Sunday, 7 June 2015

Isn't capitalism morally corrupt? An answer to a friend

"How far do you extend the logic before some kind of intervention is justified though? Should banks be allowed to freely collude with one another to artificially manipulate the LIBOR rates, for example? Capitalist organisations have proven time and again that they cannot act with integrity without state intervention. The problem with treating everything as a marketplace is that it disadvantages the already-disadvantaged (and this cannot fairly be attributed to their performance in the marketplace). If capitalism is allowed free rein what then happens to the disabled, the old, the infirm? Under capitalism they are treated as valueless or even a drain on resources. The gap between the richest and the poorest has widened greatly in our lifetime, under capitalism. By what measure can that be considered a success?" - HB

Modern banking is not a free market phenomenon - the entire system is created on a huge state sponsored scam called fractional reserve banking. It is the tumour at the centre of our modern world: banks are permitted - by the state - to unleash money created out of thin air, creating huge business cycles and distorting economic activity while enriching the few who control the banks at the expense of the rest of the population. A lot of our suffering and our wars, by the way, find their source in the modern banking system. It was created with the formation of the Bank of England in 1693ish to get the government out of debt. It went bankrupt in a few years but then was given special protection by the state to ensure that it had a ready supply of cash (paper notes) to fund wars and government excess. 

It's not capitalism that is inherently out of integrity - people are; and the market system is such that if you are an ethical incompetent, you're not going to last long. It's the opposite in government: a failing industry that's well connects gets more money (other people's).

Yes, some people are massively disadvantaged - sometimes by themselves, sometimes by no fault of their own; as a humanist I cannot bear suffering - it's not necessary. You'll find generally that the most successful in the market place are also the most giving people: where do charities come from, scholarships, hospices? 

Whatever system we live under, we cannot be feel for other people and want to do them well: our welfare state in the UK has lost the plot though - those in real need are consigned to bureaucratic nonsense and self-serving managerial systems: that's inevitable when welfare is run by government bureaucracy. 

Have a read of Kropotkin's mutual aid - he's an anarchist of what may be called the socialist variety, and he's amazing at explaining why human life and history (and that of the animal kingdom) is not a war of all against all but one of mutual aid and assistance: freely, and lovingly given - without governments. 

As for the gap between the rich and the poor - it will grow when the elite connect to the banking systems to suck resources from the productive sectors to their own pockets; but take a good look at what the productive family or individual has available today compared to forty years ago even: heating, two cars, mobile phones, iPads, holidays abroad...The market words, and has always worked to serve. When we don't serve in the market, we don't earn, when we don't earn, we can't do what we want nor help others who can't earn (disabled, children, old folk, the ill...).

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The beauty of dinosaur names and home education.

Can you say, "Coelophysis, children?"

I've become a great fan of palaeontology ever since my elder got into dinosaurs. Well, we didn't just 'get into dinosaurs', we got into dinosaurs. We bought many basic books on dinosaurs (we have a shelf full) but we also invested in Walking With Dinosaurs, the BBC book of the programme that came out in 1999. We also have the download - it is one of the few programmes we watch: we don't have a tv in the house and we don't let the children watch whenever they feel like it. For the most part they entertain themselves and learn through play. The programme presents incredible imagery of what early life on the planet may have been like and shows the behaviour of the early reptiles and dinosaurs (they're different, as my elder will point out) in a way that a book can't do so well for the young mind.

The vocabulary of the book is high - beautifully so, and I know my lad (and then his younger brother) would not get all the words, but slowly the meanings crept in. I heard them talk of coelophysis, Pangaea, cycad groves. They recreated the scenes they had watched and heard - and began to observe that many children's basic dinosaur books had huge errors in them. In fact, one of my elder's earlier jokes was: "Why couldn't the T-rex eat the Stegosaurus?" I came up with some plausible musings about the plates on his back or other defensive mechanisms..."No! They lived in different eras!!" he laughed.

