Writing and Arrogance


Have you ever written a word and wondered if you spelled it right? You say to yourself, “That word looks weird!” But the spellchecker doesn’t underline the word. It must be right, mustn’t it? I typed “arrogance” above and it looked wrong, but it is right.

Anyway, that is an aside. As I’m taking a break from the GIMP and Blender, I decided to do some writing. I had an idea in mind, but when I started to write, another story decided it wanted to be written. I mean this seriously, though, obviously stories can’t actually decide anything. It just feels like that.

I had vaguely thought of submitting the story, when I had finished it, in a competition, but it got longer and longer and by the time I had tied up all the loose ends, it had exceeded the competition limit. Rats!

So, I took a copy of the story and set about shrinking it. That’s not too hard, in practise, but it does change the story. I got it down below the limit, but then I had doubts about whether or not it was good enough in the shrunken version. Or for that matter the full version.

Reducing the Size
Reducing the Size

So I asked my daughter.  I didn’t show her about the story, but I asked her questions like “How would you react if this happened….” At the end she said something which shocked me. She said something like “It has to be really different from <a TV series>, otherwise it is not worth writing.”

My story did have similarities to the TV series. Was it different enough to make it interesting? It’s a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears, to write a story. Now it appeared that, not only do I have to ask myself, “Is it good enough?”, but I also have to ask myself, “Is it too similar to anything else?” Ouch!

OK, I took that on board and I’ve parked the abbreviated version for a while, and I’m working on the slightly longer version. I’ll see if I can polish the shorter version until it glows like a pearl later maybe.

This is Weka
This is a Weka. He came up in a search for “short” and “long” for some reason.

So, around the time that I was revising the shorter version, I came across several web pages which categorised adverbs as bad. If a famous writer like Stephen King thinks that adverbs are bad, then they must be bad, right? Well, I invite you to go on a search for articles about adverbs and writing, and while they mostly stop short of demonising adverbs, the consensus is that it is best, and usually more descriptive, if you don’t use them.

OK, I’m convinced. Mostly. So I had a look at my stories and replaced or removed as many adverbs as I could find. That added a few dozen words to each version, so I still had work to do to get the short version down to the limit. Oh well.

This is where the arrogance comes in. (The word still looks weird!) I’ve never read any articles or tutorials on how to write stories. I always just sit down and write. I don’t have even so much as a skeleton of a plan, and indeed, my stories often end up in places that I hadn’t even thought about when I started. I have generally been thinking about the story for some time before I start. I usually have a character or characters in mind and one or two scenes (for want of a better word).

Wooden Dragon
Dragon without her rider

Maybe the lead character sits on her dinosaur at the top of the mountain pass and contemplates the view before she descends to the peace conference. Or the big battle. She and I will find out which it is as she follows her friends and comrades down into the valley.

So, I searched out a few articles on how to write a story. I’d expected them to all insist on a plan or a synopsis. A character list, a world for them to interact in, and a reason for them to interact. Days, weeks, maybe months before I would get to write a word.

Of course some do suggest that sort of thing, and sometimes they even suggest using spreadsheets! For the record, I’ve tried that, even before I read the articles, before I’d written much at all. It seemed logical. Get the ducks in a row and you can knock them off one by one.

It might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. As my story grew, it deviated from my plan, and I didn’t go back and change it. Change it? I didn’t even look at it. But it did give me a start.

People on a Beach
People on a beach. (The logos imply that they are probably filming turtles)

OK, the Prince didn’t rescue the Princess from a dragon. No, the Prince rescued his Prince from a forced marriage to the Princess, who was pleased because she was über-friendly with the strapping female leader of the Guard. Only the Princess’ parents were miffed.

I might use this seed of a story sometime. But it started with the idea of someone rescuing someone from something, and I was already vaguely dissatisfied with standard boy saves girl and they fall in love thing. That’s just the Hero Syndrome. Boring. The above scenario still uses the syndrome, but it does give it a bit of a twist.

But anyway, he said, returning to the point, I discovered that the articles on how to write a story were full of useful advice, including in some cases, suggesting the avoidance of adverbs. Who knew? Well not me obviously.

Problem or Puzzle

The articles were full of good advice, techniques for pressing on when you are stuck, which is something that doesn’t happen to me. Many of them emphasise the trio of people, problem, and place.

What I mean by that is that almost every story needs characters. Oh, of course they needn’t be human. Almost every story needs a reason for the characters to interact, and they to have somewhere to interact.

Take the film “Lost in Space“. The ‘people’ were the Robinson family, together with the Robot and Doctor Zachary Smith. The ‘problem’ was that, because of Smith’s actions they had crash landed on an alien planet and couldn’t make it home. The ‘place’ was obviously the alien planet. Consideration of these three components no doubt helped the writers of the series. I’ll bear that in mind in future.

I’m going to read more of these “How to Write” web pages, to see what I can glean. It was arrogant of me to think that they had nothing to offer me. If I come across something that seems to me to be extra useful, I may write about later.

Alien landscape
Alien landscape

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. Just search for my name, Cliff Pratt. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

Supply Chain

When I go into the supermarket, I see foods from all over the world. I’m not talking about the items in the so-called International section, but even the stuff on the other shelves. I just picked up the nearest supermarket purchased item that came to hand. Batteries. They are packed locally, but are manufactured in China. When I say locally, I mean almost 500 kilometres away.

