07 December 2010

Can you punch yourself in the face hard enough to break your nose?

If you stop and think about that for a while, I bet it would be difficult to come up with a scenario where such an action may seem reasonable.

On the other hand, imagine your hand is mangled up and trapped in some farm machinery, you’ve left the mobile in the cab, no one will be coming to look for you before it’s too late. There’s a hacksaw in the toolkit – which you can reach - and if you can summon courage out of insane desperation and use it, you could save your life.

What makes the difference between these two situations is that there is no justification for the first action, but there is for the second. Both involve harming yourself, but one action is reasonable, given the circumstance, while the other is not. To do either, reason must overide emotion, which it can do, even though emotion is much older and more primal in evolutionary terms than is reason.

Being a relative newcomer on the scene, reason is a bit sluggish, it’s hard work and it’s better if someone else does the slog. It likes duvet days. We often prefer to get our reasons all packaged up, ready to heat and serve piping hot. Many of the meals have already been served up anyway by our parents, for survival reasons: DON’T TOUCH THAT SNAKE! RUN FROM THAT ANIMAL! CATCH AND EAT THAT ONE! So we are used to accepting ready made reason from authority because it’s a useful shortcut that has survival value.

We also accept it from our culture, from our elders, from religion and so on, and build it all into a nice solid edifice of sacred values – not sacred in the religious sense of that word - but more in the sense of things that are so important and precious to us, so bound up with our sense of identity, of who we are, that to challenge them may well evoke an aggressive or even violent response.

I think this why it is diffult to make progress in resolving intractable conflicts. Both sides are defending what they see as their ‘sacred values’ - which lie deeper than what the dispute may appear to be about superficially. Scott Atran describes this well in this book. Such conflicts are not amenable to rational discourse.

The dispute between the religious and rationalist/skeptik mindset is of this nature. Rationalists tend not to trust their senses as a satisfactory method of determining truth. Science tells them, (and can demonstrate), that their perception of the world is a very limited mental construct or model of the real, packaged up in a way that enables humans to operate, survive and reproduce in the world. What truth, what reality is - says science - needs constant tinkering with the model, needs constant re-framing, testing, experimentation designed to rule out the bias of our senses (which we must then interpret with our senses!), then more testing when a bunch more data comes in.

The religionist also does not trust their senses because authority tells them how reality is. It is fixed, certain and immutable, and to back it up, they have scripture and may have had experiences, or may have interpreted experiences, in such a way which confirms their point of view.

Both see their position as having reason and being reasonable. Both may (or may not), be desirous of similar outcomes, but find themselves unable to get beyond the dictates of their ‘sacred values’ and limitations of theoretical and impersonal debate (esp in cyberspace), to the human underneath. It’s like a debate between Aristotle and Rousseau:

A: It’s obvious innit?
R: Leave it owt, mate.
A: Get some nous, and stop being shrill.
R: Nous causes cancer, dunnit?

………………oh dear. It's almost tempting to share Rousseau's view that the world would be better off without reason and language and everything that flows from it. We don't seem equipped to handle it properly. Reason is most difficult to deal with when furnished with attitude, and some weapons.

22 November 2010

vatican ribbed

Dear Jo

Top Hole!

Can't tell you how delighted Mrs Root and I are that you are going to allow all those cheeky chappies to use condoms!

All the alter boys are over the moon, one less thing for the poor darlings to worry about eh?

We sense business opportunities here Jo, and, if we may be so bold, think you must be aware of them too?

Being forward thinking Catholics, Mrs Root and I installed a machine next to the wet fish counter some years ago and now we eagerly await our first consignment of Vatican Ribbed(TM).

We'll take a dozen boxes of Haddock flavour, two dozen King Prawn - arf arf - they should go well, and we'd better have a half dozen of Sole flavoured too.

We quite understand that they are only to be sold in exceptional circumstances and we will get totally rigid sticking to that. But as you know Jo, Aids is like shares: it can go down as well as up, so we'd better sell them to everyone that's at risk. Sinful but safe - that's our watchword.

The first step is always the hardest Jo, but you've taken the church on its first one towards morality. Congratulations.

Here's a pound for the advertising campaign.

Roll them rubbers! Get it on Jo (not literally of course)

Your avuncular friends - Henry and the missus - still Rooting for you.

16 November 2010

on pringles and strings

If nothingness is limitless and there is an infinite amount of it within which thingyness can take place then there is no problem with either an infinite amount of nothingness or an infinite amount of thingyness is there? It’s not really going to bother you much one way or the other.

If there are a couple of hundred billion or trillion universes out there, or if string theory is correct, and there are teensy weensy bits of strings vibrating one way to make protons and another way to make gluons and gravitons and wot not, or if there are multiple dimensions wrapped up hidden within our own, I see no reason for coffee not to taste good or sleep to be not sound.

