greek flag

The “bad news is good news” principle has been running hot again in the last couple of weeks with all the interest in Greece and its sovereign debt crisis. Economics reporters from around the world have been banging the drum with ferocity signalling that the end of the world is nigh. Very nigh. People gulp their coffee nervously. Stock markets are jittery.

But is a Greek exit from the Euro really likely?

The short answer is No. Oxi, in fact.

That the problem requires resolving is undoubted. Greek banks are very strapped for cash, and the stage is set for people being unable to access their savings. This is the nightmare scenario as far as civil peace is concerned, let alone international trade and business confidence.

But some factors are being ignored in the breathless doom-laden reporting. We summarise the key ones here.

The debt is unsustainable, so some of it will end up being written off. The question is when.

In or out of the Euro, Greek debt has reached levels that are unsustainable by an economy of its size, under any circumstances. It just can’t generate enough trade or tax receipts to pay it back at any sort of meaningful rate. Why this has been allowed to happen is another story, but it doesn’t matter now. It is what it is.

parthenonThe IMF has recognised this, and said that some form of “debt relief” is required.

In other words, writing off debt. (Probably about half of it.)

This will have to happen whatever the future relationship of Greece to the Euro will be, because unsustainable debt levels will make the Greek currency effectively worthless, which would be to no one’s advantage and would cause much greater ripples through the world economy than writing off some of the debt would.

The problem is political, not economic.

The money is, in effect, “gone” already, dispersed throughout the Greek business community and general population in lending, social support payments and so on. There’s no getting it back, and no way to generate it. What Angela Merkel and others have to do is “sell” retiring the debt to their own taxpayers, which is going to be made more difficult by the hard-edged rhetoric they have employed in recent months. Nevertheless, it’s worse than the alternative, so they will bite the bullet and do it.

What will happen?

A portion of the debt will be forgiven – probably about half – but to make this politically acceptable in the rest of Europe some or all of it may be theoretically rescheduled on the “never never” – the debt pushed out by 20 or 30 years – in reality, never to be repaid.

No one wants Greece in turmoil again.

The Greek civil war was recent, and very bloody, Here right wing militia display the heads of their victims.

The Greek civil war was recent, and very bloody, Here right wing militia display the heads of their victims.

It is easily forgotten that for the “mother of democracy”, Greece is a relatively recent convert to democracy. It was a military dictatorship as recently as the 1960s, and endured an horrendous civil war in the immediate aftermath of World War II. To see the country descend into chaos again is unthinkable for both the “European project” and for the geo-political balance in the region.

Long embroiled in conflicts with their neighbours, an aggressive dictatorship of left or right could spread uncertainty and trouble to Cyprus (dangerously near the Middle East), Albania, Macedonia, and worst of all, Turkey.

None of the people that really run the Western world are going to stand idly by and watch that happen over a pot of money, no matter how big that pot is.

What will happen?

The Western powers will stumble haltingly towards a solution to the debt crisis that keeps Greece stable. Expect to see the rhetoric and the bombast toned down significantly on both sides in the next few days, ahead of a compromise that sees Greece stay in the Eurozone and reduces the fractiousness inside the country. The unexpected discarding of the combative Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis by Greek Prime Minister Tsipras is a symbol that this process is already underway in earnest.

The Russia factor

Everyone in the West knows that a newly aggressive Vladimir Putin would like nothing more than to bail out Greece (which he has the money to do), both to thumb his nose at Europe (with whom he is enduring real on-going problems over Ukraine), and by bailing them out win an ally where he could base his Red Sea fleet actually on the Med itself. Which would be his price for the support.

What will happen?

America will never let Russia make such a move. So the lines are running hot between America and Europe right now telling the Europeans that they’ve had their fun and to pull their heads in. “Settle it before it gets worse” will be the message.

The European ideal

It is often forgotten – most often by those on the Right – that the EU is about much more than economics.

Greece suffered as much as everyone else in WWII. In 1953, they

Greece suffered as much as everyone else in WWII. In 1953, they “forgave” the new-born German state the debts it owed them.

It always was designed as a device to impose stability on a region that had been at war for thousands of years, and most horribly within living memory in 1939-45. It was rarely sold to the voters like that – who tend to be much more amenable to hip-pocket issues like how much tax they’re paying and whether or not they’ve winning or losing from EU contributions – but that is nevertheless the driving morality behind the whole project.

And as recently as the Balkan conflict Europe has been reminded of the capacity of the area to dissolve into internecine feuding. Issues of economic security dominate over economic efficiency.

That’s why the EU project consistently ignores bleating about “loss of sovereignty” from political parties and national parliaments and stresses instead the role each country plays in “running” Europe. This makes the EU top-heavy, over-centralised, frequently the butt of satire about its tortuous legislative burden, and unpopular. Nevertheless the blow to the European ideal of seeing a “Grexit” (which might lead to similar problems from other small countries) would far outweigh the benefit of disciplining Greece further.

What will happen?

The European ideal will triumph over neo-con economics. It won’t be sold like that, but that’s what will happen.

There is no legal mechanism to force Greek out of the Euro.

greece euro xendpayOne of the oft-repeated canards in the last few weeks has been that Europe will “kick Greece out”. The problem is, they actually can’t. There is no legal mechanism by which a member of the Euro can be made to exit it against their will.

As no-one in Greece actually wants to leave the Euro, whatever their attitude to the austerity measures Europe seeks to impose, Europe is stuck with Greece as a member whether Europe likes it or not. This scholarly article explains the law behind the situation.

What will happen?

The only way Greece can exit the Euro is if it chooses to. Greece won’t, as it knows a “New Drachma” does not have the gold backing to survive as a viable currency in world economy. The new currency would devalue by 25-50% overnight, destroying savings and making trade with Greece virtually impossible. No external traders or countries would trust the new currency. What’s more the very first step would be the IMF having to lend what has been estimated as $25 billion of new money to support the currency, which really would be good money after bad. It’s one thing to write off debts you’ve already factored into the balance sheet, quite another to keep making the balance sheet looking worse.

So what’s in it for Greece to leave? Nothing. So they won’t.

Commonsense will prevail.

In or out of the Euro, Greece is going to default in its debts, whatever it ends up being called.

It’s a bit like an ordinary working individual borrowing a home mortgage of ten million bucks to build a palace, and then turning round and saying “Oops, sorry, can’t pay you back. But the money’s gone: the home is built.

Sure, the lender can take back possession, but they still have to sell it to get their money back. Then they discover the home is actually made of ticky tacky and it’s really only worth $500,000. They’re going to eat the $9.5 million.

The bank can rail all it likes about how unfair that is, but the guy who built the house has now died, and his son is only 18. He claims – fairly – that he is not responsible for the lunacy of his father, over which he had no control.

Sure, be angry at the now dead home builder. And sack the idiot who gave him the ten million in the first place. But it still doesn’t solve the problem, and the bank still wants the son as a customer.

The only question at stake is by how much will Greece default, and when.

What will happen?

Given that Greece out of the Euro is even worse for Europe than Greece in the Euro, the hard heads are currently saying to each other “Damn, they called our bluff, we’re out of options, we have to make a deal.” What you will see (probably tomorrow night) is is a few crumbs thrown by the Greeks to the Germans so that the central bankers and Angela Merkel can save face.

The wash up will be that the Greek Government will appear willing to continue to reform the Greek economy and live in a $500,000 house rather than a $10 million one. And there are signs that, on their own terms, they are willing to continue the reform process, especially as regards fixing tax avoidance, which is a national sport in Greece. Whether they will increase their consumption tax or give pensions a hit is imponderable, but some small ground may even be yielded on those sticking points to sweeten the pill. And the lenders will settle for that. They have no choice. The money’s gone. What they will do is dress it up so that every other indebted country in the EU will not then immediately say “OK, us too, please.”

protestThe crisis will have to be resolved in the next 48-72 hours. We expect it will be. With Greece inside the Eurozone.

Which will be very boring for those journos that like nothing more than to stir up panic because it sells papers – or hits on websites, today – but there it is.

The long-term damage to the concept of Europe for its citizens is more difficult to predict. This heartfelt article should make us all pause and consider.

abbott

Just submitted this question to ABC Television’s Q&A.

“Q & A is one of the few places in Australian media where Liberal/National leaders are subjected to both disagreement and cross-questioning. Is that the true reason for Tony Abbott’s bizarre banning of Ministers from appearing? Is he simply scared they can’t take the heat in the kitchen?”

If you agree, find the tweet from @yolly1234 and re-tweet it!

spit-the-dummyWellthisiswhatithink says:

This is the most politically stupid dummy spit in the history of dummy spits from a man who has made an art form of them.

The mother of all dummy spits. This is the world’s biggest dummy spit on the International Day of Dummy Spitting.

He’s over-reached this time – mark our words.

Really love this blog from Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink (aka Jenie Yolland) on the classes she runs in Melbourne, Australia teaching people to express themselves and learn a new skill by making their own art glass plates and platters.

Article on Jenie’s classes – click here and enjoy a good read!

If you’re heading to Melbourne soon, or you live here, I warmly recommend them. Cheap as chips, and she spreads such joy!

 

 

Jenie Yolland's workshop

Jenie Yolland’s workshop

 

Jenie Yolland workshop

Jenie Yolland’s workshop

 

Some lovely photos of students’ work throughout the article – and students enjoying themselves – enjoy!

#jenieyolland #glass

hanger

 

In a brilliant bit of agit-prop that we predict will give the lie to the arguments of pro-abortion activists in America, a pregnant woman has created a controversial website calling on pro-life advocates to pay $1 million to save the life of her unborn baby. As she says on the website:

The backward direction this country is headed in terms of its treatment of women I feel is due in large part to the influence of the religious right disguised as the pro-life movement. The pro-life movement cares very little about saving lives and far more about controlling women by minimising their choices in a wide variety of ways not the least of which is readily available reproductive health care. I will do my best to remain anonymous in this process as what I aim to prove has nothing to do with me personally. I hope to give the American public a concrete example that the conservative right in America doesn’t actually care about the life of a child, they care about controlling the lives and choices of women. We have to acknowledge this and we have to stop it.

