I am very grateful to Dawn for the fabulous photos.
The cupcakes stole the show.
I am very grateful to Dawn for the fabulous photos.
The cupcakes stole the show.
I’ve combined all my blog-posts into a single site, the musings here range from knitting moebius scarves to the NHS, with a side salad of business process modelling. All my public posts are now here in one place, including the ones from Facebook.
I am a skeptic and a blogger but I blog about too many things to count as a Skeptical Blogger though I may discuss skeptical matters more now that I’ve got a single place to post things.
Blogging takes me longer now than it used to; my standards are higher and I know more about writing so I no longer blog-as-therapy. In fact I find it less enjoyable now, than I did back in 2006 when I started.
So no promises on frequency, but good intentions on quality and a resigned acceptance that I’ll tackle any topic which interests me, the shinier the better.
In the meantime, since this is the internet, here is a cat listening to pawdcasts.
A strong sense of entitlement is unplasant; it makes people unpleasant, and it makes them do unpleasant things.
The original version of this post was an extended complaint about a woman I have had a lot to do with recently who has a strong sense of entitlement and appears to be a seething mass of frustration and bitterness. However, since then I have been reading Watching the English by Kate Fox, and I suspect that her tell-it-like-it-is American-ness has come up against my oh-well-mustn’t-grumble English-ness and that I may be being unfair. So maybe I am being unduly harsh on Mrs Entitlement. But maybe not.
Despite the patronising nastiness of the British middle class attitude which came up with phrases such as “poor but happy” and “poor but honest”, I think a sense of entitlement can really screw you over. It seems that complaining all the time creates a self-feeding loop of discontent: according to Richard Wiseman in :59 Seconds counting your blessings really does make you feel better, and if you write them down the difference is still discernible weeks or months later.
Reading Wiseman’s book confirmed something I’ve thought for a while. Some years ago I decided I would rather be happy than frustrated and, when I could just about pay my way but no more, I would give myself a mental bitch-slap and remind myself that the world is full of people who dream of being able to pay their bills. Maslow tells us that we will always have something to complain about, if we are of a complaining frame of mind.
Mrs Entitlement is, as I said, a seething mass of anger and frustration even though she appears to be living the dream: she has an interesting and reasonably well-paid job, her husband’s a substantial earner, they live in the country, their children are in private schools, they are all healthy. However she winds herself up with complaints about her au pair, about car accidents delaying her journey into work in the morning, about her mother-in-law, her colleagues, airlines, service in restaurants, the cat. Just about anything really. She is a hissing ball of barely suppressed rage.
I think if I really wanted to curse someone, I would give them a sense of entitlement.
In the meantime Nina shows us how to count our blessings better than anyone I know:
It’s been almost three years since I blogged here.
I stopped because I wanted to blog in my own name and I didn’t have enough mojo to maintain two blogs.
I am starting again because I want to post pseudonymously again. Also, I liked Aphra and I miss her.
My life has changed quite a bit during these three years; I live elsewhere and I work for someone else for a start.
Unfortunately I have also become a lot fussier about what I write, which means it takes me more time to produce less.
But my interests are still eclectic. And I still fizz with anger, rage and shock. And, guess what, the NHS is in crisis again, and the USA is madder and scarier than ever. Oh, and I still notice the banal and the ridiculous and pick it up and say “look… shiny….”.
Ooops. This one got through the net without all its facts checked and links in place. I know I should finish editing it, but life is short and events have moved on. May 2013
Orwell portrayed a world where people feared Big Brother’s ability to monitor their every move. Our reality is stranger: it seems we crave attention so much that we rush to open up our lives to the public gaze, authoritarian or otherwise. And not just the wannabes on X-Factor, but those of us who tweet and blog as well.
The online reactions to the twitter joke trial and the joke itself shine a light on how we think about private and public spaces online, and just how much we have handed over to those in power.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the twitter joke trial until the #iamspartacus hash tag splashed itself all over my twitter feed and @TwJokeTrialFund raised the £10,000 needed for his appeal in [nnn[ hours. Paul Chambers was found guilty of [charge] and [sentence]. The criminal record means that Chambers cannot qualify as an Accountant, so his career has gone up in smoke. All in 140 characters or less:
Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!
