Aug 132020
 

Working from home (henceforth “WfH”) has cropped up in my Twitter feed lately and this is my “response” to some of the issues raised.

Now don’t get me wrong – there are all sorts of issues related to WfH – some people can’t, some people don’t like it, companies are getting offices for “free”, some companies not realising that they need to provide equipment, and that health and safety requirements apply to the home worker too.

And probably a whole lot more.

But some of the complaints seem to be coming from people who have never even looked at WfH advice, or who have ignored that advice.

If your work life and your home life seem to be merging, do something about it. Clearly distinguish between work time and home time with a “going to work ritual” and a “coming home ritual”. It doesn’t matter what they are as long as they clearly mark the start and end of the working day.

For example, I always take a morning walk to start the working day, and make a ceremonial cup of coffee at the end (I don’t usually drink coffee whilst working or I end up fizzing).

Find yourself slogging away at the computer non-stop? Well don’t do that then. You’re supposed to take a break away from the computer regularly anyway, so do so. Get up and wander around a bit – make a coffee, look out the front window to see if it’s raining, check the postbox, do some stretching, etc.

Stuck in non-stop meetings? Call a comfort break every hour then – even if you don’t need a pee. Do you really care if your co-workers think you have a weak bladder? Especially when they’re more likely to think you’re a hero for giving them an excuse for a comfort break.

Missing out on the social life of the office? Set up social meetings then – perhaps for lunchtimes when you can eat your meals “together”.

Lastly, ergonomics. That laptop you took back home with you in the spring isn’t the right equipment for a long-term workstation. Get yourself a decent desk, chair, monitor, external keyboard and mouse. That sounds expensive, and yes your employer should (at the very least) be helping out, but it needn’t be that expensive.

Into The Water; Stillness and Motion
Aug 062020
 

You do realise that most of you come across like particularly annoying toddlers throwing a tantrum because they let go of the balloon and it went away?

The scientific evidence for the efficacy of wearing masks is conclusive – simple cloth masks help stop the spread of droplets released when coughing (a common Covid-19 symptom), sneezing (Covid-19 hasn’t stopped hay-fever), or even breathing.

No, they’re not as effective as N95 masks, neither are they capable of stopping a virus running around on its own. But they don’t commonly do that. Viruses are commonly clumped into ‘water’ droplets and even the most basic cloth mask will stop most of those getting through – and it doesn’t have to be 100% effective (or ‘certified’) to be a good defense against the virus.

Masks are probably most effective at stopping the already infected from releasing huge clouds of Covid-19 infested water droplets wherever they go.

And even if you don’t believe in the masks, going to a place (a shop, public transport, etc.) where masks are required and refusing to wear a mask is the sign of a self-important little idiot. Either wear the mask or don’t use the relevant services.

Toward The Sea
Jul 112020
 

So the pubs have re-opened and our media is full of images of rowdy crowds busy drinking and blithely ignoring social distancing recommendations. And “more sensible” people are reacting by claiming that it was too soon to re-open pubs.

Well, … perhaps.

It was always inevitable that re-opening the pubs was going to be met with a bit of a major drinking session, but was it really as bad as it was portrayed? Whilst I do not have figures (and this anecdote only applies to one of many locations), I got the impression that Saturday night was much quieter than you might expect.

I live on a busy road that whilst does not have many drinking establishments (four plus four licensed restaurants), is often used by city centre drinkers on their way home. Saturday nights are usually quite lively, and special occasion Saturday nights can be quite rowdy. And this Saturday night didn’t seem as busy as an ordinary Saturday night.

What we do not see are the pictures of less controversial pub gatherings where social distancing is observed. Whilst the daft went out in droves on Saturday night, many people did not go out.

There are many different kinds of pubs – to give just two examples, there are the city centre “party pubs” and there are the quiet country pubs with a beer garden. And yes a pub can be more than one kind at different times.

Crowding into a busy city centre pub with lots of people on their way to getting quite sloshed is a relatively high risk activity; having a quiet drink with one or two others in a beer garden is a relatively low risk activity.

It is quite possible – indeed likely – that the daft people who went out on Saturday night are already participating in relatively high risk activities. So opening the pubs may only be increasing the risk of more infections only slightly.

And given the other side of opening pubs – business survival, jobs for those who work in pubs, and the ability of us all to pop into a quiet pub at the end of a long walk (or similar), why not?

Jul 052020
 

This is inspired by a tweet claiming that something was an example of mediæval blood libel; I remembered it being earlier than that, looked it up, and found the relevant tweet had disappeared off the bottom of the page.

So this blog posting.

The earliest reference to the blood libel in the relevant Wikipedia article was an accusation that Jews sacrificed Greeks in the temple in Jerusalem in the BCE era.

