers from the University of Chester conducted a simple experiment. They asked 10 people who work at an estate agents to stand for at least three hours a day for a week. "If we look at the heart rates," John Buckley explains, "we can see they are quite a lot higher actually - on average around 10 beats per minute higher and that makes a difference of about 0.7 of a calorie per minute." Now that doesn't sound like much, but it adds up to about 50 calories an hour. If you stand for three hours a day for five days that's around 750 calories burnt. Over the course of a year it would add up to about 30,000 extra calories, or around 8lb of fat. "If you want to put that into activity levels," Dr Buckley says, "then that would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year. Just by standing up three or four hours in your day at work."

The researchers also say even if you exercise on a regular basis that may not be enough. There is mounting evidence that exercise will not undo the damage done by prolonged sitting. Our technology has made us the most sedentary humans in history. Sitting all day is incredibly bad for us and two years ago I realised that all I do is sit all day. In the car, train, office, at meetings, at the dinner table, in front of the TV, virtually my entire day is sitting on one chair or another. So I got rid of my chair, bought a £6 coffee table from IKEA which I have placed on my desk and now serves as my standing desk, and I have been standing for at least 4 hours every day ever since! So why is sitting so damaging? One thing it does is change the way our bodies deal with sugar. When you eat, your body breaks down the food into glucose, which is then transported in the blood to other cells. Glucose is an essential fuel but persistently high levels increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Your pancreas produces the hormone insulin to help get your glucose levels back down to normal, but how efficiently your body does that is affected by how physically active you are. And it seems I am in good company. As well as an increasing number of business such as GSK who are now offering employee standing desks in their newly designed offices, people such as Winston Churchill, Donald Rumsfeld, Ernest Hemmingway and Oscar Hammerstein are all said to have stood at their desks. Give it a try! I now feel uncomfortable if I am seated for more than about 45 minutes. Our bodies were not made to spend most of the day sitting down.
The £6 IKEA coffee table that transfoms my desks into standing desks

In my Blog last month, I wrote a tribute to Winston Churchill on the 50th anniversary of his death. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of his funeral and there were a number of reports on it in the media. I was fascinated to watch the archive footage of the funeral that was transmitted live at the time for various reasons: the quality of the (colour) film was at times stunning - almost as good as today's; the size of the public event, the number of people; the attendees at St Paul's Cathedral who included Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Eisenhower, Clement Attlee and countless others; the 3 seats reserved for the lady who baked his birthday cake each year, the bricklayer who helped him build his wall at Chartwell and of course none other than Odette Pol Roger; the cranes that bowed as the boat with his coffin passed along the Thames docks; the private part that started with his coffin being transported by train to Long Hanborough and then Bladon where he is buried - the vast numbers of people who lined the railway tracks in the middle of nowhere to catch a glimpse; as so on. Wow what a fitting and emotional tribute!
Churchill's Funeral - outside St Paul's January 30th 1965

I saw this sentence and it is a brilliantly concise explanation of the problem we face with the Islamist faction:

“We should remember that European enlightenment was a product of centuries of challenges to religious authority, after which secularism was able to flourish. That is one of the reasons why reactionaries flee the Muslim world: silenced in their own countries they seek refuge in the liberal West, only to undermine its principles from within.”

Iram Ramzan, Blogger and Journalist who describes herself as a ‘modern Muslim women’ writing in the Sunday Times January 18th 2015.


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