Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Anti-Scrooge

On the office Christmas lunch, a small joke was had at my expense. It stemmed from the fact that I chose to not decorate my desk at work. I don’t like tinsel around my monitor and baubles on the partition because it is a hassle and it gets in the way. I'm in work to work, not mess about decorating. Because of this stance, I was given a black Santa hat that read “100% Christmas Grump” on one side and “Bah humbug!” on the other side. Fair enough, I can take a joke. I posed wearing the hat and congratulated my friend on his ingenuity. But that isn't why I posed with the hat.

What would have happened if I hadn’t put the hat on for other people’s photo opportunity? By the way, I hate wearing hats. They don’t suit me. If I had declined, even politely, the other twenty people in the room would have joined together as a Christmas mob and started chanting for me to put it on. I would have been labelled a Christmas Scrooge for not going along with everyone else’s fun, despite it being my dignity that was being sacrificed, not theirs. Basically, I had been cornered into doing something Christmassy that I didn’t want to do. Now, I wasn’t coercing or bullying others to follow my under stated attitude towards Christmas. Hell, I was at the Christmas dinner! It’s not like I am anti-Christmas. However, I and some others seem to be on the end of a surreptitious intimidation, that is wrapped is supposed festive cheer, making the mob-like pressure completely acceptable. It is the anti-Scrooge.

You see, an anti-Scrooge labels you everything negative for not engaging in Christmas time in a way they see fit. Some people don’t want to buy into the schmaltzy silliness that the season brings. To some, myself included, Christmas is about spending time with people who matter, showing them that I care by offering them a well thought out present, and Christmas carols that give you that warm feeling when the winter wind howls outside your window. It isn’t found in silly hats found in Christmas crackers, ostentatious decorations or tiresome cliché pop songs. It is found in family and friendship, not false frivolity that is based on nothing but a date on a calendar.

Ironically, it goes against the real spirit of Christmas to make someone do something they don’t want to. If someone is seeking to make everyone miserable, then fair enough, that is uncalled for. But if they wish to do things differently, at what point does the Christian notion teach that you should force people to fall in line? Anyone who has read the Nativity knows that Christmas is about someone who was born into an oppressive regime to rise up and teach peace, love and respect to all mankind. Whether you’re religious or not, that’s a pretty good message, even to Richard Dawkins!

So the next time you want to force someone into doing something at Christmas and be an anti-Scrooge because you think that person is defying the true Christmas spirit, contemplate this. By doing that, you miss the true spirit of Christmas too, the spirit of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Unelectable

There are only two problems with politics. Politicians and voters.

You see, democracy is built on the idea of the wisdom of crowds. Take everyone's idea, mix them together and the average outcome should be the best solution. It's not a bad idea because it means that everyone will get a slice of what they wanted but the problem is that no one wants just a slice. Everyone wants their entire cake and to eat it... with cream. So for democracy to work, there needs to be an acceptance that you will rarely get exactly what you want but what you will get is the collective best for the country. That is the kind of maturity that parents try to drill into small children with statements like "You need to share your toys" and so on.

Yeah, it seems that mentality goes flying out of the window with voters. In fact, they actively embrace stupid demands that would only seem reasonable to a toddler. For example, a lot of people seem to think that taxes should be cut, while spending should be increased. Then most of these morons will pretend like they have a full grasp of macro economics, spouting things like "Oh it encourages growth and then we raise more in taxes", without understanding that lower taxes means lower revenue. Therefore, lower spending or higher borrowing is the only solution. Since the former was already a sin of the highest order to most voters, the latter is the choice. This is where the false knowledge of economics is exposed because Government borrowing is just deferred taxes. That is parents applying for a mortgage and the kids paying for it. Terrible money management, truly awful but you know what it is? Good politics because it panders to the generally uneducated crowd that we trust to vote in and empower a select few of us, as our political representatives.

Put simply, voters usually want the unreasonable and unachievable. They want more money in their pockets for the same or less effort. Voters will choose priorities that matter to them as individuals rather than as a nation. Their micro view to the macro nature of Government causes a conflict of purpose that undermines the very effectiveness of what Government is all about, namely running a country.

This problem is compounded by weak politicians. You know what the job description of a politician is? Reapply for your job again in a few years. That job is secured not on how competent you are but on how popular you are. People can tell me that as long as politicians do the right thing, they will vote them back in. Nonsense. If they are popular, they get re-elected. George W Bush got re-elected and does anyone reading this want to argue with me he was the most competent man in the United States for the job of President?  But he was popular at the time. Politicians will tend to find a big group of people, sufficient to get them elected, and then pander to their desires until that group decides not to support you enough.

Here is a thought. What would happen if a politician was brave enough to make those uncomfortable decisions because they were the best choice? They don't exist. You know why? Because they would be unelectable. We wouldn't put them into office because they are the person who tells us to share our toys, that we can't have everything we want and some things will just have to wait. Yet they would be the person who would take decisions that would stabilise our economy, unify our citizens and exalt our nation. The problem is we don't have the politician brave enough or the electorate smart enough to see that day.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

"Cheer Up" - The Mantra of Morons


“Cheer up” is the line of some of the most arrogant and stupid people on Earth. Yes, it is meant as encouragement. Yes, it is meant as sound advice to make your world brighter. Yes, they have good intentions when they say it. And yes, they haven’t thought it through, empathised with your situation or remembered that time when they were feeling down and resented the idiot that said it to them.

A Facebook newsfeed is filled with many updates but one of the most annoying things is the uplifting quote, extracted from a fridge magnet or a quote book found in a hairdressing salon, posted by some chirpy fool who think it is their responsibility to cheer everyone up. Sure, there is nothing wrong with being happy. It is great to be happy. Who wouldn't want to be happy? You know who? The people who have the sense to know that happiness should be based on something, not in spite of things, and they are not happy with how things are. Some will foolishly tell you that happiness is a choice. It is but not in total isolation, where you completely ignore your circumstances. People say you can be happy in any situation but that is utter folly. As the Black Plague swept the nation, I don’t think people thought “Well, things could be worse.” Now I am not saying that people are in a situation that drastic but to tell people that they should “cheer up” is not taking their circumstances into account. It is arrogantly assuming that their situation is not nearly as bad or unjust as it really is. Such short sighted judgement is unfair, no matter how you try to justify it.

By saying this, I am not suggesting that there aren't people out there who are worse off. At my lowest ebb, there are still people in a worse situation than me. People who are dying, starving, alone, afraid and miserable for whatever reason. Happiness should never be based on comparison. Happiness should be based on the merit of an individual’s situation. It is about having a life that rewards you for the effort you put in. If you do a job and get paid a decent wage, you tend to be happy in that job. You feel like your efforts are appreciated and remunerated in a satisfactory manner, leaving you happy about the situation. This is genuine happiness, not enforced happiness.

Forcing yourself to be happy by only looking at the good and disregarding the bad is an act of ignorance. This is why people who tell you to “cheer up” are stupid. They seem to think that you should play stupid to your situation. The reality is that the forefront idea of their action is to snap you out of your sadness but the reality that they are unaware of is it is just a subtle coercion. They will deny it but how would they know? They are happy because they ignore certain details, including any supposed negativity on their part. Ironically, their actions tend to have the opposite effect, demeaning the person to whom they give advice by compounding their misery with an insinuation that they are being pathetic for not liking their situation.

“Cheer up” does not drag the sulker out of their sullen mood. It does not solve the ills and injustices they have faced. It just tells them that they have burdens, that they will have to just live with them and the ideal course of action would be to sweep them under the metaphorical rug. That is no way to clean a house or a soul.

But they absolute worst thing about the “Cheer up” crew is the fact that they are usually the ones who enjoy a privileged and blessed life. Things have tended to go their way. The fed up don’t begrudge them that if it is warranted but to stand on higher ground and then to have the temerity to tell those of us who aren't so lucky to stand up taller is sickening. Don’t patronise us. You got lucky, nothing more. People worked harder than you and got less. Those stupid “cheer up” style quotes tend to come from successful people. Fools think that means that those who maintain this “happy come-what-may” attitude are always successful. It is a lie. It is just we don’t want to hear the quotes of the happy failures. Their opinion undermines the farcical notion that being forcibly happy means a better life.

