Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

April 2007

GeneralTuesday, April 17th, 2007, (10:43 am)

As yet another school shooting incident happens in the United States, I find myself wondering why this so often happens in America and why we rarely hear of school shootings anywhere else in the world. It leaves me wondering if Americans are actually a savage people or maybe their near fanatical obsession to their constitutional “right to bear arms” is just blinkered thinking in a culture of violence that yesterday saw yet more students gunned down in a place that should be safe.

The latest school shootings will no doubt stir the gun control debate once more. Those people who enjoy firearms will speak up in defense of all the people who have a gun but haven’t yet use it to kill anyone. Politicians will do their best to be sympathetic while trying very hard to slide around the issue of imposing sensible gun control in a country that kills more people with firearms every year than the rest of the developed world combined.

In the year 2000, of the 275 million people living in the United States, 10,801 of them were murdered by someone using a gun. Yet despite having over 100 million more people than the U.S, the European Union saw only 1,260 firearm homicides take place in the same year, and Japan, a country of 127 million people, had just 22 gun related homicides.

As someone who lives in a country with very strict firearm controls, I find myself completely perplexed by the apparent resistance in the United States to gun control laws that might have prevented yesterdays killings, and the 80 or so gun related killings that occur each and every day, in the United States.

According to statistics from Word Heath Organization (in the the World Report for Violence and Health for international firearm mortality), Americans are 175 times more likely to be murdered by someone using a firearm than somebody living in the UK. You might assume that in the UK a killer would instead use another weapon, but figures do not support that assumption. In fact there are still nearly four times as many non-firearm related homicides in the U.S. than the UK according to the report.

The second amendment of the U.S. Constitutions states that “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But there is currently no clear indication of what exactly a “well regulated militia” is.

It seems strange to me that many Americans will cite terrorism as the biggest threat to America today when in truth they are far more likely to be shot and killed in a violent crime than any act of terrorism.

On average, the annual mortality rate from firearms incidents (be that murder, suicide or accidents) in the United States is around 30,000. In 2001, America’s worst ever year of domestic terrorism that saw the twin towers and the Pentagon attacked, 2,996 people were killed by terrorists. Since then, despite the fears of many, the number of victims of domestic terrorism in the U.S. has not even got into double digits, while at the same time another 150,000+ Americans have been killed in gun related incidents.

After 9/11 the U.S. government introduced a raft of sweeping laws that would seem to deeply encroach upon the highly valued “freedoms” of the American people. Oddly enough though, there was little resistance to these so called ‘anti-terror’ laws which were softly sold as ‘making America safer’ to anyone who paid enough attention to ask. Yet after yesterdays school shootings, and the many other such shootings that have occurred, it seems highly unlikely that the American people will demand a similarly sweeping change to make their homeland safer.

In the next few day there will be 33 funerals for the victims of yesterdays school shooting, but despite the obvious dangers and risks of such easy access to firearms it’s unlikely that the President will boldly announce a ‘war on gun crime’ in the same way that war was declared on terror and drugs.

It seems that in the land of the free, the right to own a gun is more important than the lives of the 320 people who will die by the bullet before the end of the week.

The World Report for Violence and Health for international firearm mortality
The impact of firearm deaths on life expectancies in the US
Virginia university shooting kills 33
Meanwhile : Murder by numbers
Gun culture
Guns don’t kill people
U.S. Constitutions
The right to bear arms

Faith & Religion and GeneralFriday, April 13th, 2007, (9:42 pm)

I was going to write this post last week, on the curiously named ‘Good Friday’ holiday. But what with one thing and another time slipped away from me and I decided not to. But then I read my friend Anthony’s latest blog post and decided that I would write about Good Friday and Easter after all.

On Friday I thought about Easter and the whole reason for this national holiday. Jesus died today, I thought to myself, but that thought was quickly followed by the question, Did he really?

The Christian faith believes he did, and that’s why we have this holiday which I am not about to complain about. But as I allowed this train of thought to continue I wondered to myself, how come Jesus always dies on Friday? How come Good Friday never falls on, say, a Monday or a Wednesday. Aside the obvious confusion it would cause to celebrate Good Friday on a Monday I couldn’t think of another reason that seemed to fit.

Christmas day has fallen like a drunkard all over the calendar. One year it’s on a Monday, next a Tuesday, then every so often we have a leap year and that sends it all over the place again. Christmas does, however, always fall on December 25th, meaning that we don’t get to call it something like ‘Really Good Saturday.’

So how come then that Good Friday always has to be a Friday? If it’s a day that commemorates the death of Jesus Christ then why don’t Christians pick a date and stick to it rather like they did with Christmas?

