As the great man's guest must produce his good stories or songs at the evening banquet, as the platform orator exhibits his telling facts at mid-day, so the journalist lies under the stern obligation of extemporizing his lucid views, leading ideas, and nutshell truths for the breakfast table.
Cardinal J. H. Newman, Preface to The Idea of a University, 1852

Monday, August 3, 2020

A note on growing fruit and vegetables

Food from the garden comes from the leaves, from the seed/fruit, or from the plant storage organ (bulb/corm/root) of a plant.

The goal in life for most* plants is to produce seed (and maybe fruit to help spread the seed). To do this they need first to grow healthy roots, stems and leaves, and some of them also build up stores of food so that they can make a better job of producing seeds later.

*Some plants, such as mint, have discovered that they can manage pretty well by propagating vegetatively – sending out roots, underground stems or runners – and are not bothered about flowering and producing seeds.

Leaves. If we are eating the leaves – spinach, lettuce, parsley etc. – we want to encourage the plant to concentrate on growing lots of healthy leaves and not get distracted by producing seeds. To do this we make sure it has enough food and water so that it feels safe continuing to produce leaves. If we get it worried – if it thinks it could be heading for trouble – it might rush into producing seeds to make sure it gets that done before it dies. Once a plant has made that decision – it is ‘running to seed’ – it will no longer bother with growing leaves and our crop is coming to an end.

Some plants are biennials, meaning that they don’t plan to flower until the second year, so generally they won’t run to seen in the first year. Parsley is like that, so too are leeks. But even those, if they are badly stressed, will make a bolt for it and run to seed in the first year.

So if you are growing a plant for the leaves you need to keep it happy!

(I’ve never managed to keep cilantro – coriander – happy for very long. If anyone has any tips please let me know!)

Bulbs/corms/roots. With some biennials, such as onions and carrots, we are growing them for their storage organ. In general, the better fed and watered it is, the more it will be able to store and the bigger the crop.

Some plants, like potatoes, aren’t biennial bit still produce the storage organ which we crop.

As with plants that we grow for leaves, if we stress them too much they will run to seed – even some of the biennials – in which case they use up the store of food and our crop will be reduced or even lost entirely.

Fruit and seeds. In this case you want the plant to ‘run to seed’, but only after it has built up enough strength to produce a good crop of fruit or seeds.

Some of these plants know what they are doing and are single minded about it, so the better the life you give them the better the crop. Sweetcorn for example, and french and runner beans. Some others, however, can get distracted by growing leaves if they are too comfortable. This can happen with tomatoes, they will give you crop, but if you feed them with too much of a nitrogen rich fertiliser they will grow lots of leaves which are no use to you.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Nelson Mandela's speech to the 2000 Labour Party conference

Note: the transcript printed in The Guardian was incomplete against the speech on YouTube. This is my transcription (starting from the Guardian text).

Prime Minister Tony Blair, distinguished guests, I am intimidated. Tony you know as well as I do that the reason why there are so many people here at this moment is purely out of curiosity. They want to see what a pensioner from the colonies looks like. Well you know I am not an old man. Please take these glasses. 

One of the distinguishing features of the anti-apartheid struggle was the very broad support it enjoyed from most political persuasions in all parts of the world.

Apartheid was experienced as such a basic onslaught against human dignity that it demeaned all of us.

The political parties in the major western countries often had different approaches in their support for the freedom struggle in South Africa, but none could ever condone the racism of apartheid.

This universal abhorrence of apartheid contributed significantly to the ultimate victory of freedom, non-racialism and democracy in our country.

One therefore has an appreciation for the support received from people all over the world, irrespective of their party political affiliation.

There were however, political parties and organisations in the western democracies with which the liberation movement developed particularly strong solidarity relations.

These derived from a common approach to such social issues as poverty and the primary concern for the marginalised.

These relationships were built and consolidated in joint action and struggle with the solidarity forces in those countries.

The Labour party of Great Britain is one such organisation. It therefore gives us such great pleasure to join with you here today at your party congress in the year that the party celebrates its centenary.
Allow me in the first place to extend our hearty congratulations to the Labour party. I am certain that I can do so on behalf of all the freedom-loving people in our country, who appreciated the extent to which the attainment of democracy in South Africa was also due to our solidarity partners internationally.

I know that I can do it on behalf of the organisation that you supported so faithfully over many decades, the African National Congress.

Britain was in so many respects the second headquarters of our movement in exile. Your solidarity helped to make those years of exile bearable and contributed to them not turning out to be wasted years. With you we can look back to the proud beginnings of your organisation, rooted in the concern to give organisational voice to those without power.

