Thursday, 29 May 2014


Do I have your full attention? Good.

You know, I don't actually enjoy navel-gazing, I don't take myself that seriously, but it's happened again. It probably wasn't you. It might have been you, or maybe not. No I think it was you, over there.

I write assuming that somebody other than me reads it. That applies no matter where I write it (except my shopping list, I guess). And I hope whoever reads it enjoys it. If you don't enjoy my stuff, there's no pressure. I'm not offended.

I'm NOT OFFENDED. I'm really hard to offend, and this is the point.

In a world where people are regularly offended by the least little thing, I am a rarity, apparently. You can say just about anything to me and my hackles won't rise. You can hint, cast aspersions, ridicule, nitpick, and accuse. I'll give as good as I get, but 99.99999999999999999% of the time I won't be offended. I won't be hurt. I won't hold it against you.

I may be sometimes annoyed. That's not the same thing. I'll get over it.

But chances are, I won't be emotionally affected AT ALL. I'll just correct you, and carry on.

For example, in a post on a friend's FB page this week somebody referred to people with Asperger's as "crazy". As I have a son with Asperger's, who is, as a matter of fact, one of the sanest people you will ever meet, and far, far saner than most "normies" I run into, I had to correct that. I explained that people with Asperger's, for the most part, at least, are not crazy. Eccentric, certainly. But not mentally ill. It is not a mental illness. In some unfortunate individuals it may exist right along with one or more mental illnesses (depression and anxiety are common) and in a few cases it could be a serious psychopathy, but Asperger's itself does not mean "crazy". That's not correct. So let's get it right.

I'm not offended, and neither is Tom, He's heard it all before anyway, and he smiles because he knows he can outsane any critics he gets. Does he occasionally, still, as an adult, have a meltdown? Yes. And who doesn't? HMM? That tosspot with the road rage, or the boss who turned purple and slapped the desk, or the hockey player...yes, adults sometimes do lose it. That isn't crazy, that's human. So, meh.

So we explain it, and carry on.

But some people have hot buttons. It may be a political thing. It may be to do with something personal. It may be something nobody knows about, it may be from childhood trauma, the list of possibilities is simply endless. And instead of acknowledging that it's an issue they have, they get offended.

I had a friend growing up who was unfortunately wise beyond her years in some ways. I say unfortunately, because the reason for it was a tragic homelife. It was like having a much older friend. I was bright for my age, but rather naive, because I'd never known anything but kindness and happiness at home. I'm not suggesting this is a disadvantage you understand, it's what all kids should have, but it does mean you have a lot to learn.

So one day, my friend had a falling out with another friend, and I tried to play peacemaker. I suggested to my wise friend that she had offended the other girl, and she said "Well, that's HER problem, isn't it."

I was shocked, I was horrified. I had been raised not to cause offence. I still did, obviously, because kids are gauche, they don't mean harm, but it's a learning curve. So I knew that what you did was apologize, and try to remember not to do it again. I didn't understand this attitude of complete dismissal of guilt.

It was years, seriously, before I got it. Isn't it funny how some lessons are like that. Profound enough to be remembered, even if not fully understood at the time. Over time I realised that no matter what I did or said with some people, on some occasions, somebody would get offended. And I came to realise it was a choice on their part. It really was their problem. And quite a big problem.

Now, I am naturally not very sensitive, but once I realised that being offended was a choice, I chose not to be. Because I didn't want it to be my problem. By turning it around, by not being offended, it's somebody else's problem. I would simply consider the source when somebody's words were putrid. And I even had a solution for the tiny minority of people who were so deliberately offensive that even my attitude couldn't work. I didn't have anything more to do with them. END OF PROBLEM.

For the rest of my communication with people, I am not generally deliberately offensive (exceptions are made in high ethical situations, if you are a racist I'll call you an arsehole, for example, fair's fair), and I generally don't take offence. There's a lot of balance involved, and not taking offence doesn't mean you don't retort. You just correct and carry on, no harm done.

And I think I get it right, most of the time. My sense of humour often gets me into trouble, but that's (all together now) not my problem. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but there has to be some fun.

But OH waily waily waily, if people aren't STILL worried about offending me. Convinced they will, or convinced they have, or just not seeing that I'm being funny.

I know I write a lot of serious stuff. Stuff that matters to me. I think it's fairly obvious what that is? Which is the serious and which isn't? Some stuff is serious, and some stuff SHOULD be taken seriously.

But I don't take myself seriously. And I don't know how to get across that I don't expect anyone else to.

Should I pepper everything with even more smileys?

Should I use a disclaimer - WARNING: The following comments should not be taken seriously. I'm having a laugh, why don't you join in.

Should I give up caring?

Should I say, "yes I'm horribly, deeply offended, now I will have to kill you," and watch people squirm?

I already list my religion as Monty Python, I mean doesn't that give you a CLUE?

And you know what? If I say "Hey, there's no need to take me so seriously" you know what happens? They say "Oh I'm sorry...................."


Tuesday, 27 May 2014


It's not that English is a logical language. It's anything but. It's highly irregular and its spelling reflects pronunciation from 500 years ago, if we're lucky.

But can somebody please tell my why when we "convert" into English from another language we pick such peculiar choices of spelling? At that point we have an opportunity to right wrongs. Who does this anyway?

Exhibit A: Feng shui. This is a term from traditional Chinese, and it's written quite differently in Hanzi characters. And pronounced FUNG SHWAY. So why on earth did some doofus decide to write it as feng shui?

Exhibit B: Russian surnames, ending in -chev, pronounced -chof. Originally written in the Russian alphabet, whose daft idea was it to spell them so eccentrically in English?

Exhibit C: The toque.  This is the one that absolutely drives me effing nuts. In France, for MANY centuries, there has been a style of hat called a toque, which was originally any hat with no brim, but more recently described a chef's hat. It is pronounced TOKE. I have asked around from Brittany to Provence, and they all say TOKE.


Here in the English speaking part of Canada what do we call a woolly hat? A TOOK. We have an alternative spelling of tuque for that, which is the one I use religiously, because YOU CAN'T GET TOOK FROM TOQUE. It cant be done. I don't care what bastardized Frenglaish you speak, that MAKES NO SENSE.

