Imbolc Eve

imbolc

February 1st is St Bridgets Day in Ireland, celebrated by school children making St. Bridget’s crosses, like all good little catholic children do in Ireland.

Only it is a pagan celebration, a pagan symbol and a pagan goddess.  Brigid was an Irish Celtic Goddess long before the Christians came.  The “St. Bridget’s Cross” is in fact a pre-Christian pagan sun motif, celbrating the arrival of spring.  Brigid was a goddess of fertility.  Imbolc is the first cross quarter day of the Celtic calendar, lying halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Brigid had a sanctuary in County Kildare where an eternal flame was kept forever burning.  The sanctuary was surrounded by a hedge.  Any man who attempted to enter the precinct could not pass through the hedge without becoming confused, being driven mad, or dropping down dead.

Irish Celtic women never needed a feminist movement.  They were boss.

Brigid was also the Celtic goddess of smiths, healing, midwifery and poetry!

 

 

Telling Lies #6: Plausible Deniability

sir-humphrey-appleby

Plausible deniability is a tool used widely in commerce and in politics.  It generally involves the identification of areas of knowledge that could, if details are fully known, compromise a senior individual as being complicit in acts that are illegal, immoral or culturally unacceptable.

A CEO of a Western firm, with operations in countries where bribery is endemic, will build a management structure that distances them from knowledge of day to day details of acts of bribery and corruption.

The Chairman of the board of an auto manufacturer may never ask directly if accident rates in their cars are an endemic manufacturing problem.  To do so may result in a widespread recall and catastrophic fall in share prices.  Better to retain plausible deniability.

The premier of a nation will structure allocations to “security agents” (AKA Black ops or Spies) as “Black Box” payments.  There is no direct link between the money allocation and the acts carried out by the security teams.  The President can’t be held directly responsible for an assassination because she never directly ordered it.

It is a plot line in the movie “Independence Day” when the CIA keep knowledge of the existence of aliens from the President even after an alien presence makes itself known.

No good Barrister will ever ask a question in court without first knowing the answer, and in many cases, knowing the answer, will never ask the question in order to maintain plausible deniability.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby says in “Yes Minister” one should never ask a direct question because it might result in a direct answer.

He also pointed out that the Official Secrets act was not designed to protect secrets, it was designed to protect public servants.

The script of Yes Minister is a fertile garden of plausible deniability.

plausible deniability

 

Who Knows?

nose

We’ve all been there.  You can feel that THING growing in your nose.  You feel your nose swell up.  It is hot.  The skin is tight, stretched and painful.  When you rub your finger over it you can feel the thing, turgid, massive, disfiguring.  It must be on the point of exploding!  You can feel everyone looking at you.  The disgust in their faces.  You must look like Quasimodo at this stage….

Then you get to a mirror and……. where is it?  You can’t see anything.  Oh, well if you look really close it’s obvious, but just nothing like as big and disfiguring as it feels.  This has been impacting on you all morning.  You are full sure everyone was staring at your face.  But now you know it was all in your imagination.

Some things are like that.  Some physical attributes or character traits can dominate your life.  You are full sure that everyone can spot them and that they are judging you for those traits.  But often you are wrong.  Nobody even notices the things that cause you so much angst.  Those are not your real problem.

The real problems are the character traits and bad habits that you carry which are not on your radar, but are impacting on your life.  There are things we do without noticing that can severely impact on how others behave around us, and the opportunities opened to us.

I have seen people eat their meals with mouth wide open and half chewed food on display for all to see, with small flecks of their meal spraying freely across the table onto everybody else, on their clothes, on their food.  These are people who come from a family of open mouth eaters who are unaware of the impact it has on others.  They wonder why the boss did not bring them to dinner with an important client and why Dave, the junior analyst who chews with his lips together was tapped for the best contract of the year.

Personal habits are things we need to be aware of.  We need to be very aware of them in business situations.  Personal hygiene and grooming.  Clean and ironed clothes.  Down to polished shoes.

Habits that can drive others insane.  Noises such as constant tapping on tables, kicking chairs, sniffing, coughing and sneezing relentlessly.  Talking loudly on the phone, talking loudly on the mobile phone while walking up and down the office.

