Friday, March 25, 2011

Life, my children and what are birds saying? And will it get worse or just very, very bad?

We've come a long way as far as animals are concerned and believe we know a lot more about them. Undoubtedly, future research will demonstrate beyond doubt that a great deal of what we now 'know' is complete cobblers, and research conducted even further in the future will demonstrate that the certainties of 2211 were just so much bullshit. But that is the way of the world, nothing much changes, and I don't think we should fret too much that our present knowledge is wanting.
When my daughter was born 14 years ago, it seemed a miracle had occurred. Naturally, I knew she was on her way - I like to think I had something to do with setting her off on her journey and my wife assures me that is the case - but even though a day before she was born my wife's belly was grossly distended with the child she was carrying, when little Elsie did finally make her debut - at 11.42am on August 7, 1996 - it seemed to me that she had come from nowhere. Suddenly she was there, a new life and a new person.
Her birth changed me, I hope for the better. One way I have previously described it is that my centre of gravity shifted from within to without. I also had a new conception of 'life'. 'Life' was everywhere, and 'life', which in those first few days and weeks of wonder always came back to be defined as this little bundle which was my child and which, it seemed, had come from nowhere, became far more valuable. I have never seen animals as 'dumb', although I have never sentimentalised them, either. But suddenly - and it was suddenly - the 'life' in a dog or a cat or in one of the bullocks on my brother-in-law's farm which were being reared merely to be slaughtered once they had reached a certain weight and size, was no less valuable than the 'life' which suffused my daughter. I could, at a pinch, have become a vegetarian. I took fright, when driving across the moor one of the thousands of rabbits which live there darted out from one side of the road in front of me in case I should run it over and kill it. I felt sad when I heard the cows next door in my brother-on-law's farm lowing over the disappearance of their calves - after a few a month or two, the calves are taken from their mothers to be reared elsewhere and all night the desperate mothers call out in grief. It might sound fanciful, but their grief was and is in no less than the grief I would have felt had my daughter been take away from me.
That feeling of wonder has slightly diminished, although the love and protective concern I feel for my daughter and the brother who arrived just under three years later is no less strong, but nor have I lost that wonder at 'life'. And life is everywhere. Often the wind can blow, and I am reminded of 'life'. Sometimes I look at plants and I grow confused: surely this is just a bloody nettle, so why does it remind me of 'life'. But it does remind me of 'life', and that 'life' makes of me a man who unashamedly believes in God. I have no idea what, who, why, where, when or how 'God' is. The only thing I know is that he or she or it is unknowable. But he or she or it is the essence of everything.
But this entry is not and was not intended to become a maudlin recollection of sentiment. All these things occurred to me again - again, because they are always close to the surface now, since the birth of my daughter - when I was walking the few hundred yards down the lane to visit my stepmother this afternoon. Today, March 25, 2011, was a lovely day, as was yesterday. The leaves and buds aren't yet out, but the weather is mild, the air is fresh and there is a whole spring, summer and autumn to come. Who couldn't feel enthused. But it was the birdsong which caught me.
At dawn, birds make a hell of a racket. Then, as the day goes on, they become quieter, but still sing. They only cease as the day draws to a close an hour or so before twilight. Their song intrigues me. I know various (whatever they're called) have made many, many in-depth studies of birds and birdsong, but the fact is we simply do not have a clue as to what is going on. But when, as this afternoon at about 5.10pm, I walk down the lane and several solitary birds are singing away their complex songs, I cannot and will not believe, that it is just something a little higher than 'noise'. Certainly, we are assured that 'this is a mating song' and that is a 'territorial song' but at the end of the day we know absolutely bugger all about what is going on, and why. Nothing. Zilch. And when I hear those complex songs I ask myself: is this an individual bird giving some kind of personal account of him or herself? Is he or she actually - well, the only word I can use, however silly it sounds in context is talking? Is this all really just 'reflex reaction', 'genetic behaviour'? Given that birds have spent far longer on this planet than primates, having evolved from dinosaurs, might, just might, it be possible that they are, in their own curious, quite specific way be 'communicating'. And not just 'communicating' along the lines of 'I am a female ready and will for a shag in order to fertilise my eggs and perpetuate my kind' but in some more specific way?
Well, I don’t' know, you don't know and mankind, hubristic species that it is, will never know. But when I hear that cow lowing for its lost calf, or see those bloody stupid rabbits dart across the road in front of me, and when I see 'little Elsie', now 14 with small breasts and attitude, and 'little Wesley', now 11 and a penchant for wanting to wrestle with me and again feel that wonder of 'life' I first discovered 14 years ago when 'little Elsie' was born, I do wonder.

. . .

