Monday, 31 December 2012

Resolutions for 2013

I am not going to review my 2012 resolutions. 2012 was awful in so many ways, and I don't want to re-live it here. Let's just move on.

Apparently making a list of resolutions is a set-up for failure: we make too many and can't find the time or energy to do them all. Instead we should set a single objective and then just carry on with the rest of our life. We tend to forget that our employers make us do New Year's Resolutions in the form of "Objectives" for the year and that soaks up a lot of our energy.

Which leads me to this thought: maybe we're not supposed to run our personal lives like our work lives. I can remember how cool I thought it was back in my junior executive days to apply time management and management-by-objectives to my life. It didn't work, but it made me feel like I was making some kind of progress, even though what I was really doing was waiting for the dice to roll my way.

I've made a better fist of my life than I give myself credit for. It is, however, an utilitarian life that gets the bills paid, puts savings in the bank, keeps me employed, washed, fed, exercised and cultured. I've let myself fall into a fairly minimal routine  - and anyone who wants to exercise regularly has to have a fairly minimal routine - that is dominated by the need to get to bed by around 21:30 so I can get a decent night's sleep to wake up at 05:45. Or, as a couple of people shared back to me after a short chair at the DA/UA meeting I'm attending at the moment, it's just monotonous and tedious. It is lacking in sparkle, pixie dust, glamour, illumination, fairy-lights and all-round magic. You may think that a man with my vast experience of life and all-round sophistication would regard twinkle and sparkle as beneath his vast dignity, but actually, those things are important. If I was very rich, I would collect art and visit biennales, and that would be the sparkle, but I'm not, so it can't be. So there's a thing about sparkle and magic. It kinda fits in with what's really on my mind.

I keep thinking that I want to do is change where I work and the company I work for. I want to do that because working in Bishopsgate and for The Bank leaves me feeling lifeless an hour after I arrive. By midday, never mind by the time I leave work, I just want to crawl back home, maybe via the gym. I have no zip let for anything. If I could keep the job and location, and get the zip back, I would be just fine with it. So that's a thing: I'm going to keep changing stuff around until the zip comes back. 

I have a Gym Target - but then you should always have one of those: one unsupported pull-up / chin-up. Hey, I weigh 92 kilos. That's a serious heft. Check out the guys knocking out pull-ups in your gym: I'm guessing none are six-footers much over 80 kilos.

My culture target is to read Musil's The Man Without Qualities. That would make the Big Three: Proust, Joyce and Musil. I have my tickets for Sadlers Wells' Flamenco season in March already and I'm marching through Ezra Pound's Cantos right now.

There are things I think I should do (catch up with distant friends, go to the beach one weekend, take a Street Art tour, decorate the house, see all the new art movies and art shows) and I'm not going to do those. Every year I tell myself I should do those and every year I don't. This year I'm going to assume there's a good reason that I'm not aware of why I don't. Instead I'll do the things that occur to me out of nowhere. Unless it threatens the waistline, of course.

1. One unsupported pull-up by the year end
2. Read Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities
3. Experiment with changes to the daily/weekly routine, diet, entertainment and whatever else until the zip, twinkle and sparkle comes back
4. Do stuff that just occurs to me

A Prosperous New Year To You!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Back To Work In The Between-Days

And you can bet I would rather be here...

If I had a favourite place in the world, this would come joint first.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas 2012

Though I would rather be here...

... and in summer.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bah! Humbug! Office Christmas Decorations

I have no idea what overcame the otherwise sensible, conservative people who work around me, but last week one of the senior managers decorated her sections with a few tinsels, a small tree and this gingerbread house...

and after a day, all hell broke loose.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Weight Train: You Won't Get Musclebound

Weight training separates the serious from the merely energetic gym attendee. Every athlete in any sport includes some carefully-designed weight training in their routines. It helps with core strength and maintains a good tone to your muscles. The only way to prevent chicken wings is by doing tricep curls, dips or similar. After you get the initial aches out of the way, you will like the way your body feels after it's pushed and pulled a bit of weight around. 

You don't have to heft big weights, but you may want to push yourself just a little more than you are. You don't have to develop a hard body: you can do arm curls and still have biceps that are "soft to the touch". Soft, not flabby. If you're a girl, remember that Jessica Ennis makes being well-toned look very hot. If you're a guy, remember that a lot of girls don't actually like a hard-bodied man. Hard bodies are like whisky: an acquired taste. If you want to feel a hard body, hold a female dancer. No spare flesh and not a soft muscle on her.

The first gym I went to was the locally legendary Riverside Gym in Hampton Court, run by the equally legendary Myles Irvine. Every now and then a potential lady customer would be shown round, take a look at the dumb-bell rack and make a remark like "I don't want to get muscle-bound". This would cause a quiet snort of "as if" from the male clients there, all of whom had been pushing heavy iron for many, many months without getting in the slightest over-muscled. If only we could even approach being muscle-bound.

Add some weights to your training. You won't get musclebound.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Don't Give Up Your Home

"This sense of being at home is important to everyone’s well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor, and courage will decrease … Being at home feels safe; you have a sense of relief whenever you come home and close the door behind you … Home is the one place in the world … where you belong … Coming home is your major restorative in life. These are formidably good things, which you cannot get merely by finding true love or getting married or having children or landing the best job in the world—or even by moving into the house of your dreams." (Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts)

Many people have never known this feeling. They moved from the family house, to university hall or flat, to a flat/house share to a live-in to a marriage to having a child crying 24/7/52. 

To know the feeling of home-as-sanctuary, you need to have lived on your own for a couple of years and coped with the shopping, housework, cleaning, ironing and cooking, without resorting to take-away food, a cleaner and getting your shirts ironed at the dry cleaners. You need to have made wherever you're living your own, as much as the lease will let you, by painting, shelving, smaller items of furniture and decorations. Otherwise you're just living in someone else's space for a while. 

Once known, the feeling of home-as-sanctuary is not willingly given up. When you have a place of comfort and safety, why would you let in a terrorist who can at random make your life a mess and a misery?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Albert Bridge, Tuesday Evening

My activities on a Tuesday bring me, about 21:30, to the Albert Bridge bus stop for the 170 to Clapham Junction. It's one of the quiet, private, pleasant moments of my week, however cold and dark it may be.

iPhone again. Its reaction to light makes for the right atmosphere.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Don't Give Up Mathematics

A long time ago when I was an impressionable young lad doing my first industrial work experience at Pembroke Power Station, I asked one of the engineers there if doing a degree in electrical engineering meant he could understand the huge circuit diagram he was unfolding. He said that it didn't, but it gave him the confidence to believe he could understand it.

That's one reason to do an undergraduate degree: the other is that, as Karl Popper suggested, it should give you the confidence and background knowledge to distinguish a fraud from the real thing.

You need to choose your subject to get either of these benefits. Any of the hard subjects - the ones where there are answers or clear standards of rigorous argument - will do, and outside the law and philosophy, that means it has to have some mathematics in it. (The presence of mathematics is necessary but not sufficient, as witness economics.) Also, philosophers tend to get a dose of formal logic thrown at them, and that's a branch of mathematics.

The real benefit of doing undergraduate mathematics is so you can study some post-graduate maths in your spare time when you enter into what's laughably known as the "real world". Remember the jolt you had moving from GCSE maths to A-level? That's what moving from undergraduate to post-graduate is like. All the abstract subjects you studied - especially topology, group theory and commutative algebra - become taken-as-read background knowledge.

