Wednesday, 31 December 2014

It's the end of 2014. I don't do end of year reports looking back, nor do I do resolutions for the year ahead. So Janus, you're redundant mate, sorry.

Nevertheless, today I can't help but notice that yet another year has gone by WOOSH, so I'm rather glad I made the most of it. I tend to cram a lot in. I'm a great believer in:

We're here for a good time
Not a long time
So have a good time
The sun can't shine every day

I have no idea who sang that, sorry. Heard it on the radio.

People really take this stuff seriously, that one year has ended, and the next begun. Ever wondered why January 1st is the start of the year? Seems pretty arbitrary. December 21st might make sense as a choice, but this? Other cultures choose other dates. There's no solid reason for it. Some say it's because the Sun is closest to the Earth at this time, but those who chose the date didn't know that. Here's some information:

Anyway, we chose it, so we celebrate it. Any excuse for a party. Apparently in the US somebody drops his balls, I don't know what that's all about but it's probably the cold weather.

Up here we will party, obviously, because why not, and it certainly looks like that time of year, we have a good covering of snow.....

Something BLOODY WEIRD has happened to me. I've started liking snow. Not in a a "WOO HOO! I must get out there and roll in that white stuff!" kind of way, I leave that to my dogs. But looking out the window at it, it's very serene. And clean. This was unforeseen. It's almost obscene. Know what I mean? I can't think of any more rhyming words, so I'll stop there. My point is that I am fast running out of things to complain about, and I may have to give it up entirely.

You see, apparently as we get older (yes, I am still on the theme of another year) we are supposed to get grumpy. I am seeing it happening to some of my friends (yes, YOU). Grumble, grumble, grumble. But the older I get, the more cheerful I get. I suppose like everything else it can go either way, and - awww will you look at that, the sun just came out. SEE? See what happens when you are positive?

I tell you one thing that will happen in 2015, by hook or by crook (aren't they the same thing?) I am actually going to finish a book and publish it. It may be a cookery book, but we have to start somewhere. I have two books almost finished, one is recipes and associated food stuff. Random thoughts on food, as it were. Lots of "Did you know?" factoids and some cartoons too. The other is a bit more serious and it's about being good. So none of you will read that.

I left some topics out of it deliberately. I didn't want to get too preachy (no, honestly, it sounds like it could be preachy but it isn't) so I didn't say a) Stop being so damn negative, and b) Avoid drama. Because some people seem to enjoy those, and they face the consequences (i.e. nobody wants to talk to them) and cause and effect is a far more powerful teacher than I'll ever be.

So this is my opportunity to nag about those two.

Those of you who DO do this "I'm gonna make some changes in the New Year" thing, and whatever floats your boat, would you do me a favour and try to avoid negativity and drama, just as an experiment? If you find it's really not working for you, then fall off the wagon with my blessing, and I'll try again another time.

But if you notice the benefits, see if you can keep pushing it to the next level. I'm not quite sure what happens exactly if Mercer gets to the top of the mountain, because I didn't finish the book (reference to see if Alex Boxall is reading/paying attention) but maybe he just enjoys the view.

Anyway, my point is, one day you may wake up and suddenly discover you are enjoying the bad weather.

I'm not finished.

You know how big I am on authenticity. You know, be yourself. Be who you are. Be the captain of your soul. How does that gel with "Be positive. Skip the drama" if you are, actually, a grumpy negative drama queen?

I think people can change if they want to. First they have to have a reason to do so. They have to see the benefit. If being whiny works for them (gets them the attention they seek) there's no motivation to be different. If pessimism is easier ("why bother, I won't succeed") and optimism requires more effort, laziness will rule the day. It's how humans are.

If I can look out the window and smile at the snow, anything is possible, so give it your best short.

Happy New Gregorian Calendar Day and I'll raise a glass for you later.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Today's Lesson - Brits

Good Morning class! You know the term, you use it. What does it mean?

Weeeeell, that depends.

First of all, is it OK to call people Brits - that is to say - do they mind? Some of us (ME!) don't like it. I don't even use it, other than jocularly. Some like it, use it, don't see the problem. Matter of taste, etc.

Admittedly "British person" is a bit long-winded, and that's your only alternative. Because Briton means something else. Britons were a tribe......... Oh dear, here we go.........

Here's a map. Study it for a few moments, and be prepared to scroll back up often.

These are the British Isles. It's a totally geographic thing. If Germany had invaded and successfully acquired them in 1944, they would still be the British Isles, or, to be precise, die Britischen Inseln. Anyway, they've had many names, but the first examples we see written on maps was Pretani and Bretani. What did that mean precisely? Well, pretty much any islands off the north-west coast of mainland Europe, so it included far more than it does today. 

What does it include today? Depends who you ask. Oh dear, this was never going to be a straightforward article, but here it gets really complicated.

See the green bit? Some people who live there don't think it's included. Some do. Outside that part, most do, but not all. I repeat, this still is a geographical matter NOT a political one. For the sake of argument, we will assume that the majority of people on the planet consider everything in the above map to be the British Isles, plus a few other small islands. 

The Romans definitely distinguished between the biggest island and the smaller one to the west, but this is where the big difference between geography and politics first cropped up really. On these islands were a lot of tribes, who saw themselves as quite distinct and individual to one another. The Romans didn't care about any of that. They just used the names of the biggest/most important (?) tribes to name the various bits of the land, so they called (roughly) the red and yellow bits Britannia. They called the khaki bit Caledonia, and the island to the west (the pink and green bits) Hibernia or Scotia. I see a few hands raised, but don't worry, we'll come back to that.

What was the distinction then, on the big island, between Caledonia and Britannia? Those who live north of Hadrian's wall like to tell all sorts of tales about that, how inhabitants were too fierce and scary and the Romans didn't want to go any farther north. Or there's the theory about the terrain and climate being not to Roman tastes. There are all sorts of ideas and myths and competing theories. Which is a whopping great big clue for nobody really knows. That's just how it is. Or as they say, you have to draw the line somewhere. 

What is known is that all these small tribes had allegiances, possibly along ethnic grounds. The northern people, the Picts, were possibly quite distinct to the southern people (Celts and Britons). There is a suggestion that they were shorter and darker and really quite physically different to their neighbours. But they were not "lesser" than the other tribes around them in any way. Oh no, never believe THAT. Were they the original "Pixies"? Possibly. But I digress.

Whatever the reason, them up there, and them down there were divided. And the Romans built a wall between them because it suited them. And they've been divided ever since. Funny how these things "stick". I blame the Romans for a LOT.

So to recap, Britannia was the Roman name for the larger, southern province they created on the big island.

We can't keep calling it the big island, what's its real name?

This may surprise you, but it's official name is Great Britain. Does that mean the second biggest island is Little Britain? Well, it was once. No, really! They were Megale Britannia and Mikra Britannia. They had other names too. At one point Great Britain was known as Albion. And it goes without saying that at times the whole island has been known as Britannia, which really pisses off those in the far north, but what can you do. 

So what about the other one? Well, Hibernia or Scotia, was a very well-run place with a High King, and a fledgling democracy, and it soon began to think of itself as a nation. But what did it call itself? As far as we know, the term Eire or something similar was used by its inhabitants quite early, and possibly long before the Romans gave it other names. So, the island is called Eire (in Irish) or Ireland (in English) and variations on that (e.g. Erin) are all OK. Just DON'T call it Little Britain. DON'T.

Now then. Politics. Due to politics the names of the countries contained within these islands are different to the names of the islands. Got that? 

Ireland has been divided into two parts since 1920 and we are not getting into the wrongness of that, or how much longer it will continue, just that right now, there are two countries on the island of Ireland, 1) Eire or the Republic of Ireland, in the south (where the currency is the Euro), and 2) Northern Ireland (also known sometimes as Ulster, because it includes most of the area known historically as Ulster ), in the north (where the currency is the pound sterling).

Now then. Northern Ireland is part of the nation called officially:

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

See what they did there? They used geography to make a very BIG name for a very small (sizewise) nation. (This includes, as I said, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales (the yellow bit). I won't dwell on the history of these because this is getting quite long enough. Just memorize the map.)

So, most people just call it the UK because otherwise it's a bloody mouthful. They call it lots of other things too ("Septic Isle" - Bob Geldof), and one of the things you hear is Britain, right? But what does THAT mean?

Well, it pretty much means whatever the speaker intends it to mean, because it's not an official term for ANYTHING. It isn't correct geographically or politically, it's a casual term. So you could argue until you are blue in the face as to what it includes or doesn't include. Right?