To have sustained over a century such an organisation is a tribute not only to the Labour party, its leadership and members. It is testimony to the resilience of the spirit that continues to believe that the world can be made a better place for all.

It defies and gives the lie to the pervasive cynicism and loss of hope that characterised so much of political life in the latter part of the last century.

The centenary celebrations of such a political organisation serves to remind us, here at the start of a new millennium, of the continued need to persevere in the pursuit of those ideals.

The internationalism of which the Labour party was such a potent part, as we well know in South Africa, today faces new challenges.

At a time international solidarity was a triumph of the human spirit over the barriers of distance and isolation. We marvelled at that generosity of spirit capable of reaching out to take part in the struggles of those far removed and in distant corners of the world.

Today the world has become the global village of which we once spoke only in wishful metaphor. What happens in one part of the globe is immediately accessible to the entire world and affects others over great distances.

The danger is that globalisation can come to mean only the free flow of goods and finance, the open access to markets, the breaking down of barriers to trade and commerce.

The concern for the common good, which characterised the international solidarity we spoke of, is in danger of being lost in the current understanding of a global world.

We would argue that the shrinking of the globe through the advances in communications and information technology has made it even more incumbent upon us to become once more the keepers of our brothers and sisters wherever in the world they may be. This may very well be one of the major political and moral tasks of the Labour party in the 21st century.

Globalisation is extremely important, no country can avoid it. Those who are saying they are not going to prepare for this phenomenon are like saying I don’t recognise winter therefore I am not going to buy clothing for winter. We have our reservations about globalisation as I have indicated [?] and we must certainly not be afraid to condemn those aspects of globalisation which lead to more poverty in the world. We can no longer tolerate where few powers dominate the world and dictate to the world. All human beings are born equal. They must be treated equally. But one can help, right expectation in regard to this global expectations only of a party that domestically holds dear those values of solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society, especially women, children, the disabled, the aged, those who suffer from terminal diseases like HIV aids, cancer and others. It is a sad fact of our times that in spite of the massive scientific, technological and economic advances humankind has made poverty and social inequality remain features of most societies in the world. Our historic relationship with the Labour party rests upon our common concern to centrally represent the voice and interests of those sectors traditionally excluded from power and privilege.
In our own country poverty remains the greatest social problem and its eradication our greatest political and societal challenge.

I told Prime Minister, Tony, about an hour or so ago, that apart from poverty, that I’ve spoken about we faced a crisis of a dimension which I can not put in words. In our country 10 teachers die every month of Aids, in one university a student dies every week and in one of the most prominent universities in the country more than 25% of the students are HIV positive, and in our of our neighbouring countries three cabinet ministers one of whom was a doctor, have died of aids. We look to our friends to assist us to stave off a crisis. I told the PM that President Bill Clinton has given me five million dollars to use specifically to fight the scourge. Bill Gates gave me ten million dollars and my wife five million dollars and the partner of Bill Gates gave each of 7 and a half million. There are times when I wish I had not got married. Because if I had not I would have got that 15 million. But what worries me even more is that my wife is becoming even more important than I am. There was an ambassador in SA who came to me and said I want to give your wife an honorary doctorate but if you accompany her you will also get a doctorate. You can see the wretched life I am spending but please don’t tell her that I made this remark.

In South Africa we have achieved a non-racial democracy based on one of the most progressive constitutions anywhere in the world. Our once divided society has come together in an act of national reconciliation that ensures that our political order is stable; we now live out our differences within the framework of our constitutional democracy. The management of our economy is widely acclaimed for the manner in which sound macro-economic fundamentals are maintained.

The people-centred growth of our economy, with new jobs and increasing prosperity for all our people, has however not occurred at the pace and volume we hoped for when we set out on this road of reconstruction and development.

The growth of an economy is no longer merely a national matter. Globalisation has exactly meant that a nation's best made plans can go awry due to international factors beyond its control.

We have seen that with the financial crisis in the Asian markets, even though our economy withstood that crisis better than most of the emergent economies. The effective growth of an economy like ours is crucially dependent upon direct foreign investment; yet one often witnesses how the political stability, social progressiveness and sound economic management in the country are ignored when investment decisions are made.

As we stood together to oppose apartheid in South Africa, we are today called upon to join forces for growth and development.

