Zuckerberg surpasses Soros?


In those early days, human masses prayed to various gods, kings, lords and chiefs to grant them their wishes. The pantheons of Greece and ancient Egypt, of Hindu India and the less well-known deities elsewhere, provided for the jostling of different powers – usually representing different qualities, good and bad. The richness, subtlety, depth and panoply that these ‘primitive’ beliefs provided were mostly squashed by the power of the simple minded and boring monotheistic religions. We don’t have stories to relate, any more, of titanic clashes among gods.


Battles between kings, and nations they represent, survived longer, to provide us drama and myth. Armed clashes still continue, even where kings and queens no longer lead. Most of these latter-day wars are less gripping than the battles of old, when contenders clashed directly – and not through proxies or paid armies. Today’s very different and unequal battles capture attention only in the depths of depravity resorted to. There is no interesting spectacle, only disgust-evoking machinations and technology-led slaying of the helpless and mostly innocent.


Clashes between sporting stars and teams remain – to satisfy our lust for viewing struggles for dominance. These too are now losing their grip as we learn how results are mostly fixed beforehand. We could still engage, had we some means to figure out which contests aren’t fixed.


Fortunately, a new spectacle has recently emerged. The handful of global controllers, members of the global cabal, appear to have started to jostle among themselves. This club, which usually has consensus on whom they wish to anoint with political power, could not quite fix it at the 2016 US elections. For the first time in over 50 years, there was real difference between what the candidates offered, instead of the cosmetic personal identity charade that usually happens in elections in all powerful western nations.


Faced with more-than-cosmetic choice, the cabal was confused. Some backed the safe crook while others went for the potential bigger asset. Of the team backing the proven crook, one George Soros appears to stand out, from what some people in the USA are writing.  Zuckerberg, playing for bigger stakes, opted for the Trump gamble, we are told.


Now we have again a drama of celestial proportions. We must pray this will not tamely settle but grow into a spectacle worthy of the unimaginable power they can each unleash.



Who counts as a friend? For many of us, friends are those so listed in a facebook account.

There were other ideas about friend and friendship before the facebook characterisation rose to dominance. In those conceptions, to have 5,000 friends would be impossible. Not so on FB. Among facebook friends are, of course, some who were already our friends – before we added them to the facebook lot. Such ‘beyond FB’ friends are of a different kind: a breed I am tempted to call ‘proper friends’.

Friendship of the proper variety is too precious to be allowed slowly to atrophy or be replaced by the FB kind. It is in many ways more powerful than lovership. Who we choose as friends in turn mould who we are. For who we are, or who we become, is influenced unnoticed by who our friends are, probably more than by who our lovers are. Lovers influence a more superficial aspect of our being, often more intensely than friends can. But we turn off lovers more often and more quickly than we turn off friends.

Friends who become our lovers are an unimaginable and rare delight. Better even than lovers who become friends. But that is quite another matter.

(To be up with the times I should refer to lovers and spouses as ‘partners’, I guess. But this leads to some new difficulties. One could, for instance, have only a single current spouse in most societies, but any number of concurrent lovers. With partners the position is not so clear. Can one have a partner and at the same time extra-partneral lovers? Or are these extras also partners?)

Friends make no demands, while lovers and family rarely do not. Friends don’t turn off because we befriend someone else. This is why they are able to change us, to turn us subtly into something else – better or worse.  Not-making-demands does not by itself make a proper friend of course.  A friend also cares.

The great danger is that uncaring, remote and virtual friends too can mould us in important ways. For instance, we probably begin to change as a result of having presented ourselves in a particular way on facebook. We then come to resemble the person we present in the virtual realm. To pose to conform with what we imagine the remote pack admires must surely change us. The potential for subtle alterations in who we are is a grave danger, should we not see it happening.

Even more seriously, friendship equated to intimacy in the virtual world, devoid of caring, demeans the real-life thing.