Now there are a lot of different strands to this, and we need to disentangle them. It’ll help if I pin my colours to the mast. (Your colours may vary, and that’s ok).
Firstly of course the punishment indeed disproportionate: I’m prone to flippancy myself, and I’d hate to lose my job and my ability to qualify in my career and get a criminal record for nothing more than a throw away remark.
However, and this is important, what Chambers did was stupid.
Katherine Whitehorn used to sense-check her plans for children’s activities by asking herself “what would the coroner say?” and it’s a useful question to ask. If this goes completely tits up, what would the headlines be? What criminal prosecution would ensue? Could I end up with a Darwin?
Tweeting threats to blow up an airport is stupid, no matter how common that sort of joke is on Twitter. It’s been likened to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre, which is [reference's] famous example of the limit to freedom of speech. Let’s be clear; if the security guys at Robin Hood airport had seen the threat but not drawn it to the attention of the police, or if the police hadn’t then checked that Chambers isn’t a terrorist, then they would themselves have been criminially negligent as custodians of public safety. It would be lovely to live in a world where people aren’t killed and maimed by terrorists
I’ve read several counters to this argument, and to save you the time, I’ll post them here:
But you just don’t get Twitter
Hang on a moment here, who doesn’t get it? Who’s behaving as if the new world is the same as the old world? Twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere aren’t the pub, but we behave as if they are. So I am not won over by this argument, or by the tweeters saying “but he didn’t me-e-e-e-ean it”.
But lots of people make jokes on Twitter
Yeah, and..? Lots of people smoke. Lots of people eat so much that their weight damages their health. The fact that “lots of people” do something does not make it either intelligent or morally right.
But we shouldn’t have to live in a world where we jump at shadows all the time
Yes. I agree. But we do.
So what do we have here? As I said, we have several strands:
The orginal draft of this post ended like this:
It is Chambers’ irresponsibility which stopped me claiming to be Spartacus. My position is logically identical to anyone whose sympathy for the McCanns is tempered by the thought that they should never have left the children unsupervised.
But now I think that conclusion is fair but harsh, because I’ve changed my mind slightly after reading the pages I’ve linked to.
What has been done to Chambers is unfair and disproportionate. Yes, the Robin Hood Airport were right to get him checked out, but he should have been slapped across the wrist and told not to do it again, like a kid caught scrumping apples.
Two stupids do not make good sense.
I kept a journal sporadically for a while between 1998 and 2006 or so, and I’ve just been re-reading them.
I’m struck by how neat my handwriting was, and how fluently I wrote. Using a keyboard for everything except what I put up on whiteboards has destroyed my ability to write coherently without hitting backspace.
I’m also struck by how much I’ve forgotten. I guess it’s reasonable to forget events that took place a decade ago, but a lot of my assumptions, attitudes and beliefs have changed too. In many ways, the journals are my working notes as I reviewed assumptions and beliefs that were no longer serving me well. But they explain why I’ve drifted apart from so many of my friends from that time. A lot of them were alternative practitioners (and lovely women, every one) but these days I’d call myself a sceptic. I choose to consider this proof of the power of critical thinking. It’s clear from reading those old journals, and the blog I started in 2006, that it was very frightening for me to give up many of those old beliefs and that it was something I resisted mightily.
The the journals also mention forgetting things (moods mainly) across the span of a few days, and I recognise that. In some ways it’s good: as Jagger and Richards put it
Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone
But it’s also a bit unnerving. Neil Postman believed that technology sucks out our brains, and that we’ve been making fewer demands on our memories ever since Gutenberg first poured lead, tin and antimony into moulds and created movable type. Or less euro-centrically, since Bi Sheng set chisel to wood in 1040 or so. So it’s no surprise, given the wise words of the T-Shirt …
… that my journals give me better information about what I thought and felt than my memory does.
I feel I ought to start hand-writing a journal again. Blogging is too public. I had a nom de interweb for a while because my previous blog was more ranty and sweary than this one is and it also covered topics this blog doesn’t (socio-political ones, mainly) which aren’t appropriate for a professional or semi-professional blog.
