Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Hooded Claw of Green Energy

A turbine doth not a Green company make

I’m keen to leave Britain’s Big Six main energy suppliers behind and have been shopping for a new one over past months. I wrote to all the ones I liked with a list of identical questions not answered on their website. I was very disappointed by most of their overall answers.

Being green is not just about solar and wind generated energy and a rejection of nuclear and fossil fuel. Green is a world view that starts with equality, respect and justice. I’m reading the No Nonsense Guide to Green Politics at present, a New Internationalist publication by Derek Wall. And it reiterates my understanding that greens are generally against capitalism, for freedom and liberty and highly critical of the financial philosophies and behaviours that have caused global suffering.

So why do several green energy companies do credit checks – a system created by the American banks who are at the heart of the economic bubble that’s just burst? The values behind credit checks are very capitalist, whilst the creators fail their own criteria. And credit checks are intrusive – something I know greens dislike from their criticism of current welfare practices.

Most sites want direct debit – again, benefitting banks, themselves, but not customers. We lose control over money leaving our account (causing banking fees if we don’t have enough), and we pay more than we use. There’s been reports of quite large average overpay for most customers using direct debit (also true if you have a payment plan on a low income, with or without direct debit).

Most worrying was their relationships to debt collection. The policy of cutting off supply even in winter, revealed by accident when I lobbied against yet another price rise, is why I am leaving my current supplier (not because it happened to me, just the principle). Ecotricity lauds itself as especially ethical, taking the time to show up other companies on their website, and is advertised by the Green party. (I am not sure about an energy company and a party going together). I’d like to point out that Ecotricity has the worst debt collecting policy of all the independents, as bad as the Big Six energy companies. Despite being all over my local paper this week, effectively giving themselves a free ad, they omit that you go into collections after 2 weeks after a bill is outstanding. They may charge for debt recovery, including in relation to a previous occupant’s alleged bill! And they could cut you off in as little as a month – worse than the company I’m leaving! And debt/reconnection costs will be incurred. That rubbishes any claim of being ethical, green or different. And means I will not become a customer. Plus they seem like awful employers, with their “rigorous retesting” of the customer service staff. Ethics extend to customer service and employees and there’s definitely a gap here.

Ovo can add late fees. But they won’t cut off supply; they told me that categorically they’ll work with you to pay off outstanding balances.

Another un-green thing is holding customers into contracts with exit fees – a deeply capitalist idea.
Nearly all do it, especially on fixed rate schemes.

I’d also like to query why dates of birth have become mandatory when you sign up to an energy company. What do you need this intrusive and identifying information? I didn’t have to give it when I signed up to my current supplier, but I note I would have to now as a new customer with them. This has put me off my new chosen supplier, and the tone of the terms and conditions that I don’t think I could see until going to the signing up process. (I cancelled it to have a think).

None of the green energy companies offer a low income scheme and several charge a bit higher than main companies.

Finally – beware price comparisons. Every company has exaggerated my old supplier’s bills and claimed a saving, which I am cynical of. Already one of the many suffering with fuel poverty, I really don’t need a rise when I try very hard to be a low and responsible energy user.

I’d like to think that energy companies took heed and made all of their business – not just the Tellytubby windmills – truly Green (not necessarily in the party sense) but in having bottom line values which are ethical, not just for a simple price plan and a natural design on their website!

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George Galloway – I’m Not The Only One

I first found the Respect party when I did a search for alternatives to the main ones. I was  intrigued by a social justice, anti war eco driven new political group and wanted to know more about George, their best known MP. I thought I might support and learn from him.

I have come to see him as the caustic Caledonian  – Labour’s Lucifer.

I’m Not The Only One is a hard book to read – not because I can’t understand it, though he does have a wide vocabulary, and his own word “obfuscate” best describes his writing style with sentences constructed like this – but because of his tirade. After the introduction, I wondered if I could manage the rest of the book as I felt I’d been battered with an energy like Michael Moore’s, but more erudite and snide. Happily, the tone lets up a little, but it is still an intense diatribe, though profanity free. George is often very personal and insulting about other politicians. He rarely explains a situation so you only get the George rant, which feels off kilter and his long multi clause sentences seem to hide answers to or ignore the many questions a reader will have.

