30 July 2010

This Week's Photograph: Sky & Corn

Sky & Corn 1, originally uploaded by kcm76.

The East Anglian sky taken from the passenger seat of the car while travelling up the A11, early-ish on Wednesday morning. Wonderful light and cirrus clouds with ripe corn fields. The best few shots are on Flickr; I think this is my favourite of the series. Not bad for almost random grab shots!

We spent the whole of Wednesday with the house clearance guys finally emptying Mum's bungalow which is now on the market. All we have to do now is get someone to buy it for a decent price. We dropped in to see Mum briefly on our way home; see looked so much better now everything is essentially done and she can draw a line under the whole thing. But it was one hell of a tiring day we just had to stop for an hour on the way back and have something to eat and (in my case) a couple of beers; we're still recovering.

24 July 2010

Quotes of the Week

Another in the series of things which have struck me, or amused me, this week.
So look, I’m going to say this thing, and you’re going to listen and believe me because … I don’t know, why would you believe me if you haven’t believed it from anyone else? […] Because in the patient corners of your heart, you’ve ALWAYS known it’s true. It’s this:
You’re not broken. You are whole. And there is hope.
[Emily Nagoski at http://enagoski.wordpress.com]

There is evidence that male babbling (what you kindly call Punditry) is a Zahavian handicap.
During both foetal development and puberty, male brains are subject to damage from hormonal processes that convert the female body and neural system into a male one (more or less). This causes males to be, on average, poor at communication. They don’t understand what they hear as well as females, can’t form their thoughts into words as well, and most interestingly, can’t think about one thing while carrying on a conversation with another human at the same time, as females routinely do.
Therefore, ability to communicate at all, let alone well, is very difficult given the handicap of this developmental brain damage. Public communication (babbling/punditry) would indicate relatively high quality for any male that could do it. Thus, all that male babbling.
[Greg Laden in a comment at http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/]

The Chap Olympiad has a number of things to recommend it, apart from the variety of potential experiences. One is that its resolute promoting of amateurism, eccentric sporting and events cocks an elegant snook at the revolting orgy of corporate arrogant dullardism that infuses all major sporting events. We don’t need their cocacolaMacanike extravaganzas in citizen murdering nations. Stuff ‘em.
["Minerva" at http://redlegsinsoho.blogspot.com]

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.
[Albert Schweitzer]

Just as we should cultivate more gentle and peaceful relations with our fellow human beings, we should also extend that same kind of attitude towards the natural environment. Morally speaking, we should be concerned for our whole environment.
[Dalai Lama]

Minds are like parachutes: they only function when open.
[Thomas Dewar]

23 July 2010

Post 1000: Apologia

As this is, as best I can calculate, my 1000th weblog posting, I figured I ought to say something significant.

A few days ago we were in a restaurant with friends and the discussion turned to blogging. One of them asked why people blog, as she had never felt the need to. Naturally this made me think about why I blog.

Journal. It acts as a sort of (in my case informal) journal for ideas. A way of documenting things I find amusing, interesting or important and which I probably wouldn’t otherwise capture, if only because I’m lazy about writing things down cogently and I’m trying to get rid of mountains of paper, not collect more.

Enjoyment. Yes, this is something I enjoy doing. I wouldn’t enjoy having to write something to order every day, hence the London bus irregularity with which items appear here. I do it when I want to do it, not to some schedule.

Catalysis. As a practising catalyst, blogging gives me a way to spread my ideas, albeit to a small and self-selecting audience (which is fine by me!).

So what’s all this about then?

Noreen and I chose not to have children but to be available to help our friends, family and their children (hereinafter “friend”). This is, to me, part of being a catalyst and a facilitator, and part of why I’m here (assuming there is some “purpose” to life).

Why? Because no parent, however good (and most do a thankless job brilliantly), can ever provide everything their child needs. We don’t live in an ideal world – that would be so boring – so there will always be something a kid doesn’t want to talk to parents about, whether that’s girl/boyfriends, bullying, sexuality, money, dropping out of university, or whatever. (And of course the equivalent applies to adults too!) We offer to be there if any of our friends needs to talk about anything (literally, anything), needs a refuge, needs someone to stand bail – and all in confidence, of course. We always make this offer to our friends’ children as soon as they are old enough to understand what this really means (usually in their early to mid-teens).