I'll tell you what it doesn't mean, shall I? It is NOT a synonym for England. It really isn't. Whatever Britain is, it's not the same thing as England. Yes, you've heard it used that way, many, many times. Maybe you've done it yourself. Maybe you didn't know any better. Maybe you don't give a shit and will continue to use it that way. Maybe your intentions were good and you were trying to be inclusive (for pity's sake never refer to the other bits as England or there'll be blood). 

That's the map, those are the borders, and now you know.

Ah, but that doesn't cover the word Brit, you say. Where does a Brit come from? Wherever he says he comes from. Play it safe and ask, don't assume. Never, never, never use the term "English" to refer to anyone from the parts that are not England (see blood, above). OK, many people would just pat you playfully on the head and correct you, but if it were a bunch of Scottish football fans it could get ugly. Don't do it, just in case.

So what do you refer to people from these islands as, if you don't know which bit they come from? 

Bless your dear little American hearts, they all sound the same to you, don't they? It baffles us. To us, Scottish accents, Irish accents, Welsh accents, and English accents are all very distinct and obvious. But having an English accent myself, and from right down in the south-east too, where it could NEVER be mistaken for anything else (except Australian, apparently), I have often had my "British" accent commented on. What the hell does that mean? 

There is no such critter as a British accent. There are a group of accents as different as chalk and cheese within the British Isles. Yes, we know what you mean, but it's still funny. 

If you refer to someone with one of those accents as British, you may get away with it (just an eyeroll, you know). Can you at least tell an Irish accent apart? Is it obvious? Then say Irish. Please. Same with Scottish (NOT Scotch, thats a drink. Scots is OK, but never Scotch. Got it?). If you can't tell the difference between Scottish and Irish, well, to be fair, they are the same people. But don't mention that either.

See, what happened was that the Picts were either:

1. Driven to the far north.
2. Driven OUT.
3. All killed.
4. Assimilated.

Possibly all 4 (YES).

Who by? The Scots. They came from Ireland. Don't ask. But it's true. Billy Connolly says "The Scots were originally an Irish tribe. A mentally ill Irish tribe. One day one of them said, come on lads, I know an even rainier place..." and they went to Scotland. Oh, it's a fun history, look it up.

So, Celtic lands. But there's more. You may have noticed we've neglected the Welsh up until now. I've been told by North Americans that they know very little about the Welsh, and they do get overlooked. Well, most of them are down mines, so you can't see them. And they're all mad anyway. So, having offended everyone in Wales, let me just explain that it's generally assumed the Welsh are in fact the last of the pure English. That is to say, when the various waves of invaders over the centries made the English the mutts they are now, there were those who fled into Wales and that's the last of the Celts gone from England. 

It's disputed, like all of this. Some say the Cornish are Celts. Some say they are actually the lost Picts. But it's funny how the Welsh often aren't thought of as Celts. Anyway, call them Welsh, call them British, call them anything you like really. There are a few uppity ones, but generally they have a good sense of humour, and are used to being the forgotten minority. Which is just as well.

For uppity you really need the English, and this is where I come in.

When I was young it was common to hear people (in England) referring to anything in the British Isles as English. Oh yes. That's about as politically incorrect as it gets, but that's the old attitude. In fact they'd only just got over losing India. I was taught, as a child, that my nationality was English. People, believe me, there is no such thing. English is a language, and an identity, yes, but it's not a nationality. I wrote it on my entry card into France once and had a French immigration officer rip me a new one. 

The correct nationality for citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is British. Therefore, British people come from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. OK?

But if you ask me what I am, I'll tell you I'm English. Identity has NEVER followed geographical or political lines, and I doubt it ever will. 

If you call me British, I won't mind, but if you call me a Brit, I will bite you.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Naughty or Nice

Will Santa be coming to visit you this year? Have you been good?

Seems to me that everything in our culture hinges on carrots and sticks. Even the non-religious families use Santa as an all-seeing eye to bribe the little ones into behaving themselves. For the rest it's the omniscience of God.

Are we capable of being good without threats and promises?

Meng-Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from 2500 years ago, decided that people were all born good. Not only that, he believed that given the opportunity, they stayed that way. Presumably he didn't consider the mischief of children as bad, he never said, so we don't know, but he did say:

"The great man is the one who does not lose his child's heart."

Lose it, that's interesting. He didn't think, as some do, that we start out bad; sins of the fathers and all that. Nor did he think that we were born as blank slates.

He wasn't alone in this. There have been many wise ones throughout history who considered humans to be innately good, and scientists more recently have explained human altruism as a survival advantage. It's a natural instinct. That is to say if we behave ourselves and are nice to one another, as social animals, we tend to do better. In other words we have actually evolved to be good. It works for us.

So, why do we do bad things?

I don't think I need to give you any examples of bad human behaviour, but if you really want a couple from this week, look at the school massacre in Pakistan and the US senate report on CIA torture. When they choose to be, humans can be very, very bad indeed. I chose these two examples because in both cases there was an excuse given.

If you know me at all, you know that I have no truck with excuses. Anything you say or do to try to justify bad behaviour won't work. Oh sure, you can explain why you did it, but an explanation is not an excuse. It doesn't make it OK. Ever.

There was a time when all evil deeds were blamed on evil influences, i.e. devils and demons. Humans using supernatural figures as excuses. That stopped working for most rational people a long time ago.

Instead everyone was held totally responsible for his dark deeds. Even if he DID have an excuse, like the poor boy who stole to avoid starvation. No matter, hang him anyway.

Then, we found a middle way. The advent of psychology as a way of looking at human behaviour suggested that sometimes humans are not in full control of themselves. They do things under pressure, be it small or great. They "flip". They have psychotic breaks.

The arrival of insanity as a not guilty plea in court gave us another layer of argument. Just who is or isn't truly insane?

I decided long ago that it should be fairly obvious that under normal circumstances anyone who kills is crazy by definition. It's an aberration. A disorder. It goes against our natural instincts. It's not something sane people do, generally speaking. The exceptions would be soldiers, of course, who are obeying orders, in this instance it's the commanding officers and politicians demanding it whose sanity is suspect. And there are crazy situations, like riots and revolutions where people lose their grip en masse. It has been said this can happen to anyone. It may well be true.

So we have mitigating circumstances. The man who is so enraged by finding his wife in bed with their neighbour that he shoots both of them. Is that an excuse? No, NONE of this is. Bad is bad. You can explain it but it doesn't make it good.

And then there's accidental killing. Some people have some rather creative versions of accidental. "I was just holding up the liquor store, and my gun went off, I didn't mean to hurt anyone".

(I'm never quite sure who's worse there, the guy who pulled the trigger or the lawyer who gives him these excuses to use.)

All things considered, people can actually be very bad indeed, either by choice or by insanity.

Assuming the average person doesn't go around killing, or even stealing, what is good and bad anyway?

In my humble opinion, the Pagan concept of harm is as good as any. It isn't crystal clear (first you have to define harm) but having done that, it is a system of morality that works very well. The short version is that if your behaviour negatively impacts the well-being of anyone (including yourself) it is harmful. Where there is no victim, there is no harm. This is where Pagan morality is often looked down on by those with conservative ideas about sex, for example. In a system where morality is based on harm, any consensual sex is seen as harmless.

Which brings me to naughty. Meaning bad. It's a word that was always used when I was younger to refer to simple michief, as in children. Today it seems to have developed a somewhat different connotation of bawdy, and that's curious isn't it. That bawdy is automatically seen as bad. It's more of that puritan nonsense.

And nice? That seems to refer mostly to manners. I am a great advocate of good manners, but I think some people have lost track of what manners are for. They are supposed to make things more pleasant and comfortable for everyone. If they don't, they're not worthy of being called good manners.

The usual issue is how one should behave in a social setting when a person is saying something unethical. Which is more correct etiquette: to be polite, and above all to avoid a scene, by ignoring their words, or to stand up for what is right? Tricky?

Imagine you were at a dinner party or some such thing, where somebody was being blatantly racist or sexist, or otherwise bigoted. You notice embarrased looks on other guests, some looking away to distance themselves, some pretending not to hear, some with sour faces. Who has the courage to be "bad mannered" and call them out on it? Or even ask them to shut up or leave?

Being good isn't always easy. Sometimes you have to break rules to do it. Sometimes you have to break the law. Nobody said it was easy, important things never are.

If Santa, or God, or Sauron is watching everything you do, be sure you're not doing what some twisted person says you should do, but what you know deep inside to be right or wrong. Because, yes, you do. You KNOW. In fact, don't worry about what the watchers think. Do it for yourself.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Pepper Test

A silly fun blog today.

