Monday, 30 June 2014

Intellect and Wisdom

If knowledge is a gathering of information, and lack of it is ignorance, then what is intelligence? When the government or military talk about intelligence they are referring to a gathering of information, after all.

In everyday terms, intelligence isn't actually as easy to define as you might think. It can be seen as the capacity for learning. When we talk about artificial intelligence what we mean is a computer/robot/machine that can make decisions. But making decisions is really only the end result. Before that there has to be an understanding of the options. And before that, there has to be an awareness that a choice is possible.

When young children first realise they have choices, they are really only at that first stage. They don't yet have any capacity to choose well, and frequently they don't. Most of their choices are instinctive and appear random. On the face of it there appears to be no choice going on at all.

How intelligent is a chicken? I've watched them for hours, I confess, and their level of intelligence seems to be extremely low indeed. Having found a hole in the fence and escaped their run, they then wander about a bit, pecking at the ground for tasty morsels, and then when the sun starts going down they head for their shed in the run but don't remember how they got out. They walk up and down the fence repeatedly trying to find a way though, missing the hole many times, driven only by a vague sense of direction towards home. Many, many times, they've had to be rescued - cornered somewhere, grabbed and tossed back over the fence, only for the same thing to happen the next day, and the next, and the next.......

It would appear then, that memory plays an important role in learning, and consequently in decision making, but is memory all there is to intelligence?

The animal handlers who trained the owls on the Harry Potter movies explained in an interview how it took them all day to teach an owl the simplest "trick", and by the next day they had completely forgotten it, so they just used new owls, because it made no difference. Reputation for the wise old bird, TRASHED. In fact, they suggested, owls are incredibly stupid. Are they? Or are they just forgetful? Just like chickens, they can find their way home, but is that a different type of memory, for a different purpose?

It's not so hard, but still not exactly easy, to train cats. It's very easy to train dogs. Yet with some exceptions we tend to think of cats as smarter than dogs, and sometimes we even suggest it's because they are free-thinkers - unwilling to bend to our demands. We seem to have decided that cats are not like owls. It's not that they can't learn to do tricks, it's that they don't want to. We have defined rebellion as intelligence.

And in fact, we do the same with children. We say "oh, he's testing his limits!" and we smile happily at the mischief, seeing it as a good sign, despite the problems caused by bad behaviour. "He's too smart for his own good!". Experts tell us this is all part of the learning process, as it develops a good sense of cause and effect, and consequences.

But when a young adult makes bad choices, that is to say he rebels against society and gets himself into trouble with the law, we tell him not to be so stupid.

Indeed it has been proven that crime does not pay. Lifetime incomes of career criminals have been studied, and most of them work for less than minimum wage, and that's assuming they never get caught. If they spend any length of time in jail it's reduced further. To choose that lifestyle is to make a very bad choice indeed.

Of course there are other ways to opt out of mainstream society, and how that is looked upon depends on one's own perspective. If you come across squatters, travellers, hippy communes, or whatever, you may or may not approve or understand, but is their decision to live apart from "mainstream" society considered to be a deliberate lifestyle choice? Sometimes it is, other times it simply seems to be a solution.

It seems to me that we tend to assume that people whose decisions are radically different to ours, must be lacking somewhere. I'm not referring to matters of taste, but to decisions that affect relationships, employment status, safety, health or wealth.

If they make decisions that appear to us to be poor in these areas, we assume they either:

1) Lack information required to make good decisions, or
2) Lack the intellect to make use of that information.

We may not analyse it quite like that, but it's what we do. In everyday speech, what actually happens is conversations like this:

"Well, that was bloody stupid!"
"Oh, but maybe he doesn't know any better....."

The idea behind it is that everyone is just doing the best they know how. The chicken really isn't able to remember where the hole in the fence is, and you can't blame him for being a chicken. The child has yet to learn about consequences, and you really can't blame him for being young. The young man may not have the intellect to really grasp the idea that crime is a bad option - but we blame him anyway. He's been told enough, wasn't he listening?

We may say to people "Are you really that stupid?" when they just don't seem to be able to take in a concept we are explaining to them. Sometimes the honest answer is yes. At this point I'd like to remind you that half of the population of the world are below average intelligence.

I live with a young man whose IQ is between 160 and 180 depending on which test he takes, and he's taken a few. He regularly makes incredibly stupid decisions. I could easily dismiss this as being to do with his Asperger's diagnosis, but it doesn't really explain it. He has the capacity to learn, and he has had 21 years of learning. Clearly there is more to decision making than intellect.

Perhaps you are already thinking of wisdom. It is not the same as intellect. It's an end product of it, certainly, but it requires something else. Some of it is experience, but that's not the whole of it either.

Experts do not agree on precisely what wisdom is. But it seems to involve decision making. It would appear to be dependent on at least some level of intellect, but used in conjunction with perception, and perhaps even ethics. It certainly requires the ability to see things from more than one point of view.

Not only is intellect alone not enough, but high intellect does not guarantee wisdom. So what does?

I am increasingly convinced that it is a choice. That often when we use the word stupid (and certainly when I use it) we are not referring to intellect, but to wisdom. Therefore, as an insult it is reasonable and fair because the person does know better, and is not doing their best. But why would anyone do that?

That's a good question, isn't it? Is wisdom optional?

As I've said, all of these words - information, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, and others too like nous etc, are not always clearly defined and some seem to be used interchangeably. There's a matter of opinion involved in a lot of it.

Well, it is my opinion that at some point in everyone's life they decide what they value, and if it's wisdom they seek it. They aim for it. They want to be wise in order to "do the right thing". But it has been suggested to me by others that it's the other way around, that innate wisdom is what drives us to make good choices.

As I was halfway through this blog I stumbled across a series of images that seemed to have been drawn by somebody exploring the same thoughts.

The original was this:

Which is an interesting way to look at it, I can't find much to disagree with there, although you could just as easily label the second one wisdom.

But people got hold of this and altered it. Some of them are really interesting. Firstly another way to look at it completely.

Then one person changed that to this.

But this is perhaps more on the lines I'm thinking along here:

Finally, there was one that made me smile, because I live with Tom.

I don't think there's anything that actually fascinates me as much as the human brain.

Well, is wisdom passed on? Can it be taught? Over the centuries we have amassed quite a collection, as a species, of the wisdom of the ages, as it were. Wise words of wise people. Recorded directly and quotable, or just passed into our culture as tradition and lore.

I can't fail to mention holy books, which are considered to be divine wisdom by some, and certainly have a few good ideas within them here and there.

Some of this is handed down in the form of doctrine. No matter how you personally feel about that, you are aware, I'm sure, that it is an attempt, an intent, to teach, and for at least some of those pushing the doctrine there is a belief that this is wisdom, that it will work if taught, that it applies to everyone, and that it is wholly a good thing.

And on that note................I'll save the concept of belief for another day.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


I'm not a scientist. It's not even my area, really. I took Chemistry and Biology in school, and did well at both, but we weren't offered Physics, obviously, it being an all-girl school, (no, I have no idea either, don't ask me) and I've kept up an interest. My more recent studies were MOOCS, in Physics, Astrophysics, and Astrobiology, and yes you read that right.

Don't get the idea that I don't know what I'm talking about when we get into a scientific discussion though. I'll tell you why too. Like reputable scientists, I am capable of saying "I don't know."

That's the mark of a scientist you know. Knowing the limits of knowledge.

Some years ago I was on the board of a charity that gave support to women with postpartum disorder. I never suffered from it myself, and in fact that was one reason I was invited onto the board, along with a token man. They wanted somebody with a "healthy" perspective. When you are dealing with any issue, it's obviously useful to have people involved who know the issue from the inside, but it also helps to have those who are on the outside.

