Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The triangle book is here!

It's a real, proper, shiny book about triangles... as created by Badger and I, with help from the Head First team and my co-author Dawn Griffiths.

Very, very exciting:

And then you too will know about triangles (other shapes also available) and I will earn about seven pence.

It is a very good feeling :)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Painting by numbers...

We're not here much these days. The triangle book is now 3 triangle books, the first of which is published next month. Hectic is a good catch-all.

But mostly we've been battling the system.

In a nut shell, Master Melancholy is a lovely, bright, thoughtful boy who has great capacity for learning languages and seeing the big picture and still can't tie his shoelaces at 14.

Or use a tin opener.
Or a cheese grater.
Or catch a ball.
Or write on the shopping list legibly.
Or write more than 2 paragraphs of handwriting in half an hour.
Or consistently remember, between putting food on his fork and it reaching his mouth, that he is engaged in the task of eating.
Or appropriately choose his own wardrobe if we're going on a walk.
Or tolerate more than a few minutes in a supermarket without becoming visibly distressed (though he shuts down rather than making a fuss).

As ridiculous as it may sound, until the beginning of this year, Ms M and I didn't really know what dyspraxia was. These days it's known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder/Difficulty.

Master M received an instant diagnosis of dyspraxia (it's obvious once you know...) from the incredibly helpful and lovely paediatrician and was duly referred to Occupational Therapist (OT) for assessment / therapy.

We arrived at the OT and were greeted with the statement that the OT prefers to call it 'Developmental Co-ordination Difference'.

We're all for positive labelling and not projecting negative stereotypes onto people who are different. And if Master M was being home educated, or we had the money to send him to the gorgeous, forward thinking private school down the road, and pay for private occupational therapy to help him gain independence, his neurological set up would genuinely amount to difference... but in the context of being a pupil at an old fashioned grammar school, and only having access to the NHS, it's a difficulty at best and a genuine disability at exam times.

The OT put Master M through his paces with a battery of tests and found that his fine motor skills are in the 2nd Centile. Only one child in 100 has more trouble than him with fiddly things and pencil control. He also struggled with aiming / catching, but managed to fluke a hit which he later described as 'missing in the same direction as the target'. Then on to gross motor skills, which Master M has worked hard on over the years. He did some excellent hopping. It lacked style but he hit all the markers.

Then, amazingly, she averaged the scores, and the hopping-skills lifted Master M's two 'red zone' scores into the 'amber zone'.

'See!' she exclaimed cheerfully 'You're not that bad really! We see other children who are much worse than you!'

She seemed puzzled by our lack of relief.

Incredibly, because he can hop, and despite the fact that his fine motor control is non-existant, he is not eligible for a service from the NHS. He's in the amber zone you see. Officially this places him 'at risk of a movement difficulty' and not actually suffering from one.

So - that sorts it out. We'll just write to the exam boards and ask if they can allow him to demonstrate his hopping in lieu of being able to produce an essay of the required length. I'm sure they'll jump at the suggestion!

Since then, we've done something we never thought we'd find ourselves doing, and gone private. We found an amazing place called Therapy in Praxis in York, who hear stories like ours all the time. We sat in the waiting room and heard parents talking about the school accepting that their child had serious problems (the kids we saw were gorgeous but clearly affected by something) but that the waiting list for therapy was 2 years. For a five year old. Who will be seven before he receives any help... *sigh*

Anyway - at Therapy in Praxis, Master M had a full day integrated assessment, including working with an Ed Psych and a speech and language specialist. It cost a fortune, but it was completely worth it. He felt understood. He felt validated. He is not crazy, or lazy (and I'm ashamed to say that at times I have wondered whether he could try harder) - he is disabled and the things he finds hard really are hard for him. Some are actually impossible using conventional tools.

We've since seen the paediatrician again, who praised our decision to go private, lamenting the lack of multi-disciplinary childrens medicine today. She is fantastic, and has confirmed that everything the private assessment turned up is real and significant and consistent with her observations of Master M. We'd been anxious that she might be sceptical, but she was quite the opposite.