Selfish or inconsiderate usage of common facilities.  Leaving toilets in a disgraceful state.  Cooking smoked fish in the office microwave.  Leaving dirty dishes on your desk.  Stealing (borrowing) other peoples food. Regularly asking to borrow money.

Personal traits are a big issue.  You may come from a family that settles disputes by shouting at each other.  You can’t bring that to the office.  Nor can you ghost your boss and give colleagues the silent treatment.  Aggressive or over assertive behaviours were accepted back in the 1970’s or 80’s but not any more.  Passive-aggressive behaviours have endured, but do you no favours.

The big problem with all of these traits and habits is that normal polite people are reluctant to take you aside and tell you that you have a problem.  They will try to ignore it, or drop vague hints that fly totally over your head.  Your career stagnates, or goes into reverse, and you have no clue why.

I once attended a week long residential Executive Communications Workshop (Grid Management Training) where the week concluded with everyone being rated objectively by their peers.  It was a fantastic opportunity to hold a mirror up to myself and see how I was perceived by a room of strangers.

From “An Essay on Man: Epistle II” by Alexander Pope

I.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Telling lies #5: Bluff

medicine bluff

A bluff as a geographical feature is a broad cliff or bank, overlooking a body of water (or a dried up water course) which was created by erosion.  A bluff is blunt, solid and strong.  It is perhaps this show of strength that gives us the lie.  A bluff person is somone of solid build, quiet strength, simple honesty.

A bluff as a lie is commonly used in gambling.  It involves presenting a strong position to deter an opponent from meeting your bet.

In business bluffing is a frequently used technique.  A seller will bluff a buyer by inferring that they have many buyers interested in the goods.  A buyer will bluff the seller by inferring that this is only one of many competing offers.

Every job interview in history has involved bluffing.  Interviewees bluff the employer as to the depth, success or seniority of their previous roles.  Interviewers bluff the candidate with regard to the attractiveness of the role, the seniority of the role, the budgets available, the autonomy possible and so on.  A certain element of bluffing is expected on both sides, but there are limits to acceptability before a bluff becomes an outright deception.  A candidate can get away with inflating their previous salary by 10 or 15% to negotiate a raise from their prior role.  But when they begin the job, and their taxation documentation comes across the employer will have a strong sense of the prior salary.  A candidate who inflated their salary by 50% could be accused of a lie instead of a bluff, because that could represent a significant difference in seniority sufficient to exclude them from the role.

A good bluffer, a really good bluffer, is never caught in the bluff.

poker-bad-hand

 

 

Telling Lies #4: Confabulation

hydra

Heracles slays the Hydra one head at a time

Sometimes called “An Honest Lie” the confabulation is an unintended lie.  It is an inaccurate statement believed by the protagonist with no intent to deceive.  For this reason some people do not consider a confabulation as a lie.

It is neatly summed up by Mark Twain in the statement “It ain’t what you don’t know will kill you, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.

A confabulation is something I call a “script” and a script is a narrative that has been passed to you, usually from parents, older siblings, grandparents or teachers.  It is a script you accept because it comes from a source you respect.  But it is just plain wrong when it is tested against the cold hard facts.

Even after the confabulation has been demonstrated to be wrong there are many people who find it difficult to drop the script.  It forms a deep foundation of their weltanschauung.  So many other scripts hang off the proven confabulation that it has become a Hydra in their belief system.  Cutting off one or two heads has little or no impact.

 

Enough confabulation, let’s talk facts:  Howard Moss was born this day in 1922 if you can believe that.

The Lie; by Howard Moss

Some bloodied sea-bird’s hovering decay
assails us where we lie, and lie
to make that symbol go away,
to mock the true north of the eye.
But lie to me, lie next to me;
the world is an infirmity.

Too much of sun’s been said, too much
of sea, and of the lover’s touch,
whole volumes that old men debauch.
But we, at the sea’s edge curled,
hurl back their bloody world.
Lie to me, like next to me,

for there is nothing here to see
but the mirrors of ourselves, the day,
clear with the odors of the sea.
Lie to me. And lie to me.

Sharing birthdays

cattle-in-australia

It’s tough as a poet to share a birthday with someone as famous as Edgar Allan Poe (Jan 19th 1809).  Such is the fate of Reginald Charles (Rex) Ingamells (b. 1913).  The leading light of the Australian poetry group known as the Jindyworobak Movement.  They sought to free Australian art from subservience to old world influences and to celebrate the vernacular voices and indigenous inflences that give Australian English it’s unique character.  The movement flourished in the 1930’s and 40’s.  These days it suffers criticism because it was a white movement that celebrated aboriginal and bush life influences.