Part of this is so the friend has that needed ear/refuge/whatever. But also so that they can have a different perspective on their situation, different ideas, which hopefully will help them resolve their situation and develop. Blogging is another aspect of this, albeit at a slight remove.

Democracy. I’ve observed elsewhere (see, for instance, here and here) that in a (democratic) society, morals and ethics are the consensus of the beliefs of the people, and that progress and change are made by those with differing views challenging that consensus.

As one of the working thinkers in such a democratic society I see it as my professional duty to challenge the consensus view where I believe it to be in error. (Equally when I was working I saw it as my professional duty to challenge management stupidity and misunderstanding when I came across it. Not popular, but for me the moral obligation of a conscientious professional.)

For me this is especially important in matters where I see the repressive moralities of others trying to close down freedom of choice, expression, belief; for example the moral right’s crusades against sexuality, nudity and perceived pornography. This was interestingly highlighted in a recent article in The Register; here are a few salient quotes [with my comments in italics]:
Censorship does more harm than good

A moral panic around childhood sexualisation and the dangers of the internet is closing down important channels of debate

The real problem, though, is that no one knows what "sexualisation" is: it is a convenient label used to position the child as always the victim, and then to pile every problem imaginable on top, including paedophilia, body image, sex trafficking and self-esteem. Once that particular juggernaut gets rolling, it is almost impossible to have a sensible debate about what's really going on. [People become so frightened of being ostracised and/or victimised by the authorities that they daren’t speak and free speech disappears]

as soon as someone declares an image erotic [or pornographic, or violent], it is then analysed in that context, as opposed to being viewed for whatever it is

a major issue was the way in which childhood activity was being viewed through the looking glass of adult eroticism. "Showing your bum" is not a sexual activity for most eight-year-olds and should not be treated as such. [Arguably it isn’t a sexual activity for most 18-, or indeed 88-, year-olds either] "Sexting" is nothing new, but merely a modern manifestation of habits as old as dating and courtship [you show me yours and I’ll show you mine].

That was not to ignore the real danger of what happens when an image taken from one context (childhood play) becomes taken up in another (adult sexual interest). [It’s a question of balance and perspective, something we seem to have mislaid]

A moralising attitude makes it very dangerous for young people [read “anyone”] to discuss sexuality on the net [read “anywhere”] – and certainly to discuss sexual issues … closing off an important channel for exploration and seeking knowledge to teenagers.

Unless those of us who are more libertarian push back against challenges from the conservative right, society will regress to the more hypocritical behaviour patterns of Victorian Age, with its strict pater familias figures allowing no freedom except their freedom and no dissension from their moralising diktats, while sexuality in all its guises goes back underground thus ensuring more (not less) abuse for the under-privileged majority.

How much better to have everything accepted, in the open, with people free to choose what they do and believe, thus reducing the scope for abuse and improving the opportunities for better (physical and mental) healthcare by making everything visible.

We didn’t fight the revolutionary war of the 1960s and ’70s only to see these hard won freedoms given away again.

Some people feel strongly about militarism, third world poverty, climate change or whatever, and hence blog or campaign about that. I feel strongly about the liberalisation of sexuality, body freedom, so-called pornography, free speech and the loosening of the stranglehold of religion and politics. So that’s mostly what I choose to write my more serious blog posts about and a part of why I blog.

I’m not the sort of person who in the 17th and 18th centuries would have had the confidence or money to publish salacious pamphlets – pamphlets were, after all, the blogs of their day. By creating weblogs, technology has opened up pamphleteering for many orders of magnitude more writers and audiences. Using that facility is, to me, all part of being a working thinker. And I choose to do it quietly rather than being out on the streets and “in yer face”.