Democratic South Africa has no pretensions whatsoever to being a mini superpower in our region, on our continent or in the developing world. We do, however, realise that we have a responsibility to articulate common concerns of those regions when we do act on the international stage. In doing so, we turn once more to our traditional solidarity partners, like the Labour party, to add their voice to those clamouring and working for a better and more equitable life for all throughout the world.
One of the issues that gives me encouragement in all the turmoil that are taking place all over the work, the thing that makes me go to bed feeling strong and full of hope and feeling much younger than I am, is that in spite of all the problems, the world is full of good men and women who are prepared to serve not only their country but the entire world men and women who fight socio-economic evils wherever they are to be found in the world. Men and women whose theatre of operations is the entire world, who fight poverty, illiteracy, hunger, want. As I look at you here I can see men and women who are worthy candidates to immortality. When their last day comes we will be able to say here lies a man or women who has done his or her duty to country, and to people. They will be like Aristotle or Plato we will inter them into the earth but their names will live for eternity. That is how I conceive of the Labour Party, because of the way on which is has selected such economic issues like poverty, like hunger, to fight, wherever these are to be found in the world. We are the beneficiaries of that vision, of that sensitivity, to problems across the seas, and that is how the Labour Party has conducted itself up to today. And that is why I am confident that there are good men and women all over the world, those good men and women are to be found in the Labour Party of Britain.

I wish you well as you enter the second century of your organisational life.

The health of a democracy is ultimately dependent upon the vibrancy of its political parties and the active participation of the citizenry. It is our wish that the human solidarity that has inspired the Labour party for such a long time will be kept alive in action. May this century be one where the poor and marginalised come into their own and the gross social inequalities of the past at last are eradicated.

Tony, ladies and gentlemen, I may have told you the story in the past, but it is crucial that I should repeat it here, the day before my 75th birthday my security told me that there was a young lady of about 4 at the gate that wanted to see me. I said let her come in. They said “sir she is very cheeky” I said precisely for that reason let her come in. They did. She was quite a lady. I was sitting in my lounge she did not knock she did not knock she did not wait she said ‘how old are you’. I said I can’t remember but I was born long, long ago. She said two years ago? I said no much longer than that. Then she said ‘why did you go to jail?’ I “no I did not go to jail before because I wanted to I was sent there by other people”. “Who sent you there” “people who don’t like me”. She said “how long were you there?” I said “again I can’t remember but I was there for a very long time”. “No” she insisted “you must tell me how long you were there”. I said “no I have already told you that I can’t remember”. She then said “you are a stupid old man aren’t you”.

Well ladies and gentlemen if you think my remarks have not lived up to your expectations please be a little more diplomatic than that young lady.

Saul Alinsky on radicals, contrasted with conservatives and liberals.

From Saul Alinsky “Reveille for Radicals” 2nd Edition, Vintage Books, New York 1969. pp 15-23. (First edition 1946)  Edited to remove of-the-time sexist and racially-offensive language.

What is the American Radical? Radicals are those unique people who actually believe what they say. They are those people to whom the common good is the greatest personal value. They are those people who genuinely and completely believe in mankind. Radicals so completely identified with mankind that they personally share the pain, the injustices, and the sufferings of all their fellows.

For Radicals the bell tolls unceasingly and everyone’s struggle is their fight.

Radicals are not fooled by shibboleths and fa├žades. They face issues squarely and do not hide their cowardice behind the convenient cloak of rationalization. Radicals refuse to be diverted by superficial problems. They are completely concerned with fundamental causes rather than current manifestations. They concentrate their attack on the heart of the issue.

What do the radicals want? They want a world in which the worth of the individual is recognized. They want the creation of a kind of society where everyone’s potentialities could be realized; a world where people could live in dignity, security, happiness and peace—a world based on a morality of humanity.

To these ends radicals struggle to eradicate all those evils which anchor humanity in the mire of war, fears, misery, and demoralization. Radicals are concerned not only with the economic welfare of the bodies of people but also with the freedom of their minds. It is for this that they attack all those parts of any system that tends to make people robots. It is for this that they oppose all circumstances which destroy souls and make people fearful, petty, worried, dull sheep in human clothing. Radicals are dedicated to the destruction of the roots of all fears, frustrations, and insecurity, whether they be material or spiritual. Radicals want to see humanity truly free. Not just free economically and politically but also free socially. When radicals say complete freedom they means just that.

Radicals believe that all peoples should have a high standard of food, housing, and health. Radicals are impatient with talk of the “closing of frontiers” or the “end of the frontiers.” They think only in terms of human frontiers which are as limitless as the horizons. Radicals believe intensely in the possibilities of people and hope fervently for the future.

