Writing 101 Free Writing Challenge

So I have signed myself up to the WordPress Writing 101 Course. The Idea being to improve my writing and hopefully make this blog more interesting. Today’s exercise is to write for twenty minutes without an agenda and publish the result.

OK this may not be the most interesting post I have ever produced. It certainly won’t be the most coherent. Though some one (probably Lord Wallington) will probably tell me that it beats every thing that I have ever written on both counts.

I would normally run my posts through the proof reader to winkle out any gross grammatical errors, clichés and the like, before I publish, but this time I won’t as this is just supposed to be a stream on conciousness thing. I will use a spell checker though. The spell checker doesn’t like the way I spell spellchecker apparently. First fail of the post, unless you count starting it that is.
Normally at this time of the year I would be blogging mainly about the Tour de France, but for various reasons, mainly things going on in and around my life, I haven’t got the same enthusiasm for it that I usually have. At this time last year I was getting quite excited about the fact that it was starting in Leeds and that there were to be three stages in Britain, with the final on ending more or less on my doorstep in London. I was making tentative plans about going up to Yorkshire at the weekend and then back home for Monday so that I could take in all three stages, but life got in they way. And as Burns said

“The best laid plans o’ mice and men gan aft aglee”

That is my twenty minutes up, so I will run the spellchecker and hit the publish button.

How big a change is Global Warming going to make?

The Web Comic XKCD – Which comes with the following warning;

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)

recently published this:

It is easy to deny climate change, to say “Global Warming, nothing to worry about. it just means that we will be able to grow grapes in Yorkshire”. The reality is that if we don’t stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere we will be producing a climate that is as different from today’s as today’s from that of the last ice age.

The Psychology of First World Problems

A phrase has appeared on the internet recently. Someone posts a Facebook status update complaining about a less than perfect hazelnut latte, and in the comments some one will point out that this is a First World Problem.
Oliver Burkeman has an interesting column in the Guardian on the psychology behind this.

He starts with the furore caused by a very very rich American Tom Perkins comparing criticism of the richest 1% to Nazi persecution of the Jews (completely ignoring Godwin’s Law).

Perhaps you recall the furore a few weeks ago when Tom Perkins, a stratospherically wealthy venture capitalist from San Francisco, wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, comparing criticism of America’s ultra-rich to Kristallnacht. Yes, that Kristallnacht. The Nazi one. Perkins apologised, but in an editorial the Journal claimed the uproar proved his point: “Maybe the critics are afraid that Mr Perkins is on to something?” Maybe. Or maybe it was a very stupid comparison, made only marginally less offensive by its absurdity.

He puts this incredible touchiness among the 1% down to the fact that they surrounded by lackeys and flatterers – like the editorial writer in the Wall Street Journal – employed to blow sunshine up the arse of the rich. They never hear criticism, they are never told they could be wrong, when criticised or told that they are wrong they take it incredibly badly.

I remember a story that our then Union Convener told me. He had encountered two members of the higher echelons of the company’s management in a hotel bar. While remaining perfectly civil about it he told them exactly where they were wrong why they were wrong and what they needed to do to put things right. He said that the primary reaction he received from them was shock, shock that someone had the effrontery to tell them something that they didn’t want to hear, and probably shock at the fact that a person about ten pay grades below them was telling them and giving a good coherently argued case.

That accounts for the 1% reaction, but it doesn’t take into account the problem of the imperfectly prepared hazelnut latte.

Then again, if you’ve ever felt cross about the absence of your favourite brand of coffee at the supermarket, or frustrated by slow broadband, you’re doing something similar. In that sense, the tale of Tom Perkins is just an extreme illustration of how, to quote the comedian Louis CK, “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy”. (He recalled a fellow aeroplane passenger complaining that the in-flight WiFi didn’t work. “But you’re sitting in a chair in the sky!”) Actually, he might have added, it’s worse than that, because the more amazing things get, the less it’ll take to make you dissatisfied.

This is where the problem lies, we have become used to a world of perfect hazelnut lattes and super-fast broadband and if the latte isn’t exactly to our taste, or it takes more than a nanosecond to download the latest pearls of wisdom from johnm55, we get annoyed. It applies to other, more serious, things. As Steven Pinker points out in the Better Angels of Our Nature we live in probably the least violent era in human history. As a result some things like domestic violence, which a century or even a few decades ago would have seemed unremarkable, are now seen as unacceptable. Because aggressive and violent behaviour is now fairly rare these things stand out.

Some bad phenomenon – workplace bullying, say – may strike us as appalling. But part of the reason it stands out is that aggressive behaviour in general is so rare, and our standards so high, compared with previous eras. In this area, high standards are a good thing, of course, since workplace bullying ought to be eliminated. When it comes to your slow broadband, you’re probably better advised to lower your standards. Yet, in both cases, it’s the excellence of the wider context that makes the flaw look so bad. And when your context is more privileged than that of almost any human in history, perhaps you stop being able to see how deranged it looks when you compare your critics to Hitler.

Or possibly a few lessons in self-awareness might help – for everyone.

The full article can be read here

Weather Revisited

We finally have a bit of a respite from the storms that have battered Britain since about a fortnight before Christmas, or the late part of October of you count the St Jude Storm (so-called because it was at its height on October the 28th, which is The feast of St Jude the Apostle).
I found this video on YouTube in which various climate scientists explain that what we see happening before our eyes is essentially what we can expect to see.