We were discussing how English takes words from other languages and....butchers them. OK, OK, English is not the only language guilty of this, most do it (you should see what the French do, or maybe you have) but English has "borrowed" more words from other languages than any other. It's why our dictionaries are bigger, seriously.

Obviously nobody expects these words to be pronounced exactly as in the original language. That would involve affecting a foreign accent and the only people that pedantic are generally social pariahs. But we really do some strange things......

Unless you, most people manage to say jalapeƱo as hah-lah-peyn-yo. It's common enough, and well-known enough, and only the most ignorant get it wrong. Unfortunately this has led people to think that habanero should be pronounced hah-bah-nyair-ro, and it's not. So I have decided to call this entire thing the Pepper Test, that is, can you get the critical parts right without sounding like a linguistics professor? Is there a balance between ridiculously correct and making a total twat of yourself? Hmm.

Let's begin with French. French is not phonetic, I mean, it just isn't. It's even worse than English in that looking at a word does not always give you clues as to how to say it. But the one thing most people know is that the French n is nasal. Most people, even if they don't speak any French at all, know that one says pardo(n) with the n being only half there. It's impossible to explain it any further in text, so I'm resorting to this:

(Sorry, it won't embed, but please click on it, it's under a minute long)

So that was just in case anyone wasn't familiar with the sound that I'm going to write as (n) here, OK?

The first word that we play games with is restaurant. We have saved the French vowel but not the ending. Why? If we really wanted to pronounce this as if it were an English word we'd say ant at the end. But we don't, we say ont. Because we can't make our minds up.

Then there's the American way of dropping the h on herb? Why? The French word is herbe and it's pronounced airb, not erb. Again, make your mind up!

I could list a lot more butchered French words, but the winner has to be


For some absurd reason (where? when? who?) English speakers decided to pronounce this


This melts my brain. It bears no relation to the French pronunciation, but it isn't phonetic either.

The French say


In English it would be



We'll move on then to how we mess with Italian.

One of the greatest gifts to come out of Italy is Parmesan cheese. In Italy the word is Parmigiano, and it is pronounced  par-me-jahno. But for some reason, despite SPELLING it Parmesan, the Americans say par-me-zhahn. Why? Anyone know?

At the same time, lasagna, keeps its original spelling, and is usually pronounced pretty much correctly too. Pick and choose, I guess.

Spanish, oh dear.

My dear Texan friend is ready to pull her hair out over the inconsistencies she finds in local place names. For example Bexar, Texas, is pronounced bear,-texas. The Spanish would be bey-hah, tey-hahs, but that would be too simple.

(If anyone from England is laughing, consider the pronunciations of Pall Mall and The Mall, I dare you)

But it's worse than that the further we go.

In England you will normally hear paella pronounced as "pay-ella", and if I say "py-aya" my husband calls me a pedant. But if I were to say kwesa-dilla for quesadilla he'd call me a peasant. You can't win with the English.

Similarly, how many people say llama properly? It's not hard.

I think German possibly gets the worst treatment though. Being so close to English it gets "Anglicized" in surnames and place names in the New World.

I am a lover of the German language, but that isn't why I get these wrong so often. It just comes naturally. If I see a word that looks like German, I automatically pronounce it as German. OK, I learned to say liverwurst badly, to conform, but I refuse to say bockwurst with a w. It sounds ridiculous. No, it makes me sound like Elmer Fudd.

It even bothers me to to say Schwartz the American way, but I accept that if it's YOUR name, I must say it how you say it. Because your ancestors were weird.

Near me is a village called Holstein. There are also many Holstein cattle in these parts. I just cannot find it within myself to say hol-steen, because there's a little German voice in the back of my head saying SHTINE!SHTINE! And Young Frankenstein just drove me bonkers.

Of course there are dialects in German just like anywhere else, and these are legit. I must not get upset about German dialects, because I speak German with a hick accent (shh, this is one of my best kept secrets). Still it baffles me how Toews became TAYVS. But it's their name and not mine.

But I think my favourite mishmash of German has to be Volkswagen, which is all one word, but English speakers decided to Anglicize just the first letter.

I could go on, but I'd prefer this was interactive. Either here, or on Facebook, please share your favourite translated absurdity!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


I've read a lot lately about the relative merits of socialism vs. charity, and some people have a radically different idea, a guaranteed income for all citizens. Switzerland has actually implemented it. Instead of a confusing and ridiculous system of endless types of welfare, one cheque. Covers basic needs and you are at liberty to earn as much as you wish in addition to that.

Those good at figures have calculated that it is actually cheaper to do this too. For example, in a large country like the US it would save billions. So it would make an awful lot of sense. But it will never happen in the US, because far too many people would object to the idea regardless of the savings. Whether it could happen in Canada or not, I really don't know.

However money is handed to those in need, one thing is certain. As it stands right now, in pretty much every country, with very few exceptions, the systems are not working. We're not even doing better than before. In many western countries in fact, the needy are worse off than they were 20 years ago.

Socialism, aka sharing, is feared so it's only ever done in a half-baked way. Add to that government corruption, complexity, inefficiency, and lack of funding in the first place.......the systems just don't work as well as they could.

If there is a need for charity, or food banks, or whatever, then your system isn't working.

Of course there will always be those why say "Why should the system revolve around the needy?". Matter of opinion of course, but I think that is how you measure a system, that it works for everyone.

There have been all sorts of ideas over the years as to how to help those whose income is insufficient. In each method, regardless of source, three things happen.

1. Somebody decides how much is needed. It's often wrong.
2. Somebody decides who gets it. This is often flawed too.
3. Somebody decides how it should be given. This is where the options come in. And where the arguments start.

I like simple. Simple is cheaper, for a start. Less administration - less cost.

I worked in an Unemployment Benefit office in the early 80s in England. It was a time of high unemployment, and we were busy. I saw how the system worked, I saw its effects, and I didn't like what I saw. But if anything, the system is less fair today. Even if you don't keep up on UK news you may have heard of the debacle in recent years where chronically sick or disabled people were left penniless due to an outside company being called in to assess their ability to work. These assessments were not made by doctors, I hasten to add. They were a series of questions, some of which were misleading - bordering on "trick". Great suffering, and not a few suicides ensued before this ridiculous experiment was changed to a different one. And it's not over.

Meanwhile the British right-wing media concentrated on blaming fraudulent claimants for everything. A report came out showing that benefit fraud by ordinary people was a drop in the ocean compared to tax avoidance by large companies, but that wasn't front page news. Far more fun to run stories about "scroungers".

You've read plenty of these wherever you live. We all know there are scroungers. They annoy me too. They are bad for many reasons, not least that they give geniune claimants a bad name, because they all get tarred with the same brush. But if you care about data, about numbers, about where the money goes, these people are a minority and much of the time it costs more to catch them than the amount they steal. As revolting as they are, they are really not a big deal.

The real thieves are the big corporations who wriggle out of taxes by employing creative accountants, and that's the polite version, while everyone else foots the bill.

I have mixed feelings about taxes. In principle they are the obvious, best solution. Everyone pays into the pot, and all expenses come out of it. It couldn't be simpler. It appeals to my inner Marxist.

From Each According to Their Abilities, to Each According to Their Needs

If you can offer any objection to that. I'm all ears.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it doesn't work. This social contract has become instead "From each, whatever their accountants can't hang on to, to each according to the least we can get away with". But the idea is sound, so the first step in improving the system is an overhaul of taxation.

The idea of the guanteed income could then be a sort of negative taxation. For example you could have a structure whereby the first $15,000 (or whatever is deemed the poverty line in a given location) of an individual's income is not taxed, and anyone who earns less than $15,000 per year would receive money instead of paying it out. Instead of endless agencies all doling out cash, it would be one payment, from one source.

But first those who can afford to pay taxes would have to do so.

So the question at this point tends to be "I worked hard, why should I share?" That's not wholly an economic question, that involves ethics and compassion. You can't legislate those. But there is an economic side to it. So, I tend to offer that answer, just in case I'm talking to a selfish bastard. I offer the fact that if fellow citizens are not struggling to make ends meet, the society we live in is better for everyone.

Less poverty = less crime.

It's easily demonstrated. And possibly easier to get through to them than the idea that one day they may too be in need and benefit from the system, an idea they deny or dismiss.

Let's go back to that other method of distribution of "spare" resources. Charity. I talked the other day about this, and my opinion of how some charities function is no secret. Some of them waste the majority of the money donated to them, or worse. Some just drive you crazy with their tactics. But most importantly their method of sharing is no fairer, and often less so, than governmental aid.

