Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Matter of Opinion

Everyone is entitled to my opinion.

People who don't blog are puzzled by those of us who do. To them it really is the strangest of strange hobbies. We are writing to the Universe - although I doubt very much they have thought of it quite like that - with no real obvious audience in mind.

Depending on which non-blogger you ask, they may be more baffled by the serious blogging, the pieces that people take great care over, that read like newspaper columns, because it reminds them of dreaded school homework. Or they may find the much lighter stuff more confusing, people just thinking out loud.

I blog for the same reason you tidy a desk. There's only so much room in my brain for work in progress, some of it has to come out. It may not be finished, but it doesn't matter. It's not being submitted anywhere important. I have an extremely active mind, and if I write down what I'm thinking it frees up space.

Quite often, maybe most of the time, what is on my mind has arisen as a result of what somebody else has said (or written) . Despite having an opinion on everything, which I can articulate quickly, I don't always want to comment directly. Because having the ability to do so does not always justify doing so. Sometimes keeping my thoughts to myself is the better option.

It's a choice. Freedom of speech, both in law and in social behaviour is too precious to corrupt with poor decisions. If I were to speak my mind all of the time, I would hurt people. Far too often, the honest truth, the thought that comes to mind, would be too harsh. It would contradict too many views, criticize too many deeply felt attitudes, and do unnecessary harm.

Tact is a beautiful thing. It is where kindness rules over honesty, and it is always available. It costs nothing, takes very little time, if any, and does no harm to the person choosing not to think out loud.

I find humour in the strangest things, and one of them is a very private humour. I can be seen to smile sometimes when others make me privy to their thoughts. It's not a smile of happiness per se, but something close to the smile associated with discovery. A people watching moment. Easily found on Facebook. I love Facebook.

In this way, I smiled several times in the last 24 hours, privately, over statuses, with only cats watching, over choices made by others to say exactly was on their mind, at times I would have chosen to say nothing, and two of them have stuck in mind, resulting in these words here.

The first was a statement. It was a strong statement, which is exactly what Facebook statuses are for, and I applaud statuses that actually make sense. It was however a total contradiction of the poster's objection to a status of mine not so long ago. That in itself caused me a discovery smile. Of course my mind flashed "hypocrite" but I chose not to say so. To say so would cause unnecessary argument. Hypocrisy is a human right. But there was a second level of smile when I remembered that the person who wrote this statement is very keen on minds being freely spoken , and would quickly lambast me for excessive tact, yet would absolutely object to being called a hypocrite. I enjoyed these thoughts very much, and kept them to myself. Discovery. Fascination. Fodder for character writers. Remember it, it's useful, but no harm done, move on.

The second was a comment following a status. It was exactly the sort of thing I avoid doing wherever possible, which is making a remark that, while it begins "What I do is.....", actually screams "What you should do...........". It would be unfair to suggest that all comments beginning with "What I do is...." read this way, because they don't, and in fact saying "What I do is...." is usually the gentlest, and least pushy way to suggest an avenue of possibility. But every so often, due to the level of difficulty of following the advice, for example, it sounds as if "...ner, ner, ner, ner ner!" is added at the end.

For example, if your statement was "I'm so cold", and you got a comment of "When the weather is like this, what I do is go on holiday to the tropics" your reaction might just be a tad negative. Oddly enough, most of us don't have that option.

So it isn't actually helpful. Advice is supposed to be helpful.

And I find this just so amusing. That people come right out and say these things. That's probably very, very wrong of me.

But the best part, the very best part, is that often, when these things are said, and commented on, and then the comments are commented on, a real argument develops. I watch in awe.

This morning I found this on a page I follow:

There is no fight left in her. And that's the best thing that ever happened for her. For far too long the futile battle of light & dark has left her exhausted. She's accepting both light & dark as the inherent gifts of the universe. She's not in a duelling match with them. The light no longer wishes to 'reform' her dark, and her dark no longer wants to 'control' the light. Suddenly, she's not playing the polarity game. She's not fooled into buying the teaching that there's something wrong with her that needs fixing, and she's got work to do before she's finally 'good'. Her divinity is in fully embracing her humanity. All of it. So where's the imperfection? The myth that one day light will vanquish the dark and there will be peace would have kept her exhausted & imprisoned. She's already at peace right now! Even the light and dark within her are sitting at peace with each other. Game over. What she's experiencing in the ceasing of war is an unbelievable tranquillity & peace. Thank goddess she believed in her own wisdom. ~Sukhvinder Sircar 

Presumably this is seen as empowering. So, it was with careful consideration that I chose to object to it. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. My opinion, while I think valid (or I wouldn't hold it) is often best saved for myself. When I decide to share it, I have to justify that decision. I won't do it on a whim. But this time I decided I would say, simply:

Define dark? Matter of opinion.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Black Cats

Just a quick one. Friends know I take a dim view of superstition, especially modern superstition, but I have no time for any of it.

This one is particularly vile because it can cause harm to animals.

It is also patently absurd, because it's backwards depending on where you live.

I was informed just this week by several intelligent, educated North Americans that they were unaware that...

Black Cats are considered GOOD luck in Britain, and other places.

Wikipedia offers a theory as to how Americans got it twisted:

As it's obviously ridiculous that an animal can be both good luck and bad luck, this should be the very first superstition you throw out, but do me a favour and throw them all out while you're at it.

Gratuitous 1970s music.

Why We Argue

One of my pet topics here is communication, and there's a reason for that. Communication is a double-edged sword. It allows us to problem-solve and it causes no end of problems. So, as you know, I am very keen on good communication, and I observe bad communication. I have theories about bad communication. You're going to hear one of them.

What comes out of our mouths, and what gets heard by the listener are two different things. And this is not a hearing problem, because the same applies to what we write.

I know I'm not mistaken here because (and you've heard me witter on about this before) there are so many times people object to things I haven't said. So they are hearing/reading something else. Why?

It's simple. All of us have a different "angle", a different outlook, a different Weltanshauung. When we cooperate, this is really useful because they combine, they cover lots of bases, they give a more whole, rounded way of doing things. This is why we have juries, committees, parliaments, etc.

But when we don't agree there is discord.

In theory, by compromising and working together we can overcome this, but in practice stubbornness and misunderstandings often block a solution.

And I say misunderstandings because of this particular problem, this hearing something other than what was actually said.

I'm going to return to an argument I've already touched on in a previous blog, but didn't give you details about. It's a religious question, but don't let that become your focus, or you will get distracted from the problem in hand.

In this argument, which was on the topic of creationism being allowed in public schools, I made the assertion that the Bible was mythology. I've made that assertion once or twelve times, and I know exactly what the reaction will be. So I'm well-prepared for what follows. Even this.

Because what follows sometimes, is exactly what followed in this instance, where the person arguing against me said "But you don't believe in God". I then asked him to show me where I said that. Unable to find it he ignored the question and went on a different tack.

Now, I repeat, don't get bogged down in the God question. It's pointless. But there is no link, no connection between a person's attitude to a book, and a person's theism or lack of it. That relationship is caused by the listener's own beliefs (i.e. he believes God, specifically his God, wrote the book.)

This happens in far more mundane situations, I've mentioned before that frequently, when I say I'm cold, my husband says it isn't cold. I never said it was, I said I was. He's referring to the temperature, I'm referring to my comfort level. This is the exact same problem.

Friday morning, we went to buy a new dryer. Home Depot could not sell us one, only order one for delivery in 7-10 days with a $50 delivery fee. Future Shop sold us a floor model, covered the cost of the tax, and helped us get it into the back of our truck.

Quite why Future Shop can do this and Home Depot can't, I don't know, company policy obviously, but what it means is that regularly, the sales clerk in Home Depot has to disappoint people by telling them they have to wait. My reaction to that was to smile and say thank you and goodbye. I was very nice about it, she was very apologetic, but I guarantee there have been problems over this. I guarantee that at least one potential customer, possibly frustrated by being without an appliance they rely on, has torn her to shreds for not saying right at the beginning, that nothing in stock is actually for sale.