The other casual remark I'll never forget in this regard was from John Bell at the LSE, at the start of his Boolean Algebras / Model Theory course. A light smattering of topology is required to understand the Stone Representation Theorem. If you didn't know any, he suggested, "just read the first three chapters of Kelly for next week". That's a one-term undergraduate course in point-set topology - in a week. Along with the day job.

Come on! Get with the program! Step up your game!

This doesn't work so well with the arts. People read Ulysses for an English Literature degree fer Gawd's Sake. And besides, reading Musil isn't hard because he writes badly, but because you need a lot of experience of the Worldly World before you can really grok it. Same goes for C P Snow's Strangers and Brothers. The more you get about in the world, the easier some of its great literature becomes to read - except Clarissa. 

The other great advantage of keeping up your maths is that lots of subjects are much easier for mathematicians to pick up than regular mortals - because they already have much of the background knowledge anyway. A mathematician reads an exposition of, say, cluster analysis in a very different way than someone who's still struggling with root-mean-square distances. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Courtyard Inside Bishopsgate

I pass this view almost every lunchtime on my way to lunch in Hoxton or Shoreditch, since I can't abide the theme-park fakery of Spitalfields. That Friday the light was just darn right, so I finally shot the place. With the iPhone.

That's Liverpool Street station at lunchtime. It's the second-busiest in the UK, but compared to the constant madness that is Waterloo (the busiest by about another 60%), it looks like a midlands terminus. I have left out the awful kitsch sculture of a rounded fat woman lying on her side, though if you click on the bottom photo you may see it in the background.

It's all fake 1980's cookie-cutter imported-from-the-US design. That big building in the bottom photograph has pointless atriums on the outside walls, eight lifts which are always going in the other direction and the worst 3G reception inside any building I've ever not had.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Exercise, Train, Workout

Every January the swimming pools and gyms across the country fill up with people I've never seen before. For six weeks they take up equipment and class slots that the serious trainers need. Then between the middle of February and the first week of March, they vanish, leaving behind available equipment and classes.

Amateurs. Slackers. Pansies. No discipline, no application, no drive, no motivation, incapable of keeping even the simplest promise to themselves. No self-discipline. And it gets worse. How many of them stop because they can't tell their manager they aren't going to work late or over lunch? Or because the partner is complaining that it cuts into their time together (aka makes her feel insecure because he's actually looking better)? Or because they aren't seeing any results and don't want to accept it's because they aren't working hard enough? Or because they prefer "networking" (aka having a drink after work)?

Sheer moral failure. Well, actually, not quite.

What no-one will admit is that keeping up an exercise regime isn't about "remaining motivated": it's about all sorts of darker traits. Like mild OCD, vanity, lack of self-confidence, fear of going back to looking like one of the civilians... The Normals show up and in six weeks pick up on some of these odd negative motivations. It makes them feel uncomfortable, without ever knowing why, and they stop going.

This, however, is not you. You know that dark motives lie behind all human accomplishment. You understand that sacrifices must be made in the name of self-improvement. You understand that you feel better after exercising, your head feels clearer and there's a tautness to your muscles you're starting to like. There's something about submitting yourself to the discipline of a routine that you know is good for the soul. You know that training is not a party trick but part of a life. Maybe your partner is getting a little upset by your improving physique, but you see that as her problem. She can either quit whining, get with the program herself, or move out.

You don't need a gruelling one-hour workout, and you don't need to heft the huge weights those guys on the bench next to you are doing. For one thing, you simply might not have that kind of body. You do need to push yourself just a little more each week until you get to the point where even on a bad day you can do eighty per cent of what you do on a regular day.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Learn To Cook

I'm not talking about chef-cooking. You can do that if you want. I'm talking about the ability to grill fish, fry a steak, cook kidneys, slice vegetables and fruit, and generally put together something that might be simple but tastes good. 

Real cooking is done with gas. And sharp knives. It involves dead animals, hot surfaces, boiling water and neat tricks with heavy implements like throwing somersaults with an omlette in a frying pan. It has a technical vocabulary all its own, and you can't hide when it is done badly, well or just plain ordinarily. That's why cooking attracts Real Men. Real men can cook. Real women can cook as well. Do not even think of having a long-term relationship (or even staying for breakfast) if all she has is a toaster and a microwave. The chances are she won't have good coffee, either.

Most men of my generation were turned on to cooking by the late great Keith Floyd's first series Floyd on Fish. Keith Floyd was a very talented brasserie chef, not so much of a talented businessman, a not-so-closet drinker and an all-round lad. Here was a man who cooked things, and prepped the bits, in real time, while getting thorough a hefty glass of wine. He made it look as though a bloke paying a bit of attention could do it as well, which is why we blokes piled into the kitchen. He made preparing, cooking and presenting food look like something a man could do. Previously, the men had been a little precious, or just plain whipped, like Johnny Craddock. (You'll need to look that up.) Floyd make cooking a Real Man's occupation.

Don't expect to cook like they do on the TV cooking porn shows. Those guys are actual chefs, professionals, and it's what they do, all day. And get paid for. You and I are not going to be able to cook like that because, oh, right, we're not actual chefs. I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to prep and cook like that. I cook plain and simple these days. (I can bake, but I'm not supposed to be eating cakes.)  Also, the food you and I cook will not taste like it does in the better restaurants. Chefs get better ingredients than we can: they know where to buy carrots that taste like carrots and meat that tastes like it might once have been on an live animal. The ingredients most of us can buy are pretty average, and in England, pretty tasteless.

Plus, what no-one tells you is that a lot of the recipes in the books don't actually work. Seriously. It's why people used to worship Delia Smith: her instructions actually work. Nevertheless, you are a Real Man, or a Real Woman, and so you will learn to cook. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I'll Believe In God If I Don't Have To Go To Your Church

As a good 12-Step Guy, I have a Higher Power. For me, that is the good advice and ideas of other people. Do I believe in God? It's a good question. Say it loudly and firmly and accusingly: "Do you believe in God?" You have to answer Yes or No. If you say NO, the other person can turn away in disgust. If you say YES they can ask you why you don't go to Church. In Eurup where even the Catholics are godless atheists, that's not such a big question. In the USA it's HUGE. 

Not only can they ask you why you don't go to Church (Temple, Mosque, Chapel, Meeting, wherever), they can ask you why you eat pork, are clean-shaven, allow your daughters to walk around bare-headed, are / are not circumcised, eat any kind of meat, wear fancy clothes or tolerate homosexuals. Because God has an opinion on all those things. Apparently.

Do I believe in God? Sure, just not a God who would stone an adulteress, burn a widow, refuse me bacon, keep my women indoors, kill queers and dykes, force us all to get married and have children, or any of that other stuff. So if your God isn't like that, and doesn't have any opinions on fashion, diet, politics, science, family structure, hygiene and the use of mobile phones, we may have something in common. Most Gods have opinions on these things. I'm not sure I believe in a God with opinions about teaching Creationism.

I don't believe in the Archbishop of Canterbury - but then neither do any of the other Archbishops - and I don't believe in the Pope either. Apparently I get a choice of Grand Mullahs and Rabbis, but I'm not so sure I'd believe in any of them. I don't believe in Bill W and Dr Bob, though I appreciate the good work they did and the message they carried.

