Cut off for six years . . .

A Commonwealth War Graves Commission gardener, Mohamed Abouzied, was cut off except for telephone contact, for 6 years but kept on with his job.  A heartening story.

Location: Kantara, Egypt, Altitude: 7m, Rainfall: 25mm, Temperature: 9c – 38c

For six years CWGC gardener Mohamed Abouzied was cut-off from his colleagues. In that time he worked virtually alone. His only company at work were 2,000 war dead buried in the Egyptian desert.

Mohamed is the Commission’s resident gardener at Kantara War Memorial Cemetery. The site sits in the Sinai Peninsula, on the east bank of the Suez Canal. In 2013 a key crossing over the water was shut amid a rise in militant attacks.

Access for people coming in from elsewhere in Egypt was tough. For Mohamed, a citizen of the region, he was able to stay put in the live-in accommodation at our cemetery – a setup that’s not uncommon for remote war cemeteries.

Regular phone contact with his managers was still possible and once they were assured it was going to be safe for him to stay on, they agreed to his continued work.

And that’s exactly what Mohamed did. Quietly, and without ceremony, he continued his job. He did minor repair work, swept away wind-blown debris, re-leveled the sand and tended to the few plants that can survive the desert conditions.

He is one of many unsung heroes at the Commission. Within his care were the final resting places of war dead from more than 10 nations – allies and enemies from both World Wars. But none of them were forgotten.

While no one else could, he was there to remember and to tend.

Thankfully, things have since improved. In summer 2019, a new tunnel under the Suez Canal was opened, making access simple once more. Improved tools and supplies could be brought in and Mohamed received his first visitor in years: his manager, Baghdady Rashed.

And when Baghdady arrived, the site looked as if there had never been any problems at all.

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Will anyone who knows what is happening please come forward . . .Thank you

In other news from the capitals…

LONDON |BERLIN

Brexit postponed, again? The Finnish Prime Minister and current EU Council President Antti Rinne, expects Brexit to be postponed once again. It appears that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has only now understood “what a mess this is and he is having difficulty in making a proposal to get out of it,” the socialist told German paper Welt am Sonntag. “That is why I fear that the October summit could be more about an extension than bringing concrete solutions to the situation,” Rinne added.

(Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de)

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More Government fibs . . .

We live in difficult times. The Prime Minister is referred to as “the father of lies” in the Supreme Court, his Ministers then follow suit, and all we have at street level is an already mistrusted media. We need organisations like Full Fact to help us out, but I suspect the powers that be hate their very existence and we shall sooner or later see steps being taken to ban them or at least put them out of business. I now personally subscribe to FF as I think they are of more value than an online newspaper.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson claimed that a Brexit extension would cost £1 billion a month. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab then repeated the claim when standing in for Mr Johnson at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

This is not true, and politicians need to stop saying it.

An extension of a few months – which the Prime Minister must request if parliament hasn’t approved exit terms by 19 October – would cost no more than leaving with a deal in October 2019, which is still the government’s publicly stated policy. The deal stipulates that EU budget contributions have to be made until December 2020, regardless of the leaving date. (We fact checked this a month ago).

Even if we leave with no deal, we may have to make those payments in the future if we want to do any trading with the EU.

On Tuesday, our Chief Executive Will Moy said: “A Prime Minister’s words matter. When Mr Johnson repeats this claim, journalists should ask him if that means he’s not serious about getting a deal.”

Published by Full Fact on 4 October 2019 HERE

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Oh Dear, Oh Dear . . .

This seemed worth preserving for posterity. It is good that we have people like Ian Dunt who understand these things and can quickly post a summary for the rest of us to digest. It is from his entry in Politics.co.uk

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By Ian Dunt
Wednesday, 2 October 2019 11:33 AM

It was only moments into his speech that Boris Johnson started lying. “We will under no circumstances,” he said, “have checks at or near the border in Northern Ireland.” It was false. Overnight, the details of his Brexit proposals to Brussels had leaked. They showed that there clearly would be checks. The British commitment to preventing any customs infrastructure in Ireland would be broken.

Once upon a time, Johnson could make these claims because he was engaged in the magical thinking of ‘frictionless trade’ and ‘alternative arrangements’. There’s no excuse for that now.

The Johnson offer to the EU will be published this afternoon, but last night’s leak by the Telegraph’s Peter Foster was largely corroborated by the details the prime minister offered in his speech. It works by separating out two elements of a future trading relationship: customs and regulations.