So are there two words here or what? I don't know, your guess is as good as mine, but:

Toque is TOKE
Tuque is TOOK

And any confusion therein is your own bloody fault.

Exhibit D: In North America nobody can say Colonel. They actually physically can't do it. I did a long blog on why this is once, but it's like the Japanese trying to say Australia.

Listen to me. The Japanese are intelligent people. They KNOW they have this issue, so the Japanese name for Australia is Os-too-ray-ree-ah. They can say that. I'm sure the Australians don't mind.

But North Americans? No. Instead of choosing a spelling like Kernal (the way they say it), or changing the pronunciation of the word to something they can manage, they settled on a spelling and a pronunciation that bear no resemblance to each other. Despite all the changes Webster inflicted on American English, he missed an opportunity there.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Righteous or Good?

Believe it or not, I am careful about controversy. Yeah - ME!

There are many things I totally enjoy discussing, and really no topic is taboo, but when and where I do this is another matter.

You will have heard people say that it's never a good idea to discuss religion and politics (I find sport far more likely to cause a swift argument, but I take their point) and therefore in "polite" society we avoid these topics. But they are fair game online.

And yet, even here there are better places than others.

So, when the topic is raised in a non-suitable place online, I often sidestep it. Even if it's a suitable place (i.e. a conversation in social media already begun with nobody objecting) I will pick and choose as to how much I dive in.

I'm not shy, so why the caution?

Well, one of them is a maxim I live by that it's better to be kind that it is to be right. If it is clear to me that somebody's opinion/beliefs are very precious to them, and that for me to take them apart would involve hurt, then what I have to say really isn't important. Even if I'm 100% certain that I'm right. Individuals are not ideas, they are people with feelings.

But more often than not it's because I know a "going nowhere" discussion when I see one. Repeating oneself is not fun. OK, trolls think it is, but they have some sort of disorder. Personally, if I'm going to spend time in debate it's in the hope that somebody will learn something. It may even be me. But I do put forward ideas and opinions that I consider enlightening, or I wouldn't bother. Life is too short to try to educate pork.

(By the way, after years of hearing my husband talk about educating pork, a sort of variation of Heinlein, I found this longer variation which is rather good for today's topic:

The fact is, some people are so set in their beliefs that nothing you say will change that, and it's just a complete waste of time.

And sometimes not only the venue is wrong, it would be unkind AND fruitless.

It was such a situation I found myself on this occasion, at a business forum. Not an ideal venue for religious discussions, but it was an off-topic open question. And it was "What do you think of the Bible?"

I responded very briefly, that it is mythology, that I like mythology, and find it all equivalent.

I've said this a few thousand times, it is always taken the wrong way, but it was an open question, and that was my honest answer.

The original questioner responded to this by asking the basis for my answer, claiming her opinions were based on truth and evidence. This is where I depart because I know that rabbit hole only too well. Done that one plenty of times, oh yes. When belief is is offered as truth or evidence, there is absolutely no point in discussing it. It's a discussion destined to go nowhere, or worse, to descend into argument.

Plus, trashing somebody's dearly held beliefs is not my objective. There's a reason people hold these beliefs, and it's none of my damn business. Sometimes this is called respecting beliefs. No. I don't think there's any justification for that. But I respect the person.

But somebody else responded. They said that in their opinion all that mattered was that a person was a good person.

And the original responder asked whether it was good people who went to heaven, or whether it was righteous ones.

Oh my.

Without realising it a very large can of worms just opened up. Of course it's not the first time I've heard such ideas, but it suddenly made it awfully hard for me not to dive right back in.

I know well enough however not to touch that one with a ten foot pole. Not in a less than suitable venue, anyway. But I do think it is a massive issue, which is why I brought it here instead.

So, let's consider what has just been thrown into the ring here.

It is the suggestion that good and righteous are two different things. This is despite the dictionary offering them as synonyms. I know exactly what is being said, and it's exactly why I have a problem with some religious people (not just Christians, I hasten to add).

The people in question base all their morality on their own interpretation of their holy book. I stress "their own interpretation" because there can always be found, within the same religion, others whose ethics are quite different, and yet also based on the same book. Interpretation is absolutely the key factor. I've seen this over and over. It's why schisms occur, it's why clerics argue, it's why we can never tar all adherants of the same church or sect with the same brush, no matter how much of a sub-sub-sub-section of a religion they belong to.

I believe that more often than not, people who think their ethics are coming from said book are simply searching for justification for their actual ethics. That is to say, their innate personality, life experiences, upbringing, and personal choices have led them to a very individual morality with which they then try to find accord in either their family religion, or a different one, if necessary.

People who think that good and righteous are different, further think they are proven correct in this, because they can point to words in their chosen book that "fit" their idea of righteous.

The problem is, you can easily find two people within the same religion, who can have opposing beliefs on a morality issue, and they can both point to chosen words that fit perfectly.

As an extreme example of those who think anything can be justified by being "righteous" we can look at the Westboro Baptist Church. They have a twisted idea of love, based on their interpretation of holy writ.

I hope you watched that. It's painful to watch. As an interview, it can be criticized on many points, but what you are seeing there (we assume) are people who genuinely believe what they are saying. It's not enough to smile benevolently and say they are mistaken or misled. There is great harm done by these righteous folk, to good people.

I know it's too easy and rather obvious to mention it, but the Inquisition were also led by righteousness.

But these extreme examples are not the only examples. On a lower level, in homes and schools, children are harmed by righteous parents and teachers, women are harmed by righteous husbands, and all manner of small "everyday atrocities" are carried out by those whose idea of righteous is another person's idea of cruel, inhumane, and dangerous.

If religion suddenly went away tonight, this would not stop. These bullies would find another justification instead. I do not, as many do, blame religion for all this harm. That is almost to excuse the perpetrators. No, these bullies seek justification for their acts in a safe place, in a higher authority. They were only acting under orders. This is a massive cop out.

But before the religious folk relax, just as I do not blame religion for the bad behaviour, I do not credit it with the good, either. Because you can't have it both ways.

Just as I believe cruel people seek justification in their interpretation of righteousness, I think kind people are often drawn towards religion because what they see as holy simply fits their personality. It's almost traditional. "He's such a good man, he should be a priest". Somebody with a natural tendency to minstering to the needs of others seeking an opportunity to do so.....there aren't that many options.