These days the Australian first nations peoples reject the hijacking of their culture by white immigrants who had a poor understanding of the native zeitgeist.  Effectively the Jindyworobaks are now seen to have been doing to Aboriginal Art the very thing they were fighting against where European writers were seeking to hijack their first hand experience.

I like the poetry of the movement and I think they served an important role in bringing the Australian voice to life.

News of the Sun: by Rex Ingamells

The noon is on the cattle-track;
the air is void of sound,
except where crows, poised burning-black,
cry to the dusty ground.

Through mulga and mirage go none
but brazen Boolee now,
scorning the mercy of the sun
beneath the niggard bough.

But suddenly the mulga stirs;
the hot leaves flash like stars;
and, threading song on wing-beat whirrs,
burst flights of gay galahs.

Telling Lies #3: Truncated Scale

bap2

Which brand has the higher approval rating?  Brand X or Brand Y?

There is no difference is there?  Is there not?

When it comes to brand marketing a true believer will always find a difference.  It’s just a simple matter of manipulating the statistics.  Take the same data, and present it in a more compelling way.  Just truncate the axis and show the difference instead of the absolute scores.  Then you get this graph:

bap 1

Woah, Brand X has a way higher approval rating than Brand Y.  It must be 3 times higher!  Now that’s a good result.

Note to art department:  Just don’t bother with those pesky numbers down the left hand side.  Get rid of them entirely.  A picture paints a thousand words.

Telling Lies #2: Conflation

oitnb-10

Black Prisoners outnumber Whtes 4 to 1

You have heard it every time you have heard a US politician up for election.  Being tough on crime gets you elected.  So forget the truth, it’s time for conflation!

Conflation is when you take data from different sources and blend them into a statement that appears, on the surface to be correct.  It seems right.  Who’s going to challenge it?  And if anyone tries to challenge it just bury them in statistics.

So the US politician will wade into the debate saying that “we need to get tough on repeat offenders” and nobody will argue with that.

Then they say “our jails are overflowing with repeat offenders” and nobody will argue with that.  The prisons of the USA are the product of the plea bargain system where you throw the book at an offender and have them plead to a misdemeanor and let them walk, first time out.  So the prisons ARE overflowing with repeat offenders.

Then they move into conflation.  “Men of colour are proportionally the majority prisoners in our jails”.  The audience nods.  The audience assumes the candidate just said “Most of the prisoners are black”.  But he didn’t.

He took a couple of different statistics and sort of blended them together into a statement that, while not an outright lie, is intended to misdirect you.

THIS IS THE BORING BIT THAT YOU WILL NOT WANT TO READ:

In the USA the Black people make up about 13% of the population.  Black people make up about 37% of the prison population.  Black people have an incarceration rate 4 times higher than white people in the USA.

So how can this political candidate say 37% is the majority?

Well, he kept the word “proportionally”.  In long worded terms he is saying that if you took 10,000 Black men and 10,000 white men and 10,000 Hispanic men and filled a prison from these 30,000 men you would find that 45 prisonners are white, 83 are hispanic and 231 are black.  So man for man, in a prison population of 359 people 64% would be black.  If the USA poplation was divided equally by the 3 races, which it is not.

This is the kind of maths that easily sells the public on harsh sentencing and larger prisons.  Especially when the public are white voters.  These are the kind of conflated statistics that sound very real.  They just seem to be right.  Every time you turn on the TV and see inside a prison what do you see?  A LOT of black folks.

This same process of conflating different statistical sets can be used to confuse any argument.  It is a very popular tool with populist politicians who tend to represent more marginalised and less educated people in society.  If you just lost your job to a Romanian immigrant you WANT to believe that 80% of Romanians are here illegally.  You WANT to believe that they are criminals.  So when someone hands you those statistics on a plate you eat them up.

If you live in a small rural village in the West of Ireland and you hear that 200 Syrian refugees are arriving next week to live in the closed hotel what is your first assumption.  Do you believe that 50% of the Syrian adults have 3rd level education?  Or do you believe that 10% of the young males have been radicalised by Islamic fundamentalists?  I can conflate statistical sets to sell either side.  But you, as a reader, which will you consume?