But then, being British, I'm Church of England by default, and so Northern European Protestant, which means that unlike Catholics, Muslims, and most other religions, my relationship with God is direct, individual and there whether I believe in it or not. In most other religions, you only have a relationship with God if you attend one form of schule or another and know the rules and ceremonies of the community: that's why infidels aren't allowed in mosques and goys aren't allowed in a synagogue. But in an European Christian church anyone, absolutely anyone, from anywhere, brought up anyhow, can stand in line and take Holy Communion, and no-one will stop them. Raise their eyebrows and mutter, sure, but not actually stop them. Because in European Christianity, no-one has any right to get between anyone else and their communion with their God.

Is there a bearded patriarch in the Land Above The Clouds? I don't think so. We die, and we're dead, except in the memories of those who survive us. Is there a universal spirit into which we are re-absorbed? Yes, actually. It's called Nature. Oh, you meant a conscious, moral spirit, kinda like a ghost but even more insubstantial. No. There isn't one of those. There's this existence and this universe and that's it. This existence can be richer and weirder than the Vulgar Atheists (you know who you are) allow, and if you want to feel that in extremis you felt the presence of a Being Greater Than Us, I am not going to spoil the value of your feeling to you. Just so long as you don't claim it has ontological significance. 

I'm a 12-Step Guy. I have a Higher Power. I know that sometimes I can't do all this living shit by myself and I have to trust that someone else can and will help me. When they do, I am grateful and feel fortunate. On the unlikely chance I can be that assistance for someone else, I'm happy to be so. Do I believe in that Higher Power? Yes. Am I going to go to your Church? No freaking way.

Monday, 19 November 2012

It Isn't Being A Lonely Old Man You Should Be Scared Of

It's being an old man in a house with an old woman who long ago ceased to love you, fuck you or even treat you with anything more than perfunctory respect. Believe me I see enough of those on the train to make me thank a God I don't really believe in that I got out of an LTR that had basically headed that way. I have had a brief visit to that hell, and now I know there are worse things to be than an Old Guy Alone In A House. 

You won't know this unless you too have been in a failed LTR or marriage and got out with your assets, income and dignity intact (not so likely with marriage, which is why under the present laws men should not get married). If you're in a marriage that's working, you don't have a problem. Right up until the day, which you will never see coming, when she walks out and takes your money with her - though the odds of that happening decrease once the marriage lasts more than twenty years. I'm not sure exactly how many marriages of over twenty years' duration are full of joy, respect, sexual satisfaction and contentment: ten? twelve? maybe fifty? From what I see, the rest decay into mutual tolerance with public displays of respectful affection if you're lucky

Hell is a failed relationship. Sex isn't even a memory, you're sniping at each other, constantly negotiating, looking forward to the moments when you're on your own, and when you are alone, the idea that you will have to re-join them clouds the pleasure. I turned sour and grumpy, which I'm not now. I saw everything in the world that might irritate and grumpify me, and not the things that would give me a little flash of enjoyment.

You shouldn't be scared of being a sixty-year-old guy living in your own quarters, exercising regularly, in good health, working with smart younger people, reading interesting books, going to the movies, dance, theatre, concerts, taking holidays and sometimes just slouching round your rooms in your dressing-gown watching the latest hot TV series because you have a cold. 

You should be scared of being poor, unfit, in poor health , with a tired mind full of junk, and a woman you can't get rid of nagging and snarking at you at will, surrounded by equally tired old people in their mid-fifties and older at work and at home. That should freaking terrify you.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

WTF Is Wrong With Management These Days?

This is a for-real article on Business Insider (I like the site, but man does it have some clunkers). It lists four signs that employees are losing motivation, two of which are the same, that employees losing motivation: a decrease in productivity, increased rates of absenteeism, and increased turnover throughout the company.

This is what it suggests managers should do:
1. Make a personal connection with your workers.
2. Let them know their skills are needed.
3. Make them feel like they have ownership in the company.
4. Tell them their work contributes to a bigger picture in some way.
5. Treat each one of them differently from one another.
6. Give constructive criticism — begin with their strengths, discuss weaknesses, then close with strengths again.
7. Support their creative endeavors.
8. Make sure they understand their chances in upward mobility.

Okay, so your staff are leaving, goofing off and not working so hard when they do show up. And the insightful suggestion is that you take them aside and give them a pep talk? WTF? 

Point 8. Very few companies can offer "upward mobility", aka "promotions", and everyone knows it. Where I work, the pay rise that goes with an increased grade is five per cent (5%) and there are people, including me, who have said that there is no way they are taking that much extra responsibility and work for 5%. 

Point 7. Oh. This is Google you're talking about? Because at every other company, you're there to work on their stuff, not your stuff.

Point 6. Let's see, you're worried that they might leave or slack off even more, and you're going to take their inventory using the famed "shit sandwich" format that employees hate and hold you in contempt for using? 

Point 5. This is exactly what you're not doing. You're running the same formula past everyone.

Point 4. Uh. They know that already. And they give a shit.

Point 3. "Make them feel"? How about "give them some actual equity they can sell in twelve months"? Oh. Yes. Sorry. That's just for the guys and gals at the top.

Point 2. Oh. So their skills are needed? Needed so much the company might pay some more? No. Thought not.

Point 1. It takes two to make a "personal connection". I'm guessing the manager's staff have pretty much closed the door on that one.

We're all experiencing lack of motivation at work. Here's what our company needs to do:

1) Give us all individual desks with pedestals and let us put photos of our cats and families up
2) Pay us the same in real terms as we were being paid two years ago
3) Next year, don't cut our bonuses because of the sins of some assholes who encouraged large-scale mis-selling. It wasn't us.
4) Fix the toilets and get them cleaned properly
5) Re-paint the work-house sized office. White would do. Lift the fake ceiling by a foot.
6) Let our product people talk to the agencies - get the freaking bureaucrats in Marketing out of the way
7) Provide open-access wi-fi for our phones, since the 3G reception sucks and our internet access is seriously restricted
8) Give me a computer that was made this side of the twenty-first century
9) Did I mention the toilets?

Oh. Well. Okay. I'll settle for a motivational message from the CEO on the Intranet.

What the fuck is wrong with management these days?

Monday, 12 November 2012

27 Platitudes For Mastering Anything - And The Truth About Achieving

I ran across this list of suggestions on Business Insider about how to achieve "mastery" of something or other. Quite apart from the fact that not a few are about how to make money and get famous once you have achieved mastery, most of them are egregious examples of question-begging and playing to your vanity. Plus, there should be a rule that any self-help guide or suggestion illustrated by an episode in the life of a Very Famous Person is either a) a mis-understanding of the episode or b) of no use to us regular mortals at all, and c) isn't to be taken seriously. 

No ordinary person (that would be me and you) can learn a damn thing from the lives and practices of Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Martha Graham, Karl Jung, Glenn Gould or John Coltrane, to mention a few of the people he cites. If you need to ask why, you are suffering some severe delusions about your abilities, energy levels and creative ability, just as a mid-level bureaucrat in a giant corporation is severely deluded if they think they can learn how to be a better manager by reading about Steve Jobs. Anyway, here's the new age stuff, then I'll lay the truth on you.

Rather than compete in a crowded field, find a niche where you can dominate.
Rebel against the wrong path, and use that anger as motivation.
Love your subject at a very basic level.
Engage in deep observation, practice incessantly, and experiment.
Value learning over money so you're not a slave to everyone's opinion.
Revert to a feeling of inferiority in order to truly learn.
Engage in intense practice and lean toward resistance and pain.
Rely on trial and error more than anything.
Choose a mentor who will intensely challenge you.
Absorb your master's knowledge completely and then transform it.
Accept criticism and adapt to power structures and society.
Meticulously craft your persona.
Suffer fools, and learn to exploit them.
Absorb everything and then let your brain make connections for you.
Avoid putting things into familiar categories.
Don't let impatience derail your plans.
Value mechanical and abstract intelligence equally.
Avoid 'technical lock,' or getting wrapped up in technical artistry instead of the real problem.
Shape your world around your strengths.
Know that practice is just as important as innate skill.

