Hypocrisy at its best – Pope Francis speaks to the EU

Pope Francis addressing EU Parliament. Image Credit Patrick Hertzog via Getty Images

Pope Francis addressing EU Parliament. Image Credit Patrick Hertzog via Getty Images

Pope Francis and the EU
There is a lovely saying that goes: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Makes sense doesn’t it. It’s a saying that could resonate with one when considering the speech Pope Francis delivered to the EU on November 25, 2014.

Here are some points he made in his speech.

EU has lost its way
Pope Francis spoke about Europe having lost its way. Of letting economic crises and bureaucracy beat the energy out of people and countries and that it was increasingly becoming a bystander to what was happening in the world.

Good coming from one of the biggest ‘nations’ in the world with it’s own sovereign country based in Rome. If any organisation has lost its way and its relevance it is the Catholic Church. Once a relevant player in people’s lives the church has significantly lost touch with it’s constituency and the society that its members have to live in.

Even its recent Synod on the Family held in October 2014 ignored the issues closest to the hearts of its members such as divorce and gay rights. It’s an organisation that has totally lost touch with the world and truly has lost its way.

EU not serving its people
The Pope stated that the ‘EU citizens showed growing mistrust towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as incentive to individual people, if not downright harmful.’

This statement, coming from Pope Francis, is preposterous. If any institution could be described in these words it is the Catholic Church. Here is a body of people who want to dictate to its members what the members have to do to comply and belong. Surely the church should serve it’s people and not the other way around?

No wonder the members of the Catholic Church are allowing their faith to lapse and are quietly shuffling away. Attend any normal weekly service in a Catholic Church and see the average age of those taking part.

EU as a grandmother
He described the continent as a ‘grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant’. Let’s reflect a moment on the Catholic Church and it’s significance to the community it serves. Living on Malta, an island steeped in the Catholic faith with 360 churches across a minute island, one would imagine this could be an example of a ‘fully fertile and vibrant young woman’.

Yet attend any service in these beautiful old buildings and the average age of attendants are grandmothers, no longer fertile and vibrant. And the services are held by old men in frocks. Not necessarily old in terms of chronological age.

EU as non Humanitarian
He had some pertinent things to say about the lack of support the EU is providing to refugees and the fact that the Mediterranean is becoming one big graveyard. There is no doubt that this is the truth.

However, with all the wealth the Catholic Church has one doesn’t really see the church implementing a huge outreach programme or showing a helping presence towards refugees themselves. Considering that the entire EU countries bordering on the Med are fully catholic ones, one would imagine that the church and its members would be standing on the beaches with outstretched hand helping people off boats. As per the Bible’s teaching. None to be seen.

And in fact the Catholic Church could take note of what the Muslim faithful are doing. 1.6 million Syrians are currently seeking refuge in Turkey.

Final bits on Pope Francis
There is not doubt that Pope Francis is a man of virtue and integrity. And there is further no doubt that what he had to say is relevant and accurate. However, Pope Francis takes his authority and credibility from the organisation he represents and which has given him his title.

And it is this representation that has allowed him to speak to the EU parliament. Nobody would give Jorge Mario Bergoglio the time of day. Even as a man of virtue and integrity. His authority stems from his title and position in the Catholic Church. And it’s the Catholic Church that is not really entitled to voice the opinions he had. It needs to get its own house in order first before preaching to others.

Trolls beware, anonymous attacks could be dangerous to your health

Troll warning. Image credit Wikipedia.

Troll warning. Image credit Wikipedia.

Trolls Beware

At the end of the day, for regular internet users as well as trolls, there is no such thing as being anonymous online. Any clever hacker, competent staff at internet service providers, government authorities and the clever folk managing social media companies can find out the identity of trolls. They just don’t want to bother.

Somehow freedom of speech has been translated into allowing the nasties out there to attack innocent people with verbal abuse and even threats to personal safety. And the more vicious the attacks it seems the less inclined the folk, such as Twitter in this instance, are to do anything about it.

Two Trolls go to Prison

But in a well publicised case in the UK two nasty trolls have been sentenced to prison terms. A victory for decent behaviour. A victory for the defence of victims and a great outcome for the previously condemned to ‘sitting duck’ status.

The internet has allowed people the opportunity to viciously attack other people for no reason whatsoever. And they feel they can do this because they can hide behind a bunch of anonymous accounts and hidden identities.

You can’t hide

But this is a misnomer. There is no such thing. Everybody can be found. There just has to be sufficient will to bother to do the hard work. It’s all very well for companies such as Facebook or Twitter to hide behind the ‘use at your own peril’ kind of attitude. It can only last so long. Surely at some stage your customers are going to get annoyed.

