Monthly Archives: July 2014

Your opinion?

 

Old chap turns up for a job interview. It’s all very politically correct and sensitive. Finally one of the young men/women interviewing says, “So what would you say was your main weakness.”
The old man thinks briefly and says, “My honesty.”

“Oh,” says the sincere young person, I don’t think honesty can be a weakness.”

The old man replies, “I don’t give a damn what you think.”

 

Now it appears everybody has an opinion, and everybody seems to think their opinion matters.

Or at least people who don’t know enough to know better keep shooting their mouths off telling us what we ought to believe.

Just to give you one example. Gaza. My Facebook feed is regularly filled with pictures from Gaza. This side’s wrong, that side’s wrong, boycott this, oppose that.

Look, I cycled home from school to catch the updates on the Six Day War. I’ve followed Israel and its neighbours since the 1960s. Let’s just say I’ve made my own mind up looking at the evidence that has accumulated over the years.

Or Badgers! Again they keep cropping up on my Facebook feed as people post stuff saying how cute they are, how wicked people are etc etc etc.

One of my earliest memories is sitting, aged about four, on a shippon window, watching my father and grandfather TB test cattle. I’ve followed the whole bovine TB thing since the 1960s. Please don’t preach to me because of some new found enthusiasm for the topic.

 

 

Parkinson, in Parkinson’s Law, sums things up pretty well.  He describes a committee meeting.

The main item on the agenda is building a new nuclear power station. But there’s only one person on the committee who knows anything about it, and he knows that if he wants changes, he chats to the design team direct, so this multi-million pound project goes through on the nod.

Then the next item is building a cycle shed for staff. Well at least four people on the committee have been involved in this sort of small project at home and the discussion rages for twenty minutes.

The final item is whether there should be tea or coffee served at subsequent meetings, and should there be biscuits, if so, what type?  Well everybody has an opinion on this and the discussion lasts for an hour or more as everybody says their piece.

(I paraphrase, he said it so much better)  

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Parkinsons-Law-Other-Studies-Administration/dp/808788891X/

 He wrote in 1958. Now it would be entirely different. There’d still be nobody on the committee with any real knowledge about the nuclear power station, but their ranks would be stuffed with ‘stakeholders’, they’d all have been lobbied, and there would be a long, tortuous, and probably circular discussion based on the briefing documents produced by half a dozen different organisations with irons in the fire, and half remembered TV documentaries that they didn’t properly understand anyway.

 

I suppose I’m old fashioned. If a company wants me to advertise their products, then if they give me money, I’ll advertise their products. But I’m not going to spend my money to buy clothes carrying their logo in big letters so that I function as a walking bill-board. Free.

I feel the same about advertising for political parties, lobby groups, terrorist organisations and similar; if such an organisation wants to distribute its propaganda on the web that’s fine, but be damned if I’m going to ‘like’ and ‘share’ it on my Facebook page.

 

But I thought I’d just mention, that if you’re interested in major social issues, the rise and fall of civilisations, harsh environments and bizarre belief systems, ‘The Flames of the City’ is still available at the frankly ridiculously low price of £1.99

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Flames-City-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B00BLQAAFM

 

Go on, I’m just telling you to read it and enjoy it. I’m not going to tell you what to believe.

Life without a camera in a world focused on cute cat pictures

A lot of years ago I used to take photographs. Somewhere I’ve got a fair heap of slides taken when I was on Iceland or visited Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent.

I suppose I was encouraged to do it and then people, desperate for something to fill a calendar used to ask whether I did slide shows. After doing a couple it struck me that, actually, when I got down to it, I didn’t particularly enjoy doing them. Not only that but the camera was heavy when you were carrying it for any distance (like twenty miles a day) and the whole job was more faff than it was worth. Anyway, for thirty or more years I’ve never bothered with photos.

But I was thinking about it the other day. I was sitting eating sausage and chips, leaning against the back wheel of a tractor in the evening sun looking out over a fair chunk of the Eastern Fells, half listening to two chaps pondering how someone managed to bend a mower like that. I suppose I could have taken a photo, but it would be a pathetic failure, because whilst it might get a bit of the view, it would have missed entirely the scent of cut grass, warm rubber, vinegar and the sound effects of desultory conversation and a tractor working in the background. It certainly would not catch the warmth of the day and the feel of the breeze on the skin and not only that; whilst I was faffing about taking the photo I’d have missed everything that was going on.

I suppose that thirty or more years ago I came to the conclusion that spending your life taking photos that you were never going to look at again was a waste of time. Worse than that, not only did the photo give you a substandard picture of the scene if you ever did get look at it again, but all the fuss of photographing meant you didn’t fully appreciate the scene as you were living through it.

So effectively you were robbing yourself of the full ‘now’ to enable yourself to waste the future evoking memories of the ‘now’ that you’d wasted.