This is great advice because (irony alert)...

There's a niche just waiting for you to dominate it, and you have the ability to do so
You're lucky enough to care about anything that lets you make money to live on
You're in an environment where there are useful lessons to be learned
You have a private income
You have the self-discipline, time and family support to practice that hard
You have a manager who's prepared to let you try and fail
There's anyone you know who would make a decent mentor
You are smart enough to understand even half what your "master" is telling you
You have enough taste and nous to craft a persona in the first place
You have strengths (I just avoid my weaknesses)

Anyway, here's what no-one says about being good at anything.

It has nothing to do with goals, motivation, commitment or any of that feel-good, positive new-age nonsense. Sure, achievers do have goals, but only in the way that the rest of us have shopping-lists. Achievers can have off-days, and may describe themselves as "un-motivated", but that doesn't mean there is a "motivated" state which makes their training or competing something they want to do. They don't need to feel enthusiastic to train, or to learn, they just do it. What makes them different from us, is that they train whether they want to or not. They are driven.

Driven comes from inside, and it comes from places people don't want to talk about. Ego, pride, neurosis, obsession, fear, vanity, addiction, chasing the high. It comes from genetics, or a dysfunctional family, neighbourhood, school, peer group, and in some places, church. It doesn't really matter where it comes from, or what it is. What matters is what it makes them do.

It makes them self-harmers (Victoria Pendleton to name but one), amphetamine users (Paul Erdos and other mathematicians), steroid abusers (Lance Armstrong, Flo-Jo and hundreds of athletes in the '80's and '90's), depressed, hand-washers and pencil-straighteners, and for all I know it makes some of them promiscuous. It separates them from most of the human race and from each other. It makes them focused on what can seem like an unbelievably narrow, or weirdly off-centre, range of experience. 

The weirdness does not come from the excellence: the excellence and the weirdness comes from an initial seed of driven, and the driven comes from some neurosis, disorder or flaw. It means they don't fit in with the rest of the kids at school, they don't get why people would just hang out, talk about fictitious characters as if they were real, or follow a football team. They don't feel comfortable with the Normals, and when the sports teacher tells them to show up after school for running practice, and at weekends, that's what they do because then they don't have to feel bad about not behaving like a Normal. 

If you're driven, you can't not - once you've discovered it. Athletes retire and stop training, but usually they no more stop exercising than they stop breathing. I have to learn new stuff: it's what I do. You might say that learning is associated with youth, so I am trying to deny my ageing and inevitable death, and that may be true for some people, but if you were inside my soul, you would experience it as a natural urge, like turning your face to the sun on a cool day.

"Driven" is why most people never get beyond the advanced beginner stage, why they never learn to troubleshoot, nor acquire second-order problem solving skills. Why they zig, and never zag (Hegarty); and why the audience for any kind of even remotely challenging art, music, literature, science or mathematics, is so small. To get those things needs work, study, tolerating a certain amount of irritation and puzzlement until one day you just get it. The mass-market demand is for stuff that can be "got" more or less immediately.

Normals look at driven and recoil. Real achievers are coached to talk about themselves in the positive, new-age-y way because that's good PR. They are not going to tell the truth.

This is why the champion or genius who is angry because of everything they "sacrificed" to get where they were is a cliche character of cheap drama. It's nonsense. There was no sacrifice, just an exchange of one misfit agony for another. 

And why self-help gurus can make fortunes from books telling normals that excellence and achievement are about good teachers, hard work and playing along with the system. You too can be Normal and compose a piece of music as timeless as A Love Supreme or win a boxing championship.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Why I Don't Like Big-Company Decision-Making

Peter Drucker says somewhere that the purpose of organisations is to allow ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. Many might add that organisations also prevent extraordinary people from doing ordinary things. (Ordinary, that is, to an extraordinary person.)
In a large organisation, many people can say NO and nobody can say YES. Let me explain: in a small owner-managed company, if the boss wants it done, it will be done, unless the few people he listens to persuade him otherwise. Nobody is under any doubt that if he insists, then it will be done. In a large company, even if the CEO orders it so, it can be blocked by bureaucrats of so lowly a junior status that they will never meet the CEO, even if they have defied him. This is why CEOs, like Heads of State, prefer to spend time on mergers and acquisitions (foreign policy) rather than internal growth and development (domestic policy). Merchant bankers and lawyers are so much more responsive than their own staff  - as at those prices, they should be.

Getting anything done in a large organisation isn't about finding someone to say YES. It's about making sure everyone who can say NO won't. It isn't about making a decision, it's about stopping the decisions being thwarted. It's less about getting the go-ahead as not getting the stop sign. It's about convincing people that whatever it is won't mess up their personal and departmental agendas, especially the ones about their egos. And it's never anybody's fault: it's budgets, rules, or priorities. Except that's a total crock and everyone knows it. If it was about having favours out and due, or having clout, I could live with that. I understand the favour economy. But it isn't. 

And sometimes the bureaucracy does things to make its life easy. As the result of a re-organisation, I and my co-analyst (a team of two) suddenly needed access to the full range of data, which had been denied us in the past for every nonsense reason you could think of. We were dreading the endless futility of applying for access and being denied because we didn't have the "business case". However, one Monday morning we signed in to the database... and found we had access. I swear we never filled in one form. In this case, someone realised their lives would be easier if they just did it, and they did. 

Needless to say I find that process frustrating. NO is to me a personal rejection, a sign of indifference and contempt. (Addict, remember?). There are plenty of other people who can take it as "come back with another proposal and we'll toss a coin on that as well" and are happy in a world of coin-toss decisions. (Sorry, I meant, a world of rapidly-changing priorities.) I'm good with work and I subsume myself to the work. I have no time for people who seek out positions where they can exercise their egos at the expense of the work, and I'm really bad at hiding my dislike of them. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

How Not To Talk To Your Daughter, Ma'am

"I just want to support you in going forwards"

This was said by a mother to her daughter in a Caffe Nero at 07:55 in the morning. For god's sake doesn't she know the difference between her daughter, who should be talked to and thought of with plain human language, and the other women at the office, who can be fobbed off with such corporate babble?

That's what working does to people. She's around that nonsense eight hours a day, and because it has money and status games attached, she thinks it's real. She thinks it's appropriate to take outside the office and use in the real world. 

What should she have said? "I'm your mother, I'm supposed to check up on you and be a pain in the ass about how you're living your life." "If you want to make all the mistakes I made and wind up like me, I'll shut up right now and you can turn into me when you're thirty-five." "You need to lose twenty pounds and do your damn coursework or you will wind up with some beta and it'll be a race between you losing interest in him or him in you." 

That's all I can think of. Consequences. Do today to put off a worse tomorrow. Not something that means much to most young people, for whom their immediate feelings are all-encompassing. The girl looked as if she had had a double shot of resentment before getting out of bed that morning and there is nothing you can say to someone with that hormone going round their bloodstream.   

The catch is the situation itself. By the time a late-forty something mother is talking to a daughter at university, it's too darn late for the motherly wisdom. That was supposed to be imparted ten and more years ago, as daughter learned to cook by helping Mommy, and learned how relationships worked by watching Mommy and Daddy, and learned about helping others by working with Daddy in the garden, or with the allotment, or whatever. The fitness was supposed to be from games at school, and after hours participation in a sport. Homework was just something that she did, after some initial tantrums, because Mommy and Daddy sat with her while she got over the reluctance. I'm making this stuff up, how the heck would I know what the Normals do?

