The Question

” Can I ask you a question? ”

Sure, go ahead.

” Do you like questions? ”

Ummm. Well, I’ve never really thought about it. I mean – questions just are, if you get what I mean…

” Do you like rhetorical questions? ”

Ah, there I can say a definite No. They always seem such a contrivance. They tend to stop a conversation, rather than start it.

” I knew you would say that, didn’t I? ”

What? If you knew I would say that why did you ask in the first place?

“What would you say if I told you that if you hadn’t answered in the first place you wouldn’t have to ask, now would you? Can’t answer that, can you? ”

My head hurts. Go away.

 

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Practicing Heresy In An Orthodox Manner

I am all for orthodoxy. It is an equal personal favourite with heresy.

I like to give each of these a run in the park on alternate Wednesdays when the weather is fine, but I’m careful to take only one out of its cage at a time. I made the mistake the first day of putting them both on leads and trying to manage the pair together.

It was a madhouse. They chased each other around snapping and snarling and it was all we could do to untangle our legs and keep them from each other’s throats. It took a bucket of cold water to separate the combatants.

I was reminded of this by a recent Facebook posting recalling a French legend about a faithful dog that was martyred and how a shrine was set up to the body. It attracted peasant worship, which in turn attracted church disapproval and official punishment. There is enough pathos, morality, outrage, superstition, and hearsay in the story to wash a hog.

Mind you, it does explain some of the attitudes of various French republics at times to both organised and dis-organised religion. And what would Tom Paine have said about it all…?*

*  ” Age Of Reason ” is what he said…

Why Brexit?

I have been pondering for some months about the whole Brexit situation – as an outsider before they voted, I could only speculate about the issues and frame of mind of the pro and anti voters. But as it seems to have been decided in the affirmative, I can concentrate more on the question of why. I’m still and outsider, but the question is now…Why did Great Britain vote to end its connection with the European Common Market or European Union? Here’s some possibilities:

  1. The new formation of a European army was a timely reminder of the last few times the Europeans have formed armies under Napoleon, Hitler, etc. and of what Europeans would like to do with their armies. There’s only one tunnel under the Channel but there’s always the Channel.
  2. The trade and farming regulations from Brussels that prevent some British farmers from working their land for produce and profit are a thorn in the side.
  3. The ready supply of illegal migrants camping in France and other places with an eye to getting to the UK and disappearing is a daunting prospect.
  4. The continued prospect of propping up spendthrift regimes and dole bludgers in the sunnier climes of the Mediterranean is a particular annoyance to people who live in the damp climate of Wales and other rural portions of the UK. They might as well spend the money on parish cases at home.
  5. Why not?
  6. The French have hated the English since the time of the King Henries. In the last century they dragged them into two world wars, and left them to play the last one out by themselves for years. Then they supplied De Gaulle to make it all better. The French idea of better may not be the same for the rest of us…
  7. The English do not trust the French or Germans. Or the Italians, for that matter.
  8. The loss of the Empire and the colonies was traumatic. But there was still the Commonwealth. With the EEC and EU experiment, a lot of the Commonwealth interest drifted away. If they Brexit the European door shut, they might re-open the Commonwealth door.

There’s no new political insight in there, but it does go some cynical way to supplying reasons. If it proves a bad idea – like the First World War or convict transportation – you can always blame the Manchester Board Of trade and the Admiralty. Or Trump and the Americans. But don’t blame them too hard in case you need Lend-Lease and Spam again.

Riding The Horse – Part Six – The Collector’s Edition

If anyone ever meets you on the road and tells you that the only reason they collect something – whether it be stamps, coins, or matchbook covers – is for the investment value of them, you must treat them like Buddha. You must kill them. Because they are either telling you the truth or a lie…and neither one is acceptable.

The collection urge is a basic part of the human psyche – and there are studies that show it to be something that other animals do as well. Unfortunately there have not been enough funded studies employing perpetual students that have concentrated upon the animal part of it – we still do not know why crows and magpies collect junk bonds. But as far as people go, everyone has a latent collector inside them.

The classical collections involve art, antiquities, coins, postage stamps, china and porcelain, and silver and gold objects. These have an intrinsic value in themselves  – with the possible exception of outdated postage stamps – and can be turned into a current in the income stream of the collector. Of course most turn out to be money sinks, but that is the nature of the con game.