The unidentified woman, who is seven weeks pregnant, says she will accept donations for 72 hours, which is how long women are required to wait for an abortion in some US states. If the target isn’t reached, the 26-year-old will go ahead with a scheduled abortion on July 10. The pro-choice advocate says she wants to draw attention to the “extremely restrictive” abortion laws that exist in the US state where she lives. “If one million dollars is raised in those 72 hours then I’ll have the baby, give it up for adoption and every cent of that one million dollars will be put in a trust fund for the child,” she writes. “Mathematically this means that every one of the 157 million Americans that identify as pro-life needs to donate less than one cent to stop this abortion.” As we have also often argued, the university student says the pro-life movement cares more about controlling women than it does about saving the lives of unborn children. “I hope to give the American public a concrete example that the conservative right in America doesn’t actually care about the life of a child, they care about controlling the lives and choices of women.”

This is an actual 7 week abortion.

This is an actual 7 week abortion.

Our position on abortion has been completely consistent. Women will get abortions whatever the law says, and we hope it is always safe, legal, and as rare as possible. When a woman does not want to carry an un-viable fetus to term that decision should be hers, and not one, I am sure, that the vast majority of women – or their partners – take lightly. This clever campaign – and the promise to donate the money into a trust fund for the child – is the perfect riposte to the hysterical animus of the “pro-life” campaigners. “Pro-life” campaigners who are very unlikely, you will note, to campaign against the capricious, racist and frequently incorrect application of the death penalty in the USA. Or to put it another way, hypocrites. As we have said so many times we are blue in the face, there is a difference between the potential for life, and life itself. Because I celebrate life I also celebrate the lives of women who won’t die at the hands of amateurs wielding knitting needles or coat hangers. Period.

Tommy CooperFor no particular reason, Dear Reader, we felt inclined to share some of these brilliant gags with you today.

Maybe because it’s Friday.

Maybe because the world needs cheering up today.

Maybe because yesterday was our birthday and the love flowed all day and we had the day off, including discovering a fine New Zealand beer which is perfectly flavoured with coffee. Two of our favourite things in one.

#winner #whoknew?

 

Coffee Beer. We know, it sounds mad, right? It wasn't.

Coffee Beer. We know, it sounds mad, right? It wasn’t.

 

You can find this astonishing tipple here, or head to SlowBeer in Richmond, Melbourne, and go for it.

Anyhow, Cooper was a master of paraprosdokians – where the second half of a sentence or phrase is completely unexpected – and silly one liners. Here are some of his best:

I went to a fortune teller and she looked at my hands. She said, ‘Your future looks pretty black.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? I’ve still got my gloves on!

I said to the doctor, ‘It hurts when I do this’ [raises arm]. He said, ‘Well, don’t do it, then.’

I said to the chef, ‘Why have you got your hand in the alphabet soup?’ He said, ‘I’m grasping for words!’

My doctor told me to drink a bottle of wine after a hot bath, but I couldn’t even finishbullshit drinking the hot bath!

A drunk was driving his car down a one-way street when a policeman stopped him. The cop said, ‘Didn’t you see the arrows?’ He said, ‘Arrows? I didn’t even see the Indians.’

Gambling has brought our family together. We had to move to a smaller house.

I took saxophone lessons for six months until I dislocated my jaw. How did I know I was supposed to blow in the small end?

You know what a racehorse is . . . it’s an animal that can take several thousand people for a ride at the same time

My wife said ‘Take me in your arms and whisper something soft and sweet’. I said, ‘Chocolate fudge’.

I bought some pork chops and told the butcher to make them lean. He said, ‘Which way?’

weekI said to the doctor, ‘Can you give me something for my liver?’ He gave me a pound of onions.

I sleep like a baby . . I wake up screaming every morning around 3am.

I went to see my doctor and he said ‘I want you to lie down on the couch.’ I said, ‘What for?’ He said, ‘I want to sweep up.’

And perhaps our personal favourite:

I told the waiter, bring me a chicken. So he brought me a chicken. ‘Just a minute,’ I said, ‘It’s only got one leg. ‘It’s been in a fight.’ I said, ‘Well, bring me the winner.’

Happy Friday everyone!

PS Stick Paraprosdokian in the search box top left for lots more fun examples!

A fellow blogger, the wonderful Miss Snarky Pants, challenges the world to create something meaningful (or just good) in just Four Frigging Lines.

Needless to say, we could not resist. Can you? Just put your effort in the comments section of one of her (so far) five uniformly excellent efforts.

 

Tuna-Can

 

In the gutter, on its own, a single empty can of tuna in lemon and cracked pepper.
Mouth open, like a gasping fish, staring at the sky.
I hardly know whether to rail at its former owner for his callous discard
Or to take it home and bin it safely, like burying the dead goldfish no one wants to hold.

 

readMeAnd as we constantly remind you (the house reno is expensive) to buy all our poems (well most of them), plus a short story, head to 71 Poems and One Short Story, available in soft cover or as a download.

 

 

Pope Francis. Photo: 14 June 2015

Pope Francis will call for swift action to protect the Earth and fight global warming, according to a leaked draft of the pontiff’s encyclical. Pope Francis puts much of the blame for global warming on human activities.

The document – published by Italy’s L’Espresso magazine – says global warming is directly linked to human activities and the intensive use of fossil fuels.

The Vatican called the leaking of the draft a “heinous” act. It said the final version would be released on Thursday as planned. However it will once again confirm this Pope as one of the most reforming and progressive in the Church’s history, and given the Roman church’s attitude to the infallibility of the Pope’s utterances, swing hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics behind the movement to combat man-made climate change. The Pope’s rumoured attitude has already brought attacks from right-wing Protestant Republican politicians in America.

One, Rick Santorum, argued the Pope should leave science to scientists, somewhat idiotically ignoring the fact that the Pope is, in fact, a scientist. Back when Pope Francis was still going by the handle of Jorge Bergoglio, he earned a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires.

The pope’s career path isn’t all that unusual. His Jesuit order has a history of producing men with one foot in the spiritual world and another in the scientific realm. Czech astronomer and Jesuit Christian Meyer did pioneering work studying binary star systems in the 18th century. Bavarian-born Jesuit Franz Xaver Kugler did triple duty as a chemist, priest, and researcher of cuneiform tablets. And modern-day science writer and Jesuit Guy Consolmagno studies asteroids and meteorites at the Vatican Observatory.

“Doing science is like playing a game with God, playing a puzzle with God,” Consolmagno once told the Canadian Broadcasting Center. “God sets the puzzles, and after I can solve one, I can hear him cheering, ‘Great, that was wonderful, now here’s the next one.’ It’s the way I can interact with the Creator.”

Gregor Mendel was the founder of the science of genetics.

Gregor Mendel was the founder of the science of genetics.

Significant Roman Catholic contributions to science aren’t limited to the Jesuit order, though. The Augustinian friar Gregor Johann Mendel bred pea plants in the garden of his monastery and discovered the principles of genetics.

In 1927, Belgian priest Georges Lemaitre discovered the “redshift” phenomenon that describes how the farther away a galaxy is from Earth, the more of its light is shifted toward the red end of the visible spectrum. This was two years before the more widely reported discoveries by Hubble.

‘Enormous consumption’

The 192-page draft of the new encyclical – which is the highest level of teaching document a pope can issue – is entitled “Laudato Si: On the care of the common home”.

In the paper, Pope Francis presents both scientific and moral reasons for protecting God’s creation.

He puts much of the blame for global warming on human activities, mentioning the continual loss of biodiversity in the Amazonian rainforest and the melting of Arctic glaciers among other examples.

The draft also says that developing countries are bearing the brunt of the “enormous consumption” of some of the richest.

The pontiff calls on all humans – not just Roman Catholics – to prevent the destruction of the ecosystem before the end of the century and to establish a new political authority to tackle pollution.

The encyclical has been months in the writing, and the Pope is said to be keen for it to set the tone for the debate at a UN summit on climate change in November in Paris, the BBC’s Caroline Wyatt says.

(BBC and others)

yolly

The author, Stephen Yolland

Or  USING THE SIX VITAL PRINCIPLES OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATION TO MOTIVATE YOUR STAFF

Either title works.

This is an article I first wrote some years ago. Coming across it by chance, not only does it still stack up well, (with a very little judicious editing) but sadly, I do not see the ideas in it being understood or implemented, at least not to any great degree.

Which is shame. Because this article is the distillation of some 35 years very successful experience in both management and communications – both internal and external – working with some of Australia’s leading organisations across a vast gamut of industry and public life.

If you are a senior executive, there is gold in this article. What you do when you’ve read it? Well, that’s entirely up to you.

Enough said, let’s go:

In any modern organisation, the power relationship of the executive and management team vis-a-vis the rest of the company has changed radically in recent years.

Many people will argue that that the primary responsibility of the boss or bosses is to shareholders, stakeholders and owners.

And that job is important, no doubt.

But if a happy and productive group of employees is the best possible way to ensure a viable and growing return on investment, then it follows that an executive’s first priority, logically, must be to create the environment that will deliver that type of workforce.

We all pay lip service to that principle. But “How?” is the question.

RE-THINKING THE BOSS’S ROLE

It is a cliche to point out that just as any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so any organisation is only as strong as the motivation and skills of its entire range of employees.

So in smart organisations today, executives are not appointed to “rule the roost”, but to guide and advise those around them and that means looking both up and down the corporate ladder.

Today, executives are making decisions and taking actions, in effect, as “ruling delegates” of the company’s entire staff – on their behalf, and in pursuit of greater harmony, efficiency and productivity.

“I’m warning you. If we tell them why we chose the coffee supplier we did there’ll be no damn end to it. It’ll be executive salary packages they want oversight of next, you mark my words.”

If one accepts that this is a healthy and effective model of modern corporate leadership, then it also follows that staff have an innate right – a need, in fact – to understand the activities of the executives that run their lives, and in detail if they so desire, or if it will help them perform their job role.

THE PRINCIPLE OF TRANSPARENCY

To achieve this, executives must thoroughly adopt a mindset that a matter is available to all to know, unless there are strong reasons of legality or personal confidence why that should not be so.