Or here's the thing. Maybe what I was trying to describe is what the Successful Parents do. The Normals make a mediocre mess of child-raising. The Dysfunctionals make a bigger and more deep-rooted mess. A few vindictive and nasty parents actively mess up their children's lives, and when it suits the internal politics of some inner-London child services department, we read about that stuff in the papers.

Confusing how to live with how to work? I remember the giddiness with which I greeted the idea that I could run my personal life like my career: I could have Objectives, and Plans, and To-Do's, and Targets. It's a crock. That's how you run housekeeping, or your exercise routine. Not how you run your personal life. Here's the catch: if you have to figure out your personal goals in life, you don't have any. Beyond getting by day to day, which is a tougher task than you may believe when it has to be sustained over seventy years. Businessmen write down objectives exactly because they are external and contingent: your own objectives are as much a part of you as your arms.

Friday, 2 November 2012

On Being A Man

There's no issue about what it is to be a woman. There never has been. There's three stages of being female: girl, woman and old. Girls are below the age of consent or haven't had their menses. Old women are post-menopausal. Woman is any menstruating female over the age of consent. There's no requirement about moral and personal qualities, employment, relationships, responsibility, education or anything else.

Which is the exact reverse of what being a man is about. Sure, you need to be over some fairly arbitrary age - fourteen if you're Jewish, eighteen most everywhere else - but simply having a working set of testes doesn't get the job done. Being a man seems to be about a whole heap of moral and personal qualities.

However, being a man isn't about those moral and personal qualities. Those are invented by wives, daughters, mothers, employers, tailors, training sergeants, fathers-in-law, priests, family members, anyone who needs you to do something for them and will stoop at nothing - shaming, alienating affections, insincere flattery, glossy advertisements - to persuade you to do it. That's where all this "a man has a family" or "a man doesn't play X-Box", or "a man has a raincoat" or "a man gives up his seat for a lady" and other nonsense comes from. Flush it all down the toilet. Any time you feel like objecting "but a man does / doesn't...", figure out in whose interests it is to have you believe that, then forget it. There's being a Man (the structure of your approach to your self and the world) and there's being a 'Man' (somebody's idea of an upright citizen and all-round exemplary behaviour). I'm talking about the structural stuff. All the rest is someone trying to sell you something.

And that is the clue. However we define what it is to be a man, it can't set us up for guilt trips and manipulation. I'm with the MGTOW guys when they say that the answer to what a man is cannot depend on a woman, and would add that it can't depend on the economy either. Men aren't what women say they are, and they aren't what an employer says is desirable either. You can be unemployed and a man (surviving some adult unemployment is part of the seasoning). You can be a player, a ghost or guy who gets laid now and again, and be a man. You can be married or not, have children or not, wealthy or not, creative or not, chop wood or not, leave a legacy or not, lay tile or not, fix engines or not, cut code or not, wear trainers to work or not. Hell, on the occasional day, you can even snivel. Just occasionally. 

Being a man is a role, and a huge part of that role is being autonomous: we do stuff because it helps us achieve our objectives: because that's what it takes to get money, or support, or co-operation, or laid, or whatever else. There's a bunch of stuff we won't do because those are our boundaries. Where those boundaries and objectives are, how low we will stoop, speaks to our moral character. Not to whether we are men. 

We are about the work. Not pleasure, happiness, fulfilment, intimacy, closeness and all that other stuff. Those are feelings, that come and go like all emotions. Not power, wealth, success, fame and beautiful lovers. Those are lottery prizes, and can be won by robber barons, criminals, corrupt officials and greedy corporate executives. Reputation and recognition, yes, but only from other men. Sure we can can chase women, laze on a beach, watch movies, climb mountains, enjoy a Michelin-starred meal, take a funfair ride, get drunk, play with our children, gaze at the view, breath the air, ride a horse, tend the plants, play poker, feed the rabbits and all that other good stuff - but these are diversions, times when we let the spring relax before we wind it up again. That's part of what life is about, but it's not the purpose. Our purpose is to use our marketable talents, however so modest, to benefit ourselves and others. Which brings us to the next point. 

We acquire and develop skills, usually in the manipulation of materials or information, or in the command and influence of people. It's how we earn our living, and as it takes a few years to acquire those skills to any employable degree, it's part of how we identify themselves. As a consequence, we can seem less adaptable than women, but that's because most women choose jobs that require generic, lower-level skills (accounting, HR, project management), rather than anything technology- or industry-specific. Committing to specific skills is a higher risk than bumping along on generic ones, which is why in the end we are paid more.

While we're on the "command and influence of people" thing, this does not mean "people skills". Command and influence is earned by acquiring a reputation for competence at the task - and the exercise of command by non-competents is deeply resented. In practice, "people skills" are either basic politeness between colleagues (which can be lacking in big companies) and often hokey Dale Carnegie tricks for establishing some kind of rapport and co-operation with slightly awkward people - though those would be on the advanced course.

We have a clear, practical, view of the world. We understand that any part of the world is as it is because someone designed it that way, even if they gave the design precious little thought. We understand that someone is responsible when a patient dies on a trolley in a hospital corridor, or when the food is under-cooked. We do not live in a magic world, partly because we understand enough science and technology to know otherwise. A magic-dweller says "Isn't that amazing, aren't they wonderful?", we think "That was amazing. How long did they train?" Yeah, I do mean engineers, medics, mathematicians, programmers, mechanics, designers, musicians, artists and other craft-types only. Lawyers and MBA's, not so much. If they get a hands-on technical hobby, they may yet make it.

We are straightforward. We don't do mind-reading and we don't expect to have our mind read. (The fabled female capacity for mind-reading is just that - a fable.) We might play games to get laid, but that's because those games are the price the girl is charging. We sort out our problems face-to-face and in direct language. We understand that friends and policemen are entitled to the truth should they ask: our enemies get whatever lies it benefits us to tell them, and everyone else gets polite nonsense.

Mostly we don't do stuff for free: we get paid or you owe us a favour. Minor kindnesses and taking an injured person to hospital are exceptions. Being the Designated Driver, the guy who sits twiddling his thumbs waiting for closing time while everyone else gets loaded and has a great time, is not a minor favour. If you take that on and the others don't recompense you in some way, you're being played, even if by yourself. Designated Drivers get Designated Lays or they don't do the job. Seriously. (There are times we have to put in "investment energy", as when establishing a reputation at work or in our profession, or when joining communities and chasing women, but that's a finite effort that should be understood before we start, and for which the rewards cannot be arbitrarily withheld. A lot of younger workers don't get the 'investment' bit and a lot of employers and women don't get the 'not arbitrarily withheld' bit.)

We have self-respect. We stay in shape, eat well, dress with restrained style, avoid junk food and culture, and cultivate a sense for the Real Thing. We do not, however, fuss over the finer points of Saville Row tailoring or organic mangos. The point is to avoid being crass and absorbing junk, not to be Beau Brummel. 

How about marriage and children? We covered that. Neither are compulsory. You can figure out how compatible marriage, children and personal autonomy are. If paying child-support and picking up the kids at the weekend is one of your life goals, you have a forty per cent chance of achieving it through marriage.

What about self-defence? Sure, if we live in a world where we can expect to have your physical safety threatened. I don't. If you want to learn to box, grapple or fight because it makes you feel more confident and gets the hormones going, be my guest.