The actual objects to be collected is immaterial – it is the amassing of a group of them that forms the gratification. If they can be supported by specialist shops, publications, scholarly works, fairs, and auctions…so much the better. Sometimes they run afoul of laws, as in the collection of weapons and firearms, but that’s never stopped any keen enthusiast that I’ve ever met. The man with the working anti-tank gun is ample evidence of this. In any case no real collector lets anything – money, law, or good sense – stand in his way. The only irksome part for him may be the necessity to keep the collection hidden.

Can there be too many things in a collection? Not according to the collectors. Can the collection be too wide in scope? Again, no. Can it be too narrow? Well, I met a proud collector who concentrated his efforts upon a toy plastic boat that was produced as a promotional giveaway in the 80’s and he has found enough variants in it to base his entire happiness upon. All the items look the same until he tells you the minute history of them and lets you examine them carefully with a magnifying glass. At that point you wish you were a gun collector…

Can the objets de collection be too expensive? Well they can be so for the average person, and that for a number of reasons, but for the unlimited budget person, nothing is too dear. They are the explorers after El Dorado that poison the land for all the rest – they elevate prices and depress common sense in any field they enter. And yet. And yet…

Remember our first paragraph. In every collector’s heart is a small section that really does want their beloved collection of dried goat udders to be the secret desire of a fabulously-wealthy sheik…who will pay an enormous price for them. This small portion of the heart is known as the Jesse James valve, and it flutters in the presence of loose money. 

Collectors are easy meat for the purveyors of dreck – see the back of any woman’s magazine for the porcelain figures of the Royal Plumbers Of Tonga at only $ 256 each in a signed edition. They are also the natural fodder for makers of collection cases, display shelves, storage books, and fanciful catalogues. They can be seen at all sorts of trade shows, secondhand fairs, and repulsive little shops cruising for the bargains. The shopkeepers know ‘em in a minute and it is all they can do from salivating visibly.

Is there any harm in being a collector? No, if you do not go so far down the rabbit hole that you find the subject has collected you. This is the sad fate of several of the gun collectors I know who’ve sacrificed money, property, and good sense to serve their masters…the guns. It is not possible to bring them to their senses, but they are mostly harmless. The fate of many collectors is to find that their friends and family avoid them – at least when they start to talk about The Collection.

Hanging Out With Idiots

In every company, club, or social group there are identifiable types. You’ll have seen them all your life. Or, if not, you can be sure they’ll have seen you…

  1. The politician. The treasurer who wants to be secretary, the secretary who wants to be president, and the president who wants to be hereditary emperor. You can do yourself a bit of good by furthering their ambitions and you can do yourself a world of good by shunning them completely.
  2. The clown. Whether the selected medium is ethnic slurs or dad jokes, the clown is playing it, and you, for laughs. Beware if they see you as a useful butt for these merry japes. Try to switch their sights to someone else.
  3. The sponge. Whether it is knowledge, work, or money, the sponge will absorb all you can provide. While you are pouring out your life blood for them you’ll be patted and stroked. When the flow stops you’ll be cast off and laughed at.
  4. The victim. The range of hurts that the victim will parade for your sympathy will stagger you. Beggars in Bangladesh have fared better than they, and you are always encouraged to help with tears and money.
  5. The expert. Now they might very well be an actual expert, and well worth listening too because of this. Equally, they may be windbags who gain a puffed pleasure telling you what to do…but whose advice is valueless. Try them out. Do as they say for a little while and see if things go better. If it is all shit, just ignore them ever after.
  6. The lemon. Just as there is a victim, there will always be a lemon. Sour, hard, and unsavoury. If you listen to them your milk of human kindness will curdle. And it is illegal to hit them with a shovel. A signal failure of the law, eh?

The best thing that the average person can do – faced with this daunting list of venomous predators – is pick a category and get in there first. If you are going to be closeted with idiots, do yourself a favour by being the biggest idiot in the closet. You may be treated to bad language and horrified looks, but at least they’ll give you elbow room. If you take off your clothes you’ll get quite a lot of personal space.

