Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

Nov
17

leaking

For several days now I( have watched politicians competing with each other to promise how much money they will spend (if elected) on various public services.

Nothing is said about the difficulty of getting the practical results hoped for. What happens in a bureaucracy is that somebody is given a huge pot of money but has trouble finding enough people with the skills needed to make things happen on the ground. The people needed may not even exist in the numbers required. But the money has to be spent, for any official who fails to spend his allocated  budget is going to have it cut next year. So, along with promising initiatives, some less promising ones will be commissioned. I have been there. When Margaret Thatcher wanted to make the public services more ‘businesslike’. I found myself running a business simulation for army officers. I did it, of course, because I was offered the opportunity and I wanted the money. Did it really contribute to Margaret’s big objective? Did my players see it as part of a national  movement to change our culture? Doubtful. But some budget-holder was able to argue that a connection did exist.

The process exists in my mind as a huge hosepipe running from a water source through numerous, varied territories to a destination where water is really needed. Some of the territories have no requirement at all, but the hosepipe is lying there and it is leaking heavily all the time. What comes out at the end is a fraction of what the tap yielded at the beginning. The result is a poor reflection of the original intention

A fond memory is observing water distribution in an undeveloped country where sugar was the main crop. Water was released from a store into a channel that ran past the arable fields. At each point there was a small water gate and a real human being walked around deciding which small gate should be opened that day and which had no need. Wastage was minimal.

How nice it would be if the huge amount of money now promised by both major political parties could be effectively used. Some hope!

Nov
04

A good TV programme recently about Quantum Physics.

It seems that at the sub-atomic level there is a THING (which must have some special name) that is itself made up of a lot of MINI-THINGS. Every of these is capable of developing into a THING and they can communicate with each other. Some accident (nature unknown) tells one MINI-THING that it has been chosen and it tells the others “I am the one. All of you, collapse into me”. The chosen THING then becomes REALITY

In my imagination, the MINI-THINGS are like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, but while they all have all the shapes necessary, those shapes don’t have a picture on one side. But each has a colour, and they are all different. When the chosen MINI-THING calls the others, it says “You are all to integrate with me and assume my colour which is, say, Shocking Pink. So now there is just one THING and it is Shocking Pink.

But if another MINI-THING had been chosen then the THING created might be Mustard Yellow or Puce or Green, or any other colour.

Nobody knows why one MINI-THING is chosen instead of others but before the instant of choice they all exist simultaneously in a state called SUPERPOSITION. They are all capable of becoming real: until the ‘call’ happens each one is potentially real. So if a different one was chosen we would have a different reality. Maybe a Mustard Yellow planet or a Puce planet or a Green planet.

So Quantum Theory allows the theoretical possibility of ALTERNATIVE REALITIES and ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSES. Maybe what we experience is only one of them. It seems to be scientifically proven that, at some sub-atomic level this does actually happen. It does not happen at a higher level, as the Shrodinger’s Cat thought experiment seems to prove. But  if SUPERPOSITION can exist at any level at all then maybe it can somehow exist elsewhere.

The possibility suggested by Quantum Theory is enough is to support the numerous fictional stories that explore other universes. This possibility has also boosted the religions that postulate some sort of after-life. The argument is that if some unseen state is hinted at by two quite independent methods then there must surely be something in it. Perhaps the priest and the scientist are going to end up in the same place.

 

 

 

 

Oct
17

Off tomorrow (courtesy of daughter and son-in-law) to visit places that meant something to me. This time, Maldon, Essex, where an Anglo-Saxon called Byrthnoth lost to some marauding vikings in 991. The Anlgo-Saxons are favourites of mine because of the loyalty of each tribe to it’s chief and their habit of fighting to the last man, whatever the odds.They did their dying well.

The story is that the vikings landed by accident on an island (Northey) which is linked to the mainland by a causeway that is covered at high tide. The vikings asked Byrhtnoth for safe passage across the causeway so that they could have a proper battle. He agreed (nobody know quite why), the Anglo-Saxons lost, and Byrhtnoth got his head chopped off. He got a glorious death, which suited his culture.