But it doesn't have to be traditional religion. These days you run into people who call themselves "lightworkers". Their beliefs are complex and I won't go into that, but what they often seem to have a need to do is to be incredibly kind and helpful to others. Some of them are already in careers that allow this, such as social work, but they have what used to be known as a "calling". They associate this urge, this drive to be Very Nice with a metaphysical aspect. It works for them, and it's none of my business.

At the same time there are people with no religious beliefs, or certainly none of any specific kind, who do extraordinary amount of charity or community volunteer work, who never have a bad word to say about anyone, who are always honest, kind, helpful, and all round thoroughly ethical, just off their own backs because that's who they are. They base their ethics not on a book, but on a combination of who they are and everything they've ever learned. Nature and nuture.

I propose that the link between religion and ethics is tenuous at best, and for the most part that the cause and effect is opposite to the way it is generally assumed to be.

As for righteous? I think it's at best a useless and at worst a possibly dangerous concept. Ethics is best kept as a concept that is constantly discussed and re-examined. Because you can't set it in stone, and even if you did, sooner or later it would be intepretated badly.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Almonds and Academics

Some weeks ago now, a friend whose taste in literature I trust, recommended a book to me. Her recommendation was so passionate I ordered it immediately, and Amazon outdid themselves by delivering it within 24 hours.

The book in question is "The Almond Tree" by Michelle Coren Corasanti and it's a fictional life story of a Palestinian man born and raised in the West Bank.

While I was waiting for it to arrive I did a silly thing. I read the reviews:

Just the briefest glance at that will give you an idea of how divided opinions are on this book, and there's very little middle ground, readers either loved it or hated it. And, of those who hated it, reasons varied.

Much of the literary criticism is quite fair, I'm just not sure how much I would have noticed had I not been alerted to it. There are actual errors that an editor should have pointed out, and a lot of "beginner" writer mistakes that were rather annoying. But let's overlook all of that, because it's not what I'm here for.

The more important objections were that it was biased and/or historically inaccurate. The problem with this is that if you ask 12 people who actually live in the area concerned, you get 13 versions of "what really happened".

At the same time I was reading this book (very slowly, I've been very busy with many different things lately) I was also taking an online course "The Emergence of the Modern Middle East". This is the second course I've taken on this part of the world, and while I don't claim any sort of expertise, I have some facts at my disposal that come in quite useful when examining events.

The problem with facts regarding the history and social issues of an area in conflict such as this, is that they are interpreted very differently depending on one's own personal biases and attitude. I was therefore very happy that in one course the professor was Muslim, and in the other, an Israeli Jew. As academics they both did their level best to offer a neutral balanced view, nevertheless I was happier to have both to cross-check minor details.

And then of course, there is the media. How can we ever be sure, this far away, that what we are being shown is a fair and accurate representation of what's going on?

One forms one's own conclusions, taking everything into account. Increasingly, however, observers from outside are coming to the conclusion that something is very rotten there.

The idea behind the state of Israel was a "land without people, for a people without a land". Of course, this was complete nonsense as there were plenty of people already living on the land in question, which is why all of the subsequent conflict arose. In hindsight it was a Really Bad Idea, but it's too late for that now. What of the future?

Let's go back to the book. One of the main objections was how saintly Baba - the father or our hero - seems to be. Despite losing children, homes, being imprisoned (and treated very badly) for 13 years, he is all about love and forgiveness and trying to get along with his oppressors. It is certainly hard to believe anyone could be that forgiving, but the author seemed to use him as a tool to make a point, and I think it's this point that the critics hate. They hate the idea that love and forgiveness and getting along is presented as the solution to decades of conflict, oppression, injustice, death, destruction, and bitter hatred.

It seems childish and simplistic to even consider it. And so the character who embodies this is singled out, and the concept is ridiculed.

And I ask, what else have you got?

What alternative to love and forgiveness and getting along would you like to suggest that will bring peace to a place that has known no peace for generations?

Everything else has been tried. None of it works.

Things are changing, slowly, but it's two steps forward and one back. If the Israeli government and Hamas can both get their heads out of their arses long enough to stop making things worse instead of better, there are enough ordinary people who are fed up with conflict and who are willing to give love, forgiveness, and getting along a shot.

However, there are also far too many people outside looking in who are STILL taking sides after all this time, who STILL can't tell the difference between authorities (legitimate or otherwise) and regular people, who STILL don't understand cause and effect, who STILL can't grasp in particular the effect that generational oppression has on people, who STILL think it can all be fixed by men in suits signing papers, and who STILL use ancient mythology to justify it all.

The purpose of the book, according to the author, was "to bring about peace between Palestinians and Israelis" and to show that "we are all human beings and we're all equal."

I think it's awfully naive to think one book can do that, but I will absolutely not criticize anyone for wanting to do it, no matter how ham-fisted the attempt.

Monday, 19 May 2014

You Are What You Eat

This has been a weekend of food. Good food. Lots of food. It began with a party and there were leftovers. I added to those and......oh, excellent food.

I was sitting there last night with an exquisite plate of roast chicken with my most excellent homemade cole slaw, and somebody suggested a little ice cream to follow. With honey and almonds, they tried to tempt me. I declined.

I love ice cream with honey and almonds. In my head that is the flavour of "ambrosia". But I was sated, with a really quite simple dish, if you think about it, and the ambrosia can wait. I am a very pragmatic hedonist, which is probably an oxymoron, but there it is. Eating too much causes discomfort and negates any pleasure involved, you see.

I've been taken to task for this "sensible" attitude before. So boring. Indulge why don't you? No. It makes no sense.

I believe in balance in everything. That doesn't make my life boring, trust me. It prevents an awful lot of problems. I have what they describe as a healthy relationship with food. I don't deprive myself, nor do I over-indulge. I could eat less, and become a more modern shape, but that would be deprivation, and I see no point in that. But I know when to stop to avoid pain. This seems sensible to me. YMMV.

I have this simple rule, I only eat food that is absolutely delicious. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, just good. I don't eat boring food, because I am not starving to death. If I were dirt poor and obliged to eat boring food to survive, then I would. But I'm not. So I don't have to.

