Money, Money, Money!

Noreen and I had a fun time this afternoon: we played at the King in his counting house.

We have a gallon whisky bottle into which we put our small change when we come in – basically the shrapnel that weighs down the pocket. The rule is if it is less than a £1 coin and it fits in the bottle, it goes in; basically that is everything except £1, £2 and old 50p coins.

We’ve been doing this for many years, and used to collect about half a bottle a year (usually around £150-£200) which we used as holiday spending money. But now that we’re not working there hasn’t been as much small change to go in the bottle, and we’ve been lazy, so it hasn’t been emptied for quite some years. The bottle has overflowed into a plastic jar, which has overflowed into a tin.

Today we decided to count our loot. In days of old sorting and counting the coins was a horrible job (one reason we kept putting it off!); it used to occupy us all afternoon. But I knew the job was looming so I acquired, for a few quid on eBay, a nifty little machine which sorts the coins (basically by size). It’s battery driven and a devilishly clever sorting mechanism based on two disks and sized slots.

The sorted coins are output into small tubes which are calibrated so you get the value of each full pot, whereupon it is relatively easy to bag the coins in amounts acceptable to the bank. Well almost – the calibrations aren’t exact so the bags still have to be weight-checked (and as a double check we counted a few random bags).

We counted and bagged an amazing total of exactly £500 – yes a monkey! – with a couple of bags of odds and sods left over. And in just a couple of hours the job’s a good ‘un. Doing the job entirely by hand would have taken the two of us at least all afternoon, and probably all evening as well.

If you think in terms of pennies and 5p coins, you need a lot to make up even £100. But do you know what makes the real difference? 20p coins. It’s hard to believe but over half the £500 total was in 20p coins. We’ve noticed over the years that you get about 50% more 20p coins than 10p or 5p coins, and of course they’re worth more. That soon ratchets up the extra value. So if you want to collect just one coin, then 20p is the one to pick.

All we have to do now is stagger the incredible weight to the bank and hope we’ve weighed everything correctly. Wish us luck!

And then we have to decide what to spend it on!

Remembering Hierarchies

Hierarchies of all sorts get a bad rap these days. We’re all supposed to be equal and everything should be egalitarian. But a few days ago Aeon published an interesting article from a group of academic thinkers. (They don’t call themselves philosophers, though such is what they are.) They suggest we need hierarchies; indeed we can’t function efficiently without them.

As usual it was a long-ish read, so here, via a handful of extracts, is a summary of the key points for me.

Preamble …

The modern West has placed a high premium on the value of equality. Equal rights are enshrined in law while old hierarchies of nobility and social class have been challenged … Few would doubt that global society is all the better for these changes. But hierarchies have not disappeared …

… the idea of a purely egalitarian world in which there are no hierarchies at all would appear to be both unrealistic and unattractive. Nobody, on reflection, would want to eliminate all hierarchies, for we all benefit from the recognition that some people are more qualified than others to perform certain roles in society. We prefer to be treated by senior surgeons not medical students, get financial advice from professionals not interns. Good and permissible hierarchies are everywhere around us.

… We live in a time when no distinction is drawn between justified and useful hierarchies on the one hand, and self-interested, exploitative elites on the other.

Correct use …

Apart from their civic importance, hierarchies can be surprisingly benign in life more broadly. Hierarchy is oppressive when it is reduced to a simple power over others. But there are also forms of hierarchy that involve power with, not over …

Take the examples of good relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, or employers and employees. These work best when the person higher in the hierarchy does not use that position to dominate those lower down but to enable them to grow in their own powers.

A common Confucian ideal is that a master ought to aim for the student to surpass him or her. Confucian hierarchies are marked by reciprocity and mutual concern. The correct response to the fact of differential ability is not to celebrate or condemn it, but to make good use of it for the common [good].

