Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sampling American Food

I'll be away for a the land where python eats alligator and bursts.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Traffic Signs and Thinking Minds

Sometimes you wonder whether a story is a spoof. Apparently, it's real - seven European cities are felling their traffic signs and signals, and asking drivers to be thoughtful and considerate!

Bravo! It may be a function of our highly regulated culture that I am initially slightly nervous at the prospect of removing the road signs. My first reaction is wonder if we can make it without someone telling us how to handle each junction. But pretty quickly the 'less is more' instinct kicks in. Best government is small. Best legislation is minimal and simple.

The linked article is littered with unhelpful terms like 'anarchy' and 'utopia'. Of course, this is neither. It is a realisation that the more busybody regulation lumped on people, the less they think. Someone finally had the courage to ask - what if we allow intelligent people to engage their own brains? What if the driver is actually best placed to make his own decisions?

My favourite quotes from the article are: "The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate." That's right! Rules replace thinking.

..And: "The glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow."

This does not mean there are no road rules at all. And a legal framework is still necessary to judge situations when things go wrong. It's just a huge shift in balance... coming at the same problem from an entirely different angle. And apparently it's working - from the article, "the number of accidents has declined dramatically."

Traffic-light controlled intersections are governed by computers. Anyone who has sat at a red-light on an otherwise deserted intersection knows the unique blend of humiliation and fury of trying to reason with the machine-in-charge.

This is why round-abouts work so well... though an entire mystery to our American cousins. They give a guiding direction to the traffic flow rather than interrupting and controlling it. The rules are simple and elegant - go clockwise... give way to those already on the round-about - that's about it! It scales beautifully from the lonely white circle painted in a village centre to the huge garden-planted island in a city rush-hour.

Most shoking of all about this story is that someone in the European Union is actually thinking about trusting people rather than bossing them around.

Top CDs of the Autumn

Here are some cracking CDs I've had on this Autumn.

Shine Like It Does - Eileen Rose
Brash and beautiful from the opening chord. This album is tuneful rock with a story-telling Irish lilt throughout. It's bluesy, a touch nostalgic, and very human.

Love and Theft - Bob Dylan
A rough album. A gutsy collection of rugged ballads and thumping blues. Lonesome Day Blues has one of the best blues guitar riffs I've heard.

The Storm Inside - Laura Michelle Kelly
Sweet voice, contemplative piano and vocal lead tracks. A quieter sound. I haven't a clue what the lady's singing about.

My CDs from the Summer are all still top picks.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Top English Ales

Having lived in England for more than a decade, I have some English ales to recommend.

  • In third place: Tangle Foot. Not to be underestimated.
  • Runner up - Bishops Finger. A favourite when guests come 'round.
  • Outright winner - Hen's Tooth. Bottle conditioned, dry - just right.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Islam and Islamism

In response to the Queen's speech, British MP Paul Goodman spoke thoughtfully in Parliament about the government and nation's approach to terrorism and security. (Hat tip to Melanie Phillips. The speech is not short, but worth reading.)

Interestingly, he makes the distinction between Islam - a great religion various, as complex, as multi-faceted and as capable of supporting a great civilisation as Christianity.

... and Islamism - an ideology forged largely in the past 100 years...

  • First, it separates the inhabitants of the dar-al-Islam-the house of Islam-and the dar-al-Harb-the house of war-and, according to Islamist ideology, those two houses are necessarily in conflict.
  • Secondly, it proclaims to Muslims that their political loyalty lies not with the country that they live in, but with the umma-that is, the worldwide community of Muslims.
  • Thirdly, it aims to bring the dar-al-Islam under sharia law.
I do not agree with this analysis. It seems to me that the Islamic religion is oppressive, aggressive and regressive. The 'moderate/radical' distinction is that so-called 'moderates' are influenced by the western style pick-and-choose belief system. They pay more attention to the nice parts of their religion, and wish-away the slay-the-infidel-wherever-you-find-em bits.

