Important Status Update

All major headlines require you to make an official response on social media. It’s a new law.

Previously, important people were expected to issue a statement to the press when something big happened, like the death of an important person, an earthquake, flood, tsunami, volcanic eruption or act of terror.

Today, however, EVERYONE is compelled to do this.

This is because, in the past, it took a great effort to put pen to paper, lick a stamp, walk to the post box and then wait for possible publication in the letters page of the organ of choice, but today it’s a social media status update, done in a few seconds with a thumb.

You are, at the very least, expected to respond to the news post by clicking on an emoticon for crying, or that depicts shock or anger. If you really are bothered enough, you may make an actual comment.

Sometimes there is a call for further action – to “share”, to sign a petition, to send thoughts and prayers, or even to change your avatar profile picture to something with a flag on it.

Doing nothing is not an option.

And what do you do when there has not been a major event and you have the usual burning desire to comment to your followers and friends? You have to find a meme or fake news,  or anything that allows you to issue a public statement and share your dearly held views.  There are plenty of meme generators click baiters for that very reason.

We’re all important broadcasters and commentators now. Infatuation with information has met with egocentricity and narcissism.

Infatuation with information merges with egocentricity and narcissism.

And when that happens, nothing could be less social than social media.

Sometimes I wonder if this is the way the baddies might win. I often wonder why we register or acknowledge such events and then move on to the next thing. Perhaps if we didn’t feed them, the monsters would quit and leave us to have a social time on social media.

 

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Energy Issues

People talk about solar panels. These days, though, they probably mean PV panels. What’s the difference? Well, solar panels make hot water, but photovoltaic or PV panels make electricity.

When this PV panel thing started, for no real reason, they were wired up such that the electric meter turned backwards when the electricity produced by the panels exceeded the house’s needs. And that is fascinating. And a problem.

You see, your utility provider for electricity buys electricity from the grid-power station at wholesale prices. They add a markup and sell to you at their retail price. The meter keeps tabs on how much electricity you used.

However, if you produce electricity – turning back your meter, then you are effectively selling electricity to the utility company at the same retail price you buy from them.

The utility company is seeing this growing exponentially, and it is now asking for a review such that you ought to sell to them at the same wholesale price as the grid-power station supplier.

There is talk of two meters being required, two tariffs, and the PV panels wired up differently.

Watch this space.

Good Can Win Over Evil if…

In RL Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, it is clear that everyone has good and evil within. To remove the evil in order to be 100% pure good, means that the 100% bad part is freed into the wild with dangerous consequences.

Although the total good or evil remains the same, the effect is a strange case indeed. Perhaps it’s not what you do, but the way that you do it? Perhaps we ought to have the internal good v evil battle to “win” and be virtuous or worthy of the afterlife in heaven… or something.

It is a fascinating novella, and a great subject for discussion and thought. However, the most interesting notion to be teased from this work is, for me, the external manifestation of good and of evil.

Let me go further, does the good erase or in some way make up for any bad that someone does. I don’t mean atonement or penance, not exactly (although that is also very interesting), rather, I am taken with the idea of someone inventing or discovering something, but being a thoroughly disagreeable person – perhaps even considered evil.

I know that this is a poor introduction to what I am on about. Sorry about that. It’s just that it seems to come up again and again in recent times.

Take Wagner – a brilliant, innovative and unique composer – but a Nazi sympathiser and Jew-hater. Even today, his music is taboo in Israel. Can it be possible or reasonable to separate the man from his work – to allow yourself to enjoy his music and disagree with his politics?

In recent times in the UK, it has become clear that in some celebrities at least, the evil side of the personality triumphed from time to time. Jimmy Savile became a prominent BBC radio and television personality, gained fans and followers, brought entertainment and enjoyment to millions, and raised over £40 million for charities. However, it seems he might have had a dark side as a sexual predator. All of which has come out after he died.

Do the allegations and accusations overthrow or trump the good works?

Should they?

Rolf Harris was a role model – someone to look up to, a national treasure, but he’s in jail for sexual offenses. How should I feel about that?

Wagner was open and unapologetic, but no-one knew any bad things about Savile until after he died. Harris’s dark side was hidden – but he was found out while alive, and brought to justice.

Some people say that we ought not to speak ill of the dead, and I am inclined that way myself particularly if nothing can be gained by raking up evil.