One of the issues being discussed at that time concerned SSRI drugs and whether they were safe to use in pregnant women. At that time no research had been done, nobody wanted to take the risk. Were they safe or not? We didn't know, and therefore the advice at that time was for pregnant women to avoid these drugs.

For some reason the concept of "we don't know" among scientists is often seen as a flaw. Let me ask you something. What if you had two medical conditions, neither of which were life threatening, and one could be easily treated with drugs, but nobody knew the effect it would have on your body due to the other condition. Would you prefer that you were told, honestly, that "we don't know" or would you be quite happy for a doctor to pat you on the head, tell you it would be just fine, and then discover that the drug caused you severe, irreparable damage due to the other condition? No. You'd want to err on the side of caution.

Another example. Let's assume your house was infested with some insect or other, and there were two ways to eradicate it. One was expensive and would take a long time to work, but was known to be safe to humans, the other was cheap and quick, but no research had ever been done on the effect it had on humans. Which would you choose? You would choose the first one, because you would respect the honesty that "we don't know" about the second one.

This is true of so many things in our world. Unbeknown to us so often as we go about our lives, decisions are being made based on what we know and what we don't know, based on safety. On the other hand sometimes decisions are being made based on expediency and economy. (Cue fracking discussion, but let's not.)

Do you know what science is? Really?

It is the body of knowledge that we have collected over time. It is a collection of information, carefully put together. It is not a collection of anecdotes. It doesn't matter if hundreds of people claim to have witnessed a tornado, for example, there are certain tests that are taken before it is confirmed. Sometimes this is quite easy and sometimes the findings are a little ambiguous, and it's marked down in the records as a "possible" tornado. Which is very frustrating if you just got a tree through your roof, but not all high spinning winds are tornadoes, by definition, and that's that.

If the river near you turns a funny colour, you don't turn to mythology or guesswork to decide why. You get an expert to come and test it, and find out what caused this phenomenon. A thousand years ago, that expert wasn't available, and there was plenty of guesswork (and superstition) involved in telling the tale, but we have moved past that. However, on occasions, nobody knows what causes certain odd phenomena, and guess what the scientists say? They say "we don't know." It's the only honest thing to do.

There are people out there who claim to be scientists, who call their research science, but it's not. Remember -  science is a collection of information. This involves agreement by peers. One man working alone may discover something, but that isn't accepted by the scientific community until others have studied the findings, tested them, repeated them, and agreed that it's all correct. Deliberately selecting others with a bias doesn't work either.

There are frequently arguments among scientists, and this is a good thing. It's very frustrating for us out here, because we aren't sure who to listen to. But it's part of the process of sorting the wheat from the chaff in research. If your research doesn't hold up to the objections in these arguments, it will not become part of the body of knowledge.

It's a good system. It's not a perfect system. Sometimes scientists say "we used to think X, but we now believe this to be incorrect". This is also a good thing. New evidence, new findings, new research overturn the old and replace it.

Nowhere is this more true than in nutritional advice. Just in my life time virtually everything I eat has been good for me or bad for me, apparently, in some way or other, at some point. I'm so glad I am not a bandwagon jumper or I think I'd have gone mad. The question is was any of this ever really part of science at all. The answer is probably "not really". It's one thing to be able to tell if there is Vitamin C in a vegetable, and to collect data to see roughly how much the average person needs every day to fend off deficiency disorders, but beyond that it's really not possible (yet) to define anything close to an "ideal" diet for any individual, let alone a broad group of humans.

Because of this, the whole area is left wide open to anecdotal evidence, guesses, biases, agendas, charletans, and actual risks from all of these.

One of the soundbytes that has been going around the internet ever since I've been on it, is that doctors do one single afternoon class on nutrition during their studies. It's not clear how true that is. I have asked a couple of doctors about this and neither of them remember studying it at all.

But that doesn't mean they are ignorant. If you know how the body works, and you take a reasonable interest in healthy eating you are still going to give better advice than a Dr Oz viewer who had to look up "metabolism" on Google and still isn't clear about it. And there are such people as Nutritionists, whose dedicated studies make them far more knowledgeable, and who sensible doctors refer people to.

Still, this is one of those areas where an interested amateur can be ahead of a doctor.

I said can be. It doesn't mean they are. They may have picked up some bogus information along the way, especially if they set out (even unwittingly) to go against prevailing nutritional wisdom. It is quite possible for a person interested in the topic to study it independently for decades and still be wrong.

So what happens, is that one person - we'll call him Ted - who has an issue that may be diet related, runs into one of those doctors who never really understood it, and didn't refer him to a nutitionist either. He gives Ted some drug or other which doesn't work or makes things worse. He doesn't seem to know what he's doing, and Ted loses faith in him. Then he finds (probably online) an individual who calls himself an alternative healer of some sort, thinks he's an expert on health and nutrition, may even be right on many aspects of it, and has a positive reputation. Ted seeks advice from this person, and it could go either way. By sheer dumb luck he could be right. Furthermore, if it doesn't go well, his healer tells him science is all trial and error anyway, so he shouldn't worry too much. But let's assume it goes really well. Ted is cured, by diet alone, of his health problem.

What happens? Not surprisingly Ted has found faith in whatever this healer does. It's all about results, right?

A few years on, and Ted's suffering headaches, so he goes back to this healer, who does whatever it is he does, but this time Ted isn't getting better, in fact he's getting worse. But Ted has decided, from previous success that doctors are no good, and alternative healers are better. After some time it is clear even to the healer that this man is very ill, and he tells him to see a doctor. Ted still doesn't trust doctors, and by the time he is forced to seek mainstream medical care, he's terminal.

It happens. It's happened to people I've known, and it's happened to people you've known.

Who do we blame? Do we blame Ted? Maybe he should have been more sensible. But it makes perfect sense to trust someone who (compared to you) is an expert, especially when he's been right before. It even makes perfect sense to not trust someone who appears to be lacking in expertise, no matter his qualifications. Do we blame the healer? He has to shoulder part of the responsibility, he should have known his own limitations. But he means well, and his ego has been inflated by his success rate. Doctors get it wrong too, right? Do we blame the doctor? Well, he should have found a way to help Ted, even if it involved admitting inadequacy. But doctors have egos too.

So who do we blame?

It's not a who, it's a what. It's ignorance. It afflicted all three of them.

The moral to this story is that just because a layperson had enough nous to fix your simple ailments, doesn't mean he can diagnose a more serious condition, let alone cure it.

There is no substitute for real expertise. There are plenty of smart people around who are self-taught and good at what they do. No question. I know a lot about certain things, and so do you. But do we know as much as somebody who has dedicated their entire career and their life to it. No. What's more, would we be wrong in pretending we know it all? Yes. What should we do then, when we reach our limitations of expertise? Well, the correct thing to do is admit it, and refer to someone with more expertise.

And the very best thing of all is for a group of experts, yes, even if they are arguing, to be who we trust, because between them is likely to be the best expertise of all.

This is why scientists works towards consensus, why they argue, why they test one another's hypotheses. It is far less likely that a large number of independent researchers will be wrong.One man can come up with an idea or discovery, certainly! But if he's a true scientist he will present that to his peers, and seek their opinion and their validation. There is a process by which new ideas and new discoveries are rigorously tested by others trying to disprove them. When they can't, then it becomes part of the body of knowledge.

And you, sitting at home, reading it on the internet, can shout and scream all you like that you don't believe it. You are entitled to your opinion, but frankly, your opinion isn't worth anything.

It's also no good saying that something is obvious, and poking fun at proper research, and whining about what a waste of time and money it is. What is obvious? It's obvious that humans aren't harmed from eating marmalade sandwiches, we've been doing it for centuries. But for all you know, it could be causing harm, until the research is done you don't know, and if you claim that you do, then you are just being ignorant.

What does ignorant mean exactly?

It has several meanings.