Firstly, those who say "I prefer to give to charity" generally do so, in order to pick and choose who they donate to. In fairness we all do this. There is a limit as to how much any of us can give, so we tend to support something close to our hearts. What we find, however, with many who consider charity to be the preferable option is that either they like it simply because of the tax write-offs available, or it allows them to indulge in their prejudices. They'd never donate to an AIDS charity for example, because they are anti-gay.

In addition, sometimes they like to make a big show of donating. They can't just quietly send a cheque, they have a gala dinner where rich people in designer clothes eat luxury food to raise money for the poor, with the press invited, obviously. Makes so much sense. But I'll move along.

Bottom line is that we could do better, as individuals, and as a society.Those who don't want to share are a minimum, so we can insist. We can change things, if we want to. And we have to think outside the box a bit. Admittedly patchwork quilts keep you just as warm as those made out of one sheet of fabric, but I think we could cover more beds with the latter.

Monday, 15 December 2014

You're From Earth, So Act Accordingly

This is doing the rounds.

Dozens of women are getting "100% like a man" and many more are getting high percentages in the opposite to their actual gender and wondering what that's all about.

Well, it's not a very good quiz, actually. It's based on stereotypes. Men do this. Women do this. What utter bollocks.

I am one of those people who does not believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Certainly hormones and socially assigned gender roles do affect us, but there are so many examples of people who don't follow these rules, despite all influences, that the rules just don't apply.

They never did. This is not some modern thing. People have always been people. The only reason we are even talking about this now is that today western women are allowed to work outside the home, they don't have to raise their own children (or even have any) if they don't want to, and men are getting more leeway too.

Because society has changed we are all getting more chance to be ourselves, based in individuality and not genitals.

We have four dogs in the house, and there is a hierarchy. Well, they think they've got it figured out anyway. Bowser thinks he's top dog, being biggest. But I've often doubted that. This morning he didn't finish his breakfast, and Molly, our OES cross, and only female, decided she'd have it. It was free for the taking, in her view. Bowser noticed this and barked at her. She ignored him. He growled at her. She ignored him. He nipped at her. She had him upside down so fast she deserves a black belt. He is EASILY four times her size, he's a big, solid dog, part mastiff, and there's rottie in there too. But she flipped him. He is currently sulking in the other room, and she's finishing her meal.

The female of the species is often surprisingly vicious considering her smaller size and lesser strength, but she doesn't take prisoners. Nobody has ever told Molly that she is "only" a girl, you see.

Increasingly, in modern man, we are hearing some sanity. They don't strut their stuff quite so much. They treat women as equals not just because it's politically correct to do so, but because we've bared our teeth. We dared to be human too. Wow. But it's good. It's not simply a question of conflict being resolved better (although that is happening too) but of the mutual respect that the modern way contributes to leading to less conflict in the first place. All good, all good.

Still, this idea persists that women are complex. Difficult to understand. Mysterious. Possibly inscrutable. Some are, certainly, in the same way some are quieter than others, or taller than others, but I don't think it's an innate trait. I think it's often misunderstood. Some of us are actually very straightforward indeed, possibly TOO straightforward, and it confuses men.

So, while I don't think complexity, or lack of it, is a female trait, or a male trait or whatever, just a personality quirk, I am addressing this post TO women because they are pissing me off.

Ladies we don't need this rubbish.

I noticed a long time ago, probably when I was in my early teens, that some girls were difficult to deal with. They had mood swings. They played "games". Their feelings were easily hurt, and if you said the wrong thing their reaction was swift and horrible. This, presumably is what men complain about, and I don't blame them.

I think this was learned behaviour, from their mothers. It has been said that, in turn, this weird behaviour is a result of bad behaviour by men, well, maybe but it becomes a chicken and egg thing, bordering on vendetta, and it will continue forever if nobody calls a halt to it.

I'm calling a halt to it, sisters. Right here, right now.

I'm not disputing that some men behave badly. But if you want something done about that, don't sit and wait, do it yourself. Stop with the needy, over-emotional, over-reaction. Stop with the games. Stop with the passive aggressive. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

We have fought long and hard for equality, and we still have a way to go. Don't mess it up by behaving like a spoiled princess. (Fathers, I blame YOU for some of that, and mothers aren't off the hook either). Well, this isn't your Daddy, so grow up. This is your boyfriend/partner/husband and you are no longer a child. You are equals. You are of equal value and equal intellect. Behave accordingly.

A man is not something to be conquered or trained. He's a human being with his own ideas and needs, and you have to find compromises. BUT, if you pick up a bad one, drop him again quick, like a hot coal. Forget that one, find a better one. You cannot turn a bad man into a good man. Let him be somebody else's problem.

Let's not pretend there aren't still men that think they are superior to women. Not just in the older generation either. They whine about emasculation of men (means "we're not getting it all our own way any more") and some go even further, forming groups protesting against feminism and advocating rape as "punishment". These are not normal men, and don't represent them. They are deeply damaged men, possibly dangerous, and we can't ignore them. But in general the common or garden old-fashioned patriarchal type is just a pain in the arse, not an actual abuser.

Let's not also pretend that there aren't rabidly fanatical women who hate men and will happily accuse them of anything. These do not represent women either, and they are not even representative of feminists as is often claimed. These are women with a grudge, possibly justified, possibly not, but again, they are a minority, and not relevant to today's discussion.

All of that is extremist stuff for another day.

Today, I want you girls to behave like the equals you want and deserve to be treated as.


If you have a problem, say so. Speak your mind. Clearly, and without emotional words. Sometimes emotions show, that can't be helped. But you can choose your words. There is no need for insults, threats, accusations, or dragging up old shit. If the problem is that he never helps with dinner, when you both work the same hours, then tell him "I need you to help me with dinner, please." Simple as that. He is not psychic, and if you've let him off thus far, how is he supposed to know what you want him to do? If you wait for him to offer, and he doesn't, then you'll be doing it on your own, won't you? Yes, of course it would be better if he offered, no question, but if you want things to get done, for pity's sake ASK. Don't sulk or sigh. Speak.

Will he remember the next night? Maybe not. You may have to ask again. It takes a while for behaviours to become habitual, that's just how humans are. Do you snap to it and do exactly as he asks all the time? I doubt it and I hope not - you see this isn't about giving out orders, or obeying orders, in either direction. It's about co-operating with somebody you love. Remember, you love him? You do, don't you?

What if he grumbles, does half a job, or actually refuses?

Then you two need to sit down and talk in greater depth. Communicate, please, for everyone's sake.


Not what your mother, the movies, Mills & Boon/Harlequin, Cosmo, or 50 Shades of Abuse told you to be. When you speak your mind, make sure it is YOUR mind. If you don't know what you want from a man, from life, from your career, from the waiter, figure that out first. If you need to "find yourself" could you get on that please? Don't take too long.

There are no rules other than ethics and good manners. It is not written in stone anywhere that you have to do or be anything just because you were born a girl. Be a good human. Be real.

Here's a far better quiz:

Thursday, 11 December 2014

My Xmas Letter

It is traditional for many families these days to send out a letter with their Christmas cards to update everyone on their year just gone, the highs and lows, etc, a sort of review.

I don't send these out for several reasons.

1. I don't send Christmas cards. It doesn't matter why, I just don't.
2. Almost everyone I would otherwise do this for is on Facebook, and sees the minutiae of my year, as it happens.
3. I can't write them.

When I was a child, after Christmas, my mother made me sit down and write thank you notes to everyone who sent me a gift, and in that I was supposed to review my year. I loved all the people I wrote to. I was very grateful that they thought of me. I could sit and write pages and pages of other stuff, but these? After the thank you part I'd dry up, and it was like pulling teeth getting me to do more than a paragraph, of an entire year - often full of exciting stuff, because I had a great childhood.

Now I'm old and wise and all that, I write and I write and I write. Customer service emails. Complex responses on forums. Blogs. Novels even. But one little review? I can't do that.

Of course I can write. I can form sentences, I can express ideas, I can remember events. But I just can't DO IT.

For a start if I am too positive I feel guilty, knowing other people's lives are full of suffering and need. It even feels like boasting.

If I'm too negative...well, that's not going to happen. No effing way I'm going to even waste energy on that.

If I try to get the balance right it just ends up waffly.

But just the same I was told to do this, challenged, in fact. Furthermore I was challenged to do it in my own style.

At first I thought I'd just tell it funny, because my life is funny. My life is the sitcom nobody would ever believe. I'll give you an example. I was sent a take down notice by a dead artist. That is to say his estate sent it. Believe this or don't, but it's true. The estate of Salvador Dali forced me to stop selling melting clock earrings. They didn't look like his melting clocks, as a matter of fact, nor did his name appear anywhere on the page, but because one of my tags was "surrealism" apparently that's HIS intellectual property. And it doesn't matter that he's been dead 30 effing years, I can't do that.

