Friday, September 29, 2006

More Reasons Rules Suck

Following the earlier post, Why I Hate Rules...

Rules replace thinking. I worked for a company that did not allow us to receive gifts. This was to avoid bribery. We had delegates visit from Finland and my first act was to insult them by refusing their gift. Oh, how I wish I had thought rather than supinely following a rule.

By definition, rules make exceptions unacceptable. Exceptions to the rule need to be authorised. Therefore, handling any anything other than the mundane becomes a pain in the arse. Rules work best for unthinking dead-beats doing boring things.

5. Rules promote dolts. Any organisation with an unholy excitement for rules will feel threatened by the maverick, the original thinker, the innovator. Those with flare get sidelined because they cannot thrive when hampered by insidious regulation.

On the other hand, those boring plodders who thrive on mediocracy enjoy the safeness of always doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. Keep your head down, follow the rules, and you'll do well, my son.

In a highly regulated environment, a lack of imagination is an asset.

6. Rules imply that the rule-maker knows better than you. Now sometimes, that is quite right. If I'm touring a nuclear power plant and someone has posted the rule - don't stick your hand between the rods... ok.

But often rules are made by busy-bodies who imagine that their infallible little opinions are above question by the unwashed masses. This is especially galling with rules about what you can and can't say.

I hold the unfashionable view that those in authority are there to serve, not to lord over the rest of us. They have a responsibility to ensure our freedom, not to manage how we use it.

Walking Along

Click on this photo by Vad Plashevsky for the larger image.

Any idea what is happening where, or even when, in this stunning black and white shot?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why I Hate Rules

1. Rules are for twonks. I'm not just making this up, the Bible says so... kind of: Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless... - I Timothy 1:9

It seems to me that most rules get made because some bozo screwed up. "No coffee in the reception area!" Guess how that rule came about. So now we all have to live at a standard that the gorilla from the 3rd floor can manage without trashing the furniture.

In the UK I can't carry a knife. Why? Because some knuckle-draggers can't resist stabbing people. So the law treats us all like maniacs who can't be trusted with sharp objects.

Now, I know we need laws. And I'm blurring the distinction between a law and a rule. Major laws, like those against murder and violent attacks are fine. But the problem with the incessant rule-making of our condescending rulers is that they consistently miss the mark because they aim at easy targets. It's easier to stop me carrying a pocket knife than to stop the utter scum who gets his kicks from slashing anyone who looks at him. Enforce the laws he is already breaking! But politicians prefer to make more laws. How could that improve the lowest depths of human nature?

The government now wants us all to carry ID cards. They tell us it'll help counter terrorism and fraud. No it won't. First the IT system will fail, then the project budget will explode, then the terrorists will attack anyway (only they'll have nice shiny ID cards when they do), and the fraudsters will counterfeit the cards. Yet more rules made because of scum, that will not make them one bit less scummy.

2. Rules are for other people. Rule makers are notorious for ignoring the rules. I feel this point is so obvious it doesn't even need documentation. Rules are used by those in authority to wield power over the masses. Government ministers set the state school curriculum, then send their kids to private schools.

Did you ever see the film, "The Cider House Rules"? Michael Caine's character runs a remote orphanage with complete contempt for the rules made by people who rarely visit and have no concept of what it takes to run the place.

3. Rules don't inspire me. Rules can never bring out the best in people because they treat people like they are stupid. If you treat people as stupid, that's what you get.

Greatness requires breaking rules. Who do you really respect in human history? Think about it...
Gandhi? - You don't protest like that!
Martin Luther King? - You can't say that!
The Apollo Program personnel? - You can't go there!
They broke rules of convention, received wisdom, and even the law.

What about great fictional characters - think of books or films. How exciting would they be if the hero played it by the book. That tells me that we aspire to be above the rules. We instinctively know that being a goody-two-shoes, dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't' is boring and only a shadow of all we can be.

What about Jesus? He healed on the Sabbath, ate with the publicans and sinners. He broke enough rules to get himself executed. He also summed up hundreds of Old Testament laws in two commandments - Love God and love your neighbour. That's what I'm talking about. He knew that if you want to inspire people, you've got to trust them to figure something out for themselves.