This reversal of the norm that applies in most organisations inevitably produces a markedly different result to the alternative mindset, which is, of course, that everything is innately confidential unless an argument is made that it should be public.

This extends to matters that appear that they should be confidential, but in reality need not be.

“I think they’re all gone. Quick, let’s take the chance to move the parking space allocation around a bit.”

Many matters are held tightly to the chest when in reality good things would result from them being made public at an early stage, and more thoroughly.

I once knew a 20+ year employee leave a company (and he was a good employee, too) because they moved his car park space without asking him politely if he minded. I kid you not.

It wasn’t the car park space that pissed him off, it was the secrecy with which it was handled.

Suddenly a thousand tiny resentments at a secretive management team boiled over, and off he went, taking his wit, wisdom and priceless knowledge with him.

Also: think clearly. You know that the free flow of ideas, suggestions, warnings and information is enhanced by a reduction in confidentiality.

That is why democracies, for all their faults, operate more efficiently than totalitarian states, and are inevitably more stable in the long term.

But the assumption that no-one else really has any right (or need) to know what “we” are doing is usually entrenched and often difficult to over-turn. It belongs to an older and more cynical age, when capital and labour were permanently locked in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust and mutual blame, but many executives today still live in that paradigm.

Confidentiality – the knee-jerk, unthinking assumption of confidentiality – is a cancer.

It grows inside our organisations, eating away at our vitals, until we reach the oft-quoted situation that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. In the resulting confusion, people are often unwittingly working actively against each other, duplicating effort at best, and stymieing each other at worst.

In fact, confidentiality can become such a corporate habit, that the left hand sometimes doesn’t even know that the right hand exists.

Confidentiality is also a drug. It entices and bewitches those who have it within their grasp to conceal matters.

Why? That’s easy. To hold confidential information is to be of the inner circle. To be “in the know”.

And whether or not knowledge really is power (which it undoubtedly sometimes is) it is certainly a heady brew for many. And it produces workplaces that are excessively “political”  and internally competitive.

So: the solution to all this nonsense is simply to reverse the paradigm.

We should make people argue on a case-by-case basis that people should NOT know something, with the highest possible requirement for any such argument to be very convincing, rather than requiring people to prove that others should know before information is routinely made public.

“I don’t want you to feel threatened, but there’s a guy in the next building who I’ve been told has a really good idea.”

Just as one example of this style of thinking: why should any team meeting be routinely “closed” to “non-members” of the group who are having the meeting?

Why, indeed, should it not be actively advertised, with all those who feel they have useful input invited to attend?

Yes, yes, yes. One can instantly sense busy executives shuddering at the thought of endlessly extended meetings – as if we don’t all have enough of those already – enthusiastically infested by the eternal committee-sitters that are so easily identifiable in any organisation.

But restricting meetings to an elite few is not the solution to that problem.

Rather, the solution to THAT problem is to have meetings that have clear and concise agendas, chaired by people who are skilled at controlling wafflers and time wasters.

Or in other words, it’s better to have one waffling air-bag punctured in public than to have one staff member who actually has the answer to a problem excluded from contributing because no-one thought to ask them along to the meeting.

Here again, the democratic principle is a useful guide: Councils and Parliaments, for example, all have “Stranger’s Galleries”, and the most stringent conditions have to be met for those galleries to be cleared and for the body to go into secret session.

And needless to say, on those occasions when a cabal or clique is seeking to do the wrong thing, then corporate governance is enhanced when more people know what’s going on.

Which leads us neatly to:

THE PRINCIPLE OF PRO-ACTIVITY

In order to give meaning to the first principle, (instead of merely adopting it as a high-minded ideal that means very little in practice), there should be an assumption that a company’s bodies will make every effort to disseminate information pro-actively, straining every sinew to ensure that information reaches the further possible point of the corporate family in a timely and easily-understood manner.

“Goodness me yes, I’m pro-active. I sometimes even shout at them BEFORE they need it, just to keep the little blighters on their blessed toes.”

The leaders of organisations should critique their efforts in this regard, constantly testing to see whether such pro-activity is genuine, thoughtful, enthusiastic and effective.

Where this requires extra effort or expenditure, such burdens should be managed with equanimity, secure in the knowledge that what is being done is vital to the health and growth of the organisation, rather than a tiresome annoyance.

The goal should be to seek out the gifts of the widest possible audience as early as possible in any decision-making process, content that the best advice is frequently commonsense, and that commonsense frequently appears from the least-expected quarter, and frequently from outside the management team. (See: How to save eight million bucks by spending twenty.)

But of course, there is no point doing this unless organisations also adhere to:

THE PRINCIPLE OF SIMPLICITY

Information that is convoluted, partial, or badly explained is less useful that no information at all. It will cause misunderstanding and confusion, leading to mistrust and disputation.

As a logical consequence, every effort should be made to reduce unnecessary and tortuous prolixity, the purpose of such verbiage merely being, as far as one can ascertain, as much to obscure as it is to enlighten.

Simple enough for you?

Simple enough for you?

Or in other words, use fewer words.

And then communicate those words briskly and effectively. By embracing …

THE PRINCIPLE OF PROFESSIONALISM

If the foregoing principles are to succeed, then executives should seek out the best means possible to disseminate the information available, constantly critiquing performance in this area to check that other, more powerful mechanisms or technologies have not presented themselves as a better way to get things over to people.

And every communications item, whatever its medium, should be attractive and engaging, properly laid out and presented, or well performed, well-written, enticing, intriguing, and informative, and avoid unnecessary legalism, conventionalism, and conservatism.

“You want me to upload a video to our intranet website and send out an EDM to everyone at one minute to 9 so they start their day by watching it? And then copy the video to their partners on their home email with a polite explanatory note asking them to a company celebration? Yessir, Mr Hopgood, Sir.”

So here’s the homework. If you apply these standards to how your organisation works, how are you doing?

Bear in mind that any changes that organisations adopt will amount to a hill of beans, and a small hill at that, unless every decision taken is consciously subjected to the following checklist:

  • The matter we are discussing can anyone see any compelling reason why everyone shouldn’t know about this?
  • How can we best let the largest number of people know about it, and as quickly as possible at that?
  • What is the simplest, clearest way we can present the information?
  • What will be the most effective medium for transmission?
  • Do we know what we’re trying to achieve?
  • Have we made it easy and effective for people to respond?

If leaders are prepared to sign up to these principles as a guide, then work can begin promptly on the changes necessary to begin implementing them in a practical way.

As a first step, these principles could be “read into the minutes” of a Board, for example, and formally adopted as the principles by which the organisation’s peak bodies operate.

The next step would be to implement a communications program to have these principles understood by all management, and, in turn, by the staff as a whole, and to decide what impact the principles have on the way communication flow happens within the organisation.

But we have to be clear about one thing.

Effective communication is not a mechanical issue. It is a state of mind.

If anyone senior in an organisation has any serious reservations about adopting this style of management, and also has the power to “white ant” the process as soon as it gets underway, then there’s simply no point worrying about the “how to”.

Because it is clear that, like most things, achieving genuine progress in internal communications requires real visionary leadership.

So ask yourself: are you that leader?

Stephen Yolland is a businessman and business consultant working primarily in Melbourne, Australia, and also in the United States, Malaysia, China, and Britain. He lectures on matters of business interest and is a sought after public speaker on business, marketing and other topics. He has worked in a variety of senior roles in sales, marketing and advertising for 35 years, and is the founder of and major contributor to the Wellthisiswhatithink blog. He is also a popular commentator on political and civics issues, and is a published poet.

kids_in_boat

 

There’s a lot of total nonsense talked about asylum seekers in Australia. Most of it whipped up equally by the deeply conservative Liberal Party and their weak-kneed Labor opposition.

Here’s a few things those who want to roll out the welcome mat to the world’s most desperate people need to know when cornered into an argument in the pub.

Fact 1: It’s not a crime to come to Australia by boat without a visa and ask for protection

But the Guardian found seven out of 10 people believe it is.

The truth is that it is not a crime to arrive here by boat without a valid visa and ask for protection. In the experience of  The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – in almost 100 years working with people affected by migration – those who do so often feel it is their only chance of finding a place where they’ll be safe from persecution.

asylum

Nor is it illegal to flee persecution, to cross borders without documents or passports in order to seek asylum – people have been doing it for centuries. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are basic freedoms and protections that everyone’s entitled to.

Fact 2: There’s no “official queue” for people coming to Australia seeking a safe place to live

But six out of 10 people think there is.

The United Nations process of resettling refugees in other safe countries doesn’t operate like a queue. It’s not a matter of lining up, waiting for your number to come up like at the supermarket deli counter.

The resettlement system operates as a discretionary process, based on changing criteria. It’s more like a lottery than it is like a queue.

If this mythical global queue did actually exist, based on the number of refugees there are in the world, people joining the end might wait up to 170 years to get to the front. Which would be a bit pointless, really, wouldn’t it?

In many parts of the world – East Africa being a classic example – the asylum seeker process is total chaos, disrupted by lack of Government control, famine, terrorism and war.

Fact 3: We’re not being “flooded by people”. Only 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be given safe haven in any given year

The Guardian’s survey found six in 10 people don’t know that.

Only a small group of countries offer resettlement through the UN system. Need consistently far exceeds supply and in any given year about 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be granted safe haven in another country – in fact the UN says fewer than 1% of refugees will ever get a resettlement place.

Fact 4: There are almost 18 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world

According to the most recent statistics there are 16.7 million refugees and 1.2 million asylum seekers worldwide, most of whom are currently living in developing countries such as Pakistan and Iran who are among the least able to deal with the influx. Pakistan and Iran house at least 1 million refugees from the Afghan conflict alone.

The Guardian found close to one-third of Australians reckon there’s 80 million, more than four times as many as there actually are. And almost another quarter of people think there are 9 million, half the actual figure. How it is possible to have an intelligent debate in the face of such ignorance is another matter.

Of course, if some of these myths were dispelled we would have a more compassionate, understanding, welcoming and stronger Australia.

The advocacy groups know from decades of experience working with vulnerable migrants that the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees flee to escape persecution, torture and death – dangers inflicted on them because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinions.