Take Savile – he did good works and died. His bad side was then discovered. The big question I had at the time this came out in the media was – why did no-one speak up while he was alive to defend, respond or be brought to justice. If he was prolific as is suggested, surely some of the blame has to be borne by those who, by keeping schtum, allowed further abuse to take place. But all-in-all, what overall good would come of posting allegations over the front pages? I do think that the end result of this particular case is to negate the good. So the whole thing is just pure Mr. Hyde.

Wagner is different. He did not hide his antisemitic views. I wonder that – if he had held them as a dark secret – would people stop liking his music upon discovering “the truth”? Another thought – would his personal beliefs make people listen to his music? And so what? Does anything matter? If his beliefs were not known, what difference would it make to his music, and how it is received as music?

Pop Stars align themselves with political movements – should they? Should it matter to us? Should I stop liking or listening to their songs?

Rolf Harris is different again; he was disgraced and will pay his debt to society. By going to jail, by apologising and atoning, he is cleansed. In theory anyway. Harris faced justice, and gets a clean slate – so all his works, his TV, his books, his paintings – even his pop songs, all should be OK to like – shouldn’t they?

My thought is that we should always be inclined to good, to an exemplary life – even if fake. Why? Because fake is normal. We each have good and evil. We do good and bad, we have to try to let good win. Good must outweigh bad in the scales.

That way lies hope.

Savile did good for more people than he did bad. That’s tough to type in this climate; it goes against everything just now. Same with Harris. Unlike Savile, Harris was found guilty – and is paying. Wagner didn’t even DO anything; he merely held a view that is unpopular. Why can’t we just focus on the good stuff as a default rule? Doing so doesn’t condone crime or evil or unpopular extremist views. Really it doesn’t.

Michael Jackson was a long list of accusations of child abuse, and yet it is widely considered acceptable to enjoy his musical legacy without a care about all that – why? Why is Jackson different from Savile? Jackson didn’t do as much for charity as Savile – Jackson was keeping his money for himself. Is this a double standard?

I remember when Rock Hudson died and it came out that he was actually homosexual. He clearly did not want this to be known while he was alive. He did not want to represent homosexuality. that’s just who he was and what he wanted to do. To out him after his death is not really fair to my mind.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that homosexuality is evil or that Hudson’s dark side contained his gay secret. I am suggesting that he was careful about his public image and probably would have wanted to maintain that as his legacy. What good did outing him bring? People today look at him playing the very heterosexual male roles in pictures, and know what he really was – and that was likely to be exactly what Rock Hudson did not want to happen. People may even boycott his films because of that. I have heard of Christian fundamentalists taking that view.

There seems to be a popular trend for seeing the bad in people, in revealing things that ought to be hidden, and I don’t go along with that.

If someone was struggling with a personal issue, a dark side, a kink, an addiction – whatever, what business is it of mine? What good does it do society at large to display the flaws sufficient to overshadow any goodness?

I would suggest that the sooner we as a society drop this trend in favour of role models of positivity and good, then we can return to aspiration, looking forward, making good, advancement, and betterment.

Ups & Downs of The Market

Right after Brexit’s result, the markets dived. Right after Trump’s win, the markets collapsed.

And everyone points to the drop in the markets as though these indices were in some way a reflection of how well a country is doing. But that is simply untrue.

The big fuss about the Dow Jones Industrial Average number is ridiculous – an arbitrary selection of 30 companies, not even the biggest or most well-known, record their share values and this rather silly and unrepresentative value is then divided by a weird number that someone came up with in the 1800s (which we over-egg by calling it an “algorithm” in today’s parlance).

The Foostie, the S&P 500, the Hang Seng and the rest are indices of the stock market. That is all they are.

This is about the rich people.

When an index rises, this simply means the rich people are getting richer.

When an index falls, then rich people are losing money – and if the drop is significant enough and for a long enough time, then there is a chance that it might actually affect real, everyday people like you and me because companies may shed employees, or close down altogether.

This means that in a recession, everyone loses.

But at all other times, it is mainly about rich people and their value on paper.

Trump wins the election in the USA and the markets drop in value. OK, Boo hoo – rich people have less dough for a few hours because Trump then makes his acceptance speech and the markets rise to previous levels and above. So the rich people don’t lose a penny after all.

I just don’t get why the news media keep reporting the ups and downs of the markets when it is mainly only of interest to the rich – to people who own shares, to stockholders – do you know any?

It seems to be used as evidence of the foolishness of the masses to vote the way they did. The flavour is: Look what you did! See what has happened?