When someone is down, they don’t need to hear “Cheer up”. They need to hear “ I'm here if you need me”. They don’t need orders, they need support. The sanctimonious tell people what to do, true friends help you with what you want to do.  They are the people who bring about real happiness in this world and they do that by gaining the fallen’s trust, rather than preaching via a social network. Preaching to the masses is merely the act of someone trying to validate their own fallacy. Ministering to the one is the act of he who changes the world for the better and at no point do they say “Cheer up” because they are not stupid or arrogant. They remember what it is like to be on the lower ground and to be talked down to.

So the next time you see someone who is down, whether it be the first time or a career sulker, don’t think that telling them to “cheer up” is sound advice. It isn't  It is just another thing that is keeping them on the lower ground of grumpiness.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Office Is Too Hot


The office I work in gets too hot. This is because the air conditioning is inadequate, the company won’t let us open the windows and with everyone sat so close and PCs everywhere, the temperature steadily rises through the day. This is how my thoughts go on a standard day:-

9am – It’s comfortable.

10am – Starting to get a little stuffy in here.

11am – Walked into the department wing and it felt like I had plunged into a ball pool pit where the balls were clusters of heat. I need a machete to cut through this. It had better cool down soon.

12pm – I am now sweating from all over, even my shins. That’s not normal, surely my shins don’t have sweat glands. The women in the office are asking for the heating to be turned up!

1pm – DAMN! I must be a few degrees from spontaneously combusting here. My clothes are soaked with sweat. Either that or they have melted and become a new layer of skin. Apparently they have turned the air conditioning up, which it seems amounts to a mouse trying to blow cool air on us all.

2pm – Oh my goodness, OH MY GOODNESS! I swear that there must be a river of lava flowing underneath me right now. On the upside, I have stopped sweating. On the downside, my pores are completely blocked with the salt from my sweat, so I am now physically incapable of perspiring. One of the ladies asked for the heating to be turned up, as she is freezing. If I wasn’t so dehydrated, I’d go over there and set her on fire but I can barely stand, never mind walk in a straight line. That and she’d still be too cold. Seriously, do they have ice in their veins?!

3pm – Holy hell! Has all global warming been transferred into this office? I am so warm that I could melt the Arctic in seconds. The heat is so bad that I am starting to hallucinate. I can see Satan, dancing around with his pitchfork. No, wait, it has now got too hot in here even for Beelzebub and he has made a dash for the door. The ladies in the office are still describing the office conditions as Baltic. It’ll be 1634 and the Baltic War all over again if they turn the heating up again!

4pm – Oh my days! I am not sure which but I am either evaporating or dissolving in the several gallons of sweat I released before. I am at the point where I feel I can audition for the Fantastic Four film, either as the Human Torch or Mr Fantastic when he starts to melt! I could down a Vindaloo, in fact, I could inhale a Faal right now and it would cool me down. Come to think of it, I could drink from the Sun right now and feel the cooling effect of the incinerating hydrogen down my gullet!

4:57pm – Paramedics need to be called. Tell them to wear oven gloves and blowtorch masks before coming to get me. I will melt through any stretcher they bring me and the ambulance will explode from the fuel overheating. There are nuclear explosions that are cooler than this! Cart me straight to a cryogenic facility and dip me in the liquid nitrogen until my speech improves beyond the “gargling with sand” sound that is all I can manage right now. Tell my girlfriend and my mother that I love them and I will see them on the other side!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Judging On The Journey

It is easy to condemn a man based on the mistake he has made. It is better to judge him by the journey he took to get to that error. So why don't we do that? Why don't we analyse the decisions, influences and circumstances that drove someone to that mistake? Because if we did, we fear that we would be a part of the path that individual took to get to their sinful situation and chances are, our fears would prove to be justified.

There is a tale I know of where an individual who did something wrong. It was easy to label his actions as unacceptable and indeed they were. He had no excuse for what he did and to be fair, he didn't reach for any. He acknowledged what he had done and went about trying to fix it before asking for justice to be administered to himself. To be honest, when I heard his story, I felt sorry for him. Obviously I am vague about the details to protect him but he was not cowardly about facing the justice that was required. He had no complaints about what happened to him and if anything, he felt he was dealt with lightly. Yet he feels a degree of antagonism towards the ordeal because he feels that there are parties involved who have got away without recrimination, even though their failures contributed to his downfall.

You see, no one just does something wrong. There is this stunted notion that someone chooses a little bad thing and that starts them down this path. It is a convenient concept that distances us from the process. Someone does something bad because something happens to them and gives them just the reason to do the negative thing. Sure, we can sit on our high horse and say "They should be the bigger man" but it is never that simple. You have to ask whether the external factor really had to exist. It could be heartbreak caused by someone being inconsiderate, inaction brought on by ignorance and inconvenience, or even lack of support, gratitude or  respect. Whatever it was, it is rare that those external things were justified or even close to right.

The easy thing to do is condemn the person in the madness of moment but in doing that, we isolate those who we judge in an attempt to distance ourselves from any potential responsibility or involvement. I was once taught that a wise man learns from his mistakes, the wiser man learns from someone else's mistakes. Maybe we would be wiser to see the crime of a man as a chance to assess our own shortcomings. Not only could we eliminate or at least reduce future instances of it but the accused would take solace in the fact that everyone is willing to stand up and be counted.

Someone's degradation and indeed their rehabilitation is not done alone. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a similarly sized cast to drive a man or woman to do something despicable. I don't think we should withdraw the necessary justice that should be meted out on that individual. However, I do believe that we should assess where we fell short. I can't tell you how many times a kind word or a thoughtful act has  stopped me from doing something silly. Whether it was an act of omission or commission, once judgement is passed on the individual, the trial on the markers in his road to ruin should start. It is the least we owe to the sinner of the situation because while he may have failed us, somewhere along the way, we will have inevitably failed him.

One fails, we all fail. We will be a better and braver society when we accept that. That will only happen when we judge a man's mistakes by the emotional journey he took to get there.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

A Dark Comfort

There is an inconvenient truth out there that most people do not wish to speak of. It is because it is filled with dark connotations, the kind that are instantly associated with evil and yet to those who embrace it, the concept is actually justified, in fact, a manifestation of justice itself.

It is the concept that things like anger, revenge and hate are acceptable. A dark comfort to those who have been plunged into misery, pain and betrayal. The majority will not only reject such a notion but condemn it. Yet they are those who forget that sometimes such things are the only thing that keep people going. I know this from personal experience. Not to turn this into an article that is "woe is me" but there have been days that my anger and indeed my hate has driven me to do something. It is a bad motivation, no doubt about that, but it actually yielded better outcomes than times I let those situations overwhelm me to the point of depression and misery.

You see, anger drives someone on. It is an emotion that provokes action and it is always better to act than be acted upon. The former is powerful and the latter is powerless. When someone is made powerless, they are enslaved to the grievous actions of others and their misery is compounded. I believe it is a false notion that just because someone feels down due to another person's actions that they will then actively encourage misery to come their way. What happens is akin to a bullying routine on a school playground, where the victim is seen to take the punishment and it is entertaining, so it is done again and again because it is fun for those who dish it out. It only comes to a stop when the victim fights back. The bullied kid takes a swing at their tormentor and the bullying ends (or at least transfers to another person).

I coined the phrase "People who say revenge doesn't make you feel better are doing it wrong." Let me tell you, it is not a flippant remark. It is a difficult thing to those who have not embraced it. Fools will suggest that such negative actions are what those who afflict us are after but I don't believe that. When someone hurts you, they want you to feel hurt and put in your place. They don't want you to rise up and fight back. Grant them your submission and they are the victors. The balance will not be redressed. They will not suffer. They won't pay. They won't learn. They won't stop.

This is not to advocate an "everyone should have a go" policy when it comes to revenge. It is merely to illustrate when those who have had so much done to them that they feel cornered by the misguided or wicked actions of others, the justification for negative reprisal grows stronger. Not only that, it becomes something that isn't driven by pain but is the only means of comfort, a dark comfort to the wounded soul.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Lies...

Lies, half truths and biting our tongue are the acceptable false façade we are maintaining today. The truth has become a prickly and uncomfortable tool, wielded seemingly only by those who thrive on controversy and confrontation, even though that in itself is a lie. The problem is that the truth has become so actively associated with criticism and condescension that it is regarded as toxic and therefore should be avoided at all costs.

