29 March, 2009

Jobs, Justice and Climate

In the UK yesterday, Trades Union Congress general secretary, Brendan Barber, said this to world leaders assembling for the G20 summit meeting next week. "The old ideas of unregulated free markets do not work, and have brought the world's economy to near-collapse, failed to fight poverty and have done far too little to move to a low-carbon economy."

The Metropolitan Police estimate that 35,000 people marched through London on the 'Put People First' demonstration, the first of many events planned for the G20 summit. Put People First's slogan is "jobs, justice and climate".

With civil unrest growing across Europe as job losses mount and the recession bites ever harder, I really hope that the G20 leaders are listening. We've had decades of unfettered greed and government-backed corporate callousness, the rich have got richer and the poor have starved. The fiction that 'economic growth' will filter down to the poorest and make everybody better off has been exposed, and the future is looking bleak for working people everywhere as the value of their pensions has halved in a single year.

We might struggle through this recession but worse ones are coming. Peak oil is nearly upon us. Climate change is now unstoppable. The population is still growing and resources are still dwindling. Economic growth has natural limits and we are reaching them. Managing global capitalism requires more skill and ability than the world's capitalists and their governments are able to provide.

This is the kind of future that leads to uprising. It is the kind of future that leads to riots and even revolution. I hope the G20 leaders, isolated as they are from real life by their power and wealth, do not underestimate the amount of anger there is among the people they have been exploiting for so long. That crowd of 35,000 in London is the tip of an iceberg of resentment and disgust. It could easily turn from a peaceful march with reasonable requests into a furious mob, burning effigies and storming the parliament.

18 March, 2009

As Others See Us

I've been heavily involved lately in the design and construction of a gazebo on the garden. This is a fabulous, palatial building, five by four metres by 2.4 m to the eaves. I did the design myself and I'm at the point where all the materials have been ordered and delivered, the site has been levelled and the post-holes dug. Now, with Wifie's help, the first few uprights have gone in and it is beginning to look a bit like a building and not just a building site.

I was going to leave all this out of my blogs since it is hardly something most people will be interested in. But, yesterday, I happenned into Wifie's office while she was writing an email to a friend. Reading over her shoulder, I realised it was about us building the gazebo. I just had to show this to you. Not only is it written in her dry, witty tone but, for me, it was one of those moments where you get the 'giftie' of how others see you.

Here is the relevant extract from her email (with her permission).

We were rather slow getting on with the patio and gazebo. The drawings went on for many iterations and it was a wonder we didn't do a prototype. Eventually, Graham started digging the base but didn't get very far because even a mattock was very hard work. I talked him into letting me phone a man with a bob cat and he levelled the site and dug the post holes. Of course, the bob cat's work is by no means accurate enough for our designer, engineer and workman. Then it took a while to order the wood until I finally suggested that we go and see what sizes they could supply which would help with the design iterations.

We started work last week and are doing a post a day except days when we have to go shopping/ Bertie training/ anything else we can think of. It's mostly been too hot to work after about 10 am hence the one-post-a-day. The post holes were within tolerance but the first post we put in, we got to one side of the hole and now have to compensate with all the others. This results in much standing around debating in quarrelsome manner. We had finished number 3 yesterday morning in 26 degree heat at 10 am. At 2 pm, the heavens opened, hail the size of broad beans came down, then more rain than we've seen in months and the patio base was a paddling pool with the post holes forming plunge pools at its edges. Bertie thought it was wonderful until his leg went down into a plunge pool. Today we bailed out the plunge pools since most of the water drained into them as we took it out. Because the soil is just decomposed granite about the texture of course sand and it sits on rock, there's not much natural drainage going on at the moment which is strange when you remember we're on almost the highest point for some distance around.

If we get the uprights right, the rest won't be so hard. We're very glad we decided to build the gazebo before laying the patio as by now we would probably have dislodged all the slabs and maybe even thrown them at each other.
And, for those who are finding it hard to visualize a three-post gazebo with built-in paddling pool, here it is.

13 March, 2009

It's All About The Guns, Stupid

Another damned mass murder, this time in Winnenden in Germany.

The boy who did it was described by Heribert Rech, interior minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg state as "completely unremarkable, there was nothing in his background to suggest this could have happened." Except the boy was a trained marksman! Except he had access to firearms! Except that he was an isolated loner who played computer games all day!

For God's sake, wake up! If you give weapons and training to disturbed children, some of them are going to go nuts and shoot people.

Here's a simple way to stop young men from shooting their classmates: don't let them anywhere near guns! It isn't hard. It isn't rocket science. If you give kids guns, they will shoot people. Incidentally, the same goes for grown-ups.

And while I'm ranting on the subject, how is it we can, as a society, spend billions setting up evesdropping services like the famous Eschelon, that listen to everybody's phone calls and read everybody's emails, trying to protect us from the extremely minor 'threat' of terrorism, but we can't use the same technology to monitor the Web for kids who openly brag that they are going to shoot their classmates? Like the German killer-nutcase did seven hours before he went on the rampage in Winnenden- and as so many others do. If we're going to lose all our privacy to the NSA and MI5 anyway, why can't they at least do something useful with their supercomputers like stopping assholes shooting children.

