I have a soft spot for well-accomplished parody, and this is a nice piece from Weird Al Yankovic.
I've ranted before about how drug companies exist to make money rather than to save the human race from suffering, and since then I've come across some writings (notably from skeptic groups, whose stuff I broadly agree with) who place such thinking alongside conspiracy theorists who also believe that vaccination programs are part of a plot by world governments to control the population, etc., etc.. Hmmm...
Oh dear, I thought, am I really becoming flaky and paranoid? Will I wake up tomorrow believing that 9/11 was indeed an inside job, or that The Holocaust never really happened, or that the world's corporations and individual billionaires have far too much influence over how government policy is decided and implemented?
Actually the last part is very much something that I believe in - based in part upon the evidence of the widening and seemingly irreversible gap between the rich/very rich and everybody else. The other stuff, however - along with ideas about Roswell, alien lizards and Elvis - is clearly horse poo, ideas which spread among the world's less intellectually blessed through the wonderful world of the web (www?). SO, I experienced a moment of skepticism-induced doubt about my thoughts on the world's major drug companies...but only for a moment. I can't square the circle of having profit as the aim for any company which is supposed to produce life-enhancing/preserving/protecting drugs. The two do not make happy bed-fellows.
Then, yesterday, I came across the following short article from the CBC which independently proposes a similar idea.
Now; I am not an original thinker - I make no claims about being the first to realise anything (I just have moments which are firsts for ME), but it does give me a cozy feeling in my spleen (!) when I find mainstream media picking up on similar issues and running with them.
I used to work (in a reasonably elevated position - and I don't mean up a ladder) for a pharmacy retailer. Guess what the most expensive, most profitable drugs were? HIV/AIDS medications and Cancer medications. Diabetes medications are up there too. In the case of AIDS and HIV, the drugs seem to be very effective these days at prolonging life and almost completely controlling symptoms and possible complications. These drugs are therefore self-supporting in commercial terms: keep people alive and you keep the market alive. The same is true for diabetes meds.
For cancer, there is a slightly different scenario, in that a large proportion of the population (for which, read: the market) will suffer from some kind of cancer during their lives - usually in the latter quarter of a typical life span. While a person is being treated for cancer, the profits generated by each individual are pretty darned impressive; in commercial terms, each person is a great opportunity. I know how that sounds: it sounds horribly clinical and it sounds a little paranoid. However, make no mistake; I was present in meetings where patients are spoken of as merely numbers, nothing more than raw statistics - because profit-driven corporations think only in those terms. If you believe that drug companies regard the population as individuals deserving of their compassion, frankly; you're not thinking straight.
While individual doctors and nurses and other health care providers tend to be compassionate people who experience their patients in individual ways and AS individuals, hospital boards and managers do not - in order to function as business units, they simply cannot afford the time to do so. Profit is only about the numbers game; compassion doesn't - can't come into it.
So, I find it actually rather easy to accept that the drug companies (massive, multi-national money-making machines that they are) find little to attract them to really finding cures for many of our most blighting illnesses, when such afflictions represent cash-cows for the business.
Once again: with all the money available out there, why is that cancer research funding is so heavily supported through charitable foundations? Why are projects to eradicate malaria being funded privately? How many times have we heard about cancer treatment 'breakthroughs', only for them to disappear into the mists of time?
If it's a question of media coverage - if the messages simply aren't getting through - then shame on the media and the drug companies for not making sure that messages get through, but somehow, I doubt that it's the case. Just as alternative energy never seems to make it past the cottage industry stage when regulated by governments subject to massive pressure from oil and gas companies, the chances for medical breakthroughs to make it to the population may be limited by the interests of the drug giants, for whom it makes no sense to eradicate a major source of demand for their most profitable products.
It's a weird, corrupt and cynical world out there in the sphere of global capitalism; if it makes money it's a good thing. That kind of ethical standpoint is something that more of us could do with waking up to, and taking notice of. Rich people and rich companies don't often get to be that way by being compassionate, empathic or, I suspect, ethical.
For the last couple of weeks, the veteran entertainers known collectively as 'The Pythons' have been doing their thing on stage for what is billed as the very last time. The theatre has been packed every night, and by all accounts the audiences have had a high old time. It's all very cosy and lovely, darling. However, as a fan of the Monty Python style of comedy, I find myself quite glad to have been unable to attend - or even be tempted to buy a ticket or two.
I think that The Pythons are a group of talented and really (at times) very funny individuals, most have whom have done their best work while working together. They all have their individual strengths as writers and performers, and I'd be somewhere near the front of the queue of people waiting to credit them with a major role in revolutionising British comedy (Spike Milligan notwithstanding). Their work from the 1960s through to the 1990s was always bright, irreverent, mildly anarchic and...well, different. They were pioneers initially, subsequently morphing into veterans and masters of their craft(s). I admire their achievements in the full knowledge that they're on a different intellectual and creative level to myself.
....Which is why I find this 'final' stage show a little unsettling. From what I've heard and read about the show, it's almost entirely comprised of vintage material; forty-plus-year-old silliness now performed by septuagenarians to an audience of the converted. It's not really very subversive any more, is it? Time was that depicting a policeman as a closet gay and accepting an offer from a man on the street was shocking and cheeky and 'oh my!'....but now? Well, now, the joke is old - they were among the first (if not THE first) to be so bold in their comedy, and once they broke the seal on such jokes, well...that was that.
Over the years I've enjoyed periodically watching the old TV series: some of the early stuff was actually really terrible, but they went with it, showed some gumption (and boobs) and got away with it as soon as the good stuff started happening. They were brave, they had energy, the work had energy and excitement - mostly because it was new and refreshing. Much of what they did only worked on a screen, and I still regularly treat myself to 'The Holy Grail' or 'The Life of Brian', and I enjoy both movies immensely (I still invoke 'The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch' on a regular basis)and I still count myself as a 'follower', so to speak, but the idea of these old men (let's face it; that's really what they are now) re-hashing some of their earliest, most-repeated and best-known material for a theatre full of admirers seems...well...more than a little cynical - exploitative, even.