Radicals place human rights far above property rights. They are for universal, free public education and recognize this as fundamental to the democratic way of life. They will be for local control but will condemn local abuse of public education – whether it be discrimination or corruption – that denies equal education to anyone and will insist if necessary upon its correction by national laws and the use of government authority enforce those laws —but at the same time they will bitterly oppose complete Federal control of education. They will fight for individual rights and against centralized power. They will usually be found battling in defense of local rights against Federal usurpations of power, but they knows that ever since the Tories attacked the Continental Congress as an invasion of local rights, “local rights” – or, as the term has come to be known, “States’ rights” – have been the star-spangled Trojan horse of Tory reaction. It is for this reason that American radicals frequently shift their position on this issuer, in keeping with their fundamental beliefs in human rights.

Radical are deeply interested in social planning but just as deeply suspicious of and antagonistic to any idea of plans which work from the top down. Democracy to them is working from the bottom up.

Radicals are staunch defenders of minority rights but will combat any minority which tries to use the club of minority rights to bludgeon into unconsciousness the will of the majority.

In short, American radicals, by their individual actions, may appear to be the epitome of inconsistency, but when judged on the basis of his ideals, philosophy, and objectives, are a living definition of consistency.

Radicals believe completely in real equality of opportunity for all peoples regardless of race, color, or creed. They insist on full employment for economic security but are just as insistent that work should not only provide economic security but also be such as to satisfy the creative desires within us all. Radicals feel that the importance of a job is not only in its individual economic return but also in its general social significance. Radicals know that humans are not just economic animals. The complete person is one who is making a definite contribution to the general social welfare and who is a vital part of that community of interests, values, and purposes that makes life and people meaningful. Complete people need complete jobs – jobs for the heart as well as the hand – jobs where they can say to themselves, “What I do is important and has its place.”

American radicals will fight privilege and power whether it be inherited or acquired by any small group, whether it be political or financial or organized creed. They curse a caste system which they recognize despite all patriotic denials. They will fight conservatives whether they are business or labor leaders. They will fight any concentration of power hostile to a broad, popular democracy, whether they find it in financial circles or in politics.

Radicals recognize that constant dissension and conflict is and has been the fire under the boiler of democracy. They firmly believe in that brave saying of a brave people, "Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!’ Radicals may resort to the sword but when they do they are not filled with hatred against those individuals whom they attack. They hate these individuals not as persons but as symbols representing ideas or interests which they believe to be inimical to the welfare of the people. That is the reason why radicals, although frequently embarking upon revolutions, have rarely resorted to personal terrorism.

To the general public Radicals may appear to be persons of violence. But if Radicals are stormy and fighting on the outside, they possess an inner dignity. It is that dignity that can come only from consistency of conscience and conduct. The first part of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi expresses to a large extent the radical’s hopes, aspirations, dreams, and philosophy:

Lord, make me. an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
But let no person or group who ruthlessly exploit their fellow men assume because of the nobility and spiritual quality of the radicals’ hopes that they will not stand up for the fulfillment of this prayer, for next to this prayer they carry within them the words of Jehovah :
When I whet my glittering sword, and my hand taketh hold on Judgment: I will render vengeance unto my enemies, and those that hate me will I requite.

I will make my arrows drunken with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; from the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the crushed head of the enemy.
There are many liberals who claim the same objectives in life which characterize the philosophy of the radical, but there are as many clear lines between radicals and liberals as there are between liberals and conservatives. There is a tremendous significance to that common saying that people radical at twenty-one, liberal at thirty-one, and conservative at forty. Youngsters of twenty-one still have certain burning ideals. They still have faith in life and hope in progress. They are still naive enough to take what they say literally. They are still young enough not to have acquired a vested material interest and the attendant suspicions of any social change which might jeopardize it. They still haven’t reached the point of believing that “all men are created equal” is nice in theory but taboo in practice. They have not become civilized to the point of assimilating all the prejudices and hate which permeate so large a portion of our lives. They still have some of the simplicity and decency of the child. They still like and actually expect to be liked in return. They still are not filled with the virus of driving personal ambition, with sophistication and its accompanying constellation of rationalizations, and with a cynicism which is a cover-up for the deep fear of the future. They brave young people whose life is not cluttered up with prejudices and fears. They are radicals. Radicals always remain young in spite of the passage of years. That is one of the differences between the radical and the liberal. There are others.