It doesn’t seem even that hard to envisage – at least not to my cloddish mind – I twang an open 1st on my guitar and get the note E or play it on the third fret and get the note G. Curled up dimensions hidden from our perception?….Hmmmm, bit more problematic: but if I roll up a sheet of A4, and show it you side on, you're going to have a problem knowing if it’s rolled just once or twice or three times, and the exquisite drawing I made on it when it was a flat sheet is going to have disappeared into dimensions you can’t easily see that will also play havoc with my fine artwork. Ha!

A squadrillion universes? Kind of exciting to think of it actually – but not a problem if it’s not so; this universe is quite entertaining enough for one lifetime, thank you very much. If our universe is held on an M theory brane – with other universes snuggled up alongside it - like a nice loaf of medium sliced wholewheat Hovis or a box of Pringles, with only gravitons being able to make the transition between the different universes/branes/slices?....Nope, still not going to lose any sleep over it - unless vodafone release a pulsed graviton mobile to enable me to converse with other internet sloggers (they’re called that there - in the parallel universe), then I would like one for Christmas please, pretty please.

One thing.... in a world of spontaneously generating and disappearing universes, the concept of god becomes about as useful as a Planck length on a pirate ship - unless it's Christmas.
Shan't lose any sleep over that either.
[edit: the Planck length, denoted ℓP, is a unit of length, equal to 1.616252(81)×10−35 meters = kind of small.]

the world is watching

I'm celebrating the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, a truly remarkable woman, and hoping that it may eventually lead to the democratisation of Burma which has been ruled by a military government for over a generation.

Regimes have to be terribly brutal to repress citizens' freedoms and those that do it have to do it with ruthless violence because, if people want anything, they want not to be oppressed by government and they want freedom of speech and the right to associate freely and a place in the sun to grow.

Regimes that deny this can persist for generations, but only at the cost of much pain and suffering and by suppressing oposition and maintaining an iron grip on power. Most regimes that do it seem to fall apart eventually, either because of internal conflicts and rivalries within the regime, or because the people rise up and seek to throw out the oppressive rulers, whether peacefully, as Aung San wishes, but often with violent confrontation.

In releasing Aung San therefore, the Burmese regime has taken a big risk, or perhaps sufficient numbers of its leaders have had a change of heart. I don't know. I hope for the latter.

The hard religious right wing in America that campaign for, what is in effect, a theocracy - a government run on biblical principles, the christian equivalent of sharia law - with punishments of like kind for adultery and homosexuality and so forth, should be wary of what they ask for, because if they wish to do that, they will have to do it with a similar brutality, ruthlessness and violence that characterises the Talibans, the North Koreas, the Irans, Chinas and other such oppressive and dictatorial regimes of this world.

If America relinquishes its separation of church and state for a move towards the above, it is in deep trouble - for a people who have tasted secular democratic government will not relinquish it lightly or without a fight - and in the end, it is only such a government that can actually defend religious freedoms for all.

May your freedom last long, Aung San, and may your people soon taste of it too. The World is Watching.

14 November 2010

glass act

The gales gusted at about 80mph: they were bound to cause some damage. The owner of this plot is by no means the only one to plonk a shed down and expect it to stay put without any foundation or anchoring. As sure as night follows day, this is inevitable. Next time I see someone do that, I'll have a quiet word with them I think. Ours rests on bearers attached to concrete flags and has old scaffold poles driven into the ground on each side. It ain't goin nowhere. The old rotting wooden greenhouse we inherited is a mess though and another gale like that may do for it.

Now all the produce is out of the greenhouse, the chikkins are enjoying having it as part of their territory once more. Best of all, the soil is dry and they can have luxurious dust baths to their hearts content.

As well as the six sheets of roof glass we've lost to the winds, I'm having to replace all the horizontal bearers round the bottom of the glasshouse as they are all rotting away. This involves taking all the glass out, removing the rotten timber from the bottom and cutting back any rotten bits of the uprights to get back to sound wood. Then laying a new 4x3" bearer and fixing it into position and attaching the upright supports making sure they are all lined up properly so the glass will fit back in. Last bit is fixing the glass back into the frame with pins and silicone sealant (I'm using that because it's quicker and easier than putty).

The job will have to be tackled in (probably) 4 sections as I don't want to leave too much of it exposed to more high winds that may come along.

Pity glass is so expensive these days; I would be tempted to replace some of the other cracked pieces here and there if it was.

The ducks and chikkins are curious about it all but have a tendency to get under your feet while carrying chunks of glass around. Don't worry, they all survived. One section done, three more to go... *sigh*....


08 November 2010

coming up rosettes

It's too wet to do anything on the garden so we went up to Crooklands to see our friends from Cumbria Ferret Rescue centre at their ferret show.

