Sheep in wolves clothing

I don’t often feel sorry for politicians but today I have had a smidgen of  sympathy for Theresa May.  We have found ourselves, in Britain, in the midst of political chaos and Theresa May is at the centre of this political storm. She inherited the task of organizing Brexit even though, at heart, she was not keen on this course of action. Although a ‘remainer’ she felt that, as a politician, she is a public servant and should try and enact the wishes of the electorate who voted for a course she did not agree with. Perhaps she should have realized from the start that she would not be able to meet this challenge as all her instincts on the matter would be wrong.

However, she battled on and created an agreement of sorts with the E.U.. This agreement is exactly what one would expect if a conservative remainer had been given the task of organizing Brexit; it barely takes Britain out of the E.U., keeps it in the customs union, protects the interests of business and commerce, and manages to offer even less democratic involvement  than we previously enjoyed. This is unlikely to be acceptable to those who wanted Brexit and also unlikely to be picked up by those who want to remain.

So I feel sorry for her. I think she did try diligently to do what she thought was the best for Britain and I think she genuinely feels she has found a middle ground which will give breathing space for an organized transition. Unfortunately all she has done is split her own party in two, made her own position untenable, and left her with the impossible ask of getting a deal through parliament that neither side of the debate accept. It would have been better if she had rejected the challenge, and said that her heart was not in it, but through a sense of duty she tried and we are now in the middle of chaos.

The Labour Party is not in a great deal better position. Jeremy Corbyn, who at heart was a Brexiteer, has found himself fighting for the remain campaign (or at least to remain in a customs union or, better still, the single market) because it allowed him to attack the Conservatives and benefit from their disarray. His party will now oppose this deal because it benefits the party political battle between them and the Tories even though much of the deal would, in fact, be acceptable to the Labour Party. I don’t feel sorry for Jeremy Corbyn, however, as his difficult position did not arise from doing the right thing but through his duplicity.

There are solutions to the crisis which Britain faces now. One path would be to leave the E.U. without any formal deal. This would lead to turbulent times and there may be some, hopefully short-term, economic damage. Eventually new arrangements would be forged and we could create our future.

Another route would be to call another referendum on this deal  (or remaining), the so called Peoples’ Vote. This would lead to turbulent times and there may be there may be some, hopefully short-term, economic damage. But this method would not create any new arrangements. If the vote was to “leave” then we are back at start again. If it were to “remain” then how long would it be for calls of “best out of three” and the debate resurfaces.

The other route, which might forge a more lasting solution, could be another General Election. If the parties line themselves in accord with their actual sympathies, which may mean a split in both Labour and Conservative parties, then we can vote on whether and how we wish to leave. Whoever wins would know the mandate they have and would actually want to implement this. Whether it is to stay, stay or leave with modifications, or leave the intention would be clear and the negotiators would be those sharing the aspirations of the voters. What we have now is sheep pretending to be wolves as they organize the next hunting expedition. This does not work.

Don’t leave a mess when you leave.

Don’t leave a mess when you leave.

Now that I am old I have the great fortune to be able to watch afternoon television. The programmes  run in the afternoon are obviously cheap fare; either rubbish to punish the unemployed, or easy nostalgia to appeal to the older viewer. These programmes are innocuous enough but I am rather worried by the type of advertisement which predominates. I don’t mind the repeated ads for stair lifts and incontinence pads. This is fair enough, my time will come when I need these things. I don’t even mind the adverts for capital release – suggesting I’m gullible enough to give over my home, and all its value, for the short term fun of a holiday or giving a gift to my children. No, these are all fine. What annoys me are the repeated funeral plan adverts.

Advert after advert tries to worry me about the cost of funerals and urges me to buy a plan now so that I don’t have to worry about it in the future. Now, to tell the truth, I never really worry about the cost of my funeral. I can be pretty sure that the one person who will not be around to worry about that bill is me ! If I have money left when I die then this will be used to pay for my funeral. If I am so short of money that I will have none left then the last thing I should be doing is spending money on my future corpse. I obviously need that money now, use the money during your life to keep life tolerable or fun. Don’t waste scare reserves on the one purchase you will certainly never be able to enjoy.

This is the thing about funerals. They are about how the people who knew you, and are still alive, decide you should be remembered. They are not your choice. Sure, if you think you are so unloved that you are going to be put out in a bin bag with the garbage then it might be better to buy a plan and avoid the ignominy. But a better plan might be to behave better, become better regarded and thus secure some positive attention following your demise.

