Archive for November, 2009

Model railway enthusiasts

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Knowing nothing about the modeling fraternity, coming to a show in Wakefield was like visiting another country, a country which seemed largely populated by a race of eccentric old men. Most of them seemed to be physically damaged in some way, hard of hearing or a missing sense of humour..

And none of them are going to win any fashion contest. It’s like they have stopped caring about themselves, and only care about their models. Although it would appear they have about as much regard for real engineering as they do about their clothing. I asked one of the exhibitors what the scale was for his model. He replied, “4 mm to a foot.”

What attracts them to this pastime I wonder? This show is hugely popular. But why trains? Why aren’t there similar shows for motorway networks, or airport runways? Is it something to do with the tracks? You can easily control the movement of the trains with tracks, unlike cars or planes which would require unreliable and imprecise remote control.

There’s no doubt that these people derive a huge amount of pleasure from what they do. Models with this amount of detail are not simply thrown together. They are lovingly fawned over and anxiously perfected. The attention to detail that is given to the colour and texture of the ground, for example, is simply astonishing.

They seem to derive even more pleasure from sharing their passion with others. That’s the beauty of a club, with all that enthusiasm you can distil the passion into a powerful opiate. Maybe that’s why they don’t care about their appearance, all their energy is invested in the little worlds they have created.

And there seems to lie the attraction. There is a sense of omnipotence about all of this. Standing behind their models, they do have the appearance of giants bestriding a landscape that they monitor and rule with a benevolent hand.

It’s almost as if in the real world, these railway enthusiasts are made to feel like insignificant nobodies, but here, in their model worlds, these same people are gods.

Them and us

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Let’s start with ‘us‘. We’re at the coal face and we can see that coal is dirty, dangerous and polluting. Burning it makes it even dirtier. We miners die of respiratory diseases even before we are punished by the CO2 consequences.

Then there’s the numbers. We can see our friends and brothers die. We see the black mucus suppurate out of their lungs. We can count how many are left before they are all gone. We know our friends are finite in number.

But for ‘them‘ in the boardroom, they do not see these things. They see numbers all right, but they are the infinite numbers of money. They count the numbers of people dying but they are units in a ledger and no friendship is lost to them. They look out of their window and they see an ocean of humanity ready to replace these lost numbers. It is a game to them, a board game. Climate change is just another throw of the dice.

It disturbed me how someone would willingly destroy themselves, knowingly cut off their own air supply. Why would they be so nihilistic? Why would heads of governments and heads of multinationals ignore brutal evidence?

Then it all became clear. I suddenly realised it was war. Climate change is a war. The poor are on the front lines; they see the suffering, the mounting bodies, the disease, the horror.

The generals though, see maps. They see territory either gained or lost. They see armies as possessions owned by themselves or hated enemies, possessions that can be destroyed and remade, destroyed and remade, destroyed and remade…

They are surrounded by sycophants, sycophants that like being sycophants because that is what they do best and they get rewarded for their skills. That is why this madness is happening.

Imagine the First World War. The generals order an advance as they peer at a be-flagged map. They do not see the blood of battle or the aftermath. If they lose the war, it is a handshake between gentlemen. An exchange of countries. Maybe some humiliation back home. Ah well, better luck next time.

No such luck for the corpses.

And so we march on to another front line, all in step to the economic drumbeat of ‘growth!’, ‘growth!’, ‘growth!’. The generals watch from their steel and glass towers, already imagining their new empires as the foot soldiers and engineers realise that this is the war to end all wars. They know, no-one comes back from this adventure. This time the generals stand to lose a lot more than a few armies and credibility with their gentlemen friends. They will lose their air and water and they will lose their precious sycophants as well. This time it’s, destroyed but no, remake.

Not many mutinied in the First World War. Maybe this time…

Twitter is part of the conspiracy

Friday, November 20th, 2009

The number one scourge of modern civilisation today is disconnectedness. As the shadow of globalisation creeps over the world like a giant hand and the multinational fingers pull the strings of control we sit in front of our screens and become more and more disengaged from everything that makes life worth living. In just a few hundred years we have overturned millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of cultural development. Technology has reached a tipping point and instead of improving the quality of life it is actually diminishing it.

And Twitter is part of the conspiracy.

Why is Twitter so popular? At first glance, it seems that everything that Twitter has to offer is already accommodated by other forms of communication – Instant Messaging, email, Skype, telephones, newspapers, content aggregators… The answer is that it distils most of these into an immediate ego rush. Imagine taking the first line of one of your diary entries and publishing it for all the world to see. What sort of ego massage is that, especially if the diary entry is also selling something of yours?

Then there’s the numbers.

