For the little gods’ sake…

(Spoiler alert: This post contains commentary on “Small gods” by Terry Pratchett and as such gives away vital plot details.)

Cover of "Small Gods (Discworld)"
Cover of Small Gods (Discworld)

I often use the phrase “For the little gods’ sake…” as an expression of frustration. I got the expression from the Diskworld novel “Small gods” by Terry Pratchett. The premise of the story is that everything has a god or goddess,  and there is even a Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers, Anoia. These deities are constantly jostling for prominence and for followers, because followers equate with influence and without influence a god will fade away into a sort of background of powerless whispering.

Drawer pulls
Drawer pulls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anoia is lucky in this respect as much of her influence comes from the annoyance that people feel when they open a drawer and it gets stuck. She doesn’t have to rely on believers. In the stories minor deities who do not have enough followers are served by priests of more major deities on an agency basis.

Although Anoia’s cause if peripherally helped by the events in the book, the book’s main theme is another small god, who is in desperate straits as he has only one follower and is accidentally incarnated as a tortoise. He regains his deity by persuading an eagle to drop him on the head of the villain of the story, thereby killing both himself and the baddie.

Tortoise 05
Tortoise 05 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

Pratchett is obviously drawing on the story of Aeschylus’ death as a result of a tortoise being dropped on his head. The interesting thing is the theology that Pratchett weaves around the incident where everything has a god or goddess and there is a hierarchy of gods who continually jostle for position.

PANTHEON (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A huge pantheon seems, well, wasteful. One single Deity seems more logical, as gods are supposed to be all-powerful, all-seeing, etc. One way out of this dilemma is to see each member of the pantheon as being mere aspects or manifestations of the one Deity. Many religions seem to make this compromise.

English: The Maya rain deity
English: The Maya rain deity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A god is supposedly a non-physical being, and supernatural. A deity is supposed to be able to subvert the laws of nature and cause unexplainable things to happen. Most if not all deities are thought of by believers as anthropomorphic manifestations – in other words, like people.

हिन्दी: Nature
हिन्दी: Nature (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, a non-physical being presumably cannot have physical attributes, like people, so it seems to me to be wrong to believe that a deity is in any way like a person. One consequence of ascribing attributes to deities is to make them fallible as people are fallible. One only has to look at descriptions of the supposed behaviours of  the Greek, Roman or Norse mythologies to see the consequences of your deities having human characteristics.

Captioned as "Balder und Nanna". The...
Captioned as “Balder und Nanna”. The god Baldr and his wife Nanna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gods are powerful beings and in most cultures power equates to ambition and ambition leads to conflict. Goddesses, if the religion has them, are generally idealisation of the status of women in the society, the mothers, the sisters, the daughters, the wives and generally the peace makers and the artists.

The head of an Egyptian goddess. The gender is...
The head of an Egyptian goddess. The gender is suggested by the lack of a beard, and the simple hairstyle points to the divine status of the subject. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The pantheon of many religions are an unruly bunch with cheating, back-stabbing, sex, killing and many other unsavoury pursuits, but these are stories made up by us humans about the deities. These behaviours are mirrors of our own best and worst characteristics, but on a heroic scale.

Obviously the stories come from the minds of the adherents to the religion, but where do they get the stories, how do these legends arise? They arise as a result of humans attributing human characteristics to their deities, and then wondering what they would do with these characteristics. The legend makers will see the goings on of the rich and famous and will see their deities behaving the same ways but writ larger than life. Others then pass these stories on as facts.

Illustration from a collection of myths.
Illustration from a collection of myths. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deities are supernatural entities and have the ability to transcend the laws of nature. While many examples exist of unlikely, improbable and apparently impossible things happening, in the majority of cases it appears that there are physical explanations of these events. For a deity to perform a genuine miracle, then, the miracle should be without possible explanations.

English: Ruins of Santa Maria del Miracle Chur...
English: Ruins of Santa Maria del Miracle Church inside the Roman amphitheatre of Tarragona, Spain Français : Ruines de l’église Santa Maria del Miracle (Sainte Marie du Miracle) à l’intérieur de l’amphithéâtre romain de Tarragone, Espagne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Roman Catholic faith has a church body which is concerned with verification of miracles called the “Congregation for the Causes of Saints.” They take miracles very seriously. Most modern miracles it seems are cures of illnesses, and documentary evidence of the state of health of the beneficiary of a miracle, both before and after the event are required.

