Polyglot is a word that is new to most people’s vocabularies. It describes someone who learns multiple languages. It seems kind of ironic in that learning foreign languages you become something for which you must learn a new word in English. The word was probably popularised more by Benny Lewis who has turned an inability to learn foreign languages into an ability to pick them up at a seemingly unnatural pace, claiming three months is adequate for fluency. He has now even published a book by the title ‘fluent in three months’ or ‘Fliessend in Drei Monaten’, which I presume he translated himself.
As more and more jobs are taken up by robots and finding employment becomes harder language ability becomes ever more important. There are many jobs that people believed could never be automated which are increasing danger of being handed over to machines, if they have not already been. It can be difficult to say which jobs are unlikely to be given to machines in the future. Skills and abilities that are considered to be things only humans can do are quickly being developed to a higher and higher extent in computers. Looking at how man made items are still appreciated over mass produced products it seems there is likely to always be options for craftsmen but language and translation looks like its value is disappearing. Google translate, real time voice translation and cameras that translate signs are all putting extra nails in the coffin of employability.
Language learning is in far less danger than it appears though. Direct personal interaction is one of those skills where humans are definitely recognised as an essential part of the process. Conversation is an art and a translator in an important business deal or a political exchange has a more important role to play than it first seems. A translator is able to subtly affect the meaning of phrases and terms by things as simple as tone of voice. Whether all translators realise this is uncertain. To be able to speak directly without any intervening need for a translator (human or otherwise) is a mark of respect that can win points in a deal with people from other nations. It is additionally a skill that reaps benefits in the distant future as it has been shown that an ability with multiple languages can protect against the brain disorders that become increasingly inevitable as you grow older.
Think of how much more enjoyable it is to watch a foreign movie without having to read subtitles and without having to listen to bad dubbed on sound. Not to mention the beauty of hearing interesting new words; a term I heard that I particularly liked the other day was Brannen Skadet in Norwegian, even though it means fire damaged it feels so nice coming off the tongue. If you appreciate the beauty of old literature and poetry then just imagine how it must feel to read old literature and poetry in Dutch, a language that has some fantastic 18th century words.
If anything the wealth of computer translation software is most likely to increase our natural capacity to speak other languages. The fact that you are reading this in English probably means you are likely to know fewer languages than the people of most nations of the world simply because they often have to learn English on top of their native language. This puts an advantage in their direction as they prove that in addition to anything you can do they can also speak their own language natively. Sites like duolingo and memrise seem to be appearing all the time; apps on the smartphones offer multiple ways to learn multiple languages. It becomes easier all the time to learn new languages. If you don’t want to make an extra effort then it is still easy to simply turn on subtitles in DVDs to expose yourself to different languages.
As far as my usual blogs go this one is a bit self indulgent, but if it can encourage a single person to enrich their life with a new language then I am glad to have written it. It can be very important to dismiss language skills now that it is so easy to get good translations but there are so many reasons aside from the desire to obtain a translation that mean language learning will remain of importance to us far into the future, if not forever.
Jeremy Corbyn seems to have done something that nobody has managed for many decades. He is making politics seem interesting. Last year when we had Russell Brand telling us not to bother voting because it was a waste of time and our voices made little impact on the actions of the political clone army that run things, a lot of people listened. Or at least they felt their own suspicions were being backed up by a nominal comedian/celebrity. Throughout my whole life politics has been dull; when it threatens to get interesting there is a political reaction that injects so much new dullness that I couldn’t describe it to you without you leaving this page to go and do something more interesting instead. Fortunately I wouldn’t tell you anyway as when it happened I think I might have fallen asleep or urgently gone to watch some paint drying.
Of course they say that the darkness is at its thickest just before dawn; of course this is complete rubbish, it is actually darkest in the middle of the night, but the analogy may apply in politics. Just about when politics was at its indisputably highest levels of dullness, corruption, disenfranchisement, and many other negative things Jeremy Corbyn just seems to have popped up out of nowhere. At one point there was a labour leadership contest full of contenders and then suddenly the selfsame leadership contest also had Jeremy Corbyn, who nobody seemed to have invited and he was busy doing things that nobody liked who was in the party. If it was an ordinary party like those you go to on Saturday night then Corbyn would essentially have turned up at about 10:30 with a couple of six packs and a crate of wine; he would have taken Justin Bieber off the stereo and tossed the CD out of the window before putting on a mix he made himself of Led Zeppelin, The Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and other similarly non Bieber fare. Unfortunately it would appear he turned up to a party being held by a pair of accountants to celebrate their new conservatory designs, and they are planning to get up early in the morning.
Jeremy Corbyn is the most popular choice with voting labour members because he is undoubtedly the only hope that labour has for being taken seriously as a party for the people in the future, and the only chance that labour has of offering a viable alternative who would be worth voting into parliament. He is also the most popular choice with the tories because he will obviously prevent labour being taken seriously in any way whatsoever and will destroy any chance they have of ever being a viable alternative to the conservative party and getting into power. He is also the least favoured choice of the labour voter on account of these same reasons, but he is also the least favoured choice of the typical tory on account of he may actually make the world a nice place to live for people who don’t have so much money that they could upgrade a slurry pit into a nice place to live if they really wanted to.
Of course it is difficult to see the future so anyone who is working towards a definite strategy only really has about a 50% chance of being successful. Condorcet used to reckon that a large enough group of people were capable of making decisions between them that would usually be correct. Condorcet didn’t have access to the knowledge of modern psychology that points out that most people will follow the opinions of any idiot who speaks loudly and confidently enough. It is therefore difficult to accurately choose which outcome will occur if Corbyn gets in. Personally I cling to the beautiful irony of all the tories trying to influence things to help him get in only to discover that the result is a Labour government that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Miliband came closer than many people think during the last election. It has been expertly hushed up that his government actually got more votes that Blair did last time he was voted into power. It seems that all the achievements of labour have been kept quiet recently. I can only imagine that David Cameron’s background in marketing has allowed him to keep all the good ad men to himself.
I don’t feel that this is my argument to take part in. Many of my friends will no doubt be horrified by this. Most people I know are very vocal in their support for Corbyn. I could easily be swayed towards him, in fact I think I have already been swayed towards him. Previously I would have said that the strategic vote was more important for gaining power than the idealistic vote but when I think of how many people feel disenfranchised by modern politics it is probable that strategy and idealism are walking hand in hand at the moment. I feel for the old conservative labour view that all these new labour members are really being quite unfair in coming into their club and noisily messing things up; I kind of think it is not my place to do so, but to all those who are currently shaking things up for the future of the labour party I salute you and wish you well. I hope the choices you make work out for all of us.
