Thursday, 26 November 2015

The poisoned average

When it comes to integrity, many areas of the world are... now how do I put this without offending anyone? How about this? When it comes to integrity, many areas of the world are shit.

Yes that’ll do.

Excellence, by its very nature, isn’t average. Excellence is what we aspire to if average won’t do which it usually won’t. Unfortunately globalisation is bound to promote average over excellent. How could things be otherwise? Global policies where one standard fits all cannot aspire to anything but standardisation around the average, around what is feasible. So excellence doesn’t get a look in.

Globalisation has to promote globally attainable standards acceptable to the average shitty government and reluctantly tolerated by the average punter. We won’t refer to the latter group as voters because from a global perspective the average voter is merely a punter with no political influence. So punter became the global standard and voter was quietly defenestrated. Not that we seem to have missed it yet - democracy that is.

In which case we should expect a trend towards globally averaged political and commercial integrity, globally averaged education, globally averaged credulity, honesty, cultural values and so on. Maybe it’s time to put some folding money into a bribery fund - in case the day comes when we need an official to do their job properly, when those with brown envelopes always seem to be at the front of the queue.

Come to think of it we could prepare kids for an average life by future-proofing their party games. Pass the parcel could be pass the envelope. Monopoly could be updated so that players hide their money in a variety of off-board schemes. Although Monopoly already fits the trend quite well – you either own land or you are stuffed.

Anyone who aspires to be above average, who expects their culture to exhibit above average levels of integrity, humanity, intelligence, artistic achievement and honesty – well dream on as they say.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Winter deaths

The BBC is concerned about the rise in excess winter deaths last year.

There were an estimated 43,900 excess deaths in England and Wales last winter, the highest number since 1999, figures show.

The report suggests most of the deaths involved people over 75.

Many people attribute these deaths to the cold weather but there is a more obvious explanation – television. As nights become longer and days become shorter, elderly people with impaired mobility are likely to watch more and more television and therein lies a serious but unsuspected risk. Imagine the scene - 

Outside it is cold, wet and dark. An elderly person switches on the television expecting to be cheered or entertained but Strictly Come Prancing is on yet again. Or the news is spewing out anxiety, or one of those interminable property shows with dull folk wandering around houses they aren’t going to buy because they can’t really afford them and only wanted to see their silly faces on telly.

Wouldn’t that have a depressing physiological effect on any viewer, let alone a frail and elderly viewer who needs cheering up on a cold winter evening?

So our elderly person goes off to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, trying to spin it out until the next show, hoping for something a little better, a little more cheering or stimulating. Even something with a modicum of intellectual quality...

...It’s bloody Eastenders again.

So our elderly person goes off to the kitchen for a tot of whiskey to perk up that cup of tea, trying to spin it out until the next show, hoping for something a little better, a little more cheering or stimulating. Even something with a modicum of intellectual quality...

...It’s bloody Question Time again.

So we see how the long hours of winter television could easily depress a person’s vital forces, their natural resistance to bodily decline. It’s okay for someone my age. I can demostrate this by switching on the television without undue risk because for my age I’m reasonably fit and heal

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Coming up for air

Sometimes I browse the internet and I’m overwhelmed by the volume of material which is too good to miss but I don’t have the time because there is far too much of it. Yes much of it is dross, but the dross is easily avoided. The good material is radical too and that’s the point. Having it so easily available is like coming up for air after a lifetime spent underwater swimming through the murk and rubbish.

Much of it comes down to language, pointed, witty, accurate, iconoclastic language. Yet the problem with language is that we can’t have our own private version. Wittgenstein pointed this out although it is obvious enough. So we can’t possess language, can’t think in our own personal language, can’t use anything but the tools we have in common, the tools which evolved to channel our thinking to make it easy, automatic and thus efficient.

As we know, this why all totalitarian societies control language. Control language and you control thought. It might be expected that North Korean would be a ferment of covert dissatisfaction but it probably isn’t anywhere near as radical as one would suppose. Control permissible language and to a significant degree you control that covert language we call thought.

Yet things are obviously changing. To my mind, since the arrival of the internet the public domain has become far more varied, interesting, probing and amateur. Not amateur as in inferior to professional, but amateur as in unpaid, unscripted and uncontrolled by big business or big government.

Amateurs with relevant experience, abilities, nous and the ability to express themselves as if they too have come up for air and are enjoying every minute of it. Loose cannon in best, most productive, most interesting, most fascinating sense of the term.