Decision on decision 'just days away' we are promised. Nato convenes to decide date for a meeting to discuss agenda for possible future policy. Don't think me naive (well, do so, by all means, but that will only get you banned from reading this blog) and accept that I truly understand the difficulties in trying to round up 35 unwilling cats, but all too often the West's - in this case Nato's - response to a crisis descends into what would be farce were the circumstances not to tragic. 'More demonstrations in Syria' I read on the BBC news website, with 'gunfire heard after funeral of repression victims', then in another report we are told that Nato is 'all in favour of a considered, proportionate and effective response to [insert your favourite crisis hotspot here]', while EU leaders 'condemn unequivably and in the strongest language we can think of without running the risk of actually psetting someone' actions by various thugs around the world, more particularly Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
Of course the West faces dilemmas - it doesn't particularly want to upset Saudi Arabia, for example, by commenting on just how repressive that regime is. Such talk would only threaten oil supplies (and China is only too willing to buy up all the Saudi's have to offer if the West falls out of favour) and who else is going to keep our armaments industry going if we piss off all the dictators in the world - but behaving like some ugly virgin on her wedding night only makes it look very foolish.
I should dearly like to be around in 50 years time when I would be able to read a considered and sobre analysis of 'the situation which began to develop in early 2011', because understanding what is happening and how it will develop over the coming months and years is anyone's guess. All this is happening while Portugal is going to the wall with, and to make matters worse for everyone involved, it looks suspiciously as though the opposition social democrats are playing politics in order to get into government instead of supporting the government in a time of crisis. It is also becoming so blatantly obvious that Germany is extremely and increasingly disinclined to bail out all and sundry - well, the German taxpayer is, not necessarily the politicians who are always very keen to do the noble thing is someone else is picking up the bill - that its reluctance is being spoken of quite openly and is now regarded as a political factor. And why should they: it is all so easy, as many are now discovering, to embrace hi' falutin supranational communitarian ideals in a time of plenty, but when the going gets tough, it is usually those ideals which fly out the window soonest.
We have heard suspiciously little from Russia about the crisis in the Middle East. (Is it too early to call it a crisis? I don't know. Perhaps I'll wait a week or two.) But then Russia has always played its own game, and is sitting pretty while the U.S and the West get themselves into all kinds of trouble by insisting on being Mr Nice Guy withoug actually having a coherent strategy of any kind.

. . .

To blame, of course, are the media, and specifically television. My map below should give you a fair idea of how TV crews have been deployed to keep the 'concerned viewer' up to date. Each white flag represents a camera crew. Hacks of every
stripe have been filing reports about atrocities in troublespots more or less since mankind learnt to read and write, but for the past 35 or thereabouts, nothing can happen anywhere with some bloody TV crew sticking a camera lens up someone's arse and demanding to know what going on. And its all rather pointless. The theory is that 'in a democracy' people have the 'right to know' and 'be informed'. Which is all fine and dandy, but in practice 99 per cent of us have got the attention span of a flea and two and a half minutes of seeing images on bombing and tsunami victims is more than enough, before we demand to see footage of the Oscars or the Ryder Cup or Elizabeth Taylor's funeral or Michael Jackson's resurretion. Years ago the Economist did a survey: it asked a whole gang of people whether or not they supported the the then government's policy on someting or other. A majority said they did, many unequivocally. Then those who said they did were asked what that policy on something or other was. Less than a quarter knew. So on the one hand we crave TV coverage and demand to know what is going on, but on the other we pray to God they keep it short or else we'll miss the beginning of EastEnders.
The upshot of all this TV coverage is that politicians feel obliged to be seen to be doing something even when they either can't do anything useful. They have to justify their existence or, they fear, lose votes. The equation si quite simple, really. Yet, ironically, given a situation like the massacre in Rwanda a few years ago where because of the remoteness of the area there was no virtually live TV coverage at all, and precious little other coverage, more than a million were slaughtered without the West batting an eyelid. It was most certainly a real case of out of sight, out of mind. Oh, naturaly the wholesale murder was condemned in 'the strongest possible terms we can think of without actually risking upsetting anyone', but there was no talk of intervention, and the pitiful UN force subsequently sent in was so small it would have had trouble defending a street corner.
If the news editors of the West had decided that the civil war in Rwanda was sexy and worth the overkill it usually indulges in, our TV bulletins would have been filled with pictures of victims and our politicians would have felt obliged to act. As it was they didn't, it would have been too expensive anyway and - to be brutally honest - it involved blacks didn't it and however much we all abhor racism these days, well, blacks are blacks, aren't they, blacks, TV news editors seem to believe are quite up there with whites. A few years ago, when there was the widespread famine in Ethiopia, it was in all seriousness suggested to me that blacks, in this case the Ethiopians, didn't mind hunger as much as whites 'because they were used to it'. But there's no time to be shocked by that particular snippet, it's almost time for The Simpsons.

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