If there is something on my plate that is not exquisite, then, unless it was very expensive, I leave it. If it's actually bad, I leave it it even if it was very expensive. Fortunately everyone here is a good cook so we don't ruin expensive ingredients, but I have pushed away expensive food when eating out (and complained like hell). Like is too short for bad food.

Why consume calories you don't enjoy? That is just plain stupid. I see people do it. ALL. THE. TIME.

Example: Burger buns. You do not NEED a bun with your burger. There are many other options. But if you like having it wrapped in bread you can use something better. Delicious fresh Kaiser or Ciabatta, or even Pita would be far more enjoyable. And there are now some premium burger buns that are quite good anyway. But the standard "quilt batting" processed bun? Would you eat that on its own? Does it taste good? NO. So why adulterate a fine piece of beef with it? Makes no sense.

On the subject of burgers, the ones I made for a family party this weekend cost me $60. For 2 dozen burgers. I could have easily bought ready-made frozen burgers for that price, possibly even quite reasonable ones. But I'm in the habit of making them myself, they are vastly superior, and all the time I can afford it, that's what I'll serve. Come the day I can't afford to serve good burgers, I'll stop serving burgers. Cheap burgers are unpleasant, and I see no point in eating them.

I have been called a food snob, and I really don't care. I'm  not a food agenda snob. I don't insist on everything being from scratch, or organically grown, or whatever. But if these are the tastier option, then doesn't it just make sense? Why eat bad food? All other things being equal?

I do not accept the poverty excuse. Nope. I have been poor, very poor indeed. I have been so poor we stole cabbages from a farmer's field. I have been so poor that I had meat once a week. I have been so poor that I've eaten baked beans every day for a week so my kids could have something more nutritious. I've never been starvation poor, but I've known what it's like to struggle to put anything on the table. I reject any notion that I "don't know what it's like". I do.

I never wasted what precious little money I had on BAD food. There is no possible excuse for eating bad food. So I don't.

If I get on this topic "live" in person, sooner or later somebody will prod my belly. It's plenty squishy. I have spare. It's awfully hard to sound wise on this topic when you have spare. I can blame genetics but nobody cares, so I say only this:

If I indulged the way many do, stuffing myself to the brim every meal so that I needed time to recover afterwards, if I snacked all day, if I ate more sweet stuff (which I'm not keen on, but I do have my favourites), and if I cleaned my plate every time, having filled it more than necessary in the first place, and above all if I ate bad food........I'd weigh 300lbs. And my knees would give out.

As I need my knees, I don't let that happen.

But there's something else, and this is where most of the arguments happen.

People are becoming food snobs about processed food. Their intentions are good. There can't be anyone left who doesn't know it's not the best option nutritionally. People who eat processed food exclusively tend to have poorer quality of health overall (including mental health, it is now concusively proven) and shorter lives. But the human body is remarkably forgiving and adaptable, and the fact is that people who fill themselves full of junk are not dropping like flies. Similarly we all know, or rather knew, that one person who was the poster boy or girl for healthy eating.......... and died young.

Instead of opting for real food choices, and getting on with it, these people PREACH. And like all preaching, it gets old. It gets especially old for those of us who eat mostly real food anyway, and then get a dirty look for buying a bottle of salad dressing. Get a grip.

There is nothing more tedious than a born-again real food enthusiast. These folk had a reason at some point in their lives to change their diet dramatically. Maybe a health scare, or a new partner who insisted, or a book or video that terrified them and caused an epiphany. It's great that they made this decision, but they are as bad as the ex-smokers who now pull faces and nag at the teensiest whiff of smoke.

(And while I'm on that topic, if you nag me about not living on organic quinoa and alfalfa while you puff away - WARNING: this may come as a shock - I may not take you seriously.)

And now they lecture the rest of us. The rest of us who were NOT giving long, cavalier or even arrogant rants about how they ate what they bloody well liked a a few months ago, and now they turn on us. Now if we open a bottle of Heinz ketchup they won't shut up about reading labels and how high fructose corn syrup will kill us.

Fanatics. They even check for additives in their vitamins.

Personally, I don't LIKE the vast majority of processed food, and I couldn't afford it if I did. They tell me that in some parts of the US it's cheaper to buy junk than fresh veggies, and I haven't actually done the research, but if you say so, I believe you. But where I live it would cost me double to buy rather than cook. So it's not a practical option.

But if you can afford it, if you like it, if you are happy with it, buy it. None of my business.

If however, you suddenly decide it's too expensive, too disgusting, or is making you sick. Then switch. And then shut the fuck up. We won't say "told you so". But really? Good for you, welcome to good, real food, which used to just be called "food", oddly. Enjoy it, and get on with it. You are not getting a medal.

Friday, 16 May 2014


It's Friday and I don't even have time to write this, but I'm in a funny mood. (Yes, you say, so what's new?)

We have elections coming up later this year here in Ontario, and I don't get to play. As I'm not a Canadian citizen, I have no vote. I don't have a vote anywhere actually, because I've been an ex-pat too long to be allowed to vote in Britain. But that doesn't mean I have no opinion. I will happily meddle in ANYONE'S politics. This however, is nothing to do with politics. Tim Hudak is just so UGLY. He's so ugly, I am not putting a picture up here, because I don't want to look at him.

Good grief Melanie, how shallow can you get? It may be shallow, but it's honest. There it is. What an ugly man. I'm sure he doesn't care what I think, and I'm sure plenty of people will disagree with me, but that's OK.

A bit of honesty, when it's harmless, is a good thing. Lots of things are ugly. That dress I told you about earlier in the week. There are a LOT of ugly items of clothing around right now. I think the fashion designers are running out of ideas and they've started doing things at random. People are such sheep that if it's got a designer name on it, they'll buy it anyway.

Several trends are particularly ugly. Bow ties, for example. The only person who can pull off a bow tie is James Bond. Most men look silly even in a really good dinner suit and bow tie, and would be better off going cravat or Nehru, frankly, if they want to be posh. But away from the dinner suit? All bow ties look ridiculous. No exceptions. Doesn't matter what colour, pattern, or style. It's an ugly piece of decoration.