I'm not a performer, I'm no kind of authority on entertainment (or anything else, really), but as an entertainment sponge, I must say that I'm disappointed. Monty Python used to be about originality, about subversion, about tweaking the establishment's nose and waiting around until the establishment realised what was happening, and then laughing in their faces. The stage show - again; old material trotted out for the millionth time - despite how funny it may be to see the performers 'corpsing', fluffing their lines or ad-libbing, is not new. It's - and I hate to say this - a cop-out, a sell-out (in more ways than one, apparently), and while I acknowledge the right of these grand old veterans to do what they have (and that a great many people have been excited enough to buy tickets, and subsequently enjoy themselves), I struggle to think of any other comic performers who would fall back on material that first made them famous half a lifetime ago.
They are all talented, wickedly intelligent men, people who have always been quick to speak their mind about any number of subjects, and I have hardly ever found room to disagree with their various pronouncements, but this final flogging of the unwashed masses' wallets seems to me to be a cynical bridge too far. I'm surprised that they are willing to do 'The Dead Parrot', 'The Lumberjack Song' or 'The Four Yorkshiremen' sketches any longer. I thought that they were/are better than that - in fact I am sure that's the case...which only makes it worse, really.
The eyes in the picture are mine. I took this picture a few moments ago with my handy-dandy smartphone doohickey. I suppose (gritting my teeth now as I type)....well....(deep breaths).... it could be classified as a......... 'selfie'. OUCH. That hurt to type - I can't stand the bloody word. Anyway, it started out as a full face shot, but several things struck me after the fact, things which have required me to alter the image significantly. Oh...and I'm not that red, it's a bit enhanced for effect.
1. Possibly because I was looking at the phone being held not very far away from my face, I looked boz-eyed. I've always harboured a secret fear that I am in fact a bit cross-eyed, and that people have always been too nice to point it out (given all my other physical afflictions). I'm therefore a little sensitive about it, OK? Why are you looking at me like that?
2. I looked like Bert off Sesame Street. I'd love to put this down to the slightly fish-eye nature of the smartphone camera lens, but I have an uncomfortable feeling that this may not be entirely true. So, the image had to be cropped, which happily seems to have mostly rectified the boz-eyed effect too. WIN!
3. I would prefer to maintain a certain degree of anonymity for when this blog hits the computer of someone with nothing better to do, who then shares it with the rest of the planet (it would have to be the type of person who has about 4000 'friends' and 16,000 'likes' on facebook), upon which it goes viral. Or, more realistically, somebody I know may accidentally happen upon it, and I'd rather keep some pretence of being anonymous to avoid my/their/anyone else's embarrassment over the drivel I pour forth. Hopefully nobody ever looks at my eyes...
The eyes are my 'angry' eyes, usually ably assisted by my more than adequate eyebrows (which, by the way, I am increasingly having to trim in order to stop them looking like a pair of hairy hands growing out of my face).
Why angry? Well, to illustrate my point/question. I started off down this trail a long time ago, jumped off it, then back on, then off it again. The trail/issue is this: being patient/nice with people who are, frankly, arseholes.
I just read an interesting article by a disabled comedian (he has cerebral palsy and uses a motorised wheelchair) who explains why he has given up being nice to well-meaning but patronising people who try to proactively 'help' him. It got me thinking about being 'nice' in general, and why I've been doing a great deal of it since I came to Canada in 2002.
The other day I was finishing a night shift at work. As usual, it hadn't been particularly busy, but that meant that the night had dragged, and I was rather tired (it being the last of a four night run, and - mostly - me being a bit of an old bastard). The person who was due to relieve me is something of a thorn in my side. Indolent, dishonest, manipulative and devious (I can't remember why I don't like her, though), she has been working in that building (part time) for five years or so, and has about three times more hours under her belt than I do. She's a little over half my age, and seems to believe that she is the mistress of all she surveys. I know (evidenced) that she engineered a former colleague being fired, reporting him for conduct which I have subsequently obtained irrefutable evidence of her routinely engaging in. Like I said; it's hard to work out why I feel less than enamoured with her, really.
Over the last year, she has been downright offensive in manner, dishonest to me (about stuff she doesn't realise I know the truth about) and has engineered a very useful and frankly inappropriate friendship with someone else in the building. This friendship has recently borne fruit when she was given an opportunity based largely upon her friend's recommendation. It's not just me; a colleague (same age, same kind of life experiences) has experienced almost identical - and totally independent - interactions with her over the same time period (we started work in the building at the same time). In the course of more than twelve months, I've had one 'blunt' conversation with her about the way she has treated me (i.e. with barely concealed contempt), during which she burst into tears/sobs and subsequently went running to our supervisor about.
Since then, I've worn my patient face/persona. I've sought to be civil and occasionally attempted to broaden or improve our professional relationship by being proactively friendly - trying to open up conversations about the workplace and the work we do. It's been to no avail; she's responded almost uniformly with grunts, silence or smart-arse remarks which seem to be intended to put me in my place (which place is that?) or reassure herself that she is more experienced in that building. Sharing any insight or information that she doesn't already have is met with the universal put-down: "Oh I know."
Why the HELL have I been so pathetically patient with this obnoxious piece of humanity? I'm not sure whether I've been more angry with her for her behaviour, or with myself for not reacting the way that I traditionally would have. In the past - particularly as a copper - I'd have addressed the first such piece of antagonism directly and bluntly (along the lines of "Just who the **** do you think you're talking to?"), but since I came to Canada I've consistently poured honey instead of acid. It's not really honest to how I feel.
Part of it, I think, is because of a perceived loss of status. Being a cop is an important job, and it's a high-status role in society. I lost that sense of professional worth when I left the cops, and I think that to some degree it affected how I feel about myself within society; perhaps a little dis-enabled. A (bigger) part of it since I began working outside of the cops is that I've always worked with supervisors who are either inept, lack integrity or who have little concept of what is actually going on around them, and therefore feel threatened by anyone with a functioning pair of neurons. Some have fitted into all three categories. The effect has been to make it rather difficult to get across reasoned arguments and observations about the workplace; I've had ideas stolen, been told that meetings at which I was present never actually occurred, and told outright that my presence is indeed a threat. In contrast, when looking for someone to work with or under my supervision, I actually want a very smart person...