The 'pedagogical point' is that we do well to expose our children to high level vocabulary. Walking with dinosaurs has complex sentences that stretch the mind's stamina and a breadth of new words that  my boys hear me practising new or unusual vocabulary, breaking the words down and testing them out before settling onto something that sounds fine. (With a comment, "I think that's how it's said"). It's great for them to hear an adult struggle - because, as they learn to read, that's what they are doing.

I've a PhD in philosophy in which a vast vocabulary is eminently useful. But trying to get the tongue around some of the dinosaurs' names presents a lovely challenge.

Coelophysis - coe is usually /see/
Ornitholestes - trips one up a bit. I often ask my elder, "How do you say that one again?"
Rhamphoryncus - took a few goes!
Ornithocheirus - not too bad since I've studied chiropractic. He became a family favourite with many pictures adorning walls and condensation, models, and drawings in books.
Muttaburrasaurus...sounds like hiccoughs.
Or how about "a clan of Leaellynasaura". Yep.

Exposure to such words is, I believe, helping my elder read well. As he matures, the connections between the words will become apparent: ornitho = bird; pod = foot; saur = lizard; rex = king; tri = three, etc. And dinosaurs are great to draw - we've a couple of drawing books that have helped my skills and I often find paper lying around that the boys have drawn well proportioned various dinosaurs and reptiles. It's also a laugh to explain the difference between how reptiles of the Permian period walked compared to theropods (beast foots) of the Late Triassic.

The books and programme have also helped us learn about the depth of earth's history. I typically read to them a lot of prehistory and my elder and increasingly his younger 4 year old brother know which era the various dinosaurs lived in. They both incidentally know about the birth of the moon as we often rehearse 'how it all started'. We collect fossils from our area and go to museums to see fossils and dioramas (a word they both use a lot of when setting up a scene).

I must admit to being rather proud when I found an ornithocheirus vertebra in Leicester museum and showed it to my elder. He stood and stared at it for ages. School kids - a couple of years older - were running by, high on sugar, this way and that, barely looking at anything, never stopping to stare and wonder. The contrast was amazing. (No, I'm not saying that school kids don't have their inferences there, just the contrast was stark to see one person engaged in his passion compared to the people elder would be bored at a football match!). His face was a picture of pure bliss. Lovely. I hope he keeps that for whatever he turns his mind to.

We continue to learn about the dinosaurs and I've stretched their learning into geology: we've looked at obvious strata in the cliffs at the seaside. We've also moved forward to hominid history - I took my elder to an open lecture at Nottingham on australopithecus (took me a few goes to get it!): we spoke to the lecturer afterwards and he asked why she didn't do much on homo ergaster! Again, I don't expect him to remember much - but the exposure is paramount. So many books (and teachers) talk down to children (I often do an impression of a high pitched patronising teacher); we don't need to - they can pick up what they can, their minds are very plastic.

We've learned to knap flints a little - I'm too impatient, but he's managed a few flint pieces he's proud of!

Sometimes what we've learned together slips away like water off a duck, but other times I'm surprised at what they recall. We're all like that - if we find our passion, we'll learn everything about it. Sat down and forced to learn something we're not too keen on...grab the coffee and grit the teeth!

Unsurprisingly, the boys want to become explorers and palaeontologists. Who knows where their passions will take them, but I'm witnessing a wonderful upbringing in and around our home. Their interests are not thwarted by state imposed curricula and are not impeded by time. They're learning breadth and depth and I am exposing them to the flow of geological and biological history as we read together.

But don't get me wrong: I'm not 'producing geeks' here. Childhoods needs innocence - which partly explains why I focus a lot on prehistory. People aren't going around killing each other yet. They're aware a little of the brutality of human history and they're certainly comfortable with the viciousness of nature. We also still read Thomas the Tank engine, the Foxwood series (beautifully illustrated), Bob the Builder, Dick King-Smith and anything else that takes their fancy. Instead, I'm aiming to sustain their curiosity and support their passions. Something that oft gaes awry in school.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A lovely view - books! And why books mean freedom.