It’s not just about privacy though. The journals are physically satisfying things to read and look at. My writing in them is legible (unlike the writing in my day-book) and although the metallic-gel-pen phase was a bit adolescent, the pages are pretty. At least I didn’t doodle with the gel pens.
So I should start hand-writing a journal again. But I know I won’t. Or not until I have something I need to work through and work out. But these days, I come to WordPress for that.
My, but this election suddenly got interesting…
I like seeing politicians sweat, and by Friday morning the body politic is going to smell like the collected jockstraps of the Six Nations touring teams after being left in a locker for a month. I shouldn’t be gleeful, but I am.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, go out and vote. I don’t care who you vote for, but put your X in a box or spoil your paper. Participate.
Own the government before they pwn you.
There are even tools of varying sophistication that will help you work out which party best represents your views.
None is perfect though they are reassuringly consistent in how they rated my views of the main parties. However, I discovered some big surprises in how closely my views match those of some of the smaller parties.
Vote on May 6th. Or spoil your paper if you want to register a protest. But go to the polling station, stand up and be counted.
There are so many reasons to vote, not least that there has never been a famine in a democracy.Think about that for a moment. Politicians will let you starve if they think they can get away with it. Voting is how we hold them to account. It’s how we keep them running scared, and we only get the chance once every four or five years.
If you don’t want to vote in favour of any party or you have issues with the first-past-the-post system then you can
Failing to vote is NOT a criticism of the status quo. Turning up and protesting is just that criticism.
This process of calling them to account is real: do you think the expenses scandal would have had the MPs running scared if we couldn’t hand out P45s come May 6th? Ask Edwina Currie, Neil Hamilton, Norman Lamont, David Mellor, Michael Portillo, Malcolm Rifkind and William Waldegrave whether they felt held to account when they lost their seats in 1997. There’s no clip of Michael Portillo’s defeat on YouTube, so here is Neil Hamilton’s defeat at Tatton:
Democracy is not just good for us, it’s good for the world.
Researching this entry, I came across a second startling observation: Democracies do not fight each other. This being the case, the health of our democracy matters, and in this light it is deeply worrying that turnout has been falling steadily since WWII.
This is a symptom of a lack of engagement with the political process which should worry us all.
Corporate lobbyists and party donors fill the power vacuum left by those who don’t vote.
Voting is the most direct way to undermine that, and lobbying your MP personally is even better. But you are busy, so support campaigning charities and other organisations which lobby for the issues you care about, even if all you do is donate once in a while. Put briefly, governments make bad laws because we let them get away with it.
Voting is a privilege people are still dying to obtain.
The list is a long one, from Emily Davison, the sufragette who flung herself under the horses at the Derby to Neda Agha-Soltan killed in the post-election riots in Iran, and on to the current violence in Sri Lanka. Look up “Election Violence” in Google News.
How privileged are you to live in a country where you have the right to change the government without fearing violence or retribution? How insultingly complacent is it not to exercise that right?
Don’t let them confuse protest with apathy – state your objections to the current system on your ballot paper.
You may prefer a voting system which offers you a ‘none of the above’ option, or some form of transferrable vote or proportional representation. If you are sincere, do the grown-up thing and support the Electoral Reform Society. But don’t assume that a passive-aggressive decision not to vote will be read as a protest. Use your ballot paper to make that protest. The Lib Dems have promoted electoral reform for decades, so you can vote for them or simply spoil your paper by stating your views about electoral reform. Spoiled papers are read by the returning officer and shown to the candidates. Ok, it’s not much of a protest, but spoiling your paper is a true statement of abstention and failing to turn up is not.
If you can’t tell which party best represents you views, take the Political Compass quiz.
Sure, it’s simplistic but it’s also illuminating if you find sound-bite politics confusing. The Political Compass maps parties in terms of the interests of the individual vs the state as well as the familiar left and right axis.
I was fascinated by the chart below which shows why so many Old Labour voters felt entirely disenfranchised by New Labour:
So there you have it. Go and vote on May 6th because it is your chance to hold the bleepers to account and because it changes things. Democracy is good for people and good for the world, it is precious. And finally, the right to vote is not just a significant privilege, it is also a duty.