The first is quite straightforward, it means you don't know. If you are ignorant of the wherabouts of another person, it may be because you weren't paying attention when he said he was going somewhere, or you may simply never have been told. The reason you don't know is not relevant. You just don't. So there's no judgement being passed here. Your ignorance is just a state of being. I am currently ignorant of who is reading this. Nothing wrong with that.

But we have developed a very common secondary meaning, that suggests this lack of knowledge is a choice. That you haven't bothered, and you don't care. We often also apply this meaning to the word stupid, and consequently some see the two words as synonyms, which can cause arguments.

There's a third, colloquial usage of ignorant which suggests the person is actually being difficult. I'm not quite sure how this arose, and I suspect it began when a person's boorish behaviour was actually excused, based on him not knowing any better.

So what do we do when we find somebody who is ignorant? The best thing to do, surely, is try to educate them. Unfortunately they sometimes resent this and fight any efforts to learn. You can lead a horse to water, etc.

The media is full of information, and not all of it is accurate. Sometimes it's difficult, when you are not an expert, to discern. Therefore you have to seek guidance if you are ever to understand. Choose your experts carefully. If their answer to difficult questions is "I don't know", don't dismiss them. If they claim to know everything, run away very fast.

Friday, 20 June 2014

On My Mind............

I was just thinking along these lines, and a friend posted my thoughts:

So that saved me a LOT of typing.

And what I have to add is something I have been going on about for years. It's usually in regard to the health care debate, but really, it applies to everything.

Sharing resources is a natural and normal part of the human experience. At the most basic level, ten people living together can do so exponentially cheaper than ten people living separately. There may be some line-ups for the bathroom, and some arguments over the microwave, but there's a reason we tend to live in groups, even if it's a bunch of unrelated people sharing an apartment for economy. It just makes sense.

Traditional societies do it even more. They pool resources for getting work done in a way they really could not function otherwise. The mention of Amish up there reminded me. Ever watched a barn raising?

And in traditional socieites, people tend not to live alone, it's weird and foreign to them. But our society allows people to do this. Encourages it. They call it independence. We get so hooked on the idea that we allow people to totally fall through the cracks.

There should be no homeless people in a first world country. There should be no beggars on the street. No matter how kind strangers are in helping them out, they shouldn't be there in the first place. It's proof that our system has flaws. It simply shouldn't happen. And it doesn't need to. There is enough to go around. There is more than enough.

The problem is not resources, therefore, the problem is distribution. So let's look at that. Private and public.

Those who think private distribution (churches, charities, individuals) is the best way to go argue that governments aren't very good at it. Often true, too. Red tape and budgets sometimes mean the most needy get the least help.

But is private distribution any more efficient? Has it solved the problem?

Clearly both methods of distribution of of resources to those in need are not getting it right, because in a society where billionaires with private planes waste money by the fistful, neither charity nor official welfare is hitting the spot. Corruption, mismanagement, and waste of resources occur in both public and private distribution.

Then there is this idea that you have to deserve assistance. Let's be quite plain about this, everybody and nobody deserves anything. Neither you, nor I, nor the billionaire, nor the mentally ill man who lives under the bridge deserves anything from anyone, and yet we all do. Equally. There are no people more important than other people. If you believe that any human being - ANY - is more deserving of food, shelter, and safety, than any other, then you are a disgusting person. Get off my planet.

Yes, some people work harder, some are kinder to others, some are more honest, some are more useful in some way or another, but when it comes to whether they should live or die, and have their basic needs met, there is no wiggle room. I'll share something with you I was studying recently.

Read it. If you disagree with any of it, you can go away right now. I don't want to know you. In any case, your country ratified that. It's not legally binding, but it is ethically binding.

In order to achieve much of that, we must pool resources. We must share, and we must do it in the most efficient way possible, which may be public or private distribution, but most likely some of each. I think this should be fairly obvious.

Therefore we should all support both methods. Both. Above all what we should not do is thwart any and all efforts to make distribution of resources fairer, by objecting to the sharing. No matter how it is done. Additionally, when we see an injustice in the process we should call it out. We should be loud about it.

As it stands what we have is a tax system that is a protection racket. We are obliged to pay into it with no certainty of getting anything out of it when we need it. That is wrong, and I will continue to say how wrong it is to my last breath. We have as much duty to try to right that wrong, as we do to support alternate ways to share resouces. Let's not forget that.

It's one thing to have preferences as to how resources are shared, it's quite another to oppose sharing.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Not All Conservatives Are Bigots.

Somebody queried the right-wing/bigot relationship, and the answer is far too complex to put in a short snappy FB reply.

Let's look at the word bigot and what it means.

One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

On the face of it, that's just "normal" human preference. Allegiance. In fact even patriotism could fall under that category.

However, let's look at what the word conservative means:

Holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

I think it's fairly clear that there is a connection here. "We've always done it that way, and we avoid doing it other ways."

By definition, the conservative mind, which is known as "right-wing" politically, is going to prefer its own group and its own ways. Not that others never do, you understand, just that there is a particular link here.

When that conservative attitude becomes extreme, it very quickly and easily descends into bigotry. QED.

But let's look at the bigger picture here. The first, which cannot be overlooked is that if we are talking about politics, it is a known phenomenon that western governments in general have moved further to the right in recent years.

Full data and explanation of that here:

As a result, the left have moved to the centre, the centre have moved to the right, the right has moved to the far right, and the far right, as a friend of mine is always saying, have moved to the mental asylum.

The United States, in particular, has no left wing party in the game. There are left wing attitudes among the American people, certainly, but it has no representation.

There was a time when OPEN bigotry was the exclusive domain of extremists. General cultural racism notwithstanding, full blown displays of bigotry in public were minimal a few decades ago. Now, it appears to be the default position for a large number of mainstream politicians. Perhaps they were just quieter about it, and it was there all along. At least they aren't hiding who they are anymore, I suppose we should be glad of that.

The simple fact is, policy among right-wing parties appears to be just common or garden, standard bigotry. How else do you explain it?

They blame the poor for the economy.
They blame atheists for school shootings.
They blame women for unemployment.
They blame anyone of colour for....well just about anything, really.
They even blame gay people for natural disasters.

This scapegoating is classic bigotry. There's a problem? Find a group who are not like us, and blame them.

It's been done right though history, and you know why? It works. The general public are quick to join in. It's "them". They are the cause of all our woes. This then justifies the bigotry in their minds.

So here's a Venn diagram.

I am absolutely certain this will not go down well. I am also absolutely certain that my less easily enraged conservative friends will simply see themselves in the pink section, and some of them actually are.

I am also quite certain that some reading this will still not understand what bigotry is, or that they are guilty of it. But you know me, I don't give up.

Close your Mouth

Yes, I'm going to have a go at conservatives. No, I know it doesn't apply to all conservatives. Close your mouth, or you'll catch flies.

I'm seeing a very twisted logic among our right-wing friends. It relates to guns and short skirts. Yes, I know they like both, but they treat them differently.

Guns, they say, are wrongly blamed for injuries and deaths. "Guns don't shoot people," they say, "people do." They make jokes about it. You haven't heard them? Oh they're FUNNY. They are about the gun that was lying on the porch and didn't shoot anyone. Ha ha ha. Chortle chortle. (Actually they usually say it was laying on the porch, which has me wondering where the eggs are, maybe they think that's what the bullets are. Not being into science and all.)

They do things like this:

Très drôle.

But I get it, obviously. Guns are inanimate objects. They have no conscience, no mind, no soul, and above all no ability. Unless somebody pulls a trigger they don't do ANYTHING.

So, why is it, they think short skirts have awesome cosmic powers?

First of all, they are magnetic. They FORCE men to look at them.

Secondly, they cause accidents. "It's too distracting."

Thirdly, they can lead to students failing. "The boys couldn't concentrate on their work."

But this is nothing compared to what short skirts are really capable of. They cause rapes. It's quite a feat for a piece of fabric, but there it is. Guns don't cause death, but short skirts cause rapes.

