Brexit – a typical British mess

There is something radically ramshackle about the politics of England whenever an existential threat arises. The government of the day appears to be both unprepared for the threat and in need of outside help to avert disaster.

On a recent Question Time Gina Miller called the government’s actions on Brexit ‘shambolic’. This word I believe applies to every existential crisis that this country has lived through in the past 100 years. For example, look at the preparations for WW1 and WW2. When war started in 1914, the War Office had only 4 months supply of Acetone, which was essential for coating the heads of missiles. They used to buy it from Germany and for some reason that source was no longer available. Now there was none to be had. Unless something could be done, the war would be lost in 6 months.

The government asked a senior lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Manchester named Dr. Chaim Weizmann to try to develop a synthesised version of Acetone. He soon invented a fermentation process that came to be called “the Weizmann Process.” This enabled Britain to fight the war, which was eventually decided by the US adding their men and materiel to the fight.

WW 2 had a different but similar situation. The government of the day was so anxious to avoid a war that it both appeased Hitler and made no preparation for a possible conflict, leaving the country without planes, tanks, guns and bombs to fight against a Germany that had been re-arming itself for 6 years. Churchill spent his wilderness years trying to convince the government that Hitler was a real threat and that appeasement would not work. In the end the US again had to step into the conflict to give the Allies a decisive victory. Both of these potential disasters were averted by the US stepping in, something which will not happen this time. .

The current existential crisis, which at least is not a war, is the question of Brexit. Once again, the government is totally unprepared for the event, and doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the threat. In this crisis the USA will not step in to help, because it has actually increased the threat by starting a new trade war as the aggressor.

This trade war should make it very obvious where the country is heading via Brexit. It is obvious that Trump only respects power, and what we are doing with Brexit is voluntarily reducing our power. The hard-line Brexiteers may believe that going it alone in the world will increase our power and prosperity, but this looks increasingly like an illusion. Leaving the EU will make us weaker economically and in the eyes of the world, including Donald Trump’s. This means we are deliberately making ourselves weaker and poorer. Hard to believe that a country would do this to itself, but then why didn’t anyone stockpile acetone and who thought you could appease Hitler? There is a terrible pattern repeating itself here. Mrs May rushed to Washington when Trump was elected to solidify the special relationship and lay the ground for a great trade deal with the US. We now see how much that is worth. He said America First not the special relationship first.

Let’s do a ‘what if’ moment. What if the US trade war started before the referendum was called. Who, other than hard-line Tory and Ukip Eurosceptics, would have seen the sense of breaking away from our largest trading partners in the midst of economic turmoil. It’s time to wake up. It’s not too late. The country needs to vote again, now that it is becoming clear what an unholy mess Brexit is going to be.

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June 30, 2018 at 1:53 pm 1 comment

Spiritual Teachings of Yoga

 

After the success of The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Hodder and Stoughton  commissioned me to write 4 more books on philosophy and spirituality. After writing a book on Seneca, my then partner Jo Manuel suggested I write a book on Yoga philosophy. This was a subject that I had never found easy to penetrate, partly because of so many Sanskrit terms, and partly because of the alien (to the western mind) nature of the philosophy’s expression and ideas. . But Jo, a yoga therapist,  said she would work with me on the book. So we plowed ahead and the book was published in 2003.  It has been in constant publication since then, and is especially popular with yoga student teachers, who often need to study yoga philosophy but find it as difficult to understand as I did. The book is a readable, accessible and sometimes surprising account of yoga philosophy, touching on practice as well as some history. The book also includes the Yoga Sutras, some Upanishads and a section of the Bhagavad Gita.

Looking recently at the book’s listing on Amazon.com I was heartened by a number of reviews of the book. Here are a few:

First of all, I did not need to be practicing physical yoga in order to find this book enlightening. (I have had yoga classes but mainly focus on one position each day that relieves a cranky back.) The focus is on living the spiritual life. I am currently reading the selections from the Upanishads that are a part of this book. They touch my heart and my soul and teach me what living and loving are truly about, and the unimportance of material things. While reading and meditating on Yoga Masters, “earth’s vain shadows flee”, and I am reminded of the oneness of all things. Starting each morning with this book has truly added richness and meaning to my daily life.

This book ROCKS! I totally agree with the reviewer before me. This is a great book for someone who has done some yoga and loves it and is ready to move into the spiritual side of yoga. Truly amazing and has completely changed my life. The writers have written this book with perfect simplicity and grace. A very easy read, yet encompasses everything quickly and neatly.