Well, it wasn't worth a fight. I took it down and sold the remaining stock off to a lady in England who is selling them in a bricks and mortar shop, and I hope it has DALI DALI DALI plastered all over it. Ner ner ner ner ner.

So you know, I could fill a book with "funny things that happened in 2014". But I don't have time. (My memoirs will be in 24 volumes).

But what I feel is lucky. No, no, not counting what I told you yesterday. I feel lucky for the health and prosperity of my family.

Everyone in the family is sound in mind and body, pretty much. James nearly wasn't this morning, so I also feel lucky that the tosspot who drove into him only damaged his bumper. These sort of things are most definitely luck.

Everyone in the family who is supposed to be employed, is employed, and some even got new/better jobs this year. Those of us who work for ourselves are doing OK, and those who aren't working yet are studying hard.

We all love each other, and that's more important than anything.

The rest is just details.

In fact, simply that I am able to sit on a comfy chair, in a warm, pleasant room full of music and animals, and write this at a nice desk on a working computer, tells you that my life is absolutely amazing and fantastic, and better than 99% of human beings. Most of whom have some sort of misery, big or small, temporary or permanent, due to bad luck or self-inflicted choices. So I am grateful.

I'll tell you something else. 2014 is not what I thought it would be if I thought about it at all, say 20 or 30 years ago. In some ways we are FAR ahead of what I expected, and in others it's laughably still the same. Our phones are better than Captain Kirk's but I still don't have a bidet.

Anyway, I'm fit and happy and can pay the bills, and what more do you want?

And now for some absolutely bloody awful music. Your Christmas card is below.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014


A few years ago, a friend suggested that I write a book about how to have a successful marriage. It was a follow up to something I say A LOT, which is that you should always seek advice from people who have been a success at something. Seem obvious? Well, I think so, but in fact if you look around you, people seem instead to seek solace from those who have not. Of course, it's good to comfort one another, but it won't actually help you sort your problems out.

So I started writing the book, and it was going quite well, and then I suddenly realised why it wouldn't work. Chapter One was about choosing the right person, and of course for most people reading it, it was too damn late for that. Most people would only read a book like that after already having chosen. In fact, most people would only read it after things started to look a bit wobbly.

That's humans, you see. They go into things with their eyes wide shut. Like men assembling things, they only read the instructions when they are having problems. You know I'm telling the truth.

We have been married for 34 years. We are still very much in love, enjoy each others' company, laugh, play silly, and generally look like poster children for marriage. I keep being told how lucky I am by those whose relationships are not so good, or didn't last.

Luck has very little to do with it.

There are many things in life that are pure luck. There are many that are part luck.

The only aspect of my marriage that was luck was meeting my man. After that all of it was choices.

We met at an incredibly young age. I was 6 and he was 8. Yes, really. It was only a brief encounter, and we actually met properly at 17 and 19. We happened to work in the same place (that was the luck part) and the attraction was mutual. It was an attraction that would be represented in art by coloured twinkly lights, because it was that quick, that natural, that powerful, and that obvious to everyone around us.

Love at first sight is, I'm told, quite rare. I'm not so sure. I think some people just don't wait long enough. There's a saying "if it don't fit, don't force it" and I think that is what happens quite a lot with relationships. It doesn't seem quite right, but hey, I'll make it work. Well, maybe. I think the whole Cinderella story is about "fit", symbolized by a slipper.

However, you still have to choose that person. You have the option to reject them. People do that you know. For all sorts of reasons. My younger daughter almost made that mistake. They were best friends, and she was convinced that was the wrong choice for partner. Well, it wasn't. She clued in eventually and now they are happily married with two little boys.

People also choose the wrong partner (or reject a good one) for reason of money, age, looks, and all sorts of reasons that seem reasonable but aren't. As you well know by now, I don't even think gender is an obstacle, and society is warming up to that generally.

The "right" person cannot be predicted. You will know them when you meet them. THEN you have to choose them. You see? You don't choose any other way.

But it doesn't end there. There are lots more choices during a marriage that can make or break the thing. Choices of fidelity go without saying. That's just the beginning. Anyway, maybe I'll still write that book, who knows.

Why do people forget they have choices? I wish I knew. Honestly. I spend so much time reminding them. It's not "news" to them, they just forget.

While I'm here, on a related issue, there are choices with children. First and foremost, whether to have any. It IS optional. There are a number of people who should have opted not to have children, but had them anyway. Then treated or raised them badly. There are no excuses for that.

There are lots of choices to make as a parent. Raising good kids is only part luck too. Again, I'm told how lucky I am that my kids have all turned out well. Isn't that an incredible coincidence? I have been showered with luck. A good marriage AND 6 good kids. Yes, I am grateful. I also take some of the credit. Here's the good news. This "luck" is widely available. You can have some too.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Rebel With A Cause

I said:

"Sorry, what year is it?"

And I posted this link:

Two friends who hold values and opinions that I very much respect had no sympathy with this volunteer.

This is why they are wrong.

Yes, there was a dress code. Yes, the girl knew it and was silly to expect the rule to be bent for her. Yes, her family may well be after the publicity. And good for them. Even if they are the biggest dickwads out there, they are doing a good thing.

And many of the suffragettes were loud-mouthed bitches. Truly obnoxious women.

If people seek change they probably won't achieve it by being quiet and retiring.

Dress codes that require women to wear skirts are long overdue to be changed. It's 2014, not 1914, and look what it took to get skirts accepted generally then, a war. Stupid rules about clothing, like stupid rules about anything, don't go away on their own, they require advocates, publicity, and protests. Sometimes they require horrible people fighting it for all the wrong reasons, but the bigger picture is what counts.

It's no secret that I led a rebellion against a dress code in my school, we won, and it stuck for decades. So, I am probably biased, because I'm proud of what I did. It's no secret that I think dress codes a have VERY limited place in society. It's no secret that I oppose the concept of "modesty" in dress because it's is ABSOLUTELY RELATIVE. It's no secret that my idea of underdressed, is minus skin.

Do I like to shock for the sake of it? Actually, no. There has to be a point. Have I threatened to march naked to Ottawa to protest? Yes, and I'd do it. For the right cause. So I could also be called an extremist in these matters.

But sometimes you need extremists to find a middle way.

Remember, the skirt is a fashion. Men used to wear them, and still do in some places. Nowhere is it written in stone that men wear trousers and women wear skirts. Not even in the Bible. No. The religious excuse is meaningless. The modesty excuse is meaningless.

It's an arbitrary rule based on fashion.

It's old-fashioned, stupid, and it's time it ended.

And if it takes a silly girl to highlight that, good. Emily Pankhurst would be proud of her.

Drawing The Line

Last week I mentioned to a friend that charity fundraisers who badger you by phone (who I consider to be a pain in the arse) are not obliged to do such work. Specifically I said they don't have a gun in their backs. She pointed out to me that desperation (need for income) is a gun, in a way.

It's not the first time I've had this pointed out to me. Needs must, and all that. Even those Nigerian scammers have families to feed. I've been told. Needs must.

But that phrase isn't complete, is it? In full, it's "needs must when the devil drives". Now I'm not into devils, but this term goes waaay back, and is an idiom in any case, and it means quite simply "necessity compels".

People do all sorts of things to earn a crust. And I've supported them for this in all sorts of ways. I stand up for the prostitutes and strippers. They are feeding a family. I've even stood up for thieves, on a small scale. Shoplifters who are absolutely desperate.

We feel sorry for Aladdin and all manner of sympatheic characters in fiction who are just trying to survive. The entire story of Les Miserables hinges on a man who stole once in desperation, and was then forgiven when he stole a second time out of sheer temptation. And we all root for him.

And there's a song, isn't there....

So, I suppose it comes down to this. Where do you draw the line?

If you've missed it, my personal system of ethics is based around harm. Where's the harm. Who is harmed. How much harm. Comparison of harms.

So, are these different? Working online to scam stupid rich foreigners or holding them up at knifepoint in a dark alley and taking their wallet?

Food for thought. You could argue that the former is not afraid for his life, and he walks right into the trap due to his own stupidity. But if an elderly person is scammed we cry foul, and who's to say that the stupid rich foreigner is not also compromised by age, health issues, or whatever?

Similarly perhaps the person walking in a dark alley was pretty stupid to be there.

In fact anyone who suffers fear or loss at the hands of another, and is told that it's his own fault, is experiencing that whole "blame the victim" response that our society loves so much. When in fact if people did not scam or rob, there'd be no issue. Where do we draw the line there then?