Funerals are for the survivors to express their sadness and to celebrate the life of the departed. They should choose how this is done. If they want to have a big event with much gnashing of teeth and wailing then that is their right, likewise if they want a low key affair then that too is correct. We hope that we will be missed because we hope that we were well regarded and loved. No amount of money will sort this problem other than perhaps by how beneficent you are during your life. So if you are really keen on preparing for your death and funeral look to how you are living not to planning your funeral. Imagine the terrible scene there could be if you bought a wonderful funeral, with black horses, banks of lilies, a marble mausoleum but there was no one there because you had been so miserable during your life and so self-centred that no-one really missed you.

Don’t buy a funeral plan, make a gift to a friend, help a family member in their time of need, or make a charitable donation if you are really concerned about how people will think on you once you are gone. Think that it might just be possible that this is a scam by funeral directors to get people to pay more and earlier for their services. They play on the elderly’s guilt; suggesting that we should give up our possession now as we really shouldn’t enjoy them, and also suggesting that we are a burden and we should be very careful that we stop being a burden when we die. Really saying, make sure, when you go, you leave no mess for us to clear up, no awkward bills or planning. Tidy up and close the door after you ! Sorry, I’m not doing it, I’m using all my money wisely and hopefully generously because, as they say, there are no pockets in a shroud.

 

The right dog for the right task.

The right dog for the right task.

I am very lucky that for most of my life I have lived with dogs and latterly I have tended to have two dogs at any given time. Just now I live with Cadi and Brân and I think it would be hard to imagine two more different dogs. Their differences are not most noticeable in the physical areas; one is small the other large, one female the other male, one a Border Collie and the other a German Shepherd. But rather they differ enormously in their characters. This means that they have very different aptitudes and I need to bear this in mind when we do things together.

Cadi is the Border Collie.  She is clearly the oznorbrains of the two. She is much quicker to learn things though not necessarily the more obedient. She is the dog we need if we are trying to do anything with the sheep. Her instincts are to gather and herd and despite our lack of skills she has developed into a good and useful working dog. We can send her into a field and following the judicious use some “come by” and “away” commands we can round up all of our flock. We have found that it is better to rely on her instincts of what is the best strategy for working with the sheep rather than our own – she reads them much better than we can.

On the other hand Brân would be of little value in this arena. His instinct is to hunt and oznoralthough he is very keen to get at the sheep this is rarely of any help. If you want to imagine his strategy then visualise a testosterone fuelled teenager showing off in front of a group of girls at a billiard table. Imagine him slamming that cue ball and sending all the other balls flying. This is Brân’s strategy, it may be helpful to explain Brownian motion to those who do not understand it,  but it has little to commend it in agricultural terms. Though he may have the word “Shepherd” in his breed name he seems to have little of this in his DNA.

This does not mean Brân doesn’t work.  Cadi is a useless guard-dog. If anyone arrives at the farm she is pleased to see them and offers to let them in and show them around despite how unsavoury or malevolent they may appear. Brân, however, is much more fussy. He only allows those he knows in. If you don’t have an invitation form us then Brân is not happy for you to enter. If he decides you are not invited  he  throws his 45kg at the gate and barks a loud  “keep out”. This is usually very clearly understood by people who call.

cof

When it comes to going for walks, often, I will go with both dogs. They like to play with each other, and it means they cover a great deal more ground than I do, thus they also get a great deal more exercise than they would have received if it had just been me an one dog. But it is not the case that I can take either dog for every walk. Some types of walking only really suit one dog.

If I am going jogging I need to go with Brân. Actually I prefer the welsh verb loncian to the  verb jogging. I feel loncian conveys more of a sense of clunky, dis-coordinated , uneven movement than jogging with its association with running and fluid movements. Cadi can not stand to watch me jog. She sees my wheezing, sweating and facial grimaces and thinks something is wrong. She starts to bark and jump up and down to warn me to stop and draws attention to the fool I am making of myself. So for jogging I take Brân. He paces effortlessly along side. His long legged, fluid strides, look easy and effortless and this seems his natural pace. The only problem is that when I look at his effortless grace it reminds me just how awful my own performance must look.

