Archive for the ‘World affairs’ Category

Just over 7 years ago, in early 2009, I bought a CD of some of Robert Kennedy’s greatest speeches. Whilst his brother John F. Kennedy gave some memorable speeches, for me Bobby Kennedy possibly surpassed JFK with his eloquence. One of his most moving and wonderful speeches has been passing through my mind these last two weeks or so; with the senseless shootings of innocent black people by police in the United States, the killing of the five policemen by an assassin in Houston, the horrific terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day which has killed at least 84 people, many of them children, and the failed coup in Turkey with over 100 dead. And, just as I was putting this blog together yesterday, the shooting of 3 more police officers in Baton Rouge.

Robert Kennedy (RFK) served as Attonery General under his brother’s Prisidency, but in 1965 he entered the Senate as one of the senators for New York. On 16 March 1968, RFK announced that he would run for the presidency, and set about touring the USA to garner support for his campaign. On the evening of 4 April, he was due to give a speech in Indianapolis when he learnt en-route of the assassination of Martin Luther King. He broke the news to the gathered crowd, many of whom had not heard the news until Bobby Kennedy told them. He gave a very moving and powerful speech on that evening, and I may blog about that particular speech another time. 

But, today I am going to share the speech that he gave the day after MLK’s assassination, on 5 April 1968. The speech is entitled “The mindless menace of violence“, and it was delivered at the Cleveland Club in Ohio.

Kennedy toured the country as part of his campaign to become President of the United States, concentrating to a large part on some of the poorest communities in the country, where he met with dissaffected whites, blacks and latinos who had been left behind by the ‘American Dream’.

“this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.”

It is quite a long speech, nearly 10 minutes long, but bear with it and I think you will be struck by its eloquence. Bobby Kennedy wrote the speech himself, putting it together in the hours after the horror of MLK’s assassination had sunk into his mind. 

The speech opens with these lines….

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people……

But, Bobby Kennedy was also deeply concerned with the economic disparities in the United States, and with the sickening racism which had profoundly disturbed him. He later goes on to say…


For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. 

Followed immediately by these words…

When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

The entire text can be found here at the John F. Kennedy presidential library website.

There are several versions of this mesmerising speech on YouTube, but many seem to have had an annoying soundtrack of some music added. I feel the added music detracts from hearing Bobby Kennedy’s words, which are powerful enough and do not need any music to make them more dramatic. So, the version I have included here is just RFK’s incredible words.

What strikes me most when I hear or read these words of Bobby Kennedy is how little progress we have made. One could argue that we have digressed; there are more mass shootings now in the USA than in the 1960s when these words were spoken. There is more terrorism and conflict than ever. And, in the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump, we have a man who is the very antithesis of the wonderful ideals for which Bobby Kennedy stood.

I would say “enjoy” this video, but I am not sure that one can enjoy this speech. It is moving, harrowing, thought-provoking, upsetting, but also uplifting. To think that RFK was himself assassinated within a few months of giving this speech, it only adds poignancy to his words and highlights even more the truth and sadness of the mindless menace of violence

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I am writing this on Friday (24 June), the day that the result of the referendum to stay or leave the European Union (EU) was announced. I assume everyone reading this knows the result, the citizens of the (Dis)united Kingdom have voted by 51.9% to 48.1% to leave the EU. To say that I am shocked and disappointed would be an understatement. And, I am also ashamed. I am ashamed that my country, Wales, voted by 52.5% to leave. That is a higher percentage than the DUK average. I am ashamed to be Welsh at this moment.

Scotland, not surprisingly, voted to stay, in fact 62% of those voting in Scotland want to stay in the EU. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has already said that a fresh referendum for Scottish indpendence is “highly likely”, as she feels it is totally wrong for Scotland to be forced out of the EU against its will. And, I agree with her. I only wish I could say the same for Wales, but we actually voted to leave. 

As anyone who reads my blog (all two of you) will know, I am a massive rugby fan. Tomorrow, Wales will take on New Zealand in the 3rd and final test of their summer tour. We have not beaten New Zealand since 1953. Also, later tomorrow, our football team take on Northern Ireland in the 2016 Euros; if we win we will get to the Quarter Finals.