Have I ever said "serves you right" to a victim? No, of course not, but I'll be honest, I've thought it. More than once. I knew a lady who got taken for $2,000 by a scammer she met in a chatroom. It is totally inconceivable to me that anyone would fall for these things, but she did. She thought she was having an online romance. Here's where the status of victim becomes clearer. He knew EVERYTHING about her, because she told him. Therefore he knew she was not a rich woman, and in fact that money was her entire bank account. I daresay if she'd had more, he'd have sought more.

On the other hand, she knew nothing about him, because he lied to her. We don't know if he was poor and desperate, or if he was doing really well out of his "career" of scamming credulous ladies online. My guess is the latter, and I actually feel sorry for her. But I still think she's a fool.

So, going back to the non-criminal versions, the high pressure salesmen online, is that an honest way to earn a living or not? Honest, maybe, honourable, no. Would I ever do it? No. Hell no. No way, no how. I've sold many things in my time, but no pressure. It goes against who I am.

I hate the hard sell, hate it with a passion. I resist it too, and if a sales clerk even begins to try to talk me into things, I will leave a store. I hate haggling too (and the irony is, I'm good at it). I don't want to waste time like that. There are goods. These are the prices. Do I want it? I have choices. We're good. Each to their own, some people love a game when shopping, and please, if you enjoy that, go for it. Count me out.

So what about charities. They need money. If they sit back and just wait for it, will they get as much? Maybe not. So they beg instead. I despise begging. I also despise the need for begging. I think it's the fact that begging is necessary that drives my hatred of it. I certainly don't despise people in need. But charity telemarketers are not usually those in need, they are just people doing a job, which, yes, they may well need desperately, so why do I hang up on them?

I am not a great fan of charities at all. I choose where I donate very carefully. I check things like this:

I much prefer one on one help, done discreetly or even anonymously. Not for tax breaks. And I support socialist ideals. Sorry to all my conservative friends, but this should be no shock to you. I personally believe the best way to distribute money is via taxes, which doesn't mean they do it right. No, they don't, but they often have a better track record than charities.

Because it's not just the percentage of money that actually reaches those in need that matters to me. Is begging necessary? How do you obtain assistance if you need it? Do you just fill out a form, or make a phone call? I've seen how keen some charities are to hand over money to those in need. Sometimes a LOT of begging involved. Sometimes they are great. So anyone who says charities are better than authorities or vice versa is being too simplistic. At least with authorities if you are entitled to it, you usually get it. I do stress usually. Because in fact neither system is perfect. More's the pity.

If poverty forces you to do a job that takes money from other people in a persuasive but non-violent way, I will give you a break but only in the short-term. If, in the course of doing this job, you irritate people and they react accordingly, just suck it up. You may be the call that came after the debt collector, now who's desperate?

Monday, 8 December 2014

Come Again?

I don't get a newspaper, I don't subscribe to any news feeds online, but I often read links that friends or family have shared with me to news items they think I'll be interested in. This weeds out all the rubbish, and saves me a lot of time. It also means I get to read news media from the full range of sites, including the politically biased, and the downright crazy. I tend to check WHERE I'm reading in addition to WHAT I'm reading, as there some pretty weird sites out there. I think it's good to read a variety, and sort the wheat from the chaff using critical thinking, rather than only reading one type.

But it's the comments underneath that often provide the most entertainment, and not just the obvious trolls.

Maybe you've noticed it too, but an awful lot of the discussions in these places read like this:

"You're an idiot!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"
"No, you are!"

But in a more varied style in that. Sometimes in more than one language.

I saw one this morning where there were actually more than just the usual two opposing sides. So they all accused all of the others of more or less idiocy. It was quite creative, as if they'd ranked them, and chosen the invective accordingly.

I don't have anything to do with fights like that. They serve no purpose, they are boring, repetitive, and they are quite poisonous to my groove.

In formal terms what this is, if you don't know (not everyone does) is one type of ad hominem. It's where you claim something against the person, instead of his argument. In this instance it is his intellect but there are other versions, perhaps his age, or profession, suggesting bias but usually with no rational basis.

Effectively the discussion has gone off topic. You are so longer discussing the value of, say, proportional representation, but instead you are arguing about your opponent's IQ, or education, or whatever. It's a secondary argument.

There's another related issue in such arguments that messes everything up, and that is an assumption. I had been in a discussion over several days with a lady who was trying to convince me that I should be a vegetarian. I usually give very short shrift to such preaching, but she was so polite and reasonable about it, that I engaged her discussion, and there was no unpleasantness, but she made one huge mistake. Without asking about my background at all, she assumed that I was a typical modern urban woman, and she was totally floored when, in trying to tell me that a chicken was a vegetarian animal, I set her completely straight (nicely) from both a scientific angle, and one of having personally kept chickens myself for 16 years. I think I know what I'm talking about.

But I am here today to tell you of the aspect of these delightful jousts that juggles my brain cells the most. It is people who completely contradict themselves.

It's the response I have never uttered. Many times I've wanted to, but I could never be that harsh.

And it is this:

"That's not what you said the last time we discussed this."

I don't know if:

1) People believe something passionately, then change their minds, and then forget what they used to assert.
2) People believe something passionately, then change their minds, and then assume others forget what they used to assert.
3) People don't actually believe things all that passionately, no matter how passionate they seem, and it's easy for them to believe the opposite a few weeks later.
4) They're all simply quite mad.

But one things for sure, it's not a good idea to accuse me of having a bad memory, or assume I have a bad memory, because I remember every opinion you ever told me. I may not remember your birthday, your phone number, what car you drive, or what you take in your coffee, but I remember what you said about anything important. Sometimes your exact words. Sometimes for 40+ years. I don't know why, it's just my filing system.

You have been warned.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sartorial Choices

You hear it all the time when a girl makes non-mainsteam choices about her clothes/hair/make-up etc. "She'd be much prettier if....."

Maybe. But what if that's not her goal? What if being "pretty", or prettier doesn't interest her? What if she'd rather be seen as bold, funny, interesting, clever, unique, or whatever? What if her physical appeal to other people doesn't matter to her?

Turn this around. Men. I like men with beards, I also like men with long hair.

So, a man who has cut his hair short, and shaved his beard is failing to look pretty for me. He could look more pretty if he tried. But that's not his choice.

Or, he could grow a long, scruffy beard that looks like a rat's nest, and never brush his hair. It's very popular in some quarters right now to look like a sort of clean hobo (I'm never QUITE sure about the clean), are those men trying harder to be pretty?

As we all know...THAT'S DIFFERENT!

There are several things going on here, and only one of them relates to gender inequality, as annoying as that is.

But let's deal with that first. Despite all the adavances made in the position of women in our society, we still have this idea that she must "make an effort" to be picked up by a man.

It's worse in some places and some sub-cultures than others. In the more backward families, girls are still TAUGHT by their mothers that if they are not beautiful (which includes such things as slim, with long hair, perfect teeth, and preferably as little education as possible so they don't argue too much) they'll never get married, and that's their goal in life.

200 years ago it almost made sense (almost, because women always outnumber men, so finding a husband wasn't THAT hard) but today it doesn't unless you are very stupid and lazy. For women who choose to be stupid and lazy (both are optional) then getting a provider is probably still a good plan, but why should that force all other women to be "dolls" for selection?

Usually, when I write, I am aware that I'm preaching to the choir for the most part. Most of my readers are here because they are either my friends, who share many of my values, or strangers who like my values and have subscribed to my blog. But on this topic I KNOW many of you disagree with me. I KNOW some of you (male and female) looked at that photo at the top and thought "Oh dear" or worse.

It's not your fault. It's cultural, it's upbringing, it's been rammed down our throats by peers and media for so long, that it's actually really hard to think outside the box. But you must accept the following two facts:

1. Yes, some people really do dress to please themselves, not you, so your opinion is irrelevant, and
2. Your idea of what is attractive has been conditioned by experience

You may not realise it, of course. That's how it works.

In China, for a long time, women had their feet bound. I won't show photos of the tragic deformities, you can Google them if you wish, because even if you've heard of the custom you probably haven't looked at how it was done. These were NOT just tiny feet. You can't make Bonsai feet, it doesn't work like that. These were folded and twisted until they no longer looked like feet. Apparently one objective was to effectively hobble the girls so they were dependent on men. I need not comment on my views about that.

This practice is completely gone now (we hope) but to this day older men still find photos of these tiny feet in tiny shoes attractive. I stress IN TINY SHOES because if they'd seen them naked they'd have retched, and they knew it. Is it attractive to you? No, because you weren't trained to think it was. This training was so complete, so effective that old Chinese men can be AROUSED by these old photos.