Here's an image of a corner of my library that took my fancy yesterday.

I love electronic gadgets as tools for writing, communication, and business and the odd bit of reading the the Kindle but seriously nothing beats a good book.

I'm a serial bibliophile. I think it comes from the very few books I had as a kid - and then the insatiable curiosity that overwhelmed my mind in my later teen years. I started to 'get' things - first, maths logic (which is why I love teaching the basic fundamental logic of maths - it's relatively painless and it teaches us to work through problems, and life is full of problems to solve, regardless whether we start off with an x or a y!!).

Then I got into the political philosophy of nuclear deterrence, arguing with pacifists why giving up the bomb might not be a bright idea in the middle of the Cold War; then I discovered economics - and my academic passion that took me through to the MA level before transitioning over to a PhD in philosophy (I'd been asking awkward questions in the MA that 'weren't on the syllabus': you don't get replies like that in philosophy departments.) Along the way, I began devouring books - and still do. One of the sad points of my life was leaving a good collection in Canada when I migrated back to the UK, but I think I've caught up since!

Books worked their magic on me and still do. Barely a week goes by without a new purchase - I've found some very cheap sources not just on the web and it's a real pleasure skimming bookshelves to see what may be discovered!

Apparently, I've passed the love of books onto my boys: my younger said, "I love books!" the other day. Warms the cockles of the heart.

In a future dystopia I wrote a decade back, called Vestiges of Freedom, books are banned and slowly but surely, the evil EUnion is deleting the electronic copies that it holds in the national library. The written word and therefore the text are vital elements of freedom - to be able to write a message or read a text has been vital through the centuries against the forces of totalitarianism.

It should reminds one of Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) or George Orwell's 1984. Vestiges has elements of both - and Clockwork Orange with its funky language - but is also great fun. Teenagers put twists on EU language directives and our hero Robin Bradbury hides a secret library - it's fast paced and set in the area I live in: Melton Mowbray and the Vale of Belvoir. Up north though, things are not so good, or so it seems.

I didn't mean this to be an advert but I'm really proud of the book and have had great reviews. It's available in paperback/hardback using my nom-de-plume William Venator at the time but also Kindle under my normal name.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

How smart is SMART? Comment on realistic


The famous business SMART targets are great:


Most business people and high achievers know them and many others who are not immersed in the world of self-development may have encountered them at one time or another in a work seminar or professional development course.

I often use them with young clients to sharpen their ambitions. I used them recently with a client (17 years old) who said he'd do his revision "this week."


"This week."

"No, what days? When is your exam?"


"Right, let's be more specific about the timing. When are you going to do the revision?"

"Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."

"Ok. What times?"

"12.30 each day. Till 3.30."

"Great. Now, where?"

"Dining room. No distractions as everyone will be at work or school..."

"Sorted! Now we have something specific - what you'll be revising and when you'll be doing it, for how long and where. This alone will help you actually do the work! Much better than, 'Oh, I'll get it done this week.'"

But what about realism? 

How realistic are our goals? For my client, the goal of sitting down and implementing his revision was relatively painless. He had to do it and the questions helped him visualise (which I also got him to do) when and where he would be working.

Realistic targets are something else though.

We have dreams - and dreams can only become realised if they are realistic. But to whom, when and how - well, these are a little bit more sensitive issues.

Realistic connects to achievable. And frankly, if we're not physically or mentally limited then we can achieve what we set out to achieve.

The problem is perceived by other people we know.

Again and again I hear stories of people not even trying for their goals because other people say that they are not realistic. We have to learn and then accept that that is other people's perception though - usually of their own lives. If the great achievers of life (at all levels, known and unknown) listened to the dream-stealers and nay-sayers, not much would be achieved.

What is realistic relates to what is achievable and as long as we're not trying to break the laws of the universe and we're working with them: what's stopping us?

Other people usually.