Now, by choice, I'm working in a low-level job, and it seems that some of my colleagues (and one in particular) struggle to understand who I am or what I've experienced in life. I think, perhaps, that it's time that I lost my patience with that; we're all adults, and I've been soaking up the disrespect/contempt for a year in this particular situation. My job now is simple, a little repetitive and routinely boring, with very short bursts of only mild excitement. It's time to stop being Mr. Nice Guy with the people who have never made an attempt to be welcoming or accepting of the new boy. It's time to step up, frighten the crap out of my supervisors and start being the real me.
On this last occasion, my colleague was late to relieve me. She is almost routinely late, and the word in the building is that it has always been thus. Despite this kind of attitude, through manipulative tactics (which I've seen for myself) and judicious application of effort only when the boss is around, she is something of a golden girl. I disagree, of course. When she rolled in late, I had already begun to do the work that she was expected to do. She came in without a word; said simply nothing to me. It was the final straw.
Without boring you with the details, I voiced my opinion and she switched immediately into 'whatever' mode, dismissing the entire issue. Then she offered me an excuse for being late (fire alarm in her residential building) which she's used on at least two occasions before (once with me, once with a colleague). Her default position is dismissive, and that's where she went again, so I've warned her now that if it happens again I'm reporting the matter. I avoid telling tales about people I work with, but what's finally dawned on me is that this young woman is affecting me emotionally when I'm at work, and if I'm anticipating seeing her at work. the reason for that is that I'm not being honest about how I feel about her behaviour. It's the old 'line in the sand' moment. I should have done this some time ago.
All of which means; I may be looking for a new job sometime soon!
Funny thing, self-esteem.
Just today I heard a brief description of one person’s dark thoughts while in the grip of deep depression. This man is excruciatingly intelligent, accomplished and beloved as a famous actor, comedian, writer, director, etc., etc. Frankly, it makes me sick just how accomplished he is! I don’t mean that, of course, I find his work compelling and I always enjoy watching and listening to him do his thing…
Part of his description of depression really slapped me around the chops and resonated with me, because he was verbalizing, almost word for word, thoughts that I have sometimes had about myself. It made me think that perhaps it’s a good idea to be honest about these thoughts in case anyone out there experiences them too (I’m working the basis that they do) and mistakenly feels that they‘re in a minority of one. So; here goes.
I’ve tended to worry about stuff as long as I can remember thinking. As a kid I worried about small things, but as I grew up…well I carried on worrying about the small stuff. The small stuff is the big stuff – I’m certain of that. However, before I digress, I’ll break the habit of a lifetime and get back onto topic quickly. Worrying isn’t the same for me as being depressed, although for my mum it often seemed to be that one inexorably led to the other. I’ve always worried – about work, money, relationships, nuclear Armageddon, is-this-plane-going-to-crash… but then again, there have been times when I know that almost without any doubt, I wasn’t worried; I was significantly depressed.
The first time that I was (probably clinically) depressed was when I was a young police officer, aged only 19/20, and I began to be quite mercilessly, vindictively and malevolently bullied by my immediate supervisor. For a number of reasons, at that time I felt trapped in a vicious circle of shame, fear and rejection, and felt quite alone – I felt that, in a classic bullying situation, I couldn’t tell anyone about what was happening. The shame of the bullied can be a very powerful thing. Away from work, my girlfriend and my family, I cried, lay awake at night and constantly panicked about the next great shaming episode that was bound to happen, and where my burgeoning adult life was headed. For eighteen months I cried on the way to work, and on the way home after each humiliation that the man in question put me through. Adult life seemed impossible; something that I couldn’t do.
The second time was following the shocking break up of an intense relationship. I descended into a place that I can thankfully barely remember, but which on two occasions at least, almost took me out of this world. The third was during a particularly difficult – in fact indescribably horrible – period of my life when someone very close to me abruptly disappeared and never returned – at least, not as the same person. This was a protracted period (several years) during which I became increasingly stressed by the emotional load I was carrying and consequently I began to behave in ways which with hindsight bear little resemblance to who I consider myself to be. That, by the way, is a very strange thing to look back upon.
Three times, then, I’ve visited the dark side of my being for extended periods of time, but all through my adult life I’ve been susceptible to moments of terrifying blackness; places from which the climb back out is always difficult, but made worthwhile because of my good fortune to always have a spark of hope buzzing around somewhere in my otherwise largely empty noggin. I think I’d be in trouble if it wasn’t for that – I’m fortunate to have always found my way out, and to have been able to keep functioning. I know that my experiences pale in comparison to that of many other people, but they’re still real, still relevant.
I go to that place – less often these days than ever before – typically when I’m feeling emotionally vulnerable, and it’s seemingly fuelled by my life-long difficulty in accepting that I’m worth loving. If that sounds annoyingly pathetic, well I’m not sorry because I’m being honest about this, and if you don’t like it, go away now.
If I’ve upset my wife or if my kids are facing difficulties of any sort, it always tends to feel like my fault (whether it subsequently turns out to have been, or not), which sparks off my worthlessness spiral. In that spiral, I am utterly without redeeming features, I’m a complete failure, unlovable, unpleasant, horrible, nasty, vicious, hideous, ridiculous and contemptible. Within that spiral (from which panic emerges within seconds), I am on the cusp of that thing I fear most; being left utterly alone, to live what remains of my sorry wretched life without love or comfort, and deserving every second of that torture. Everything is my fault, I am responsible for everything negative within and around me, and I deserve what’s coming.
These aren’t abstract thoughts; these are representations of feelings within and about my self – these things ambush my sense of self and push it around like bullies in the school playground, hurting and hurting and hurting more. This is where I go sometimes, and this is the precipice upon which I stand far more often than I care to remember – not for long, thankfully, but often enough to each time strip away what remains of my confidence just a little. In this place there isn’t anything except pain, horror and fear. It is a bad place and I would rather not go there ever again, but I stand and stare into it at least once each week.
I am, however, very fortunate. Like a fool who thinks he’s drowning when he really isn’t, I thrash my way to the side of the emotional pool and grab onto the safety rail, where sanity waits. Sometimes – most often - it’s merely seconds before I find my way there, sometimes it’s minutes and occasionally it takes hours for me to escape the deep water. No matter how quickly I get there, there is always a recovery period. I’m lucky because I always do emerge; I have an escape strategy which works for me - the hard part is remembering it in the moments of panic.