Customs involves the assessment of tariffs on goods. Regulations involve checks on whether the goods comply with the rules of the country they’re being sent to. In the EU, none of this matters – you have the same tariff regime and the same rules. Outside the EU, it all needs to be checked.

Johnson’s plan sets up two timetables – one for customs and one for regulations.

The customs timetable kicks in first. His deal, like Theresa May’s, would have a short transition until 2021. But after that, Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain would leave the customs union with no backstop. Johnson is taking no prisoners here. He is refusing any concessions. The lock keeping Northern Ireland attached to the Republic is gone. That means checks.

How would Johnson try to avoid them? He plans to have a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU. But that’s extremely unlikely to be achieved by 2021. Free trade agreements between major partners take a long time. The one between the EU and Canada took seven years.

But even if he did manage it, there would still be checks. FTAs can hammer down tariffs between countries. But even when that’s done, goods have to go through a laborious process of checks, called country of origin requirements, to ensure they’re really from the state they’re being sent from. This is so that other countries can’t surreptitiously sneak their way in with no tariffs as part of a trade deal they didn’t negotiate.

The government rubbished a previous leak this week which said there’d be customs posts on either side of the border to do these sorts of checks. But actually it seems inevitable that there will be. Their promises to the contrary are meaningless. They rely on the idea that new technology will magically be invented in the next two years to make them unnecessary. This will not happen. It is one of the great myths of the Brexit argument.

This plan is a complete rejection of the British government’s commitment in the December 2017 joint report to avoid a hard border, or any physical infrastructure, or checks or controls. It goes against the promises made to the people of the island on both sides – the Republic, which had no say in all this, and Northern Ireland, which voted against it. There is no consent from these communities for these proposals. They have made clear they are against what they propose. Johnson wants to impose it on them regardless. It is a threat to the peace process. It is a betrayal of the promise of continued north-south cooperation. It is a complete and total abdication of moral responsibility.

The approach to regulations seemingly involves more concessions. Northern Ireland would remain aligned with the EU on agricultural and industrial goods regulations. This is dynamic, meaning that as the EU updated its rules, they would update theirs.

On the face of it, this seems significant. It would involve checks on the Irish sea between Britain and Northern Ireland, which is the kind of thing the DUP – whose votes Johnson would need to get a deal through – vociferously objects to.

But there’s a catch. The alignment only lasts until 2025. At that point Northern Ireland gets a say on what happens. Does it want to stay aligned to the EU rules or join the rest of the UK? In practice, this gives the DUP a veto, which they will invariable use. The language is democratic, but in reality it simply serves to stagger the regulatory departure.

It’s quite a remarkably tone-deaf package. Basically the UK is taking a bullying position to the EU without having anything to bully them with.

Think about their incentives. This is the kind of thing which essential to successful negotiation but which the Johnson administration is seemingly incapable of.

If Brussels accepted the package, Ireland would be thrown under the bus. It would be a complete betrayal, something they have made clear they would never do.

That’s not just a moral point. It is a strategic one. If they go against Ireland, no other member state would trust them again. The offer the EU makes to countries – that they become stronger by working together – would be shown to be false.

So why do it? Johnson is presumably gambling on the fact that if they reject it they’d face no-deal, which would involve the border emerging immediately, without the lead-in to 2021 or 2025.

But this assessment is very weak, because the moral reality of that point is inverted. If the UK decides to leave without a deal, then the consequences are its responsibility. But if the EU signed up to this deal, then it shares that responsibility. And on the areas it cares about – checks on the border, north-south cooperation – those consequences would be equivalent to no-deal.

Such a move would also destroy the EU’s credibility in negotiations around the world. It would be seen to buckle on all its key demands in the face of intransigence and threats. Why wouldn’t other negotiating partners try the same trick?

But even aside from all that, the threat is empty because no-deal is not actually the consequence of the EU rejection of the deal. The Benn Act ensures that if there is no deal he must ask for an extension. He insists this is not true and that No.10 has found some kind of loophole in the legislation. Given his record, that is likely to be either false or a gross overstatement of some pitifully weak tactic. But even if it were true, parliament could work around it or see Johnson forced to retreat via the courts.

So the EU’s incentives are not his deal or no-deal. They are his deal or extension. And extension opens up the possibility of a less insane negotiating team, or even another referendum with a result to Remain, making the whole border problem go away.

It’s hard to come up with anything positive to say about this. It shows no understanding of the EU’s red lines, no basic moral responsibility towards the problem in Ireland which the Brexit vote created, no consistency with the previous commitments of the British government, no viability, no practicality, no realism, and no concessions at all to the half of the population who voted Remain. It is almost impressive that after all this time they have come up with a proposal that has nothing whatsoever to recommend it.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk. His new book, How To Be A Liberal, is out in spring 2020 and can be pre-ordered here.