Clodlet entered Pan in the sandy hob class and won first prize. It will go to Pan's head, I know it. Clodlet also won third prize in the young handlers section.

There were a gazillion ferrets there. It's nice to see a 'pong' of ferrets all cuddled up together in a hammock....looks so cozy. A man came up to me and said he was just passing in the car and came in for a look. 'Are these all working ferrets?' 'No,' I sais..'they're all on job seekers allowance, this lot.'

We don't make a habit of going to shows....don't really believe in them, but it was a fun day out and somewhat gratifying that Pan won against all the ferrets that get tarted up for the show with coat conditioner and vitamins and fur-brushed to death. Pan goes in straight out the cage and beats the lot.....go figure!

12 October 2010

The End of Atheism?

My friend Steve in this article champions an uncompromising form of atheism which takes the ignostic viewpoint championed by Rabbi Sherwin Wine in the 1960's.

In brief it says that, although the concept of god is meaningful, the word god is not - in that there is no coherent definition of what that word means, or there are perhaps as many meanings to it as there are users of it.

As science advances, and with ever increasing desperation, believers seem to be retreating god further and further into the realms of the unfalsifiable, and the - is there, isn't there? - debate rumbles on with both theists and atheists approaching boiling point, at which time, of course, a nice hot cup of tea will be in order.

I see it slightly differently however, in that I see it as quite a gentle form of atheism: because although it sais we can't know what the word god means, we understand the concept and how and why it has developed in humans, we nevertheless have lots of important things to discuss even if we do lay the word to one side.

10 October 2010

duck or grouse?

It has seemed such a short growing season this year: already we are digging the beds and getting out their duvets of compost and muck to keep them cosy overwinter. The last of the sunflowers droops and no longer bothers to find the sun; 'Is that it then?' It mutters as I walk past.

We took all the old rasberry canes out: they were'nt up to much anyway and we'll probably put a strawberry bed there next season.

So clodlet and I took to the moors to cheer ouselves up. Up on the tops the wind was gusting at 30+ mph and you struggled to open the car door against it.

It fanned the burning heather up on the grouse moors; they flapped indignantly around - as you do when someone sets fire to your house. It was a southerly wind, so not at all cold, and in the shelter of the valley quite sunny and warm enough to be without a coat.

I've been teaching clodlet to lead me astray (not difficult) and to navigate with map and compass. He guided us across our chosen route very well. Just basic stuff really: orienting the map with the terrain and getting to grips with the compass and direction finding.

We marked the car on the GPS before setting out and he was most indignant that, on getting back, the GPS said the car was not where it was supposed to be.

'I suppose we'll pass it on the way home,' he sais, getting into the car...

Chip off the old block, I'd say.

06 October 2010


Dear Jo

Lovely to see you last week. Sorry about the damage to the popemobile…. it would have to be a wet fish lorry we hit wouldn’t it….. :-((

Anyway Mrs Root said that Ignacio, the head of the Pontificia de Academia Pro Vitro , wasn’t terribly chuffed about Robert Edward getting the Nobel prize for medicine for his pioneering work in IVF treatments. Mrs Root was a little dissapointed about this because we’ve have just signed up for another round of treatment with Rob.

We’ve been going at it like rabbits for ages now, trying to do it the natural way, but it just isn’t working…. and who will take over the wet fish counter when we’ve gone?

Mrs Root got very upset when he said there were millions and millions of embryos in freezers all round the world. ‘We’re not having any of that nonsense with ours,’ she said indignantly, ‘”Fresh is Best”, when it comes to fish, and embryos, eh Henry? Womb temperature or nothing, that’s the ticket?’

If the boffins do make a little Rootlet in a test tube though, will we have to bring it to the Vatican to have the soul installed and can we add a couple of drops of holy water to help things along a bit?

I’ve no idea what God does with the embryos of atheist and secular riff-raff, but given that there are ten million spontaneous abortions every day… well… a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat, isn't it Jo?

Yours in Utero

Henry Root

29 September 2010

Why might you mistake a shadow for a burglar but never a burglar for a shadow?

If religions are a human construct our task is to find out why that might be the case. There is, after all, no agreed method by which its competing truth claims may be settled and the damaging divisions brought about in humanity by adherence to differing religious belief systems ameliorated.

Fortunately, as this presentation from Andy Thomson suggests, we are getting much much closer to an understanding of the cognitive mechanisms that have evolved in the human brain over evolutionary time that help to explain why humans are prone to (and will continue to), adhere to religious ways of thinking.

Knowing yourself is half the battle. The other half is changing it. I hope we can.

20 September 2010

Popeular Ice Cream - Tut Tut Tut Frutti.

Dear Jo

Well done! What a fantastic four days that was. We’re all exhausted now and hope you are too.

Mrs Clod sais she really hopes you enjoyed the wet fish – not the ones in Westminster, the kedgeree. She was a little dissapointed you couldn’t visit our wet fish counter, maybe next time.

