Having fun with goats

When we were young, we used to receive the Radio Times every week. Back then there were only three television channels (four from 1982!) and four main BBC radio stations. One week - I still remember it clearly - there was a listing on Radio 4 for a programme entitled "Having fun with goats". The text beneath it said "We regret that in the interests of public hygiene, this programme has been replaced by an episode of I'm sorry I haven't a clue". It's good to see that programme-makers have a sense of humour.

I'm reminded of goatplay by the debate which crops up at this time of year as to whether charitable giving is really a gift or not. You can walk into a charity store and 'buy' a goat or similar animal for a friend. You then give them a card to let them know what you have bought them on their behalf.

I have to say, this is brilliant advertising on behalf of the charities. Well done to them. Because the idea is in fact the biggest load of cobblers going. If I choose to give to charity, good for me. But I can't both give to charity and give you a gift. Charitable goat-giving is an attempt to have your cake and eat it.

By means of demonstration, I came across this howler this week. It's a competition, where the main prize is... a goat. If you still doubt that I'm right, consider how you would feel if you received an e-mail telling you that you had won the competition. Would you feel any different if you later learned that everyone had received the same e-mail?

In the midst of all the Christmas madness we’d really appreciate it if you’d take five minutes to take our 2007 poll. It’s the time of year when we all look back and think about the last 12 months and we’d like to know how 2007 was for you. Our four favourite answers for the final question ‘What’s your 2008 New Year’s Resolution’ will have a present donated to Oxfam Unwrapped on their behalf. Click here to take our poll and you could win a goat or clean water for someone who really needs it – that’s got to be worth five minutes!

The Lowest of the High

I just spoke to my mom (Hi, Mom!) about some test she'd taken way back when. She tested in a variety of fields and her lowest score was in a subject which would have otherwise interested her. The low score put her off. To be clear, it was not a low score. It was an excellent score, it just wasn't as excellent as her other scores. It is this broad scope of ability that has paralysed her from time to time at life's big junctures. How does one choose a path when there are so many? Doubt sets in. Maybe a broad base of skills is representative of across-the-board mediocrity instead of (the true case) across-the-board talent.

I am at a similar juncture in my life and I am trying to weigh my options. I want to pursue my bliss, but what the heck is it? Right now I have a true passion in sewing. But is that passion a calling or just infatuation? Who gets called to sew? I have always resisted creative jobs because, once, a long time ago, I didn't test as well in creativity. Looking back, I tested very well in creativity, just not as well as I did in other things. How I let myself get convinced that was indicative of a creative void pooling in my soul, I don't know. It was bogus and ridiculous. We are human, we are creative.

It turns out I crafted each of my jobs into something more creative. Instead of binding presentations I tarted them up with frames and spinning wheels to emphasize points. I didn't just enter numbers into spreadsheets, I made them colourific extravaganzas. I couldn't write down meeting minutes without filling them with private jokes and cultural references. I don't think this means I am exceptionally talented, in fact the tests prove I'm not, but I can't deny the creativity that wells up in me. I love it, I desire it, I need it. I see it in my family, too. Andrew starts to get itchy if he hasn't cooked or baked in a while. He just needs to create something. The girls create cards and pictures every single day. I just love that.

I don't know that I'll pursue a creative field when Buffy goes to school. I may just keep sewing bits and bobs on the side and flooding the family with (obviously) handmade cards. Maybe creating isn't my calling, but it is a part of me. I guess this is all just to say that I really, really love all the sewing I've been doing, and it doesn't look like I'm going to stop anytime soon.

John Inman... no true Scotsman

This week John Inman died. Loved by many as the unambiguously-but-never-explicitly gay Mr Humphries in the long-running TV sitcom Are you being served?, he also made a long career after the series finished as a Pantomime Dame.

Many commentators have looked back at his career and have puzzled why he never openly stated that he was gay until his career was over (he entered into a civil partnership with his partner of 35 years in 2005). But the 70s were a very different time. My Dad's own views are interesting here. Rather absurdly, given his age, physique and otherwise gentle demeanour, he has said several times that he can't stand homosexuals and effeminate men and that, if he ever met one, he might well feel forced to punch them! Yet we all roared with laughter in the 70s as we sat together as a family to watch Are you being served?.