And this is precisely what happened in the case of Ms Caroline Criado-Perez who was attacked via Twitter for wanting to promote having a woman portrayed on a UK bank note. Not exactly what one would consider a mind blowing contentious matter, one would think.

In response to an online user movement Twitter finally introduced a ‘report abuse’ button. After all, at the height of the nasty campaign, Criado-Perez was getting 50 rape and murder threats per hour. That’s no small attack. Of course sending two trolls to prison is hardly going to dent that kind of vitriolic abuse.

But what it does, by sending these two rather pathetic individuals to prison, is to broadcast a warning to other trolls. You can be found. And where people really want to, they can stop being a victim and get the authorities to step in. Of course they shouldn’t have to. Surely society should allow a woman to campaign to have a famous woman on a bank note and not be attacked for this? You’d think.

So the world didn’t end on 21 May

National Geographic\’s idea of Armageddon

Why would we even consider believing an 89 year old engineer turned prophet? Yet the story of his predictions were reported in many news media with even the BBC running an expose of sorts.

It seems strange that we would give this person space to spread his strange prediction of the end of the world. In a way that kind of explains the rest of the news doesn’t it.

Surely if the media is prepared to write about something as bizarre as this what does it say about the rest of the news. Is what we generally get fed in the news as bizarre? We just haven’t worked out as yet how to distinguish between what could be true and what is fabrication.

Let’s face it. Many of us bought into the whole Weapons of Mass destruction story that led to the Iraq war. We also bought into the Taliban story which is the excuse given for meddling around in Afghanistan.

We celebrated when a supposedly advanced country, the USA, summarily executed a person without allowing the person to stand for trial. We’d been told by the media that this person was responsible for all the evil terrorism on this planet.

Do we know this for sure? Since when does the CNN or the BBC news channel dispense justice? Yet we believe them. In the same way Dominique Strauss-Kahn has already been found guilty of rape. Tried and judged by the media. And we believe it.

Somehow we manage to suspend all logical thought and buy into the hype of the camera and the ‘wisdom’ of some newscaster who is supposed to be neutral in stating the events of the day. Couldn’t be more biased.

If the news channels were neutral we would still be questioning whether DSK is innocent or whether Bin Laden should have been executed.

We believe them. We even consider the demise of the world at 6.00pm on May 21, 2011 because the media is reporting on it. They got it wrong didn’t they.

What else do they get wrong? In fact is anything right about the media? Should we not check behind the curtain and find out who is pulling the strings of the puppets. Those puppets also known as Joe Public. Yes, you and me!

Different cultures don’t always work together

An interesting question got thrown at me a few days ago. Do different cultures work together? The question was whether international NGOs were helping disabled people in Vietnam get a better deal.

So here’s the conundrum. Vietnam is a top down type of society. The communist party tells its citizens what to think and what to do. At the citizen level the patriarch in the family tells the family what they have to do. For instance the wife has to move in with her husband’s family.

In business as well as government organisations the leadership determines every move that the organisation and its members are allowed to make. This is how society works in Vietnam. And mostly it works quite well in a traditional Vietnamese kind of manner. In fact in all fairness the developed world had a similar style of management not so long ago.

So if you consider a total top down style of determining the lives of the people of Vietnam how do you see a lowly NGO fit into this picture? How can an NGO with a few staff members, with nobody of any consequence running the branch in a remote South East Asian country,  tell the upper echelon of whatever organisation they are working with what should be done? And even expect that organisation to follow quite different practices and procedures at their say so?

How successful do you think that would be? The communities in the developed world have an inclusive style of doing business of trying to influence folk. They have to have this approach. Nobody would listen to anybody who marched into an office and demanded that something should be done in a certain way. There would be a riot.

So imagine these two totally opposite ways of doing business, of tackling problems, finding solutions and working for the good of human kind. Imagine one where the big chief determines everything and another one where decisions are made by a bunch of folk and implemented collaboratively together.

In all seriousness do you see these two systems working together? And can you see somebody coming from the collaborative model influence anybody in the top down scenario? With great difficulty one would imagine.

No deaths in New Zealand quake so what happened in Haiti?

So New Zealand had an earth quake at the same magnitude as Haiti. And there were no deaths. And yet Haiti had anything between 92 000 to 260 000 deaths, depending on what report one reads.

No matter the number of deaths, even one is too many. So how did New Zealand escape this kind of catastrophe. And besides this, within hours of the quake having occurred clearing up operations had commenced. Whereas Haitians are still living in tent camps and in the thousands of people.