I would love us to beat NZ for the first time in 63 years, and for us to advance to the Quarter Finals of the 2016 Euros. But, I would willingly give up all of this to have had Wales mirror Scotland and have voted to stay in the EU. I have always thought of my small country as outward looking and inclusive, but it seems I was wrong. A majority want to turn their backs on our European neighbours. I would bet my mortgage that Wales will regret this decision in 5-10 years’ time and wish they had voted differently.

By 2020, I predict, Scotland will be back in the EU as an independent country; whilst Wales becomes an increasingly economically poor western part of the rump which is left of the (Dis)united Kingdom. With Scotland independent, the London government will be perpetually a Conservative one, and do the Welsh people honestly think people like Boris Johnson (the most likely person to become Britain’s next Prime Minster) or Michael Gove give a damn about the poverty blighting the South Wales valleys? The poverty that Maggie Thatcher set in motion when she dismantled the coal industry in the 1980s? They probably don’t even know where Wales is.

I have just seen this on Twitter, and so thought I would add it. Although I’m a little too young to be a baby boomer, my generation voted overwhelmingly to “leave” too. “Sorry” doesn’t seem adequate……

I am sad, I am angry, I am shocked. But, most of all I am ashamed. And envious of Scotland, a beacon of sanity in a sea of madness…….

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If any of you have seen the wonderful film Dead Poets Society, you will be familiar with this poem O Captain! My Captain!by Walt Whitman. The poem is used in the film to dramatic effect, but I won’t spoil it for those of you yet to see the film.

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

The poem concerns the death of American President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth whilst attending the theatre in Washington D.C.

The American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

What is your favourite Walt Whitman poem?

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The other night I was watching U2‘s “Rattle and Hum” DVD. It is one of my favourite music DVDs, and one of my regrets is that I didn’t see U2 in concert during this time. I did see them at Live Aid in London in 1985 (when I thought they were one of the best acts), and I also saw them in 1997 during the “Popmart tour“, but I do regret not seeing them during the 1987 Joshua Tree tour from which Rattle and Hum is taken.

For me, one of the hightlights of this DVD is their performance of their 1983 hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday“. This is because they show the version U2 did on the very same day as the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. On the 8th of November 1987, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed a remembrance day parade in the small town of Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, killing eleven people and injuring 63 people. The bombing is seen as a turning point in the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, such was the outrage against the attack. Bono, U2’s lead singer, talks on this day, when they were playing in Denver, Colorado, about the atrocity of the bombing as he introduces the song. The subsequent performance is charged with the tension, anger and sadness that Bono and the rest of the band clearly felt.

To give a little background to the title “Sunday Bloody Sunday“. There are, in fact, two “Bloody Sundays” in Irish history. The first Bloody Sunday happened on the 21st of November 1920, when 31 people were killed. Irish separatists killed 14 British troops in Dublin. In revenge, later the same day, the British Army (the Black and Tans) went into Croke Park stadium where a game of Gaelic Football was being played, and opened fire on the crowd, killing 14 members of the crowd. Later that evening, 3 IRA suspects were beaten and killed by their British captors. This was the first “Bloody Sunday”.

Bloody Sunday (1920), when 31 people (14 British and 17 Irish) were killed in the same day in Dublin.

The second Bloody Sunday happened in 1972. The British Army opened fire on unarmed protestors in Derry, Northern Ireland, killing 26 of them. I vividly remember seeing the footage of this on the evening news back in 1972.

A British soldier attacking a protestor during the 2nd Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972. 26 unarmed protestors were shot by British soldiers.

U2’s song is about the 2nd Bloody Sunday, the one in 1972. Or, to be more correct, it is about the horrors of a person witnessing “the troubles” in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. It is seen as one of U2’s most political songs, and yet as Bono makes clear through an impassioned break during the performance shown below, it is an anti-war and anti-violence song. Mid-song, Bono says the following to the audience:

And let me tell you somethin’. I’ve had enough of Irish Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home…and the glory of the revolution…and the glory of dying for the revolution. Fuck the revolution! They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution. What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where’s the glory in that? Where’s the glory in bombing a Remembrance Day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day. Where’s the glory in that? To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead under the rubble of the revolution, that the majority of the people in my country don’t want.

