Saturday, 25 June 2016

Opening the Jar

This poem is based on Hesiod, Works and Days, interworking various texts, principally Pandora’s jar – not box – but also the Hymn to Zeus, the Ages of Man, Justice and Good Conduct, and the Calendar. I was working from the translation by H.G. Evelyn White.

While I allude to Pandora’s jar, I do not name it as such. The original text has a degree of misogyny - “But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men.”

That this is not just a misinterpretation on my part can be seen in other parts of the texts, such as the maxim “the man who trusts womankind trust deceivers”. So I have recast the myth to remove Pandora. After all, we don’t need a single Pandora, we have many men and women more than capable of letting loose troubles upon our world.

Opening the Jar

O Muses of Pieria, sing this lament now:
The sorry tale of loss and woe, of how
Zeus makes the strong man bend and fall,
Humbles him so, breaks him, so small,
Beneath the god, who blasts the proud;
For what merit numbers, god against crowd?
Zeus thunders aloft, his dwelling so high:
Judgements makes with clear sight eye;
And where the tribes of men lived free,
He gave them a jar, so that they might see
The sickness which brings fates on men,
That they retreat from day to murky den;
They grow old so quickly, before time due,
Because of arrogance, in ignorance knew
Nothing and took the great lid, opened jar,
Scattered all that caused sorrow now afar;
And mischief went out upon all mankind,
Because of their ignorance, they were blind,
And could not stop the lid, seal against woe,
Countless plagues spread, bringing men low;
For the earth is full of evils, the tide is high,
And there is no escape, and nowhere to fly;
And only Hope remained bound within the jar,
Under the rim, a shining light, far and distant star,
Held by the will of Zeus who gathers the clouds,
And sees the diseases unleashed, as if shrouds
Covered the earth, bringing darkness, despair;
Taking the speech from men, no common tongue,
But only hatred of the stranger, evils so wrung;
None can escape the wrath of Zeus, just, wise,
Mankind must be humbled, before it can rise;
You princes, mark well this punishment also:
The anger of gods against deeds of men below;
Keeping watch on wrongs, virgin Justice roams,
Daughter of Zeus, brings judgement to all homes,
From humble hovel to mighty palaces of the kings,
Seek those who fall corrupted where the siren sings;
Songs of hatred, of fear of strangers, of the other,
Decry our common ancestry, our goddess mother;
Hands unwashed of wickedness, a race set apart,
With no compassion, mercy, and a hardened heart;
May we yet pray, having washed hands in streams,
In lovely clear water, and river spirit sends us dreams;
When Orion and Sirius are come again into the night,
Open again the jar, and let hope fly forth into the light;
Rosy fingered Dawn, a new morning broken, fresh dew:
And let the spirit of man rise, arms outstretched, anew.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Planning Application for Les Quennevais School

I'm pleased to share the following press release on my blog. The consultation on the proposed site was extensive, and the Education Minister published a summary of the results, along with a complete detailed PDF of all responses received. These can be viewed here:

The planning application, which has been signed and endorsed by all the current landowners, plus the supporting documents will be available on once it has been registered by the Planning Department.

This investment of £40m is part of the planned £168 million which has been allocated to capital projects for the period of the Medium Term Financial Plan 2016-19.

Planning Application for Les Quennevais School

A planning application has been submitted today for a new Les Quennevais secondary school on the fields north of St Brelade’s Social Club alongside Route de Quennevais.

Architects at Jersey Property Holdings have designed the £40 million project with the school situated along the south of the site and the playing fields to the north so that an open vista is retained.

The site was the preferred option of 67% of people who responded to a public consultation in autumn 2015. Other proposals to use the Les Quennevais playing fields and St Brelade Social Club were not supported by the majority of local residents who took part in the poll.

Education Minister Deputy Rod Bryans said: ‘The current Les Quennevais School buildings have served the island well but are now too small, outdated and not on the right site. Children in the west of the Island should have the same educational experience as their friends at other schools so this is well overdue. It will be the single largest investment in education for many years and I am delighted to see it moving forward.’

Like its predecessor, the new Les Quennevais the Island’s dedicated school for children with additional physical needs. It has been designed around a central street that provides circulation and social space, together with enhanced facilities for wheelchair users. It will also contain the Branch Library, for use by the public, extensive landscaping and links to the cycle track.