Another thing. Why do we give each other chocolate eggs? Was Jesus a chocaholic? And why an egg? Would it not be more symbolic to give each other a chocolate cross or a big chocolate nail rather like the one the Romans used to nail the poor guy to the cross? Granted, on the Sunday Christians celebrate his resurrection, so maybe perhaps the egg could be seen as symbolic of ‘new life’, but where did the bunnies come from?

I made a mental note to pay some attention to this the next time I sat in front of the alter of Google, but alas like nearly all mental notes that I make, I forgot.

However, on Sunday Romy gave Jeffrey and I an easter egg each. That was sweet of her, but then she explained that easter is a pagan festival “hijacked by the Christians” she claimed. Something to do with the goddess of fertility called Estre? I may have that all wrong of course (doubtless some clever person will correct me), but it got me to thinking about how many Christian festivals have been mixed with pagan festivals. I just learned last Christmas that the Christmas tree is actually some pagan thing too and that Jesus was actually born sometime in our summer?!

I have no problem with Christianity hijacking pagan festivals of course. Dubiously naming the day your saviour was murdered as ‘Good Friday’ seems a little odd, but I’ll let that one go on account of the chocolate that I get on Easter Sunday.

In the name of equality and fairness though I would like to see a few Muslim holidays injected into our Calendar. Not the miserable ones where you can’t eat nice food, but the ones where you can stuff your face and have the day off work too. As with the festival of Estre we could rename some Muslim festivals. For example Ramadan could be renamed Ramitdown in celebration of all the food we get to ram down our our throats! It could have all kinds of commercial benefits. I’m sure restaurants would love an festival like that.

There has to be a few Hindu things we can celebrate with days off work too right? We could have Cow Day where we all eat beef or something. Heck, let the Christians hijack all the festivals they want, if it gets everyone a day off work then I’m all for it.

In the meantime I’m wondering where all the Pagan extremists are. Surely they must be a little upset at the Christians for re-branding all their festivals and celebrations?

Make no mistake, I wouldn’t want to encourage any more hatred in the world but such re-branding of sacred festivals has to be worthy of some kind of Pagan retribution, say a drive by fruiting of a church or something? Heaven forbid that anyone should exercise religious tolerance!

A Glimpse into the History of Easter Candy

Creative MediaFriday, April 13th, 2007, (8:18 am)

I’m an Englishman, and as such I love an English breakfast. We’re not a nation famous for food, but no breakfast hits the spot quite like a ‘full English breakfast.’ Tow rashes of bacon, an egg or two, some beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, and maybe a bit of fried bread too. Heck, just thinking about it makes me hungry.

So inspired by the Citroën C4 car commercial, the people responsible for marketing Danish bacon came up with this rather amusing TV commercial (below). I’m posting it, not just because it’s funny, but because it is loosely connected to a link I included in my post yesterday to another Citroën C4 ad parody which features a 2cv, the car that my friend Romy drives in Wales.

The more I watch this video the more I want a breakfast. There is a breakfast cafe close by which do ‘full English breakfasts’ for £4 ($7.90). It’s called the Shamrock cafe and is a quite awful place that smells of grease, fried food, and second hand cigarette smoke, but their breakfasts will leave you feeling full until dinner!

Citroën C4 ad (the original)
Citroën C4 ad parody : Featuring a 2cv
Citroën C4 ad parody : Featuring a full english breakfast

Photography and TravelThursday, April 12th, 2007, (8:20 am)

Easter in the UK is our longest holiday. For most people it’s a chance to get away over the 4 day weekend from Friday to Monday and with the weather this year being so spectacular the timing was perfect for me to go down to mid Wales and spend a little time at my friend Romy’s country cottage with her and Jeffrey. It was the first time we had been together again since we traveled to India together in 2004.

I awoke on Saturday morning to the sounds of sheep and cows outside my window. I tried to drift back to sleep and perhaps dream that I actually lived here, in a place where the sounds of car or people were rare and replaced instead by the gentle song of nature’s springtime morning symphony.

“This is the life,” I thought to myself as I sat up in bed and looked out of the window at the hills of Wales separated with fences that weave their way across the blanket of green grass and woodlands. Could such a view ever get old, I wondered? Surely not.

I was in mid Wales to spend some time with my friend Jeffrey and Romy at Romy’s farm cottage near the village of Knighton. The easter weather was being unusually kind, treating us to blue sky days on this Easter holiday weekend.

Romy’s cottage is beautiful. The sun floods in through old windows, their frames casting shadows that make the rooms resemble something that might seem more familiar in a painting of years gone.

The day was getting off to an unhurried start and as Jeffrey and I engaged in the kind of chit chat one has when the minutes are as unimportant as the hours that keep them.

A little while later Romy had joined us and we had brunch outside where the stillness amplified the sound of distant sheep, birds and the buzzing of bees that seemed louder than I have ever heard before.