Which is why we need to block the thoughts of others affecting our dreams.

When my wife and I decided to have home births for our babies, we were coached by Mia Scotland in hypo-birthing techniques: Mia taught both of us - especially Moira - to block the negative comments people often make to pregnant women: "Oh, when I had my baby, it was dreadful..." Not very helpful. Not that the midwives were great either. "Now, these are the risks of a home birth...death, death, death." Seriously. We had one supposedly high level midwife write that three times on Moira's sheet. By then though Moira was inured to the comments and just thought it was funny. I believe Mia uses the quotations to educate midwives in what NOT to say to women about to give birth.

We went on to have two great home births. We learnt to visualise what we wanted and we got it - it was hard work on our part as we had to invest in our dreams and the SMART targets implied in them. But against the nay-sayers, we had to arm ourselves: what they considered unrealistic was based on their occupational conditioning - the expectation that women should give birth in hospital.

It's the same with our professional or business dreams. Listen to yourself and let the ideas and visions flow. Expect people will say it's unrealistic and just change the words to 'unrealistic for them' in your head; or 'I wouldn't do that...' to 'No, you probably wouldn't - but you're not me.'

What is real is what you make of life. It's your life so live it to the full. And keep the buzzing dream stealers far from your heart and mind!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Symptoms of being plugged in: TV and gaming

​Based on conversation with a pupil early...then developed into something wider.

With one to one tuition, my practice often runs like a doctor's office. Funnily enough, I explained to my pupil, I am a doctor (PhD in philosophy). People come in with similar symptoms all the time. So, imagine a medical doctor sitting there with patient after patient coming in with a runny nose and sore throat.

What would be the problem?

Cold, she says.

Great. Most probably.

Now, when student after student comes in who struggles with spelling and can't focus very well and whose attention span is very limited, there are similar symptoms. In this case screen-itis. Of course they may be playing mind-suck online gaming or just messing with the iPad or device, but basically they're plugged in.

Symptoms: difficulty concentrating; poor English skills (comprehension, listening, following instructions); weak analytical skills; a desire to rush to the answer and not think (just like clicking the game consoles); relatively low vocabulary; inability to think for themselves; looking at the tutor for the answer; creates confusion around them; eyes tending to jump around (looking for the artificially focused world of the flat screen); lethargy - mental and physical; an unwillingness to work for up to half and hour after arriving (especially if they've been playing on phones on their way to tutorial); easily frustrated; twitchy towards the end of the lesson, especially if I'm talking to the parent and they need to go get plugged in; fear of learning new things; lack of personal discipline.

It's a catalogue of vices really. Let's look at how the great 17thC educationalist John Locke, whom I wrote a book about, would have described these traits. John Locke is a virtue theorist: education should be more about character development and freeing in individual to pursue a morally wholesome life and we should train our younger charges in the virtues and to avoid the vices. These are words I garnered from his writings on philosophy and education:

Drowsy; indulgent (in their playing); emulatory (every one else is playing, so should I); excuser (usually doesn't get homework done); timorous (poor social skills); slavish (tell me what to do...); foolish (living in the now but not thinking about priority); perverse (hmm, often enjoys surfing for videos that will stimulate further - porn, violence - especially if playing 18+ games); ungraceful; sheepish (lack of confidence); ignorant (or manners and intellectually); sluggish; obstinate; rebellious; disobedient (refuses to stop playing); playful (in the sense of wants to do anything but focus); pedantic (again, used to avoid priority focus); dominating (after all, he/she dominates the game why not people around?); covetous (always needs the next game or watch the next series); elusive (finds it hard to provide a straightforward answer); careless (in work and thinking); negligent.

Would you hire your son or daughter if that were the description? 