The markets are not a true reflection of the state of economic or political heath of a nation – these indices do not account for the common man – there is no consideration of inflation, currency exchanges, GDP, interest rates or anything other than the gambling value of company shares being traded by computers at break-neck speed over fibre optic cables.

Whenever I hear a news bulletin report the Footsie 100 or the Dow Jones, I grind my teeth and wish I were rich enough to give a damn.

 

Touching design

As a design student, it was impressed upon me the importance of how users intimately interact with a product design. I have never forgotten the handshake, the contact points, and I still use it to decide which things to buy. It’s how I evaluate everything, a benchmark.

I remember how BMW made the interior light fade instead of just switching on or off, and how that made me feel it was somehow of superior quality. How my CD player grabbed my disc solidly and drew it into the slot – how the lid of my cassette player slowly slid open – the sound of a Jaguar car door shutting.

Similarly, I remember so many things that felt lightweight, plasticky and cheap.

I was chatting with a colleague at work about vinyl making a comeback. He said “Why? the sound is terrible, and you get scratches and hiss.” He was genuinely puzzled.

That was when I realised how much tactility we’ve lost – and how that might be something we feel lacking today.

A digital file might sound better, and be conjured up easily on a phone or laptop – but with vinyl there is handling. The design handshake. You get artwork, a card sleeve, the disc itself and the ritual of taking it out, putting it on, and turning it over when the side was played through.

This is common to all audio formats – cassette, CD or 8-Track. You got a “thing”.

Reading a Kindle book is great – cheap and very convenient. But it also lacks that handshake. A book feels, smells and looks better – and an expensive book – a hardback with a dust cover – is a prized possession to be cared for.

I worry about the future in this respect; driverless cars, voice activated audio and video and more besides. If you are not driving the car, how can it thrill?

At one time, people bought a daily newspaper – it  was used as a tablecloth, a napkin, to wrap chips, scrunched up to clean stainless steel and windows, rolled-up to swat flies, stuffed into damp shoes, cut into party decorations, used to draw a coal fire… it was read, the crossword was done, articles clipped out, ads circled, moustaches doodled onto the photographed luminaries. It was laid under carpets and used to fill gaps in window frames.

Today, we read our news online, listen to the radio or watch TV.

I’m no different; I stopped wearing a wristwatch in favour of the smartphone. I put away my cassettes, videos, CDs, DVDs, LPs, 45s, reels, books, magazines… I will ask Google before looking up a dictionary or pull a book from my shelves. I threw out my maps and atlases years ago in favour of my sat nav and google maps.

My TV is too thin to have a decent speaker, and I have lost all concept of quality, accepting whatever my phone or TV gives me. I put up with slow browsers, buffering, Freeview digital “Max Headroom” glitches. This is what I have become.

My pens have dried up, my watches stopped. Nothing ticks, nothing takes time to dry, nothing needs a tactility skill, fingers swipe screens and click mice.

I have playing cards, chess sets, wind-up toys and board games in a sealed box in the cellar. My children play with tech, and buy apps. Will they grow up with no understanding of what a new book feels and smells like? What it’s like to be given a designed product as a gift? Will they know or miss knowing that feeling you get  when you clean the capstan and recording heads, when a tape desk has been demagnetised, when a record has been brushed, when a guitar has been restrung and tuned, when a car was driven with joy and appreciation?

Will they care about design? Will they grow fond of a thing? Will they relate to the ghost in the machine?

I wonder if vinyl’s return reveals an innate need…

 

Petty Crime for the 21st Century

The way we shop has changed – along with the way we steal.

My mother shopped every day, sometimes more than once. She would take her shopping bag and buy just what she needed for the meal or recipe – a couple of slices of this, a few scoops of that. This type of shopping made it difficult to steal because you were served by a counter assistant on a one-to-one basis.

Stealing relied on sleight of hand skills and misdirection. You could ask for something on a high shelf, for example, and while the assistant wasn’t looking, items could be pocketed. You could use an accomplice too – this helps with misdirection, and while there were no CCTV cameras or smart tags, the risk was direct and personal.

I know of people who are nostalgic for such days; they miss the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the risk of shame and humiliation. Even when there was no criminal intent, this was present; the shop assistant knew exactly what you were buying – pornographic material, condoms or ointments for thrush.

Perhaps because of the personal interaction element, the embarrassment factor or the need for privacy, shopping changed, and along with it, the crime.

