So, if you’ve going to Germany to experience Oktoberfest for beer and sausages this European autumn, chances are you might want to stay away from the wild boar while you’re there: sausages and stews made from which are a delicacy in the forested areas of Europe.

A new study from the German government, reported by The Telegraph, shows that more than one in three wild boar killed by hunters in the region are too radioactive to be safe for humans to eat.

Since 2012, hunters in the Saxony region of Germany have had to get any wild boar they kill tested for radiation. In one year, the state reports that 297 of 752 boar tested contained more than the safe limit of 600 becquerels of radioactive material caesium-137 per kilogram for human consumption. Some boar tested had radiation levels dozens of times higher than the safe limit.

Saxony is 700 miles from Chernobyl, where a 1986 explosion at a nuclear plant sent radioactive material into the atmosphere.Subsquent rain and wind carried the radioactive material far and wide across Europe.

It’s thought that boar are more susceptible to radiation contamination because their diet consists of mushrooms and truffles that are buried in the ground and hold radiation longer than other vegetation. As a result of the contaminated meat, the German government has paid out thousands of euros in compensation to hunters, which have to destroy anything that tests as unsafe and cannot sell it for profit.

Even though it has been 28 years since the Chernobyl disaster – we remember it like it was yesterday – The Telegraph points out that experts say the radiation could be around in unsafe levels for another 50 years. Yummy.

OCD-AlphaOrderOnce upon a time, as we have described before, we went down with a bad dose of OCD. That’s the illness caused by f***** up brain chemicals that makes people do things over and over again … tap their feet a certain number of times, never say the letter P, or, most commonly, check that they’ve turned the gas cooker off thirty times or wash their hands repeatedly in very hot water with lots of soap.

We got the germy version. Big time. So we will confess to being 100% more aware of hygiene issues than  the average poor sap, even if that is about 10,000 times less aware of it than we used to be, as we are largely recovered from the illness, thank the Lord.

But being a bit germ aware does actually make some sense in today’s very busy and rushed world. We often take shortcuts with personal hygiene nowadays, or lay ourselves open to risk simply by being unaware, and there are some really nasty bugs around. Anti-biotic resistant staph we know about, and the world is positively swimming in E.coli (literally, often) which can make us very unwell, not to mention salmonella, which can hospitalise or kill you. (We have had members of our family go down with it – mythology it ain’t.)

Er, no thanks,

Er, no thanks,

So here’s today’s list of ten things you really need to think about. Even if you haven’t got OCD.

Unless you/re eating in this toilet-themed restaurant in China you wouldn’t eat off your toilet. But you might be surprised at the items that are dirtier in your world.

So 1. Your cell phone.

Your cellphone is disgusting. Trust me. It is an absolute holiday resort for germs.

If you don’t believe me, go here, where you can actually find out how many germs are living on your trusted companion right now.

germs on cell phoneWe are actually quite careful about our phone’s hygiene level, and we got the result that currently, there are 674,100 germs living on our cell phone: that’s the equivalent of 135 toilet seats!

Not that we’re paranoid, or nuffink. But seriously, who washes their hands after using their cell phone?

No 2. Your BBQ grill

Now we know you would never glance at the BBQ and say “I’ll clean it after”, right? Not even once.

You will always rigorously clean your grill immediately after cooking on it, even if you’re sitting down by the pool with a belly full of Vic Bitter and sausages with the biggest food coma of all time on the horizon.

dirty bbqOr even if you did leave it till next time, just that once, you would never hope for the best and stick a steak on top of the charred leavings of last time, on the basis that all the new fire you’re about to crank up is bound to clean up anything that’s grown there since last time? Eh?

Yeah, We hear you.

Just be aware that any food left on your grill immediately becomes a five star Michelin restaurant for nasty bugs of all kinds just floating around merrily in the sunshine.

Cooking on an unclean grill is seriously risking a tummy upset for you and the crowd, at the very least.

3. Your “clean” laundry

clean laundryNot to put too fine a point on it, crap clings to your underwear, whether you can see it or not. When you throw your undies in tub, you transfer about 500 million E. coli bacteria to the machine.

On top of that, water tends to settle in the bottom of front-loading machines, making it a breeding ground for germs. Then you wash your clothes in that mess.

To make sure your clean clothes come out actually clean, do a load of whites first so you can use chlorine bleach to sanitise the machine.

Or dedicate a cycle to underwear and use the hottest water the undies will bear without shrinking with a color-safe bleach substitute.

Also, run an empty cycle with bleach once every month to keep your washer free of bacteria. Easey-peasey.

4. Your toothbrush

Careful. They bite back.

Careful. They bite back.

When you flush your toilet, it can spray aerosolised droplets over six metres, says Dr Philip Tierno Jr, director of microbiology and immunology at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. It’s called a “plume”. Such a pretty name for such a horrid thought.

One option is to put the lid of the loo down before flushing. But it’s only a partial solution because it usually isn’t a perfect seal.

So if you leave your toothbrush out on the bathroom sink, it will almost certainly be showered with tiny drops of whatever you just flushed.

Stowing your toothbrush in a cabinet away from the flying faeces might be a good idea. Running it through the dishwasher will also eliminate germs, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Dentistry.

As a minimum, run it under a hot tap before using, or an even easier option would be to soak your toothbrush in a mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, like Listerine, for 20 minutes.

5. Your kitchen sponge

Your dish or surface sponge is probably the nastiest thing in your kitchen. It’s just out to get you, we tells ya’allkeep-kitchen-sponges-clean-1!

It’s damp and constantly in contact with bacteria, making it a prime place for germs to proliferate.

Rather terrifyingly, there’s a one in three chance your kitchen sponge has staph just sitting on it, according to a Simmons College study. (That’s twice the contamination rate of your toilet.) And it could be harbouring up 10 million bacteria per square inch.

What can you do? Watch it in very hot soapy water or even in a light solution of disinfectant before using. If that seems a step too far, then vinegar is a natural disinfectant, so try dousing it in that, rinse it out with clean hot water, then do the dishes. Throw old sponges and cloths away more often, and use new ones.

6. The buttons in an elevator

5Going up? That elevator button could be crawling with more bacteria than a toilet, a new study from the University of Toronto found. Up to 40 times more.

And another large study from Saudi Arabia found that 97 per cent of elevator buttons in offices and residential buildings are contaminated. One in 10 had germs that could cause food poisoning or sinus infections.

Using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser after you press the “up” button should kill any bacteria you picked up, the researchers say. And for elevator button read … door handles, stair handrails … etc.

Sure, it’s not healthy to be constantly using hand sanitiser all day long, but before you touch food that you’re going to put in your mouth? That’s actually a smart idea.

7. Your computer

keyboardHow often do you chow down a sandwich at your desk while tapping away at your computer? Those keys, and now your hands, are swarming in potentially harmful bugs. Especially if more than one person use the computer.

Your hands, the keyboard. Your hands, the sandwich. The sandwich, your mouth. Your mouth, your gut. You get the picture.

But it’s not just your keyboard. It’s other people’s keyboards. And their mice. And other people’s tablets. It’s all because too many people don’t wash their hands thoroughly after visiting the loo despite health experts warning that rushed or ignored hand washing can lead to diarrhoea,vomiting, food poisoning, flu and the spread of MRSA.

Stop it already!

Stop it already!

There’s a new problem looming. British media regulator Ofcom suggest that consumers are so addicted to smartphones and tablet computers that over one in ten – 11%, in fact – now view video content on a device such as the iPad in the bathroom. It’s estimated that around 20% of 18-24 year-olds do so on a regular basis.

And if they’re not washing their hands, you can be damn sure they’re not washing their bloody iPhones and iPads.

8. Your ATM

atm-germsSwab tests recently conducted of public surfaces in six major cities revealed that ATMs are among the worst carriers of illness-causing germs. Starting to get the picture? Anything that is touched regularly by lots of people is a potential source of infection. The problem is very simple – bank staff don’t head outside to clean the keypads on their ATM with anti-bacterial or disinfectant wipes.

The tests showed that 41% of automated teller machine keypads carry germs that can cause colds and the flu.

Washing your hands afterwards or a hand sanitiser after using an ATM will help you in only picking up cold hard cash, and not a cold along with it.

9. The petrol pump.

everything bathroomYour hands could actually be germier after washing them than they were before.

That’s no exaggeration: one 2011 study from the University of Arizona found that one in four refillable soap dispensers in public bathrooms was contaminated and pumped out bacteria.

Another study tested whether those potentially disease-causing germs could be left on your hands after washing.

The short answer: yup.

Hot air dryers can also blow up to 45 per cent more bacteria onto your hands, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

If you have a choice, use soap dispensers that have bags of soap in them that are replaced, rather than those that are refilled by pouring more soap into them.

It might sound nuts, but you can wash the taps (faucet) before you use them, and after washing your hands, use paper towels to dry off, and then use them to turn off the taps and open the door as you leave.

Better momentary embarrassment because someone looks at you strangely than a handful of gut-wrenching oooby-goobries.

So, feel better now? Yeah, us too. Remember these simple rules to drastically reduce the risk to yourself and others.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet.
  • Always wash your hands before eating.

It’s a warzone. Good luck out there.

This very important article in Vox, based on Russian research, reveals an apparently staggering level of support for ISIS in Europe, and in France in particular, where one in six people report supporting the extreme terrorist Sunni group that has been slaughtering Christians, Shias, Sunnis who don’t agree with them, and anyone else who gets in their way.

And the level of support rises as respondents get younger.

 

Very, very worrying.

Very, very worrying.

 

We somewhat doubt the veracity of the research and wonder if people are confabulating “ISIS”, “Gaza” and “Hamas” in their minds. In any event, it’s a sad and sorry finding even if it’s only partly accurate, and the radicalisation of Islamic youth is one of the most distressing and tragically predictable outcomes of the growth of so-called “identity politics”, which is now playing out throughout the West, and increasingly in a new black-white divide in America, as well.

But despite this survey it would be wrong to see this phenomenon as something unique to young followers of Islam. Indeed, as one of the sources quoted in the article remarked:

The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally. At the same time, the emergence of “anti-politics,” the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

It is so. This isn’t a religious thing. It’s all about contemptuous disenchantment and disempowerment.

That said, the fact that we actually find most interesting in the graph above is the much LOWER figure – virtually negligible, in fact, in polling terms – in Germany.

In our analysis, this can be explained by three simple factors.