Now get this. We are not saints, and neither are we sinners. We are not 'flawed' because the idea of 'a flawed' relies on the idea of 'a perfect' and there is no 'ideal' man. There are guys who get being a man right sometimes, and wrong sometimes, and then there are guys who miss the point pretty much entirely. We are not here to strive to achieve someone else's ideas of perfection, and we are not here as a host resource for parasites to live their lives. We're here on business and some R&R at the weekends. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Way of the Bachelor

There's a nice phrase I picked up from here: "a bachelor's way of being in the world is both rich and arid, exciting and static". That strikes me as about right. It's exciting, if I want it to be, because of what I can choose to do, and how I choose to perceive the world around me: it's static in that there's nothing happening in my life that changes its structure and gives it a sense of time passed. As opposed to having children growing up under your nose, and living with someone who, after a while, starts to change and get irreversibly older in front of you.

My way of being in the world is rich, in that I have the time to entertain, educate and develop myself almost every day, and can loaf in a manner a man in a partnership simply cannot, and I'll accept that what the writer meant by "arid" is that, in the end, I don't have children. Or they were just being snotty. I can kinda live with either.

A bachelor does something with his life that doesn't need the company of women: study, good food, discussion, mountain-climbing, sailing, collecting art, healing the sick, whatever. The way he earns his money may have something to do with that purpose, but often it's just a day job. So when he leaves work, he is moving into his real life. He doesn't want to "share his life", or anyone else's, he wants to share his interests. His interests are his life.

A bachelor who lives on his own comes to value the quiet, security, privacy and comfort of his own place. At the end of a day spent in a hostile or indifferent world full of work-related nonsense he has a couple of hours to recuperate, to expand and feel safe. Anyone who has experienced an empty flat or house as a place of recuperation will never give it up.

Then we get down to the practicalities and it gets a little less metaphysically romantic. 

I cook my own food, iron my own shirts, do my own shopping, clean my own house, make my own bed, have a job, can entertain myself, and am relaxed eating in restaurants on my own. Weekdays, I wake up at 05:30, leave the house at 06:30, commute and have an hour in a cafe before arriving at work at 08:50, leaving at 17:00, when I go to the gym, to a meeting, a movie, or sometimes just straight home. I'm home between 18:20 and 21:30 and target bedtime is 21:30. Sunday morning is a visit to the gym, and whatever else to pass the time. Saturday is the messy day of ironing, shopping, housework or just goofing off because there's only so much order a guy can impose on his life. Plus I hate seeing the miserable, unhappy parents and their screaming children who infest the world on Saturday after about 11:00. Sorry, did I say that last bit out loud?

The logistics of that life doesn't give other people many hours to make a valuable difference to me. Women can do so by being amusing, interesting, attractive, good company and maybe lovers, but only if they have somewhere else to be tedious, messy and scratchy. I keep to myself in such a mood and don't expect to inflict it on others nor them to inflict it on me. Since part of the price that women charge for sex is that men put up with their tedious, messy and scratchy hours and weeks, I and other bachelors tend to have affairs, if we can afford them, or a succession of what amount to extended one-night stands.

However, as you have just read, even I have flinched. Everyone does.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The LTR and Break-Up I've Never Talked About

I was dull and unhappy in a long-term relationship too.

I have never written about that, or about the break-up. I'm not a female journalist looking for a novel, so I am not going to write about it in detail. I'm not going to say "long-term relationships are like this and that" because that will only set off the Denial Chorus in your head, and who knows, yours may actually work. Just don't think it's anything you're actually doing that makes it work, or you will be that chump when she drops the D-Bomb.

This wasn't your miserable marriage. We never lived together and we didn't have children. We did stay together for ten years, and through a fair amount of thick and thin, until it got to the point where we weren't having fun together, and we weren't doing each other any good.

If I have to explain why "we broke up", I say that we had been through too many bad times and not enough good times, that we were dragging each other down and were had better times on our own than we did together. This has the advantage of being true, and missing out the part where we hadn't had sex for years before the break-up.

If I am absolutely blunt, I got into the relationship because there it was and I was tired of being on my own. I was pushing mid-forties, had just finished an affair with a woman in recovery who was a couple of symptoms short of DSM-IV Narcissism. A career change to teaching had fallen flat (thank God in retrospect), and I was trying to get back up the job ladder from a period of unemploy... I mean, consultancy. I was a few years sober and had shaken off the worst of my resentments and bad habits. She was divorced, no children, and similarly working her way up the ladder, taking her ACCA exams. We both had our own places and a proven ability to live on our own without leaving empty pizza boxes around the living room for a week. There was an attraction and a certain amount of compatibility. We're not talking mad teenage love here, but then neither of us were mad teenagers. She charmed everybody, had a dazzling smile, and only those close to her knew the tougher and non-empathetic side.

In the early years we had some good times. Our careers went well: we wound up doubling our salaries in five years. Having someone to "do things with" meant that I was much more inclined to take holidays. Over the years we went to Nice, Florence, Amsterdam, New York, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Seville, Barcelona and Sicily together. This was a woman who actually liked Jean-Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her and took to Steve Reich's music instantly. Other times we could simply cuddle on the couch and watch three straight episodes of Homicide: Life On The Street. 

On the other hand, we could also slump together rather badly: whole grey winters went by and we would barely leave my place at the weekends. We could get locked into "grumpy old men" discussions and complain about all we saw. She got odd things wrong with her girl parts, which meant the Rome holiday wasn't as romantic as it might have been. She had high blood pressure, and sex was off the menu for a long-ish while for medical reasons. We put on weight and I started snoring - badly. So some Sundays she would be sleep-deprived and snappy. Both of us had periods out of work, or living with a lot of uncertainty about employment. We would compromise on what we would do together, so it wasn't what either of us really wanted to do. We were better and more effective even on a shopping trip when we were apart. The last holiday in Taormina was a disaster from the location of the hotel, to the weather (yeah, sure Sicily is super sunny in September), to each other's company. 

It takes some time to realise that the sex has stopped. I kept thinking it was my fault, her fault, our fault, or that maybe every other couple our age I saw had the same lack of sex, and that this was what it was like to be mid-Fifites and in a relationship. So I thought that the relationship could or should go on without sex, or that we could get the sex back. I thought this was how it was supposed to be and I should live with it. Right up to the point where I couldn't any more.

In the end she started to get picky and critical, which she knew I don't tolerate, I blew my stack over something trivial (it's always "something trivial"), she walked out leaving her copy of my door key behind, and that was that. We had a "we must talk" meeting which was for her to establish that it was All My Fault, and I didn't care, because I was getting out. 

After a break-up a guy can do many, many things. I had a new manager who had been told the best thing he could was set me up to fail, followed by six months waiting for re-organisation after the biggest banking merger in the UK to reach my humble level of peon, while I lost a whole bunch of weight because my GP scared me with tales of diabetes, followed by what amounted to a demotion and a new manager, followed by adapting a whole new role and, and, and... I didn't have the time or energy to get bitter. I got my old job grade back in 2010 and started at the gym. I started reading philosophy again, then took on some serious mathematical studies, all of which is in this blog. Hell, I started the blog about six months after the break-up. It took much longer to get her out of my conversation - over supper with sister I said "I talk about X like she's my ex-wife, don't I?" and Sis replied "You were going out for ten years".

