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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Logic

The Alchemist is a man of science, it is his ineluctable nature. There are things the which I simply cannot take on faith.

From the perspective of my Immortal Soul, this would be a bad show, if I had one.

From time to time I, like your good self, I should not wander, am visited by a brace of Jehovah's Witnesses with the rather curious belief that I might make a lifelong (or, from their perspective, eternal) commitment to their deity if they provide me with sufficient free magazines. Actually, if truth be told I would probably worship anything you care to name if I got a subscription to the Fortean Times out of it, but as you will appreciate, the Watchtower is not quite in the same league.

Typically, once we have exhausted the evangelists first plan of attack (You should worship my god because my holy book tells you to) and the second (you should obey my holy book because my god tells you to) we get down to my own opening gambit…

It runs something like this:

Alchemist: “This deity of yours, he’s omniscient, right?”

Evangelist: “Oh yes.”

Alchemist: “And he made me, and indeed everyone else?”

Evangelist: “Yes”

A: “And all he demands from me is faith and genuine repentance of my sins, if any?”

E: “That’s all, and you can enter paradise.”

At this point the Evangelist (there are always two of them, but only one will speak) will be just a little fervent, sitting on the edge of the sofa – converting me will earn her a dozen god-points and the admiration of her fellows.

A: “You’ll excuse me if I am being thick, but, your omniscient god, who made me knows me to be a man of science, a man unable to have faith. He knows I can never achieve paradise under his rules.”

E: “Erm…”

A: “He knows that an iota of proof would have me on my knees in a moment, but that no amount of preaching can sway me. Your loving god made me, and he made me incapable of faith and thus damned from the moment I was born.”

D’yee see where I am going with this? At this point the silent evangelist will look from me to her speaking companion, clearly as interested as I am to see how she gets out of this one. Typically the speaking evangelist will tell me that I am wrong, that I can have faith, that I can be swayed by preaching, and she will hint that she is just the woman for the job.

Nether your humble obedient, nor the silent evangelist are entirely happy with this answer, I doubt the speaking evangelist is either because presently she will depart, her mind too occupied by evil atheist logic to remember she had a scarf when she arrived.

The next time she shows up I return the scarf and challenge her with the same paradox, and receive the same unsatisfactory answer.

Lately she has been coming less often, and not coming in but staying in the porch.

Next time she comes I will be nicer to her, I will tell her that she cannot win them all (in fact she cannot win any of them, she once told me she has never won a convert, sometimes I wander if anyone ever has) and that, if it makes her feel any better she will do no worse than me in the afterlife, since there ain’t one.

Friday, July 29, 2005

IRA

The IRA, and it’s various scions is one of the Alchemist’s least favourite religious terrorist organizations – you will appreciate that this is a hotly contested list.

I am of course rather too young to comment on their worst acts, these happening in the 70’s and early 80’s for the most part. Since then they have maintained a violent and murderous operation, but of steadily decreasing intensity.

In response to the group’s recent ‘promise’ to lay down their arms and pursue political means the British Army have begun to shut down certain installations in Armagh – this has been roundly criticised, and it is easy to see why. This is not the first time the IRA has promised to stop blowing people up, and it wont be the last time either – and with this borne in mind, weakening the Army in Northern Ireland does seem a trifle unwise. So why is it happening?

Simply put it is diplomacy. Diplomacy was once defined as the art of saying ‘nice doggy’ until such time as one can find a big enough stick. This is precisely what both sides are doing.

Both sides know that the cease-fire will not last, but both sides are willing to say ‘nice doggy’ to the other until a stick comes to hand. Unfortunately there is not a big enough stick to crush either the IRA or the British Army, so what will become of the cease-fire?

Well, it seems obvious that any reduction in overt Army presence will be countered by an increase in the covert – similarly we can expect to see more and more violent ‘IRA splinter groups’ which are in fact not splinter groups at all, but mainstream IRA doing business as usual under a new name.

Britain and Ireland will probably be forced to wheel out a couple more sacrificial lambs for the power sharing altar and Gerry Adams will continue to demand the moon on a stick because god knows there’s no reason for him to change, he’s an IRA meal ticket for life.

The big question is why does anyone bother? No one seriously believes this cease fire will last longer than the last one. Everyone knows that Sinn Féin is the IRA by another name and we are all aware that this whole situation is essentially and argument about who has the best way to worship the same deity.

There is, as we have discussed, no stick big enough, and the doggy is not nice, if we accepted those two facts then the situation would become rather simpler.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Iraq I

When Operation Lightning was unveiled the official line was that it would be the coalition’s final major operation in Iraq. The Alchemist said that he would believe that when he saw it, and of course, he has not seen it yet. Nevertheless General George Casey (Alchemy ante-intermissio) has stated his belief that, should certain conditions be met, American troop numbers will start to fall in the early part of next year. (He means that the numbers will fall because they are coming home, rather than the more traditional method of reducing troop numbers, to whit, death).

