Am I a luddite? Neh!

… [T]he project of digitising the information held in the world’s printed books is too important to be dealt with purely as a commercial venture between rights holders and a potential supplier of services.

…. If we let Google have its settlement we will all be the poorer. Not for a while, perhaps, but one day we will need more from this new library of Alexandria than Google is willing to offer, and find that the price it demands is more than we can pay.

Bill Thompson BBC NEWS – Keeping Google out of libraries Via Beatties Book Blog

Yes. OK, so I opted out of the Google book settlement — before the deadline, and despite, it seemed, most other local publishers e-signing on the dotted line. Many, it seemed to me, consented on the basis of ‘better the devil you know’ and, with respect, dreaming that they retained some ‘control’ that way. (Er, not so much.)

Another argument was that you should ‘opt in’ unless you intended to sue Google yourself(!) That idea, of course, is presented as unthinkable for a small publisher or author out to protect their rights. Hmpf.

Dear Google: SORRY, You can't just plant a flag and take our rights.

Dear Google: SORRY, You can't just plant a flag and take our rights.

Well, not so fast. Having crossed swords with Google previously over the unethical use of my name, business name, authors’ names and trademarks in Google ads by an unscrupulous, um, er, ‘businessman‘, in the end, I found Google “OK” to deal with.

One certainly needs to marshal one’s argument with Google and to be persistent and well-organised, and allow them time to process the issues at stake, even push back on their initial response (hey, it’s the information age). From my experience, Google actually does pretty well on the communication score. (Do they want a million lawsuits? No.)

For me, the USA-centric aspect of the proposed book settlement deal is the eye-watering thing. “Like, Shah! It affects the whole world. OMG!” Good on the Germans for objecting to the cultural imperialism. (Ha! Ironic. Didn’t see that coming.) Continue reading →

Merlin Mann on the internet

Relativity - MC Escher

Relativity - MC Escher

The internet is becoming this thing where it’s just people trying to become successful on the internet by showing other people how to become successful on the internet.

It’s this unbelievably fractal ponzi scheme. It’s very Escher.

Boy, it’s a terrible terrible ghetto of information out there. It’s like a snake masturbating its own tail.

It’s miserable.

— Merlin Mann Aug 2009 on In Box Zero (transcript)

At the risk of being thought a derivative fan-boy, Merlin is saying what I’ve been thinking … gulp … especially about the new breed of shallow self-proclaimed ‘experts’ hyping up their affiliate programmes selling, you guessed it: ‘How to make money on the internet’.

But there are exceptions. Merlin’s one. So is Fake Steve Jobs, Seth Godin, the delightful Havi Brooks and, someone I’ve recently discovered, Humorless Bitch.

Any other recommendations? Pop them into Comments, if you like.

A loss of moral authority

There is added moral authority when someone who hasn’t had to struggle sounds a call to help those less privileged.

Beyond mere noblesse-oblige, Teddy Kennedy became a leading voice of ‘liberal’ ideology, with an emphasis on equality and innate justice best expressed in the civil rights movement of the 1960s — but applied far wider than that.

Teddy Kennedy

Teddy Kennedy RIP

The ’cause of my life’ Kennedy identified as universal health care is much more than a mere struggle for power or influence.

Such reform was (and is) opposed by fair means and foul by unimaginably wealthy vested interests in the health insurance industry. It is noisily opposed by such fat-cats — and their media lackeys who care not-a-jot for the less-advantaged except for what they can scoop out of them.

These cold-hearted interests see it as appropriate to leave the poor ‘without cover’ — and therefore at the mercy of some who, as my old PE teacher Jack McManus once colourfully said, ‘wouldn’t give you the steam off their piss’. Continue reading →

Future Think

While the current world economic crisis is definitely one for the record books one wonders what history will say of this meltdown? Was it predictable? Were there signs? And if there were signs why did the people of the first decade of the 21st Century not follow them?

With hindsight as a guide it would be easy to play “Sunday Morning Quarterback” and proclaim this and that about the situation. But, let’s not do that shall we. Let’s get practical and imagine what we could find out if we leapt forward through time 100 years and looked back on this first decade of the 21st century and see what we can see. When they speak of us – what do they say? Of our economics – what do they say?