The hundreds of laws in the Old Testament kept a check on society, but they were not enough. People are not improved by the imposing of restrictions from outside. Something has to spark on the inside. When people love God and love their neighbour, they don't need petty rule-makers, they need freedom.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Religion of Peace

The Iranian president is more damning of Islam than Pope Benedict XVI. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said to NBC: "People in important positions should be careful about what they say. What he said may give an excuse to another group to start a war."

In other words, if Muslims take offence at your words, they may kill you. The Iranian president knows that Islam is spread by force. Violence and threats of violence are standard fare. Or as the offending quote from the 14th Century put it: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

But Ahmadinejad is wrong when he says: "I think that he [the Pope] actually takes back his statement and there is no problem." Actually, when you check the Pope's words, he did not apologise for anything he said. He was sorry for the reaction! Ahmadinejad and other's have an interest in portraying the Pope as having backed down. But the Pope didn't retract a single word.

Meanwhile the Muslims continue to strengthen their foothold in Britain. The Home Secretary (who is a senior government minister with cabinet responsibilities covering policing and immigration) John Reid is now unwelcome in parts of London.

While addressing a Muslim audience, he was berated: "How dare you come to a Muslim area...?" Well, I'll tell you what it takes for the Home Secretary to visit a Muslim area of east London... The meeting location was kept secret for security reasons, and the audience was hand-picked by government officials. Even that didn't stop the open threats of: "John Reid you will pay!" as protesters were bundled out. (Quite a contrast to another story emerging today that Winston Churchill's phone number was listed in the public phone book while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

So who will be the next government minister to tell us again that Islam is a religion of peace?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Muslim Anger Not Appeased

The Pope said in his apology, "I hope this serves to appease hearts..." Since then, effigies of the Pope have been burned by protesters in Basra. A nun was shot four times in Mogadishu, Somalia where she worked in a children's charity. At least seven churches have been attacked in Palestine. There's also been some fun in Indonesian and Iranian cities calling for death or international trial of the Pope and overthrow of western civilization...

Appease hearts?... Well that didn't work. Got any more ideas?

According to the Telegraph, the Mujahideen Shura Council said: "We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya.

We shall break the cross and spill the wine ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome ... (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen."

Now there have been some conciliatory voices from the Muslim world also. That's nice, but the question is, who are the people listening to? Why do so many vent so much anger on so many streets? It's about time western leaders woke up the fact that the nut-cases are not the isolated few in Islam.

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury spectacularly fails to understand the futility of appeasement. In a fanatical determination to bury his head in the sand he completely misses the point, with "There are elements in Islam that can be used to justify violence, just as there are in Christianity and Judaism."

Women's Rugby World Champions

Congratulations to the New Zealand Women's Rugby team - the Black Ferns. They are world champions again after beating England in the final on Sunday.

Canada was the tournament host, and placed a respectable 4th.

I haven't seen the New Zealand/England final, but these photos tell of a bone crunching encounter. (England is in white being shown the direct route to the South Pacific from Canada.)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Blackmailed Pope Apologises

The Pope issued an apology the other day which was read by a spokesman. (Well, public figures don't really apologise - they express regret for any misunderstanding...) But that wasn't enough for the Muslim Brotherhood who demanded an apology in person. They got it.

He's now said "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries..." I love the evasiveness of these political apologies. Still he's right, it's the violent reactions that need apologising for!

Now in fairness to the Pope, I think he really was misunderstood. He is opposed to violence, but the quote from his offending speech highlighted Muslim violence. In the academic setting of his old German university, he might have thought the quote appropriate. He won't think that again.

Also, "These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought." Fair enough. But a few others seem to think the words struck a chord. Especially the bit about "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

But perhaps most telling, the Pope said, "I hope this serves to appease hearts..."

Fat chance, Your Holiness. When in history has it proven a good idea to appease your aggressors? If the Pope wants to get this crowd off his back he's going to have to convert to Islam, like the two Fox journalists who converted at gun-point.

The other alternative is that someone might just have to stand up to this crap.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Solution to the Offended Muslim Problem

I think I've found an approach to defuse the offence taken by so many Muslims.

First we must understand that we are dealing with people who are told when to be offended. The pope is German, and he was speaking at a German university. I'm guessing he wasn't speaking in Arabic. Yet all over the Muslim world people seem to have taken offence. Perhaps they all downloaded the pdf of a translation of the Pope's lecture and independently arrived at the same level of wounded offence. But I'm guessing that one or two of the mob who burned down the Anglican church didn't fully study the text of the Pope's address for themselves.