In The Observer Henry Porter asks the climate change sceptics to coherently explain what is happening and why we don’t need to do anything about it. Having berated the media, especially the Today programme, for trying to pretend that man-made climate change is still an open question;

For the moment, however, they have a disproportionate influence because they’ve created the illusion that this is a finely balanced discussion where a person can reasonably support either side. They empower a certain amount of stupidity, laziness, selfishness and ignorance in the minds of many, and I hope some of the younger deniers, though few, live to acknowledge responsibility.

He does give a very logical reason about why the sceptics deny the facts when presented to them.

I mentioned that most deniers come from the right and it is true the uninterrupted business of capitalism, which often entails waste of resources and energy, is a priority, but there is something deeper that explains why there are so few deniers from the left and that is to do with conservative mind. In his 1956 essay “On Being Conservative”, the philosopher Michael Oakeshott wrote that the man of conservative temperament is “not in love with what is dangerous and difficult; he is unadventurous; he has no impulse to sail uncharted seas. What others plausibly identify as timidity, he recognises in himself as rational prudence. He eyes the situation in terms of its propensity to disrupt the familiarity of the features of his world”.

The real problem is that we are all a bit conservative and very few of us want the familiar features of our world disrupted, but unless we start to do something about it soon, as the video shows our little world is going to be disrupted whether we like it or not.
Go read the full article here

Superfoods?

Have you ever wondered what the next food that will change your life will be. The one that promises to make you ten years younger, rejuvenate your sex life, prevent or cure all cancers and make you rich and famous. My money is on either raw tripe or more likely some semi-inedible berry from the Afghan foothills of the Pamir Mountains. Jay Rayner is eagerly scanning is in-box for the news.

I was scrolling through my spam email folder one day dreaming about how life would be if its contents were only true. Oh the Nigerian oil millions I would have; the glorious women who were out there, waiting for me; the private jets I could buy at a knockdown price. Then I flicked back to my normal inbox. Suddenly it struck me: life wouldn’t be too shabby if many of these were true as well.

According to these emailed press releases food wasn’t just stuff you ate for nutritional purposes. It was the elixir of life, the very wellspring from which immortality might flow, a cure for cancer, acne and heart disease. My email inbox had become superfood central. A new superfood snack had been launched. Someone else was flogging a new range of superfood products. There was news of wonder berries, of offers to feed your immune system, of medicinally potent grains.

Or possibly not, as he explains in today’s Observer Food Monthly.

One thing that has always annoyed me is the claim that foods can act as medicines. No they can not. A healthy diet can help you to stay healthy, but it is not a guarantee, but trying to claim that for example food “x” will cure disease “y” is patent nonsense and fortunately illegal in the EU.

No wonder the European Union has banned the use of the term on packaging unless it can be backed up with scientific chapter and verse. Cancer Research UK calls it “just a marketing tool”. Sure, some so-called superfoods contain chemicals that, in the lab, have been shown to affect cancer cells. But that’s very different to what happens in the human body. For example to ingest the same volume of the active ingredient in garlic as used in laboratory tests you’d have to eat 28 cloves a day. Weirdly, no one has tried.

In addition, applying the active ingredient to a cell in a Petri dish is not the same as trying to apply the same active ingredient via the digestive system.
Jay Rayner loves food, and as he says treating it as medicine strips all joy out of it. He concludes;

I’m not a trained nutritionist but I know trash science when I see it – and the superfood cult is exactly that. Here, then is my advice to anyone wanting to take care of themselves through food: eat a normal balanced diet. It won’t stave off cancer. It won’t make you immortal. But it will keep you generally healthy. Which is about all you can expect from your lunch.

He does make on minor mistake here though, he is as qualified as a nutritionist as the people who make the claims about Super-foods. In the UK any one can call themselves a nutritionist. This is why, to try to get a bit better control over my blood glucose levels (I’m diabetic), I will be going to see a Dietician next week.

Songs I Love: Pete Seeger – Quite Early Morning

When Pete Seeger died on January 27 this year the world lost one of its greats. To get a bit of an idea how great read this tribute to him and his influence on the British folk scene by Martin Carthy.

As a song-writer he wrote songs that are now that much part of the tradition that many people who sing them may not even be aware that he wrote them. Songs like, “If I Had a Hammer”, “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” and “Turn Turn Turn” – lyrics borrowed and slightly adapted from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 (This is Judy Collins’ version). He also helped to popularise “We Shall Overcome” as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. (Click in the links to go to videos of the songs)

Out of all the songs that he wrote, “Quite Early Morning” is the one that speaks to me the most. It is an old man’s song of hope. Most of us, as we get older, get more pessimistic about the future of the human race, but Pete never gave up on his hope that we would eventually get our collective act together.

Some say humankind won’t long endure,
But what makes them so dog gone sure.

The song I think sums up his life as a political, environmental and civil rights activist, and his hope that the next generation can and will take up the challenge of making the world a better and fairer place.

There are quite a few versions on You Tube, and I have posted links below. I can’t find Holly Near’s version on YouTube, but I do have a Spotify link;
Holly Near Quite Early Morning
Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger when he was (a bit) younger
Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie

This version of the song is by The Rivertown Kids, a group of young people from his home-town in New York, who get together to sing and work toward environmental and social justice. Pete acted as their mentor and I suppose great-grandfather figure. One line in the song says;

When these fingers can strum no longer,
Pass the old banjo to the young ones stronger.

This, I think is what he meant.

Through all this world of joy and sorrow,
We still can have singing tomorrow.

Thanks Pete for your life, songs and inspiration.