Here, this week in England, we are promised  a mighty battle to decide whether or not Boris (the Anglo-Saxon) will get enough support to get his deal with the EU (the vikings) through parliament. Will he get his head chopped off or will he win?

Oct
14

A television channel is advertising a programme about Fake News. I wonder how they will define it along the spectrum that runs from Deliberate Lies through Selection to Honest Error and Ignorance.

And what, if anything, can be believed? This I-thing that I own offers stories “Chosen by the Apple news editors”. So I am getting what they have decided on and missing out on all the other possible items. Who are they? Right-wing bigots or wet lefties? Either way, they are going to limit my world-view.

It all makes me wonder how daft we all are when we claim to know the truth about anything.  Even the evidence of our senses is suspect. Before Copernicus arrived, I would have believed the obvious fact that the sun revolved round the earth. Many years ago I took part in a Christian mission and found myself talking to an old woman in a basement flat who pointed up at the sun and said “That’s what you should be worshipping. Everything comes  from him; heat, light, life, everything.” I liked her and thought how nice it is to be quite certain about something. It is a comfortable state.

Do I believe anything? On the whole I believe an up-to-date railway timetable, Why? Because I have several times waited for the train and it has actually arrived more or less on time. I believe there is a bus route along our narrow country lane because I nearly collided with the bus on a blind corner. But believing what somebody said or wrote? That’s harder.

Another television programme was dedicated to cases where popular belief is different from the true story. We all know that the winners of a battle write the history, but it does not stop at battles. This programme referred to the poem by Longfellow called “Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”  The event was real (a part of US history) but what Longfellow wrote (and we all believe) is different. So was anything I learnt at school really true? Did we really win at Agincourt and did we really lose at Austerlitz?

Some clever fellow (was it Neitzsche?) invented a sage called Zarathusta who said “This is my truth, now tell me yours.” It is a nice way of pointing out that absolute truth is many-sided and almost incapable of complete analysis.

So I am going to take comfort in what has come to be accepted in my society (middle-class SE England) and stick with “England expects” and “Heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England, too” and “Their finest hour” and “The lady’s not for turning” and “No ‘ifs’. No ‘buts’,”

Oct
11

WANTED, Gunpowder Manufacturer. Must be able to supply twenty-five large barrels of top-quality product immediately.

WANTED. Haulage Contractor. To carry the above-mentioned load to an address in Westminster.

WANTED. Building Surveyor. Must be able to secure uninterrupted access to cellars below above-mentioned building.

WANTED. Patriot. Must be willing to risk discovery while waiting for perfect moment to light a fuse.

WANTED. Undertakers (Several). To identify and bury 600 plus bodies.

WANTED. Project Manager to coordinate the efforts of the above-mentioned specialists.

APPLY TO:     B.JOHNSON, LONDON

TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY.

Oct
10

My blog describes me as an octogenarian in the modern world, so a critical attitude and a lot of moaning is expected. Old men always think the world is going to hell in a basket. (It is, of course.) But, for a change, I will try to discover some really good things about the modern world in which I can rejoice.

So, rejoice with me about the dental surgery which will actually replace a rotten tooth with a beautiful new screw-in version. Never mind the fact that the procedure takes up to six months to complete. I am really looking forward to be able to crunch properly again. Is there a choice of shape? Can I have a tooth that makes me look like Dracula?

Not quite so modern, but very valuable, is that gizmo that stops me backing my car into another car or into a brick wall. I am more grateful to it every day, as the spaces in car parks get smaller and smaller.

Rejoice with me that there are some firms organised to work with the internet and modern delivery firms, and actually do what they are promising! It is not unknown to order something on Monday morning and receive it on Tuesday. The internet has it’s failures, but a big advantage is that you can find a supplier of almost anything without too much difficulty. I sat down too heavily on a cane chair that I own and the seat fell apart. A bit of research, and I found a specialist not too far away who did a fine job at a reasonable price.

