Archive for the ‘ News ’ Category

Freedom of religious practice….respecting the rights of others

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

I once gave a talk on ‘the permissive society’ at a Day Centre for the elderly, having completed my unusually erudite and intermittently witty spiel,  I was at a total loss to respond to a woman who – without a hint of irony – complained about permissiveness on television: ‘I think it’s terrible,’ she said ‘the way young girls have sex stuffed down their throats!’

With the polarisation of society, it might have been more apt if she’d expressed concern about religion being stuffed down throats. Of course, that was not the topic, but it might have been – and there is a connection to permissiveness – or more properly, greater openness and tolerance in society. There has been a backlash from some with strong religious views – and others who have suddenly developed such views.

Whether this entails wearing a burka or niquab, a sheitel or headscarf, there has been greater polarisation between those with strong religious beliefs – and those without. Sometimes, I feel religion is used as a crutch to seduce the vulnerable and those at a low ebb; in the 1970’s in the USA I saw young people befriended on the streets of New York by followers of Sun Myung Moon and Scientologists, later, at a ‘Christ is the Answer’ presentation in a huge marquee in Washington DC, we were emotionally blackmailed by adherents, who asked us to stand up and give ourselves to Christ, whilst dramatic music was played over loudspeakers, anyone not standing at the end was made to feel like the devil incarnate.

Recent problems in the UK relate to Ofsted inspections of Muslim and Orthodox Jewish schools, where inspectors complained of historical texts being redacted and a failure to include in lessons details of gay and transsexual lives. Concerns were also expressed about safeguarding issues. Secular inspectors versus religious schools, an inevitable recipe for conflict. As with all things, common sense should prevail, schools should be allowed to follow their religious beliefs whilst ensuring pupils are safe and receive an excellent general education, with sensitive issues taught in a sensitive way.

A clearer example of religious intolerance arose recently, an El Al plane was delayed for an hour when two Orthodox Jewish men refused to sit next to women. Maybe they needed a lesson in the overriding requirement for mutual respect and good manners.

Many religious communities and groupings reject the liberal values of the West; yet they enjoy the lifestyle, healthcare, ability to travel and comforts of 21st Century living.

We must protect religious freedom and the right to worship – but we also have a duty to regulate society in order for all groups and individuals to live freely, as long as they obey the law and respect the rights of others. Freedom of religious practice should not be at the expense of others, it should be a role model for a pious, respectful life, not a recipe for conflict with non-believers.

The great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made a unique contribution to civilisation – the 10 Commandments, received by Moses – still form the backbone of the Judeo-Christian hegemony of Western society. But, let’s be honest, if any of those great prophets were able to return and see our world, they would have a great deal more to learn from us, than we, from them. That’s not to denigrate the vast contribution made by them – just imagine the very first thing that Moses would google: The Exodus? A hundred tasty recipes for manner from Heaven? Maybe, he would get hooked on Facebook or other social media, one of the things that binds us with our forebears is communication.

Religion is a roadmap that can point us in the direction of happiness and fulfilment, but reaching the destination is the objective, not obsessing with the way to get there.

Those unduly concerned with the minutiae of religious dogma, may smell the sweet aroma of what’s cooking, but are unlikely to actually get to taste it.

Michael Desmond

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

This is the verbal equivalent of a quick selfie; in a society where fame feeds on itself – and not necessarily talent – it’s sometimes useful to be anonymous. But we need to stand up to be counted, where necessary, which, quite frankly, is most of the time.

I live in Clapton, North East London, represent Hackney Downs on Hackney Council and was Labour candidate for Faversham and Mid Kent in 2015 and 2017.

I’m not a fan of Brexit and put together Society Syndrome’s little anti-Brexit ditty ‘Little Englanders’, which can be found on You Tube. My general views are left of centre, but fairly moderate – apart from when it comes to Arsenal supporters – but we won’t go into that, we can be a little tribal in North London. I believe in the greatest good for the greatest many, as long as it is not at the expense of the few.

In any pluralistic democracy, everyone should seek to play a part, each grain of sand, together, comprises a beach.

Feel free to join us in building a useful sandcastle, seeking to protect the vulnerable and creating a more peaceful, tolerant society. Each year, we arrange a Have Your Say event for 16-19 year olds, whatever your age, if you want to help us achieve our goals, please contact me.

Donald Trump need not apply.


Lambs to the Slaughter?

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

The history of the world, according to Marx, is a history of struggle; you could well argue, the history of wit is one of images – particularly pithy, provocative images in historic tomes like Punch which have contributed to the gaiety of the nation for centuries. George Osborne’s first act as editor of the London Evening Standard was to appoint a new political cartoonist.