Bounds of influence … Experts are expert in limited domains, but most real-life problems are complex and multi-domain …

To protect against abuse by those with higher status, hierarchies should also be domain-specific: hierarchies become problematic when they become generalised, so that people who have power, authority or respect in one domain command it in others too … we see this when holders of political power wield disproportionate legal power, being if not completely above the law then at least subject to less legal accountability than ordinary citizens. Hence, we need to guard against what we might call hierarchical drift: the extension of power from a specific, legitimate domain to other, illegitimate ones.

This hierarchical drift occurs not only in politics, but in other complex human arenas. It’s tempting to think that the best people to make decisions are experts. But the complexity of most real-world problems means that this would often be a mistake. With complicated issues, general-purpose competences such as open-mindedness and, especially, reasonableness are essential for successful deliberation.

Get a life …

One reason why hierarchy is offensive to the modern, egalitarian mind is that it implies deference to those higher up than them. But if the idea that deference can be a good thing seems shocking, then so be it. Philosophy should upset and surprise us.

Paternalism …

… paternalism … has become another dirty word. Political paternalism can be defined as coercive interference with autonomy. This form of hierarchy is generally regarded with great suspicion for very good reason: many authoritarian governments have disregarded the interests of the people under the pretence of acting in them. But there might be a justification for at least some forms of this, as paternalism can, in fact, foster autonomy.

See the Confucian argument above.

So in summary …

Hierarchy has been historically much-abused … Nonetheless, we think it important to put these ideas forward as an invitation to begin a much-needed conversation about the role of hierarchy in a world that is in many ways now fundamentally egalitarian, in that it gives equal rights and dignity to all. However, it clearly does not and cannot give equal power and authority to all. If we are to square the necessary inequality that the unequal distribution of power entails with the equally necessary equality of value we place on human life, it’s time to take the merits of hierarchy seriously.

Career Criminals Twain

The kittens (huh, some kittens, they’re a year in 2 weeks time and both over 4kg!) caught this morning trying to convince us that butter wouldn’t melt in their hot little paws.

Rosie (behind) and Wiz for once not practising for their Assassin’s Guild exams:

But then, “You ain’t seen me, right. It was him.”

And well might Rosie try to shift the blame, because the last two nights she has brought mouse (fortunately already dead) into the bedroom at about 4AM and proceeded to play with it, noisily. Monday night’s was confiscated after she’d kept us awake for half an hour; last night’s she took away and lost somewhere. (It was later found hidden in the dining room.)

[As always you can click the images for a larger view]

Worse than Chernobyl

Yesterday, New Scientist posted an interesting news item on the Soviet nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan in the 1950s.

The tests were known about, but what’s new is that New Scientist have seen a hitherto unknown secret Soviet document containing scientific evidence of the effects of the tests; something which was hushed up at the time.

Needless to say the tests were conducted with total disregard to the local population. The Soviets knew this – even setting up a (disguised) research institute to monitor the medical effects – but carried on regardless. As a result it seems the effects produced a worse human “disaster” than Chernobyl.

Read the full news item at New Scientist.

Monthly Quotes

Our round-up of quotes interesting, amusing and thought provoking encountered in the last few weeks. And oh so many at the moment are rooted in current affairs …

I think there never was a bureaucracy – royal, parliamentary, democratic, autocratic, whatever – that didn’t naturally seek to grow. They all do it. One may as well condemn human nature for being acquisitive. 
As for the Ponzi scheme aspect, that is also part of nearly every national government. That is, they spend more than they take in and pass the deficit on to future generations, who will be able in their turn to bear the debt for two reasons. First is that in a well-regulated economy the debt decreases in value due to inflation. Second is that what remains of the debt will in its turn be passed on to the future. 
So, if socialism is the tendency for a organization to grow, and a Ponzi scheme is so-called because it passes the cost of doing business into the future, then all organizations are socialistic, Ponzi schemes, businesses as well as governments. It is not a reason to condemn them – though it might be a reason to rein them in every so often.