I’d be happier if I forgot how to get to the dark place and maybe that’s finally happening, because I don’t go there nearly as often as I used to. My life, surrounded by people who do indeed love me, is pretty darned good and I am a lucky man – and lucky to appreciate that I’m lucky! Intellectually I know that my experience is unique to me, but the kind of experience I have had and occasionally still have is anything but unique. We’re human, we’re interesting and every day is different.
Sometimes I get a little lost, but loving is my lifeline; I have a lot of loving to do – way too much loving to be wasting time and energy panicking. What I get out of loving makes life worth living; makes every day worth experiencing and makes the future worth anticipating.
Note: There should be a picture here but I'm experiencing technical difficulties of the I'm-going-to-throw-this***ing-thing-out-of-the***ing-window-in-a-minute variety....
I'm spurred into outrage and indignation (which I suppose is a recipe for righteous indignation now I come to think of it) by a news story about the current drought in California;
It's not the fact that there's a drought which moves me to splutter, wave my arms about and shake my walking apparatus at passers by (who then, startled, cross the street, stare at my house and start calling someone on the phone - after which, by sheer coincidence, the police often turn up to stare at my house and shake their heads) Oh no.
It's the idea that in the middle of a drought, people are still stupid enough - make that mind-bogglingly THICK, obtuse and reckless enough - to believe that watering their patch of grass is still an acceptable thing to do.
Let's think about this. Water; essential for all life on this planet to survive and prosper, when in short supply, being used to keep gardens looking green. If those gardens contain food plants, it makes good sense to keep them watered (if you haven't already discovered, I'm a fan of food security), but if the garden contains merely a lawn and ornamental flowers/trees etc., such behaviour constitutes nothing less than wilfull waste. Disagree with me? Tough.
Ornamental gardens are UNnecessary. All very attractive I'm sure, but unnecessary. They are preferences, wishes and 'wants', but they are not needed. Ornamental gardens arose from society's desire to harness, control and stylize nature, to bring nature into the home, to make our surrounding idyllic. They are largely responsible for the spread of non-native plant species around the globe (often with detrimental results for the local environment), and they are a huge resource sink. Perhaps chief among the sins is the almost pathological regard many gardeners hold for their lawns.
My home country has in the past been described as a nation of gardeners, and there are certainly a great many painstakingly manicured ornamental gardens and lawns over there. A pristine, uniform lawn is one of the chief elements in which many English gardeners take pride. In order to maintain the perfect lawn, much effort goes into weeding, weed-killing, aerating, trimming, de-mossing and of course, watering.
In a world (don't worry, this isn't a dramatic movie trailer script) where the human population is reaching alarming levels of growth and is therefore beginning to feel the impact of the relative scarcity of fresh water, this kind of practice is complete folly, and I would submit; irresponsible. The upkeep of the perfect suburban lawn, itself an aping of the vast grassy expanses of immodest country houses (but in miniature form) is indefensible when drinking water - for man or animal is scarce. The mighty Columbia River in the western USA is, for example, in dire straights due to the amount of water taken out of it at various points along its length, in particular in the south west, where the city of Phoenix (a city in a jen-you-wine desert) sprinkles and waters its municipal grass verges and allows the resident population of desert-deniers to do likewise. Madness.
I once had the dubious pleasure to fly into Las Vegas (once I got there I couldn't wait to fly out again) and as we descended into the landing I was able to see from the window just how incongruous numerous vivid patches of green appeared. They were of course golf courses...in the desert. As far as the eye could see in every direction there was nothing but desert scrub, but in our wisdom, our species had decided to devote untold millions of litres of water in order to create fields for men and women to hit a ball around with sticks.
The irony, of course, is that grass is perhaps the hardiest plant out there. Among its traits are a willingness to be walked upon, a resistance to being frequently cut down to tiny lengths and of course, an ability to withstand periods of drought. Many people rush to their doctor for a fresh prescription of 'get-out-of-my-consulting-room-candy '(otherwise known as antidepressants) if their lawns turn brown, in complete disregard for the fact that grass turns brown and becomes dormant in drought conditions. Different varieties have different tolerances of course, but grass turning brown does NOT necessarily mean that its dead...
Grass doesn't belong everywhere. the natural vegetation cover for most of the Northern Hemisphere is trees anyway. By fanatically growing the darned stuff, all we're doing is holding back natural growth (or: weeds), damaging local ecosystems and depleting water resources in a way which I'm sure will have our descendants shaking their heads in wonder.
Grass is nice to lie on, pleasing to gambol through (like a spring lamb) and handy if you want to chew on something without actually eating it, while looking like a redneck. It's food for many livestock animals (especially if they're allowed outside to eat it, which is ANOTHER rant) and the genus is the basis for many of our staple foods. If it's food; all well and good, but lawn grass isn't worth ruining the world for.
The idiot in the picture above is a very well known man in the good ol' U.S of A. He's a long-time evangelical preacher and fool who thinks nothing of blaming natural or man-made disasters on things such as Satan's tendency to not be very friendly, or God's divine punishment for thinking the wrong things. He has recently, in answer to a call-in question on TV, decided that a child's stomach pains are due to some unnamed person practising withcraft and blighting the unfortunate fellow. Quite how this was manifested is unclear; did, for example:
1. The witch cast a pain-inducing spell on the boy, or
2. The witch cast a spell to make the boy THINK he has stomach pain, or
3. The witch cast a spell to make the boy eat that suspiciously smelly burrito out of the fridge, or
4. Is the witch an employee of McDonalds?
We are left to decide for ourselves just how the evil, anonymous witch perpetrated the deed, but make no mistake; it's witchcraft. Thank you Mr. Robertson for steering us away from the path of reality and sanity.
This particular idiot is a man you may know as David Icke, a former professional soccer player and sports presenter on the BBC. David has become really rather famous (and really rather wealthy) through his public assertions about aliens, jews, consciousness and a great deal of meaningless twaddle dressed up as philosophy and insight.
