Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Working Girl

Couple of things I have the urge to share after a discussion about customer service came up on FB.

Some of my customers actually read this blog, so before I begin, I wish to assure them, they aren't the people I'm referring to here - I'm sure they know that, by having been invited to this side of my life, but I feel a disclaimer is in order, just to be on the safe side.

I enjoy selling my trinkets, and I think that's fairly well-known. It's not just "a job". I manage to mix business with pleasure, and I feel this is an ideal situation. Also, because (I believe) I'm offering good products, at good prices, and a totally outrageous level of customer service, I'm doing quite well.

But it's not all good, and I think there comes a time when I should share the few aspects of it that aren't so good - they need to be said. I love being positive, but I also love honesty. As a people-watcher there are a couple of things about humans, that just make me scratch my head. OK, I just want to get it off my chest.

1. The fact is, it has been estimated by people who study this stuff properly, that in any situation of sales or service 3-5% will be unhappy. No matter what you do. You could sacrifice your first born, fall on your sword, or make the mountain move, they will still complain. Why?

Some people are just arseholes. That's just how it is. They may have had a tragic life, or it may just be a personality flaw, for whatever reason, they are never bloody well satisfied. They don't stop to think "am I being fair?" or anything even approaching it. They just complain. They do it in every aspect of their lives. If they were cured of a disease that is normally 100% fatal, they'd complained that the medicine tasted bad. If you saved them from being hit by a truck, they'd complain you got their new shoes wet. There is nothing you can ever do to make them happy, they don't want to be happy.

Among my feedback at eBay is the famous:

"Very pretty but not my style"

Why the hell she bought it will never be known. But she paid 99 cents for it, and still had to leave a remark like that.

Talking of 99 cents, the cheapness of these people never ceases to amaze me.

"shipping was a little pricey for what it is"

Because, you know, I can tell the Post Office to reduce their rates, when I sell something small and inexpensive. That she knew the shipping in advance and still bought it, baffles me too.

These people just don't think. There is no logic involved, and I have to remember that. Their reactions, even their written ones, are knee-jerk.

A couple of weeks ago I had a customer contact me asking me why the shipping was more than the stamp, before she left feedback. Well, at least she asked. It does explain this on the item description, the notification of shipping e-mail, and the store FAQ, but I patiently went through it anyway, she accepted it, and gave me good feedback. I am grateful for her thinking it through that much. But it ought to be fairly obvious.

When a person wins a pair of earrings at 99 cents, I make a profit. I'm not going to tell you otherwise. I wouldn't risk offering them at that price otherwise, I'm not stupid. But when you are the lucky winner of such a bargain, and you discover, on receiving it, as I have been told so many times, it actually looks nicer than it did in the photo, you should be happy. You really should. You liked the photo, you liked it enough to bid at auction for it, you were lucky enough to win it at the starting price, and now it's in your hands, it's actually better than you expected. Wow.

Most people would be happy. Most are. I get such good feedback. But 3-5% are not, because they never are.

Now I should add, both the comments above were on neutral feedback. This does not affect my feedback score, which is currently at 100%, because even though I've had a few actual negatives, I sell enough volume to keep it up. But 100% doesn't mean everyone is pleased. It means some leave neutrals, and some just don't bother to leave feedback. At least a lot of grumpy people are either too lazy to bother leaving feedback, or leaving nothing is their version of a neutral.

I actually get less nonsense on my feedback than some sellers, because the demographic of people who buy jewellery are different to, say, the demographic buying video games, or whatever. There's a whole psychology here, which I'm not going to get into right now, but it's one of the reasons I'm in the trinket trade. That 3-5% is probably closer to 3 than 5 when selling jewellery, for a variety of reasons, and not least because things look better in reality than in photos.

And this is an advantage of selling online. There is that delight factor. It may mean it's slightly harder to sell things in the first place, than in person, but it's very good for repeat business, recommendation, etc. The whole "better than expected" surprise is huge. There is no escaping it, selling online is different.

2. One way it is different, especially for places like eBay, but it can happen elsewhere, is the person who selects what they want to buy, confirms that they want it, either at auction or as a regular purchase, but then doesn't pay.

In a regular store, this simply leads to people dumping a few items, or a shopping cart, and leaving. Occasionally it leads to theft. But it generally doesn't lead to the vendor wondering if they are coming back or not. When somebody does this on a site like eBay, it means you wait. And you are expected to. Part of customer service expectations at eBay is reasonable patience with slow payers. After 3 days, you may, if you wish, alert eBay that you haven't been paid. Because of customer service expectations, most sellers, especially business sellers, and low-end sellers, give at least 7 days. People can get annoyed if chased too quickly or too often.

Can you imagine this anywhere else? Can you imagine your local supermarket or big box store smiling sweetly, and leaving your shopping cart waiting for you for 3 days or more, while you get round to paying?

I am used to it, accept it, and even understand it. That's how eBay works, that's normal, that's everyone's expectations. So, when, after 3 days I send a polite reminder, we all understand the system, everyone is smiling, meh, no worries.

After a week, my patience run out. If I get an e-mail saying "I get paid on the 30th, is it OK if I pay you then?" I always say "Sure! No problem." And mean it. If I get nothing, they just don't bother, then on Day 10, I lodge a complaint with eBay, or in fact, it's a complaint with Paypal really (the connection between the two companies is a bit complex, just take my word for it).

Sometimes this jogs their memories/spurs them into action. Suddenly. Like they were waiting for a final demand or something. I can almost guarantee that the same people who take forever to pay, will also be quick to complain when something doesn't arrive fast. Either they simply simply see the irony in that, or it's a silly tit for tat thing, who knows. But it hasn't occurred to them that had they paid for it quickly, they'd already have it by now......

But there are always a few who never pay. Why? OK, people change their minds, that's life, but by saying nothing, no request for cancellation or whatever, they get strikes against their account. Too many of those and you're out. So, they start a new account...but how dumb is that? It takes much longer to set up a new account than to fire off an order cancellation request. But again, that is looking at things logically, and there is no logic in bidding on an item at auction, or clicking on the "Buy It Now" and then the "Confirm Purchase" buttons, and then going no further.

I tend to assume, because I don't know (because they don't communicate) that in some cases this is because they only notice after "buying" that it's an item coming from Canada, and that the shipping is higher, and the delivery time will be longer. They can see this before they buy, but it's an attention thing. People are impulsive.

It's the nature o' th' beast.


Forgot a bit.

3. Among my neutral feedback comments is this:


Now, what am I supposed to make of that. A sad face. Not sad enough for a negative obviously, but......

When I ship an item, I send a notification of shipping e-mail that states:

"If you are not 100% satisfied, please contact us"

Which really shouldn't need to be said. If you are dissatisfied with something, I think we all know that the first thing to do is tell the person responsible. As it happens, I only check my feedback periodically. So I didn't even see this until two weeks later. Do buyers really think we check it daily? And/or that's we're psychic?

Do you know what this reminds me of? People who sulk very theatrically and wait for you to ask them what's wrong. I cannot stand behaviour like that, and it gets you nowhere with me. So this version of it was summarily ignored. There comes a point with customer service where you say "enough". I aim to please but I don't respond to sulking.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


We were promised a storm and we got one. There wasn't really  much came down, maybe five inches, but the wind was in architecture mode and as fast as it fell, it collected in dunes.

We went to bed, and just before midnight were woken by flashing lights right outside. There was a car and a tow truck making hard work of it. We watched for a bit, then I went downstairs to get a drink. Tom was still up, and told me all about it.

The car had hit a drift at the end of our drive and stopped. His wheels were off the ground. Tom had gone out to try to help him but they couldn't do anything, so he called the tow truck, who winched him off. Had he woken us, Martin could have got the tractor, but Tom still hasn't quite got the hang of what constitutes a Dad-waking emergency. We'll discuss that. Nevertheless, I am extremely proud of my boy for offering assistance to a stranded stranger. May have more details on that later.

I was woken this morning by the sound of a heavy engine revving, looked out the window and it was a snowplough, fighting with the same drift which by now was a monster, about 5 feet high. After about 20 attempts he finally got through, but it was iffy there for a bit.

The drifts are sculpted and really qute amazing. This is what formed round the truck:

So today will be digging day. Tyler will be busy clearing people's drives etc, as and when he can get into town. At least the roads are being cleared. Now we just have to dig out the driveway. This is where we kiss the tractor. With a snowblower it would take hours. With a shovel? Forget it.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Being a Martian

You know, I love new music, of all kinds, but I can't get a taste for Skrillex at all. Michael is playing it as he performs his morning ablutions before school, and I swear the cat could produce better "music", given a few electronic things to jump on.

Just one example of where I don't actually fit in to any damn category. The people who expect me to like a particular genre of music because of my age group are always disappointed. And then just when they think they've got me pinned down as having unusually broad or contemporary tastes, I go and say that I hate Skrillex. Messes them up all over again.

People love to categorize other people. Little boxes. I am hard to put in a box. Obviously I love this, because I'm hovering over the rebel box, but it also annoys me, because I don't quite fit in that box either. Am I deliberately contrary? Yes and no.