Infrastructure Minister Deputy Eddie Noel said: ‘Our architects, who have a lot of experience in delivering school facilities, have produced a really interesting design which delivers the functionality of a modern educational establishment together with a stylish design.’

The planning application is supported by extensive environmental impact assessments, including ecology and archaeological studies, geotechnical surveys and an independent traffic and transportation plan. This project supports the Council of Ministers’ strategic priorities in the two key areas of education and economic growth.

It will be subject to the usual planning process but there will also be a number of events organised by Jersey Property Holdings and the Education Department to inform the public about the proposals and answer questions. These will include a residents’ meeting, parents’ presentation, a public meeting, ongoing static displays and meeting with interest groups.

The estimated build time for the project is two years from receipt of planning permission.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

EU Referendum: Final Comments

Some Key Dates and History

24 October 2011: The motion calling for a referendum on EU membership is defeated in the Commons by 483 votes to 111. However, 81 Tory MPs support it and a further two actively abstain - making it by far the largest ever Conservative rebellion over Europe. In addition, 19 Labour MPs and one Liberal Democrat defy their party leadership in urging a referendum.

22 January 2013: In a long awaited speech Prime Minister David Cameron says that if the Conservatives win the next election they would seek to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and then give the British people the "simple choice" in 2017 between staying in the EU under those terms or leaving the EU. His speech comes against a background of polls suggesting UK Independence Party support at 10%.

8 May 2015: The Conservatives win a majority in the House of Commons in the general election and immediately pledge to make good on their election manifesto promise to hold a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU by the end of 2017

These key dates are interesting, as they show the increase of the “Eurosceptics” in the Conservative Party. The cynic (and probably I’m in that camp), thinks that at least part of the reason for an EU Referendum in the Conservative Party 2015 Manifesto was so that David Cameron could bring his rebels into line.

The whole of the Major parliament was dominated by open Tory feuding on Europe and this bickering was responsible for the government's defeat on the Maastricht Bill in 1993 as well as for John Redwood's 1995 leadership challenge. The simmering internal debates over the EU damaged John Major’s Premiership and the Conservative Party Election prospects in 1997. As the BBC noted: “With Tory splits on Europe on painful display throughout the campaign Major's party did much of Labour's work for it”.

The Norway Model
Norway rejected EU membership in its own 1994 referendum. But the country nonetheless has access to the so-called "single market" trade zone -- access for which it pays heavily both in money and by allowing free movement of people and capital.

Norway receives access to most of the bloc’s internal market through membership of the European Economic Area. That means goods, services and labour flow freely between Norway and the EU. In return, however, Norway has to adopt a large number of EU laws without having a formal say in how they are shaped. Norway also has to pay about the same amount of money into the EU budget on a per capita basis as the U.K., according to OpenEurope, a think tank that has declared itself neutral in the debate.

Indeed, the EU influences everything from the health warnings on Norwegian cigarette packs to the fact that Poles have become the biggest minority in the country!

"We really are, on some issues, more part of Europe, without the decision-making, than Britain is," Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.

Norway, the Prime Minister said, accepts decisions made by EU leaders and representatives and enshrines them in Norwegian law -- without having any official seat at the table.

"We try to lobby and put our weight into the decision-making process, but when the final decision is made, the Norwegian politicians and the Norwegian people have to accept most of those regulations. I don't think that a large country like Britain would like to have that type of decision-making being made without participating in the decision making."

Norway also has its own reasons for wanting Britain to vote “Remain” in its June 23 referendum on EU membership. Oslo has long relied on London’s free-market zeal to keep the EU’s interventionist instincts in check.

"I agree that there are a lot of things that I don't like about EU decisions. Sometimes they are made by people who have another political view than I have. Being a conservative, I would like to have a little bit less of these very typical bureaucratic regulations. "But you know, sometimes you make compromises. And if you want to move the world ahead, you cannot always get your own will."

A Look from Afar
Aljazeera, the respected foreign news reports on “EU referendum: Has UK politics ever been so ugly?” has this from their reporter:

“I sense a strong desire from people to give those in power a metaphorical bloody nose. And that, of course, is part of the problem with referendums. They ask a specific binary question, in this case Remain or Leave, but the voters may have all sorts of motivations beyond the question itself in making their choice.”