Alcohol – the powerful aid to humour

People who do not consume alcohol are so boring aren’t they? Can’t laugh, can’t have fun, don’t know the jolly side of life. Dull chumps, party poopers and holier-than-thou hypocrites. Many of the poor sods aren’t even able to join in the merriment that alcohol fosters; or enjoy the jokes it helps unleash.

I encountered lately some instances of the magical effects of alcohol in enhancing our capacity for humour.

First, with a group of three serious ‘university academics’ chatting about some current issue, whilst walking to our cars after a ‘seminar’.  One of them missed a step and had to skip on one foot to ensure he did not fall. The lady academic quickly commented, ‘Not drunk, are you?’ And the other three instantly broke out in loud laughter, which went on for about 30 seconds. I smiled too, to show I shared in the spirit of things. But I could not quite bring myself to guffaw like the rest. Maybe I had missed the joke. It could not be put down to my not being drunk at the time, since the other three weren’t either.

Second, with a group of relaxed colleagues after a talk at a medical seminar. The authorities had presented a cylindrical wooden ornament as a gift to the speaker – wrapped in fancy coloured paper. One of the group pointed to the wrapped gift and said, ‘Not a bottle of alcohol, is it?’ Everybody immediately broke out in laughter – and the merriment lasted quite some time, as in the previous instance.  I smiled too, to show I shared in the spirit of things. But I could not quite bring myself to guffaw like the rest. Maybe I had missed the joke. It could not be put down to my not being drunk at the time, for the others there weren’t either.

Third, with some friends at a house party. Four of the menfolk were holding glasses of Scotch. In the course of conversation, one of the men lowered his voice and made a comment about his wife. It felt to me to be quite a nasty and vulgar statement and the others too appeared to be taken aback, momentarily. The man who made the remark concluded it and went on to hoot with laughter and the rest quickly joined in – guffawing louder and longer than the previous two instances. I could not bring myself even to smile, even as a sign that I shared in the spirit of things, which I certainly did not. Maybe I had missed the joke.

I recognize that alcohol is superb at helping people indulge their sense of humour. I worry that the jokes it helps generate are so subtle that I am not able to catch them.



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Is Cameron worse than Obama?


To look someone straight in the eye

While through your teeth you lie

Is more or less to die


To live a life in respect lacking

Especially that from within

Is not to be quite human


Becoming sub human is dying

At least as a real person.

Why bother continue breathing?


Can inner death be concealed

Through vaunted prizes for peace

Or clinging to premierships?


While those not-quite-there continue

Panama papers fell other men

For being less thick of skin


Is Obama worse than Cameron

Or the Blair abomination?

Pointless comparison


If lack of self-respect is death

And deadness has no degrees

They are then all alike


And how do many of the undead rest

While with themselves satisfied, laud

Those in self-respect dead?

Property rights

Circumstances recently dictated that I take a night train from Anuradhapura to Colombo. The railways provided a compartment in which seats could be reserved. I got in past midnight, to find the compartment mostly empty. A sprinkling of men at window seats, one lady at a corner window. My seat, number 20, was an aisle but 19 too was free. Many other pairs of seats too were unoccupied.

I happily spread myself across two seats, looking forward to some semblance of sleep, semi-reclining – probably promoted rather than impeded by the rhythmic racket of the train. By the time we reached the next station, I was already quite pleasantly drowsy. No urge to open my eyes even though train had stopped and sleep not quite reached. Then came a tap on my shoulder. A man was prodding me to make room for him to occupy seat 19, beside me. This, while several pairs of seats were empty. I gestured vaguely at these and mumbled, ‘Do you like to take one of those?’ He didn’t. Holding close to my face the ticket he held, he said, ‘Booking seat, booking seat. My number is 19’. Even in dim train light, the voice could be seen to be emanating from an obvious tobacco face.