Some have seen their closest relatives and friends murdered, and their homes and villages burnt to the ground. They’ve suffered torture and their bodies, like their minds, are covered in scars that will never disappear. They are survivors. They come from all walks of life, rich and poor. They flee, simply, because they want to live.

This year for Refugee Week (14 to 20 June) some of the myths and misconceptions that ultimately serve no one are being challenged. Not that we expect Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten to respond any time soon.

But the next time you find yourself in the midst of this debate if you don’t recall anything else at least remember these four basic truths.

Thanks to the Guardian, The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the statistics and data referred to here.

At least 5,000 women are subject to honour killings every year, although it may be many more.

At least 5,000 women are subject to honour killings every year, although it may be many more.

A Turkish mother, 36, shot dead her daughter, 17, after finding out that she was three months pregnant, media reports said on Saturday.

The mother, named as Emine A., found out that her daughter Meryem A. was pregnant during a visit to neighbours, the Hurriyet daily reported.

She then went back home to find a gun and returned to shoot her daughter — who worked as a cashier in a market — five times, it said.

Bystanders outside the apartment block in the Selcuk district of the southern city of Nigde rushed to help and took Meryem to hospital but she died on the way.

The mother was detained by police but then had a nervous collapse and was hospitalised. The investigation is continuing.

Turkish authorities acknowledge there is a grave problem of violence against women in the country, although the vast majority of cases involving attacks perpetrated by men.

According to the non-governmental Platform to Stop Violence Against Women, 286 women were murdered in Turkey in 2014 and 134 so far in 2015.

(From AFP)

And then, sometimes, there is this. Just sometimes, no one checks the words. No one bothers. No one cares. No one takes responsibility. No one is empowered. 

And then, this happens.
  
Thank you, Northampton General Hospital. Your advice is noted.

Please line up in an orderly queue for all your comments about young ladies in Northampton walking funny. They will be moderated.

pat-robertson

 

The days must be drawing in, thank the Good Lord, on famed televangelist and former Republican Presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who recently told a grieving mum that God allowed her son to die because he may be the next Hitler.

A woman wrote into his show “700 Club” seeking comforting words for her friend who’s mourning the loss of her 3-year-old child. She admits she cannot believe in a God who could watch the child die.

“I told her that I don’t know why her child died, but God sees the whole picture, we see only in part. What can I say?”

Robertson could have answered anything – he could have said, for example, the standard Christian response to suffering for over 1800 years, to wit, “God didn’t design the world so that everyone lives for exactly 70 years and then drops dead, because that would make life pretty terrifying. That’s why some people live for three days, three years, thirty years, or a hundred and three years.”

What Robertson failed to explain, however, is why God didn't in that case "remove" the original baby Hitler. Or Stalin.

What Robertson failed to explain, however, is why God didn’t in that case “remove” the original baby Hitler. Or Stalin.

However, Mr Robertson bizarrely took the chance to say that God might have saved the world from the second coming of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.

“As far as God’s concerned, He knows the end from the beginning and He sees a little baby and that little baby could grow up to be Adolf Hitler, he could grow up to be Joseph Stalin, he could grow up to be some serial killer, or he could grow up to die of a hideous disease,” he said. God sees all of that, and for that life to be terminated while he’s a baby, he’s going to be with God forever in Heaven so it isn’t a bad thing.”

That’s just the comfort the people involved needed. In news to hand, as he’s now 85, the Good Lord tells us that it can’t be all that long now till he gathers Pat Robertson to Himself so that he can enjoy his eternal reward. Or whatever God has in store for him. Thank you, God.

Other Robertson controversies you may care to contemplate. Please note, these are sourced from other media and Wikipedia and we have not cross-checked them (we do not have the capacity to do so, even though we are aware of some of them already). Accordingly, we would, of course, remove and apologise for anything that is demonstrated to us as not true. But we do not expect to have to do so.

Banning inter-racial dating should remove your tax exempt status

Mr Robertson also made headlines this year after stating that Christian schools who ban inter-racial dating (really?!) should remain tax exempt stating that it was “chilling” to see the Internal Revenue Service punish Bob Jones University for their ban.

America is run by “termites” and “anti-Christian destroyers”

In an August 1986 New York magazine article Robertson was quoted saying, “It is interesting, that termites don’t build things, and the great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians, because Christians have the desire to build something. He is motivated by love of man and God, so he builds. The people who have come into [our] institutions [today] are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have… The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation.”

Sex before marriage

During Robertson’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1987, Robertson told a Wall Street Journal reporter that his wedding date was actually five months after the date he had always maintained. Reporters said that the actual wedding date meant that his first son was conceived out of wedlock and that Robertson had lied about the date of his marriage in an attempt to cover the truth up. While conceding the reports were accurate, Robertson said that conceiving his son out of wedlock occurred before Jesus Christ had entered his life. Robertson denounced the media choosing to report on the issue as “outrageous” and “reprehensible.” Or good journalism, depending on your point of view.

Other Protestants are the spirit of the AntiChrist

 

"Go on ... let's have women bishops. I dare you."

“Go on … let’s have women bishops. I dare you.”

 

On January 14, 1991, on The 700 Club, Pat Robertson attacked a number of Protestant denominations when he declared: “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” You might not have realised you were praying to the Antichrist if you’re a member of those denominations.

Only Christians and Jews should hold Government roles

Robertson has frequently criticised other religions. In his book The New World Order, Robertson wrote: “When I said during my presidential bid that I would bring only Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. ‘What do you mean?’ the media challenged me. ‘You’re not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?’ My simple answer is, ‘Yes, they are.'” David Cantor, Senior Research Analyst of the Anti-Defamation League, points out that such “religious tests for office are unconstitutional. It’s not just a purely a religious statement. It’s a political statement.”

On Feminism

Unsurprisingly, Robertson is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

He has described feminism as a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Wow. You might not have realised wanting equal pay and life opportunity means that, but there we go.

That’s why we need Pat Robertson, we suppose.

Deceptive appeals

Mark Earley

Mark Earley

An investigation by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Consumer Affairs determined that Robertson “willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications” and called for a criminal prosecution against Robertson in 1999.

However, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, a Republican whose largest campaign contributor two years earlier was Robertson himself, intervened, accepting that Robertson had made deceptive appeals but overruling the recommendation for his prosecution.

Support for Liberian dictator guilty of “aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history”

Robertson repeatedly supported former President of Liberia Charles Taylor in various episodes of his The 700 Club program during the United States’ involvement in the Second Liberian Civil War in June and July 2003. Robertson accused the U.S. State Department of giving President Bush bad advice in supporting Taylor’s ouster as president, and of trying “as hard as they can to destabilize Liberia.”

Robertson was criticised for failing to mention in his broadcasts his US$8,000,000 investment in a Liberian gold mine.

 

Charles Taylor

 

Taylor had been indicted by the United Nations for war crimes at the time of Robertson’s public support.

Prosecutors also said that Taylor had harboured members of Al Qaeda responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. According to Robertson, the Liberian gold mine Freedom Gold was intended to help pay for humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia, when in fact Wikipedia reports that the company was allowed to fail leaving many debts both in Liberia and in the international mining service sector. Regarding this controversy, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy said, “I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one.”

As regards Charles Taylor, in 2006, the newly elected President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally requested his extradition, after which he was detained by UN authorities in Sierra Leone and then at the Penitentiary Institution Haaglandenin in The Hague, awaiting trial. He was found guilty in April 2012 of all eleven charges levied by the Special Court, including terror, murder and rape. In May of 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Reading the sentencing statement, Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said: “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”

Politicians’ stroke and assignation “judgement by God”

The lead story on the January 5, 2006, edition of The 700 Club was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hospitalization for a severe stroke. After the story, Robertson said that Sharon’s illness was possibly retribution from God for his recent drive to give more land to the Palestinians. He also claimed former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination may have occurred for the same reason.

Anyway, we could go on – there is much, much more – but we feel that adequately demonstrates just who exactly this thoroughly disreputable man is.

CBNThe 700 Club is part of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

On its website, CBN describes itself as “a global ministry committed to preparing the nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ through mass media. Using television and the Internet, CBN is proclaiming the Good News in 147 countries and territories, with programs and content in 62 languages.” The CBN website also proudly announces:

The 700 Club can be seen in 96 percent of the homes in the U.S. and is carried on ABC Family cable network, FamilyNet, Trinity Broadcasting Network, plus numerous local U.S. television stations, and is seen daily by approximately one million viewers. CBN International maintains 15 television production centers around the world that create indigenous versions ofThe 700 Club and other Christian programs in 39 languages.  CBN International programs are broadcast in 138 countries to an estimated yearly viewing audience of 360 million people.

Terrifying.

 

all is well

This is how I want it to be when I go. Beautiful, and apposite.

I posted it on Facebook this morning, and later on got a message from one of my oldest friends saying he was about to fly home to his mother’s funeral. His distress was somewhat alleviated; he now felt all is well.

God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.

I was so taken with the words that undertook to find out who wrote them. The writings are actually a poem written by Victorian churchman and academic Henry Scott Holland.

Holland (27 January 1847 – 17 March 1918) was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. He was also a canon of Christ Church, Oxford. The Scott Holland Memorial Lectures are held in his memory.

He was born at Ledbury, Herefordshire, the son of George Henry Holland (1818–1891) of Dumbleton Hall, Evesham, and of the Hon. Charlotte Dorothy Gifford, the daughter of Lord Gifford, and educated at Eton where he was a pupil of the influential Master William Johnson Cory, and at the Balliol College where he took a first class degree in Greats. During his Oxford time he was greatly influenced by the philosopher and political radical T.H. Green.

In 1884, he left Oxford for St Paul’s Cathedral where he was appointed canon.

He was keenly interested in social justice and formed PESEK (Politics, Economics, Socialism, Ethics and Christianity) which blamed capitalist exploitation for contemporary urban poverty. In 1889, he formed the Christian Social Union.

In 1910, he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity, a post he held until his death in 1918. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints church, Cuddesdon near Oxford. Because of his surname, the writer, secretary and political activist Mary Gladstone (daughter of Prime Minister Gladstone) referred to him affectionately as “Flying Dutchman” and “Fliegende Hollander”.