“One day last week I watched Farage as he rode past parliament in Westminster on top of an open double-decker bus emblazoned with a huge picture of his own face. He waved and grinned as passing motorists beeped their horns in support.”

“Behind him was a convoy of vans displaying posters.”Breaking Point" they said in big letters superimposed over a photograph of refugees trying to enter Europe, "the EU has failed us all". The posters shamelessly conflate the refugee crisis, which will surely carry on whatever Britain decides on June 23, and the debate about freedom to migrate within the EU.”

“And, to put it mildly, they don't appeal to voters' more generous or braver instincts.”

CNN reports on “Britain divided on eve of EU referendum”

“British politicians are making their crucial final pitches to a bitterly divided electorate Wednesday to persuade undecided voters of the merits of remaining in or leaving the European Union.”

“Britain's wavering voters are likely to be the deciders of this momentous vote. And with so much confusion generated throughout an acrimonious campaign -- and many of the fundamentals of the debate in dispute by opposing camps -- the outcome may come down to a question of gut instinct.”

"Remain" advocate Sadiq Khan, accusing his opponents of "scaremongering" by raising the spectre of Turkey joining the EU, potentially giving its citizens free movement within the union "Turkey is not set to join the EU," he said, holding up a pro-"Leave" leaflet that highlighted Turkey's proximity to war-torn Syria and Iraq. "You're telling lies and you're scaring people."

“Whatever the outcome of Thursday's vote, the consequences of this bruising campaign are likely to be felt for some time.”

In Australia, ABC News reports:

A divided Britain will soon vote in a referendum on the nation's European Union membership under a cloud of grief for murdered politician Jo Cox.

Polls are on a knife-edge, with final campaigning underway for the vote that could see the UK leave the EU after 43 years.

The deputy leader of the UK's Labour Party, Tom Watson, told Lateline the murder of his colleague and pro-EU politician Ms Cox is on everyone's minds, though he was unsure if it would affect the outcome.

"Whatever happens on the result we're going to end up a more divided nation as a result of this debate and we're going to have to do a lot of healing and understanding," he said.

EU Observer notes that China sees economic problems in its relation with Britain if it comes out of the EU:

“China remains concerned about the prospect of Britain finding itself outside the EU. In recent months, high-ranking Chinese officials have repeatedly expressed their government’s worries about the prospect of a British EU exit. Beijing’s diplomatic campaign constitutes an unusual departure from the Chinese foreign policy principle of not interfering with the domestic matters of other countries. It shows how much Chinese investors in Britain worry about access to the single market and how much Beijing fears losing the UK as an advocate in Brussels.”

“Over the past 15 years, the UK has become the prime destination for Chinese investments in Europe. A post-Brexit scenario that entails the loss of unrestricted access to the EU’s single market would align poorly with the business plans of many Chinese-owned companies operating in the UK.”

The Times of India comments on the vote today:

“LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron and his eurosceptic opponents made final pitches for wavering voters on Wednesday on the eve of a defining referendum on European Union membership with the outcome still too close to call. “

“The vote, which echoes the rise of populism elsewhere in Europe and the United States, will shape the continent's future. A victory for "out" could unleash turmoil on financial markets and foreign exchange bureaux reported a surge in demand for foreign currency from Britons wary sterling may fall.“

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

My Jersey Survey Avoids Population Issues

Among its primary tactics, Ponzi demography exploits the fear of population decline and aging. Without a young and growing population, we are forewarned of becoming a nation facing financial ruin and a loss of national power. (Joseph Chamie).

“The human-pyramid scheme works like this: Population growth, either through births or immigration, boosts demand for goods and services, increases borrowing, boosts tax revenue and adds to corporate profits. Everything seems grand and leaders take a bow. It’s a bubble, though, and it eventually bursts when population growth stalls. Incomes top out, high debt crushes consumption and investment, the need for public assistance rises, environmental degradation increases and angry people take to the streets.” (William Pesek)

Jersey’s population has now exceeded 100,000 and it appears the flood gates are open.

