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

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.

When I grow up, I want to be…

Photo by Murdo Macleod for The Guardian

Melvyn Bragg.

What a joy it must be to spend your days reading up on interesting stuff and then getting to throw some questions at a selection of boffins in the relevant subject area.

I’m amazed that I didn’t discover In Our Time until a year or two ago, nerdy child that I was/am. The show, broadcast every week on Radio 4, is pushing 650 episodes on subjects of science, art, history, culture and religion, all free to listen from its archives. If you want a digestible introduction to all sorts of subjects, with the charming dulcet tones of Bragg, then tune in.

Vote Green, even though they won’t get in

Tactical voting in a first-past-the-post system. From vote123.org.uk

Lunacy right? I hear you I hear you, you have to vote tactically to keep the nasty party Red Ed the immigrants the other ones out. I suppose this may be true in a marginal constituency that’s being targeted in a particular election. Might be.

On the other hand, we seem to be managing a predictable swing over a few parliamentary terms between the two main parties. It’s been 92 years of Labour and Conservative. Before that, 64 years of Liberal and Conservative. And this was after 137 years of Whig and Tory, one Peelite hiccup notwithstanding.

Have some perspective people. The two-horse race is a very long one indeed, and despite this system being in place for so long we the masses undoubtedly live better lives than before. Some would argue this has been in decline since 1979, and so perhaps it’s high time to enter a new challenger.

I’ve personally shifted my weak political ties from blue to Green, and I wish other people would do the same, although anything except the BNP would do it for me. Yes, vote UKIP if you want, if it draws votes away from the two main parties.

Neither the Greens nor UKIP will win a majority next year, even though the Greens would be the first party if we voted by policies. But it doesn’t matter. Think longer term. UKIP was close to breaking a million votes in the last general election, and people started paying attention. Imagine if they got two million.

The Greens trail pitifully behind, gaining only 265,000 or so votes in 2010. I’d tentatively argue that it’s easier for right-wing populists to win votes by bashing foreigners than it is for the environmentalists to do so by promising more clean energy. (This is a quandary that I, alas, cannot solve for the Green Party. Any thoughts, blogosphere?)

Regardless, there is surely a lot of untapped voting power that could be swayed by the argument. Give them a massive boost in vote numbers next year, even if they don’t win any seats. The two old horses will start getting nervous. In the case of the Greens it might see a bit less fragmentary behaviour on the left akin to the Popular People’s Front of Judaea, but what do I know.

Think they could manage 500,000 votes? More than the BNP, at least? That would be a great start.

Britain will probably not implode by 2020, and by then the new kids might just have gained enough attention and thus traction to really ruffle some feathers.

The School of Oriental and African Studies

“What?”
“SOAS for short.”
“Where’s that?”
“London.”
“Ontario?”
“No you fool, England.”
“Oh right, what did you study?”
“Chinese and Indonesian.”
“What’s that for?”
“To facilitate understanding how two thirds of the world live, mostly in circumstances vastly differing from my own, and hopefully be of use in a world whose narrative is ever more the story of the global south.”
“So you’re going to be an English teacher?”
“Sigh.”

Free Hare Krishna lunch. Always make time for Hare Krishnas.
DavidC Photography

What a strange little place SOAS is. My massive cynicism during and immediately after has softened, as I’ve realised what a formative experience it was on a personal level. It’s not about “experiencing lots of cultures” (as if that’s even possible during an undergrad degree), but of seeing how fresh the memory of foreign encroachment is to so many people, and the mess it’s left as they try to reclaim and shape an identity for their nation.

Of course I also get to meet the children of a few who no doubt cashed in on said encroachment, or on the messy transition out of it. There will always be thieves who get rich and send their kids to live in Kensington, but I can’t change this by raging about it.

The formative effect could certainly have been found elsewhere, but for me at least, SOAS was as good a place as any. Cheers, SOAS.

Now if only I could do maths.

Save the NHS… with judo

I’m serious. We all know being physically active keeps personal healthcare costs down, but I’m talking about a specific skill of judoka.

Watch a judo match and see the thousand and one ways they get dumped on their back, on their head, on their arse… and get back up. BREAKFALLING. It should be on the PE curriculum.

Think how many people get admitted to A&E for tripping over the kid’s toys, or how many slow declines of older people start with a hip break that might have been avoided if they had lots of experience falling over.

Keiko Fukuda. Judo kept her going for 99 years. RIP.

I’ve not had a judo lesson since I was 5, but that little bit of judo practice (and a smattering of wrestling and BJJ afterwards) has probably saved me from killing myself with a broken neck more than once.

I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down!