[Prof. Michael Henle]

There is much more outside your area of influence than inside it. This is true no matter if you’re a two-bit writer of trashy Zen blogs or Leader of the Free World. None of us has very much individual power to control the external world. That’s another one of our silly illusions. You can, however, learn how to change your habit of obsessing about stuff you can’t change.
[Brad Warner at http://hardcorezen.info/zen-and-obsessions/5209]

A free Press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Where men have the habit of liberty, the Press will continued to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.
[Winston Churchill, 1949]

The truth is hard.
The truth is hidden.
The truth must be pursued.
The truth is hard to hear.
The truth is rarely simple.
The truth isn’t so obvious.
The truth is necessary.
The truth can’t be glossed over.
The truth has no agenda.
The truth can’t be manufactured.
The truth doesn’t take sides.
The truth isn’t red or blue.
The truth is hard to accept.
The truth pulls no punches.
The truth is powerful.
The truth is under attack.
The truth is worth defending.
The truth requires taking a stand.
The truth is more important now than ever.

[New York Times]

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.
[Voltaire]

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.
[Alexandra K Trenfor]

If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.
[Zen Proverb]

All babies look like Winston Churchill.
[WH Auden]

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.
[Douglas Adams]

Human beings are animals. Animals don’t like change. Lots of animals will die if their environment undergoes rapid change, even if that change could be defined as an improvement. Humans are more adaptable than most other animals, but we are not infinitely adaptable. And we respond just as badly to sudden change as any other species.
[Brad Warner at http://hardcorezen.info/i-vow-not-to-destabilize-society/5250

A democracy relies on an electorate of critical thinkers. Yet for­ mal education, which is driven by test taking, is increasingly failing to require students to ask the kind of questions that lead to informed decisions.
[Dennis M Bartels; Scientific American, March 2013]

White men are prized by poachers for their thin skins and their enlarged sense of entitlement, which is used in some traditional medicines.
[From https://twitter.com/_L_M_C_/status/840583019828256770]

We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall still not have made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made any choice at all, not having a free will to do so.
[Edward N Lorenz (1917-2008); The Essence of Chaos]

Not all cultures are created equal. Any culture that sweepingly and maniacally oppresses half their population is what I would call evil. Moral relativism be damned: that kind of crap is wrong, plain and simple.
[Phil Plait; http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/; 26 April 2010]

Our attitude towards what has happened to us in life is the important thing to recognize. Once hopeless, my life is now hope-full, but it did not happen overnight. The last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, is to choose one’s own way.
[Victor Frankl; Man’s Search for Meaning]

And finally, boys and girls, remember the (alleged) words of Abraham Lincoln:
Whatever you are, be a good one.

Auction Amusements

Here are a few of the amusements from our local auction house’s recent sales. Some are from last December and some are recent, although I don’t seem to have kept any from the February sale (I was probably too drugged up following my knee op to notice!). Anyway enjoy the different ways in which the toot people sell can amuse.

A large red Russian flag, two small Russian pendants, four Russian medals, a silver and red enamel army cap badge, Russian lead toy soldiers, a large ship medallion 1917-1987, etc.

An old sailing boat in a bottle, Tri-Ang [sic] model ships including HMS Vanguard, RMS Caronia, HMS Centaur, also a Tri-Ang M885 floating dock, and a breakwater straight M827, and two miniature boats HMS Virago and HMS Tenby, also a brass wirework photograph frame and a miniature antique ivory sewing table with implements.

A collection of first-day covers with accompanying commemorative coins of various denominations, featuring royalty, sport … including 1948 and 2012 London Olympics, mint presentation commemorative coins, football and other medals, 3 books on coin collecting and a pair of gloves; also a pair of musket shot recovered from the ‘Invincible’ (1744-1758), with certificate of authenticity

A John Lewis nativity set, a decorative Christmas tree made from pipe cleaners and an advent light

A pair of mounted oryx horns

A large quantity of carved wooden figurines mainly from Africa, taxidermy deer head, vintage telephone, cat figurines, pipes, brass car horn in the form of a serpent etc.