Once you have made your diary entry public, you can watch it being devoured (or not) by the public. Is it being RT’d (re-tweeted)? If it is, that’s a small achievement in the popularity game. RT’ing someone else’s tweets can curry favour from those being RT’d for a while but if you persist  until it becomes arbitrary you can quickly become a sycophant. Then you can collect followers. This is the old, ‘Look at my numbers!’ game. The numbers can be views, followers, subscribers or dollars. The result is the same; competition for a part of the available market. In the case of Twitter it is competition for attention, but to the conspirators in charge, what is being competed for is irrelevant, it is the competition that is the important element because without competition, disconnectedness is harder to maintain. And pity on you if you are following more people that are following you, you might as well kill yourself now because with the values we have in today’s society that makes you of no interest whatsoever to anybody except the conspirators who see you  as a passive consumer. Such is the price we pay for attention.

So, if you are idly sitting by some device, alone or with a group of friends (if you are with friends why aren’t you interacting with them?), watching the chatter that echoes around the globe, know this, you are part of the conspiracy of disconnectedeness.

The bizarre story of Sir John Franklin

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Thanks to Ray Mears, I came across this example of the perversion of history.

There are a couple of large statues of Franklin, one of which is in London, which credit him with the discovery of the Northwest passage. According to Mears, he was indeed given the task of finding the passage but his expedition of two ships and scores of men was lost. Eventually an explorer named John Rae came across the missing pieces of the puzzle; he discovered the waterway which completed the Northwest passage and through Inuit reports, revealed the fate of Franklin’s expedition. Unfortunately for Rae, on his return to England, he reported that evidence was found which showed that the crew of the expedition eventually resorted to cannibalism in an attempt to survive. This idea was unacceptable to the powers of authority at the time and so they decided to alter history. Not only did they decide to alter history but they decided to confirm the lie with a couple of statues and the lie written in stone.

The statues (and the lie) are still standing today. Presumably Ray Mears only needed to do minimal research to uncover the truth (Wikipedia confirms his story). This seems like such a beautiful analogy for today’s mainstream media; the lies are set in print but any minimal research (which most people are unwilling to do) reveals the unacceptable truth.

Just imagine how big some of the lies are in history.

Sleep

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Consciousness is an activity in the brain (although we assume it is completely localised in the brain). Sleep is another activity in the brain although we have no recollection of it apart from occasional brief impressions from the dream state. We observe sleepers as being inert and unresponsive. Something is going on in our brains and we have no idea what.

Is this where our fear of death comes from? If we were conscious twenty four hours a day with no need of sleep, a lack of consciousness would be as unfathomable to us as death is to animals fixed in ‘now’ time. With sleep however, we get a reflected glimpse into a void, we come back from nothingness and realise that nothingness exists and that the possibility exists that nothingness may be the default setting.

Of course, all this conjecture stems from consciousness. Just because consciousness cannot contemplate something does not mean that it does not exist. Consciousness can only contemplate itself. We are left then with the possibility that I am an x dreaming that I am a man and that I awake when I die.

Placebo

Monday, November 9th, 2009

If you are a teenage American looking for information about a certain pop group, my apologies. I’m talking about science.

I’ve written before about the placebo effect and wondered why it hasn’t been rigorously investigated using the scientific method. Now it all becomes too clear. Here is an interesting article which explores the phenomenon in some depth. The sad truth is that the placebo effect is a huge embarrassment to Big Pharma. It is the elephant in the room. Not only is it the elephant in the room but the elephant is also snorting coke and masturbating. It destroys a lot of their credibility. No wonder they don’t want it investigated; there is absolutely no profit in a wonder drug that is a placebo.

Maybe Big Pharma should switch to pop management. At least one Placebo seems to have made a profit (oh, what the hell American teenager, here’s a video).

Connecting with people

Friday, November 6th, 2009

The train slowed to a dead stop. Through the window I could make out the leaves of trackside bushes, illuminated by the carriage lights. Hmm, I thought, not a good sign.

Sure enough, after ten minutes of waiting on a deserted stretch of track, the guard thought it fit to announce to the packed train what was happening, or rather, what wasn’t happening. We were waiting for a signal to change. Okay, I thought, nothing major there and I turned my attention to my family once more.

We were heading home on an evening train from London after a visit to the Natural History Museum. It was Sunday and the children had school the next day.

After half an hour of the train not moving the guard made another announcement that some power lines had come down across the track further up the line and that essentially there was grid lock for all the interconnecting lines. We were stuck in a queue. With that announcement, people started to get out their mobile phones and ring their loved ones to inform them that their train had been delayed. We were close enough to one man to hear him inform his wife in a matter of fact voice to add half an hour before she met him at the station.

After an hour, frustration was beginning to set in. You could see everyone recalculating their plans for what remained of the evening, us included. My wife shuffling the itinerary of food, baths and bedtimes. Tension was building in the carriage.

After two hours, denial had moved onto anger and it was apparent that everyone’s plans for the evening were ruined.

After three hours, the carefully constructed polite facade that everyone erects around themselves started to crumble and what was revealed was the essential human being inside each of us. The overall helplessness of our situation meant that we started to take control of what we could – the situation inside our carriage – and people started to talk to each other with the camaraderie of a testing shared experience. We talked to the man who’s wife was supposed to pick him up at the station. He told us good humouredly that he had abandoned that plan altogether and was now trying to organise a taxi with the help of the train guard.