You may say, well this is different to the other examples, but it isn't. The responsibility for clear communication lies at both ends, in fact. Sometimes you may feel it lies more at one than the other, but that's just your angle.

If I speak clearly, and I'm misunderstood, I will blame the listener, oh yes. No question. If he tries blaming me I will object. I may well be right, both in what I said, and in standing up for myself, but there will still be an argument. It's virtually unavoidable.

And if there were 100 witnesses, who all agreed that I spoke clearly, and honestly, he may still see it differently. Because what we hear isn't always what was said, and something else. We just don't like what was said.

I'll give you another example from my family, because the pettiest arguments often come from family, with people we love and care about.

It is normal, when I tell my husband something has happened, that he says "What do you mean?" For example, when I said "The washing line is broken" he said "What do you mean, broken?" to which I replied, perhaps a bit too sharply, "I mean broken". And he glares back. The silliness of this is obvious, but some of you are nodding your heads.

And you could explain it. You could take his "side" and say "What he is asking, is "is it snapped" or has it just fallen off the fittings, or has the pole fallen down". Which is quite a reasonable thing to suggest. Except it doesn't take into account the two personalities involved. Or to be precise the fine details of the two personalities involved, the fact that he ALWAYS asks "What do you mean?" to any announcement like this  - if I said the cat was dead, he'd say "What do you mean, dead?" where there is no possible ambiguity. It's how he reacts to news. And that I am rather more clear in my choice of words. Had the line slipped off, I'd have said so, if the pole was down I'd have included the word pole etc.

People have quirks, some people have more quirks than others, and without knowing them thoroughly, it's impossible to say who is responsible for the miscommunication. Maybe both sides.

My point is that it's inevitable. These miscommunications happen in the best of circumstances. Add in variables like hearing problems, language problems, memory problems, emotions, stress, illness, weather, history, and the price of bacon, and quite frankly, it's a bloody miracle we get along as well as we do.

To prove my point, right now some of you are still bothered that I said the Bible is mythology, some of you are considering buying your next dryer at Future Shop, and my husband is saying "but I don't....."

Once again, not reading what I wrote. I even specified "my point is" and marked it in bold. This is a simple answer to the title of the blog, but you, dear reader, have gone all round the houses in your opinion of my attitude over the examples I gave, and gone off on tangents over the blog. It happens all the time. People take all sorts of things from my rambling style of writing, rather than the point I was hoping to make. And it's inevitable. It's so inevitable it's not wrong. It's human nature. But it still causes problems.

A variation on this explains why employees and kids do a poor job of tasks.

You ask your employee or your son to clean the sink.

When you clean the sink, your objective is a clean sink.
When he cleans the sink his objective is to get his boss or parent off his back.

Consequently the sink is not cleaned properly.

Although your communication of "clean the sink" is quite clear, his angle, his attitude to cleaning, is quite different. You can try all sorts of things to improve his work, but until he wants that sink clean, it will never be quite right.

Then, added to that are your expectations. These aren't met, and you get upset. AND, you feel you are justified in getting upset. Layers and layers of being "right".

While your employee or son, who sees it differently, feels nagged and irritated.

And no amount of insisting that he "should" do a better job will help. I'll talk more about "should" tomorrow.

We communicate badly, both when we speak and when we listen. We could try harder.

Friday, 25 October 2013

You Are Annoying

Yes, you.

You do things that annoy people. A number of them. You do them repeatedly.

Do you know what they are?

Perhaps you do. I know my annoying things. I know all of them. I am fully aware of all my faults.

Will I change?

Probably not. Will you?

There are so many things people can do to annoy others, some are just sort of quirks. Habits.

Many years ago, I went on a training course and was paired with a girl who finished the ends of your sentences. As you wound up with "..........Wednesday" she was already there, somehow. And would say it for you. I tried to pretend I hadn't noticed at first, but it was constant, and it was very distracting. I tried not talking, but that's impossible. I tried letting her do all the talking and just using "yes" or "no" answers, but she predicted those too. So I got mischievous and changed my mind a lot, or used ridiculously obscure words I'd learned playing Scrabble. Finally I resorted to making words up. This caused her a few problems but she muddled through gallantly.

Thankfully I was only with her two days or I think I would have gone mad.

Somebody has to work with her every day. Somebody presumably lives with her.

Did they ever say anything, I wonder?

And COULD she stop? Or was it like a twitch?

I don't know.

But some of the things people do that are annoying are things they are fully aware of and fond of. We'll use my annoyance here as an example. I'm forever going on and on about good basic English. I don't call you out on it, because I think that's rude. But my son just sent me a message on Facebook, and I'll share it with you:

"Us kids have it easy your really smart and always know what is needed:)"

That's very sweet of him, so I said:

Well, thank you. I try. Age has its uses.

But then added:

And that's " ...easy. You're really..."

The reply was:


He's used to me. I consider myself his main teacher, and it's my job. He'll thank me for it one day.

Yes, I know it's annoying, and some of my friends and family have said so. I have been thoroughly chastised. I'm just really grateful that I have people in my life with the guts to speak their minds like that. They are free to point out anything annoying that I do. I won't be offended, but I don't promise to change.

And the number one thing I do that annoys people is make them think. To re-examine things they have been taking for granted. Now, again, people who have chosen to be in my circle see the value in this, and it's a sort of smiley annoyance, a roll your eyes annoyance, and sometimes they come back and thank me.

It's not my place to try to force my opinion on anyone. Apart from anything else, I could be wrong! But some of the things I value most having learned, I picked up during a difference of opinion with somebody. We often learn quite a lot being disagreed with, and it's quite a good idea taking a bit of time just to listen before responding. If I've learned ANYTHING in my half-century to date, it's that listening is really important.

Therefore, one of the things that annoys me the most about people is not listening. It drives me nuts in any situation. It's the most frustrating thing children do. It's beyond frustrating in customer service. Whatever the situation, if I have to repeat myself, I'm quickly annoyed. (This is related to this blog: by the way)

So, in an argument, for example, if the only response I could possibly give, would be to repeat mysef, I won't. This annoys people :)

So, this blog is not a blog, it's a disclaimer.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


A friend posted this on Facebook today, and I'd like to preserve it a bit longer by sharing it here instead, and adding editorial.

If you're not used to Russell you may be put off by his style. I hope you can get past that because he has something to say.

There are many people in this world whose approach to life is not serious (myself included) and as a result are not always taken seriously.

You know me well enough to know I can approach serious subjects and I can also be very silly. Sometimes when I'm being silly I get taken seriously, so it doesn't always work, but that's the written medium for you.

We live in a world that is totally absurd. You may have noticed. If it takes a clown to point that out, it seems quite appropriate.

If you like what you see, there is more. Russell has written two books, which I highly recommend. They are the same combination of utter silliness and deep wisdom. These things can often be found in the same place, because those of us who see that the emperor has no clothes, are often amused by it.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Logic 101

This one's doing the rounds, so as yesterday's blog was cancelled due to my better judgement, let's consider this whole topic.

Let's look at this logically.

The cost of testing has been conclusively demonstrated to cost multiple times any savings here. It has been tried. It has failed. The idea sounds half-reasonable until you look at the numbers, and the numbers don't work.

Similarly it has been proven time and time again that the cost of tracking down all forms of cheating on any welfare or benefit scheme always costs far more than the money spent on people who really shouldn't be receiving it.

In other words, it's cheaper to turn a blind eye to a few freeloaders than it is to prevent their fraud. Ask any accountant why you would spend more rather than less, or just figure it out for yourself.

But let's pretend this is not the case. Let's pretend you save money testing welfare recipients not only for drugs, but for all forms of "not playing by the rules", and for some reason it was saving the system money.

