Is Big Brother Watching You?

The saga of governments snooping into our private lives continues. Did the Americans listen in to Angela Merkel’s mobile ‘phone calls? Are they listening in on Pope Francis? Is my cyber life an open book to GCHQ?

Scary Guy?
Scary Guy?

What is it that bothers so much about the spooks? I think it is the hangover of 1984. Not the year – the book by George Orwell. Orwell paints a picture of post war Britain. Everyone is spied on by ‘Big Brother’. Thinking the wrong thoughts will result in being sent to Room 101. Not the TV programme with Frank Skinner, a terrible place where you are confronted by your worst fear; the fear that lurks in the back of your brain, buried so deep you are not aware of it. That could be Frank Skinner for all I know, but, unlikely.

Oh No! Arrgh. Not that!
Oh No! Arrgh. Not that!

Do you begin to see the extent of the problem? 1984 permeates our culture so deeply, tv programmes named from it etc, that it has become our secret fear. A change of image is needed. Why should Big Brother be a frightening image? Why not a helpful big brother?

The Big Brother we would all love.
The Big Brother we would all love.

What about a big brother like Uncle Buck – remember him, the John Candy character from the film? If the security services are monitoring all our communications they could make themselves useful. When they are monitoring my telephone calls they could intercept calls from sellers of PPI claims, double glazing, kitchen makeovers and boiler room scams. They could warn them off in a way that only James Bond and his buddies can do – licence to kill!

Never call this number again - or else!
Never call this number again – or else!

They could provide a downloadable plug in for Windows, Mac OS etc that puts a big red button on your desktop. Anytime you have a problem just push the button.

Push for help
Push for help

“Big Brother here – what’s the problem?”

“I can’t remember the password for my WordPress account!”

“Hold on I can tell you, or better still, I’ll type it in for you”

Problem solved. Now that’s a big Brother we all want and need. If they know all this stuff about us then they should make themselves useful. We would all be much happier if we could instantly call on MI5 to help us out. Just think; dementia would cease to be a problem.

Walk into a room, can’t remember why you are there? – Push the red button. “Big Brother, why did I come in here?”

“You are looking for your reading glasses. They are in the top drawer of your bedside unit.”

“Thank you Big Brother”

Hell, they could even become proactive. What’s wrong with getting a message from Big Brother telling you that your supply of red wine is getting dangerously low and, since the weather will be bad in the next 24 hours, you could find yourself dangerously sober?

Come on ‘M’, a change of image is required. Where’s my big red button?

Qualified or Unqualified – That is the Question


Nick Clegg has raised doubts about the government’s policy on free schools. He has suggested that teachers in these schools should be qualified. The government argues that this would cut out many talented, but unqualified, teachers. What are the merits of the argument?
Bringing in talented, inspiring people to schools sounds like a good idea. People have all sorts of experience and talents to bring as the Tories have long suggested. Remember the suggestion they made that failed bankers would make great teachers? I also recall the suggestion that troops being made redundant from the forces would bring discipline, loyalty and, perhaps skills in killing people.

I could teach economics?

Job for an ex banker?

But surely, if this is a valid argument, it should apply elsewhere too. People with flair and a desire to serve could be brought in to other professions. There are thousands of young men with vast experience of the court system who could be brought in as barristers. They have long experience of defending themselves in court with such brilliant defences such as “It was not me.”, “I was somewhere else at the time.” or “I found the goods lying in the street and I did not know they were stolen”.

Who needs qualified gas fitters?

Who needs qualified gas fitters?

We could go beyond that. The shortage of doctors, especially at weekends, could be solved by bringing in volunteers with some experience of first aid. Why should gas fitters need a special qualification? All you need is the ability to use a spanner and a blowlamp. Why should truck drivers need a special license? Lots of unemployed teenagers can drive cars without a license at all, let them have a go at a truck.
Can we see any good examples of unqualified people in a responsible job? How are they doing? Well we need look no further than the government itself. We have ministers of education with no education qualifications or experience and they are bringing lots of new ideas. Ministers, even prime ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer have, and need, no qualification. Look at the great job they are doing.
Education statistics show that education standards in England and Wales have not fallen to the bottom of world rankings, not quite. Our economy is booming? – well, it will be soon, we are told, despite the deficit growing rather than falling.
So judge for yourself. Is Nick correct in demanding qualified staff or is the government showing us a vision of things to come?
I have one question, though. Why has it taken so long for Nick to notice this absurdity?

