Tag Archives: politics

“Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light – – -“

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson  was a product of the European ‘Enlightenment’ led by thinkers and scientists based in Edinburgh. The word ‘enlightenment’, of course, plays to my Quaker beliefs as it suggests shining light into the darkness. That movement was very much about lining up rational thought and empirical evidence against superstition and ignorance.

Stevenson expressed his understanding of the battle between these forces wonderfully in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, where darkness and light are taken to extremes within the same body.

Like many others of the Quaker persuasion, I have a very questioning  faith that probably comes down at bottom to this: we each have the capability for extreme evil and extreme good within us. There’s a continual battle going on between our Jekyll and Hyde and we aren’t in complete control of that battle. Paul said something like that in the Bible in Romans: ‘we hate what we do and know what we should do, but still do the wrong things’.

What I’m getting to, loyal readers is, Charlottesville and everything surrounding it. Like you didn’t see that coming?

Most of us believe that we want to strive toward good, but sometimes  when the stars align (so much for the enlightenment)  our bad side gets a severe nudge. That’s usually powered by feelings of insecurity (think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

There are large segments of the population in the US (and England) that feel very insecure right now because they see their standard of living threatened and need to blame someone for that. They also feel they need to retreat back to a more comfortable set of circumstances. Hence – ‘Make America great again’ and Brexit (Make England great again).

The enemy, therefore (and as usual) becomes anyone not like we who have the power. The difference can be nationality, color, religion, denomination – anything convenient.

So back to my beliefs and faith – My faith is that light will ultimately prevail, as it’s a living thing and is at the beginning of everything. But the darkness is also powerful and we are the ones who feed it.

Finally – Quakers believe in non-violence and the peaceful challenging of violent behavior. I have absolutely no doubt there were many Quakers in Charlottesville and I’ve no doubt which side they were on – the side of the Light. It may become increasingly confusing to decide who gets to say what is light and what darkness. But it can never be said that genuine seekers of God’s guidance don’t find it. I am holding you, and all of us, in the Light.

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Socializing with Friends – – –

Jack’s guest Wednesday post –

There’s a favorite Scottish saying that goes – “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns” (which roughly translates as “all human beings are part of the same big family of mankind”). When laid alongside Robert Burns’ famous song “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” it pretty much sums up my political views. I would therefore describe myself as a European style social democrat.

Scotland is an odd place in terms of its mix of entrepreneurship, inventiveness, canny financial acumen and sense of shared community. That last one perhaps stems from the highland clan system – the idea of extended family. Which neatly brings us back to Jock Tamson’s bairns.

I believe that there are certain things that any civilized community should provide to its members. That would include those that have health issues or just struggle to maintain an acceptable standard of living. That shouldn’t depend on the vagaries of charitable giving, but be organized, planned and paid for through progressive taxation. Of course this requires a healthy economy that can pay people sufficient to generate the tax income to pay for it. As a Quaker I have to also say that I believe far too much tax income is spent on making war!

Just twelve miles from my hometown is the one where Adam Smith, the father of economic theory was born. His famous book “The Wealth of Nations” is popular with lots of Neo-Liberal conservatives, however they always ignore the part where he says that market forces have to work alongside a safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society. So even good old Adam was a social democrat at heart! Of course he was part of the European Enlightenment of the early 19th century and Edinburgh was an important part of that through medical research, philosophy and political theory.

In case this sounds like an advertizing feature for the Scottish tourist industry, I should perhaps remind you that Jock Tamson’s Bairns are all of humanity – black, white and every color in between – all religions and none – – –

So there you have it. I guess some of my American friends will have had their worst fears confirmed now. I’m the socialist their parents warned them about!

Duck and cover – – –

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Je Suis un Mancunion

Jack’s weekly guest post –

I’m writing this the day after the terrible terrorist bombing at the end of the concert in Manchester and there are many thoughts swirling through my head. Of course the first thoughts are for the families of the kids who died – and many of them were young teenagers without any sense that they could be in danger at all. There were even two young friends from Barra in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It’s an island with less than 1000 inhabitants. One is in hospital with serious injuries and the other is still missing and unaccounted for as I write this.

But while my first thoughts were for the families, there was something else bothering me.

