Monday, May 31, 2010

Arrivederci Kev Kennedy

Well, Kev K has blogged his last. Apparently the reaching 20s and 30s experiment has run its course at my old employers and the website will be assimilated into the normal run of things. Kev's unique insights on life are surplus to requirements.

I know he probably didn't have that many readers, but I still thought he was something a bit different. And it's strange, but I feel sadder that he's been put out to pasture than I do about being canned myself.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Turns out I (!) should listen to the voices inside the house

Cathy raised some very salient points about my post about how easy it is to ignore the wisdom in the room to listen to the ‘voices outside the house’. So, I have decided to write a rebuttal to my own earlier remarks, drawing on some of what she said.

Firstly, if we never listened to others from outside of the situations we’re in (church, work, whatever) we could become incredibly insular (and self-important). We might believe that we – and only we – had a monopoly on the truth, or that we – and only we – could find the answers to the problems we face.

Secondly, it’s good to know what other people are thinking from other areas / parts of the world. It’s good to know that other people think similarly to us, or to be challenged because they think differently. We only have to look at the insularity of some Christian factions to see that taking those people out of their comfort zones is a good thing.

Thirdly, some churches seem to operate in their own ‘bubble’ and seem to rarely look, listen, or step outside of what is their ‘norm’. I noticed that a while ago at Greenbelt. I was made uncomfortable by some of the things that were going on because they didn’t gel with the accepted (or implied) teaching of my then church. But maybe that’s a good thing.

If listening to the voices outside prevent us from going off on crazy tangents, and show us errors and deficiencies in our thinking, and affirm us in the more troubling things that we know we ought to do, then yes, I believe those are all good things.

I still think we have a tendency to put those outside on pedestals. I still think we can overlook the opinions of those sitting next to us to our own detriment. I think that maybe if we are going for outside voices they should be as far removed from our realm of experience as possible, not just outside our church, but outside our wing of the church, possibly even outside of the Church per se.

But I recognise that seeking wisdom somewhere is better than seeking it nowhere.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The weight of possessing 'stuff'. Your chance for FREE books.

There's a great line in Fight Club (I think) which I'll paraphrase as - "that stuff you possess, it ends up possessing you".

I've just read this interesting article about how to actually get on with the task of liberating yourself from possessions. It's a bit 'eat the elephant' in the advice it gives. One small bit at a time.

I need to free up space on my bookshelves, and one of the suggestions is to identify things you would like to give away. So, in my own version of freecycle, I'm going to give you, dear blog reader, an opportunity to avail yourself of some free books. Just comment if you want them and I will put them to one side for you when I start eating the elephant.

Collection 1: About 8 books by Frank Herbert (he of Dune fame - none of the Dune books are in this bundle)
Collection 2: About 10 books by Isaac Asimov
Collection 3: About 7 books by Arthur C. Clarke
Collection 4: About 10 good quality sci-fi books by Ben Bova, Poul Anderson, Brain Aldiss, Fritz Leiber and others

All these are books I've read, and probably enjoyed although it was so long ago I can't remember, but realistically I'm not going to read them again. I'm not asking for any money, not even a donation to charity. If you decide to donate to charity anyway then that is entirely your good karma and nothing to do with me.

Remember, comment and say which ones you want. If someone has already claimed them then comment anyway, because I might like you more. (Don't tell anyone!)

(And if it wasn't Fight Club, then correct me in the comments. Seriously, I don't want to be misattributing quotes.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We always listen to the voices outside the house

My house has no front garden. You step out the front door and you’re on the pavement. Our living room window similarly opens out onto the street.

When people walk past you hear snippets of conversation. Arguing couples, people discussing their medication, parents moaning at their kids, teenagers gossiping about who got off with who.

I find it hard not to listen to the voices outside the house. Which I’m sure irks my wife when she’s trying to tell me something.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how much we do the same thing in church. Recently we had Shane Claiborne come to my church and talk about living ‘radically’. (That’s a word that is currently in vogue, will stay in vogue for a year or so, and will be in vogue again in about six years time – you get used to seeing things spin round again in Christian circles).

I’ve got nothing against Shane. He won me over and I went perfectly ready to find fault. But I do wonder whether we really needed to ship a guy in from Philadelphia to tell us about how to love the people around us.