Rejoice with me also about some of the good things related to internet banking. Once my bank knows who Dolly Fitzmaddox is, and where she banks, then I can ask it to pay her £89 and I get a clear, easily read screen saying “You have just paid Dolly Fitzmaddox £89”. No trouble with a letter or a stamp or a visit to the bank, and no doubt about Dolly getting the money.

There are even some government departments that have got their act together. DVLC at Swansea get to know about your MOT certificate and are quite polite about reminding you to licence your vehicle. Even the nanny state is not completely useless. I have a letter inviting me to have a free eye test because they think I have diabetes. (I don’t, but it’s nice they should be interested.)

Rejoice with me also about the fact that many electronic devices will respond to the equivalent of the sharp kick you used to give their mechanical predecessor. If you turn every switch off and start all over again, it often works. Why? Nobody knows. But they never knew why the kick worked, did they?

I must not forget the women who staff Reception and the Bistro in this institution where I live. Every one of them delightful. Grateful, too, for mental and bodily health which is still OK for an Oct.  being  a Christian, I wonder at times if I am alive because there is still something I am supposed to do or say or blog about.

And I must not forget alcohol. G.K.Chesterton wrote these splendid lines:

“Feast on wine or fast on water and your honour shall stand sure;

God almighty’s son and daughter, He the valiant, She the pure.

If an angel out of heaven gives you other things to drink,

Thank him for his kind intentions, go and pour it down the sink.”

 

 

Oct
08

Ought not the title to be Science Fiction? The two are pretty mixed up. Sometimes nothing happens till an idea is created and then reality follows. At other times the thing comes first and then people write stories about it.

Recently two writers of spy stories (Le Carre and Rimington) have been attacked by an earlier head of British security (MI5? MI6?) for writing too realistically about what really happens. It is assumed by readers that the knowledge they gained (in one case from actually doing the top) is bound to influence their story-telling. Some of it must surely be true! They are giving too much away!

I read and enjoy both writers, but today some of their stories are scary. Right now I am into a Rimington book that was published in 2010 and contains ideas that must have been familiar to her work-wise before that date. It concerns Drones and their capability. (Don’t get them mixed up with The Drones Club in London to which Bertie Wooster belonged. Those drones were so called because they were useless) The Drones of our century are not useless at all. They are now well known for hanging around airports and interfering with travel. In this book they are capable of transmitting instructions to human or electric or mechanical agencies on the ground. The drones are told what instructions to send by some controller who may be half the world away and can give his/her commands in plain English or Japanese or whatever. These commands are turned into code that the drone can understand by clever encryption which is thought to be secure. The person issuing the commands probably has no understanding of encryption and may not be aware that what one expert can encrypt another expert can alter.

None of this is beyond modern technology. This has been proved by the recent destruction of oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, done, according to some sources by drones operated from Iran.

In the world of cyber warfare there is as much room for deceit and error and accident as there was when the Britsh attacked Spion Kop. Just days ago a snooker player driving to perform in Barnsley, Yorkshire, put ‘Barnsley’ into his Satnav and ended up in Barnsley, Gloucestershire. So how about this scenario? An enemy aiming to disrupt a computer-controlled facility the Uk Atomic Research Establishment at Aldermaston encounters some human/electronic confusion and all the power fails at my “Luxury Retirement Village” twenty miles away.

ostrich

ANYTHING can happen. It can happen to ME. It can happen quite by accident because somebody has put an extra comma into a line of code. NOTHING is impossible. Should I be scared? Should I put my head underground like an ostrich and rejoice in my ignorance? Probably. (They don’t, by the way, but they do keep their heads pretty low.)