We still see lots of professional radicalism, especially on the BBC, but the establishment radical seems to be on the wane. Amateur internet radicals are smarter, wittier and much more in tune with the causes of our many problems. They have stories to tell, know how to tell them and the establishment wilts in the face of their blunt and pithy honesty.

Look at the way Prince Charles flounders around trying to speak his mind on issues he does not understand. Too old, too hidebound, no exposure to the best of the internet – that’s my impression of him. So he sinks and sinks again, becoming a figure of fun, contempt, an icon of the old ways, a lost soul.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Vomit pot for sale

Hemswell Antiques has a nice Victorian pearlware vomit pot for sale just in time for Christmas. A snip at £60. Of course there are no modern features such as an instruction booklet, official containment certification or a long list of safety advice but I'm sure most people can operate it safely enough.

It would make a fine present for the festive season and may even establish your reputation as someone who comes up with something different.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Not enough tedium say campaigners

From Tedium Central

Emergency doctors and safety campaigners are calling for a national home-visiting scheme to help prevent injuries to toddlers.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) say it would make a "huge difference".

Modern life is rather like aimless wandering through a strange mixture of fog and treacle, but wandering safely thanks to people such as the good folk at RoSPA. The obvious question is whether or not human beings are evolving a tedium gene. The extraordinary value of such a gene is obvious enough. 

A bureaucratic world needs people who are genetically adapted to a uniformly tedious life, a dreamlike state where nothing is ever achieved, where all goal-directed activity is frustrated by a plethora of intervening forces, but thanks to the tedium gene it doesn't matter. Fog and treacle are good, even doubleplusgood.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

I have no absolute evidence for anything.

‘One of the problems in this country, and the reason the children’s sector hasn’t really improved since Victorian times, is because those who deliver services don’t challenge the civil servants. The power and the money is in the hands of civil servants. They’re very clever people but they’re not wise, and they’re not life-experienced.’ She pauses. ‘Look, I have no absolute evidence for anything...
Camila Batmanghelidjh

A wildly extravagant claim about Victorian times. Maybe she also thought she could do without evidence such as... oh I don't know... receipts?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Brutally simple

Some aspects of life are brutally simple, so simple that they have to be obscured in mountains of waffle. Vast sums of money are spent simply to keep us confused. It’s why the BBC exists, why the Guardian became a propaganda rag.

‘Do you ever see the Manchester Guardian?’ he questioned, carrying the war into my camp.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Pity!’ he ejaculated.
‘I’ve often heard that it’s a very good paper,’ I said politely.
‘It isn’t a very good paper,’ he laid me low. ‘It’s the best paper in the world. Try it for a month — it gets to Euston at half-past eight — and then tell me what you think.’
Arnold Bennett - The Grim Tale of the Five Towns (1907)

Maybe the Guardian was never that good, but take just one well known example of a brutally simple idea which hardly ever takes hold of any modern debate however relevant it might be:

Matt Ridley thinks human civilisations are based on transactions, the freedom to trade something for something else and the consequent freedom to specialise. It works from the Neolithic to the present day and at all levels from kids’ playground trading to international deal-making.

The idea isn’t new of course and is so obvious it barely needs justifying, not because we see the effects of it, but because we see how much effort goes into abusing it, how many people, businesses and institutions take vastly more than they give. And for dessert we have the endlessly convoluted justifications.

Both sides of the political spectrum are at it via different methods.

The right wants to screw the voter in favour of big business.
The left wants to screw the voter in favour of big government.
The EU wants to screw the voter in favour of even bigger government.

It really isn’t difficult. Institutions aim to screw everyone on the outside in favour of everyone inside. Landowners want to screw everyone. This is where professional loyalty comes from because deep down in our visceral being where lurk the bottomless pits of self-interest, we know all about the screw or be screwed dichotomy. It’s in our genes and given a furtively presented choice we take furtive advantage of it.

Our core moral stricture, do as you would be done by, is an equally visceral recognition that this brutally simple balance is all that stands between order and chaos. This is the problem with overweening bureaucracies and de facto oligopolies. Both create problems which are not only political and commercial, but moral too. Give and take is a moral obligation simply because it is the logic behind stable and productive human interaction. Exchange should be equitable, including political exchanges such as votes.

So those who stand to gain by distorting such a simple message are the same ones who also make sure vast sums of our money are spent to persuade us that we gain more than we lose. Except we don’t gain more than we lose and it’s obvious because the lopsided workings of give and take are obvious.

The problem is, simple ideas are easily abused in favour of more complex narratives spun by all takers since a brand new flint axe was swapped for a few beads. So we can’t easily teach it to children, can’t explain how universally powerful it is. They might learn something brutally simple. Even worse, they might use it in later life.