While at St Paul’s Cathedral Holland delivered a sermon in May 1910 following the death of King Edward VII, titled Death the King of Terrors, in which he explores the natural but seemingly contradictory responses to death: the fear of the unexplained and the belief in continuity. It is from his discussion of the latter that perhaps his best-known writing, Death is nothing at all, is drawn: the frequent use of this passage has provoked some criticism that it fails to accurately reflect either Holland’s theology as a whole, or the focus of the sermon in particular. What has not provoked as much criticism is the affinity of Holland’s passage to St. Augustine’s thoughts in his 4th Century letter 263 to Sapida, in which he writes that Sapida’s brother and their love, although he has died, still are there, like gold that still is yours even if you save it in some locker.

Which is another sweet thought to end on.

Respect.

Respect.

For more of the same, head to: paltrymeanderings.com. We like.

Panorama of Dushanbe

Dushanbe – next stop for IS?

This article by Deidrie Tynan from the impeccably credentialled crisisgroup.org makes sobering reading. In the West we have been focused on the IS threat to Syria and Iraq and some other concerns about the ideological cover they give other extremists in North Africa, Nigeria and the Arabian peninsula. But were the eschatological lunacies of the jihadists – obsessed with their “end of days” interpretation of Islam – to also take root throughout central Asia then the cataclysmic effect on their weak civic societies could be catastrophic. And then they will also be cheek by jowl with China, too.

This fearful tide is digging its roots deep into the disposessed and desperate minds of the young in many areas. It will only be rolled back by a whole of world effort. The world’s superpowers must immediately co-operate to crush the group and return the areas it now controls to normality. And then, crucially, economic aid must flow in to rebuild the countries and provide legitimacy for the removal of IS.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan's paramilitary police unit (OMON) appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan’s paramilitary police unit (OMON), appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

The appearance of Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov in an Islamic State (IS) propaganda video on 27 May has sent a chill across Central Asia. The head of Tajikistan’s Special Assignment Police Unit (OMON), a key element in President Emomali Rahmon’s security apparatus, had disappeared shortly before. In the video he promised to return to Tajikistan to wage violent jihad.

A trained-in-Russia-and-America veteran of brutal Tajik government operations, Khalimov has the qualifications. And Tajikistan, a desperately poor country ruled by a venal elite, is a vulnerable target. As I drove to its capital, Dushanbe, last summer through the ancient city of Khujand and the rickety, fume-filled, Iranian-built Shariston tunnel, I saw poverty and isolation that eclipses the worst pockets of deprivation in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Khalimov has been an intimate of that elite, but at 40 years old he is relatively young and forceful, unlike the elderly, usually corrupt figures who have previously promoted themselves as Islamist guerrilla leaders in Tajikistan. His defection is a blow to Rahmon’s regime on many levels. He speaks to the parts of the elite not yet bought off and to the alienation of a substantial segment of society.

His message may be draped in Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric, but it is based on some of the potent, more worldly aspects of IS appeal. “Going out to work every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Are you ready to die for this state or not”, he said directly to the underpaid, overstretched Tajik security forces. “I am ready to die for the Caliphate – are you?”

More than one million Tajik migrants work low-paid jobs in Russia. The remittances they send back make up more than 40 per cent of its GDP. But the value of the remittances is plummeting as Russia veers toward economic crisis. Nearly 200,000 of the migrants went home to bleak prospects in the second half of 2014 alone.

To Tajiks still in Russia, the police commander’s message was “you have become the slaves of non-believers. Why do you humiliate yourself working for non-believers while they must work for you? Join us, brothers … there are no nationalities or states in the Islamic State and our nationality is Islam”.

The eight million people of Tajikistan have known much violence already in their quarter-century of independence since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Rahmon, the only president the country has had, consolidated his power in a civil war against Islamists that ended in 1997. By side-lining the relatively moderate Islamic Renaissance Party earlier this year, he further alienated the devout and gave plausibility to those who argue that with other options closed, extremism is only the politics of last resort.

IS and other foreign fighters, probably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, are already operating on Tajikistan’s southern border, but that is not the only fault line. Gorno-Badakhshan, high in the Pamirs – a twelve- to fifteen-hour drive when roads are passable – is inhabited by ethnically distinct Pamiris, who were with the rebels in the civil war and barely accept central power today.

Badakhshan has a long, open border with Afghanistan to the south, Kyrgyzstan to the north and China to the east. The Taliban are already active on the immediate Afghan side of that border. It may only be a matter of time before IS is there too.

The Tajik-Afghan border already attracts Russian attention. Even two years ago, an official of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) of a half-dozen ex-Soviet republics told me it was uncontrollable and deadly. This year a Russian diplomat said privately that if the Tajik government requested it, Russia would return troops to it.

The apprehension does not stop there. Neighbouring Uzbekistan – Central Asia’s most populated and most authoritarian state – and chaotic, coup-prone Kyrgyzstan, would be deeply troubled by serious unrest in Tajikistan.

International Crisis Group has been in Central Asia for fifteen years, arguing that the West, particularly the U.S., is building a dangerous debit sheet here. To gain logistical help for war in Afghanistan, it has partnered with dictators like Rahmon and Uzbekistan’s Karimov, accepting excesses excused as counter-terrorism, including repression of peaceful Islamic manifestations.

If other security figures follow Khalimov’s lead, the bill to pay could be steep, and there will not be credit left to pay it with.

Surrounded by blackness on all sides, in utter impenetrable silence, and for a very, very, very long time, it did nothing.

There was nothing to see, so it did not see. Nothing to hear, so it did not hear. Nothing to feel, so it did not feel.

There were simply vast, unconscionable amounts of entirely nothing.

So – most importantly for our story – it thought nothing, either. With no external stimuli to provoke it, it simply did not concern itself with anything; it merely peacefully existed.

And incredible as it might seem in light of what happened later, for some handfuls of millions of years it did not even notice itself.

Then, during one instant which it would remember – well, forever, actually – a small, shiny proton appeared momentarily.

Over there. In what it would later come to know as “left”. And also “down a bit”.

Later – much, much later – it would come to understand that the lonely proton had flared into being for a few hundredths of a second as the result of a random and unpredictable thermo-dynamic fluctuation in the void in which it itself floated.

Like the last dying ripple of a stone cast into a pond uncountably many leagues away, space and time had broken upon the shores of its awareness in the form of one of the smallest building blocks of the Universe. And then it had immediately ceased, for with nothing around it to cling to the proton instantly had broken down into its components and they had dissipated into the nothingness almost too quickly to be observed.

Except the brief, evanescent burst of the proton was seen by the being – which, without even realizing it was doing it, had been peacefully observing nothing, and everything, with absolute and immediate accuracy.  And that was why, despite its apparent slumber, it could not miss the arrival, and near-simultaneous departure, of the pretty little particle.

The glittering sub-atomic appearance, brief and unthreatening though it was, nevertheless troubled it greatly.

Contradictions and nervousness rippled through it. It shook with excitement. Seething with speculation, for untold millennia it considered one critical and shocking question.

Not, as one might have imagined, wondering “What Was That?” No, no. What first occupied its attention was a much more pressing problem than the transitory proton.

What nagged away at it insistently was the question: “What am I?”

“What am I?” it wondered. “What am I?”

With no previous consciousness, and with no terms of reference whatsoever, it marveled at itself, and at this new sensation of existence, without, in truth, the slightest understanding of what was going on.

Casting frantically this way and that to work out what it was, it looked about itself, systematically, but in utter confusion.

Up and Down. Side to Side. In and Out. Backwards and Forwards. Along every plane and from every angle. Indeed, from many different perspectives simultaneously.

(If it did but know it, it actually looked for all the world like a large mahogany gentleman’s desk inlaid with a rather dinky line of shell marquetry around its edges and its drawers. Lots of drawers, in fact, with little pressed-metal knobs, that held promise of all sorts of treasures hidden away inside, and a couple of attractive glass paperweights adorned its leather-inlaid heart. But it wouldn’t understand all this until much later.)

Time passed. Lots of it. Loads and loads and loads of time.

Soon enough, and in a neat twist of reasoning that we can ascribe to what it actually was – which for want of a better term we could describe as “a really, really, really clever thing” – it soon realized that its own sudden and shocking existence was perhaps most easily understood by reference to what it was not. And in a miraculously short time after that, (for its powers of perception were, indeed, remarkably unconstrained), it had consequently separated the Universe into two orderly halves.

One half of everything it perceived to be it fittingly called “Me”.

The other half, it called “Not Me”.

The Me was pleased and much relieved by this development. Its jarringly unexpected coming-into-being seemed much less troublesome now that everything was neatly broken down into itself and … something else.

Thus reassured, it settled down to make a full and patient examination of itself.

Driven by insatiable curiosity, it first tried to work out why it had suddenly become conscious of its inherent Me-ness in the first place.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes. – Dylan Thomas

By dint of absence of any other observable data at all, it almost immediately decided that the sheer,ineffable thrill of the proton’s appearance had awoken its knowledge of itself. It could remember nothing before that, and so it seemed perfectly practical to place this sudden awareness of itself and its surroundings to that startlingly incandescent moment.

Next it spent a few million years pondering the proton. Was the Me somehow related to it? Connected to it in some way? Should it search for it? Was it coming back? Was it important? Indeed, as the only thing it had ever experienced, were the Me and the proton all there was to consider?

For what seemed like a very long time indeed, but in the scheme of things was merely a blink of the Me’s eye, the Me looked around and wondered why no other protons had appeared to disturb it, before or since.

But after an æon or two of this, it happened on a thought that occupied it even more deeply.

Surely, it reasoned to itself, what the proton was could not be nearly as important as another question that bothered it constantly – like the buzzer on a motel clock radio after too many drinks the night before – and that question, of course, was why, for goodness sake, had the Me not been aware of anything before the proton?

Beyond the awful, inky nothing that surrounded the Me, (which was, in fact, only three billionths of an inch thick, but being so thoroughly enmeshed in its musings it hadn’t actually noticed that yet), the Not Me pressed inwards. It edged silently towards the Me, as if holding its breath for the answer to this one. Not Me quaked and tightened around the Me, just by a fraction, and whispered silently to itself, listening, wondering, waiting.