This is such a human question. What is the true difference? Is it a corrupt government? Is it a question of pure wealth. In other words the population of New Zealand can afford to build their structures according to laws that will ensure that buildings withstand a quake of that magnitude. Yet Haitians, also aware of the possibility of earthquakes, built buildings that cannot withstand a quake.

It is said that Haitians are too poor to be able to build their homes sturdy enough that they don’t fall down at the first tremor. Yet some of the biggest tragedies were counted amongst people working in public buildings. For instance 85 UN personnel were killed in their offices.

Medical facilities, hospitals, churches, government buildings, the national palace, airport control tower, harbour facilities collapsed, most of the municipal buildings were destroyed including the City Hall. and much more. That means that buildings put up by government and corporations were as unstable as homes.

It is unlikely that New Zealand will request major international assistance. Haiti has received an unbelievable amount of aid. Yet six months after the quake, July 2010, as much as 98% of the rubble from the quake remains uncleared, bodies are still buried in rubble and 1.6 million people are trapped in relief camps of tents and tarps.

The sums of money raised for Haiti appear to be in the US$ billions. Yet the country has it’s people still in tents and the city itself is destroyed. What will New Zealand’s Christchurch look like in six months and how much money will the international community have to find for Aid? I would say that Christchurch will have been partly rebuilt and the rest of the world will not have to dip into their pocket to help them out.

So what is the difference here? What makes Haiti poverty stricken. What makes the population of Port-au-Prince live in tent cities waiting for their new homes to be rebuilt by international aid. Yet New Zealand’s population will dig themselves out of their own devastation.

How does this happen? How can one country be so helpless. And another one so self-sufficient under the same circumstances? What could the answer be here? One can only imagine what New Zealand would do with the billions in aid that Haiti has received so far. Rebuild a paradise.

Corruption? Inept politicians? Bad local government? A disregard by the ruling folk for their citizens? Not enough aid by the world? Bad deals by the world’s trading partners? Hang-over from colonial times? The people? What makes Haiti not cope and New Zealand manage?

It’s quite a question. One wonders what the answer could be.

Jacob Zuma and the debate on the evils of polygamy

Much can be said about cultures as practised by the peoples of the world. One aspect that in particular consumes many words is the argument as to whether some cultures are better than others. It’s a value judgement that should or shouldn’t be made.

Depends entirely on your point of view as to how you vote on this!

Here’s one to judge if you feel strongly enough. The current President of South Africa is facing the culture police at the moment. The question being asked is whether it is right for him to practice polygamy in a modern society such as South Africa. Not only that, should he be chastised for his numerous extra-marital offspring.

Just as an aside, and for the pleasure of throwing a curveball, doesn’t it take two to tango? Women are prepared to live in polygamy and produce babies with a married man. Why is nobody wondering about that? And sure there are some countries where the women do not have a choice, but they do in South Africa.

Would you consider polygamy bad? In other words is having more than one wife morally reprehensible? What about Tiger Woods and all his activities outside the marital bedroom? Is that bad? If not why are his sponsors leaving him in droves…

Where does the concept of being faithful to one partner come from one wonders. It’s somewhere in the commandments of course. Don’t drool over your neigbour’s wife is written on one of the tablets.

Monogamy is not only dictated to by the Christian faith. Other societies and nations, for instance  Vietnam, that are not predominantly Christian also oppose polygamy.  On the other hand Muslims seem to support polygamy.  Check this map for the world wide acceptance or not of polygamy.

Of course one can argue that polygamy could have been a necessity. During war filled years many men were killed in battle leaving a whole bunch of widows unattended to. Some men took pity on them and brought them into their private harem. This definitely worked for some.

But is that still necessary? In a country such as South Africa where women have rights and opportunities do they still have to have a husband to look after them? One would imagine that argument hardly applies.

Having speculated about all of the above, and leaving out many further valid points that could be made both pro and con the culture debate and where polygamy fits into it, there’s one last point to be made here.

Does it really matter whether Jacob Zuma the current South African President has four or even six wives plus 20 kids some made with non-wives?

Who really cares? And as for Tiger Woods. Please, get a life.

Talking to the ancestors

What a week! My second week in Hanoi went quickly. I suppose when you are having fun… Besides the general stuff we had to do such as three hours of Vietnamese language lessons per day there were some other bits to keep us entertained and focused.

We had our first heavy thunderstorms. Boy does it come down in buckets. But mostly the weather has been hot and humid. One of the locals told me that the autumn was the best part of the year because it was lovely and cool. Huuh? Between 30 and 35 degrees. Cool? It just goes to show. It’s all relative, isn’t it.