That's the character that I see some children and young people converging onto. Ah yes, you may reply - they're very sporty, they're lovely to be around...sure, but why not offer them a cigarette to round them off? Huh? Well, why introduce them to gaming and dvds  to watch all night in their room or download movies or youtube videos on their iPad? What are they watching, do you know? Some tell me and I'm shocked. 9 year olds watching horror movies. Teenagers watching videos of cruelty and pornography. Then there are those who get addicted to the games side of life. No, they're not good for mental development.

There is a moving video on youtube - that most people think funny - of a father who has had enough of his son's gaming and mows over them with a ride on mower. The son is understandably anguished and it is painful to see him writhe in pain (while his brother filming it sniggers - nice). I'll not link it as I don't think it appropriate for us to wallow in another's misery - we need to turn away when we cannot provide a hug. The guilt though initially lies with the father: who bought the games? who put the tv and console in the kid's bedroom? who said nothing for years while the kid slowly got addicted? No doubt his school results were reflecting his addiction and if not then he wasn't being encouraged to strive harder and reach his potential. Reaching your potential on level 8 of a game is not real. That's not reaching potential, that's diving into the 8th layer of mental hell - a world far removed from the reality of social nuances and developing the mind.

Oh, I hear from defensive mothers, it's helping my son (usually son) learn how to manipulate objects and organise his mind by juggling lots of variables. Dad's tend to join in the gaming - even kicking their sons off so they may play with their friends. What's going on there? 

Do you smell the BS? Do you hear the rationalisations? What price the easy life? As Locke wrote, do not complain of undrinkable water if you've poisoned the stream.

Let's look at the rationalisation. Picking up a cigarette involves dexterity and coordination involves manipulation of fine objects. Real objects in this case rather than virtual. But not many parents of good intellect and moral standing are going to suggest providing their child with a cigarette is anything to be proud of. Buying cigarettes also involves jugglinh variables, especially for younger people - which shop to buy ciggies from, whom to ask, how many to buy, where to smoke them. All competencies in their own right but assuredly not healthy ones. 

Isn't it just easier to let the child plug themselves in to netflix, online gaming, collections of dvds than work with them. Oh, they scream, but life as a mother is so hard, you don't know what it's like in our house. I have to work, cook, clean, organise the kids...

- Yep. Choices you've made. You choose to continue working.
- Ah, you're against women working now?
- No, not at all. But don't gripe about it after choosing to have children.
- Well, we didn't really plan little Susie.
...? You mean you immaculately conceived? Wow! Have you told the church?
- No! Idiot! I didn't realise it would be this hard!
- So why not encourage the kids to help rather than plugging them in? Why not shut the screens off and let them howl for a couple of days and then explain how hard it is for a working mum (or dad) and how we all need to chip in. Or stop worrying about keeping an immaculate house when you've got children. Kids want love and parental support - not a show home...Why not talk and listen to them? You'll find them lovely...

Parenting is a juggle. It is hard. We're sacrificing so that we can home educate; We both work in the business and we have to work around and with our children. It is hard, it does get frustrating, and sometimes we do wonder whether we havee made the right move, but we have never considered buying ourselves the easy way out and putting them in front of the tv or a games console. We're raising children not zombies. 

I've played the games - and I've felt the addictive nature of them. Like tv, they draw us in and then pull us in for more. Sure, I'm like an ex-smoker who can't understand why people still smoke - I know that, but I keep up with the research and see the symptoms daily in my office.

That said, many of the pupils can handle playing and tv - we live in the country and there's lots for them to do, especially when they're young. It's when they hit 12 and suddenly exploring fields is no longer as cool as mind-suck games. They excuse their online gaming on the fact that they can't get to their mate's house and it's so much easier to hook up online.

Ever heard of a bike?

What next? School undermines our ability to choose so how do we learn to make a true decision?

One of the biggest issues we deal with in young people as they finished their exams is the sudden realisation that they are gaining control over their life - its direction and importance.

Not all 16-18 year olds realise this, and many adults have yet to realise it either! As we emerge from the constraints and conditioning forces of childhood, we are expected to rise to living a life of greater responsibility and know what we're supposed to be doing.