Cartoon’s lampoon arrogance, deflate pomposity and (hopefully) reflect an amusing angle on an issue or situation. We were going to use one to reflect my opinion of Brexit – unfortunately, it was considered inappropriate to use during the election and banned.

Fair enough. There has to be sensitivity – maybe, it will be saved for the Brexit negotiations. As things stand, I think the cartoon reflects a perception of where Hard-Brexit Tories are leading us. This is not an election blog. If you are fainthearted, pretend it’s an episode of Dr Who and hide behind the sofa – or look through your fingers at the image attached.

It’s only a cartoon. Any connection with living people or sheep is purely coincidental. Or as Stephen Fry used to say in some episodes of Black Adder: Baaaah!

Here’s the link:   lambs


Following the appalling terrorist outrage in Manchester, it’s very fortunate this cartoon wasn’t used. Not because it has any connection; but at a time of national mourning, additional sensitivity is required.

Prepare for a Bumpy Ride

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

How many people claim: ‘I don’t need this’ or ‘I could do without that’ when things go wrong? They don’t like hassle, aggravation or stress; nor do I. But sometimes a ‘quiet life’ becomes a euphemism for an unfulfilled, unrequited life.

I recently met a Mediterranean taxi driver (on the coast, not in the Sea), who asked us to fasten our backseat belts (unusual), drove carefully (unique) and treated us to his philosophy of life (traditional amongst cabbies worldwide): essentially, he wanted a quiet life, worked for himself whichever hours he chose, chilled out when he wanted, avoided the rat race. Unfortunately, he’d just had a fierce argument with some French passengers about a small proportion of his last fare, which had flustered him. He was so pleased to pick up an Englishman, who valued fair play (and fare pay!), was under the jurisdiction of the Mother of Parliament’s and knew the rules of cricket.

‘The U.K.,’ he said ‘left a good impression on its former colonies – a well-run civil service, proper schools, decent postal service: the French left chaos in theirs…’ (see how an argument over a fare can affect historical analysis?).

It might be true – or partially true – but public services in the UK are now under-valued and threadbare. Participants in our Mother of Parliaments fiddled their expenses, the Royal Mail charges a king’s ransom for a first class stamp.

I thought about what he’d said as I paid him. Yes a quiet life, everything going smoothly, an easy ride, benefits blood pressure and possibly life expectancy. But we sometimes need a little adventurous excitement, adrenaline-hits or challenges, initiatives that can succeed or fail, risk-taking with a view to bettering ourselves.

Yes, drive carefully and put on your seatbelt. But don’t complain if there’s a bumpy ride ahead. It’s what life brings. Just hope your personal suspension – family, health, finances and friends – eases the way.

Why cats don’t worry about the Meaning of Life

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

The huge gulf between the cognisant, social and intellectual skills of homo sapiens and other species leads some – including me – to suppose there to be a Grand Spiritual entity who provided the r & d, cells, dna, water and other materials that enable us to exist, then (fortunately) left us, pretty-well to our own devices, enabling free thought, action and (if you’re a Catholic) guilt.

Whilst there is an enormous gulf between us and the most intelligent of other species – apes, dolphins, UKIP voters (I jest) – there is also a massive gap between, say, ants and cats. The former can work as a team, have instincts and skills, can lift up to 100 times their body weight and achieve communal goals; the latter purr.

Cats are social, react to changes in weather conditions, relate to each other sexually – if, occasionally, in a less than PC way – and communicate their feelings quite forcefully, hunger with a miaow, irritation by a scratch. They do not necessarily worship a celestial being, wonder how they got here or what their purpose is, nor laud their superiority over other less intelligent animals. We do.

Is the intellectual gulf between ants and cats any less than the gap between men and apes? A cat can’t do more than its brain enables it to – although brain size is not the main determinant of capacity or skill, most animals have around three times the behavioural skills of insects, despite their brains being hundreds of times bigger. According to Scientific American magazine, a cat’s brain has a thousand times more data storage capacity than an iPad and reacts more quickly.

It has always been a deep-seated desire to explore boundaries, find out where we are in the universe as well as who and what we are. Ultimately, as innovation and scientific progress transform daily living, work and social practices in the developed world, it is essential that less rich countries are not sidelined or left behind. As we move onwards, progress must benefit every corner of the planet, if it does not, hatred, bitterness and other base instincts will attack our culture creating conflict, chaos and fear.