I heard Noam Chomsky make a comparison between football and politics the other day. He said that while few people understood what was going on in politics the ability ordinary people had to talk about football in depth showed that people weren’t avoiding politics because they didn’t have the ability to understand. Noam pointed out that the intricacies that could develop in the relation of all the players in all the teams over the course of a year created a network of data that left him completely lost, yet ordinary blokes down the pub knew it all inside out.
The reason that all this brain power is directed into things like sport is that in sport there is so much flexibility of outcome. An individual may not be able to affect anything personally but it somehow feels like the world in which it takes place does not reject the input of the individual. Ordinary people may not be directors, coaches, or players, but they can still be part of the debate. They may change nothing as individuals but collectively it certainly appears that the debate can have an effect on the overall game. The difference in politics is that it feels so futile. The individual has no effect, but the individual often doesn’t even have the illusion of an effect. Even those within the system don’t appear to have an effect. Britain’s party leaders seem to regularly talk about making changes but in reality they can’t even change the ‘Punch and Judy’ format of the way in which people address each other in the house of commons. If leaders are unable to simply change the rules around how people speak to each other to something more respectful then how on Earth are they going to be able to make any substantive changes.
Politics are currently working on the wrong model. In football the way things work is fairly obvious. Teams fight it out until only the best one is left and they win the cup, or generally actions along those lines. Each time a team goes to play football it is doing its job. The competing is the job and each team gets rewarded for doing things their way to the best of their ability.
In politics the different teams involved do not do their jobs until after they have won the competition. Up until that point they essentially pretend to do their job and then if everyone thinks that their ‘fantasy football’ style politics would be effective then maybe they will get voted in and be able to do it for real. There is no way to objectively test if their methods work though. In football the way to objectively test if a team’s methods work is to see if they won the game. It is obvious. In politics there is no objectivity like this. The team who is trying to win has to try to work out what sort of things the public would like and then pretend that is what they would do. The result means that they, lie about their principles; they mimic the group who has already won because their tactics must have worked, even though they are meant to be opposed, i.e. opposite.
Our political parties cannot be chosen for objective reasons. They can only be chosen because of personal biases or because the current party in power has screwed things up so badly that we have no other choice beside trying to walk across the channel. My Grandmother refused to vote liberal because she said they couldn’t be trusted, although if they had ever been given the chance to learn from that mistake it could only have been when she was a very small child. Certainly I don’t think Lloyd George would have been likely to make the same mistakes again in the 1980s, having long since shuffled off the mortal coil. There was no objective reason to think that they would be remotely similar to the last liberal government.
This is my complaint. No wonder sports are easier to relate to than politics. Most of politics is just one small group of people, fewer than a thousand in a country of sixty million, doing their own thing, more or less unswayed by those who want change. Luckily I have a solution.
As I have pointed out, every week when football teams compete they do so by doing their job. The solution for political parties wholly failing to achieve anything comparable in their own operation is for political parties to start competing before they get into power. Local MPs should be solving their constituent’s problems in their capacity as MP whether they succeed in gaining a parliamentary seat or not. If a candidate fails and wishes to step down then they should be immediately replaced by someone prepared to do their job immediately. A replacement shouldn’t be chosen only for the purpose of running for election. A candidate should be chosen immediately to try and solve local issues and rally people together even if their is no hope of them gaining power for another five years.
The political parties should be operating at a national scale to make large changes to the way things are done. They should consider themselves to be like large multipurpose charities. There should be no focus on one particular field, they should be charities that deal with the day to day running of the country. They should be able to prove their worth as potential leaders to run our country by their ability to raise money and then use that money to improve the lives of the people rather than saving it for advertising and canvassing. If we could see parties achieve success when they are not in power then we are far more likely to put them in power where they get the opportunity to make even bigger changes. We should not have to vote for people based on assurances which will probably never attain fruition.
Currently one of the most hated columnists/celebrities/presenters/human beings in the UK Katie Hopkins does have some fans though they are probably fairly demented. She has far more enemies. She regularly receives death threats and is parodied by alternative press, and most people think she deserves pretty much every response she has so far received. Not only that but she doesn’t care what people think of her. In combination with no tolerance whatsoever for those who she criticises, she has a remarkably high tolerance for any negative reactions.
It seems that her detestable personality may have a physical basis and that it could shortly be affected by a physical procedure to be carried out by open brain surgery to cure her of epilepsy. Hopkins claims to have attacks that affect her on an almost nightly basis. This is extreme given that most epileptics would expect attacks perhaps twice per week. The abnormal qualities in her personality are similarly extreme.
Bert Park describes one of the mechanisms of epilepsy as involving “An inability to assign appropriate emotional significance to external stimuli.” This certainly sounds like Hopkins, and describes her explanation of her behaviour. In the same chapter on saints and fanatics Park also has similar suggestions to make as a partial hypothesis to explain the actions and behaviour of a number of figures through history who fall on both sides of the line of good and evil but are all linked together by the exaggerated emotional response to external stimuli. Joan of Arc being one example and Adolf Hitler another.
“I not only proposed that the Fuehrer suffered from gallbladder disease and Parkinson’s syndrome but also suggested that his personality disorder might have been explained on the basis of temporal lobe epilepsy”
Interestingly when watching video of Katie Hopkins she does show herself to have similar mannerisms and exaggerated movements to those which Adolf Hitler uses in his speeches on film.
After the conclusion of her current television series Hopkins is to make a choice about whether or not to go ahead with the surgery to cure her epilepsy. She has spoken of a fear that she may die during the surgery or lose the use of one or more limbs. She also mentions the possibility that she may come around to find that she has a Welsh accent or has become a communist. While these comments may be tongue in cheek there is a very real chance that her personality may be radically changed after the surgery. It is wise that she waits till after the current television series as she may not have the same outspoken views afterwards. Although it is also possible that her attitudes may have become such an ingrained part of her brain that they will remain even after the instability has been corrected.