The pretext to this article comes off the back of a conversation I had with a friend of mine. She asked if I thought she had any issues. After assuring her that everyone has issues, that no one is perfect and we all have a chip on our shoulder, she still pressed for an answer from me. She was asking me as a friend. She knows I will be honest with whatever I say or do. She knows I don’t act maliciously unless someone has genuinely hurt or upset me. So I told her that she was aggressive and, at times, highly strung. She kicked off in epic fashion, having a go at me with caps lock on and exclamation marks sent in abundance. Her rhetoric went from belittling to borderline homicidal and I sat there taking a torrent of abuse for answering a question she asked. She clearly had forgotten that fact because she only stopped her despicable diatribe after the fourth time of me typing “YOU ASKED!” The irony of her being aggressive and highly strung towards me wasn’t lost of me but it seemed to have passed her by like a gentle breeze. Even though there were now pages of evidence to substantiate my claims, she took it as an unjustified attack on her. Why? Because like Aaron Sorkin wrote and Jack Nicholson spoke, she “can’t handle the truth!” Very few people can.

We lie all the time. People ask if you are alright and even though you feel like you are dying inside, you say “Yeah I’m fine.” Why? Because no one wants to be labelled a whiner or needy. No one wants to be known as an attention seeker. Or maybe you do it for the same reason as me, namely you don’t believe for one second the person asking actually wants to hear it or could actually help. I rarely speak about my problems to anyone, usually because they can’t solve it and talking about it will only serve to wind me up even more.

We all deceive. If you have the temerity to disagree with someone, they don’t ask for the validity of your opinion but set about trying to convert you to their idea, usually in some kind of manipulative or coercive manner. I have a natural mistrust of people, cultivated by years of experience in seeing humans letting me down spectacularly, not little stuff, major things that really mattered. I expressed this opinion to someone that I did not trust them nor most people in this world (a few select people have my trust). This person shared the opinion that this was sad, that somehow my health, mentally and physically, would suffer and that I should just change my mind. When I explained that I had over 30 years of experience in this field and could give her an encyclopaedic break down of why I have that opinion of the human race, she managed to boil down my opinion and then ridicule it with the simple statement “That’s just silly.”  It isn’t silly, it is perfectly rational and reasoned but knowing that the truth was far too uncomfortable for the bubble-esque reality she has created, I just discontinued the conversation and wondered why I was stupid enough to think people can accept such a reality.

If I am accused of something, I apologise, even though I have done nothing wrong. I’m not alone in this deceitful act of peace keeping. Plenty of others do it. Why? Usually the stubborn mule of a man in front of me won’t back down and the side parties just want an end to the fight. It doesn’t matter what is right or wrong, what is true or false. What matters is that everyone else can get on with their lives and if that means one person lying and taking the hit, that’s what needs to be done. It is the wisdom of Dumbledore where we “have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.” We choose convenience over veracity almost every time. We have said by our actions that it is better to be acceptable than right. We, the generation that should be the most informed, most educated and most progressed, are in reality no more sophisticated that starlings, swarming around in packs, not daring to break away in case some predator leaps on our moment of genuine independence.

So we lie. It is the tongue of cowards, the vocabulary of those who wish to be seen to get along. It is socially stunted lexis of the human race and it will exist forever because while the truth is sacred, everyone else assumes it is scolding too. We were fed lies as children (“Santa is real” / “You face will stick that way” / etc) and they are now the staple diet of everyday lives (“No, you’re bum doesn’t look big” / “I’m fine” / etc). The reality is that lying is just the easier way to live and that is the saddest truth of them all.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

London 2012 - A Memorable Olympics

London 2012. I remember when we won the right to host the Olympic Games as I wandered down from my room, having enjoyed a long lie in. It was electric and the nation rejoiced. Sadly the 7/7 bombings happened a short while later, taking the wind out of our sails and we instantly went into our cynical shells. We all prepared for the worst and with every error highlighted along the way, trepidation was the lingering key word as the Games approached. We were wrong to doubt Lord Coe and his team, who stubbornly refused to let any negativity dampen their enthusiasm and for this they should be commended. Now that the Olympics are done, I think there are things we should look back on and be proud of.
  • The merit of volunteering
I have many rules. Rule no.1: Never volunteer. I cannot think of a more stupid idea because once you volunteer, you are lumbered with a task and the obligation to deliver on it with very little reward. The volunteers at London 2012 defied such a notion. All of them came away from the experience bouncing with energy and enthralled to have said "I was part of it". Their selflessness also shone through those around them. The Games were a better place for them and it just proves that it is better to do something you believe in than something you are paid for. The patriot is always preferable to the conscript.
  • The Armed Forces continue to be the pride of the nation
Yet again, our troops did the job no one else could do and they did it well. There was no trouble at the Games and their presence made the city feel safe but never militarised. If anything, we should show our gratitude by finally making the Military Covenant a law and have it apply to all the Armed Forces.
  • True class
Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir were in the middle of an interview with the BBC. They were buzzing, coming off the track having secured gold, silver and bronze medals respectively in the 200m. This was their moment to shine and gloat and why not? They had earned it. Yet in a moment of true class that still sends a tingle down my spine, these three men went silent and paid their respect as the Kenyan anthem played. David Rudisha was receiving his gold medal for a world record breaking run in the 800m. Rudisha probably doesn't get the plaudits he deserves, partly because he does the slightly less glamorous event and he is also a very humble, quiet man. Still, what he did in that Olympic Final was breathtaking and the Jamaican trio knew it. To see them respect that achievement and Rudisha so highly and to show their respect in such a dignified and powerful manner was a masterclass in how a sportsman should act.
  • One medal can make a difference
Team GB's cyclists and their team should be lavished with praise. They promised medals and they delivered. Along with rowing, they have become the powerhouses of the British Olympic Team. Yet it was only 1992 that Chris Boardman ploughed a lonely furrow to an Olympic Gold Medal. One medal made the sport more appealing to a younger generation and 20 years later, our nation is awash with cycling legends such as Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton and Cavendish. A lesson that every legend stands on the shoulders of a giant.
  • Sport needs a story and characters
The BBC can hail their coverage as a triumph because it drew us all into the Games by not just showing the events but finding the stories within them. Katherine Grainger was a great example of this. I knew her story but I imagine plenty didn't. The world class rower who just couldn't seem to secure that Olympic Gold Medal. The fact that she was Team GB meant we willed her to win but when we all knew what she had been through, we weren't just in the stands shouting for her. We were in the damn boat ready to row for her and the joy was all the greater for being part of the story. Bolt's charisma, Lochte vs Phelps, Ainslie's anger, I could go on but it was things like that which kept us emotionally involved now and what will make us come back for more.
  • Smaller sports need a voice
The Olympics features football, basketball and tennis, something which I oppose. The Olympics should be the pinnacle of any sport that is played in it. However, the BBC, for two weeks, gave a multitude of "smaller" sports a voice and how we would like to hear them again, long before Rio 2016 rolls around. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the archery, rowing, cycling, BMX, volleyball, handball, amateur boxing and badminton. If a premium event was on the TV, I would probably watch it. The BBC has the luxury of consistent funding and should take the risk on these sports to give them a voice. Let's be honest, it would be relatively cheap to buy the coverage of them now and if they do grow, let the commercial broadcasters have them and move on to the next growing sport.

There are plenty more things to take from the Games but one thing we should take is the great feeling we had when we pulled together as one nation. We're not perfect but we are British and if London 2012 taught us anything, it is the truth that we should be proud to be British.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Death of Free Speech

Dearly beloved,

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of free speech.

It was a treasured ideal, one that set us apart from despotism. Now, we have decided that this right should be downgraded to merely a privilege, namely having the freedom of speech provided you agree with the majority, or at least the perceivable majority. Time has taught us that the majority is typically quite quiet, getting on with their everyday lives and usually settle for how the world is rather than how it can be. This free speech idea has been wielded as a weapon by protest groups, Unions, the media, politicians et al. Now it has found unpleasant allies that has invalidated the genuine "human right" status it enjoyed because it is becoming increasingly exclusive.

Free speech started to fall ill when it became acceptable to use hatred, polarising rhetoric and sensationalistic terminology to corner those whose opinions are deemed as unacceptable. In USA, the head of a fast food company called Chick-Fil-A stated that he supported traditional marriage. It is his opinion and one that he is entitled to. He did not promote hatred or harm towards anyone in the gay community, he merely said he agreed with an idea that has existed for thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks were very tolerant of homosexuality but they never had gay marriage. Yet, because the CEO of this company had the temerity to share his opinion (one that he was asked about, not one he just blurted out), protests broke out, social networks started to send waves of aggression. Politicians jumped on the bandwagons to curry favour with voters. Suddenly Chick-Fil-A was labelled as anti-gay, even though it never refused to serve customers based on sexuality or advocate hateful behaviour towards anyone in the gay community. In fact, nothing in the company's conduct could be construed as trying to diminish the life quality of any person, bar clogging arteries and expanding waistlines, a fate that happens to the straight and gay of this world equally. Free speech is the right to say what is on your mind.