English: Roman Catholic church, Târgovişte, Ro...
English: Roman Catholic church, Târgovişte, Romania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am uncomfortable with the concept of miracles as it is hard to see how a non-physical cause can cause a physical event. I’m not even sure that “a non-physical cause” makes sense. All causes are physical, aren’t they? An effect without a physical cause would not then make sense.

All physical effects seem to have a physical cause, even if the statement is softened to an assertion that the state of the Universe now is caused by the state of the Universe before and the tendencies or laws of nature.

Laws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concept of a miracle changes this to something like “the state of the Universe now is caused by the state of the Universe before and the tendencies or laws of nature, or something else, outside of the framework of the physical Universe and the laws of nature”.

This pretty much means that anything can happen, but we don’t see this in practise. The Universe follows the laws of nature, be they classical or be they quantum physical.

Quantum-atom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a deity cannot have physical attributes, because a deity is not a physical entity, then what attribute can a deity have? Certainly a deity would not have a gender as that is a property of physical biological entities, such a animals and plants. I’ve said above that I don’t think that there can logically be more than one deity, but singularity or plurality seem to be physical properties (but numbers may not be).

If we work back from the definition above, a deity is “something else, outside the framework if the physical Universe that allows things to happen that are not the result of the laws of nature operating on the Universe”. I think that’s a round about way of saying that we don’t know what a deity would be like if there is such a thing.

English: Basic physical properties of soil Čes...
English: Basic physical properties of soil Česky: Základní fyzikální vlastnosti zeminy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politics, the art of the Possible

English: Eva Perón (1919-1952) Español: Eva Pe...
English: Eva Perón (1919-1952) Español: Eva Perón (1919-1952) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The title quotation is from Otto von Bismark and previously attributed to R A Butler. It also features in the hit musical Evita, where the generals play a sedate games of musical chairs. At one stage Juan Perón is left without a chair, but one of the junior generals gives up his seat when Perón stares him down.

There are many forms of politics, and in my opinion, political systems work best when they are simple. Some systems which are simple in concept (such as democracy) are often implemented in a complicated fashion which arguably fails the test of providing the results implied or entailed in the objectives of the system.

The Houses of Parliament are situated within t...
The Houses of Parliament are situated within the Palace of Westminster, in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All systems provide some of the objectives that they are set up to provide and in that cases they pass the much weaker “Bismark test” of providing what it is possible for them to provide.

Politics is all about interactions between individuals and the system. The smallest possible political system is three people, I’d say, where there are a number of ways that they can interact. Each individual may act alone in interactions between the three or two may pair up in interactions with the third, or they may interact in a cooperative way. My mathematical tendencies see another options – they may choose to not interact at all, but in real situations that’s unlikely.

Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh.
Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In political systems one or more people may become or make themselves leaders. In a group of three or even a pairing one person may always take the lead in things or leadership may be exercised by different individuals depending on the situation.

Most leaders will like leading, and may take steps to maintain their leadership, to the point of discouraging or even disposing of rivals for the task. Of course, there are generally some trapping of leadership, prestige, often respect, money, property, sometimes fancy dress and so on, but many leaders are likely to believe that at least in part, that they are the best people to lead.

Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiave...
Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The much maligned Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli is usually invoked when someone wants to describe an unscrupulous politician, but Machievelli’s book, the Prince, is a set of pragmatic options for retaining power. Machievelli argues that public and private morality are different, and as such a leader may do things which he might personally consider immoral to maintain his position.

In Machievelli’s day, it may be been accepted that torture and assassination were appropriate behaviour for a leader. Is the situation that different today, though? While physical torture and actual assassination no longer have a place in politics, political leaders may well use such tools in non-physical ways to rid themselves of unwanted opponents and would be future leaders.

Second round of the French presidential electi...
Second round of the French presidential election of 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In democracies political parties tend to align themselves along a left-right spectrum as if politics has suddenly become one dimensional. This leads to a polarisation of political groups into left or right. So we see right wing adherents attacking left wing opponents in a modern day version of political assassination, while intra-group interactions may be characterised as “back stabbing”. Has politics really changed from Machievelli’s day?