Supermarkets introduced baskets, trolleys and check-outs. The thief only had to put items in a pocket or otherwise avoid the check-out till. Shopping was much faster and less embarrassing, but so was shop-lifting.

It is possible that the losses, at least to some extent, would be offset by the savings in reduced staffing levels and relying on technology like CCTV.

But people are inventive, and with each new innovation in shopping comes an innovation in crime.

Today, we have the Self-Service-Checkout.

Thieves must be delighted with this – it makes everything so much easier and less risky. If caught, one can simply say it was an innocent error.

George Charles of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk carried out a survey of 2,634 people aged 18 and over about their shopping habits and use of self service checkouts.

About 19 per cent said they stole from Self -Service-Checkouts – and the majority said they stole regularly.

Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Theft from stores pushed the direct cost of retail crime up to £511m last year, 166 per cent higher than five years ago.”

Of course, this generates more vigilance – usually in CCTV at this area, but what if there was a way to go undetected by CCTV?

Well, it seems that there is a way. I was recently told of a popular method to rob a store blind while appearing to do everything properly and honestly.

Here’s how it works:

You do not scan your expensive steak, instead you turn the barcode from the scanner, and weigh it on the scales instead. You select a cheaper item – so instead of paying for steak, you pay for apples or a potato or something about the right weight. This allows you to put the item into the scaled bagging area, where it will be expected.

Nothing looks amiss; on the CCTV, you have scanned everything, and no alarms have been sounded. You pass through the door scanners too – you have a receipt, so you can even return items later. Everything appears above board.

So what can the shops do?

The answer to that might just be from Amazon – the new Amazon Go shops.

This idea seems a way to stop stealing – but on the other hand, it removes ALL the people – these stores do not need the same numbers of CCTV and store security personnel – and no till operators. Even if they are not foolproof (remember with each innovation comes innovation in crime), the saving in not paying staff might make it worth it.

I saw this with Uber recently too – they are having problems with trades unions and worker rights to the extent that they are heading down the driver-less car route.

The summary upshot and bottom line is that – as a result of petty crime over the years, the drive has been away from employees toward technology. The removal of people is what is going on. Less jobs, less face-to-face interaction, less embarrassment, less risk, and fewer thrills. Online shopping, cashless, credit cards and mobile smartphones, have heralded a new future where people are diminished in favour of technology.

I’m not sure I can make sense of this future – fewer jobs for people usually means fewer employed earners that are shoppers. We are being sold a future where we can shop without a queue and get a driver-less taxi, but can that be true? Will this only be for those few with jobs?

And what of those people with no jobs? Will they create an alt-society? Or will they innovate new criminal ways as before?

Only time will tell.

How to Get an Instant Divorce

I was once witness to the terrible consequences of loose talk, and have been very careful ever since.

This happened years ago. John and I were in the pub trying to chat up two girls who had already told us they were married.

I had seen this all before – girls who were married didn’t go out on the town by themselves. If they weren’t lying, then they were unhappily married. That was John’s theory, so we continued undeterred – and they seemed to like it (and us) – however, as the drinks flowed, talk got looser.

It turned out that Julie was indeed unhappy in her marriage, her husband was a useless unemployed drunk. She was fed up earning all the money and working long hours just so that he could lie on the couch all day drinking.

John had had a few by now. He knew he was too drunk now to make good any amorous advances, but his mind still worked, albeit without the usual constraints of caution, propriety and inhibition. This was one of those turning points. A game-changer.

He leaned forward and spoke so softly that we all had to lean in to glean what he was saying.

“I say you dump this guy and move on; you can do better for yourself and you’re not getting any younger.”

“But I can’t – he needs me, he depends on me…”

“No, no, not at all; you’re actually keeping him down. Cut him loose; it would be the best thing for him. Believe me.”

“But where would I go?”

“Go? No, you go nowhere – he goes.”

“But I can’t just throw him out without a reason.”

“Is he bad to you?”

“No, not really, he’s bad FOR me. As I said, he just does nothing. He’s always just lying there zonked out on the couch in front of the TV, a waste of space…”

“If I could tell you how to get rid of him in the quickest, easiest and most painless way possible, would you be interested to hear it?”

“I’m telling you he won’t go just like that, it won’t be easy …”

“But it could be; I know a way – and you’d be the hero too, you’d be the good guy and he’d be the bastard. Would you be interested in hearing the plan now?”

“Yes, I flippin’ would, because that’s nigh on impossible, John, seriously!”

“OK, here’s what you do: you go home, you find him zonked out on the couch as usual, dead to the world, right?”

