MPs are not exempt from austerity

The proposals to cut the UK Parliament down in size from 650 to 600 MPs must not be abandoned.  Money has already been spent painstakingly redrawing the constituency boundaries so they are each of a similar size.  In the long term, this change would reduce costs (an expected £12.2 million saving) and why should MPs be exempt from austerity?  If the police have to tackle rising levels of crime with fewer officers, is there any justification for Labour and The Guardian’s arguments against the reform?

Yes, of course, I would like to see a more comprehensive electoral revolution with no wasted votes or safe seats but don’t let the best become an enemy of the good.  This re-adjustment has been completed fairly and impartially, so if (as predicted) Labour would lose out, they should be thinking how to appeal to a much broader range of voters, not bemoaning their lot.

There is only seating capacity in the House of Commons for 427 MPs, so even with the proposed reductions we will still have a packed Parliament.  Opponents argue that 23% of MPs will have some sort of government position and be dependent on patronage but Parliament could easily introduce a measure to limit how many of its members can work with the executive branch.  This could be tabled as an amendment to the bill, a condition for cross-party support.

There is no excuse for MPs to duck out of the unpleasant but necessary task that is cutting down Parliament to size.  This is a chance to actually make change happen, so please lobby your MP and make sure they don’t duck out.


A SMART teaching assistant

Technology should be all about enhancing what human beings can offer, not replacing them. As I am about to start another academic year as a lecturer, I wish the astonishing developments in voice recognition and artificial intelligence would be applied to the classroom.

Imagine a smart assistant for teachers that works around the slides you have already prepared. The app, which would hopefully interface with the likes of PowerPoint and Prezi, listens to what you are saying and brings up slides, as well as wider information from the Internet, as appropriate.

Behind the scenes, this technology could record and summarise key points of what was discussed, which are then presented to the teacher for review and upload to the school or College’s Virtual Learning Environment.

This sort of system would enable more dynamic and learning-focused lessons, following the needs of students, rather than the predetermined teacher script. There are so many times in a lesson when I wish it was easier to follow spontaneous lines of enquiry or even just change the order of what is covered, based on where the learners currently are. Such tangents or re-routes could be seamlessly incorporated into teaching, if the tech gurus focused on this issue, rather than silly distractions like Juicero or Washboard.

Guardians of the Galaxy – what does “redemption” actually mean?

The open letter released by the “Guardians of the Galaxy” stars, petitioning Disney to reinstate James Gunn as the director of the third installment of this blockbuster franchise, raises interesting questions about what redemption actually means.

Gunn has admitted posting tweets from 2008-11 in which he joked about the Holocaust, AIDS, rape and paedophilia. The BBC declined to publish all the details but quoted two: “I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.” and “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like, ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!'”

Now, I don’t think these are just examples of “inappropriate jokes” (as described by Chris Pratt) – they are, in fact, deeply troubling and reflect attitudes that family-friendly Disney understandably wants to completely disown.  It was the right decision to sack Gunn because, as we need to realise and acknowledge, our actions and words have consequences.  I would be more alarmed if we just shrugged and laughed such tweets off as just a bit of risque humour.  They are not.

However, I do believe in redemption.  James Gunn should not be blacklisted or become the latest victim of humanity’s “mob mentality” – he has apologised and is a tremendous talent.  He should be allowed to work on further project, hopefully tackling with wisdom, grace and truth his past misdemeanours and present maturing.  This should not be the end of his story.

Redemption always comes at a cost.  I believe Christ Jesus paid the ultimate “once for all” price on cross, freeing us from the eternal penalty for our sins, our wrong-doing.  When we come to Him in contrition and repentance, He welcomes us with open arms.  Nevertheless, this does not mean he sweeps our transgressions under the carpet – there will still be earthly consequences but, crucially, we can change and overcome through the power of His Holy Spirit.  We can grow beyond our, often self-inflicted, wounds because of His amazing grace.

I hope Disney will stand by their decision to sanction Gunn and I pray that more people will see what redemption really means.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

…become a comedian on “Mock the Week” and slag-off any public figure perceived to put a foot wrong! Whilst this kind of comedy can seem alluring, harmless fun, I think it is important to dig more deeply into this issue.