To my mind, this performance is one of the seminal moments in rock music. It shows how powerful “pop music” can be, how it can be used for social commentary just as much as it can be used to sing about a boy and a girl falling in love. As an iconic moment, it is up there with the moment when a member of the audience in Bob Dylan‘s “Royal Albert Hall concert” in 1966 shouts “Judas” for Dylan daring to play a rock set, rather than his acoustic folk material. Music can be one of the most powerful tools for social change and social commentary that we have.

Which is your favourite U2 song?

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The headline on Friday’s evening news (22nd June 2012) was that Queen Elizabeth II and Martin McGuinness would be meeting next week and, possibly, shaking hands.

For those of you who don’t know, Martin McGuinness was a leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (better known as the IRA), an organisation who waged a campaign against the British Government for many decades, in an attempt to persuade (force?) Britain to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

Martin McGuinness is now deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, but it is very significant that the Head of State of Great Britain, the country that Irish Republicans consider to be an occupying force in Northern Ireland, should be meeting a former leader of the IRA, a person whom many consider to be a former terrorist.

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

In addition, the IRA killed Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s (the Queen’s husband) uncle in a bomb attack in 1979. So this meeting is significant at both a State and personal level. In 1998 the IRA agreed to put down its arms and sign up to the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Since then, former members of the IRA have committed to using the democratic political process to achieve their aims, rather than the armed methods of the past.

By coincidence, about a week ago I came across a 1982 record amongst my over 300 albums called “Nos du nos da” by Meic Stevens. On this record is a song “Bobby Sands”, about the IRA prisoner who, in 1981, starved himself to death in protest at the way he felt “political prisoners” were being treated by the British Government. It was a pretty controversial song when it was released…..

The lyrics of the song are:

Mae ‘na filoedd yn dy gefnogi chdi
Tithe yn y carchar.
Clyw sgrech Llywodraeth, ysbeiliwr ffôl.
Thyg, gwatwar.

Ond beth bynnag maen nhw’n dweud yn dy erbyn di.
Dioddefaint ac angau dewistaist ti.
I gael heddwch yn Iwerddon a chael fod yn rhydd.
Bobby Sands.

Darllenais am dy dristwch yn y “Western Mail”
Mewn erthygl golygyddol.
Bu farw Sands yn y Long Kesh jail.
Derbyniwch y ffaith fel rhybudd.
Yn ei farn nes ti farw dros ffyrnigrwydd gwyllt.
Terfysg, dychryn, y bom a’r dryll.
Lladrata a myrdro oedd dy ddull.
Bobby Sands.

Nid merthyr yw Sands medde llais y Sais,
Ond gwystl mewn dwylo gwydlon.
Esgus gwarthus i gael myrdro mwy.
Mae Sands yn ddigon fodlon
I farw dros y terfysg hwn.
Lladrata, myrdro, y bom a’r gwn.
Ond mi eith ei enw i lawr mi wn
Gyda Phadrig, Pearce a Connelly.

Ond beth bynnag maen nhw’n dweud yn dy erbyn di.
Dioddefaint ac angau dewistaist ti.
I gael heddwch yn Iwerddon a chael fod yn rhydd.
Bobby Sands.

Mae ‘na filoedd yn dy gefnogi chdi
Tithe yn y carchar.
Clyw sgrech Llywodraeth, ysbeiliwr ffôl.
Thyg, gwatwar.

Ond beth bynnag maen nhw’n dweud yn dy erbyn di.
Dioddefaint ac angau dewistaist ti.
I gael heddwch yn Iwerddon a chael fod yn rhydd.
Bobby Sands.
Ie, Bobby Sands.
Bobby Sands.
Ie, Bobby Sands.

Which translates (roughly) as

There are thousands who support you.
And you are in prison.
Hear the screech of Government, stupid spoiler.
Thug, mocker.

But whatever they say against you,
Suffering and death is what you chose.
To have peace in Ireland, and to be free.
Bobby Sands.

I read about your sadness in the “Western Mail”,
In an editorial article.
Sands died in the Long Kesh jail.
Take the fact as a warning.
In their opinion you died for crazy anger.
Violence, scaring, the bomb and the gun.
Stealing and murdering were your means.
Bobby Sands.