As luck would have it I just happen to have a time machine handy. I shall zoom forward 100 years to the 22nd Century and see what I can find out. Hang on. I’ll be back in moment.

* * *

Well, I’m back!

Wow! What a mess. But, I’m only reporting on the economic meltdown of the first decade of the 21st Century — I don’t even want to start with what happened the day Earth ran out of oil or the day Sarah Palin became President of the United States – thank God for our new alien overlords that showed up a month later — and now rule over us all with an iron tentacle.

Perhaps, another time…

The first thing that struck me about us when I read about ourselves from the eye of our-future-selves was how clear and uncluttered the past can seem. A mere 100 years can do a lot to expose a calamity. Continue reading →

Groping for the truth

Why does a lie offend us?

Why is it that a lie — especially a lie to our face — vexes us so?

Our efforts to identify the veracity of a claim (sometimes a very basic claim), can be frustrated by liars and rogues. So much of our lives can be taken up with efforts to locate or verify the truth about something or someone.

And lies are told every day — about big issues and small. The expression, ‘seeking the truth’ has a real ring to it … but it ain’t easy.

Over the years, dealing with some professional con-artists and liars, in politics and in business, I have come to see there is no single tell-tale factor that will readily help you identify the liar. Except perhaps one (and even that is not totally reliable):

How they treat other people — particularly those who they perceive as of lower ‘status’ to them.

Arrogance is a HUGE indicator.

A bully is almost always a liar. (But not every liar is a bully! Far from it.)

In my observation, there often seems to be a sort of cognitive link (is that the right expression?) between excessive ego — however it’s expressed — and a lack of truthfulness.

The thought: ‘Those rules don’t apply to me’ has led many a narcissist or sociopath into deception.

Just a theory.

Any other ideas?

The power of an appeal to decency

A recent reference to a made-up threat of ‘Death Panels’ led me to recall a famous political showdown. Legend tells us this interchange sparked the beginning of the end for Senator Joseph McCarthy.

While McCarthy was not without opponents to his paranoid demagoguery, lawyer Joseph Welch went down in history as a giant-slayer. Welch was representing the US Army at a Congressional hearing (which had become in effect another platform for McCarthy’s ongoing anti-Communist self-aggrandisement) and drew a line at an attempt to assassinate the character of one of his firm’s young lawyers, who was not even involved in the hearings.

His killer blow was the rhetorical question:

Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

There’s a video of the interchange available on google video:

Worth watching, in my opinion. (Right to the end.) Transcript here.

And here’s how Language Log recalled it on June 09, 2004 …

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of an event that should not go unremarked on Language Log: it’s exactly half a century today since a pair of well-crafted sentences rang out across a Congressional hearings room in Washington DC and began a process that was of great importance to the integrity and honor of our country:
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy was famous for his aggressive anti-communist stance, and speeches in which he claimed to be in possession of long lists of names of communists in the State department, the military, and elsewhere in government. He made full use of his position as chair of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its Permanent Committee on Investigations. He destroyed the careers of many people by claiming that they had belonged to communist front organizations or associated with communists. His success at this owed a lot to the fact that he was able to play (as Harvard law dean Erwin Griswold put it) ‘judge, jury, prosecutor, castigator, and press agent, all in one.’ Continue reading →

Falling into error: when we think we know why…

Fundamental attribution error

It’s intriguing how often you will stumble across someone’s hallucinations about another person’s motives for action.

In earlier posts I’ve discussed the character attacks that a critic (any critic) can commonly expect to endure in response to them giving their gift:
‘Oh you’re just saying that because you’re … [fill in the space] (jealous/competing/not willing to share the spotlight etc).

Broadly speaking, it seems common, even normal, for people to suspect that ‘ulterior’ internal motives — related to character — lie behind someone’s actions, whether this is actually a rational thought or not. It turns out it is normal.