Whilst there is racial tension within Germany – particularly where the Turkish immigrant population is concerned, it is less of a problem than elsewhere.

Even with the persistent (if small) growth in Neo-Nazi skinhead violence, the vast majority of Germans utterly reject the balkanisation of politics based on race. Given their recent history, and the efforts the State makes to prevent racial abuse or anything that smacks of it, this is laudable and not at all surprising.

Another differentiator, of course, is that much of the Islamo-fascism currently being exhibited in the world is explicitly anti-Israeli and by extention anti-Jewish, and expressing sentiments that could possibly be interpreted or misinterpreted as anti-Jewish in Germany is still well-nigh impossible, again for very obvious reasons.

The third reason, and this is very significant, is that the German economy is significantly wealthier and more successful than the British, or the French. There is plenty of education and work to be had, and both are the perfect balm for the vast majority of young people, of all racial backgrounds, who might otherwise be led into more extreme conclusions about society.

Recent riots in France were painted as "Islamic" by commentators, in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Recent riots in France were painted as “Islamic” by commentators, but in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator says, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Unemployment – especially youth unemployment – is the perfectly fertilised and endlessly productive seed bed for extremism of all kinds, whether you look at 1789 France or France last year, 1917 Russia, 1933 Germany, 1970s Northern Ireland, the “Arab Spring” of 2011, or America, France and Britain today.

And where that unemployment falls most onerously on any particular racial or religious groupings, particularly a grouping that considers itself as a minority, then you have a recipe for immediate and predictable disaster.

But even when that miserable judgement is made, it is the generalised “anti politics” trend that concerns us most – even more than any passing fad for Islamic extremism that threatens us today.

The simple fact is that when people perceive their leaders as corrupt, when people perceive them as petty, when people perceive them as habitual liars, (with plenty of evidence), when people perceive them as lacking in required levels of intelligence or leadership skills, then they do not blame the individuals as much as they blame the system. And variously, they turn (and they can turn very quickly) to revolutionary creeds – Marxism, Fascism, religious extremism: whatever is around and easily grasped as a panacea, really.

Anti-democrats don't start out carrying a sign saying "crush democracy". They know it frightens the horses. And they can be alluring - Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster.

Anti-democrats don’t start out carrying a sign saying “crush democracy”. They know it frightens the horses. And they can be superficially attractive – Josef Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster, for example.

This is precisely why we have frequently labelled America a ‘pre-Fascist” state* – not because we believe there are organised groups of people seeking to subvert the American constitution and replace it with some Hitler-style figure – there are such groups, but they are still largely fringe dwellers, and there are also big money groups that wield far too much malign financial power over the political system, such as the Koch brothers, but their influence is still basically visible and trackable – rather, it is because the fracturing of America into potentially warring tribes is so very palpably obvious when viewed from a distance, matched (equally obviously) by an increasingly careless disregard for civil rights and privacy from the authorities.

A frightening realisation that often comes later in life is that democracy, in all its expressions, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The very thing that makes democracy so worth preserving – freedom of opinion and the resulting freedom of speech – is the very weapon that can tear it down.

History teaches us, again and again, that there is a tipping point when a majority of people despair of the system and when they do they are prepared to consider a replacement – any replacement. Or it can be a highly motivated minority, with good organisational skills.

Shorn of the wonderful, soaring rhetoric of its core principles by the behaviour of its key players – our political leaders, and the media – democracy simply seems increasingly and hopelessly out of touch and irrelevant. All it needs is a half-credible populist to repeat the people’s complaints alluringly, and the complaints are worldwide, and they are devastatingly simple and enticing:

“I don’t trust them”, “They’re all just in it for themselves”, “They don’t know what to do”, “They’re just taking the piss out of the rest of us, and we’re paying”, “They don’t care about us.” “What can I do? They won’t listen to me.”

At one and the same time, powerful cabals in business and the military foolishly consider they can take advantage of such unrest to position themselves to take over as “a strong voice”, to run things (skimming off the top, of course) while the hubbub of dissent dies down, until – inevitably – they realise they have seized a tiger by the tail, and they can’t control it. “Temporary” restrictions on freedom become permanent, and apply to these fellow travellers as much as they do to the rest of us. They imagine themselves isolated from the crackdown by their money, except – as they invariably discover – they are not.

Anti-politics. It is louder in the West than we can remember at any time since we started paying attention in the 1960s.

“They don’t care about little people.” “Just a bunch of snouts in a trough.” “They’re all stupid.”  “There’s no real difference between them, anyway. It’s all a game.” “I just don’t trust ‘em. Any of ‘em.”

Indeed, as we write these phrases, it is all we can do to stop from nodding in agreement. They are so seductive.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

Except if we are seduced by them, we will hate what comes after. As Winston Churchill supposedly famously remarked:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, it’s just better than all the others.”

Actually, and somewhat ironically, the most famous defender of modern democracy might not have actually generated those words, although in his lifetime he did say a lot about democracy, especially when its survival was threatened with the horrors of German and Austro-Hungarian Nazism, Italian and Spanish Fascism (amongst others), and Soviet-style “marxism”.

Churchill did say something like this in the House of Commons on  11 Novem­ber 1947) but it appears he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, page 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

So, although these are Churchill’s words, it is an amusing historical footnote that he clearly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democracy. We wonder who did. Anyhow, here are some orig­i­nal things that the great man did say about democracy over 70 years in public life:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insurance.” That is the future — insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dangers scarcely less grave and much more near and con­stant which threaten us here at home in our own island.
Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­racy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point.
House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­racy” to be inter­preted? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­ily, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­racy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and together decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­racy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”
House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

Stirring stuff. And how unlike any modern politicians that come to mind, except, perhaps, the trio of dead American heroes, JFK, RFK, and MLK. Little wonder that they seized the imagination so thoroughly, and are still revered to this day, even though their feet of clay have been comprehensively documented. They talked about the principles of Government, not just the outcomes.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept that breeds a system.

In today’s world, once again – and urgently, in our view – we need to make the argument for democracy itself. Not for nothing do the appalling leadership of extremist Islam, epitomised at its most horrible by ISIS, reject the very concept of democracy at the very same time as so-many of their co-religionists seek to acquire and embrace it. ISIS and others of their ilk know they are engaged in a death struggle for their narrow view of the universe against the very principles that democracy uniquely espouses: the principle of protection under the law whoever you are, whatever your creed, sex or colour, true justice that is separated from the government and which can hold the government itself to account, freedom to express oneself fearlessly, genuinely participatory government, the rights of women and minorities to be treated as equals, and much, much more.

For our own internal stability, and in defence of those who dream of democratic freedom everywhere, we need to make our passion for democracy loud and clear, recapturing why we believe it to be superior to the alternatives.

Even if we don’t care about personal freedom, let us carol from the rooftops that it has been shown to be more economically successful – and more sustainably – than any other system.

Even Communist China, containing fully one-third of the world’s
population, enjoying its hugely successful democracy in chinaexperiment in State-directed capitalism, is increasingly recognising that it cannot endlessly stifle the opinions and behaviour of the governed.

They have recognised that they can release a gale of innovation and improvement by asking the opinion of their own people (a truly alien view for the whole of Chinese history thus far) and thus they are taking faltering steps to introduce more freedom into their system without triggering a cataclysm of change.

As just one measurement, the level of openly critical comment in China today is measured in vast multiples compared to even ten years ago, as is the nationwide passion to tackle corruption, which has been endemic in China since time immemorial.

How ironic that the People’s Republic of China – until recently a vile and periodically vicious autocracy – is cautiously embracing a belief set that we seem essentially content to see wither on the vine. Certainly when measured by the public behaviour of our elite.

If nothing else, our leaders and opinion formers should be arguing for the success of liberal democracy as an economic vehicle – not, please note, arguing in favour of unfettered capitalism – as the proven way forward for humankind.

The evidence is that democracy spreads wealth better than any other system, to the widest possible number of people, even while it grapples with the excesses of the runaway freight train of capitalism. Democracy actually restrains the worst features of capital’s behaviour – environmental vandalism, for example. (And if you want to see the results of capitalism that is not fettered by democracy, both in terms of economic failure, cronyism, violence, and environmental vandalism, just have a look at Russia today.)

But more than mere words, more than argument, we need to make democracy work for the governed.

As a beginning, we need to act with utter ruthlessness when evidence of corruption or rorting the system is uncovered.

Sad Statue of LibertyWe need to be deeply suspicious of centralising power, and passionate and enthusiastic about devolving power to the lowest practical level concomitant with effective decision-making.

(For this reason, we are tentatively in favour of Scotland voting for its independence next month, despite acknowledging that it might not appear to be a sound decision economically, at least in the short term. Not that we think it will.)

We must watch our security services and police like hawks, ensuring that the work they do is effective, but that their understanding of the proper limits on their powers is thorough and genuine.

We must defend and encourage media diversity, because a plehtora of opinions expressed openly is the best possible way to generate the ideas we need to successfully navigate our new century and beyond. Anything that compresses media ownership into fewer and fewer hands, blithely covered up with promises of editorial independence that everyone knows are false – is actively dangerous. NewsCorp, and those like unto it, are bad for the health of democracy. “State-owned” news outlets – unless protected by the most rigorous legislation – are a contradiction in terms, wherever they are.

We must encourage bi-partisanship, not because we want our democracy reduced merely to fudge and lazy compromise, but because the public needs to see – to witness – people of good faith working together on their behalf or the social compact with the governed will collapse.

It follows that the role of Opposition is to oppose what it truly believes to be wrong, rather than simply “everything”, and that Government should habitually respect and consider the opinions of those who disagree with it. The impasse between Obama and the Congress in recent years was an economic annoyance, to be sure. But it was a political catastrophe.

Where disagreement is genuine, then the debate should be conducted with civility. Even when one considers another person foolish in the extreme, misguided, or lacking perception, the skill is to make that point in such a manner that they will at least consider you may be wiser or in possesion of a better idea, and also so you may carry public opinion with you. And so that the public can see your good intentions, and not just your muscular antagonism.

We “dumb down” our debates at great cost and at our peril.

If something is “dumb”, the people know they can do without it. When politicans dumb down their discourse, when they are relentlessly trite or scathingly negative, encouraged, aided and abetted by a media that has an increasingly – vanishingly – small attention span, they are not playing some clever stratagem.