Calling this “blood libel” is mildly controversial – there are those who prefer to stick to a very specific definition which specifies christians accusing Jews. Whilst I’m fine with a definition this specific for a specific instance (“The Blood Libel”), being too pedantic prevents discussions about instances (real or theoretical) of similar accusations by other groups against other groups (“a blood libel”).

In addition, if you prohibit the use of the phrase “a blood libel” in reference to any accusations which don’t meet a specific definition too closely, it makes discussing generic blood libel accusations somewhat tricky – be too quick to dismiss the fictional accusation that atheists use the blood of neo-pagan children to make “holy bread” as not being “The Blood Libel” and you risk implying that it’s not that bad.

Whilst the Jews are a popular target for the evil ones that like emphasising the “us versus them” (frequently as a means of bolstering their own power), they are not the only target – from a Eurocentric perspective those other targets include the Romani, blacks, Irish, Asians, and immigrants of any kind.

This general demonisation of “them” isn’t any kind of blood libel of course, but it is possible that non-Jewish blood libel accusations have been made against “them” ever since religion became a source of power for priests – well before history (the written record) began, and well before the Jewish people called themselves Jews.

The blood libel is specifically a false accusation that Jews sacrifice the children of christians (or Greeks in the earliest examples) to use their blood to make a “holy bread”. Ignoring the ethnic groups, the key elements of a blood libel are :-

  1. The accusation is false (or it wouldn’t be a libel).
  2. The accusation involves blood consumption – blood has been important symbolically since forever.
  3. The religious aspect – consuming the blood is a religious act. Well, religion has been the curse blighting humanity ever since it began.

There is nothing in there that is dependent on the identity of the perpetrator or the target group (because I’ve removed it), but doesn’t it cover the essentials of a blood libel?

Being cynical about human nature, I’m pretty sure that blood libels have been around ever since religion could be used to divide us and them. Which is a good deal further back than the last 2,000 years.

None of this is meant to undermine the seriousness of the blood libel against Jews.

No Fun At The Fair

Jun 142020
 

In the wake of the tearing down of many US statues of Confederate generals and in the UK, the removal of a statue to a slave trader in Bristol, there is an ongoing debate about the status of statues in the public space.

And some pretty daft things have been said about it.

One of the daftest is the notion that they represent our history and destroying them is destroying our history; no they don’t and no it isn’t. History is a lot bigger and more diverse than the handful of historical (in some cases) so-called heroes.

The best a statue (almost always of an old white dude) can achieve in that direction is to spark an interest in history. And replacing the Bristol statue of Edward Colston with a statue of Paul Stephenson would have very little effect on this “sparking effect”. From a purely ancient history perspective, I might prefer one to Robert Fitzharding, but given that there is no shortage of statues to old white dudes, someone else can take centre stage.

The Bare Family

In the US, it is rather peculiar to say the least that many US cities have statues to traitorous (not to mention racist) Confederate generals. Even ignoring the political question of why they are there, a fair few of them have little to no aesthetic value – if I were one of those dead Confederate generals, I’d be saying “Look, I may have been pretty ugly but at least I looked human!”.

But it gets on to an interesting point – we don’t so much worship the real people depicted in statues as our idealised version of them. In the case of Confederate generals (and ignoring the conscious and blatant racists), some view these as heroes of states’ rights which is more than a little invented – those making up the Confederacy were quite happy trampling on states’ rights when it came to achieving things they wanted (such as the return of run-away slaves).

In some cases the myth of the man (and woman in some rare cases) is enough to justify their statue despite what they were like in life – for instance Churchill was a racist and an imperialist but he also represents anti-fascism, Britain’s war leadership, and the initiation of the European state project.

There are those who would point to the Bengal famine of 1943 as a reason why he should not be venerated in statue form. He certainly deserves criticism for his handling of that famine and bears some responsibility for it, but he hardly caused the famine and there was plenty of other things going on at the time.

Back to the Confederate generals … I don’t think their myth is sufficient to justify the continued existence of their statues in the light of their very real crimes.

In the case of at least some statues, their origin story can be more interesting than expected – for instance there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the British parliament that was put up in the late 19th century. At the time, it was felt that putting up such a statue was rather provocative given the situation with Ireland at the time.

So no public money went to funding the statue; a ‘benefactor’ paid for the statue, but it was put up in the public space anyway – kind of missing the point!

But is the violent removal of such statues justified?

Normally, no. But in some instances, yes.

In the case of the Bristol slave trader, people have been trying to have the statue removed through official channels for over twenty-years! If you do not have a sensible way of handling reasonable objections to questionable statues in a reasonable time frame you can’t get too upset when people resort to direct action.

There must be a sensible, timely, and semi-democratic mechanism by which statues in the public space can be removed – perhaps if 25% of the local electorate vote to remove it, it should go. Whilst this is not properly democratic, if a statue is offensive to a quarter of the local population it seems not unreasonable to remove it.

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