Using the term ‘fundamental attribution error’, psychologists point to our irrational tendency to explain behaviour — particularly other people’s behaviour by assigning character attributes — e.g. dishonest, angry, impatient, inconsiderate, somehow aggrieved or biased against the person acting. (We also use these traits to ‘explain’ why things happen to them as well, but that’s another story.)
Continue reading →

Remembering Karla

They can be strange lands, the pathways of our memory.
Our recent discussions about animosity and forgiveness and letting go of disappointment and anger has provoked recollections of a case which I haven’t thought about for long time.

Lotus, Oregan House CA (photo by Peter Aranyi)

When I was a news reporter twenty years ago I covered the search for a young girl (13, I recall) who had gone missing on a bike ride to her local shops. The police organised door-to-door canvassing in her home suburb, and search and rescue professionals and volunteers from tramping clubs combed the bush and foreshore all around the valley and beaches within short driving distance of where she was last seen. I joined the bush search.

It was very easy for me to get caught up in the espirit de corps of the search and rescue group. With my woollen bush shirt, sturdy footwear, sunglasses and my new-fangled cell phone (about the size of a loaf of bread) I raced up and down bush tracks calling out and looking for any sign of the young girl.

The chill sets in

After a day or two of fruitless searching, the tone of the team changed. By the end of the third day a chill crept into all of us. Now, we realised, we were looking not for a lost girl, we weren’t calling out for someone waiting for us to find her. We were looking for a body. The dread was powerful. My mum, hearing one of my live voice reports on the radio during the day, called me at home that evening concerned about me. ‘Peter, you sounded so sad,’ she said. I told her I was. What an understatement.

We didn’t find her.

Continue reading →

“Do I believe in the forgiveness of sin?”

I heard this question in a BBC Heart & Soul documentary today about a family where the father had sexually abused his young daughter. The wife described how she had come to a place where the question, “Do I believe in the forgiveness of sin?” arose when considering her husband’s actions towards her daughter.

Her answer was, “Yes, I do.” and she forgave him. She did so with an unopened envelope in her hand — inside the envelope was his confession to the police, which she had not read until that point! Wow. That forgiveness was the start of another journey, but still, Wow.

One of the common promoted ‘benefits’ of forgiveness is a sort of self-preservation — we forgive others for own own sake, not theirs, necessarily. (The conditions, if any, we may seek to place on our forgiveness is another subject.)

graphic: Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate by Michael Henderson

graphic: Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate by Michael Henderson

We forgive, so the theory goes, to prevent ourselves carrying toxic bitterness, to counter an aspect of the ‘spiritual risk’ I referred to in my previous post on Animosity. It’s better, we’re encouraged, to ‘move on’, ‘let it go’, ‘get over it’, to not hold a grudge.

And generally, I would agree with that. But it doesn’t mean you forgetContinue reading →

The Paradox of Animosity

I’ve been thinking, prompted in part by a comment from Chowbok who said:

Hatred is the easiest of emotions to invoke.

Is it possible to be trenchantly, even violently opposed to what you perceive as wrongdoing without slipping into HATRED of the perpetrator?

If we agree (you and I) that bitterness of spirit is a dangerous and toxic thing, how do we keep a clear vision, maintain our standards (which implies rejecting some actions and behaviours as, at least, ‘inappropriate’) … without slipping into the slimy pool of ill-will?

However virtuous one’s starting point, it seems there is what some call ‘spiritual risk’ involved whenever we exercise discernment.

Like radioactivity pioneers Pierre and Marie Curie, who died of diseases caused by exposure to the very radiation they studied — can a ‘crusader for right’ become contaminated, or infected (even mutated?) by the object of their attention?

Choose your enemies carefully, for you will become like them.

Some call this proverb History’s most ironic lesson. Whatever you think of the ‘spiritual risk’ aspect, the truth of the proverb is, sadly, often borne out by the record of human history. Victims can, in turn, become victimisers. (Examples, anyone?)

A variation of the proverb is:

Choose your enemies carefully for they DEFINE you.