To make the point, I immediately stood up, transferred my bag to the rack on the other side and moved across to the pair of empty seats across the aisle – numbers 21 and 22. There I spread myself comfortably again and gave him what I thought were fair imitations of triumphant Mr. Bean looks – as much as to say, ‘So you thought you’d make me travel cramped next to you all the way to Colombo, huh? Well look at how well I am doing here. You didn’t want to sit here did you – well, see how fine I am able to recline here mate’. Whether he got the message I do not know.

As drowsiness returned, my not-yet-asleep mind was still dwelling on the unseating I had just experienced. Had I been in this man’s place, I thought, I’d simply have taken a seat from among the many unoccupied pairs. But here was a fool insistent on claiming pointless title rights. Since he had valid documentation to support, he chose to wedge himself next to me rather than sit comfortably elsewhere. And then came the idea that this little act illustrates our assertion of ‘real’ property rights too: the smug feeling of demonstrating ownership on the basis of holding a piece of paper.

I wondered too about my annoyance at being evicted – to a setting no different from what I had enjoyed until the goon got in. Was I upset that the seats I owned by virtue of prior occupancy were forcibly taken away? Did this annoy me more than the man’s crassness? The loss of my rights may have been more a source of my dwelling on this small matter than the actual trouble of moving seats.

A glorious sunrise was visible from seats 21/22 as we approached Colombo. This sight was not offered to people seated on the other side – as I too would have been had the bloke not pushed me out of 19/20.  Soon after, we both had to leave our seats and get off at Colombo Fort railway station.

How silly the assertion of rights over property that last only until the end of a brief journey!

Is this what it looks like?

I met many new people in the last 10 days. Some of them were residents of remote villages, where temperature in the shade was above 40 degrees Celsius.  Mothers struggled to keep babies comfortable, fathers nowhere seen, children were subdued and the air was still, all quiet under the noonday sun. An interruption to power supply enhanced the experience from time to time. Power-cuts at night were worse, in the extravagant humidity and heat.

The area was feeling oppressed, I felt. Maybe the whole country, I wondered? I read on return to Colombo that the USA’s Nasa had this week reported an increase in global temperature by a ‘stunning’ margin. (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/14/february-breaks-global-temperature-records-by-shocking-amount?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other)

Words such as ‘shocker’ and ‘climate emergency’ appeared in the UK Guardian’s report. And then, that was it. Nobody thence seemed to take notice. ‘The media’ are bored with climate news – unlike with celebrity lives and the stock market. And when the big media kill a story it stays killed, even on the social media.  That the Guardian chose to publish even this article is the surprise.

I figured that this is how it will all end. Governments worldwide will shrug their shoulders and blame their political opponents. The 50 or so wealthiest persons, who finally decide everything – including whether carbon emissions should be controlled or not – will continue to maintain the stranglehold on nearly all politicians and mass media.  The rest of us will be entertained by bickering over how we should change our constitution or by some other diversion.

Less than 10 among the club of 50 will have a direct vested interest in preventing emissions control. This handful of individuals has the power to decide what happens regarding life on earth. They’ve decided so far that the probability of all humans becoming extinct is still too small for them to consider changing course. What this says about human nature is depressing.  We too belong to the same stock. Would we behave like them, willing to risk the eventual destruction of the entire biosphere, were we in their place? Would we ignore the warnings of nearly all scientists not on our payroll, with no more than a dismissive shrug? Would we continue to put in place, in all countries, governments that reliably obey our instructions? Would we work diligently to stop any ameliorative action, by using as a battering ram the global mass media that are all in our control?

I fear that governments nearly everywhere will resort to playing PR games, tamely following guidance from their overlords, as populations begin to stew. People’s attention will still be diverted to various political and other games that entertain. And some clever entrepreneurs will set one group against the other, to profit from the mayhem. There is money to be made from fostering conflict. We already hear and read analyses that forecast social strife, as people battle for a share of dwindling supplies of essentials such as water and food. State resources will protect the powerful, when life becomes untenable, but only for a short while. Is this what the end is going to be like?

