Clubbing Penguins

By which of course I mean Penguin Modern Classics… πŸ˜€

It’s been long enough blaming English Literature classes in school (except yours, Tony Court – oh captain, my captain!) for not reading enough fiction. I’m starting with everyone’s favourite dystopian sci-fi writer Philip K Dick.

I loved Amazon’s adaptation of The Man In The High Castle and I refuse to wait a year to see the second series, so I went and gave Amazon even more money and bought the book AND the audiobook upgrade.

Well who’d have thought it, the book and the TV show couldn’t be further apart. Whole subplots are created anew in the show. It’s like Game of Thrones veering off from the novels, and now it’s anyone’s guess what Amazon will have in season 2.

What can I say about the shared ground? Most of all is shaking out of the idea that my Anglo-American culture is dominant in the world even though it coexists with others. You’re reading this in English, and if you’re a native speaker you can probably understand how I feel. So to imagine a world in which our culture is subordinate to the Nazi German and Fascist Japanese, where American culture is reduced to a curiosity or embodied in quaint artifacts in antique shops, is more than a bit disconcerting. Interesting!

 

Patience and kindness

Holy blog necro, Batman! It certainly has been a while, and how things have changed.

My heart aches for Eni who’s far away, I’m living and working in London again, and – wouldn’t you know it? – I have not in the interim done well in taking myself less seriously. 😦

This year I’ve made some real resolutions. You could even say I’m repenting of my cynical ways. πŸ˜€ 2016 is the year of patience and kindness.

Once again (again again) I’m nursing sore joints from reckless boy behaviour in the gym. Maybe this is the year I’ll put aside childish things. I won’t promise myself not to do it again, but I will promise to enjoy the process of getting into better shape. All the dysfunction that took years to build will no doubt take years to correct, and that’s okay – patience. It’s also been made worse in the past by me being so harsh on myself. Yes there are people who made better use of their time and now they can do backflips and stuff. Brilliant. But life is hard Stuart and we all mess up. Have some chill. Have some kindness.

I’m in a new job that for many a dark month in 2015 I thought I would never see. It was hard for everyone around me. Guess what I got from others that pulled me out of the pit? Patience and kindness. Now I have to apply those to my work. I had to be patient when my first project didn’t get off the ground and I was pretty much benched for three months. And I have to be kind to myself every day, because I can’t undo the life choices that would have otherwise got me further in my career at the positively senile age of 26 πŸ˜‰

My flatmates are thoroughly good people, even if they forget to empty the bin or leave stuff in the sink. They’ve been generous with their time to make me feel welcome in a city I’d mostly forgotten and where almost no one knows my name. The only reason they don’t loathe me is because I’ve managed to be just patient and kind enough to see past most little mistakes that were never meant to hurt. I still have work to do, and that’s okay.

I wish you a wonderful 2016.

Wing Chun – the ghost of real violence

Wing Chun in its modern incarnation is like most traditional martial arts, shit. Sorry, even the ones that train under pressure couldn’t hack it with boxers, judoka, and wrestlers unless they start fighting like combat athletes themselves. Dead horse, stop flogging.

It’s still the most interesting of all Chinese martial arts to me though. Why? It doesn’t really look like how things go down when someone wants to glass you, but the time in China’s history where these things were far too common isn’t so far away. No wobbly swords and spiked balls on a rope, just some sailor prick getting in your face in Kowloon. You can see some shadow of a pragmatic system if you look hard enough – something that can’t really be said of the beardy men on a mountain in Wudang. Here’s a few examples.

1. Violence happens up close. I’ve seen mΓͺlΓ©es where people get separated but the gap is soon closed. Wing Chun starts and finishes here.

2. I may be mistaken, but strikes to the head that appear in the forms tend not to be fists too, which is a fair reflection on what you really ought to be doing if the right cross on the jaw doesn’t work.

3. People don’t like getting hit and they keep sticking their arms in the way. It’s far more natural to grab a hold of something and yank it out of the way than it is not to engage the arms at all as is more common in a boxing match. It’s also a lot easier to place accurate shots when you can feel, not just see, where the other bloke is in relation to you. You really should learn evasive head movement anyway, but don’t ignore the arms.

