Monthly Archives: March 2007

Conscious of Conscience

My interest was piqued by Nick’s comment the other day which suggested rather intriguingly that people were creating a new conscience for themselves. Which to an extent implies that the old one wasn’t created by ourselves. But I digress.

The main thing about a social conscience is that it doesn’t exist. Or rather it is as slippery as a well oiled eel. Think of this, one of my favorite thought experiments.

Which is more important to you, a human life or a DVD?

The honest answer is almost certainly not the old testament version of morals that suggests that a human life is more valuable than all else. In reality we know that we might all happily buy a DVD for about fifteen pounds. And fifteen pounds can save a life in Africa. The simple logic of this shows us that while we might try and deny it, our moral compass doesn’t run as smoothly as we think.

The biggest mistake that economics ever made was trying to apply a model of rationality to the world. Humans simply aren’t rational they are actually rationalising. We as a group are very good at lying before the act, we will all suggest right up until we buy that DVD that we obviously care more about human life than DVDs and then we buy the DVD and rationalise the decision.

The question then is how is this different to murder? I’m not going to argue that you are murdering someone each time you buy a DVD that wouldn’t be right, it’s clearly manslaughter. But rather in the case of murder everyone agrees usually that killing somebody is wrong. Except actually we don’t feel that all of the time. In America you are allowed to kill people if they killed somebody first. But we also allow it in the UK because our army is allowed to go and kill people too. Obviously this uses a similar argument of self defence. And although I won’t disagree with you if you tell me that some wars are morally justified then hopefully you will see as I do the rationalisation that’s going on.

When we were looking at free will before, I threw in the example of us letting criminals off from murdering people because they plead insanity. The moral compass is especially confused here. We are saying that murder is bad, we have decided it is immoral. But we decided what is and isn’t moral ourselves. The murderers clearly thought it was justified morally. That the person deserved it. The only real thing that makes murder immoral is that there are more people who are not murderers than people who are. Sure there are lots of potential murderers, but murderers are against murder in general too, just not the one that they did – that one was justified – in their mind. But if we are able to make murder immoral because murderers are in the minority, surely that is also how we decide who is insane? They are people who do not act like the norm. The point being surely, if you decide to murder somebody surely you were insane anyway? So how can you plead insanity? Perhaps it is just our moral swirl sorting things out for us? I mean it works quite well really. It’s the ones who don’t think it was odd that they murdered somebody who we want to lock up – but can we say that that is moral?

Nick’s original point was about the environment. So I guess my point is this, while everyone thinks they like the environment, and says that they care about it (well not everyone but everyone who does) and they may even recycle, the biggest problem is that they just can’t stop themselves from consuming in the first place. We think we have a conscience, we think we have morals, but the actual morals we have are often very different than the morals we think we have.

Why do cats have small balls?

Because not many of them know how to dance.


It was dark as Karen left the school. She had been working late, as she always seemed to end up doing at the end of term, and she was very tired. She walked past the giant window of the lunch hall and stopped to look in the window. Or rather to look at herself in the reflection.

“It’s night’s like these,” she said to herself, “that are giving you those bags under your eyes”.

She turned away from the lunch hall and carried on walking. The cool breeze, announcing the oncoming winter, swirled along the path and right inside her collar. She gave an involuntary shiver.

The wind was picking up and so Karen picked up her pace too. She started walking more quickly and yet the wind was whistling down the path with such a force that she could hardly hear her own footsteps. Let alone somebody elses.

Up ahead at the end of the path there was a little area between the lights for the path and the lights of the car park where it was totally dark. And on a usual night Karen hated walking through it. She carried a torch in her bag which she usually took out and used to get through the inky blackness. But tonight the wind was so strong and getting stronger that she felt she couldn’t simply stop and rummage around in her bag. She had to just plow forwards. She had to. She stopped just for a breath on the edge. Just on the edge she stopped. And then her foot went forward, disappearing into this space. As her foot disappeared she reassured herself one last time, took a breath although it was hard in this wind, and with that she stepped into the black.






The other side.

She exhaled. She kept running forward though. And as she did it she pulled her keys from her coat pocket and pressed the button for her central locking. She did it early like this every time, even though it allowed for a chance that somebody sneak into her car, but when she got there it looked empty. She got in, locked the doors, gunned the engine, turned on the lights, and turned up the music. She was safe.

Setting the scene

I had some friends over for the beginning of the Formula 1 season. We were going to have to stay up all night as the race is in Australia. And we all pretty much made it through except Rod.

Stew handily brought a great Formula 1 flag which set the scene rather nicely.

You can just make out Rod’s knee and beer in the bottom corner of the shot.

A great fun evening that we all enjoyed. For the love of the sport but mainly to be amongst friends. Fantastic!

Man ‘flu

A friend of mine was telling me the other day about his father who had had a massive heart attack but had driven himself to hospital because he had known that where he was he would have been taken to hospital in Lancashire and he “wasn’t going to bloody die there” so he drove himself to a hospital back in Yorkshire.

While he was relating the story, a woman friend of mine piped up suggesting that she thought that this was odd because normally men exaggerated their health issues. Suggesting that the concept of man ‘flu proved her point.

For those not in the know, man ‘flu is the idea that even if you get the slightest sniffle then you are suddenly having the worst possible illness that anyone has ever had in their lives.

The thing is that there does seem to be some confusion between the ‘flu thing and the whole heart attack story, and how men will often times completely deny the true pain that they are in just to save themselves from embarrassment. So which are we men or mice?