"Oh, come now, that's a poor analogy."

Of course it is. Like spoons, skirts can be used in many safe ways. They don't accidentally go off in careless hands. If children get hold of them, they are very unlikely to cause accidental injuries. In fact, if used exactly as intended these two items provide nourishment and warmth. I'm not seeing a lot of spoon or skirt heists, either.

But that's logic. I am fully aware that this is not about logic. I am fully aware that this is a simple case of victim blaming.

I just thought it was time somebody pointed it out.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Call Yourself Anything You Like

In a recent post here I mentioned violence by Buddhists and some of you were unaware of this happening.

When anyone mentions violence by any religious group there are a variety of reactions. Some are shocked. Some are in disbelief. Some say "Typical." And some say "Ah, but they don't represent their religion."

Regardless of all of that, people who follow religions "of peace" can turn to violence against others based solely on the religion of the other, despite upbringing, despite education, and despite training.

Inevitably other Buddhists have pointed out that these are now ex-monks, not monks. Monks don't harm anyone.

This is a very strange way of looking at it. These "ex-monks" have had the exact same life until this point as monks. They have been taught the same ethics. Then have - ostensibly - had the same beliefs. Then one day none of that mattered, and they turned to violence. Why?

In Iraq, meanwhile, everything is going to shit. It's very easy to blame Western interference, and don't worry, I do. But it's not the whole story. If you read anything about this online, in the comments section underneath you will often see the simple remark "Death to Shiites".

I have a fairly solid grasp, academically, of the difference between Sunni and Shia. I've gone to considerable lengths to study this, and the history of the Muslim world. At one level then, I understand what the issue is, and it's nothing new. The simple version is that the government are Shia, the marginalized people are Sunni, and the story is as old as time. But I don't "get" it. I don't understand how a religion can split into two factions that hate each other so vehemently in the first place.

I cannot possibly understand this, because it has never been part of my personal reality. Furthermore, I have never lived anywhere where I ran a real risk of being killed simply because of my religious beliefs. Thankfully.

Am I capable of that level of hatred towards a religious group? Don't know, never been pushed. If I lived in a situation where feelings ran that high, maybe I could.

Some years ago I ran into a Northen Irish girl online who had been a member of the IRA. Being English and having nearly been blown up in London once by their bombs, I'm not a fan of that organization. But after getting to know her, and hearing her life story, I was able to understand, on some level, why she had joined them.

Every person who ever joined any terrorist group or organization, had a reason to do so. It's not "fun". It's not done on a whim. It's wrong, of course it is, but it's usually quite easily explained. If you are oppressed, it is clearly not hard to hate your oppressor. It becomes extremely difficult to differentiate among the group that the oppressors come from  as to who is truly responsible and who isn't, and when push comes to shove it's either inevitable or just safer to see them all as the enemy.

That doesn't make it right, but since when did humans always do what's right?

If you look at human history, tolerance/forgiveness of the oppressor is actually the more common option. Yes, really. Not just because the oppressor is the majority, and/or more powerful in some way and it's the sensible option. Humans are actually remarkably good at "moving on" and "getting over it". Wherever your ancestors are from, I guarantee they were oppressed at some point, because we are a disgusting species. We have made a habit of incredible cruelty to one another for being of the wrong group.

And when the group you hate is a different tribe, a different nationality, a different race, a different linguistic group, a different political organization, or a different class, you can justify it any way that it works for you, but it will never be right.

There's somehow something extra wrong about it when it's religious groups, because of the hypocricy. All religions claim to be religions of peace. All of them. Some more loudly than others but when asked they will quote rules of conduct prescribed by their religion that are all about peace, and love, and tolerance, and charity, yada yada yada. All of them. Despite holy books and histories full of glorious war victories. But that's different because they were on the "right" side.

They're always on the right side. It's always the side that God supports. Of course.

No, I do not have a solution. This appears to be part of human nature, and not a nice part. It saddens me and frustrates me. All any of us outside of these conflicts can ever do is refuse to take sides. Because we're not there. Because we do not really understand what's going on. Because we may not see the whole picture even if we were. Because it's always complex and chances are there is no innocent and no guilty party.

What you can do to help.

Get a grip. Don't dwell on the small injustices you believe that you are suffering, as a member of X group. Address them, by all means, but put it in perspective. If your life and liberty is not at risk as you go about your daily business simply by dint of which group you belong to, you are not persecuted.

At the same time, get rid of the antagonism you feel towards other groups. It's a feature of privileged people that they whine about not being privileged enough, while always managing to find somebody else who they feel have too many privileges.

Learn from others, e.g.:

Admit and accept that you have no idea what it's like to walk in another man's shoes, and that you may just choose the same options he has if you did.

If the oppressors in some situation, somewhere else, are part of the same larger group as you, be honest about it. You don't have to feel personally responsible, but don't try to wash your hands either. Tell it like it is, not how it "ought" to be.

Always try to see both sides of a story.

Call yourself anything you like, but make it meaningful.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

A Little Evolution Bedtime Story

Once upon a time there were some bugs that lived behind a school. They weren't very big, or very interesting, and the children and the teachers mostly ignored them. They would run and hide in the cracks in the playground when the children came out to play, although a few weren't fast enough and got squished.

They weren't very pretty either, being just a sort of dull light grey, although some of them had a few black spots. It was because of this though, that you couldn't see them very well. The birds that lived in the trees around the playground liked to eat them, but they were hard to see aganst the light grey playground surface, so they had lots of babies and there were lots of bugs.

One day the school board decided that the playground was getting old and worn, and there were accidents from people tripping on the cracks. So a big asphalt machine came and put a new surface down. It was black and shiny, and it looked very nice.

From the bugs point of view this tide of hot tar was seen as a Massive Tar Disaster. About half of them died. But the rest scuttled away and hid in the grass until it was all over. They didn't like the grass though, there were too many other insects there, all competing for food, and worst of all, bigger bugs that chased them and ate them, and they couldn't wait to get back to a nice flat surface, where it was easy to find food that the the children had dropped, and they were the ONLY bugs. Besides, they had always lived there, they were playground bugs. It was home. It just felt right.

The problem was, the birds could see them now. They stood out very clearly against the black surface. Lots and lots of them were getting eaten, and more and more were getting squished, as there were no cracks to hide in.

But some of the bugs were easier for the birds to see than others. The ones with black spots were much harder to see, so the plainer ones got eaten first. In fact, before very long there were only baby plain ones left, being much smaller they were harder to see. But then, because there were no adult plain bugs passing on plain bug genes, very few plain babies were being born. And those that were, were getting eaten as soon as they were big enough to see, before they had a chance to breed.

It wasn't long before almost all the bugs had black spots. But some had more than others. The birds were now searching in vain for plain bugs to eat, and were having to watch carefully for bugs with fewer black spots than others. But the same thing happened to the less-black spots, and over time there were fewer and fewer bugs with only a few spots, and more and more bugs with lots of spots. Some baby bugs were being born almost completely covered in black spots.

The mostly-black bugs were so hard for the birds to see that they now scoured the ground for bugs with any hint of grey on them, and ate them all up. They were hungry for bugs but it was getting really hard to find them, and many more were surving to breed. Soon the bug population was up to where it was before the Massive Tar Disaster. Bugs with even a hint of grey were gobbled up by birds, and before very long, all the bugs were completely black. The birds went to live at the factory next door.

The bug population went nuts. Even though many were squished, with no birds to eat them they increased in number to the point that there simply wasn't enough dropped food to eat. So some of them went looking for a new place to live. Not in the grass, where big munching bugs lived, but farther away, to the parking lot outside the factory, which had a nice flat, hard surface ideal for playground bugs. And as it was light grey, and they were black, the birds went "AHA!"..............