Why did I stay in for so long? Did I stay in because I was a hopeless Beta? You can claim that she trained me to stay as a partner and do so without sex, which is pretty damn Omega. I will reply that she never got into my house or bank account, which isn't. I stayed in because... I have no idea why I stayed in. Every time I write an explanation, it doesn't feel right. 

I stayed in because I was beat. Not by her, but by the entire freaking world. I was going through a second period of unemploy... consultancy and a really bad job, and was low on confidence. I was overweight and unhappy with it. I felt stuck and un-creative. I was short of money and low on energy. I was, in short, a man in late middle-age who was damn nearly broke. All I had to show for my life was that I was in a grown-up relationship. We gave good couple and treated each other well in public. It was in private it wasn't working. 

But I really did get out pretty sharply once the marginal benefit dropped below zero for a length of time, once the snarky and lack of sex got more irritating than the company and cuddles were comforting. Somewhere in her girl-hindbrain I think she was manoeuvring me to break up as well. Getting a single bed to replace your old double bed is a pretty clear signal. We'd had a spat a couple of years before that, where she had clearly been in the wrong, and after a week or so - when I didn't call her - she called and made an apology. This time, I had the feeling she wanted out as well. I did.

To someone on the receiving end of a divorce-rape, this must seem like a story of civilised behaviour the like of which they could only dream of. What on earth am I complaining about? If you look carefully, I'm not complaining. I could bitch and moan about three lost years of my life, but I haven't and I'm not inclined to. I'm not angry any more - but nor am I dropping any charges. I think I have some idea of what it's like to be caught in a marriage that has died, but there's no way I could understand what it's like to have nowhere you are safe and can relax.

It taught me a number of things, but the big one is that when the sex stops, the relationship stops. Absent sex, you're just flatmates, child-minders and possibly friends with a lot of history. The obligations that make a "relationship" are made by the sex: if you're not fucking, you have no more obligations to your "partner" than you do to any same-sex buddy with whom you have the same length and quality of history.

It also taught me this: everyone flinches. Everyone has a weak moment, and sometimes the consequences of those weak moments can take years to undo. Everyone gets sick and weak, in soul, mind or body. (Those people who say "Fifty years of working, never had a day off sick"? Psychopaths.) Everyone thinks they don't want to die alone, or get old alone, or miss the social invitations because they are the single person, or think it really is time they tried for a Proper Grown-Up Relationship. I acted on that, and took the consequences, perhaps longer than I needed to, then I undid it, and now I don't give a damn about getting old and dying alone, or about social invitations and Proper Grown-Up Relationships. Been there, done that, wasn't my thing.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Clapham Junction Autumn Evening

My Tuesday evenings find me on platform six of Clapham Junction around 20:55. It's my longest day. Anyway, I arrived earlier this particular evening - the bus app wasn't yielding times so I left slightly earlier, caught an earlier bus - and had enough time to get some shots. I prefer waiting for trains at Clapham Junction: Waterloo is just so damn busy with, well, people. Clapham has space and open views. Boarding at Waterloo, I feel like I'm running in my usual ruts: boarding at Clapham Junction is because I made a choice about what I was doing that evening.

I guess the people who commute from there daily don't feel the same way, but hey, maybe they feel the same about boarding at Putney, or something.  Also, I know everyone is rude about the iPhone camera, but it handles the extremes of contrast here pretty darn well for a phone.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Tell Me Four Good Things About Yourself

I was caused to remember this pop-therapy canard because Anne Hathaway's character Maggie Murdock uses it in Love and Other Drugs, which is a better movie than you think it is. Sure it has sentimental moments, and the whole ending is silly, but there's also the short scene where the guy married to a woman with advanced Parkinson's says "Go back to your hotel room, pack your bags and leave. Find yourself a healthy woman to live with. I love my wife, but I wouldn't do it over again." I'm betting there were husbands in the cinemas all over the world who murmured "Allelujha' and then went back to caring for their wives. 

Anyway, there's a scene where Maggie Murdock (did I mention I really, really like Anne Hathaway? No? Well, now you know) asks boyfriend (Jake Gyllenhaal) to name four good things about himself. He can't, of course, and Murdock does a sympathy number on his terrible competitive family. Because of course, there are any number of things to like about his character's character. But that's not the point.

The "four good things" thing is a therapeutic one-two. It's intended to prove to you just how lousy your self-esteem is, just how badly you got worked over, and just how much work you need to do - at £50+ an hour - to get better. I mean, how badly beaten up do you have to be not to know four good things about yourself?

You don't have to have any psychic bruises to be unable to roll off four good things about yourself. Being able to do so off pat comes across as a party trick. Being able to do so after a bit of thought might suggest decent self-esteem. It's what the therapist does with the answer that's the real blow. Any answer can be dismissed with something along the lines of "is that all?", or "those things aren't about you, they're about your roles at work and at home. What about you?", or "those are all about performance, aren't they? What about who you are?" (After you've said you're an award-winning photographer, can run the Marathon in under four hours, cook to Michelin One-Star standards and coach deprived children in English during your lunch-hours.) 

It's a silly question. As daft as naming four good things about your car. ("I don't know: the tyres?") The car works as it should, and for modern cars that's a given not a thing of wonder. You are a regular guy, and regular-guy-ness is a given. It's not remarkable. Of course you can't name four good things about yourself, let alone four that a half-competent therapist can't turn against you in two minutes. 

However, you shouldn't be able to name four terrible things about yourself easily either: if you can, someone did really effective emotional sabotage on you. And that needs working on.

What you should be able to do is name four things about yourself that you're improving right now. (My bench press / upper body; my heart-lung and legs by interval training on the treadmill; learning LAtEk; my 2013 work and casual look. Since you asked.) You should be able to do this because you are not a self-satisfied SWPL and there are always things you can improve or change.

If you ever get asked that question, in earnest, by anyone, be polite and give them the answers to "tell me four things you're working on right now". Then thank them for their time and delete their contact details. Because they are either a new-age manipulator, or an idiot who thinks it's a sensible question, or overly impressionable. None of those are people you want to spend time with. (Okay, if she's pretty and available, then one night. But that's all. Maybe two. But no more.)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Why Marriage Was Allowed To Collapse (3)

(Continued from part 2)

So we have: a legislative decision to remove the legal and State support from a dysfunctional and redundant institution, followed by some unforeseen consequences around who divorces and who makes the decisions about support and custody, followed by some equally unforeseen truths about just how few women really wanted to be married and raise children, followed by the rise of "globalisation" - an agenda openly pushed by post-modern Capital - and here we are. Cock-ups and self-interest all the way. The only thing all these have in common is a staggering mis-understanding about how women would behave - and how they did behave is pretty much how the Manosphere describes it. Feminists were pushing at doors the legislators had opened for them. Feminism might have started as a kind of Trades Union for women, but feminists soon turned into apologists for hypergamy, PR flaks, lesbian agitators, old-school sex warriors and guilt-tripping verbal bullies.

So where are we? Marriage is dysfunctional, redundant, the State will not support it and isn't going to change its mind. Post-modern capital does not do stability and long-term. It certainly does not do lifetime. What it does, for an elite, is interesting work and an amount and variety of culture and entertainment surpassing anything ever offered before in history to anyone. The non-elite get regular jobs and as much junk entertainment as they can stand. Everyone has the vague feeling that their job might be done by someone called Rakesh in Mumbai next week and that they will never be able to save money worth a damn: since they can't save and plan for the future, they spend and live in the present.