We have people living sacrificially and working (hard) in our church. We have people going out day in day out to interact with a community that really doesn’t give a shit about what we believe. But these guys keep on going out and serving. What could they tell us about loving the people around us?

Or are we just used to them? Their voices are the ones we know, and we can just about hear tantalising snippets of conversation from outside the house.

I’ll give another example. Soul Survivor last year shipped in two speakers from down under – one Australian and one New Zealander. Again, nothing against those people, one was very good in what he said, one less so. But again did we really need to hear what was essentially very middle of the road commentary in an antipodean twang?

Or did the fact they’d travelled so far make the things they said seem more valid?

We do the same thing in workplaces as well. The place I just left chronically under-invested in an essential part of its business. Just before I walked out the door forever (dangerous, using that word I know, but hey) they got a consultant in. The first thing said consultant said was that this particular department was ridiculously small.

Helloooooo? That’s what several staff members had said over and over. Why does it take a voice from outside the house to be heard? Why do we overlook the wisdom sitting right next to us?

We chase after new knowledge. We hanker after hearing something new and exciting from an exotic speaker hailing from a foreign land. And we think we’re smart to track down these dispensers of wisdom.

But maybe we’re just so dumb we ignore the people in the room who have grown tired of trying to be heard by us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hitting the backspace in your head

At Roundtable last night one of the kids, James, coined a good phrase - "hitting the backspace in your head". He was talking about how when you write an email or a text, you need to review it and then decide not to send it, or edit it. But when we speak we don't always use the 'backspace' button.

Maybe we should. There are many, many things I've said where I wish I could just hit the backspace button and delete them. My words are less 'seasoned with salt' and more 'drenched in chilli dust' sometimes. I'm not always kind. I'm not always gracious. I'd like to be, but I'm not sure that really counts for anything.

I also made a classic 'mis-speak' last night. We were talking about emoticons and how they've become vital aids to communication in a digital age, because actually our tone of voice and our body language convey 92% of the information when we speak to someone. Strip that out and people are bound to misunderstand you.

'So we need emoticons,' I explained, 'to help people realise what we mean. Like if I say something harsh, I'd use the...' - I meant to say 'winky one'. (Semi-colon, closing bracket.)

Unfortunately I said '...I'd use the wanky one.'

I don't know what keys you'd press to create the 'wanky one'. But as everyone fell about laughing, and Tom immediately updated his Facebook status, I was thinking 'Backspace key, backspace key!'

Monday, May 24, 2010

Word of the week: Twazmuppet

I saw this word in a comment on a blog and it made me laugh so much. It's one of those words. You hear it, and you don't need an explanation. You know what it means. In fact, you're probably thinking of someone who is a twazmuppet right now.

I've been experiencing some schadenfreude of late. I know I'm a bad person, but I love to say 'I told you so'. There's a little part of me that likes to be proved right by subsequent events. Especially when people were behaving like twazmuppets and now their behaviour is catching up with them.

I think another reason I like this word is because it catches that moment when you're about to call someone a 'twat', then catch yourself because that's not a very Christian word to use (apparently), and you have to supplant the final T with another word entirely.

Like this: "Oh, he's such a twaaa-zzmuppet."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Shane Claiborne

I had the good fortune to hear Shane Claiborne last night at my church. In case you don't know, his book 'The Irresistable Revolution' and the call to 'live as an ordinary radical' are causing a smallish stir in the Christian world at the moment.

I freely admit I went with a negative prejudgement based on the fact he has dreadlocks and in the only publicity shot I saw he was shoeless and looked like a well-meaning hippie. 'Here we go...' I thought.

Well, he probably is a well-meaning hippie at heart, but he won me over anyway. He had a certain charm. And he managed to talk about changing the way you live without making you feel burdened by guilt for the way you live now.

In that sense it was a genuine challenge. Most of the time 'challenging' speakers are just having a go at you. It was nice to hear someone who seemed to affirm you in the belief that you could be better, rather than tell you how crap you are.

There were several bits that stood out, but one was a quote from Martin Luther King about extremism, which paraphrased said:
We have to choose what kind of extremist we will be.
Will we be extremists of hate or extremists of love?
My name's Jon and I'd like to be an extremist of love.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Iron Man 2 at I-Max = Iron Max?