You stop giving them support.

What happens next?

If you think they are all going to suddenly snap to it, become fine upright citizens, get a job, pay the rent, feed the family and never be a problem again, you are living in cloud cuckoo land.

For a start, it's hard enough for people without these issues to get jobs. If you are a drug user, or simply a lazy bum, it's not only much harder to find employment, you won't keep it long. Some people are virtually unemployable. If you've ever worked alongside a person with drug problems, or with severe laziness, you know that not only do they do a bad job, they create problems for their co-workers. They could potentially be an actual danger to the public.

The next issue is that some of them have dependants. What happens to them if income is withdrawn? The children of these people already suffer, already get abused, already go without food. With no money coming in at all, it's going to get worse.

What you will have, quite quickly, are people who are either begging on the street, or committing crimes to stay alive. In winter in northern climes, homelessness alone can be deadly. It's very hard to pay rent on no money.

You don't need to feel any sympathy for the drug user or lazy bum, if you don't want to. What you do have to look at is the outcome of withdrawing their income. Logically. Not wishful thinking. Not what you would do if you were penniless, but what realistically will happen.

What usually happens is that they become ill, maybe they are already mentally ill, but never diagnosed. That can happen to poor people. There are many physical diseases that can afflict drug users and other desperate people, including HIV. And now we have a cheap drug on the street that rots your flesh off.

These people will require hospital treatment. It costs far, far more from the public purse to hospitalize or provide drugs for chronically ill people than it does to cover their rent and food. Ask that accountant about the best choice here again.

Again let's look at the children of these people. The foster care system in most countries is already overwhelmed, so that is not a viable solution. Plus, foster parents get paid a lot of money, far more than parents are ever given to support their own children. So it's cheaper to leave them with their parents.

Do you think children living with these parents do well in school? Do you think they are growing up with the best guidance, the best role models, the best care? How will they be when they are adults? The answer is not difficult. They will be another generation the same as their parents.

Are their chances better or worse if they are homeless, and starving? Perhaps, in this scenario starving them to death could cut costs. Is that the plan?

You will not find a single taxpayer who is happy about this entire situation. Some believe the solution is to provide more money to go into supporting people with problems. Some would like to provide nothing. But there's nobody who thinks it's just fine as it is.

And if we are talking about money, there is such a thing as investment. Investing in the next generation, investing in safer streets, investing in the general health of the public, these things tend to be a wise investment. Unfortunately, because results are not instant, it's not good for votes.

If you have no compassion, or limited compassion, or just take a different approach to compassion, that can be discussed as a separate issue, and of course it will be.

But when it comes to cold, hard cash, it does NOT help matters to withdraw public support from those whose ability to support themselves is compromised in this way. It costs more.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Ignorance 2 - I Can't Hear You - La La La La La

I love it when a blog gets discussed. Yesterday's was discussed twice, in a way, because I also posted this:

Which led to a great discussion, read it if you haven't already.

Then this morning, I stumbled across this:

And that's the other side of the story. 

We did talk about fear, and loss - loss of dearly held beliefs. 

But if you know, I mean YOU KNOW you are wrong, and you stick to that script anyway, I think pride has to be involved too. 

I had a discussion (we won't call it a debate, debate has all participants following certain rules) on a friend's wall yesterday, which began on the topic of teaching "Intelligent Design" alongside science in public schools. My position on this is no secret. I do not object to it being taught, but it must be taught in a class called Mythology, and all other creation myths must be given equal time. 

I do not object to it being taught any more than I object to Greek Mythology being taught, because - I contend - they are equivalent. They are both hugely important mythologies, if for no other reason than the fact that they inspired literature, art, and many aspects of civilization. But we don't teach Greek mythology alongside science, it simply isn't appropriate. It isn't science. 

I offered a compromise. Allow it to be taught in a class called "Christianity" but pay. Pay for the textbooks, the tuition, and the classroom rental. It would be a great way to see just how much parents really do want this taught. Or alternatively, teach your dearly held mythology at home or in church. 

"Intelligent Design" is not science. If it is your beliefs, that's fine. You are allowed to believe anything you want. But there are two critical things to remember:

1) You have no business inflicting those beliefs on non-believers. A public school is for all children. That will include other Christians who are not literalists, children from other religions (which have their own sacred myths, including creation myths), children from religions who don't teach creation myths, children with no religion, and a whole whack of children who need to know the current, mainstream version of cosmology in order to succeed in a scientific career, regardless of the beliefs of their family.

2) If it is vitally important to you that your children be fed mythology instead of science, there are other education options, such as private schools, home-schooling, and classes at your church. Unfortunately you do have a right to feed your children this fiction, and despite my disapproval, I actually uphold your right to do so. But not on the public purse. I don't care if 99% of local residents who pay those taxes support you (not that I believe that for a moment), that 1% who don't would then be forced to pay for their own children to be educated against their beliefs. Not acceptable.

But all of this is actually by the by.

The important thing here was what happened during the discussion. The person arguing against me, who we'll just call ID, on two occasions specifically argued against things I hadn't said.

This happens every time one of these discussions comes up. Without fail. This is why it wasn't a debate, it was just an argument. It remained polite, which is remarkable, but I could object to being misrepresented. I am in fact so used to that I do a countdown in my head...."any minute now he'll say X...5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1...there he goes."

Assumptions. Regular as clockwork. WHY? Because their argument is not their own. It's memorized, like a telephone customer service agent's script. If I throw in a fact that messes with their assumptions, they are lost.

This does not only apply to the religion/science argument, obviously. It is very prevalent in political discussions, and quite often in general conversations too.

It leads to people pouting, and saying "Well, that's what I believe anyway." Or the equivalent thereof.

They then claim to be picked on.

Their argument is defeated, but they cannot concede that they were wrong, or mistaken, or ignorant. You are picking on them. With facts. This is pride.

Here's an example, no religion or politics involved.

My son has a cold. My neighbours says I should take him to a doctor. I say that's pointless, doctors can't do anything for colds. My neighbour says I could ask for an antibiotic. I say that would be a waste of money as antibiotics don't work on colds. She says they work on hers. I say this isn't possible, because colds are viruses, and antibiotics kill bacteria. She pouts, looks hurt, and repeats "Well, it worked for me." And now she's off in a huff. That's hurt pride, right there.

She has been corrected. Well, that's pretty uncomfortable. But a wise person would say "OK, I didn't know that. Thanks. I'll remember that." Or maybe she'd be less easily convinced and say "Oh, I must ask my doctor about that," which is fine. Go to an expert, yes. No problem.

This is how we judge people, intellectually, when it comes down to it. Not by the number of degrees they have. Not by their position of responsibility. Definitely not by age. But by their ability to recognize that new information has come along, and requires that they re-think their view.

Of course it's not always cut as clear-cut as my example. In some issues even the experts disagree and that's fine. The solution there is to acknowledge that it's not finalized, that there's more than one theory. This necessarily applies to economics for example. If experts agreed on that, there would never be any financial issues, but there are many variables, so the wise person postulates with that in mind. But first they do some research.

They don't guess.

They don't just parrot what they saw on TV.

If they know nothing about economics at that level, there is no shame in that - but spouting off about it as if they do know, makes them look foolish.

Do you want to look foolish? Admitting you don't know can make you look far wiser than pretending you do know, when you don't. When stuck, say nothing. Avoid the discussion. know....ask?

That's what children do, that's how they learn.

Some of the wisest people I've ever known had a bad start. Indoctrinated into literalist/fundamentalist religions, and/or poorly educated, etc etc. Their "why" questions were ignored, or they may even have been punished for them. They grew up effectively very ignorant. But they had a spark inside them that questioned, and when free to ask, as adults, they did. People who grew up with racist parents, but knew instinctively it was wrong. People who grew up in a strict patriarchal culture, who recognized the bigotry there. People who had been taught to discriminate and hate in many and various ways, but escaped that mindset. It can be done.