It all begins a long way back really. I don't ever remember a time when I conformed. It began before I have any actual memory of it in fact. I'm just grateful I was a girl, because if I'd been a boy and it had been the other way around it would have been very different. Because in our society girls are allowed to dress and behave like boys, which I did, but even today it's very hard for a boy to dress and behave like a girl and avoid....comment. It's a MASSIVE inequality. But I got lucky. Girls get away with it. Girls can actually cross-dress and nobody minds.

So I was a tomboy, as soon as I could show any preference. Did that start me on a lifetime of being myself and not giving a shit? Well, it didn't hurt.

It became obvious as I got older that some of my tastes were not mainstream. I liked vegetables, and not sweets. This was noticed. Adults said out loud that I was peculiar. Friends wanted to sit next to me so I'd eat their veggies for them. I'd happily hand over my dessert in return, unless it was a favourite. Because, of course, I can't even do the non-sweet thing properly. I love trifle. Only I hate it with cake in it. And so on ad infinitum. The word "except" keeps cropping up.

I loved the Rolling Stones. And Prokofiev. I loved Mickey Mouse. And R.Crumb. I loved football (soccer), and climbing trees. And Blavatsky.

It was all just too confusing for most people, and it really helps you know who your true friends are. I know a couple of my school friends read my blog, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for just accepting me wholesale. The parts that were weird and all. Mind you, you were pretty weird too. Just not quite as weird as me.

The weirdest part of all, was that I was popular. The weird kid is not supposed to be popular. There's another little box crushed.

So, as I said, that's the early part, the basis, perhaps.

Then what?

Well, there was the part about me marrying young and having a brood of kids. Nobody, not even me, expected that. If you had done a survey asking who was most likely to do that, among my peers, I'd have come last. Every aspect of it shocked everyone. We bought a house, with a garden, which I tended lovingly, and I knitted and sewed, and carried babies around while mowing the lawn, and it was just not what anyone expected. But I still had my music and books, so what was the problem? What else was I going to do with my twenties, seeing as I had given up on formal education? I blame others for that. So I went with Plan B.

The next contradiction is national identity. Despite getting into big trouble with a French immigration officer because I insisted on giving my nationality as English, instead of British ("L'anglais n'est pas une nationalité, mademoiselle, c'est une langue!") I have never considered myself British, and never will. I've heard all the arguments, not interested. And yet...............I have no allegiance to the crown, none whatsoever, and no real patriotism. There are many things about the English I reject, and some I despise. I consider myself a world citizen first, and my Englishness to be an accident of birth. Leaving England was easy, and so, in my 31st year, I flew away, without a single tear shed. Intending never to return, actually.

Last week we celebrated 20 years in Canada. Do I feel Canadian? No. Do I still feel English? No. To me it doesn't matter. I could live anywhere. Gypsy soul and all that. I'm perfectly happy where I am, no desire to go anywhere, but if I got an opportunity? If it was suddenly doable to zip off on some adventure somewhere? I wouldn't stop to even pack. This is a massive contradiction, I know. How can I be so content here, and at exactly the same time so ready to leave? Sorry, can't explain it. That's just how it is.

I am neither one thing nor the other, that's the thing. I'm neither English nor Canadian. I'm neither a city girl anymore, nor am I country girl. I don't belong anywhere. I have no cultural, social, or any other group that I fit into, save that of "my friends and family". I get along with most people. I like people. I like people no matter where they come from, or whatever category they may fall into, so long as they are people that I like. If we hit it off, then we do. If I don't like them, nothing we have in common will help.

It means I inevitably disagree with everyone over something. And I'm not exactly shy either (...) so I have to control myself a bit with offering my view, it sometimes requires great tact. That's OK, does me good.

It means I try really hard to understand the POV of others, to attempt to imagine what it's like to walk in their shoes, and I do this from sheer pleasure. Sometimes, I just watch two opposing views going at it, and don't join in, but I'm fascinated. I see truth and stupidity in both sides. I think that's how it's supposed to be.

What about the deeper stuff, ideologies? Religion and politics, and all that jazz?

In many ways I'm far to the left. Then just when you think you've got a handle on that, I'll say something so right-wing, you'll need reviving from the shock. Both the left and right wing dislike me. As far as I'm concerned, this is a sign I'm getting it right. I would never join a political party, it's far too restrictive. My real position is anarchy, but most humans couldn't cope with the self-discipline required, so I know I can't have it for myself. I prefer logic and compassion to what passes for most politics these days, and I'm bored, just bored with arguing the same things over and over, so I tend to just avoid it.

Yesterday, I started yet another Coursera course. I have a new method there. I just sign up for every single course that looks interesting, knowing full well it's impossible to do them all. Then, if it doesn't look promising, I drop it. It's free, I can do that. So, let's tell the truth shall we, yesterday I started FOUR more courses.

Women and the Civil Rights Movement
Introductory Human Physiology
Aboriginal Worldviews and Education

I will definitely continue with the latter two. The first two are iffy, however. I'll watch one more lecture and decide. The purpose of this is to learn, and to enjoy it.

The AIDS course is presented by an excellent lecturer, and is utterly fascinating, I'm already hooked. I think it will get quite challenging, but that's half the fun. The Civil Rights course suffers from the same issues as the one I dropped previously, and I won't dwell on that. The Physiology course just looks incredibly difficult, frankly. After the first lecture I felt I was in too deep, and I know they only get harder as they go along, so that was a warning bell.

But the Aboriginal Worldviews feels like it was made with me in mind. Like slipping into a warm, comfortable place. A lot of study, probably the heaviest workload of any course I've seen so far, but oh so enjoyable.

Why did I suddenly mention this?

The most important thing of all, in defining ourselves, is not any of the differences I listed above, it is our worldview. It is fundamental to everything we think, say, and do. It is the basis of all our beliefs. To benefit from a course on Aboriginal worldviews, it helps to know your own.

The Aboriginal worldview and the "European" worldview, which ultimately is the dominant worldview that has morphed into "Western", are quite different, some might say opposing. No surprise there, perhaps. We've been butting heads long enough.

Some Western people have studied the Aboriginal worldview to the point that they think they understand it, or are following it, or whatever. I have my doubts about that, but it's not for me to say. Still, there is another scale here, between the anti-Aboriginal and the wannabe Aboriginal. We are all on that scale somewhere. There's an uncomfortable truth!

I find that on some levels I feel like I'm understanding their worldview, and then at points, I really don't get it at all. For once, I think that is the appropriate place. That being neither one thing nor the other is right. Not just right for me, but the right place for humans. That's quite an assertion, and if you'd like to test it, you could always take the course. But as I go through it, I guarantee I'll be writing at length about specific points, so you haven't heard the last of this.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


Genealogy is a big interest of mine, but I've got to a point with it where patience is a virtue - more records have to be published (or possibly discovered) before I can get any further. So, it's rather "on hold" for now, for the most part.

Quite by chance yesterday I stumbled across a TV show on You Tube yesterday, where Eddie Izzard is sent to revisit his DEEP ancestry, via DNA samples, right back to Namibia, where all European ancestry comes from, with a common ancestor 200,000 years ago.

You can watch the first episode in its entirety on You Tube.

It includes a factoid that I hadn't come across before, that all people with blue eyes originate from a common ancestor in a known place and time: 

OK, it's not quite like knowing your ancestors names, jobs, etc, but I am tickled pink to know where my blue eyes came from. 

Being of English birth, I am well aware of being a mutt, I even know some of my own mutt strains from genealogical data. But I'd still love to do the DNA thing, in fact I've looked into it, and as it gets more popular, the price is gradually coming down. Once it falls within my budget, I'll be sending my spit off for analysis. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Wonderful Process

I don't deliberately do blogs in series, but what often happens after I write on a given topic or two is that I discuss them with people (not necessarily because they've read the blogs, you understand, it's just what's on my mind at the time) and further ideas develop. This week the two nuggets that morphed into discussions elsewhere and ended up causing THIS blog, were the idea that we change as we age, (and that one of those changes is sometimes wisdom), and the idea of knowing oneself.

Last night I was talking to my boys about concepts that require several words, or even several sentences in English, but are captured succinctly in one word or phrase in other languages. For my sake (and maybe yours too) I urge you to look up Weltschmerz (German) and Mono No Aware (Japanese) if you are not already familiar with them. These are two things than can increase with age, and there are several ways of dealing with it. You can indulge in them, or you can fight them, or you can allow them occasionally, but otherwise try to avoid them. I follow the latter.

There is a concept that has arisen in a few places lately, which is how the language we speak affects our mindsets, our outlook. I've just ordered Through The Language Glass, by Guy Deutscher, and will talk more about it after I've read it, but just to give you an example, in many languages, especially ancient ones, the words for colours are not like ours. We expect to be able to translate the word "blue" quite easily, but it can't always be done. Because we have the word "blue" it affects how we see things, how we define things, and how we relate to things, with regard to their blueness. But as I said, I'll return to that in a couple of weeks.

