Archive for February, 2008

The media is sick

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Here is an example of the worst excesses of the media.

A news item on a national UK programme concerned an American youth who is a paparazzi.

And…?

He’s fifteen, and he’s driven around by his dad.

And…?

Nope, that’s it. That’s the story. Oh wait! They’re making a documentary about him.

Am I missing something here? This is so uninteresting, they’re even making a documentary about it? ‘They‘ wouldn’t be the media would it?

Once again we have to ask ‘who is deciding to tell us about these stories?’ You can bet your house that someone, somewhere has a vested financial interest in this story and they want to get the best possible return on this investment.

Don’t ever believe that news stories are ‘neutral’ and are simply the most interesting stories around that day. For example, I can’t imagine that the entire population of the UK is so fascinated with the American presidential race that they need to know when one of the candidates bends over to pick up a piece of paper. The media is a toy of the rich and powerful and they like to play with this toy all by themselves. (Incidentally, it won’t matter a jot who wins the presidential race, as their political process ensures a particular mindset gets through; black, female or gay – it won’t make any difference to their foreign policy).

And finally…(see what I did there?) isn’t the job of a paparazzi a little like being a prostitute or drug dealer? In that case, why aren’t there news reports of fifteen year old girls being driven around by their dads so they can service the sexual needs of desperate men?

Hey, Michael Moore, we could do with a new documentary about the media please.

Inspirational speech premiere

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Having premiered my SatNav for the Soul® speech at the Professional Speakers Association, it prompted several discussions afterwards with people from the audience.

One of these discussions concerned my reference in the speech to Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator, who discovered that money and fame were not what he imagined (as he confessed in his blog). My fellow conversationalist disagreed with the sentiment of the story and argued that if these successful people are that unhappy with the result of their success, why don’t they give their money away?

I did not have time to explore this point fully with him there and then but I can clarify things here.

Of course some successful people do give huge amounts of money away but this misses the real point. The ‘problem’ with money and success is that those who strive for it have a preconception about what it will do for them, as if it were some kind of drug or cosmetic surgery.

Money and success don’t ‘do’ anything. As I make clear in my speech they simply increase our options, so if you choose to, you can buy these drugs or cosmetic procedures with the money you have acquired.

Thus, if you are anticipating some magical transformation from acquiring financial success, you will be disappointed. Once you have been disappointed and realise that only your options have been increased, you can then readjust your expectations.

Assuming that giving the money away will return you to happiness (if that is where you started from), is making the same mistake as assuming that it will bring happiness in the first place. The point of the Scott Adams story was to illustrate that most people have an unrealistic belief about success.

Recycled glass

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Along with the rest of the country we have been given a green recycling box into which glass, plastic and tin cans should be put. The contents are then tipped into a lorry and taken off somewhere.

I imagined the contents would be then dumped onto a conveyor and sorted by hand into glass, plastic and tin piles. These would then be recycled.

Apparently, it’s not as simple as that. The glass is not recycled into new glass, it is transported to Germany and forms a part of their new road building scheme. The reason being that the glass is multi coloured. To recycle into new glass it has to be uniform in colour, that is why at the large recycling depots there are clear, green and brown glass skips.

So why can’t they sort glass into colours at the recycling plant? Is it too much trouble? Or is there no environmental advantage in having recycled glass as opposed to a new road surface?

A box of frogs…

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

For years now, a fungus has been devastating the amphibian species by clogging up their skins and suffocating them.

As far as we know, this fungus is a natural occurrence and has evolved like all life on the planet – through chance (although it is probably more interesting for my argument if we afforded it ‘divine’ status).

I recently learned that some people are collecting the last remaining exemplars of various frog species and trying to save them. Several questions immediately posed themselves.

Who is paying for this exercise? Why? What do they hope to achieve?

When it is remembered that over ninety percent of all life forms that have ever existed on this planet are now extinct, the demise of frogs can be seen as a natural event. If a disease wipes out a species then it can be argued that the disease is the fitter and more adaptable life form. Who are we to argue with that? So trying to save a species, especially one that is unable to look after itself, seems like deluded folly. If no cure can be found for the fungus, are the frogs to live in isolation tents with their only visitors being natural history celebrities (and their film crews). Is it not the height of arrogance to suppose that humans can save a species when we are heading for disaster ourselves?

Don’t get me wrong, I like frogs, that’s why I have a pond in my garden. But if some things are meant to be…

Actually, I think I know why these people are trying to save the frogs.

Growth. It is the force which drives all life. If the health of an environment can be measured by the diversity and profusion of species within it, then human vanity would like to imagine that this particular moment in earth’s history has the greatest number of species ever living at any point in time. The humans that care, don’t like to think that species are disappearing during their watch.

Except aren’t several species vanishing every single day with us in charge. And are frogs preferable to fungus?

Climate change comes home

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

It’s early February. Thirty years ago I would have been building snowmen. Today, I was in the garden, in shirt sleeves, trimming hedges and getting a sweat on.

Later, I sat on the patio (still in a shirt) and took in some warm sunshine as I watched the bees harvest the pollen from the heather growing in the garden.

Something fundamental has changed.

Laziness is good

Monday, February 4th, 2008

What motivates people? After the survival requirements are met, what makes us do anything?

The most basic answer I can think of is, we do whatever makes us feel good. ‘Feeling good’ presumably, is a sensation we feel when particular chemicals hit a particular spot in the brain (or stop hitting a spot, such as with pain). If some other activity or substance produces a bigger hit in the brain then the reasoning is that we will do that instead. If the goal of life is all about feeling good, then it must hold that if taking heroin makes you feel good, it’s okay to do that. Similarly, if being lazy, produces a nice warm feeling in the brain, why shouldn’t people make that their goal?

Granted, this only works from a selfish view point. In the hunter-gatherer past, being lazy meant you died or suffered hardship. Equally today, being lazy is considered immoral by the people who have to provide the apparatus that allows you to be lazy. Although, perversely, if you were a self made millionaire, laziness would be seen as your prerogative.

If your goal is to be lazy, does that mean you have to work harder to achieve a higher level of laziness?

Of course, people are different, so what produces a ‘hit’ in the brain of one person will do nothing for someone else. The current belief is that achieving goals will produce this ‘high’ in most people. There are countless self help books that exhort this ethos. I am not too sure where this work ethic comes from. It seems at odds with technology. Surely, all these labour saving devices that have been invented are designed to free us from ‘work’. As we become more prosperous, isn’t the goal, no more work for anyone? I am beginning to suspect a lot of the drive for goal setting is coming from business and the capitalist system. After all, its very existence is based on the concept. But is it right?

Looking at things from an evolutionary perspective, you could argue that ‘getting out of your comfort zone’, as it were, improves the species by developing useful modifications – wings or fur etc. In our case, by developing curiosity and creativity, we ultimately achieved consciousness. By doing so, we improve the chances of our species surviving (at least that was the idea).

So far so good. But what about crocodiles? They haven’t evolved for hundreds of millions of years. Have they become a lazy species? Or have they reached perfection – they can live for a year without any food; they don’t suffer any diseases or infections? So once you have achieved your goal in evolutionary terms – ultimate adaptability, what then? Do you simply enjoy your dominance of the life process and sun yourself on the river bank being, well, lazy?

Of course, the definition of existence, is change. So evolution will test the crocodile at some point. if climate change becomes a runaway process and the earth heats up to a uniform 200 degrees centigrade even the crocodile and the cockroach must succumb to that eventually.