Satire was first discussed critically in Ancient Rome where a distinction was set-up between Juvenalian and Horatian forms. The former encompassed any bitter and ironic criticism of contemporary persons and institutions that was filled with personal invective, angry moral indignation, and pessimism. Meanwhile, the latter was seen to provoke a wry smile by being indulgent, tolerant and witty, holding up to gentle ridicule the absurdities and follies of human beings. Personally, I much prefer the more whimsical version.

Fast-forward about 1700 years and Jane Austen’s fictional Emma learns an oft-repeated lesson for would-be satirists when she insensitively mocks the relatively impoverished spinster Miss Bates – never belittle those less fortunate than yourself. Despite the fact this character is garrulous, sustaining an apparently endless flow of trivial speech, she does not deserve to be insulted and her mistreatment exposes the heroine’s impatient pride, which can then be corrected.

What is missing from so much of today’s satire is the lack of any positive, redeeming features. Everything is focused on deflating perceived pomposity and ridiculing stupidity with no attempt to even hint at a better alternative. It is easy to point-out the faults but very few are willing to actually correct them.

On turning to satire in the Bible, we always see a balance. Prophets like Isaiah mock the idols of Babylon, inanimate so they must be carried, made by human hands and thus unable to save anyone (Isaiah 44:9-20 & 46). However, he also holds out hope, proclaiming in beautiful poetry the One who is all-powerful: “those who trust in the LORD will find new strength: they will soar high on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint” (40:31).

Similarly, Jesus satirises the punctilious rule-keeping of the self-righteous Pharisees. They would “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23), meaning they carefully filter their drinking water through a cloth, so they do not swallow even the smallest of ceremonially unclean animals. Yet they ignore much more glaring and obvious character flaws, such as covetous greed or orchestrating the execution by crucifixion of an innocent man. Jesus, wonderfully, moves beyond the critique to point people to the solution: “whoever drinks the water that I give him will never be thirsty again… the water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life” (John 4:14). Not just a diagnosis of the problem but also an unbeatable offer. What is the point of knocking down a house of cards unless you are planning to help build something better?

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Dehumanised and marginalised

Recently, I was reading an in-depth report on the appalling treatment of refugees by many European democracies, which concluded: “We must be alert to the ways in which some politicians try to convince people to give up rights and protections that exist for the benefit of everyone. Any authority figure who says: “We should look after our own before we look after refugees,” probably isn’t interested in doing either. And we should recognise the importance of collective action. There will not be “solutions” to this crisis, in the sense of one or more policy decisions that will make refugees vanish.”

How could anyone disagree?  Now, imagine that the word “refugees” was switched for “unborn baby”.  This is particularly pertinent because so often we hear the complaint that those who campaign to end abortion are simply not interested in making life better for the poor and those who struggle in our society.  They say we must look after those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile, not sadistically insist they actually give birth to a baby they do not want.

Yet, as we can see with the argument against those who demonise asylum seekers, this is a false dichotomy.  I cannot speak for every pro-life campaigner but from I see this is a movement which cares passionately about all life.  There is a focus on the unborn because they are the most vulnerable and easily overlooked.  Everyone who manages to squeeze out of the birth canal at least has a fighting chance, but the life of those who are conceived, yet not born, is cruelly snuffed out before they can even utter their first cry.  It’s definitely not a case of “either or” – rather a plea for society to listen to the voiceless and follow through on the logic of equal rights.

An inconvenient truth – life begins in the womb

Abortion is the murder of innocent lives. What is progressive about “health care” that destroys boys and girls before they can even utter a cry to protest this inhumanity? That snuffs out their potential on the whim of a would-be parent? What is “modern” about a change in the law that endorses the actions of 170,000 women who have travelled from Ireland to (mostly) the United Kingdom for an abortion since 1980? What is laudable about a vote that condones the three every day who order pills to terminate a pregnancy? Of course, how many of those choices have been swayed by the vociferous advocacy of the well-funded abortion lobby? Laws should not be changed to aid and abet this slaughter – do we leave our doors open to make life easier for burglars?