I grudgingly admire David because I suspect that underneath a startlingly effective disguise, there lurks a shrewd businessman who believes none of the poo that comes out of his mouth or his word processor (boy, does that phrase make me sound old...it's OK, I am) and is quietly raking in the money (his net worth is reputed to be in the eight figure mark). Why would I like that? Well mainly because he is benefitting from the tendency of a significant proportion of the heaving masses to believe complete rubbish, and frankly, if one is prepared to hang one's hat upon bullshit such as alien lizards running the world, well then I think a bit of exploitation of your mindless stupidity is due!
Which brings me to the issue at hand: why do significant numbers of people choose to believe what amounts to utter nonsense?
Both of the above men have made themselves very well known by their outspoken ideas (genuine or otherwise), which always seem to provoke a lot of publicity for their respective services and/or products. Their motivation for being controversial can be understood in that light - or indeed, if either of them actually does believe the garbage that comes out of their mouths (which would probably mean that they're low down on the rationality spectrum). However, what motivates someone to believe in either a) witchcraft or b) alien lizards ruling the world is probably something I could apply for a large research grant to study. Of course, if I apply to the wrong lizard (they're everywhere, apparently) for the grant, or if that lizard is secretly a witch, then I might have a problem.
I used to have a similar belief system: I used to believe in an allegedly benevolent but threatening god who smote the human race at will, controlled everything but let us do stupid, sinful shit, and then punished us (i.e., worked in 'mysterious ways'). The god was so mean, he (yes, it was a 'he') had constructed the universe in such a way as to grant us either everlasting life in heaven where we were indescribably happy, or everlasting hell, where the suffering would simply never, ever stop.
The list of things that I was expected to do and not do to garner enough favour to avoid everlasting torture seemed endless, unreasonable, and much of it made little sense. I believed it all, for a long time...because my parents told me as an impressionable child that this was absolutely the truth. I trusted my parents, I trusted the people whom they trusted and whom they assured me were telling me the truth. It was only as an adult, and when I finally - FINALLY shook my head clear and began challenging the things that I had blindly believed, that I began to accept how much I had been told was either false or unknowable, even though it had been presented as known.
One of my reactions was annoyance with myself - the truth had been there for many years for me to embrace, and I'd avoided taking the rational step despite peeking through the keyhole at it once or twice.
Why? In my case, my religious belief - indoctrinated though it was - had become a part of my life. I thought that it had become a part of ME. I was scared about leaving it behind; firstly in case I was wrong, and this god whom I was supposed to love, would punish me somehow, and secondly in case by doing so I changed ME for the worse. In retrospect, however, what forced me to wake up was the constant barrage of reality which contradicted the bronze age superstitions that I had been taught to follow. Being constantly faced with facts and reality forced me to think rationally and hence I became religion-free and much, much happier. Rather than being something which I had been forced to somehow retrospectively earn the right to, life became something to enjoy.
My personal experience - of reality forcing its way into my thick head - leaves me wondering what stops other people with functioning neurons from realising the same kind of thing - about religion in general, and about people such as these two outstanding arseholes in particular. Reality is all around us - facts, solid evidence - ALL around us. Perhaps the question is not why we believe in superstitious nonsense, but why we do not believe in what our senses tell us is real?
Some interesting stories in the news today, so here are the headlines and my brief reactions:
1. Pope Francis has admitted that 'about' 2% of the catholic clergy are paedophiles:
An observation or two: first, where were this man's predecessors on this subject, and why did they not take it on, head on? Failing to act (especially in the light of so many accounts of abuse) is nothing short of complicity and make sme wonder whether they were just protecting their friends, their supporters or themselves from such allegations. Possibly all three.
Pope John Paul II a saint? How disgusting.
Second: how can the church have any credibility - especially for 'the faithful' in such circumstances. Their cover has been blown in spectacular style.
Third: all evidence of paedophile activity in the clergy must now be handed over to the police (in whichever country) for investigation and prosecution without favour. The clergy does not have any protection under the law simply because they purport to serve an unproven deity.
Fourth: The catholic church has no moral authority. None whatsoever.
2. US labs are reported to have mishandled potentially lethal biohazards on a number of occasions:
Fire those responsible and prosecute them under any appropriate statute, then put into place systems which eliminate the possibility of these kinds of reckless behaviours ever being possible again. This stuff is way, way too important to not bear the harshest penalties for disregarding the protocols and thereby putting untold numbers of lives at risk.
A special pat on the back for all the movers ansd shakers in our past who have gone to such lengths to develop all the countless ways to kill people in the nastiest ways possible. You have ruined more lives than you could ever have counted in your lifetimes.
3. The Church of England (protestant) faces its own child sex abuse allegations:
So the issue isn't a catholic one then; it's (so far) a Christian one. What does that say - not about the religion itself - about the men who are drawn to a priest's life? Many are dysfuntional at the least, I suspect. I think this is fairly self-descriptive...
The Archbishop of Canterbury (a man opposed to allowing terminally ill people to end their own lives at a time of their choosing) is 'braced' for revelations - which is code for knowing what's in the pipeline. He's also trying to equate the church with any other institutions, which is hilarious when you consider how 'special' and different the church regards itself in every other way - it has God's authority, after all....doesn't it? Hypocrisy of the worst sort.
Religion: nothing more than humans controlling other humans, and with a staggering history of abusing the vulnerable.
4. Church of England (again), having a good old worry about allowing that alien species (women) to become bishops:
Soooo...women have been allowed to be priests for twenty years...but as yet they are barred from becoming bishops? Kudos for taking the step of at least allowing women to be in the clergy (something that the catholics can't handle at all) but I'd love to hear a rational argument for preventing women from becoming bishops. What can the argument possibly be in this day and age? I can only assume that there is a theological reason, which in turn would seem to indicate that their god is a sexist (as if we didn't know that already)...
It's all a bit religious isn't it...but they make their own headlines and make themselves look foolish. The people who follow such people and listen to what they have to say only have themselves to blame for being disappointed. We no longer live in a world where the church controls what the people discover and know...it's about time that religion is exposed for what it is: nonsense.
I'm facing a bit of a dilemma. I'm genuinely not sure what to do, although fortunately the march of time is on my side and I don't need to make a decision immediately.