Liberals like people with their head, radicals like people with both their head and their hearts. Liberals talk passionately of the rights of minority groups; protest against the denial of political and voting rights, against segregation, against anti-Semitism, and against all other inhuman practices of humanity. However, when these same liberals emerge from their meetings, rallies, and passage of resolutions and find themselves seated next to a Black American in a public conveyance they instinctively shrink back slightly. They belong to professional organizations and social clubs whose membership is exclusive – exclusive of Jews, Blacks, and many other minorities. They tell you that they disapprove of the practice, but nevertheless continue their membership. Intellectually they subscribe to all of the principles of the American Revolution and the Constitution of the United States, but in their hearts they do not. They are a strange breed of hybrids who have radical minds and conservative hearts. They really like people only with their head. The radical genuinely likes people and feels the same warmth and friendship in his actual relationships with all people that he expresses with his tongue.

Liberals regard themselves as well informed and well balanced. They refer to radicals as “cranks.” They forget, however, that the definition of a crank is an object which makes revolutions.

Liberals in common with many conservatives lay claim to the precious quality of impartiality, of cold objectivity, and to a sense of mystical impartial justice which enables them to view both sides of an issue. Since there are always at least two sides to every question and all justice on one side involves a certain degree of injustice to the other side, liberals are hesitant to act. Their opinions are studded with “but on the other hand.” Caught on the horns of this dilemma they are paralyzed into immobility. They become utterly incapable of action. They discuss and discuss and end in disgust.

Liberals charge radicals with passionate partisanship. To this accusation the radical’s jaw tightens as he snaps, “Guilty! We are partisan for the people. Furthermore, we know that all people are partisan. The only non-partisan people are those who are dead. You too are partisan—if not for the people, then for whom?"

Liberals in their meetings utter bold words; they strut, grimace belligerently, and then issue a weasel-worded statement “which has tremendous implications, if read between the lines.” They endlessly pass resolutions and endlessly do nothing. They sit calmly, dispassionately, studying the issue; judging both sides; they sit and still sit. Radicals do not sit frozen by cold objectivity. They see injustice and strikes at it with hot passion. They are people of decision and action. There is a saying that the difference between a liberal and a radical is that the liberal is one who walks out of the room when the argument turns into a fight.

Liberals have distorted egotistical concepts of their self-importance in the general social scheme. They deliberate as ponderously and as timelessly as though their decisions would cause the world to shake and tremble. Theirs is truly a perfect case of the mountain laboring and bringing forth a mouse—a small, white, pink-eyed mouse. The fact is that outside of their own intimate associates few know of or give a hang what these liberal groups decide. They truly fit the old description that “A liberal is one who puts their foot down firmly on thin air.”

The support given by liberals to some radical measures is to be understood in the explanation a wealthy French farmer gave when he voted for Socialism. “I vote for Socialism always and steadily,” he said, “because there isn’t going to be any Socialism.”

A complacent society tolerantly views the turbulent atmospheric noise of liberal minds with the old childhood slogan of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Let the liberal turn to the course of action, the course of all radicals, and the amused look vanishes from the face of society as it snarls, “That’s radical!” Society has good reason to fear radicals. Every shaking advance of mankind toward equality and justice has come from radicals. They hit, they hurt, they are dangerous. Conservative interests know that while liberals are most adept at breaking their own necks with their tongues, radicals are most adept at breaking the necks of conservatives.

A fundamental difference between liberals and radicals is to be found in the issue of power. Liberals fear power or its application. They labor in confusion over the significance of power and fail to recognize that only through the achievement and constructive use of power can people better themselves. They talk glibly of a people lifting themselves by their own bootstraps but fail to realize that nothing can be lifted or moved except through power. This fear of popular use of power is reflected in what has become the motto of liberals, “We agree with your objectives but not with your tactics.” This has been the case throughout the history of America. Through every great crisis including the American Revolution there were thousands of well-meaning liberals who always cried out, “We agree with you that America should be free, but we disagree that it is necessary to have a bloody revolution.” “We agree that slavery should be eliminated but we disagree with the turmoil of civil war.” Every issue involving power and its use has always carried in its wake the Liberal backwash of agreeing with the objective ‘but disagreeing with the tactics.

Radicals precipitate the social crisis by action—by using power. Liberals may then timidly follow along or else, as in most cases, be swept forward along the course set by radicals, but all because of forces unloosed by radical action. They are forced to positive action only in spite of their desires.

There are other differences between liberals and radicals. Liberals protest; radicals rebel. Liberals become indignant; radicals become fighting mad and go into action. Liberals do not modify their personal life and what they give to a cause is a small part of their life; radicals give themselves to the cause. Liberals give and take oral arguments; radicals give and take the hard, dirty, bitter way of life. Liberals frequently achieve high places of respectability ranging from the Supreme Court to Congress; the names of radicals are rarely enscribed in marble but burn eternally in the hearts of man. Liberals have tender beliefs and are filled with repugnance at the grime, the sordidness, the pain, the persecution, and the heartbreak of battle; radicals have tough convictions which are calloused by the rough road of direct action. Liberals play the game of life with white and occasionally red chips; with the Radical it’s only blue chips, and all the chips are always down. Liberals dream dreams; radicals build the world of men’s dreams.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Don't write off alternative medicine.