I’m reminded of how the Falklands war broke out so conveniently for Margaret Thatcher just as an election was approaching–one she might easily have lost. Of course, with much flag waving and ‘British spirit’ she was re-elected comfortably. I’m reminded of a movie Wendy made me watch called WAG THE DOG, about an American president creating a fake war to boost his popularity. I didn’t want to watch it because it seemed so unsavory to write a comedy about something Britain had probably done. It was a funny movie, but in it the war was faked entirely rather than actually carried out under false pretenses.

And here we have a bombing just before an election when Theresa May’s polling results show her popularity plummeting. I’m not suggesting that this was a ‘false flag’ event (the name under which the British secret service carried out events they blamed on other groups during the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland). Sometimes false flags involve true terror organizations being guided by shadowy figures who operate at arm’s length.

Perhaps it’s not a false flag, rather that a terrorist group consider having someone like Theresa May as British Prime Minister will give them a much better opportunity to create more havoc, so they decided to give her help.

I’m not much given to conspiracy theories, but the timing of this is just highly suspicious to me. Mrs May’s catch phrase for the last month or so has been ‘strong and stable’ – repeated to the exclusion of any real policies. Then just two weeks before the election she is presented with the perfect scenario to be  ‘strong and stable’ and immediately raises the danger level to its highest  in over ten years. This also allows her to put troops and armed police on the streets.

Of course no-one on the opposing political side can possibly do anything else except support her under these circumstances, meanwhile all electioneering has been put on hold.

How terribly convenient!

Update –

Since writing the above post, I’ve checked a few of my favorite sources (favorite because of their lack of histrionics and hyperbole) and it seems I’m not alone in my suspicions. At the very least Mrs May seems to be milking this for all it’s worth and neither the police or the army are happy with her approach which they describe as counterproductive even if they had the numbers to do it effectively.

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A Turkey Poke or a Pig in a Poke?

Wendy apologizes for the lack of Monday book this week (she’s in DC lobbying on behalf of rural health provision), but at least I got the Wednesday guest post out on time!

Our friend Amy teaches Appalachian Studies up the road at the local campus of UVA, but she has to attend a conference elsewhere today and on Friday. So I will be guest lecturing two different groups of students on the links between the Scots language and the Appalachian dialect.

I usually start with a brief geography lesson as it’s painfully true that the majority of folk over here, even many with a strong pride in their Scottish ancestry, really don’t know where Scotland is. Not only that but there’s a lot of confusion between The UK, Great Britain, England and Scotland (most Americans just say England regardless). Despite that, Scotland has a surprisingly strong ‘brand image’ around the world and most folk will readily come up with lots of examples of things they think of as peculiarly Scottish.

Then when it comes to the movement of the settlers to this area, most people don’t really know what is meant by the ‘Scotch-Irish’. So I cover a bit of history, explaining how lowland Scots were ‘encouraged’ to move to the north of Ireland, how their children (born in Ireland) then moved on to Pennsylvania and eventually to this neck of the woods. They are the ‘Scotch-Irish’ – also known as Ulster-Scots.

They brought with them their culture, including songs, ballads, fiddle tunes, food recipes, a strong suspicion of government power, as well as their language.

Of course I have to explain that Scots isn’t just a dialect of English, but a language in its own right but with obvious similarities; rather like the relationship between, say, Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

The legacy still to be heard in Appalachia involves vocabulary, sentence structure and pronunciation. However in Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia speaking anything other than standard English was historically frowned on and it’s only relatively recently that appreciation of these languages has been encouraged.

While family names and place names in Appalachia are a strong clue to where the settlers came from, there are many others strewn around and hiding in plain sight!

I find myself being asked more and more to give presentations like this and find it both enjoyable and stimulating. There are usually lots of questions at the end.

Finally – I have to try my best to avoid politics, but the current Scottish political scene is so volatile and fast moving that I find myself continually having to bite my tongue – and language is a political weapon in Scotland, Ireland and Appalachia.

Many tongues, many voices – – –

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Onwards and Upwards – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

By the time I write my next guest blog post I will have reached the age of 75 –

That’s quite a sobering thought, as when I was a kid most people didn’t even live that long! I’m told that that 75 is the new 65 – or maybe even the new 55 – –

jack-ii

I was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on February 5th 1942 (which explains why I can properly pronounce ‘February’) and that was at a time when the outcome of WW2 was hanging in the balance. Since then I’ve lived through the cold war, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the demise of the British Empire, The Suez crisis, the Falklands war, the first Iraq war, the second Iraq war, the invasion of Afghanistan and a host of other inglorious adventures.