Our VSO office helped us with our bank accounts, took us to clinic visits for further vaccinations (I’m now all rabied out) and visits to museums that weren’t actually open. Lots of meetings with support folk and further info on customs and procedures.

We had a fabulous talk by Professor Huu Ngoc, author of a fair sized book called ‘Wandering through Vietnam’s Culture’. Covered a few thousand years of history in under an hour. I think he’s done it before…

What he did point out, which was something that I had kind of thought of before during a language lesson,was that community is a big thing. The principle is what can I do for the community, i.e. duty, rather than what can the world do for me, or the individualism of the West. Shades of J F Kennedy’s speech of ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’. Or words to that effect.

I do think that the Prof’s little world of Vietnam and community is not as golden and wonderful as he paints it. But nevertheless, I agree with him that the loss of community is a big one for the West. Let’s hope Vietnam hangs on to theirs, although it sounds like the young and up and coming entrepreneurs are abandoning their roots as quickly as we did in the West.

The Vietnamese language still follows this sense of community. There are so many pronouns to describe somebody and their relationship to you and others. Which is also why Ho Chi Minh, the hero of the liberation struggle, is called Uncle. It’s a kind of honorary title in a way. We in the West would consider the title uncle not to be that polite. In Vietnam it means we are part of the family because he is our Uncle!

On Saturday we had an all day outing to a Vietnamese family. This was an opportunity for us to see how the people live and to get a feel for this sense of community. I had my day in a home where three generations of people live under one roof.

What was fun was to see the 5 year old grand daughter speaking her first English words. They introduce the language at kindergarden where they also follow a fairly strict syllabus of numbers and introduction to science and history. No playing around in play school here. And the little one is terrified of her teacher!

Hospitality is huge here and the dining table groaned with food. It’s not polite to nibble. To show your appreciation as visitor you have to tuck in, and lots of it. Phew. Talk about taking strain. Lovely food. Not that much fresh, except for a herb salad which was nice. Let’s put it this way, a vegetarian would have starved.

A walk to the local Pagoda, praying temples made me reflect on religion. As with Western churches, the women folk were out in droves praying to their ancestors. And I suppose as with the West the men folk are probably the ones behind the statues and religious symbols calling the shots and raking in the gifts.

At the advice of my young guide, I donated some dong, lit some incense and had a chat to my ancestors to ask them to help me through two years of work in Hanoi and to make sure that I can do more good than harm!

It seems there are a fair number of clairvoyants in Vietnam and that it is quite common for people to ask for help and check out what the future could hold for them. And this is done via the clairvoyant’s chats to the ancestors.

Nowadays one buys fake money to leave on the plate in front of your particular favourite statue. I suppose it makes sense with theft on the rise. But then who grabs the money for the fake money, one wonders.

My young guide told me of people who spend millions of dong, which is not that hard if one considers that 30 000 vd (Vietnamese dong) is about £1, buying fake money in the hope that the ancestors will shower them with much wealth. Wealth seems to be the number one goal.

I told him that it was no different in the West. One just had to see what Madoff managed to rake in. Talk about selling fake money and empty promises. You can’t teach the West any new tricks on that score. Vietnam certainly doesn’t need to feel embarrassed about a few people taken for a ride with fake money for ancestors.

One last week of orientation ahead of us. And then the real business of work will finally need to be faced. Out of the eleven of us only 4 volunteers will be staying in Hanoi. The others will wend their way to Saigon and some to some pretty remote spots. We will be sorry to see the group disband.

We’ve come a long way

The Dancing Girls

The Dancing Girls

Brighton Gay Parade 2009

Brighton Gay Parade 2009

I’m particularly guilty of ranting at the ills of the world. I got angry at California and their vote with regards to Prop 8 and the fact, even with the gay friendly city of San Francisco within the State, that they would be anti gay and lesbian marriages.

But then over the past week-end I had the opportunity to go and check out the Brighton Gay Parade and I realised that we’ve come a long way. Or at least the UK has. When you see floats representing the establishment in a procession proclaiming their support for gay and lesbian folk then it’s easy to get a bit of a surprise.

Represented were the BBC, the Gay Police Association, Gay & Lesbian Fire Department Association, Ambulance services, the Brighton & Hove City Council, the political parties, some businesses, even the local bus company took part in the parade.

It’s when the authorities are so open in their support then you know you are almost home and dry. So three cheers to the UK and a bigger cheer for all the gay and lesbian folk who have fought so hard for the right to be themselves.