I work for my local city council. As part of my contract, I was required to join the local union; there wasn't a choice - no union, no job. I've never come across that before but hey-ho, I thought, what the hell. I'm not allergic to unions (they are after all founded in the fight for fundamental human rights and the appropriate treatment of workers) but I have never belonged to one before. I witnessed some pretty unpleasant stuff in some of the companies I have worked for (example: union recruits members of staff at one particular store and that store is peremptorily closed by the company almost immediately) and I do believe in the concept of unions.
The local teacher's union, however, is a militant, greedy and utterly self-serving organization which, despite its members enjoying some of the best working conditions I have ever come across, continues to bleat about their lot and regularly holds students to ransom in order to get what they want. I despise their activities and my puny inability to do anything about them except silently fume at the pickets outside schools and furiously refuse to sound my car horn in support, or wave back at them when they wave at me. I told you: puny.
My employer (the district of ........) historically negotiates collective bargaining agreements with my union every three years or so. These agreements set down working conditions, wages and all other parameters for the management of the city's work force. The last agreement ran out in January, and the current council (as arrogant a bunch of arseholes as I have ever seen in office) has spectacularly failed to come to the negotiating table to do what is necessary. The first meeting was in April, three months too late. The second was in May and the next will be in September. So far what we know (in black and white) is that the council is seeking sixty four concessions (that's a six followed by a four: wages, holidays, sick days, sick pay...together with a huge number of working conditions concessions) without offering one single crumb of comfort. No negotiation, then; simply demands.
In the paltry 'negotiations' which have already taken place (merely an exchange of principles from what I can gather), they have only modified their demands on twelve of the sixty four issues. Modified, by the way, means slightly reduced, not removed.
I am pleased to hear that the union (a small branch of a very large organization) is going to fight the quite ridiculous and unfair proposals being put forward by the council. It's clear to me that as a local election approaches in November, they are timing the negotiations to be able to demonstrate how 'strong' they are being, how fiscally responsible they are, and how they are willing to take on the evil unions. It's political posturing, but it is playing with the lives of 350 people. I really, really dislike politicians.
The dilemma I face is this: it looks like we are going to be called out on strike if the council stands firm. I actually believe in the cause, but I've never been on strike before. Not going to work (to fulfill a role which the community never sees but is nevertheless worthwhile) will be somewhat challenging on principle enough, but the idea of picketing is something which I really struggle with. It seems that unions 'instruct' people to picket...well I baulk at the idea of being told to do stuff like that, and I really don't know how to handle it. I want to work and I want to be paid properly for it. I very much believe that the council is wrong and that a strike may be the only way to fight back against those idiots, but picketing? Standing outside my workplace waving placards? At the very least, there is a significant chance of looking like a complete tosser (and I can do that on my own time, thank you very much). At worst, there's the chance of looking like a militant, unreasonable tw*t.
I don't know if I can do that. I always tended to think that pickets were the most militant people, the most unreasonable and the most obnoxious. Perhaps I was wrong - perhaps I need to re-evaluate the whole idea. because of the path I've chosen (a simple life; a life where I'm at home as much as I can be) I have picked a job which doesn't pay me a great deal of money, and I can't afford to be paid less for my time. I feel like I have few choices here but even so...picketing?
Raised during the seventies in the UK, when powerful unions all but castrated an already stumbling manufacturing sector, I watched union power being abused and used without thought for the long term (much like the local teacher's union these days), and I suppose that's where my misgivings have their origins. I don't want to feel like an acolyte of Len Murray or Arthur Scargill, but I do want fairness in my life, and that's what this particular fight will be about. I've probably got a couple of months to chew this over (unless, of course, the council sees sense and backs off, but that's about as likely as finding pictures of Mary Whitehouse in a Playboy Bunny Girl outfit...oh jeez, why did my imagination just do that?).
Time to get the worry beads out and do some hard thinking....
I am...aghast, that is. rather than me explain what I'm aghast at, please check out the following story from the BBC...
I'm struggling mightily with this, for a couple of reasons (although more might occur to me as I ramble along). First, the issue itself: 17 year old (legally not yet an adult) in a relationship with a 15 year old. I doubt very much that this is a particularly unusual turn of events. Reading between the lines a little, it seems that both parties have been exchanging racy/naughty pictures of themselves. Again (and feel free to call me open-minded here!), I would guess that this is not a particularly unique event. Young people are highly sexualized these days, all of which is sanctioned by existing laws and let's be honest here - social norms around personal freedom, fashion and available media, whether it be web or TV in particular. I wonder whether, in the grand scheme of things, a 17 year old (still legally a minor himself) exchanging in such activity with a 15 year old really requires this kind of action by the authorities. It seems - to put it mildly - very much like using a steam hammer to break open a ripe tomato.
Don't get me wrong here; if my daughter (almost 16 herself) was engaging in this kind of thing I would of course be challenged by it, but much less so if her boyfriend were 17 than if he were, for example, 27. I don't know how intimate she and her boyfriend (he's the same age as her) have become, but I know that she is bright, intelligent, and has chosen a young man who respects her and is a considerate and affectionate kid. As a result, I don't have many qualms around that subject. I am placing my trust in them both to behave responsibly.
I remember being a teenager, being filled with hormones and desires and urges and unrequited feelings. In the late 70s and early 80s we had - by comparison - precious little freedom or even means of communication. Since we have (well, most of us, I'm guessing) handed our teenagers the means to communicate by voice, text and image, I don't find it very surprising that one of our species' most fundamental drives is being demonstrated and developed in this way. Like teenage sex, it's simply going to happen. Personally I've always followed the line of educating my kids, not making sex a taboo subject, and always being available to answer questions or offer advice. They have of course self-educated to a large degree (again; it's going to happen!) but they have grown up with a sensible - if age-appropriate - approach to the subject.
My second - and perhaps surprisingly, more fundamental - issue is with the proposal to enforce the gathering of evidence; i.e. obtaining photographs of the young mans erect penis. I suspect that this breaks new ground for evidence gathering in such a case. I've never heard of this being done either willingly or otherwise. I can't help but wonder how the prosecution hopes to encourage the young man to obtain a voluntary erection under such circumstances (which would not, I submit, be conducive to arousal). Perhaps realising the potential for failure, it sounds like they are prepared to forcibly conduct a procedure upon this kid in order to obtain the evidence they need!