 

It may seem a strange comparison but it’s a bit like travelling by car. Actually I can understand these children who would prefer to play with games in the back of a car rather than look at the scenery. A lot of adults really ought to try travelling in the back of a car again before they moan that children are wasting an experience. In the back of the car you get either the nausea inducing side view as stuff whips past you at speed, or you can see that bit or the road that fits between the two front seats and the rear view mirror. But even if you’re in the front, there’s this feeling of unreality about it all, you sit in an isolated and perhaps air-conditioned box totally divorced from the reality of the situation. I’m afraid I’d much rather walk, where you are actually in the world and part of it, rather than the detached observer.

 

So what happens to the memories? What happens to all those pictures I don’t trap on captured electrons and load onto the web?

Well when I’m gone, they’re gone. But frankly do you think future generations are going to generate power purely to store the myriad of selfies, cute cat pictures and pictures of somebody’s lunch?

And do I want my descendants to live their lives through my memories or do I want them to have interesting memories of their own?

 

As it is, I suppose my memories have gone into the books. The incidents, tales and pictures that couldn’t have been caught on camera anyway have been cold-welded together with a lot of other stuff I had lying about.

 

Which brings me to another utterly unrelated point; for reasons they haven’t bothered to mention to me, Amazon has cut the price of my Fantasy books. In theory they’ve done this by reducing their share, not mine.

 

As an example

‘Swords for a Dead Lady’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Swords-Dead-Lady-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B006C4C8OO is only £2.63 whilst ‘The Flames of the City’ is only £1.99 at http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Flames-City-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B00BLQAAFM/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magical Places

I was told that you were a person of culture if you could hear the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. Yet I told someone that a friend of mine had been to Argos and they asked whether it was to buy something or collect an Amazon purchase.

I got a message on Facebook linked to some photos this morning, from a friend who is on holiday in Greece.

The view was stunning. I’d sort of known which resort they were going to but it hadn’t really sunk in. But now I was on line I clicked on a link, called up google maps, scrolled out so I could see the wider area, and then it clicked. She’s in Argos. Not the store, the city.

 

Looking at the pictures got me thinking. I’ve never been to the place but I feel I know it. But should I go? After all if you’ve seen the Cadmea of Thebes in the company of Pelopidas, or walked dusty roads with Pausanias, won’t the smell of diesel fumes just spoil them? Wouldn’t it be better to go somewhere that I don’t know?

And this morning I had to open up the church so that a florist could put the flowers out for a wedding.

I walked up and the sky was utterly blue. I could look out over Morecambe Bay and see the Pennine hills in the background, with the rich blue of the sea centre stage. Far above me I could see four seagulls, riding the thermals off a neighbour’s barley.

The problem with living in a fabulous area is that a lot of the rest of the world can seem an anti-climax

 

Someone sent me a link to this; I can walk there in half an hour

 

piel

Play up, play up and play the game.

I was thinking about fairness. It’s just that I’ve been reading volume 1 of Cassell’s ‘History of India’ by James Grant. To be fair it really ought to be entitled ‘The History of the British in India’ but that’s beside the point. It was published in 1898, this is now, and that was then.

But it is interesting to read it with modern eyes. To see the protagonists struggling with problems that we think are uniquely ours.

One issue they had was how to deal with religious Zealotry and Fanaticism. We might think that organisations like Boko Haram in Nigeria or Isis in Syria are a product of our time. Actually what is a product of our time is that there is a mass media telling us about them. In the eighteenth century Warran Hastings in India had to cope with the Sannyasi and Fakir Rebellion. There’s an interesting short paper you can download about these happy laughing people at http://www.muslimsocieties.org/Vol6_2/Sannyasi_and_Fakir_Rebellion.pdf

They happily combined religious Zealotry and trade, also supporting themselves through mercenary service, widespread plundering and running protection rackets.

Back in those politically incorrect days the authorities worked out that the best way to deal was these people was to judge them and react to them by the way they acted. If they came as peace loving holy men, then you could treat them with the respect due to peace loving holy men (or at least ignore them as not really your problem.) If they came as murdering thugs, well you just dealt with them as with any other murdering thugs.

Generally this seemed to work. Indeed it was quite popular because the people who really suffer from the attentions of the zealots are always the locals who live there. They are the usual victims.

Another interesting thing you come across in the ‘History of India’ is the widespread rampant corruption. Grant does point out that this is the way the locals always acted, but it comes across that he somehow felt that officers of the Crown and the East India Company ought to have known better.

The problem with corruption is that it is insidious and you have to stamp it out immediately before it gets a hold. And if it has got a hold then it has to be rooted out.

That’s why I think that it was so important that we jailed politicians in the ‘Expenses Scandal’. Politicians and their ilk develop a sense of entitlement and lose touch with us mere mortals. They lose touch with what we wee folk think of as ‘fair.’

But we’re seeing corruption spreading further. We’ve seen tax officials, policemen, prison officers and others arrested after taking bribes from journalists trying to get stories.

And at this point we find ourselves in a dilemma. Journalists shouldn’t encourage corruption, and should be censured for doing so, but there again, if it wasn’t from the journalists, we’d never have heard about such things as the ‘Expenses Scandal’ in the first place. The tax official who takes a bribe from a journalist could take one from someone she’s investigating next.

Perhaps we ought to allow Journalists of offer bribes? Just jail anybody who accepts them.