Boy, you really gave them what for this time didn’t you? Plain speaking or what! We particularly enjoyed your subtle pulling apart of those nonsensical enlightenment values so beloved of the great unwashed.

We’re even more excited about you re-evangalising the West and would like to help Archbishop Fisichella on the Pontifical Council for New Evangalisation. Can I suggest we start in Whitby and work our way west from there? Next thursday would be a good day for us to start?

We just wish more heads of state would come to this country and tell us how to live our lives like you did. What do you think of Ali Khameni? He’s a supreme leader after all - though Mrs Clod thinks he might not be as fond of kedgeree as you.

Do you want us to bring the popemobile back? We thought we could bring our tomato plants over to Italy on holiday with us – they should ripen nicely in the back there - we could pop into the Vatican to discuss evangalisation arrangements if you like? Don’t worry if you need it to sell ice cream to the tourists.

Tally Ho Jo! Let's roll back these dark ages.

All the best.

PS. Here’s a pound to get the PCNE up and running.

(with humble apologies to Henry Root - and Claudio for nicking his picture)

17 September 2010

Bread and Dripping - It's Traditional

The thing about ‘traditional values’ is that they are imposed rather than realised. The politicians and religious leaders that talk of them don’t seem overly fond of democracy with a capital D.

When they use the phrase it seems to be in order to get a ‘feelgood’ response from you; rhetoric designed to get you to think that whatever it is that is being proposed is the only sensible thing. After all, traditional = strong, dependable, solid, trustworthy, honest, reliable, secure, tried and tested, wholesome, moral, good. What could possibly be wrong with that? Apple pie and custard all the way down. What could possibly be wrong with ‘traditional values’?

Well, for one thing, you will notice that the appeal rests on the horns of two logical fallacies: the appeal from authority and the appeal from tradition.

You will notice that you are not supposed to question ‘traditional values’.

You might notice that they often stem from very patriachal and authoritarian attitudes in cultures and societies determined to maintain the status quo. Thus has it ever been.

You will notice the implication that ‘modern values’ are conversely bad: modern = fickle, impermanent, faddish, liberal, shallow, self-serving, dishonest, relative and transient.

You might find an appeal to ‘absolute moral values’, with the certainty of ‘rightness’ derived from an interpretation of religious doctrine and tradition. This will be similar in all cultures with differing religious traditions. The technique will be the same and will accuse modern society of moral relativism and tend to cast doubt on legislation designed to eliminate discrimination on grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation and so forth - because it seeks to maintain the right to discriminate based on its traditions.

You will find that it will oppose, (nor recognise the value of), the principle of separation of church and state and will seek close coupling to the power structures of the state so that its own values may be woven into its policies and legislation.

The appeal will include a demand for automatic respect rather than a request for the stage upon which to earn it.

It is like bread and dripping: traditional, but not necessarily good for you or anyone else.

Brittania's Lament

I watch you drag and drone and bluster,
Light the candles, flap and fluster,
Silken robes and cups of gold,
Ancient when the world was old,
Cloaked in culture’s faded glory,
Heaven, Hell and Purgatory,
Saints and spirits through the ages,
Silver crosses, gilded cages,
All the trappings man can render
Asking faith in faith’s defender.
I watch you simper, fawn and scrape,
Tugging on the pontiff’s cape,
Out you reach, at every whim,
To shower praises onto him,
Lapping up the words he spills,
And ranting on the nation’s ills,
Some are earnest, some are cynics,
All are supine, all are mimics,
Do you think that I, of yore,
Have not this pageant seen before?
An ancient line have I to boast,
Of glories heaped from coast to coast,
And boastful often have I been,
About my blessed fields of green,
About my people, fair and strong,
Who love the right and shun the wrong,
Of all the battles they have fought,
Whom pain and pride have wisdom taught,
Who mapped the skies and sailed the sea,
And cast off wretched tyranny.
And, yes, their pride has often led
To horrors heaped upon my head,
To slavery and pointless war,
Repression of the humble poor,
The flames of hatred often fanned,
Across my green and pleasant land,
Such wisdom rarely comes for free,
The price, too often, agony,
But slowly, though the cost was vast,
They learned the lessons of the past.
I picture now a flame-haired queen,
With lustrous locks of auburn sheen,
Atop a chariot of pine,
Her image now the cast of mine,
By war usurped from hearth and home,
Resisting all the might of Rome,
A woman, powerful and great,
An image that you roundly hate,
For you, oh lordly Pontifex,
Decry the worth of female sex,
Condemn full half of humankind
Unwilling still to change your mind,
To free from bondage to the womb,
And let their chained potential bloom,
And rather numbers be increased,
Than even one become a priest.
I see another, ‘neath a horse,
She bleeds her last upon the course,
A sacrifice to free her nation,
Know I stand for Liberation.
I picture now a doctor brave,
He sweats to find the means to save
The lives of thousands wracked with pain,
Applying skills of hand and brain,
To isolate and grow in mass
The mould upon the moulded glass
Penicilium Notatum
Thanks to which his patients hearten
That their suffering is ended
Lives renewed and bodies mended,
Hope resounds and interest swells,
In new research on human cells,
And means to combat all diseases,
Come as what we know increases.
Yet, you would see progress thwarted,
Lives unnumbered blithely slaughtered,
Just on dogma’s ancient teaching,
‘gainst the hand of man o’erreaching
Deadly philistine defiance,
Know I stand for Good through Science.
Now I see a man has died,