Sequels. Sometimes they suck (Men in Black II; Spiderman 3; Transformers 2; The Matrix: Revelations). Sometimes they rock (The Empire Strikes Back; Aliens; Terminator 2, Hellboy 2). Sometimes they're just enjoyable enough to justify their existence (The Whole Ten Yards; 2 Fast 2 Furious).

I thought Iron Man 2 was somewhere on the continuum of 'worthy sequel' to 'it rocked'. On the plus side it had a decent baddy played by Mickey Rourke, an enigmatic goodie played by Scarlett Johansen in a catsuit, the ever-lovely Robert Downey Jr (man-crush fodder), a good dose of humour, and enough going on at any one time to keep me watching. Fast cars, explosions, comedy. What's not to like?

Plus a cameo from Samual L Jackson.

The only downsides were feeling like an outsider because I'm not an avid reader of the Iron Man comic, and also the sense that it wasn't that new. Comic book movies follow a very similar plot. Superhero somehow has wronged super-villain. Super-villain, often in league with power-hungry industrialists/military or other representatives of big business/government threaten superhero. Superhero wins out in climactic battle wherein members of the public scream a lot and run for their lives.

At least the CGI was good in this one though and didn't distract from the story too much (unlike GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, or X-Men Origins: Wolverine). They retained enough humanity by allowing the human characters to walk around and be human. That's what gives a film like this its soul. When the CGI takes over films are soulless as a result.

Jongudmund's rating: 8/10. Worth a watch.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A little piece of wisdom and hope

I am re-subscribing to a load of people's email newletters that I used to subscribe to in my old job, and I came across this little piece of wisdom from the Communicatrix herself, Colleen Wainwright:

I have good days and I have bad days. But these days, even the bad days I’m starting to recognize as good days, because they are DAYS, baby.

They are DAYS…
I like that.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It may have sounded like anger; actually it was just disappointment

Two people have remarked that a previous blog post about my current job coming to an end sounded ‘angry’ (or made me sound angry). I’m not surprised because sometimes it’s easy to think any criticism or confrontational commentary is anger.

Words can sound angry when you read them in your head, but wouldn’t sound angry if the person said them because far more is conveyed in the tone of voice we use than in the actual words we use. If you heard me saying those things you’d know I wasn’t particularly angry.

That’s not to say there weren’t times when I felt angry. Of course I did. It’s hard to experience a redundancy process – even one you welcome because you have another job to go to – and not feel angry sometimes.

It’s hard not to feel angry when you’re told that the financial crisis has been brewing for over six months. Especially if during those six months one of your jobs was to make sure the Chief Execs expansionist vision statement was turned into posters to put up around the building.

What exactly are you meant to make of that?

It’s hard when you know that people have gotten in touch to say how much the things you’ve worked on have helped them, but then it seems your job is going because only ‘frontline’ jobs are staying. I think my job was frontline. Communicating the mission of our organisation, and providing useful material to the public. Raising funds. Promoting activities.

In what way aren’t those frontline?

And it’s just plain irritating when you ask who you should hand stuff over to and you’re made to feel like you’re being a troublemaker for asking the questions. I genuinely wanted to know who to give things to. In the end I had to make educated guesses.

When people don’t seem to know who will be responsible for the bits of your job that are going to carry on, it does make you wonder how well thought through the plans are.

Is all I’m saying.

It also doesn’t help when you’re in a meeting with a project manager who is on the verge of tears because of the stress. This is someone who is staying and is scared and confused at the prospect. I had to reassure her that things were going to be okay, even though I had no real conviction that they would.

Should it be the responsibility of the people leaving to reassure those who are staying in employment that everything is going to be okay?

And I realise you, dear blog reader, may be reading all these unanswerable rhetorical questions and be thinking ‘Man, he sounds angry!’ But believe me I’m not. I’ve quite literally moved on – into a job where I am both wanted and needed. My first week in the new job saw me hit the ground running with no shortage of urgent projects to sink my teeth into.

I don’t have time to be angry. What I do feel is disappointment.

The thing I’ve said to many people is I never expected to leave my previous job that way. Maybe to move on in a halo of glory, with well wishes and cries of ‘We’ll miss you’. Or even to be thrown out of the building and have the door-codes changed behind me. But never to go like that, as one of over 30 people, and to have my team just dissolved, with no one to replace us, or to take up the baton and promise to maintain the high standards we reached.