We can actually learn from ants – working together for the common good, a weight on our shoulders, maybe, but one well worth carrying. As for cats: maybe there are times they wonder where they’re going, more often than not, towards the next meal. We worry too much about the inconsequential, most of us are well fed; it’s about time we directed our thoughts and actions to those who are still starving in the 21st Century, whichever corner of the globe they inhabit.

Have Your Say!

Monday, October 17th, 2016

On Thursday, 20th October 2016 we are holding another HAVE YOUR SAY event in the Lecture Theatre of BSix College, Kenninghall Road, Clapton, E5 8BP: 12.30pm – 1.30pm.

Amongst those on the panel will be Hackney Council’s Speaker (civic Mayor), Ken Warman, Principal of the College, Lee Sterry, an Environmental Health Officer and a senior police representative.

A lot has been happening recently: Brexit, Donald Trump (sic), England’s football team defeated by Iceland, the Marmite shortage….there are lots of serious (and not so serious) things to talk about. We’ll also be launching our Song for London competition.  Come along and make your voice heard.

Aspiration and Cynicism post-Brexit. How do Londoners compare with those who voted Out in Sunderland?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

We’re carrying out a Post-Brexit survey on Alienation, Cynicism and Idealism to see how views of Londoners – who voted In – compare with those from Sunderland, most of whom, voted Out.

In our (humble), aspirational opinion, you should want to make the world a better place to live in; do people?

Question to be asked: Do you want to make the world a better place to live in?

We also want to know if people think they can make the world a better place?  Question: Do you think you can make the world a better place?

Finally, do people think they have made the world a better place? Question: Do you think you’ve made the world a better place to live in, in any way, large or small?

Asking similar questions to young people in Kiev before the Maidan Square revolution, there was such cynicism about corruption, dishonest politicians and the all-pervasive untrustworthiness, it’s a miracle anyone got out of bed in the morning! It should be very different here.

Shouldn’t it?

We’ll see.

Biggins should not have been turfed out of the Big Brother House

Monday, August 8th, 2016

I am sometimes invited to visit Big Brother’s Elstree set for Bit on the Side and was there last Thursday. The current series of Celebrity Big Brother is not among my favourites; most housemates don’t seem to have attended charm school, if they did, they should ask for their money back.

There have been unpleasant, aggressive scenes, Stephen Bear may now find work as a pantomime villain impossible, it’s a role more usually associated with a twinkle in the eye, he uses alcohol to energise his vitriol. Why wasn’t he kicked out for throwing a mug and breaking a mirror? Behaviour that would not be tolerated in the Crooked Billet, Bald Faced Stag or any other hostelry, should not be tolerated in the BB house. Heavy D – a name which conjures-up more than his character offers, lacks finesse, sophistication or even a modicum of self-respect. These guys are not role models, more a rogues gallery. Some women in the house seem enured to them – Lewis and Bear in particular;  there’s no accounting for taste!

Which brings us to Christopher Biggins – removed because of an inappropriate comment relating to the holocaust and ‘theories’ about the onset of AIDS. He made a concentration camp “joke” to Katie Waissel as she waited for the bathroom, saying: “You better be careful or they’ll be putting you in a shower and taking you to a room.” The comment was not broadcast. He also seemed to blame bisexuals for the spread of AIDS.

It’s wrong to use the holocaust – something uniquely evil – for humour, especially to someone from a Jewish background. But Biggins apologised profusely to Katie, clearly didn’t mean to be malicious and has now said he will visit Auschwitz in the autumn. As a Hackney resident, I’ll invite him to our next Holocaust Memorial at the Town Hall and to visit Hackney and East London synagogue.  His agent is Jewish, his best friend is Lesley Joseph – he said something stupid without thinking.

Compare his fulsome apology with Ken Livingstone’s response to outrage after telling a Jewish journalist: “You are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?” He made no effort to apologise whatsoever, after.

Conspiracy theorists spout nonsense on any number of things – the giveaway is in the word ‘theorists’ – you can have a theory on anything really, apart from the moon being made of cheese, although apparently, Neil Armstrong had a particular penchant for cheese and pickle sandwiches – according to one such theorist.

I don’t think for one minute Biggins was right about bisexuals, but again, he was not seeking to be malicious, threatening, throwing mugs at mirrors, abusing, ranting or bullying. The house is not a microcosm of society – it contains more egos than you could reasonably fit into the House of Commons and Lords put together. If only we could have George Galloway back, playing the cat, licking cream from Rula Lenska’s generous hand: such innocent times!