I can only assume that neither the boy or the girl is being cooperative with the investigation, but given that the investigation itself seems heavy-handed at best, I can't say that I blame them. Should the authorities go ahead and assault this boy in this way I believe it would be a retrograde step for law enforcement and for American society. The prosecution seems ill-advised, but the proposal to inject this young man's penis to force an erection which they will then photograph just makes my skin crawl. This is an unwarranted invasion of the boy's body - how far can evidence gathering be allowed to go?
Finally...only the boy is being charged, although the implication is that they have exchanged images and so technically (and let's be honest, this is a prosecution based upon technicality, not sound reason) she too is in possession of 'illegal' images. She, however, is not being prosecuted. Hmmmm. Of course I may be wrong here but the picture that's building is not one of abuse, but of not-untypical teenage exploration or playing. Even though it may make some of us uncomfortable, that's what it sounds like, and it happens all the time. Perhaps these two are in love. Perhaps their love will last and they will continue their relationship into their futures...and the authorities are stamping all over them.
Maybe the real story here is my generation's inability to understand the world. Teenagers (probably for ever), in the grip of hormones and developing bodies and feelings, experiment with sex, by any means they can access. We won't be able to stop them doing this - and why should we? As the parents and mentors of this age group, it's our responsibility to educate, advise and guide today's teenagers (and the teenagers of tomorrow) about attitudes to sex. The risks, the joys, the benefits and the pitfalls can and should be made very clear to young people. Making sex (after all, the reason why any of us is here) some kind of dirty evil secret only makes it more compelling and interesting to explore.
In the meantime; young people showing off their bodies to one another by phone or computer? You know what; I can accept that - like I said, whether we like it or not, it's going to happen. At least doing it remotely is safer than getting to third base on the first date!
I've started a facebook page for easier discourse - lots of people seem to be reading these days, so let's start having dialogue, shall we?
Insert your own expletive. Perhaps he needs to be violated in the most intimately horrific way to understand how offensive this smart-arse question is.
Now here is a problem of which I am reminded at least once a day. The picture above is a strong clue to the area of human operations to which I am addressing my not-so-keen intellect and my 25-watt searchlight of insight. Genitals are, of course, considered by many in what used to be called 'polite society', something of a taboo subject. This rather odd when you consider that we all have genitals, whether or not we are satisfied with them, and whether or not they work properly or as desired. They are simply working parts, just like any other piece of our anatomy, yet because - primarily - of their inevitable involvement in the acts of naughtiness that apes seem to find so much satisfaction within, genitals have for many years been almost unmentionable.
Lately - certain in the years between me being a sniggering adolescent and the present (a sniggering 49 year-old), the talk and imagery of genitals has become more mainstream (ever seen the UK television series 'Embarrassing Bodies?) . Don't misunderstand me; I have not taken to waving my manhood at passers by, but I have perceived a lightening in the previous horror at the mention of the words 'penis' or 'vulva'. On that note, however, I do wish that more people would use the word 'vulva' instead of erroneously using 'vagina', which let's face it, is like calling one's anus one's rectum. Wow, I'm on a genital roll; I may just as well say 'scrotum' and 'labia', and I would hate to compound any sexual myths by forgetting the clitoris.
Odd how these words carry such heavy weight - and it makes no sense that they should. Fortunately the mention of sex and genitals (it's not easy to talk about sex without at least thinking about genitals, surely?) is losing it's stigma - at least among people with functioning reason glands (not genital in nature, they are situated just behind the eyes). However...
Cleaning them. Genitals, that is. In my culture - British - the concept of cleaning one's genitalia is very much unspoken unless among members of the medical profession. We never talked about it in my family and it's accurate to say that I have never, ever discussed the subject with any of my closest friends.This may be because the subject is not easily inserted into regular conversations witrhout the strong likelihood of moment-ruining spit takes or abrupt fainting. Again, this is really a little sodd, because we all do it - we all lean ourselves 'down there'. At least I have reason to believe that all my family and friends do. I have had occasion to meet a great many people who are personal hygiene-challenged, and in my experience it tends to be an affliction that makes itself known through the nostrils fairly quickly.
I'll be blunt then: I clean my genitals. Frequently...in fact I may be in danger of becoming a little obssessive about it, but in that case I claim the moral high ground. As someone who has...ummm...'known' one or two people with less than perfect genital hygiene (NOT, I hasten to add, currently!), I have come to consider it only polite and considerate to make myself clean primarily for my sexual partner and on a more holistic level, to avoid unpleasant odours ever escaping and assailing anyone in my immediate vicinity. I know what you're thinking obssessive clean freak. Honestly I'm not, but I really, really prefer not to smell nasty.
So, against that background, I've been thinking about bidets. In Europe - and I believe in particular in France and Italy - bidets are the norm, they are considered necessary, which is a lot more important than merely 'desirable'. In Britain - and as far as I can tell, in English-speaking Canada - bidets are viewed with suspicion and ironically as horrible, dirty things. Suspicion could just about be forgiven by virtue of cultural ignorance, but the nasty and dirty image is ridiculous - after all we have no problems with shitting into a bowl of water and sending that stuff down pipes, why on earth would a CLEANING device be thought of as yukky?
Like the overwhelming majority of people in my culture, I wipe my bum after I've taken a dump/pinched a loaf/lightened the load/emptied the bomb bay/had a shit. To do so I use a paper product which is not ecologically friendly, and that alone bothers me sufficiently to seek another way of cleaning myself. Hopefully - and I hope that you'll forgive me for being graphically honest here - I will have one of those tremendously satisfying craps which results in zero residue (poo/shit) adhering to my otherwise delightful nether regions (arse/anus/rusty bullet hole) afterwards. In such cases, only one wipe is necessary to confirm the sparklingly clean nature of my butt-ox.
As we are all aware (now don't lie! you know where I'm going with this!), however, this is not always the case, and on such occasions, the material I want to get rid of shows a tenacious ability to hang on for grim death, despite my repeated attempts at cleaning the offending area. If I find myself thus afflicted - for example in a public loo (which seems to always happen, by the way) - I end up using vast amounts of toilet paper in an increasingly feverish battle against the demon poo. In the confines of my own bathrooms, in such need I will turn to moistened loo paper or - my personal preference - judicial use of the showering facilities. Only by taking such measures do I feel remotely confident that I am indeed free of butt nuggets, Klingons, poop raisins and the like. Cleanliness matters to me.