His preconditions are that the Iraqi Government (the which I like to call ‘Denethor’) and security forces (‘Canute’) prove themselves to be competent. I’ll believe that when I etc…

Old hands will recall my having discussed the Iraqi Government on more than one occasion, beginning during their elections. I for one look forward to the next elections coming in five months time. These are intended to follow the delivery of a draft constitution next month, though the chances of this draft being on-time are somewhere between ‘slim’ and ‘comical’ at the moment.

Current Iraqi bossman Al-Jaafari has of course never made a secret of his desire to be rid of the foreign troops who installed him, though no two commentators will agree why – certainly his job will become significantly harder once he is on his own, fortunately that will not be within a decade though. Al-Jaafari has said he does not want to be surprised, and I think there is slim chance of that.

Once the Constitution is drafted, and has been comprehensively argued about by every man and woman who has seen it, it will be put to a plebiscite. This is slated for September, and I suppose it might actually occur then, but don’t bet the family silver.

You will recall that the Sunnis pulled out of the drafting process for a time, and even now their delegation is under strength. Because of this the document, when it is finally produced will be most contentious. The powerful Sunni community will claim it is unfair to them because the were not as well represented during the drafting as the other factions. The Kurds will oppose the Sunnis for the sheer devilment of it, and the Shi’ahs will oppose the Kurds because they are ideal positioned to stick the knife in the Kurd’s back, also there is that whole oil-ministry thing which never sat right between the Shi’ahs and the Kurds.

If you will forgive me for dragging your mind back so far, I once said that I found the idea of a group of Arabs sitting in a room arguing about how to run a country whilst foreign troops march the streets funny, and a while later I said that I no longer found it funny because the novelty had worn off. Today I cannot decide whether a group of Arabs trying to write a constitution whilst foreign troops march the streets is funny or not. On the face of it, it seems ridiculous enough, but when we bare in mind that each of the three main factions writing the document want nothing so much as to grind the others into dust, and that any place not marched by foreign troops suffers attacks on a scale not seen since the summer ’03 (during the actual war) I for one suddenly feel less inclined to humour.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Education

If one were to take a turn through near any council estate (for we all must at some point) one will, as has been noted before my many and eloquent people, see a satellite dish sprouting from every wall like the fungal growths of some virulent dieses of lower-class housing. There will also be BMW’s and widescreen televisions in evidence. This rather elitist introduction is intended to point out the sort of disposal to which certain peoples’ disposable income is subject to.

You may, depending on how closely you follow such things, have learned of Education Secretary Ruth Kelly’s plans for bolstering the education of poor people’s children. It all started on Radio Four. I won’t try t give the impression that I listen to Radio Four often, I just tune in to Women’s Hour once in a while – but the BBC kindly allow me to listen to recordings of their programmes over the net, which is rather more convenient.

It seems that children from under-privileged (that’s ‘poor’ to’ee) do not do so well in lessons as those from better off (privileged and over-privileged one assumes) families.

I know, I was as shocked as you are.

The introduction to today’s post talked of the apparent affluence of the council estate set because it illustrates the Alchemist’s ‘Theory of Insufficient Incentive’. Essentially the hypothetical poor child sees his family’s widescreen TV with Sky+, and their BMW – he sees his mother has no trouble keeping herself in Malibu and white lighting, he sees his fathers have no trouble paying for their two pouches of Golden Virginia every day, and he finds himself reasoning, not surprisingly, that education is not that vital to a good life.

Given the choice between attending school assiduously with a view to becoming an educated and productive member of Albion’s working corps and skiving off so he can kick over telephone boxes and steal hoodies, it is not surprising he chooses the latter, for he can see no downside. Once he is finally expelled at 16 he will sign on, and get a cash in hand job with a cowboy builder firm and set about raising (or fathering at any rate) the next generation of feral thugs.

The beneficent Kelly believes she can combat this by issuing free books to pre-school children (perfect for kindling the next time said children engage in a little arson), and by offering catch-up lessons to older children. Since truancy is at a record high, and is indeed rising still, one wanders how this last is meant to help. The children who need the catch-up lessons are the very ones who do not bother to attend the mainstream lessons, no?

You may be wandering if the Alchemist has a master plan – having slated phonics, catch-up lessons and teaching assistants at various times, you ask whether I have any better ideas?

As it happens I don’t. I really cannot see that our education system can be fixed in the short to medium term – for it has been crumbling so for long, stone by stone. You may say that we need to return to old school (if you follow) values, but that of course will never, can never happen – but similarly we cannot go on as we are. We have a school system which only plays at educating the poor, and often the rich too – and a university system now virtually inaccessible to a third of the population thanks to a loans system both draconian and Byzantine simultaneously, and in between we have some f the most underpaid and overworked teachers in the civilised world.

I wish I knew how to solve the problem, but more so I wish the Educations Secretary knew…

Monday, July 25, 2005

Shoot

I don’t know how many of’ee remember an old Clash song called ‘Know Your Rights’, it began with the words ‘This is a public service announcement… with guitars!’ which is one of the better lyrics your author has come across. My point in remembering this song to you is in another lyric, to whit ‘Murder is a crime – unless it is done by a policeman’.