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


If you don't already know (where have you been?) I hawk my wares online in several small virtual shops, and think of myself as somewhere between a market stall trader and an artisan. Some people use the term entrepreneur, but that suggests to me a level of independence, whereas I rely so far wholly on Etsy and eBay, but I think I've got them both figured out. In any case I earn a "proper" income from it all, which was the objective, and at the same time I don't have to go anywhere or even get dressed if I don't want to. There are many advantages.

And it's been a learning curve, over the years, and always will be because there are so many aspects to it, from my abiding interest in gemstones to the mysteries of search engine algorithms, and not forgetting the often frustrating but always interesting process of moving small packages around the planet in a timely and economical manner. I sent an order to New Caledonia today (look it up) and marked another "conquest" territory on the map.

It's probably fair to say that I enjoy what I do rather more than many people enjoy their jobs, and I do feel lucky about it, but it's not all luck. I sometimes start work at 5am, and sometimes don't finish until midnight. I try not to do both on the same day, but sometimes I have to. And one part of it that, being a one man show (almost) is down to me, me, and only me, with nobody to refer or defer to, is customer service. I'm very, very good at that.

When you are a very small fish competing in a very vast ocean, there are many things you can't be. I can't the cheapest, I can't have the biggest inventory, I can't have the fastest turnaround. I am limited in all sorts of ways, not least by there being only 24 hours in a day. But what I can do is offer fantastic customer service. So I do.

Sometimes this means bending over backwards for a customer, and sometimes it means taking a loss. But it always works out well. No exceptions. None.

I mention Etsy. Etsy is a strange place. If it were bricks and mortar rather than a website, it would be a massive, permanent marketplace, open all hours, like some giant middle eastern bazaar, that has established itself so well some of the more successful traders have built posh modern brightly lit shops around the edge. Some of them would be very large indeed. I picture it like this in my head. I see my shops as a bit quaint and quirky, brightly coloured and in a corner, probably near a man selling food on a stick. I'm neither small nor large, but somewhere in the middle, with a regular clientele, and chatty neighbours. I could be found probably sitting outside in the sun, letting people browse undisturbed, but ready to assist when called upon.

Anyway, the reality being online, the chatting among traders happens in a discussion forum that is part of the site. Conversations range from questions about tax to word games. Nothing is taboo, and it's one of the nicest online forums I know. Much more fun than some of the starchy business forums I have seen where people with no souls try to convince you to join some dodgy MLM scheme.

And people have problems with their businesses sometimes, and they look to others for advice. Pity they don't always take it.

If a customer is unhappy in some way, they have two options. They can complain to the seller responsible, or they can complain to their payment processor. Naturally, sellers prefer they do the former first, so they can fix the problem. Paypal are notorious for siding with customers rather than sellers, and unless the seller can prove the customer is lying (I have, twice) a refund is given to the customer, from the seller's account, and there's bugger all you can do about it. Credit card companies function much the same, only they will often ding you with a charge in addition to giving the customer a refund (I have won a case like this too, but it's not easy). Consequently sellers live in fear of such action, especially if large amounts of money are involved.

On the other hand if the unhappy customer is decent enough to try to reach a satisfactory outcome of a dispute with the seller, the seller has every opportunity to do this and avoid such action.

So do they try hard?

You'd think.

Every bloody time I go to that forum, I guarantee I'll find another waily waily wailty from a seller who thinks they can have a "no refund" policy and stick to it. And you know what? Sometimes they get away with it, because the customer is unaware of their rights. End result? Pissed off customer won't buy from ANY Etsy seller ever again because of a bad experience. So it doesn't just hurt one business, it hurts the whole marketplace.

Which is why other sellers take the time to "advise" this type of seller that they would benefit themselves if they just apologized, refunded or replaced as required, and move on. Will they listen? No.

Sometimes these sellers go out of business due to too many complaints and/or their frustration with having to, you know, provide the service they are being paid for. They cut off their own noses to spite their faces.

But sometimes they manage to continue for a bit, while complaining that others are doing better.

Extrapolate this to large businesses. How many times have you called customer service only to get an idiot, or a brick wall? How many times have you become only too painfully aware that they don't give a shit about you as a customer, because there are plenty of others, and your complaint (and the thousands of others) won't be enough to damage their business too much? Sometimes it catches up with them.

Every so often there is someone with a bit more vision in these large businesses, who says "Hang on, maybe if we DID provide great customer service, it would help us get an edge on the competition." Take for example two computer companies. HP and Acer. Some years ago I hadn't even heard of Acer. HP were a big name, and I chose them. Great products. Great service. Then that all changed. Acer, on the other hand, offer fantastic customer service, and have become my go-to brand. Many people these days have clued in that customer service is NOT old-fashioned, it DOES affect choices, and it DOES affect both the customer and the bottom line. In the very demanding business world of the future, I think we'll see this more and more.

And while you all love to hate Wal-Mart, ever taken something back? No quibble. Here's your refund. That goes a long way. You hate that they're so popular, busy, and successful? Would it have happened if they'd said "All sales are final. No refunds. Not our problem"? I think not. If you phone a Wal-Mart some distance away and ask them to check stock of an item to avoid a wasted journey, they will do so happily. There are many reasons to object to Wal-Mart, but they figured out right from the start that customers need to be happy.

Can customers sometimes demand too much? Yes, of course. A small percentage are totally unreasonable, and a few are conmen. You have to be alert to scammers, and you can refuse service to those who are actually deliberately trying it on. Nobody stays in business giving in to fraud.

But if you ship a parcel and it gets broken in transit, the customer doesn't care that it wasn't your fault. You sub-contracted to the mail service to get it there safely, and they failed. Your argument is with them. You refund then you claim on the insurance.

On that topic I'm going to explain something that crops up among small online sellers a lot, and if you are reading this because you ARE a small online seller, please pay close attention.

When shipping small and inexpensive items you often have a choice between a cheap, untracked, uninsured mail service, or a more expensive tracked and insured one.

Many sellers opt for the more expensive service to prevent losses. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea, but is it?

Let's say you sell an item that costs $5. Shipping (tracked, insured) costs $15. How many people look at that, see the shipping costs 3x the value of the item, and find this rather off-putting? Some will buy it anyway, but most will balk. You are probably losing a lot of business with shipping costs like that.

What if instead, you shipped it for $4, and crossed your fingers that it arrived safely? Would that increase sales?

Let's assume that yes, it increases sales exponentially (hint, it does). Let's also assume that losses run around one in 300 (hint, they do). Is the cost of the loss covered by the massive increase in sales?


I've explained this about 500 times over the years, and I am frequently met with resistance and objections. Because there is a gamble involved. A risk.

Well, what is business? All business is a huge gamble, full of risks. If you can't deal with that you shouldn't be in business. And I can judge very quickly whether a business is going to succeed or not by:

a) Understanding the value of customer service, and
b) Understand risk analysis

And they go together. Because in the same way that one refund on a low cost item because it got lost in the mail, is a drop in the ocean compared to the quantity of sales when the shipping costs are low, it follows that one refund and sincere apology to a dissatisfied customer is a drop in the ocean compared to the increase in sales from a reputation for good customer service. Unhappy customers who have been made happy often return. And tell their friends. And online there's a little thing called feedback.........

Just this week, on that same forum was a query about printing. Where to get business cards, labels, etc. And the overwhelming recommendation was Vistaprint. Why? Because if they mess up, they put it right. No delays, no quibbles, they fix it. In a massive print business like that, things won't go right 100% of the time. Shit happens. But they respond appropriately. They get it. And that's how they've become so popular. Recommendation remains an important thing, and those who don't believe that are pretty much doomed.

Aren't they Kodak?

Sunday, 8 June 2014


First I'd like to show you this:

And then I'd like to point something out. People are never all good or all bad.