Senator Paul Routier was on BBC Radio Jersey this morning, waffling on about getting the balance right etc. He says we need younger people coming into the Island to pay for all the people who have retired.

Such short-termism has never addressed the problem that it is like a Ponzi scheme. More people in, they get older, and you need still more people to take care of those who have come in.

It is unsustainable because it is based on a false promise. The needs of the supporting the population increases exponentially. There just isn't enough immigration possible to keep it going for ever.

It was interesting that Senator Routier said there was a survey on “My Jersey” – yes, there is but there are absences from the questions, not least of which is any lack of mention of population or its impact on infrastructure.

If we lived in an island of unlimited resources, unlimited population growth might not be a problem. But more population means more schools, more health services etc. And these don't come cheap.

Jersey’s water supply is in danger of outstripping demand. As the population grows, there will be an impact on water supply. This is “water stress”, where demand exceeds the current levels of rainfall input, and extraction of groundwater is often outstripping supply.

Even with metering, we live on a small Island with limited water resources. We have a desalination plant, but that is to plug short term gaps, not to keep going all the time. And the levels of a fungicide can be breached because this is being found in one of the Island’s largest reservoirs

The sewage treatment plant has been patched up since the 1970s when it was built. It cannot cope, especially when there is heavy rainfall. How will it continue when the population grows?

There are already comments about too much congestion on Island’s roads. As the population grows, expect this to get worse. Car parking in St Helier is becoming worse, with loss of spaces at the new finance centre. Will we see an underground car park before the next block gets under way? Don’t hold your breath! Amazingly, the new Dandara building has parking for directors, but not staff.

Electricity supply is reaching the point where it cannot be sustained by on-Island generators making it very vulnerable, as Liberation Day showed, to problems with French supply. As the population grows, so will the electricity demands.

Severe inclement weather already leads to short term food shortages in shops. Expect this to get worse as the population grows, and climate change leads to increases in severe weather events.

So what can we say of Senator Routier’s remarks. He carefully avoided the question of what to do when the immigration leads to an even larger aged population. This is a Ponzi scheme.

While it may come in many guises, Ponzi demography is essentially a pyramid scheme that attempts to make more money for some by adding on more and more people through population growth.

The basic pitch of those promoting Ponzi demography is straightforward and intoxicating in its pro-population growth appeal: "more is better."

As Joseph Chamie noted:

“Ponzi demography turns to immigration for additional population growth in order to boost companies’ profits. The standard slogan in this instance is ‘the country urgently needs increased immigration,’ even when immigration may already be at record levels and unemployment rates are high.”

“Despite its snake-oil allure of "more is better," Ponzi demography's advocacy for ever-increasing population growth is ultimately unsustainable.”

The sooner Jersey rejects Ponzi demography and makes the needed gradual transition from ever-increasing population growth to population stabilization, the better the prospects for all who live here.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Jo Cox in her own words

Jo Cox in her own words

Before becoming an MP, the 41-year-old worked for Oxfam and also closely with Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah on preventing mothers and babies dying during pregnancy.

Asked what’s the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could? She replied: “A more consensus style of politics looking at problems and getting the best brains involved in them to find solutions.”

As she was a passionate campaigner for “Remain”, I have selected a picture which both illustrates that and shows that, in her own words, “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. This picture sums up the unity and the diversity in her constituency.

I knew nothing of her before her death, but having read what she said, and what she did, I can see why she was so beloved by her constituents, and her loss keenly felt by her fellow parliamentarians.

Gavin Ashenden, writing in the JEP recently, said how it was a shame that people used Jo Cox’s murder as a means of scoring points, although he then proceeded to do precisely that. Instead, I am content to let her words speak for herself.

On Community and Diversity (2016)
Batley and Spen is a gathering of typically independent, no-nonsense and proud Yorkshire towns and villages. Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir.

While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

On Migrant Children (2016)
We all know that the vast majority of the terrified, friendless and profoundly vulnerable child refugees scattered across Europe tonight came from Syria. We also know that, as that conflict enters its sixth barbaric year, desperate Syrian families are being forced to make an impossible decision: stay and face starvation, rape, persecution and death, or make a perilous journey to find sanctuary elsewhere.