Second, we learn from nature that often the antidote is surprisingly close to the toxin. The pope's comments may in fact be close, and with a little adjustment may calm the situation down.

Now here is a technique I use with my kids when they are being entirely unreasonable and unresponsive to the parenting book strategies - cunning. I've used it with work colleagues and it works a treat.

Consider my colleague who is always right. I finally sent a reply-to-all email closing with the line, "please prove that you always need to have the last word by replying to this email." You see, he couldn't respond without proving me right!

The Pope needs to say something like, "Muslims seem to react with outrage and violence rather than reasoned dialogue whenever they take offence." Then what can they do? If they react with outrage and violence, they prove the statement correct. Surely the Muslim leaders who tell people when to be offended to outrage and violence would see the unfortunate irony.

So we will surely have a response of reasoned discussion. Then we will have calm and progress.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pope Benedict and Islam

Pope Benedict XVI has quoted a 14th Century emperor saying "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

This kind of statement is only dangerous if it's true. If it is false then the benevolent hordes will emerge with counter-examples of all the good and peace brought by Muhammad.

But that's not what we are hearing. According to the BBC report...
Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution on Friday criticising the Pope for making "derogatory" comments. Derogatory maybe, but are the Pope's comments wrong? Where are the counter-examples?

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood said the Pope's remarks "aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world". Well maybe they were pissed-off to start with.

The thing is, in the West we have freedom of speech. That means we can say things that some people don't like. Hell, we can even say things that EVERYONE doesn't like. If you can only say non-offensive things then you have no freedom of speech.

Now, it follows that the Pope can say this, and the Muslims can say they disagree. In fact, I look forward to someone presenting an intellegent counter-argument. But don't give us these thinly veiled threats about arousing the anger of the whole Islamic world. We saw that crap errupt over the Danish Cartoons. And if we see more of the same this time we might just have to conclude that 14th century emperor was right and not much has changed in Islam.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Top CDs of the Summer

With the summer coming rapidly to an end, I've put together a list of some CDs I've discovered while the sun was out. These are not CDs released this year - they're CDs that sounded great this year.

Siren - Heather Nova
A writer of beautiful songs. She sings with guts and passion. Her songs and style are all her own. A real gem.

Venezia - Juliette Pochin
After so many sopranos, its refreshing to hear a mezzo. Again a beautiful choice of arias, only this time a more classical selection.

Oh Mercy - Bob Dylan
Dylan's always been good in the studio. The track "Most of the Time" has the insight to the soul that makes Dylan the song writer he is.

When the Pawn - Fiona Apple
I love that artful angry woman sound. The album just gets better and better as the tracks play on. "Get Gone" is a real thumper where she gets all the power of her attitude into the music.

Shangri-La - Mark Knopfler
Having listened to early Dire Straits as a teenager (before they put out that repetitive commercial fodder), I had looked for something special from the guitarist and writer of the band. Here it is. More laid back and thoughtful. A very fine album. I'm going to put it on now.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Having just finished the George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in the bath, I'm not going to list it with my favourite books. It's more important than whether I liked it or not.

This was my first time through the book as I never read a page of it in high school when my class mates studied the novel for their finals. That's probably a good thing because I was too thick at 16. And had I read it as a teenager, I may not have picked it up now.

One can't read Nineteen Eighty-Four in England without thinking of Britain under New Labour. English Socialism "Ingsoc" strives not only to define the facts, but to tell us the correct way to think about them. An important plank in all this is to remove from the language the vocabulary to voice contrary thoughts.

In my opinion, any discussion of government intrusion into our lives from identity cards to bugging devices in wheelie bins should be informed by this book. The readiness of the public to accept such invasion of privacy reminds me of Benjamin Franklin - "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tax Funded Fertility Treatment for Lesbians?

The British Fertility Society (which represents health fertility professionals) is recommending that lesbians be given the same priority as heterosexual couples on the British National Health Service.

Now hang on a minute. Medical help on the NHS is for those who need medical help. If you can't have kids, then I'm happy for my tax money to help with fertility treatment. But I expect that you at least tried first!

If the reason a woman can't have kids is that she doesn't want to sleep with a man, then that's just tough. Don't ask the rest of us to pay for the IVF.

The good Lord in His wisdom didn't require much for people to have kids. You don't have to be beautiful or intelligent, you just have to be man and woman!