In general where surgery is successful it is likely that personality disorders will see some improvement, the improvement being greater, the earlier it is caught. Hopkins is therefore taking a risk by waiting for work commitments to be ended, but then as she has made a career out of having an abrasive personality that is probably a considered choice. At any rate improvement will likely be gradual and in different areas of personality. The irritability and anger that power Katie’s rants is likely to decrease, as is the spontaneity that often gets her into trouble, especially some time after the operation when things have started to repair themselves. Looking at past results it seems that it is the more severe symptoms that are likely to be most profoundly affected. At Katie Hopkin’s age it will be difficult to have as major an impact as would be possible with a younger subject but over time the new way in which the brain works will start to have an effect on the existing architecture. The gradual changes that appear in the first couple of years after the operation will continue to a degree in the future.
When Phineas Gage’s head was penetrated with an iron bar his entire life changed. He had lost substantially more of his brain than is likely to be removed in an operation for epilepsy. People said this is not Gage anymore.
It may be that whoever comes out of that operating theatre will not be Katie Hopkins as we know her. Her personality may grow to be so different that she will be deeply ashamed of the Katie Hopkins persona. Then again it is also possible that she may become even more Katie Hopkins than she is now. Whatever happens it seems a bit too coincidental at this point that she has a brain disorder and she also has an obviously malfunctioning personality residing within that brain. If a new improved Katie Hopkins emerges from the operating theatre then we may be able to look back on her time as a columnist and see that what entertained and outraged people was an effect of her disorder.
The reason she is on television might be very much like the way in which people laughed at fools, madmen and dwarves in history. In one episode of Blackadder the queen reminisces about the funny people with bells who made her laugh as a child. When her nurses suggests “Jesters?” it is revealed that the queen was actually thinking of lepers. One of the earliest examples of compensation for injury in the service of the crown was given to a man who fell from his horse, not because it was intended as compensation but because it amused the king so much. The manner in which disability and injury was treated in past centuries seems abhorrent to modern civilisation, in a similar light to the way in which Hopkins herself often speaks on television. It may be that in our blindness to their being an actual cause for her behaviour we are guilty of having a similar attitude to the afflicted of today simply because we are unable to recognise their affliction. She may have a disorder that renders her entertaining and is therefore the modern equivalent of a court jester. Because mental issues are so much less visible they are far easier to deride. Mockery of physical disabilities is no longer acceptable, I guess until mental disorders and personality disorders can be more easily identified people will continue to be used in this way because the state of their mind is easy to mock and makes an audience drawing spectacle.
I am not a fan of Katie Hopkins myself and do not think she should be allowed to say the things she says on television. Her opinions step beyond the boundaries of defensible free speech because they are abnormal. She does not represent any valid opinions on the subjects she discusses. I do look forward to seeing if the surgery will create positive changes for her. I can only wish her the best in that regard because in wishing her the best we may also be free of the negative persona that she has inflicted on us since her time on the Apprentice. She fears she may die on the operating table but it is just as likely that if she does then a far better Katie Hopkins will live in her stead.
Bert E. Park, Ailing, Aging, Addicted: Studies of Compromised Leadership , University Press of Kentucky.
Today I shall maybe saving the life of someone you know. I might be saving your life but I assume that if you have the kind of mind that doesn’t mind wading through my writing then you are probably capable of making sure you don’t need saving. Or if you are going to be killed then it will be by some means that I have no power to save you from.
I read today of one of the country’s first mushroom fatalities of the year. Reportedly the culprit was amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. The coroner passed a verdict of misadventure saying that there was nothing that could have been done, even had she been taken directly to hospital at the first indication of trouble. The woman affected was very ill and there was no transplant organ available to replace the damaged one.
This struck me as being a somewhat political verdict. Admittedly amanitas are fatal a lot of the time and admittedly there is very little knowledge about how their harm may be prevented. However I felt the verdict was largely to protect the doctor that had been consulted at first instance. Most doctors will probably never come across a case of amanita poisoning and if they do it is probable they will never do so again. Due to this it is hardly surprising that most cases end in death. There are a few treatments that are beginning to come to light but our ability to find more is probably scuppered by the fact that people rather sensibly do not eat all that many death cap mushrooms.
The first is that proposed by Doctor Bastien which has been used with a remarkable level of success since 1957 on the continent. Dr Bastien has even had so much faith in his technique as to consume fatal quantities of amatoxins on two separate occasions in order to prove that it works.
“The treatment consists of giving, as soon as possible, intravenous vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 3 g/d, oral nifuroxazide 1200 mg/d and-dihydrostreptomycin 1500 mg/d. The three drugs are administered for 3 days during which time carrot broth is the only source of nutrition. At the anti-toxic centres in France this treatment is combined with ‘the indispensable reequilibration of fluids and electrolytes and a course of penicillin.”
Beyond the mention of vitamin C I have little idea of what the substances are, but the important thing to remember is that this treatment appears to do the trick. So much so that Dr Bastien is prepared to risk his life to prove it.
The second treatment is one which seems far more likely to become available in England. The principle involved is that when the amatoxins enter the system they are processed by the liver, which is damaged by their presence. The liver passes the amatoxins back out into the bloodstream but sadly some time later they once again enter the liver to try and finish off the damage they earlier began. The only way out of this cycle is to have faith in the kidneys. The kidneys have the ability to actually send the amatoxins out of the system so they can no longer do any harm. The problem is that in order for the kidneys to do their job they need to be kept sufficiently hydrated. The process is so lengthy that they often become dehydrated and death results. The primary part of this treatment is therefore to keep the kidney’s hydrated. In order to do this just make sure you get enough water. Sadly many hospital treatments that are tried before the hospital realises what is going on will lead to further dehydration, e.g. pumping the stomach, which is ineffectual anyway as the poison has already moved on if it is causing damage.
The second part of the treatment is a substance called silibinin. This is given intravenously and has the effect of maintaining the liver during this trialling time. The substance is originally obtained from the milk thistle plant, silybum marianum, so if it is not possible to get to a hospital on time then that would have to be your last/first resort as an alternative to being given medication. Whatever happens always maintain your water intake to give as much support to your kidneys as possible.
There are other options such as plasmapheresis to cleanse your blood or an organ transplant if things have gone that far, which they do, very rapidly. The most important and obvious way to avoid any complications though is to never eat any death caps, destroying angels, or galeriana’s. If you do discover that you have been unlucky enough to have done so then make sure that before anything else you tell the doctor of this suspicion because these poisonings are rare and it is unlikely your doctor will realise this is what is ailing you if he is not told of the possibility.