It turns out that Master M doesn't 'just' have dyspraxia, he also has:
  • Clinically low muscle tone (caused in his brain so exercise doesn't fix it - basically he's floppy)
  • Hypermobility of his hands (he can't form a stable grip at all)
  • An impaired auditory loop (the 'talking to ourselves' that we use for short-term memory)
  • Sensory integration disorder (he can't make use of the information from his senses properly)
  • Auditory problems (he doesn't filter to favour voice frequencies, has super-human hearing!)
  • Vestibular problems (if he closes his eyes he has no balance - no wonder he hates the dark)

on top of all this he's also still dealing with the cleft palate he's had since birth, and consequent speech difficulties. Most importantly for his GCSEs, with his 2nd centile fine motor skills, any motor output requires complete concentration: he can write or think but not at the same time.

Together with his cleft palate, the difficulties he has can all be caused by a chromosomal partial deletion which he has now been tested for. We won't know the results for 3 months. Had he been born in the last 10 years he would have been tested at birth for it - one in 10 children with cleft palate have it, actually more like 1 in 5 or 6 once you discount causes such as drug use during pregnancy and other, more serious syndromes which Master M definitely doesn't have. This '22q11.2 deletion' syndrome can also include heart, kidney and immune problems, which may not be apparent until you look for them. Who would know if he only had one kidney?

Amazingly, the NHS don't appear to be retrospectively testing children with cleft palate who were born before we had the test available. "You were born before 1999 - so you can't have that, because we didn't know about it then... " seems to be the logic.

Ultimately we're lucky to have a paediatrician who is pulling out the stops to work the system for Master M. She sees the gap between his verbal IQ (top 5%) and his motor performance (bottom 2%) as a more sensible measure of his difficulty than simply averaging his scores across the board!

She's working out a way for him to have therapy from the autistic spectrum team - Sensory integration problems overlap with aspergers. She's also ensuring that at school he can use a laptop (doesn't require fine motor skills oddly!) and that they understand that they have a disabled child in their care who just happens to have been bright and hard working enough not to have received a diagnosis previously.

I had been under the illusion that we had great child health care in the UK. Gawd love the NHS and all that. I think I did a lot of filming of the glamourous end - open heart surgery and pioneering treatments - when I worked in TV.

I appreciate that health care will always be about numbers to an extent - cost-benefit analysis and so on. But we need to put a lot more thought into the way numbers are used to make decisions in health care, particularly in child health care, where the decisions are so life changing. There is no meaningful average of hopping and handwriting, and the fact that other kids, with parents less able to fight for them, are also not getting a service because of this kind of misuse of mathematics is depressing.

Excel spreadsheets are not professionally trained and haven't taken the hippocratic oath.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Badger obssessed?? me??

Well, it has sure been quiet on Chasing Sheep this summer, but today I have a special something to share. On turning the house upside down in search for my mother's sock camera. I came across something I wrote many moons ago when I was just a Badger cub. Aged 8.

I was most impressed that my choice of paper features a Badger, clearly this love of Badgers runs deep. If you want to read the note below you can click on it for a bigger view. Oh and incase you were interested, no boy with purple hair, nor even brown hair appeared outside when I smiled. I wonder why I had such an issue with his hair colour? Anyhow I can now confirm to you that Fairies are not real. Unless they were especially busy in the 80's perhaps.

oh, and I found my mums camera too! phew!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The revelations over MP's expenses claims have been a source of alternating hope and anger in our home this week. Anger that so many of our politicians are so out-of-touch, disrespectful and downright dishonest with tax payers' money. Hope that this crisis for our political parties may be the nail in the coffin for personality-politics.

In a small community we can select our alphas based on personality. We may have a personal relationship with them, or with their friends and family. We know how they treat their dog, whether they recycle their bottles, how they behave in the pub on a Friday night.

In a medium sized community we no longer have enough concrete evidence on which to judge them by 'Who?' We need to turn instead to 'What?'. What would they do about the relatively homogenous needs in our community? What kind of policies are they proposing for our local school / hospital / refuse collection? Do those policies make sense to me as an individual living with the same problems as my fellow voters?