Bows should be restricted to the hair on little girls. But while we're on that topic, I see they are "in" for the hair on adults, especially the "rockabilly" style. Now there's an ugly hairstyle if ever I saw one. I'm not big on "updos" of any sort, but a few girls with certain shaped hairlines/foreheads can pull them off. What never, ever looks good is that stupid rockabilly style, and what's even worse is the mullet version of it. Ugly hair on otherwise perfectly ordinary looking women, I don't know what goes through their heads.

Don't stop me now by calling me judgemental, or saying you are surprised or disappointed - I'm on a roll.

Somebody has to ban wedge heels on shoes before they make a serious comeback. They make you look like you have bricks on your feet. The latest chunky wide heels aren't much better. If you can't walk in heels, adding scaffolding is NOT the answer. Wear flat shoes, then you won't walk funny. It doesn't matter if you are the most beautiful woman on Earth if you walk like a ruptured chicken in heels. There's also nothing attractive about grazed knees and broken ankles. Buy some hippy sandals. Who cares if you're short? At least you're upright, AND you can run. Why women want to hobble themselves, I will never understand.

And men? You are not off the hook here. Prada designers need to be shot. It's the only solution. These were ugly the first few times around, and bringing them back is just wrong. Enough. Up against the wall with you.

And no, and no.

Don't wear brogues with shorts. EVER. And in fact, if you have chicken legs like that? Don't wear shorts. 

Shall I tell you what else is ugly? I've never understood this one...chainlink fencing around a person's house. Oh, they say, it's economical and it keeps dogs in. Yes, and it makes your home look like a prison. Some of these are really nice houses, with pretty gardens, and then they go and put that round it. Chainlink fencing was invented for practical use, it is NOT decorative, it looks like shit. Why not just use cinder blocks and be done with it? You could put barbed wire along the top for that extra touch of security, and decorate it with unreadable graffiti to complete the look.

And talking of ugly things to put next to your house, you could buy a PT Cruiser.

If I haven't annoyed everyone yet, can I just point out that Matt Smith looks like Frankenstein's Monster, and Benedict Cumberbatch looks like Kif Kroker. Two of the ugliest actors out there. 

Jolly good.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Read, Learn, THEN Share

You've heard me on this topic before, but it has to be said again, before a very special blog post coming next week.

As you know by now (I hope), I am not formally educated. I left school at 17 with a handful of 'O' Levels, and that was that. 

I could easily have chosen, therefore, to leave my knowledge at that level. Many do. Apart from information they pick up more or less accidentally, they go through life with whatever they manage to remember from school. Plenty of people manage perfectly well like this. They hold down jobs, raise families, and in general "succeed" in life in a state of a sort of general ignorance, and it isn't a real problem. 

It only becomes obvious, in fact when they play Trivial Pursuit, or join in a pub quiz, or something along those lines. Or get into an argument online.......

You've met them. Nice enough people, basically literate, no problem there. Not actually stupid. They may even be wise as they age, in a very basic way. They may be good parents, and pillars of the community.

But they suddenly look very foolish when they say something like:

"I never knew Britain was an island."

Everyone tries hard not to do a "facepalm", but you can be sure somebody will call them an idiot. 

They are not idiots. You only know what you know, and if you've never taken the time to become familiar with what the world looks like (which doesn't happen in five minutes, and needs to be "topped up" regularly, not just because things change, but because you forget) then this sort of thing will happen. 

So, you see, I don't blame them really. I can be quite defensive on their behalf if they are insulted. Nobody knows everything. 

And...I don't think it's EVER helpful to insult somebody for their ignorance. It's not going to help them learn, and it's certainly not going to suddenly make them say "Oh dear! I realise I have many gaps in my education. I must put that right immediately!" It doesn't EVER work like that. It causes resentment, and just makes you look like a tool.

OK, so that said, it's a choice. In our western society at least. With the internet now, especially, nobody needs to be generally ignorant. So, with their schooldays ancient history, these folk have made the choice not to bother to learn much of anything outside their own particular interests. 

And sometimes it matters. Sometimes there is a piece of information, or an area of understanding that acts as a foundation to understanding another concept, which in turn is necessary to understand another concept, and so on.

Imagine a person had never been taught basic multiplication and division. Yes, I know it's unlikely but as an example, consider that. As a result of this they would not be able to learn how to do percentages. And if they can't do percentages, they could not understand probability. Without understanding probability, you would be hard-pressed to sell them insurance. You MAY be able to scare them into it, but it would be a very different process. It would rely wholly on them simply believing you.

Another example. If a person had never learned anything about basic biology, about cells and so on, it would be difficult for them to understand reproduction and growth. And not understanding how this happens they would not comprehend agriculture. Again, if you were persuasive enough you could probably convince them that they need better soil and irrigation, but this would rely on you being convincing, gaining their trust, convincing them you were an expert. There would be no real understanding.

This whole "never mind how, just take it from me" alternative to knowing how things work has actually been popular as a way of keeping the plebs down. When knowledge is an elite privilege it becomes a form of power. For this reason there are plenty of examples, both historically and right now in the developing world, of people fighting to get an education. Risking their lives to learn. Going to enormous lengths and great hardships to obtain information that many spoiled modern westerners simply don't bother with.

I happen to know that kids in Africa, Asia, and Central America are baffled as to why there is this laziness, because they've told me so. There are children no more than 12 walking for hours to get to a ratty dial-up internet cafe to do the Coursera (university level) courses I take. They stay awake long into the night doing assignments by stinky oil lamp. They struggle with English and yet......these kids are getting high 90s in their marks. They just don't understand how people in the First World don't want to be educated. They want it more than anything. They go without food to pay for their internet sessions.

And then, when they post about this on the forums at Coursera, and say where they come from, they come up against middle-aged North Americans and Europeans who have never even heard of their countries. Don't know which continent they are on, in some cases.

They don't want to just believe some white guy that dirty water makes them sick. They know that anyway. They want to find out what they can do to change it. They want to become engineers so they can fix the problems in their countries. So they learn, hungrily.

But the biggest problem with lack of knowledge is that it can lead to uninformed opinion.

If you are getting all your information from a few soundbytes on the evening news, not only are you getting biased and shallow editorial, you are probably sharing it around. Misinformation is everywhere.

I have commented in several places recently about the gluten-free trend. It's a new panacea, stop eating gluten they say, and all your health woes will disappear.

This is bollocks.