After yesterday’s election there are a lot of disappointed people. On account of the failings in our first past the post system the number of people who are disappointed are considerably more than half of those who voted. Fortunately there are a great many people who are pleased with the result. Unfortunately a large number of those are only pleased because they got the party their father taught them to vote for or their newspaper told them to vote for. In the long run it is probable that many people who currently feel pleased will be badly affected by the outcome of the election. Fortunately the lack of understanding of politics and economics that led to their choice will further shield them from knowledge that they have merely been pawns at the hands of the true beneficiaries.
However, having spoken to a small number of people I have come to the conclusion that anyone who is interested enough to be reading this, i.e. anyone who pays the slightest attention to politics, anyone who voted yesterday, is going to be supported far better by the change in government than they currently feel. The reason I say this is that having spoken to people who didn’t vote because they weren’t interested or didn’t have the time I was horrified at the irony that they were also the people who I would have considered to be most likely to be badly affected by the proposals of the new government.
Of course politics is about looking after society as a whole, not simply looking out for one’s own self, no matter how much the government seem to be giving the opposite impression. We should not breathe a sigh of relief that of all the people who live in the country we are probably going to fall into the group which will not be so badly affected by the next five years of governance. However, if one considers the natural bell curve on which all phenomena seem so easily to fall it is probable that in most natural systems one would expect a few to do extremely well out of any system, a few to do extremely badly out of any system and everyone else to fall somewhere in the middle. The zenith of the curve will vary in thickness and may float towards the left or the right but if you are on the side of benefitting well then you will know it well. If you are on the side of being taken advantage of by the world around you then you will not be reading this, you will not have any idea it is happening, you will not even know that you could have done anything different to change it.
The rest of us who float in the middle will be experiencing varying levels of fortune from our situation but we all have one thing in common. Our actions are worth worrying about to those who seek power. As voters, or even as people who simply think about speak about politics we are the one’s who can make or break careers. It may not feel like it because individually we are as powerful as a single ant in a colony, but as a group we are a force that needs to be appeased. Those who did not vote because they did not know who to vote for, or because they did not have the time, or did not care wield less political power than a single ant, even when grouped together as a cross section of society. Those in power do not care how they feel about the results of policy because those in power know that they will never be part of the defining force that takes the effort to change things.
A lot of the rest of us feel like history has taken a turn against us today, but we only think this because we have the intellect to think about the way things are going, and the understanding to be able to hope for better; we also have the wit to look after ourselves if the situation turns against us. Those who do not possess these qualities, who do not have the wit to look after their political interests, who do not have the sensitivity or understanding to fear the future that now looms are the only ones who need really fear the future.
Just like we may be inclined to leave the hallway light on because we consider that tiny trickle of electricity to be negligible in its effect on climate change, the non voters consider their vote to be of no consequence. They feel that they can’t change things so they don’t try. All politicians seem equally corrupt to those who do not follow politics, even though the chances of complete equality of corruption would be more unlikely than the natural occurrence of perfect spheres. I do not wish to make arguments as to why a single vote is important; that has been done many times before. Instead I propose a different manner in which votes might be envisaged in order to motivate those who do not make the effort.
Russell Brand has done a great deal to lead to further disenfranchisement of vulnerable groups by urging people to avoid voting. The result will have been many people simply not registering or not turning up to a polling station. Better advice might have been to turn up but only offer spoilt ballots. That much would be counted, and large numbers would be every bit as influential as a vote for a losing candidate. The only votes that actually do anything under our current electoral system are those which actually push a candidate above his competition. All the others simply offer an indication of how the rest of the public are thinking and feeling. In that respect a spoilt ballot speaks volumes. In many instances it speaks more loudly than any other losing vote. If I could go back and take yesterday’s vote again I might be tempted to write a treatise on electoral reform rather than putting an x beside my preferred candidate.
At present the number of votes for all the separate candidates are counted and considered, as are those spoilt ballots. What are not read out are the number of people in that constituency who could not be bothered, or did not understand the system. As none of those votes had any influence to prevent the winning candidate taking their place in parliament they may as well have been considered to be votes for the winning candidate. After all if you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that your choice would get voted in whether you turned up or not then there is an argument that you might be able to spend your time more effectively, but only if it was a 100% certainty. My proposal is that once the winning candidate has been chosen then every abstention by inaction should be considered to be a vote for that winning candidate.
Such votes might not be considered to add to the members majority but they should be used to be illustrative on charts of how much influence was wasted. Those who felt it wasn’t important enough to take the effort should not be allowed the easy path of losing their right to complain during the next 5 years, they should have it imposed that their choice not to vote was a positive vote for the actual result. In essence every non vote would be considered to be a default vote for whoever won in that constituency.
If charts were presented that contained the number of votes a party received, the number of seats they achieved and also the number of default votes that led to their election then it could lead to a new understanding of our duties in elections. I would not insist that all voters must accept one of the candidates on offer, but I would insist that those who do not wish to choose any of the candidates should at least try to make the effort to turn up and put something into the box to at least prove that their reason for choosing none of the above is not because they were too busy sitting in the pub or pursuing equivalent avenues of amusement.
A couple of posts back I offered some essential ideas on how to go about seeing that the economy is repaired. Naturally that is a large task so I could really only skirt around one particular issue, which I suppose could be summarised as making work pay, if I wished it to be in soundbite form. Today I plan to offer a partial solution to the housing crisis that Britain is currently experiencing. I say partial because, on the one hand, it is a very large housing crisis, on the other hand there are a number of other supplemental solutions which will also be of use in ensuring there is enough housing for people.
There are those who say that the housing crisis could be dramatically reduced by simply making sure that all the unused property is put into use. There are derelict and condemned buildings all over the place, as well as commercial properties that are out of use where the land could be repurposed. I don’t think that the problem could begin to be dealt with by derelict buildings alone, I also think that if we solved a lot of our other problems then we would need those commercial properties. Once there are more homes so that fewer people are losing their wages by paying extortionate rents there could be a far greater ability for ordinary people to invest in making use of those commercial properties to supply goods that will become more affordable in the absence of extortionate rents. Although there are obviously some economic advantages in employing people and buying materials for developing these sites it is an economic disaster to knock down and rebuild every few decades. Not to mention those same people and materials could be far more efficiently by putting up extra buildings in previously unused locations.