Much of the fruit and veges that I purchase come from overseas. Bananas and pineapples don’t grow here and are imported from various countries. If I want to buy a t-shirt it will almost certainly originate in Asia somewhere. I just looked at the t-shirt that I’m wearing at the moment, and yup, while it has a designed featuring a local attraction it is manufactured and printed in China.

All our electronic gear come from Asia, our clothes from Asia and plastic ware like laundry baskets also originates overseas.

This is not unique to this country though. It’s much the same in any other country. This country produces dairy products, meat and meat products, fruit and wine which are exported to other countries. The world is full of goods being shipped from one place to another, and sometimes a product will go to more than one location on its journey from where it is produced to the supermarket that it ends up in.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but one can envisage that milk taken from a cow is turned into milk powder here, sent elsewhere to be turned into mozzarella cheese, which is then sent to a pizza manufacturer, who sends the finished pizza to an pizza outlet where it is cooked and then sent out to satisfy the appetites of people somewhere else yet again.

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There’s a term for this. It is “supply chain”. Actually it’s more like a supply network as, if we consider the pizza case, the pizza is made up of multiple ingredients all of which pass through several stages. Even the box that contains the pizza may have a complex history before the pizza is dropped into it and it is sent off.

It’s also possibly that the box may be made of recycled material. Cardboard collected at a recycling station may be pulped, processed and made into pizza boxes. Some of the collected cardboard may be old pizza boxes.

Generally, though, the components or ingredients of a consumer item, like a cell phone or a pizza with extra pepperoni start out by being harvested or dug out of the ground. If you want to cut out the supply chain, you could grow your own, but then you need to source the seeds, you need to buy in compost, unless you make it yourself from vegetables that you’ve sourced somewhere else, which come from goodness knows where, and you need to feed the plants with chemicals which have all come from somewhere else, and most likely have been processed in various ways.

So what would happen if the supply chain broke? People in the cities, who have no other way to acquire things except through the supply network would quickly starve, and would likely flee the city for the countryside, where things would be much better, and where they could settle down and grow things, right?

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Except that most useful productive land in most countries has already been taken for farms, and the fleeing city folk would be forced onto marginal land and would starve, or they would be forced to steal from the farmers who are already there, or maybe they would beg for food from the farmers or work for them for food. Or they would fight to displace the farmers from their lands. In any case a flood of refugees from the city would likely be a trigger for conflict.

Actually the farmers would not be that much better off than the city folks. Most farms these days are more like little factories feeding into the supply chain and would concentrate on one or two crops. A beef farmer would have a surplus of beef, a potatoes farmer would have nothing but potatoes, and so on.

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So, it is likely that even farmers would have severe problems if the supply network broke. Even if the farmer could trade most of his produce with other farmers so that he did not have to subsist purely on potatoes, he would have great difficulty in producing more crops after the first one. He’d quickly run out of fertiliser and without insecticides he would probably loose a lot of his crops.

The problems would be even worse if his land was deficient in some critical mineral. Many farmers these days have to add traces of minerals to their land, either to help grow bigger produce or to add the trace elements that the crops need to even grow.

Of course, not everyone would starve. Some non-city dwellers would eventually, after a period of realignment, be able to feed themselves. But many, many city dwellers would die, and a significant number of non-city dwellers would also die before an new balance is found. All trade would be local, probably barter based, as the city dwellers are the ones who keep the banking systems going, and they would be dead.

I haven’t yet considered what sort of catastrophe could disrupt the global supply network. If the oil ran out, and couldn’t be replaced by some other source of energy, that would do it. Local power could be generated using solar energy or water power, but the ships that ship goods from one place to another run on oil. That means that we would not be able to source solar cells in sufficient number.

If someone started a global nuclear war, then that could cause significant disruption and throw many countries back on their own resources, especially those who are more isolated than most. Similarly, if a super volcano were to erupt anywhere in the world, and as a result the world would become shrouded in clouds of dust for years on end, killing all food crops, then there would be no food to be shipped, even if the ships were to keep on working. And without food crops animals would starve, and so would we.


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Rehabilitation. Let’s start from that word and see where it takes us. The definition that most appeals to me is the restoration of someone to a useful place in society”. I was surprised that most definitions appear to emphasise the restoration of appearance or status, which is not quite the same thing.

To physically restore something, it must have gone wrong or been damaged. Rehabilitation of a person similarly means that they have gone wrong or been damaged. By “gone wrong”, we probably mean that they have committed a crime and they may have been damaged by their environment.

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There is an argument that a tendency to commit crimes may be have some genetic component and thus you have families where several generations have committed crimes. However, while there probably is a genetic component it is difficulty to distinguish between genetic reasons and a environmental reasons for a person committing a crime. In most cases of course, both causes may be in effect. It’s the ancient nature versus nurture debate, of course.

It’s possible that a solution to the genetic predisposition to commit crime might be found and a future criminal may be offered a choice – take this pill or go to jail. At the very least, it may be possible to spot potential criminals when they are very young, and use environmental means to combat their innate tendency to crime.