The New Scientist says "Why the medicine your take could actually be bad for your health" (Jessica Hamzelou, New Scientist 30/11/2019 pp34-39. Online, behind a paywall).

There are multiple problems. Drug approval by the authorities in the US and Europe is being fast-tracked without proper testing and once drugs are on the market they are being prescribed for things that they weren't intended for. The pressure, of course, comes from the pharmaceutical industry ("follow the money").

Doctors prescribe drugs even if they don't know whether they are effective "because they want to do something rather than nothing". That is understandable and it would be hard to criticise doctors for doing it. They are prescribing hope. Surely it is better to than saying 'sorry, there's nothing I can do about it'. And there remains the placebo effect: it might still do some good even if there's no physical mechanism for it to help.

But if you are prescribing hope through the placebo effect, surely you could use something other than an expensive drug that might have harmful side-effects? You can't just prescribe a sweetie and say 'this might help you through the placebo effect': there has to be something that allows both the doctor and the patient to believe that the drug will work. So why not complementary and alternative medicine? Herbs, meditation, and even homeopathy?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

The parable of the Good Samaritan must be one of the most familiar of Jesus's parables, and the term 'good Samaritan' or even just 'Samaritan' has entered the language for someone helping a stranger, recognised even by those with no knowledge of the bible. Probing the parable more closely, however, uncovers some rather more challenging insights.

To be a 'good Samaritan' in everyday parlance is to help someone you don't know, simply because they need help. Let's call this the Level 1 interpretation of the parable.

Most sermons on the parable will go further, pointing to the fact that Samaritans were despised 'others' in the eyes of the Jews at the time of the New Testament, and that the message of the parable is to emphasise helping those who are different from us: helping the 'Other'. Witness, for example, the 2020 New Year address by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

When we hear someone described as a Good Samaritan, we think about that person taking the time to help another. But it’s also a story told by Jesus about someone taking the risk of reaching out to another who was very different to them. Yes, the person needed help – but they also needed connection.

This, reaching out to, connecting with and helping, the Other, is the Level 2 interpretation of the parable, but it still misses an important message.

For the Level 3 interpretation we need to notice that it was the Samaritan helping the Jew, not the other way around. The parable was addressed to Jews, so it wasn't saying “you should help the Other”, it was saying “you need the help of the Other”. That was, and is, much more revolutionary.

Helping someone implies a power relationship. The helper has the power: the helped is powerless (that's why they need help). Charity is done by those in control, and to suggest that it was the Samaritan dispensing the charity was to question the status of the Jew, denying the superiority of the Jew over the Samaritan. To appreciate the impact of the parable on the original audience we would need to be able to put ourselves into the minds of 1st Century Jews. Alternatively we can rewrite the parable to set it in the here and now.

In 21st Century Britain Christianity is the dominant (hegemonic) religion so our reformulated parable will be addressed to Christians. It will have a Christian attacked by robbers and it will be a Christian priest and, say, a Church Warden passing by on the other side of the road. The helper, the 'Samaritan', needs more thought. It will be someone we Christians might not respect: someone we think needs our help rather than someone that comes to our aid. Or someone we don't want to be in debt to: someone we want to keep at a distance. Someone we don't want to respect. Who might that be? I suggest that you spend some time thinking about who that might be for you, but candidates might include, for example, Muslims, asylum seekers, rough-sleepers, Irish or Romany Travellers. In my attempt at a rewriting the parable at the end of this article, I have made the rescuer a Muslim because it seems to me that at the moment a lot of people in England would rather not respect Muslims.

The move from the Level 1 to Level 2 interpretation of the parable is challenging, but not threatening. Helping someone very different from us might take courage, as the Archbishop suggests, but in the end it doesn't – by itself – change anything. Even worse, charity can reinforce injustice and inequality. Welby suggests helping at a foodbank. Certainly foodbanks are tragically needed in 2020 and volunteering in any way is to be encouraged. But if we, the secure and comfortable, just stop the Others from starving it allows the status quo to continue. For the ethics of levels 1 and 2 that's fine, so long as we didn't pass by on the other side.

