Archive for September, 2009

The starfish story

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

For some strange reason I keep coming across references to this story all over the place. I’d never heard the story but apparently, it is so overused it is now a cliché.

So having familiarised myself with the story just now, I immediately noticed a flaw in it (damn these critical thinking skills!).

The story is about a bloke who is throwing starfish back into the sea. Another bloke asks him what he is doing. He tells him he is saving starfish. The other bloke looks at the miles of coastline and says he can’t possibly make a difference to the overall population of starfish. As the starfish guy throws another starfish into the sea he says “I’ve made a difference to that one.”

All very twee but as with all cliché’s nobody stops to think about it before they repeat the story parrot-like. Here is a conscientious guy going out of his way to help a species that can’t even evolve a basic survival strategy. What sort of design is it to have a salt water species getting stranded at every low tide? It’s doomed from the start. Unless, of course, the stranded starfish are sick or disabled and cannot get back into deep water before the low tide. In which case, by allowing the possibility of these sick starfish to breed with healthy specimens, this bloke is simply diluting the fitness of the starfish gene to survive in a hostile environment. Instead of saving an individual starfish, he is potentially threatening the survival of the entire species – the exact opposite of what he intended!

I’ve complained before about this idiocy in this article here where I bemoan the use of an incandescent light bulb to graphically illustrate a good idea.

Slate, sugar and slavery.

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Penrhyn castle

Inside Penhryn castle

Penrhyn Castle in north Wales. Another monument to the inequalities of an industrialised society.

We were stopping in a large caravan site during a weekend break and it invariably had an entertainment centre. These are like a microcosm of any high street in any large town – fast food outlets, amusement arcades and a sizeable venue for evening entertainment. And like any well managed tourist attraction where you have to pass through the gift shop to get to the attraction, so it is with these entertainment centres that you have to pass through the amusements to get to the hall with the live entertainment.

For me this is like some barbaric initiation rite where I have to run the gauntlet of deafening white noise, gaudy lights and negotiate the obstacles of somnambulist people who, presumably, failed the rite and as a result were doomed to spend eternity there.

On this particular weekend, a band was on that did tributes to sixties bands. They were comical and irreverent but maintained good musicianship. The crowd and myself enjoyed them hugely.

At one point in the show, the band wanted the audience to clap or wave their arms in unison to the music. Now I used to have an attitude of ‘you don’t seem to understand the deal I did at the door; I’m here to be entertained by you, so dance monkey boy and entertain me‘. On this occasion however, I had an insight into what was really happening.

The band were inviting the audience to participate in the fun. The division between entertainer and audience is an artificial one and a definition of television; this was live entertainment – interactive, inclusive. Most of us have forgotten how to participate at a large event. We watch television at home, isolated from everyone else. This live band were reminding us that this was not television, this was more fun, it’s a party to which we are invited.

How sad I reflected, that in our culture we have to wait until we are invited to participate. And so unused are we to participating, that the entertainer has to demonstrate to us, like a teacher instructing a simpleton, what to do in order to have fun.

The House of Women

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Approximately half the human population is made up of women. Women think differently to men. In a true democracy, women would get proportional representation.

That is why I propose we abolish the House of Lords and replace it with the House of Women. Here, proposed new laws would be scrutinised by breast feeding mothers and given the due consideration they deserve in an atmosphere of howling babies and even louder, reality-based gossip.

If the legislation is simply too complicated to understand, it is thrown out. If it is the result of testosterone fuelled one-upmanship, it is discarded along with the dirty nappies. If it does not nurture, then what is the point of it?


Friday, September 18th, 2009

This BBC programme used to be required viewing for anyone interested in the latest scams and fraudulent organisations. Some of the ingenuity displayed in one or two scams threatened to keep even me guessing. There was a need for this programme.

So, I can imagine some spotty youth fresh from Oxbridge, breezing into the production office and declaring, “It ain’t broke, so let’s fix it!”

Anne Robinson reappears as the presenter but she has had so much work done on her face that she speaks as if through a latex mask.

The studio set is simply bizarre. A raised wall is lined with ‘consumers’ who look down on visiting ‘experts’ who are there to answer their questions. This Colosseum type arrangement produces some unusual camera angles and no doubt, neck ache for the experts. Then there is the inevitable ‘celebrity’ who gossips about their life for interminable minutes. This is supposed to be a consumer programme remember.

Oh, yes, consumer issues. They did have an article about a rogue trader. A man who went around hoodwinking gullible people that he could cure all manner of diseases (including big C) with just the touch of his hands! I’m glad they warned me about this fellow, such a sophisticated scam would have been absolutely impenetrable to my critical thinking skills. Thank you Watchdog.

After ten minutes I had had enough.

This is why television is doomed. Even the BBC feels compelled to make programmes for Chavs. The television audience is being distilled to the lowest common denominator and television is following the demise of newspapers which are now just gossip magazines.

So where do the knowledge hungry get their information these days?

Congratulations, you have found the new medium of intelligent conversation, the internet.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

I got this from Dave Pollard’s blog.