One of the things that changes with age is speech. We increase our vocabulary, and we may also move in circles that cause us to change our speech patterns. In fact if you meet somebody young who uses a formal style of speech, with lots of long or less common words, you tend to say he's old for he's years, or that he sounds old. He may be teased by his peers. If you meet a older person who has acquired a style normally associated with teenagers, we are often all quite unkind in our judgement, writing them off as trying to sound younger, and suggesting it's not fitting. There are real expectations here.

We connect language with wisdom, in fact. We may doubt whether the "trendy" teacher who apes the slang of his students is quite as able as his colleague who talks very formally, despite them being the same age. And we assume that the young person who uses a lot of street slang is less intelligent. It's a type of prejudice. It may or may not be accurate, that's not the point. We have a concept that a person "sounds stupid" because of the way they talk. It may be unfair, but that's how it is.

Because of this we might encourage young people to "talk better". I certainly do with my kids. I correct spoken grammatical errors without hesitation ("I seen it"), and I'm famous for not allowing the stereotypical Canadian "Eh?" in my house.

I have had success, for the most part. I have managed to convince my kids that sounding intelligent is a beneficial thing, a positive thing, and something to aim for. Either I've brainwashed them, or they agree with me. Doesn't matter. It worked. The prevailing culture in this family includes improving oneself.

Right. Let's go back to how people change with age. We learn as we age. We collect more information, we have more experiences, and we pick up all sorts of ideas that when combined, allow us to improve our thinking skills. Some people do this faster than others, partly because of inherent IQ, and partly because of opportunity. But there's something else as well. Sometimes really intelligent people, raised in a culture that encourages learning, having had at least a reasonable education, and having been around a few decades, discover they have only just learned something that should have been obvious long ago. In fact, they even notice that there are younger people who have always "got it".

Now I'd like you to be honest, and admit this has happened to you. It certainly happens to me. I'm not talking about suddenly understanding Einstein's Special Theory at the age of 42. No, I'm talking about much simpler life skills. I was well into my forties when I figured out what "joy" was for example. Knew the word, obviously, but had never really "got it". Sounds silly? Bet you've got one. Bet you've got dozens.

In fact, I guarantee (and I hope) this continues as long as we live, even if we reach a great age.

There are things that can be taught, but can also be missed, repeatedly, until one day we surprise ourselves by suddenly understanding them. If we admit it, to ourselves or others, we say things like "I can't believe I didn't figure that out before".

In fact, let's briefly go back to Einstein. Although obviously "bright", he was famously not the best student at school (notably better at some things than others). But in later life he came up with many theories, which have made him a household name. When he developed his theories, it was after many years of NOT developing them, if you see what I mean. Some of them were based on the work of others, some took him many years of thought, but then one day he had a breakthrough that allowed him to present a viable theory, which he hadn't had before.

I doubt Einstein felt any sense of "duh, how did I not figure that out before", but we do, don't we? We are really quite hard on ourselves sometimes.

Instead of being embarrassed, keeping this to ourselves, or even covering up for it, we could use this experience as a reminder to be little more tolerant of the young, and we're all younger than somebody.

Yes, this is coming from the person who regularly rails against stupidity. But I define stupidity as something more than simple ignorance. I define it as wilful, deliberate. If you genuinely don't know any better, because of youth, lack of experience, lack of opportunity, or from a cultural disadvantage, that's not stupidity.

I remind myself of this every time I have an embarrassingly late discovery, and hope it makes me a little kinder on those who aren't there yet. It was just a race, and I won.

Here's a gratuitous 1970s song, because bands like this, with esoteric or surreal lyrics that kept sending me to the library, taught me more than all my teachers combined.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Know Thyself

This is one of the courses offered at Coursera, and I've signed up, telling myself that if it's just more philosophy waffle, I can drop it. I already think I know myself well, as a matter of fact, it's not something I've ever found difficult, but every so often people ask me questions I'd never considered properly, so I'm open to the fact that I haven't got it completely.

One of these came up yesterday. I posted a photo of myself on Facebook, wearing make-up, something I hardly ever do, and most of the comments were flattery. That wasn't the intention, but I suppose it's hard to know WHAT to say really, in hindsight it did look like a bit like I was trolling for compliments. But somebody, never mind who (but I gave birth to it), asked me, offline, why I don't usually wear make-up (the question was actually not phrased quite that way, a point which I'll come back to, but that was the gist of it) and my off-the-cuff response was my standard "my self-esteem is not based on my looks".

To which this wiser-than-their-years person said "so what is it based on?"

And I had no answer.

I had to go away and mull that one over. It's not the first time I've ben asked, but it's the first time I came close to an answer.

In my mind, I am neither truly vain nor truly modest. In my mind, I've got it balanced out pretty well, I don't do some stupid big act trying to avoid getting photographed, nor do I post ENDLESS posed glamour shots of myself all over the internet. Somewhere in-between those two extremes lies sanity.

When I was young I was told so many times that I was pretty, I just accepted it. It was never a question of conceit, but I hate (DESPISE) false modesty, and I am probably too thick-skinned to care if anyone resents the fact that I get compliments, if you see what I mean. Apparently my Dad had the same *shrug* attitude towards his looks, and he had movie star looks. My youngest son - the same. I know him very well, and it's 100% genuine. He knows he's good looking but he's just not bothered.

In fact it is stupid to respond to compliments with gratitude, it was just a toss of of the DNA dice after all.

I've not aged badly, but I haven't made any effort. My entire collection of cosmetics fits in a bag the size of a paperback novel, and really, a pair of tweezers and the occasional box of hair dye are the only clues that I am even aware of my own image at all. I have, shall we say, limited vanity. Aging really has an impact on your vanity, and while some women who were unhappy with their looks earlier in life cease to give a shit, others break their hearts over every wrinkle. Some, frankly, let themselves go. There's a middle way, if you choose it.

"Oh," you say, "it's easy for you to be cavalier about your looks, you've just admitted nature gave you an advantage there." That's not the point. There are plenty of people who are plain, or even actually deformed, who have decided it's not important. Their self-esteem is based on something else.

But what?

Scratching around for an answer I first tried out integrity. It's something I admire in others, that their word is good, and they are good to their word. Do I have good integrity? Well, I try. I aim for that. I value it, so I work towards it.

So maybe effort is more important. I value effort, and I like to think I try my best. Maybe my self-esteem is based on the fact that I know I try hard. Even when I fail I am able to say to myself "I tried my best."

But am I telling the truth? It is possible to lie to oneself. Even believe it, unless REALLY REALLY pushed. Self-deceit is probably the most stupid thing you can do, but it can be done. I think I am being honest, when I say I really try to have integrity. No, I'm sure. This has become almost circular now, and really, at the end of it all, is that I appear to pretty good at knowing myself.

So, maybe that's where my self-esteem lies, in self-knowledge.

But I just said maybe.


One of the courses I'm doing very well in is Astrobiology. The bare truth of that is that I only took it in the first place to prove a point to Tom. Tom is quite obviously more intelligent than me, and even with his social disorder he is more mature and worldly than I was at his age; he's going to be an incredible genius as he gets older. And he frustrates the hell out of me by refusing to take that brain to university. What would he study? ANYTHING. The only course he failed at school was Geography, and that was due to sheer boredom from the way it was taught (yes, I blame the syllabus/teacher, wholly, sorry, but I do). To replace that credit, as he had an IEP they let him do a different subject, and call it Geography. And he chose Physics, which he passed with a high mark. And every damn time I tell anyone that I get the same response, and I expect it. Yes, he took a more difficult course, and passed it easily, to replace an "easy" course. Tom is an enigma, but you get used to it.

So while he is living rent-free writing multiple novels he doesn't finish (who does that remind you of?) and working as my housekeeper, I insist he takes some of these courses. He refused point blank to take Astrobiology, which I at first suggested, then encouraged, and finally nagged him about. He maintained it would be too difficult. That's my eyes rolling across the desk, catch them for me please.

Right then. I'll bloody well take it myself, we'll see what's difficult about it.

I'm going to pass easily. According to the general consensus on the forums it is incredibly difficult. One of the most difficult courses they offer. I am not seeing that. But from my experience with the advanced math in the Genetics course, which makes my brain physically hurt, I get the idea. Some things are difficult for some people. Intelligence isn't as fully general as we pretend.

Tom had a complete meltdown last week trying to use text messaging. He was trying to get his brother to talk him through some maintenance on his Linux system. You might say "that's back-to-front". He can, with a bit of instruction, work Linux, but can't send a text message. Yep. In much the same way, he understands many complex concepts, but has been known, when sent to plug in the tractor heater, to only plug it in one end. Brains are funny things.

Mine starts to melt when faced with a mathematical formula, but I somehow absorb and understand the conceptual similarity between two methods of identifying exoplanets, after a short lecture.