Biggins – who won I’m a Celebrity – should not be demonised for making a mistake. The Jewish community has a great sense of humour – go to any hospital ward, ask nurses about the amazing wit and wisdom shown by so many members of the community, often in extreme adversity – it comes from hundreds of years of persecution, an unsettled diaspora, even now, some living in fear in certain countries. You cannot make jokes – or even amusing asides – about the Holocaust. But you can learn from your mistakes, as I’m sure our celebrated Hackney resident, Christopher Biggins has done.


Little Englanders – let’s think again and stay in the EU

Friday, August 5th, 2016

We’ve now released our take on the Referendum – Little Englanders – please share it, hum it in the shower, whistle it to Nigel Farage (not in the shower) or Boris. Here’s the link:

We’ve already seen the serious damage the THREAT of Brexit has caused – a slump in the pound, reduction in industrial output, huge fall in consumer and business confidence….it looks like those 600 economists were right! Our reputation as a progressive, modern, forward-thinking democracy has suffered – our European friends and neighbours can’t understand our logic; nor can many of us!

It was like ordering a food from a restaurant without a menu! No one talked about whether we were going to remain in the single market – and if so, what we would pay for the privilege. Or even how we were going to negotiate. Anyway, what’s the point of being an outsider in a club, but still have to pay membership fees?

Many farmers, Cornwall residents, holidaymakers abroad finding the pound worth much less than before, and others swayed by misleading claims on the battle bus, now want to stay. As the economy deteriorates, the torrent will turn into a flood. No Parliament can tie the hands of its successor, our new PM should allow us another vote when we actually know the terms for Brexit, we can make a final decision then.

One of the few to come out of this shambles with any credit, is Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. The 0.25% cut in interest rates may or may not steady the ship. But not if it’s the Titanic.

Would you ask a starving man to go on diet, a turkey to vote for Christmas, a vegetarian to work in a butcher’s? No! Let’s make sure we know what we’re letting ourselves in for before we vote again, instead of lies about money going to the NHS, lets properly analyse where we’re going – all of us. And ensure arrangements are in hand for each constituent part of the U.K. to reach a consensus. For if we do invoke Article 50, we will lose more than our credibility and respect. We’ll lose Scotland – and possibly, Northern Ireland, too!

As a couple of comedians – no, not Michael Gove and Boris – once said “that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into….” We need a way out – but not of the EU!

Graham Norton’s “Sycophantic” Show – Complaint to OFCOM

Monday, January 7th, 2013


Graham Norton’s Show, broadcast on New Years’ Eve, which achieved a record audience, included a number of leading celebrities – which was great. Unfortunately, the biggest name, Tom Cruise, was treated in a sickly, sycophantic, fawning, gushing way by the host – he’s an actor, not a messianic figure!

Worse still, the film he was promoting with co-star Rosamund Pike has been labelled “an unfortunate accident all round” by Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph, Philip French in The Observer wrote “Tom Cruise fails to measure up as Lee Child’s action hero”.
No objective or balanced assessment was made by Norton, who inferred the movie was great! He asked no questions of significance to Cruise, just lauded him as a superstar. Cruise, himself, said nothing of note during the show, despite the audience being whooped up to a frenzy.

Our criticism is that firstly this breaches BBC Guidelines on Advertising and Promotion. Secondly, and more importantly, it is demeaning for viewers to see a major host kowtowing to a celebrity guest, failing to ask anything other than the most banal questions.

Finally, at the end of the show, a charming non-celebrity went into the infamous “Red Chair” and began to tell an interesting anecdote about what happened during her travels in Canada. Before we could discover, she was unceremoniously tipped off – treated with contempt because she is NOT a superstar! What sort of an impression does that give to impressionable young adults? Suck up to the stars, treat your peers like dirt!

This was the worst example of exaggerated celebrity culture we have seen, sadly, it will have seeped into viewers’ consciousness.

Next time, put Tom Cruise in the Red Chair – we’ll pull the lever! Or abolish it altogether – it is demeaning.

We never did get to hear the end of the interesting anecdote.

For your assistance, relevant points from BBC Guidance on Promotion and Advertising are below.

Kind regards
Michael Desmond
(07931 526697)

BBC Guidelines on Advertising & Promotion:
•Promotional activity must not undermine the values of the BBC brand

•The nature of the presenter’s on-air role will affect what is appropriate

•Any presenter who appears on-air in a journalistic capacity will have considerable restrictions on what, if any, promotional activities they may undertake

•There will be fewer restrictions on entertainment presenters or lifestyle presenters providing their integrity and the integrity of the programme they present is not undermined

ANY QUERIES? – or contact Michael Desmond on 07931 526697