In risking a backlash against democracy itself, they are lining themselves up to be thrown in a prison, or worse, by the tidal wave that replaces what they blindly thought was inexorable and irreplaceable. They are beating ploughshares into pikes, and putting them into the hands of those who – when they aren’t even offered complex, thoughtful or educated opinion to consider – can see no reason why they shouldn’t adopt simpler ideas expressed in slogans.

working mensAs democracy swept across Europe in the mid-late 19th century and into the 20th century, it was buttressed by wise souls who ensured that every village, every town, had facilities for the dis-semination of ideas and knowledge, for the edification of the working poor, (such as with the Working Men’s Institutes of Britain), so that they would become participatory members of a new compact.

The privileged who led these conscious efforts to uprate the skills and learnings of the poor were driven by belief, not by an empirical calculation that they were providing a safety valve for the expectations of the people. They believed that a government of all cannot exist if the all is disenfranchised through ignorance or lack of opportunity. So they set about creating the knowledge that would let people fully participate.

Yet today the efforts of those great communicators have been hijacked. Today they are largely directed into providing an endless diet of sport, or reality TV, or mind-numbing time-consuming soap opera and unedifying “popular” drama. Modern media resembles nothing more than an electronically-delivered diet of “bread and circuses” – a tactic for mind control, remember, employed by the Roman dictatorship very successfully for 400 years. “Don’t worry about how we are governing, or who for – here’s a load of bread and a free ticket to watch the gladiators. Come back tomorrow for more of the same.”

And today, devoid of any understanding of why democracy matters, the governed have essentially lost interest, and satiate themselves instead on a diet of moronic “entertainment”.

Ask yourself: where are the civics classes in our schools and universities? Where are our unions, who taught people not just how but why they should defend their rights? Where are the rhetoricians, stirring our minds with ideas and concepts? (Answer, making a “Ted Talk” to their fellow intellectual and financial elite.) Why have our political parties shrunk to be miniscule mockeries of their former selves, with memberships so ludicrously small as to make them nothing more than stripped-down bureaucracies, homes for duelling apparatchicks?

Un-engaged and uncomprehending, the people are ripe to be captured by that simplest and most terrifying of ideas.

“It’s all their fault. Let’s go get ‘em.”

Who “they” are varies from theatre to theatre, of course. Alarmist? Look at that graph at the top of the page again.

Democracy is not the natural form of government for humanity. Violence is. Democracy has been hard won with the stout arms and often the lives of millions, for over 2,000 years.

Democracy will not persist if it is dysfunctional. Democracy will not persist if it is not protected. Democracy will not persist if we lose the argument.

Think about it. Discuss.

 

*For history buffs, there is a famous quotation, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

  • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin were the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.
  • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'”

fallenA very sad story in the newspaper in Melbourne today, noting that over 104 people over the age of 50 died in their homes in 2011, and lay there dead for a week or more before their bodies were discovered.

Even sadder is that some of those people – victims of heart attacks, strokes, and falls, for example – might have survived if found sooner. And saddest of all is that the same litany of little tragedies are surely repeated every year in every city in the world.

We live in a world which is theoretically more connected than ever. And yet, as more people live alone – especially more older people – any sense that we all live in a village with an eye on each other’s welfare is receding into distant memory.

We recall growing up in a typical middle-class street, with friends and neighbours in abundance in all directions.

Connections were not made because people were nosy and inquisitive, but simply because people were polite and caring. It would be unusual not to greet the people who lived nearby with a cheery “Good morning” when walking past them. Indeed, more so: to nod, smile and utter a greeting to complete strangers, who often became, in due course, acquaintances, and then friends. Nowadays, likely as not, people would shy back, concerned you were a nutter or from a religious cult.

We live in a colder, harder world, where the idea of a harmless conversation over the fence or sharing a quick cuppa on the back step seems immeasurably quaint.

Do yourself a favour. Do the world a favour. Go knock on their door. Any excuse will do – or just ‘fess up. “I thought we should know one another.”

Especially if they’re old, and alone. Just do it.

 

MRS TURKINGTON

She used to stand, proud and erect, the Colossus of Assembly.
Headmistress of St Catherine’s Church of England Primary
Concentrating Camp
For David and Gareth and Julie and Helen and Me.

Talons grasping the eagle-winged lectern
she would gravely announce
“All God’s Creatures Here Alive
Ancient and Modern, Number 35”
,
and God help you if you didn’t sing.
(Except he wouldn’t.
because he was silenced by a glance
from Mrs T, as well.)

She had a cane, but never used it.
If found running in the quadrangle
she just pinned you to the blue breeze-block walls
with Yorkshire-steel eyes and asked you what
exactly it was you thought you were doing?7
And whatever it was, you stopped it.

Bubble-gum swallowed, marbles pocketed.
Prize conker? Dropped it.

I heard some time ago Mrs T had died.
They found her on the floor.
No-one called, no more.
So no-one saw.

Been there for days, they said.
All thin, and gnarled, and very dead.

In later life, she’d mellowed.
Her skin had yellowed.
I used to see her in Church, a bit
when time had pushed her shoulders up in the middle.
She just got all bent, when the rheumatics hit.

Always sent me a Christmas card,
even when her life got hard.

Mum used to shove one under me nose to sign for her
so I suppose she’d always got it,
and then thought I never forgot it.

I never thought I would, but
I felt sorry when they found her,
fallen and forgotten at the bottom of the stairs.

She had a cane, you see.
But she never used it.

beaver lodge

Beaver Lodge, then home of the Attenboroughs, where we momentarily shared the high life.

So Dickie Attenborough is dead, at 90.

We knew him. Well, not so much knew him, you understand, as “We met him once”.

Back in 1987, there was an election on. The Liberal Party, for which we campaigned, had entered an uncomfortable “Alliance” with a new political grouping called “The Social Democratic Party”, which was essentially a small group of right wing rebels from a Labour Party that had been temporarily overwhelmed by the irritating forces of the trotskyite Left. The new “SDP” appealed to a sort of vaguely left of centre middle class consensus type – they’d be called “soccer Mums” in America or “doctor’s wives” in Australia.

Anyhow, for some bizarre reason lost in the mists of time deep in the last millenium, the leaders of said Alliance decided to hop on a barge and meander down the River Thames one Sunday afternoon, ending up at Dickie’s pile in Richmond. The vague plan was that there were a string of Liberal-SDP Alliance target seats in a row along the river, and this was a spiffingly good wheeze to make a news impact on all of them in one hit to try and shake loose a few of the seats that had voted Tory since time immemorial in that area. Needless to say, as a photo op it simply made the Alliance leaders look like a bunch of middle class numpties and it was largely ignored.

Attenborough and his equally well-loved brother, documentary maker David, share a happy moment.

Attenborough and his equally well-loved younger brother, documentary maker David, share a happy moment.

It is why, though, late on a lovely summer’s afternoon, we came to be standing around in the Attenborough’s charming little pied-a-terre, and standing around very uncomfortably to boot, given that we were unquestionably in the presence of the great and good … a sprinkling of theatre people, some famous politicians, a clutch of local grandees … and as we (and by we, we mean a bunch of local campaigners who had been invited to turn up to rub shoulders with the glitterati who had descended upon us) were dressed almost universally in jeans, odd t-shirts covered in campaign buttons and sporting scraggly beards, we felt somewhat out of place.

Since that time we have become more familiar with the questionable joys of small talk, clinking crystal and nodding with glazed eyes while not really listening. At that stage, however, the art form was unknown to us. So we stood near the front door of what was undoubtedly the grandest room on the planet, exquisitely furnished, and shuffled uncertainly from foot to foot, muttering darkly to one another about how we’d rather be out canvassing for votes on council estates instead of all this wank.

Suddenly, though, Attenborough himself swept through the crowd, making a beeline towards us with a tray of champagnes weaving memorably past the obstacles presented by overweight councillors and gesticulating theatricals. I am reasonably sure there were black-tied waters in attendance too, but for some reason he was doing the honours himself. “You chaps look like you need a drink!” he grinned, and his charm and bonhomie was infectious. We took a glass each and smiled uncertainly. “Yell out if you want another!” he cried, disappearing back into the maw of 200 or so of his closest friends. It was a gentle and kindly act, and perfectly typical of the man, apparently.

Richard Attenborough was one of the most famous and talented actors of his generation, with a string of credits that sound like a potted history of 20th century British and Hollywood cinema. Stolid and honourable in “The Great Escape”. Menacing and psychotic in “Brighton Rock”. Avuncular and deluded in “Jurassic Park”. Pugnacious  in “The Angry Silence”. Utterly chilling in “10 Rillington Place”.

As a director, he made some of the more important movies of the era, reflecting his own progressive view of the world, such as the memorable filmed version of “Oh! What a lovely war!” and in the historically accurate and star-filled exposition of the disastrous military adventure of Operation Market Garden in “A Bridge Too Far”, tackling courage against the apartheid regime in South Africa in “Cry Freedom”, and, of course, with “Gandhi”, the triumphal conclusion of 20 years effort, for which he received two Oscars.

Less well-known is that during the Second World War, Lord Attenborough served with the Royal Air Force, and was seconded to the newly-formed RAF film unit at Pinewood Studios after initial pilot training. He appeared in the 1943 propaganda film Journey Together before qualifying as a sergeant and flying on missions all over Europe filming the outcome of Bomber Command sorties. He saw enough of the horrors of war to imbue “Oh! What a lovely war!” with a heart-rending immediacy, as seen so well in the closing sequence of the film, below. As we remember the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, we could do no better to show respect those who fell than to play the whole film on free-to-air TV in all the combattant countries. It is a theatrical tour de force, and deeply moving.

And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,

Oh, we’ll never tell them, no, we’ll never tell them:

We spent our pay in some cafe,

And fought wild women night and day,

‘Twas the cushiest job we ever had.

And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us,

The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,

Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them

There was a front, but damned if we knew where.

As an aside, and notably, Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim, who though stricken with dementia survives him after nearly 70 years of marriage, also co-starred in the original West End production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in 1952, which has since become the world’s longest-running play.

David Owen

David Owen

Anyhow, the afternoon drew on towards evening and the champagne grew warm, and then leader of the SDP, Dr David Owen, who it must be reported had looked grumpy and perfectly bored the entire time – an impression he managed to give for his entire career, to our eyes – decided it was time to leave.

He bustled his way towards the door. Attenborough, seeing his star guest leaving, struggled through the crowd waving to get Owen’s attention, seemingly unsuccessfully. In the end, he called out plaintively “David! David! Call you, darling!” but in vain: he was talking to thin air. Owen was gone.