This was all a tangent, but not a bad one. What I was coming to was how the professor, such an incredible mind, displays both modesty and honesty, when he keeps reminding us "but we could be wrong". That in  fact, the basis of all his research could be undermined by an assumption that doesn't hold true. Perhaps life, somewhere, CAN exist outside the parameters we define as habitable. Essentially he is saying, it is OK not to be certain.

I am never certain. I get close to it, in all sorts of ways, but I grok that we cannot ever really be quite sure. And I'm OK with that.

And I think..................that's where my self-esteem lies.


You're expecting a review of the show I went to last night, but this blog ends up having a completely different tangent, and not what anyone expects. It's not going to be about the inhumanity of humans against fellow humans in history, that would be what my husband would be writing this morning, if he blogged. It's not going to be general disgust for how a man can put his ideologies ahead of love for his child. What can you say about that anyway, that hasn't already been said.

Let's begin by saying that the show was very enjoyable. I loved it, I've always loved it anyway, and this production did it justice. We are talking Broadway quality, without question. This despite certain issues, which were beyond the control of those taking part. Because of that, because of the reasons why the show was brilliant DESPITE its compromises, you'll see no reference here to its title, or any names involved, because my blogs show up in search engines. If you missed these details, please refer to my Facebook page.

The short version: the fact of the matter is that because of budgetary restraints it was short a few cast members. Some of them simply doubled up on roles, some crowds were smaller than they might be. Shows cope with this sort of thing when illness strikes, and they cope when it's ongoing too. In theatres everyone "mucks in" and it's common and normal to work outside your "real" role, whether back or front stage.

In this show they are coping, for the entire run, by having a senior member of the technical staff get on the stage. Bet you can guess who.

The funny part is that he didn't tell me ahead of time.

Have you seen the video of students playing basketball, where you are told to count the ball passes? It's very difficult to keep count because there is much going on, so that when you finish, you have a number in your head but may not have noticed that there was a person in a gorilla costume on the other team. If you missed the gorilla, and felt really silly afterwards, well then you know I feel. I watched my firstborn child through an entire scene on stage and never saw him.

As you can imagine, this was his plan. It was a test.

"Well, if you didn't notice, then nobody else did."


In addition, he was wearing a big hat. Now DON'T laugh here, it's actually even funnier that it sounds.

Remember the show. All the men are dressed in black, with beards, and hats.

That's how my boy dresses all the time.

In the show they all (except the lead, I think) have fake beards. Good fake beards take time to put on correctly, there's an expert who does them all at the beginning of the show, and they stay in place until the end. Technicians who run on between other responsibilities, and then run off again, don't have time for all that. They just have time to replace their usual hat for a bigger one.

So he grew his beard out a bit. He's a bit inconsistent in the facial hair department, it comes and goes, so I thought nothing of it. Busy life and all that. No, it was necessary.

In fact, because of the way he looks, his natural face, without any help at all, is the most authentic, for the show, of the entire cast, but I did enough jokes about that last night, and if he's reading this, which is possible, I'm not going to get myself into trouble by dwelling on his ethnic appearance. Not his fault. My fault. DNA and all that.

(Apparently I'm getting photos of him in his big hat at some point, I'll share them)

So, there it is. How to hide something in plain sight.

My kids are always playing tricks on me, but that one is the funniest to date. He wins. Who can beat that?

The challenge is ON!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

It Is Our Choices, Harry

This week in philosophy I've been studying moral relativism. I had come across it before of course, it's probably the aspect of philosophy that people object to the most, even when they've never really studied it themselves. Everyone who think they know what it is, knows it as the idea that "wrong" can depend on the situation, and they usually come up with the most extreme examples to object to. Sensationalism. That's just how people are, and that much won't change.

I've always contended that morality, by definition, is relative anyway, so this is at least an honest approach to it. I don't think most people even know what morality is, if they ever think of it at all.

Maybe I'm just getting old, because I am quite certain I never used to bother with it myself, and I do know that every generation thinks that morally, things can't get much worse, so clearly it can, because how many generations have said this............

As part of my studies I had to come up with two examples of things I considered to be morally wrong. And that was my first problem. I overthink things (SURPRISE!) and couldn't decide if my choices were in fact moral or ethical examples. So I was guided by the professor's own examples, one of which I was quite happy to go along with. Genocide.

He maintained that genocide was in fact not a candidate for moral relativism, because it is objectively wrong.

How the hell does anyone decide that? Is it a majority decision thing? You'd have a hard time finding any real dissent, other than psychopaths, so it seems to be pointless discussing it, but let's be honest, there have been plenty of examples in history where people have supported genocide, swept along in a tide of nationalism, or revenge, or whatever. They may have known what they were involved in was wrong, but that didn't stop them. So it obviously didn't seem wrong enough...did it?

At the time, they looked at it relatively. "Us or them," they said. Or "We have no choice". Or whatever.

Or did they?

Do people stop and think if what they are doing is wrong, relatively, objectively, or otherwise, or do they just  do whatever seems best for them, at the time?

I actually wonder if it's not so much about moral relativism, as moral meh.

Most of our moral decisions do not involve anything as serious as genocide (at least not directly, but we won't go there today), they are usually more at about the level of fairness you get playing board games. When your opponent goes to the bathroom, you can alter things a bit. Nobody dies. Most people don't even think of that as immoral. It's just cheating. A joke. No harm done.

So, much as in my idea that everyone has their own limit with literacy, everyone has a moral line they won't cross. The problem is, the vast majority of people have not invested any time in deciding where that line is, in advance. So when push comes to shove, it might be over there.

I think this, more than anything, is where the average Joe's relativism comes in, it's because he's making moral decisions on the fly. Opportunity strikes. The delivery van doors have been left wide open, and the driver is in the store. Nobody's looking.

There's a story, I'm not sure quite how true it is, because my ancestors are long dead and I can't ask them, that the Romany attitude towards property is that if you're not guarding something, you can't want it very badly. Romanies don't steal, therefore, they simply find things nobody wants. There's actually some logic to this, and let's face it, it was the attitude of entire colonializing nations towards land, for a long time. In fact at the same time authorities in Europe were busy persecuting travelling people for "finding" food on local farms, their armies were helping themselves to billions of acres of other people's farmland. That's pretty relative.

My essential nature is one of optimist, and I think most humans will behave themselves fairly well, most of the time, provided they aren't up against the wall. At the same time, I do tend to agree with the cynic that the world is mostly divided between those waiting to be ripped off, and those waiting to rip you off, but what I actually see, in the circles I move in, at least, is people holding back on the latter.

Which doesn't me going UGH a lot, every time I see another example of people behaving badly, when they didn't need to. My thoughts are always "You didn't have to do that, you chose to".

So I think that's where the relativism comes in. Not in the theory, but in the act.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Snow, Snow, Quick, Quick, Snow.

Second snow day in a row. That hasn't happened in a long time. I shall find plenty of things for Michael to do, I don't want anybody worrying about him being bored or anything:)

OK, so today I'm going to bore you with grammar nazi stuff. I don't have to, but I'm going to anyway. Some of you will roll your eyes. But I approach this with the theory of teaching by repetition.

First I'm going to excuse you on all sorts of things, because I'm not as bad as they make me out to be. The purpose of writing is communication. If what you write can be understood, even if you make mistakes, it serves its purpose and nobody is harmed, and I will stand right beside you telling the worst of the grammar nazis to chill out and back off. Perhaps you say "if I was" instead of "if I were". Perhaps you confuse "lay and "lie". Perhaps you have never understood the difference between "farther" and "further". If you're not sure about "practise" and "practice", or "insure" and "ensure", it doesn't really matter, we know what you mean. Even doctors use the word "nauseous" wrongly.

No, we are not going to dwell on things like this. Life is too damn short.

But where do we draw the line? At which point is what you write bad enough to deserve correction?

Up to a point, it's situational. What you write in a thesis needs to be more correct than what you write in a blog. What you write in a blog needs to be more correct than what you write in a text message.

Where's your limit? Are you OK with informal speech? Don't get your knickers in a knot over slang and idiom? Even tolerate some kreative spelling, perhaps?

You have a limit. Yes, you do.

If you were reading a newspaper and, right on the front page, you saw:

"Some geezer wozznt elping the tart fetch her shit home so she wollopt im an all...."

You'd say that wasn't the sort of English you expected of a professional journalist, and you'd be quite justified to complain about it.

It's obvious that's wrong. It's obvious that shouldn't be published.

What if it was just ONE word?

What if you saw this in a travel blog:

"He visited several temples during the tour of the island, including won that put on a special performance of traditional dance during the afternoon."

Wouldn't you stop and gawp at "won"? Wouldn't you say "where is the proofreading here, does nobody check this?"

How would you feel about that writer? Would you say "it was just a simple mistake" or would you wonder how literate they were generally?

What if you then saw that same writer make the same mistake repeatedly. Is that quite different? What would you think then?

Now, what if that writer was a personal friend. How comfortable would you be pointing that out to them?

Let's assume:

a) the writer has a good, possibly university education, and holds down a responsible job
b) they are not compromised in any way, by a learning disability or other issue
c) you have already talked about the error in question, in general terms, on MANY occasions, and have developed a reputation as a pain in the bum for doing so
d) you don't want to actually say directly to this person "look, you keep writing X, and it's wrong" for whatever reason

So, you have to keep pretending it's not happening. And it burns. It burns.