George spends much time aggrandising or in apologetics. He speaks of his love for Iraq, which at first was very interesting to hear a passionate description of this country  – one he claims he knows better than anyone else in Britain. But the other thread of this book is the love that jilted him, the Labour party whose exclusion after over 30 years of marriage was still very raw in this 2005 book. He defends various things said about him regarding Saddam Hussein, Mariam the Iraqi child he brought to Britain for leukaemia treatment; the War on Want funds; a transcript of his trial in Washington – but not exactly why the Labour Party claimed to need to put him on trial. He often depicts himself as a hero – and a victim.

He had not yet parted ways with Respect leader Salma Yaqoob; and this book is before his Big Brother/Jungle appearances, and that awful rape comment, which he refused to rescind. It is pre the infamous Jeremy Paxman interview when he’d just won the London seat, and though he happily put down Britain’s rudest current affairs presenter, George repeated what seemed a deeply racist and thoughtless statement for someone who claims to understand the Middle East so well. From his website, it seems his style and sentiment hasn’t changed, treating his recent Ed Miliband meeting in the same way.

Reading this book was like a rickety high speed train where you’re glad to get to the end of the journey – or disembark early.

I am surprised but glad that Penguin has published this – it shows freedom of speech being endorsed by a major publisher. For there are some shocking accusations is this book about the truth of US/UK governments and their behaviours, particularly in the Middle East. And sadly, I think they are true. And for bringing those horrors to our attention and daring to say such against grain going risky statements, I applaud George.

I do think that George genuinely wants a better world and has taken brave steps towards that. I’m just not sure about all his methods of getting there.

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Bins of Brighton

The Independent’s reporting of the bin problems in Brighton this weekend was pretty irresponsible and unbalanced. I scoured other newspapers but could only find a local online site and the Argus, the city’s newspaper; and the Socialist Worker who disappointingly took a swipe at a near cousin.

 

On the local Green party’s website, it was clear that the refuse collectors had gone to work that morning. But by the end of the day, the Independent’s website still omitted that, despite readers commenting that the strike was off – for now.

 

The way the i reported it made it clear that they were for the striking bin workers and against the Green led council whose changes resulted in the industrial action. It seems though that theses rubbish collectors had striked before, during the previous government.

 

The Independent printed the views of residents who were passionately Labour and ‘would never vote Green now; they were just like everyone else after all’.

 

I have a suspicion that the only Green council in Britain was given an unusually cut budget to make this progressive party, the most diverse from the ruling one, fail.

 

This is unfair since it is the Green’s first chance to be leaders, and what happens in one city isn’t a reflection of them as a whole – and nor is one incident or even leadership representative of even Green’s current administration in Brighton and Hove.

 

The problems are around a pay restructure which allegedly means up to £4k less per annum.

I’ve been trying to find out how much bin workers are paid, and some accounts say £30k+ -if so, I do not pity them a small loss as that’s already a huge wage, far more than many others get. No sources about Brighton’s problems spell out the workers’ wages, which changes one’s sympathies somewhat – only the potential loss.

 

I am completely against striking as a means of protest, making your community suffer because another party is not appeasing you. I know that many Greens support striking but I never think that industrial action is fair. It is the same ethos as taking hostages – hurt an innocent 3rd party until you get what you want.

 

Whereas other British national papers have seemingly ignored the situation (though my local mentioned it), it is unfair that biased reporting has sought to whip up bad feeling against one of our most well intentioned parties (and by that I include all existing parties).

 

My own experience of Green councillors has been very positive.

 

I am not a political party supporter but I do think that the Green’s policies are a far cry from the usual crowd and based on an ethos of caring, responsibility and genuine concern – which is exactly what government, local beyond, should be about.

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It’s only a body!

It is a travesty that a man who is not sexually harassing but campaigning is jailed again for nudity. Personally, the only dongle I’d like to bear near is the one that is powering me as a write, as I’m not keen on public nudity – I’d feel deeply uncomfortable if Stephen Gough sat next to me on a plane. But I do not think this should be imprisonable or some kind of peace breach.