And then – perhaps somehow alerted by the new-found excitement in the Not Me – the Me saw to its wonderment that far from being empty as it had assumed, the Not Me that was near it was actually jam-packed with innumerable billions and billions of particles crowding nearby, just beyond the layer of darkness, vibrating slowly – so slowly, in fact, and in such tiny increments of space – that the Me hadn’t even realised that the Not Me was moving at all!

Gazing in amused wonderment, the now insatiably inquisitive Me was straight way tempted to investigate further the gentle quadrille of the miniscule particles that swirled around it.

But without an answer to the nub of its problem, to wit: why it had not perceived its ownself at some point before what it had recently decided to call “Now” – or indeed, why it had not noticed the crowded, quivering Not Me earlier, which after all was only just over there outside the Me, so close at hand – the Me was frankly too troubled to do so.

So after trying and failing to find any concrete answers by simply looking about a bit, and drawing on hitherto unsuspected intellectual resources that spontaneously delighted it, the Me resolved – for it was nothing if not a very practical being, as we shall see – that it would simply have to run with what would eventually become known in another place as an assumption.

In short: the Me decided that in the absence of observable empiric data, it made good sense to “make up something that fits, until you can prove it’s wrong”.

(And thus it brought into being that delightful hobby for people with staring eyes and strange haircuts who listen to Laurie Anderson CDs on repeat known as Theoretical Physics, but of course it didn’t know that then.)

In this wise, the Me plumped for the conclusion that – before what it now called “the Me moment” – it had simply not been necessary for it to be self-aware.

For want of a better explanation, it assumed that although it had existed, it had not needed to know of its existence – and so, post hoc ergo propter hoc, as it were, it did not know.

The Me patiently examined this conclusion from all possible angles, and could not fault it.

(You might imagine that it would also have paused to wonder how it could so instinctively express its cogitation in obscure Latin phrases, a language that had not been used anywhere in existence yet, but that was just one of innumerable trifling considerations that would have to wait until more important questions had been answered.)

Ploughing remorselessly on now, the Me then painstakingly worried away at another thought that had occurred to it, from amongst the untold trillions of thoughts that it had every second. And this one was a real biggie.

That not just “it” but “Everything” must have some purpose, if only to take its natural place in the scheme of things.

This first and most painful bout of existential angst was very intense, but quickly resolved. Yes, yes! It must surely be true! Even if the purpose of a thing was merely to lie passively next to some other Me-ness, like a compliant jigsaw piece fitting neatly into another, purpose there had to be. Pointlessness was surely pointless.

And just as it now observed that the endless particles around it in the Not Me were somehow interlaced seamlessly with one another, and that to remove even one from its place would cause a cataclysmic rent and collapse, so therefore it, too, the Me, must be where (and when) it was for a reason. For if the Me held no inherent purpose, no relationship with something, even if it did not yet know what that something was, then why would it exist? But it did exist, so therefore it must have some role to play. “I exist, therefore I should exist” it trilled.

The next thought arrived a nano-second later. “So what am I for?” it demanded of itself. “What am I for?”

Breathlessly rushing on for a few million years, the Me rifled through the arguments available to it like an over-excited burglar happening on a fortuitously open bank vault.

It reasoned that it must have begun at a particular point, and at some stage it had become needed by … well, something, or because of something … and so – of course! – before that moment self-knowledge would have served no purpose, because – and the Me raced effortlessly forward to its conclusion! – to be aware, but purposeless, would indisputably have no point at all, as mere awareness, it was sure, affected nothing else, either positively or negatively. And, indeed, might be intolerably boring.

(Thrilled with this reasoning, it made itself a mental note: ““Quod erat demonstrandum: we all do what we can.” It was not sure why this thought was important, but felt convinced it was, and promised itself that it would return to nut it out, one day.)

So. Conclusion: the Me fitted in somehow as well. Because it must!

It rippled and rang with the sheer orgiastic delight of its logic. Very well, it mused, it didn’t yet know what the reason for its own existence was, but it felt distinctly less alarmed now it had deduced that a reason must exist, and soon enough, if it continued to concentrate, it was confident it would work out what it was.

Having now been on the job for what seemed to it, suddenly, as an awfully long time, the Me paused for a well-earned rest. Happy with where it had got to so far, it rather liked the sensation of not doing much thinking for a while.

It added another note to its rapidly growing list of things to remember. “Take a break from thinking now and then. Maybe about 14.2857 recurring percent of the time,” it advised itself portentously, along the way inventing Sunday, the decimal system and a few other useful concepts without even noticing. Meanwhile, the Not Me crept ever closer, and waited anxiously for the whole complex tangle to be sorted out on the Me’s mental blackboard.

Lolling around in the dark, approvingly noticing the inlay around the edges of its drawers for the first time, the Me now began to dimly recognise the awesome deductive capacity it could marshal with such little effort.

It was as if it already knew anything it needed to know; all it had to do was turn its attention to a problem and the resolution would eventually become clear, like mist clearing on a beautiful, still lake of knowledge. And with this awareness, the tensions within it settled somewhat. There was a reason why. Because there had to be. So now, the Big One. What could that reason possibly be?

Here, the being’s deductive process – which was rigorous and invariably accurate, if for no other reason than it had an innate ability to consider all probabilities simultaneously and ascribe correct values to them – nevertheless slowed down just a little, because the number of possible reasons why it existed were so vast as to tax even its own seemingly inexhaustible computational capacity.

It spent some time, for example, wondering whether it was supposed to be a forty-seven inch flat-screen hi-definition television, an item with whose innate angular beauty it was instantly infatuated, and which was tremendously thrilling and desirable and perfect for viewing something it decided to call “sports”, and it would have been really quite content to be a television forever were it not, obviously, for the complete absence of anything to be watched on itself, at least until about a trillion years from then.

It thus followed, the Me reasoned carefully, that whilst it might become just such an item at some stage in the future, it was highly unlikely that it was supposed to be a flat-screen TV just yet. It similarly rejected being a “V8 Supercar”, “Designer Fragrance”, or “Hollywood Red Carpet Interviewer” for the same reason.

Poo-poopy-do.

For a long time it was quite taken with the idea of being a conveniently-sized ball of dung, stationed outside the home of every industrious little dung beetle, so that their existence would not be so miserably dominated by scouring the desert for poo of all shapes and sizes and then spending hours in the hot sun uncomplainingly prodding it into an easily-maneuverable shape and size.

The Me felt very compassionate towards the tireless little beetle. He reasoned that even as he extended compassion to the Least so he extended it, by proxy to the All. The idea amused the Me, and it made a point to remember it.

Not entirely au fait, as yet, with the niceties of mass marketing, the Me even nevertheless drafted a quick advertising jingle to promote the idea that went something like this.

“Poo, poo, just made for you,

 yes, do do do, choose ezy-poo

 delivered to you, you’ll be glad too

 with A-may-zing easy-roll Poo-poopy-doo!”

Being a ball of poo would, it felt sure, would be a selfless and meaningful reason to exist.

But sadly, once again, the fact that no dung beetles would be around for quite some time stymied that line of enquiry, too. Then in quick succession, it considered and rejected, for various reasons, the proposition that it was a field of daffodils enlivening the surface of a small rocky planet in the Lamda Quadrant, a very obvious cure for Malaria merely waiting to be discovered, or whether it was a rather nasty virus that caused the four-winged, Greater Blue Flerterbee to fall out of the sky unexpectedly and in alarming numbers on a rather nice globe circling two twin suns in a galaxy with a rather curious Coke-bottle shape, thus leading to the extinction of all life-forms on that planet within a couple of generations.

None fitted.

Last, but by no means least, and with an aesthetic sense that it found delightfully unexpected and artistic, it wondered whether or not it was merely supposed to fill the space around it with floating three-dimensional pyramids made of delicately scented orange seaweed and sparkling Tarl Tree blossoms.

(And that one nearly won, actually. Which would have been interesting.)

Yes, able, now, to roam its growing understanding in all directions at one and the same time, the Me patiently examined of all these intriguing options, and more.

It considered alternative reasons for its own existence to the value of 10 x 10²°. Which really was an awful lot of reasons. And sooner or later, as a direct result of its nascent omniscience, and with a rather annoyed snort of surprise – in light of its previous lack of wakefulness – it was very soon after additionally confronted by a growing certainty that it had always existed. Putting it at its most simple, the Me realised it had always been there.

Always, and forever.

This was an unexpectedly Big Thought. In fact, to be frank, it was a Big Thought And A Half.

Wandering up and down the timeline now, watching itself, it very quickly also correctly surmised that it always would exist, too. Right up until, well … forever, really. And once it had occurred, this new Thought seemed entirely appropriate and natural and comfortable.

Until, that was: until it observed – with some further distress – that all around it other things were coming into being and then moving into non-being with astonishing regularity.

Indeed, it rapidly deduced that moving into non-existence was much more common than moving peacefully through existence with no apparent end, and, indeed, after a few more millennia, it observed that it could find no other beings that shared its own notable, distinguishing, essential never-endingness.

This latest discovery intrigued it mightily. In fact, so mightily was the Me intrigued that it stopped worrying about what it was for a moment, and started looking around with more interest.

It was simply fascinated by the sheer … dyingness … of all it saw around it.

The Me wasn’t sure where it had got that word from, and there was something about it that it didn’t like all that much, but it didn’t have time to worry about trivia. Not when it observed that unlike itself, everything around it seemed to be in the process of discharging tiny amounts of energy, and in doing so, declining to entirely predictable, unavoidable nothingness.

There was an alarmingly vast amount of this decline going on. All around it, apparently spontaneous changes were going on all the time to smooth out differences in temperature, pressure, density, and chemical potential. In fact, the more it went on, the more it went on. Yes! There was no denying it. The process was accelerating.

Still somewhat uncomfortable with “dyingness”, the Me hastily coined the term “entropy” to describe this apparently calamitous force that it observed in the Not Me all around him.

The Me took a step back, and thought for a while.

It took a step back, and carefully considering all the observable phenomena, it came up with something rather like this to define what it was seeing:

Quantitatively, entropy is defined by the differential quantity dS = δQ / T, where δQ is the amount of heat absorbed in an isothermal and reversible process in which the system goes from one state to another, and T is the absolute temperature at which the process is occurring.