I’ve also traveled the world and here’s a funny thing – the people I’ve met along the way have been a lot like myself. I’ve met very few folk I’d describe as seeming bad or dangerous and on the odd occasion I have, it usually only required a conversation to find common ground.

What have I learned along the way?

Well – not to accept unquestioningly what I see in newspapers and on TV; and also not to accept unquestioningly what I read on social media either. Most people are basically decent and want the same things in life for themselves and others. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t be manipulated and influenced.

If I have to state one over-riding belief it would be that within us all there’s a dark side, but there’s also an awareness of ‘The Light’. It can be found in all religions and belief systems and I really think that we all have a desire to strive towards the light.

Am I optimistic for the future?

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky throughout my life so I tend towards the ‘glass half full’ point of view; in addition I naturally see the world from a Western position, which makes me privileged. But allowing for all that I do still think that, ever so tentatively, we are moving in the right direction. We have hiccups, of course (and never more than right now), but the light still beckons us on.

 

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Passing the Penguins

va-assemblyOne of Jack’s favorite movies is Gregory’s Girl, set in a high school in Britain. A recurring joke in the film is the many unexplained vignettes of school life – the headmaster playing honky tonk on a piano during his break; a teacher flinging chalk and ranting about something unheard behind a classroom door; two people in penguin costumes wandering up and down the halls, clearly lost, and everyone who passes them says, in an annoyed tone, “Room 8, hurry up, you’re late, where have you been?” Etc.

Every year I go to Richmond to advocate for rural economic, educational, and health development, done by for and with rural people. I’ve done this trip perhaps eight years now, and while some things change, some things remain the same.

The sheer number of people up on the hill during the 46 days government is in session stays constant, but their costumes change. You round a corner and nearly careen into somebody wearing a VFW hat. People with white canes tap their way past the crowd of kids labeled (mysteriously) “VPT” and the VPTers shrink against the walls to allow them room.

A host of fifty-somethings wearing identical green suit jackets walk by, laughing. And in a line on front of a senator’s door wait women wearing pink and blue fuzzy scarves below their angry faces.

It’s American democracy in real action. People talking to their representatives, telling them what they think, why they think it, what they like done about it. It’s easy, especially now, to be cynical and withdrawn about those men (almost to a man, white men) in suits, but it’s also easy to talk to them. Even when they haven’t wanted to hear what I have to say, they’ve wanted to hear me say it. And most of them have listened with gentleness. I once had a legislator say to me, “I’ve heard that argument before, and I’m still not in agreement with it, but the sheer number of people who express it is beginning to have an effect.”

I asked him what kind of effect, and he grinned. “Sometimes you do what’s right because you know it’s right. And sometimes you do what you don’t think is right because that many people who actually work in the industry might know what’s right better than you.”

Fair enough. All those red hats and green jackets are having an effect. There are still conversations to be had with the guys in the suits, who are listening more than most of us think they are. Yesterday I told one of them why a piece of legislation had failed to help the people it was designed to, because of a small omission of detail it had overlooked in how the industry worked. He looked at me like I’d handed him a fresh cup of coffee.

“We didn’t know that. That makes perfect sense. Why didn’t anyone tell us that?”

I hear that a lot when I’m talking to legislators. They’re waiting for The People to show up and tell them things. Politicians really want to hear from us, despite the convenient apathy despair so often encourages.

“Why didn’t anyone tell us that” covers nuances that change intent in execution; it covers evil masquerading as good; it covers good that missed an important detail. And sometimes it covers BS. Not all conversations with politicians are honest or meaningful, but I’ll take eight out of ten odds any day. That’s how many usually are.

Plus there’s a new feeling on the hill this year: bewilderment. Almost, perhaps, fear. If the rules of the game have changed as much as it looks like they have, then The People have written a new handbook. Like it or lump it, The People elected this president. The People are to be respected, fuzzy scarves, penguin suits and all. Our voices matter and if we don’t like what the voices did this time, best make sure ours are louder next time. Persuasion is an art form not entirely based on TV exposure or the loudest voice in a room.

Perhaps the future belongs to The People who show up for it.

Go to, People. Wear a scarf.

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Through Hardship to the Stars

Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

I know that a New Year is meant to be a time of hope and new beginnings. But I look at the incoming year with great foreboding. In the US and Europe reactionary forces are on the march and the progressive ideals with which I was brought up are being marginalized and are on the defensive.

For some reason this poem by Yeats comes to mind –

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Per ardua ad astra? Time to mount the barricades perhaps – – –

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