Vanity. Belatedly I realised that there is also an element of vanity and attention seeking in why I blog. One of the things it seems my childhood has left me with is a need for attention. No, I don’t know why! Maybe one day I will. Or maybe it’s something to do with being male? I suspect this is a subtle reason why I blog, but I don’t think it is the main reason; if it were I would be productive of a whole lot more rubbish.

Would I have analysed this if it weren’t for blogging? No! So there’s another reason: self-discovery. What better reason could one want?

22 July 2010

Cheshunt Grammar School 1st XI 1969

Cheshunt Grammar School 1st XI 1969, originally uploaded by kcm76.
It's amazing what you find when you start digging in family files!

This is my school, Cheshunt Grammar School 1st XI vs Cheshunt Cricket Club at Cheshunt Cricket Club in 1969. (It must be 1969 as I only played in the 1st XI in my final year.)

In this picture (L to R) as best I can remember: Dave Pettifer??, Steve Dowling, unknown, Keith Marshall (that's me, in white cap), someone hidden, Alan Pilgrim (captain, in dark cap), someone else hidden, Roger Clark (Games Master at rear), unknown wicket-keeper, Colin Mudge? (almost hidden), Dave Perkins.

I think this must be a copy photo from the local paper, although it isn't marked as such on the back.

See I was down to fighting weight once upon a time. Scary!

I've also posted this on Facebook and Friends Reunited in the hope that someone will add/correct the names for me.

21 July 2010

Complete Audio Book of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time

As most of my readers will know I am the Hon. Secretary (and a founding member) of the Anthony Powell Society. (What do you mean you didn't know? Where have you been! ... What? "Who's Anthony Powell?" Tut, tut!)

As a part of my duties as a functionary of said Anthony Powell Society I bring all you book lovers, and lovers of audio books, some fantastic news! I knew this was on the way, but it has arrived much sooner than I expected.

Audible have today released a complete, unabridged, audio book of Dance, read by Simon Vance who has an excellent (English) voice and does a lot of audio books – so be sure he's good! There's an interview with Simon Vance here.

So far the recordings are available only via Audible’s download facility, which means you have to install their “file manager” on your PC to play what are essentially MP3 files, although they should be able to be ported to your iPod or similar (although I haven’t yet tested this).

The recordings are issued (and are purchased) in four trilogies, with each trilogy containing a separate MP3 file for each book. Beware these are large downloads (average 100MB per file, and there are 12 of them!) unless you have a fast broadband connection.

What is amazing is that the recordings are not expensive. Each trilogy is just $34.95 from www.audible.com or £27.59 from www.audible.co.uk, unless you already subscribe to Audible when they are hugely discounted. When you get to Audible just do a search on "Anthony Powell". As Audible is an Amazon company expect to see these appear eventually on Amazon. I’m told there will be a CD version available later in the year.

This is an astonishing 80 hours of audio, so clearly I've not yet been able to listen to it all, but from the little snippets I have heard the recordings are most excellent.

Extra kudos to Audible as they have given me a free download of the complete four trilogies – Woo! – so I have no excuse not to listen to and review them. Expect a review here in a few weeks time. No even I can't listen to 80 hours of audio that fast!

Now, where else can you get 80 hours of quality audio for under $140 or £110 ????

17 July 2010

Marsh Days

What an enjoyable day!  We've spent the day on the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust annual members' tour.

Wedged between Rye, Hythe, the sea, and the high ground of the Weald, Romney Marsh (information here  and here) is an ancient, if man-made, landscape at England's extreme SE tip. Over the years, roughly from the Romans through to the Reformation, the marsh land has gradually been inned, or reclaimed from the sea. There have been setbacks, storms, the River Rother, which used to enter the sea at Old Romney, then at New Romney, changed it's course completely (it now enters the sea some miles away at Rye Harbour) with the demise of a major royal shipyard at Smallhythe. Most of the marsh is around 10 feet below high water. Drainage is a constant battle. This is a volatile landscape, made by man and by sheep.

There are 14 churches, plus 4 ruins, on the Romney Marsh. They are all medieval and apart from one (and the ruins) they are all still in use although many have very small parishes. A number of these churches are built on the sites of the earlier Saxon churches; many have seen worship on their site for well over 1000 years. They are important churches and important sites.

The Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust exists to assist with the preservation and restoration of these glorious small country churches which are so much a part of the country's heritage. With a couple of exceptions they are not grand parish churches in the style of East Anglian wool country or of the West Country. They are small, designed to serve small communities living on the edge – even at the height of the Marsh's population just before the Black Death, none of the parishes was large. The exceptions were probably New Romney and Lydd.

Every year the Trust organises a tour for its members, usually in July with a repeat in September (both tours easily fill a 50-seater coach). The tour visits three or four of the churches, often to see the results of the Trust's work supporting their fabric. We've been on the tours fairly regularly for the last 10 or so years and have now seen all but one of the 14 churches, most of them of course several times.

This year we visited St Mary, East Guldeford (top); St Clement, Old Romney (above); St Augustine, Snave (the only church not in regular use and for which the Trust has full responsibility); and St Eanswith, Brenzett. The day starts with coffee at the Royal Oak pub in Brookland (right next to St Augustine, Brookland, so the keen can add a fifth church). Two churches are visited by coach in the morning. We return to the pub for a splendid buffet salad lunch and a pint. Then off to do two more churches. And ending the afternoon with tea provided by the Brenzett WI. WI tea is to die for; it is (almost) the highlight of the day: fifty odd people sit down in the village hall and demolish three trestle tables groaning with home-made cake! You end the day feeling like a python which has just stuffed down a tasty gazelle and doesn't want to eat again for a month.

At each church there is a short talk from an expert – very often the indefatigable Joan Campbell who is the leading expert on these churches – and chance to look round and take photographs. Every time there is something new to discover: newly researched information about Richard de Guldeford, benefactor of East Guldeford; the effects of 13th century storms and the Black Death on the Marsh; church furnishings which quietly move from parish to parish over the years; major restoration work, often (part) funded by the Trust, this year to the Tudor brickwork of East Guldeford.

These are not neglected and forgotten little churches being propped up by a tiny interest group: the Trust has over 1000 members. Film director Derek Jarman is buried at Old Romney (he lived his last years at Dungeness). Children's author Edith Nesbit is buried at St Mary-in-the-Marsh. Lydd and New Romney regularly stage concerts and other events. These churches are still important parts of their communities.

And I've not mentioned the delights of the Marsh: the ever changing patterns of sheep and arable, sky and earth; the views of the scarp to the north which once upon a time was the old shoreline; or the distant vista of Rye nestling atop its hill. Neither have I mentioned my distant ancestors who lived on the Marsh and the surrounding area – in fact I spent some time today looking for gravestones on the off-chance of discovering something new. And we always seem to have good weather, whatever the forecast.

All in all it's a superbly delightful day out!

16 July 2010

Quotes of the Week

Another in our occasional series of quotations encountered during he week which have struck me.
Bodies are … I mean, what are they? They’re these sacks of bone and meat and water held together by 2 meters of integumentary tissue. They’re battlegrounds of infection and injury
A body is a life. My opinion is that bodies, lives, people who have suffered and survived are the MOST beautiful. The marks left on their skins tell us of the strength, the resilience, the power of the person. The so-called flaws of a body show you what a person has made of themselves
Real bodies, real lives, real people. Real things have scratches.
[Emily Nagoski, http://enagoski.wordpress.com/]

“D’you get any good presents?”
“Yeah, me Aunty Jean got me a goat, but they delivered it somewhere in Africa … unbelievable”
[from a Christmas card spotted at http://shop.moderntoss.com/sale-things]

Life is full of miracles, minor, major, middling C. It's called "not being in a persistent vegetative state" and "having a life span longer than a click beetle's."
[Natalie Angier, The Canon]

unconstitutionally vague
[US Federal Court of Appeals in rejecting the policy of the FCC on indecent words in broadcasts]

One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.
[Arthur C Clarke]

Quote: Perfection

Just because nobody complains doesn't mean all parachutes are perfect.