The opinions in Politics.co.uk

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Seeing Stars . . .

Looking out of my bedroom window in the early hours I was amazed at the number and brilliance of the stars. Orion clearly visible but so many other that with my somewhat restricted view I could make no guesses as to which constellation I was seeing. Usually when I look out there is a complete cloud cover, so this was a nice change.

The last time we saw stars like this was 30 years ago when we lived in Cumbria. I was in charge of a small church hall at the time and we let it out occasionally for a group of astronomers from somewhere in Lancashire to come up, to observe and sleep. I remember one time I put on a light in the Vicarage and from outside there came a bellow, “Put that light out !” I felt a bit miffed at being shouted out in my own home, but I could understand his distress.

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To See Clearly . . .

To Wigtown again for a noon start after an extremely slow and tedious drive along the A75 in a long caterpillar of card behind a very slow moving lorry. Our aim was a talk by Dr. Suzanne Fagence Cooper on Ruskin and his work as an art critic. In her words, Ruskin raised art criticism to the status of an art form – or words to that effect. There were no sub-titles this time, but I had seen the hearing loop symbol on display on the wall of the room, so after a little fiddling about with my hearing aid I heard most of what was said quite clearly. And, this is the first time in years of hearing aid use that I have found a hearing loop system that actually worked !

Scan from the Festival programme

Dr. Cooper, as you can see above, has written a book called “To See Clearly : Why Ruskin Matters” and I think she made a very good case for her thesis. Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm she had prepared too much material, to which she added occasionally with asides, so that although she did not exceed her allotted time, she spoke at such a rate as to gobble her words and not allow what she had said to sink in a bit.

I expect that that sounds a bit harsh, but it is a case of “been there, seen that, done that”. I have myself taught in the classroom, and done a deal (too much) of public speaking and teaching others about it, and the tendency to put too much in and gabble is common to us all. What seems to the speaker like such a long pause that the audience must think they have forgotten what comes next is to the audience (if they are still awake) is “Hmm, yes, I see” time – hopefully.

The Book Festival is an amazing thing. It has grown from small beginnings, but now when you arrive the first problem is to find somewhere to park – for Oldies, somewhere to park from which you can walk to your destination. The talks we have attended this year and last have been well attended with a pretty well full venue each time, and people willing to join in with questions at the end. And as you leave the next audience is patiently queueing outside. And this, plus side events, goes on for 10 days. When the time comes to find something to eat – there are many eating establishments in Wigtown – we generally go a few miles away as Wigtown itself soon fills up.

On this occasion we drove back as far as Newton Stewart and went into the “Crown” opposite the cattle market and ate in the bar. We have only been in the dining room previously. The bar was surprisingly empty, but of course it was well past most peoples’ lunch hours. It is also good to say that the barmaid cum waitress who dealt with us all was very nice to deal with and whizzed about like a two year old. I had a pint of Belhaven called “Twisted Thistle” (who thinks up these names I wonder ?) which was good, followed by battered haddock and then Cream of Galloway ice cream and coffee. After which we tottered out and came home via the KBT Pharmacy where we collected our various medicines.

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“Bah ! Humbug . . . “

Here is “The Guardian’s” opinion piece on the occupant of No. 10 . . .

There is nothing new here, nothing we did not know before. It highlights the man himself, and also the fact that there are people who will vote for a man like this, who admire him, who fawn on him. We are told we must not make facile comparisons between our present circumstances and those of Germany in the early 1930s.  But the adulation of, and trust in, a personality who is unworthy of that trust is a weakness of human beings. We saw it in Germany once, and now we see it in our own country.  How we get out of this situation, other than by violent means (the Germans tried that too, and failed) I have no idea.  Possibly the man will self destruct in some way, but until we are rid of him and his cronies and backers we are in a situation the likes of which I have not seen here in my lifetime.

* * * * *

“Before last Wednesday humbug had fallen out of favour from parliamentary usage. MPs used the word, on average, once every 127 days since 2010. But the term has been freely bandied about since last week, after Boris Johnson disreputably accused Paula Sheriff, a female Labour MP, of “humbug” because she had complained about the death threats she receives which quote his words. Originally slang from the 18th century that became common currency in Victorian England, humbug was best defined by the philosopher Max Black as an act of “deceptive misrepresentation”. Describing someone’s speech as humbug is not calling them a liar. It is, in some ways, worse. A liar and a truth-teller both respond to the facts. An honest person is guided by the authority of the truth, while a liar defies that authority. A humbugger pays no attention to the truth, preferring their own reality. Mr Johnson is probably the most successful humbugger in British political life.