Who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror that their families are experiencing? Children are being killed on their way to school, children as young as seven are being forcefully recruited to the frontline and one in three children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war. Those children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness, and I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hellhole.

I am deeply proud of the Government for leading the way internationally on providing humanitarian support to Syrian civilians. Their commitment in terms of finances and policy to help people in the region, and across the Middle East and North Africa, will save lives.

However, in the chaos caused by the Syrian conflict and many other conflicts, many thousands of already deeply scarred children have become separated from their parents and carers, and they are already in Europe. The Government’s generosity to date has not extended to those vulnerable children.

Given what we know about the horror that many of the refugee children in Europe have fled, isn’t it time to end the government’s shameful refusal to give 3,000 unaccompanied children sanctuary here in the U.K.?

On the Fear of Immigrants (2016)
Let me be clear from the start: it’s fine to be concerned about immigration – many people are. This doesn’t mean to say they are racist or xenophobic – they are simply concerned about pressures on GP surgeries or schools, or how once familiar town centres are changing, or whether they’ll be able to compete with migrant workers to get a job.

Most people recognise that there are positive sides of migration too. Whether it is providing the skilled workers we need for our economy, or the amazing doctors and nurses from abroad who help run our health service, the UK has reaped the benefits from immigration.

It is right and fair that people who come to Britain pay something into the welfare system before they can take something out.

That’s why Labour has long pushed for an end to the payment of benefits to people who don’t live permanently in this country, and for a major extension of the time EU migrants have to wait before being able to claim benefits – a commitment now secured by the Prime Minister as part of the renegotiation deal.

On Preventing Mothers and Babies in the Third World dying during pregnancy (from 2010)
Global leaders pledged action and new research confirmed that the number of women dying in childbirth is at long last declining – by as much as a third in parts of the world. Why? It’s clear that more skilled midwives, more investment and more education for girls are having a major impact in saving lives.

Yet we still have a long way to go in preventing hundreds of thousands of women and their babies dying needlessly each year – and we still have to make sure that the promises made this year are firmed up, increased and delivered. With other big issues now emerging on the global health agenda, we must keep up the pressure to make sure that women and children will not be relegated to the sidelines.

This means that our diverse but united global movement needs to keep conveying the message that saving the lives of mothers and their children is neither complicated nor beyond our means, that almost all deaths in childbirth are preventable, and that progress is being made, even in some of the world’s toughest places.

We must also win the debate to keep girls and women at the heart of a more integrated health system, especially in rural areas. It is also time for maternal health experts to take more of a lead in the debate about the Global Fund for HIV, TB and malaria’s future role on reducing maternal mortality, and to find ways to make health care free or low cost for the pregnant women and children who are still dying for a lack of a little money.

We must also work to make sure that 100 million more women get the contraceptives they want and need, that pregnant women and newborns get critically important nutrition, and we should join forces with the Elders in their drive to end child marriage.

On Autism
Children are waiting on average more than three years for an Autism diagnosis. Without a diagnosis funding and support for children does not materialise. It is really important to underline the scale of this problem, and the consequences of it.

You only have to meet a handful of parents to realise the unbelievable pressures these waiting times put them under. Diagnosis is a critical milestone for people on the spectrum.

It helps individuals take control of their lives and can unlock access to essen1tial support and services. It can be just as important for parents, family members and friends, enabling them to better understand what is happening to their loved ones.

On Syria
Whereas Iraq has become the great example of what happens when you deploy force with no follow-up strategy. Syria will become the great counter example of what happens when you decide to disengage with no strategy whatsoever.

On Syria both President Obama and the prime minister have been a huge disappointment. Both men made the biggest misjudgement of their time in office when they put Syria on the “too difficult” pile and instead of engaging fully, withdrew and put their faith in a policy of containment.

This judgment – made by both leaders for different reasons – will be judged harshly by history. And the failure of their strategy has had huge repercussions: the biggest refugee crisis in Europe in a generation, the emergence of Isis and all that has followed, the strengthening of a resurgent Russia and most importantly the human suffering that continues unabated for the people of Syria.

On her experience with Aid Organisations
I was an aid worker for a decade and then worked in the voluntary sector in the UK on UK child poverty and with the NSPCC and Save the Children. But I had worked for ten years with Oxfam. I’ve lived and worked in Brussels and New York at the UN and worked all over the world. I would jump on a plane and be in Kabul one work and then Dafur the next.