If you get with the program, you will stay single and childless, enjoy the culture and entertainment, stay fit, avoid junk food, and pay your taxes. Men will not expect women to be home-makers and child-raisers, nor will women expect men to be reliable providers. Relationships will be about sexual attraction or shared interests, not any kind of mutual-support arrangement. When women hit The Wall they can stay home with their cats and thank the Lord they don't have to deal with men again; when men finally decide to retire from The Chase they can go to the gym, read, watch anything starring Maggie Q, and thank the Lord they don't have to put up with any more of that crap just to get laid.

The change has been a little too fast for some people. The fusty old codgers over at Art of Manliness recycling patrician crap about how to be a man that was old in 1930; the guys who still think it's a problem that female hypergamy is being allowed to rage unchecked; and the whole Married Man Game Crowd. Marriage survives as a ceremony because almost all women want to be Princess For A Day. It never did work as a personal arrangement and wasn't intended to: it was intended to bring together my family's land with her family's sheep. Or something. So stop thinking something has gone wrong: it never went right in the first place. If you want to spend your life with the same woman, please be my guest in the attempt, but don't expect the legal system or the State to prevent her from leaving when she feels like it. That support vanished in 1971.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why Marriage Was Allowed To Collapse (2)

No-one foresaw in 1969 that seventy per cent of divorces would be filed by women: they thought it would be men wanting to get away from their wives. (This was a world before feminism.) When it's the man filing, everything is easy: he can with some justice be asked to pay for the upkeep of his ex-wife, since he's leaving her at his convenience. He has no right to suppose the taxpayer will or should take her on. When it's the woman filing a no-fault divorce, you can't ask the man to pay for her upkeep: even a Family Court judge might blanche at that, and she becomes a welfare burden. But if she gets the children some alimony can be baked into the child support. The Family Court has to award custody to the woman so that continued payments by the husband to a woman who doesn't want to be associated with him look even vaguely just.

In 1969, no-one understood how that Social Services and Local Government would become the garbage can where national politicians would throw publicly-visible "people issues", nor that both would be given powers far beyond the competence of their employees. I don't think Family Law was hi-jacked by feminists, but I do think that social services houses misandrists and not a few bullies who exploit the ambiguities in the law, the closed-hearing process of Family Courts, and the alleged lesser minds who practice Family Law. MRA stories sound like what happens when a weakling meets a bully, and I suspect it takes a fairly unholy alliance of wife, social worker and lawyer to really work the voodoo. 

The legislators didn't foresee the demand for female labour that was about to be created by a change to process-oriented service industry jobs that would form much of the post-industrial economy. They certainly didn't foresee that women would find it easier to get jobs and have a higher probability of keeping them. They didn't understand just how many women didn't really want to be married and would be quite happy being wage slaves or living off a mixture of welfare, child support and alimony. Nobody knew that almost half the female population are happy to fool around in their twenties and early thirties and then settle down on their own with or without cats or children (the noises about "can't find a good man" from post-Wall women are self-deceiving camouflage on their part: what they mean is that they can't get laid at will like they used to be able to). 

Nor did anyone foresee that the colossal incompetence and complacency of Western industrial management would lose millions of well-paid skilled jobs first to the Far East, then to India, and that management's response would be to join 'em, not beat 'em. Post-modern Capitalism (born 4th May 1979) created a pervasive sense of insecurity and contingency about employment, stopped training its new hires and hollowed out its business practices so that, in fact, there is very little to train new hires to know or do. As a result, a woman really does need a man like a fish needs a bicycle - if she wants to work. Add to this a changing attitude amongst men to cooking, personal care and housework, and it turns out that a man needs a woman like an eagle needs an anchor. By 1990 it is not obvious that either side needs the other except for sex and companionship - both of which have fairly short half-lives.

Post-modern Capitalism could not have developed as it did if women had still expected to leave the workforce to raise children for maybe twelve years, so that men needed to earn enough to support a wife and two children. The slow erosion in the inflation-adjusted value of working men's salaries since the mid-1970's would have been stopped by Trades Unions and the social consensus that said the role of women was child-raising. But once women work, and once having children becomes optional that resistance vanishes: the Unions have no support for any action to preserve male salaries. Two-income households, once the preserve of the industrial working class and agricultural labourers, became the standard way of life for the "middle classes". (What do you think all those "professional" thirty year-olds in their flat/house shares are but multi-income households?)

(Continued in Part Three)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Why Marriage Was Allowed To Collapse (1)

In the previous post I decided that the payoff from marriage - absent old-school fantasies - was net less than zero, and one serious contribution to that is the fact that the UK lifetime cohort divorce rate is around 40%. I didn't know that until I wrote the previous post, and it turned my head round. 

Forty freaking per cent. No businessman would go into a venture with a forty per cent failure rate. No Western armed force now would take any mission with a projected forty per cent loss of its troops. No engineer would build a structure that had a forty percent chance of falling down. I'm guessing a serious poker player would fold at the forty per cent prospect of a one hundred per cent loss. The only people who think that 3:2 on is good odds are people who bet on horses - and people who open restaurants.

And this institution is one of the pillars of our society? Nuh-huh. The way you know it isn't is that not one politician or commentator makes a fuss about that forty per cent lifetime divorce rate. Not. A. One. They make a fuss about the consequences, but not the cause. "Broken homes" are like the weather: it's what happens and we have to deal with the results. Anyway, it seems marriage never was a pillar of society, more that society was a pillar of marriage: the experiment run by Western societies since 1970 shows that marriage needed to be propped up by tax breaks and punitive laws, and created a lot of misery when it was enforced. Marriage isn't the cure, it's the disease itself. It was an institution designed to solve problems of legitimacy and inheritance, to resolve feuds and cement alliances between families. Marriage was always a social institution intended for an economic and political purpose. It was made redundant not by the Death of God and the Sixties, but by the Joint Stock Company, the Trust and laws codifying inheritance for tax purposes, which did the job much better. When passing on an extra couple of goats could mean the difference between poverty and comfort, inheritance and marriage mattered. By the mid twentieth-century, two wars, inheritance taxes and a rise in asset prices meant that inheritance was minimal in effect, and therefore irrelevant to the economic circumstances of most people.

The married couple were never supposed to be happy - that was a nice-to-have - they were supposed to be solvent and fruitful. All that advice to husbands and wives was not given because they were unhappy, it was given because they had been pushed together and were being told to make the best of it. By the mid-twentieth century, married couples were not happy, but nobody was pushing them together, so they had to accept it was their own dumb fault for getting married in the first place. Whereas in the past a divorce might have had serious economic consequences for the families, now it just affected the couple, and this began to look lie a decision that if made badly, should be reversible. In 1969, the legislators passed the Divorce Reform Act (1971) as the first step in removing the social and legal props supporting the institution.

The dissolution of marriage wasn't a feminist conspiracy: it was simple legal engineering. The legislators could not have been more clear about their purpose without actually stating it: marriage was a dysfunctional institution that was no longer going to be supported by the State. They created no-fault divorce, removed tax breaks for married couples, separated husband and wife for tax purposes, re-framed Family Law so that divorce was a viable financial strategy for women, and privileged the mother in custody settlements. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made it politic to employ women. Married men lost their income and career advantage over single men. The legislation was done in about five years. Divorce rates have soared, marriage rates have fallen, and not one legislator is saying "Ooops. Looks like we went too far with this one." Not even the Church of England is calling for a change to the divorce laws.

Then the problems hit.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Crows In The Car Park

Apple send their apologies for the blurry pictures, but I had to use a lot of zoom on my iPhone camera. The fact it took these photographs at all is pretty amazing. This is half-past six in the morning in my local Cineworld car park on my way to the station.