Something completely different emerges from the Level 3 interpretation. It's not denying the insights of Levels 1 and 2 – there's no getting away from the final verse in which Jesus said “Go and do likewise”. But in questioning the established order it is a revolutionary interpretation and threatens the hegemony of, in our case, the Christian church.

It is not surprising that the Archbishop of Canterbury stops at Level 2.

The parable of the Good Muslim, 

The parable of the Good Samaritan for a 21st century Western Christian audience

Just then an Oxford theologian stood up to test Jesus.‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the bible? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Oxford to Canterbury, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Church Warden, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Muslim on his way to the Mosque came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having treated them with an antiseptic and soothing cream . Then he put him in caravan, brought him to a pub, and took care of him. The next day he took out fifty pounds, gave it to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Monday, November 4, 2019

Christians should vote Labour

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed". Luke 4:18, and a pretty good summary of Labour Party policy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The tree that killed John South

Extracted from The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy 

(Text taken from Project Gutenberg:, but US spelling corrected)

[Marty South] gently approached a bedroom, and without entering, said, "Father, do you want anything?"

A weak voice inside answered in the negative; adding, "I should be all right by to-morrow if it were not for the tree!"

"The tree again—always the tree! Oh, father, don't worry so about that. You know it can do you no harm."

[…]  the tree will do it—that tree will soon be the death of me."

"Nonsense, you know better. How can it be?" She refrained from further speech, and descended to the ground-floor again.

[…] Giles [Winterborne] asked, with some hesitation, how her father was getting on.

He was better, she said; he would be able to work in a day or two; he would be quite well but for his craze about the tree falling on him.

[…]"Father is still so much troubled in his mind about that tree," she said. "You know the tree I mean, Mr. Winterborne? the tall one in front of the house, that he thinks will blow down and kill us. Can you come and see if you can persuade him out of his notion? I can do nothing."

He accompanied her to the cottage, and she conducted him upstairs. John South was pillowed up in a chair between the bed and the window exactly opposite the latter, towards which his face was turned.

"Ah, neighbour Winterborne," he said. "I wouldn't have minded if my life had only been my own to lose; I don't vallie it in much of itself, and can let it go if 'tis required of me. But to think what 'tis worth to you, a young man rising in life, that do trouble me! It seems a trick of dishonesty towards ye to go off at fifty-five! I could bear up, I know I could, if it were not for the tree—yes, the tree, 'tis that's killing me. There he stands, threatening my life every minute that the wind do blow. He'll come down upon us and squat us dead; and what will ye do when the life on your property is taken away?"
"Never you mind me—that's of no consequence," said Giles. "Think of yourself alone."

He looked out of the window in the direction of the woodman's gaze. The tree was a tall elm, familiar to him from childhood, which stood at a distance of two-thirds its own height from the front of South's dwelling. Whenever the wind blew, as it did now, the tree rocked, naturally enough; and the sight of its motion and sound of its sighs had gradually bred the terrifying illusion in the woodman's mind that it would descend and kill him. Thus he would sit all day, in spite of persuasion, watching its every sway, and listening to the melancholy Gregorian melodies which the air wrung out of it. This fear it apparently was, rather than any organic disease which was eating away the health of John South.

As the tree waved, South waved his head, making it his flugel-man with abject obedience. "Ah, when it was quite a small tree," he said, "and I was a little boy, I thought one day of chopping it off with my hook to make a clothes-line prop with. But I put off doing it, and then I again thought that I would; but I forgot it, and didn't. And at last it got too big, and now 'tis my enemy, and will be the death o' me. Little did I think, when I let that sapling stay, that a time would come when it would torment me, and dash me into my grave."

"No, no," said Winterborne and Marty, soothingly. But they thought it possible that it might hasten him into his grave, though in another way than by falling.

"I tell you what," added Winterborne, "I'll climb up this afternoon and shroud off the lower boughs, and then it won't be so heavy, and the wind won't affect it so."

"She won't allow it—a strange woman come from nobody knows where—she won't have it done."

"You mean Mrs. Charmond? Oh, she doesn't know there's such a tree on her estate. Besides, shrouding is not felling, and I'll risk that much."

He went out, and when afternoon came he returned, took a billhook from the woodman's shed, and with a ladder climbed into the lower part of the tree, where he began lopping off—"shrouding," as they called it at Hintock—the lowest boughs. Each of these quivered under his attack, bent, cracked, and fell into the hedge. Having cut away the lowest tier, he stepped off the ladder, climbed a few steps higher, and attacked those at the next level. Thus he ascended with the progress of his work far above the top of the ladder, cutting away his perches as he went, and leaving nothing but a bare stem below him.

