Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Two radical suggestions for new calendars

Calendars need a thorough shake-up and modernisation.

Here are some alternatives to the hackneyed and backward, 12-page, month-to-a-view calendar, in the spirit of the time-honoured principle beloved of politicians and managers wanting to make their mark: if you can't make improvements, make changes.

1. The seven-page calendar. A seven-page calendar would contain all the Tuesdays on one page, all the Wednesdays on another, and so on. You would turn it every day. Lots of us do the same things every week, except when we don't, and this calendar would enable us to grasp our commitment over a whole year.

2. The seek-and-you-will find calendar. This calendar has twelve pages like an ordinary calendar, but all the dates are spread randomly through the year. So, Thursday November 17 might be wedged between Sunday March 4 and Wednesday September 12th, all on the same page. Every time you added a calendar entry, you would have to hunt through the whole calendar to find where to put it; every new day, you would have to turn the pages on the calendar until you turned up the right entry\. This is, admittedly, harder to use than an ordinary calendar but it has certain philosophical advantages:

  • It provides useful brain stimulation every day
  • It occupies people for whom time hangs heavily on their hands
  • Each page gives you a snapshot of your entire year, in a way of your entire life, with the ordinary flow of months and seasons edited out. Useful for helping you discover if your life has any  meaning, purpose, or direction.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Why you should lie when asked for your personal data

Thou shalt commit adulteration.
The really annoying people are those who insist on taking your full name and address, both phone numbers, and your email when all you want from them is a one-off internet purchase. I'm beginning to think the answer is to lie.
If we all do this, we will adulterate mailing lists with worthless data. Think of the benefits: companies won't get as much for them when they sell them. Hackers won't bother breaking into cybersecurity to obtain damaged goods. We'll get fewer unsolicited communications. Everyone wins, once we collectively decide to stop giving people our valuable data for free.
Here's my false address. Do join me on East Mosterly Road in the now sadly defunct county of Clackmannanshire.
West Mosterly House
617 East Mosterly Road
West Mosterly
RU2 4LS ('are you, too, false?')

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Boys v girls quiz


We wrote this icebreaker boys v girls quiz for our youth group. For answers, ask a member of the opposite sex. Use of the internet is not allowed. Blue questions are for boys, pink-ish for girls.
1. If a girl asks 'does this make me look fat'?, and it does, what do you say?
2. What is this?
A yellow car
'A yellow car' is not the right answer
3. What is the difference between shampoo and conditioner?
4. Name five different dinosaurs.
5.How many calories in a Creme Egg?
6. What soccer team has Fly Emirates on its shirt? (Clue: It isn't Abu Dhabi United)
7. What is this?
a horrible torture instrument
barbaric instrument of torture is only partly right
8.Arrange these curries in order of heat: korma, vindaloo, rogan josh, phaal, madras.
9.What is the difference between mascara and eye-liner?
10. How many cylinders does a normal family car have? What is a cylinder?
11.What colour was Kate Middleton's engagement dress?
12. Name the three (so far) Bourne movies.
13. (Tie-breaker) How many pairs of shoes does a person need?

Monday, August 01, 2016

Great ideas: Clothes that tell you when they are out of fashion

I'm really surprised no-one has thought of this before.

Every piece of clothing you buy comes with a chip containing basic details which can be interrogated by smartphone.

Then you have an app on the phone -- call it 'Big Sister'. Put on an item of clothing that you fancy wearing tonight. Your pants/trousers, say. (Yeah, I know, pants are the second item of clothing but I'm assuming some basic apparel literacy here.) Then, scan your wardrobe with your smartphone.

The Big Sister app tells you if that T-shirt (a) matches (b) is still in fashion and (c) by consulting with the ambient weather, if it's warm and dry enough for the local conditions.

This is so cool. It might even say, 'You've warn that a lot. Maybe it's getting shabby?'
The app can also interrogate you calendar to let you know if (a) the garment suits the venue and (b) if the person you're meeting has seen it before.

All these problems of matching colours, styles, dressing appropriately: gone in a moment. Every day you'll be dressed stylishly, suitably, uniquely.

In the name of helping people everyone who find clothing confusing, and to whom real Big Sisters say the dread words 'You're not going out in that?', I waive all copywrite and patents on this idea.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

A summer reading treat in medieval Japan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This novel deliciously takes you by the ankles and dips you headfirst into the fast-flowing stream of another time and place.