Sands is not a martyr, says the voice of the English
But a hostage in bloody hands.
An awful excuse to murder more.
Sands is content enough
To die for this violence,
Stealing, murdering, the bomb and the gun.
But his name will go down I know
With Patrick, Pearce and Connelly.

But whatever they say against you,
Suffering and death is what you chose.
To have peace in Ireland, and to be free.
Bobby Sands.

There are thousands who support you.
And you are in prison.
Hear the screech of Government, stupid spoiler.
Thug, mocker.

But whatever they say against you,
Suffering and death is what you chose.
To have peace in Ireland, and to be free.
Bobby Sands.
Yeah, Bobby Sands.
Bobby Sands.
Yeah, Bobby Sands.

Whether Martin McGuinness was a murderer I will leave for you to decide, as it is a matter of opinion. Whether people like Bobby Sands and other members of the IRA were terrorists or freedom fighters rather depends on your point of view. What is less contentious is that, since the Good Friday Peace Accord, life for most people in Northern Ireland is more peaceful than it has been for decades, and that can only be a good thing.

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There’s been a bit of news recently regarding same sex marriages, both here in the Disunited Kingdom, and in the United States. On Wednesday, Elizabeth the 2nd, the Queen of England (and other places), gave her annual “Queen’s Speech” in which she outlines the main legislation “her Government” will attempt to bring into law in the upcoming Parliamentary session. In reality, of course, it is the Government these days who write the speech, she has no say in what legislation is brought before Parliament.

The Queen walks into the House of Lords for her annual “Queen’s Speech”

There were protests outside Parliament, particularly from the gay rights group Stonewall, about the lack of any mention in her speech of the Government’s promise to introduce same sex marriages. As I have blogged about before, same sex civil partnerships have been legal in the Disunited Kingdom since 2005, but many gay rights activists consider these to be a second class arrangement, and want the ability to have a proper marriage. There were other items of legislation which the Government decided to leave out of the Queen’s Speech, presumably meaning they will not be introduced in this session of Parliament.

Legislation to introduce gay marriages was not included in the 2012 Queen’s speech

After building up the hopes of gay rights activists, the Government seem to be pushing the issue onto the back burner again. This may be because of strong opposition from various religious bodies, including the Church of England.

Stonewall’s reaction to the lack of legislation on gay marriages

Then, this week, the US President Barack Obama made the bold step of announcing his support of same sex marriages. In the United States, the laws regarding same sex marriages are decided at the state level, as are most laws affecting American’s daily lives. But, it is my understanding, that any state which does legalise same sex marriage will automatically have that marriage recognised in the other states. This stance by Obama will, I suspect, become one of the defining differences between his presidential campaign and that of his most likely rival – Mitt Romney. I admire Obama for stating his opinion so unequivocally on such a divisive issue.

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As my last post mentioned, I was recently on holiday in Cuba. The first public building I visited, on my 2nd day in Havana, was the “Museo de la Revolucion”, which is in the grand colonial splendour of the former residence of Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator removed from office by the 1959 Communist revolution which Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara led.

The 4 cretins honoured on this wall are Batista, Ronald Reagan (the 40th president of the USA 1981-1989), George H.W. Bush (the 41st president of the USA 1989-1993) and, finally, his son George W. Bush (43rd present of the USA 2001-2009). It is interesting to note that the 42nd president, Democrat Bill Clinton, is not given the dubious honour of being on this wall. But, perhaps most surprisingly, also no John F. Kennedy (35th president of the USA 1961-1963), who tried to get Castro assassinated.

El Museo de la Revolucion

The Museum of the Revolution

Tucked away in a corner of the ground floor is the following wall. There is nothing like propaganda 🙂

The "Cretins" wall of fame

Batista, the US installed and supported dictator who was removed by the Communist revolution. The caption says "Thank you cretin for helping us make the revolution"

Ronald Reagan, the actor turned president. The caption says "Thank you cretin for helping us strengthen the revolution"

George H.W. Bush (George Bush senior). The caption next to him says "Thank you cretin for helping us consolidate the revolution"

George W Bush. The caption next to him says "Thank you cretin for helping us make socialism irrevocable"

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Today (23rd of January 2012) is Chinese New Year, so happy Chinese New Year to all my Chinese friends and students. Today, over 1 billion Chinese will be celebrating the start of the year of the Dragon (龍). From what I heard yesterday on the radio, many Chinese couples await to have children in the year of the Dragon, as this year is thought to be the most lucky of the cycle of 12 animals.