Our voting system is called Mixed Member Proportional representation. It’s a superficially simple system, where people have an electoral vote and a party vote. Since the party vote determine the mix of MPs in Parliament, it is more important than the electorate vote in most cases.

The prescribed voting form for mixed-member pr...
The prescribed voting form for mixed-member proportional representation general elections in New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had one of the exceptions in our electorate. The local MP represents a small party and because the party is a small one, its party vote was tiny, both in the electorate and the party.

One effect of the proportional part of the system is that the various parties construct lists of candidates who don’t have to stand in an electorate. This essentially means that parties can put people on their lists who could run in an electorate, either because they are not popular, or because the party wants to run another person in a seat.

English: Voting booth
English: Voting booth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously this “simple” system is not that simple in practise. As an example we had the bizarre case where an electorate candidate was urging voters to vote for another candidate! This was to insure that a third candidate did not win. The electorate candidate was also high on the party list, so enters Parliament anyway. (He would not have done so had the party vote fallen dramatically).

I hope that shows how a supposedly simple voting system can lead to complexities. As always parties and candidates (and voters for that matter) act pragmatically in their own best interests. Senior politicians of all shades tend to migrate to the safest options, and the newcomers are given the more risky options. A politician (and the public) can judge his standing in the party by where he ends up.

Image of a list of the major political parties...
Image of a list of the major political parties in Canada. The date is October 14th! Canadians, go vote! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politics being “the art of the possible”, minor parties try to work the system. If they are left leaning they will usually try to engineer an alliance with the major left wing party, preferably before the election, but often after the event. The opposite applies to the minor right wing parties.

Minor parties may indicate which policies of their they are willing to forgo for this “marriage of convenience”. Even if they can’t get the major parties to agree before the election they can try to convince the public that the major party will agree after the election.

English: Flag of Asom Gana Parishad, a politic...
English: Flag of Asom Gana Parishad, a political party in Assam, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A minor party may strongly deny that they will ally with a major party before the election while forming an alliance with them after the election. This generally doesn’t harm the long prospects of party it seems!

Politics is indeed the “art of the possible”. Political expediency is the rule of thumb. To succeed in politics one must be prepared to compromise. A politician has to decide, when dealing with other parties and the public what his line in the sand comprises, which policies are essential to him, and which policies can be sacrificed or deferred. It surprises me that people do not appear to understand this issue, as it is exactly what happens when people deal with other people in non-political life.

English: Flag of Concert of Parties for Democr...
English: Flag of Concert of Parties for Democracy (Concertación), a Chilean political coalition founded in 1989. Español: Bandera de la Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, una coalición política chilena fundada en 1989. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A equals B

Weather icon: temperature equal
Weather icon: temperature equal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The whole universe is full of inequality. No two galaxies are exactly alike, no two planets are exactly alike, no two grains of sand are exactly alike, no two atoms of silicon are exactly alike. Wait a minute, is that last one correct?

Well, in one sense each atom of silicon is alike. Every silicon atom has 14 protons in its nucleus, and, usually, 14 neutrons. However it could have one or two neutrons extra if it is a stable atom, or even more if it is a radioactive atom. Alternatively it could have less neutrons and again it would be radioactive.

Monocrystalline silicon ingot grown by the Czo...
Monocrystalline silicon ingot grown by the Czochralski process (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So two silicon atoms with the same number of neutrons in the nucleus are “equal” right? Well, of course a single atom by itself is seldom if ever found in nature, and two isolated similar atoms are very unlikely. But suppose.

An atom of silicon is said to have electron shells with 14 electrons in them. Without going into unnecessary details these electrons can be in a base (lowest) state or in an excited state. With multiple excitation levels and multiple electrons the probability of two isolated atoms of silicon with all electrons in the same excitation state is extremely low.

Atom Structure
Atom Structure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In practise of course, you would not find isolated atoms of silicon at all. You would find masses of silicon atoms, perhaps in a random conformation, or maybe in organised rows and columns. One of the tricks of semi-conductors is that the silicon atoms are organised into an array, with an occasional atom of another element interspersed.

Atoms according cubical atom model
Atoms according cubical atom model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This has the effect of either providing an extra electron or one fewer in parts of the array. Under certain conditions this allows the silicon atoms and the doping element to pass the extra electron, or the lack of an electron (known as a hole) along the array in an organised manner, a phenomenon known in the macroscopic world as an electric current.