Free speech then took a turn for the worse when it was used to promote criminal and hateful activities. Before it was quite a tough task to share words that were specifically designed to harm and harass but now the internet has given a platform such evil. Free speech typically finds its loudest voice on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as was manifested in the Arab Spring, as nation after nation in the Middle East embraced democratic rights. Sadly, we trample over the blood that was spilled and the lives that were lost when we use this right to torment an Olympic athlete for not delivering a medal, using words to take an insidious cheap shot when nations have used them to plead for freedom.

Free speech breathes and lives on uplifting words, informed & informative dialogue, funny statements and reasoned rhetoric. Free speech suffocates and dies under hateful words, divisive & destructive dialogue, cruel statements and polemic rhetoric. We are increasingly choosing the latter. Free speech is not beyond resurrection but I fear that we are more interested in personal agendas and being socially acceptable than supporting righteous agenda that formed an acceptable society.

Freedom comes at a cost but it offers such a great reward. So I am pleading with the world, let's not trade it in for "getting our way" because it is a trade down. It is giving away our most precious right for a cheap victory. That is wrong and I hope the day never comes when I am not free to say that.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Dark Knight Saga


Having watched all three movies in Christopher Nolan's take on Batman, it is time to salute what I personally think is the greatest trilogy of all time. A bold statement, I know. With a multitude of trilogies bouncing around, to apply such a tag to it has to be justified, whether it be completely subjective or not and the argument "because I said so" doesn't cut it.

First of all, I am a big fan of Batman. I find the whole mythology of it fascinating, as it is filled with contradictions and ethical dilemmas on a backdrop of action and adventure. I think Batman is the most accessible of all superheroes because he is not a superhero. He's a rich guy, who trained his body and mind long and hard for the task at hand. By that notion, with the right financing, anyone could be Batman. However, Batman was subjected to some bad storytelling. Let's be straight about this, Batman is a vigilante. The fact that he doesn't kill unless he has to doesn't escape the fact that he is a law breaker, acting out of vengeance caused by the murder of his parents. It is the paradox that when a city is engulfed in crime, they have to turn to a criminal to save them. Not only that but his existence spawned more deadly and destructive characters, whether they were reflections or the antithesis of Batman.

However, Joel Schumacher damaged a franchise by trying to camp up Tim Burton's initial gothic entries. Burton's take was satisfying at the time, with the casting of Michael Keaton proving inspired. However, those movies have not aged well. Schumacher's effort is more akin to a crime against humanity, turning a pitch black tale into a kid’s movie. So when Nolan decided to take on this terminal franchise off the back of high quality but not earth shattering movies, such as Memento and Insomnia, hopes were not high. However, I looked forward to the new take on Batman with much excitement. Things could only get better, I thought. Oh if only I had known how much better...

Batman Begins has become the definitive origin story for comic book heroes. From the first hour, you can tell that this is the story of Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Christian Bale doesn't don the cowl for the best part of an hour. Rather it focuses on his training, his motivation and most importantly, his fear. By taking the time to establish this, Nolan seats us comfortably in the journey Bruce Wayne is going to take. We all know that when the mask and cape go on, sooner or later, Batman will win. It is how it will affect the man underneath that becomes our emotional investment in the story. By pitching him against Ra's Al Ghul, Bruce Wayne symbolically battles the evil he so easily could have become. It was a brilliant film and hope was restored in the franchise, with teasers that the Joker was on his way whetting the appetite of me and millions of other fans.

The Dark Knight was a game changer. Described as the "Heat" of comic book movies, it moved away from the fantastical into a murky reality that makes every minute as disconcerting as it is absorbing. In a career defining performance, Heath Ledger's interpretation of the Joker took the Clown Prince of Crime right to the top of the all time villains list. Sure, Darth Vader could strangle you from a different room but the Joker could exist. An absolute madman who wasn't an idiot but a genius, one who was acutely aware of human nature and the frailties within that nature. That is the truly terrifying part of the performance, just how believable it was. We talk about iconic moments for a character and everyone who watches The Dark Knight will remember "I'm gonna make this pencil disappear."

In a cruel twist for our protagonist, the Joker shows Batman that everyone has a breaking point, using Harvey Dent as his trophy. This is torture for Bruce Wayne, who knows that he has been treading an extremely thin line and the Joker is not interested in knocking Batman off it. He wants to keep him on it for as long as possible for his own amusement and the sustained terror of Gotham City. Typically the middle act of any three part story tends to be the best. It is where conflict, darkness and loss are established and the stakes are raised. The Dark Knight did all of these things and seemingly burdened the final act with an impossibly high standard that people thought would not be reached.

They were wrong. In The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan created a final act that raised the stakes even higher. He drew the themes of the first two films together beautifully, embodied in the main antagonist Bane, who exudes the calm control of a Ra's Al Ghul with the destructive desire of a Joker. In a deliberate move by Nolan, none of the main villains have their origin explained because they are irrelevant. The story is not about them, it is about Bruce Wayne. In his grief over Rachel, mirroring the loss of his parents, he has become a broken man but a desire to help leads into a battle with the only opponent who is physically dominant over him. Whilst the subsequent fights are physically brutal, Bruce Wayne finds that his struggle is symbolical of the path he must take psychologically. He must no longer be the fearless warrior and cut himself loose of the rope of responsibility that keeps him trapped.

All of this is wrapped up in an epic tale that soaks us in a stunning spectacle that never sacrifices the story to do so. The Dark Knight Rises is a revolutionary tale turned on its head, where the oppressors rather than the oppressed rise up and overpower the city. It is elevated to a terrifying scale with Tom Hardy delivering a performance of balanced menace. At all times, you're convinced that Bane is in control, that nothing fazes him and that even bumps in his plan will just be bulldozed over. All of the cast turn in stellar performances, with Michael Caine's Alfred worthy of the top mention as the emotional core of the film, where most of his scenes are heart breaking yet beautifully portrayed. It is a finale that is satisfying and leaves enough ambiguity as to what happens next, so that people will talk about it for years until Warner Bros do something with the franchise.

Quite simply, all three parts are different but brilliant. A definitive beginning, middle and end are offered to the story of Bruce Wayne. None of the parts sag in any way, something that can't be said of most other trilogies. I could easily pick out the problems with all the obvious competitors for the Top Trilogy crown but I won't. Instead, I think we should salute the mastermind behind it all. Christopher Nolan is the greatest storyteller in the film industry right now. He is what Spielberg was, he is the franchise, the name you put at the top of movie poster and people will go to see it. Remember, he also gave us Inception in between making the Dark Knight saga, which is also a mind blowing piece of work. Whatever Nolan makes next, I will be there on opening night to see it. For now though, he should bask in the glow of making the finest trilogy ever. Oscar may not pay him with same reverence, no matter how much it is due, but the movie-going public, the box office and history will testify the monumental storytelling feat Christopher Nolan has pulled off. The Dark Knight has truly risen above all.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Objectivity Hypocrisy

Men are after only one thing or so I am told. It's normally true. I am only ever after one thing from a woman but try as I might, women don't seem all that keen to make me a sandwich. Apparently that is not what they mean though. Men are only after a woman for her body; that is what they actually mean. It is a term to show disdain at the male half of the species and I can understand that. No one should be objectified. People have minds, feelings, hopes, dreams and personalities. It is a view that not only has merit but is completely true and while some girls throw it out as a cheap insult, the objectification of women is a repugnant notion that ladies should not have to endure.

However, recent events have undermined this principled position courtesy of the behaviour of women. When men indulge in the viewing of pornographic material, they are generally met with the disappointment of women, especially if they are in a relationship with that man. It is a fair point since it can be construed as the first steps to cheating or sending a message that he is not satisfied with the relationship. There would be nothing more degrading than being in an emotionally involved relationship than for one party to turn around and admit that they want to just have non-committal intimacy with someone else. No matter how you dress it up as a bit of fantasy or fun, that is a cruel blow to the person who invested their heart into your happiness. This is a crime usually considered to be the domain of men. Well, the tables are turning...