Brighton Pride Parade 2009

Brighton Pride Parade 2009

The crowds!

The crowds!

Have a look at the crowd on the street. And it went on for hours! Oh and guess who had to go the wrong direction trying to fight a way through to get to the station for a ticket ….

We love the blood and gore

One thing that has always fascinated me and that is how we love to gawk at scenes of disaster. I mean the we of all of us as human beings.  We do this. We slow down when driving past a road accident, we love to read details of crashes and earthquakes.

We watched the images of the Twin Towers collapsing for days on end.  At least I did and I know that every single staff member in my office was watching it too. Our offices were in Johannesburg.

We checked for details of whether any South Africans were in the building at the time and if yes did anybody know this person. It was the same with the Tsunami. How many South Africans were killed? We watched out for every name.

We are more drawn to observe and experience other people’s trauma and hardship than we are to celebrating the good things. I mean, how popular were the public executions in the olden days/? Almost a celebration!

That’s how it seems to me. But of course I could be wrong.

The story of a holocaust survivor made me reflect on this peculiar personality trait that we all appear to have. Ana Novac is a survivor. She was rescued from Auschwitz by the Russian military at the end of the war. A barely alive skeleton.

Sixty years later she has finally published her dairy that she kept while in the concentration camp under the title ‘The beautiful days of my youth’.

What was fascinating though was an interview with her in Der Spiegel where she reflects on her life. Her entire life, or at least the time since the release from Auschwitz, has been lived under the cloud of those few years in the concentration camp.

But it’s not so much her experiences that have coloured her life but the fact that society has not allowed her to forget her years there. Her notoriety, so to speak, of having survived the camp has overshadowed everything else.

She has made her living writing books and has published several novels, untold comedies and a drama which has never been performed. Yet none of her literary efforts have provided her with anything more than token acceptance.

Her life story has overshadowed her entire life. The public has not allowed her to move forward and put those shocking experiences behind her. She is a holocaust survivor and above all else an Auschwitz escapee. That is all everybody is interested in.

Just like voyeurs, peeping into bedrooms of young girls, we want to peep into her room of experiences and watch her life during those years and how she suffered.  Only in so far as she is alive to share her gruesome experiences is her existence important to us.

Aren’t we strange human beings.

Obama and the issue of abortion

Amazing what people think and say. It never ceases to surprise me. And at my ripe ol’ age I should be used to human mankind and what they get up to. But no. I’m still taken aback.

A little commotion is happening in the USA. Sure, again. It’s about President Obama. Again. This time though he isn’t coming off that cleanly. Yet, in comparison to letting off folk who condoned and instigated torture,  it isn’t as if he is doing anything wrong this time. Really.

Would anybody with some logic think that a person who states that a debate should be held where all parties to the debate should voice their opinions with reason and respect for all other opinions was voicing an outrageous statement?

Well that’s what’s going down in the USA and what went down specifically at University of Notre Dame. The President was accepting an honorary degree and repaying the honour by delivering the commencement address.

The topic of his speech? Abortion, or at least the discussions around it. And did that get the feathers flying and the hecklers out of the closet.  This topic is such an emotional issue that doctors have been murdered over it by people against abortion because it kills children.

Does that make sense? Kill somebody because you are against them killing? I suppose the old testament is all for that – eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth kind of thinking.

What was the President calling for that got people’s hackles up? He was calling for a respectful debate. Oh shock and horror. How awful. After all if you have a strong opinion on something and you are most definitely right then there should be no debate. Should there?

But what happens if you are wrong? Ha. Got you on that one didn’t I. But surely there are just some issues where there is a clear defined right and wrong? Well, maybe in your mind there is.

What if you are wrong? Or what if you are right but there are lots of rights. Can’t be? Every single person on this planet has his own ideas on right or wrong. These ideas are determined by age, culture, religion, race, gender, nationality you name it. A whole bunch of influencers.

Is it possible then to have one moral code, one set of standards by which one must live, one pre-defined list of ideas and opinions that each of the 7 billion inhabitants of this planet has to abide by?

Could be a bit of a problem to enforce that. Leaving you with that thought to ponder on your own. Don’t look at me. I don’t have the answer, sorry. I might just be pro debate though….

Just as an aside. There are calls by some folk that the University should not have bestowed an honorary degree on President Obama. After all he has such radical opinions!

Seriously though, considering Bob Mugabe got a few, some thirteen or so, from international universities as well as an honorary Knighthood from the British Queen herself why shouldn’t Obama get a degree because he is asking for rational discourse? Beats me.