I really, really try to just ignore it. But it jumps out at me like that "won" jumped out at you.

There are 3 that do this most of all. The BIG THREE.

You know my favourite.....

1. The extraneous apostrophe. In particular, the apostrophe used to make a plural. There was one on a Facebook page the other day.

She had used an apostrophe to make a plural on one word, but not on the others. Why? Why did it say "holiday's"? But she did her other plurals correctly.

I can see you rolling your eyes from here, oh yes I can, but do you know what this looked like to me?

It looked like this:


That's how it leaps off the screen, screaming at me "WHY AM I HERE? I DON'T BELONG HERE".

Can I just ask you to be honest for a moment, are you still unsure how to form a plural in English? If so, you can ask. I will help you. I will be kind. We can laugh about it. Then you'll get it right. (HINT: Don't use an apostrophe....)

Today, however I'm going to try one more time, to teach the 2 other grammar mistakes that hurt me physically every time I see them.

2. Could of. This is wrong. It is always wrong. Write "I could have". There is never any time when "could of" is right. It has never been right. Many others have told you this. Many times. Why can you not get it into your head that this is wrong? The same applies to "would have" and "should have".

3. I use to. No. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Write "I used to". The same applies to "I was supposed to".

Now go away, and think to yourself, "Am I guilty about this myself? Maybe I should CHECK next time I write, so I don't look semi-literate."

I'm going to have to start shooting people otherwise.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Then and Now

A common thing among the over 50s is nostalgia. I'm not big on it myself. I'm not anti, either, I even have my moments of mono no aware, but I try to shrug it off. Does no good. But I notice "The Old Days" have become quite a hobby with my husband. Not a problem, I leave him to it.

I'm more of a present and future kinda gal. I can't actually prevent my body aging, I can only look after it better, and mostly I fight the inevitable. And that is my choice.

I love history, don't get me wrong, I study it avidly, I just wouldn't want to live there. I've weighed up all the pros and cons, yes, considered everything, and I'll stay here, thanks. We live in interesting times, and no mistake, but it suits me.

One of the things people often say, when looking back to when they were younger, is "if only I'd known then what I know now". It wouldn't work, trust me. It's bad enough when kids are just "bright" and more aware than their peers. Gets them into no end of trouble. I was one of those children.

When I ask myself  "What didn't I know then, that I know now", there's obviously a long list. I'll come to that.  But I wasn't as green as grass. For reasons nobody can explain, I clued into some things early on, that I probably shouldn't have. I've mentioned this in previous blogs but it's worth looking at again.

Above all, I realised at a far too early age that adults were fallible and wisdom did not automatically come with age. I was no more than 6 or 7, and I remember being really very aware of this. Frighteningly, my grandson, not yet 6, has already figured it out.

Why is this a bad thing? I never said it was, I said it wasn't necessarily a good thing. For children in a bad situation, an abusive situation, a war zone, or whatever, it might be a life saver. What does it do to kids in stable, loving homes?

It make us cynical and arrogant. Occasionally manipulative.

To balance it out, thankfully, I was well-mannered, so even when I knew my teacher was beneath me intellectually, I said nothing. I just took advantage of her good nature. Please note, I'm not proud of this. I am opening my heart to you to admit I was a scheming, evil child. I got better.

What happened, in effect was that my intellect developed ahead of my empathy. That's not unusual in children, and many are temporaily sociopathic. It's just more extreme in some than others. It usually sorts itself out later on.

I had a very good childhood. I felt very safe, and could therefore concentrate all my time and effort on fun and learning, so I did.

It has been suggested to me that my lack of nostalgic tendencies are a direct result of this, for a number of reasons. It's a bit of an odd way of looking at it, but bear with with me, because it makes sense.

Quite often you find that the people who cling to happy memories in childhood didn't have that many of them.  These good bits that they dwell on STAND OUT, among a lot of stuff they prefer not to remember. My husband will tell you his childhood was so awful he's forgotten it, in a type of repression therapy. But get him on the topic of camping holidays, especially when he was a scout, and he remembers great detail. These were his precious times, escape to happiness.

Perversely, I have so few unhappy memories, that I could potentially re-live my entire childhood as some endless reverie, but I rarely do, because I'm quite content with today, and have no need to dwell in the past.

From what I've seen this is pretty much standard. Good childhood = well, that was nice but here we are. Bad childhood = but such precious moments, must cling to them.

I daresay there are exceptions to this, because people are complicated, but I see it over, and over, and over..........

Essentially it's all about the "innocence" of childhood, you see. And I wasn't innocent, in either sense of the word. I was guilty of a very long list, actually, and I didn't care then, and I'm probably not as ashamed of it now as I ought to be, because I chuckle when I tell the stories. My innocence wasn't lost in a tragic way, it just wasn't there to begin with - I was too damn clever.

When people yearn to return to the innocence of childhood, they are seeking a way of leaving their troubles and worries behind, back to when decisions were made for them, and people took care of them. Yes, obviously, that would be appealing to some personalities, some situations. I'm not knocking it, and please don't think I am. Even I have had days when the world seems very dark and the idea of zero worries sounds like bliss. I'm only human.

But my basic personality, when things are essentially chugging along as normal, is optimistic and positive, and the LAST thing I want is other people being in control: making decisions for me and/or taking care of me. I'm too independant and feisty. This, obviously, has a light and a dark side, let's not pretend otherwise, but there it is.

On the other hand, I don't want to do everything for myself, I'm too lazy. No, no, let's be honest, that's how it is. This is why I like the modern world. Not only can I have labour-saving devices and all manner of technological conveniences, but I have that CHOICE. I like choice. I can therefore choose to eschew them too. I can enjoy them, or I can say, no, thanks, I'll have a book instead of a Kindle. My choice.

Fiercely about choice. Yes. Not one to conform. It all goes back to that precociously aware child. The one who liked history when all the other kids didn't. The one who listened to Prokofiev at the same time as The Bay City Rollers. The one who never followed fashion and completely side-stepped teenage girl self-esteem angst. I had enough self-esteem for a small village. The one who thought the while idea of "cool" was ridiculous.

It had some obvious benefits. I never smoked, never dieted, never got involved with bad men.

On the other hand I was an insufferable know-it-all, and I know I was cruel to people I thought were beneath me.

So, what do I know now that I didn't know then?

Well, for a start I know that nobody is beneath me.

This isn't just a discovery that benefits me, it benefits you too. How's that?

I learned that nobody is above or beneath anybody.

I still stand by the idea that nobody is above me. Try to follow this reasoning, it's good stuff....

I stand below nobody. There is no human who is superior to me. Not one. There are plenty of people who are cleverer than me, braver than me, stronger than me, more tenacious than me, more diligent than me, more creative than me, kinder than me, and absolutely any positive quality you can think of. There are those who have several qualities in which they exceed me. But they have faults and flaws, as everyone does, and it all balances out. Humans just are. They aren't ranked. If I have nobody who is superior to me, and we are all equal, as I have come to believe we are, then nobody has anybody superior to them.

If we look up to other people, we do them no real favours, and if we look down on them we harm them too. Far better we treat one another as equals and deal with the details with that in mind.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Of Conspiracy and Consensus

One of the most valuable things we enjoy is freedom of opinion, and the freedom of speech that goes right along with it. So long as we don't actually slander or libel anyone we can say whatever we damn well please, even if it's extremely offensive, and even if it's completely untrue. Because we all see the value of this, people are willing to go to great lengths to keep these freedoms, and lives have been lost for them. It's THAT important.

Of course, along with freedom comes responsibility, and you really don't need me to quote you  “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” As we follow the news we often hear of examples of the abuse of free speech, e.g the Westboro Baptist Church. It's a sort of trade off really. For us to keep our rights, we have to give them theirs.

On a day to day basis, the majority of this freedom is not exercised in hate speech, however, but in opinions that are not backed up by hard data. These may include religious beliefs which by definition have no scientific support, or political opinions which can be argued using evidence endlessly but nevertheless never reach a conclusion, because it's just not that simple.

The problem is this. We never have all the evidence.

This is why arguments are possible at all. There is always the possibility, however remote, however laughable, that we are wrong. You can take this to an absolute extreme, as I'm discovering in my philosophy course, that we know nothing. Obviously, as a philosophical position and not a practical one, we don't worry about it too much in day to day affairs. Our normal understanding of what we know is quite enough for most tasks.

But sooner or later what we know is challenged, rightly or wrongly, and an argument may begin.

Lovely example this morning. You may have seen the headline about the child who was slapped on an airplane by a businessman, who was charged with assault. I saw many comments from people who had not read the full story offering some sympathy to him. Suggesting that back in the good old days it was perfectly OK to discipline other people's children if they didn't. Which of course it was, but this is 2013 and you can't do that now. That's not the point. When you read the whole report, you discover that the guy was drunk, and was both verbally abusive and intimidating to the child's mother. And the child was in pain. It looks quite different then.