“Right.”

“Right, so you carefully place the lamp on it’s side on the carpet, and do the same with ornaments, pictures, and whatever else you have. Make it look like there’s been a struggle and things have been knocked over. You can even extend the idea to another room, pour something on the carpet, whatever.”

“And all this while he’s drunk asleep on the couch?”

“Exactly. Now you need to rip your blouse, get your hair pulled this way and that, ruin your make-up. Girls can do wonderful things with make-up. All that matters is that you have to look like you’ve been beaten up in a big struggle. Then pick up the phone in the other room and cry and sob and wail down it that he’s gonna kill you and plead for help to the police.”

We all stopped and looked at John. Julie’s eyes were as big as her surprise could make them.

“But the police will arrive and wake him up – he’ll just say he didn’t do it…”

“Ah, but,” John said, “They won’t believe him – they’ll see you, they’ll see the state of the place, and they’ll drag him out of there in two seconds flat.”

I chipped in: “Just say he passed out waiting for you to come out from hiding or something.”

“But – and I’m only asking for the sake of argument – what would happen next? Wouldn’t he just get let off a warning or something” Julie asked.

“Well, the police will warn him not to visit you because you would have seen a lawyer.”

“A lawyer?”

“Yes, a lawyer – to stop this violence once and for all…”

“What violence?”

“All the months and years of suffering that he’s put you through, and that you so skillfully hid from the world. The physical and mental torture you kept behind closed doors, you poor thing!”

“Jeez. He’d deny everything…”

“Yeah, and who’s gonna believe an unemployed drunkard who beats his caring wife and then blacks out?”

And that is how the evening went. Drinks were drunk, thoughts were thought, drunks were ejected onto the street, into cabs, and home to sleep it all off. It was just chat, it was pub banter. We knew she wouldn’t have the gumption to carry out such a nefarious plan – who could?

Look, she must have loved the guy to get married in the first place. She must still love him if she’s been putting up with him as he is. And like most women, she probably thinks she can change him. And like most wives, she’ll be long-suffering.  If they don’t survive, or prevail, after a fashion, they’ll eventually split up somewhere down the line – because that is what happens.

That is what is supposed to happen.

But Julie did listen, and what she heard resonated within her. She had the power now, and she liked that. She could be proactive, she could pull the plug any time that she wanted, and that was excitingly empowering.

When she got home to find her once-beloved lying on the couch pissed, and beside him was a half-finished takeaway curry and a splash of vomit drying into her good carpet,  she realised that she was no longer in the mood for all this.

.oOo.

It was six months before I was back in that particular bar. I was early to meet up with a couple of pals I hadn’t seen since uni, and there she was in a booth. I caught her eye and nodded in polite recognition – the usual cursory acknowledgement before turning to the barman. She was suddenly beside me.

“I did it!” She pulled on my elbow.

“Eh? What? You did it?”

“Yeah – I did it. I got rid of Charlie!”

“Charlie?”

“Aw, don’t you remember? We were all here a few months back and your pal John came up with a scheme to help me get rid of Charlie…”

“Nah! No way! Are you saying you did one of John’s madcap schemes? You took all that seriously?”

“I am – and I did!” She beamed.

“Jeez. You seem happy on it…”

“I am indeed. Never been happier – I have a new man too.” She indicated a chap over in the booth. “He’s great. We’re great. Together. It’s night and day. John turned my life around – when’s he coming in?”

“Oh, he’s not – I am not meeting up with him tonight, just other pals as it happens.”

“Ah, well, I wish he was coming because I would just like to than him for being a genius!”

“Did it all go to plan then?”

“To the letter. Charlie didn’t know what hit him! You know what’s most funny about all this? Charlie believes he’s been blacking out and battering me. He believes it himself!”

“You’re joking!”

“No – it’s been the best thing for him too; he’s dried out, sorted himself out, turned his life around. He’s even about to start a wee job! I just cannot thank you two enough! If Charlie knew, he’d probably thank you too!”

And that was that. From a careless, half drunken rant, a dream schemed up on a lager’d evening to pass the time – an amusing diversion… to wham! And lives have changed forever! Cause and effect. Consequences.

And before you think that it all worked out for the best – just as Julie told me – it didn’t.

Julie’s was only one side of the story.

Charlie’s version was rather different as we found out later… but that’ll keep for another time.

 

What Is It With Religion Today?