In a massive community our problems are heterogenous. Even 'What?' has no coherent answer. Living in a small farming village, 90% of the news bulletin is of no relevance to my every day life. The policies may not fit my needs, and may even make my situation worse. But if you can speak to me about 'Why?' - sell me your ideology - then perhaps I can understand why you would put a higher tax on the only kind of vehicle which can drive through the ford between one side of my village and the other.

Personality politics is a nonsense at a national level. Policy politics is a pseudo-rational ruse we use to pretend that the world is more predictable and less chaotic than the evidence bears out. Problems are emergent, and no government can anticipate the nuts and bolts of the problems two or three years into their term, and yet we budget our policies to the nearest pound or dollar and take comfort in the (false) certainty of numbers.

Ideology is fuzzy and hard to live up to, fraught with painful conscience jerking stuff and the inevitability of imperfection. But I can't see any other way to elect a leadership with any real confidence that they won't flip-flop on the things we believe are most important.

Manifestos should be about values. What, and who, matters? - and let's assume, wannabe alpha, that it's not you.

I have a suggestion for resolving the second-homes and salaries issues for our MPs.

• All MPs required to sit in a particular place (London / Edinburgh / Cardiff) should be provided with a tax-payer-funded second home within a half-hour commute of their place of work, via the normal social housing system. A nice 2 bed flat on the Elephant and Castle estate perhaps? If they choose not to live there then it should be at their own expense, and they might want to carefully word their explanation of why this is a fit place to live for 'normal' people but not for them.

They shouldn't be allowed to manipulate the system - they put their application in and when it comes to the top of the list they have to take what they're given. Can you imagine the difference to the content of PM's question times if every housing estate in our political capitals had an MP actually living there?

• MPs should receive the same salary as the average secondary school head teacher, with London weighting. They should also receive the same terms and conditions. I believe this is in the region of £60,000 - 80,000. They should also have the same expenses system as teachers - if it's fair enough for the people who do the most important job in our society then it's surely good enough for our politicians. Their jobs are not dissimilar to a great extent - they don't require hardhats, they probably need a lot of printer ink.

Back to ideology for the arguments: if they expect their salary and housing needs to be met by the state, I'd like to have a conversation which abandons 'who' and 'what' and sticks to the 'why?':

Why are your housing needs so much greater than that of any other family?

Why do you consider yourself to be more worthy of remuneration than the folk who run our secondary schools?

Ah... no - I think you've strayed into 'what?' there - stick to the 'why?' please...

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Badger Spotting

Badger has been talent spotted! After reading her post-of-the-week-winning description of Tourette's Syndrome, Badger was contacted.......and the BBC disability website now has a new regular contributor. 

Find her first post here.

Well done, Badger...we are all incredibly proud of you!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

T-shirts by Badger

Yes it's true, I have made T-shirts from my cartoon animals.

CLICK HERE to see them and you can even buy them, which is terribly exciting indeed.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Lambing, and the importance of caring for the little runty ones

Ms Melancholy is very good with the little, tiny, weeny lambs who don't know how to feed. She has endless patience with them, as do the farmers in our village who we're helping out during lambing.

Funnily enough it hasn't put us off eating lamb, though we have made a family decision recently - initiated by Master Melancholy - to be much more strict about the welfare and environmental impacts of the meat, eggs and milk we buy.  We'd been doing it *mostly* but now it's for real. Badger could not have ham this week because we have not yet found a source of free range ham - free range local bacon, yes, but not ham.

These two things strike me as being not unconnected to the stories in today's news about the appalling way in which our - yes OUR, we own it, we pay for it, it belongs to all of us - National Health Service fails people with learning disabilities.

Here's the thing: it is in all of our interests to make sure that people with disabilities, children and animals in our society are treated with the utmost respect and care. This is a reflection of the true measure of survival protection which our society affords. A hospital service which will only take care of you if you are able to stand up for yourself is barely worth having. When you need it most, when you are unconscious or without voice, delirious with pain or medication, or just too sick to know what is going on, it is most likely to let you down.

A society which respects the needs of the people who are least able to express them will always be in a better position to catch you when you fall. And one day we all will - it's about the only guarantee we all have in life.