People jump to conclusions. They don't wait to get all the details. They form quick opinions based on headlines, quotes, snippets of stories.

Sometimes we call this a knee-jerk reaction, and that's quite a good analogy, an impulsive response without any real thought having gone into it. Once more details emerge some people will back-peddle, change their attitude, and even apologize for having been so hasty.

Not everyone does.

Some people feel a bit silly after they've done something that that, but instead of admitting it, they make things worse by "doubling down" (a new idiom apparently, I love it) on their hasty and erroneous opinion. We may see them as fools, but it doesn't seem to stop them.

In fact there's a very easy-to-spot attitude out there where any argument is stopped in its tracks by a curt "Well, that's what I believe anyway", a sour face, and the accusation of bullying if their view is still challenged. A brick wall goes up, and no further discussion is possible.

It's best not to waste your time on them. Maybe their minds will open, maybe they won't.

I have discussed all of this before, in many places, and I always hear the same thing from one voice somewhere. "People are entitled to their opinions and beliefs". Yes, absolutely, and so they should be, but when challenged, if ALL you've got is a disgruntled expression, it can't be a very solid opinion.

So what do we know? Not much really. And it's OK to admit that. Scientists do. They don't deal in certainties, but in likelihoods. Science is the exploration of how everything works, and it is a progressive thing, we learn more all the time, and what was a FACT a hundred years ago, may not be today. Understanding that is crucial and it was one of the first things I taught my kids when they started asking questions, lest I become some sort of oracle.

That doesn't mean we just poo-poo what scientists tell us. These two extremes, of taking the best scientific data we have as written in stone, or ridiculing it as some sort of conspiracy, are silly and dangerous. We are all just trying to do the best we can with the information available. Some of it more reliable, some is more speculative, and so long as we are honest about which is which we do fine.

I don't have much time for conspiracy theories generally. Obviously some are more far-fetched than others, but I'm not big on any of them, because I have better things to do with my time, I'm not a paranoid personality, and I know what "evidence" means. Most importantly, I'm of the belief that trying to keep things secret is one of the most difficult things there is, and that if you take two or more of the most intelligent and reliable people you know and try to keep a small surprise quiet for a couple of days, somebody usually slips up. Therefore, a matter of massive importance, over a long time, known by a large group of people, some of whom are idiots, simply isn't going to hold together. That's people for you.

When forming an opinion, you have to get your data from somewhere. Collecting anecdotal evidence can be fun but isn't always terribly reliable. Even the most diehard mavericks tend to rely on expert evidence these days, citing research in much the same way that mainstream reporters would. This is how we've got "creation science", which isn't science at all, but they know their beliefs won't be taken seriously unless it LOOKS a bit like science. "Well, that's what I believe anyway" just won't cut it at this level.

But of course they choose their experts. And many of these would not be seen as experts by others. Opinion again.

It doesn't have to be superstition to be controversial. Look at the argument over climate change. For a long time opinion was much more divided than it is now, two sides formed, and both sides told lies, to get their agenda across. It's not very professional, and it probably delayed any useful action. There are still those who believe the entire idea is a conspiracy, and although they are now a minority who get ignored, they include some very highly educated people. Experts. There is still not complete consensus on the issue, and probably never will be. In fact my guess is that some would hold out saying it's not happening even if Antarctica melted completely. Why do I think this? Because there are still flat Earth believers, that's why.

You see, no matter what evidence you have, it's never enough. Opinion and beliefs still prevent people from accepting the work done by experts, for a variety of reasons, some more justified than others.

You can ridicule those who take a more bizarre view on issues than whatever is mainstream, and I do too. Even this is variable. We pick and choose which theories we make fun of and which we support with great seriousness. Pretty much everyone does this. I think it's part of what makes us human, actually.

Perhaps it doesn't matter too much, so long as the mistakes made by erroneous beliefs aren't too great. If they harm people, then I lose patience with them. And so we will keep on arguing, and so we should. It'd be boring otherwise.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Marriage Is Church Sanctioned Prostitution

Thanks for those who inspired me to do this.

I wrote an article years ago, before there were such things as blogs, with this title, and caused a major commotion in the MSN Religion community.

The basis of it was that such experts as anthropologists etc, widely accept the sex-for-food contract among earlier humans as a normal, stable aspect of our relationships, although they dispute its staying power. Basically it's an arrangement designed to work until the child is old enough for the mother not to be dependant on the father. She might then move on to another mate. But I daresay even back then, some stayed because they liked one another. I like to think so.

Never mind all that. The fact of the matter is really very simple. He went hunting, she took care of the baby, and his reward for bringing her home something to eat was sex.

You would think we had moved way past that, but we haven't.

It may not be sex for food exactly now, it's more clothes/jewelry/perfume/new car for sex now. Most women in the modern world are perfectly capable of supporting themselves. But either it's not enough, or they prefer a sugar daddy, and so they seek out The Great Provider.

You can say they offer him many things, such as company and affection, someone sympathetic to come home to, and maybe a homemaker in the real sense of the word, cooking his dinner, making his bed, washing his socks. In other words, doing domestic work.

It doesn't matter that some women do this happily and willingly. That is luck more than anything. No matter how you slice and dice all of this, we still have this arrangement, this agreement.

Modern women often rebel against it, but that doesn't mean it's not THERE. Many modern women seek the sex, thank you very much, but that changes nothing either. I'm sure many of you will argue that I'm wrong, but I stand by what I say, I've been looking at this a long, long, time.

And I say it without some bitter personal bias. I have a good marriage, and we do not treat each other as suppliers of services. But even my enlightened modern husband, having brought me home my favourite wine as a treat, will grin from ear to ear and say he's been a good boy..............

So. You can accept it or not, like it or not, and certainly go along with it or not, and lucky you that you have all these choices, because your ancestors didn't. If they refused sex, they could quite easily have been forced.  The idea that a wife has a choice here is extremely modern.

In fact, TODAY marital rape is only recognized in half the countries in the world, and it was not recognized anywhere much before the 1970s. If you don't believe me, look it up. The data is easily found. The further you go back the easier the dismissal of the idea is to find. I found a quote on Wikipedia, for example, as follows:

Sir Matthew Hale, in his 1736 legal treatise, Historia Placitorum Coronæ or History of the Pleas of the Crown, where he wrote that such a rape could not be recognized since the wife "hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract."

The important thing to remember is that there are two versions of marriage. Legal and religious. As we all know from the current arguments regarding same-sex marriage, these often conflict, but in any situation where the church IS the law (and even in countries with a separation of church and state, that can still happen, and you better believe it) it makes no difference. It was generally the church that dealt with marital affairs until quite recently.

The church (or religious entity of any type), on hearing that a wife was refusing conjugal rights to her husband, would chastise her. Every time. It is very rare for an exception to this. It would be a small proportion, the most liberal, modern parts of any given religion. With the law (see above) backing them up, she had no redress at all.

And why? Well, you can find all sorts of justifications in scripture, several hundred in the Bible alone, but the one most people know is this one:

1 Peter 3:1

"Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands."

Now, I realize, because I've been told in no uncertain terms by those involved, that some women LIKE being subjugated. That they have kind men, who never force themselves upon them when not welcome, and who combine this mandate with other far more generous ones, about protecting and supporting their wives. They are happy, it all works for them, and it's none of my business.

It still changes nothing. He protects, she puts out, and the ancient agreement is complete. It is still sex for food, in effect.

And the church encourages this.

Yes, it's natural anyway, that's not the point. As soon as an authority slaps its approval on this contract, it ceases to be an agreement between the couple concerned, and becomes something else. Now the woman can't get out of it. There is nobody in her corner.

Sex for food is prostitution. An exchange of sexual services in return for cash, or goods. A form of sexual slavery, as in any house of that most ancient of professions. She can't leave because she needs it.

THANKFULLY, nowadays, in the west at least, things have changed. But they haven't changed for all women, not even here and now because of shame and local cultural pressures. Ask the Jehovah's Witnesses, for example.

Before I sign off and let you argue this, because I know I'm going to get strong objections, I have nothing against prostitution. I have nothing against marriage, either (obviously). This is not a judgement on marriage. This is not a judgement on prostitution either, I'm just telling it like it is.

The Sun Is In My Eyes

So low, and straight in the window. Mustn't complain, it's cheerful.

It is Sunday, not that I observe a day of rest or anything, but I am going to waffle this morning rather than saying anything remotely profound. With any luck the gremlins will be over later, so it's not going to a be a work day as such, but I start my day here in my office every day as stuff happens overnight on eBay.

Today I got up to discover that somebody has bought ALL of my brontosaurus earrings. You can't explain stuff like that, and I don't ask why, I just say thank you and re-stock, but it does make me wonder - are they a club? I had a similar thing happen with tennis racket earrings last week, that one was easy to guess. Do you think this might be a student paleontologist buying gifts? We may never know.