The prime minister revels in a form of scepticism that denies the idea that the public can have any reliable access to the truth and therefore we ought to reject the possibility of knowing, with any accuracy, how things are. Mr Johnson’s political strategy is to harden others’ positions and define compromise as defeat. He wants leavers to believe that a cost-free version of Brexit exists, which they are being denied through parliamentary incompetence and conspiracy. Mr Johnson trades in an unsubtle level of insinuation and threat. To MPs who defy him, and resist getting Brexit done by 31 October he warns that the country will remain “divided and angry”. This is hardly a person who wants to bring the country together by taking into account the diversity of views around Brexit. It is more like a mob boss saying “that’s a nice country you have, it would be a shame if something happened to it”.

This strongman image has been carefully cultivated. Mr Johnson’s doctrine seems to be whatever the prime minister does is by definition legal. If parliament attempts to compel him to extend Brexit to avoid a damaging no deal, Mr Johnson does not dissuade his audience from thinking there are wheezes available to him to dodge the law. He raises the possibility of a “backlash” against the supreme court because it dared, correctly, to void his decision to suspend parliament for five weeks at a moment of crisis. Mr Johnson plainly believes he has the right to ignore investigations against him. And to Ms Sheriff he offered a classic non-apology about being “sorry” if anyone misunderstood his words.

Mr Johnson appears to do anything for a crowd, gleefully dismissing “gloomsters” with the farcical promise of Brexit’s sunlit uplands. His political persona is well suited to being a fake tribune of the people. Mr Johnson isn’t bound by the truth. When he is not fabricating, he is exaggerating. It is a symptom of the current Brexit malaise that so many people seem willing to be taken in by Mr Johnson, provided there is entertainment to be had. The 2016 referendum was driven by conspiracy theories suggesting the EU had hidden plans to be a superstate, that it wanted an army and the vote would be rigged. The political and economic impacts of leaving the EU were – and still are – shrouded in conspiracy. Mr Johnson’s eye is not on the facts. There is no credible deal with the EU on what Mr Johnson said were “abundant, abundant technical fixes” for the Irish border. The prime minister seems unfazed by the prospect of food and medicine shortages and public disorder envisaged by government officials. The facts are only pertinent to Mr Johnson’s interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether his words describe reality correctly. It is a tragedy that he can so easily just pick them out, or make them up, to suit his purpose whatever the cost to the country.”

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Sub – Titles . . .

“Diary of a Somebody” by Brian Bilston

The Wigtown Book Festival is on at the moment – has just started in fact – and today we went to sit at the feet of Brian Bilston, well known for his poems and now the author of a book called “The Diary of a Somebody“. The talk was given in the old County Building and we saw announced at the top of the screen the name of the outfit providing sub-titles, about which we had not known beforehand, but which to me was a great boon.

Mr Bilston talked first about and read from his book of poems, “You took the Last Bus Home” and I was able to follow what he said very well. The only downside being that sub-titles don’t allow for tone of voice, speed of delivery, or pauses, or the timing of the foregoing with changes of facial or body expression. Technically this is known as “latency” and it is what makes BBC News and Weather so difficult to understand, because the titles are always, and inevitably behind the speaker’s delivery. So, in the case of the weather forecast, you are hearing about Tuesday, or quite possibly Monday, whilst the speaker is well on into Wednesday. And, sometimes if the apparatus gets hung up on a particular word or expression the whole thing just stops, so that on resumption you have missed whole paragraphs. If it is the the News you are watching, and the newsreader passes on to a new topic the sub-titling for the previous topic just ceases.

It is therefore pleasing to report that in this instance the sub-titles kept up with the speaker extraordinarily well and demonstrated convincingly that the BBC, who claim to be developing their systems all the time are in fact way behind the times.

On the way home we stopped at the Galloway Fisherman at Carsluith and had a beautiful meal. My offering began with a mackerel fillet starter and passed smoothly on to prawns in linguine. Excellent. Then from the sublime to the gorblimey, we called in at Tesco and did grocery shopping.

The Kirkcudbright Kite Festival began today and we saw a few hovering over the riverside park as we came and went.

Oh . . . if you haven’t yet bought either or both of Brian Bilston’s books I recommend you to do so forthwith.

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Proportional Representation . . .