Here, in 60 years time when fashions have changed completely there will be old men who are teased for being aroused by trout pout lips, or something else long gone. Mark my words.

However, this does not explain personal preference that defies trends, and it won't come as any surprise to you that I admire and defend sartorial rebels. I don't always like their choices, so let's be clear on that. But I defend their right to make them.

I don't like a LOT of sartorial choice. I don't like Dior. I don't like slicked back hair. I don't like skinny jeans. I don't like bow ties if they're not with a dinner suit. I HATE BURBERRY TARTAN WITH A PASSION. I could go on and on, about my preferences, but they are totally irrelevant.

They are as irrelevant as the taste of men who don't like punk girls. They're not there for you, you idiot.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

God - An Addendum

I was just asked, in reference to my my earlier post, which religion in my opinion are the nicest people. There would be no judgement on my opinion here. I'm really glad I was asked.

Categorically, after 52 years of talking to people of all stripes, I can honestly say that there is not one religion (or lack of it) where the people stand out, as a group as better than the others, in any way, be it manners, kindness, honesty, generosity, or any virtue you wish to name. It is this experience that has led me to my feelings as expressed, that I don't believe religion changes very much, when it comes to the individual.

But there is ONE exception.

When it comes to customer service.

After almost ten years of selling crafts and craft supplies both online and off, there is a clear winner in who I prefer to deal with in business. That would be Pagans. I don't even have to think about it. They are never any trouble, always pleasant, always polite, patient, and of good humour.

One of my specialities is religious stuff. I cater, or have catered, to all of them. The Buddhists are sweet, the Muslims are gracious and politeness itself. The Christians are rude, impatient, cheap, and a pain in the arse. It got so bad that on eBay I stopped carrying Christian stuff because it wasn't worth the hassle. Etsy customers tend to be more pleasant, but every single "difficult" customer I've had on Etsy was buying Christian stuff. No exceptions. This also applies to fellow sellers.

So, to sum up, the one thing Christianity needs to boost is its teachings on is how to deal with people who are serving you. Which is funny when you think about it.


The theme of choices would not be complete if we didn't look at religion. It's involved in two ways. One is the broader question of how and why you choose your religion, the other is the theological concept of free will, i.e. a choice.

There's so much material here that I could write a book (and probably will at some point in my dotage) and in fact it keeps both clerics and laypeople entertained for hours and has done for centuries. So to reign it in a bit I'll focus on two specific aspects of it.

Choice #1

To believe or not to believe? This came up in a discussion elsewhere this week, and I pointed out what I always point out. Before you can begin to discuss belief, or the other word used often - faith - you have to define them, and that's much harder than it sounds.

One way of looking at it is to weigh up the benefits of religious belief. Set aside for now any societal pressure, imagine it's entirely up to you. Here's a way often cited.

Pascal's Wager about God

Incidentally, I would question one part of this:

(i) According to intellectualism, deliberately choosing which beliefs to hold is practically impossible. Intellectualism, however, appears to be not only questionable but irrelevant.

Firstly I'd say that it's not practically impossible, but fully impossible. Self-delusion is a real phenomenon, obviously, but it too is not really a choice. Secondly, the true intellectual approach to God is that of radical and fundamental agnosticism. It is impossible to know. There is no research, no study, no discipline that can decide the argument of the existence of God, therefore the only argument possible is whether intellectualism is relevant or not, and I would reword that last part accordingly.

The honest approach then, (if the intellectual approach were as stated) is to say "I believe what I believe because I believe it" and I would have far more respect for that, because there's no pretence to rationality.

OK. OK. I know. Very few you will have read that link. If the word "philosophy" doesn't put you off, the length of the article will.

Try this instead. It's the short attention span version.

(Don't ever say I'm dull and crusty).

But philosophy doesn't provide answers, it provides structures to formulate arguments.

There are those who say you cannot argue this at all, nor should you. In many ways I'm inclined to agree with them. As we noted above, this is not something that logic can really be applied to at all. So, the entire philosophy of religion becomes an interesting exercise and no more. Pagans (dictionary definition) tend not to bother with it. They are more into enlightenment, experience, epiphanies, that sort of thing.

So what is belief, really? Is it knowledge? No. Knowledge requires nothing further. The proof is there, no belief is required. This is why there is really no such thing as the much-argued "Belief in Evolution", or "Belief in Science". These are things that can be demonstrated. The only objection possible is to have an opposing belief which overrules it, or simply to not understand it. Many, many highly religious people suddenly go "AH!" when it's explained to them well, and if you are undecided, then you need to read your religious text (many don't bother, they just listen to selected comments about it) AND this book:

And this is why arguments over such things are inevitably futile. The person arguing for science is presenting evidence. The persion arguing for religion is presenting belief, and these two cannot work as opposing sides.

Terry Pratchett covered this (hasn't he covered everything?) with great humour and wisdom. Do the Witches believe in God? No, that would be silly, it would be like saying they believe in the postman.

If you are certain of something, no belief is required.

On the other hand, is belief certainty? No. Belief is equated to faith, and faith is NOT certainty.

From Hitchhiker's...

The Babel fish is small, yellow, leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the NON-existence of God.
The argument goes like this:
`I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
`But,' says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
`Oh dear,' says God, `I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.
`Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book, "Well, That about Wraps It Up for God."
(Douglas Adams)

I've been told many times that faith is vital. I'm not convinced.

To me the whole free will concept is ruined by this "need" for faith, and it all seems like a trick. But we'll save that for another day. Let's just say nobody will ever convince me that belief is a choice, because, to be pedantic, by definition if you choose to believe something, you don't really believe it.

Choice #2

Which religion?

Depending on where you were born, and where you live now, this may not exactly be personal choice. There are many places where either culltural or authoritarian pressure force you to at least pay lip service to the religion you are told to follow. Your beliefs are your own, obviously, in private, but your way of life is shaped in a way determined by others.

But more to the point, if you are born into a situation where there's little or no choice, and you never know any different, you may be quite content with that.

I grew up in a rather weak theocracy, and have no real personal experience of REAL pressure to conform, so I'll skip that aspect, and assume you do indeed have full choice here.

There are plenty of religions to choose from, and of course there is always the option of none at all, but assuming you want/need a religion, and feel that it forms a structure for you, you can begin with whatever is most popular locally. This is convenient. If you wish to attend a place of religious devotion, it's not too far to travel, and chances are you can find adherants among your friends. It saves a lot of arguments socially, and frankly, this "default" option has some obvious benefits. It works best for those who aren't too deeply devout, and more likely benefit mostly from the community aspect.

Another way to approach it is to actually select a religion that fits your existing beliefs. There is even a very good quiz to achieve this. Even though it's really for entertainment purposes only, it's been around a few years, and I've yet to see anyone criticize it too harshly:

Unfortunately choosing a religion that fits your existing beliefs has its dark side. If your existing beliefs are rather dour, unsympathetic, and even cruel, it's quite possible to find a religion that leaves room for that, and then attempt to justify your nastier traits and attitudes by saying others should respect your beliefs.

I was once told by a believer that any religion worth calling itself a religion should make you a better person. That's a jolly good goal. Does it work. Well, it may do for some. Not always.

I think you are who you are. If you need religion to prevent you from being an asshole, you're still an asshole, you're just repressing it. It can sort of "pop out" again. I don't think religion necessarily fixes assholes. If it did, I'd be all for it. As you know, I believe that being an asshole IS a choice.

Indeed some assholes manage to pull the wool over the eyes of the entire world and almost reach sainthood, like Mother Teresa.

But there's another aspect here. Some critics of religion describe it as a mental illness. I don't think we can go with that, no, it's too prevalent, and some of the sanest people I've ever met were religious. But there's religious and then there's religious. And some of them are definitely nuts.

That's tragic and is obviously some sort of mental illness. Whether it was already there, or whether this specific flavour of religion caused it, we can't say, but it certainly didn't cure it.

Of course this person was already dead, so no harm was done to him. Unlike what happens in cases where families withhold medical treatment. Here's a brief list in one area:

This illustration is in memory of a few of the latest victims of "faith healing" families. Yes, victims... (At least, those reported to authorities or covered by local news.)

- 12 year-old Syble Rossiter who died February 5, 2013 as the result of ketoacidosis – after the parents withheld “necessary and adequate” medical attention for her Type 1 diabetes

- 16 year-old Austin Sprout died of an infection from a bust appendix after never receiving medical care in 2012.

