Jan 04

A reminder of my sophistication

One of the highlights of Christmas 2016 was my re-discovery of the pleasures of coffee with cream.

For decades, my home recipes for coffee were

a) Cafetiere coffee – black, no sugar (see the wall sign for a summary)

b) Instant coffee from a jar with some gold colouring – white, no sugar

c) Other instant coffee – avoid if possible

Nothing overly pretentious. (Although, now I think about, I have been experiencing worrying feelings of identification with George Clooney recently, and was devastated to find no coffee machine in my stocking.)

Then, one morning over Christmas, whilst I was in coffee production and distribution mode, Ann suggested I offer it with some of the under-used cream she’d bought for pudding purposes.

I did, and in a moment of radical departure from my strict conventions, I added cream to my own black coffee.

I have to say, the effect was far more pleasurable than I’d expected or remembered from the past – and I’m still working through the remains of the cream today, using it only occasionally so that it continues to provide the pleasure of the exceptional.


And this takes me back to my youth – to when I graduated from milk to tea and thence to coffee. And to when I first became aware of my true nature; when I understood that I was unquestionably the embodiment of sophistication.

The day I poured cream into my circulating coffee over the convex side of a teaspoon.

You don’t get much cooler than that, do you?

Unless you’re George Clooney, I suppose.

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Jan 01

Significance of First Events – It’s All Illusion

What’s the significance of the first event or action in some context?

From the viewpoint of intentionality, the maxim “start as you mean to go on” suggests that you can create significance by your intention.

From a magical perspective, the first events that happen are often given significance as being fateful omens or as setting inescapable precedents: in some sense they are predictors of future events or trends.

So how did you start YOUR year?

I don’t mean at two minutes after mid-night when you were caught in the flow of the uniqueness of the New Year event.

I mean at the first opportunity to do something under normal circumstances – probably earlier today (New Year’s day) after getting up.

Are you worried at all about your first actions or choices or events that happened to you? Have disturbing precedents been set? Are the omens auspicious? Are you REALLY going to continue in that vein for the WHOLE of 2017?

God help us all.

I got up very late (not significant, given the lateness of retiring) and had a light breakfast, during which I had intended to catch up on the news on TV.

But on switching on the screen, I was presented with a rather catchy song being sung by an intense and joyful congregation as part of Songs of Praise. I continued watching till the end of the song – and indeed till the end of the whole Songs of Praise program, covering three different, but equally intense and joyful congregations.

I’d never watched so much of that program in decades. If you’re not a practicing Christian, you don’t, do you? So what kept my attention on this occasion?

Apart from the interesting historical interludes (concerning Henry VIII, Edward VI and the Reformation), the novelty of Aled Jones as the presenter and the hymn singing – what captivated my interest was my struggle to find an appropriate reaction to the people in the congregations.

In the past, I could have been in such a congregation myself singing joyfully in full Christian sincerity. And I have been in many congregations (during Ben’s chorister days) enjoying the singing – but without the Christian sincerity.

But today, I looked at those congregations and experienced a reaction which I quickly realised was far too judgemental. Indeed, it was very un-Christian.

Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matthew 7)

So I kept watching till the end, trying to work out a response to the joyful expression of Christian worship, which honored both the Christian worldview and my own.

Perhaps you’re wondering why there’s an issue at all. Isn’t it simply a matter of “live and let live?”

Not really.

“Live and let live”, at it’s extreme, is an injunction not to kill those who don’t think like you. That’s easy to comply with.

Better yet, I have no urge to barge into churches and take over the pulpit; nor to go door-to-door looking for opportunities to persuade others to adopt my world-view; nor to have a stand on Cornmarket Street with books and pamphlets; nor to hand out leaflets on street corners.

That’s not the issue at all. I’m not looking to persuade Christians to change their beliefs.

The issue is what is an appropriate emotional response which appropriately respects all perspectives? If I’m going to do that fully and integrally, it’s not immediately obvious what form that takes (for me), nor how I would express it.

Integral philosophy provides some guidance here – in theory at least – but this is more about my personal internalization of it.

(Thinking about it, I suppose a true Christian faces a similar issue in how they relate to non-Christians – except for Christians it’s more than an emotional response because there must be an element of a moral imperative to perform soul-saving proselytising. Not an easy ask in today’s culture.)

For what it’s worth, that is how I started 2017.

I then spent even more time watching the Smurfs film – to which my emotional response was a great deal simpler.

As to the significance of my first 2017 events…

There is none.

Intentionality is an illusion (a topic for another post), and I like to think that I’m no longer subject to magical beliefs (which assumption is probably a conceit – another form of illusion).

Happy 2017 to my reader.