If you have celiac disease, then obviously you shouldn't eat gluten. At a lesser level, just as some people can have a senstivity to dairy products, some have a sensitivity to gluten. They need to avoid it too. Everyone else can eat it without a problem. Quite why there is a movement to blame gluten (which the human race has eaten with great gusto for about 10,000 years) for every ill we suffer, I don't know, but it's the latest in a long line of demonized food ingredients. I will entertain no argument on this topic, I've said my piece, and it is just an example.

The reason I mention it is that many (most?) of the people going on these gluten-free diets without any medical reason to do so have no clue what gluten is. They have deliberately chosen to be ignorant of that (it's not exactly hard to look up), and to believe those hawking the gluten-free diet without any good reason to do so, and not satisfied with this, they are preaching it to others.

Another example is in the climate change debate. Again, I'm not getting into that, I just want to use an example of a shocking ignorance I keep on hearing.

Various figures have been put forward as to how high the seas will rise if some/all of the polar ice melts. There is quite range of estimates, despite this being a measurable matter. But every damn time I read a new article on this, at least one person will comment:

"If the ice in your drink melts, the water level doesn't change"

And somebody points out that yes, this applies in the case of sea ice, but the concern in question is ice currently on land, pouring into the sea.

Now that comment "If the ice in your drink melts, the water level doesn't change" is being read, memorized, and repeated by ignorant people. They think they've found an "out" AHA! They say. Nobody has ever thought of THAT. Because, you know, nobody would have. All those squadrons of scientists studying the whole issue, and not one of them ever looked in his Pepsi and thought of that. Right.

(I invite you at this point to Google the Dunning-Kruger effect. I've mentioned it before, more than once, but it'll do you good to look it up. Think of it as a practice exercise.)

I've also mentioned before, but I'll labour the point, that evolution does not require belief, it only requires understanding. I am convinced that the reason conservative Christians don't want it taught in schools is that once you have been taught it, that's the end of the matter. It would take very powerful religious propaganda to convince you it's wrong, because it's so very simple, logical, mathematical, sound.

Here we often hear trotted out that old chestnut "It's only a theory". As if that makes any difference. Gravity is only a theory. Quite simply, ignorance and "belief" are what go together. Only if you don't understand something do you NEED to believe it.

Of course all of this has been references to science. Not everything is science, in the usual sense of the word.

If I was to tell you that there is a town called Marihanger, you would use science to find out if I was telling you the truth. And science would have allowed Marihanger to exist. But the existence of Marihanger is not science. There is social science of course, some history, some politics, and so on. But facts about life in Marihanger are not usually thought of as scientific study. Nevertheless some of the requirements of studying this place and what happens there follow a similar process - careful observation, measurement, and repeating work to ensure results are consistent.

It is just as important to avoid bias, and to avoid working backwards - that is to say you must test your theory, not begin with a result and then bend the evidence to fit it. If you believe there is corruption, human rights issues, and other atrocities going on in Marihanger you don't just spread gossip about it, you find evidence.

Perhaps something is going on in Marihanger that has been on the news so much "everybody" knows about it. Or do they? What if the stories coming out of Marihanger are gross distortions of the truth, or worse? What if it's pure propaganda, but so well circulated that it's taken as the truth?

And what if the truth is very complex? What if the history of the town is long, convoluted, emotionally charged, and sometimes hard to establish, so much so that the effects today actually look very different to the reality of the situation - and this is often the case, of course. There actually comes a point where most onlookers simply cannot sort it all out.

But they form an opinion anyway. Not only that, they share it. They are keen to share it, and they share it every chance they get. They share it with inflammatory language, with insults, and with threats. Instead of admitting they don't know enough to form an opinion, they jump on whatever bandwagon suits them, and then they shout it from the rooftops. LOUD, LOUD IGNORANCE.

There is no town called Marihanger, but there are whole chunks of the world like this, and next week I'm going to do one or more posts on one part of it, and I think you might find it interesting.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Blaming the Victim

I apologize in advance to my friends who are smokers, I'm not picking on you, it's just an example. You'll see.

So, back in the 60s and 70s most people smoked and if you didn't you had to put up with it. There was no sympathy whatsoever for non-smokers, and it was considered good etiquette, in a non-smoking house, to a) allow visitors to smoke in your home, and b) provide ashtrays for such a purpose.

Wherever you were, in shops, offices, restaurants, non-smokers were surrounded by a cloud of smoke, and when we got home our hair and clothes stunk of it. But nobody cared about non-smokers. If we complained we were called whiners, or worse. Get over it, they said. So we just put up with it because that's just how it was.

If you wanted to get away from the smoke you had to go outside. Be excluded and left out. Get cold or wet to avoid it. The principle beind this was that non-smokers were the minority, and if you can't stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen.

For health reasons this all changed, and today the smokers are the minority, and THEY get to stand out in the cold or wet, to be excluded and left out.

Obviously, I see this as much fairer, as they are the ones creating the smoke.

There is another issue that has also changed over time, and it is that of how women's legs are perceived. Back in Victorian times one had to cover one's ankles to be decent. Skirts gradually got a bit shorter as fashions changed, knees were uncovered, and by the middle of the 20th century we had mini skirts.

Did it cause any problems? It's impossible to compare figures of sexual assault and rape between 1880 and 1980 because most simply went unreported in 1880. But ancedotal evidence tells us it was certainly not rare in 1880. Despite legs being hidden from men they knew they were there, and they were quite able to fight through a few layers of petticoat.

The reason unwanted attention from men was not often reported in 1880 was twofold, the women were simply not believed, and/or they were assumed to have been fully responsible for what happened to them. It took a long time for this situation to change, and today we know better.


We still hear constant reports of women being held responsible for how men behave towards them. Why?

The logical solution here would have been to remove the men doing the leering. They are the ones with the problem. But no, we are still blaming women for the behaviour of men.

Any man will tell you, his impure thoughts are not contingent on a short skirt. Whether he is 18 or 80. Boys will not be saved from this by having girls taken away. In fact their skills in impulse control will be compromised from lack of practice.