Proportional Representation – as in elections – seems to be slowly creeping up the ladder. I have even seen Conservative MPs advocating it. A N Wilson says somewhere in his book “The Victorians” that a Government (or indeed Parliament) will never concede electoral reform unless and until they can see how it can be managed (or mismanaged ?) to their advantage, so I am inherently suspicious of remarks from Westminster. But the knowledge that First Past the Post does not represent the peoples’ vote is not new – and what follows is a cut and paste job from the Electoral Reform Society’s web site . . .

“In January 1884, a diverse group of academics, parliamentarians and members of the legal profession gathered at 7 Clarges Street, Westminster. Brought together by the naturalist, archaeologist and polymath Sir John Lubbock, along with Henry Fawcett (husband of Millicent Fawcett), Leonard Courtney and Albert Grey, it was clear to them that our political system was failing to overcome the challenges presented by the approaching twentieth century.

With 180 MPs in their ranks with equal numbers from the Liberal and Conservative parties, they decided to overcome their differences and found a society dedicated to creating a parliament that could truly represent the nation.

I trust that Great Britain, the mother of Parliaments, may once more take the lead among the great nations of the world by securing for herself a House of Commons which shall really represent the nation.”     (Quote by Sir John Lubbock).

First known as the Proportional Representation Society, this group quickly attracted leading luminaries of the Victorian age, including C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian), the Rev. Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll), and Thomas Hare (the inventor of the Single Transferable Vote).

There were early successes in Australia, Malta and Ireland. But political parties were envious of the power that Westminster’s traditional system gave them.

The Irish government in 1958 and 1968 tried to abolish the use of the Single Transferable Vote and to revert to Westminster’s voting system. On both occasions, future director Enid Lakeman led our successful campaign to protect democracy in Ireland.

With a new base at 6 Chancel Street and renamed the Electoral Reform Society, the society helped ensure that the new Northern Ireland Assembly used the Single Transferable Vote when it was first convened in 1973.

In the late 70s, the Society founded a small-scale ballot services division, led by Major Frank Britton. This eventually became the separate Electoral Reform Services Limited (ERSL), the UK’s market-leading provider of software and services for election management, membership engagement, democracy and governance systems. The Electoral Reform Society’s shareholding in ERSL provided a major source of income to the Society.

As the twentieth century came to an end and the Jenkins Commission proved to be a false dawn, the ultimate goal of bringing fair results to Westminster elections was still just out of reach. But new avenues for reform were opening.

Across the UK, devolution was taking hold and each new assembly was to be elected using proportional systems.

At the start of the 21st century, First Past the Post was on the retreat again. After a vigorous campaign, voters in Scotland had their voice properly heard in 2007 as the Single Transferable Vote was used in local elections for the first time.”

After 135 years perhaps something is beginning to sink it ?

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Hand-outs not wanted . . .

Jojo and his Family

Embrace has been working in war-torn countries for many years. Often people urgently need food, access to safe water or medical supplies. But sometimes what people need is a second chance. A chance for someone whose life has been devastated to build themselves up again when everything has been taken away.

When we met JoJo, pictured above with his family, that’s exactly what he was desperate for. A chance to start again after ISIS took everything he had. JoJo is from Iraq and although I wouldn’t say JoJo is a proud man, I think you will understand why he says that he doesn’t want hand-outs.
JoJo used to live in a small town in northern Iraq. It was a friendly town, the kind of place where everybody knows everybody and where there was also a strong Christian community. Running a small local business JoJo worked hard providing for his family. His mobile cobbler stall provided a good living and his children were doing well in school.
But that is all in the past. In the blink of an eye everything changed.
When ISIS captured the Christian town of Teleskuf, JoJo and his family had no choice but to flee for their lives.
‘They came and took everything away,’ JoJo told us.

JoJo is desperate to get back on his feet again. He wants to be the breadwinner for his family that he always was. Without his income, his family can’t survive. JoJo doesn’t want hand-outs. He knows how to run a small business. He knows how to be successful, but he needs help to get started.

People like JoJo and his family are still facing abject poverty. They have spent years away from their home running from place to place, dealing with crisis after crisis – trying to keep safe. But a helping hand to get his business started again would give his family security and JoJo’s children could go back to school.

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Embrace is one of those charities you seldom hear about. Until recently they were known as “The Bible Lands Society”, and you may have gone carol singing or been to a carol service where the words were on the Bethlehem Carol Sheet, in which case you were using an Embrace resource (in the modern parlance). Embrace has been working in the Middle East for more than a century, but I doubt, Dear Reader, that you even knew it existed ?

I, personally, support Embrace, if you feel you would like to know more please follow the hyperlink.

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