Santa Claus

Spoiler Alert! If you are expecting your Christmas presents to be delivered down your chimney on Christmas Eve by a big, bearded, soot sprinkled, magical elf dressed in red with white fur trim then please do not read this post.

I hope that was warning enough. I do not wish to spoil anyone’s Christmas.

That was my problem when I first had kids. It was very important to me that my children should trust me; I did not wish to lie to them about anything.

Sometimes this aspiration got me into trouble, such as when I gave birth to my third child at home and my eldest burst into the room before we were ready. I explained to her carefully, in what I thought was age appropriate language, how her little brother had emerged from mummy’s tummy. She then wanted to know how he had got in, which I also tried to explain as honestly as I could. The next week she was passing on this important information at playgroup. At no point were any birds, bees or storks involved; just a mummy, a daddy and a special hug; followed nine months later by something like a big poo.

So, what to do about the existence of Santa Claus in the Christmas story? At first I simply ignored him. I explained to my children that Christmas was a birthday celebration for Jesus. When a child has a birthday, family and friends give the child gifts and a party is held. Because Jesus is so very special we all get given gifts on his birthday and everybody celebrates with a party. I reckoned that I could cover other religions when my children got a bit older.

Except me not mentioning Santa Claus didn’t stop every other adult that my children came into contact with just expecting them to be in on this tale. Without a word from me they came to believe in the flying reindeer, presents coming down a chimney and a funny little old man all dressed in red who granted every material wish.

At no point did I ever say that this was how it was. I didn’t have to. However, whilst I may not have lied explicitly, I did implicitly as I went along with the established orthodoxies. The night before Christmas, when my kids asked to put out cookies and milk for Santa along with a carrot for the reindeer, I obliged. I ensured that they were tucked up in their beds before sneaking the presents down the stairs on Christmas Eve. When they were old enough to write a letter requesting particular gifts, I helped address the envelope to the North Pole and walked them to the village postbox to send the carefully crafted missives on their way. I made no mention of the wonderful service that the Post Office provides when, a few weeks later, each child received a reply from the man himself.

What else could I do? Had I told them the truth then that important information would have been shared at playgroup or school too. I was not willing to take responsibility for removing the magic from all those children’s lives. Perhaps more to the point, I was not willing to face the potential wrath of their parents.

When my elder son eventually asked outright if Santa existed I told him the truth and, as I had feared, he rightly accused me of lying to him. I felt dreadful. It is not the only time that I have fallen short of his good opinion, but I do not recall any other deliberate untruth that I have perpetuated.

On Day 4 of my countdown to Christmas then, I am feeling glad that I can now celebrate Christmas with my family without a pretence that I never felt comfortable with. I may be the only one in my family who still looks on this event as a birthday party for the son of God, but we exchange presents with each other out of love, not because a mythical stranger invades our home in the dead of night.

My daughter still remembers her little brother’s birth, probably her first real memory. I do wonder if witnessing the aftermath of that momentous but very real event has scarred her for life.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

Secret lives

I can’t seem to get myself worked up about the fact that a government agency may be monitoring my phone calls, reading my emails, and keeping itself up to date on my social network posts and internet searches. Or is that only happening in America? Not that I really believe that all individuals are being investigated in this way. Sure, it is as likely as not that data is being gathered, but I very much doubt that it is being looked at in detail. I think just cause and a court order are still needed for that.

If, for whatever reason, some intelligence gathering agent did happen to stumble across something apparently worrying in my life and decided to look further then what would he find? He could uncover the kit list that I was sent last week for my son’s upcoming Scout camp, read the title of the next book to be discussed at my Book Group, or spot that a shoe shop I once foolishly gave my email address to is having a sale. I suspect he would very soon stop being interested and move on. I would not feel that my privacy had been invaded.