In this case, it is the Dutch East India Company's factory in Dejima off the coast of Nagasaki, in the dark years after Japan had crucified or tortured to death the Christians baptised in the 17th century by Francis Xavier, and before the country was prised open to the outside world in the nineteenth by the American naval captain Perry.

This is an occultic, honour-and-shame, totalitarian and feudal Japan. With this scenery and these props, David Mitchell smoothly takes his characters through a story of betrayal, power struggles, love and courage. It's such an exhilarating experience you overlook bits of contrived plotting or slightly underdone characters (particularly the female protagonist). A bit brutal and graphic at times, not really a romance, but a lavish feast of a book and I loved it.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Really good ideas for how to get rid of dictators (without shooting them)

This will work!
So many of our former MPs get themselves recycled as celebrities.
Michael Portillo chugs around Britain with his Bradshaw's railway guide, meeting slightly baffled people who wonder what the attraction can be in his new life in the sidings.  The decent and charming Matthew Parris is everywhere, having made much more, I hope it is fair to say, of his status as 'former MP' than he did as an actual one. Baronness Shirley Williams was rejected three times by the electorate, quite a record, but still has somehow become the Judy Dench of former politicians. Nadine Dorries clearly is bouncing up and down at the back somewhere saying to TV companies, 'Pick me, oh pick me!"
Some in the political classes, surely, come to politics not merely from a passion for social justice but to be famous. And given the opportunity, they find it congenial to drop all the social justice/claiming expenses/ being elected tedium and crack on with their TV careers. I do not criticize them for this. Well done them for entering the political fray even if it was for a short time and as a stepping stone to something else.
But we are missing a trick here. See how, for example, North Korea's dictators have desired nothing really in life beyond a photo with an American president.
The best way to get rid of the Kim Il Sungs and even the Bashir al-Assads of this world is not a large strike with some huge bazooka, happy though that would be. The UN should immediately create several jobs with associated limousines, offices, secretariats. It wouldn't cost much. Here are a few suggestions:
  •  The World Peace Monitoring Body
  • The World Future Planning Office.
  • The Bureau for Inter-Presidential Networking

General Secretaries of these bodies get 15 minutes a year with two or three world leaders of their choice. They get to issue reports and do press conferences. They can travel wherever they like, in their own modest jet. A flat in Geneva would be helpful. Bodyguards? Of course. An office and house in whatever world city they choose to make their home. A generous salary and expense account. Offer these jobs to whichever dictator is most pesky at the time and watch peace break out as his people dance in the streets.
The British trialled this, of course, with Tony Blair. It worked, thank goodness, and it's still working: he doesn't suspect a thing. High time to roll it out across the world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

only wonder understands

'Concepts are idols. Only wonder understands' Gregory of Nyssa. From a forthcoming book I am having the privilege of reading.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Netflix effect: Why do we pay for TV but not for newspapers?

Consumer pressure is moving TV from a free-to-view, ad-funded model to subscription services like Netflix.

Consumer pressure is moving newspapers from a paid-for model towards a free-to-view ad-funded model like the Guardian. Why?

I suggest it's because the newspapers don't have one, all-you-can-eat service like Netflix has for TV. They are still fighting each other rather than the common foe. The common foe is not  other newspapers. It's everything else that attracts a reader's eyeballs.

Here in the UK, I don't want to shelter behind the Times' paywall because, unfortunately for Rupert, I don't value the Times that much and it doesn't have all my favourite columnists. I have yet to become a £5-a-month donor to the Guardian for much the same reasons.

Newspapers should stop fighting each other and shelter together behind a common paywall. My one subscription should buy me access to the whole shelf. That way, the Guardian reader who secretly likes Boris Johnson would be able to indulge. He may even prefer the Telegraph's cricket coverage. Or he might like to read all the cricket journalists, just to check he hasn't missed a single description of a despondent Aussie.

A besandalled Jeremy by day, our treacherous reader might harbour a secret nighttime lust for the Sun's Jane Moore and the FT's Gillian Tett, one after the other. He might be, in short, eclectic, thoughtful, independent, and a lover of good writing.

The money would go into a central pot and be allocated to individual papers on a per-click basis. That way, a columnist would earn her corn not by marrying the proprietor but by writing well. Radical.