I've often talked about toxic people, those who it's best to remove from your life. But there's a level below that, of people who are not really bad, just thoughtless and when this thoughtlessness gets repeated, they are annoying. Sure, you can be compassionate - there may be a good reason they are like that. Love them anyway. Just be aware of who they really are, because they are sure to demonstrate it.

Just lately I've run into several people whose behaviour would fall under this category. And they also fit neatly into sub-categories. Stereotypes really. But accurate ones. Here are ten types who show you who they really are loud and clear. Learn fast and save yourself a lot of bother.

1. Emily Empathy. She is such a wonderful caring person, oh yes. She can't bear to see anyone being disrespected, even if they are not aware of it. In fact she is so committed to preventing judgemental remarks, that she spends all her time looking for them and calling out anyone she thinks is doing it. Maybe she's sincere, OR maybe, just maybe, she's an interfering busybody who should just shut up and let adults speak their minds occasionally and fight their own battles. It doesn't help that her tone brings to mind Dana Carvey's Church Lady, you can picture the pinched mouth as she shows her disapproval.

2. Jack Smug, aka "I'm alright Jack". Whatever the situation in question, it's never happened to Jack. Therefore it doesn't matter. We are also given to understand that the reason it's never happened to Jack is due to Jack's wisdom/personality/skill/sheer awesomeness. Luck never comes into it. And by extrapolation, there is an idea left hanging in the air that anyone it did happen to must have brought it upon themselves. After a few of these we find ourselves wishing many, many itchy rashes to befall Jack.

3. Cynthia Snotfair. Bad luck and people's spitefulness haunt Cynthia day and night. Nothing ever goes right for her. The Universe is out to get her and - it's not fair! The idea that her own behaviour and choices affect her life experience is completely alien to her, and the closest she gets to a positive attitude is her blood group. Every success in her life is looked upon with suspicion, because it makes it hard for her to whine. So she'll usually find something to complain about.

4. Oliver the Offended. Because it's all about Oliver. No matter the topic, no matter who recounts what, it's blatantly obvious that everyone only ever means Oliver. Well, it is to Oliver, anyway. Consequently any hint of criticism was obviously intended for Oliver, and now he's just appalled that yet again, as happens so often, people are talking about Oliver. Everyone is so mean to Oliver. All the time.

5. Edna Echo. Edna has lot of opinions. In fact, she collects them. She finds them everywhere she goes, adopts them, and then regurgitates them the moment somebody offers an opinion contrary to one from her collection. We can't really call them her opinions, because she's never had an original thought in her life, but she'll stand behind them just the same! The problem is, as they were acquired rather than developed, if the debate gets too hot, she gets lost. But that's OK, because Edna ALWAYS has the final word - "I'm entitled to my opinion!"

6. St Edith Echo. Edna's very religious cousin. Edith doesn't collect opinons, she collects beliefs. And boy oh boy, does she love to share them. Every chance she gets. She starts arguments regularly by making unsolicited pronouncements of her beliefs, and she has the same lack of debating skills as Edna, but she has a far more powerful argument ender: "People should respect my beliefs!" When nobody does, she dons her martyr face.

7. Ted Turncoat. Ted used to be a staunch member of political group/religion/agenda A who spat venom at political group/religion/agenda B, but now it's the other way around. Furthermore nobody is ever allowed to mention this, or even remember how cruel his attitude was before he changed his mind. The fact that everyone has noticed that the only thing that changed was the target, and that his attitude is still just as nasty never seems to enter his head. In his little fantasy world that was some other Ted, and the new one is obviously the genuine one. If you have the courage to call him out on this, don't be surprised if you become the new target. Any target will do.

8. Wilma Whatever. Loves to start arguments, cause problems, and bring about a "situation", but can never see them through. Blames others for picking on her but won't even explain that when pushed. Nobody really knows why Wilma gets herself into these things because she obviously doesn't enjoy them, but she's never heard of an apology. Her trademark is a shrug or a sigh because, you know, it wasn't her fault in the first place.

9. Ronnie Rumour. Ronnie would never tell you a lie. He has it on the best authority, and even though he will set out by telling you he shouldn't tell you, he's eager to tell you. And why shouldn't you believe him? After all, he believes everything HE is told. Especially if "some guy" told him. That is always a good source. But if you're still not convinced, just look it up on the internet. Everything is totally reliable there.

10. Elaine Expert. You're doing it all wrong. Elaine knows how to do it, she's an expert. Not only that, any other experts are wrong too. Only Elaine knows exactly how it's done. Oddly enough though, she hasn't managed to become rich and/or famous despite this level of expertise, in fact that area of her life is a complete mess. I guess she's too busy dispensing advice to follow it herself. What a gal.

Friday, 6 June 2014

You're a Fool

I couldn't get a single rise out of anyone this week, by being controversial. Hey ho.

I wasn't even going to bother this morning, and then a friend posted two videos on FB about two different things. And yet exactly the same thing. If you can spare the time to watch these you'll be glad you did.

You probably know that marketing is such a fine art that it pretty much brainwashes the consumer. Most people get caught at some point no matter how aware they are. All of us. So let's get that over with. Nobody is immune.

That said, some people are more easily fooled than others. And some people simply fool themselves. Without any help from marketers whatsoever.

I guarantee that right now, you think that you want or even need a long list of things that actually, you don't.

Now, how can that be? Surely, a person at least on close inspection, can make a decision like that?

There are actually very few things that we choose that are "free choice". We are conditioned by everything we've ever known. It begins at birth. The foods we are offered as babies are quite often the foods we enjoy right through our lives. There are exceptions to this rule, obviously but it's very common to find people who did not have a certain type of food offered at a young age, to never "acquire" a taste for it. Fish is a common example of this, but the one I come across frequently is kidney. Being British I was given steak & kidney pie before I can remember. When I talk about it to North American friends who were not introduced to this as children they usually pull a face. The very idea of it is distasteful. Sometimes they refuse to try it, sometimes the braver ones try it, but aren't keen. Only a tiny minority enjoy it.

There is nothing wrong with this situation. If you are determined to be an adventurous foodie, if you wish to overcome distaste, you can make the effort, but it's not a big deal, so generally we don't bother. We eat something else. It's only food.

Sometimes though, the thing that was familiar or unfamiliar early in life does matter later on.

An example that was pointed out to me recently was how we feel about nudity. I grew up in a time and place when small children ran naked on beaches. I also grew up in a house where it was just two women so I never bothered with PJs, and I never got into the habit of covering myself up getting out of bed, or even leaving my room. I went to an all girl school and we had communal changing rooms and showers. I have almost no inhibitions whatsoever. When I had my first child and the nurse offered me a hospital gown because people were going in and out of the room, I declined it. I gave birth fully naked and didn't care. Seemed natural. I have to remember to be modest, for the sake of more sensitive onlookers.

On the other hand, the friend I was discussing this with was taught from an early age to be ashamed of her body. Not only was she expected to wear nightclothes, even these had to be covered with a gown - one layer wasn't enough. Any experience of having to be even partially undressed as she grew up was traumatic, and to this day she is not comfortable even going braless under a thick top, because she feels naked. This lady is not a coward by any means. She's not a needy or weak person, she's a strong and feisty person, and she would very much LIKE to have less inhibitions, but she just can't throw them off. It's too hard.

So you can imagine the effect that all that pink marketing nonsense in the 2nd video is having on little girls. It's coming at them from all sides, day in, day out. Add peer pressure to that, and women's attitudes and personalities are essentially being created by modern western culture. It's the same for boys of course. And therefore it's as if the patriarchy is trying to fight back on two fronts, except it seems to be largely driven by money. Or maybe it always was.

The problem is, it's hard to get away from it because the societal pressure is constant and just becomes normal. It's hard to remember that you managed to live without a smartphone, just fine, for most of your life, when so many aspects of your life are attached to it.