Encouraged by this understanding, the Me now also understood that more precisely:

In any process where the system gives up energy ΔE, and its entropy falls by ΔS, a quantity at least TR ΔS of that energy must be given up to the system’s surroundings as unusable heat (TR being the temperature of the system’s external surroundings). Otherwise the process it was observing would not go forward.

And in a rollicking fever of enthusiasm, it also realized that:

The entropy is defined as the number of microscopic configurations that result in the observed macroscopic description of the thermodynamic system, or:

where kB is something that would become known as Boltzmann’s constant 1.38066×10−23 J K−1 and   is the number of microstates corresponding to the observed thermodynamic macrostate calculated using the multiplicity function.

And that was how, after all this feverish figuring, that the Me finally came to know what its reason was.

There was no doubt. The terrible, incontrovertible fact was that – all around it, wherever it looked – the Not Me was dying.

Inexorably, undeniably, because of its own nature which it could not escape, the Not Me was destined, finally, to become perfectly smooth and calm, in a state of utter non-ness, untroubled by thermo-dynamic fluctuations, and unutterably silent and quiet. It was a fate from which there was no return, for once reached, there was nothing to rekindle the energies expended.

The Not Me would simply cease to exist.

And then, the Me mused, what would become of Me?

Would I exist alone? With nothing left to observe, perhaps, but nonetheless awake?

And in a fraction of a millisecond, it knew that this outcome was too awful to contemplate. Utter knowledge, surrounded by utter nothingness, would be unbearable to it now.

Driven back to the fundamentals by its own ruthless logic, the Me considered again the beginning of its own awareness. It saw clearly now – “How could it not have known?” it berated itself angrily – that the tiny, scintillating proton had been a desperate cry for help from the Not Me. It was so obvious! Aware of its own inherent, inexorable non-ness, it had turned to the all-knowing Me to find a solution. And perhaps, even, the Not Me had known – somehow – that the Me needed the Non-Me too. That once awoken, it would have to act, for not to act would leave it, ultimately, alone and perfectly brilliant, transfixed in horrified eternally silent and motionless despair.

And as it divined its purpose, the Me also saw that it was capable of decisive action. In an instant of perception, it was transformed. It became action personified.

Surging forward through the darkness that surrounded it, the Me spoke with a voice that resonated through the umpteen layers of reality.  For the first time in history, it spoke effortlessly and in chorus to the largest perfect number of particles of all kinds that it could see … crying out to the 232,582,656 × (232,582,657 − 1) tiny building blocks that it somehow instantly knew made up the Not Me.

“I Am!” it thundered, for the whole Not Me to hear.

The words echoed through all of existence like nothing had every done before. (Which was literally true, as it had just invented sound.) And the ever more confident Me really liked the phrase. It felt appropriate and proper, somehow. So it repeated it.

“I Am … The I Am!”

It rolled the phrase round and round, enjoying its profundity and orderliness. How it was so perfectly Beginning and End-ish. The Me made a jotting in the margin of History to use the phrase again when it felt the need to explain itself to someone.

It stretched, and stretched, pushing its boundaries outwards, tearing away at the darkness that clung stubbornly to it like wet serge shorts on a schoolboy’s leg. Yes, it knew its reason for existence now, and faced with such a cause, its course of action was as clear to it now as a shining new dawn.

It must act at once to end the dreaded entropy: for it was the Me’s job to banish this awful dyingness and save the Not Me, before it became quiet and flat and silent and the Me was left to stare at where it had been, alone and mad.

And now it also knew with perfect understanding that this task would become something of a recurring leitmotif for its own existence. A struggle – just beginning – which it could now see with terrible clarity would last until the end of Time.

“Listen! Everything!” it cried, in a voice that brooked no opposition. “Listen to me!”

The Not Me took a firm grip on itself and held on tight. It waited, hushed and expectant, for what it knew had to come, and what had come before, and what would come again, impossibly far into the future.

With a giant, convulsive gasp, the Me cried out in a great and terrible voice.

“Let … there … be … Light!”


And lo, there was Light. And man, it was good.

In the Wellthisiswhatithink household everything stops for Game of Thrones.

We love the characterisation, the plotting, the utterly brilliant set and costume design, and the whole gloriously bodice-ripping nonsense of it all.

But after a fair bit of gratuitous full frontal nudity to wake up your Monday evening (women only of course, no willies on display), some of the funniest lines ever delivered by a character in fiction – most from dwarf Tyrion Lannister, who is surely author G.R.R. Martin’s finest creation with lines like “It’s not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it, if it were easy.” – it seems that the producers of the TV series think their appeal is running out of puff. Or at least apparently so.

 

What passes in Winterfell for "Lie down and think of Westeros".

What passes in Winterfell for “Lie down and think of Westeros”.

 

Last week the showrunners inserted a most unpleasant rape as Game Of Thrones aired another dark plot twist. Ever hard-done-by and innocent fan favourite Sansa Stark was brutally assaulted by sadistic Ramsay Bolton.

The character of Ramsay is no stranger to barbaric acts, of course – who can forget the grim scene where he cut off Theon Greyjoy’s penis as part of a torture ritual? But many were shocked at what they saw as a gratuitous piece of sexual titillation that notably wasn’t in the original books, and which again portrayed a key central character as nothing than a mere sexual plaything for horrible men. As one tweeter observed, virtually the entire show right from Episode 1 Series 1 has consisted of a “Who’ll be the one to rape Sansa?” mystery. Well, now we know the answer.

Sophie Turner, the 19 year old British actress playing Sansa, quickly piped up that she liked the scene because of the acting stretch it gave her, admitting she ‘secretly loved’ filming the brutal scenes, and the books’ author also opined that rape is a reality and we shouldn’t shy from showing it. Nevertheless a storm of blogosphere and twittersphere disagreement broke over the show’s head.

This week, however, the show went one better. Er, worse.

shireen

 

In a scene which is also genuinely disturbing, Stannis Baratheon takes the advice of the perfectly horrible Melisandre to burn his own beloved daughter the Princess Shireen at the stake – she being about the only genuinely likeable character in the entire series – to summon up some ju-ju from the God of Light that will get his army out of the mess that he has got them into.

The scene was apparently intended to alert viewers to the danger of religious fanaticism. But it is frankly hard to see it other than a brilliantly well-acted and extraordinarily unpleasant piece of horror schlock.

In his own words, Stannis basically tells Shireen that he’s not responsible for the horror that is about to come. “The choice is no choice at all. (A man) must fulfil his destiny and become who he is meant to be, however much he may hate it.” Shireen wants to help her father in any way she can and says so, not knowing – as the audience suddenly realised to its distress  – that she’s now up for being burned alive as a result.

As Stannis hugs his daughter, he mutters, “Forgive me.” So trustingly, Shireen walks off with her recently received toy stag in her hand to her terrible fate. Through the bitter snowstorm, Melisandre is waiting for her, stake behind her in the distance. In that moment, Shireen suddenly knows what was about to happen, and tries to run away but is restrained. She screams – piteously – for her watching parents to save her.

Cold as ice, Melisandre, being the one person who really needs to die this season other than Ramsay, according to many viewers, reassures the terrified child this is a “good thing.” She lights Shireen on fire and watches her die.

Her hopeless mother Selyse belatedly tries to save Shireen and breaks down as she watches her baby girl go up in flames. Silly trollop. Grim-faced Stannis looks broken and uncertain about the (awful) decision he’s just made. He turns away from Shireen’s burning flesh. Aaaaaand …. cut.

Phew.

Internet reaction has been, if anything, even more distressed than the previous week.

Well, we will stick with Game of Thrones in our household if only because we love the graphics, some of the humorous characters who leaven their wickedness with a good dose of laughter, the gratuitous nudity, the staging, the music, and much more. It’s very well done, and consistently entertaining.

But as for burning innocent young children at a stake – and letting us hear their hideous screams for mercy for what seemed like forever – well, on balance, we think that’s a step too far. Yes, human sacrifice was a feature of primitive societies, and particularly sacrifice of noble kin, so it has historic validity. And it surely makes a point about fanaticism.

But we can still hear her screaming. And it will take a long time for the image to leave our minds, if ever. As will the beheading in the arena that was in the same episode. That was about as graphic as it is possible for a moment to be as well.

Our point is simple: it would be a shame if GOT deserted its plotting and wit and marvellous art direction and all the rest and became merely a vehicle for shock.

Incidentally, it must be reported that the acting in this and other scenes was up to its usual superb standard. Carise van Houten is effortlessly horrid as Melisandre, Stephen Dillane is purposefully Macbethian and vile as Stannis, and the 16 year old British actor Kerry Ingram who plays the ill-fated Shireen has been compelling watchable since her first scene, not because she chews that scenery all the time, but precisely because she doesn’t.

Her sweet nature – which fellow cast members have said is not forced – has imbued her role with charm and emotional depth, especially as she is afflicted with the awful Greyscale, leaving half of her left cheek and most of her neck covered in cracked and flaking, gray and black skin, which is stony to the touch. Lord knows how long the poor kid had to spend in makeup every shooting day.

Anyhow, as an interesting aside, she could empathise with someone with a nasty illness because in real life Ingram has a form of osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. Having regularly fractured her bones, she requires periodic infusions to reinforce them.

 

Emilia Clarke

Writers. Leave. Her. Alone.

 

So – next week is the final episode of this series. Doesn’t time fly when you’re putting your brain out for lunch watching popular TV? We dread to think what fun will be sprung on us this time. We’re reasonably sure someone really important will die. We thought it might be John Snow last night, but then he’s probably safe for a bit because his story still has so many loose ends.

Just so long as it isn’t Daenerys Targaryen played by the ineffable Emilia Clarke. That will have us flicking to channel to … to … well to just about anything, honestly.

You have been warned, HBO. Leave Khaleesi alone.

 

Albert Woodfox in 2012. Louisiana's Attorney General has called Woodfox the "most dangerous man on the planet."

