Trump’s killing spree, free speech, bats and abused women, thrilling fireball, the poor and needy and ‘His Dark Materials’

13 December 2020

Iran hanged a journalist last Saturday for encouraging anti-government demonstrations and spreading embarrassing information about officials.  I’m proud to say I was one of some two million people on the anti-war march in 2003 and nobody knows how many children Boris Johnson has, probably not even the man himself.  You know where to find me – bring handcuffs and make a note on my charge sheet that I prefer China tea to Indian.

In America, a Louisiana lorry-driver with an IQ his lawyers believe was so low he qualified as “intellectually disabled”, and therefore ineligible for execution, was killed by injection during the ‘pro-life’ president’s killing spree.  This was the tenth federal death-row execution since Trump approved the reintroduction of federal executions in July, 17 years after a moratorium was introduced, and three more executions are planned in January before Joe Biden takes over and spoils his fun.

People subject to federal death sentences are those judged guilty of a limited number (about 60) of defined crimes.  At state level, about 2,500 additional people have been sentenced to death for ‘lesser’ crimes by the 25 states whose legislators never got past the “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” bit of the Bible, probably because they find reading longer words difficult.

Since 1927, there have been 37 federal executions and the last federal killing ordered by an outgoing president in limbo, waiting for the new president to take over, was 130 years ago.

Well, 300,000 Americans have died this year alone because of Trump’s failure to tackle Covid-19 so what’s a few more?

I wonder if Trump would have been as happy if he was required to spend time with the victim to explain why he’d decided to kill them, and then to insert the needle himself?  Actually, Trump’s so sociopathic, he probably would, except he’s also a coward.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on 10 December 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations and expressly forbids torture and capital punishment but it’s not legally binding and America hasn’t yet signed up to it, believing America knows better than the UN.  It’s a bit like Johnson believing that the EU needs the United Kingdom.

When I heard that Trump had been signing death warrants in somebody else’s blood, I remembered Tom Paxton’s song from the 1960s ‘What did you learn in school today?’, especially the lines

“I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.”

At a local level, I’ve been forcing a man who writes incomprehensible letters to the local paper to reveal himself as being on the far right and somebody else wrote in last week to defend his right to free speech.  When I read this, I realised that, in principle, I’m in favour of free speech but, in practice, I believe there are limits, which reveals more about my personal beliefs than it does about the acceptability of free speech.

I think people should be free to stand on soap boxes and say that everybody of a particular persuasion should be banished from society but I do have a problem with people saying some god will love them better if the hack off their heads.  It’s something to do with the difference between saying publicly what I personally believe, and encouraging others to commit crimes.  Perhaps I really mean freedom of opinion rather than freedom of speech – voicing my opinion is OK but gaslighting others into acting on my opinion is something else.  

I need to think about this so let’s look at some happy things.

At the two (virtual) trustees’ meetings I attended this week, it was apparent that the people who had thought Johnson was the only person who could hold The Party together – which was most of the other trustees – were on the defensive, realising they’d been wrong about this and have changed horses and now say that Jeremy Corbyn would have been even worse. 

This could easily be true but we’ll never know and I’m not convinced anybody could actually have done worse than Johnson.  (To put this in context, I have no party loyalty, I’ve only ever once voted for the party that ended up in power and, in the last three general elections, I’ve voted for our wonderful Independent;  she didn’t get elected but she frightened the sitting MP so much he didn’t stand at the next election, and we haven’t missed him.)

More good news on the commercial front:  some property developers called Bellway plc who demolished a bat roost and/or breeding site in Artillery Place, Greenwich, in 2018 have been fined £600,000 plus costs of £30,000 and have agreed to give another £20,000 to the Bat Conservation Trust. 

In 2019/20, the Bellway directors trousered a total of £2,250,000 so, if the directors – the people ultimately responsible for the company – had together given up less than 30% (actually a maximum of 18% after tax) of their ill-gotten gains that year, it wouldn’t have cost the company anything.

Further proof, if any were needed, that even the most stupid people get onto the boards of public companies.  Even I know that bats are much better protected than abused women and children, the poor and the needy.

We know that people who kill in the name of some religious faith have missed the point, but so have the people who are motivated by money.  Just look at the holy writ of your choice.  For example:

“If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven” (the Christian Bible, Matthew 19:21)

One of the Five Pillars of Islam is Zakat, which requires Muslims to give away money that is more than they need for their essential needs and those of their family, and supporting the poor and the needy is a religious obligation (the Islamic Qu’ran, 9:60)

“Give charity to poor as today you are rich and tomorrow you may be poor” (the Hindu Rig Veda, Book 10, hymn 117, V 5)

On Wednesday, SpaceX’s Starship self-guided rocket prototype roared up, aiming to reach 41,000 feet – that’s one Everest plus one Mt Teide, or somewhere below the altitude Concorde used to fly at.  Then it made a controlled descent, landed at some speed and promptly exploded in a ball of fire.

Elon Musk said he was “thrilled” with the test but the rocket’s “fuel header tank pressure was low” during descent “causing touchdown velocity to be high”;  (in English, “it didn’t have enough fuel to slow it down so it crashed”).  Musk then tweeted “Mars, here we come!!”  Not me, mate, I’m buggered if I’m going anywhere in anything that’s not been fuelled properly.

My own escape and relaxation is an hour each week spent watching a recording of last week’s episode of ‘His Dark Materials’.  I’m finding it much more accessible than the books and the actor playing Lyra, the central figure, is brilliant. 

In last week’s episode, she and the next character shown in the cast list shared a surname so, naturally, I checked and the second one is her father, who is playing Magisterium Cardinal McPhail, one of the nastier characters.  Her mother is also on set as her coach so the chaperone problem is solved, and apparently makes up for the extra costs of transporting them from Spain where they all live.   There’s positive thinking, killing one bird with two stones.

And Caroline Criado Perez, author of ‘Invisible Women’, was pictured this week wearing a T-shirt saying “HALF of all T.Rexes were GIRLS”.  I tend not to wear T-shirts but if they had a car window sticker saying that, I’d buy it.

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