When I was young, I was out walking one summer evening with a friend and a young man from a Muslim country. The conversation began pleasantly enough, normal topics, and then he raised the issue of how daring we were to be out with someone we'd only just met, at night, and that it would never happen in his country. When we told him this was quite normal for us, and we were comfortable with it, he asked if we'd never found ourselves in compromising situations as a result? We said no. The conversation then took an unpleasant turn as he suggested western women were "easy". When we explained that wasn't the case, he cited our "daring" as actually a type of provocation. His attitude was based on what he was used to culturally, obviously, but he simply took it for granted that because we TRUSTED him, he could take advantage of that. His comments became lewd, and we told him it wasn't welcome, but he didn't get it. There came a point where we actually felt threatened, and with little more than a couple of winks and gestures, my friend and I conspired to launch a pre-emptive strike. We pushed him through a hedge and into somebody's garden, then we made ourselves scarce before he gathered himself up.

I can't blame him for his upbringing, but it had definitely affected his attitude. He believed, because he'd been taught, that women were responsible for HIS behaviour. No matter how illogical this looks to us, to those who believe it, it makes perfect sense.

All the time the men create the smoke, and everyone just shrugs and lets women stand in it, nothing will change. If you care about this situation, you have to be part of the solution or you are part of the problem.

I read recently that the message given when you tell your daughter not to wear a short skirt, is "let him rape somebody else's daughter". This is the truth. Common sense says women don't walk alone at night - yes, we get that. But all the time women are having to do ALL the work to avoid coming to harm at the hands of men, nothing is ever going to change.

I am aware I harp on about this topic, but I feel I must. Because I'm still hearing the view that it's women's fault for not dressing "modestly". It isn't. If you still believe that, please read this:

And if you are too lazy to read that (don't care) here's the soundbyte:

"But what [our research showed] was something completely different from the stereotypes -- sexual harassment occurring in crowded areas, even if the women were covered from head to toe."

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Kopfschmerzen durch Technik

My printer has gone senile. I am grateful - sort of - that it still works at all, because it's ten years old and that is a great age for a printer. It's virtually a museum piece. But I did not scrimp when I bought it. It's a good brand (HP) and it does everything, you know the ones, it's a copier/printer/fax, and it has indeed been used for all of that and for cat artwork too, and has given us more hours of devoted service than any other piece of electronica in the house.

But now, in its dotage, it keeps telling me it has no paper. "You have lots of paper!" I tell it. But it doesn't believe me. It goes BEEP! BEEP! I'M OUT OF PAPER. And I shout at it.

Sometimes it sucks in several pieces of paper, instead of one, and prints things out in stripes at the top of each one. Sometimes it sucks the paper in sideways and I get a paper jam. But mostly it just whines that it has no paper, and I rave at it. It's probably funny to watch.

Of course, it's not the only technology here that has lost its mind. My phone has become an interesting paperweight. It was on its second battery anyway, and then the "new" one decided it could only hold a charge for about 5 minutes, but that was the least of it. One day, suddenly, without warning it told me it had insufficient memory to do..........ANYTHING. It would neither receive or send text messages.

My husband thought this would be an easy fix, delete some stuff, right? But what stuff? Unlike most people, I do not have any music on my phone. No games either. In fact my "stuff" levels are pretty much minimal. Nevertheless he deleted all the photos and old messages, and still it claimed its memory was full. OF WHAT EXACTLY? Who knows. I gave up trying to make it work, and have just lived without it. I don't even miss it.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a Luddite, and when my internet goes down I gibber. I am very used to having information available RIGHT THIS MINUTE NOW, and I am as spoiled as any other modern person.

Unlike others (apparently) I have absolutely no patience with technology. Gimmicks and gadgets are fine if they are intuitive and always work, be they hardware or software. If there's a steep learning curve or lots of bugs, I am very much of the throwing things out of windows school of problem solving. I can't be done with webpages that are hard to navigate ( = psychic powers required) or installation of anything that has more than 3 steps. 2 is better. I like controls (physical or virtual) to be labelled clearly with what they do. Google products' minimalist layouts with inscrutable symbols ("Three lines means customize and control, but we'll make them GUESS that") make me growl.

Ah, first world problems, I know. It's probably better, anyway, that I save my patience for people and take out most of my frustrations on imported plastic that I could always live without if I chose to.

At least it all balances out with the bliss of simple hand tools....wait a minute....


Monday, 12 May 2014

Let's Be Honest

I am a great believer in two principles:

1. Be positive.

2. If you can't think of anything nice to say, don't say anything.

So, generally, if #1 fails you, you can resort to silence. Unless you can't.

When somebody asks you directly "WHAT DO YOU THINK?" there is no time, or wiggle room.

I was pushed for an opinion this morning. I can't think of anything nice to say and I can only put off the reply for so long.

If you are an expert at this positive stuff, I commend you. I do quite well most of the time, but when I fail I truly fail. And I won't lie. I will not tell somebody that a thing looks great if I hate it. That seems to me to be so very wrong, I just won't do it. I try, hard, to find something positive to say.

After all, if I don't like the style, I can say nice things about the colour, or vice versa.

But what if I hate everything about it?

The problem comes therefore, when your non-answer speaks volumes. When, in fact, your failure to say anything is really loud.

Don't tell me you've never been in that situation, because I don't believe you.

The extra problem is, I can take it. If you say to me "Well, I wouldn't wear it personally" or "It's not to my tastes, but..." I am fine. In fact if you say "YEUK" I don't care. Most people know they can say "YEUK" to me, so sometimes they do. This is a good thing.

But not everyone is like that. Their feelings get hurt EVEN if you say "Well, it's not really my kind of thing..." That much is enough to crumple them. And yet, these are the very people who prod and poke and seek opinions.


There will be no link here. I'm pretty sure the person concerned doesn't read my blog, but I'm not taking any chances. I really do care about the feelings of others, I just don't know how to preserve them.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A Polite Request For Your Attention

As you know, I am pretty scathing of the vast majority of conspiracy theories, and in an earlier post I mentioned how these are the modern version of superstition, a statement I stand by. Along with these are a long list of things people are convinced are "bad for you" with zero evidence to prove it. We all have our little soapbox issues among these, and this is mine.

Just to the right of centre you can see a wind turbine.

That is the view from my front porch. That's how close we are. Three are actually visible from my property. In total there are several hundred of them. So when I talk about this, I'm not talking about something over the hills and far away.