End of rant. Thank you for your patience.

12 March, 2009

Babies Shame Mothers Into Caring For Them

At last I understand why babies cry.

I've puzzled over this for many, many years. A baby's cry is loud, grating and nerve-wracking. My own sweet little daughter used to bawl so loudly that the woman in the house across the street could hear it. And that should have been a clue. But I was so caught up in the idea that a baby's cry was to alert the mother to its needs - even if every predator for miles also gets the message that a tasty human morsel is there for the eating.

Now, research by a UK/Puerto Rican team led by Dr Stuart Semple, has shown that rhesus macaque mothers respond differently to their crying babies depending on who is nearby. If there are other adults around to be irritated and made aggressive by the baby's wailing, the mother is more likely to tend and feed the baby than if no other adults are nearby.

How many times have you seen it - a mother in a supermarket, or on a bus, with a screeching baby and everyone around frowning and tutting and muttering about what a disgrace it is? And the poor mother, cringing under the onslaught of all that social disapproval.

It's so obvious once you're told. My daughter wasn't just crying for attention from her mother, she was crying to get on the nerves of the woman across the street, so that she would put pressure on the child's mother to do something about that damned baby! That's why crying has to be so loud. That's why it has to set your nerves jangling.

Raising a child is exhausting. There comes a time when every woman needs a break from it, just ten minutes to herself! But the child's needs never take a break, and something has to be done about keeping its mother's nose to the grindstone. The baby is already using all the maternal instincts it can exploit to keep itself cared for, so what else can it use when its mother is exhausted? Social pressures, disapproval, the threat of ostracisation, even the threat of violence (particularly from males nearby).

Who's a clever baby?

10 March, 2009

Jathia's Wager - Don't Bother

I just finished watching an open source movie - and it was awful.

Now I like open source software. I use it all the time. It's great. So it seemed worth a look to see what an open source movie was like - especially since this one is a sci-fi movie called 'Jathia's Wager'. Go and see it at the Moviepals site if you have 20 minutes to spare.

I suppose it's early days and open source movies might get better, but this one was very badly written. (The filming, directing and acting looked pretty ordinary too but what do I know from making movies?) There were tedious passages with no dialogue where almost nothing happened. There were tedious passages of pure exposition where absolutely nothing happened. Oh, and did I mention it was tedious? Don't waste your time looking for realistic dialogue or any hint of humour, either.

[WARNING: Spoiler.]

As for the plot, I have no idea what happened. It's a mystery. There was a guy running around a lot. He seemed to be one of some humans left behind when others went transhuman. Although most of the future humans were religious nuts and liked being ignorant (so no change there, then) our hero had the option to join the post-humans , which, after one of the tedious exposition segments I mentioned earlier, he took. Then he came back for his sister, who either went with him and came back again, or had a dream about it and then ran into the hills screaming. Don't ask me which, or why. As for the 'wager' in the title, maybe I missed something...

In places the film had that quirky, amateurish quality that made 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' so charming. In other places it was just amateurish. Parts were even (unintentionally) comical.

I imagine it took the people involved lots of time and effort to put this together, so it is sad that they wasted their opportunity to do something interesting and good. There must be hundreds of excellent writers out there who could have written a script a thousand times better than 'Jathia's Wager'. Maybe the up-side of this is that, having set the ball rolling, the next open-source movie project will attract better writers.

06 March, 2009

Catholics in Disgrace

Once you start believing in things that are not real, they can lead you into all kinds of bizarre ethical quagmires.

If a nine year old child had been raped by her stepfather and became pregnant, most people would see the whole affair as repugnant and awful. Most would see the stepfather as a monster and the child as the victim of a hideous crime - especially when the pregnancy, according to her doctors, threatens her life. Most people would do everything they could to help the child.

Sadly, this is not a hypothetical situation. It actually happened, recently, in Brazil. And the child was pregnant with twins.

The child was given an abortion, of course. What other sensible action could there be? What else could a compassionate and caring society do? Who in their right mind would inflict a full-term pregnancy on a nine-year-old rape victim, along with whatever psychological harm there might be for her if she survived it?


Which is why the rantings and ravings of the Catholic Church seem especially twisted and inhuman in this particular instance. They say the child should have been made to suffer the full term of the pregnancy and the possibility of her death - and the death of the twins - because of their bizarre beliefs. The Church has villified the doctors who most probably saved the child's life, and they have villified the child's mother. They have also excommunicated the whole medical team and the mother (the child too, for all I know) - for all the harm that will do anybody.

It makes me want to cry out 'What is wrong with these sick bastards?' It makes you ask how anybody could be so cruel and care so little for the welfare of this poor child.

Yet the answer is painfully obvious. Catholics believe in a magic being who tells them what to do and what to think. The scribblings of some deranged mystics, thousands of years ago, have become the laws that these people must follow. Laws so weird, vague, and self-contradictory that Catholic witch-doctors can give their 'blessings' to Hitler's armies but they can't show compassion for a child whose life has been devastated and who desperately needs help.

The Catholic Church has done more than most over the past couple of thousand years to destroy the lives and innocence of young children. Maybe it's time they sought psychological counselling instead of inflicting this sickness on more helpless children.

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