[Benny Hill]

12 July 2010

The surprising truth about what motivates us

Major hat-tip to Kellypuffs for finding this video about what motivates us.  Watch it.  Watch it for the brilliant animation.  Watch it again for the message!  It isn't what you'd probably expect.

Someone please tell senior management and the accountants! All of them. Private and public sector. Especially the UK's benighted health service, tax office and many others.

Now I know why I was never motivated to be a salesman on commission!

PS. Hope this works, 'cos I've never embedded a YouTube video before.

09 July 2010

Quotes of the Week

Another in our occasional series of quotations encountered during he week which have struck me.
Let us be grateful to people who make us happy: They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
[Marcel Proust]

A mind committed to compassion is like an overflowing reservoir - a constant source of energy, determination and kindness. This mind can also be likened to a seed; when cultivated, it gives rise to many other qualities, such as forgiveness, tolerance, inner strength, and the confidence to overcome fear and insecurity.
[Dalai Lama]

Put three grains of sand inside a vast cathedral and the cathedral will be more closely packed with sand than space is with stars.
[Sir James Jeans]

How much does it cost in pesetas to do something else?
[Antonia Cornwell]

Questions about Sex Images

This post is about pornography and a couple of current fashions in same that I don't understand. But first let's get something fundamental out of the way ...

What do I mean by pornography in this context? I mean the normal, relatively sane, heterosexual material which can be bought legally in the UK over the counter of the corner shop or licensed sex shop or found easily on the internet. I do not mean anything involving extreme violence, abuse, lack of consent, drugs, children, animals, unpleasant bodily excretions or anything illegal – none of which I would ever condone.

Yes, I admit it, I look at pornography. Well so what? I'm a normal red-blooded male, I still have a pulse and I'm a sexual libertarian (as long as it's consensual). Most of us have seen (if not actively used) pornography at some point of our lives, with American research showing that almost 90% of young men and over 30% of young women actually use pornography – now translate that into how many have ever seen pornography. So it's there, we all know it's there, we all know what it contains and we all know that at the level I'm discussing it does next to bugger all harm.

Having cleared that up, can we now have an adult conversation about it, please?

So there are two things which seem to be fashionable in current pornography which I fail to understand, and which I would welcome someone knowledgeable explaining to me.

Firstly ... Why does every female (and a significant minority of men too) have to have their pubic area clean shaven? Yes, it's a fashion. It didn't used to be this way. Look at porn images from 30-40 years ago and everyone is hairy. OK, I understand that the lack of hair gives a better view of the genitals, but that doesn't require complete depilation. I also understand that depilated females are supposed to look younger and more virginal, but given the current concerns with child pornography I would have thought this is something most men (and women) would want to avoid! And I also know that some people prefer a lack of hair as it increases skin contact during sex. But that does not explain why 99% of females are significantly if not totally depliated. Yes by all means tidy the hairy bits up round the edges. We all get a haircut from time to time but we don't all go around with our heads shaved, so why shave our pubes? What is it about our naturally hairy state that is so unacceptable? Is this something more than pure fashion? If so, why? I don't get it.

Actually now I think about it I have a subsidiary question. Why is it that the majority of women appear to prefer non-hairy men. Many times I have heard girlies interviewed and give an "Eeeuuwwwww" reaction to the idea of a hairy man – particularly hairy chests and backs. What is it about hairy men that's such a turn-off? Or again is this just fashion, perpetuated by the likes of the Chippendales?

OK, here's my second question. One of most men's dreams (GOK why) is being on the receiving end of fellatio given by some nubile sex goddess (or god). And of course this appears regularly as a pornographic image. But why, oh why, do the girls (I don't look at the men!) performing the act always look at the camera and look bored? Oh, OK, they probably are bored. But wouldn't it be a whole sight more erotic if they were concentrating on the job in hand and look as if they are enjoying it? Why must they look at the camera in that desultory way? Sure, eye contact is important to communication, but even at a time like this? Again, I don't get it.

Now can anyone knowledgeable explain either of these phenomena, please? Are they just fashions or am I missing something deeper?