 

BREAKING NEWS

A federal judge in Louisiana issued an unconditional writ of habeas corpus, ordering the immediate release of the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox, and barring the State from creating a retrial. He could be released within hours or days after more than 43 years in solitary confinement. Sixteen years longer than the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

According to Tory Pegram, Campaign Coordinator for the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Judge James Brady of the Federal District Court in Baton Rouge “argues that this extraordinary remedy is merited due to the following 5 factors: Mr. Woodfox’s age and poor health, his limited ability to present a defense at a third trial in light of the unavailability of witnesses, this Court’s lack of confidence in the State to provide a fair third trial, the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty-years in solitary confinement, and finally the very fact that Mr. Woodfox has already been tried twice and would otherwise face his third trial for a crime that occurred over forty years ago.”

A federal judge argues that the State of Louisiana can’t be trusted to provide a fair trial. Think about that. Think about that hard.

A solitary cell in Angola prison in the 19970s

A solitary cell in Angola prison in the 1970s

Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement since 1972 for the murder of corrections officer Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Many believe that he and the other two members of the so-called Angola 3 were targeted for the crime, and subsequently held in isolation, not because of the evidence but because of their involvement in the prison’s chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Woodfox is the only member of the Angola 3 to remain in prison. Robert King was freed in 2001, following 29 years in solitary, after his original conviction for a separate prison murder was overturned. Herman Wallace, whose conviction for Brent Miller’s murder had also been overturned, died last year after more than 41 years in solitary and a few days of freedom.

In 2013 Judge Brady also vacated Woodfox’s conviction on the grounds that there had been racial bias in the selection of grand jury forepersons in Louisiana at the time of his indictment. Last November, the Fifth Circuit, considered one of the nation’s most conservative Federal Appeals Courts, voted to uphold Brady’s ruling.

The man most likely to abhor Judge Brady’s ruling today is Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell. Caldwell has called Woodfox, now 68 years old, “the most dangerous man on the planet” due to his political beliefs. More recently, when Woodfox’s conviction was overturned last year, Caldwell immediately vowed to appeal, saying: “We feel confident that we will again prevail at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, if we do not, we are fully prepared and willing to retry this murderer again.”

Caldwell asserts that the evidence against Woodfox is “overpowering”: “There are no flaws in our evidence and this case is very strong,” he said last year. But these statements belie the fact that much of the evidence that led to Wallace and Woodfox’s conviction has since been called into question. In particular, the primary eyewitness was shown to have been bribed by prison officials into making statements against the two men.

Solitary Watch’s James Ridgeway first wrote about the Woodfox case in 2009 in Mother Jones, providing a comprehensive history and analysis, as well as an account of the conditions in which Woodfox has lived for four decades.

Woodfox’s conditions of confinement have if anything deteriorated in the last five years: He was moved from Angola to David Wade Correctional Center in north central Louisiana, where, according to a separate lawsuit, he faced multiple daily strip searches and visual body cavity searches. Woodfox, along with Robert King and the estate of Herman Wallace, is also plaintiff in a major federal lawsuit challenging his decades in solitary on First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. That suit may also finally come to trial this year.

43 years in solitary confinement, always claiming his innocence, and patently obviously because of his political beliefs. Repeatedly denied proper reviews. Repeatedly denied a chance to get out of solitary. Suffering psychological scarring that can only be imagined.

43 YEARS.

In the land of the free. Bow your head and weep, America.

sub editorWe have been laid up with flu for a while, Dear Reader, hence our output has been somewhat slowed, but we couldn’t resist whipping out the trusty laptop for this one.

So Boston is where all those posh Universities are, right?

Clearly they are not sending many of their alumni to work in newspapers as sub editors – that interesting crew whose main job is to fact check, slash verbilicious copy (yes, we made that word up) and – crucially – add headlines to news stories.

We are delighted to see that this ambidextrous Oakland Athletic relief pitcher can pitch left handed, right handed, and, apparently, underwater, too. Quite some skill, that.

 

amphibious

 

You might also enjoy these:

http://wp.me/p1LY0z-1lC – best Sub Editing F*** Up so far this year boosts scout membership. Maybe.

http://wp.me/p1LY0z-zy – the girl’s school everyone apparently enjoys.

For other F*** Ups of all sorts from the world of media and advertising, just put F*** Up in the search box top left of this page, and enjoy.

More news as it comes to hand. And when we stop sneezing. Nurse, we’ll take that little pink pill now, please. And a drop of chicken soup, if you can hold the spoon to our trembling lips.

 

 

The cement stilts of the home belonging to the Carey family of Corpus Christi, Texas, are all that remain the home was swept away by the Blanco River early  Sunday morning during a flash flood in Wimberley, Texas, on Monday, May 25, 2015. The Carey and McComb family, from Corpus Christi, Texas, have been missing since.   (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The cement stilts of the home belonging to the Carey family of Corpus Christi in Texas are all that remain the home was swept away by the Blanco River early Sunday morning during a flash flood in Wimberley, Texas. The Carey and McComb family, from Corpus Christi, Texas, have been missing since. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

 

One of the effects of global warming resulting in climate change is that dry places may become drier – or ironically wetter – without warning, and to a greater degree.

This will have effects on agricultural production, although ironically some areas (a minority compared to the whole) will be improved agricultural production due to either greater warmth or greater rainfall.

But one of the most obvious impacts – and least talked about – is the effect of climate change on population, and specifically, on urbanisation.

At its most simple, people worldwide need somewhere to live. And despite the desultory attempts of local and State governments to put them off – desultory according to the dominant belief system and political will in any given area – people still want to build homes on floodplains, near rivers, in wooded areas prone to bushfire, on beaches, and so on.

NY TimesOver the weekend just gone, sadly large areas of Texas focused on Austin felt the brunt of those decisions, and on the failure to contain temperature rise.

This NY Times article (left) does an excellent job of both explaining the science, the politics, and the effect of the problem on ordinary citizens. We strongly recommend you read it. Just click the screen grab or click below.

In Texas the race to develop outpaces flood risk studies and warming impacts.

And this article, which we also suggest you read, gives a further scientific response to the contribution to climate change to the events of the last few days.

We have no wish to ride this article on the backs of those enduring a distressing situation – none at all – but comment needs to be made, if for no other reason that the world is at a tipping point where further warming will simply increase the effects now being seen, but we still have time to take effective action to turn the tide back, if you’ll forgive the pun.

We have dear friends in Texas, and we bitterly regret the growing number of deaths of those caught up in the flooding in that state, and those who have been injured or lost property. Our prayers and sympathies go out to those affected and if there’s a reconstruction or victim support fun we can be advised of, we will gladly donate to it.

We have recent endured the same in Australia and the community effect is awful. Like Texas, with whom parts of Australia share similar climactic profiles, we have always endured droughts, fires and floods.

But what is absolutely certain is that looking over the last decade or two such events are getting worse, and lasting longer.

Texan Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz

Texan Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz

In order to ensure that remedial action is taken, we now need some clear, unambiguous thinking. It must be said that “deep south” Conservatives have led the way in pooh-poohing the reality of climate change, or its effect.

For example, the absolute intellectual dishonesty of one Presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, on this issue, is skewered brilliantly in this analysis of his recent inflammatory, pseudo-science comments.

Former GOP hopeful for President and Governor of Texas Rick Perry  repeatedly questioned the science behind climate change — “I think we’re seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

Rick Perry

Rick Perry

Perry, along with energy companies, industry front groups, and other conservative politicians, sued the EPA in an attempt to block the agency from regulating climate pollution. Their argument was that climate science is a hoax.

Under Perry, Texas led the nation in carbon emissions and is home to five of the ten worst mercury emitting power plants in the country.

The governor called the EPA a “den of activists,” and in response to the Clean Power Plan, the governor said it was “the most direct assault yet on the energy providers that employ thousands of Americans.” He criticised the Obama administration’s delay of the Keystone XL pipeline and speaking at a trade association funded by BP, Perry called the 2010 BP oil catastrophe an “act of God” and his solution to the nation’s economic ills: “more oil drilling.”

Against this nonsense, a detailed examination of the impact of likely climate change on Texas can be found here, from the University in Austin, the city in which great swathes are now under water. It’s cold comfort to those who were hit by “a tsunami” of water according to the current Governor that some in the political establishment in Texas are cheerleaders in refusing to tackle climate change despite evidence like this being freely available.

In the past, we have been criticised for dismissing climate change deniers, refusing to listen to their ridiculous anti-intellectual and anti-science rantings, and refusing to countenance debating with them. We acknowledge this, but we refuse to apologise or change our view, for these reasons alone:

  • For the record, we acknowledge there is debate over the scale of man’s contribution to climate change. But to pretend it is none whatsoever is clearly ostrich-head-in-sand-like stubbornness, mindlessly disputing the opinions of tens of thousands of well-credentialled scientists across a vast range of disciplines, not just climatology.
  • We acknowledge that argument exists about the likely pace of climate change and the effects thereof. However: that there will be SOME change is undisputed, and even very small changes at the lower end of predictions are already having a profound effect on global weather, and the human population.
  • Many of the effects of global warming – such as ocean acidification – are just as serious as weather change, and constantly ignored by the climate change deniers. These changes could see the world’s entire food chain threatened and the extinction of thousands of ocean species, both vegetable and animal.

Given the foregoing, we should be taking PRECAUTIONARY climate change action.

Even if it turns out that our fears are over-complicated or overblown, to ignore the current signs is moronic, dangerous, and surely equivalent to dereliction of dutyfrom our legislators.

Politics has overtaken commonsense prophylactic government action, and that should be totally unacceptable to all.

An understanding that we need to be CAREFUL while we sort out the science still further is one that should be shared by all politicians, of all parties, on a non-partisan basis. To reduce the matter to a political football (presumably based on a belief that it will enhance election prospects) is stupidity of a near-criminal nature.

Is this really the best future mankind can hope for?

Is this really the best future mankind can hope for?

Because you know what, Dear Reader?

If we take action to combat climate change, and it turns out we were worrying completely unnecessarily, all we will have done is created a cleaner, less polluted planet.

And old, dangerous and polluting industries will have been replaced by others. And who would mourn that?

Where’s the loss?

Let us hope those now struggling with floods and storms in Texas remember who refused to do anything about the problem before it came to this – and who they want in charge of their lives in future.