Tuesday, 27 January 2009

People are amazing

Over on 1000thingsthatmatter.com, 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...

...is 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!