Of course that is where the objections start to spring up. It is the threat of new developments on previously unused locations. That is what gets protestors building treehouses and digging tunnels. Our biodiversity has suffered dramatically over the last few hundred years of the industrial revolution, sometimes fast enough for us to sit up and take notice, but usually so slowly that we don’t even realise it is happening. Having grown up in Devon I am used to living in the countryside and walking through woodlands, or wading in rivers. Devon is after all the countryside wilderness of England. However if someone from Devon ever spends any time in Scotland it quickly becomes apparent that there is a homogeneity to the flora of Devon that is an obvious mark of humanity’s impact on the environment.
There are still areas in the south of England where the wilderness reigns. If you leave the main roads and the towns, taking a route down narrow windy lanes, it is not long before you can find wild meadows full of masses of different plants and flowers. Despite the time I spend in the countryside and my efforts to learn about obscure plants like Bugle, Jack in the Hedge, Stinkhorn mushrooms, etc, I was surprised to find a plant that I had simply never seen before growing in a field near my home. When building houses it is obvious that plants will be replaced by buildings but as the lack of houses is damaging our ability to live happy productive lives we are left in little choice. It must therefore be considered which places are most appropriate to avoid as much environmental damage as possible. This includes how much extra pollution might result from increasing a local population and how much use of local infrastructure with its knock-on effects of diminishing the comfort of locals, increasing danger for other road users, raising costs of road repair, etc.
In addition to preventing these negative side effects of increased housing it is also reasonably important to upset as few people as possible. I say reasonably because if one paid attention to the way in which modern politicians dealt with these issues one would think that nothing can be done if there is any danger that it might upset anyone whatsoever. You might also look at what they achieve and think that nothing is done. Politicians get into office and then when they leave office years later they realise they have squandered their opportunity and done almost none of the things they originally intended. It is obvious that someone is going to get upset about almost everything, if only because there are some people who make a sport out of getting upset about things. Some journalists make a career out of it, even though they don’t really care at all, usually because they are twisting the facts so much that the upsetting news bears little relation to reality. Fortunately if you make a decisions based on logically avoiding as much damage as possible and increasing the greatest benefit possible then this becomes less of a problem. Unfortunately decisions are often made according to the whims of corporate sponsors and other less than transparent inputs.
In order that extra housing complies with as many of the conditions I have mentioned above the most sensible place to put it is where it is closest to the main thoroughfares that provide routes to work for the people living in the housing. If you put a housing estate on the quiet side of a town then that might be very pleasant for those living there, it might even command a higher price (pleasant for those selling the houses, or renting them out) but it will lead to massive amounts of traffic heading towards the best roads for commuting. If the commuting roads of the residents are on the quiet side of town then very quickly the quiet side of town stops being so quiet; the quiet local roads become over congested and dangerous. If the commuting roads are, as is more likely, on the busier side of town where the local dual carriageway/motorway is then anyone who needs to commute to the nearest large towns will first have to contribute to the morning clogging up of traffic in their own town’s rush hour before they hit the larger roads to make their commute. Naturally the same applies for returning home in the evening, with the result that the town becomes busy, noisy, dusty, and polluted. In this modern era it is probable that a large number of people will be seeking to travel on these larger roads.
If housing is put on the side of the town where the dual carriageway/motorway lies then this extra weight on the infrastructure of the town is avoided, possible with reduced need for the building of an additional bypass in the future. Additionally placing housing estates near the roundabouts where access to these large routes can be made, will result in massive reduction in use of fossil fuels by commuters as they no longer need to sit in traffic jams to negotiate the narrow roads leading to the dual carriageways. There will be economic benefit as more workers will be inclined to accept jobs at businesses that are now easier to reach because the commute will be shorter. Those businesses will therefore find it much easier to find more suitable staff; they will not need to make do with the local pool of talent and the few who make the effort to go through an arduous commute, they will have the addition of the many who will be prepared to go through a far less arduous commute.
Environmentally we already see a benefit from reducing those fossil fuels but there is of course the problem of direct damage by building on the countryside. The one thing that all access roads for dual carriageways and motorways have in common is that any such environmental damage has already been conducted during the twentieth century. Protestors have already tried to stop these roads being built and having failed the countryside has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. The trees have been cut down, bulldozers have churned up the rare flowers, badgers and deer have largely fled into more secluded country areas, litter is thrown daily from the windows of cars, and there is a lot of noise from passing vehicles. People do not go to these places to enjoy the countryside anymore. One might argue that they would also be less pleasant places to live but there are many people who already live alongside such roads and there are solutions such as fences and double glazing.
In addition it also reduces the potential cost of the homes, making them far more suitable for first time buyers, and far less suitable for farming. Besides if we all got to live in the nicest places then there wouldn’t be any more nice places. This way all those hidden country meadows remain intact.
To anyone that has read the previously mentioned blog on fixing the economy there will be obvious connections between the matter written here and the matter in that. As I have said, that blog was not fully concluded because it is such a large subject. This approach to solving the housing problems we face is another piece in the puzzle of how to make things better. This approach is probably not suitable for all areas either. It is likely that many local councils have already taken the opportunity to see that housing is built with easy access to the country’s main roads systems. There are also many councils who are still having a great deal of difficulty in deciding where they should put homes to fill the quota being demanded from politicians above them. There are areas of outstanding natural beauty where there are few options. In some of those areas this is an options that may not have been considered, or may be being debated at present. The solution written above is offered for those areas.
It recently occurred to me that there is a very easy way to avoid back pain when gardening which no one had ever thought to tell me. After looking at a dozen or so websites I began to wonder if the idea had actually ever occurred to anyone else. Despite spending what felt like a considerable length of time reading through the top search results on google I largely came across the same sort of advice, none of which included what now seems obvious to me. It is almost as though the people giving advice had never actually done any gardening themselves. Certainly the advice on offer is good advice but it seems as though everyone is just spouting the same wisdom that has been around for decades and no-one has made the link between gardening and modern techniques for preventing muscle damage.