I’ve been in some horrific situations where women have been raped repeatedly in Darfur, I’ve been with child soldiers who have been given Kalashnikov and kill members of their own family in Uganda. In Afghanistan I was talking to Afghan elders who were world weary of a lack of sustained attention from their own Government and from the international community to stop problems early. That’s the thing that all of that experience gave me - if you ignore a problem it gets worse.

On Working Together with Other Parties
I’m Labour to the core and always have been and always will be but actually on some issues they are above party politics and I think we can get caught up in that and fail to do the right thing. Issues like foreign policy or the crisis in care or climate change. I almost want the brightest and the best from all parties to sort this out and that’s the sort of politician I am. That’s not to say there aren’t really serious principled differences on issues like the economy or welfare reform where politics comes into it, but rising above that is a really good thing.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Midsummer Dreaming

A meditation for Midsummer. For those who want to see the hard science behind the 400 day year, this link gives the background:

Midsummer Dreaming

The grass was cool beneath our feet, as we watched the sun setting on this, the longest day. It was a long day, and the sun still heated the air, warm breezes rippling across the distant sea. And we cast our minds back, far into the past.

It was a day for the sun god, for celebrating the god at the height of his powers before they began to wane. The tribe gathered, and faced the setting sun, the last before this mighty king began to sicken, and grow pale behind the coming autumn mists. But now was a day of rejoicing, of dance and song.

And finally, as we raised our hands in farewell to the sun, a rose hue coloured the land and sea, and a breeze sprung up, fresh and cool as heat departed. The wind blows forth. The wind blows wherever it wishes; we hear the sound it makes, but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going.

And we cast our minds back, far into the past, a day before even the gods, in the dawn of life on earth.

A long day, but then it was a shorter day, and we waded in the pools left behind by the Devonian tides, leaving footprints in the sand. It was the day before, long, long before, in the distant reaches of deep time. Four hundred dawns made one year, and this was the longest day.

Small creatures swam in warm currents, and no human would step here for millions of years. Here were no gods to worship, no stuff of myth, but through it all, the warm breeze swept across the shallow waters, stirring the waters. The wind blows forth. The wind blows wherever it wishes; we hear the sound it makes, but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going. And we cast our minds back, far into the past, a day before the gods, before even the dawn of life on earth, the day of the making.

A shorter day, and where is night and day in this incandescent rock, spinning in the vastness of space around the sun? We are here in spirit alone, for flesh and blood would not long survive the eruptions of molten rock, and the firestorms that rage across the land. Electric flashes make night as bright as day, and there is no place for us to grasp, to settle beneath our sight; instead, an ever changing vista, as the world changes in the twinkling of an eye. It is the time of making, and through it all, hot currents of air sweep around the earth. The wind blows forth. The wind blows wherever it wishes; we hear the sound it makes, but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going.

And we return to our midsummer, to an earth firm beneath our feet, a longest day, but not the longest, for that will come in the future, when the earth grows old, and we are ashes scattered in the wind. But we feel the warm breeze upon our face, and she touches us, as she has touched this earth since its conception, through deep time, and on into the present day, and onwards into the tale to be told of days to come. But our midsummer is done for now, and our tale told, until next year.

And still the wind blows forth. The wind blows wherever it wishes; we hear the sound it makes, but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Weep not for me

Luke 23:27-31 “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.'”

Who were the “Daughters of Jerusalem”? They were professional mourners whose task was to lament an individual’s grievous end. It was part of Jewish culture of that age. They were also present in the home of Jairus, where they came from the surrounding community and had pressed into the room where she lay on her bed in death. And as he rebukes them here, Jesus turned them away then.

As a preacher at Alfred Place Baptist Church comments:

“In our culture at Anglican weddings choir boys sing and get paid. In Jesus’ culture at funerals there would be a people who would wail and would be paid for it. Their effectiveness was registered in decibels. If you were very poor you knew you still had to gather together your shekels and pay a single person to make public lamentation and one person to play the flute. It was the traditional unchallenged practice of the time, but Jesus himself simply wept quietly with Lazarus’ sisters in the graveyard where his friend’s body had been buried.”