The truth seems to be mice. Men will happily inconvenience their spouse or partner by having the worst ever symptoms ever up until the exact moment that their partner suggests that they go to the doctor. The powerful urge not to inconvenience others in the British Male will mean that men will lie about the really bad things saying they don’t exist just so people don’t feel that they have to bother too much.

I know a guy who was so polite in this way that when the doctor asked him if his arm hurt, he said that it was just a bit stiff, when in fact he had shattered three bones. The brilliant thing about this kind of lie is that it means that you don’t make people pay attention to you and then later when people find out the truth (if your arm falls off or something) then people will probably call you, “incredibly brave”. Luckily most of the time you don’t have to endure the attention of people calling you “incredibly brave” because if you’re playing this right then the first symptom most people should notice of your illness is death.

Pirates! – The Bunby Bungle

He was leaning against a wood fence. As he leaned forward the vines came close to his nose. He could see the grapes. They were so bright and shiny that he could see the glint in his own eye within them. Monkeys were running up and down the branches having away with the prime fruit. It was their time, the sun was setting and the people weren’t ready to face the evening yet. He gave his beard a deep scratch. As he did it the fresh salt from the days sailing cut into his hand. It was a pain that had seemed immense the first day it had happened forty years ago but now comforted him beyond any other moment in the day. He always knew he’d done an honest days work when he had salt in his beard. Even if… especially if the day hadn’t been honest by other men’s standards. He knew what hard work was, and he’d never understood why one job was more honest in the eyes of the law than another. As long as you worked hard to get your money, as long as you worked the hardest to get your money then it must be your money.

A beautiful warm breeze fell towards him, the monkeys were chattering in the trees, and there was salt in his beard. This was the life for him. The only thing missing was women and wine. He turned around and walked into the bar.

Although it was quiet compared to his usual kind of establishment, there was murmuring from the tables. He put it down to the playing of cards which seemed quite intense. He approached the bar and sat at one of the stools.

The keep came over, and said, “what’ll it be?”
“The stakes must be high tonight.”
“Always high here.”
“Must be good for business.”
“We do alright.”
“Lucky you.”
“The house always wins, that’s what they say.”
“That’s what they say.”

The keep looked at our man a bit more deeply. He suddenly realised to ask him something, “you don’t know where you are do you?”
“I’m in a bar aren’t I?”
“You’re in the most prestigious bar in all of the Windies. The most famous gambling den of the whole sub-continent. You’re in Tawnies.”
“Tawnies really. Never heard of it.”
“Well your loss,” says the barkeep.
“Not really my loss if I’m here is it?”
“No I suppose not.”
“Now lets get down to business.”
“Betting, drinking or pleasure?”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
“Thought I’d never have to.”
“Drinking first, pleasure later, and you’re to stop me betting at all costs. A piece for you if I’ve not bet by morning.”
“You’re on. So what’ll it be?”
“We don’t serve Bumbo here.”
“Well I’m not drinking grog.”

There was talk suddenly from the nearest table. Our man heard the word Bumbo being repeated several times.”

“We,” said the bartender, “don’t serve pirates here.”
“I’m not a pirate,” said our pirate.
“How do we know?”
“Serve me some rum, straight then if you must, but I won’t drink grog.”
“That doesn’t tell me you’re not a pirate.”
“Check my arm.”
“That just means you haven’t been caught.”
“Yes it does. But if you think you’re better than the entire Dutch West India Company then you’ve got another thing coming.”

And just as things looked to be getting ugly a square hat walked in. Rain dripping off his coat. He walked past everyone who had stopped playing cards and were only staring at him. As he walked past the window lightning cracked. highlighting what was left of his face. He made it up to the next door stool to our man and said, “This pirate causing you trouble? Because if he isn’t then I will.”

To be continued, please check back next week for Part 2.

A Woody Allen Quote I hadn’t heard before:

“Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.”

When is a tag not a tag? When it’s a label

You may have noticed that while most of the web world has gone hog wild for tags google have been putting in labels all over the place. Is it just their foolish attempt to stamp their authority on the web. Are we going to suddenly have Jimbo Whales jumping up and down shouting, “I told you don’t fight the web”?

Well no google does use both they just use them in different contexts (although they have been known to get them a bit confused) and the difference between these contexts is quite useful.

Tags are meant for making sense of things that other people have created. Labels are used for making sense of things you have created. So on people are tagging things and perhaps a folksonomy will emerge but it also allowed in this context to have personal tags which don’t describe the thing, eg the popular towatch and toread. People are using the tags here to help themselves organise the data out in the world.

But here on my blogger powdered blog I’m labeling because I the author am categorising my own creations.

It’s a difference but it’s a very useful one. Not as some commentators have said simply google being controlling.

A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet.

“My dog’s cross-eyed, is there anything you can do for him?”

“Well,” says the vet, “let’s have a look at him”

So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then checks his teeth.

Finally, he says “I’m going to have to put him down.”

“What? Because he’s cross-eyed? “

“No, because he’s really heavy”

A beat

He put his hand to his other wrist and held it between his thumb and fingers. He knew his thumb had it’s own pulse and this wouldn’t be accurate. But he had to do something. He started counting but he soon realised the situation was useless. He couldn’t feel anything. No pulse. What did it mean?

He held on for a moment later and suddenly there was something. A beat. He was alive.