Like most folk, my own survival depends largely upon a careful balance of distraction and denial. Disturbing this balance has potentially unintended consequences, such is the depth and breadth of stuff I am carefully ignoring. And something tells me it is all connected. Don't think about the conditions the chicken in your sandwich lived in, don't think about the kids who just wish they had any kind of sandwich at all (other than to justify eating this sandwich, because it would be criminal to waste it when others are hungry...), don't think about the people who are starving to death in our own hospitals because they're unable to speak up, don't think about the fact that we're all spending money on crap while our hospitals struggle and fall to pieces... 

Where do we begin?

I think we begin with the little ones. And I think it has to be a concrete experience. And I think we could do worse than to get our major politicians down to the Yorkshire Dales to do a bit of lambing.

Friday, 13 March 2009

And then... I could do it.

I have this habit of whenever I start a new project of having a little panic where I remember that I have no clue what I am doing and I am actually really a bit rubbish.... but then I pull myself together and as if by magic it all comes together and I realise I really am cleverer than I think I am.

So you will understand that when I started illustrating the Climate Change book I obviously went through the same process, but today I have drawn these and I look at them and I can not believe I drew them.. but I did.

So maybe I really am an Illustrator, I wanted to be an illustrator when I was 7 years old. And wowzers just maybe I really am!

(.... you can click on the picture to see them bigger.)

Monday, 23 February 2009

And then it was done.

At 2.42 am I finished the first end-to-end draft of the climate change book.  It has been a little like birthing an elephant but I think it's because we've engaged and re-engaged with the content on so many levels, as well as developing what I think is a completely new format with Badger's wonderful left-page-right-brain illustrations.

Thank you to everybody who has read and chatted about ideas within the book - there's a lot I've bounced around on the blog as a way of getting myself going when I lost my confidence in my ability to write. It has been a key part of the process for me in many different ways.

Anyway, this week I need some readers.  It's going to a proofer / editor but what I also really need is a bunch of people to read all or some of it and let us know your thoughts.  Probably what I'll ask people to do is direct feedback to the proofer / editor (the cornish cowgirl) and then she can filter through it and protect my ego for you, so you don't have to worry and can just tell me the nice things ;)

Let me know if you're interested!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

A genuine proposal for a crazy experiment in economics

Society is all about experimentation. I've been saying it a lot recently.

Public health care, education for all 5 to 16-year-olds, income based taxation, child benefit, law and enforcement of law - none of it is divine wisdom or pure science, it's just social experimentation. It begins from someone, or several people, sitting down and saying "Bear with me for a second - I think I've got an idea. What would happen if we... ?" and some time later, often many years later, we get to experience the concrete world's clues about whether it was a great idea, a terrible idea or a pretty-good-but-flawed idea.


Bear with me for a second - I think I've got an idea.

What would happen if we decided, collectively, that house prices were approximately correct ten years ago, at which point they'd been near enough stable for a decade?

What would happen if we said that anyone who had bought a house in the last ten years had been mis-sold to, and we accepted that as a society we have a collective responsibility through having allowed, and often encouraged, our housing to become a pyramid sales scheme?

What would happen if we opened up the option for anyone who had bought a home in the last ten years to have their mortgage reduced to the recalculated value of their home - taken as the price 10 years ago adjusted for inflation - in return for an agreement that should they sell it in the next decade they would have to do so at this new valuation readjusted for further inflation?

What if we provided the liquidity and bad asset underwriting the banks are scheming screaming for through this method? Of course they'd lose out on some of the profits they might otherwise make off the 125% mortgage they mis-sold to people who are now in negative equity... but isn't that their own fault for having been a huge part of the problem? After all, the Halifax & co released statements along the lines of "House prices will go up and up and up next year!" and thus pushed up unsustainable price inflation.

I have been asking this 'what if?' for a couple of days, and I think most concerns have an answer.

What if home owners don't want to say their home is worth £100k instead of £200k? Won't they be losing £100k?

- That's fine, it's not compulsory. If they believe they would be losing a fantasy £100k that no longer exists then they are welcome to cling on to it, and keep their £180k mortgage. If they agree that their house is only worth what someone will pay for it then they might see it as dumping £80k of debt instead.

Some people will get more debt relief than others!