People often say that we should never discuss religion or politics. But I see nothing but religion and politics on social media. So tonight, as I once again cannot sleep, and as yet another live Muslim terror attack appears on my screen, I thought I would try to get a perspective on religion. Sorry it’s not a funny blog post, but I hope it’s not too serious, opinionated or lecturing; it’s just me, as a bloke having a think out loud, really. Hope you like it, or get something from it. Anyway, here goes.

I wanted to know if the UK was religious, and I found the following on-line quotation that sums up all the sites I read:

One single fact can be found in all of the statistics: Britons are mostly non-religious and are increasingly both innocent and ignorant of religion.

(Source)

Numbers are available for this, for example:

Those who do profess religion in the UK are largely inactive.

A 2007 poll commissioned by the British Library found that 50% of religious folk “do not practice religion very much, if at all”, with Christians being the most inactive.

A 2014 poll found similar results, with 50% of British Jews saying that they are not at all religious Muslims were most religious, with only 7% saying they’re not.

(Source)

2011 Census  Adherents %
Christianity  33 200 000 59.3%
No Religion  14 100 000 25.1%
Islam  2 700 000 4.8%
Hinduism  817 000 1.5%
Sikhism  423 000 0.8%
Judaism  263 000 0.5%
Buddhism  248 000 0.4%
Jedi Knights  176 632 0.3%

(Source)

So it seems that Christianity is the biggest, but also pretty inactive, when you add that to those who see themselves as having No Religion (and perhaps Jedi Knights too), then it strongly suggests to me that the UK is overwhelmingly not a religious place.

Islam is the most practised religion, but there are very few Muslims in Britain – just 4.8%, 2.7 million, and of these, (the news media suggests) there are a few extremists – and only some of these are the ones doing the terror attacks. So although the numbers are very small, the impact is very large in terms of media coverage and the effect on us all – in terms of searches and security at airports, fear and suspicion and more.

It seems to be the same in the USA, despite the success of Bible Belt fundamental Christian media, religion in general is in serious decline there too.

Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.

Last year brought a continuation of this decline. 2013 was a new low for the level of religiosity in the country.

(Source)

The Source has a very good graph of 61 years of decline in religiosity for you to check out if you feel like it.

I looked around various search engine results, changed the search wording a bit, and it seems plain now to me that religion has been dying for decades in the UK, the USA and Europe. That is the trend.

It can be taken as the trend for the “West” or the “Developed” nations or “First world”. I needed to find some information about what’s happening everywhere else.

How  do things stand across the world?

Religion Adherents Percentage
Christianity 2.2 billion 31.50%
Islam 1.6 billion 22.32%
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist ≤1.1 billion 15.35%
Hinduism 1 billion 13.95%
Chinese traditional religion 394 million 5.50%
Buddhism 376 million 5.25%
Ethnic religions excluding some in separate categories 300 million 4.19%
African traditional religions 100 million 1.40%
Sikhism 23 million 0.32%

OK, now this shows that all the Catholic and Protestant Christian faiths when taken all together, beat Islam. But it could be that many may be inactive – in the same way that I found in the UK study earlier.

And of course, religion, except Islam and a few others, is in decline – so at the present time the world is mostly Christian/ No religion and Islam.

The next question is – what about the future?

…the total number of religiously unaffiliated people (which includes atheists, agnostics and those who say they have no particular religion on censuses and surveys) is expected to rise, from 1.1 billion in 2010 to 1.2 billion in 2050. But this growth is projected to occur at the same time that other religious groups – and the global population overall – are growing faster.

(source)

A Daily Mail / New Scientist article suggests that affluence makes the elite, rich switch to a slower lifestyle, having fewer children and having them later in life too – putting them at risk evolutionarily when compared with the live-fast, die-young, poor – and this, they suggest, is why moralising religions were devised – to level the playing field.

It seems then that historically, the most religious countries have been the most primitive or undeveloped economically, and as this changes, their people have moved away from religion. The question is whether that will still be the case for the third world.

However, recent studies indicate that Hindus and Muslims are not following that route, and seem to hold onto their religions despite development.

This suggests that the future will be polarised between a growing Muslim population across the world, and a non religious/inert Christianity.

This has economic impact because Islam forbids banks to charge interest under Sharia law. So banks make money by lending money to business and taking a share of the profits.

Now, this may seem like a great idea because the banks share the risk – but it also means that banks would evaluate business more stringently, and lend much less, creating a stagnant economic model.