A swift note on the Wikipedia links: Yes I know that Wikipedia entries are not authoritative enough to support the points I am making. But they’re informative and fairly neutral: I assume you are sufficiently resourceful to do your own digging and sufficiently intelligent to make up your own mind based on what you find.
To understand how to deal with the Roman Catholic Church’s silence about paedophilia and other forms of abuse we need to look at experiments performed by Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s. Milgram’s famous experiments were designed to understand how normal people could perpetrate abnormal acts such as those comitted in Nazi Germany.
The most relevant experiment was summed up by Raj Persaud in a review of Milgram’s biography in the BMJ:
Milgram found, surprisingly, that 65% of his subjects [who thought he was testing the link between punishment and learning], ordinary residents of New Haven, were willing to give apparently harmful electric shocks—up to 450 volts—to a pitifully protesting victim, simply because a scientific, lab coated authority commanded them to, and despite the fact that the victim did nothing to deserve such punishment. The victim was, in reality, a good actor who did not actually receive shocks, a fact that was revealed to the subjects at the end of the experiment. (My emphasis).
Many of Milgram’s experiments have been repeated. One interesting re-working of the experiment re-cast it as a Reality TV show and was reported by the BBC:
A disturbing French TV documentary has tried to demonstrate how well-meaning people can be manipulated into becoming torturers or even executioners.
The hugely controversial Game of Death … showed 80 people taking part in what they thought was a game show pilot. Before the show, they signed contracts agreeing to inflict electric shocks on other contestants. They were … asked to zap a man they believed was another contestant whenever he failed to answer a question correctly – with increasingly powerful shocks of up to 460 volts. …
Egged on by a glamorous presenter, cries of “punishment” from a studio audience and dramatic music, the overwhelming majority of the participants obeyed orders to continue delivering the shocks – despite the man’s screams of agony and pleas for them to stop…
Only 16 of the 80 participants stopped before the ultimate, potentially lethal shock.
In this case the experimenters had stripped out the back-story about the attempt to understand the mechanics of learning so the participants did not think they were acting for any kind of greater good. This was social pressure pure and complex.
These findings are central to understanding the scandal welling up from within the Roman Catholic Church.
There are two separate outrages here. Firstly there are the acts of abuse themselves, and we should remember we are not just talking about paedophilia, but also the bullying and abuse of children ‘cared for’ in by nuns in Church-run orphanages. And secondly there is the systemic cover-up of these acts to protect the perpetrators.
The whole thing has been one giant Milgram experiment lasting centuries, and viewed in this light, we have to concede that although the cover-ups were evil, they were not necessarily the acts of evil men. As Edmund Burke said:
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
These experiments tell us not to be surprised that few in the church stood up and said “Enough’s enough; I am not willing to collude in this any longer”. In fact it would have been surprising if anyone had: these are not college students or game-show contestants with little loyalty to those telling them to conform. These are people who have given their free will over to those they think of as their seniors and betters, whose world-view and entire careers are based on creating a reality out of the notions of spiritual authority and clerical obedience.
The question, of course, is how to break the Church’s authority on this issue? How do we make it clear that there is no ethical dilemma, no weighing up of “the career of a good priest and a good man” against justice for the abused and broken victims? That paedophilia and covering up paedophilia are not merely sins to absolved under the seal of the confessional, they are also crimes to be tried and punished in the secular world.
Oddly, I think the red-tops have a place here. Screaming headlines about “Paedo-Priests” serve to crack open the tight grip the Church has assumed over defining what is “right” and “wrong”, and it is crucial that we break that sense of god-given authority within the church. The bishops thought they were better judges than the secular authorities of what was right and wrong. As a result church members kept silent who looked to the bishops for leadership kept silent, like Milgram’s experimental subjects, because the bishops were indeed providing leadership. Once that grip is released and it is clear that society expects the Church to hand over its paedophiles for punishment, then the institutionalised dilemma of whether to protect the priest or the child goes away.
Besides which, those sort of headlines polarise the debate, and this is one of the few debates which requires less nuance and a lot more polarity.
BBC article about the French “Game Show” documentary (quoted above)