An apple laced with cyanide,
Never mind he changed our lives,
And from his works our world derives,
That mathematics overjoyed him,
Still my people have destroyed him.
Like they did with witty Wilde,
Yet another darling child,
Both were hounded, for the same,
Love that dare not speak its name.
But, at last, my people learned,
Ancient attitudes were turned,
Love was vaunted over hate,
Man or woman, gay or straight,
Rights to marry, rights to love,
Shouted to the stars above,
This you scorn, and evil call,
Vaunting shame and hurt for all.
Turn from such a sordid sequel,
Know I think that All are Equal.
I watch you prostitute my fame,
By trading on my hard-won name,
By selling out on all I gave thee,
All your history has made me,
Writ in grease, a coward’s charter,
Spitting on my Magna Carta,
Spurning Hume and Hobbes and Milton,
Telling lies to tortured children,
Acquiescing in corruption,
Trading truth for pained induction,
Welcoming this king of priests,
To share the bounty of your feasts,
Vilest hatreds flat ignoring,
All my noble virtues whoring.
This is not your finest hour,
Led by fools obsessed with power,
Greeting critics with derision,
All to pander to religion.
Well, you’ve made your choice, now bear it.
Know Britannia does not share it.

(with thanks to my friend VP for permission to reproduce his wonderful poem which encapsulates how many of us feel)

09 September 2010

Balls and Burqas

The formulation of law at the intersect between civil liberty, individual freedom and control by the state has always been thorny territory: a patchwork of compromise, a no mans land where we all must live.

The libertarians and the anarchists can’t be doing with it. They would rather kick the law up its backside till it goes nee-nawing off into the wilderness.

The control freaks would prefer to see every inch of our land covered by CCTV and by laws governing when and where you can hang your washing out and sneeze or fart in public.

Thus the protracted debate on the proposed law to ban the wearing of the burqa in France and other EU countries rumbles on and on, supported, it has to be said, by majority public opinion in most EU countries except perhaps the UK. Mind you, popular public opinion has never been a productive basis on which to build legislation, though clearly, some politicians are so tempted.

Obviously the debate goes way beyond what rags you are (or are not), allowed out in. Emotions run high, tempers flare, misunderstandings occur. It is definitely not a debate about fashion. But it does seems to take place in a fog ridden no-mans land, where it is easy to get lost, side tracked into argumentative cul-de-sacs. To get exasperated and confused by the demands to manifest religious expression in the public sphere (regardless of issues of security, equality, social cohesion, womens rights, employment law, integration and this that or whatever else. Equally, to get waylayed by arguments about the oppression of women within patriarchal fundamentalist religious cultures;with people second guessing what is going on in the mind of a women wearing a burqa and, (even if you could know that without asking), to reject it out of hand because of ones own cultural prejudice. All of that is going on and I suppose, in the end, it is all an attempt to get to the nitty gritty at the heart of the issue.

Which is what, exactly?

I have been lost in this fog too, havering between this or that position, getting confused, trying to juggle too many complex issues in my brain at once, or swayed by passionate arguments and, in the end, tending to side, (but not wholeheartedly), with the view that it would be contrary to our ‘values’ to impose such a law. That could be very wrong.

So here, I just want to avoid all these cul-de-sacs and focus very narrowly on considerations that will stem from an examination of EU Human Rights Legislation in the hope that it will help blow some of the fog away from my brain.

We enact laws that do, to a greater or lesser degree, reflect the core values society holds. If not that, then at least they give some indication of what those values might be. In the case of the French rebublic then, the notions of liberty, equality and fraternity, of laïcité.

Whether such laws shine or not in practice will not be my concern here. I don’t want to get lost in other arguments about whether laws are impractical, inoperable or unenforceable. We don’t, (or shouldn’t), shy away from creating laws because they will upset someone or be difficult to enforce. We create them because we have a notion that they will contribute to the common good somehow: they will have a net benefit to society, enhancing fairness, equality, justice or some other quality we consider desirable – (and yes, I know not all laws are created for these reasons).