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There is another consideration here too – that of culture. It is rarely mentioned, but people in the UK are culturally Christian. God is on the money along with the Queen – who is head of the Church of England and Defender of The Faith. Christmas and Easter are celebrated, and people marry in church. Children learn about Noah’s Ark, the Nativity, and other Bible Stories. The UK has cathedrals and a long history of religious wars, mainly between Catholic Christians and Protestants – but also the Crusades against Islam. The Industrial Revolution was the result of a strange combination of the Enlightenment and something called the Protestant Work Ethic.

So while there may be a decline in Christianity as a religion, as a culture, it seems more robust. This may be where Muslims and Christians clash the most just now in the UK. However, as the table of numbers showed, they are far too small a population to be a real concern regarding dominance in terms of religion or of culture.

Globally is a different case. There are terrorist groups, such as Islamic State, who seem to have real issues with people who do not follow their particular flavour of Islam. The extremists tend to target other Muslims, but they are better known for those occasions when they attack non-Muslims, or when they attack “the West”.

At one time, it would have been thought that prosperity for middle eastern countries would solve the problems, but as oil has enriched some of these countries, matters have got worse instead of better, and as I just found out, Islam seems to buck the trend for religious adherence falling away as people get affluent.

My little trip round the internet has been more interesting than worrying. Donald Trump’s calls for a ban on Muslims being allowed into the USA – or racists in the UK voting for Brexit in order to control Muslim entry seem more about fears of losing cultural identity than stopping terrorism.

The number of suicidal western-hating Muslim terrorists is too small for any country to manage an effective pre-emption or defence strategy; you cannot legislate for random acts by a few crazy people.

That’s a rubbish conclusion, isn’t it? We cannot do anything. And it’s annoying to me that these few idiots can have such a disproportionate effect. Sometimes I wonder if the real aim of the terrorists is to get us spending resources on security and making everyone’s lives that bit more of a drag.

The politicians seem to feel the need to show voters that this is serious, and that we need to have vigilance and security measures that put our basic freedoms at risk.

I suppose we can share intelligence, have secret services monitor social media and generally keep an eye on who’s buying bombs and plane tickets. But is it worth losing freedoms and privacy rights? Is it worth xrays and removing shoes and belts in airports?

There are other, less obvious, ways to undermine Islamic terrorism, the developed world needs to switch away from oil toward renewables, to take a different view on recreational drugs, to fundamentally change the banking and investment sector, and to allow China to rise to take over the role of World Police. The end of Pax Britannica led to Pax Americana. I don’t know what to call it when it goes to China!

These measures seem to be what is going on, so I feel somewhat re-assured for the future.

 

 

 

Another Almost Perfect Crime

This is a tale of tragedy. It begins pleasantly, but soon descends into intrigue, crime, betrayal and revenge. And it is all true.

It was back in the early 1980s, John and his pal, Al, decided, on a whim, to dine away a Friday evening at a good Chinese Restaurant on the Southside of the city.

Being a warm summer’s evening, the traffic in Glasgow was as light as the evening. The restaurant was pretty busy, so they were lucky to get a table without a booking. By the time they had ordered, it had filled up.

“Well, hello there chaps!”

John looked up, “Hello there Billy – how’s it going?”

“Not bad, John, not bad.”

“Are you out and about tonight, Billy?” asked Al

“No, no, just staying in tonight; I haven’t got paid yet, but I’m starving, so I thought I’d pop in here and get a cheap take away deal, you know, and watch the telly with my mum.”

“Nope. I won’t hear of it. Not at all; Billy, come and join us – Al shift up!”

And that is what happened. And that is how it all started.

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The waiter asked if they would like more drinks, and was also given Billy’s food order.

When the food came, they ordered yet more drinks. The alcohol began to take effect, and they relaxed, chatting and laughing through the meal. But Billy was slightly less relaxed because the terms were not made clear at the outset.

“Listen guys, I told you I was strapped for cash, could you lend me a fiver? That should do it; I have enough for the rest, I think…”

“Oh, don’t worry, Billy, mate, we’ll take care of it”, offered Al.

“Now wait a minute”, said John, a thoughtful look on his face, “I have an idea!”

Billy and Al listened to the plan as it unfolded from John’s imagination. It went something like this: Billy would finish at some point, get up and leave. John and Al would stay, maybe have another drink, then get the bill. They would refuse to pay for Billy as he had just sat down with them for a while. Billy would get a free meal!