A quick look at my recent internet searches would expose my lack of confidence in my ability to spell certain words correctly, I am interested in books by favoured authors, in the names of actors in local stage shows, and in train timetables at the weekend. Even if I believed that this information was being made available I would not feel violated. If the snippets that I post on my social network sites were closely guarded secrets then I would not post them.

What does bother me though is CCTV. I mean, who monitors the images that are captured in public places? I have this distasteful image of a small, windowless room with a large number of screens showing street scenes. Watching these is a badly paid man who sits alone and bored, amusing himself by following good looking young girls like my daughter and her friends as they go about their business, unaware that they are being observed. That I find creepy and invasive.

I also dislike the lengthy forms that government agencies demand that we fill with data that should be no concern of theirs; the last census form was a case in point. Page after page of data was demanded that I just know will be misused to justify some future pet project funded by tax payers money that will make the mates of whichever government is in power millionaires. Invasive form filling and box ticking mines data that I have no wish to disclose but am forced to do so by law. For the good of myself and others? I don’t think so.

Intelligence agencies have long had the power to monitor activity, tap phones and request information from phone companies and banks. The internet allows more data to be captured but most of it will never be accessed. It is not that I trust these powerful organisations but more that I cannot imagine ever appearing on their radar. Even if I did, I cannot see how any information that I generate would be of interest to them.

I worry far more about the powers held by the small, local agencies with performance targets to meet and prejudices to feed. When my daughter broke her arm at home by overbalancing and falling over a plant pot trying to remove her riding boot, the nurse who treated her at A&E asked at least half a dozen times what had happened, how and if anyone else was involved. The looks I was being given made it quite clear that I was a potential child abuser. I find that attitude worrying. Social Services have the power to destroy families and are as unaccountable as any organisation.

I do not trust governments, have little faith in the justice system and resent the way my lifestyle is picked over by the education and health services. In these areas I feel that my life and privacy are invaded and I deeply resent the intrusion. I do not, however, fear the secret intelligence gathering of mega organisations at an international level. They have limited manpower and I am just not that interesting. I guess I am a little surprised that some people are shocked by the recent expose being covered so widely by the media. I would have been more surprised to discover that readily available data was not being gathered.

Governments do abuse power and use information inappropriately for their own ends. Legislation is slipped through under the radar when the public is distracted by some unrelated event. Our civil liberties have been eroded over many years; our right to a private life increasingly denied, always under the guise of being for our own good and the good of society. It has always been this way.

I would like to live my life in peace and privacy. I do not consider the gathering of the information that travels to and from my computer as a major threat to this aspiration. The personal questions asked locally by health and education professionals, and the potential fallout should I not conform as they demand, could have a much more worrying impact on my peace of mind and quality of life.

Broken Liberty: Li-ber-ty, Istanbul Archaeolog...

The mainstream media and blogs

Those of you who know me or who have followed me for a while may well be aware that I am a fierce critic of the mainstream media. I do not blame the professional journalists for this, but rather the way news reporting has moved so far from being thoroughly checked, investigative and ground breaking to page filling propaganda. When significant events occur, the race to be first to publish allows only cursory checks for truth or accuracy. Readers and listeners can no longer rely on what they are being told by the official sources.

It has always been true that each news outlet reports with a bias to please their perceived audience. The extremism of the British ‘Daily Mail’ is one of the more obvious examples of this, but the same is true of the supposedly quality broadsheets. The on line news sites require clicks to satisfy their advertisers, and the dead tree press is fighting desperately against it’s approaching demise in it’s current form. Even the statute demanding impartiality of the BBC is regularly flouted as their flagship news programmes display a blind or blinkered bias on certain pet subjects that is particularly depressing given that so many people still believe what they are being told by this source.

Much of the news reported by the mainstream media is made up of barely modified, official press releases that provide free advertising or an outlet for interested parties propaganda. The hows and whys of our descent into this situation is better covered in Nick Davies book Flat Earth News. This should be required reading for anyone who still believes that the news they are being fed is in any way new or containing impartial truths.