So let’s fast forward then to the point where a law banning the wearing of the burqa in public is on the statute book in an EU country, and a test case is placed before the Strasbourg court for consideration. Of the EU countries, Belgium is the one furthest along the road to imposing an outright ban, with France following close behind.

Let us suppose that the respondent brings a case under article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - as follows.

Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 9 then, enshrines the absolute right to hold a belief 9(1), and the qualified right to manifest that belief 9(2). The court will then have to consider whether there is justification under 9(2) for limiting or interfering with a muslim womans choice to manifest her belief by wearing a burqa.
And let us not get side tracked into considerations of a particular woman, in a particular place such as a university, a bank, an airport, a government office, a hospital, a place of employment or some other institution where limitations of freedom under 9(2) are justified for more or less obvious reasons and will be upheld by Strasbourg. We are talking of a woman in a public space and considering in 9(2) where and why a limitation on her freedom to so dress may be justified in law. Remember, for the time being anyway, to set aside such arguments as: because I don’t like it, because it makes me feel uncomfortable, because the women is being oppressed. All those things may be true but they are not relevant here. The French government is bound (as are we) by this convention and must therefore get any law they choose to adopt through the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) where a challenge is bound to end up.

The appellants case must turn then on one or a combination of the following from 9(2): the interests of public safety, the protection of public order, health or morals, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. The EHCR will, presumably, concern itself with whether or not the respondants Convention rights have been violated, and if so, will put the reasoning put forward under 9(2) under intense scrutiny. Would the court consider it a proportionate response to the problems being addressed, or, as Poole sugests - (Of Headscarves and Heresies, 2005, p691-695) - "a recipe for judicialisation on an unprecedented scale." I think he is wrong and is placing too much emphasis on the ‘slippery slope’ argument.

Here again, we might get side tracked into arguing that since Islam itself denies the freedoms outlined in 9(1) it would be somewhat hypocritical of it to then rely upon its protections. Or we might point out that it is all very well protecting the rights and freedoms of others, but what about protection for the rights and freedoms of the poor women compelled to wear a burqa? One might take the view that the wearing of such garb symbolises an aggressive challenge to laïcité, promotes parallel communities in society. living alongside but not with each other, and profoundly hinders social cohesion and integration within those communities. We might argue that a ban on the burqa and niqab will worsen the plight of women and make them prisoners in their own homes. We should explore all of these avenues of course but I am still going to stick with law here.

I think a respondents claim of article 9 violation will fall, not at 9(1), where interference may well be granted, but at 9(2) based on precedence (see Sahin v Turkey (2005) 41 EHRR 8). Here the European Court said:

"The Court observes that the role of the Convention machinery is essentially subsidiary. As is well established by its case law, the national authorities are in principle better placed than an international court to evaluate local needs and conditions. It is for the national authorities to make the initial assessment of the 'necessity' for an interference, as regards both the legislative framework and the particular measure of implementation...

Where questions concerning the relationship between state and religions are at stake, on which opinion in a democratic society may reasonably differ widely, the role of the national decision-making body must be given special importance. In such cases it is necessary to have regard to the fair balance that must be struck between the various interests at stake: the rights and freedoms of others, avoiding civil unrest, the demands of public order and pluralism.

A margin of appreciation is particularly appropriate when it comes to the regulation by the Contracting States of the wearing of religious symbols in teaching institutions, since rules on the subject vary from one country to another, depending on national traditions, and there is no uniform European conception of the requirements of 'the protection of the rights of others' and of 'public order'."

Although this case related to a headscarf prohibition in an educational establishment it went on to say that the "Turkish Constitutional Court was entitled to consider the headscarf prohibition necessary to safeguard the principle of secularism which guaranteed freedom of individual conscience, equality before the law, protection from external pressures and the rights of women." And it is difficult to see why this principle of safeguarding the principles of secularism should be not be applied to the wider society.

I used to hold the view that it was no business of the state what one wore in the public arena. I now think there may be justification for a limitation on freedom to wear partial or full face coverings on the principle that everyone should be identifiable in public and that Strasbourg might well be minded to uphold this on grounds of public safety and security. We shall have to wait and see. It depends on how the law is drafted.

Is it a minor opression to counter a major opression.? Probably.

Are there suitable dress alternatives for muslim women that fulfill the requirements of Islamic dress code without partial or full face coverings? Certainly, many.

Will political Islam scream discrimination from the rooftops? Certainly.

Will there be worse than that? Possibly.

Will the outcome in the end bring a net benefit to society? I don’t know.

Perhaps it is just that I am in no mood at the moment to compromise with a culture that enshrines the brutal suppression of womens human rights and freedoms and hands out barbaric degrading, and inhuman punishments to women on a daily basis.

23 August 2010

Seeking Forgiveness & Declaring All Out War

So why did we lose half a dozen chikkins?