- Newborn baby David Hinkman died of pneumonia, nine days after birth after his parents refused medical care in 2011.

- 9 year-old Aaron Grady died after have standard treatment for his diabetes denied by his mother Susan Grady who testified, “I felt like God would heal him.”

- 17 year-old Zachery Swezey died in 2009 after his appendix burst and his parents called church elders to pray over him with anointing oils (instead of a trip to the emergency room).

- 16 year-old Neal Beagley died of a simple urinary tract infection just a year after his older sister Raylene was charged with the death of her own 15-month old daughter, Ava Worthington (who simply needed mild antibiotics).

And don’t even get me started on Schaibles who killed TWO of their children before being stopped by the courts.

I've heard the arguments from these families. After watching a TV show where a JW child died after his mother refused a blood transfusion, I spoke to a trusted JW friend about it. She assured me that families go through agonies making these decisions (and some cave in) and that it really isn't done on the whim that the press make it out to be. But their focus is on the next life, and not this one, so their priorities are arranged accordingly. 

But these are children. They are not able to make their own informed choices, and therefore no part of me is able to condone it. 

I don't even condone the non-choice of brainwashing a child into a religion, and yes, I said brainwashing. Children who are not raised with religious teaching turn out "naturally" atheist or Pagan, or somewhere in between (in other topics, "naturally" is deemed the right thing by believers....) so that has to be removed and replaced. Of course, their parents genuinely believe it's better/the right thing, so they call it teaching instead, but it's the same thing. Teaching and brainwashing are frequently synonymous.

In case I seem too anti-religious and biased here, I am fully aware that many previously damaged people have found a new meaning to their lives within religion. I've met them. They changed for the better, they are happier, they are helping others, and it's all good. I can't criticize that and I'm not going to. Whatever works, works. 

No, I don't know why they were unable to get it together all by themselves. I suppose it's like anything else. Some people recover from bronchitis spontaneously, some need medical help. So long as you recover, it doesn't really matter. 

And if you were born and raised in religion X, you are perfectly happy with it, you are a good person, and you don't put any pressure on other people to join you, I have absolutely no problem with that either. I have many friends in that category too. 

My objection, wholly, is those who:

1. Choose religions that "allows" them to do harm, in any way. Pedophile priests etc.
2. Choose to proselytize. I have zero tolerance for recruiters.
3. Choose to tell lies about other religuions, and/or persecute them.
4. Choose to get into positions of power and then use their minority religious beliefs in the political realm. 

Because being bad is a choice, and religion is supposed to stop it, not enable it.

Choose wisely. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

You Are What You Eat

Now here's an interesting little thought on free choice, what choices do we have, really, on what we eat? Hmm.

Let me tell you my background. My mother was a semi-hippy, I won't go into that in depth, but despite being many things that hippies are not, she fed me strangely, for the times. She was a widow who worked full time in a demanding job, and she couldn't cook anyway. At that time you couldn't just walk into supermarkets and buy meals, so she would pick stuff up on the way home. Takeaway. "Take-outs" to you lot.

But you can only do so much of that, and it's only dinner. So, partly to balance this out and partly, as I said "semi-hippy" I also ate a lot of yoghurt, fruit, nuts, salad, salad, and more salad, and anything else that can be bought, and just eaten. As recommended by the health magazines she bought.

I wasn't the only child in this situation, obviously. Although few of my friends' mothers worked, those that did, and plenty of those that didn't, would serve up less than wonderful food. Their "home-cooking" consisted mostly of high carb, high fat rubbish, and any vegetables were overcooked to the point of losing all colour and taste - so then the kids wouldn't eat them at all, and what little nutrition remaining was missed.

You know that reputation for Britsh food being awful? Well, it was. It was garbage in the 1960s. Dreadful. It's fine now, but that's because everyone eats foreign food. Well, in the 1960s, I ate foreign food too. Take-outs. I was eating red peppers happily, by people who knew how cook them, while the only red food my friends ate were Smarties.

So while I chowed down on raw veggies supplemented with vindaloo, my friends were eating some revolting mess of grey mystery meat cooked to death with no seasoning and boiled soft indistinct vegetable matter, and then filling themselves up on sweet stuff and white bread.

What I didn't know then was how much worse it was in the United States. (And still is.) Where ketchup is a vegetable, hot dogs made from GODKNOWSWHAT are a staple food and not just something you eat at the fair, and the amount of sweet stuff eaten is about ten times that of the British diet, including sugar and even fucking marshmallows on vegetables. The type of vegetables, I should add, that are already naturally sweet.

Once a week, on Friday evenings, I went for a special treat, a bottle of cherryade and a packet of crisps. American children had a coke with every meal and treated chips as a side dish with LUNCH.

And so on.

It's not a contest. It's bad both sides.

Things have improved, of course. We are far more conscious of what we eat now, and only the laziest, stupidest parents feed their kids junk, but it's too late for us old ones.

Now we are reaping the rewards of the food choices made for us years ago. Habits formed early on and long-term dietary choices based on nostalgia, or whatever....well, those chickens are coming home to roost.

I still eat yoghurt and raw veggies every day. I still eat a lot of foreign food. Nowadays so does everyone else. But for some of them it's too little, too late, the damage is already done. Their teeth are full of cavities, their digestive system is shot, their blood pressure is through the roof, and they are dieting like crazy.

All those things they said about "who cares" - they regret it now.

So, I go around saying "Ner, ner, ner, ner - told you so". No, of course I don't. Here's why.

1. Parents. You eat what your parents feed you. Where's the choice there? It's not just "damage done". Bad habits start early, and are very hard to change. Food cravings are weird things and they stick around.

2. Authorities. It's bad for you. No, it's good for you. No, it's bad for you. Eat this. No, don't eat that, eat this. Eat margarine! No, don't! Cut out carbs. No wait, you need them! Eat 10 portions of veggies a day. No, hold on, some are too high in sugar! Yibble.

3. Hedonism. I don't care what anyone says, bacon tastes nice. I'm not a whacko who buys it as ice cream or jam, but I eat it on Sundays and I bloody well enjoy it. I don't like brown rice. I do like egg fried rice. We have taste buds for a reason.

4. I'm not exactly in perfect physical shape myself. I'm overweight, and although I did manage to fix my chronic acid issues, very rich food will still send me straight for the Tums. I'm aging, just as everyone else is. Stuff wears out.

No, this is not an area in which any of us should judge. These are personal choices, or non-choices, and if there's one thing that raises us above subsistence, it is enjoying our food. Even if it isn't always good for us.


There's a limit.

There comes a time when as an intelligent person, you have to have some self-discipline, and you have to use some common sense. So, I'm already sated. If I eat one more slice, I'm going to suffer for hours. What should I do? If you can't answer that easily and obviously, you may be suffering from a disorder. It's called greed.

Going back to my childhood we talked about greed a lot, now, not so much. Now we are more likely to talk about "fat shaming". I'm not into fat shaming either but we do seem to have gone from one extreme to the other.

Instead of a bit of common sense, a bit of restraint, a bit of change here and there, like most things in modern society we follow two extremes. Loyally. How you can walk right and left at the same time is beyond me, but it's probable that this paradox is why everyone is stark raving mad these days.

So, we have a fashion industry that insists you need to look like you were just liberated from a concentration camp. Women so thin that they need surgery to have breasts. Teenage girls dying from dieting. Plus, dentists on every street corner. Not to mention that these folk pay a fortune to be thin and have perfect teeth, while half the world can't afford to eat.

At the same time we have portions in restaurants that would feed a whole third world family, we have eating contests, obesity rates over 50%, people who look like sumo wrestlers having to buy two seats on aircraft because they eat junk food 3 (or 4 or 5) times a day, washed down with a gallon of pop and a triple latte, and festivals where the objective is to stuff as much sugar into your body in as short space of time as possible. And you get the day off to do it.

You needn't worry about aliens. They'll take one look at this planet and bugger off. And if you had one inside you, you'd never notice, there's plenty of room.


And it doesn't end with those choices, there are others. Talking of extremes.

Every few years we have a new demon food. Since we learned that saturated fat wasn't killing us, we needed a replacement to blame all our woes on. A scapegoat. A foodstuff that causes every ailment we suffer from. Currently it's gluten.

If you suspect gluten is harming you, get proper tests. Otherwise just reduce your carb intake to a reasonable level, and improve the rest of your diet. And for pity's sake do it one step at a time.

I am so sick of being preached at by neurotic people who have switched from junkfood to organic macrobiotics (this week) and then try to tell ME how to eat, that I've stopped being nice about it, and you know how hard it is to push me to being uncivil.

Get a grip people. Balance.