I like what the Naked Rambler told a Guardian journalist last year – that the underlying principle is living an authentic life versus the one you’re expected to. And he won’t give in on his cause.

We have a bizarre attitude to nudity. It’s rated alongside horror an violence with full nudity, especially for women, being outlawed. But it’s a body, not something to be ashamed of or offended by. Yes nudity can feel uncomfortable and personally I would reserve it for lovers only. But to make a body something you can be incarcerated for, something censored from cinema screens, something this man can spend years put away for, is utterly wrong. I was more upset that the judge who sentenced him in absentia (since he wouldn’t wear clothes for the hearing) considers this a serous issue.

So do I… for our warped ideas, meanwhile our governments commit atrocities and allow various kind of criminal, who have run our country, stay free. I know who I think deserves prison more.

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A Village Affair by Joanna Trollope

1980s Wiltshire, England: a new young family joins the prosperous conservative village of busy bodies and committees… but Alice finds herself drawn most into the gentry’s wayward daughter Clodagh… 

This story would work better if it were not about lesbians. There is social collateral around this subject. People reading it are likely to be one or be affected by them. Whereas a novel can give great support and understanding to real life issues, this book seems to say that lesbians are shocking and unsuitable as realistic partners. At one point – late after the affair is discovered – Alice tells her father in law that love between women has always been belittled and made to seem a bit foolish. That would be true of this book.       

The reactions of everyone in the story give credence and permission to all the bigots to carry on being shocked and judgemental. Only teenage Michelle resigns her work at the shop in protest; and the only other kind person is pushed away and makes little effect on others. The overlooked father in law sounds like he is going to sympathise; but he says: if you’d married a better man, this wouldn’t have happened. At the very end, Alice is comfortable and independent and her snooty friend confesses how Alice is missed. And the new local vicar supports her. But it’s many pages too late.

If this had been a hetty affair, a selfish liaison that makes someone come alive would make sense. But love between women is something else, and I wonder if Joanna understands it. Does she not realise that many women come out after several years of marriage, to realise this is who they are, what they have hidden about themselves? She makes Alice ripe for this, a young unsure woman from an unhappy home who feels safe and adopted by her boyfriend’s family and accepts the life he offers but never feels quite right. There’s no hints about feelings for women until Clodagh bursts out hers presumptuously.

Clodagh and Alice are not given a chance to talk about whether they could live together realistically. We know that Alice’s children adore Clodagh and that she is involved in their family in a practical way. The affair comes up without a conversation and dies again in much the same way.

I hated how passive so many are against the nosy control of others – Lettice feeling she has the right to tell Clodagh to get a life; the vicar calling inlaws and a doctor to give powerful drugs to make Martin sleep, parents arriving on doorsteps without permission.

Although the affair does mean a new stronger start for Alice, that Martin finds the right woman, and that Alice’s parents have a better relationship, there are many who lose out. Martin’s family are banished and have no growth in their own marriage and lose the mother or their grandchildren who was like a daughter to them. The villagers aren’t really ever challenged over their reaction, nor learn from it. And Clodagh is on an aeroplane, alone, to God knows what but the god of the story gives no clue; her fierce heart broken, but not really having learned or gained anything else.

I was also unsure about Joanna’s storytelling style. The beginning is slow – there’s nothing to draw us in and only at the end of the 1st chapter do we see that Alice is mysteriously upset. The style is short and not great writing to start with. We don’t meet Clodagh for 70 pages. There’s a lot of back story – ch 2 is filling us in on the parent’s lives like a biography. She gives details about carpets, hair and plants which sometimes slow down the e/motion. When she does give us action and dialogue, it is often in doubly past tense –  “he had said” – putting up glass, making us feel we’re watching a live event on video and are not really there.

This scenario might have been chosen for its taboo and tension, but I think it has done damage, and has perpetuated the struggles of gay women in the midst of Thatcher’s section 28 law into modern times when I hope we should know better and to give this complex situation the understating and support on all sides that it deserves.