I refer to the recent slew of sexualised fads that are primarily aimed at women and the soaring popularity of them. It started with the Twilight series. While the book series featured no erotic material whatsoever, the false romanticism it encouraged meant that some women would start measuring men up against characters in the book. Some women even took to saying "You need to read Twilight and learn some things from Edward Cullen." It was a flippant remark but every joke has a trace of truth or opinion in it. Why can't a man just be himself? Women would hate it if we did such a thing to them. It is the beginning of a hypocrisy of the objectivity of men, something that is just as insidious as men objectifying women.

It has continued with the massively successful Fifty Shades trilogy of books. For those who don't know, the book is fan fiction from the Twilight series. It focuses heavily on the BDSM relationship of the main characters and I am reliably informed that it is explicit in its detail (no, I haven't read it). Erotic novels have existed for a long time but never before has such a thing become a phenomenon, especially one that promotes the idea of using supposedly controlled violence as part of intimacy. It is dismissed as a bit of fun but the reality is that this is pornography. Just because there are no pictures doesn't justify it. Ironically, it is a novel that probably objectifies women more than men but by embracing it, surely women are lending validity to the idea that it is acceptable to objectify someone.

As this phenomenon sweeps the offices of our nation, it is surely no coincidence that a movie about male strippers comes out. Obviously such a movie is going to be aimed at women who want to see a bit of eye candy, where as the movies aimed at men in 2012 are superhero movies and action films, a number of them portraying women as strong, intelligent characters. This doesn't mean that men are suddenly saints. I have no doubt that too many of them are looking at media that objectifies women but I don't think we should approve of it from either side. My point is that it used to be believed that such objectification in the media was purely aimed at men, sexualising young female stars in the music, TV and film. It is no longer the case. Media markets now actively target women with similar material and they are embracing it openly after condemning men for doing the same thing.

It is not prudish to think that we should more of each other. I remember arguing that a builder wolf whistling at a woman was just him being complimentary about her looks and how on earth could that be construed as a bad thing. The woman in question then put something to me that I never thought about. She said "If he liked what he saw and wanted to know more, he would have come and talked to me. By standing up on the scaffold and leering and whistling at me, he had told me that he had got pretty much what he wanted from me." She's right. The builder didn't care that she had a Masters Degree, loved rock music or that she had an unhealthy addiction to Haribo. His thoughts ranged from "She's hot" to "I would" and no matter how you try to paint it, that is a crude way to think of a human being. No one should be thought of as a poster or a play thing.

This was a boundary that was typically enforced by women but now more and more are abandoning their post. Some will say that men do it, so why can't women? Well, just because one group does it wrong doesn't mean you should jump in. If we all took that attitude, we would live in a far more depraved society, not a more liberated one. So women should not be ashamed to stand their ground and tell men that they should value their minds first. However, they become hypocrites when they think they can demand this of men when they are busy objectifying men also. I don't say this to gain permission for a pernicious practice. I say this because I think we should all strive for an end to objectivity and hypocrisy.

It is time we valued each other for who we are, human beings and not human things.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

One Mistake

"You spend your entire life doing good but if you make one mistake, the world will use that to define you."

A profound quote but this not from some Nobel Peace Prize winner or literary great. This was a line spoken to me by a good friend, who is also a hero of mine. He is a man of integrity who I struggle to think if he has ever done something wrong in his life. Sure he is not perfect but if I look back on my life and it mirrors his, I'd die very happy. It made me wonder what made him say it.

Maybe he saw something in me. My mind was doing a heavy bout of self doubt when he blurted it out because you know who is the best at using indiscretion as a measuring stick? Ourselves. Flagellation, in a metaphorical sense, is such an easy thing to do that I have to believe that, for some people, it is a default position. I'm one of the worst for it. For all my supposed bravura, I am my own worst critic. I have three books published and even when I get good reviews for them, I still wonder if people are just being nice or whether they are actually any good. It is a stupid thing to think that my writing is deficient because all the evidence suggests otherwise. As I write this, my blog has received over 5,000 views from over 20 different countries. If that is not an endorsement that there are plenty of people out there who like what I write, then what is? There are more than enough distractions on the Internet that people do not need to persistently visit my blog to read my thoughts. They clearly do it because they like what is on here and yet I am filled with doubt. Stupid, I know.

However, I know I am not alone in this and it not just an internal thing. We love to pass on this deficiency of self worth on to others by defining them by their mistake. Let me give you a classic example from history. Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States. What do you think of first? Watergate, right? A political scandal like the world have never seen, where power, influence and dirty tricks where exposed as the tools of the White House. "I am not a crook" has become the defining phrase for the man unflatteringly nicknamed 'Tricky Dicky'.

Yet very few people remember that it was Nixon that ended US involvement in Vietnam, opened diplomatic relations with China and improved relations with Russia. This is the man that ended segregation in southern US schools, presided over Apollo 11 and started wars on drugs and cancer. Even reading all those facts, it will not matter. With time, you will join the masses of condemning him for his error. Yes, he abused his power. Yes, he lied. Yes, he was wrong but is it fair to forget all the good he did? Wouldn't it be fair to have a balanced opinion of him? It doesn't matter if we should because we don't have a balanced opinion of ourselves, so why would we extend that privilege to anyone else?

Those who work in offices know how demoralising a performance review can be. Corporations and management dress them up as constructive criticism but the reality is that they are meetings where your mistakes are listed and analysed. Typically your successes are skipped over swiftly. If you take a driving test, they do not care that you drove perfectly for 99% of the time. If you made one major mistake, even if it is your first in all your time driving, you fail the test. It is brutal regime where survival of the fittest is applied to egos and self esteem.

This is the one mistake we as a human race should change. We should stop defining people by just what they do wrong. I am not suggesting we should be naive about this and only see the good in people. Sure, Hitler rebuilt the German economy but that doesn't mean we should forget his ultimate role as leader of the Nazis and genocidal madman. This is not about trying to homogenise the horrors of the world. This is about thinking more about ourselves and subsequently more of others. We would be slower to assume the worst in people and we would be less cynical.

In fact, we'd come to realise just how great we are but then maybe that is what we are afraid of. Lower expectations come with smaller disappointments. Yet we forget as we crawl into our shell that lower expectations didn't end racial segregation, build bridges between enemies or put a man on the Moon. When we stop defining people by the one mistake they make, we tell them it is OK to make a mistake because when you do, an original thought may come along, something that may change a tiny thing or everything, as long we pursue it. Then greatness beckons because there is no greater way to be defined than as someone who conquered the mistakes they made.

The one mistake to be ashamed of is the one you don't overcome.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The YSA Convention


For those who have no clue what a YSA Convention is, this is not for you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I feel it is time to share my insights with regards to this particular institution, since I have some experience in this particular field. I have been involved in the conception, consultation or organisation of five conventions and I am blessed to say that all have been very successful. For years though, I found myself frustrated that those who were in authority would not listen to me regarding these things. I thought of myself as someone whose opinion might be worth listening to, that may have merit. Well, it was ignored for years. I had sat on a series of convention ideas that were pretty much ignored. Fortunately I found extraordinary people in Liverpool to organise one of my ideas, which was a flash mob convention and they made it into something special. However, the concept was far more developed than a mere title and four word synopsis. It is here that I wish to share my opinion that turned into the vision I had regarding these weekends.
  • The primary focus should be improving social networks
Conventions are sometimes promoted as purely spiritual weekends but this is an incorrect view. They should be uplifting and have a strong spiritual element but that is only to supplement and enhance the real reason that people attend these things. The fact is that what you do over the weekend becomes arbitrary if people don't make new friendships and strengthen existing relationships. If you walk away from such a weekend having made new friends, then you feel like it was a good weekend and worth the money. Spiritual weekends should be a weekly experience, namely by attending church. Getting the YSA to pay to attend a church meeting extended over a few days is not only pointless, it is somewhat disrespectful to their respective wards. Everything a convention does should be built around the idea of helping people make and strengthen friendships.
  • Friendships are most effectively created by sharing unique and memorable experiences
A convention should be something people talk about afterwards and it should be something that the attendees can't or don't organise off their own backs. So if it is just two dances and laser quest, newsflash boys and girls, YSA do those things all the time. They will not talk about that for long. It will be forgotten in a weekend. YSA should be creative enough to use a weekend to create a convention that offers something unique. With the flash mob convention, it was very simple. Not a lot of people have been involved in a random dance routine or ad hoc street choir but once they are, it is something those who participated in will share as a spine of their friendship. Now I am not suggesting that every convention should be a flash mob convention. I am saying that each convention should offer something different and people should never be afraid to try something new.
  • Member's homes should not be used as sleeping stations
This is a notion that has carried on since Youth Conventions and it is not acceptable. Youth Conventions need to use member's homes for the protection of the children involved but once the attendees are adults, it is not right for any local member to open their doors to four or five strangers who say they are members of the church. Irrespective of it saving money, even church members can do stupid things and members should not be exposed to this risk.