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Dec 11

My 65th Birthday

Today, I’m 65.

Thank you.

I accept your congratulations. In the great scheme of things – and especially in the 21st century – existing for 65 years doesn’t count as a significant achievement, and yet I feel quite satisfied today.

(Excuse me – I need to take a break from writing and watch Humans Series 2 Episode Episode 7 .)

Very good episode – raising many issues about what it means to be human. I’ll talk about one of those in a separate post.

But for today, I’m just fulfilling my plan for the day, which was to take the day off from work, enjoy what comes along (which I’ve done) and write a personal blog post.

For too long (over three years, based on the date of my last post here), the only non-business related writing I’ve done has been the invitations I send out to the two Meetup groups I run. And increasingly, I’ve found myself making use of those occasions to write something fanciful, whimsical or humorous (at least in intent) – for no reason other than I enjoy doing it.

I have no evidence that my style either increases or decreases attendance, so there really is no other agenda for me writing in this way.

Since I obviously enjoy writing (in a business and non-business context), I decided to resume this blog as a vehicle to express myself outside a business environment. And in this non-business environment, I can write freely with no agenda:

  • No particular care about criticism (should there eventually be an audience large enough or concerned enough to bother)
  • No limitations on subject areas and topics
  • No concession to Google’s preferences
  • No particular audience in mind

In other words, this is a pure indulgence!

Oh yes – and I’m making no promises or commitments (especially to myself) on the frequency or quality of posting.

I plan to just “go with the flow” – which is somewhat atypical of my normal approach.

To finish – I’ll just record that it’s been a good birthday. Thanks to the members of my wonderful family who contributed to it being so.

 

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Dec 04

How to double your blogging output in 10 minutes

blogWe all start a blog with the firm intention of making regular posts and keeping the world regularly updated with our insights, observations, opinions and news.

But few have the discipline of regularity.

So if you are one of the many, read on… because you are about to learn how you can double the number of posts you make in a year.

As with so many techniques that promise near instant results, the truth is, you need to prepare ahead of time for many months, and only then can you achieve “immediate success”.

My instant-productivity-doubling technique is, sadly, no different – except that the many months of preparation requires nothing more than the consistent application of indolence.

I am fortunate in that I’m accomplished at the practice of indolence – which means that when I stop this meaningless babbling and publish this post, I will have instantly doubled my blogging output for the year.

And who knows – before the year is out (which, by the way, will mark the two-year anniversary of this site’s existence), I could even have doubled that output a second time.

 

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Apr 28

Deadines, Creativity and Purcell’s 24-Hour Opera

Before any musicologists get the wrong idea, I’m pretty sure Purcell was never involved in a 24-hour opera.

The Purcell School

The Purcell School

I’m here talking about the Purcell School of Music in Bushey, near Watford in the UK.

Just before 7.00pm last Friday evening, the 26th April, around 20 pupils gathered in Miss Cox’s office and began a countdown to the hour. On the stroke of 7.00pm, the prolonged creative burst began…

With about 40 people involved in total, their mission, which they had all enthusiastically chosen to accept, was to conceive of and create an opera in the space of 24 hours, and perform it at 7.00pm the following evening.

I am witness to the fact that they completed this outstanding mission, and that everyone who saw it unanimously agreed it was great success.

I’m still piecing together the process that supported the creativity, but the general outline is simple.

7.00pm on Friday:

Compose the score (throughout the night) and complete the set design. Complete this by…

9.00am Saturday:

Find the costumes and props; work out stage directions; plan the lighting; build the set; learn the music; rehearse; design, write and print the program; and plan front-of-house activities. Complete this by…

7.00pm Saturday:

Perform it.

 24HourOperaProgramme

 

The experience for the kids taking part in this must have been phenomenal. Obviously it was enormous fun and hugely exciting (and inevitably frustrating at times). But to be part of the creation of something which many minds would dismiss as impossible or impractical must leave a life-long impression and engender – or more likely for these kids, strengthen – a “can-do” attitude.

These children are trained to practice their performances to get them as close as possible to perfection. In this case, though, the priorities were turned on their head: do the very best you can within an impossibly tight deadline.

When there’s no time for a creative block, you don’t get a creative block. When you don’t have enough time to learn the score – you do it anyway. When 5 minutes before curtain-up you realise the lighting controller can’t see the stage, you improvise (phone text message communication). And doubtless there were hundreds of other examples.

Finding that sweet-spot between “careful planning leads to success” and “just do it!” seems to be a lifelong search – for me, anyway. But everyone involved in this project now has a visceral understanding of the creative power of “just do it!”