English: Drawing of a 4 He + -ion, with labell...
English: Drawing of a 4 He + -ion, with labelled electron hole. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, while two atoms of silicon may in some theoretical physical and chemical sense be equal, in practice, they will be in different states, in different situations. What can be said about two silicon atoms is that fit an ideal pattern of a silicon atom, in that the nucleus of the atom has 14 protons. Some of the properties and states of the two atoms will be different.

At the very least the two atoms will be in different locations, moving with different velocities and with different amounts of energy. They can never be “equal as such. The best that you could probably say is that two atoms of the same isotope of silicon have the same number of neutrons and protons in their nuclei.

Periodic table with elements colored according...
Periodic table with elements colored according to the half-life of their most stable isotope. Stable elements. Radioactive elements with half-lives of over four million years. Half-lives between 800 and 34,000 years. Half-lives between 1 day and 103 years. Half-lives ranging between a minute and 1 day. Half-lives less than a minute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we talk about numbers we stray into the field of mathematics, and in maths “equal” has several shades of meaning. When we say that one integer equals another integer we are essentially saying that they are the same thing. So 2 + 1 = 3 is a bit more than a simple equality and in fact that expression can be referred to as an identity.

Algebraic proofs are all about changing the left hand side of an expression or the right hand side of the expression or both and still retaining that identity between the two sides.

Mnemosyne with a mathematical formula.
Mnemosyne with a mathematical formula. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the real world we use mathematics to calculate things, such a velocities, masses, energy levels, in fact anything that can be calculated. Issues arise because we cannot measure real distances and times with absolute accuracy. We measure the length of something and we know that the length that we measure is not the same as the actual length of the object that we are measuring.

Lengths are conceptually not represented by integers but by ‘real numbers’. Real numbers are represented by two strings of digits separated by a period or full stop. Both strings can be infinite in length though the both strings are usually represented as being finite in length.

1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California. Home o...
1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California. Home of Apple Inc. and one of Silicon Valley’s best known streets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we measure a distance with a ruler or tape measure, the real distance will usually fall between two marks on the ruler or measure. So we can say that the length is, say, between 1.13 and 1.14 units of measurement. If use a micrometer we might squeeze and extra couple of decimal places, and say that the length is between 1.1324 and 1.1325. With a laser measuring tool we can estimate the length more accurately still.

You can see what is happening, I hope. The more accurately we measure a distance, the more decimal places we need. To measure something with absolute accuracy we would need an infinite number of decimal places. So when we say that the distance from A to B equals 1.345 miles, we are not being exact, but are approximating to the level of accuracy that we need. Hence A is not really equal to B.

Aurora during a geomagnetic storm that was mos...
Aurora during a geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun on 24 May 2010. Taken from the ISS. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A particularly interesting case of A not being equal to B is in the mathematical case where one is trying to determine the roots of an equation. There are various method of doing this and there is a class of methods which can be designated as iterative.

One first makes a guess as to the correct value, puts that into the equation which generates a new value which is, if the iterative method chosen is appropriate, closer to the correct value. This process is repeated getting ever closer to the correct answer.

Plot of x^3 - 2x + 2, including tangent lines ...
Plot of x^3 – 2x + 2, including tangent lines at x = 0 and x = 1. Illustrates why Newton’s method doesn’t always converge for this function. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course this process never finishes, so we specify some rule to terminate the process, possibly some number of decimal places, at which to stop. More technically this is called a limit.

To prove convergence, in other words to prove that the process will generate the root if the process is taken to infinity, has proved mathematically difficult. I’m not going to attempt the proof here, but after several attempts from the time of Isaac Newton, this was achieved last century, with the introduction of the concept of limits.

English: A comparison of gradient descent (gre...
English: A comparison of gradient descent (green) and Newton’s method (red) for minimizing a function (with small step sizes). Newton’s method uses curvature information to take a more direct route. Polski: Porównanie metody najszybszego spadku(linia zielona) z metodą Newtona (linia czerwona). Na rysunku widać linie poszukiwań minimum dla zadanej funkcji celu. Metoda Newtona używa informacji o krzywiźnie w celu zoptymalizowania ścieżki poszukiwań. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One can then say, roughly, that the end result of an infinite sequence of steps in a process (A) is equal to a required value (B), even though the result no particular step is actually equal to B. You have to creep up on it, as it were.

