Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Observing & Discerning Blog has Moved!

I've recently moved all of my blogs, including this one and my photography blog, to Wordpress.  You can find the new Observing & Discerning blog here.  Same type of content - thoughts in the worlds of economics & politics and also observations on art, culture, religion and philosophy.

I also have a new photography website where you can find my new photography blog.  And one more addition to my portfolio of life content: a blog about food, cooking, parties and food photography. You can find this blog here. Happy wonder hunting!

Friday, 15 January 2016

Clever Bait & Capture

This is the type of flyer/advertisement you see a lot of in January:

Yes, January always means getting fit and 'detoxing'.  And though this postal flyer asserts that their programme helps people to feel free from toxins that would otherwise 'impede one mentally and spiritually,' it isn't clear that it's actually from a religious organisation.  The leaflet refers the reader to the 'Purification Rundown' with an invitation to take a 'toxic test.'  In order to take this test, one must provide contact details.  And there - they've got you. You have to look at the tiny small print on the bottom of the fourth page of the promotional material to see that this programme and the book for sale, Clear Body Clear Mind by L. Ron Hubbard, are being marketed by the Church of Scientology. Let me repeat that: the organisation that is recommending a body detox through fee-based books and education programmes is a church.

I don't have a problem with detox programmes or religion.  But what I do feel is disingenuous here is that the Church of Scientology has never been upfront about what it believes about ultimate reality to prospective members.  And why is that?  I've been asking that question to those who send me emails from the CofS for years.  And still don't have an answer. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Hemorrhaging of Political Capital

After hearing a speech given by a Member of Parliament recently in London, a couple of questions came to mind, though there wasn't time in the Q&A to ask on the night.  I therefore wrote this person the following email:
I wanted to express my gratitude to you for speaking so eloquently last night at the [ ]. The talk was informative but also hilarious.  I had two questions that I wanted to ask you but there wasn't time last night.  These are in relation to political capital.  Do you think that the public perception of politicians in Westminster has improved since the expenses scandal?  Do you consider the public's trust of politicians important and if so, what can be done to improve this?  Secondly, in general, how do you think the political class view the citizens of the UK?  Did you ever see the episode of The Thick of it when Hugh Abbot gives his opinion of the public?  It would be funny were it not true  But is it true for a high proportion of MPs?  I think that when there's mutual disdain between the electorate and their representatives, we have a very serious problem indeed.  I'd hate to see the UK go the way of America in this regard.
This MP's assistant replied on his behalf.  The MP pointed me to the Hansard Society's annual Audit of Political Engagement which looks into matters such as these.  In the most recent report, the Audit 'depressingly' concluded that 'the results are...strongly indicative of public opinion.  They reflect the downward trend in public attitudes to standards found in earlier studies.'  See page 55 of the report!

With regard to my question about how politicians view constituents, the MP wanted to reassure me that he holds the public in the 'highest regard' and though he couldn't speak for his fellow parliamentary colleagues, he felt  that the vast majority hold a similar perception of the public.  

The MP also referred me to the analytical work of Professor Phil Cowley and Dr. Rosie Campbell from September 2013 which suggests that those who have contact with their local MP are likely to have a 'marginally more generous opinion of him or her than those who have not.'  Direct contact, this MP surmises, between the electors and the elected can help 'bridge the gap between perception and reality.'  So in conclusion, the MP disagreed with my impression that constituents and politicians hold each other in mutual disdain, though he believes that this situation has room for improvement through MPs ensuring that the voices of their constituents are heard in Parliament.  

The MP concluded his note with the statement that 'it is, of course, impossible to please everybody all of the time, but this is a fact of life, not just of politics.'  I agree, of course that's true.  But it would please far more people if we felt that politicians behaved more transparently and did fewer horse trading deals with powerful individuals and sectors at our expense. We're just asking for politicians to act in the best interests of the majority of the British people over the long-term.  That would go further to repairing the damage of scandal after scandal.

Monday, 30 November 2015

The Anonymous Million Mask March is Back!

Bonfire night in Trafalgar Square meant Anonymous were out in force again this year.  There were many warnings by the Met for the protesters to behave.  They were permitted to organise in Trafalgar Square, proceed down Whitehall, protest in front of 10 Downing Street, and then carry on to Parliament Square, ending in front of the Treasury.  I have a great deal of sympathy for this group - particularly in their fight for economic and social justice as well as using social media to to disempower some IS members on the internet.  One thing I do object to somewhat is the drinking and smoking some followers of Anonymous do before the march.  It leads to some dangerous behaviour and whilst walking to Downing Street, I felt I had to march with the police rather than the demonstrators in order to keep my camera (and myself) safe!

Living Cheek by Jowl

The Evening Standard had an article today about the differences in urban planning between London and Paris, saying that whereas the low income inhabitants live in the banlieues of outer Paris, whilst London is characterised as having a 'multicultural mosaic of rich and poor living cheek by jowl in borough.'  I recently took a little expedition to the Ashcroft Square Estate above the Kings Mall and then on to Buckingham Palace where I knew there would be demonstrators raising awareness of objections they have with the visiting Chinese premier.

The Ashcroft Estate is the one you see when you walk from the car park to the Kings Mall.  Whilst all of Hammersmith is quickly upgrading and resurrecting, the estate appears to stay the same.  I really hope that at some point it will be included in the beautification of the  borough - and allow the residents to stay.

I've never seen the Mall with the home flags of visiting dignitaries so I was looking forward to photographing those.  Little did I know just how colourful and exciting the photoshoot was going to be. 

Powder Keg in Palestine

In light of the increased tension and violence in Jerusalem over the course of the past month (including 30 Palestinians deaths and 7 Israelis), a Protest for Palestine was held on the 17th of October on Kensington High Street opposite Kensington Palace Gardens where the Israeli Embassy is located.  The demonstration was organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, Palestinian Forum in Britain and Friends of Al-Aqsa Mosque.  I shot two not dissimilar protests last year (one directed at the BBC and one at 10 Downing Street).  In their demonstration notice, Stop the War Coalition stated:
We have come together to oppose this escalating attack on Palestinians.  We welcome all who stand with us in our opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.  Supporters of Palestinian rights encompass all faiths and none.  Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, religions and non-religious people all stand together on this protest….We stand with Palestinians in their struggle for a future free of racism, colonialism and apartheid.  There is no place for racism in a progressive movement fighting for justice and human rights.
I was fortunate at be able to get right into the centre of crowd where several individuals were leading the chanting prior to speeches.  What I find fascinating about these protests are the large range of people participating – from young to old and of all races.  From a photographic point of view, what I found particularly ironic is the juxtaposition of this extremely serious subject with the seemingly carefree posh shopping area of Kensington.