PS. If I start getting abusive comments they will be deleted, as will any comment which unnecessarily links to pornographic images. You are perfectly entitled to your opinion, and to express it, but you are not entitled to do so in an abusive way. My rules! OK?

08 July 2010

Don’t Assume

In interacting and communicating with other people we make a lot of assumptions about the other person. Sure, we have to make some assumptions to even begin to communicate (for instance that the other person can understand our language); if we didn’t we would have to start every conversation by asking a complete set of detailed questions – so many we would end up never communicating anything. But making too many, and too deep, assumptions, and not testing those we must make, is highly dangerous. Along with not listening to what the other person actually says, is in my experience the root cause of the majority of misunderstandings.

So I decided to set out those things which it seems to me we assume about the other person or the situation at our peril:
  • Any one person speaks for everyone
  • Anyone is right about anything
  • "Culture" or "society" is the same everywhere and for everybody
  • Someone else’s ethics and morals are the same as yours
  • How young or old or young the person is
  • Someone else is of a given race or nationality
  • What someone else’s religion or spiritual belief system is
  • What someone else’s first language or nationality is
  • What someone else’s politics are
  • What someone else’s personal values are
  • What someone else’s economic class is
  • What someone else’s financial situation is
  • What someone else’s level of education is
  • What someone else’s level of intelligence is
  • What someone else’s experiences or background are
  • What someone else’s life history is
  • What the person’s family or home background is
  • What someone else’s sexuality is or that someone else’s sexual ideals or ethics are the same as yours
  • Someone else has the same body or beauty ideals you do
  • Someone else has the same values, desires, interests, likes and dislikes as you
  • All things have the same effect on all people
  • Anything is universally yucky or universally yummy
  • What someone else’s skills and aptitudes are
  • What you find easy or hard they will also find easy or hard
  • What worked for you will work for anyone else
  • Someone else is better, worse, the same or different to you
  • Any given word means the same thing to everyone
  • One kind of learning works for everyone
  • Your logic is someone else’s logic
  • What they think is the same as you think
  • Someone else’s common sense is the same as your common sense
  • What is right for you is right for anyone else, and vice versa
  • Anything is possible or impossible

Yes we often can (and do) make pretty good guesses at many of these and we base our initial communications on them, but we’d better be prepared to test our guesses and change our position accordingly. I’m sure we've all been in situations where we’ve made an assumption about (say) someone’s education only to find we’re totally wrong – haven't we all come across someone with a doctorate doing a job we wouldn’t expect (driving a taxi or a bus, dealing in second-hand books, selling insurance). Or we've spoken to a colleague on the phone and then been surprised on meeting them to find they're a Sikh, a Muslim or Afro-Caribbean. 

Beware quicksands! ... Orator caveo.

03 July 2010

Something for the Weekend

Flowers 4, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Stand of flowers outside the supermarket in Bushey Heath.

01 July 2010

Nude Hiking Burkas

Curious article in yesterday's Times (I can't link to it as the Times has now gone pay-per-view) about people who go nude hiking in the mountains of Switzerland (oh, yes, they do!), the Swiss courts having recently ruled that they had the right to do so. As usual the paper sent some (apparently) feeble-minded reporter who couldn't get his head round walking nude in the countryside – until he allegedly did get it, of course! In fact the article wasn't all that interesting; there's only so much you can say about "the walkers have won the right in court and some Cantons are objecting"; but they still managed to spin it into nearly two tabloid pages. 50% of which was two photos. The most interesting piece was the following quote from Puistola (one of the walkers).
At the same time as Switzerland is battling over the right to be naked, an equally acrimonious battle is being fought over the right to wear the burka. The irony is not lost on Puistola. "It is both ends of the sausage," he says. "The same people against us are against the burka. They talk about freedom, but they mean only their freedom. They don't think of law, they think only of order – and it is the order of their prejudices."

He points to the mountain top on which, in the snow, there is a Crucifix. "One day I will go on a hike with a lady in a burka and put a crescent at the top. That will annoy them."

I just love "It is both ends of the sausage"!