Against that background, our lack of the eminently sensible bidet bothers me, but the unwillingness of my culture to adopt such a concept puzzles me. Why would we be shy of cleaning our nether regions using - of all things - clean water? Why exactly do we find using absorbent paper - which of course represents a colossal number of dead trees - to smear poo around our bottoms? How can that be cleaner or less icky than basically bathing our bums 'n bits properly? Culture is a strange thing, and this prejudice against a household appliance which is more ecologically sound and much more effective at performing the required function, has me scratching my head - but of course only after I've washed my hands.
I want a bidet but such is the cultural bias against one, I fear that I'm going to have to endure some strange looks/comments in order to facilitate this. This is, frankly, madness. I wish to assert my right to a clean bum and bits, and I want A BIDET!
These days it seems difficult to open up a news website or surf the TV channels without happening upon several stories about the ongoing (or do I mean unending?) violence and hatred in and around The Middle East as we westerners call it. It feels like the situation has remained largely unchanged for as long as I can remember, and history seems to bear out that admittedly limited perception. It’s just one long story of enmity manifested in frequent outbursts of vicious violence. There is no end in sight, or even over the horizon.
As a species, I think that humans are pretty darned amazing. We have evolved into the planet’s dominant species and are slowly sending out tendrils of our culture and technology beyond the confines of our small planet. Unfortunately, even though we’re an amazingly intelligent species, we are fallible and therefore capable of all kinds of stupid behaviour, ranging from religion to an obsession with financial wealth (which I’d probably agree is also a kind of religion) to incredibly stubborn denial of the negative effects of both of those things upon ourselves and the environment which supports us.
Politics is one of those areas of human activity that is constantly under scrutiny, which may go some way to explain why we hear so often about politicians doing stupid things, although I lean towards the theory that the people who tend to rise to the ‘top’ in public political life are the very people who should not be allowed to do so. The political map of The Middle East, for example, was largely constructed by old men (doubtlessly dusty and festooned with cobwebs) who felt that they had the right to draw wiggly lines across a region and utterly disrupt the lives of millions. They had the power to enforce their wiggly lines, and so made it happen, for better or worse. ‘Worse’ would seem to have been the outcome.
I don’t pretend to be particularly bright (I just wish that I was) or to have a deep understanding of all the issues around the mosh pit that is that region of Eurasia, but it seems rather clear that the reckless meddling of colonial powers (old or new) has done little to mollify the ancient hatred and violence that now characterizes it. Currently the chief meddlers are the USA and Vladimir Putin’s fictional Russian Empire, and both governments continue to do nothing constructive. This seems to be because both governments are continually desperate to retain some control - and hopefully increase such control - of the sticky black residue that we as a technologically aggressive society are ridiculously dependent upon. Of course that dependence, in the face of emerging alternative energy technology, becomes more and more ridiculous and money-driven (controlled by the oil industry) as the decades roll on…
Such desperation for power and influence is borne of a lack of trust between these two large (and I am avoiding using the word ‘great’ deliberately) nations; each government wants to have the Lion’s share, each wants to have power over the other. Governments are of course led by politicians, whom, as anyone with more than a few brain cells will agree, tend not to be the best of our societies; they are simply the ones who play the political games most effectively. Governments, it seems to me, exist not to do the right thing, but merely to get re-elected. Governments in democratic and non-democratic systems (and that includes sham democracies) form policy to remain in power, first and foremost. The short, mid and long term goal of a government is to maintain or enlarge their power base. That is a fundamentally dangerous – in terms of morality and ethics - basis from which to govern.
This goal to remain in power and to perpetuate ideology (religious or otherwise; power is power, after all) is the motivation behind many wars of the last century and is the main reason for conflicts which continue through the ages. The governing bodies throughout The Middle East have no interest in compromising or conceding anything to ‘enemies’ because to do so would constitute political suicide – and precipitate a loss of power. The politicians play chess with people’s lives in order to maintain a mandate (if they care) or to secure votes, or even worse, to achieve personal aims based upon nationalistic ideals. No matter what, I find it difficult to accept that a small group of officials (elected or otherwise) have any moral right to play games with sentient beings (us).
Compromise is a dirty word these days (it’s the ‘bogey’ word in many TV commercials, for example), yet a life without compromise is a life without empathy, a life without compassion and a life without thought for consequences. Compromise – genuine, well-considered compromise - is a tried and tested method of reaching agreement or resolution, but it seems to be a concept alien to those of devout religious conviction, or an addiction to any idea (the profound capitalism we see in countries such as the USA, for example). The approach of “It’s my way or the Highway”, also verbalized famously as ‘You are either with us or against us.’ creates division and polarises positions.
The Middle East is a region which successfully models intransigence and lack of compromise, as does the political system in North Korea, China and, increasingly, Russia. These examples can be symbolised by human suffering and environmental disaster. This is not, however, so simple as pointing the finger at left-leaning (they’re after all so far left that they have swung all the way back around and find themselves on the dictatorial right in most cases) governments. Witness the out-of-anybody’s-control corporately-owned government of the USA (where anything is good if it makes money, because money is good, especially if you print the bible on it) and lately, Canada. In these countries, the poor suffer in plain view, while the rich get richer and the obscenely rich multiply in number and political influence. No matter how it gets spun, that is a truth, and it is immoral.
Against this backdrop, I struggle with the ethical and moral issues of our time. I like the idea that we have a health care system which will help me and my family when I need it to, and I’m OK with paying for the things that society provides for me to make use of. So much of what happens in the world, however, leaves me feeling distressed and quite pessimistic about our future as a species. We fight too much and compromise too little. We do not instinctively trust.
I console myself with the thought that my intelligence is very probably too weak to properly understand the complexities of our modern world and that the answer to humanity’s silliness is out there somewhere, just waiting for us to happen across it and start behaving more responsibly. I console myself that something good will happen, but that I don’t have sufficient brain power to imagine what that might be. I really hope that I’m right about that, because I want my children and successive generations to enjoy their lives.
In the meantime, I’m still looking for that plot of land.
Grumpy middle aged git moaning about stuff and occasionally trying to be funny.