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Hare Hare Christian

Different message and cultures – same method of evangelism

 

I had a surreal moment this week. I sat in a building I know well, but instead of ordered western rational church services, there were people dancing to ever more frenzied mantras with drums, in the bright colours of India for the Festival of Spirit.

 

I tried not to think of my evangelical family as I listened, feeling quite alien and a little furtive into my first foray into public Eastern Spirituality. But a thought struck me that I have had in every church I have been to – and I claim to have tried every branch of Christianity – all have the same methodology, the same tone. The people might be different, the buildings, trappings, the words… but essentially, in ebullient outreach mode, are scarily the same. And it is true of these mendicant Hare Krishnas.

 

We were hyped up by a simple song, which also closed the evening. The speaker was a Caucasian dressed in robes, but his voice was just like the preachers of my Christian Union days. The talk wasn’t intellectual but it was clever from an oratory technique. That smooth, colloquial, I’ve been where you are voice. Not the calm of senior Buddhists or contemplative Christians, nor the rant of the traditional protestant and political demagogue, but I say again, smooth, in both senses: The well rehearsed story of Bhagavad-Gitas (re)appearing in spooky ways in people’s lives and changing them; the “you can every penny back of you don’t like it” speech  – this was free, including, cunningly, a meal; the drama sketch designed to lampoon British ignorance and imperialism (which felt at least 50 years too late)… all gave little real content. I still don’t really understand what a Hare Krishnan believes. But then a Christian preacher wouldn’t take you on journey of theology and church history at a Gospel rally. They too would find things you’d notice were lacking in the world, find sore points in your own life; flatter you a little for coming and having the sense to look for something new; even acknowledge some were only here for the food – which we had to wait 2½ hours for – and was not a good way to convert to vegetarianism, as intended.

 

Also like my last experience of a Pentecostal church, I was accosted before the meeting began by a person eroding my personal space and another who kept looking at me conspicuously throughout the meeting, probably for not clapping and chanting the name of a god I don’t personally deal with (or perhaps I do, under a different name – a thought I would not let occur 15 years ago!) At the Pentecostal meeting, I saw another man, similarly harassed, slip out for a fag. Although I am passionately anti smoking, I was tempted to join him and commiserate, as I too fled. It was only the meal that made me stay at with the Hare Krishnas – and that early nonconformist chapels are hard to escape from, with their pillars and pews – and the only free exit blocked by the Hare team using it as a kind of Green Room.

 

Unlike Christian meetings, there was no altar call, no asking for prayer or Holy Spirit/anti demon whip up, though like the cult in Holy Smoke with Kate Winslet, the music would have been enough to incite ecstasy and euphoric experiences. There was nothing in the meeting that made me curious enough to read more, although perhaps I should have a look at another holy book. Again, its presentation reminded me of fundamental Christians – a literally happened story with all the answers of life, just as you need them.

 

I shall not look at that chapel the same, but think my current flavour of faith suits me better.

At least I can’t be accused of not trying anything different!

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Anne Boleyn – champion of free thinking

Although Anne is the mother of Elizabeth, for me – Elizabeth begat Anne.

When Elizabeth (1998) became my favourite film, I wondered who “your mother the whore” was, and gradually took a step back in time to the previous generation – and there found an equally, if not even more remarkable woman. 

The first time I read about Anne Boleyn was in 2002 and I came to her almost in ignorance. I dismissed people in my lunch hour, saying I was in 1533 and not available. As I read Philippa Gregory’s novel about Anne’s sister, I suddenly remembered the rhyme about Henry’s wives and what was going to happen. 

By the time Gregory’s venomous pen had done depicting this conniving, hard, brutal woman, I was willing Anne to be executed; but by the time I picked up Vercor’s book, I wanted to put flowers on her grave. 

Vercors  is a photographer’s pen name, whose novelised biography says that the evil, grasping concubine did not make sense; and that underneath the deliberately etched layers was a heroine – for women, for  England – but most of all, free thinking believers. And strangely, it took a Frenchman trying to make sense of our independence from Hitler in the second world war to see it. 