My favorite yoga instructor loaned me this and one other (Heart of Yoga) when I expressed an interest in learning more about the “whole picture” vs. just asanas. Am purchasing my own copy after spending time letting the various texts sink in. If you are looking for a deeper, readable resource try this one.

I can’t believe no one else has reviewed this yet! Despite the cheesy title, this is a bona fide invaluable resource, especially for those who do postures, but are unfamiliar with Hindu philosophy. The first half of the book is a basic introduction to yoga philosophy. The second half, believe it or not, consists of ample selections from the Upanishads, as well as the entire texts of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, all translated into contemporary English with no complicated sanskrit terms—all in this tight little compact paperback. For such a small price, don’t pass up this bargain!

 

It’s a lovely feeling to know that a book we created 15 years ago has touched and helped so many readers.

 

 

 

June 1, 2018 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

A New You Resolution from Cleo

My daughter Cleo posted two messages this week that I thought were very good. One was a kind of New Year resolution, or maybe it should be called a New You resolution because it’s about Cleo’s new feeling of the joy of being, and the potential of what life can become. It’s a mission statement for herself, a prayer for the love that she has for herself and for the world.

The second is a Christmas message, much more poetic and touching than the Queen’s. You could say this the Goddess’ Christmas message. It is touching and beautiful. It is based on a Christian view, but if goes beyond that as it overflows with love for life, and enters you with the truth of her feeling.

 

December 30, 2017 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

The Revaluation of All Values

Nietzsche wrote about the revaluation of all values. I believe we are living at a unique time when it is possible to conceive of a revaluation like this. The current dissatisfaction with the way we live forces us to think about other ways. This gives us an opportunity to re-examine the values we live by, and to create new ones or revert back to earlier ones now lost or in danger.

The ascendance of Trump in the US and of Brexit in the UK gives us the chance, indeed the duty, to look at the values we currently live under, and to decide which ones can help us to sustain a life we would like to lead. These events show us in stark relief that the outcomes of our current system have terrible effects on our lives. Do I need to mention Climate Change ? Grenfell? Homelessness? Foodbanks? It is all too obvious.

But Trump will go, and although Brexit will probably happen, its revelation of the sharp divisions in our society, and its breaking up of old settled ideas and ways, gives us a short window when it is possible for us to revalue our values and to make some choices for the future.

This is why I like Jeremy Corbyn, despite his shortcomings. I believe he sincerely wants to create a better society, and to live under better values. These values, ones that can create and sustain a better society, are not the ones we currently live under. We have to decide what is more important, to keep the political economy that currently exists and that leads to greater and greater inequality or to refigure our economic and political life so that it reduces inequality and gives everyone a fair chance of a decent life.

We create society, it is not a given, and if we can dream and plan of a society that is fairer and better, then there is no reason, given the political will, that we cannot create that society. It is political will that is missing. The ideas are all there. We know what good values are, and we know what are bad ones. But do we have the political will to say to ourselves, we need to lose some of these values and to encourage others.

It would be a shame to miss this moment. It doesn’t come around that often.

December 30, 2017 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

Is Labour in Danger of Becoming the New Nasty Party? An Open Letter To Jeremy Corbyn

Dear Jeremy

I was pleased that you came out with such a strong statement on sexual abuse and harassment. It was long overdue. But there is another form of harassment – in fact there are three kinds of harassment – that you have not stood up forcefully against. Allowed to continue, this abuse and harassment will turn your party into a nasty party, and you will not get elected as PM.

But before I list them, let me say that I would like to see you become the next PM. I admire the vision enshrined in your manifesto, which is so attractive, clear and understandable. A government that sets out to achieve even a few of those aspirations would be welcome, since change in our society is sorely needed. I watched your annual conference and found it full of positive spirit and energy. This is because you have given people hope after so many years of fear and anxiety.

But there are problems in your party that you need to deal with now. There is a level of vitriol and abuse emanating from the left wing of the Party which if it is allowed to go unchecked will become a hindrance to your aims, and will create the image of a nasty party which will stop you getting elected.

I base my opinion on a number of incidents from the past year. One is the problems is Anti-Semitism, which has not been dealt with adequately. The second is abuse directed at some of your own women MPs by other Labour members and the third is abuse directed at Tory candidates by Labour supporters. Each one of these shows a clear pattern of unpleasant and uncalled for harassment, which is harmful to your cause, and will repel a great number of voters.

