Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Comity and fairness

Comity and fairness go well beyond law and justice. Justice is the impartial application of the law and the law is a matter of legislation. Law gave us Treblinka and apartheid.

It is accepted that good people can do bad things: there is a difference between action and disposition. And circumstances can be extenuating. Life can be harsh; it is certainly and indubitably unjust. However, that does not necessitate that it be unfair. A will to fairness is hard-wired into our brains: we know it when we see it.

Children of 3 and 4 can tell you credibly that something is unfair.

Comity and fairness constitute the essence of the social contract. Cooperation is a superior survival strategy and gifting is both selfish and altruistic: there is a social ecology.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Time a Haiku

Acorn yields old oak

And egg births the greying sage.

… Time’s sands measure… Life.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Trust and the sexes

"In a game of mutual trust, women's brains show a big dopamine or reward
response when they are trusted by others; there is no such response in
men's brains."
Dr. P. Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor University in Houston

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Random Musings 2

We choose always; sometimes by default.

People are not to be understood. We do not make sense.

So what does it all mean? We insist on meaning! We suffer its lack acutely. All is Maya. Truly.

...it is all a question of meaning. Purpose, Frankl observed, is to be discovered.

We don’t have difficulty deciding what we want: our ideals are easy enough, however mistaken they may be; it is the compromises reality insists on that are problematic.

Fortune cookie wisdom. “Action is distilled intent.”

Tomorrow is another day.

I’m quite clever at times; quite profound at others. Silly often. Human always. I continue to learn things that in retrospect I believe I should have learnt long ago. However, common sense is as always exceedingly uncommon.

Friday, May 27, 2005

This is alone life

This is alone life:
Purity, chastity and
Sublime decadence.

This is alone life:
Desire and Decision:

This is alone life
To burn like a bonfire,

This is alone life
To know and be known through true
Tender Ecstasy.

This is alone life:
Ecstasy and Agony
Merrily coupled.

More Haiku

Sunrise marks Day’s birth
Launching Life’s latest voyage
To Day’s end: Sunset.

Wabi and Sabi:
Perfectly deficient,
Flawed beautifully.

Wabi and Sabi:
Mortal forms: men and women
Flawed beautifully.

Wabi and Sabi:
Immortals in mortal form:
Men, women transformed…

This is alone life:
To know passion, pain, love, loss
And say Yes! Always.

Random Musings

I am supposed to reflect.
Wisdom. And all that.

Everything is negotiable.
Price is not a true reflection of value.
Life is short – “too short to be small”.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


joy and rapture both,
as pain and anguish, are
points along the wave

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

How good is your thermostat?

Thermostats adjust temperatures taking into account the environmental temperatures due to the weather. Good thermostats, using fuzzy logic, learn to bank oscillations so that they over- and undershoot less widely and less often. If the target temperature is 21 deg Celsius, a very good thermostat might operate in the range 20-21,5 deg Celsius. As they get better they might narrow the range to 20,8-21,2 deg Celsius.

This is another instance of OODA: observe-orientate-decide-act.

“How good is your thermostat?” is shorthand for how flexible are you and are you reactive or proactive to feedback inputs? Remember, physiological systems use multiple feedback loops – some long, some short: they are nature’s thermostats, both reactive and proactive in managing homeostasis.

So, how good is your thermostat?

Haiku 3 as one

Greatest happiness:
inimitably cherished:
Adam before God.

mother's joy peripartum:
her own miracle.

Life's true miracle:
wafting fragrance of incense:
Your life fully lived.

Three pictures you should see:

Adam before God, Mary with Jesus, the fading smoke of an incense stick (without the incense)….

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On Crime, Safety and Fairness

I was approached recently by a home security company about having my street patrolled for 12 hours daily at “a reasonable cost for peace of mind”.

Peace of mind cannot be bought. And guards, dogs and cameras cannot provide security. For some, I expect that they do provide “peace of mind” – for a while.

Guards, dogs and cameras do provide a cue: only valuable things need protecting and valuable things are worth stealing, particularly because there are willing buyers. And so the circle goes.

I ask myself continually how these cycles can be disrupted, countered, destroyed and always I come to this same conclusion: I need only do the right thing. Only me, not everyone else and not all the time, but only as often as I can manage it. It is a simple thing. And it is so incredibly difficult – not in the conception of it or even in the doing of it from time to time but in the additional requirement of constancy.

To do the right thing.

I am not selfless, I am not extraordinary and I am no hero. Life is a struggle and I have lost my illusions of control. I have not lost my anger.

I have an unremarkable anger: ordinary, because I have learned that all South Africans have it: it is formless and without a target, without a clear cause excepting a marrow-in-the-bone sense of injustice. Some blame apartheid and Bantu education, but it is an anger that cuts across race and social strata. I have no doubt that you have it.

I have it despite my education, my material comfort and my loving family. I have been a victim of crime several times and of ingratitude that hurt and angered as much and yet that is still not sufficient reason because I had it before and after.

The poor have it too. The hungry, ignorant poor have it in abundance shielded by a moral righteousness. My anger has no shield, my relative privilege leaving me without the moral high ground and yet it persists. I cannot blame the poor for their poverty as I cannot blame the sick for their debility. I have not caused the problems, but I find myself labouring under a presumed obligation to fix what I did not break.

I did not suffer? I did not cause the suffering!

A friend speaking plainly said that the world did not owe me a living. He was right.

Life is not only about obligation. We are built to be fair and nothing cuts as acutely as the accusation of unfairness, but fairness is not enough, our humanity, our sympathy is bound up in generosity.