Fortunately, my despondency about the nature of man was relieved by noticing thousands of other examples of a different, humane, human nature. All around me were kindnesses and caring that go unnoticed, for we have learnt to notice only the actions of those on the media. Mothers taking collective responsibility for all children in their small village and not only ‘their own’, a little child vigorously fanning with a folded paper an infant too young to complain about the heat, some wonderful visitors from Canada who were instantly at one with the non-English-speaking people around them and a poor shopkeeper discouraging a man from buying a cigarette from her own shop.

I must stop learning about human nature from what is on the mass media.  There is real hope for a good future. We shall together defeat all the schemes of enemies of mankind, who want us to fight even over the last jug of water – so that the victor may live one day longer.  Oh no, they shall not succeed. We shall all die together in harmony.



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G is for Gift

H is for Hawk is the title of a book given me as gift by good friends. Having started to read it I worry I will never get to its end. Each paragraph provokes a private voyage so powerful that further reading simply stops. And I have so little time to read. (But why?)

Helen McDonald cannot know the magic she lets loose in unknown readers well beyond her ken. The song of the magpie, I’ve always listened out for as I wake –  whoever may happen to share my den. But now the magpie’s song is enhanced. I try to figure out today how she created her own personal tune.   No two magpies sing the same song, I knew. But how did this one compose its own? Helen would wonder and now I too do. Wonderful thoughts that burnish appreciation, not spoil.

And then all nature is abruptly drowned as an amplified chant rudely starts. It’s time to force the peace of religious incantation down ears of deaf apostates. Poor magpie you have no chance.





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Beak bath

A (common) barbet has been dipping into our bird-bath lately. It visited today too at a time when I could give it more than cursory attention.

One or two strange things I noticed. First, it didn’t seem particularly interested in drinking. It sat on the edge, to dip the tip of its magnificent red beak in, for a second or two, and then shake off the water that it scooped. Then again. And again. No raising of the head to let the water dribble down throat. Thirst was clearly not the reason behind this behaviour. Maybe it wanted to get wet but didn’t dare leave the safe rim and take a proper dip within the shallow bath?

This suspicion was confirmed when it next turned right around and lowered its tail into the water and took it out soon for a quick shake off. Then again. And again. The hind parts were being moistened.I had not seen any other bird do this.

And next came a ritual lasting a few minutes, where it dipped the beak right in and took it out moistened, to rub against the cement edge of the bath. All possible surfaces too, over and over again. Next it hopped onto a branch to better rub beak areas not easily polished on the bath rim, on another branch.Rather like a diligent cleaner ensuring all sides of a tooth were brushed.

Right back it came again to repeat the beak ritual on the rim. Next it let out its unmistakable and rather complex call. In celebration of the cleansing I thought. Not so, I soon found. A second barbet (probably spouse?) materialized beside the caller. I had not realized until then that we had two of them visiting our garden. The newcomer set immediately about pecking out various spots on the caller’s beak. Clearly relieved, the first bird flew away. Not so much as a thank you nod. Maybe it was the male?

Birds maybe saying to each other much more than we realize: ‘Please come help me get this spot off my beak’. And barbets more than other birds probably need to have these careful beak baths, given their life of constant boring.

Violence as entertainment


Any fool producer, totally lacking in creativity, can still produce blockbusters these days – simply by saturating a humdrum creation with gratuitous violence.  Analysts and professionals can then spend much energy debating whether this is really a bad thing. To conclude that exposure to violence on screen leads to a more violent society is not easy, and that alone is used as evidence to claim that loads of screen violence does no harm to society – or for that matter, even to toddlers.

We must expose ourselves incessantly to scenes of horrendous cruelty because this is what now entertains. Everything else is tame, dull and unappealing. We remain riveted by the powerful stimulation-packed instant gratification of the virtual while mundane real-life passes by. Pleasure and cruelty become one as various productions try to outdo one another in presenting scenes of senseless and unending cruelty. At high speed.