I’ll briefly mention equality in computer programs and social equality/inequality, if only to say that I might come back to those topics some time.

English: Income inequality in the United State...
English: Income inequality in the United States, 1979-2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Father’s Day


Photo taken by me as an example of a stay at h...
Photo taken by me as an example of a stay at home dad and kids. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I’m going to try writing this post from my Android tablet. It should be interesting!)

Father’s Day is a day of celebration of fatherhood, obviously! It’s of recent origin Wikipedia tells me, introduced in the early 1900s to complement Mother’s Day.

Mother's Day cake
Mother’s Day cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an aside, I looked up Mother’s Day and found that I was wrong in thinking that it was related to Mothering Sunday (a Christian holiday celebrating women and originally the Mother Church) or to the Christian rite of the Churching of Women (which was a blessing of those who had given birth).

c. 1470
c. 1470 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact Mother’s Day was introduced also in the early 1900s to celebrate mothers independently of the religious events that I mentioned.

Both events, while they initially included church links and sermons were quickly secularised and even commercialised.

English: Mother's Day card
English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In particular, commercial suppliers of items which were associated with fathers, such as smoking pipe retailers and tobacconists, jumped on the bandwagon.

(From this point I am going to revert to using the PC. While using the tablet is possible, it is not as easy as doing it on the PC. One big loss on the tablet is the word count, so I can’t see how I’m going!)

English: I took this picture myself.
English: I took this picture myself. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also, greeting card companies joined in in a big way. Special Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day) cards are created and snapped up by eager consumers. There are TV and press adverts not to mention and even adverts on the latest communication channels, web sites including Twitter and Facebook.

While many may abhor this “crass commercialisation” of Father’s Day (along with the “crass commercialisation” of Valentines Day, Christmas Day, Easter, and so on and on), having a special day for fathers does serve to direct the attention of offspring, who may be thousands of kilometres away, to their father and their unique bond with him.

English: James M Masters as a baby in his fath...
English: James M Masters as a baby in his father’s arms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be that the child doesn’t particularly want to remember the father, perhaps because an unhappy relationship between them, but in most cases I’d expect that the children enjoy strengthening the bonds with their father.

These days, with the decline of smoking as a pastime the commercialisation of the day is mostly, it seems, related to DIY. Power tools seem to be a favourite suggestion, and other “blokey” things like barbecues and car tools and parts. None of these would have much appeal to me!

Drill2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Secularisation of holidays (the word means “holy days” after all) goes hand in hand with commercialisation. About the only Christian holiday that I can think of which has been secularised but not commercialised is the Whit Monday holiday. This is not now celebrated in the UK, having been replaced by Spring Bank Holiday.

English: Return Whit-Monday Excursion from Wes...
English: Return Whit-Monday Excursion from Weston-super-Mare at Bristol Temple Meads, with unusual locomotive View southward from No. 9 Up platform, towards Weston-super-Mare and Taunton: ex-GW London and the North – Taunton – Exeter etc. main lines. The train is at No. 7 Up platform and is probably bound for South Wales as it is – unusually – headed by a Churchward ‘4200’ 2-8-0T, No. 4283 (built 6/20). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course commercialisation of holy days and religion matters is not new. The Bible tells of Jesus throwing the money changers and suppliers of animals for sacrifice out of the temple. Parents with small children at Christmas or Easter are likely to see his point.

While there may be an element of cynicism in commercially creating a Father’s Day to balance the idea of Mother’s Day, it appears that both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day originated at about the same time. It also appears that while the Church did not originate either celebration, it gladly assisted in the celebrations.

Jesus casting out the money changers from the ...
Jesus casting out the money changers from the Temple by Giotto, 14th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commercial Father’s day cards come in two main styles. They are the humorous style and the mawkish. Often a card will combine both styles. Very few Father’s Day cards could be classified as sincere, in my opinion.

This is different from the Mother’s Day cards, which often fall into the mawkish or humorous classifications, but a significant number can, in my opinion, be considered sincere.