The other exercise I take is hiking. I enjoy this as it requires no equipment and I am lucky to live in an area which makesdav hiking glorious. There are trails and pathways which look as if they have not changed their appearance for hundreds of years. I also enjoy it as it requires no special clothing. I loath lycra and gym clothing. I have a body which needs to be hidden rather than seen. I do have bulges and curves but they are all in the wrong places, I curve out where I should curve in. My bulges are not rippling muscle but wobbly bits in the wrong place. If you wished to imagine my physique, and I’d advise against it, then think about making a model man with a potato for the body and four cocktail sticks for the limbs – there you have it. I enjoy hiking is it may, one day, shrink the potato but in the meantime I can wear camouflage clothing

When hiking I am best with Cadi. She won’t pester the sheep and she can be let to run free. She is also a better listener than Brân. I can have much deeper conversations with her as she understands a great deal more and there is no need to use “baby talk” in the conversations. She is the ideal companion as she will also help eat half of your sandwiches, even the ones I don’t like, and this improves the exercise as it cuts down the calories consumed. As they say, a calorie in the dog is a calorie less in me.

rhdr

 

Dangerous Nonsense

It was Benjamin Franklin’s opinion that “Nothing is of more importance to the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtueand I would hazard that very few people would disagree with him. Assisting our people to grow and develop is a key function of every society and it is the reason that education and academia are held in high regard. For over a decade I worked in a University Department of Medicine as a lower level academic and teacher and found this, initially, the most rewarding aspect of my career. Working with students to develop their understanding of medicine, to enlarge their store of knowledge, and to help them develop skills in critical thinking was the most satisfying post I ever held. Possibly even more satisfying than my time in clinical work. I was aware that was I helping train some doctors who, being much more able than I, would go on to help many more patients than I ever would myself.

Towards the end of my spell in the academic world I had started to become a little disillusioned. Fads and popular theories came and went without adequate critical appraisal and I feared the traditions of intellectual independence and rigour in analysis were starting to weaken under pressure from political and financial interference.  I stepped sideways back into the NHS for last working years but continued to watch what was happening to my Alma Mater and education in general. It has not been  pleasant or reassuring to observe what has followed.

The first onslaught appeared to be on academic freedom and on the idea of free speech. Lecturers were boycotted or banned if they held contentious opinions. A movement to de-platform speakers caught many off-guard and seemed to reach a pinnacle when Germaine Greer was banned by feminists from speaking on campus as her views on transgender issues are not currently mainstream. I’d recalled my university days, as both staff and student, as days of debate and discussion, often heated, often noisy, but always free and ultimately enlightening. I felt, increasingly, that we were failing our students with the growth of ‘safe spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’ and the avoidance of discussion.

This coddling was worrisome but much worse was to follow. As I had said, I had seen fads come and go. Usually when critical analysis was brought bear on the current pet theory it started to wither and retreat. However, now that debate is curtailed many theories last longer without proper scrutiny and start to establish themselves as the orthodox view without being having been based on good scientific enquiry. There are now many statements made that are accepted as fact and are now sheltered from questioning. These statements, have just be believed, it is increasingly heretical to question them.

For example take the problem of rape. Here is a terrible crime that concerns us all. We need to find every means at our disposal make this less frequent. Any initial reading on the subject will lead one to encounter the statement that “Rape is about control and power” not sex. In scientific terms this is quite an easy theory to test as it is falsifiable and testable. Unfortunately, on the times when good studies are undertaken about rape they tend to repeatedly reveal that, in a sizable proportion of cases, the driving factor in the crime was the sexual urge. None the less, you will find it very difficult to find anyone who doesn’t repeat the mantra “it’s not about sex, it’s about power” when discussing how we might deal with the problem with rape. This is to our shame as it is a missed opportunity; the task force set up by Obama found (The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) found that using this understanding (that rape is sometimes driven by sexual drives) there are means to reduce its frequency. This is surely what we all want and it is a grave error if we uncritically continue with a theory that reduces our ability to understand this issue and tackle it.

In many other areas statements are made with religious authority : concerning obesity – one can be fit at any weight;  concerning racism – once can not be racist towards white people; concerning transgender – every child with gender dysphoria is starting on a permanent path of transition; concerning intelligence – genetic factors are of little importance. These statements fly in the face of prior, tested and scrutinised, claims but flourish while they are guarded from criticism. Like the religious authorities of old, our current academic priesthood brook no questions and cloud their statements in jargon and obfuscation. Alan Sokal the physicist recognised this a generation ago when he hoaxed the editors of “Social Text” with his nonsense paper “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity to Social Text“.  Unfortunately, this broadside failed to slow down these changes which continued to expand and affect more academic departments.

Thankfully the struggle continues. Three academics have taken the hoax and multiplied it. They submitted a number of clearly broken papers with clearly implausible, indeed frankly unbelievable, findings to  a number of journals. As long as they wrote  including the current shibboleths and mantras they could get almost anything accepted for publication: Pages from Mein Kampf (replacing references to jews to white men) was accepted by a gender journal, an article watching dogs in a dog park was accepted as confirmation of rape culture in America, and an article suggesting men should masturbate with sex toys anally to reduce their transphobia and homohysteria was felt to be a valuable advance in our understanding of society. Their article in Areo magazine is a long read but well worth it. It is scarcely believable what they managed to have published, although perhaps it is telling that the paper published  in Gender, Place and Culture on “The feminist post-humanist politics of what squirrels eat” was not a hoax (with academic work of this quality it is hard to tell).