The Anti-Semitism problem was poorly addressed by the Chakrabarti report although at conference the party did adopt a new standard to judge Anti-Semitism. This was a positive move, but the missing ingredient was your failure during your speech to take a strong personal stand against Anti-Semitism, and this showed a lack of leadership. To see real leadership in action, look at the response of the US Air Force Academy leader after five black cadets had “Nigger Go Home” scrawled on their doors.

http://www.npr.org/2017/09/30/554698359/air-force-academy-leader-addresses-racist-writing

He told the perpetrators of these hate crimes to go home if they were not able to accept diversity. Not suspension or a dressing down – just get out. Simple and effective. Instead, the Labour conference once more had a messy fringe event in which Jews again felt unwelcome, where some people called for Jews to be expelled from the party, and another speaker declared that Holocaust denial was a legitimate area of debate. Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if at a Labour event people called for Muslims to be expelled from the party or that denial of slavery was deemed a suitable subject for debate?

Anti-Semitism in the Labour party is not like neo-Nazi right wing race hatred. It is political Anti-Semitism, which emanates from the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The righteous anger that many of your members feel about Israel  can easily morph into an anti-Jewish stance. This is a danger to society as a whole, since anti-semitism is like the canary in the coal mine, it is a precursor to a darker, larger and more pervasive set of hatreds. The only solution to anti-semitism is to fight it decisively and stop it in its tracks.

The second area where there is a toxic atmosphere is the relationship between the wings of your party. In 2016 a number of Labour women MPs wrote you complaining about the abuse levelled at women MPs. Their letter said: “Rape threats, death threats, smashed cars and bricks through windows are disgusting and totally unacceptable in any situation.This is acknowledged by all factions yet the simple words of condemnation offered in response are inadequate. We expect swift and tangible action against those who commit such acts. “

Harassment of Labour MPs, whether female or male, by fellow Labour members is dangerous and divisive. If you want a unified party, you must stop attacks like this.

The third area of concern is electioneering. At the recent general election, a Tory councillor running to be an MP suffered the following abuse from Labour supporters:
She was spat on many times and was abused verbally on the street, called a nazi, scum, and a whore. Her posters were defaced with similar epithets and her campaign headquarters vandalised. Lies about her voting record were published in Labour election literature and had to be withdrawn after breaking electoral law. Canvassers were threatened to the extent that police had to be called out. A canvasser’s car was spray fainted with vile abuse. Momentum members congregated outside the candidates’ home to intimidate her and her family. Voters were afraid to put posters in their windows for fear of retaliation.

These three kinds of harassment in your party are your Achilles Heel. They will cause you to go lame just at the time when you will need all your strength to continue the struggle. You have given people a new sense of hope, and now you must give them a feeling of protection, and by protection I mean security, an essential requirement of a successful state. You need to convince voters that you will fight terrorism, will reduce levels of crime, and create a society that does not live in fear. If your supporters engage in divisive acts of harassment which make people feel a mixture of fear and wariness, you will not succeed. The voters will not trust you; they will be scared.

In the short term this kind of intimidation may win seats, but its success will inevitably lead to an escalation of these kinds of tactics which will become self-defeating. Don’t allow shock troops to flourish. If you allow your party to become the new nasty party you will not be able to unite the country in the way you desire. There are people who will be attracted to this kind of nasty politics, but are they the people you want to attract?

Your aim is to support the many, not the few. But in order to get power, and to have the chance to really support the many, you have to convince them to support you. As long as you do not crack down on all forms of harassment, and show true strong leadership, you will not convince enough of the many to vote for you, even if they are attracted to your ideas.

Kind Regards

Mark Forstater

November 9, 2017 at 12:25 pm Leave a comment

THE STORY OF TWO FLAGS – and a message for Mr. Corbyn

I was astounded by two recent flag events. The first one was in June when the Chicago Dyke March banned the Jewish Pride Flag and expelled the Jewish lesbians who held them. The second happened just the other day when neo-Nazis (all male I guess) marched in the peaceful streets of Charlottesville carrying rifles, torches and of course – a swastika flag. Two flag stories, very different in their details but pointing in one direction only- towards hate.

Why astounding? I guess because lesbians have been oppressed for so long, I felt really sad and shocked to see their liberation accompanied by such hatred towards Jewish lesbians. Was I naïve for expecting love and inclusiveness? As for the neo-Nazis, it was not so much astounding as terrifying to see this naked hatred unleashed so openly. They have been encouraged by Trump, who has put a dangerous man in the White House and given him influence. – Stephen Bannon. But it is also Trump himself who encouraged these racists by his election campaigning.