Silly string in action
Silly string in action (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, let me expand on that a little. I think that because a child is more likely to say “I love you” to his or her mother and have his or her mother respond with a hug and kisses, while a father would tend not to be as demonstrative in response to such a declaration. I don’t mean that fathers would not reciprocate, as most would, I believe. They just would not do it as enthusiastically as the mother would.

US Navy 030506-N-0685W-004 Aviation Anti-Subma...
US Navy 030506-N-0685W-004 Aviation Anti-Submarine Warfare Specialist 1st Class Ron Hoefer, from Alfa, Okla., holds his son in his arms for the first time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So Father’s Day cards tend to be a little more sheepish, have fewer roses and other flowers on them. They tend to the uplifting rather than the overtly affectionate. One example I have in front of me says “You taught me how to believe in myself. You showed me how to be the best person that I could be”.

Mother’s day cards, on the other tend to have slogans like “Beautiful, gentle, understanding, forgiving, my mother’s love“. However, it is only a tendency, as you will discover if you go through the 15 quotes in that link.

English: A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek.
English: A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can probably be expected that there are also special days for siblings, parents, grand-parents and so on. These haven’t really caught on like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, fortunately. There is a Children’s Day, but that has a slightly different focus to the others, in that it is directed at children in general, and child poverty in particular, and not directed at children in the family.

That’s possibly because children in the family are celebrated at Christmas and to a lesser extent at Easter. At least from the secular point of view Christmas is mainly about the kids. OK, the parents get to have a holiday and eat and drink more than they should, but the kids’ excitement over presents and the whole Father Christmas thing drives the celebrations.

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...
English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, when Father’s Day rolls around, you could probably guess from the above that I am somewhat of a sceptic about it. Although it is a tradition, it is a very young one, and much of the impetus in supporting it comes from commercial interests. That doesn’t stop me enjoying the Father’s Day cards and gifts from my children, and even a slightly off the mark gift from my granddaughter!

Louise's Father's Day Stone
Louise’s Father’s Day Stone

Related articles



Politics is a funny game.

Photo of the "Beehive", Parliament B...
Photo of the “Beehive”, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand. The flags are at half-mast to mark the death of en:Pope John Paul II on 2 April 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A very funny game. You go into it as a winner, and unless you die or quit while on top, you go out as a loser. Very often a politician will resign or declare that he/she won’t stand when it is pretty likely that he/she will not achieve re-election. If he/she should rise to become leader of the party, then he/she has the additional responsibility of winning or losing an election.

If the party fails to win, it is relatively rare that leader lasts long as leader, as there are always aspiring leaders waiting in the wings. Very often the loss of an election triggers a reshuffle that sees the leader and his closest associates losing control of the party. If the leader survives the reshuffle, he/she may fill the role of “elder statesman”.

A political map of the world with each nation ...
A political map of the world with each nation coloured to signify which side of the political spectrum each nations ruling party is of. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politics in New Zealand is going through a time of turmoil. With an election scheduled for next month the ruling party has come under intense pressure from a political commentator who has acquired some emails between high level members of the party and a blogger aligned with the party.


English: Groucho Marx & anonymous blogging
English: Groucho Marx & anonymous blogging (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This issue has already caused the resignation of a minister of the ruling party, but in my opinion, this close to the election this doesn’t mean a huge amount. It does dent the aspirations of the minister in question. (A minister is the person responsible for a Ministry, which might correspond to a Department in some political systems. It’s a large self-contained portion of the public or civil service).

English: John Key, leader of the New Zealand N...
English: John Key, leader of the New Zealand National Party Македонски: Џон Ки, лидер на Новозеландската национална партија. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In previous elections, the communication between the politicians and the public was through the “media”, newspapers, TV and so on. In this election, bloggers have come to the fore, and the standards, either imposed from outside or adopted within the media business, no longer apply. Although there have always been some underhand dealings, since some media reporters will be aligned with one party rather than the other, it appears as the result of the rise of blogging as a political force, that skullduggery will be paramount in this election.

Skullduggery (board game)
Skullduggery (board game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Briefly, a left wing commentator has received copies of email communications between high level members of the government and a right wing blogger. The left wing commentator has added two and two and got…. well, let’s say four and a half. He’s written it up into a book, which has sold, as I understand it, pretty well for a self-published book.