The short answer is we are numpty amateurs at poultry keeping and not sufficiently alert to pest and disease hazards: specifically those from red mite infestation and coccidiosis infection, and even more specifically from a combination of the two things.

Yes, we knew there were red mite in the hen house but assumed wrongly, that it was sufficiently under control; it wasn't.

The red mite (actually grey until they have drunk blood), are smaller than a pin head and inhabit the nooks and crannies in the timbers, particularly at perch ends, and come out at night to suck the blood of the roosting hens. This weakens the birds, making them anaemic and (more) vulnerable to other infections.

Which brings us to coccidiosis: a single celled protozoan gut parasite, endemic in all poultry but, under normal conditions, and in otherwise healthy birds, will not cause them undue harm. In birds weakened by red mite infestation, it can however, be fatal.

Thus, at clodhoppers, we seek the forgiveness of Capt Mannering and Black Adder and the other fine birds we have so carelessly lost, while at the same time, declaring all out war on red mite and coccidiosis.

The battle commenced with an attack on all fronts: a thorough cleanout and disinfection of the henhouse with Jeyes fluid. Then a full frontal assault on red mite with a blowtorch - the heat penetrating the nooks and crannies and killing them - (to be done with care obviously: it's a wooden hut). Then an attack with WMD (aka chemical warfare) with mite kill spray, and a dusting of the birds feathers with red mite powder.

Concurrently, the coccidiosis infection was treated by mixing a sulfonomide powder into the birds drinking water which they drank for 3 days followed by 3 days clear water and then another 3 days on treated water.

Rapid improvement in the flocks health, appetite and production quickly followed.

While this strategy has been effective for the acute phase, we are about to try a tactic (new to us), for the long term control, maybe even eradication of, red mite.

This involves the use of diatomaceous earth (aka diatomite or kieselgur) which is made from the fossilised remains of a type of hard shelled algae crushed to a fine white powder (particle size 10 to 200 microns) which, to us, feels like talcum powder, but to red mite is razor sharp and lacerates their waxy exoskeleton and absorbs all their fluids & lipids, dehydrating them to death.

See? I have no mercy now.

It is harmless to the birds and can even be given in their feed to destroy internal parasites.

All this should get us well back on top of the situation. I still feel bad though, and I'm going to kick myself round the block a few times and never evva evva, go away on holiday, evva, again. Not EVVA.

20 August 2010

Ratzi Taxi

Dear Papa Benedict

Can't wait. Only a month to go now!

We're thrilled you're bringing the popemobile with you, but don't forget to get it taxed, tested and insured: very important that, and do watch out for our traffic wardens, they can be demons you know.

I know the cost of your visit is soaring to over £50 million, but don't let that bother you: there are plenty of ner-do-wells and protestants we can get that off. Besides, Mrs Clod sais she can supply any amount of wet fish if that will help cut costs ,and she is sure you will enjoy a good kedgeree for breakfast.

Anyway, it will be worth it just so you can give Harriet Harman a good talking to: God knows she needs it! Just ask him! All that nonsense about equality and not allowing Catholics to discriminate. What IS she thinking of?

There may be one or two other recalcitrants protesting your visit: probably spurred on by that disreputable primate inter pares Mr R Dawkins. Don't worry Jo, our security chaps are more than up to dealing with that sort of riff-raff.

Besides, most of them are harmless and will only be carrying placards saying 'Less Of That Sort of Thing'. Goodness only knows to what they refer.

Some misguided individuals are even harping on and on about the importance of seperating church and state. Thank goodness you are coming to put them to rights. We've never fallen for any of that nonsense and, with your divinely guided assistance, I trust we never will.

Mrs Clod sais she notices your state is only 0.44 square kilometers, and she hopes you can make it bigger one day. Me too.

Anyway, we'll all be rooting for you in Westminster Hall. Give 'em hell Jo..... Oh!



PS - Here's a pound for the parking meter. Just don't leave it in Liverpool.

12 August 2010


Tis all very going off on holiday but there is always a jungle when you get back.

At least the greenhouse if full of lovely grapes, peaches and tomatoes.

Oh, and the chikkins have coccidiosis, but that's another story for another day.

10 August 2010

General Petanque de Plantagenets et Madame de Camping Oye Plage Formidable

I'm no longer surprised that we have had so many wars with the French over the years. They are really terribly easy to start. As we drove into what looked like the parking area in front of the accueil at the campsite we were given the hairy eyeball treatment by a squadron of elderly French gentlemen with silver balls.

How were we supposed to know it was a boules pit?

A boules pit with one of the most important and serious games of boules ever played anywhere, ever, in progress. It didn't help when I gaily said "Bonjour, je suis General Petanque de Plantagenets." Should've just backed the car up quickly really.