It takes a choice, and I believe it is the choice to do what is right over what is easy. It is a choice to risk being ostracized by those around you who still stick to the script. That's very hard, because that can lead to being out on your own away from all that is familiar.

But you know, that's how we got here, where we are today. If the first tribesman had not made the choice to be friendly to that other tribe, to accept their differences, to think outside the box, and not just do everything the way the tribe had always done it, we would still be running around with spears.

I am not exaggerating. Modern society exists because of those people who had the courage to dare to be different. So, yes, I do think they are "better" than the cowards who resisted. I certainly respect those who called for restraint, not too many changes all at once, not change for the sake of change, for a little caution. That's a good balance.

I have no respect for those who wished to keep the status quo just for their own comfort, and I openly condemn those who try to go backwards.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


It won't come as any surprise to you that I'm not a fan of ignorance, or to be precise, of wilful ignorance.

If you are young, or simply haven't had the opportunity to know certain things, that doesn't count. Nobody knows everything. Nor do they need to.

Now, I confess I have developed the farmer's habit of having a little joke with people who can't tell a rooster from a hen, etc., and I have actually been known to roll my eyes at those who can't tell a sheep from a goat, but in fairness, you can just leave this stuff to those of us who actually work with them, if you want to. Although you may find your kids correcting you.

No, it's the blatant disregard for fairly basic knowledge that hurts my head.

Example: On Etsy we now have a world map to show where our traffic is coming from, similar to the one on Blogger. It's interesting to know where one is being viewed from, and it could potentially be useful. Even if it isn't, it's fun and the forums are ablaze with it.

One person wrote:

That is crazy! I havent even heard of some of these places!

Now, personally, I wouldn't have said that out loud. No. If that were me, I'd have been rather embarrassed to discover there were countries in the world whose existence I was unaware of.

Yes, I can see that with a poor education, or maybe just not paying attention, it's quite possible for an adult who runs a business to be ignorant of parts of her own planet, but to feel comfortable admitting that in public? I just can't relate to that.

So, I suppose the question is really, what is basic knowledge, and what is advanced or specialist. What do all people need to know, and what really doesn't matter unless you work in that field.

There's no straightforward answer to that. If you are a Mongolian yak herder, then you really don't NEED to know about anything other than yak herding. It's your livelihood and it sustains you, and by becoming an expert, by concentrating on that, you will thrive. It would be foolish to suggest that a Mongolian yak herder needs to know anything about France, or the cell structure of a tomato, or Aristophanes, or lasers.

So there's a sort of situational aspect to this.

Michael, like me, hates advanced math. He, like me, wants to know why he needs to study it. I always felt it was a waste of time. I immediately forgot it all after school, have never needed it since, and wish they'd spent the time teaching me long division, which my husband finally taught me when I was 24, as that's actually useful. But somebody, somewhere decided that all students need to know trigonometry, even if they are barely literate.

So there's going to be biases in the decision of what constitutes "basic" knowledge too.

But we'll give them a break because they are young.

After school, of course, what we continue to learn will depend on personal interests, or the benefit to our careers. Some people wish to concentrate their studies on learning Klingon, sports trivia, or gossip. Others prefer to become world-class experts on something very obscure, perhaps Babylonian weapons, or Icelandic poetry. While many just stay aware of what's going on around them, and while they might never win a pub quiz, they don't look confused and uncomfortable when somebody asks them to point to Syria on a map.

And then there are those who don't care. It's not because they are far too busy with their own personal expertise, they don't actually have any. But so long as they know what time Honey Boo Boo comes on, and the price of a hot dog, they are good to go.

They simply don't care.

Are they happy? They say ignorance is bliss, so my goodness, they must be a jolly bunch. Happy souls. Happy happy joy joy!!

No, I don't believe it either.

Friday, 18 October 2013


As I've said many times before, I do not fit into a convenient box politically. Partly because I actually understand politics. I'm not saying you don't, but most don't. Most people think the definition of politics is the choice of two or more political parties in the modern Western system.

Being keen on world history I am rather more aware that there are many more options than that. Politics simply means "how to run things", and things have been run all sorts of ways since humans began. Some of them I most definitely wouldn't want to be part of, unless I was in the ruling elite of course, because everyone else was brutally oppressed.

We tend to assume that the best way to run things is modern Western democracy, but it ain't necessarily so. If you have a beneficent dictator, you could actually be better off. Maybe. It's a gamble like any other. At the end of the day, when you consider your "lot" it's not who is in charge, or which system that matters, it's how it affects you.

Most importantly, it isn't necessary to have political ideals in a box. You can pick and choose them, and I do. So, while I am obviously on the left of centre, just how far to the left I go depends on the issue, and on one issue, I have been accused of being on the right. This issue is commonly known as "law and order", but I see it another way.

One thing is for sure, if we are to live together in groups, there have to be rules. Small groups tend to have less/simpler rules. Large groups have complex legal systems. But it doesn't really matter, it all boils down to what do we do when somebody steps out of line. We tell them they broke the rules, they behaved badly. If one among us behaves badly, what do we do?

Humans are not always logical. Quite often our first instinct is to punish the bad person. Revenge. What does this actually achieve? Not much. In some instances it may, possibly, put them off from doing it again. "40 lashes! That'll make you think twice!". Maybe.

But what if the reason the person was bad is that there's something flawed inside them? Some neurological quirk, maybe from birth, maybe from chemicals (natural or otherwise), maybe from life's heavy load. Whatever the cause, what if they can't be "good"?

These days we are increasingly aware of this. There are psychological evaluations when a crime is committed, and in some circumstances instead of going to jail, the person receives treatment. Sometimes it's successful. But there are a lot of if and maybes here, and despite all our latest knowledge on the workings of the human mind, we still regularly do something really, really stupid.

We convict a person for a crime, imprison him for a set length of time, and then set him free.

Not only that, much of the time not only does he get no remedial treatment, quite often his experience in prison leaves him more mentally scarred than before.

The we let him loose in society, with a record, financial, and probably relationship issues, on top of his emotional state, and expect him to just become a law-abiding, functional, useful member of society.

Needless to say, this doesn't work very well.

When you get into this discussion with people you often hear some very peculiar, and rather extreme ideas. There are those who accuse you of being a bleeding heart if you show any sympathy whatsoever towards the person who broke the law. There are those who call you a fascist if you don't. Between those afraid of the nanny state, and those afraid of the police state, all rationality goes right out the window in fact, and I've found this to be one of the most difficult political issues to discuss without tempers flaring.

But we need to be calm and rational about this, because it needs to be fixed.

Right now, just using the United States as an example (because I have the data) there are roughly 2 1/2 million incarcerated people. Almost 1% of the population.

Should they all be there? Do they all NEED to be imprisoned? Lots of questions there. It all comes down to why a person is imprisoned. Is he a danger to the public, for example? Is he at risk of recidivism if released? Good questions.

But these cannot be the reason for his imprisonment. No, because at the same time there are 4 1/2 million more convicted persons who are NOT imprisoned, but on parole etc. Are these deemed safe? Really?

Define safe. There are 3/4 million Americans on the sex offenders register alone. Are they all in jail? No. And this figure doesn't mean there are only 3/4 million dangerous people in the US, it just means 3/4 million of them have been identified. The list of general violent people would be many times that, but nobody keeps a violent people register.
My guess is that the red zone is somewhat smaller than either of the two contributory groups. I could be wrong, but I'm probably not.

In other places the picture will be different, for a variety of reasons, and not least because prisons are not so profitable, but anywhere you go there are people who don't need to be imprisoned, but are, and people who should be, but aren't.