How do you square this inconsistency? I think Dad is guilty of the No true scotsman fallacy here. Clearly he indeed believes that he would punch any homosexual unfortunate enough to cross his path. Yet that can only mean that John Inman (and Kenneth Williams and many others before him) were "not true homosexuals". And those commentators who couldn't understand John Inman's reluctance to 'out' himself should reflect on just how far we have come since our rather intolerant past. His "don't ask, don't tell" stance in the 70s was a necessary stepping stone between the complete intolerance of the mid-twentieth century and our current, more permissive, attitudes.


That's another Remembrance Day out of the way. And for another year or so I won't be receiving disapproving glances from people who wonder why I'm not wearing a poppy. Jon Snow, Channel 4 news anchorman, hit out recently over what he describes as 'poppy fascism'. I wouldn't go that far, but I also would take issue with the comments of John Humphrys:

"The reason I wear the poppy is because I want to pay tribute, it is a mark of respect for those men who gave their lives so that I can live the way I do today - to protect my freedom.

"And if there is anybody in this country who does not feel that gratitude then I think they should feel vaguely ashamed of themselves."

Humphrys commits a fallacy here - he equates the failure to wear a poppy with a positive statement that that person does not feel gratitude. This is complete nonsense - wearing a poppy is a personal, positive statement. That should not, and thankfully does not, equate to a situation where not wearing a poppy can ever be a negative statement.

I'll wear a poppy when I want to make an external statement to others about how grateful I am for the war-dead. Until that moment comes, you'll just have to accept that I am grateful to them. You're the one that has a problem with me not wearing a poppy, not me, and it has no bearing at all over how grateful I am for the war-dead.

Victimhood and a bit of give and take

Absolutely fascinating stuff in The Times on a study by Civitas which claims that we're all victims now. It notes how special protection has been given to many disadvantaged groups, often for good reasons, but that this is now serving to undermine ordinary society by establishing ghettos of "victims". If you happen to be in a victim group, it's better to emphasise your victimhood because then you get preferential treatment. It would appear that this is undermining British society, because groups have reduced incentives to compromise compared to the gains they can make from taking offence as part of their victim group.

Note how the English works here. We take offence. Wannabe victims might care to think in future whether the other party really intended to give it.

Random thoughts

Sorry no real time to flesh these out properly, but they're bugging me so I'll lay them out here.

1. So apparently, smoking costs nearly £700 a year before you've lit a single cigarette, according to this BBC news story. The overall cost of smoking is given at over £2,500 per annum. If Gordon Brown wants to shave any money off the cost of providing welfare benefits, might I suggest that he start here? I don't see any particular reason why we should be subsidising the poor to kill themselves. Even if that's our policy objective, we could perhaps find a more humane way to do it.

2. Re the previous story. How stupid are the people who work for FOREST? They are so completely devoid of any public interest viewpoint that they make fools of themselves every time they opine on any smoking matter.

3. Patricia Hewitt, our nasty-but-dim Health Secretary, has blurted out the bleeding obvious about the NHS - its model is not fit for the 21st Century. Unwisely following John Reid's example of stating that your department is crap, she does raise one rather interesting question: where the bloody hell has all the money that has been poured into the NHS over the last few years gone?

4. Why are socialists? This rubbish article from the Guardian's Comment is Free isn't fit to print on used toilet paper. Meantime, if anyone can explain to me who cleans the public toilets under a socialist system, I'd be glad to hear it. Add a comment below, if you'd be so kind.

5. This article is good though, if you can get over the slightly scary photo which accompanies it. It berates the lazy left's habit of tarring all religious people with the same brush, when in fact the dangerous elements within any religion are a tiny minority. Most religious folk are kind-hearted, generous, nice people. Whatever their religion.

6. This weekend just past saw Open House London. We were too busy partying the weekend away (*cough*) so we didn't go see anything. But you can read other people's accounts of the tour of The Dome - with thanks to Greenwich-Girl, Diamond Geezer and Infinite Thought.

7. And I'm still seething after the first episode of Return to Jamie's School Dinners. Jamie Oliver is amazing. He makes things happen. By comparison, you're horrified at just how rubbish local authorities are. Suddenly possible things become too difficult, not cost effective, basically... impossible. Given that councils now routinely take £1,200 per year per household (Band D), they really should be able to do better, particularly when a single man can achieve so much in a short period of time.

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