This is one of the things I like best about what I do, I never know what is going to happen next. Keeps me on my toes, keeps life varied. As you know, I do get the occasional odd message. Had a lady this week telling me to send something by First Class mail. I explained that I was in Canada, can do. She replied that she sent First Class mail to Canada all the time. Which is great, but we can't do it the other way, there's no such thing. She was gracious about it, at least, but it was yet another reminder how perfectly intelligent, educated people assume things outside their own situation are going to be the same. There must be a name for this.

Of course the weather keeps us alert too, the forecasts are a waste of time, and the weather is being widely accused of having mood disorders. I assume this is a climate change symptom, but I don't recall the "change" supposed to be on a daily basis. On the other hand there is a long-standing saying around the Great Lakes that if you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes. So it may just be that. Certainly the blizzard in Owen Sound yesterday was "lake effect" because we drove out of it once we went uphill.

We have a funny thing here in dog dynamics. Pepper is our strictly outdoor dog/guard dog. He lives down at the barn. Every day Bowser goes to visit him, and they just hang out together. Obviously dogs don't talk, but they may as well be having a chat, the way they sit there. They are absolutely the best of friends. All of this is very nice. However, Pepper shares his food with Bowser. We would rather he ate it himself, not just because as an outdoor dog he needs the calories, but because Bowser is almost full grown, and really doesn't need the extra. He already weighs 140lbs, and we don't need this giant getting overweight in addition to his natural size. Pepper's attitude appears to be "Help yourself, they'll bring me more later". We tried not letting him go down there at all and they were BOTH miserable. So we tried feeding Pepper very early, and not letting Bowser visit him until the afternoon, but he'd saved him some........I don't want to reduce what we give Pepper. This is an ongoing thing.

Sally the Donkey has got very shaggy. Don't you love the way nature provides? We kept pigs into the winter once and they grew thick hairy coats too. Why don't I grow a fur coat in winter?

I started another blog, if anyone hasn't noticed yet. It's about gardening. The seeds are coming into the stores and it's making me impatient. I want to be out there planting. Can't do that for weeks and weeks. Friends in milder climates are talking about spring. I have two feet of snow and the only sign of spring here is udders enlarging on the sheep. We'll have lambs soon, but it's late this year. We normally have some by now. Fall was late, you see, and the girls don't go into oestrus until it cools off at night. So, bonking in October means lambs in March. We won't be selling them for Easter this year, that's for sure. Suits me, I get to keep them, grow them all summer and fill my freezer in the Fall. YES!

And there, dear reader, is Melanie's life right now, in hurry up and wait mode for just about everything. I have a midterm exam in one of my online courses this week (Genetics and Evolution) which I am going to fail, but I'll do it anyway. It doesn't matter that I fail. I won't fail any of the other courses. I'm in the 90s in all my other courses, it's just the math on this one causing me problems. I'm allowed 9 minutes per question, where I need about an hour, or possibly two, so I haven't got a hope. But I am still learning enough to make it worthwhile. And THAT is what it's all about, isn't it boys and girls. Just keep going. To prove I'm no coward I've signed up for 3 more genetics courses later in the year, hoping they are less math-heavy, but I'll plod on regardless anyway. It's always possible if I keep doing this for several years I may even get the hang of the math.

I had SEVERAL people, who shall remain nameless (but I'm married to one of them) tell me that while they understood how much I was enjoying these courses, as they don't count towards anything, it seemed like a bit of a waste of time. Obviously I disagree, how can learning be a waste of time? But I know what they meant. If I find it that easy, I should invest in real courses and get a degree.

But would I use it? I'm almost 51 years old. In 9 years time I qualify for free education, and everyone says "it's too late, you won't use it". Well, would I use it now? Seriously? Chances are, no, I wouldn't. Not even in academia. I'm far too set in my ways to adjust to the politics involved. So why pay? I do this for the love of learning. It's my leisure time. We are all allowed leisure time, aren't we? So there you are. STFU, I'm enjoying myself.

Oh, and Colleen? Martin LOVES that hat, he's out in it right now.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A Phenomenon

I have my amateur psychologist's hat on this morning.

I think it's fairly widely known that the popular interest of video or online games has largely passed me by. This makes me somewhat of a minority, quite a small one, in fact. It's not that I NEVER play any sort of game, just that it's extremely rare, I have to be very bored, and then I'm very picky.

There was a time there were a few I liked, Super Mario, for example, and Bookworm, when it first came out. But modern video games got too difficult for me, I don't have the patience to go through the learning curve to gain enough ability to get any enjoyment out of it, and the Bookworm type things get old fast. I don't have what it takes to get addicted, I bore too easily.

I have a subscription to Acer games. When I bought this computer it came with trial games, and trial periods thereof, and the boys liked some of them, so I said I'd buy them. The cheapest way to do this was to sign up for buying one a month at $6.99, and this suited everyone.

After a few months I decided it was my turn and I'd have a look to see if there was anything that appealed to me. I found a game called "Entangled" which claimed to be a detective game. Well, that sounded good. Can't go wrong at $6.99. You can imagine my disappointment then, when I discovered that the bulk of the game involved "Find the hidden object", like a sort of messy room version of "Where's Waldo". Not what I expected at all. I don't remember Holmes, Poirot or Morse rummaging through a pile of junk to collect "A button, two tuning forks, a postage stamp, a frog, a pretzel, a diver's mask.....".

Let's be honest, I'm better off with a crossword puzzle or a chess board. Call me dull, call me a dinosaur, I really don't care.

I REALLY DON'T CARE. I'm not bothered what you think about my rather old-fashioned attitude to games. I'm not forcing it on you. Nor am I preventing anyone else from enjoying it.  I buy my kids games, and I give them generous amounts of game time.

It's a matter of taste, of choice, of preference.

So why is it, when in the course of conversation I happen to mention that I am not into games, the diehard gamers all go on the defensive about their hobby? 

I don't call them names, or make fun of them, I am talking about my own lack of interest. How does my lack of interest affect you?

I could understand a certain amount of hackles rising, a few years ago when, several times I begged my Facebook contacts not to send me game requests. It was, after all, a direct sign of annoyance. On the other hand it was a fair thing to be annoyed about as I opened my feed and 80% of it was game requests. But then FB made it possible to prevent game requests, and the statuses of friends' game achievements (because I really don't care) and it all went away, which is great. Now those who play games can do so without me having my feed fill up with reports about it, and I don't have to bother them by pleading with them not to ask me to join in.

But in the course of general conversation it goes like this. Person mentions a game they are/were playing, I glaze over, have nothing to offer the conversation, smile weakly and wait, hoping for the topic to change. Person notices. Person asks me if I'm a gamer. I say "No" in what I hope is a neutral tone. Person then tries to justify their hobby, by saying it relieves stress, or whatever, as if I was criticizing. No matter how much I try to look as if I support their choice, the justification continues as if I was being negative. I'm just looking blank. But I may as well be accusing them of dangerous behaviour, because their tone becomes one of complete and utter resentment towards my lack of interest, plus this weird urge to try to convince me that IT'S OK that they play games. I never said it wasn't.

This is not the only example of this phenomenon. I see it all the time in other areas of interest, habit, or choice. Perhaps the topic comes up of gardening. This time I'm the interested person, and it's the other who has no interest. But the justification happens in exactly the same way. When they discover I garden, although  I don't dwell on it, I am treated to a l-o-n-g explanation of why they don't, or can't, as if they need some sort of get-out clause to give me. I feel like the garden police. I stress, it's not just the words, it's the attitude and expression. It's the urge they feel to explain their lack of interest to me, with a most excellent excuse. It's as if they feel guilty about not gardening. Why?

It's all bizarre. We're all different, we all have different priorities, preferences, tastes, etc. We don't need to justify it. The piece you saw at the top explaining to you why I don't play games much, I don't go around telling people that when they ask me if I play games. I just say "no". No is enough, honestly.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Opinions and Demands

Well, well, well. There I was yesterday, talking about balance, talking about Facebook, and online discussion, and ZAP, it all came together in one place.

I had accepted an FB friend invite from somebody I really didn't know. I recognized the name (which obviously I shall keep to myself) as a friend of a friend from Multiply. The mutual friend is someone I like and respect very much. But as we all know, sometimes these people at one degree of separation are something else. Why did I accept the friend invite? That's not like me. I couldn't remember any reason not to, that's why. Daft but true.

It quickly became obvious we had little in common. I read most things without comment, and picked up on the fact that this person was a Republican and a Christian. I do have friends in either category and a few in both, but they tend to be exceptionally bright and open-minded examples of that section of society, a section that I really don't get, if I'm honest. That's OK, they don't get me either. But as I said, if they are wise enough, we are able to keep a friendship going and  we presumably both gain something from it.

But I quickly gathered from the opinions expressed in this lady's posts that bright and open-minded wasn't even something she aimed for. Harsh, but true. You are beginning to get the idea. Nevertheless, I read her with interest. I do like to learn. It became a sort of research project. I told myself I didn't have to like what she posted, I could roll my eyes and move on, as with anything else, but I might actually pick up something useful.