“Do you suppose bee’s have beeways akin to our highways?” I asked. “What like flight paths?” Inquired a smiling and relaxed Jeffrey. There then followed a pondering nonsense conversation about the possibilities of bee’s having to stay on defined flight-paths as they went about the business of being a busy bee.

Sat next to us, also basking in the sun, was Romy’s dog. A husky by the name of Qimmiq that she was given after she travelled across the North Pole by husky sleigh. That story alone gives you some idea of what kind of person Romy is. She’s quite simply one of the most compelling people I have ever met. If her life were a movie I’m quite sure that would be a movie worth watching!

Jeffrey and Romy have been friends for years and their differing personalities compliment each other like wine and cheese. Jeffrey positively oozes Englishness and when he talks about food, a subject in which he is a true expert, his descriptions make you feel like you are watching some off the wall cookery program that you would watch even if you weren’t at all interested in cooking. His radio voice makes everything he says sound like a commercial, and his gift for story telling makes any time with him enjoyable.

After brunch plans were made to drive somewhere in Romy’s fantastically French car and go for a walk. The twenty one year old Citroën 2cv only has a 600cc engine. “If we encounter any steeps hills I’m afraid you boys will have to get out and walk.” Warned Romy who at one stage bravely attempted (and failed) to drive up an unmade road while Jeffrey and I stood beside the road watching.

It seemed the ‘Frenchness’ of the vehicle had somehow rubbed off on Romy who charged around in it like a true French lady might. I’m not sure what I base that on though, I neither know any other 2cv owners nor any French ladies, but if I did I suspect they would drive just like Romy did.

It’s lambing season so newborn lambs were everywhere. They’re cute little things and brave in their newborn stupidity too it would seem. One little lamb decided to run up to us and say hello as we walked through a field of sheep. The presence of Qimmig the husky didn’t deter the fearless little lamb. Eventually it went back to its very concerned mother who I would imagine gave it one hell of a telling off. “Don’t you ever do something like that again, do you hear me! Just wait until I tell you father!”

It’s on days like this when I can see why someone called this country Great Britain. When you look across the green hills under a beautiful blue sky it’s not hard to see what’s ‘great’ about Britain. Sure, we’ve got problems like any other country, but in moments like these those issues fade away leaving you with nothing but the land and the echoes of the history nobody wrote about.

Les, the old Welsh farmer, took this picture of the three of us. It’s about as far removed as it’s possible to be from the other picture I have of the three of us taken at a gypsy village in Tamil Nadu, India, around Diwali time in 2004. I like this new picture of us just as much though. I think I’ll get it printed and pin it on my office notice-board next to the other one. There’s a story to both, if only for the three of us.

[Video] Romy tries, and fails, to get her car up a hill
[Video] Citroën 2cv parody commercial
Our trip to India (Part 1)
Our trip to India (Part 2)

GeneralWednesday, April 4th, 2007, (7:31 pm)

So, I have a new car. I wasn’t about to let a crash put an end to my MG ‘top down’ motoring days, so I went out and got myself another British Racing Green MGF. Only this time it’s a little newer and a lot fast than the old one.

I did look at a couple of other cars that I’ve been interested in. I thought I might take this opportunity to perhaps buy a Smart Roadster, a Lotus Elan, or a Lotus Elise. Though in the end those cars cost a little more than I was willing to spend in cash right now, though I may yet buy one of these cars maybe next year.

In truth, the reason I got essentially the very same car as I already had, was because I hadn’t yet decided to have a new car. I was still enjoying my British Racing Green MG and I wasn’t thinking of getting another car at this stage.

My previous MG had a couple of non-standard items that I removed before it was taken away. A rear windbreak and a sportster roof. These were expensive additions that really made a big difference to the car so I swapped them over onto my new MG. (The windbreak’s key feature is that it cuts down the amount of moaning you get from female passengers who complain that having the roof down messes up their hair!)

This one is a little newer than my old one and has some rather nice spoils which include a full leather interior. I’ve actually had the car for a few days already so I took it out on Sunday and took the above pictures. But today, after a full service, new brake disks and pads all round, and a few other minor jobs, it was given a clean bill of health by my engineer.

Aside the annoyance of having to deal with my insurance company over the claim that I have made, the whole crashing incident has actually worked out very well indeed, and best of all, I’ve got plenty more ‘top down’ days ahead of me!

GeneralWednesday, April 4th, 2007, (2:07 pm)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jnr., once said. “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.”

King was shot and killed 39 years ago today. In death he has become an iconic figure whose words have echoed through history. So today I thought I would share with you the quote below which is especially interesting as our soldiers fight another war in a far of land.

“Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”

Bleeding heart liberal

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