Most people run from the task. They hide from the need to grow up in various ways, but often in our tuition company we see it in young people and adults who remain in school and subject themselves to more exams. Note that it's not the love of learning that propels them forward or the sense of knowing their direction such as becoming a lecturer or getting the medical degree to share their love of health. No, they stay in because they're afraid of making choices and entering the market place of Choice, Action, and Responsibility - of getting in the CAR of life.

A side effect of eleven to thirteen years of formal schooling and being told what to do is a reduced ability to make choices. I hear it in my private practice regularly. The condition becomes gradually the norm until the young adult - or even older adult - finds it difficult to make a decision. And if you can't make a decision, it's impossible to take action.

Letting things happen is not taking action. Ignoring things is not taking action. That's taking inaction. We are either acting or being passive. Do we say yes to a partner because we're just going with the flow, or do we mean the YES? Do we say yes to the job offer because it's easy? Do we 'choose' to stay in school because it's the easy thing to do...Anything else would mean raising our consciousness and wouldn't that be hard work?

Of course. Action requires making a decision. Getting over some fears or at least pushing through them. Then doing something rather than just thinking about it.

Action is our means of improving ourselves and growing. When we 'do things' - such as a job or stay in college, we're not really taking action. We're following what other people tell us we should be doing or we just fall onto the path as it arises. That's not acting, that's not making a decision. Even if the pupil or adult says, "No, I really made a choice to go to university," we can ask why and check if there were any reasons or it was just something she thought she had to do. If we're met with silence, or "Why do you ask that?" we've encountered a lack rather than a direction.

Taking action means having a direction and for that direction to be authentic it must mean something to us. It must come from our heart - from our inner purpose. We're all here on earth for some reason. We were born to do something and each of us do something different from our peers - but what is it?

After so many years of being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it and being subjected to external critique in subjects and exams, our inner voice - our deeper purpose is often quietened. 

Few have the courage to do as Monty Roberts who was given an F for an essay on his life's dream by the teacher who said he should alter his dream: "You keep the F, I'll keep the dream." Wow. Few have that courage - but we can learn to listen to what we want to do and there are many techniques. My favourite is to ask myself at night, "What's my purpose?" Then the following day the answers come.

What's funny in my life though is that there are always many answers. Some people walk a clear path - they can see or learn to see how it unfolds and what they need to do: e.g., become a surgeon, accountant, or physiotherapist, etc. My vision is more of a multilane highway - several paths that reach outward: novelist, tutor, coach and mentor, academic writer, editor, public speaker. The highway is certainly headed in the same direction - to reach out and educate and help people. Each day, I have several lanes to choose from and this can be debilitating too for people like myself: we want to do it all and we want success from all at once. Which brings us back to - do ONE THING. What one thing can I do this year, this month, this week, this day, this hour that can help me fulfil my dreams?

That said, helping people rediscover their dream or to listen to their little boy or girl inside saying, "I don't want to be a vet, I want to be an actor..." and letting that voice get louder and louder until life matches purpose.

I asked a student not long after writing the first draft of this: in five seconds, tell me what you really want to do. Without hesitation: "Be a drummer." So be it. That was the subconscious speaking - then the look of concern flickered over his face - the years of conditioning, the stories of struggle and dreams not attained.

"What's the first hurdle you see in your mind?"

"What if the band I'm in is touring and the tour fails. We flop and break up?"

"You'll deal with that when it happens. But it won't happen unless you are a drummer. What's the next hurdle?"


"Sure. We all think about that. But what grows confidence?"


"Exactly. Putting in the time and getting out there. That's what I do. I have thoughts - so I write them up to share. My writing improved the more I did. My confidence is secure because I can do what I do. You will too. Listen to that dream and follow it."

Listen to the deeper voice, the quieter self, the purposeful self within. Remove the distractions and harken to the soul. Walk the silent woods, mellow in the calm bath, write and think without constraint.

See what dreams come forth and let the world listen.