Badgers and Goalposts – What’s going on?

According to the BBC the badger cull has not been going to plan as a result of some devious moves by the badgers.


Badger (Photo credit: Tatterdemalion!) just incase you’re not sure.

The marksmen have failed to meet their targets (gettit?) because the badgers have been moving the goalposts. I must admit I was a little puzzled by this statement. I thought the marksmen were going to shoot the badgers, so what has that to do with goalposts? Then I realised

goalposts – shoot

See any badgers?

See any badgers?

The marksmen wern’t using rifles to hit the wee fellows; they were using footballs! When the badgers wandered between the goalposts they would ‘shoot’ and kill the badger stone dead with a football. Now I don’t know how many goals our players score these days but it seems to me that’s going to take a long time.

Then, of course, the badgers, being no fools, decided to move the goalposts. Well, wouldn’t you? I certainly was not aware that badgers could move goalposts, but they have survived a long time, goals or no goals. What have the government said about it?

Wild animals I tell you!

Wild animals I tell you!

Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, complained that the badgers were ‘wild animals’. I suppose that’s true but then he should have thought of that before he started the cull. I don’t know what they are going to do now, perhaps issue the marksmen with rifles? I just hope the badgers don’t respond in kind this time.

Have the government scored an own-goal with this? Well it wouldn’t be the first time.

Blue Jasmine – As I Saw It

I went to the GFT last night to see this film. I was enrolled in a Contemporary Film course by my younger daughter who thought I should be exercising the brain cells. I was tired after a long day and a long class.This was not the attitude for cinema visits.

As soon as the film started that all changed. This was Woody Allan at his best. I think it is his best ever. This is a film about all of us and our current situation.

Who do we think we are? Who are we really? What happens to us when we lose the place?

In a society that has lost the place completely, we all need to see this film. The brain cells were jangled into life – and I recognised places in San Fransisco I visited last year.

the cast is superb, and not just Kate Blanchett.

Go and see this. Find the place again. Find out who you really are.

My September Column – False Gods

Last month I quoted His Holiness, Pope Francis I, telling us to build the Church. We must be the evangelists spreading the Faith. That sounds exciting and really scary all at the same time. It’s exciting because it places us in the forefront of building the Kingdom of God on earth. It is scary because we don’t really know how to go about it.

A few years ago I was in Liberia with Father Gary Jenkins, an SMA missionary. I was learning about how a mission works, looking at the school, the clinics and the people working there. He was a very experienced missionary and was working in remote villages, bringing the Gospel to people who had never heard the Word.

At that time Liberia was emerging from a disastrous civil war and people were returning to devastated villages to try to pick up the threads of normal life again. I asked Father Gary how he went about introducing people to the Gospel. How do you get them interested? His answer was quite simple. The culture in those African communities was an oral one. Most people could not read and write so everything was in the spoken word. Their culture was passed down through the generations in stories. Father Gary told stories.

His stories were the stories of the Bible. He visited villages and told his stories to generate an understanding of what Christianity was about. He told me that Missionaries did not bring God to Africa. God was already there. The Holy Spirit moved in Africa before the white man and created a thirst for knowledge of God. What was new to Africa was Jesus.

This seemed logical but it all seemed a bit too simple. Father Gary agreed and offered to take me on a visit he was making to a village in the forest where he had started a small Christian group. The village was not too far away but was not easy to reach. We drove off the road and down tracks through the forest until we reached a river. There we were met by a boatman in his dugout canoe.

There were only two men who were allowed to ferry people across the river. He came back and forth until the whole party was across. We found ourselves on the edge of the village and walked in to a great welcome. We celebrated Mass in a hut in the centre of the village before sharing a meal there.

As darkness fell we were treated to a spectacular dance display where Magongo, a forest spirit danced through fire, displaying his power over that element. The boys from the mission who accompanied us stayed close to us in fear. The old religion still carried sway. Magongo is really a man in a suit of grass, not exactly what you would wear to dance through a roaring fire but that’s why it is so impressive.

I wondered what it was about Father Gary that impressed the villagers more than Magongo. It turned out that Magongo is a spirit dedicated to Father Gary and he bowed down before the priest after the dance. Now I was really puzzled. Father Gary eventually told me the story.