Oct
05

Congratulations on ignoring all the cautious advice given to you, and saying loud and clear what you really think.

anger

These clever diplomatic people (advisers) ignore the fact that what you feel, deep down, is a valuable signal and an indication of how you might act if you got the chance. If somebody really hates me, I want to know why. Maybe they have good reason and I have done something, perhaps unknowingly, to damage them. It could be rectified. Or they may have misunderstood my words. But if their hatred is never made clear, nothing can be done. Perhaps somebody has already made a wax image of me and is sticking pins in it without offering any clue why!

The emotional climate of our day is stuffed full of weasel words that conceal the truth. I wish there were more people like Prince Harry. Perhaps his outspoken attitude will make them regret  the pain they have caused.

Uninhibited expression of what you really think gives you a great feeling of personal relief and may even modify your desire for extreme action.

Oct
04

What do you do when you want to ignore one of the stakeholders in your business enterprise? Never mind why you want to ignore them, but a common reason is that one of the other stakeholders is causing you trouble. Your investors are getting edgy about dividends, or your suppliers are giving preference to your competitors or there is a strike threat from your labour force, but you have a solid group of captive customers who are powerless.

There is no industry in which this can happen? How about the retirement village you own? The customers are people who have bought properties from you and can’t move out without major financial loss. They have a variety of complaints about your management but they can’t do more than moan. You don’t want to be openly hostile (bad for your image) but you have no intention of helping them because money is your over-riding priority.

Your first action? Inertia. Do nothing about the complaint that has been made until it re-surfaces. When it does? Just look regretful and promise that this time something really will happen. When told that it has not happened, what now? Evasion. Pretend that he complaint needs further examination than you realised. Next? Postponement. Invent a spurious complaint which is far more important and must take precedence, thus kicking the can further down the road. Next? Prevarication. Solving the problem will need action by an outside contractor, whom you have instructed. Still nothing happens? Blame the contractor for non-performance.

Get the idea? With luck, the people who brought the complaint in the first case will have given up in disgust.

Oct
03

I sit here in the comfort and safety of this “Luxury Retirement Village” and the television informs me hourly of the appalling things that are happening elsewhere. And not just in remote corners of the world! Winchester prison was featured tonight (not fifty miles away) with details of the criminals locked up there for serious offences and the savage attacks launched by them on the warders.

Was the world always like this, and can nothing be done about it? I knew nothing about it when I was young, but perhaps that was due to a sheltered background and to little or no media coverage. Maybe it was always going on.

I am a devotee of the poem “The Vision of Piers Plowman” in which all the good and the bad of 14th Century life is portrayed. So I know that it was present in those days. There were people who had none of the world’s wealth and thought “This is unfair. I ought to have some of these goodies the rich are playing with. I will get my proper share by crime and violence”.

That leads back to the question of how the ‘have-nots’ get to be that way. The common answer is they are born to other ‘have-nots’ and that parental behaviour has far more influence than the education that society provides for them. Society has no shortage of well-meaning social reformers but none of them have eradicated the section of society that is impoverished and resents it. So, was it always like this? Yes. Can anything be done about it? No.

Or maybe that last answer is too pessimistic. A problem can be ameliorated without being solved. Poverty is relative, of course, and as long as the “better off” exist those who don’t qualify are going to feel poor. But attempts to provide more goodies for those who don’t have them can make things better, as can attempts to change attitudes and to show that wealth can be won by hard work and determination. We commonly use the term’Role-Model’ but we focus too much on the status that such people have gained and not enough on the circular sequence of desire>effort>failure > increased effort>success that such people go through. How did the role-model get where he or she now is?

One must also remember the Bible story of the men given talents. (For currency read ability). We are not all born with the same talents and what matters is how well we use what we have been given. As much recognition is deserved by the person with few talents as is deserved by the person with greater. It is fulfilling your capability that matters. Society is getting better in this respect. Perhaps we are not quite so impotent as it seems

Getting back to Piers Plowman, the seeker after truth is constantly frustrated in his search but ends the poem with determination to go on seeking. If anybody wants to see my take on PP, try praisingpiersplowman.com