The typical advice you will see is stuff that is worth doing along with the advice that I will offer you because any one piece of advice can always be helped by adding a little more positive advice. Obviously you want to take a break when you get too worn otherwise you will find yourself doing more damage in the long run. However, if you have a lot of space that needs digging or weeding then taking a break as often as you need might not be an option that you will appreciate. Luckily I have worked out how to prolong the period before you are likely to be bothered by back pain. In fact I have personally discovered that I end up having to stop out of exhaustion before the back pain gets to me, which feels like quite a feat considering how much my back used to hurt in the past.
Naturally you should make sure not to do your gardening without warming up first, and you should avoid letting cold breezes blow on your back. So many times I have been absolutely fine until the point the wind blows and I have been hit by agony. One tip that I particularly liked the look of is the use of a gardening apron that works something like a weight lifter’s belt to hold your back in shape. I thought that was quite original. Likewise I read a great deal of advice about bending knees when lifting and making sure to use the right size tools for your body shape, whether that be using a small spade or a long handled spade. But nowhere did I see any mention of balance.
The way to avoid back pain when gardening that no one seems to have realised is to focus on maintaining a balance in the way you use your muscles. Anyone who spends time in the gym working on weights knows the importance of balance. In fact one of the main reasons that people progress to using weights instead of exercise machines is to maintain this sort of balance. The problem with the machines is that they force you to continue exercising your muscles in a very rigid fixed manner whereas free weights allow your muscles to move in a far more natural way. Gardening lies somewhere between these two. On the one hand you are able to move in a manner which is far more natural as you are not tied into such a rigid pattern of motion as an exercise machine, but on the other hand people tend to enforce a repetitive pattern of motion on themselves anyway. By escaping the repetitivity and lack of balance you will quickly find that instead of pulling your back out of place you will begin to pull it back into place.
My tendency when digging is to stand on my left leg and then use my right leg to push the spade into the ground. I then apply pressure on the spade handle by pushing it down on my left hand side, before bracing and lifting the spade with the strength of my right arm whilst balancing the weight with my left arm. Often the only additional advice that would be offered is to make sure that you do that lifting with the aid of your knees. The problem with this is that after you have done a few dozen repetitions you start to feel your back aching and you have to stop for a break and stretch out your spine. This is caused as you have some muscles getting tired more quickly than their corresponding muscles on the opposite side of your body. My first thought was that this could be helped by exercising all your muscle groups in the gym. That certainly helps to a degree because it does help to build up an energy store and create muscles that are far less easy to tire out, but most gardeners are too busy in the garden to waste time going to the gym. It also does not prevent the imbalance that is the root of the problem, it merely delays it.
The technique that I developed was simply to swap my spade wielding hand every 5-10 repetitions. When doing this I immediately found that I was exhausting both sides of my body at an equal rate. This prevented the usual back pains because I no longer had one side with strong fresh muscles pulling on my spine and pelvis while the other side with tired worn out muscles was feeling to weak to pull back. The sensation of making this swap felt unnatural at first. As a right handed digger I had to try and teach my body a new trick. It was a bit like learning to play pool or snooker with my left hand instead of my right hand, a trick that Ronnie O’Sullivan has used in the past and seemingly amazed the commentators with. It immediately made a difference as it felt as though the aches were actually being pulled out of my be the usually troublesome opposing muscles.
Having tried this with digging I then decided that it would be a good idea to use the same technique with trowel weeding. Many people overcome the problem of imbalance when weeding by putting both knees on the ground at the same time. The difficulty this causes is that you then become far less mobile. My tendency is to put my right knee on the ground so I started to alternate by putting my left knee on the ground. Surprisingly this was far more difficult for me than alternating my digging stance. When descending towards the ground my body tried to continue doing things as it always had and it we tricky adjusting the way in which I knelt whilst in descent. As I became more adept at alternating my knees when weeding I began to discover the pain in my hips was far reduced as well as the pain in my knee and if I was picking up something I had unrooted with a spade or a fork I also found that the arm which continued to hold the spade/fork upright felt far less pain as well.
So it is as simple as that. I am now far more able to dig for far longer without back pain. In addition to reduced back pain I have also discovered that the energy I have available for digging is also increased due to using the abilities of twice the muscles. It seems so obvious when you think about it but it is that initial habit of doing it in the one way that is hard to overcome. It does feel unnatural when first trying it, a bit like juggling or rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head, but if you stick with it you will find that you will be able to do far more gardening work with far less effort. You will feel far less back pain and you will no doubt be able to continue gardening into a far more advanced age. This may also have knock on effects to maintain health into older age both through the exercise and the chance to continue eating your lovely homegrown greens.
It is no secret that the government depends largely on taxes in order to finance its management of the country. Even if things were massively stripped back as is proposed by William Hague and his colleagues there would still be a need for large amounts of money just for simple administration and political process, let alone welfare, health, ordefence. At present there are a number of problems with trying to raise funds through taxation. Firstly there are a huge number of people who pay hardly any taxes at all. I do not mean the wealthy and large businesses who can afford to employ clever accountants and tax lawyers. I am referring to those who earn so little that their wages are not high enough for them to pay tax, or only a little tax if any. For those at this poorer end of society the idea of paying taxes is simply not feasible because if they did have taxes imposed on them they simply wouldn’t be able to afford to pay them. For those who are a little better off and earn enough to become a target for the tax collectors the payment of taxes is a great weight to bear; the demands of their lifestyles, living in areas where they can get higher paid work or the expense of commuting mean that they are barely better off than those who do not earn enough to pay taxes.
The idea of fraudulent benefit claimants has been used as an explanation for the lack of money in public coffers, as has the idea of families that have lived from generation to generation wholly dependent on benefits. It has been stated over and over again that these actually represent a tiny minority of those who are supported by the welfare system. In reality it is largely ordinary working people who are being helped out by the welfare system. One figure I recently read showed that the majority of housing benefit claims brought out during a one year period had been claimed by families which would have been considered to be middle class by most people. During the time when I was lecturing in London a large part of my income was from tax credits rather than my wages. My employer tried to claim that I was self employed in order that I should also have to pay taxes out of my wage. Luckily one of the subjects on which I lectured was employment law otherwise I would be bankrupt at the moment. Despite this a very English tendency towards fair play might have prevented me taking advantage of this if my employer had not also fully agreed with the principles on which I relied to argue my position.