What’s odd about this is that Trump is surrounded by Jews, His lawyer, his senior business employees, his daughter and his son-in-law are all Jewish. He attends their bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings, and makes trips to Israel. In fact, in his personal life he is the most pro-Jewish president ever. So how does he reconcile the rhetoric which has led to this ugly confrontation and the fact that Jews are his friends and relatives?  I think this is really strange and I don’t have an answer for it.

So Chicago’s dykes and neo-Nazi heteros all join together in hating Jews. This is part of a very old story, that dates back 2000 years. But to put it into a British context, there is something here for Jeremy Corbyn to contemplate. History shows that If you don’t stamp down hard on the first stirrings of anti-Semitism, it will pop up soon in ways that get increasingly ugly.  If Labour is truly an anti-racist party, then the leader has to let people know that all  racism will not be tolerated – and anti-semitism is racist. So whenever people spew out hatred due to colour or religion they need to be called up on it, and if they are Labour members then they need to be expelled. Racism, Islamaphobia and Anti-Semitism are equally abhorrent and have no place in a party that calls itself progressive.

August 14, 2017 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

My Swim Gym – Part 2

I belong to a gym, but I can’t face working with the machines- too boring, too repetitive, too mechanical, and too focused on only one part of the body.

Instead, I have spent the past 9 months working on a pool-based regime of overall health, strength and suppleness. This is a gym workout for the pool, which combines swimming and exercise, and can work most parts of the body.

My full regime in the pool area lasts about an hour, starting with a sauna of 10-12 minutes, followed by a mixture of a swim and exercises for 30 minutes. When I get out of the pool, I do 5 minutes of poolside exercises and finish with a 10 minute steam room stint. It’s not necessary to do the sauna and steam parts, although I find both of them valuable for muscle relaxation and skin cleansing. I also use these sessions to massage my neck and upper arms, and to flex and contract my legs. The heat is beneficial for tenderising the flesh.

In the pool I swim for a number of lengths, and then start to do a series of exercises, which I begin by standing in a shallow area (4-5 feet depth). Here I do 20 slow neck rolls in each direction, followed by holding my arms behind my back to hold onto the pool edge while pushing out my chest, which expands it and strengthens the arms and opens the shoulders. After this I stretch my arms behind my back while holding my hands together and walk through the pool, releasing my arms and re-engaging them every 5-10 counts. Next I bend my left leg behind me and grab my ankle, at the same time pulling the heel to my bum. I then bend my body forward to stretch the thigh which forces me to hop through the water, afterwards repeating this action with the right leg. After this, I grab one ankle, and dropping into the water, grab the other ankle and float while revolving my ankles in both directions. I repeat this again, but instead of turning the ankles, I expand my chest and legs by pulling them away from each other. Finally I sink in the water, grab my toes and stretch my legs and upper body as straight as they can go. This always results in a few spinal vertebrae releases. This is so much more effective on water than on land. Then, taking a position in the corner of the pool, I raise one of my legs to the side of my body and raise it as high as possible. I can raise my feet high enough to get the toes over the pool edge and so raise my foot to rest on the pool edge with the other leg dangling in the water. Then I stretch my upper body along the side of the pool to support myself. By turning my body against the leg that is supporting me, I can do a very good side stretch, which also stretches the arm supporting my upper body. I do this on both legs, in different corners of the pool.

If there is enough space in the pool I twirl in the water, spinning my body around and around horizontally so that my waist turns with the spin and my arms extend and help to sweep me around. I do this in both directions for about 20 spins. I then move to the edge of the pool and lift my body by putting my elbows and arms on the tiles and raise myself up. I keep myself elevated for a while. Then I let my body sink down until I am still held by the elbows and arms, but the weight is felt higher up in my shoulders. Lastly I go to the pool steps, hold on the the bars used to leave the pool, and extend my arms fully, placing my feet on the third step from the bottom, thereby stretching my hamstrings, bum and arms. Before leaving the pool, I take a slow swim, turning gently in the water, trying to feel what a dolphin must feel like playing in the water, or an embryo floating in amniotic fluid. We began life in water, and to return to it in this way brings back a peaceful sensation that can remind us of what it might have felt like in the womb.

At poolside I do a forward bend, a squat, a wide leg squat, a back bend and a Taoist exercise which I can’t describe.

When I was young I was afraid of the water, and I’m so glad I enjoy it now.

 

July 23, 2017 at 9:29 pm Leave a comment

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