I had a funny experience. My elderly Android finally refused to work at all a few months back, and I didn't replace it. It wasn't a conscious decision not to, it was a combination of not having the time to go phone shopping and finding that actually, I didn't miss it. I hadn't really got "into" it, in the way many do. It more often than not annoyed me, and although there have been a couple of times when it has been inconvenient not having the ability to send a text message, I am now wondering if I will bother replacing it. Not having a phone on my person has some problems, certainly, in a world where that has become the norm. But I already pick and choose the parts of the modern world that I embrace, and I have come to realise increasingly that there is a freedom in eschewing the less important parts.

And at this current phase in my life, I hardly ever see advertisements. I have ad blockers that keeps them off my "online" experience. I don't have a TV service, so there's none coming at me there. I don't own a radio. I don't buy newspapers or magazines, and when I venture out into the world, frequently it's only to a small town nearby where poster advertising is virtually non-existent. There are no buses, or bus shelters. There are maybe three large billboards along the highway, and they usually advertise charities or radio stations for some reason.

The point is, I don't KNOW what latest products are being pushed, and consequently I don't want them.

I think that sums up the situation without any further remark, but imagine if that's how everything was. Imagine if we had to make all our own decisions about what we really wanted or needed.

It's never going to happen, so what we have to do instead is be aware that the decisions we make are not really our own. The problem is, how do we know what we really want?

I think the answer is obvious, but not popular. Because I keep running into people who are dissatisfied with their lives but not doing anything to change it. In other words they are doing things they don't enjoy, and don't want to do, because that's easier than not doing it.

If I said to you, every time I punch myself in the eye it hurts, you'd tell me to stop punching myself in the eye. And you'd be right. But that's exactly how so many people live their lives.

I mentioned my lack of TV to somebody last week who said "Yes, it's all rubbish anyway, and I pay $50 a month". But she won't cancel it. She'll carry on paying that, and carry on watching things that aren't very good because it's a habit, a routine.

I was talking to somebody else recently who said she'd love to learn to knit. But she isn't learning. She isn't doing the thing she really wants to do.

What the hell is wrong with people? They complain constantly about things they aren't actually forced to put up with. You've heard it. You've done it.

Right now, I guarantee there is something you genuinely want to do, or want to stop doing, that's really very simple. That is not harmful. That will cost you very little or possibly even save you money. That is not dependent on luck or the will of others. And the only reason you are not making this change is a foolish inertia - there is absolutely no good excuse whatsoever.

And there are many things you are doing from habit, or from influences that ceased to exist long ago. Things you should have outgrown.

May I suggest you stop being a fool and follow your bliss instead?

May I suggest you find freedom by rejecting expectations, and discover your own mind?

May I suggest you stop making excuses, including to yourself, and BE yourself?

If this hits home to anyone, and if it's the kick up the arse you need to actually DO SOMETHING, however small, in a positive direction, then may I also suggest that you try in your own way to influence somebody else.

This is your life. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Confession is Good For the Soul

3 out of 5 of my topics this week met without incident, and I sat on no fences. Clearly to cause controversy I need to up the ante. So, today I'll have a go at religion.

It would be easy to simply pick on Catholics over this example, but I can't, because this can happen in any religion, and it does.

So what have they done? Nothing, and that's the problem.

Never mind Ireland. Listen to the statement from the church.


And it's the same every time. It took decades for the Vatican to make any apology about the pedophile priests, and only then because the new pope is cast from a different mould, and probably really pisses off the old guard around the world. It's still too little, too late.

Over the years I have asked Catholics about that, and why nothing was done, and so on, and not once has any of them said "You're right. It's outrageous. I am writing to my Bishop!" No, it's always some feeble excuse and let's all change the subject to the good they do.

Apparently, the good that is done outweighs the bad. Every damn time. All the cruelty by nuns the world over, including the sadistic Mother Teresa herself, all obscured and negated by the good they do.

"the reputation of the priesthood was the more important consideration"


If you want to improve the reputation of the priesthood, you do something about their behaviour. You don't cover up or try to justify it.

But as I said, this is not limited to Catholicism, or even Chritianity. Every religion on this planet has its share of atrocious behaviour, and, to compound it, a complete lack of acknowledgement of it.

Even the kindly gentle Buddhists are not all they are painted. If you are unaware of this there's a brief overview at Wikipedia

And even the Dalai Lama himself has come under scrutiny. Whether he is responsible for some of the injustices or not, he hasn't spoken out against them, and that is what I'm pointing out here. It's all part of the same issue, that of ignoring what's going on. It's not just that they don't do anything about it, they don't even acknowledge it. Just how hard is it to say "Yes, there is a problem, and I'm sorry".

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Sexism and Beyond

It's quite interesting in recent years how the emphasis within feminist circles has switched to the issue of preventing violence against women. In other words, the biggest problem of all seems to be the last nut to be cracked. Shocked? Saddened? It's all part of a much bigger problem. This neat little video covers much of it.

But I want to broaden it out to sexism. This comes in many shapes and sizes, not least homophobia. Yes. It's all part of a bigger issue that comes down to bigotry based on either body parts or gender assigned behaviour. Hatred of women and hatred of homosexuals is far more connected than most people think, and it's probably why you find that women on the whole, are far more supportive of rights for LGBT people than men are.

If you have never considered this, do so now. If your objection to a man's behaviour is that he behaves like a woman, what have you just said? You have said that women are lesser. Don't go trying to wriggle out of it, that's what you've said.

So, let's have a bit of honesty here. Do you think women are lesser? I am aware that some men - AND some women - believe this. I don't agree, and I'll fight the idea to my last breath, but honesty would be a start. Because that's where the problem lies. The idea that women just aren't as good as men.

I've gone into why this is wrong in previous blogs, and I won't repeat myself, what I have to say today is that sexism is an inexcusable bigotry no matter what form it takes, and, like racism, it is wholly illogical.

The difference, unfortunately, is that sexism is supported, encouraged, and justified by religion. Yes, I'm well aware that there are some enlightened religious folk who have managed to avoid it, mainly by having the common sense to understand that their holy books were written a LONG time ago in a very different social structure. But when this bigotry occurs, most of the time, it is based on religious beliefs.

Because if it isn't, what else is it based on?

There is no possible rational reason to be homophobic. Which shouldn't surprise anyone, because phobias are irrational by definition. Oh, but they say, it's not really a phobia. Isn't it? Then what is it? There are plenty of people who think its infectious. They think items can be contaminated by being touched by gay people. They think their kids will catch being gay. This is most definitely an irrational fear.

When it gets to the down and dirty, the homophobe is obsessed with what gay people do in the bedroom. The fact that they would do exactly the same things with their own partner, given the chance, is completely overlooked.

Sometimes you'll hear the "it's unnatural" comment, which again, is completely illogical. Homosexuality is common among the animal kingdom, and unnatural acts like wearing clothes, cooking food, driving cars, and using phones is rife among humans. The "unnatural" argument is quite possibly the silliest one of all.

"It disgusts me" is getting a bit closer to the truth. The idea of having sex with another man is too much for some men to contemplate. But the same man will almost certainly be disgusted at the idea of having sex with his own mother - but you don't see him going around deriding her. So, it's an absurd argument that just because you could not even think of having sex with a person that you have any need or justification in treating them badly.

The only argument that actually follows logic, twisted as it is, is that they find gay men objectionable because they behave like women.

And you've heard them say it. You've heard men referred to as effeminate.

Because you know, real men who fart and belch and growl and leer are so much more attractive.

There is a solution to all of it.

Being an asshole is fully optional. Gender and sexuality isn't. Think about it.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


You weren't expecting this one.

An awful lot is said about young people with entitlement issues, and I don't need to go into what that means, you've all seen it, heard it, been there, and done that.

Well, I blame the generation that raised them. My generation. And I'm going to say "we", even though I don't think I'm guilty. I'll explain.