If we think all this is bad, we are asked first to show evidence in the form of scientific studies. And we can be sure that whatever sound studies we conduct, to show harm from such exposure, will be countered by another that shows there is no real harm. In the data flooded world, it is not the science that matters but the selective amplification or dampening of the evidence. And that decision is not in the hands of people interested in making lives happier. So we can be sure that we’ll continue to be ‘entertained’ by increasingly virulent forms of violence through all forms of media.

Studies of harm tend to look at rather distant end-points – for example, does violence on media overflow into society to create increases in crime? And even this narrow question is very expensive to explore through scientific study. We have hardly any hope of examining more subtle impacts. And these matter too. I may become increasingly insensitive pain and suffering inflicted on others as a result of seeing people battered, over and over, as media entertainment. How are we to measure such changes? What happens to our sex lives when we see constantly on public media that the norm is to find pleasure in pain, constant change of scene or humiliation? What do we become when we all, children and adults, begin unknowingly to assume that vengeance, revenge and getting away with what you can is the norm?

Are we unintentionally being trained to believe that what was previously considered vile is now part of our normal culture? Does this make it difficult or impossible to spot the evil around us, let alone resist it? When politics too is reduced to pretend-aggression displayed on media platforms, it too contributes to the general trend. Eventually we may all learn to accept nastiness by our neighbours, politicians, police and fellow road users as acceptable or ‘normal’. Not only are media selectively amplifying violence, they are cleansing it through unending public airing as normal – and therefore acceptable or inevitable.

We may already be so trapped in incessant work, in the pursuit of ever-increasing income (which is then to be spent on endless consumption of baubles on a hierarchy of cost-status), that aggression is the only avenue to show we are really alive. That ceaseless consumption is excruciatingly boring is not an easily appreciated truth – especially if we belong to a group of people who venerate consumption as nirvana. The emotionless boredom of our status-seeking consumption may indeed be partially relieved by identifying with the infliction of trauma, suffering and torture on helpless human beings in the mass and social media. When we need as diversion the sight of hostility, pain and suffering inflicted on others – whether in news, fiction, ‘extreme sport’ – we may be no better off than individuals who seek diversion through immersion in alcohol or other things that inhibit the need to remain fully alive.

All this brings me to the question of whether the emotional energy expended in driving through heavy traffic, which is becoming increasingly evident, is too a symptom of the need for stimulation in a boringly busy existence. Now that we’ve been trained to seek emotional kicks in media aggression, we might as well enjoy some real life aggro in traffic.

Honesty, and courage beyond belief

Something incredible on BBC today: the spiritual head of the Anglican Church admits openly that he doubted the presence of God. And he does not go on to reassure believers that he has since managed the contortion needed to restore unquestioning belief.

His Holiness the Pope, as the head of the other major branch of Christianity, also appears to be hinting that God may not be the biggest deal. Who knows, he too may soon muster enough courage to come out openly.

I feel for this wonderful Justin Welby. He must have a terrible time dealing with the inner conflicts. I can imagine the effort he must have gone through, trying the different theological justifications available to preserve faith. And having no higher ‘authority’ to get advice from must make life terribly difficult for the honest and courageous, when he finds the intellectual loopholes unconvincing. Disillusionment is always traumatic.

Had a head of a different religion decided to question the supernatural, he would have been instantly condemned to death by some among the ‘faithful’ – maybe even the majority. There is a lesson here. Faith must constantly be backed up by power, to survive. It otherwise gives way to reason.




Paris attacks caused

archbishop to ‘doubt’

presence of God


The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the terror attacks in Paris made him “doubt” the presence of God. The Most Reverend Justin Welby told the BBC’s Songs of Praise the killings had put a “chink in his armour”.

The archbishop said: “Saturday morning, I was out and as I was walking I was praying and saying: ‘God why – why is this happening? Where are you in all this?’ and then engaging and talking to God. Yes, I doubt.”

Archbishop Welby also said the manner in which IS militants had distorted their faith, so that they believe their acts are glorifying their God, is “one of the most desperate aspects of our world today”.



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