He had gone to the village, telling his stories and building a community but there was another group there, an Evangelical group who opposed his presence. They disrupted his attempts to have a Mass in the village and he eventually gave up. He explained to the village chief that the people did not seem to want him there.

That would have been the end of the story but for the start of a new war. The civil war was, as I have said, disastrous for the people. Many fled into displacement camps, seeking safety but often finding very difficult conditions. Father Gary stayed in his post throughout the war and did his best to alleviate the condition of the people and sought aid from many people in the UK. Many of you will have helped him via SIR and Mary’s Meals.

When the war finished and the people were returning a messenger came from the village. The chief wanted Father Gary to come back. He went to the village and asked the chief why he had sent for him. He had tried before but the people had preferred a different group. Why would things be different now?

The chief agreed that the people had been drawn to a different Christian group who had offered prosperity in this life. When the war came that group left. Father Gary had stayed and had continued to work to alleviate their difficult conditions. The people had realised that Father Gary brought more than promises; he brought himself. By his selflessness and good works he had shown them the true meaning of the Gospel message.

It seems to me that it’s not the telling of the story that is important. If we are to build the Church we must be prepared to give ourselves to be used. Evangelisation is the work of the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Spirit to use us to influence other people. We can be an influence by behaving like true Christians in the way we go about our daily lives and in the way we treat others.

Telling the story of Magongo dancing through the fire made me think back to the boys who were afraid of the forest spirit. At the time I was both puzzled and amused. These boys had been boy soldiers in the civil war and had seen dreadful things. They were Christians, firmly believing in one God and yet they still feared this other god.

The apparent weakness of their faith made me think of my own faith in one true god. Do I really have no other gods in my life? If that is the case then why did I make sure I had a lottery ticket last night? If my Faith was strong I would understand that money will not bring me happiness or satisfaction. I tell myself that money is useful and could be used to change the lives of so many poor people. It could do a lot of good.

I’m deluding myself. Millions could be put to good use, but the Gospel message is not about using easy money. It is about the hard reality of sharing the little we have, not the surplus we can’t think how to spend. If I won the lottery would I help the poor before or after buying myself a shiny red sports car?

Yes, there are still some false gods in my life and I need to recognise them for what they are. Only then can I live a life that truly teaches by example. Only then will I be able to live up to the task Christ set for all Christians; to lead the world to Him.

Now I’m not so sure of myself than I was when I started writing this. I need to go off and seek out those other false gods that might be lurking there, somewhere in the back of my mind.

You will find him there. Are there any false gods lurking in your background? They might not be dancing through fire but they could be hiding in that lottery ticket or that bottle of red. Oops, that might be another of mine.

To see the video in YouTube click here

Edward and the Rabid Right

I was never one who thought Ed Milliband was the best choice for Labour leader. It seems I was totally wrong. The Daily Mail launched an attack on the leader of the opposition in a flanking move by making a flanking move against his dead father.

Why would they attack dead man? Well, obviously a dead man can’t fight back. It’s easier to attack the defenceless, and that’s’ the usual tactic of the right when you can’t win on the substance of the debate.

In footballing terms it’s a professional foul. The Mail seems to aspire to be the Vinnie Jones of journalism. That is a typical tactic of the rabid right; to hell with the facts, a good lie will do.

We can see the same thing elsewhere. In the USA the Republican right have shut down the government in an attempt to stop the implementation of the Obamacare bill. They think it is their patriotic duty to attack the country, the poor in particular.

If the facts don’t suit then invent new ones. Here we have a government who have consistently failed in the central plank of their mission to sort out the economy. They boldly declare that we are now seeing recovery and accuse the opposition of more borrowing while that is exactly what they are doing.

They distract the public’s attention by introducing controversial laws such as same sex marriage and attack the unemployed as the cause of our economic ills. They ignore the failings of banks and financial services whose behaviour continues to be not only counterproductive but often illegal.

Yes, ignore the rubbish coming out of Manchester this week but beware of that dead guy, he must be dangerous still.

I now look to Ed Milliband with a new sense of admiration. If the Mail is attacking him, in a cowardly way, then he must be good. I look to him to keep the country’s eyes fixed on the continuing failures of C