Given that we are in a situation where we cannot rely on these sources, I am not surprised that many in the mainstream media regularly and fiercely criticise blogs. As these publications broaden and increase their following and readership, they provide serious and financially damaging competition. It is notable that the national papers response appears to be a move towards publishing more and more comment pieces themselves. Each of the major newspapers commission a number of words from their favoured writers each day on topical issues, as well as printing guest posts in the likes of the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ or the Independent’s ‘Voices’ columns. These provide just the sort of writing that can easily be found on numerous, well written and thoroughly researched blogs that are now being followed by more and more people.

There is no doubt that topical blog posts are biased according to their authors views, but no more so than the equivalent pieces published and reported by the more established media sites. The challenge is to ensure that those of us who wish to look behind the propaganda at what is actually happening in the world can lift ourselves out of our personal comfort zones to read different sides of the argument, not just those that stroke our own, personal prejudices. A cogent and well argued rebuttal of a long held view can make uncomfortable reading, but is necessary if for no other reason than to force us to work through our own thinking in reply.

There are many, of course, who do not wish to consider political thinking too deeply. The number of words published on celebrity gossip, diet and beauty tips, parenting or relationships advice and sport suggests that there is more interest in these topics than in potentially world changing news. Basic economics demands that the paid for media will provide what it’s audience wants.

Governments have long realised that they can manipulate a population by influencing or controlling the information that is disseminated. Thus we have a situation where we cannot believe most of the health reports because they are written in support of government policy (e.g. smoking and alcohol guidelines) or are provided by an interested party looking at increasing it’s funding (e.g. medical research bodies). By constantly bombarding the public with propaganda and dodgy statistics dressed up as fact these powerful protagonists will attempt to steer a population’s thinking to demonise the behaviour or people they wish to quash. Look behind the headlines and you may wonder why you are supporting a point of view that has been so obviously perverted.

Blogs may not provide the impartial and honest reporting of facts that I would like to see, but they can help us to get behind the official, approved press releases. While the mainstream media persists in churnalism, party line promotion and the propagation of pet beliefs without recourse to facts or debate, there will be a place for those outside the payroll to question and publish an alternative point of view.

I see this as one of the strengths of the internet; that such activity remains accessible to all who wish to participate in the dissemination of news, even if only as an interested audience. When governments seek to control or close down and punish those who seek the truth, we will know that they are afraid and have been uncovered as the charlatans that they are.

Cover of "Flat Earth News: An Award-Winni...

Paranoia

My husband enjoys a good conspiracy theory. His favourite plot line in The X-Files (TV Series 1993–2002) involved the smoking man; he teases the children by asking them if they have considered if the moon landings were filmed in a studio, or if JFK’s shooting was a set up by some secret agency that is really in charge of America; he read and liked The Da Vinci Code (book by Dan Brown) even though he did accept that it wasn’t a great piece of literature. I am sure that he plays up to my exasperation at his random comments about news items by raising questions about hidden agenda’s and asking the children to consider wild and unsubstantiated assumptions. I am also pretty sure that he doesn’t consider this stuff to be true, and is merely enjoying playing with the idea of the existence of some sort of good or bad international power such as Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D.

Today though, I find myself wondering about conspiracy and censorship. I find myself wandering down a path that feels very much like a route to paranoia, and I am uncomfortable with my inability to know what I should think or believe. How do we know what is true when we can no longer trust the long established sources of information?

The events of the past week have brought into sharp focus the changing face of news gathering and propagation. A number of mainstream media outlets, in their race to be first with the facts, broadcast updates that subsequently turned out to be false. There has been enough comment on how this happened and why, but it got me thinking about the effect that this could have on the general public’s willingness to believe what they are told in future.