Entitlement isn't just something young people suffer from. I see it in every parent or older person who expects automatic respect just for age, relationship, or position.

Respect is NOT automatic. It has to be earned. You don't demand it, you win it. And, if you insist on getting respect from younger people that you don't deserve, you have just sent the powerful message that they can do exactly the same thing.

Monkey see, monkey do.

We were born in a very, very different world. We never had it so good. When we left school, provided we hadn't goofed off too much we were pretty much guaranteed a job, without any further qualifications, and those who went on to further education knew they'd get work in the field studied.

It wasn't terribly difficult for young people to own their own home within a few years of marriage, sometimes right away. A good second-hand car could be obtained cheaply, and fuelling it was never really given a second thought. We went for drives on Sunday afternoons for something to do.

When we had children, with a bit of economizing it was not a huge deal to live on one income, even if we went short. It was things we could do without.

Before you object to being an exception, so was I. Not all of these apply to me either, but that was the general situation in the 1960s and 1970s. Life was very easy.

It isn't like that now. Graduates are flipping burgers and many young families would starve on one income, due to the cost of housing where the jobs are. I can even point you to articles of military familes in the US on food stamps, but you have all seen it. You know how it is.

Who is to blame for the way things are messed up now? Well, it's not those who weren't born when the damage was done, that's for sure.

And it's easy to blame the ultra rich and powerful (and I do) but the fact remains it is OUR generation that spoiled everything for our kids. WE DID IT. No, I didn't, and you didn't, that's not the point. We did.

So. This generation looks around at how things have changed, and the fine taradiddle they find themselves in, and they say "we deserve more" and they do.

Because everyone deserves a chance.

At the same time, nobody actually deserves anything.

When you are born, there are no guarantees, no certainties. The "gift" of life comes without a warranty, and there is nobody to blame. Except.....why, the folk who chose to bring you into this world.

And some young people, absent any better philosophy in their upbringing, will decide to blame their parents FOR EVERYTHING. I'm sure you've heard some of them do it.

Furthermore, they see the entire older generation as an extension of that. They feel abandoned.

But it's not hopeless. Parents who give the right messages, who earn respect, are able to teach a different attitude. Sometimes good mentors in our generation can help young people recover from the twisted thinking that arises from bad parenting, but that's harder. With kids prevention is better than cure.

You see, it's all very well saying "Tsk, kids today" but WE caused that. If a kid is mouthy to his parents, they raised him. If he's lazy, they raised him. If he's a moocher, they raised him. If he tells lies and breaks the law, they raised him. If he's damaged, they damaged him.

Every negative characteristic that MY kids display is entirely MY fault. No excuses, no wiggle room.

Why do I say that? Because people are quick enough to congratulate themselves (or others) when their kid does something good. Oh, they are so proud when he graduates with honours, so humble when she is valedictorian. And rightly so.

But they are strangely quiet when he's caught stealing a car. Or it's society and TV. Or who he mixes with. Blame anyone, never look inward.

And who enables this? We all support one another. Oh don't blame yourself, we tell our friends. You've done your best.

Clearly not. You may be forgiven for being a less than perfect parent, your family and friends won't love you any less, you erred and to err is human. But you did err.

I take full responsibility - 100% - for every bad thing my kids have done. Every time they screw up, I try to figure out what lesson I missed, what example I gave badly. We teach by example. "Don't do as I do, do as I say" teaches something too, it teaches hypocrisy. A form of dishonesty.

Nobody gets it right all the time, so we have a great opportunity when we don't, to teach the art of apology and acknowledgement of guilt. Every time we say "Sorry, I shouldn't have said/done that" we teach an incredibly valuable lesson.

But some of this stuff is subtle. We teach gratitude for life itself in how we act and what we say. We teach all our core values by living them, not just by preaching them.

And you'd better believe that if we feel entitled, then we teach that. LOUDLY.

To sum up, if your kid is a brat, you can thank yourself. And, as a generation, as a society, we can thank ourselves for today's young people. And hope it's not too late to fix it. THEY will be raising our grandchildren.

Monday, 2 June 2014


I am totally and utterly done with racism.

In the west we don't like smelly factories and low-paid manual work.

So we closed down most of our manufacturing, but we still want to buy the goods, and we want them CHEAP.

So the Chinese said, OK, we'll make that stuff, we'll work long hours for really low wages, we'll risk our health, and then we'll sell it to you for low prices. Happy now?

And we said no, we're not happy because the quality is poor. We want better stuff. But we don't want to pay more.

So the Chinese said OK, we'll train our staff better, buy state of the art manufacturing equipment, and create really good quality stuff for you, and we'll keep the prices low.

And we said goody, goody, lots of stuff, very cheap, now we'll blame you for polluting the planet, oh and by the way, we'll still call your stuff crap, even while we fill our homes with it as fast as we can.

Oh and also? We don't trust you. So we won't buy from you, we want middle men to deal with you, we'll buy from them.

So, every day I talk to friendly, helpful Chinese people who sell me beads (from China) and charms (from China) and other jewellery components (from China), and I count them out into cute little bags (from China), and send them off in strong padded envelopes (from China), to people who then tell me:

"Wow, this stuff is really great quality, so much nicer than the junk from China" because it was shipped from Canada. Because, you know, Canada is the great manufacturing centre of the world, everyone knows that.

OK, so whatever. If you genuinely believe that China produces sub-standard goods, then you are simply misinformed. The quality of their manufacturing ranges from garbage to the finest possible, just like anywhere else. If you've never bought poor quality manufactured goods from your own country then you have been very lucky indeed.

No, the fact is that this is a matter of racism, and like all matters of racism it's complicated, dark, deep, and often subconscious. Implicit bias is now a very well understood and carefully studied area, and forgive me for posting this yet again if you've seen it many times before, but I urge you, if you haven't already, to take the time to do this test.

That site has many other tests, all worthwhile. If you genuinely wish to be a better person, and I think most of us do, it may assist in that effort.

Here's what happens. Racism isn't logical. Humans are all the same, we know this, a brain surgeon has no way of telling the race of a brain, because there is no difference. There is absolutely zero good reason to discriminate by race. Therefore all racism is caused by at best flawed logic, and at worst by sheer bigiotry.

But humans like to think they are logical. So they will come up with some excuse to be racist. They may even genuinely believe it, and I'm certain this happens frequently.

The closest you usually get to honesty on the topic is when people say "It's not their skin colour that bothers me, it's their attitude" or some such thing. This implies that millions of people all have the same attitude, which is obviously absurd, but it beats pretending not to be racist.

The problem is that cultural stereotypes are based in fact. Culture does affect attitude, it is very pervasive. Canadians really ARE different to Americans, and for a multitude of reasons, and within a large country, such as the US, there are mass cultural differences from region to region. It's real. It's the subject of study.

But culture isn't race. There may well be overlaps, but it's not the same thing. The same problem arises, however, when prejudging an individual based on the culture you know he arose from. That is going to cause problems. The only way to judge a person is to meet him. Anything else is unreliable and potentially dangerous.

Furthermore, attitude can be a direct result of racism, and the persecution caused by it. In other words, it becomes a self-fulfiling prophecy. If you fail to give children of race/culture X the same quality of education that you give your own, they will suffer from it and grow up to be lazy/stupid/criminal as a direct result.

There is no possible excuse for racism. Racists are not good people. Using racial epithets is not funny or clever, in fact I see it as some sort of disorder, maybe along the line of Tourette's. You KNOW those words are unacceptable among rational people, but you use them anyway? What the fuck is wrong with you?

And don't talk to me about political correctness. It's just courtesy. What do you have against courtesy?

Oh, and finally, allowing older people to be racist because it's a generational thing? No. Another lame excuse. I won't tolerate it.

No fence here, it's very simple. Racism is wholly unacceptable, it's also stupid. Grow up.