4. The arm positions for Wing Chun blocks are all very formalised, but you’ll find these kind of deflections and jamming techniques in bareknuckle boxing (if some 19th century manual is anything to go by) as well as things like karate. It’s pretty crude, but if sticking your arms in the way wasn’t somewhat effective, those two drunks on a Saturday night wouldn’t keep doing it. Crashing forward with your arms in a kind of prow position is reminiscent of the Wing Chun guard as well as the kind of stuff taught by a lot of the present day self defence guys, as well as their crappy copycats.

5. Lastly, the body mechanics are silly, but there isn’t any suggestion of using big wind ups, drop stepping, or other ways of generating force that assume a luxury of time and space that you don’t have. The fact they are not in the system suggests the creator(s) knew they wouldn’t be viable, even if the useful stuff like better body alignment (no, not the vertical fist with your elbows forced down) and the Serrape effect may have been lost over time.

So you had your shot and it missed, our sailor from earlier trying to Hail Mary your head off your shoulders, what do you do? Crash forwards, clear his arms out of the way and just throw straight down the middle to make some space. Too close to punch? Elbow until you can. Nothing to hit but the top of his head? A palm isn’t great but it probably won’t break your hands. Can’t get a high shot? Dig the bastard in the ankle. Can’t see him? Maybe you can feel him. So close you can smell his breath? You knew you’d end up here anyway so you shouldn’t be shitting your pants.

You see? Not all rubbish, even if you’d be better off not bothering with Wing Chun and doing something pragmatic.

Turn off the news, change your world

I don’t read the news anymore.

When did this happen? I used to have them all on preloaded tabs – BBC, Aljazeera, The Guardian, Huffington Post… I even used to buy the Independent once or twice a week.

When did I switch off? Well, maybe I didn’t entirely. A lot of stuff pops up on my Facebook feed, though this is inevitably weighted to the sensational or reposts of Upworthy. Blood Upworthy.

Still, my news consumption has gone waaaaay down. Surely this is a bad thing?

Hardly. I can’t think of anything that’s come up in the news that has driven me to act on something, or else has really changed my thinking. How could it? I don’t have my own life in order, how can I really be a change in the world?

I’m reminded again of FW. He had me imagine I was a teabag, trying to make a brew in a jug or a bath by myself. It can’t happen. You can only make the tea in your own cup. Then if that spurs other people to take the plunge into hot water, great – but it always starts with you and your pathetic little cup.

Get yourself in order. I’m not saying you can’t be happy where you are, but unti

Turning the uni essay on its head

I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. Spend weeks and weeks with great intentions to start an essay, and in the end just smash it out over a couple of sleep-deprived days, dangerously close to the deadline.

The result? Hopefully you’re like me and you end up getting a decent grade anyway. Good enough for an upper first? So what was I doing with all my time and money if I could have done this in a fraction of a semester!

I realise this isn’t the story for some courses that are continually assessed, such as a history degree in Oxford where freshers will write sixteen 3000 word essays in the first eight weeks. Just for fun though, let’s imagine that we START with the essay.

“Welcome to university. Okay you miserable maggots, 4000 words on the internet marketing strategy of an organisation of your choice. Here’s a few sources. You have three days.”

What a rush! There must be people whose work involves a lot of scenarios like this – wouldn’t it make sense if the university experience tried to recreate it? After that, a provisional mark on the essay and into teaching, before the student has to rewrite it for a final submission. More work for the examiner yes, but the outcomes might be way higher.

How about collaborative essays? My masters course has given us a few goes at group presentations which has obvious relevance to the business world, but only one standalone written group assignment. Working together to structure written work is a challenge in itself that I feel is a bit underrated.

I’ve also seen what happens when people are thrown into a group without getting to know each other. Not pretty if you’ve not anticipated its possibility. This happens in the real world too!

I’m not saying we need to throw away traditional essay writing, just mix up the context a bit. What else would you throw into the mix?

More fruit? Pass the tin.