The work was troublesome, for the tree was large. The afternoon wore on, turning dark and misty about four o'clock. From time to time Giles cast his eyes across towards the bedroom window of South, where, by the flickering fire in the chamber, he could see the old man watching him, sitting motionless with a hand upon each arm of the chair. Beside him sat Marty, also straining her eyes towards the skyey field of his operations.

A curious question suddenly occurred to Winterborne, and he stopped his chopping. He was operating on another person's property to prolong the years of a lease by whose termination that person would considerably benefit. In that aspect of the case he doubted if he ought to go on. On the other hand he was working to save a man's life, and this seemed to empower him to adopt arbitrary measures.

[…] [Winterborne decided] he would run up to South's, as he had intended to do, to learn the result of the experiment with the tree.

Marty met him at the door. "Well, Marty," he said; and was surprised to read in her face that the case was not so hopeful as he had imagined.

"I am sorry for your labour," she said. "It is all lost. He says the tree seems taller than ever."
Winterborne looked round at it. Taller the tree certainly did seem, the gauntness of its now naked stem being more marked than before.

"It quite terrified him when he first saw what you had done to it this morning," she added. "He declares it will come down upon us and cleave us, like 'the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.'"
"Well; can I do anything else?" asked he.

"The doctor says the tree ought to be cut down."

"Oh—you've had the doctor?"

"I didn't send for him Mrs. Charmond, before she left, heard that father was ill, and told him to attend him at her expense."

"That was very good of her. And he says it ought to be cut down. We mustn't cut it down without her knowledge, I suppose."

He went up-stairs. There the old man sat, staring at the now gaunt tree as if his gaze were frozen on to its trunk. Unluckily the tree waved afresh by this time, a wind having sprung up and blown the fog away, and his eyes turned with its wavings.

[…] "This is an extraordinary case," [Doctor Fitzpiers said] to Winterborne, after examining South by conversation, look, and touch, and learning that the craze about the elm was stronger than ever. "Come down-stairs, and I'll tell you what I think."

They accordingly descended, and the doctor continued, "The tree must be cut down, or I won't answer for his life."

"'Tis Mrs. Charmond's tree, and I suppose we must get permission?" said Giles. "If so, as she is gone away, I must speak to her agent."

"Oh—never mind whose tree it is—what's a tree beside a life! Cut it down. I have not the honour of knowing Mrs. Charmond as yet, but I am disposed to risk that much with her."

"'Tis timber," rejoined Giles, more scrupulous than he would have been had not his own interests stood so closely involved. "They'll never fell a stick about here without it being marked first, either by her or the agent."

"Then we'll inaugurate a new era forthwith. How long has he complained of the tree?" asked the doctor of Marty.

"Weeks and weeks, sir. The shape of it seems to haunt him like an evil spirit. He says that it is exactly his own age, that it has got human sense, and sprouted up when he was born on purpose to rule him, and keep him as its slave. Others have been like it afore in Hintock."

They could hear South's voice up-stairs "Oh, he's rocking this way; he must come! And then my poor life, that's worth houses upon houses, will be squashed out o' me. Oh! oh!"

"That's how he goes on," she added. "And he'll never look anywhere else but out of the window, and scarcely have the curtains drawn."

"Down with it, then, and hang Mrs. Charmond," said Mr. Fitzpiers. "The best plan will be to wait till the evening, when it is dark, or early in the morning before he is awake, so that he doesn't see it fall, for that would terrify him worse than ever. Keep the blind down till I come, and then I'll assure him, and show him that his trouble is over."

[…] As soon as it was broad daylight the doctor came, and Winterborne entered the house with him. Marty said that her father was wrapped up and ready, as usual, to be put into his chair. They ascended the stairs, and soon seated him. He began at once to complain of the tree, and the danger to his life and Winterborne's house-property in consequence.

The doctor signalled to Giles, who went and drew back the printed cotton curtains. "'Tis gone, see," said Mr. Fitzpiers.

As soon as the old man saw the vacant patch of sky in place of the branched column so familiar to his gaze, he sprang up, speechless, his eyes rose from their hollows till the whites showed all round; he fell back, and a bluish whiteness overspread him.

Greatly alarmed, they put him on the bed. As soon as he came a little out of his fit, he gasped, "Oh, it is gone!—where?—where?"

His whole system seemed paralyzed by amazement. They were thunder-struck at the result of the experiment, and did all they could. Nothing seemed to avail. Giles and Fitzpiers went and came, but uselessly. He lingered through the day, and died that evening as the sun went down.

"D—d if my remedy hasn't killed him!" murmured the doctor.