Ideally, conventions should follow the same format as other conventions. The adults attending it should really take care of their own accommodation or the convention should be offering something. Sleeping at member's homes is a childish notion for the adults attending and overly demanding of the members. By providing more private places to stay, there is also a place for the YSA to get ready for any events through the weekend. Sure, the cost will be higher but it is time that we stopped playing the poverty card. Bishops and Wards can support those YSA who can't afford to attend and Centres for Young Adults can fund raise or pay for concessions.
  • Dances need to be smarter than usual
Dances are done almost every weekend. They generally lack imagination and increasingly they represent the complacency of activity organisation among YSA. So when it comes to a convention weekend, any "dances" should be something more than just a dance and calling it a formal dance does not count. That is just playing the same tunes but making us dress up in suits and dresses. That is utterly pointless and no one will talk about it. Remember, it has to be unique or special.
  • They should be YSA specific
This is more aimed at leaders and organisers of these conventions. Gathering YSA in a large group and then speaking about a topic that they are likely to hear in their own wards defeats the purpose of having them together. Conventions are an opportunity to guide the YSA culture in a righteous direction but it should always be done in an uplifting manner. Take General Conference as an example. The general sessions are usually gentle but plain speaking in their rhetoric. The blunter material is saved for meetings like Priesthood session.

However, they shouldn't stray into the areas that are light in scriptural support. So a Sunday session shouldn't be about dating. However, it should be about things that are relevant to the YSA, whether it be marriage, education or whatever else is relevant at the time. They should be attended by a Seventy or better. These conventions are attended by several hundred of the future leaders of the church in one of the toughest regions for religion. There is no better time to train them and they should be well prepared. Too often I have seen leaders, whether it be in Sunday session, a fireside or a lesson, just wing it. That is not acceptable. It demonstrates that the YSA are not a high priority. After the Youth, they are the highest priority, as they are the future leaders and parents.
  • A national calendar should be agreed in advance
Conventions can be great but you can have too much of a good thing. The problem is when they start to clash or even end up too close to each other. In my personal opinion, there shouldn't be more than 6 in the UK in one year. That equates to one every two months, for those with lousy maths skills. Also, a lot of YSA are students and most Universities tend to have their exams around the same time. Having a convention near to something as important as that sends the wrong message and is a distraction.

As a side note, it might be worthwhile considering a central website to advertise all conventions. It is all very well using posters and Facebook but the church has websites for everything else. A page with various tabs for all the approved conventions for the year would make things a lot easier, rather than the individual committees feel like they are carrying the burden of promoting their convention alone.

  • AOB
An item any Executive Secretary dreads... any other business. So I'll make this quick.

Conventions should be well documented and easy to share on social networks. Everything we do can turn into an opportunity to bring the name of the church out of obscurity. So there should be photos and videos a plenty from these weekends.

A database of YSA skills would be useful. This could also be kept on a YSA convention website.

For those who don't know, Sacrament should not be done at a conference. It doesn't happen at Stake or General Conference, so don't sulk because it is not done at YSA Conferences either.

Sneaking into Conferences or helping someone to do it should be subject to church discipline. If you steal tithing money, you will be in severe trouble. I'm not suggesting it is the same level of sin but it is still stealing from the church. Turning a blind eye to it or shrugging it off breeds a bad attitude that will only get worse down the road.

Age limits should be observed. People will say that there should be a few days leeway but they are wrong. God doesn't say "Oh you're 7 years and 363 days old, that's close enough, go ahead and get baptised." If you're under 18 or over 31 on the first day of the convention, you should not be attending it, unless you are helping the running of it in some way (a first aider, for example).

YSA's behaviour during the convention is their problem and not the responsibility of the organisers of the convention. If a YSA acts irresponsibly or dresses immodestly, it should be on their peers to correct them, not the organisers. YSA who are unwilling to act and try to delegate it to leaders are just being cowardly.
  • Conclusion
In conclusion, I gave a lot of years to these things. I can honestly say that they didn't give much back. In my time, I endured slanderous accusations, unfair criticisms and I even received three death wishes/threats. The people who take the time and effort to organise these things should always be appreciated. Sure, you don't have to like what they do and you are allowed to not like their ideas but if that is the case, show some respect and share those feelings with them privately and diplomatically. If your reasoning is sound and your rhetoric is genuine, they won't take offence, provided it is with the intent of improving things and not your moaning because the weekend wasn't all you thought it would be. I could praise and criticise individual conventions here if I wanted to but that would achieve nothing but offend the organisers.

Conventions should be uplifting and improve social networks. I believe The Genesis Project, held in Liverpool in 2012 was an example of how conventions should be done. Sure, no convention is perfect but it was unique, memorable and creative. That is what all conventions should aspire to and when they do, they won't just change weekends, they will change lives by giving everyone the key to a strong friendship; a shared experience instead of a distraction.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Pets - What's The Point?

Most households have a pet.  Whether it be a dog, cat, goldfish or even a python, it is some kind of creature that the owners have an affinity for and that is something I find baffling.  Seriously, what is the point of having pets?

People tell me it is something to love but I see only a burden or, at best, a burger that will never happen.  I have had pets in my home.  Cats and hamsters mainly, with a brief appearance from a Tamagotchi, if that counts.  I didn't love the hamsters.  I certainly didn't love the cats.  Both were irritations, either craving attention or they felt the urge to disturb me at inconvenient times.  The hamsters showed no affection and just wondered why they were going nowhere on that wheel!  The cat was just a suck up when he wanted feeding but beyond that, he was in his own little world, seeking out the best place to sleep.  Pets demand your time and attention yet they give you very little, in fact nothing in return!

Then there is the financial implication.  Pets cost and a lot more than people realise.  You have to feed them, clean them, give them a place to sleep and then take care of their medical bills.  That is like raising a child, except there is no prospect of them looking after you when you're old.  At least with a child, you have a biological involvement in that creature's existence and it was thoroughly enjoyable creating them.  Sure, it may be hell after that but you got something out of it and they may help with the bills at some point.  Dogs will not pay the bills unless they win a national talent show, which is increasingly likely since 2012.

Some people have a dog and say "It's an excuse to go for a walk every day."  Yes, well done, you lack the willpower sufficient to go for a walk on a daily basis, so you bring in a pointless biological being to your home.  Chances are at some point that animal will defecate somewhere in your home and it won't be the toilet.  One of my cats decided to leave a little present outside my bedroom door on a regular basis.  It was always brown but a different shape, from the "Mr Whippy" to the "Splattergun".  Then he would sometimes leave a dead bird on the doorstep, half eaten, like a psychotic teenager had done a bad dissection in Science class.  I am informed that he was leaving me a present.  Yeah, that is the kind of present Vito Corleone would leave someone!

So pets take your time, your money, your space and fill your home with hair, poo, urine and mud dragged in from outside.  Your involvement in their lives was picking them up at a shop or a shelter because you felt something for them that cannot be quantified.  This you do for no reason beyond either you thought it was cute, probably driven by the nostalgia of having one as a kid when nothing needed to make sense, or you have a child that is bullying you into buying one.  In return, you get... nothing.  At best, as long as you don't give your pet the gonad chop, the one plus is that there is a member of the household that can sell their children legally.  Something that everyone does.  The dog has a load of puppies, you don't think of them as part of the family.  Nope, you give them away and even try to sell them.  Oh how you love animals, you hypocrites.

Pets are pointless.  Sure, you may be one of those who thinks they are something to love but find someone who can genuinely reciprocate it, rather than a creature that just hassles you for food, sleep and attention.  And before any woman chips in, that is not all a man wants!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Baby Blue Eyes

This is my niece.

She is one of my favourite people in the whole world.  Do you know why?  Just look at her.  Sweet, adorable, innocent and she always has a smile for her Uncle Joel.  She is a chubby little baby but it only adds to how cute she is.  She always kicks her legs and claps her hands.  She also has this cheeky smirk she puts on her face when she has filled her nappy.  She wobbles her head from side to side like she is dancing.  I could go on and on about all the things that I love about this little girl.