After four hours, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome kicked in; everyone’s facade was down and it was understood that you could talk to anyone with an unguarded directness. The occupants of the carriage had let go of their ‘timelines’ and realised that they could only live in the ‘now’. The experience is remarkable as anyone will testify who has endured such an experience (imagine the bonds created in a life threatening situation). Towards the end of our delay it was almost fun. Why do we have to wait for a disruption of some kind before we assume responsibility for ourselves and take off our suits of pretense?

Sometimes, we don’t have to wait. At a public event I met a representative of a large organisation that is influential in the region. I suggested she might find my SatNav for the Soul® presentation useful. She gave me her card. All ’suit’ stuff. After trying to contact her, various gatekeepers passed onto me an email address of someone else in the organisation who might be able to help. More ’suit’ stuff.

I was about to type a typical ’suit’ email to this person when I thought, ‘what the hell, this presentation is far too important to be be stitched up in a suit’. I duly sent this person an email that might have been composed after a four hour wait on a train that doesn’t move. He would either get it, or he wouldn’t.

Here is his reply;

Thanks for your e-mail. I’ve had a look at your website …and I’m sufficiently intrigued to invite you to come in for a coffee and chat.As a bit of background my role is that of Organisational Development Manager – impressive hey? Actually, that means I can shove my nose into anything I want to in the organisation. My boss encourages me to be creative – but as a 60-year old, wasp – no actually the p should be a c or rc which makes wasc or wasrc which doesn’t quite work?

Anyway, sorry to bumble on – your website has put me in that frame of mind – not the bumbling but the getting outside of the usual niceties and formalities and onto what’s really relevant. I continue to ramble…

So –send us two or three dates and times convenient to you and we’ll agree when to meet. Probably best if that coincides with some other business you have in the area so I don’t feel too guilty about the costs you’ll incur in getting here and giving up your time. I used to be a ‘consultant’ in personal productivity – time management and the like – so I know time is money – or wasted opportunity! I’ve never sent an e-mail like this before – I think your website has liberated my mind already!

As T indicates we have no money – so no promises. But happy to consider providing a platform for someone who might just get some in the organisation to think a little differently?

Money is the new afterlife

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Most people find ‘exercise’ too much like hard work and boring, so well meaning fitness regimes quickly pall into an intolerable chore and that freshly bought gym pass soon languishes on the hall table.

Exercise is hard work because the goal is too vague; to enjoy a better quality of life for longer. What the hell does that mean? As an incentive it is too diluted and arbitrary. As hunter gatherers, we exercised as a result of an immediate goal – to catch prey or to to dig for roots. Exercise was a by product of doing something important – feeding yourself.

Today, there is no imperative to catch anything except a train or a bus. Food is immediately available, no need to dig. But our bodies are designed to move. Use it or lose it, as they say. Exercise is imperative for good health. To make exercise bearable and sustainable therefore we need to make the goal more specific and immediate. One way is to make it fun.

When I used to play squash (had to give it up – too hard on the knees), the goal was to outwit your opponent and win the immediate point. On occasions, after a long rally, both me and my opponent, would be exhausted to the point of fainting. The brilliant exercise we were willingly experiencing was a by product of having fun.

In business, lots of people have goals but often they are as vague as ‘getting fit’ (for what?). In their case it is often, getting rich. Not, what is the best widget we can possibly make? or how can we make our customers ecstatic with the service we provide? Is it any wonder then that a lot of the ’service’ we do receive is insolently offered by someone who would rather be somewhere else doing something that they find less boring and wearisome?

So let’s look at religions that promise an afterlife. This promise suffers from the disadvantage that no-one has actually died, visited any sort of afterlife and returned in some form or other to report back that either a) it exists or b) what level of (in)hospitality it offers. Incredibly though, despite this lack of evidence, a lot of people choose to believe in an afterlife.

Similarly, most people who want to be rich have never been rich (rich being a purely relative term of course) so they choose to believe the myth that being rich is some kind of paradise in the duringlife.

Where the two concepts differ however, is that some people have returned from being rich and reported back about its (in)hospitality. Some don’t manage to report back at all, of course, because they have already died through debauchery and substance abuse. Those that do report back invariably say that having huge amounts of money is a problem – how to keep it, what to do with it etc. Some even admit that their problems started when they became rich.

Interestingly, most people (some of whom would find a belief in the afterlife ridiculous) choose to ignore any negative reports like this and cling to the belief that huge amounts of money will somehow make their life better.

This is similar to the vague idea that exercise will somehow make life better, and in some respects it would be true; being rich would allow you to enjoy better health care, for example, but you are still stuck with the question, for what? And if anyone thinks ‘to enjoy yourself‘, they haven’t been listening to a word I’ve written in this blog!