Well, the three of them were just drunk enough to think this was worth a shot. Billy downed his lager, cast down his napkin, slipped on his jacket and left.

Everything went  according to plan – the waiter was cross, the manager came over. John protested about paying someone else’s bill.

People in nearby tables chimed in – telling the manager that the man had come in afterwards and was not actually with the two gentlemen – who came in for a meal together. The manager was chattering in Chinese to his staff.

“The Police have been Called!” He announced.  The restaurant was in uproar.

“Shame!”

John and Al, kept quiet, and waited for it all to subside. Two policemen arrived at the table.

“These men refuse to pay bill for three covers” explained the manager.

John, Al and most of the restaurant told the story – that these two men came in, got a table together, ordered together, and asked to pay the bill together. They were not refusing to pay for the food and drink consumed. A gentleman came in ordered food and drink, and then left without paying his bill, and there were plenty of witnesses to back up this version of events.

The policemen explained to the manager that John and Al hadn’t broken any law, and that the restaurant could not force someone to pay someone else’s bill.

The restaurant cheered. The Chinese staff were forlorn. John caught Al’s eye, and smiled as they waited for their change and receipt.

Suddenly, the door opened – and in came Billy.

“That’s the man! – That’s him!”

“Sorry, guys, I saw the police car, and I cannot let you get arrested on my behalf!” blurted Billy.

John and Al tried in vain to stop Billy. “Ah there you are! These people tried to make us pay your bill, have you come back to pay…?”

“Look, officer”, Billy kept on, “We cooked up the whole plan to try to get off without paying for me, I’m sorry; it’s not like me. I can pay most of it, and I’m good for the rest next week…”

And so, to the horror of almost everyone (except the Chinese), the game was up, the cat was very much out of the bag, and the truth was out.  The Chinese looked at the police, the police winked at the Chinese.

“As you have returned to deal with the restaurant, we are no longer needed. We’re sure you will come to ‘an agreement’ – good night all”.

The three drunks’ acute embarrassment was soon replaced by horror, as they were escorted from the restaurant, through the kitchen, and out into the dark lane.

There they were held while their shoes and socks were removed by Chinese kitchen staff.

And there they were held while the chef thoroughly beat the soles of their feet using strange Oriental kitchen implements.

They couldn’t walk properly for almost a month afterwards.

 

Is Santa Real, Or Is He Really You, Dad?

Christmas season – trees are up, decorations everywhere, and schools have carols and Nativity plays.

“Dad?” asked my eight year old son, “Boys at school say that Santa is just you.”

“Me?”

“Well, the parents, I mean. Santa is not real. Is he? It’s just the parents pretending”

“Do you know what Santa looks like?” I asked him back.

“Yes, he’s big and round, and he’s got a big white beard and a red suit with a black belt.”

“Well, then. If you know what he looks like, then he must be real.”

“But, D-a-a-a-d…!”

“OK, OK. The answer is actually simple: If you believe – if you really believe in Santa, then he exists – he’s real.”

“What happens if you don’t believe in Santa, Dad?”santa

“If you stop believing in Santa, or if you’ve never believed in Santa, or if you’ve never even heard of Santa – then, of course, there’s no Santa for you.  For you He doesn’t exist, He’s not real, but as long as you really believe in him, He’s real”.

“What happens if I don’t believe in Santa, Dad?”

“Then you won’t get gifts from Santa any more, just from me – and mum and everyone else, just none from Santa.”

Now, I didn’t tell him (yet), but this truth is not restricted to the belief in Santa; it equally well applies to Jesus, Mohammed, Ra, Jehovah and God in general, whatever name is used.

For those who believe, Jesus/Mohammed is real, but for those who do not or no longer believe, He’s nothing special to them.

This is not an argument against belief, nor is it one for it. The simplest truth that underpins all faith, is the sincere belief, the honest belief in something, and when that falters and goes, it is gone.

I look around at decorations and images of Santa everywhere. How can it be that He doesn’t exist? How is it possible that all the rational adults have colluded together to pretend – to lie – about the existence (and even the appearance) of Santa Claus? Why would this happen? What lesson could it give to children if Santa was made up? That their parents have lied, and everyone – even Hollywood – has helped?

No. That would be unacceptable; Santa, and belief in Santa, Christmas and all religions has to be respected.

Equally, though, when and if someone no longer really believes, then “pop” it is all over, and He vanishes for them – but not for everyone else, they must be allowed to continue to believe and to receive the gifts for being good boys and girls.

Merry Christmas!