I caught Dickie’s eye, and he smiled and shrugged. He waggled his hand to indicate “Another glass of bubbles?” but we politely demurred. We were heading down the pub for a proper drink. He smiled again, good naturedly, as if in understanding, and turned back to tending to his other more civilised guests. Momentarily, I considered suggesting he join us for a hand of dominoes and a couple of pints, suspecting he might enjoy himself more, but I didn’t dare.

Richard Attenborough may have been a luvvie, my darling Reader, but he was a ferociously talented and genuinely big-hearted version of that uniquely British theatrical caricature.

And that’s why everyone loved him. A decent bloke: a life well lived. Our condolences to his family and innumerable friends.

Footnote

In British use, luvvie is a humorously depreciative term for an actor, especially one regarded as effusive or affected. The reference is to a stereotype of  thespians habitually addressing people as ‘lovey’. When the OED revised its entry for lovey in 2008, this sense, which had by then become established in the variant spelling luvvie, was made a separate entry. The earliest quotation found at the time was from author and actor Stephen Fry, writing in the Guardian in 1988:

Acting in a proper grown-up play, being a lovie, doing the West End, ‘shouting in the evenings’, as the late Patrick Troughton had it.

1988 Stephen Fry in Guardian 2 Apr., p. 17

The off-hand manner in which the term is used here suggests that the word may already have been somewhat established in this sense at the time.

fistAs you can see by clicking the link below, a Sydney Premier Division AFL player has risked spending 20 years in jail for sucker punching an opponent during a game.

Risked 20 years in jail?

Absolutely: that’s the new available sentence for a one punch “sucker punch” – also known as “coward’s punch” – that results in the death of the victim, whether that death results from the punch itself or from a head hitting the ground.

Watch the shocking vision here:

https://au.sports.yahoo.com/afl/news/article/-/24751903/afl-player-throws-sickening-sucker-punch/

As reported, the incident occurred during the UNSW/ES Bulldogs v Western Suburbs Magpies game on Saturday afternoon.

A Magpies player can be seen chasing his opponent before throwing a left hook that instantly knocks the Bulldogs player out.

The only way you can see the very obvious and incredibly stupid assault is by clicking the link above because vision was originally posted on YouTube as part of AFL Sydney’s ‘Match of the Week’ video before it was taken down.

The disgraceful act is gaining worldwide attention, with US website The Bleacher Report posting: “Australian Rules Football is a physical game, but there is no room in the sport for a cheap shot like this.”

The incident has also been condemned on social media:

It is not clear who the players involved are, but the victim is reportedly okay. We find it simply astonishing that any young man would engage in this behaviour after all the recent publicity over the dangers of this kind of behaviour.

One thing’s for sure, he should be kicked out of his club, and banned by the AFL for a very, very long time.

 

In a development that will shock Australians already anxious about the possibility of home-grown jihadists launching terror attacks on home soil, explosives similar to those used in the 7/7 London tube bombings and maps possibly targeting two NSW locations have been uncovered in a ­suburban home.

The media are reporting that one map ­contained the words “George St’’ and “uniform’’, believed to refer to a uniform shop on the Sydney street near Central Station.

The second map had references to “brothel’’, “bridge’’ and “grave’’, believed to be a site in Newcastle.

Australian Federal Police have joined the investigation.

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Police discovered the maps while raiding property in Pullenvale, north of Brisbane, last week which was being rented by NSW man Daniel Fing, 30, who was taken into custody.

The haul of explosives included 22 litres of liquid explosive material TATP, (triacetone triperoxide peroxyacetone) which is favoured by ­terrorists for suicide attacks as it contains no nitrogen and is therefore undetectable by searches looking for nitrogen traces, and which was used in the ­London attacks because it can create a military grade explosive. Given the extreme instability of the material, the threat to the local area of accidental detonation, let alone any deliberate attempt to set off a terrorist explosion, must have been very significant.

“It’s an extreme explosive. It’s made from very common household ingredients,” explosives expert Dr James Blinco from the QUT School of Chemistry in Brisbane said.

Astonishingly – and especially given the likelihood of any old crazies and ratbags only loosely-connected to any formal terrorist group deciding to perform some unthinkable act to achieve their five minutes of infamy – the recipe for TATP is freely available on the Internet, including a YouTube video which demonstrates how to make the explosive.

We have one simple question to ask Googe, YouTube, and the rest.

Why?

Especially, as a quick Google search reveals, Mr Fing has previous, bombing a love-rivals car with the very same explosive back in 2006, a crime for which he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Surely we should be seeking to reduce the free availability of information about explosive manufacture, which no one could possibly need for legal purposes? We are normally very loathe to restrict or censor information, but this one would seem to be a no-brainer, especially in today’s troubled world.

We are also concerned about the fact that this haul seems to have been discovered by happy accident. The Brisbane Times reports that a real estate agent unwittingly stumbled across other suspicious items on Wednesday night, leading to officers discovering the explosives.

In 2011, Mr Fing survived a drive-by shooting when a gunman allegedly opened fire at his home in Belmont, NSW. The man charged with Mr Fing’s attempted murder was later found not guilty. Police have not said if they know the whereabouts of a woman who was living at the Pullenvale house with Mr Fing. He is currently facing charges dating from 2012 of wounding, assault, weapon and drug possession and is due to face a NSW court on August 27.

Sheesh.

richardWe have no idea if Cliff Richard is guilty of having assaulted a young man under the age of 16, 25 years ago, or at any other time. He vigorously denies the charge, but then so have others who have subsequently been found guilty. What is undoubtedly true is that the worldwide publicity effectively organised by the police before he has been charged with anything is deeply worrying to anyone who values due process and concepts of privacy.

Famed QC Geoffrey Robertson outlines his concerns in an article we link to below, and it is well worth reading for anyone who value concepts of liberty under the law.

As Robertson points out, “Police initially denied “leaking” the raid, but South Yorkshire Police finally confirmed yesterday afternoon that they had been “working with a media outlet” – presumably the BBC – about the investigation. They also claimed “a number of people” had come forward with more information after seeing coverage of the operation – which leads one to suspect that this was the improper purpose behind leaking the operation in the first place.  This alone calls for an independent inquiry.”

We all need to consider the implications of this very carefully. Imagine, if you will, that a police officer (or team of police officers) has a suspicion that someone – anyone, you – is guilty of having committed a serious crime. If the way this matter has been conducted is to be a template for the future, then they make no effort to contact you directly, even though they know where you are, but they do confirm their investigation to the inquisitive media and invite their co-operation.

Remember, this is without proof, or charges having been laid. It seems nothing more nor less than a deliberate tactic to stir up other people to come forward with allegations or evidence against you.

This type of “fishing” behaviour, which must inevitably result in great damage to a person’s reputation before it is even known if charges will be laid, is not how police investigations happen in a liberal democracy, and it strongly implies that some Police in the UK are either unaware of the appropriate way to behave, or no longer consider themselves restrained by concepts of liberty and privacy.

Remember, Richard may be guilty of absolutely nothing at all. But we don’t expect to see him hosting any Christmas specials anytime soon.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-way-the-police-have-treated-cliff-richard-is-completely-unacceptable-9672367.html

For the record,

In a statement on Thursday, Sir Cliff took appeared to take aim at the force’s decision, saying: “The police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except it would appear to the press”.

He added: “For many months I have been aware of allegations against me of historic impropriety which have been circulating online.

“The allegations are completely false. Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen.”

He also said that he will “fully cooperate” with the police.

The televised raid was also criticised by Conservative MP and Former Deputy Commons Speaker Nigel Evans, himself previously cleared of sexual assault charges by a unanimous jury vote, and currently fighting furiously to retain his Parliamentary seat following a grassroots campaign to unseat him as an MP, who told ITV:

“It appears the press knew what was happening before he did and the world’s media were camped outside his doorstep. A press helicopter was up before the police even arrived — he is quite right to be angry about that. Questions have got to be answered.”

They have indeed.

img-thingHard as it may be to believe (doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?) it is three years today since the very first article was posted on Wellthisiswhatithink.

For the stattos amongst you, in that time we have published a total of 783 articles, (about one every 33 hours or so), and received 3,631 comments from just about every corner of the planet, the vast majority of them thoughtful, educated, pertinent, and largely kind and supportive. There has been very very little trolling or hate mail.

We are most grateful for the effort you make, Dear Reader, in “keeping the conversation going”.

Our busiest ever month was April this year when a post about a customer complaint to RyanAir went viral. Only three months in the three years have had under 2000 visits and in total, we have had 252,298 visits. No, wait, 252,299 … 252,300 … oh well, you get the picture. Average daily hits are running at 1,115 so far on 2014.

By far our biggest number of posts (550) have included the category “Popular Culture et al” in their header, followed by Political Musings (359), Humour (147) and Business Management (91). We hope you will agree that our stated goal when we started, to re-report things that interest us (and always the credit them, please note) and to make our own opinions known where we feel strongly about something, has been met.

We thoroughly enjoy writing the blog, which we see as influencing world debate by one small regular drop in an ocean of opinions, (but who knows which drop is the one that causes the dam to break, eh?), but most importantly we enjoy it as a way to reach out, engender discussion between people of good will, and provide a little harmless entertainment, too. If that’s how it works for you, we’re glad. That’s how it works for us.

Science fiction author Philip Dick said it all.

Dick also famously remarked "In the middle of an irrational Universe governed by an irrational mind stands rational man." Amen.

Dick also famously remarked “In the middle of an irrational Universe governed by an irrational mind stands rational man.” Amen.

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups … So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

Well, we would not claim to make up whole universes. Just the occasional thought, perhaps.

But we sure as hell don’t want to leave all the reality-making to the powerful, the cashed-up, and the privileged.

Especially for those facing oppression and blind authority, the massive explosion of the blogosphere is hope, democracy and liberty in action.

Long may it continue.

_76955875_downton

We wish we could claim that headline as our own, but we must credit the Daily Mirror, who amongst people – well, pretty much the whole world, actually – spotted a plastic water bottle nestling incongruously in the latest set of publicity shots for the iconic British soap-opera-cum-drama.

As plastic water bottles don’t come along for another 60 years or so after the supposed era of the show, the mistake has been gleefully picked up on by the worldwide media. Well, it’s either a silly mistake, or it’s the best possible little publicity ploy they ever dreamed up.