- Yes. They will. If you believe that you miss out when someone else eats chocolate then you're likely to see it that way. I don't even have a mortgage. I just would like to live in a society where average families can afford avergage mortgages on average houses without both parents having to work two jobs. I think that's good for the world generally.

Some people won't deserve it - they were greedy to try to buy the house they wanted.

- True. But most people have just been desperately stretching themselves to buy normal family homes with a tiny patch of garden for the kids to mess about in. If 90% of recipients are deserving does it really matter if 10% should have made better decisions? Does it matter because it's character building for those ten percent to face repossession, even though housing homeless families, providing legal aid to people facing repossession is expensive to society too?

Most people didn't buy a home in the last ten years.

- True. But most of those people had bank accounts with the banks that provided the mortgages, so we collectively funded the whole scenario even if we didn't drink the kool aid ourselves. And if you were born early enough to have a salary sufficient to buy a house in the 1970s or 1980s does that really make you morally superior to folk who only turned 21 in they year 2000? Should you congratulate yourself on having cleverly decided to be born soon enough to get on the property 'ladder' before the latest boom cycle, or were you just lucky?

What about people who have buy-to-let mortgages and second homes?

- People who bought for investment purposes should have balanced the risk with the reward.  A home that you live in isn't an investment - it's a place to live. While I'm personally a fan of renting I can understand why many people, especially those with kids, felt that if they wanted stability and decent quality housing they had no choice but to buy a home. This would only apply to first homes - the one you actually live in.


The banks will get the money anyway. I believe that the best way of giving it to them is through clearing mortgages which should never, ever have been provided, which the government, the banks and the rest of us who didn't flood the streets protesting against an insane upward spiral in house pricing all collectively contributed to the existence of.

If you are interested in finding out whether the folk who make decisions about this sort of thing might take this proposal seriously then blog a link to this post and comment. I'll gather a list of links in, combine it with the comments, and send it as a petition to anyone I think might take an interest.

You never know.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

How long is the world's washing machine cycle?

We use an analogy in the climate change book about the washing machine of the concrete world. 

Until we throw our abstract ideas, hopes, dreams, plans and theories through a couple of wash-rinse-spins in the Real World we've really very little to judge them by, other than ethics.

Simple theories can produce real-time concrete feedback from which we learn quickly - children building block towers don't have to wait to find out whether their positioning of the next block is just right or just wrong.

But most of what we do as adults doesn't bring real-time feedback at all. The greater the impact of the decision the more likely its consequences will only be visible shortly before, or even after, our deaths.

What I find astounding is how dramatically our judgement, our felt-truth about whether something, or even someone, is good or bad, can change - without them making any new decisions. The city dealers and heads of our banks who until a few months ago were generally considered to be entitled to their fat salaries on account of the huge profits they were producing suddenly appear to be greedy, ignorant and foolish. They haven't done anything different or new, and if there was a 'tipping point' then it was simply the first visible crack which led us to look more closely at the real state of their affairs.

It has also become clear that while they were happy to personally make vast sums of money on profitable deals they were not prepared to lose vast sums of money when they didn't come up trumps.

I have no doubt that mums and dads of people high up in the banking industry felt proud of what their kids had achieved. Would you want to tell your neighbour your child was a stockbroker today?

To me, the most intriguing aspect of what the washing machine has spun for us recently is that 'we', in our hundreds of millions, could not bring ourselves to do the simple addition that revealed the house of cards before.

I am not unsympathetic at all to those whose jobs and homes are lost or in jeopardy, but home ownership and investment in business had become some sort of bizarre pyramid sales scheme in which most people were hoping for their slice of free pie, without really recognising the nonsense of it. They were prepared to be winners without really acknowledging that such gains require a balancing loss and the creation of losers too.

Looking around the UK today I think we're all losers - we've pumped our housing market up to a level where the only practical option for most families is for both parents to work full time. I have no concept of how single parents begin to approach buying a modest family home with a small garden. Never mind the social change of women in the workplace, the economic truth is that looking after our own children, whatever the gender of the carer, has become unrealistic. But don't worry, we've all made 100k of pretend money which we can't unlock without going back to renting or moving into a caravan.

And who has really profited, while houseprices spiralled and mortgages grew larger and larger? Oh - the same estate agents and bankers who kept forecasting houseprice growth! Goodness, what a co-incidence. I don't suppose they had any selfish interest in selling that concept did they?