This is a fallacy. You might say that it is merely a song, and an old one at that and I ought not invest so much emotion in it, but it is merely a symptom of a wider feeling.

You will of course not have failed to hear of the regrettable death of Jean Charles de Menezes – shot by police recently.

There is a feeling amongst some that armed police are rather trigger happy, and that if they do shoot a man and later discover he was not so great a threat, that the officers in question have a finger waved at them, and are then let free. This is a fallacy.

Every time, every single time a police officer shoots a human in the course of his duty, the officer is tried for murder. Oh yes. During the trial it has to be conclusively proved that the defendant believed that his life or the life of another was in danger of being extinguished, and imminently so.

Not once has a police officer been convicted by a jury of his peers, every time, every officer has been vindicated. This is a phenomenal record if one stops to think about it. It s because of this practice of trials that our armed police show such restraint. Without wishing to cast aspersions on the officers or other lands we must acknowledge the remarkable number of armed police operations which end without a shot being fired. This is certainly a counterpoint to some forces who seem rather more willing to pull the trigger. I imagine you did not know, for instance, that no British police sniper has ever fired a shot in anger, not once.

I shall go on, I suppose you recall my post a while ago detailing the deplorable state of the firearms used by the Portuguese police. In Albion our armed police are issued with new and up-to-date weapons, but, they are actually modified to make them less effective, yes.

When you have seen armed police on the telly, or at airports you will have noticed their ‘machine guns’ (really sub-machine guns). These are H&K MP5 nine-mill submachine guns. When Heckler & Koch sell these weapons they are capable of automatic fire at 800 rounds/min, but the examples carried by our police have actually been modified to fire single shot only!

The point of this post is the somewhat elementary insight that although mistakes will happen, they are rare, they are dealt with most potently, and they are rather less severe than they might be, than they would be in other lands. It need hardly be pointed out that Albion is almost the only nation in the world whose police still, by and large, do not carry firearms.

If you have not done so before, then I think you ought pause a moment and give thanks that there are people willing to risk their lives for yours, and the next time you read about an innocent man being shot, I would like you to thank your deity, if you have one, that it was not you who had 1/8th of a second to decide whether to pull the trigger.

I still like The Clash by the way, but I am not going to base my politics on their lyrics.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Elections

I’d like to say tank’ee kindly to those people who welcomed me back, it’s nice to be appreciated in any small way.

As a warming up exercise I thought we’d see what has been happening during my absence vis a vis those subjects on which I was reporting.

You will recall for instance that almost the last matter discussed was the German Elections. Fräulein Merci H kindly wrote a piece giving us the skinny on one Angela Merkel. If memory serves you lot were a bit reticent with the comments considering she went out of her way to educate us, but no matter.

At the time Fräulein H told us the procedure for a general election, to whit the President must dissolve the Bundestag following a vote. This has now happened, and the election will occur on the 18th of September. Chancellor Schroeder’s liberal government has been listing for some time and it was, as we were told, only a matter of time before the Bundestag was dissolved. The alternative for Schroeder would have been resignation, under a cloud of accusations concerning certain rather iffy shenanigans (I hasten to add, nothing is proven, but there’s no smoke etc according to Fräulein H).

You will also recall how happy Fräulein H, and The Alchemist were with the idea of Chancellor Merkel. She is, so far Is I have been told, a capital woman and just the sort to dispel Schroeder’s effect on Germany, which let us not forget, has been to navigate Germany into the sort of economic woes which would have crippled most any other nation in Europe.

Incredibly, Schroeder’s Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (sometimes one has no choice but to copy and past from Fräulein H’s emails, I am not typing that) seems to be gaining support from the undecideds now that the election date is certain.

Merkel’s group, an alliance of the Christlich-Demokratische Union and Chrislich-Soziale Union (she does this on purpose you know) is still leading by a significant margin, still the bookie’s favorite, but are gradually hemorrhaging support, especially in the east, though not, Fräulein H is proud to say, in her own state of Niedersachsen, which is rather a heartland of the CDU.

We shall be watching this situation closely

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Return

The Alchemist is pleased to announce his return the web. Readers may have noticed his absence of late - there is a reason for this, I shall stop short of calling it a good reason, because if it were I would still be absent.

It seems that an anonymous party took exception to something I wrote previously. Took exception strongly enough to discover my real name (worryingly easy to do as I discovered myself) and threaten my life and well-being.

At the time I was of the opinion that one death threat was too many and closed the site forthwith, though in fact the gentleman in question did not demand I do so, he did not in fact demand I do anything.

Having had the past few weeks to think about this, I have decided to begin again. I stand by every word I wrote. I lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and feel as qualified as any to talk about the country. More importantly, I feel it is important not to allow ourselves to be threatened. I won’t say any specific recent events were the cause of my change of heart, but I will not deny it either.

Services will resume presently.

The Alchemist

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