Governments rely on the fact that the public will accept as true the information published by the mainstream media; this is why they invest so much in attempting to influence what gets reported. If too many people start to look elsewhere for their news then the government will try to gain control of the alternative outlets. Popular blogs and other on line publications will become more of a threat and this will encourage governments to regulate. Regulation is more likely to be used to assist the wealthy and powerful than the general public.

This sort of speculation is not new. There are already a number of attempts to allow government agencies to look at individual’s on line activity and act if this is deemed a threat, although to whom is rarely specified. What I had not realised is that the surveillance is already in place, or should that be potentially in place? I do not know if this is paranoia or fact.

I have been following this post today: Facebook Censors Users during Media Blackout on Privatisation of the NHS | Scriptonite Daily. I read the original post yesterday and noted that yet another newsworthy story was not being reported by the mainstream media. The comments do not offer clarification; there is speculation that it is unlikely to be Facebook policy but could be an orchestrated effort by detractors to silence the story. I am left wondering if this is just more food for the Tin Foil Hat Brigade or if we should be waking up to something more insidious. For me, this is the problem. Changes that happen gradually may not be noticed until it is too late to stop them. If our freedom of speech and expression is to be curtailed then this is unlikely to be proclaimed by those who seek to silence dissent. Whatever the truth is, how can we know?

I am reluctant to blame Facebook for the way it operates. It is a free to use service and I enjoy it’s functionality. I accept that I will have little control over what I post, but would be upset if my account were deleted with no explanation. It would seem that this has happened to some people. Although I can see no reason why I should ever be affected in this way, I have a little history in this area.

For a few years now I have had an ebay account. I did not use it regularly but, from time to time, I would purchase a few low value items from the site. I have also used it to sell one item. I have a 100% positive feedback record and always paid by Paypal as soon as the bid was confirmed as successful. The item I sold was posted immediately and was received by the purchaser who gave me top marks for service.

At the end of last year my Paypal account was blocked in the middle of a purchase. No explanation was given and I could not get it unblocked. I paid for the item I had just bought by cheque (thankfully the seller was understanding), but still have no idea why the site chose to block me. It has stopped me using ebay and made me wary of how much we are at the mercy of algorithms that can go wrong. I did not default or defraud and had no known complaints against me. I have no inkling as to why this might have happened.

So what if, in the future, individuals posting news and views come under scrutiny from unknown, on line sources, be they people or algorithms? Blocking publication is as likely to be cock up as conspiracy, but will we ever be able to find out the how’s or why’s information is censored? And what if legislation is introduced, but worded in such a vague way that huge fines or worse are possible – will there be as much willingness for anyone anywhere to opine and comment?

We currently have a situation where, as Lauren Nelson over on Cogent Comment says: ‘Today, information – accurate and not – is everywhere. If you want to find a justification for spending the rest of your life trapped in a basement, you’ll find plenty of people validating the idea. If you need to feel vindicated about your choices in child raising, you’ll find whole communities on the subject, with people eager to tell you that you are correct. Anyone with an internet connection and clear voice can join important political and social debates. Refined is no longer an adjective that works in this equation. Information distribution today is more akin to a high school cafeteria food fight than the marketplace of ideas once lauded by John Stewart Mill.’

Personally, I would much prefer to be in this situation, where it is left up to me to filter what is worth listening to and what is unsubstantiated, biased ranting, than to watch the accessible media, in whatever it’s future form may be, develop into a Ministry of Truth.

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I want to believe 

Reality doesn’t conform to the models, therefore reality must be wrong

It is very difficult to discuss climate science with those who believe in anthropomorphic global warming. The warmists state that the science is proven; that there is consensus within the scientific community. When it is pointed out to them that many eminent scientists have questioned their orthodoxies, they claim that these scientists are not relevant experts or have been discredited. If it is mentioned that their experts have been publishing incomplete results skewed in their favour then this is explained as being taken out of context or misunderstood. Their experts are always better and more trustworthy than your experts.