OK......Having an ulterior motive to reading somebody on FB, using them as a sort of social experiment is not really very nice. Plus, I left Blogster expressly because I had run out of patience with the right-wing Christians, something I never had much of to start with. I justified it on the grounds that my exposure to this section of society has recently become almost non-existent, and that is unbalanced. You know how I love balance. And they aren't - balanced, that is. And you know how easily fascinated I am. OK. Enough with the excuses and disclaimers.

So, yesterday I unfriended her. Yep. It was a fairly swift decision after one post. It was the most useful post of all, and I decided the experiment had run its course. I had learned something significant, and would gracefully, without comment, withdraw from the scene.

So, what triggered this?

It was a graphic (which some call memes) about people receiving food stamps being able to spend them on "Easter Baskets", ready-filled containers of confectionery. This was discussed and considered to be unacceptable. It wasn't strongly-worded, and you couldn't actually take offence at the way it was discussed specifically, but the gist of it was clear. It's also a common opinion, one that I've heard espoused by plenty of people I like and allow to have that opinion. But let's look at it a bit closer.

I could, if you like, give a good case for both sides of this issue. Yes, that's my balance coming in. That's not the important part for now.

I could say, it's a matter of priority. That, when resources are limited, essentials should be at the top of the list, not frivolous, unnecessary things. Or, that if a person is poor and relying on government welfare, they should be using money they have set aside for treats to buy things like this, and not vouchers specifically intended to provide essentials of nutrition. I could even say that nobody needs an Easter Basket, poor or otherwise, and I could throw in for good measure my own personal biases because I have no need for one.
There are many ways I could justify an objection to this, without being considered too unreasonable, based on frugality, need, and so on.

Let's be honest. Many people who find themselves unable to afford essentials, are in that situation because they spent their limited resources on non-essentials. It is very difficult indeed to be sympathetic to that. Especially if I'm the person being asked to help bail them out. But even if I'm not, when I hear that somebody couldn't pay the rent because they blew half of it on concert tickets, I don't find myself brimming over with sympathy.

One of my boys right now is trying to buy his first car. He has most of the money he needs, but isn't quite there. He is selling a few less treasured personal possessions to raise funds, but I also pointed out that he can change his spending habits. He claimed to have been very economical recently, for exactly that reason, and cited, as an example, that he only bought one thing in the whole of January (a video game). I reminded him that in fact he had bought pop, coffee, and snack food items when out with friends. Naturally, he objected to these examples as being paltry amounts of money, until I made him add it all up. It came to almost $60 that could have gone towards the car, and $60 is $60. These were not things he needed at all.

Because you see, that's how my mind works. As a child I was taught, look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. It was damned good advice. I will not try to claim I always stuck to it, there are very few who do, all of the time, but when it's in the back of your mind it certainly helps with budgeting decisions. The fact is, if you only have a finite income, whatever it is, some things simply aren't important enough and that's the end of it.

However, it is one thing to believe this yourself. It is fine to guide a young person this way. It is even OK to nudge a friend who is mulling over a frivolous purchase, and remind them that it's a long time until payday. It is something else, quite another matter, to DEMAND that others never treat themselves.

I've been poor. Not dirt poor, not starving poor, but I've had to choose between food and heat. We had two young children, a mortgage, and one workman's income, and it was a stretch. I had to make careful plans and budgets, and there were no "Easter Baskets" (or equivalent thereof). But that was my decision, and my choice. You may say it was a wise choice, that's not the point. It was MINE. Nobody told me that was what I SHOULD do. Nobody gave me a guilt trip. Nobody told me, hey, you're poor and it's your own damn fault, why should your kids get treats? Nobody publicly lambasted poor people for buying their children a bit of chocolate.

Because that's what it comes down to, doesn't it? You're poor so you can't have what I have. Ner ner ner ner ner. And your children? Well, they chose to be born into such a pathetic family.

Just briefly, let's look at this is in a fully compassionate way, with absolutely no fiscal aspect to it at all.

Who needs an Easter Basket more, a poor kid who rarely gets treats, or a wealthy one who has them all the time?

I'm sure you've heard either the phrase "I'm alright Jack" or "I've got mine". This is the attitude of those with, who look at those without, and smile smugly at their own good fortune.

But in this example, in this particular FB discussion, it was those also without, resenting it. This is where it gets really interesting. From what I gleaned, all of those opposing the use of Food Stamps for an Easter Basket, specifically, were on low, limited incomes themselves. Presumably not low enough to benefit from Food Stamps, and while I don't know exactly how it works in the state in question, it is certainly a fact that in many places there is a gap between welfare recipients and struggling people, who earn too much to qualify for assistance, and end up being poorer than some people receiving it. Much has been done by government agencies in recent years to stop this happening, but it still does, and yes, the resentment is understandable. So, there's envy there, I think.

Envy is a choice, of course. There's another way one could look at this. Faced with the data, faced with experience, faced with a choice of reactions, one could say:

1. I've been there, and I made do and went without, and so can you.
2. I've been there, and I sympathize, good for you having better luck than I did.

Two personality types perhaps.

There's another aspect of this. There are assumptions. Quite a few of them, but the main assumption being that recipients of food stamps are lazy people who can't be bothered to work. Obviously, this is true in some cases, society will always have a percentage of people like that. We could let them starve to death, but we have decided not to, so their parasitic ways will continue, and that's a whole other topic of its own.

Not everyone who receives food stamps is a lazy bum. In some areas work is hard to come by, that is to say there are mathematically more people than there are jobs, and therefore somebody has to be unemployed. In addition, many, many people who receive food stamps have jobs. They are just so low-paid it's not enough to feed their families on. Whose fault is this? That could lead to discussions about minimum wage, and so on, until we get to the greed of the 1% at the top and I have no desire to do that one today. Let's just stick to the  situation at hand. There are people working 40 hours a week who receive food stamps.

There's another group who receive food stamps. The chronically sick, or disabled. Sometimes it is health that prevents a person from working, or forces them into a lower paid job. Some of these are military veterans. Hold that thought for a moment. A soldier returns from an overseas war, injured either physically or mentally, and is forced to rely on food stamps to support his family, and people resent him being able to give his kids an Easter Basket?

Ah, well that's different of course. All the people that thought it was wrong a minute ago suddenly want him to be an exception. They'll make an exception for all sorts of individuals, actually, when they hear their story. If they gave it enough time, if they stopped to listen, everyone has a story. Even the parasites.

So this is the other view of the whole issue. The view from compassion. The view that doesn't judge people without knowing the details of their situation. The view that says, for fuck's sake it's just a few chocolates. The view that says we give way more than this to the rich, all the time. Yes, WE. We as western society allow more government hand-outs to those who don't need them, than to those who do.

I was actually touched by the idea that a state government, not exactly known for their generosity, would allow this simple treat. Oh, and by the way, anyone objecting to the nutritional value, considering we are talking about FOOD stamps.....take a look at what is already permitted to buy with them. Much of it is garbage. If a nutritional expert was to decide what was permitted, and what wasn't, chocolate would be in, and much of the crap would be out. But governments have never been in the business of ensuring that people get good nutrition, despite their claims. All they have ever done is stop people actually starving to death. Malnutrition is allowed.

Finally, when all is said and done, no matter what you think about poor people, whether you are one yourself or not, whether you think they are all parasites or not, this is about their kids. If children are not the innocent parties here then nobody is. They have no say in the matter about their family's income.

Even this is not my main point. My point is that it is OK to decide for yourself that you don't need Easter Baskets, but it's not OK to force that opinion onto others. This is the bigger issue. This is the attitude of those right-wing types that I cannot stomach. This lack of compassion, the inability or unwillingness to put themselves in the shoes of others. Especially when they claim to be Christian, and forget simple ideas like "There, but for the grace of God, go I". They forget to be their brother's keeper. They conveniently forget so many aspects of their own religion that ask them to help the poor without judging them or placing conditions on them. Then they look down their noses at us unbelievers. OK.

I will now allow for the fact that the people in the discussion I witnessed, which seemed narrow-minded, uncaring, and uncharitable, are just stupid. That's a harsh word, but there it is. Stupidity is defined as not only not knowing/understanding, but not trying to. And because I would be just as stupid if I didn't allow for the fact that they may be stupid, if you see what I mean, that is the kindest thing I can say. Calling somebody stupid isn't usually considered kind, but I will go further and say, perhaps they can't help it. Perhaps they were raised that way and got bogged down in a culture of the same. Perhaps their lesson is yet to come. Perhaps if I painstakingly explained it to them, they'd get it. Perhaps.

It's obvious to any casual observer that I have a touch of the bleeding heart about me, but I believe that's what happens if you look at all the possibilities. I tend to place altruism above just about anything else, even when at my most cynical, because that's just how I roll. I don't expect everyone else to do so, although it would be nice, but we're all different, and some movers and shakers (that the world needs) achieve stuff that ultimately benefits others despite their personal greed and selfishness, and that's how the world works. It's a funny old world.

I'm just saying that that was quite long enough for that experiment.