A stuffed and mounted antelope head with twisted horns

Two large vintage commercial projectors by Ross of London … a commercial-use Hitachi SK91 camera, a stirrup pump, and an Elf transformer
What do the elves get transformed into, one has to wonder?

A shelf of interesting decanters including musical and 1950’s poodle plus a musical bird cage automation and another modelled as a light

Two cartons of tools, wires, etc.
And that was a pretty good description too.

An unusual early 20th century mahogany chair cum trouser press by VG Bond of London …

An amazing bangle, spray brooch and matching necklet by Sonia Rykiel of flower buds and stalks [above]

Two teeth filled with dental gold, and a 9 ct gold cufflink
For use as spares, presumably [below]


A suitcase containing a small quantity of postcards and a large quantity of empty plastic sleeves

Two tribal skin shields and an ornate wooden knife rack, a doll with crying action and pink cloths

A fascinating collection of American Civil War lead bullets displayed in two wooden cases, with documentation

A stuffed and mounted pike in glazed wooden case [below]


A black Dunn & Co bowler hat and four Venetian masks, two with bells and two for wall-hanging
As so often I’m struggling to see what these have to do with each other.

A pine trunk containing vintage Christmas decorations plus another mental [sic] bound storage box

A WW2 USN portable bomb hoist MkVII marked Manley MFG Div York PA … serviced in 1965 and 1985
An essential garden ornament [below]


A Hoover Nextra Reverse Action 6kg dryer, an old cabinet radio by Blaupunkt, an old-fashioned style radio, a Sony mini hi-fi, two gentlemen’s grooming kits and a large filled fabric dog

Most Important People

I came across the attached article from the Naples Daily News (Florida) at the beginning of the year.

I don’t know I 100% agree with the author – well it is American! – as I think he has tilted the balance too far from the current norm and I think there is a balance to be struck. However from what I see around me the best adjusted children are those where the family apparently adheres, more or less, to his tenets.

Here’s an image of the article, and in case you can’t read it easily I reproduce the text below.


Click the image for a larger view


Naples Daily News, Sunday 1 January 2017

Your kids should not be the most important in the family

John Rosemond, Family Psychologist

I recently asked a married couple who have three kids, none of whom are yet teens, “Who are the most important people in your family?”

Like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they answered, “Our kids!”

“Why?” I then asked. “What is it about your kids that gives them that status?” And like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they couldn’t answer the question other than to fumble with appeals to emotion.

So, I answered the question for them: “There is no reasonable thing that gives your children that status.”

I went on to point out that many if not most of the problems they’re having with their kids – typical stuff, these days – are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage, and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around. Their kids exist because of them and their marriage and thrive because they have created a stable family.

Furthermore, without them. their kids wouldn’t eat well, have the nice clothing they wear, live in the nice home in which they live, enjoy the great vacations they enjoy, and so on. Instead of lives that are relatively carefree (despite the drama to the contrary that they occasionally manufacture), their children would be living lives full of worry and want.

This issue is really the heart of the matter. People my age know it’s the heart of the matter because when we were kids it was clear to us that our parents were the most important people in our families. And that, right there, is why we respected our parents and that, right there, is why we looked up to adults in general. Yes, Virginia, once upon a time in the United States of America, children were second-class citizens, to their advantage.

It was also clear to us – I speak, of course, in general terms, albeit accurate – that our parents marriages were more important to them than their relationships with us. Therefore, we did not sleep in their beds or interrupt their conversations. The family meal, at home, was regarded as more important than after-school activities. Mom and Dad talked more – a lot more – with one another than they talked with you. For lack of pedestals, we emancipated earlier and much more successfully than have children since.

The most important person in an army is the general. The most important person in a corporation is the CEO. The most important person in a classroom is the teacher. And the most important person in a family are the parents.

The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship. The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened.

“Our child is the most important person in our family” is the first step toward raising a child who feels entitled.

You don’t want that. Unbeknownst to your child he doesn’t need that. And neither does America.