Unfortunately it seems the vast majority of us are in a similar position, child benefits, disability payments, income support between jobs and housing benefit when rents are simply too high. On the one hand we fear our country’s economy collapsing but on the other hand almost all of us are reliant on our country’s generosity to maintain our meager standard of living. We want spending on education, welfare, health, etc cut, but at the same time we need spending on these things to be increased in order to maintain the living standards that we consider to be adequate, or in some cases, humane.
While we pay taxes from our earnings we receive them back in various payouts. Our real tax payments are probably far less in many cases once our income is adjusted in this way. So we have a government reliant on taxes, yet the vast majority of people pay little or no tax, even receiving benefits as tax in reverse. This does not work for anyone. It does not work for those wealthy enough as to be paying large taxes and receiving no benefits. It does not work for those receiving a demeaning pittance that barely allows them to eat and live. It does not work for those who are working furiously hard to keep themselves above water. It does not work for companies who are relying on the public to have money to buy their goods.
It might seem somewhat contrary to say it works for no one. After all there is plainly a lot of wealth around. It must work for someone. There are of course individuals who will be doing well out of any situation but well is always relative according to the context within which these individuals find themselves. The feudal system of medieval England appeared to benefit those who lived in large castles with tapestries on the wall and roaring fires over which they roasted whole cows. However, that is only in the context of the era. It might be argued that they could not have had the same level of luxury in medieval England as we have in the modern day but progress is not just the invention of technological devices, progress is also political and social reform. If those feudal lords had cared less for their own personal comfort and had instead tried to increase the educational standards of their serfs then things would have been different. If they had focussed on trying to make the lives of their serfs better then they would have had a healthierwork forcewho would have been better able to produce more wealth from the land around them. Admittedly we didn’trealisein those days that education and health could reap benefits broad enough to change the world but today we have the advantage of knowing that these things can change societies. We have the benefit of having seen it happen. Yet we still fail to put great enough investment in because we have given over our whole societies to a fatally flawed faith in the wisdom of money makers acting in their own interest.
The free market is one simple idea. One idea that could have come from the head on one man, yet an idea on which most of humankind is relying to achieve a better future for us all. It is an idea that works, at least it works in certain contexts and certain environments with certain variables. Similarlymarxismworks in certain contexts and environments with certain variables. Religion works in certain contexts and environments with certain variables. Rather unfairly they are popularly derided now while the free market ideal is theflavourof the day. In their time they were ideas that were very useful for those in power to build and maintain their power. This is yet another parallel they share with the free market. The lesson to be learned is that circumstances change. The great thing about government is that regulation deals with changing circumstance. The ludicrous thing about government is that overwhelming faith in the idea of the free market leads to the idea that regulation should be reduced as much as possible.
If the free market was a cathedral then regulation would be the buttresses. Any builder can tell you that the ideaof building a cathedral of greater purity and majesty to tower above all other cathedrals is not going to be helped by removing the buttresses that marr its purity. You may end up with smoother greater expanses on the walls but only for so long as the walls remain standing before they fall. Nowadays we are so used to the idea of buttresses on a cathedral that we consider them to be part of the beauty and part of the design but when they were first conceived they were a compromise to hold the buildings up against gravity, arguably the will of God trying to pull them down. Regulation might be seen as petty bureaucracy getting in the way of business but over time regulation becomes part of the beauty of the entire system. Nostalgic old lawyers would tell you this straight away. They still have so much nostalgia for the past that they continue to use Latin terms and dress in 17th century wigs.
So despite a lifelong disdain for those who are usually in political power I find myself infavourof regulations. The tendency when wealth is not guided by regulation is that it ends up being hoarded. Thomas Piketty has told us how the wealthy families of several hundred years ago barely needed to get up in the morning to see their wealth grow at a faster rate than inflation. Those who were wise enough to buy extrahouses thirty years ago are now living comfortable lives on the rents of whomever lives within those houses now, while people now can’t afford to buy one house. Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose, so the bible says and it still is news.
This brings me back to my starting position. Governments need money. Money comes from taxes. It is therefore vital that as many peopleas possible can afford to pay as much tax as possible. Ideally as many people as possible should be earning so much money that they can afford to throw it at civic projects with joyful abandon. Instead we have a situation where those who have proven themselves to be most adept through nature and nurture at clinging to and amassing wealth, are the ones who are expected to pay the most tax. In the case of companies we also have rules written into the Company Act 2006 which state they should do whatever they can to keep as much of their wealth as possible by whatever means possible within the law. Although I am certain that last condition is more implied than stated. Unfortunately for everyone loopholes are legal. If they weren’t legal then they wouldn’t be loopholes, they would be crimes.
Naturally the closing of tax loopholes is important but more important is the encouragement of greater levels of employment and security for the greater number of people. I hardly think that the most utilitarian view would be that the greatest good of societylayin ensuring that the largest companies could gather as much power and wealth as possible while thousands ate fromfoodbanksand fell into worse health while all the hospitals were being closed down. The more people who are working, the more people can afford to home themselves, feed themselves, educate themselves, etc,etc. Irritatingly I find myself sounding very much like any politician at this point. The main difference being that the current crop of politicians have a solution to getting people into work that they don’t seem torealiseis not going to work. The solution being offered at present is to take away as many advantages as possible because if people have no food to eat and no clothes to wear then they will be forced to find a job, thereby increasing employment. Unfortunately they will be so desperate for a job that they will undercut other folk who are already in employment who will then lose their jobs to make way, so will have to also be encouraged back into work. Mind you the solution for people taking jobs that pay too little is to take away more advantages so that they are forced to find better jobs. If this wasn’t stupid enough already then the fact that there are not enough jobs for all those looking for jobs in the first place probably won’t have the impactto make it seem even more stupid.
Naturally it is not possible to simply tell employers to give jobs to those who need them. Things need to be done gently for a start. Employers cannot necessarily afford to employ huge numbers of people. There must be reform to the way the stock market works to prevent large companies being punished for employing people and rewarded for dismissing them. There should be encouragement, politically, economically and publicly to companies who take on extra workers. There should of course also be greater encouragement for those who are seeking the jobs. Not the stick that is currently being used but rather a carrot. Give greater benefits to those who are working in educational possibilities. Good managers are well aware that people appreciate recognition in thework place. This is not because they like praise or pats on the back, this is because they assume it will lead to greater opportunity. Not greater opportunity to take on more responsibilities and stress, greater opportunities to get into positions where they can make positive changes, earn more money and lead a more fulfilling life. It is true that far fewer managers seem to understand the whole complexity within the equation but this is something that should be regulated for.