What if the value of our homes was actually about right ten years ago? What if we agreed en masse that ethically a home should be a place to raise a family, live a life, be a citizen, not a financial investment? What if, in order to have a generation of children who can grow up with values about kinship, we had to not just sit back and watch house prices trickle down but actively engage in a discussion about what a home should cost in the UK such that an average family can afford to have at least one adult raise those kids?  What if we held our banking industry to account for their part in house price hysteria and instead of just bailing them out with cash directly, we provided that fluidity to them by paying off a chunk - proportionate to the disparity between the perceived value at sale and the ethical value we agree on - of every mortgage taken out in the last decade?  I don't have a mortgage... but I'd still vote for that to happen.

The truth of the concrete world is that we can only add value by adding value. Industries which don't add value can only ever be sustainable by taking a reasonable charge for the convenience of service, allowing those who add value to get on with adding value even more efficiently. Stockbrokers don't add value. Mortgage brokers don't add value. Estate agents don't add value. They are middle men, no different and somewhat less honest than folk selling fruit on a market stall. The idea that they should be rewarded for this as if they were brilliant surgeons, engineers, inventors or scientists - simply because their lemons are more expensive - is one of the capitalist felt-truths which I hope this washing machine cycle has scrubbed away.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Frank is back on mousing duty... it has become clear that he is in training for some sort of serous cat mission.

He will not lay on a comfy cushion for any longer than a 10 minute stint without removing himself and spending twice as long laying on the cold ground or a rough service.

I have been gathering photographc evidence of Frank in training as you will see from the below shots....

Shot 1: Stealth position, the most uncomfortable spot in the lounge, a huge sofa and 2 dog beds to choose from but no... he goes for the over filled magazine rack.

Shot 2: Laying 'next to' his bed on the hard wood. His bed on this occasion being my old orange fleece. It is old and no longer worn by me because it is orange with red paw prints, need I say more.

.... finally Shot 3: I spotted this orange spot in the distance out the back of the house way up smack bang in the middle of the field, with no protection from the elements at all... and I must add here that it was freezing cold. Upon retrieving the binoculars I saw that it was indeed Frank doing more stealth hard core training.

Lets hope he catches alot of mice and all that hard boy training pays off!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

People are amazing

Over on, this video: "What matters to first graders?" has just made me grateful, again, for the generosity of spirit which people continue to show and share online.

We have 400+ entries now, almost all from different people, and seemingly from every country in the world. Amazing.

Friday, 23 January 2009

A phrase to keep in mind when filing your tax return

The redistribution of hope

The safest society is one in which everybody has enough to lose.

(This may also be of use to certain governments when making decisions about whether to bomb the hell out of neighbouring countries.)

Is it just me or... it completely inappropriate to imprison someone for being clever enough to hack into the US government's computers?

Super-hacker Gary McKinnon has recently been diagnosed with Aspergers. No shit sherlock. Even a cursory glance leads you to believe that this guys is special - in every sense of the word. He has just won the right to have a judicial review of the decision to extradite him to the US to serve a jail term of up to 70 years. The alternative is that he serves a shorter sentence - 3 or 4 years - in the UK. Which still makes no sense to me.

What possible benefit is there to society in taking a gifted individual without malicious intent and chucking them behind bars?

Of course a frightening proportion of our prison population have learning difficulties, an autistic spectrum disorder or a serious mental health problem, so Gary will be in good company. But we mustn't let that nag away at our collective conscience, or we might be forced to recognise uncomfortable truths about there being consequences to our own actions as well.

Why is nobody pointing out that we should just tell the US to stick it and hire the guy to sit in whatever surroundings he prefers and spend as much time as he wants trying to hack his way into things we think are secure? Why isn't our government pulling a national-security card of its own to make sure we don't let slip an opportunity to capture some of Gary's potential to the benefit of society?

Criminalising someone for being gifted, curious, motivated and a bit weird is not a decision which makes sense to me. Apparently the issue is that there was half a million quid's worth of 'damage' - which must look like a handful of coppers compared to the cost of the legal process to pursue Gary's extradition so far.