Those very committed to every tenet of Islam will of necessity oppose freedom and peace. Islamism is Islam's response to 'corrupting' and particularly, western influences. 'Moderate Islam' from a western point of view is really just 'back-sliding Islam' from the committed.

I think it's fair to say that Islam is not going to 'go away' anytime soon - though frankly, I'd rather it would. (I don't consider it a 'great religion' or even helpful in the world.) The next best is that it be watered-down, westernised and marginalised.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Actual Conversation

me: Can I ask you a question?
Four year old son: Daddy, you can ask me three questions.
me: Ok. Question one - are you going to finish your pasta?
Four year old son: Yes.
me: Can I save my other two questions for later?
Four year old son: Yes, you can use question number two and question number three next time.
me: Will you answer my two remaining questions?
Four year old son: Yes.

As pasta disappeared, I savoured the knowledge that I had gained the upper hand in some future interaction... if only I use my questions wisely. Patience.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Management Consultants Strike Again

I laughed when I heard this story - until I realised it was our millions in tax money down the drain.

HM Revenue and Customs brought in management consultants to improve efficiency. The consultants implemented such a dim-witted litany of busybody rules (no personal photos on desks...) that they completely alienated the workforce. Now they're dealing with work-to-rule and overtime ban among 14,000 civil servants. Improve efficiency? Not likely.

I've previously posted on what I think of pointy-haired rules. If Revenue and Customs really want rules to improve efficiency, they might try some long-term thinking:
1. Show staff a little respect.
2. See rule 1.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

World Heroes

I was interested to see Linus Torvalds (author of Linux) makes Time Magazine's heroes of the past 60 years. The programmer is listed among 'Rebels and Leaders' alongside Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher.

The rest of the list is peppered with the brave, the visionary, the busybody do-gooders and a fair number of names I didn't know.

Any other surprises in there?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Human Rights and Drugs in Prison

Our embarrassing government is handing over our money in settlement for alleged breeches of 'human rights'. Prisoners denied illegal drugs while in prison had to tough out cold turkey.

So what are rights? This is a fundamental question and the Government of this country is getting it all wrong. A 'right' must be free. If a right costs something, then does it become someone else's obligation to pay? That would be an infringement on others' rights! This is why there is a right to freedom of speech, not a right to a microphone, air-time and an attentive audience.

The Americans understood this. They have a right to 'the pursuit of happiness'. Not a 'right to happiness'. If you want it, pursue it for yourself! The rest of us have no obligation to make you happy.

In Britain we hear so much about human rights to education or health care. This really makes no sense as a principled position. How much education is a right? Primary, secondary, university? If there is right to health care, does that mean any treatment possible must be made available? If these things are human rights, then people become victims of human rights abuses whenever they get less education or health care than someone else.

The only realistic way to provide this equality is to prevent the most resourceful from getting the excellence in education and health care that they might otherwise obtain. This perverted idea of human rights breeds envy, mediocrity and victim-hood.

The right must be to pursue education, to pursue health care. If I work hard to achieve something for my family, that hurts no one else. I am not preventing anyone else from providing abundantly for their own. But the twisted ideals of human rights bring ever increasing taxes to level-down achievement so that even those who do little or nothing to look after their own can have what the rest of us must work for.

These were convicted prisoners wanting illegal drugs. The moral vacuum in which they can successfully fleece the rest of us for compensation is beyond belief.

The Home Office said it "reluctantly" decided to settle out of court to "minimise costs to the taxpayer". They won't even fight. Utterly useless.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Nick Griffin, the BNP and Islam

The court has cleared Nick Griffin of 'hate crimes'. The leader of the British National Party had said that Islam is a "wicked, vicious faith". This was a test of new religious hate laws criminalising speech that is likely to stir up racial or religious hatred. I'm pleased he was cleared as I believe we need the right to criticise religions. My observation is that criticising Islam is likely to stir up hatred. That in itself is a criticism of Islam.