Anyway. “Oh joy of snobbish, asparagus-fork-waving joys. Downton Abbey is back,” said the Daily Mail’s Jan Moir. “At first look, the fifth series appears to be just as glorious and gloriously silly as ever.”

The Times’s Alex Spence says viewers can expect the latest series to be “less gloomy” than the last, which featured a death, rape and the aftermath of World War One, adding: “The series premiere, screened for journalists in London yesterday, depicted a lighter, happier mood around the estate than during the last series.” That’s good news for the Wellthisiswhatithink household who were threatening rebellion the show had become so relentlessly gloomy. And let’s not forget there was a probable murder hinted at in the final episode, too.

“There are enough parties and drama to do the Roaring Twenties justice,” reckoned Express reviewer Elisa Roche. “The brilliant series opener will leave viewers dreaming of owning a luxurious wardrobe and a well-stocked pantry.”

Meanwhile, the Telegraph remembers Labour leader Ed Miliband’s quip that the Tory party reminded him of Downton Abbey’s “out-of-touch” aristocrats and says “It would appear the dislike is mutual.” Anita Singh wrote: “It opens in 1924, the year Ramsay MacDonald became prime minister [in Labour's first government], and the Earl of Grantham makes plain his feelings on the matter: ‘This government,’ he warns, ‘is committed to the destruction of people like us and everything we stand for.'” Well, goodness. It was bad enough when he was pissed off at Lloyd George.

michelle

“It is the rise of socialism that threatens to destroy the world’s favourite English country house for good,” agrees the Independent’s Adam Sherwin. But he adds that despite the foray into politics, life goes on as normal: “No opportunity for plot signalling is avoided – an early-hours house fire is inevitably used to expose who has tip-toed into the wrong bedroom.”

However, nearly all papers were most fascinated by the publicity shot of the Earl and his daughter, Lady Edith – played by Hugh Bonneville and Laura Carmichael. The Mirror takes the pun prize all round, describing it as a “real dampener”.

Anyway, be that as it may, we think the big news is that by the time Series 5 rolls onto our screens in January, Lady Mary is no longer mournfully turning down every suitor and is right back in the dating game. Good news. The ineffably beautiful Michelle Dockery would be worth watching reading the phone book in our quietly besotted view. Seeing her trip the light fantastic with a string of handsome beaus will be quite charming.

Apparently Ms Dockery is not at all posh in real life, indeed she’s an Essex girl originally and currently lives in the East End of London, and likes nothing better than a quick pint in her local pub to relax. Really, who knew? Our type of gal, dammit.

As always, to enjoy our huge list of bloopers, cock ups and downright F*** Ups from the world of media and advertising (amongst other things) just pop “F*** Up” in the Search box top left on this page, and press Enter.

dislikeOne of the biggest and most persistent criticisms of Facebook that you hear in people’s grumbles is that it has morphed from being a social networking site into nothing more than a mechanism to deliver you ads and sponsored PR content.

In a way, that’s hardly Facebook’s fault. It is, to its users, a “free” service, after all. So the business model demands that they sell ads.

Of course, as any good marketeer will explain, there is an unwritten compact between the advertisers and the advertised to that we ignore at our marketing peril.

Too much advertising, or too badly targeted, or too repetitive, and the great unwashed masses start turning away from the advertiser or advertisers who are pestering them to the point of distraction. You see the same effect with TV advertising. You’re watching a favourite movie, and the same advertiser pops up in every ad break, playing you the self-same message time after time after time.

Sure, the advertiser is getting their desired “reach and frequency figures”, but they are also very likely having afacebook-fail net negative effect on their market. How much advertising is enough is a much more complex discussion than the simple sheets of “Xs in boxes” that advertisers get from their media buying companies, whose skill set is generally focused on, well, buying more and more media. That’s how they make their money, after all.

Unfortunately, the way the website is set up now is making it increasingly user-unfriendly and sometimes downright annoying.

In case you doubt such a harsh judgement, read how Wired correspondent Mat Honan “liked” everything he saw on Facebook for two days. Here’s what it did to him.

It’s a great article – very informative and enjoyable. Enjoy.

Oh, and if you want to avoid a similar fate, there’s a simple solution – stop hitting that damn LIKE button!

Article begins:

There’s this great Andy Warhol quote you’ve probably seen before: “I think everybody should like everybody.” You can buy posters and plates with pictures of Warhol, looking like the cover of a Belle & Sebastian album, with that phrase plastered across his face in Helvetica. But the full quote, taken from a 1963 interview in Art News, is a great description of how we interact on social media today.

Warhol: Someone said that Brecht wanted everybody to think alike. I want everybody to think alike. But Brecht wanted to do it through Communism, in a way. Russia is doing it under government. It’s happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it’s working without trying, why can’t it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way.
I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody.
Art News: Is that what Pop Art is all about?
Warhol: Yes. It’s liking things.
Art News: And liking things is like being a machine?
Warhol: Yes, because you do the same thing every time. You do it over and over again.

The like and the favorite are the new metrics of success—very literally. Not only are they ego-feeders for the stuff we put online as individuals, but advertisers track their campaigns on Facebook by how often they are liked. A recent New York Times story on a krill oil ad campaign lays bare how much the like matters to advertisers. Liking is an economic act.

I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me. I know this sounds like a stunt (and it was) but it was also genuinely just an open-ended experiment. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up (48 hours was all I could stand) or what I’d learn (possibly nothing.)

See, Facebook uses algorithms to decide what shows up in your feed. It isn’t just a parade of sequential updates from your friends and the things you’ve expressed an interest in. In 2014 the News Feed is a highly-curated presentation, delivered to you by a complicated formula based on the actions you take on the site, and across the web. I wanted to see how my Facebook experience would change if I constantly rewarded the robots making these decisions for me, if I continually said, “good job, robot, I like this.” I also decided I’d only do this on Facebook itself—trying to hit every Like button I came across on the open web would just be too daunting. But even when I kept the experiment to the site itself, the results were dramatic.

THERE IS A VERY SPECIFIC FORM OF FACEBOOK MESSAGING, DESIGNED TO GET YOU TO INTERACT. AND IF YOU TAKE THE BAIT, YOU’LL BE SHOWN IT AD NAUSEAM.

The first thing I liked was Living Social — my friend Jay had liked it before me and it was sitting at the top of my feed. I liked two more updates from friends. So far, so good. But the fourth thing I encountered was something I didn’t really like. I mean, I don’t truly like Living Social either, whatever the hell that is, but who cares. But this fourth thing was something I sort of actively disliked. A bad joke — or at least a dumb one. Oh well. I liked it anyway.

One thing I had to decide right away was what to do about the related items that appear after you’ve liked something. Let’s say you like a story about cows that you see on Modern Farmer. Facebook will immediately present you with four more options to like things below that cow story, “relateds” in Facebook parlance. Probably more stories about cows or agriculture.

Relateds quickly became a problem, because as soon as you like one, Facebook replaces it with another. So as soon as I liked the four relateds below a story, it immediately gave me four more. And then four more. And then four more. And then four more. I quickly realized I’d be stuck in a related loop for eternity if I kept this up. So I settled on a new rule: I would like the first four relateds Facebook shows me, but no more.

Sometimes, liking is counterintuitive. My friend Hillary posted a picture of her toddler Pearl, with bruises on her face. It was titled “Pearl vs. the concrete.” I didn’t like it at all! It was sad. Normally, it would be the kind of News Feed item that would compel me to leave a comment, instead of hitting the little thumbs up button. Oh well. Like. The only time I declined to like something was when a friend posted about the death of a relative. I just had a death in my family last week. It was a bridge I wasn’t going to cross.

But there was still plenty more to like. I liked one of my cousin’s updates, which he had re-shared from Joe Kennedy, and was subsequently beseiged with Kennedys to like (plus a Clinton and a Shriver). I liked Hootsuite. I liked The New York Times, I liked Coupon Clipinista. I liked something from a friend I haven’t spoken to in 20 years—something about her kid, camp and a snake. I liked Amazon. I liked fucking Kohl’s. I liked Kohl’s for you.

My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.

Likewise, content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad, Space.com, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post, Space.com, Upworthy, Space.com.

Also, as I went to bed, I remember thinking “Ah, crap. I have to like something about Gaza,” as I hit the Like button on a post with a pro-Israel message.

By the next morning, the items in my News Feed had moved very, very far to the right. I’m offered the chance to like the 2nd Amendment and some sort of anti-immigrant page. I like them both. I like Ted Cruz. I like Rick Perry. The Conservative Tribune comes up again, and again, and again in my News Feed. I get to learn its very particular syntax. Usually it went something like this:

Screenshot_2014-08-04-10-18-01

Sound familiar?


A sentence recounting some controversial news. Good!

A sentence explaining why this is good.

A call to action, often ending with a question?

Once I see this pattern, I start noticing it everywhere. SF Gate, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s web presence, uses a similar tactic.

It is a very specific form of Facebook messaging, designed to get you to interact. And if you take the bait, you’ll be shown it ad nauseam.

I was also struck by how different my feeds were on mobile and the desktop, even when viewed at the same time. By the end of day one, I noticed that on mobile my feed was almost completely devoid of human content. I was only presented with the chance to like stories from various websites, and various other ads.

Yet on the desktop — while it’s still mostly branded content — I continue to see things from my friends. On that little bitty screen, where real-estate is so valuable, Facebook’s robots decided that the way to keep my attention is by hiding the people and only showing me the stuff that other machines have pumped out. Weird.

As day one rolled into day two, I began dreading going to Facebook. It had become a temple of provocation. Just as my News Feed had drifted further and further right, so too did it drift further and further left. Rachel Maddow, Raw Story, Mother Jones, Daily Kos and all sort of other leftie stuff was interspersed with items that are so far to the right I’m nearly afraid to like them for fear of ending up on some sort of watch list.

STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND LOOK AT THIS BABY THAT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JAY-Z.

This is a problem much bigger than Facebook. It reminded me of what can go wrong in society, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other. We set up our political and social filter bubbles and they reinforce themselves—the things we read and watch have become hyper-niche and cater to our specific interests. We go down rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden, cursing everyone above ground.