Brunswick is a stronghold of left-wing politic...
Brunswick is a stronghold of left-wing politics; this building’s architecture is typical of the suburb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve got part way through the book and what has amazed me, more than the actual information contained in the emails, is the tone of the communications. To say that they were vicious in their attacks on the opposition would be an understatement. This is shocking in communications between ministers of the Crown and a supposedly independent blogger.

Also the book states that the usual time scales for the supply of information to interested parties, media or public, were altered for the right wing blogger. In other words not only was he pre-warned that he should request information from the ministry, but the supply of information to him was, apparently, expedited again by the ministry so that he got it first.


English: Former Conservative Club
English: Former Conservative Club (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the shenanigans surrounding the content of the emails, it is evident that the emails were obtained by hacking. This is stated by the mainstream media without qualification as if that explains everything, but really, it doesn’t. So far as I know, it has not been reported how the hacking was done. It may not even have been hacking in the technical sense – some “mole” may have simply forwarded the emails.

English: Andy
English: Andy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the emails were obtained by hacking, this raises an ethical dilemma for the political commentator in question. Hacking is illegal and the emails can be considered to have been “stolen”, although it is difficult to see how electronic information can be stolen, since it is not comprised of physical things, and the original owner still has his own copy of the emails.

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However that is merely a matter of definition and the concept of stealing appears to morphing to include such illegal access to information. The usage has been around for a long, long time as evidenced by the concept of the theft of someone’s ideas and the concept of “intellectual property”.

English: Supporters of opposition party candid...
English: Supporters of opposition party candidate Kumba Ialá run beside his motorcade as he enters Guinea-Bissau’s capital on the final day of campaigning, 26 Jun 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, the political commentator has in his possession stolen information. He looks at it and discovers that it can be used as evidence that the right wing blogger and others have been organising attacks on the opposition political party, and sometimes on unfavoured members of the right wing party. Should he use this stolen information to inflict damage on the right wing party or is it more ethical to ignore it? He chose to use it.

There is also a section where the right wing blogger and his associates appear to have engineering a coup in a minor political party, an ally of the right wing.

English: New Zealand National Party Cabinet mi...
English: New Zealand National Party Cabinet minister Judith Collins, at the National War Memorial – Wellington – 15 Sep 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More damaging than any other are the revelations that senior members of the ruling right wing party have been involved in and even encouraged these activities.

As I said above, the left wing political commentator now has a dilemma. If he publishes, then he is making public emails that the right wing blogger will have wanted to keep secret for obvious reasons. Among the information about the political goings on was personal information and correspondence of the right wing blogger. This he kept secret.

An Eagle bone whistle, a sacred instrument use...
An Eagle bone whistle, a sacred instrument used in the ceremonial practices of many Native American religions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a place for whistle-blowers in society, to alert the wider population of misconduct and illegal activities carried out by people or organisations, but such whistle-blowers are usually insiders, people who work for the organisation, rather than outsiders, who infiltrate or otherwise spy on organisations or people.

English: This image was taken at the Europa Le...
English: This image was taken at the Europa Lecture 2008, University of Aukland, and is owned by the European Union Centres Network. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The political commentator has to decide whether he should publish the damaging content of the emails or should he just destroy the copy that he has been sent? If he doesn’t publish then the right wing blogger and his associates can continue to perform their allegedly dubious activities. On the other hand, if the political commentator publishes the contents of the emails, it could be argued that he is behaving unethically.

The Whale-oil Factory on Jan Mayen Island.
The Whale-oil Factory on Jan Mayen Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It comes down to the conscience of the political commentator. Evidently he has decided that it is in the public interest that the contents of the email be brought into the open and that this outweighs the ethical considerations of receiving the stolen emails. He has decided to publish his book for the public good, and has chosen to publish shortly before the election for maximum impact.

The Kiwiblog Kiwi
The Kiwiblog Kiwi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Opponents of his point out that by publishing before the election he is not only bringing the mess to light, but he is also assisting the the left wing parties, not to mention making money on the book. It’s worth considering whether these opponents would behave any differently if the situation were reversed.

English: New Zealand Parliament Buildings, Wel...
English: New Zealand Parliament Buildings, Wellington, NZ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Sorry for the excursion into our local politics. Normal service should be resumed next week!]