 

The Spam Queue

This column attracts spam. As do all the others I write. So, I would imagine, would a note left in a bottle for the milkman – given the ever-reaching greed of internet pests.

Fortunately there is a program that drives away most of this traffic, putting it into a bin for me to empty periodically. I have learned to give the contents only the most cursory glance before flushing it. Once, within a space of a decade, there may be a genuine message leaking into the cesspool. More often the seepage is the other way. I am prepared to lose one real comment amongst the dross.

Like the Indian scam phone callers, I am at a loss to think that anyone could ever be interested enough in these fraudulent pests to ever respond to them…and I imagine that it would only spark a greater onslaught. Yet, the fact remains that they keep coming. This suggests some profit from it for the criminals and therefore some engagement by the unwary. If there is a trail of anything, it will be a trail of money and stupidity.

It is tempting to go on the hike as well. If others can pick an occasional drachma from the pockets of the unwary, surely I can put my hand in there too. I have been able to persuade people to all sorts of folly in the past, and I hope my skills are still with me. It’s just thinking how to do it…

Will they fall for sending me money directly? That’s been tried by everyone from Nigeria to Nunawading, and unless you have  dewy-eyed kittens marching on Parliament House, you are unlikely to access the right level of gullibility. I can be dewy-eyed but kitten suits are hot and itchy.

I could threaten. If they are frightened of the Immigration Department there is a chance that they’ll pay to avoid deportation. If the Taxation Department is their nightmare I can put on my best Jobsworth manner and impose fines left, right, and center. But I have no need of iTunes cards or anything else that might be duped out of them. It’d have to be cash or nothing, and that leaves the operational problem of collecting it. I don’t mind the victims being dumb, but I don’t want to join them.

Perhaps cajoling would work. I could try to shame them for eating meat, or vegetables, or sugar, or really anything…with the absolute certainty that they will feel guilty about something. It’s just finding out that secret shame and whacking it with a mallet.

I wish I was better at begging in rags. I’ve got the rags, all right, courtesy of a lifetime of never cleaning the wardrobe out, but the thought of panhandling in shopping centres leaves me cold. I don’t like the places all that much when I’ve got money, so doing the urban poor act would be even worse.  I suppose I could send out invitations for people to visit me here at home and I could do it in the lounge room, but somehow it doesn’t sound all that promising.

 

Riding The Horse – Part Five – The Hobby Of Action

One of the basic human needs is to be active – to sport, work, or hunt for some part of the time. With good luck this will provide food, shelter, and clothing. With bad luck this will provide injury and death.

Let us start with the good bit. You can make a hobby out of nearly any sport there is – individual ones like golf or fishing, or partnership events like tennis or badminton. You can expand to be part of a team and there are all sorts of ball or puck games that you can play.

There can be sport in pure activity – the hike, jog, or breathless run. As long as it is not in front of a pack of slavering bloodhounds, there can always be an element of fun in it – and fun is what you get out of an active hobby. There is only a concrete reward in the case of hunting or fishing – you can eat or wear the result of a success. if you are dealing with polar or grizzly bears you need to be aware that what you regard as your prey is also attuned to this idea, and they don’t need RCMP permits or salt and pepper…

The physical benefit of active hobbies is often touted as a reason to engage in them. Take this with a grain of salt – there are any number of sports physiotherapists, chemists, and manufacturers of knee braces who caution you to take care and hope you won’t listen. They need have no fear – while the sporting human’s body is composed of muscles, bones, and no brains at all, their business is safe.

Likewise the action hobbies like biking, parasailing, rock climbing, and adventuring in all its forms – it is promoted as the finest form of sport and clothing, shoes, accessories, and action cameras are sold in the millions to let people participate. Some will do so safely. Some is a lesser number than all, and within that discrepancy lies the extremely profitable business of health insurance and sports medicine. And who are we to discourage profit…

Successful hobbying…if that is really a word…would see us all engage in some form of activity at some time in the week. We would be doing it regularly, with pleasure and safety, and an increase in skill over the years. We might get the occasional trophy or memento to let us know that others recognise our skill – or we might just feel the benefits within ourselves. Whichever, the active hobby is not to be decried on the basis of possible injury or basic purposelessness. It can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.

But then so can cheese…