So we talk about justice. What is justice? It's a bit vague most of the time. In fact much of the time it comes back to revenge. 3 years inside as punishment. What purpose does this serve? Does it reduce the chances of recidivism? Opinions vary, and of course it depends on what treatment (use that word any way you like) he receives inside.

I think, before we consider how fair any of this is we should consider human rights. We are all humans. We all have the same rights. In theory anyway. And in our free (ish), modern, Western style democracies we hold individual human rights very dearly. But we never seem to get the balance right.

For a long time the accused man, and even the convicted man, has had his own set of rights. As he should. We lose our humanity otherwise. I am not arguing against that, and in fact I would have prisoners treated better. It benefits nobody to treat them badly.

I am here to argue for the rights of the potential victims. What I am seeing is the rights of the one frequently being given precedence over the rights of the many. There are far too many people free on the street who should not be there. They are not suited to freedom. For whatever reason, they cannot control themselves.

If people could control themselves we'd have no need of legal systems, "justice" systems, or jails. And the sooner we use our jails logically - to keep dangerous people away from the rest of us, the better for everyone.

So why is this not being done, if it's so logical?

Politics. And the lack of logic in politics. Decisions being made for all the wrong reasons. Ideas being labelled "left" or "right" and treated as part of a package deal. Accusations being made as soon as any sensible idea is suggested, that suggest you're not following the correct "side".


The absurd, and impossible idea that the rights of every person can be upheld at all times.

Because, the simple and obvious view is that the rights of innocent people to walk down a street without fear of being attacked by a person known to be dangerous, but released from prison, trumps ANY rights that person has of "second chance" or indeed freedom.

Freedom is relative anyway, but how free am I if I can't go about my day without fear, because there has been a warning of a sex offender living in my neighbourhood? Why is he? Why was he released if the public needs to be alerted to him?

I repeat, it's not a justice issue, it's a human rights issue, and the rights of the many MUST be greater than the rights of one. And if that isn't a left-wing idea, I'm not sure what is.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Doing It All Wrong

I was dared to take part in this year's NaNoWriMo event, whereby you write a whole novel in one month.

Whether it's a good novel or a piece of absolute tosh doesn't matter. The objective is to commit, and finish it, in one month. I've totally rejected the idea before, but something just got me, with this dare, to sort of go "NER NER NER NER" and prove that I can.

There are a few issues though. Apparently what most people enjoy about it is the interaction with other writers. I don't have the time for that. I have no idea how I'm going to fit in writing a novel, let alone any sort of discussion about it. But at least with just writing I can schedule, get up early, skip the blog, and knuckle down. Discussions are notorious time-wasters, and they will not be happening.

Apart from that, I have no desire or need to discuss it. It'll either happen, or it won't, it'll either work, or it won't. Apparently I am missing something, because I simply don't "get" the point of this discussion aspect.

The other thing is, I write in straight lines. I start at the beginning, move along bit by bit, then get to the end. Admittedly I've never reached the end of anything (hence the challenge) but that's how I write. In some ways this is well suited to a writing challenge where you start and stop on a given date, but from what I've been told you are actually supposed to be writing a draft, not a really finished, finished novel.

I don't write drafts. I don't know how to. I've never been able to. I have an idea for a story, I know more or less what I want to do with it, you know, the version you'd see on the back of the cover, and then I just....write. It comes as it comes.

Anyway, it's the middle of October and I have got as far as that. I had no intention of sharing the idea with anyone up front, but I got talked into it.

What it is basically is a historical fiction feminist story. Set against the bitter end of the Minoan civilization, it's a story of a girl growing up with a mind of her own. She resists her culture because she objects to its patriarchy. We know next to nothing about the Minoan patriarchy so I have pretty much free reign, but I think those bulls give us some clues. Anyway, I foolishly shared a few ideas I had and was told it wasn't feminist enough.

Pardon me?

Apparently it's not got enough inner conflict or angst.

This criticism has been especially helpful, so clearly there is SOME value in discussion. Because let me tell you about inner conflict and angst. We don't need your steenkin' inner conflict and angst. The whole point here is that she is a strong-minded girl, a forge-ahead girl, a do-it-on-your-own-terms girl. A decisive girl.

That's the whole fucking point.

And why? Because anyone will tell you "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW". I'm using myself as her character, duh. I don't do inner conflict and angst. More to the more I don't wish to read about inner conflict and angst and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

If there is a reason we need feminism, it's because of this ridiculous stereotype that women are all muddle-headed and fluffy. Well, no, they aren't. Actually.

The next bit is the silliest. I was going to write each day in a blog, so that you lot could watch the story develop. Apparently I should not do that. I'm supposed to wait until the end of November and then submit the story to NaNoWriMo. So anyone could do that, and cheat, and say it took a month when they'd been working on it for 3 years. I suppose they could do that on a blog anyway.

But the idea is, you hope someone will publish it. Apparently many of these books get published. I'm not sure I like that idea, that my weakest, most rushed piece of work could be what introduces the world to me.

I am still not "getting" this. I'll write a novel, I'll send it in, challenge accepted, but it makes no sense whatsoever.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Peer Pressure

"Interesting how gaming was once seen as a somewhat niche and even a bit shameful activity for quite a long time (and still hasn't totally shaken the stigma, maybe), it's interesting how the practical skills that people have developed through gaming are being applied and are being shown to have benefits in quite a few practical fields now" ~ Core Gazer

Stigma? Where?

Rather interesting to find this in my Facebook feed less than an hour after I was ranting to my daughter on the phone about how gaming is now considered not only an OK thing to do as a hobby, but by those of all ages. GMTA.

Yes, 20 years ago it was a leisure time pursuit of young people, mostly, but they are 20 years older now and still playing. It's now perfectly natural, normal, and acceptable to find a middle-class, middle-aged married couple enjoying a game together.

And why not? 50 years ago a similar couple would have played cards. It's the same thing.

It has become so much part of normal life that the words "gaming" and "gamers" have come into existence. And nobody bats an eyelid to their usage. Not even me.

But now we have the opposite thing happening. Now you get the Spanish Inquisition if you DON'T play games.

I was actually criticized recently for not being willing to play XBox with my grandson. It wasn't in fun. It was essentially a judgement on my worth as a grandparent. As I am neither a "typical" grandparent, nor do I care about the views of others on my worth in anything, I told them to fuck off.

Anyway, that's by the by. It was not the criticism I objected to really, it was the whole

"It's what everybody does, what's your problem? What have you got against gaming?"


OK, so pay attention:

For the 30,000th time I have nothing against gaming, gamers, or games. You do what you please in your spare time, and I'll do what I please in mine.

My not enjoying your choice of hobby is no judgement of it. I have not criticized you. All the criticism has been coming the other way, actually. And I even took that in my stride. But I don't want to play, thank you, and have a nice day.

Same applies to many other things. I won't bother listing them. You've read my Golf blog anyway.


When I was a teenager it was daring and forbidden and respectable people didn't do it. Some of my friends did, and got into a lot of trouble. The respectable middle class, middle aged people were highly critical of any and all pot smokers.

Now they are middle-aged and still enjoying it, and whatever floats your boat. Do I criticize? No.

When they discover it's something I have never partaken, they are surprised, but they are not satisfied with being surprised. Suddenly I'm something lesser. Not adventurous enough, must be conservative, or whatever.

Doesn't matter that I support the campaign for legalization. No. That's not enough.

I don't join in, and that's wrong. I must secretly be critical of them. They behave as if I'm against them, despite no evidence that I am. Again, the criticism comes my way.

I could find plenty of other examples, but let's just say that many things have gone full circle. From being on the fringe to being acceptable. Well on their way to mainstream. And because I didn't go with the flow I must be in opposition.

(Insert some sort of emoticon of eyes rolling here, despite the fact I can't roll my eyes. It hurts.)

You know what? If you are so sensitive about the things that you do, that you need everyone else to do it too, to justify it, that's NOT my problem. That's your problem.