Anyway, the accueil is firmly ferme but there is a button to push. There is nearly always a button to push. So you push the button as you do and wait dix minuites for a response which arrives with a surly 'Oui?' 'Ah Bonjour madame, je cherche pour un place pour camping pour un nuit seulment, c'est possible?' Nobody would've understood the reply. Not even a native French speaker. "I think we have to wait, do you think she said we have to wait?"

We wait. The old men are still eyeballing us and muttering. I think they think that we have plantagenet electro-magnets installed behind the headlights and are switching them on and off to ruin their game.

We wait more. I decide to go off and see if there are any places left, it looks pretty full. [translation] - man runs off in abject fear of facing Madame de Camping Oye Plage Formidable, leaving better, (at French), other half to do the bargaining.

I wander off pondering how the game came to be and why it is taken so seriously. It occurs to me that during a thirty years war or a hundred years war, or one of the (how many?) other wars, there is bound to be a certain amount of sitting around in abject boredom with sod all to do before the next bloodbath commences. One can only engage in so much cannon polishing.

One such day, an unknown soldier (let us call him Henri), will have idly tossed a cannonball a distance and said to his mate 'Je bet you can't hit that mon ami'. 'Bof,' sais mon ami, spitting out his last Gouloise, 'pas problem'. 'Vous missed mate,' chuckles Henri, 'prochain!' And so it begins.

I think it best not to tell them we are of the House of Lancaster whence came Henry IV, V, and VI who I think all gave the French some right royal kickings at one time or another in our glorious history.

I wander the site and come across the piscine and contemplate whether I am fit to be seen in speedos. Then I remember, with not a little relief, that I don't have speedos, only a pair of shorts - and I probably won't be allowed in with those. Clodlet will be pleased though. Opposite the piscine is a nice little plot, plot 150, with some shade and nice fresh looking grass. Perfect.

I rush back to the accueil to give the good news but am passed by a golf buggy driven by Madame de Camping Oye Plage Formidable with Clodlet riding shotgun and beaming. I am beckoned to follow. Madame Le Golf Buggy drives us to a burnt out desert of a pitch on the main path opposite the toilet block. It has at least six bits of grass left that might be living. Everything else, 'desole monsieur', is booked.

I walk back to the car and crank up the electro magnets behind the headlights.

21 June 2010

canadian poppy

A Canadian poppy in full sun. At night, they curl up and hug themselves to sleep.

We all have to do that occasionally.

Gryffydd ap Adda ap Dafydd

The world famous Welsh poet Gryffydd ap Adda ap Dafydd described maypole dancing in a poem written in the mid-14th century. Its origins are not really known but the clodlet seems happy enuf to keep the tradition alive despite our being incapable of providing him with trousers that fit.

Putting all the woopity woo infested mythology and symbolism aside for a moment, I actually find maypole dancing very aesthetically pleasing to watch - unlike Morris dancing which should be outlawed forthwith.

12 June 2010

this much I know

Someone is biting their nails...and it isn't Pan.
(pic by keiran)


Early morning drink for mamaduck and the little ones. They are big enough to be let out in the daytime now without getting into too much mischief. There are four ducklings with mama; the one with the hen sadly didn't make it.
(pic by Keiran)

11 June 2010

Toot Toot

At the end of the line at Boot, the engines go onto a turntable and are turned round by hand for the return trip. How clodlet bamboozled his way into the cab and got to drive it is quite beyond me - and probably against every rule in the book. Still, not every boy gets to fulfill the ambition to blow the whistle on a steam train and drive it to boot.
Fair play.

L'al Ratty

The narrow gauge railway between Ravenglass and Boot. Eight miles of beautiful wooded valley and Lake District hills plied by half a dozen steam trains and, in this picture, the diesel train that does the first and last trips of the day along the line.

Certain Canuks look to have sent a thinly disguised Arthurian guardian to watch over us and grandma gravy and cousin El. He did a good job.

10 June 2010

Bird in Boot

Been trying to process the feelings from being so close to the murderous Derrick Bird when he went on his killing spree in Cumbria. Not finding it that easy. We were on a campsite near Boot when he shot someone just down the road and someone on the next campsite. I don't think they were fatalities though. Mostly I felt angry at the time and think I would (probably stupidly) have tried to take him out if he had come anywhere near us. Now I just mostly feel sad, but I've stopped twitching at the sound of helicopters and police sirens at least. We will never know why, though the question keeps rolling round my head. Killing for a motive I can at least partly grok. Killing in the way he did, at random, anyone he came across, just bewilders me. I simply do not believe the characterisations of 'a happy go lucky chap', a 'caring family man.' I do not believe that smile, I don't even think it is one.

PS - normal service will resume asap.

24 May 2010

new life

Chicks hatched yesterday and some last night: this one all fluffed up and ready for the party, the others still wet and wriggly and staying warm under mum's feathers. Won't disturb her till they've dried and fluffed out a bit.