When the results of scientific studies do not back up the warmists point of view then it is often claimed that the studies must have been funded by Big Oil or some other dubious source, thus skewing the results. When their own studies (funded by their own interested parties) do not prove their point of view then the results are not published or only ‘relevant’ information is released. There are plenty of people now looking more closely at the available data and debunking the arguments. There are gaping holes in the explanations that bluster and shouting will not hide. Climate science research has become closed and secretive, but carefully worded Freedom of Information requests alongside leaks from scientists who are unwilling to hide uncomfortable truths are uncovering facts that the warmists did not wish to see in the public domain.

I am not going to attempt to debate the science in detail here; plenty of blogs are written by those with more knowledge than I, which clarify the reasoning and publish links to the original research and the lies told to the media about what has been proved. No doubt these will be cast aside contemptuously by those who do not wish to believe. I find it immensely frustrating that the lack of reasoned debate amongst climate scientists is giving science a bad name. Scientific research should be open to questions; if facts can be proven then nothing need be hidden.

What I wish to explore here is the impact of the drive over the past thirty or so years to convince the public that global warming exists, is life threatening and that something can and should be done about it.

The drive to cut CO2 emissions has spawned a plethora of money making schemes. Companies that manufacture and fit solar panels benefit from government subsidies, land owners rent out fields for wind turbines and solar ‘farms’, appliances that meet prescribed environmental ratings do not last as long as those they replace so ensure more sales. The cleaner air produced will rarely offset the pollution caused by the manufacture, fitting and disposal. Householders pay for these schemes through the direct cost of purchase and through taxes that are used to provide the subsidies. Those with solar panels on their roofs may enjoy the short term benefit of subsidised electricity but at what cost to everyone else?

The cleaner air demanded from power stations has made burning fossil fuels uneconomic. Thus, the coal fired stations have been allowed to become run down and will soon be decommissioned. As yet, there is no viable alternative that produces enough power to meet demand. Already we are seeing the cost of heating our homes rise, but how great will be the hardship when enough power cannot be generated? It is estimated that some 250,000 people in Britain have died from the cold in the last ten years. In contrast there have been around 10,000 heat related deaths over the same period of time.

Setting aside such local concerns and looking at the situation from a global point of view, the warmists love to talk of deserts being created and peoples displaced as sea levels rise and land can no longer be farmed. The problem for them is that the models that they have used to generate their predictions have failed to work; the changes predicted are not happening. This does not stop them ascribing every significant weather event to anthropomorphic climate change. It is quite amusing to hear weather forecasters talking of unprecedented events and then telling us when such a thing last happened. I recently read a newspaper article which asked the question ‘Arctic Ice Melt; Is the North Pole Going to Melt entirely?’ This was published on Thursday 5 April 1923. Arctic ice melts are a normal and recurring event. 

Climate change happens and has always happened. It should also be remembered that CO2 is needed for life; plants love it! Man may be a destructive force on earth but not in the way the warmists are describing.

The costly policies that we are being forced to adopt are not going to change global weather patterns. Even if some of what the warmists are predicting were to actually happen, the measures being taken in an attempt to prevent this are futile. The cost is not just monetary (think of the damage to the poorer countries of the world caused by the rush to produce bio fuels) and will, as ever, adversely impact the poor whilst benefiting the wealthy. These policies are a deluded madness.

At a local level I can see the benefits of cleaner air. I walk or cycle rather than use my car, but that is my choice. I can see that it is not going to noticeably change the air that I breathe. The exercise will benefit my health, but I will not campaign for others to do as I do; I cannot know when someone needs to use their car due to mobility or health issues.

If the resources being poured into attempting to prevent climate change were being used to help those in need then perhaps we could effect an improvement of global proportions. Changing perception will be an uphill battle though. With so many of the wealthy and powerful benefiting from the public’s belief in the great global warming scam there will be little appetite for sacrificing the goose that lays the golden egg, even if this can be proven to be for the greater good.

Global Warming