Chinese New Year

Candles being lit for Chinese New Year

Last year (2011), Chinese New Year was on the 3rd of February, and next year (2013) it will be on the 10th of February. The table below shows the dates of Chinese New Year from 2009 to 2014.

year date
2009 26th January
2010 14th February
2011 3rd February
2012 23rd January
2013 10th February
2014 31st January

Clearly, Chinese New Year does not fall each year on the same date in the civil calendar. So, how is it calculated?

The Chinese calendar is an example of a lunisolar calendar, which means it depends on both the Moon (Luna) and the Sun (Solar). The same is true of the traditional Jewish calendar, and the calendars of many other civilisations and religions including Hindu, Tibetan and Buddhist calendars.

The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the following, very simple, formula.

The date of the Chinese New Year is the day of the 2nd New Moon after the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere).

This fixes it between the 21st of January (the earliest it can be, which would occur if there were a New Moon on the day after the Winter Solstice), and the 20th of February, which would occur if there were a New Moon on the day of the Winter Solstice.

So, it is that simple. Today (23rd of January) is a New Moon, and the previous New Moon (the first after the Winter Solstice) was on the 24th of December, with the Winter Solstice itself falling on 22nd of December in 2011. Next year, 2013, the first New Moon after the Winter Solstice will be on the 11th of January, the 2nd one will be on the 10th of February, so this will be the date of the Chinese New Year in 2013.

How will you be celebrating Chinese New Year?

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Yesterday (3/11/2011) I read in the Metro newspaper that “gay marriages” (more correctly known as “civil partnerships” in the Disunited Kingdom) are now going to be allowed in places of worship. From what I understand, once they are allowed in places of worship, they will also change to being called marriages rather than civil partnerships.

When I was a student the age of consent for a “homosexual act” (which, I believe, could include kissing someone of the same sex) was 21, whereas the age of consent for heterosexual sex was 16. In 1984 the band Bronski Beat brought out the album “The Age of Consent“, on which nearly every song was about being gay. My favourite song on the album was Smalltown Boy, about a young gay man having to run away from home because of the prejudice against him in his hometown. [note: Peter Coles posted a blog about the same song on his blog about a year ago.]

In 2000 the age of consent for homosexual sex was brought into line with that for heterosexual sex in England & Wales. And in 2005 “civil partnerships” between same sex couples became legal in England & Wales. This week’s news that gay marriages will soon be performed in places of worship shows how far we’ve come. [Note: Scotland has a separate legal system from England & Wales so the dates of the passing of various laws may differ there.]

Homosexuality was only made legal in England & Wales in 1967 (and not until 1981 in Scotland). Before that many (most?) gays were persecuted and jailed for their sexual orientation. Some well known homosexuals took their own lives, rather than face the shame of prosecution and imprisonment.

We still have a long way to go in accepting people’s differences, be they sexual orientation, skin colour, religion or political beliefs. But, we have come a long way in the last 50 years I’m pleased to say.

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A quick post following the defeat of Wales by Australia in the 3rd/4th place Rugby World Cup playoff match. I may have time later to post a match report, but I thought I would quickly post this – in reaction to the news of Colonel Gaddafi’s death at the hands of the so-called rebels in Libya in the last 24 hours.

Whatever Gaddafi’s crimes against humanity, I personally am uncomfortable with his being killed before he stood trial for those crimes. I am not in favour of the death penalty for any crime, even genocide. And, I think the World would have done a better job of avoiding supporting people like Gaddafi in the future if he had stood trial and the full extent of his horrors been revealed.

Anyway, the man is now dead. And it reminded me of this wonderful song by the 1960s group The Kinks – “Death of a clown“.

Which song did you think of when you heard of Gaddafi’s death?

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