This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme:

Television does not do justice to the reality of fire. Nor does what we might call ‘reasonable proximity’.

I once played with my children on a beach in Greece whilst watching aircraft try to extinguish a forest fire on the hills beyond the bay. It was interesting to watch – while we played and swam – and only became more than a spectator event when we later saw pictures of the destruction and learned the names of those who had died in the flames.

In his remarkable ‘Paradise Lost’ John Milton uses a phrase that has haunted many imaginations through the centuries. He speaks of ‘darkness visible’ – a term that has been used subsequently to depict severe depression, among other things. I think it speaks powerfully here, too. Fire, as it consumes and rages, often beyond control, sucks the light and oxygen to the extent that the dark emptiness it generates is only visible to those who spectate from beyond.

We don’t know who or what started the fires in Greece. There have been suggestions that they were started deliberately – either out of sheer wanton destructiveness or criminality. But, voices are also being raised in favour of climate-change. Who knows?

Whichever proves to be the right explanation in the end, each brings its own moral culpability. Of course, it’s easier to deal with criminality because we can blame the arsonist and distance ourselves from any responsibility for the destructiveness. Climate change, on the other hand, is harder to duck.

None of this is much comfort to those who have lost property, land or loved ones to these terrible conflagrations. It is interesting that newspapers have been describing the fires as ‘biblical’ without anywhere explaining why that word has been chosen or what it might mean. I assume it refers to certain biblical images of the end of the world – the apocalypse, hell or hades. Fire and brimstone, burning and darkness and dust. Darkness visible.

Yet, perhaps the word ‘biblical’ might actually point us to a different meaning. Even if the Greek fires do not presage the end of the world, they certainly represent the end of a world – someone’s world. Family members lost, homes and communities destroyed, businesses consumed. Yet, biblical warnings of fire and loss are always accompanied by defiant words of hope – language that holds out a future beyond the immediate darkness. What one theologian calls ‘newness after loss’ … so that the last word does not belong to destruction.

This is human experience throughout all time. And compassion for those who suffer is what should burn in the hearts of spectators, shaping the collective will of people and nations who seek to end the suffering and open a future.

OK, Europe is on tenterhooks regarding the future of the Greek economy as its (and other countries’) fate appears to sit in the pockets of the Germans. And then – can you believe it – Germany get Greece in the Euro 2012 quarter finals this evening.

Perhaps they should simply reprise the epic game between the two countries thirty-odd years ago. Here it is:

1. Having led a company that assumed for itself the authority to hound other people and call for heads to roll, Rebekah Brooks now expresses indignation that lawyers dare to question her integrity. I felt a bit sorry for her when she was charged and appeared to say how angry she was – she clearly doesn’t do irony. But, in the spirit of her former newspapers, let power be held to account and let justice be seen to be done. If she is innocent, the legal process will vindicate her. If not,…

2. In the same vein Rupert Murdoch complained about being harassed by paparazzi when in London for the Leveson Inquiry. Er…

3. Kenny Dalglish‘s second coming has come to an end. I’d make a terrible prophet: I thought he’d stay on until the first couple of months of next season and see if there was an improvement on this season’s inconsistencies… and then get pushed out if he didn’t deliver. I was wrong. A sad day for the legend and the club, but the owners don’t do ‘sentimental’. That’s leadership.

4. General Ratko Mladic is on trial for genocide in the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Just goes to show what history always tells us: the truth will out – even if it takes twenty years. Things go around and come around.

5. The Greek tragedy continues to unfold in boggling fashion. But, when David Cameron suggested the Euro-branch might break he was accused of actually contributing to it happening. You just can’t win. If you don’t state the obvious, you must be either lying or stupid. If you state the obvious, you are stupid because you are influencing the market. I realise this is a bit of a silly circle (with not so silly consequences, of course), but I guess it proves that what public figures do or do not say does shape the public agenda one way or another. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

And, just to indulge in a little selfish trivia: this blog has now surpassed the million views mark (just now it is 1,001,457 for 737 posts in three years). Boggling, really. Thank you.


Struggling through a streaming cold and muzzy head to write a lecture for this coming Wednesday (on Being Confident in an Uncertain World), I was easily distracted by the glories of Twitter. I caught a link which, in the context of all the political upheavals going on around us, stood out. Die Zeit has the headline: Merkel öffnet für Hollande die Arme, nicht die Taschen (Merkel opens her arms to Hollande, but not her pockets).

It’s a weird world.

  • Greece votes against parties that think austerity is unavoidable, but offers no ideas for how the stringencies of economics can be aligned with desired social wellbeing.
  • It looks possible that Greece won’t be able to find a coherent coalition government at all.
  • Russia, against all protests, swears in a president who seems to assume power and the right to power. Ominously, he promises Russians some hard years ahead.
  • France elects a new Socialist president who might not be able to implement (economically or politically) what he has promised.
  • Germany welcomes the new French president to office, but won’t offer him the means to do what he has promised to do for France. (And Merkel has just had a bad election in Schleswig-Holstein, so all is not beautiful in her own garden either).

What is interesting about all these ructions in Europe (and bring into the mix all the other trouble spots across the planet) is the assumption on the part of whole populations that we have rights to certain ways of living or levels of affluence or provision – but rarely does anyone ask where those rights have come from. They are merely assumed. But, as ethicists know, you can’t get an ought from an is – that is to say, you cannot derive a moral imperative from the mere fact that something exists. So, what gives us the right to demand ‘rights’ in the first place?

Anyway, we’ll watch this space as everything changes in Europe and beyond. Putin is not the universally revered man he thinks he once was. Merkel stands firm, but the floor might potentially wobble beneath her feet. Hollande might find ‘reality’ harder to manipulate than he has suggested. And Greece? Er…

At least all is stable and fine at home in the UK, our glorious leaders steering us into a land of plenty. One day. Eventually. Maybe soon. Er…

We live in interesting times (again). Italy now has a government without a single elected politician in it. And Italy might not be the last.

Europe has considered itself to be the cradle of democracy – systems of government in which elected politicians set the policy direction and the technocrats do the economic plumbing. Now the impotence of elected politicians has led to the technocrats running the show while the elected representatives watch from the sidelines. Maybe they are relieved. The hard decisions needed in tough times are better taken by people who don’t have to worry about constituencies or getting re-elected by people who are upset with you for spoiling their life.

However, it also calls into question the competence of elected ‘lay’ people to direct highly technically complex financial and governmental organisations. At what point will the technocrats decide that their job is done and power can be handed back to the politicians? It’s an intriguing question.

If the same move was made in the UK, I wonder who might form the government of the technocrats?

1. Jamie Oliver is one of the top ten geniuses of our world. Die Zeit says so.

2. Our ethics are a mess. Prominent newspapers in Britain are proud to show Gadaffi’s dead head on the front pages along with a message of revenge? Which particular ethic are we trying to teach our children here?

3. We always knew he was an evil nutcase anyway – which was why we never did business with him. Obviously.

4. Bankrupt Greece is hanging on for an awful long time. Or, at least, being hung onto for reasons which are debatable.

5. It’s hard trying to work out what to do when anti-capitalists occupy the front of your cathedral.

6. The nights are fair drawing in.

7. The scandal of Hillsborough and the injustice to the bereaved looks soon to be illuminated. The truth will always out…

8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is just brilliant.

9. The National Media Museum in Bradford is wonderful and should be visited by everyone. Yes, everyone.

10. I can finally have a day off tomorrow.