It is a technique of marketing also.  Nowhere better than in marketing of weight loss products.  How do you get fat?  By eating lots of fat.  So if you cut fat out of your diet you will lose fat!  Here is our sugar, it is 100% fat free.  They have conflated the fat on your waist with the fat in your diet.  Which is a bit like saying that bats can fly, so watch out for flying baseball bats.

How can you spot conflation?

A trick is to tell yourself to look for the kid in the china store.  You know the kid who went wild and broke all the china?  Seems correct?

It was a Bull in a china shop.  And it was a kid in a candy store.

One a metaphor for a pending disaster, the other for unbridled excitement.

Conflate them and suddenly you have a kid in juvenile court facing a charge of vandalism.

 

Telling Lies #1: Correlation

parisexplosion

 

I am starting a series of posts about how to tell lies, especially in politics and the media.  The Guardian is a newspaper I generally respect but in the headlines above they are lying.

Lies are usually pretty subtle.  People who tell overt lies are caught out, and have to retract the lie.  But a good liar will put information in front of you and let you add 1 + 1 to make 3.

The news article is about a Paris bakery explosion.  This was an accident.  Bakeries are dangerous places.  Flour dust suspended in the air is highly combustible.  If you are ever on the docks when wheat is being offloaded from ships you will see warning flags telling you of the explosion risk.

Add gas to the mix, and a naked flame and the Bakery is even more dangerous.  So, in Paris there was an accident in a Bakery and the explosion killed three people.  Sad story, but not the stuff of headlines, not the stuff likely to win a Pulitzer prize.

But what if you could add a bit of spice to the story?  Is there another angle.  As it turns out there is a Gilet Jaunes protest in Paris every Weekend this year.  So this explosion happened on the same day as yellow vested protesters were gathering in Paris.

So what we have here is a correlation.  A correlation is when two events occur together.  Kids get fat in a period of ten years.  You find that ten years ago a fast food outlet opened beside the school.  So obesity in children correlates to the presence of a fast food outlet.  But did the fast food cause the obesity.

Good science tries to avoid jumping to conclusions.  You will hear scientists say “correlation is not causation.”  Just because two things happened at the same time does not mean that one causes the other.  You may research the fast food outlet and find that none of the obese kids are actually eating there.  Scientists need to eliminate all the other possibilities, changes to transport, changes to school meals policy, changes to family incomes in the past 10 years, etc etc.

But a Journalist, especially a bad journalist, has no such scruples.  In the article above, in the second headline, the explosion is correlated with the Gilet Jaunes protest, and it is held out as a juicy possibility for another story.  Could protesters have blown up the Bakery?  Is there a conspiracy?

Populist politicians make widespread use of the correlation lie, and the greatest perpetrators in modern society are anti-vaxxers who maintain causative relationships exist when administration of any vacceine correlates with an outbreak of any condition in the recipient.

Correlation is NOT causation.  It takes work, but do the science.  Verify, verify, verify.

 

The Macbeth of animals

bear

Say my name!

Actors performing in Macbeth will never, out of superstition, say the name of the play.  Instead they call it “The Scottish Play”.

In similar vein the wizards of the Harry Potter novels refer to their great enemy as “You know who” or “He who must not be named” because to speak the name Voldemort gives it power.

There is a tradition in Celtic society of refusing to give power to a beast by giving it its name.  If a village was terrified by an animal, real or mythical, they would name it “the beast” or “the monster” until it was slain.  Only when dead could they give name to the beast.

Which brings us to the Bear.  You may think you know the bear but in truth you do not.  So terrifying was the bear to primitive society that people would not speak it’s name.  Instead they called it simply “the brown one”.

So successful was this refusal to say the name of the beast that we no longer know the name.  “Bear” simply means “brown one”.

The Two Bears; by Hafiz

Once
after a hard day forage
two bears sat together in silence
on a beautiful vista
watching the sun go down
and feeling deeply grateful
for life.

Though, after a while
a thought-provoking conversation began
which turned to the topic of
fame.

The one bear said,
“Did you hear about Rustam?
He has become famous
and travels from city to city
in a golden cage;

He performs for hundreds of people
who laugh and applaud
his carnival stunts.

The other bear thought for
a few seconds
then started
weeping.