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Any genetic tendency to crime may arise from something missing in a person. One obvious lack would be lack of empathy. If a person is empathetic, they can put themselves in the other person’s shoes so to speak and can imagine what it feels like to be robbed or raped or even murdered. I’ve simplified a bit there, but it will do.

On the other hand, if you live in an environment where violence is common, and lying and cheating is commonplace, then you are likely to come to think that such behaviour is normal. You literally wouldn’t be able to conceive of an environment where violence never happens or is very rare.

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Society promotes the view that crime should be punished and that retribution in the form of punishment is to be expected if a crime has been committed. Punishment often takes the form of locking the criminal up with other criminals away from their home environment.

Without anything else happening, this seems like a singularly ineffective strategy. It does remove the criminal from society, but forces the criminal to associate with others who have similar antisocial defects. They learn off each other, not to be better people, but to better at whatever criminal activity that they have indulged in.

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When the criminal is released, he or she is sent back to the very environment that may have been a large factor in causing him or her to become a criminal in the first place. The result is that he or she may go back to behaving as he or she did before, and indeed may introduce new antisocial behaviours that he or she has learnt in prison.

Another aspect of punishment of any sort is that it is supposed to deter others from similar actions. This assumes that the others in question have the empathy to understand the effect that punishment has on someone and the effect that this punishment would have on them.

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How would we rehabilitate someone, if we had to resources to do so? Most such attempts appear to involve teaching the criminal a trade, so that when they get out of prison, they can take up a useful trade and not have the desire to commit any more crimes.

There’s a couple of problems with this, and one is what I’ve already mentioned above – they are going back into the same environment that had probably been a factor in their committing the crime that got them sent to prison in the first place. And they have more skills which could be used in criminal pursuits.

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Of course being taught a trade in prison works for some people, or so I believe. These people would be those on the borderline environments where there is some criminal activity, but not much, and prison is seen as a deterrent and not as an occupational hazard. Nevertheless, they still face huge barriers, not the least of which is getting a job when they have a criminal record.

So it’s not surprising that rehabilitation, as it happens today, doesn’t seem to be effective, and that is because it doesn’t address the causes, genetic and environmental that cause people to commit crimes.

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I suspect that any genetic tendency to commit crimes would be next to impossible to remedy. If the genes which cause a tendency to antisocial behaviour were to be identified, then the next question is what to do about it. Until and if it is possible to medically change the expression of these genes in utero or after birth, it would become an ethical dilemma. Just how far should society go in ensuring that crime is not committed. Should society prevent the full expression of a human being’s abilities and tendencies, even if they are criminal.

Society could somehow prevent people who carry such genes from reproducing, or at least stop then from producing offspring with those genes, but again that merely makes the issue an ethical one. Such meddling is usually labelled “eugenics” and generally frowned upon.

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Various science fiction novels present arguments both for and against it. The major argument against eugenics as a way of reducing crimes is that the preconceptions and biases of individuals and societies make their choices suspect.

The environmental issues may be easier address. It is often thought that crime and poverty are linked, and that removing poverty may reduce crime. This is plausible, but while someone who is poor might be pushed over the line and commit a crime, there is no doubt that there is a great deal of crime committed by people who are not usually considered to be facing poverty.

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So called white collar crime can be committed on all scales from defrauding individuals to crimes committed by people in huge corporations. While poverty related crime affects a few people, white collar crimes can be perpetrated on millions of people, and by people who have never had direct contact with their victims.

So, it seems to me that society is not really addressing rehabilitation. We concentrate on punishment, which is a deterrent, but once a person commits a crime, no real attempt to rehabilitate them happens. For it do so, society may have to change dramatically, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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Today is the last day of 2017. I will probably stay up tonight to “see in” 2018, but I’m not about to follow other traditions, such “first footing“. It’s all superstition anyway.

I think it’s interesting and a little illogical that we celebrate arbitrary dates throughout the year, such as midsummer’s day or May Day, though I understand that the origins of these celebrations. When the Church ruled (in at least the part of the world that I come from) and when times were uncertain and you could be fine one minute and dead of the plague the next, superstition comes naturally.

I can understand the joy that a winter solstice or other celebrations at that time of can bring. We are, at those times, at the lowest point of the year, and things can only go up from there. Strangely the low point of the year in the Northern Hemisphere comes at the top of the calendar. Who arranged that?

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There are no equivalent large celebrations around the time of the summer solstice, at least in the places in the Northern Hemisphere that I have lived. In the middle of the summer, winter is so far away, and I guess that we don’t want to celebrate it. In the Southern Hemisphere the summer solstice occurs round about the time of Christmas and New Year. In either hemisphere we celebrate the summer solstice by getting out in the sun more.

In the spring, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are some celebrations of May Day, around the time of the Vernal Equinox. At that time of year, we are leaving the darkness of winter and the short days for the longer sunny days of summer, and that is probably worth a celebration. May Day actually falls closer to the middle of the climactic spring than the equinox does.

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Of course any spring festival coincides with the increased fertility of the soil, plants and growing and animals are mating, spring plantings are complete, humans also respond to this. Some spring festivals acknowledge this time of the quickening of the blood in various ways, and sometimes the establishment, notably the Church, tries to suppress or at least put the reins on some of the excesses.

Autumn is the time of harvest and any festivals around the Autumnal Equinox acknowledge this fact. However the tone of such celebrations is likely to be restrained as people buckle down for the chills of winter.

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In the Southern Hemisphere, all this is messed up. The calendar is the same, so the southern Spring Equinox happens in September, around the twenty first of the month. Since most of the traditions have been imported from the Northern Hemisphere, mainly from Europe and particularly the UK, there is no obvious spring celebration to copy.

However, the southern Autumnal Equinox happens in March, and there is a northern celebration at the beginning of May. May Day is celebrated as an almost purely political holiday, with roots in the union movement, and is not, generally celebrated in the same way as May Day is in the Northern Hemisphere.

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When people emigrate from the Northern Hemisphere, specifically from Europe, they often experience homesickness. It can take a lifetime to shake off, but most people eventually relocate their roots. In particular, people from the Northern Hemisphere often find it strange that Christmas falls in the summertime.

People from the Northern Hemisphere expect Christmas to be in the winter. Short days, inclement weather and the perennial question “Will it be a white Christmas?” At one time carollers used to travel from door to door, wrapped up in thick coats, scarves and wearing woollen hats. Father Christmas is well wrapped in thick red and white clothes as he takes orders in the frantic malls before Christmas.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Father Christmas still wears his thick red and white clothes, and sits in a grotto decorated with fake snow and snowflakes, but he is most likely to be near hypothermia as the mercury rises.

There is however a southern version of Father Christmas. This version wears red swimming trunks and usually retains the red hat with the white rim and the white bobble, but may sport sunglasses and wear jandals on his feet. He may even carry a surfboard. He may be lying in a sun lounger shaded by a parasol, and with a non-alcoholic (of course) fruit based drink to hand.

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While Rudolph and his team may feature south of the equator, in Australia Santa’s sleigh is pulled by six white kangaroos, known as “boomers” (at least according to the song recorded by Rolf Harris). The implication is that the traditional reindeer can’t handle the summer heat in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve drifted somewhat from my initial topic, which was the New Year. New year in the Southern Hemisphere is about beach parties, if you are below a certain age. For those above a certain age, New Year means backyard barbecues.

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Beach parties can be riotous, to the point where police intervention is required, but largely they are good natured and convivial gatherings. New Year comes towards the beginner of the seasonal summer, and the celebration doesn’t really equate to any Northern Hemisphere celebration.

The northern Christmas and New Year celebrations are constrained by the short days and the long nights and are celebrated indoors in cosy snugness. In contrast the southern celebrations revel in the long days and short but warm nights and celebrate the outdoors.

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I think that we in the southern hemisphere got the best deal. If Christmas and New Year in the northern hemisphere had, for whatever reason, fallen in the summer, then the southern hemisphere Christmas and New Year would have fallen in the winter, and we would have got the short nights and the bad weather.

We would have had to celebrate Christmas and New Year indoors and during the short winter days. There’s no doubt that it would be enjoyable, the interactions with family and friends, but I’m glad that our main holiday falls in the summer.

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But, whatever, the New Year is in ninety five minutes, at least here in Wellington, so, when it swings around to you, I hope that you have a good and enjoyable New Year. I’ll sit here in my t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet enjoying their freedom from shoes, and wish all you there in the Northern Hemisphere, togged up in your woolies and gloves and hats, a Happy New Year.

Tau Hou hari!

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Do as you would be done by.

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In the book the Water Babies by Charles Kingsley there are two fairies, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. These two fairies embody two principles of altruism.

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby represents the principle that if you want other people to treat you well, then it would be advisable to treat them like you would wish other people to treat you. Obviously, everyone wants to be treated well by others.

Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid represents the other side of the coin. If you treat other people badly you can expect others to treat you badly too. Together the two fairies represent the Golden Rule.

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This implies the philosophical concept that other people are internally much like you. They are thinking beings with feelings, beliefs, and prejudices, just like you. Even if they are philosophical zombies it be a good idea to treat them as if they actually were conscious, sentient beings, because, if they are zombies of this sort, they are constrained to act as if they were conscious, sentient beings.

Unfortunately there are people who don’t know about the Golden Rule, and who return kindness with unkindness. The sort of people who make friends with people only to scam them. As an aside, I find such people incomprehensible. Why would anyone make friends with a pensioner, say, just to get at their life savings.

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Of course, such people may have been treated in this way themselves, but, reading between the lines, that doesn’t seem so. Or they may have an addiction or something which drives them to desperate measures. It’s true that some scammers do have a gambling addition, but others just splurge the stolen money on luxuries.

Scammers obviously don’t believe in the dictum that you should do as you would be done by, but it seems that greed or addition makes them believe that it is acceptable to take money from vulnerable people, though when questioned, they are often unable to explain why they have committed the crime.

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Some may say “Oh, but I meant to pay it back,” and stolen money is sometimes characterised as “loans”, but after the second or third time of committing similar crimes, one wonders how they can hide from themselves the fact that paying back the “loan” is never going to happen.

If someone treats you in a way that you certainly don’t want to be treated, and that you wouldn’t want to treat other in that manner, what options are there?

One of the options is to “turn the other cheek“. This option  is the one where you continue to treat the person in the same way, presumably in the hope that he or she will realise that they have harmed you and will change their ways. This is very unlikely to work in the majority of cases, but it allows you to feel morally superior. Big deal.

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If the harm is a crime, like conning money out of you, you have the options of going to the authorities with the problem but this goes against the golden rule. If you imagine that you were a scammer, then you would not like to be arrest and charged of a crime. You would imagine that it would be better for the conned person to forgive you for the crime, and that you, as an imaginary scammer, would change your ways.

The Golden Rule assumes that there is mutual empathy between you and other people. With normal well adjusted people this is so, but there are enough of the other sort for this strategy to be a big risk. Scammers and thieves do not have empathy for their victims. They can’t imagine that the iPad that they have stolen contains irreplaceable photos, (did you not back them up?) and in addition, it took you months to save up the money to buy it.

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One of the issues is that fraudsters almost always come across as friendly and helpful when they gain the trust of the person that they are aiming to defraud. They are very plausible, otherwise, when they ask you for a “loan” or to “invest” in some dodgy scheme you would immediately become suspicious.

I don’t think that society has an answer to this issue yet. If a fraudster is reported to the police, is arrest and charged, found guilty and tossed into jail, then all that happens is that the fraudster spends some time there, then comes out and immediately starts looking for someone new to defraud. There is no serious attempt to rehabilitate them.

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It is often said in court that a person who is charged with a crime has shown remorse. That may be so, but even if the remorse is genuine, and not just regret at being caught, showing remorse doesn’t really prove that the perpetrator of the fraud has fundamentally changed.

There seems to be a certain blindness or lack of forethought in some people. To a large extent they don’t think that their actions will deprive their victim of money or possessions, and also they don’t believe that they will be caught. In the vast majority of a cases they will be caught.

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This blindness also occurs in those who have repeated business failures. These days, when we are told that various entrepreneurs have succeeded in business in spite of academic difficulties and made millions, then the less competent and the downright incompetent see this as a green light to fail and fail again.

While it is true that successful entrepreneurs may have had a few failures in the past, this does not imply that all who try will, eventually, succeed. In fact the reverse is true. Many people will fail repeated and never ever succeed. This is a dangerous example of survivorship bias.

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It would be nice if everyone followed the Golden Rule, but unless the nature of humans changes, that is impossible. While there are still people around who do not follow the golden rule, there will be scams and scammers, and it is difficult to think of a way to address the issue, so ensure that if anyone asks you for money, that you check with someone else that they borrowed money from before you. It may end the friendship, but it might save you from a nasty surprise.

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Cashing in the Cash

I can’t remember the last time I used cash. In fact, I actively avoid it. I don’t want crumpled grubby bits of paper in my pockets and heavy pocket wrecking pieces of metal weighing me down. When you have a pocket full of cash, you have a pocketful of inconvenience.

You have to keep track of how much you have, whether it is enough to pay for what you need and you have to periodically top up your supply from inconvenient locations at inconvenient times. I have no idea why people still use cash, I really don’t.

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We got a cheque the other day. Yes, a real cheque with words and numbers written on it. A piece of paper worth a not inconsiderable amount of money. So we tried to pay it into my wife’s bank account. Oh no, sorry, this cheque is made out to both of you. You can’t put it into the bank account belonging to a single person.

So, we fortunately had a joint account, albeit with a different bank, so we took the valuable piece of paper to the second bank. It is not my purpose here to protest, complain or whinge about customer service, so I will merely say that it wasn’t a fun experience. Firstly we had to travel to the location of the second bank, who had, for very good reasons which I find acceptable, just closed our local branch. Secondly we had to deal with a ‘real person’, and actually living and breathing human being.

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Now, I’ve got no problem with real persons. As long as they keep their distance, I will keep mine, and I grudgingly admit that sometimes you have to deal with a real person. But I shouldn’t have to deal with a real person just to deposit a cheque into a bank account, surely?

OK, most cheques can be deposited into your account via a hole in the wall ATM, I know, and this cheque was slightly different. It was a cheque from the UK being paid into a local account so currency conversion had to be done.

I’ve paid local cheques into local accounts in the past, and the process was much the same. The only difference was that we had to sign a piece of paper, extruded from a machine on the real person’s desktop, to agree to refund the money, should the cheque not be honoured by the UK bank.

There are other ways of transferring funds between local banks and the UK, of course, which don’t involve pieces of paper travelling the world, of course. We maintain a bank account in the UK, and it is relatively simple to transfer money from that account to one of our local accounts electronically with having to once deal with a real person.

We could, of course, get people to use electronic means to transfer money from their UK accounts to our UK accounts, but some people, for whatever reason, prefer to send pieces of paper. Probably they are either think that electronic transfers are complex and challenging, which of course they aren’t, or they prefer to send something at least a little tangible.

What kicked off this train of thoughts? It was one of a number of articles by finance industry players which were dismissive or antagonistic towards BitCoin. I bought $200 worth of BitCoin in November 2013, and if I still had it now it would be worth around $4200. Rumour has it that it will rise a lot more. Other rumours are that it is a bubble which will soon burst.

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One of the accusations levelled against BitCoin is that there is no single entity behind it and if the bubble burst, people will be hurt and no one will be held responsible. Well, is that any different from a fiat currency or a commodity currency? A fiat currency is one whose value depends on the support of a government diktat, while a commodity currency has a value that is related to the value of a commodity such as gold.

In the case of a fiat currency, it is effectively the government saying “You can buy things with the dollar things”. So you take along pieces of paper, or these days more likely a bit of plastic, and get back a tin of beans, plus some heavy metal circular things if you use the paper, and feel (relatively) happy.

The government doesn’t do much more than guaranteeing “this is a dollar” and printing pieces of paper with that message, and similar for metal coins, but the number of coins and paper in circulation aren’t anywhere near to, say, the number of dollars in the government’s budget. The majority of dollars only exist as a number in an account somewhere, usually with a bank.

In the case of a commodity based currency, such as that based on gold, a government agrees to supply a given but variable amount of gold for a currency on demand. Of course no one ever demands gold for their dollars or whatever. Why gold? Because there were originally coins made out of gold and gold was relatively more valuable than silver or bronze.

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This has meant that the metal gold is these days worth much more than its relative abundance would imply. In spite of gold rushes gold is a fairly common metal that is fairly useless for anything except decorative candlesticks and similar.

BitCoin is often represented as being different from either of these two types of currency. It doesn’t have a central authority to say “this is a BitCoin”, and no one is going to give you a hunk of metal for it, unless they actually want to buy the metal to make candlesticks.

But BitCoin is not really that different from the other two types of currency. Both of the above types of currency are just numbers in an account of some relatively reliable organisation like a bank or other organisation, just as the BitCoins in my wallet are just numbers in the bitchain.

The difference is that because no one owns the bitchain, that all sorts of dodgy dealings are possible and people like drug dealers and cartels and so on are adopting BitCoin and other so called cryptocurrencies.

However it is no use trying to ban such currencies. That particular genie can’t be forced back into the bottle. Any attempt to regulate cryptocurrencies will simply lead to them going underground.


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A woman has, within her ovaries, all the ova or eggs that she will ever have. No ova develop in a woman during her lifetime. When she ovulates one egg passes through her reproductive system and embeds itself in the wall of her uterus. If it is not fertilised, it gets shed with the lining of her womb during menstruation.

Actually, I skipped a point above. What a woman has in her ovaries are oocytes, or objects which have the potential to form ova. Even before oocytes form, the future baby girl has seven million oogonia, most of which die, some few hundred of which become oocytes.

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If you are wondering why I started thinking about ovulation and all that, the answer is chickens! Chickens lay eggs roughly every day once they start laying and lay for two to three years at least. Some lay for much longer.

I knew that ova, or rather oocytes, are not formed in human females once they are born, and I sort of thought that chickens would be similar. If my maths is correct, human females are born with five hundred or so oocytes, given that one ova is used up during each reproductive cycle and they have thirteen or so cycles per year for approximately forty years.

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Chickens however lay one egg per day, for up to four years or so, meaning that chicken ovaries have at least fourteen hundred to fifteen hundred oocytes, assuming a similar system to the human female system. Ah, Google showed me this article which pretty much confirms the above.

So, chickens are pretty much big bags of potential eggs. I found it interesting that chicken have an internal production line for eggs operating inside them, and several may be on their way to the outside world at any one time. When I read that it reminded me of my Gran, who used to pluck and gut her own chickens, showing me the immature eggs in a chicken’s oviduct. There can’t be many of the younger generations who have seen that!

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Of course a chicken egg must contain a life support system for the embryo (assuming the egg is fertilised, of course), whereas the life support system for mammals is contained within the mother’s body. This does allow humans to grow larger than chickens – the size of an external human egg would have to be at least as large as a small football, and probably larger, as the developing human embryo takes nourishment from the mother’s body, and an external egg would have to contain all that nourishment at the time that the egg is laid.

Another difference between chickens and humans is that the chicken’s offspring have to immediately be able to walk, eat, and largely look after themselves. The human offspring however can feed off the human mother’s milk for sometime, and can gradually get used to normal human foods, like pureed pears, laced with sugar in a glass jar. Yes, well, that’s a side track I can get into another time, I guess.

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In the animal group called the marsupials, this dependency on the mother is extreme. The babies (joeys) are so dependant on the mother’s milk and are born so small, that they are kept in the mother’s pouch until the become big enough for independent life.

So, which is the best strategy? Well, all things being equal a chicken could have at least a hundred or two offspring, but we aren’t drowning in chickens, so of the thousands of eggs that a chicken lays, only a small number don’t end up as scrambled eggs or feeding a predator. There is huge “wastage”.

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Humans on the other hand, well, we are drowning in humans, one might claim, so the strategy of having only a few, but initially very dependent offspring, seems to work for us as a species. In spite of the fact that children could be totally independent of their parents by the time they are reaching the end of their teens, most human children are so bonded to their parents that only the death of the parent breaks that bond.

Another advantage of laying eggs is that humans like eggs. Boiled, scrambled, fried, poached eggs. Eggs used in cooking. As result, rather than searching the landscape for eggs, humans have domesticated chickens. Everywhere humans are, there are chickens. They have even gone into space with us. On that measure chickens have been very successful. In exchange for a few unfertilised embryos chickens have gone further than chicken-kind has gone before. It’s even possible that when mankind sets up outposts on the Moon or Mars that chickens will accompany them.

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Of course, chickens are often kept in conditions which are, to put it mildly, not very nice. It’s even possible that at least partially because of this, that at some time in future, chickens as a food source may be phased out in favour of some sort of artificial egg production process. However, if we manage to visit and maybe colonise earth-like planets, we won’t initially be able to ship out vast protein manufacturing plants.

No, since we probably won’t know what we will find on a distant planet, we will probably ship along some chickens, or at least some eggs. In addition, if the chickens eat the local vegetation and then keel over, we will know that it is harmful, at least to chickens. In addition, the sound of clucking chickens is restful, and would remind the settlers of a distant of what they have left behind them. They would be a comfort, as well as providing a self replicating source of protein in several forms.

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In understand that scientists can produce chicken meat by using a chunk of chicken and feeding it with nutrients. They can then carve off chunks of it and feed it some more. I don’t know if they have actually tasted such meat, and what the pitfalls are for this scheme. There will be some. It’s likely that it is a cumbersome and tricky process.

No, I suggest that when we travel to the stars we take our chickens with us. Our motto could be “ad astra per alia pulli”. To the stars on the wings of chickens.

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[A note about Gettyimages. Gettyimages is a site that provides images, some of which are free and embeddable in WordPress, and no doubt other similar sites. I’ve decided to use images from Gettyimages to decorate my site. The images may or may not bear any relationship to my text, and I do not endorse any views represented or implicated by the images. They are just decoration. I highly recommend Gettyimages.]

Why did he do it?

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Why do people become murderers or rapists, or even petty thieves. I mean, sure, sometimes a person could irritate you to the point where a fleeting thought of carnage crosses your mind. But most people would immediately shut down that thought and even be shocked and revolted by it. They certainly wouldn’t act on it.

Surely no one wakes up one morning and thinks “Oh, I’ll become a career criminal,” or “Oh, I’ll violently attack someone today.” It’s easier to explain when the person is immersed in a culture where crime is normal and maybe even expected of one. But there are law abiding people even within the worst of environments, where crime is common.

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Fear of consequences is often used to try to deter people from crime, but in many cases the fear of consequences is not enough to prevent a person committing a crime. Prison may be seen as normal and expected. So called petty criminals may expect to be thrown in to jail many times in their lives and to them it cannot be much of a deterrent.

Of course, one’s better judgement can be nullified by drugs or by alcohol. Many assaults happen when the person who assaults another person is drunk or high on drugs. Other crimes like rape, burglary, and vandalism are also more likely to happen when a person is intoxicated.

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One way that is often suggested to reduce crime is to increase the severity of the punishment, so that fear of consequences is increased. However, this has limited effect only. People still committed murder even when capital punishment was still used. When in a blind rage, if a person is mentally ill, or if the person believes that they can get away with a crime without being caught, then the consequences often do not come under consideration.

In a court of law it is assumed that the person knew that consequences and still continued with their action. In many cases I believe that this is simplistic to say the least. A person sees another person leave a phone or wallet somewhere that the first person can take it from. Often the first person doesn’t think through the consequences of the theft. They don’t even consciously think that they can get away with it. They just react to the item being accessible.

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Also each successful theft reinforces the thief’s feeling that he or she will not be caught, so they do it again. In fact, of course there is a chance that they will be caught each time that they commit the theft, and the more times that they commit the crime, the more likely it is that they will eventually get caught.

If they are likely to get away with the crime nine times out of ten, then if they commit the crime seven times, the chance of them getting caught is better than even. Maybe one way to reduce crime is to teach criminals statistics!

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It seems that the propensity to commit crime is inherent in human beings. It is not related to social standing, as crimes of theft and of fraud are seen to be committed by people of all social standings. The criminals, even those higher up the socioeconomic ladder tend to make the mistake of repeating their crimes, which, as I mentioned above, renders them more likely to be caught.

Of course those lower down the socioeconomic ladder commit simpler crimes like theft and violence often fuelled by alcohol and drugs, and those higher up commit the so-called white collar crimes. A person’s position on the ladder doesn’t seem to bear much relation to whether or not they commit sexually related crimes, and in fact, a person’s higher standing often seems to protect them against being caught – they are able to convince people to look the other way when such a crime is committed, by using their influence or by using their money to buy people off.

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If the propensity for crime is to be found at all levels of society, and the punishment of criminals is relatively ineffective as deterring criminals from committing crime, what is there that we can do about it? In my opinion, not a lot. But nevertheless we need to try, if only to reduce it to the minimum possible.

That is what society, from the beginning up to the present day is trying to do, of course. The consequences of being caught committing a crime don’t stop everyone, but it is likely that they do stop some people. Over harsh penalties from crimes don’t work beyond a certain point, and this has been recognised in societies that have dumped capital punishment.

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We try to keep down crime by locking up those who are caught committing it. Again this has only limited effectiveness as well as, effectively, targeting those at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder. A rich person who is fined for jumping a red light is likely to notice it much less than a poor person. The fines represent a much bigger portion of a poor man’s income than that of a rich man.

The only way to reduce crime to zero is to change the human race. If the genes for criminality and violence were to be bred out of the human race, then we would have no problem with crime. Women would not be raped and funds would not be embezzled. People would not drink drive, and would not bash other people.

However, the genes for criminality might be perilously close to the genes for creativity. Creative individuals are often those who break the rules, who go beyond what is allowed. Creative individuals also tend to be those who are close to the boundary between sanity and insanity. They are the eccentrics among us, the ones who do not fit in.

Maybe we could prevent crime by changing the human race, but we risk creating a society which also has no artists, no eccentrics, and essentially no Leonardo DaVincis, no Isaac Newtons, no Shakespeares, no Albert Einsteins. Society would be the poorer for that.

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Meditation – sort of

English: By kac's meditation
English: By kac’s meditation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meditation brings a lot of contentment to a lot of people, but it is not for me. Oh, I’ve tried it, but I can’t get around a feeling that I’d rather be doing things than sitting there musing on things. Introspection yields practically nothing for me.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t ponder on life, the Universe and all that as anyone who has ever read any of my pondering in this blog and elsewhere will know. In particular I have a fascination for numbers and mathematics. I’ve also wondered about most of the things that occur as topics in philosophy at one time or another.

English: Square root of x formula. Symbol of m...
English: Square root of x formula. Symbol of mathematics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These musings occur mostly when something triggers them, like a comment in a blog that I’m reading, or the title of the latest book on philosophy. Or even something as mundane as a lotto draw. Or washing up. Any of those can trigger a period of thought about some topic.

In case anyone is wondering, washing up can trigger thoughts about bubbles, or caustic curves, or music when two items of crockery produce a note when they touch during the process. Why, for example does an octave resonate in our minds.

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A note sounds remarkably like a note one octave above it, while sounding different to it. Two notes clash or alternatively resonate, and we call them consonant or dissonant. OK, part of the answer to that one is that if the ratio of the frequencies notes is simple, then the notes are consonant, whereas if the ratio of the frequencies is not simple, the notes are dissonant. However, it is not as simple as that.

Three notes for a chord and things get even more complex, and yet composers seem to intuitively know the rules and complexities and use and even bend them for their own purposes. One composer’s consonance is another composer’s assonance.

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Meditation seems to have benefits for many people, and some organisations have reported benefits from introducing meditation into the workplace. Presumably these benefits outweigh the cost of the time lost in meditation, otherwise it would be of little benefit to the organisation.

That’s the crux of the matter, really. Is the time spent in meditation worth the cost in time taken to meditate? Is it better to spend your time out in the open walking and observing the views, the plants and animals around you, or to stay in one spot and meditating on a flower or whatever? Of course, you can tramp the trails and meditate as some level as you go.

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A form of meditation is introspection, where the person who is meditating tries to examine his or her conscious thoughts or feelings. I’ve tried to do this many times and I find it frustrating. It is easy enough to gauge one’s mood and how one is feeling at a particular time, but I have never ever had a glimpse of any conscious thoughts.

Never have I observed my thoughts when I am thinking about something. For instance, I can imagine that I am staring at something green. I can gain no insight into what it means to be looking at something green. Try it yourself. Close your eyes and imagine a uniform greenness. I would say that you can think of greenness, and you can think of yourself thinking of greenness but you can’t think of yourself thinking of greenness at the same time that you are thinking of greenness.

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Similarly, we can think of ourselves winning the lotto and what we would do with the money, but we can’t, at the same time, think of ourselves thinking of winning the lotto. We can think about our thoughts, but only after we have thought them. We can’t think of the while they are happening.

Out thoughts don’t have to be about real things. There are people, usually mathematicians who try to visualise objects in four dimensions rather than the usual three. Actually, visualising three dimensional objects is hard enough. Try this. Imagine a flexible torus (doughnut shape). Imagine that you make a small puncture in it and pull the edges of the puncture over the torus.

In other words, try to turn it inside out. What shape do you get? The answer turns out to be another torus, but it is not easily visualised. In addition while you can imagine yourself visualising it, you can’t think about yourself visualising it while you are actually doing it. In other words, our consciousnesses seem to be single threaded.

Actually, if you could observe yourself thinking about something, you could presumably observe yourself observing yourself thinking about something, and so on. This would, in theory lead to an infinite layers of you observing yourself.

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Meditation on thoughts or deeds, as I understand it as a non-practitioner, then comes down to a focused concentration on thoughts that have already been thought, as it were, and I guess that meditation could bring one awareness of why one thought those thought or did that deed. This is no doubt beneficial as such meditation could identify things about thoughts and deeds that one could change, perhaps simply by making one aware of why one had those thoughts or did that deed.

For example, if you meditate about what you have done on a particular occasion you might form the conclusion that you should have done something different. When the situation arises next, you will have a considered analysis of what you did before and it may influence you to do something different.

Or you may conclude, during your meditation, that certain events led you into that situation, and you could then avoid those events, thereby avoiding the situation. For instance, you may conclude that rashness is an issue for you and that you should avoid rashness. Tying this to a mantra or key phrase could enable you to avoid rashness, by reminding you of your conclusion and enabling you through the mantra to avoid it. This of course depends on you being able to determine when you are about to do something rash and therefore trigger the mantra and the avoidance.

[I’m not too happy with this post. But let it stand for now. I’ll maybe revisit this later.]

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