We need to gift. Not charity, which creates a barrier between the receiver and the giver. We need to extend our circles of friends through gifting – little things will do as well as great because it is the exchanges that matter: they show that we care and they free us of the burden of fixing that which we didn’t break.

Only in our caring – our visible caring – can there be peace of mind because only in our caring can we demonstrate equity. The poor are oppressed by their poverty, but they blame the “rich” because there are few connections between them and so, little evidence of caring.

To be a good husband or wife is the same as being a good parent or neighbour. And it is the same as being a good friend. It is caring, visibly. It is many little things, often. We are so often disastrously misunderstood by those closest and dearest to us and yet our relationships endure because we care. How much greater the misunderstandings across culture and race? How intractable in the perceived lack of caring?

Necessity is the mother of invention and there is no greater necessity than self-preservation. I know without doubt that if my talents and opportunities had not been enough for survival, I would have been a criminal – there, but for the grace of God, go I.

Without equity, without caring, there can be no security, no peace of mind.

[Letter to the Editor, Daily Newspaper in South Africa, Oct 2003]

Monday, May 16, 2005

Language is an engine

Language is an engine: it does useful work; it makes and breaks things. It includes body language.

All language is embedded in context and this is why reputational effects are important.

Actively exclude “but” from your language: it is toxic; use “and”. And state the positives, not the negatives. Semantically a double negative is positive. Instrumentally it is not.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)is reputed not to have said “No” – this is entirely possible based on reputational effects: not agreeing, others would have learnt was his way of saying “No” – like the Queen’s, “That’s very interesting.”

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Baby Rape

All rape is horrendous. All violations of person are horrendous.

There is no acceptable rape and no gradations of unacceptability.

One writer observes that we are a Godless nation, another that the government has it’s priorities skewed and all find themselves incapable of expressing the full extent of their horror especially as parents of babies and toddlers. And yet none states what (s)he will do personally to end this sort of event: society should do something or the government or the police.

It is this sort of thinking that preserved apartheid, that made Hitler Fuhrer and that makes our problems apparently intractable. It is thinking that someone else must solve the problem.

Schelling points out that the good gets done if individuals act alone to do the right thing: no central command, no over-arching authority or organisation is needed to accomplish the apparently Herculean; only ordinary people acting on conscience.

We condemn. We complain. We pray.

Do we act? Not to punish but to prevent? Have readers and listeners asked themselves what they will do to prevent this happening to someone else?

One must know despair and desperation first-hand. Those who suffer do not do so vicariously….

I am indeed my brother’s keeper. And in this we are all guilty, all diminished, our horror notwithstanding.

[This letter appeared in The Star (South African Daily, Johannesburg) in October 2003.]

[Context: there had been a report of a rape of a 1 year old baby with significant physical injuries. Rape is common in South Africa and survivors of rape are getting younger because of the mistaken belief that HIV/AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin. Younger age is a proxy for virginity.]

Letter to the British Medical Journal: A Palliative

Socioeconomic imbalances have a habit of exacerbating themselves: we call them virtuous and vicious cycles. And it is near impossible to change the one into the other.

The world is increasingly one integrated system and costs and benefits are not directly linked. Those who benefit are not those who pay.

Conscience may persuade some – some of the time – to pay for the value they receive. These discussions serve as part-payment, a salve to conscience, but no pragmatist expects or believes that the brain drain will be reversed.

The convenient solution is to introduce friction to the free movement of health professionals: the health professionals pay, the benefiting countries say, “See we have made it difficult for them.” And the losing countries are left with nothing.

The entire argument seems misplaced. Seen as a unit, the whole world suffers from a dearth of health professionals.

Poor countries – Developing countries – need more health, not more healthcare or more health professionals. Below a recognised threshold, health equates with income, both direct and indirect (the entire focus of public health initiatives: potable water, sewerage systems, electrification, telephones, roads, mass immunisation, etc.) and yet still the health of nations focuses on the movement of health professionals.

A cardiothoracic surgeon or interventional radiologist can do nothing for the health of a nation sitting on a dune in the Karoo or looking off a cliff in the Himalayas. Implants of NGF producing cells for Alzheimer’s are irrelevant to a population dying of cholera for lack something simple and inexpensive: potable water.

The health of a nation has very little to do with the movement or the numbers or the training or the remuneration of health professionals: America and Cuba are the proof of that.

I am in favour of dialogue and I will award myself Brownie points for this piece; I know that it will make no difference to the health any nation, but I will feel better and that will certainly be good for me.

Competing interests: health professional

[This letter appears in the online edition of the BMJ April 2005 and will appear in the print edition in June 2005.]

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Two recommendations I’d like to offer

Two recommendations I’d like to offer: Human Knowledge 2000 by Brian Holtz and the Wikipedia. They are both memes and may they propagate far and wide.

I’ve suddenly realised that Michael Porter’s teaching on strategy is essentially an argument favouring commitment: to commit to one thing is to say “No” to everything else. This is like evolution being about relationship.

The brain operates on massive parallel processing; so does society. We just need freer, more open real-time communication.

This story does not have a beginning, a middle and an end….

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Time and Ends

"If you can fill the unforgiving minute..."

As we grow older our subjective time seems to speed up; we attend less. A week seems to pass in a blink unrecollected.

I was surprised to note that I had not posted anything to this blog for more than a fortnight: lack of attention. I had made no commitment to post to any schedule, but I did have an unspoken hope of doing so rather frequently, constraints permitting.

Stream of consciousness does very well, but I remain in an adolescent fog of possibilities, unable to choose.

I tell myself, Begin with the end in mind.

There are so many desirable ends. And ability is not a constraint.


So, an end: Self-definition. Towards being a humane humanist who believes in God....