But maybe worse than the fractious political tones my feed took on was how deeply stupid it became. I’m given the chance to like a Buzzfeed post of some guy dancing, and another that asks Which Titanic Character Are You? A third Buzzfeed post informs me that “Katy Perry’s Backup Dancer is the Mancandy You Deserve.” According to New York magazine, I am “officially old” because Malia Obama went to Lollapalooza (like!) and CNN tells me “Husband Explores His Man-ternal Instincts” alongside a photo of a shirtless man cupping his nipples. A cloud that looks like a penis. Stop what you’re doing and look at this baby that looks exactly like Jay-Z. My feed was showing almost only the worst kind of tripe that all of us in the media are complicit in churning out yet should also be deeply ashamed of. Sensational garbage. I liked it all.

Screen Shot

Annoying for you. Even more annoying for everyone else.

While I expected that what I saw might change, what I never expected was the impact my behaviuor would have on my friends’ feeds. I kept thinking Facebook would rate-limit me, but instead it grew increasingly ravenous. My feed become a cavalcade of brands and politics and as I interacted with them, Facebook dutifully reported this to all my friends and followers.

That first night, a small little circle with a dog’s head popped up in the corner of my phone. A chat head, from Facebook’s Messenger software! The dog turned out to be my old WIRED editor, John Bradley. “Have you been hacked,” he wanted to know. The next morning, my friend Helena sent me a message. “My fb feed is literally full of articles you like, it’s kind of funny,” she says. “No friend stuff, just Honan likes.” I replied with a thumbs up. This continued throughout the experiment. When I posted a status update to Facebook just saying “I like you,” I heard from numerous people that my weirdo activity had been overrunning their feeds. “My newsfeed is 70 percent things Mat has liked,” noted my pal Heather. Eventually, I would hear from someone who worked at Facebook, who had noticed my activity and wanted to connect me with the company’s PR department.

But I’d already put a stop to it by then anyway, because it was just too awful. I tried counting how much stuff I’d liked by looking in my activity log, but it was too overwhelming. I’d added more than a thousand things to my Likes page—most of which were loathsome or at best banal.

By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked. To be honest, I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like what I had done.

We’re not absolutely sure if this photo is genuine.

It might be a clever photoshopped viral meme designed to make a point ahead of the Scottish independence poll. Or it might just be the perfect example of Rule #1 of outdoor advertising – see your medium before you stick the ad to the train, and don’t put any of it over (a) doors that move (b) big sticky-outey things that make it impossible to read your ad.

16298_10154447715075181_3713551417262544299_n

Either way, very funny.

For more glorious F*** Ups in advertising, packaging, social media et al just put “F*** Up” in the search box top left of this page and hit enter …

flagsMeanwhile, based on the polls, if you are remotely interested in the politics of the thing, it is still looking likely that Scotland won’t vote to become an independent country, with the “yes” side of the poll declining recently, although fervent yes campaigners point to the still large number of undecideds and the fact that a larger percentage of women seem undecided in particular.

Our guess – and we’re usually right – is that the referendum will fail, but more narrowly than the current polls indicate. Still, with a month to go, there is still time for momentum to build either way as people focus more and more on the actual event.

A wrap of the movements of the polls can be found here. In reading polls, psephologists agree that what really matters is the overall look of the trends, and the averaging of them. On that basis, it should be noted that since this poll tracker began, the “yes” side of the argument has only been in the majority, very temporarily, twice.

(With thanks to Dickie Ember for forwarding us the Alex Salmond train photo.)

 

 

Robin Williams

The world has woken up today to the loss of one of the finest comedic talents of his generation – perhaps, of any generation – and the outpouring of words will no doubt be liken unto an avalanche.

We do not propose to add to them to any great extent, if for no other reason that others will do a better job.

But not to mark Robin Williams’ passing would be to do the man a dis-service. This is a day for many in the world to pause, and to remember a great man who gave freely to all of us of his hugely generous heart. And also to contemplate sadly the persistence, the common-ness, the vile pressure of this scourge of an illness which has now stripped him from us and which ruins so many lives, and touches uncountable others.

For him to apparently take his own life – yet another high-profile victim of depression, which afflicts so many of those creative souls who truly see into the world with clear eyes – is the ultimate cruel irony. A life spent making untold millions laugh, snuffed out in a moment of existential hollowness and hopelessness. And a life capped by triumphantly fighting a battle against addiction – so often the fellow traveller with depression – that was lost when he was determinedly sober. This is a bitter, bitter day.

For a man who gave the world so much, he will, like many others, be tragically defined to some degree by the nature of his death. His wife has already pleaded that it not be so, but it is inevitable. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

For the rest of us, whether battling depression or not, we are today surely reminded of the most powerful call to celebrate life – to seize life by the lapels and give it a great shake – that he ever delivered in his multi-faceted and endlessly inspiring career. He is delivering the lines of a writer, to be sure, but he was surely also speaking for himself. See it in his eyes.

Carpe Diem.

 

Amen.

 

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

The current emergence of the ISIS (Islamic State) insurgency in Syria and Iraq reveals the curious nature of the background diplomacy that goes on all the time, invisible to the man in the street, because you have to read the news stories BEHIND the news stories to work out what is really going on.

The ritualistic condemnation of Russia over the shooting down (most likely by separatist pro-Russian rebels) of MH17 near Donetsk (and the previous less violent kerfuffle over the Crimea) has led to mild sanctions being employed by the West, and a lot of publicly-expressed anger, at least some of which was undoubtedly sincere.

In return, Putin and his cronies have placed bans on certain imports from the West, such as Australian wheat, which are going to be virtually ineffective as we can’t produce enough wheat for world demand as it is, and the Russian business will be quickly replaced by delivering the wheat to countries like Indonesia, instead. Nevertheless, there has been a general chilling of the relationship between the West and Russia, or at least it appears so on the surface.

And as usual, the relationship between America and Iran seems pretty well stuck in deep freeze, although some very minor steps towards a rapprochement have taken place recently, and especially since the departure of the conservative idealogue Ahmadinejad and his replacement with the much more pragmatic and moderate Hassan Rouhani.

Ironically, though, America, the West in general, and Russia and Iran find themselves on the same side against the Sunni insurgents now slicing off the heads of those they disagree with – including, according to some sources, beheading children and putting their heads on display in a public park in Mosul – stoning so-called adulterous women, perpetrating the most horrific massacres, driving out religious minorities including Christians, and generally proving themselves to be the worst of the world’s current crop of uncivilised, idiotic savages.

In a shocking revelation, it has emerged that in the week-long Islamic State offensive in Sinjar, which began last Sunday, the militants killed at least 500 Christian Yazidis, according to Iraq’s human rights minister.

Several residents, including children, were buried alive, while around 300 women (believed to be from those Buried_aliveChristians who chose to pay a fine rather than leave the area or convert to Islam) have been kidnapped as slaves. The revelation was made by Iraq’s human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. In an interview al-Sudani alleged that the ISIS buried some of their victims alive, including women and children.

“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Sudani pointed out.

“Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar,” Sudani said.

In response to the Yazidi crisis, President Obama has authorised air drops of relief food to fleeing refugees and air strikes against the murderous ISIS, but interestingly recent air strikes have been claimed not to be by US jets. In which case, who is doing the bombing?

The most likely answer is almost certainly a mixture of Iraqi planes, flown and maintained by Russian and Iranian pilots and engineers, as the nascent Iraqi Shia government hasn’t got around to training its air force yet, and Iran has definitely bombed ISIS previously as their fighters neared the iranian border. Or it may have been Iraqis themselves, although this is considered unlikely. Or even Turkish fighters, as Turkey (especially the Turkish military establishment) is alarmed in the extreme about the pressure on the Kurds in the north (who, despite their antipathy towards Turkey, provide a useful buffer against the chaos further south) and their fears that the extremist Sunni ISIS could start to destabilise their secular democracy even more than it is already being notoriously weakened by the populist and increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan who was re-elected over the weekend in a poorly-attended poll.

This interesting article seeks to make sense of the conflicting signals coming out of northern Iraq currently.

What is certain is that behind the scenes, American, Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats and spooks are undergoing a much less antagonistic relationship than we see in public. Information sharing is the very least that’s going on – in all probability, “real time” battlefield intelligence is also being shared to make the fight against ISIS more effective.

Which is yet another modern example of the famous old adage Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This understanding has powered geo-politics since it was first expressed in Sanskrit in the 4th century BC by Kautilya, the “Indian Machiavelli”, so perhaps it’s unsurprising to see it happening again.

As the fiercely anti-Communist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared during the Second World War, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons,” when speaking in support of British aid to Soviet forces.

So the next time you hear a politician thumping the table and weighing in against some other country, bear in mind the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes may be far different. Or to put it more simply, politicians frequently feed us bullshit.

Really, who knew?

 

Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne

So. The Wellthisiswhatithink clan was driving through the rain yesterday evening to a very swanky dinner, (on behalf of departing Monash Uni Vice-Chancellor Ed Byrne and his wife Melissa – a wonderful event which we were thrilled to be asked to, although we are sad to be losing this wonderful couple to London – our loss is their very profound gain), when we came across this hilarious  sign on a building in swanky Malvern, one of Melbourne’s “better” suburbs.

Physio

We immediately cracked up.

Patient – “Well, I feel better now, can I stop coming?”

Manipulative physiotherapist – “Oh yes, I’m sure you feel better. Yeah, now worries, stop coming. I’ll find another patient to fill the gap. You go off and enjoy yourself. Knock yourself out. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

Yes, yes, we know it doesn’t say emotionally manipulative physiotherapist, but stuck in traffic at 6pm in the rain and dark we just laughed and laughed.

Guess you had to be there.

(Feel free to contribute your personal conversation snippets between patients and the manipulative physio. Let’s see if there are any more people out there with our weird sense of humour.)

Incidentally, some of the musical entertainment provided at the dinner was from the ineffably brilliant jazz musician Paul Grabowsky. It was a true privilege to hear him and a bunch of other leading musicians at close quarters. Blessings in life arrive unexpectedly, don’t they?

sunshine

Older adults who are severely deficient in vitamin D may be more than twice as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than those who don’t have a deficiency, according to the largest study of its kind, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

“We expected to find an association between low Vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising — we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” noted lead researcher David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School in a news release.

Llewellyn looked at several years worth of data on 1,658 Americans ages 65 and older who had taken part in the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute’s Cardiovascular Health Study. He and his team found that adults who were just moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia — the general term for any severe decline in mental ability — while the risk jumped to 125 percent for those who had a severe deficiency. Similarly, for Alzheimer’s disease — the most common type of dementia — the moderately deficient adults were 69 percent more likely to develop it, while the severely deficient had a 122 percent increased risk.

“Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether eating foods such as oily fish or taking vitamin D supplements can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Llewellyn said. “We need to be cautious at this early stage, and our latest results do not demonstrate that low vitamin D levels cause dementia. That said, our findings are very encouraging, and even if a small number of people could benefit, this would have enormous public health implications given the devastating and costly nature of dementia.”

Currently, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. “We think this study is important,” Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach with the Alzheimer’s Association (a major funder of Llewellyn’s research), told Yahoo Health in response to the findings. “It’s a relatively large study, and it looks like it does show a pretty substantial link.… It just doesn’t show us why there is a link.” One hypothesis, Fargo noted, is that the brain — including the hippocampus, which is one of the first areas to break down with Alzheimer’s — is full of vitamin D receptors.

There has been a growing body of research on the disease’s connection with vitamin D — the main sources of which are sunshine and supplements, with minor sources including egg yolks and oily fish like salmon and sardines. Earlier this year, a study out of Denmark, for example, also showed a link between Alzheimer’s disease prevalence and low levels of vitamin D, while earlier studies conducted in Australia and France found tenuous connections between taking doses of vitamin D and having an improved memory. The vitamin has also been linked, in various studies, to preventing asthma, diabetes, and cancer.

“People tend to not believe vitamin D news, because it seems too good to be true,” John Cannell, MD, executive director of the California-based nonprofit Vitamin D Council, told Yahoo Health. “But vitamin D has a profound mechanism of action, as it’s really a steroid hormone that turns genes on and off, and no other vitamin works that way. There are at least 1,000 different genes directly influenced by vitamin D.” The council recommends a combination of cautious sun exposure combined with supplements in winter months.

Cannell called the new study’s findings “pretty exciting,” mainly because of its size and structure. “It’s important because it’s the first cohort study of a large population — meaning that it’s forward-looking, having followed people over several years,” he said. “The next step is a randomised controlled trial, but this is as close as you can get without that.”

(Yahoo Health)

Of course, Aussies and others who enjoy frolicking in the sunshine need to be careful of the other effect of drinking up Vitamin D through their skin – which is skin cancer, of course. As we all make sure we get some sunshine, let’s also remember the advice that adequate Vitamin D levels can be achieved with just 20 minutes exposure to sunshine a day.

poem

 

You came to me unexpectedly
happening on a glade, as if
gliding over me like crystal in the early morning
cool like the fever in my life breaking
refreshing as the splash of a wave
murmuring like a gentle stream until I drowned.

And then you left as if you had never been
and all my world was dust and air and sand again
but I remember you to this day
when the sun beats down, cruel
when the sun is strong on my brow

I swim in my memories and pretend that you were real.


Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

We happened across this little article by Michael Gebicki from Fairfax and it reminded us that we have been meaning for a YEAR to whinge about the temperature on planes.

Keeping temperatures at the lower end of the range on a plane can be a better option than having passengers fainting.Keeping temperatures at the lower end of the range on a plane can be a better option than having passengers fainting. Photo: Getty Images

The pilot has overall control within a range of about 20-28 degrees, but within those parameters the actual temperature control is left up to the flight crew, who will generally set is at 22 or 23 degrees.

If the temperature drops to 20 degrees passengers start to shiver and complain, but anecdotal advice from flight crew suggests that more passengers faint when the temperature rises above 24 degrees.

This is supported by a study conducted by a study published by the American Society for Testing and Materials, which concluded “There is evidence that cabin pressure and temperature may contribute to the occurrence of syncope”, the medical term for fainting.

This results from a deficient blood flow to the brain, which might happen when a passenger rises after a prolonged period of inactivity.

Fainting is more likely to occur following a sedentary spell in an aircraft than at home, sitting in front of the TV for example, because air pressure in the cabin at typical cruising altitude is equivalent to the outside air pressure at 1800–2400m above sea level.

At that altitude, less oxygen is available to be transported in the blood stream, which increases the incidence of fainting.

Flight crew also suggest that passengers sitting in the rear of an aircraft are more susceptible, along with overweight males, elderly passengers and those with cardiovascular conditions.

Hmmm. Well we had one experience recently with drove us nuts. We flew from Tokyo to Paris with Japan Airlines, specifically because we wanted to end our brief sojourn in the Land of the Rising Sun with the experience of munching sushi on the way over to France, even though by the time we got there we were actually a bit sushi-d out as we had eaten little else for four days. Well, we had one plate of German ham hock in a first floor Bavarian “BierKeller”, but that’s a long story.

May we suggest an extra serve of green tea ice-cream?

May we suggest an extra serve of green tea ice-cream?

Anyhow the cabin temperature was set to roasting overnight. It was completely impossible to sleep comfortably – or even just endure it watching TV comfortably.

Now admittedly we were sitting towards the rear of the plane (on the basis that very few planes ever reverse into mountains) and your compellingly honest correspondent will admit to being somewhat, er … well let’s just say an Indian tailor once smiled sweetly and said he thought he had something in portly short that would fit us … but it was really ridiculously hot. Even Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink agreed, and she would complain of feeling chilly sitting next to an open blast-furnace.

We pleaded with the cabin staff to turn the heating down, but they simply refused, albeit with lots of bowing and smiling. “No” still means “no”, even when accompanied by traditional Japanese deference. Eventually, one remarked that Asian passengers prefer the cabin kept warmer, or they all complain. As we were amongst very few Europeans on the flight we grumblingly acquiesced to that logic and eventually went to sleep with a tea-towel stuffed with ice behind our neck.

The sushi was pretty crap, too. And the seats were too small. Although to be fair it should be noted that in 2013 JAL was given an award for being the most punctual international carrier, so presumably you arrive at your destination drenched in sweat but on time more often.

In general, we find cabin temperatures are set too high way too often, especially on long-haul overnight flights. One such flight across the Atlantic (Chicago-London) with BA would have been more comfortable if we’d all been in bathing costumes. Admittedly it was seriously cold leaving Chicago, but it’s hard to dismiss the feeling that the cabin was set to uber-warm by the staff to greet the frozen travellers and then just left that way because no one thought to check it. Or maybe they were just having too much fun chatting to yours truly as he drank vodka after vodka in the food prep area, having given up entirely on any hope of getting any sleep.

The point is surely, if they are set at the lower end of the scale, then people who feel chilly can put on another layer, or snuggle under a blanket. Or two. Those who are overheated are limited in their ability to respond. No one wants to see a somewhat corpulent middle aged fellow in his undies fanning himself with a dog-eared in-flight magazine.

So we politely urge pursers and captains to start low and hand out lots of blankies, or at least start low and edge the temp up half a degree at a time, rather than start high and wait for people to start fainting or panting.

Unless your passenger list is mainly Asian, we guess. In which case, Caveat Emptor would seem to apply for fliers. Interestingly, though, we have also flown with South China, Cathay Pacific, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysian, and not noticed the problem to anything like the same degree as we experienced with JAL.

The other hottest planes we have known have been Qantas inside Australia, which are frequently stifling. What is with that?

Apparently taking "selfies" of their beautiful selves is the latest thing with air hostesses, as this recent shot of an Emirates crew shows. Well you try Googling "too hot stewardesses" and see what you come up with.

Apparently taking “selfies” of their beautiful selves is the latest thing with air hostesses, as this recent shot of an Emirates crew shows. Well you try Googling “too hot stewardesses” and see what you come up with.

And just to throw a bunch of flowers as well as a brickbat, we flew back from Dubai to Australia with Emirates and the experience was about as magnificent as flying anywhere cattle-class could be.

Seats were comfortable, food was brilliant, staff were charming and spoke (to our count) 17 different languages – they announce them at the start of the flight – entertainment system was excellent – and above all, blessed be, the cabin was pleasantly temperate.

Still, we guess people from Dubai know a bit about air-conditioning.

The exceptionally comfortable Dubai International airport is enormous – cavernous – yet impeccably cool: quite remarkable, really, although clearing customs was ludicrously slow. That aside, we would recommend Emirates to anyone.

What’s your most recent flying experience – good, bad, indifferent? And what do you think about cabin temperatures? Let us know!

Spoons

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

hand

We have come to the realisation, Dear Reader, that fear is a bloody miserable thing, and that we suffer from it.

When the treadmill of life slows down long enough for us to actually stop and think – read: reflect, brood, ponder, worry – it is easy for fear to creep in, especially if one is on one’s own, or the blood sugar is a tad low, or it’s just been a shitty day.

In the case of your indefatigable correspondent, the fears are often about the process of growing older, and death. And then, nigh-on simultaneously, the death of loved ones. And then the disastrous state of the world, and how it’s all going to pot.

But it is the first one that can utterly paralyse us. After all: death is the one unavoidable conclusion of all lives. It’s going to happen. And with it, bang goes the achievements, the fun, the striving, the connection with everyone, the adored family. Doesn’t it? Life. What was that all about, huh? Why bother, just to die and leave it all behind?

As we get older, our faculties also decline. This isn’t a pretend fear, it’s a real fear. No amount of positive thinking or even age-appropriate exercise will totally prevent it.

Joints get less flexible. (Puhlease don’t tell us about 80 year old gymnasts on YouTube – most of us don’t keep fit enough in the early years to make that happen – I am being realistic here – and by the time we realise the body is beginning to creak it’s too late to stop all the creaking. Some ageing can be overcome, but not all. Just tell my left shoulder that you’re thinking positively about it and listen to the laughter.)

The brain unquestionably slows, too. Which is a real bugger, if one has used one’s brain to make a living since, like, forever.  And it’s very noticeable. Undeniable. It becomes harder to bring words to mind instantly. Sentence construction is more laborious, too. And when one rushes in panic to the experts worrying about early-onset Alzheimers, they reassure you with the most annoying advice imaginable: “Don’t worry, you’re just getting older, it happens to everyone.”

Well, poo to that. And this isn’t even to touch on the myriad anxieties that afflict people about their social interactions, phobias, and 1001 other things.

There is even a specific phobia for those who fear death, called thanataphobia. We don’t think we would quite describe ourselves as phobic on the issue, merely mildly obsessed. OK, make that “aware” and “thoughtful”.

So what to do about fear, and specifically fear of death?