If we lose the right to criticise religions, how long before we are not allowed to criticise political parties? What is the difference? They are both made up of groups of people with common beliefs that they take personally. Some people care passionately about their politics and are easily offended. How long before they require equal protection from offence?

Widespread offence only happens when the criticism might be true. If I say that the Ladies' Crochet Circle is wicked and vicious, no one would take it seriously. When Griffin says Islam is wicked and vicious, the authorities worry it may be more believable.

Government minister Lord Falconer, has said there should be "consequences" from saying Islam is "wicked and evil". Why? It is the expression of an opinion. It infringes no one else's rights. Neither does it incite others to illegal acts. If the opinion is misinformed, let us put the counter argument.

So is the statement correct? Is Islam a wicked and vicious faith? This is too general a statement to be either true or false. Islam is not one thing, it means something different to each adherent, and different things again to the rest of us. To describe Islam as 'wicked and vicious' is as ridiculous as asserting that Islam is a 'religion of peace'. It certainly isn't a religion of peace to all Muslims.

I think slightly more specific statements such as "Islam is conspicuously over-represented among the wicked and vicious", or "Loads of Muslims want to kill each other and the infidel" are more verifiable.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Victoria Beckham

Now I wouldn't normally comment on fashion, but I'm hoping this new look from Posh catches on. Think of the savings to the family clothing budget!

Even with a few more kebabs inside (which the doctors must surely recommend), you could loosen the binding-twine, shake out some more sacking, and it's still a top look. Respect!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

I read an essay the other day suggesting that, while Christians talk about loving the sinner, hating the sin... when it comes to homosexuality, in practice they often hate the sinner, too. The author gives examples of the particular disgust shown for homosexuals above exponents of other sins. I enjoyed reading the article (while disagreeing with several points), and it got me thinking. Other immoral or sinful behaviour doesn't elicit such disgust. Is this a case of double-standards? Jesus railed on hypocrisy much more than he talked about homosexuality.

First, homosexuality is disgusting just as genuine sex is attractive. I can't explain why either is the case, we're built that way. Some may say it's just my perspective or preference. I believe God made it that way. Sex is good and attractive, and a perversion of it is repulsive.

Other sins may not provoke the same emotional reaction, but it is instructive to consider how we do respond. A man who keeps his life in sound balance and cares for his family wins my admiration. One who becomes alcoholic and lets his family down - I pity. It's a different emotional response from disgust... in me. Honesty wins respect, hypocrisy or lying earns distrust and a whole different flavour of disdain.

My emotional reaction to the bad may well be the opposite (or in stark contrast) to my response to the corresponding good. It then follows that where one becomes ambivalent about the Godly design of sex, there will be no strong reaction to the perversion of it.

Emotions are far from any guarantee of a balanced response. But they are part of being human, and often they get us to an appropriate response faster than our intellect can fully analyse the facts. Emotions depend largely on our conditioning. So the way we condition our minds is likely to be reflected in our emotional response to both good and bad.

Jesus responded with compassion at times, and at other times approached people with anger (Mark 3). Emotion can form part of our full appreciation of the situation and can add some zing to our response. If you are conditioned to a Godly design of sex, then you may well consider homosexuality disgusting.

Of course, to genuinely help people, emotions must be kept in check. A group of likeminded people can get carried away with a common emotional response. A group of Christians may be over-the-top in their disgust of homosexuality. As in all things, a balance is needed. Wishing injury or disease on homosexuals is also a perversion. However, I consider it sound to strongly dislike the practice and promotion of homosexuality because I care about the way God designed life and sex.

Often when we see homosexuals on TV, they are flaunting this perversion. There is an exaggerated gay walk and talk. Why is that? - if not for marketing and brand-recognition. When an alcoholic is portraited in a film, he is likely to be a sad case in need of help. But homosexuality is likely to be celebrated in modern media. This is particularly galling.

In contrast, when I work with others who are homosexual, there is no problem. We co-operate in meetings and projects. This is where it makes more sense to speak of loving the sinner, hating the sin.