Which would be really nice, and would save our beloved British press from their whole lemmings-cliffs/Charge-of-the-Light-Brigade/We're-doomed!-Doomed-I-tell-you! thing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The shifting sources of morality

I am finding Steven Pinker's book to be the gift that keeps on giving. He asks the question about the sources of our moral thinking, and notes that they change over time. This effects society. His descriptions of the sources of morality are complex but for my purposes I can just look at three:
Communal sharing; the idea that members of a group share things fairly with each other
Authority ranking: the idea that authority figures can tell us what to do in certain circumstances
Equality matching: being fair to all (a further development of this is Market Pricing, giving everything a cost.)

The trend through history has been a change in moral basis from Communal Sharing to Authority Ranking to Equality Matching. Look at the last two particularly. The sorts of morality that come from  Authority Ranking are these (the authority being God, King, or government, for example):

Sabbath Keeping
Lese Majeste

Ie: harm is not obviously done to others in these acts but authority is defied.

The sorts of morality that come from Equality matching are these:

Where people are clearly harmed by the actions of others.

Several things come from this:
1. People whose moral basis is mostly equality matching (who are usually liberals) and people whose basis is both of those (who are usually conservatives) are both fully functioning moral beings, using their moral capacities as best they can, but plugged into different outlets.

2. It is possible to see a flow in history from one source of morality to another, or from a mixed set of sources to just one.

3. This explains the loss felt by conservatives as a background of Christian authority fades.

4. But it is striking how much the Hebrew prophets, and Christ himself, and the apostles stressed equality matching over authority ranking:
-- 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'
-- circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing: what matters is faith working through love'
-- Love God, love your neighbour: on that hangs all the Law and the Prophets
-- 'live a life of love'
-- religion that is pure is this.. Help the widows and orphans in their distress and keep yourself unpolluted by the world.

5. The Christian faith does believe in submission to authority, to God, to government, to leadership but it is nothing like as obsessed with authority ranking as many distortions of the faith over the centuries: see Christ's criticism of the Pharisees; or what many forms of Islam look like to Christian observers -- legalistic and power and control obsessed.

6. E Stanley JOnes urged us to 'baptise' history rather than fight it. It can be argued that the changes in moral source as people mix more and learn more are not something we should resist as Christians, so much as allow us to re-interprets our own faith, and then join the conversation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The best satire

Satire should, like a polished razor keen
Wound with a touch that's scarcely felt or seen

Mary Wortley Montague, quoted in Pinker p766.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Inner demons

Coming to an end of Stephen Pinker's wonderfully stimulating book The better angels of our nature.
Pinker summarises what he calls our 'inner demons' thus:

'Neither academic psychology nor conventional wisdom is anywhere close to a complete understanding of what makes us tick ... It seems to me that a small number of quirks in our cognitive and emotional makeup give rise to a substantial proportion of avoidable human misery.' (P688). He lists five on this same page.

Below I have contrasted these with the Beatitudes, as taught by Christ, perhaps indicating that if we could truly follow Christ, much of the violence in human society could be lessened (which, as Pinker demonstrates, has happened and is a long trend in the human story)

-- Overconfident of success in a fight, underestimating how bloody it will be
Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers

-- Striving for dominance and likely to get into fights for it, to the loss of all
As above.

-- Seeking revenge by minimizing the hurt we caused and emphasising the hurt our opponents caused; and seeking perfect justice rather than compromise.
Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

-- overcoming a distaste for violence and acquiring a taste for it
Blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers,

--publicly supporting a belief even if we harbour private doubts because the rest of the crowd supports it.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are you when all people hate you and revile your name as evil because of me.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Psychopaths, humanity, and the criminal law

According to Stephen Pinker:

Psychopaths make up 1-3 percent of the adult male population [depending on definition] ... [They]  are liars and bullies from the time they are children, show no capacity for sympathy or remorse, make up 20 to 30 percent of violent criminals and commit half the serious crimes. They also perpetrate non-violent crimes ... The regions of the brain that handle social emotions, especially the amygdala and orbital cortex, are relatively shrunken or unresponsive in psychopaths, though they may show no other signs of pathology.' (Pinker, p 615.)

If this is true (and that a diseased brain causes a person to be a psychopath, rather than the other way around and rather than the whole thing being a lot more complicated), what does this mean for the criminal law and justice?

I wonder it means, at least, that our prisons should be humane places. We may have to deprive certain individuals of their liberty, but perhaps that is the extent of society's remit to punish and protect?