Yet there is one thing I want to talk about.  Her baby blue eyes.  Just look at them.  At first, you will see a pair of pretty eyes but I see a child that looks upon the world, upon all people including myself without judgement.  She looks at me with those big eyes and sees no frailty, no flaws in this big guy who is talking like a slurred baby at her.  She grins, she laughs, she claps and is happy as can be.  Any mistake I've made, she has already forgiven it because she doesn't cling on to silly notions like hurt or resentment.  Any shortcoming I have doesn't matter to her because she has more important things to worry about, like eating, sleeping or badgering her parents.  She looks on me and sees just another person who loves her and that is enough for her.  So she loves me back.  That is what I see behind those baby blue eyes.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Alphabet Challenge - M for Mmmmm

As issued by Miss Jennifer Edwards.  See how she did with the goal of N for Nasty or Nice on her blog.

Things that make me go mmmmm... the common sound of enjoyment, contentment and delight.
  • Smells
Bacon cooking; freshly cut grass; the sweet smell of success or victory; Jean-Paul Gaultier aftershave; my own brand of fart; the first scent I enjoy after being ill or having a cold.
  • Touch
Silk; a hug; holding her hand; my Dad's hands on my head when he gives me a Priesthood blessing; a kiss; the way someone checks how a shoe fits; a massage; a warm towel; a cold pillow.
  • Sight
The smile on my niece's face; Man Utd winning a trophy; a mind-blowing movie; a sunrise or a sunset; the way cities and towns light up the landscape during the night; her smile; my brothers when they respectively got married.

  • Taste
Fish & chips with curry sauce; cola cubes; fruit juice right after a hard game of football; a tub of Hagen Daas ice cream that has my name on it.

  • Sound
Silence; a favourite song; "I'm sorry"; "I forgive you"; "I love you"; "It will be ok".

And then finally, inner peace.  It is a sensation that isn't restricted to any sense.  Indeed it is a spiritual thing.  Although I include it tentatively because I can't say it is something that makes me go mmmmm because I can't say I've ever experienced it properly.  The fleeting moments I have enjoyed have either been driven away by my own stupidity or torn away from me by the actions of others.  But I hope it comes my way, one day.  Preferably soon.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Price of Happiness

Nothing in this life is free.  Everything comes with a price attached, no matter how small.  Whether it comes through a financial transaction or the expense of time or effort, you have to do or give something to get something.  There are no exceptions.  If you want oxygen in your lungs, it means you need to move some muscles.  If you want some food, you have to pay with money.  If you want a six pack, you’ve got to get to the gym on a regular basis.  Whatever it is that you want, if you want it bad enough, then you have to pay the price.

However, in many of the idealistic things of this world, most people do not want to pay the price.  I have become aware of this recently.  There are plenty of things I would like but I am not willing to pay the price involved.  I’d like a wife and family but I am no longer willing to pay the premium expected.  That would be risking my heart, time, money and emotions on another human being, an amount I have fronted countless times now.  It is not so much a commodity to be purchased but a long shot investment to be gambled on. 
That is half the problem with the price, the lack of guarantee behind it.  If I go into McDonalds, I can offer an agreed amount of cash and I will get a Big Mac meal in exchange.  It will look roughly like the picture and the taste will be pretty consistent with my previous experiences.  To find a lifelong partner involves taking a chance that it will explode in your face and the price is not consistent.  Some have to offer very little or take the risk a few times.  But for my annoyingly good memory, I would have lost count of the number of times I’ve tried.

So I explained to a friend of mine that I was no longer willing to keep making such a stake.  You can only get burned so many times before you get fearful of the fire.  He told me that happiness is only found in constantly trying to progress, constantly pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.  He insisted that it was in this that happiness is found.  That is the price of joy; pushing through the misery and strife in the hope that there is something better on the other side.  Then when we get to the other side, that joy or happiness anchors in that what we sought after.  This was his view on what the price and prize of bliss.

I used to subscribe to that idea.  I no longer do.  Happiness is not something which can be obtained.  More it is a choice or an acceptance of what we have.  A recognition that we are lucky to have what we have and anything more than this is a bonus.  The price of happiness is simply a choice.  Whilst it is always nice to hope for something better, to incessantly chase after it, insisting that you won’t be happy until you get it is nonsensical to me.  It is a coercive notion, trying to state happiness can be codified, when it is one of the least quantifiable emotions experienced by mankind.  Sure, things could be better but then they could be worse. 

If you are not happy with the ways things are, you will change them.  It may take time and tremendous sacrifice but you will do it.  If not, wallowing in misery is like picking up the value products at a supermarket when you can afford the products that taste good.  You have only brought it on yourself and have to be content with what you have.  If you feel undesirable, sorry but the uncomfortable truth or price is to lose the weight, dress nicer and get whatever work needs doing, done.  If you feel lonely, you need to do the uncomfortable thing and find new friends.  Join a club, go out or catch up with old friends.  Sitting in a cave is going to achieve nothing but it is an action that comes with an end product.  If you action is to submit to social fear, then your prize is isolation.  That is agreed transaction and no freebie escape is coming your way.  The world owes you nothing because nothing is free.  Not even freedom.

If you’re unhappy with what you have, the choice is simple.  Change it or deal with it.  Happiness may be a pursuit, it may be a choice but one thing is certain.  It comes with a price attached, whether it is the persistence of a hopeful soul or the contentment of calculated choice.  The only thing you need to decide on is which brand you want to buy.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Alphabet Challenge - K for Karaoke

Jennifer Edwards, on her blogging quest (found here) has given me a topic of K for Karaoke.  This should be interesting...

Karaoke, which comes from the Japanese term for empty orchestra, has brought us a form of entertainment that is primarily designed to make toes curl.  It is one of the most cringe-worthy nights out or even night in available.  Someone suggests it and if you're uninformed, a moron, believe you have a good singing voice or actually do have a good singing voice, it sounds a great idea.  Anyone else with common sense, turns down the idea and makes other plans.  Literally anything.  I mean watching cheese going mouldy is an option that appears above karaoke on the list of things to do.

I could give you a break down on the history of karaoke but frankly, that is what Wikipedia is there for, provided it isn't busy protesting against some ill-thought out legislation or Jimmy Wales isn't still begging for cash.  What has made what was a terrible activity even worse is the hyper-commercialisation of it into reality TV competitions.  So now, we get a pernicious pair of groups.

The first is that lot who sing but just kill the song.  They see karaokes as their moment of glory and fame.  Sure, it is just with a few of her female friends, warming up for their wild hen night out, on the PS3 and endorsed by a few shots of Sambuca and someone filming it on their phone.  Trust me, that video is never going to be X Factor's sponsor video before the adverts.  It will be up on Facebook, in the hope that it will reach half a billion people and they will review it with visceral zeal.  I hasten to add, they probably need such abuse to get the hint that they can't sing.

Don't believe me?  Ask Rebecca Black.  She was a thirteen year old kid who made a music video.  It was just a bit of fun for her but in a short time, her music video had gone viral beyond anyone's imagination.  Her singing wasn't great, in fact it was auto-tuned to death but even that couldn't hide the hideous lyrics.  Yet, despite her just having a laugh, the abuse she received was unrelenting.  This is the other vile group that comes out of the evil of karaoke.  We all seem to think we are Simon Cowell.  We are wrong.  Cowell has risen to the top of the music industry, whether you like it or not.  His opinion counts.  Yours does not.  If I'm ill, a doctor's opinion counts.  At no point will I ask you to chip on your assessment of my symptoms and MRI scan.  We seem to think that the phrase "everyone is entitled to their opinion" also means that every opinion is valid.  It isn't and if anything, a lot of people should probably learn to bite their tongue.

Karaoke makes vocal chords strain, ears bleed, narcissism rises and cruel criticism multiply.  When I rise to power, I will ban it forever, in an instant.  I certainly won't be making a song and dance about it!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Alphabet Challenge - I for Irresponsible

The challenge continues.  Check out how Miss Jennifer Edwards does with the toughest J subject you could possibly think of here.

As for my I, the notion of being irresponsible brings out the hypocrite in me.  I would gladly spout about how people should be mature and responsible but I am a master of being irresponsible.  It is the self destructive streak in me that means any argument I have is completely undermined.  However, I am hugely irresponsible, so I won't let such things hold me back.