How can the referendum result be a victory for women’s health care, as touted by the likes of Leo Varadkar, when at least half of those killed in the womb will be females, and many more would-be mothers will now be exposed to the risks of abortion operations?  Stop framing this as being all about choice and compassion, which you refuse to extend to anyone who has the misfortune of not being born.

I am profoundly saddened by the fact that society so often find these realities too painful to confront. They prefer to completely ignore the human rights of the unborn baby, which are never mentioned by those cheerleaders for abortion. Individuals are invited to ignore their responsibilities and opt for the quick fix. There is incontestable science evidence validating the humanity of a so-called foetus, which by Week 12 has a beating heart, can swallow and yawn, can kick, stretch & jump, has arms, legs, fingers & toes, has fingernails & hair, has all his or her vital organs, has vocal chords, responds to touch and has a fully formed face. In fact, there is more certainty on this point than any of the dire climate change predictions that shape our policies on renewable energies.

The point is that both issues – “on demand” abortion and burning fossil fuels – highlight the inability of the majority in this world to make meaningful sacrifices for future generations. To those who object that abortion is a useful limit on the world’s population remember scientists believe our planet could easily sustain ten billion human lives and, if we adapted our lifestyles to waste less food, fight fewer wars and share resources better that figure would surely be much higher. Indeed, that foetus you abort might become the brilliant scientist who cracks the successful colonisation of Mars. As Ghandi wisely observed: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

So please do not be discouraged. Keep living for one another, considering the interests of others as well as you own and remembering that all life is precious and worth protecting. Future generations will see the light and reverse Ireland’s tragic mistake.


Pro-abortion misinformation

I was very frustrated and saddened to hear the misleading claims made by Irish pro-abortion activist Sinead Redmond on BBC World Service’s “HARDTalk” show (listen from about 15:40 minutes into the programme). In response to a specific question suggesting that abortion “on demand” will lead to more terminations, she replied “I don’t [accept that]… that’s not consistent with what we see internationally.” As evidence, she brought-up the example of Portugal, claiming that their abortion rate in has actually reduced since – and by implication as a result of – the law being changed in 2007.

This is very misleading and should have been challenged by the presenter. Firstly, any figures (such as the 14 women who died from back-street abortion 2001-2007) are estimates – and, of course, we have no idea how many babies were aborted before the ban. We do know 2008-2015, there were 145,000 voluntary abortions – apparently the trend is downwards since a peak of 20,480 in 2011, blamed on the recession, but is still expected to “stabilise” at 15,000 deaths per year.

Consider also that “abortion on demand” in Portugal is a relatively recent development and it is still too early to forecast long-term trends. A better comparison is the UK where the figures did appear to decline 1973 to 1976 but soon rose to almost 200,000 per year by 1990 (though there are continuing fluctuations). The worst year, 219,454 lives lost in 2007, was before the financial crash and resulting economic downturn!

However, if you listen to the HARDTalk interview, the pro-abort activist makes it sound like there are fewer (or at least the same number of) abortions now in Portugal, since the law changed, than there were before 2007, which is clearly misleading. She ignores the caveats and the many who have reservations about the change in Portugal’s laws.

The programme would have benefitted from slowing down and actually investigating properly some of the numbers, especially this one, which were thrown around, so that individuals were not misinformed about what changing abortion laws actually leads to. The BBC must do better and not abet the broadcast of “fake news”. I have complained to them and I hope they will set the record straight.

Abortion – today’s Irish Question

Please don’t change your constitution. Think about all those many human beings alive and flourishing today because your country defended the right to life of those in the womb. In fact, a conservative estimate is 100,000 people – alive in Ireland today thanks to the 8th Amendment, as calculated between 1994 and 2014.

Beware the slippery slope. This is often derided as a so-called “logical fallacy” but there is hard evidence to back-up the warning: look at England and Wales. Abortion was introduced there in 1967 under the Abortion Act. At the time, the abortion rate was 1 in 40 pregnancies. Within five years, it had jumped to 1 in 7. Today, it’s a staggering 1 in 5. Moreover, campaigners are pushing for further liberalisation, removing the need for a doctor to consent and making pills that would terminate a pregnancy available for women at home. Some – particularly those providers who benefit financially from performing the surgery – even argue for no restrictions whatsoever.

Ireland, please do not allow the life of a defenceless child to be ended at precisely the time and place where they should be safest. Please vote to treasure and safeguard life.

Perusing the Internet – seven note-worthy articles

It’s fashionable at the moment to lambast the internet as a some sort of cyber-sewers, awash with nefarious activity from marauding trolls to sinister misinformation and propaganda campaigns by shadowy state actors.  To add some balance, I have drawn together ten articles that have caught my attention recently with interesting reporting, insightful analysis and hard-hitting conclusions.

1) “Meet Britain’s Willy Wonkas: the Ideas Factory that could save UK industry” – I love stories of innovation and regeneration, which is here evident in abundance.

2) “Ostersunds FK: Rise of Swedish club under English manager Graham Potter” – maybe one day, we will see this story turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, though sadly there is yet to be a fairy-tale ending.  Nevertheless, what an achievement from this football manager and his players who have transformed their club, without spending billions or even millions!

3) “We should all be working a four-day week. Here’s why” – a simple idea that could have a significant impact: “Our social model means economic growth all too often involves concentrating wealth produced by the many into the bank accounts of the few, without improving the lives of the majority. Growth should deliver not just shared prosperity and improved public services but a better balance between work, family and leisure.”

4) “50 Things that Shaped the Modern Economy: the Welfare State” – this was part of a fascinating series of articles which explored a very interesting question.  The author is a great story-teller using eye-catching anecdotes to unpack complicated issues.

5) “Schools can’t work miracles. But with a little help, parents can” – as an educator, I was intrigued by the suggestion that schools should be more involved in adult learning, tapping into the desire of parents to help their children and not be flummoxed by a 12-year-old’s mathematics homework.

6) “High Street take-over: Dumfries aims to be the first community to buy back its town centre” – as a citizen of Scotland, I am always interested in more local innovations and schemes, such as this attempt to revitalise a struggling town centre from the “Doon Toon Army”.  Let’s hope that such initiatives become the norm and the Government does everything possible to address the power imbalance between the rights of residents over absentee landlords.

7) “From sea to plate: how plastic got into our fish” – absolutely shocking.  Humanity is so wasteful and short-sighted that eight million tonnes of waste plastic ends up in the sea each year. Fish eat it – and then we do but we don’t even know for sure how bad it is for us.  We certainly do know, however, that this plastic pollution is damaging wildlife and creating huge messes in our natural landscape, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Dump.  I just wish everyone would engage with this issue and cut-off the problem at source.

The three stages of the working man

When you consider the trajectory of the average career, I believe you can pinpoint three stages for homo laborare (the working man) – attitude, aptitude and decrepitude.

1) Attitude: you arrive at your new workplace clean-faced and fresh-eyed, thinking that you know everything and determined to make a splash.  You question why on earth you must follow out-dated, illogical, unnecessary procedures and policies.  Maybe you want to shake things-up, or possibly you quietly ruminate on the silliness of holding yet another meeting to discuss a policy that no-one will look at again.  Attitude, when harnessed wisely, can be a powerful tool for businesses to unleash new ideas and creativity.

2) Aptitude: you now actually know what you are doing!  Through perseverance and politeness, you have gradually mastered the ropes and are ready for increasing responsibilities.  Alternatively, you have perfected the knack of appearing to know what you are talking about, maintaining a cool professionalism in the face of even the most alarming of “crises”.  Aptitude is a beautiful place to be – you have chiselled out a niche for yourself that fits snugly around who you are.  However, beware that complacency does not creep and do not forget to keep reflecting on what could be better.  Viva la revolution!

3) Decrepitude: hopefully, you never reach this stage in your career journey.  Watch out for these warning signs.  Cynicism has crept in and slowly contaminated your whole outlook.  Everything is a plot by management to extract more labour from your contract and any additional demand on your time is met with a semi-automatic lists of excuses, which push responsibility on to others and leave you with a withered husk of actual work.  You know the price of everything but the value of nothing.  Trying to learn a new skills has become almost impossible as your brain struggle to adapt to a different challenge and make connections.  Don’t count down the days to retirement but seize the moments you have left to make a difference.

So that, in my view, is the life cycle of the working man.  You could also label them as enthusiasm, professionalism and cynicism.  Where on the spectrum do you land?