We are sure religious faith helps with the whole death thing, at least to a degree. We remember hearing someone say once, “We are mortal beings living immortal lives” and being charmed by its simplicity. Nice thought. If it’s true. Life becomes much more bearable – death becomes much more bearable – if it is just a prelude to a sort of eternal holiday-camp shared with those we love, or perhaps a chance to come back and do better next time. But doubt is at the core of all faith – that’s why they call it faith – and on days that the awareness of death and loss bears down on us, it often seems that the nagging demon of doubt does, too.

Cancer support groups often talk about working towards a “good death”, rather than hoping against hope (and logic) to try and endlessly prolong life. A good death is one where one is resigned to the inevitability of our dying, where we have made our peace with those around us and been able to spend quality time with them, and where our affairs are as much in order as possible. Where death does not dull our mind with terror, and we can maintain dignity, calm, and acceptance of our fate. We are reminded of a dear friend, Senator Sid Spindler, taken from us a couple of years ago with liver cancer, who was discussing an article in the local paper with his wife when quite clearly only a few days from death. An indefatigable campaigner, he murmured “Perhaps I should write a letter?” Those around him rolled their eyes in disbelief and amused admiration. But was he postponing the inevitable – clinging to one last vestige of relevance – or merely accepting his imminent death but refusing to be cowed by it? Or a bit of both? Only Sid could tell us, and he isn’t here any more.

In olden times, someone would have cheerily, at this point, said something like “Make the most out of every day!” as a response to the fact that one day the days will simply run out. Indeed, there are web pages dedicated to telling you exactly how many productive hours one has left in one’s life when one has removed sleep, showering, going to the loo, travelling, etc., to encourage everybody to “make the most” of life. Fair enough. Personally, we have stopped looking at them. It looks like we’ve got enough time left to make one more decent pot of bolognese sauce before we cark it.

We also ponder the fact that until relatively recently in human existence, within the last poofteenth of human time in reality, we would almost certainly already have been dead, and many people in today’s world still have a life expectancy below the amount we have already lived. And in the moments when we remind ourselves of this, we manage to be grateful and worried simultaneously.

allenNot for nothing is our favourite celebrity quotation from Woody Allen, a man so obsessed with these matters that he wrote two theatre plays, one called God and the other Death. The quote runs thusly: “I don’t want to become immortal through my work. I want to become immortal through not dying.” Hear hear.

The Wellthisiswhatithink collective is by no means alone in this angst-ridden introspection, of course.

Existential death anxiety is the basic knowledge and awareness that natural life must end and it has fascinated writers and philosophers since humankind climbed down from the trees. It is said that existential death anxiety directly correlates to language; that is, “language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioural changes.” Or in other words, over millenia we notice that we die, learn how to describe it, and then talk about it.

There is also “an awareness of the distinction between self and others, a full sense of personal identity, and the ability to anticipate the future, which includes the certainty of death. Humans defend against this type of death anxiety through denial, which is effected through a wide range of mental mechanisms and physical actions many of which also go unrecognised. While limited use of denial tends to be adaptive, its use is usually excessive and proves to be costly emotionally.”

Or to put it more simply, it’s better to face up to it.

As Wikipedia would have it, “Awareness of human mortality arose through some 150,000 years ago. In that extremely short span of evolutionary time, humans have fashioned but a single basic mechanism with which they deal with the existential death anxieties this awareness has evoked—denial in its many forms.

Fear of - and discussion of - dying goes back to Neanderthal times. Not that it gets any easier.

Fear of – and discussion of – dying goes back to Neanderthal times. Not that it gets any easier.

Thus denial is basic to such diverse actions as breaking rules and violating frames and boundaries, manic celebrations, violence directed against others, attempts to gain extraordinary wealth and/or power — and more. These pursuits often are activated by a death-related trauma and while they may lead to constructive actions, more often than not, they lead to actions that are, in the short and long run, damaging to self and others.”

Or as we call them in Wales, “wakes”.

This is before we even tackle the concept of Existentialism proper, (as opposed to Existential anxiety), and it’s various concerns that life is inherently meaningless anyway, not to mention Absurd. That’s a topic for another day. Or days. Or lifetimes.

Anyway, this latest in a series of ramblings on this topic is coming to no great or profound conclusion, Dear Reader. We merely report that at this point in time we have decided to focus on a couple of related issues.

Firstly, we have decided to stop worrying about the fact that one cannot control death, because in reality one can only control a few outcomes in one’s life, and death surely isn’t one of them. Believing we are in charge of everything is a uniquely human conceit, and it is clearly not true.

In the Wellthisiswhatithink household we call this the “A Plane Fell On My House” syndrome, recognising that random acts can and do disrupt our neatly ordered existence.

Accepting this as a fact is a vital step towards dealing with events that catch us unawares.

kindnessSecondly, we are trying to make more of an impact on our world by being more concerned about other people than ourselves, by being kinder, by being slower to anger or frustration, by trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, by celebrating the good we see around us and building up those responsible for it.

It was Aesop (he of Fables fame) who once said “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”. There’s a big mouthful, right there. And yet more proof, if proof were needed, that things don’t change much as the centuries roll by.

Deep in the last Millenium we saw “making an impact on the world” as ending up as Prime Minister of somewhere (or at least a senior panjandrum of some description), becoming the world’s greatest writer of film scripts, the most creative businessman in town, the “next big thing” in poetry, and a bunch of other grandiloquent outcomes. It would be fair to say we have now changed our focus, and in doing so, we have become more content, and by many measurements, more successful.

We may yet do something “famous”. Or we may not.

We’re taking it all a day at a time. And that helps, too.

Tara MohrMeanwhile, Tara Sophia Mohr is a San Francisco-based women’s leadership personality. We found these comments on her website, and thank her for her thinking. There is some big “applied commonsense” here.

1. Create a character. Create a character that symbolises the voice of fear within you. Maybe she’s a frail recluse or an eight-year-old bully or a fire-breathing dragon. Maybe it’s the lion from “The Wizard of Oz” or the Wicked Witch or the Wizard himself. Pick a character that illustrates how the voice of fear feels in you, and name your character. When you hear the voice of fear, greet it: “Oh,Cruella, I see you’ve come to visit. Hello.”

Why does this work? Creating a character helps you separate the real you from the part of you that’s afraid. Your fears come from that instinctual part of the brain that seeks to avoid risk at any cost–not from your core self, your inner wisdom, or your dreams. Naming the voice of fear, visualising it as a character and observing it helps you get back in charge.

2. Follow the fear through to the end game. Fear holds us hostage, making threats that if you do X, a disastrous outcome will occur.

The remedy is to imagine how you’d handle that outcome, and evaluate just how bad it would really be.

This involves asking “so what?” again and again. If, for example, you’re afraid that your request for a raise will be turned down, ask yourself, “So if I was turned down, so what? Then what?”

You’ll probably hear yourself thinking something like, “Well, I’d be disappointed, and I’d think about whether that means I need to change jobs. I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world.” You’ve just taken a great deal of power away from your fear.

Or, you might find this outcome still feels super scary, and your answer to the question is “I’d feel horribly embarrassed around my boss every time I saw her!” Then ask the question again: “So I’d feel embarrassed and awkward, then what?” Keep following the fear through to the endgame. You’ll find your resiliency and sense of perspective as you keep asking, “So what?”

(We heartily concur with this advice in a whole host of areas of business and life generally. “So what?” is an incredible powerful tool.)

3. Ask, “Is it true?” Whatever the little voice of fear is saying, it’s probably not true.

The fearful part of us is irrational and over-True or falseprotective. It might be saying you are likely to fall flat on your face if you take a risk, or that no one will like your ideas. It might be saying that moving to a new city could ruin your children, or choosing the wrong job could wreck havoc on your life. When you hear fear-based thoughts, ask yourself, “Is what this voice is saying true?” or, in Byron Katie’s approach, “Can I be absolutely sure that this thought is true?” The answer to these questions — especially the latter one — is most often “no.”

4. Connect to love. Here’s the very cool thing about our human consciousness.

We can’t be in a state of fear and one of love at the same time. They can’t co-exist. Each one blots out the other. When we are really connected to that mysterious energy that is love, we connect to a softness, a safety, a comfort, a healing. Fear vanishes.

So when you are stuck in fear, re-connect to love. Listening to a favourite song, doing something you love, focusing on a picture of a loved one, or connecting with nature are all good ways to do this.

Many people find that a short meditation on their own breathing or reaching out to a higher power in prayer reconnects them to love. Giving — time, money, a gift or a heartfelt compliment — to another person also connects us to love.

Use whatever process works for you. You’ll know you’ve re-connected to love when you feel that sense of harmony and comfort and softness returning.

If you aren’t sure what helps you easily and swiftly reconnect to love, start experimenting. All of us need a set of strategies for connecting to love when we get fearful, anxious, resentful or off-balance.

5. Let fear be your travelling companion. Much of the time we can soften or even entirely lift our fears using the tools above, but sometimes, fear persists.

Then it’s time for this tool: let fear be your travelling companion. Let it be there, but not in control. Let it be there, but don’t take direction from it or stop moving forward because of it.

This is a skill. It’s a skill to learn to act in the face of fear, to allow it to be present but not to interfere.

You know when you are driving on the highway, and right next to you, one lane over, there’s some guy hanging out the window, keeping pace along side of you? He’s not in your way but he’s in your field of vision?

Think of fear that way: as the guy in the lane next to you. You are in the driver’s seat, in your own lane, moving forward. He’s next to you, not blocking you but just there, somewhat irritating, palpably present. The ride would feel more enjoyable and free if he wasn’t there, but you are getting to your destination just fine anyway.

Learn to walk with fear this way — as if it’s your uninvited traveling companion — intrusive, but not in the way.

(This last one is one we are personally working on. It is impossible to banish all fear. And we shouldn’t want to, anyway. After all, fear serves a purpose, too. It stops us wandering blithely into the middle of a pride of lions while we’re picking daisies. The trick is not to let fear – or, indeed, any thought – dominate one’s life to the exclusion of others. And sometimes, to accept that we actually can’t control or change everything. Much of the “self help” advice coming out of the USA (in particular) likes to pretend that we can do anything, be anything, achieve anything, overcome anything, just with an act of will. That is simply nonsensical, and dangerous, because not being able to overcome something that is insurmountable is a sure way to become depressed. If someone dies, for example, no amount of willing them back will change the fact of their death. How we DEAL with our distress and fear about the future will determine how successful our life is thereafter. That’s why “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is sometimes – sometimes – very good advice.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen? So what?)


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