These issues are depressing but I am glad to say that at least some humour can be had at their expense. As you would expect, when the Emperor wears his new clothes he manages to garner a laugh from those who are still able to think independently.

 

I still have hope that it is in nature of youth to rebel and to question authority. I hope that these attacks are the beginnings of a revolt against this new clerisy that has taken charge of our institutions. It is very dangerous to allow those in power to away our ability to question and reason independently. Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognised this as he watched, and lost his life fighting against, the rise of fascism when he wrote in his article “On Stupidity” :-

“On closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. … The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.

The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him.

He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”

 

Eli i bob dolur yw amynedd

I came across this Welsh idiom this week while reading. ‘Eli i bob dolur yw amynedd roughly translates as Patience is the balm for all tribulations. Certainly, through most of my life I have found this to be largely true; with time and patience most, if not all,  problems and trials are able to be endured or overcome. The trick is to have the patience to deal with them. This is possibly the benefit of growing old.

When I was a young man I had a tendency to tackle all problems head on. I saw life as a series of challenges that I needed to face and overcome. In the main, this gung-ho approach served me fairly well for the more mundane problems in life. However, looking back I can also see that when I made bad decisions these were often made rashly. I will admit that caution and hesitancy may have lost me some opportunities but these are outweighed by the times caution and patience have let me do the right thing in times of major dilemmas.

The major religions tend to view patience as one of the main virtues in life, indeed, it is listed as one of the seven Virtues. In Christianity it is viewed as a gift from the Holy Spirit, Judaism likewise sees patience as one of the greatest personal traits people can display, in Islam patience (sabr) is one of the greatest virtues and necessary to become closer to God, and Bhuddism and Hinduism also extol patience as one of the essential virtues. The stoics also noted the importance of patience when dealing with life’s trials.

Unfortunately we not born patient. We are born impulsive, hungry, needy and rash. We need to learn to be patient which only comes by experience. As we meet problems we learn that initial quick fixes are often temporary and longer term strategies are often better. We learn that, even if we can not effect a change then life will do it for us. We learn, with experience the trust of the old Persian saying “This too shall pass“. With patience you are able to endure and wait until change, which you are impotent to effect, takes place. This kind of patience needs strength. It is often easier to rail against the fates and try to do something, anything, just in the hope that it will make a change. This pattern rarely works any more than chance and does have a high likelihood of changing the situation for the worse.

As a society we are less patient. We dislike waiting and “want it now“, we are less tolerant of others and often expect them to attend to our needs.  We want fast foods, quick fixes, instant delivery and instant gratification. This is a more childlike way of living and not a sign of growing maturity. Impatience my even, in part, contribute to our growing obesity crisis. As John Komlos from the University of Munich said in 2004 :-

“People have tried to look at a lot of reasons why Americans are getting so overweight. But nobody has thought about the idea of connecting it to impatience. .. .. If you are willing to forgo present satisfaction for future benefits, you are patient. If, however, you want your satisfaction right now, then you are going to have that extra dessert and that extra ice cream and you are not going to be able to forgo the pleasures of today.”

The Type A personality structure has, as one of its facets, impatience and it has long been known that there are a number of health disadvantages associated with the Type A personality cluster.

In relationships patience is the keystone. There will always be times when partners disappoint or annoy us. Loving someone is learning to understand these differences and living with them. Impatience will throw away a relationship early if it has not fulfilled immature demands which will lead for frequent, shorter relationships which will, by necessity, be less satisfying. Patience allows us to learn about each other; to decide if change is needed and, if so, who is best to change. Patience allows a relationship to grow and become deeper and stronger. New friends are excellent but nothing compares to old friends who have stuck with you, been patient of your foibles, and are our real social capital.

We can always be certain that we will face adversity. How we face adversity may be the thing which determines what kind of person we are. Leo Tolstoy recognized that when in battle “The strongest of all warriors is these two : Time and Patience”.  Patience is the greatest skill we have in our armoury. It is now waiting but how we act while we wait , how we manage to keep our composure and avoid rash and imprudent action. Even when all hope seems gone, patience and the knowledge that ‘this too shall pass’ may help us endure. Let’s hear it for patience another old-fashioned virtue that needs reclaimed.  Proclaim patience, it is the key to our success.

‘Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go’

William Feather