The key to being irresponsible is knowing when it is ok to use and perversely, that requires a level of maturity that a lot of people seem to lack.  Embracing your inner child for a moment of genuine stupidity/comedy can be worthwhile and uplifting (except for the person who is being the spanner).  At the time, you point and laugh about it.  In fact, on night's out, you relive the moment, much to the amusement of those who witnessed it.  These are, unless you have a fragile ego, the ideal times to be irresponsible.

The rest of the time, it is not a good idea to embrace immaturity, randomness, hyperactivity or irresponsibility.  On all these other occasions, the line "But it's fun" is used as the stock excuse for such stupidity.  Somehow, people who have had at least 11 years formal education, if not more, who start to think that it is ok to act like a prat and cause me or other people to have a less pleasant moment in our lives, they fall into the same bracket as fascists, chavs, fans of Dirty Dancing and Gail Platt from Coronation Street.  They just shouldn't exist!

The fact is that people forget that irresponsibility tends to appear as rewarding.  It may be but only in the short term.  You may have a laugh but then you will spend a night paying for it, as I powerbomb you through a table. The bankers were irresponsible with money and we were irresponsible in how we borrowed and managed it.  We all benefited in the short term but we are all paying for it in the long term.  If you eat fast food every day, that is irresponsible.  It will taste good now but the hospital food will taste foul, especially after a triple bypass operation to keep you alive!

Don't be irresponsible.  Let someone else do it and stay out of the way.  Then point, laugh, mock, retain in your memory, talk about it on Facebook and relive it countless times.  That is the best way to embrace irresponsibility.  By proxy, not by being a prat!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Feedback

Feedback is the polite title given to information that tells you how wrong you are.  No matter if it is intended to make you a better person, it is a negatively motivated thing.  You're wrong and that person is going to tell you.  Even better, it tends to be horrendously subjective and usually has no real substance behind it.  It is pure perception, unaccompanied by a genuine understanding of any context.  It is the acceptable face to acrimonious rhetoric that just antagonises and rarely improves the person being subjected to it.

Allow me to explain with a practical example.  I applied for a job, which I was never going to get but I had my reasons.  A lady from the HR Department called me up and told me that she just wanted to give me some feedback on my CV.  Fair enough, I thought.  My bad!  She went on to say "I don't think you sold yourself very well on this CV."  OK I thought, as long as she can qualify that, then I might benefit from this.  "What did I miss?" I asked her.  A long pause was followed by the line "I just don't think you sold yourself very well."  I suddenly realised I should have applied to work in the HR Department because apparently an abundance of intelligence isn't required for the task.  I asked the exact same question again to get the unquantified explanation for a third time.  It was at this point I decided to kill off the conversation, as I could feel my brain digging an escape tunnel out of my skull, rather than continue to endure this lady's well-intentioned but moronic insights, that were anything but insightful.

Now, she could have just said "We've decided to not progress you to an interview due to stronger candidates" which is what was the reality.  Instead, I felt angry towards her.  She basically said "I looked at this piece of paper you sent me and I didn't think much of you.  I am just phoning you to tell you that but I can't come up with a way that you could improve."  If you are going to cut someone down, tell them how to rebuild to a better specification.

Also, unless the person asks for feedback, be willing to have it rejected out of hand if your opinion lacks merit. Case in point, I posted a blog slating five girls that had screwed me over.  I didn't name names but no doubt, if the five in question read my blog, they would have spotted themselves but no one else would know who I was referring to.  Some anonymous reader posted comments criticising me for the article but in that sanctimonious "feedback" tone.  They naively think that people are bulletproof from the hurtful actions of those they used to care about.

Amazingly, if I was unaffected by the actions of these girls, I'd get feedback that I was cold, that I lost them because I didn't really care about them.  The fact that I actually am hurt is now a crime.  I need to be the bigger man.  No, I don't.  I did nothing wrong in the first place.  Why should I have to be the one who goes the extra mile?  The extent of the feedback argument was that my life would be better.  Yeah, I thought that after girl one.  And girl two.  And girls three, four and five.  I have evidence, the "feedbacker" has... nothing.  Yet I get the feeling from the on-your-high-horse indignation from this person, that reason, logic and evidence are silly little things that should be ignored over fridge magnet quote wisdom.  You pleb!

But the worst kind of feedback is the non-feedback.  I mean where they give you feedback that tells you that you are second best but for no reason whatsoever.  No criticism, no correction and no clue.  Like the classic one for me, when a girl decides to go off with another guy instead of me, I ask "what did I lack?"  It is an honest question because I'd like to know what to work on.  I don't particularly want to be alone forever.  What do they say? "Oh nothing, you're a great guy, just the way you are."  What?! Seriously?!  So why did you break it off?  Oh that is it, you found better and I can't do better.  Yeah, people who give this kind of feedback are as inconsiderate as they are idiotic.

The reality is that most people know their weaknesses and if they don't, they are only ready to have those weaknesses exposed when they ask.  It is like they have dipped their toe in the hot bath of correction and are now looking to ease themselves in.  If you want to give someone feedback, wait until they are ready to receive it.  Don't be the HR lady that just dumps it on people without qualifying what you say.  Don't be the anonymous commenter who shuns evidence over a line she read in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  And don't, most of all, give feedback that offers no hope of improvement whatsoever.  If you do, I've got some feedback for you.  Pipe down!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Alphabet Challenge - G for Growing Up

So we move to the letter G on Miss Edwards, Jen-erally Awesome blog challenge.  Ever remember what it was like to be a kid?  I do.  All I wanted to be was grown up because being a kid sucked.  Being a kid meant being in at a certain time, you couldn't do 101 things, basically you had no freedom.  Suddenly you grow up and you find that you have bills to pay, work hours are much longer than school hours and school bullies have turned into company management.  Growing up just makes you more aware of the world around you.

Think about it.  You get up in the morning to go work in a place you don't like, for someone who doesn't appreciate you and that readily tells you that you're rubbish, or if it is to praise you, it is accompanied by a "you best keep it up."  You watch the clock, waiting for the moment to go home and as soon as the clock ticks to it, BOOM, there is a human shaped hole in the wall, as you exit like a Looney Tunes character.  That description could apply to school or work.  But then you start to grow up and puberty kicks in.  If you want to know my opinion on puberty and teenage years, check out the "Puberty: The Guantanamo Bay of Life" chapter in my first book, The Sparks Opinion.

Being grown up doesn't make things easier.  Girls are still scary to talk to.  In fact, they are even worse to talk to.  When you were a kid, you didn't talk to them because they were weird or gross or stoooopid.  Now, they actually look pretty to you and you want their attention and affection.  The worst thing is, they know this and exploit it.  Needless to say, the pendulum has swung all the way over from the days when boys would ritualistically humiliate the girls.  Now is the time of their revenge!

Yet something odd happens to girls when they grow up.  Even though they become more beautiful with growing up, they feel less pretty.  You see it today.  Young girls are dressing more and more like they are 21 already.  Yet, as soon as they get to 21, they see 21 reasons why they aren't pretty, rather than being comfortable in the skin they're in.  And the pretty ones say something even worse.  They ask the moronic question "Can't guys and girls just be friends?"  When I hear a girl say this, I want to plant a nuclear-tipped Tomahawk missile into their face.  Don't be so stupid as to think that attraction and admiration is a curse.  It is not something you control.  Don't be so inconsiderate to those who would kill to have such advances made towards them!

When you grow up, you don't become more mature.  You're idiocy has to be given a different name.  Now, you're being wild, random, spontaneous.  No, you're being a childish prat.  Just because it is being sponsored by WKD, Sambuca, a lack of sleep or an overdose of Haribo, I don't care.  Stop it.

When you grow up, you're meant to realise that you get what you earn.  Yet people still sit and sulk, thinking the world owes them something.  Instead of stamping their feet at their parents, they walk the streets of the capital, moaning about politicians.  Grown ups make their own fate.  If they don't like their situation, they find a way to overcome it.  If the tantrums of Twitter and sorrowing of statuses on Facebook are anything to go by, the grown up state of the nation is very, very low.

Growing up is about taking responsibility for yourself, to act in a manner that reflects a degree of experience and wisdom, to NOT be childish.  The problem is that we spent our childhood wanting to be grown up that when we got there, we realised it wasn't all it is cracked up to be.  Now we foolishly try to claw our way back to our youth.  It is futile as it is foolish.  So stop being childish and grow up!