My daughter raised another one. Once upon a time you were a social anomaly if you didn't smoke. Now you are a pariah if you do. What happened there?

I remember the pressure, as a teenager in the early seventies, everyone wanted you to join in their new found rebellious habit. Had no effect on me, peer pressure just sort of slides off me. I was amused though..... no...... I was FASCINATED by this need to a) want to be like everyone else, and/or b) want to encourage others to join in (whatever it was), i.e. to make everyone else like them. Leaders or followers, they were all sheep.

Obviously, as a non-smoker I am happy that it's rarer these days, that most places are smoke-free, that fresh air is becoming fashionable again (although apparently replaced by scented candles in some homes, don't get me started). But I have to stand back and just furrow my brow at how people can do a 180 turn in their attitude.

Because what's happening is that their preferences are being guided by trends instead of their own real feelings. WTF is that all about?

And yes, we know WHY young people "join in", be it smoking, or the way they dress, or the slang they use, or the people they bully, or the music they listen to, or whatever. Because they want friends. They want to be liked. Except the people who are trying to get them to join in are not friends, they are pushers, and the reason they are pushing it is their own insecurity (see a and b in bold, above).

We also know that many young people aren't strong enough to resist peer pressure, or have yet to clue in to the big scam that it is.

But you'd think by the time they reached middle-age they'd have caught on.

So when I run into people my own age who look down on me for not following the crowd, I feel sorry for them, and that's the truth. They still haven't broken free. Sure, they may be doing exactly what it is they want to do, freely, without recrimination, AT LAST. And power to them.

Nevertheless, until they don't need me to join in, until they stop caring about what others do, they're still in the teenage trap.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


It's Sunday, I'm still full of germs, and I have the house to myself (apart from grumpy dogs and mischievous kittens) so it's definitely a long, rambling blog sort of morning.

Yes, I've just seen off Martin, Michael, Tyler, and Tom. They are driving to Mississauga to help Alex & Kim put all their worldly possessions into a U-Haul truck and wave bye-bye to the big city. Then they'll follow them to Cambridge, where they take it all off again and put it in a swanky apartment on the hill which happens by sheer coincidence to be just round the corner from Sian.

The chance of two siblings living within walking distance of each other may not strike you as odd, but consider this...

They left home (2 hours north) at different times (because they are 6 years apart) to different cities, different colleges, different plans. Which is what you expect. Alex went to college in Oakville and then moved to Missiauga for work in theatre. Sian went to college in Kitchener, gave that up, got a job, then met Ashley, had a child and then moved to Cambridge.

Southern Ontario is huge, hugely huge, with endless opportunities and places to work and live. But they both ended up in the same corner of Cambridge. I find that incredibly weird, and then not so because life is full of coincidences like that, which probably aren't. It's all Wyrd, in fact.

I mean look at the whole thing of Sian and Ashley meeting. They were both born in England, and chances are would never have met had they stayed there, even though they didn't live a great distance apart, because of the River Thames which made it for all practical purposes much farther.

But that's nothing compared to Rhiannon and Chris. If you haven't heard this before, read it carefully because it's a lesson in wyrd.

Chris's ancestry and Rhiannon's ancestry crossed paths THREE TIMES. Once would have been remarkable. Three times starts to look like a plan.

In 19th century Abingdon, Oxfordshire they both had ancestors working as shoe repairers. Two streets apart. What are the chances these people didn't know each other?

Around the same time they also both had ancestors living just ONE street apart in the East End of London. One was a plumber and one was a carpenter. Again, life being as it was in those days they probably knew each other, even if they only met on construction sites or in the pub.

And a little later on, they both had ancestors in the same village in Suffolk. Now these were very different people, one being rather posh and one rather humble, but they may still have had a connection. At the very least I'm sure they knew each other by sight.

No matter how you look at it, it's wyrd. (OK, is there anyone left who hasn't looked the meaning of that up yet?)

Well it makes you think.

Thinking is not popular of course. People seem to prefer to catch flies. I am not very patient with those who blunder through life, whose choice of leisure time is to watch mindless TV, who get their political perspective from Fox or other "tabloid" media, who make no effort to educate themselves, and I avoid that type of person. So I don't have anything else to say about them really, because they don't really feature in my life.

I prefer to spend my time being a matriarch, running businesses, and learning stuff in my spare time. And throwing kittens out of my mail box, apparently. And writing. It keeps me occupied.

Part of my business involves a thing called SEO, search engine optimization, or choosing the right words to get my stuff picked up by searches. In fairness, it is not simple because the goalposts keep moving. However, with a bit of attention to How Things Work, it's not that hard to do a reasonable job.

For example if you sell green knitted gloves, it's probably a good idea to have "green knitted gloves" as a tag. You can also try "green woollen gloves" "green knitted mittens" and so on. You can throw in "warm winter gloves" if you are so inclined.

Using the tag "woodland fiber arts" is probably not such a good choice. But these are the EXACT words I saw for this exact example, by a person seeking advice. I sat there and blinked for a few moments wondering whether to offer help or not, and I decided I would, but this $10 bill right here says she probably doesn't get it, even after my patient explanation. Here's why.

There are craftspeople and there are business people. Crafts come from the right side of the brain, business skills come from the left side of the brain.

The left side is orderly. Practical. Machine-like, even. It says "If this, then that".

The right side is all about creativity and feelings and experience. It says "Shiny!"

Neither is superior. They are supposed to work together to make you fully human. But if you are mostly right brained you probably aren't good at business stuff.

On the other hand, very left-brained people are about as creative as a lump of dryer lint.

Both people are thinking very hard, they just think in different ways.

There have been times when I've thrown it out to my friend to offer descriptions of the stuff I sell (it's not always easy) and the responses I get tell me that some of my friends are left-brained, and some are right-brained. They're all lovely, I just don't want the right-brained ones doing my SEO.

I was blessed with a brain set just slightly to the right of central, which enables me to be both creative AND rational. It probably limits both, but not in a problematic way.

The question is, can you teach good solid business skills to an artist, and can you unleash the creative potential of an accountant? Possibly, but I'm not going to do it, I don't have the patience.

Of course these abilities begin to show themselves very early. Some of the children who struggle to learn to read are extremely talented with arts and crafts. In our world literacy is necessary, so they have to be taught. When my children were small there were often parents volunteering to go in and help the slow readers. I never volunteered. I taught my own children to read, and knew exactly how to do it. Given the right child I'd have been a huge asset. But the children they wanted to give me were those who were not going to be easy to teach Even my own child - Sian - who showed signs of her father's dyslexia, defeated me. I left her to professionals with alternate skills and endless patience.

Is this why I get so frustrated with adults who can't remember basic spelling/grammar/punctuation? Oh gosh, everyone's heard my rants. Some people laugh at me (best way.) Some people thank me for the help (ner ner ner ner ner.) And some people get angry with me, because they think I place too much importance on it.

Can't help it. Not as bad as some. Intentions are good. Etc.

The other advantage of having both the right and left side of your brain lit up is that it's full. There's no room in there for "stray" thoughts. I don't suffer from that thing where you can't sleep because of too much brain activity, because the truth is, that "too much" is not anything really useful. It's repetition and rubbish. How do I know? Sufferers have told me.

So, I sleep well.

But anyway, let's get back to the grammatical stuff. To answer the question why it bothers me so much. I think it's because it's a new discovery.

People have faults, and some are really quite endearing. Others not so much. But they're not new. People have always had this range of faults. I'm 51 years old and I'm not new on the scene, so I've seen these faults for a long time, and I'm used to them. And....and this is very important.......I noticed them from the get-go. It's that awareness thing. Blessing or curse, I don't know, you choose, but I didn't have to reach a given age or stage in my life to see the man behind the curtain. I was born like this.

So, when I was 3 years old, I saw adults as they really were and not in some child idealized way. I saw all their faults, loved most of them anyway, and did my best to avoid the ones I had marked as dodgy. I walked the world with my eyes wide open from a very young age. Innocence? Well, I wasn't actually guilty. OK, maybe a bit.

And it wasn't because I had a harsh "gritty" childhood, I didn't have to "grow up quickly" as some need to do to survive. I was very lucky, I had good people around me. I just had no delusions about the others.

I hope this makes sense because it's awfully hard to explain. It's a specific type of knowingness. I see it in my eldest grandson too. You can't get anything past that one. He has his strengths and weaknesses as we all do, but you can't fool him. He watches. He listens. He told me on the phone the other day that he's concerned about a friend his brother has made at school because the boy is not a nice person. I guarantee he's right about that boy. I predict his brother will figure it out in due course. That friendship is doomed.

And Michael, my youngest. Very alert, very wise for his years. Comes home from school regularly complaining about how his peers walk around in a kind of stupor. And he wants to wake them up. But you can't.

Anyway, assuming you know what I mean, by the time you reach your half century of awareness, it's hard to be shocked. You can still be horrified, of course. You can still have your optimism tossed against the side of the ship. But surprised at humans? No. We are a nasty, nasty species and we're capable of anything. No matter how depraved or cruel it is, somebody, somewhere thinks it's a good idea.

And in small things, things that don't matter, I'm both saddened and at the same time not surprised, that people my own age can be incredibly shallow. That they can get upset about petty things, or conversely....excited by equally petty things. And when they argue over such things.......I'm busy over HERE.

So they get annoyed by me for the same reason, I assume. Oh Melanie, get a grip, haven't you got anything better to do, what does an apostrophe matter.

Meanwhile I am discovering. Experiencing surprise. Because I went most of those 51 years just assuming that stupid people wrote badly, and intelligent people wrote well.

Or, possibly what surprises me is how intelligent people are not noticing, not aware. Not seeing?

Whatever it is, it's a new discovery, and it's the internet.

4 or 5 years ago I honestly didn't know that educated, intelligent, wise people couldn't tell the difference between then and than. I hadn't experienced it. I didn't know that "I used to" could be written wrong by someone I considered my intellectual equal. It never occurred to me that my peers were writing "Loose" instead of "lose" all over the place. I hadn't actually SEEN these errors.  They took me by surprise, after decades of comfort.

I didn't know. What would I have done if I had?

I knew, obviously, that signwriters were out there making plurals with apostrophes. But that just gave me a rather jaundiced view of signwriters. But I was unaware that it was rampant throughout the normal population. By people who read good quality newspapers, daily.

It's all new, that's what it is. I'm still reeling from the shock. Had this happened 30 years ago I'd be over it by now.

(I now refer you to yesterday's blog, just in case.)

Friday, 11 October 2013


So, I did a very short piece on communication, just to make some examples.

For convoluted reasons yesterday, I was watching two very different videos. I study while I work, you see, because constructing jewellery is purely tactile and visual....I don't need any words in my head, so this is a doable multitask.

Anyway, because I had done all the lectures for the week, I needed something else to watch, and believe it or not I selected a course I would not have done otherwise: The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem.

Normally something only Jews or other Bible Scholars would study, it occurred to me that it was a black hole in my knowledge. I am quite well up on all of the surrounding cultures, with that one being sort of peripheral. Well, here's my chance to fill it in.

Now, I concur with Isaac Asimov: "that the Torah represented Hebrew mythology in the same way that the Iliad recorded Greek mythology." But just as the Iliad does help us with Greek history it is possible to piece together at least some history from the Torah, along with archaelogical and other data.

But still, this period in Jewish history is difficult, because they really don't have much to go on at all. There are a lot of names and dates, but not much detail, and consequently the professor started to sound like this:

I watched the first lecture 3 times, and still couldn't really tell you anything more than the dates. Late 7th/early 6th century BCE. I got that much. I even went to my massive Grun "Timelines of History" to compare it to what was happening in other places, and was able to fix it in my head a bit better. Most of all I got that this was the period when the Bronze Age slipped into the Iron Age.

I decided to watch it a 4th time to see if I could do better, and this time I gave it my full attention. I think I actually have something now, but it was hard work, and I have no idea whether I'll continue with this or not.

So I needed something else. To cut another very convoluted story short, I watched the Sir Kenneth Branagh version of "Look Back In Anger". If you are at all familiar with the 1959 Burton movie, this is very, very different.

You may love or hate Branagh, it seems to go that way. Or you may only know him from Harry Potter, and I won't chide you for it, but he is a very, very, very good actor, and while he was quite young in this, it was well worth watching for his performance alone.

If you're not familiar with this it's from a very famous stage play which was a bit of a revolution in its day for being about serious subjects and ordinary people. We're used to that now, but at the time the playwright, John Osborne, was a maverick. I'll quote directly from Wikipedia: "he helped make contempt an acceptable and now even cliched onstage emotion, argued for the cleansing wisdom of bad behaviour and bad taste, and combined unsparing truthfulness with devastating wit." It goes on to say that the play was very autobiographical and that the main character (that Branagh plays in this version) was largely based on Osborne himself.

You don't need to go and look him up, just take it from me, he was a genius and also a complete arsehole.

Of course, in his own mind he was misunderstood and honourable, and we've all seen people like that. They justify their appalling behaviour, and the harm they do to others, with some noble purpose.

Which brings us right back to the Fall of Jerusalem, and empires in general. You don't need to go back in time and interview those who marched in to these various lands to know they were genius arseholes. Every conqueror there ever was had to be both of those in order to succeed. Empires are built by the effective strategy of the widescale death and destruction of subjugated people and their property, and so are revolutions against them. So the revolutionary leaders are no different. It is a requirement that you be both very clever and very nasty, or you just can't get the job done.

But it's also clear from history that Empires work very well, and produce amazing things. Everything we value tends to have its roots in an Empire somewhere.

It's obvious from the arts that unpleasant people produce great work.

Does that excuse them? No. 

There is no excuse for them. There is no justification for behaviour that harms others. They have to face the consequences of that behaviour be it natural, karmic, or whatever.

On a much, much smaller scale, being rude to somebody cannot be justified by the fact that you were right, or that they needed to hear it, or any of that. Plain words? Sure. Truths people don't want to hear? Has to be done. But actually being insulting? No. No. And.....No. If you do that you will get no forgiveness from me. I will not listen to your justifications.

There are an estimated QUARTER OF A MILLION words in the English language, and you can double that if you include archaic, dialect, and slang words. It is arguably the biggest vocabulary of any language.

If you cannot express youself without resorting to verbal abuse, it is you who has the problem.

Communication, Again

And again, and again, and again.

Maybe ad nauseum. Ad infinitum.

You don't need to know the details, but within my (large) family we had a bit of a communication issue this week. Information got passed on, but either only partially or not quite right, and from person, to person, to person, so that something really quite simple ended up causing a LOT of phone calls, and many, many hours of talking. It's nobody's fault, nobody did anything that could be construed as wrong, and it absolutely was not intentional, but it was a good example of how despite our incredibly complex  language we manage to mess up this communication thing really well.

Another, much simpler example.

I called Michael this morning as normal. After a while he didn't appear so I called him again. And I got "MOM! It's a PD day! I told you yesterday!"

Did he? I don't remember that. My memory isn't that bad, seriously, therefore the problem is obvious, he did not have my full attention at the time.

And there my friends, we have the crux of the issue.

Despite clear concise wording, simple concepts, and no obvious hearing issues, stuff just doesn't go in.

It's a common human failing, and it has many causes.

Well, it happens in writing too.

The very first thing I read online today was a thread on FB where somebody linked to a product that they thought might appeal to others. Didn't appeal to me so I read it very quickly...I parsed it...and then left the site.

The one and only comment was:

"Where do I get one?"

I replied:

"Click the Buy It Now" button.

Probably a bit terse really, depending on how you read it, but....problem solved.

Every day of my life I spend time responding to business questions that people could answer themselves if they read a bit more carefully. I'm used to it. I just answer them (sometimes cut and paste from where they've just come from) and carry on.

I think maybe we are bombarded with too much information in the modern world. Too much communication.

I notice some websites are aware of this and have gone for a sparse, minimalist look now, which is why you can't find anything on Google anymore. (It was fine as it was.)

You may have heard/read one of my basic communication maxims, about the shared responsibility between talking and listening, or between writing and reading. Clearly, on occasions, both are failing, to some extent or other.

Monday, 7 October 2013


Facebook censors took down a graphic and thread from my wall last night. This only happens when somebody reports it. Which means somebody on my contacts list reported it. So for your perusal I present a VERY OFFENSIVE GRAPHIC. You have been warned. This is extremely filthy.

I'm sorry you had to see that. I'm sure you'll never recover.

The comments are even worse. Some of them came through as email notifications, which I dug out my spam folder. Obviously they don't include my own comments but I can remember them more or less.

I remarked initially that this wouldn't be much of a change for me, or words to that effect.

Carolyn wrote: "I don't think I'll be joining that! Too uncomfortable."

I remarked that I find bras uncomfortable.

Carolyn wrote: "We're all different :)"

I think I agreed and wandered off at that point.

My daughter also commented

Sian wrote: "LOL I will do my best to participate! :P"

Shocking, ain't it?

I've put the graphic up again this morning, it will be interesting to see if it stays or goes. So it's a test.

So, all in all, that was just a rather neat example for the blog I was going to write ANYWAY, this morning.

It is not uncommon for people to take offence over differing things, and as I've pointed out many times before, Western society as a whole seems to have its priorities screwed up, where it thinks nudity or sex is wrong but violence is OK. If you watch TV during the day, i.e. at a time when children are expected to see it, this is quite clear from the content. Similarly at events, such as sports events, aggression and fighting are televised without hesitation, but if a woman's clothing becomes disarranged during a song the entire nation melts down. And the last time there was censorship on my page I pointed out that Facebook permits some pretty appalling stuff, soft porn, in effect, while regularly removal pro breast feeding pictures.

And so on, you know all this.

So there are several issues here, including (but not limited to) prudishness, hypocrisy, wrong priorities, and selective censorship.

Facebook is not to blame really. They are just reflecting the weird attitudes of the society they are part of.

As a foreigner I am looking at it from a skewed angle. Despite what they tell you about the English stuff upper lip, we are actually far, far more open-minded. Especially in recent times. We recovered much better from the Victorian nonsense than others, and ye Gods what a massive hypocrisy that was. So much talk about decency while the most appalling things were going on downstairs. In case you don't know, it has been estimated that well over half of the pregnancies in unmarried women in those days was from rapes committed by employers. These girls then lost their respectability, their income, and were often on the street. They were then vilified, obviously, if they turned to prostitution to feed themselves. It was such a ridiculous "blame the victim" cycle, and meanwhile the men responsible divided their free time between preaching about morality to anyone who'd listen, and purchasing the services of said girls.

Has anything really changed?

The answer is no. You don't need to look far to see it. Priorities in modern western society are unbelievably back to front. A song with one four-letter word will have it bleeped out on the radio, but lyrics like this are just fine:

The bitch came back the very next day
Oh, the bitch came back thought she was a goner
But, the bitch came back she couldn't stay away
Don't you know the bitch came back?

I like her so much better when she's down on her knees
'Cause when she's in my face that's when I'm starting to see
That all my friends are laughing thinking that we belong
Well she's so fuckin' stupid that she's singing along

The trouble with girls is they're all the same
Forget the diamonds and pearls they just want a ring
Before you know it you're like a dog on a leash
Well you can try and change the world but you won't change me

The bitch came back the very next day
Oh, the bitch came back thought she was a goner
But, the bitch came back she couldn't stay away
Don't you know the bitch came back?

There she goes again just always breaking my balls
No matter what I do somehow it's always my fault
She says I must be cheating cause I turned off my phone
But that's the only frickin way she'll leave me alone

The trouble with girls is never enough
Love to complain and they never shut up
Like to tell you the way it ought to be
Go on and tell the world just don't tell me

The bitch came back the very next day
Oh, the bitch came back thought she was a goner
But, the bitch came back she couldn't stay away
Don't you know the bitch came back?

It ain't a joke when I say I wanna throw you out 
(I really mean it) (I really mean it)
Well look who's laughing now
The bitch came, the bitch came back
The bitch came, the bitch came back
The bitch came, the bitch came back
She just couldn't stay away

It goes without saying that there are far, far worse out there, but they are by artists I'm not familiar with. I thought it would make a change for a rock band to be called out, and for me (as a fan of rock music, as opposed to the other guilty genres) to look at the dirt in my own yard, as it were.

You see, the problem is about intent. Not appearances. Swear words, naked bodies, etc, are not harmful. They are just words, and just bodies. Everyone has a body. We cover them up because of cultural imperatives, there's no natural reason to so if the weather is good.

If you don't like swear words, don't use them. That's fine. If you don't like nudity, then keep your shirt on.

But if you're going to preach morality, keep it straight, keep it even.

Let's invent two men. Bob and Fred.

Bob is a biker. He has a lot of tattoos, and he drinks a lot of beer. He's very loud. He swears a lot. He farts in public and laughs.

Fred is an accountant. He is very clean, and his hobbies include washing his car and mowing his lawn. He goes to church every Sunday.

Who is the better man? The answer is you don't know. You can't possibly know. You can make assumptions, but unless you know the most intimate details of their lives, you can't tell who is the better man.

You might even say, there's no such thing as a better man.

But if you heard that one of them had just been  beating his wife, which one would you expect it to be? Go on, admit it, your mind would jump to Bob. Despite the fact you don't know him, don't know anything about him, and have no evidence to suspect him.

It's OK to say "ah well, stereotypes will do that" but ask the people who do counselling for battered women, and they'll tell you straight. The vast, vast majority of men who beat women are, by appearance, respectable men. Including goody two shoes men like Fred. Plenty of them. Which doesn't mean that dirty bikers never do it, just that not only does the one does not mean the other, the reverse to your expectations is the reality.

Enlightened people know better than to judge by appearances, but they do it anyway.

I'm a bit peculiar in this respect because I've reached a different prejudice over the years. If I meet somebody who seems too squeaky clean, I suspect them. I have become, over time, based on experience, highly suspicious of people with a very "respectable" appearance. It seems to me they are all hiding something. The sad part is, I'm usually right.

What they are hiding may not be anything unethical, you understand. Nothing bad. But let's say they have a skeleton in the closet. They have some personal detail, something in their history, something in their family that they'd really prefer you didn't know. The majority of times this turns out to be the case.

The more respectable the outward appearance, the greater chance of me subsequently learning their shame. And quite often, it's not their fault.

I read of a celebrity whose grandfather was a Nazi war criminal. He'd tried to keep it quiet, even used legal means to prevent the media mentioning it, but it's like trying to stuff feathers in a bag, isn't it. So now it's all over his Wikipedia page, and it looks worse. It wasn't his fault. Good grief, who can be responsible for their grandfather? If he'd just been open about it most people would have sympathized with him. As it is, trying to cover it up makes him look bad.

You can understand his shame. But this type of thing is going on all the time, not just with embarrassing grandfathers.

Before I go any further, I just want to state that I am not suggesting that just because you never swear, it's because your aunt was an axe murderer. Don't go down that rabbit hole. There is no need to defend yourself.

It's all part of a greater issue with our society. Our society is sick. It loses track of the purpose. It doesn't begin to understand what morality is, but talks about it endlessly.