As far as I'm aware, nobody has been physically harmed as a result of Gary's suboptimal decision making. Which is more than can be said about the folk who run our country... and if costing a government money is a criminal offence then there's a whole financial industry, not to mention some rather relaxed regulators, who might want to tee up their lawyers now.

It's complete and utter nonsense and it's about time we reinstated the original basis of our legal system, which was not the decision of 12 different experts who have no relationship with you, but on a jury of your peers - folk who could put your actions in the context of your life, your strengths, your weaknesses and your personality, and had lived with the same struggles you faced.

I'll shut up now.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Turning up the contrast

Becoming a family - Ms M, Badger, Master M and me - has been enlightening. And, more dramatically, it has been endarkening.

Every wonderful high has a deeper shading behind it. The possibility of never-again.

It reminds me of my dad's observation that fear of heights is a misnomer for fear of depths. The incidence of falling upwards is reassuringly small, but in climbing we create the potential energy that could be converted to kinetic energy with dramatic results.

I do not understand the heathrow decision. Unless we are all to be issued with helicopters to transport us to and from the airport I cannot imagine how it would be possible to cram the trains and tubes and roads more tightly than today. Surely it's not for flying in avocados? The world is quite clearly mad.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

A new kind of disappointment in our government

Disappointment in our leaders is inevitable. They obtain their status by claiming to believe x, y and z to be important, and when we fickle members of the population begin to reinterpret our world, and to see a, b and c as important instead, they are faced with some lose-lose choices:

Box 1) Admitting that they do not know as much about a, b and c as they did the old problems of x, y and z, and handing their privilege and power to someone else.

Box 2) Shifting their position on both x, y and z and a, b and c to reflect the new priorities which have emerged. We then publicly humiliate them for having performed a U-turn, the press characterise them as weak and confused and shortly afterwards they are forced to hand their privilege and power to someone else.

Box 3) Pretending that they don't agree with the shift in priorities and clinging to the ideas which afforded them their privilege in the first place, desperately defending the seriousness of the old problems and denying the validity of the new ones.

Nobody gets to be a politician by lacking confidence in their own 'I know better'ness, so inevitably our leaders respond to change - change which is simply a natural and unavoidable consequence of the experiment of democracy unfolding over time - by sticking with box number 3: I was right, I continue to be right, please listen to the scary things I have to say about what will happen if you don't wake up to how right I still am.

In the climate change / sociology book I'm just finishing (still) we call this "The Alpha Trap", and believe it is the source of the inevitable emergence of distance and disappointment between the leaders and the people, as well as many of the reckless and destructive actions they undertake on our behalf. 

The key to reducing the negative impact The Alpha Trap has would of course be to make it easier for our leaders to open box number 2, but "open minded leader reassesses position in the light of new information and further experience" doesn't make for much of a headline.

It would also hinge upon the recognition that all societies are simply a series of experiments. The unique aspect of a democracy is that the subjects of the experiments get to influence the design of the next experiment. The difficulty we face is that our biology drives us to assume certainty, particularly in the face of danger. 'Oh, I wonder if that might be a tiger...' is not the kind of thinking which keeps a species on the rise. So, we don't like to hear about experiments with education and health care, we like our leaders to tell us that they definitely know that the new plan they are proposing will be successful. Who is more to blame, the leader who lies about their confidence or the follower who only follows leaders who lie about their confidence?

And now, suddenly, I face an even greater source of disappointment in our leaders. One I'm not sure I will ever be able to recover from. I have almost finished watching five series of The West Wing. And I want my politicians and my press to be as witty and incisive as Josh, Toby, CJ and President Bartlett. 

Yesterday, Badger and I were watching Prime Minister's Questions while we ate our eggs. And Cameron accused Brown's VAT cut sales stimulus of being an 'Expensive Failure'. And I waited for someone, anyone, politician or press, to point out that a sales stimulus tax cut could be either expensive or a failure, but probably not both. And I'm still waiting.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Magical mist...

On the last day of 2008 we went for a walk in our village in the Dales, it was really misty but we thought what the heck and then as we headed up the hill we suddenly came out the other side into glorious sunshine and took these pictures. It was like being on top of everest or something!