John V Taylor, former Bishop of Winchester, had this to say in a series of talks he gave called “Weep Not For Me”

"It is the only divine prohibition in the Passion story. The crucifixion narrative opens with this word to the women by the wayside. The story of his resurrection begins with a similar word to a woman in the garden: Touch me not. At these tremendous moments, Jesus says no to the easy spontaneous emotion, the quick release of tension, because it is misdirected and because it is dangerous. Tears for the physical suffering of the Crucified, embraces for the physical body of the Risen Lord - these are too shallow: they focus attention on the wrong things.”

“We should be thankful for this prohibition. We belong to a culture, especially in the Western lands, in which feelings have been prostituted. Tears are wrung from us for our entertainment. We enjoy a good cry -and feel better afterwards and quickly forget what it was that moved us. We are accustomed to watching the misery of others on our TV or cinema screens without ever having to do anything about it. But it is very rarely that we weep for truth. It is very rarely that we weep for our sins or for the love of God. Pity is too cheap. We need the bracing realism of Jesus who turned out the professional mourners - Why this crying and commotion'?”

We don't have professional mourners, but we do have a zeitgiest in which vicarious grief is notably visible. In “The Good Funeral Guide”, there is a comment on our modern culture of grief by Damian Thompson:

“A few weeks after the murders of the schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, I stood in Soham parish church with the vicar, the Rev Tim Alban Jones. He had made an excellent impression in the media by asking the public to pray for the girls’ families while discouraging maudlin displays of “grief ”. But he’d only been partly successful. A corner of his church was piled to the ceiling with cardboard boxes full of soft toys – in memory of the dead girls. The vicar pointed them out to me with a baffled expression. “Why do people send teddy bears?” he asked.”

“As a nation we have developed an odd relationship with grief. It’s not just that we are fascinated by tragedies; we are deeply moved by our own reaction to them. This is where those teddy bears come into the picture. The soft toys weren’t intended as comfort for the families of two horribly murdered girls. Their purpose was to provide emotional satisfaction for the people who sent them – a “personal” tribute to Holly and Jessica by members of the public who, a decade later, probably have difficulty remembering their names.”

“Although the vicarious grief over Diana was unusually intense, it was a classic demonstration of post-religious spirituality. The same goes for the outpouring of sympathy for Fabrice Muamba, a footballer few people had heard of before he collapsed.”

“Modern Westerners, including Christians, no longer believe in the supernatural in the taken-for-granted fashion of our ancestors. Confronted by major life events, we find solace in our own compassion.”

It is a challenge to us, to see how much we are honouring the loss of live, and how much of it is, in the words of one commentator, a manufactured-emotion fest, an occasion to feel and to feel good about ourselves for how much and how bad we feel.

John Taylor also lays down a challenge to those who grieve vicariously, regarding how involved we really are, and how we need to become more so. He distinguishes between what is a kind of pity, a distant effect, and taking up the challenge of becoming more involved.

“The Cross of Jesus Christ cannot be observed objectively from a position of detachment. To be there at all is to be involved, implicated one way or another. That is why all but one of the disciples were not there: they were not ready to be involved. The daughters of Jerusalem were not ready to be involved, they preferred to pity.”

“Pity is one of the most deceptive of human emotions. It is a half-way stopping place on the way to discipleship. Yet at no time did Jesus ask us to pity him, or to pity his brothers or sisters in whom we are meant to find him. We are called to feed them and clothe them, visit them in sickness and in prison. We are called to become involved in them at the level of our wills and our action. So if we are to pay attention to his passion and resurrection this week we shall become involved somehow or other. Our whole existence may become involved, since there is no part of it which is untouched by this event. “

And Libby Purves, writing in the Tablet, asks “how can a line be drawn between decent human sympathy and mawkish or alarmist voyeurism?” She suggests that if the useful Ignatian habit of daily examination of conscience was more fashionable, we might look at our own reactions, and perhaps feel uneasy rather than what might be more self-indulgent.

“Sometimes it is kinder and more humble to walk away from the immensely interesting tragedy and say your prayer for the victims in silence and alone. Maybe it is the decline of praying which makes us do so many noisier and tackier things. We feel we have to do something, just in order to join in.”