Before they were built, there were signs up all around the countryside opposing them, including some demanding safety studies. Well, now it's one great big safety study - we are living it. And the data is in. The only harm done is to nearsighted birds. I have nothing against nearsighted birds, obviously, but in the great scheme of things these fatalities are a drop in the ocean compared to how many birds die flying into windows. So, unless you are planning on banning windows, I suggest you let that one go.

In fact very careful studies have been done, repeatedly, to see if there is any danger to health from them, and there isn't. How can there be? The last time I wrote about this I went into quite a bit of detail about it and offered a link to even more scientific data and explanations:

We fear what we don't understand.

It's a survival instinct left over from waaaay back, and served us well then. But along with distrust of "other" from our tribal days, there usually  isn't actually any need for it now. Today, we don't need to fear people just because they are different to us, for example, we can learn about them, and this knowledge is a choice. And I propose that lack of knowledge, which ends up being lack of understanding, is the biggest problem we face in the modern world.

If you are scared of wind turbines because you don't understand them, that's one thing. If you are scared of people because you don't understand them, that's quite another. It can lead to some very bad things happening to those people.

I am not a professional historian, but I have taken an interest in history far beyond what we were taught in school, and I'm glad that I did, because it has helped me to understand why things are the way they are. When history was taught in school there were a lot of names, dates, and places. And some very simplistic explanations of the cause of events. But the problem with history is that it has no beginning. Every event that happens was preceeded by, and generally speaking caused by, another event. For example, every child learns that World War One began because Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo. But that tends to be as much as they are ever told. In fact, if you trace it back, these events can actually be linked directly to the American Civil War. Which of course had its own convoluted causes, which in turn had a history behind them, and so we go back, back.

Nothing ever happens without reason. It may not be a good reason. A single individual can change the course of history, and so can a storm, so there are "random" events thrown into the mix. But they are never the sole cause of what comes next.

However, some of this is a matter of opinion. While 4 separate events may have obviously led up to a fifth, historians differ on which was the more important. Not only that, there are different reports of what happened. Who fired the first shot? Who made the decision? Where did the epidemic come from? How many died? Were they refugees or spies? As time passes, answers to these questions sometimes become impossible to answer for sure.

And the problem with history is that some facts get conveniently set aside for propaganda purposes. Terrorists become heroes and vice versa. Whole generations are deliberately and systematically taught lies. Ask any Turk about Ataturk. Chances are they don't even know the dark side of their national hero's career. The world remembers him as a great statesman, the atrocities forgotten.

So, in any conflict there are three stories, those of either side, and the truth. The truth is really hard to pin down, and it's rare that one side is wholly innocent. The media feeds us whatever suits its purposes, and unbiased news reports are hard to come by. Official statements are inevitably inaccurate, and the further we are from an event the harder it is to get our facts straight. A minority of people have the time and resources, and make the effort to try and pick this all apart and understand what's really going on.

Most don't. Frankly, I don't blame anyone for despairing of really knowing the truth behind event X, considering the huge efforts made by those involved to make this difficult. But I have great respect for those who admit to not understanding, and, as a result, not taking sides. The wisest people of all are those who realise there are two (or more, usually more) sides to every story and approach the situation with that knowledge. Because it's far too easy to lay the blame at the feet of one side. Without considering what went before.

If it doesn't affect you, there are only so many hours in the day, and I don't blame you for going about your busineess and leaving it for others to worry about. It is absolutely not a requirement for every citizen of the planet to be an expert on every matter happening on it.

But before you offer an opinion, especially before you offer it publically (and yes, that includes Facebook), or within the earshot of a young, impressionable mind, or in such a way that it could impact the welfare or livelihood of a member of the group of people connected to the issue, GET YOUR FUCKING FACTS STRAIGHT.

We have enough problems in this world without ignorance being shared.

Thank you.

Saturday, 3 May 2014


I got asked a really interesting question recently, and it was about expertise, what am I expert in?


There are a few things I know quite a lot about, but I tend to spread myself too thin, and become partially expert at many things and master of none. I'm actually OK with that, it keeps things interesting. I really don't need to be The Great Expert in anything.

I'm more about passions. Things I enjoy, and become partially expert in from a place of enthusiasm.

So, I started a list in my head of things I love to do, and that I'm quite good at, and it was easy to create a list, but then I noticed that there were really just two categories.

For example I like cooking, I like gardening, I like knitting, I like writing, etc, etc and what are all these things? Creative things. I like being creative. That is a passion, a drive, and I consider myself a creative person. That's a very right-brained thing.

But I also like puzzles. All sorts of puzzles. From crosswords and jigsaws to genealogy, and history itself, which is a puzzle until you put all the pieces together. And people. People are huge puzzles. And that's all left-brained stuff.

Which makes sense really, because when I do those brain dominance things, I tend to get 50-50 right and left.

In fact if you consider all the things I'm keen on, you'll find that most of them involve puzzles or creativity, or both. Or, to look at it another way, if it involves neither, chances are I'm not terribly interested.

I can find no enthusiasm for sport, for example. I can't see any point in it. Maybe somebody can single out the area of passion that falls into. Possibly more than one, as I imagine playing it comes under a different category than watching it. Anyway, I think it's at least a third category, but somebody else will have to figure that one out for me.

Fortunately, many things in life involve creativity or puzzles in some way or another, so I find lots of things interesting. And if I'm interested, I learn. If I'm passionate, I learn more.

Don't we have the basis of how to educate here? People are always talking about engaging students. If you can get their attention by making it more interesting to them, there's more chance of information sinking in.

An example I remember in my own life were children's jigsaw puzzles of maps. There were a whole series of these. They included the names of major cities as separate pieces, the image itself showed regional features such as mountain ranges, landmarks, local agriculture etc, and by the time you finished the puzzle you had memorized many aspects of the country, far faster, and far better that if you'd been shown a map and simple guide. After doing the puzzle a few times it was pretty much cemented in and to this day I cannot forget which way round Kattegat and Skaggerak go, from the two plain blue bits either side of Denmark.

So, this is not a terribly long or deep post, just a braindump, and I rather hope it will simply lead to your own thoughts on your passions, and this whole idea of categories. Feel free to dive in here or at Facebook, or both. Conversation tends to fizzle out here.