To not quote Goethe (this is wrongly attributed to him):

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Alex

Posted in Jemima, Music | 9 Comments
Nov 26

First Blog Post By Email

If this appears on this blog it will prove that I’ve mastered the somewhat tortuous task of linking my email with my blog.

The theory is that I will be less reticent about making posts because I will be able to skip the login step – and more importantly, I will be able to post easily from my phone – so I will be more likely to post the random thoughts I have when not sitting in front of my computer.

It seems that when I’m in front of my computer I am less inclined to allow myself to indulge in non work-related mental activities. 

This may or may not prove to be a good thing as regards the quality and interest value of my posts.

Alex

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Oct 24

Positive Money on Radio 4

Tune in to this – 8.45 pm Wednesday 24th October.

I’ve studied what Ben and his colleagues have done and as far as I can see, they have the best-researched and most in-depth solution to fix our broken banking system.

I’ve just finished reading Robert Peston’s book “How Do We Fix This Mess?” where he goes in great depths into global financial mess. He offers no concrete solutions and warns that most of the actions taken to date merely postpone the possible full impact of the crash; and furthermore, the proposed banking reforms are little more than tinkering – nothing like the deep reforms that are needed.

Ben’s approach won’t fix the discrepancies in global trade, nor the (intractable?) European mess, but it does stop banks holding the nation to ransom, AND includes some very positive side-effects.

If these ideas start gaining currency (such as being discussed on Radio 4!!), watch banks ramp up the biggest lobbying campaigns in history!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ngmjr

 

Alex

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Sep 19

Suddenly, Mongolia is interesting

You know what it’s like.

You’ve not seen one far-away country, you’ve not seen them all. Although they all conjure up different thoughts and conceptions, they all fall into the class of “remote and not really relevant” (if we are to be judged by our actions, that is).

Until there is some real connection.

Now, for me, I have a connection with Mongolia. Some of my genes are wandering around out there – and suddenly it’s a real, vibrant place full of wonderful people.

Even though the capital (…. go on, have a go… what IS it? Hint: five a’s) is – apparently, a dump.

My eldest daughter’s travel blog explains my connection.

Worth connecting to, I’d say.

Posted in Family, Tabitha, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment
Jul 12

The Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot

Another book on my Amazon WishList – The Optimism Bias by Tari Sharot.

It seems that we are hard-wired to look “on the bright side of life” – even when evidence suggest life is a lot darker.

From a Guardian review of the book:

“People hugely underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; envision themselves achieving more than their peers; and overestimate their likely life span (sometimes by 20 years or more).”

Read the extract by Tali Sharot in the Guardian article, which ends with this

“Why would our brains be wired in this way? It is tempting to speculate that optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival. Research findings that optimists live longer and are healthier, plus the fact that most humans display optimistic biases – and emerging data that optimism is linked to specific genes – all strongly support this hypothesis. Yet optimism is also irrational and can lead to unwanted outcomes. The question then is, How can we remain hopeful – benefiting from the fruits of optimism – while at the same time guarding ourselves from its pitfalls?”

“I believe knowledge is key. We are not born with an innate understanding of our biases. The brain’s illusions have to be identified by careful scientific observation and controlled experiments and then communicated to the rest of us. Once we are made aware of our optimistic illusions, we can act to protect ourselves. The good news is that awareness rarely shatters the illusion. The glass remains half full. It is possible, then, to strike a balance, to believe we will stay healthy, but get medical insurance anyway; to be certain the sun will shine, but grab an umbrella on our way out — just in case.”

Posted in Books, Mind | Leave a comment
Jan 21

Running the UK is a sideline

I have been continuing my studies into how money works – inspired by the excellent folk at http://PositiveMoney.org.uk

This has led me to the High Wycombe MP – Steve Barker – who is a director of the Cobden Centre and a thinker of some depth.

In turn, he led me to the Institute of Economic Affairs and Nick Silver, who wrote a shocking and sobering report in 2008 – A Bankruptcy Foretold – about the real size of UK  debt – when you account for pension (and other) liabilities in the way you would for a company.

With the latest figures, UK government debt is not £772 billion (54% of GDP) but £4.8 trillion (333% of GDP).

The figures quantify the situation, but what moved me most was his succinct summing up when he had to update the figure to £6.5 trillion:

Looked at this way, the UK is effectively an enormous unfunded and effectively bankrupt pension scheme, with a large speculative holding in some banks and a sideline in running a small island state off the northern coast of France.

I wonder – is it better to continue with the perverse (but accepted for countries) accounting policy that ignores pension liabilities, or face the reality that the UK – if it were a company – would be bankrupt?

Would that acceptance change our responses to anything – in particular, the spending cuts?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Posted in Alternative Money, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments