Points of Information – We’re off to see the wizard …

Points of Information is an amusing Canadian take on the quaint Australian custom of compulsory voting in elections (i.e. the government punishes you by way of a fine if you cannot be bothered to get of bed and cast a vote in municipal, state & federal elections). As Tim Poon comments:

“Well, I dunno. I appreciate that voter participation is a key part of democracy, but punishing folks for not voting seems a little harsh. Of course, I’m not sure that bribing voters is the right approach, either. Is a “compulsory” voting process a “good thing” for democracy?”

Well it does mean that everyone votes (or most people) BUT does it mean their vote counts for something? I’m not so sure about that!

The Failure of the Human Potential Movement: From Self-Actualization to Experientialism

“I’m convinced that when an atmosphere is created which puts an extreme emphasis on experience over understanding, that atmosphere will inevitably create and encourage infantile selfishness.”

Source: The Failure of the Human Potential Movement: From Self-Actualization to Experientialism (c) 1998 Geoffrey Hill

This is a relatively old essay but it gives a good critique of the Human Potential Movement and the impact that this and related ideologies have had on modern western society.

The focus on personal experience without any rational analysis or thought has helped to deliver us a society where every idea no matter how stupid is seen as equally valid.

Really a quite preposterous thing when one stops to think about it!

WatchBlog: 2004 US Election News, Opinion and Commentary

“What. WatchBlog is a multiple-editor weblog broken up into three major political affiliations, each with its own blog: the Democrats, the Republicans and the Third Party (covering everything outside the two major parties).

Why. Let’s face it, politics is confusing. Sometimes it’s difficult to know who to believe, who to listen to and who to support. We’re here to help. Posting on a regular basis are editors representing each major party. Stay informed. ”

Source: WatchBlog: 2004 U.S. Election News, Opinion and Commentary

This is neat – all the factions side by side in one convenient place for tracking commentary on the US election.

It’s interesting that blogs are not as visible and influential with regards to the Australian election.

While there is the sad Malcolm Turnbull site (he’s so terribly earnest) that has a blog on it and a lame Democrats bulletin (don’t forget their catchy new slogan ‘the lie detectors’ – hmmm wonder if that will help us forget the last fiasco?).

There is certainly no equivalent site to Watchblog.com that I know of. Although as usual I’m happy to be proved wrong on this.

Australia’s nanny state grows apace…

The NSW Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) released a report yesterday recommending that clocks and pop up messages warning gamblers that they have been playing too long on poker machines should become compulsory.  The report also considers measures such as pre-committment such as setting a time or dollar limit prior to commencing gambling at a poker machine.  The acting chairman of the tribunal said the aim was to balance reduced problem gambling with the legitimate freedom to gamble.  Various politicians and club officials said they welcomed the news.

Source: “Warning to problem gamblers: clock off“, John Stapleton, The Australian, Sat 24 Jul 2004, p. 111

At the very least every measure like this that reduces the responsibility of an individual to make their own life choices & creates a dependent individual.  Over time this increasing regulation of personal life and action will reduce us to adults with childlike levels of capability to decide courses of action for ourselves.  Again the nanny state grows in Australia!

Left Behind – by La Haye & Jenkins – Martial Christianity

The Left Behind series by Tim La Haye & Jerry Jenkins is a phenomenon that has just recently been noticed by some in the mainstream press.  It is a 12 book series commencing with Left Behind (ISBN: 0842329129) and culminating with Glorious Appearing: The End of Days (ISBN: 0842332375).  But the series has been about since the mid-1990s and has spread throughout the evangelical and biblically based church communities largely by word of mouth over the years, selling somewhere in the order of 60 million copies.  Since Christian communities get very little press coverage (since they are not really ‘sexy’) no one in the mainstream press seems to have noticed this until now.

The story commences with an event called the ‘rapture’ where Christians disappear from the  earth.  Those that remain ‘left behind’ are followed in the series of books.  Some of the remanent convert to Christianity and fight the forces of evil.  The story culminates with the return of Christ, judgement of the world, and creation of a new world.

What is so interesting about this whole thing is the reactions of the mainstream press to it in recent times.   For example, Nicholas Kristof railed against the scenario outlined in the final book of the series in his New York Times column – he condemned what he perceived as a move from viewing Jesus as a gentle figure to a “martial messiah presiding over a sea of blood”.  Kristof’s view is echoed in mainstream newspapers around the planet.  But the main thing this indicates is how few people have actually read the Bible.

Anyone who has read the book of Revelation (the last chapter in the Bible for the un-initiated) knows that this is exactly how the story ends.  Jesus returns as the avenging Messiah & “the dead were judged … according to their works … And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20: 12-15)  After this the good guys (& gals, not that they are mentioned) gets to go to the new heaven & the new earth (Rev 21:1) with the Lamb (a.k.a. Jesus).   In the book of Revelation this all occurs after the ‘rapture’ (which is somewhat undefined in the actual text, so people have thought up all sorts of scenarios for it), and those left behind go through various trials and many are killed.   So La Haye and Jenkins have put the story into a modern vernacular and really just made the last book of the Bible more accessible to many people in the modern world.

The world view expressed in these books has been around for a long time in evangelical and biblically based churches.  You can find books outlining exactly this type of interpretation of the bible any time over the past 150 years.  All that has happened here is the modern printing industry has made the stories accessible to more people.  And the people who are reading these books are most likely already au fait with the concepts expressed in them.    The American churches especially have been sympathetic to this view of the Messiah for generations.  What is surprising is how this has been largely un-noticed until now.  It is especially surprising given how influential these apocalyptic visions have been in the political life of the United States to date.

For all who are interested a web search on the phrases: pre-tribulationpost-tribulation or dispensationalist gives an interesting insight into the Christian factions around this whole area of apocalyptic interpretation.

Cultural Gap Between US & Australia

It is not always apparent to the casual observer how significant the cultural differences between Australia and the United States really are. One particular difference that really strikes me is the respect for authority. Americans seem to have a high level of respect for authority & for the apparatus of the state. In Australia respect for authority is not so high. Instead there is an irreverence towards authority, as evidenced by the *tall poppy syndrome which is prevalent.

One good example is the reverence in which Americans seem hold their president, or rather the role of president. Even former presidents seem to be treated very respectfully. But in Australia this is not the case.

In general, Australians constantly question authority and are suspicious of those in authority, while asking why the government isn’t doing something.  I think this results from the founding of the country as a convict settlement.  Also the large number of Irish immigrants to Australia who suffered from religious persecution likely influenced this way of thinking.  In Australia Catholics were treated as second class citizens until quite late in the 19th century and even into the early 20th century.  The church and state were one as in England, and those who did not follow the state religion were excluded for participation in education and the economy in various ways.

Whereas in the US separation of church and state, together with a history focused on independence from English rule saw a very different sensibility arise.  This seems to have led Americans to respect their leaders and those in authority precisely because of the historical fact of independence.

The other key area of difference between these two nations is religion.  The influence of the Christian religion in the US is vast, whereas in Australia it is effectively a secular nation & religion plays little part in public life.  In Australia religion is a private practice and it seems to many people to be ill-mannered to bring it up in public debate.

Culturally Australia seems much closer to Britain than to America, although this is gradually changing now in the 21st century.

Given these types of fundamental differences together with so many similarities I think it entirely possible for Australians and Americans to completely misunderstand each other.  After all as Sir Winston Churchill noted in relation to the British and Americans there is ‘common language which separates us.’   The thing is because the two nations are similar and have much in common it is easy to miss the diversity that exists between us.

* Tall poppy syndrome = “The tall poppy syndrome refers to the behavioural trait of Australians to cut down those who are ‘superior’ to them. It is used to explain why most politicians, some academics, and the occasional millionaire, commands a level of community admiration inferior to that of a toilet cleaner.” http://www.convictcreations.com/culture/poppy.htm


Dogs like cuisine too!

A longstanding research project of mine has now provided enough evidence for me to say that my dogs like to eat what we humans might call cuisine. They are Staffordshire Bull Terriers called Roy and Trotsky.
When they came to live with me as puppies three years ago I had never had a pet before (except if you count the guinea pig that got eaten by my neighbour’s dog the same day it came home with me when I was nine).  This meant that I was completely ignorant of dog culture.  So I started feeding them what the books and puppy school trainer said.
But after a few months just started feeding them whatever I happened to be eating.  It did not take them long to adjust to the new food regime.  In fact, I can leave raw meat out for them now but to get them to eat it I have to withhold other food all day before they’ll eat it.

Roy and Trotsky are particularly fond of Thai or Indian food – even eating whole chillies.  They also like a nice potage au bonne femme (leek and potato soup), and a nice roast with roasted vegies is also a favourite.

They do eat raw meat with bones and dry dog food – but it is clear that their preference is for cooked food with a lot of flavour.  I suppose this is not unexpected given their liking for smelly foods (stilton cheese and water crackers is another favourite, as is pate de fois gras with melba toast).

So the result of my three year experiment indicates that Roy and Trotsky prefer human food (preferably cooked with spices) over dog food.  I reckon if these dogs could cook there’s no way they’d eat anything else – luckily for them and me our other pack mate (a human) can cook for all of us.


Business Evolutionist: The Origins of Unengaged Employees

The Origins of Unengaged Employees has quite an interesting take on employee engagement, but I’m not sure that I agree completely.

Engagement is all about feeling like you are a part of something bigger and more meaningful than yourself alone. When I’ve been engaged at work it has all been as a result of non-tangible things like leadership, vision and teamwork. But often this has happened as part of setting up process and procedures so we can achieve more.

Jon’s argument seems to be that process and procedures stultify vision etc. While I think in the wrong hands it can, it does not necessarily do so.

Managed properly good process and procedure can actually free you up to do more creative stuff. And that certainly helps to create an environment in which it is easier to be engaged.

Complete chaos is not conducive to creativity and positive energy. On the other hand these are also not possible without high energy and visionary people.

Women’s magazines

During my review of newstand women’s magazines it has become clear that there are only 3 things of interest to women:

1) looking sexy
2) food – both eating and cooking thereof
3) creating ‘lovely’ living spaces

This must mean that women who do not have an interest in any of these things must be unnatural.

Well where does this leave me? Perhaps that New Scientist magazine has to go?

More on Women, housework & the 21st century

My post the other day on this topic revealed my complete ignorance of house & home magazines (this deficiency in my reading was kindly pointed out in a recent comment). I have rushed to the store to get hold of a bunch of womens’ magazines and have been reading them with a critical eye for ‘housework mania‘ inducing words and imagery.

Well I must confess I had not realised how pervasive the imagery of good housekeeping was in these magazines. I usually read New Scientist, Time, Business Review Weekly etc. – they do not have many pictures of lovely sparkling clean houses with lots of well placed nick-nacks. But these other magazines certainly do! They have it in spades. In fact the spaces not already occupied by the other 2 key items (food-challenged models & very nice looking food) are occupied by little pictorial features on how to improve the home.

Then my searches took me to the internet, where I found the FLYladywhere visitors are greeted with:

‘Are YOU living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) like Franny in the pink sweats? Do you feel overwhelmed, overextended, and overdrawn? Hopeless and you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry friend, we’ve been there, too. Step through the door and follow FlyLady as she weaves her way through housecleaning and organizing tips with homespun humor, daily musings about life and love, the Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE™) system, and anything else that is on her mind.

Now this site does not even seem to glimpse the oppression that covers this whole area of housework like a miasma (or a fog in a really bad 1950s horror movie).

More on the humorous side is the Bad Mothers Club – subtitled ‘In the aisle by the chill cabinets, no-one can hear you scream.’ This site at least recognises that some of this stuff is not important. There are also some good tips on time management (e.g. put the kids in their school clothes before bed as this saves a lot of time in the morning – I might even try this one for work?)