A song on rock band U2’s No Line On The Horizon album contains this:

Choose your enemies carefully, ’cause they will define you/
Make them interesting, because in some ways they will mind you/
They’re not there in the beginning, but when your story ends/
Gonna last longer with you than your friends.

— from Cedars of Lebanon

As we’ve seen, anyone who expresses an opinion or takes a principled stand against others’ actions is liable to stir up anger and hatred. (That’s why we resist doing so. Fear of that reaction. The bully, the liar, and the oppressor count on this fear.)
So, Question: Is it possible to take a stand without succumbing to strong negative feelings oneself? What if those strong feelings are needed to ‘motivate’ us?

Mahatma Ghandi‘s ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner‘ overstates it … but goes towards what I’m asking.

Bitterness, we agree is unhealthy.
So, surely, is unforgiveness. Continue reading →

Reflections on grief and mortality

A recent death in my family – the latest in what seems like a bad season for us – has provoked some musings about this haphazard procession of events we call Life.

Is there any novel thing one can say in response to the death of a loved one (whether parent, spouse, child or friend)?


Grief, it seems, is a path we must each tread.

Tributes and memorials from the pyramids to the Taj Mahal, from the Book of Psalms to WH Auden and Leonard Cohen have canvassed the territory of grief and remembrance. Yet still, it seems, the experience has to be borne to be truly known.

The wisest words I ever heard about grief were from a poet who’d lost his wife:  “The only thing grief can bear is companionship.” Continue reading →

How to have a FAIR argument

For a number of years I worked as a political reporter at Parliament Buildings in Wellington (New Zealand).
During my time in that highly competitive pressure-cooker environment I learned a lot about truth, perception, political ‘reality’, and human nature. I hope I also learned to be careful with what I say.

While I was in the Press Gallery and for a while afterwards I filed a regular ‘Politics’ column for the NZ Federated Farmers magazine Straight Furrow. Once, writing a column about some issue to do with how ‘maverick’ Winston Peters was functioning in the then Bolger government I made the comment “This man has lied to me before”. By saying it, I was alerting readers that Peters — who I still regard as arguably the most naturally talented politician of his generation — was a complex operator, and a man of many shades. Someone to watch.

Shortly after publication, Peters stormed into our office in the Press Gallery (he may have been clutching Straight Furrow or not, I don’t recall) and angrily demanded of me: ‘When have I lied to you?

I quickly gave him three examples each of which involved me personally and looked him in the eye. After two or three seconds, his trademark smile appeared and he calmed down. He said something like, ‘Oh. OK then’, muttered to himself, and left the office. He was a man about it.

As Kim Hill, who I worked with at Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report’, would say:

‘Which is it? Do you say I’m wrong? Or just that you don’t like me saying it?’

I’ve learned that there are two basic approaches to argument (and these can apply to me under pressure, just as much as the next person): Continue reading →

Heart warming

Pearl & I performed street theatre sketches with our friends and squirted our guests with water pistols at our wedding… these guys have the same spirit. Heart-warming!

Done anything this ‘crazy’ lately? – P

Daring — if there was no risk it wouldn’t take guts

Valkyrie movie poster

I like this image for two reasons:

One – the graphic design speaks to me.
Two – it kind of makes my point: ‘Many saw evil. They dared to stop it.’

I can’t tell you how many people will cheer from the safety of the sidelines, or grumble uselessly about something they perceive as not right, or (even) criticise the warrior who has somehow found the courage to confront Goliath. Sadly, often, fear rules.

But not always.

Moral courage — being willing to stand in scorn

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.

— Robert F Kennedy, quoted by his brother Edward at Bobby’s funeral 1968

Bobby Kennedy’s depiction of moral courage being a ‘rare commodity’ echoes his brother John F Kennedy’s admonition (which he wrongly ascribed to Dante, as it turned out):

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those
who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

Taken in a pair, these expressions of sentiment (available at speak loudly to me about what motivates and galvanises heroic ‘outsiders’ and truth-tellers — and the whistle blowers or crusaders we’ve been thinking about recently.

It takes courage to be willing to bear the disapproval, the scorn, or the censure of others. Continue reading →