CPD should be offered to all workers; there will be many workers who will not want CPD, it is probable that these workers might prefer to be in different jobs. The free market solution to this is to show them the door and let them work it out for themselves. That should not be the solution in a society that is aiming for the greatest overall profit and utility for all. it is because people fear losing their jobs that they never speak out truthfully about how they feel and it is for that reason that so many workers are disgruntled and doing less than stellar work. It is in the interests of companies to have the best and most suitable workers, and it is in the interests of government to aid the companies in achieving that end.
Ideas such as making difficult to claim benefits also do not work. The harder it is to claim benefits the more likely it is that claimants will not give up their benefits, especially for jobs that offer little security. When there is a spate of zero hour contracts across the country then there will be a great many people who will actively avoid gaining such work for fear it will make it more difficult for them to keep their benefits without having to wait for a protracted period to open a new claim. Even if it works out in theirfavourfinancially they are unlikely to see this because, lets face it, if the intricacies of economics were so open to them then they would not be on the dole, they would be holding down positions atcanarywharf.
Ultimately there are many ways in which employment can be encouraged when a government accepts that not all citizens act according to the idealbehaviourhoped for by free market theorists. When the citizenry of a nation is looked at from ademographicallevel then it is probable that starving people will encourage some to find work and to progress into better work. But we are not numbers, we are people, and people are not that easy to predict. What is easy to predict is ideal economicsituations. Economics in general is very difficult to predict because situations are complicated and there are many variables. However once almost all variables are reduced until all you have is more people in more employment, earning more money and paying more tax, then you don’t need to be Keynes to see that this means more money for government. That is easy to predict, but it is the individuals within thework forcethat are beyond the ability of so many politicians to understand.
Everyone recognises that the pope had a great amount of power in the past. It is relatively recently that Italy became a whole nation state without direct influence from the Vatican in the way it was run. Looking even further back the Pope was the head of a network of influence spanning the whole of Europe that wielded the power of excommunication. Go back to the crusades and the Pope was the guiding force that led Europe into a series of crusades to try and defeat the Middle East.
Those were the days of the warrior church. In the modern era the ghost of the Holy Roman Empire is seen as an anachronism, a state without an army, and a largely harmless ideology. While heads of other religions may launch Jihads, fatwas and the like, it seems as though the Pope is little more than an old man in strange robes who simply tries to encourage folk to live life according to the gospels.
Currently the Pope is one of the more innocuous popes. Speaking out against capitalism and poverty it seems that this is a Pope who can recognise some of our most immediate problems and knows what has to be done with the greatest immediacy to effect positive change in the world. He has given up the tradition of living in the papal palace and prefers to live in a simple apartment. It is rumoured that he leaves the Vatican at night to hand out charity to the destitute whilst disguised in every day garb.
Despite all this positivity in the image of our current Pope he still wields an immense amount of hidden power. In a world where even One Direction have the power to make hundreds of shops sell seemingly endless lines of One Direction merchandise, so that thousands, or millions of One Direction fans can buy money boxes, posters, cushions, mints, etc, it is clear that the leader of a global religion can create huge change with the utterance of a few words.
Thank goodness that we do currently have a Pope who seems to have his heart in the right place. Unfortunately this is not necessarily enough. One of the points on which most of the Pope’s critics agree is that the banning of contraception is not a good idea in a world where there are so many sexually transmitted diseases. Obviously it is not good that people should pick up disease, or even die from disease, and a simple barrier contraceptive would help prevent this in the majority of cases, but I can see the Pope’s point of view. It has been a long standing rule of the Catholic church that life should be encouraged and procreation is good. It has also been a long standing view that sex without procreation is purely a pleasure seeking act. When the greatest pleasure in life is supposed to be God it is natural that competition should be discouraged. Beyond the usually considered dangers of unprotected sex there is also a further danger far beyond most people’s realisation, a danger that is very far from the kind of outcome one would expect to be encouraged by a church of any religion.
We are all agreed that STDs are not good but the less obvious danger is one that is caused by successful gestations. At present most first world countries are experiencing a gradual growth in population due to the advantages of the modern world. In poorer areas of the world there will soon be a much greater amount of growth that could become an issue. China has for a long time had its rule against more than one child per family; India has one of the most incredibly packed populations in the world. In Africa great numbers of children are common for the same reason as they were in Victorian England, they offer the best chance of having children survive to adulthood. Currently population is kept small by diseases but we are rapidly finding ways to cure and prevent these diseases. We are also finding ways in which to increase food yields. These are all good things that we should be doing but as more and more of the world’s Catholics are lifted out of a state of nature there are more and more people who do not have the option of prophylactics to prevent large families.
Every life is a blessing and as any parent knows, their children are wonderful, but it is plain to see that some, due to circumstance, do not end up leading lives as positive as others. This is largely due to attempts to escape poverty or achieve better than that which fate has offered. A lot of us know what poverty feels like and a lot of us know there are better things out there than we have in our lives. Some people end up living like emperors. It is hardly surprising there should be a little jealousy. Recent years have seen the occupy movement and the recognition of the 1%. If this is the reaction of the citizens in the first world to the wealthy few who take the majority of the wealth then just imagine what the swelling populations of the poorer nations will feel like when they discover the riches claimed by those few, or even the comfort that many of our poorer people live in by comparison to so many others in the world.
Those folk who have to walk five miles per day to fetch clean water, and who spend most of their income on just enough food to stay alive already know that there are other folk in other nations who are far better off. It is largely accepted that this is simply the way things are. Soon, however, with greater leaps in agriculture and better understanding of medicine there will be far larger populations within these areas. We know from observation of the behaviour in overpopulated areas of our own countries that people become hardened to humanity when there is just so damn much of humanity around. The appearance of a disgruntled class of people who will begin to feel as though perhaps they have the numbers to take some of that wealth from the greedier nations is almost inevitable.
By insisting on the papal ban of contraception the Pope is likely to be able to add huge numbers to the armies of the future. By ensuring that there are huge families growing in nations where religion is taken more seriously the Pope is ensuring that there will be hungry and disgruntled young people looking for a way out of poverty at just about the same time that the population growth in the west will most likely be slowing or even reversing. There may be vast power shifts in our future and they may be vastly exacerbated by this one small proclamation.