Just as Joan of Arc was resurrected at a time of resurgent nationalism in France, it seems Anne Boleyn is ripe for a similar rediscovery on many levels – yet she has not really been used. 

The harsh view of Anne prevailed over four centuries, but there seemed to be a concurrent re-imagining in the 1980s. Professor Eric Ives, historic fiction writer Jean Plaidy, and Vercors all published in around the same year. Theirs was a different Anne to what had gone before – a maligned woman of sympathy, talent – though complex and potentially with a hard streak. And except for Philippa Gregory, books all have followed this portrayal since – whether they be fiction or academic – but not yet on the screen. Howard Brenton’s recent play is all about the debt that King James  and his Bible owed to the supposed strumpet a hundred years earlier.                    

Joanna Denny’s focus is summed up by her idea that Anne was a neo-Esther, something Anne herself propagated by having her chaplain preach on this in front of the royal court. Likening Anne to Esther recalls not wicked grasping Jezebel but another Old Testament queen, chosen by the king, which gave her an opportunity to save her minority group of endangered religious people. Denny emphasises Anne’s controversial new beliefs and her daring work to use her position to promote them when such beliefs were persecuted. Denny sees Anne as wooed against her wishes and morals, and argues that the portrait (quite literally) was deliberately obscured by her enemies. The dark features, mole and sixth finger are traits attributed in the 16th C to diabolism which were invented to destroy the memory of this powerful woman. 

Professor Ives and Joanna Denny write about her faith extensively, the latter making it Anne’s principle driving force.  

I’ve read in fiction and academic sources of Anne’s forbidden religious book (The Obedience of a Christian Man by William Tyndale) being stolen by Wolsey and given to Henry. Anne uses this opportunity to discuss the book’s radical ‘New Learning’ contents with Henry, and so influence him with protestant beliefs. 

Henry was not interested in reforming the church. After Luther pinned his 99 points on that church door, Henry wrote an impassioned, I think quite immature letter to defend the catholic church. It was his advisor Thomas Cromwell who is understood to have used Henry’s marriage and pope dilemma to allow divergence of belief to come openly and safely into England, and I believe that Anne and Cromwell initially worked together on this. 

What Anne’s beliefs were and how to term them might need some clarification. She has been called evangelical. The term ‘evangelical’ – not quite as we understand it –  was less radical than the Lollards, and not really heretical. It was not the same as being Protestant. The key features of evangelicalism, as today, were reading the bible for oneself; accessing God direct and not through a priest; being against superstition; and on one’s personal relationship with God – which are not unlike Unitarian principles. Anne is said to have exposed the fake miracle at Hailes abbey of Christ’s flowing blood (actually provided thought a duck’s blood dispensing machine). Anne has been spoken of as Lutheran .Yet Karen Lindsey and Ives claim that Anne’s faith was not wholly opposed to the established church, and that she had a confessor and took mass, and did not denounce transubstantiation – only its trappings. 

It might occur to some that if Anne had a reformed faith, that scheming involving adultery, wealth and power are incompatible with it. Ives says that 16th C didn’t see God’s and personal glory as incompatible; as some people today feel wealth is part of their spirituality.

Something which is not readily emphasised about Anne is her moral household –  and her generosity to the poor which went beyond the usual royal favour.  She expected her ladies to sew for the poor, and was likely to be behind a poor reform bill of 1536. She was also a patron of schools and universalise, and rallied for her patronees. Being a reluctant focus of passion and harassment is very different to pursuing Henry purposely – and she did refuse to be his mistress. 

Belief is a choice, and is ultimately, I believe what appeals rather than on argument and proof alone (that subject is another article). So I choose to see Anne as an Esther, a renaissance woman of power, taste and intellect, and I take particular interest in her reformed faith. Anne’s faith was of intellect and heart with practical outworking. And it allowed divergence into non conformism.

I therefore with others think that it was not Henry, and not really William Tyndale that caused the English reformation – but Queen Anne Boleyn of England, the Moost Happy [sic], who was crowned (depending on which calendar you use) this week, 480 years ago.

 

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