Even paragons of virtue like me forget to eat enough fruit and vegetables sometimes. My problem with fruit is not so much the preparation, but the fact that I almost always buy too much and end up having to chuck it away because it’s been forgotten in the back of the fridge for two months. This is frustrating and I react by buying no fruit at all for a few weeks. Then I feel bad and buy too much – and around we go again…

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This week I’ve started buying tinned fruit – pears, mandarins, pineapple, grapefruit, cherries, prunes – with reckless abandon, and I’m feeling pretty damn good for it. Yes, I recycle my cans. Is it less nutritious than fresh fruit? You probably lose some vitamin C in the canning process, and there’s lots of empty calories if you eat the syrup it might be tinned in. On the other hand, if I’m getting my five a day, every day (less than a third of British adults manage this, and only one in ten kids) then I’m doing alright. It’s also cheaper than a chocolate bar and just as easy a convenience food, though it won’t fit in your pocket as easily πŸ˜‰

I’ve also bought some frozen berries and vegetables, although I think a lot more people do this anyway so it’s not much to shout about.

How do you get your five a day?

Guns, gold, and Jesus

This is a sloppy caricature of a good friend’s belief in what is holding the USA together, with attacks on all three hastening the state’s demise. In Britain we’re already further down the road to becoming a failed state. Forgive me FW, it’s a good springboard to talking about trust.

Guns

FW hates Piers Morgan. In feeling such he is a member of a very large club, but his recent ire was raised by Piers Morgan attacking a gun rights advocate who felt it necessary to keep an AK47 at home. “If he doesn’t like the Second Amendment, why does he stay in the USA?”

Well I think he’s exercising his First Amendment right FW, but you brought up an interesting idea. Do people really need to have the same grade of weapons as their military to protect themselves from the government? I think this was the context of the Piers Morgan interview, correct me if I’m wrong. Keep some assault rifles handy in case DC decides to turn the troops on you. I’ve yet to research when the last time the USA had a command to shoot civilians in peacetime, but for now it’s not important. The important thing is that the gun advocate and FW seem to have no trust in the men and women of the US armed forces not to take up arms on command and start killing civilians. Seriously? The whole army? It’s not a monolithic structure, it’s over a million and a half active personnel, and they all have families, friends, neighbours, churches even! Just a pause for thought.

Gold

FW is a strong proponent of currency backed by a metal reserve i.e. gold or silver, rather than a fiat currency. The problem according to FW is that confidence in a fiat currency is necessarily tied to the subjective confidence of the global market in a state. FW gives an estimate of sixty years from the issuance of a fiat currency to its collapse through loss of backing – loss of trust. A notable exception to the apparent rule is the Iraqi Swiss dinar, which was still used in Kurdish regions even after it was disendorsed by the Iraqi government in 1990. As the supply of Swiss dinars stayed the same or decreased while the new Saddam dinar’s supply increased, it appreciated against the latter. A stable money supply which kept the Kurdish regions safe from the rampant inflation that beset the rest of the country, based on nothing more than mutual trust in paper money. No gold? No problem!

This one example notwithstanding, I can see a much more compelling argument from FW here. We need to rethink how we back our currencies. Returning to a gold standard would increase the price of gold 25-50 times, or else bring about a massive global wave of deflation (I think), and ignores the potential for all sorts of decentralised currencies that our highly connected world allows. I’m not just talking about Bitcoin – take a look at this little report on the future of money by Envisioning, a research organisation based in Brazil.

Jesus

FW is a Christian, and decries the secularisation of the USA and other formerly Christian countries. In his opinion, it’s a loss of belief in moral absolutes that is the catalyst for social decay.

This is a massive topic that I can do no justice to here. What I will say is that regardless of one’s religious beliefs, churches were central social hubs in every British community, which for the most part have been replaced with… nothing. Mind you, the decline of the pub in the UK is also a symptom of a huge shift in the way we live. So there’s two social hubs we’ve lost! I posit that it’s a change in the world of work along with the rise of consumerism after World War Two that has been the real atomising force in our culture. And when you don’t know you neighbours because now you sit at home watching Ant and Dec instead of going out and meeting in groups, how can you trust your neighbours? And when you can’t trust your neighbours, how can you have a healthy society? Consider also that the Nordic countries all score very high on quality of life markers while having some of the lowest reported religiosity in the western world. It may be that FW is making a causation from a correlation, or is making a reduction fallacy, but I can’t say that for certain.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. It just means we need to rethink how we acquire and display our trustworthiness. Here’s Rachel Botsman at TED Global on trust as the currency of the new economy.