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed down from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. In the public service, however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies is often employed, such as:

1. Change riders.
2. Buy a stronger whip.
3. Do nothing: “This is the way we have always ridden dead horses”.
4. Visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses.
5. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse’s performance.
6. Hire a contractor to ride the dead horse.
7. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed.
8. Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
9. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is.
10. Re-classify the dead horse as “living-impaired”.
11. Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses.
12. Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all horses.
13. Modify existing standards to include dead horses.
14. Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses.
15. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.
16. Issue Collateralized Horse Obligations

More from Alnwick castle

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Plants can kill

This was the entrance to an interesting garden at Alnwick castle. You had to be on a guided tour to view it as it had several prohibited plants, cannabis being one. The plant was suitably caged as well as behind the bars of the garden (a condition of them keeping it, we were told).

However, the plant that should have been caged was not. It was tobacco. The guide said it was one of the most toxic plants on the earth. Then he told a little story, a true one. Children aged eleven years old were employed by the tobacco companies in South Africa to pick the green leaf. The nicotine is so insidious it permeates through the green leaf and into the skin of the child picking it. As a result the children suffer from Green Tobacco Sickness, a syndrome that is the equivalent of smoking fifty cigarettes a day…

Feel my rage…

Alnwick castle and the Harry Potter moment of revelation

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Alnwick castle

Upon entering the main landing of the State rooms in Alnwick castle, I was assaulted on all sides by the ego of the present owner. Myself and everyone else entering that space had to have an audience with Mr Percy himself as a large monitor housed in an exhibition stand played a video loop of him spouting his ideas on how to save the world or some such. Even though no-one actually watched the video, we were all required to listen to his pronouncements as we wandered around the landing looking at the pictures and artefacts, his voice constantly following us around. It had an air of 1984 about it.

Even in the other reception rooms there was no escape. Photographs and portraits of Mr Percy with some of his goods and chattels stared out at you from all corners. This guy is an egomaniac.

My wife asked if I had seen the chapel. “Not yet.” I replied and headed for the little passageway that led to it. The passage emerged onto a balcony which overlooked the suitably darkened chapel (why is God best appreciated by the dark? Surely light would have been a more fitting phenomenon?). The pews could have accommodated thirty odd people in total. Directly opposite the balcony, almost at eye level, was hung a couple of old flags. One of them particularly caught my eye. So old was this flag that it was in tatters and it had to be reassembled on chicken wire to keep it together. Although the material was heavily darkened you could just make out the markings of the Union Jack. This symbol of Nationalism had been pieced together with such reverence

At that moment the lightning bolt of realisation struck the temple of Nationalism. An intellectual earthquake shook the ground I was standing on and the giant pillars holding up the temple trembled, until one by one, they each fell to the ground in an oddly logical way as if they were creating a new structure. When the dust of comprehension had settled around me I became aware of a new configuration of stone where the former temple had stood, but instead of a magnificent monument to Nationalism, there was now a sacrificial alter to the devil himself!

The pieces of the puzzle all made horrible sense now and the Great Lie was revealed; war is a game of the rich and powerful.

In fact economics is the game and war is its dice. Monarchs from centuries ago became monarchs because they were ambitious, ruthless and rapacious – bullies, in short. Bullies almost invariably gather cronies around themselves to further their ambitions. In turn, the cronies benefit from the spoils of the bullying. Eventually, the bully wants to dominate another country to acquire more trinkets. Most people are not bullies and so if a bully asks you to fight some strangers to the death in a far away place for his benefit, you quite reasonably ask “Why should that be of any interest to me?” The bully then has to come up with an idea which will solicit consensus from the people he rules. This idea is Nationalism. Most people are only concerned about their immediate environment; their village. The concept of Nationalism extends the boundary of the village to the shores of this island, even though the vast majority of people would never go to these shores.

This concept is still a little flimsy however and it needed reinforcing with something stronger. Fortunately, another material was to hand which could be usurped like all the other booty a bully yearns for.

Religion was a strong material which weathered well and was resilient against logic. By stealing this booty a monarch could strengthen his position with the people who subscribed to this idea of faith. Thus a connection was forged between a monarch’s primacy and a god’s primacy.  The divine right of kings was thereby manufactured.

This is better but it is still not enough to motivate most people to sacrifice their lives for the aggrandisement of a half wit bully. What is needed for the final push over the edge of reason is another half wit bully from another kingdom that wants to take control of a defenceless resource currently being exploited by some other greedy half wits. The argument starts to take on an eerie logic of its own now – ‘You need to protect yourself from bullies like us’ – and consensus is being reached, ‘We are being threatened by another bully so we must protect their, no wait, that must be ‘our’ interests.’

If one country invades another then the feedback loop is complete, ‘Yes, we must protect our village from these invading bullies’.

The devil has his game. Innocent, law abiding, peace loving strangers get sucked into an ever deepening false mythology. Nationalism, god, king and country are all enforcers of the game. All wars are fought for the economic interests of the rich and powerful. Those who fight and die in the wars are the hapless citizens who have been sold a poisoned idea.

As I stood in the building of a rich and powerful man admiring his acquisitions, a line from Shelley’s poem Ozymandias repeated in my head, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” I couldn’t help updating it for modern times;

Look on my wealth, ye impoverished, and OBEY!