I think the greatest cause of my disappointment through all this is the recognition that much of what we worked for is going to be lost. And I can't shake the sense that it's because what we did wasn’t recognised and valued in the first place.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The great big semi-scientific General Election 2010 candidate review

I’ve decided to do my own assessment of the people I could be voting for, a bit like I did a couple of years ago for the Welsh Assembly elections. This time around I have an added bonus opportunity for candidates – those with an email address got an email from me asking 5 policy questions. Only two candidates got back to me, which was a bit disappointing. But those candidates will get a bonus 10 points each.

I’m awarding points based on the following categories up to today:
Number of items posted through my door ~ 1 point each
Local residency/links of candidate, up to 3 points based on background, current residency, reference to local issues
Campaign promises ~ 1 point for each one (even if I don’t agree with them)
Negative things said about another political party (slanging match points) ~ -1 for each one
Plus 10 points if they got back to my email

I’m also going to list each candidate’s “big plus” i.e. a reason to vote for them, and a “big minus” i.e. why not. And I’m basing my ratings on the info they have supplied (ie pushed through my door).

I’m going to list them in party name alphabetical order, so first up is:

Christian Party of Wales
Tagline: ‘Raising the Standard’ (also ‘Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship’)
Candidate: Clive Bate
Big plus: Attends a local church
Big minus: Policies tend to be along the lines of monarchist, anti-Europe, climate-change-denying crazy nutters. Talks a lot about the ‘constitution’ even though we don’t have one.

Items: 1
Local residency: “Born in Cardiff and lived in Wales all his life” goes to local church, but doesn’t say he lives in the area, so I’m going to award 2 points
Campaign promises: 6 (My favourite one is to incorporate the black and yellow cross of St David in the Union Jack. Because, you know, that’s important.)
SMP: general swipes at the establishment, but no particular SMPs
Total: 9

Communist Party
Tagline: ‘Britain for the People not the Bankers’
Candidate: Robert Griffiths
Big plus: 5 commendations from noted trade unionists; promises “peace, jobs and socialism”
Big minus: Many, many promises, but I’m not sure they’re deliverable

Items: 2
Local residency: educated in Llanrumney and Cardiff High and currently living in Splott. Promises to continue living in Splott if elected. I didn’t know Splott was in our constituency but according to the fount of all knowledge (Wikipedia) it is, so a solid 3 points.
Campaign promises: 22 (4 are Wales-specific)
SMP: -16 (including a list of 10 ways the current MP, Alun Michael, has voted in Parliament)
Total: 11

The Conservative Party
Tagline: ‘It’s Time for Change’
Candidate: Simon Hoare
Big plus: One of the two candidates to respond to my email
Big minus: Quite a negative campaign – one election piece was a ‘crime special’ designed to spread a little bit of fear

Items: 4
Local residency: “Simon’s family came to Cardiff in the 1820s and have lived here ever since”, but Simon now lives in Oxfordshire and apparently says he isn’t going to move if elected. However, he seems to know a lot about local community issues, so I’m going to give him 1 point.
Campaign Promises: About 20, but lots of vague promises rather than specific points. They say they’re anti ID cards though, which is unexpectedly left-wing.
SMP: Loads. I counted about 12 anti-Labour/Gordon Brown points. There was one local issue where the candidate was “appalled” at the Lib Dem, Plaid and Labour politicians involved. So: -12.
BONUS POINTS: Simon was the only main party candidate to reply to my email: 10 bonus points.
Total: 23

Tagline: ‘2010 year of the independent’
Candidate: George Burke
Big plus: the other candidate to reply to my email, and I liked all his answers
Big minus: what chance do independent candidates have?

Items: 1
Local residency: Lived in the area for 33 years, writes a column for the South Wales Echo. 2 points
Campaign promises: 10
SMP: mentions “The recent mistrust of politicians, from all parties, has led me to make the decision to clean up politics for good.” No specific swipes. No minus points.
Total: 23

Labour and Co-operative
Tagline: ‘Winning the fight for Britain’s future’
Candidate: Alun Michael
Big plus: He’s a seasoned pro and has been MP forever (well, since 1987)
Big minus: He had to pay back £19,000 in the expenses scandal after listing his Penarth residence as his ‘second home’

Items: 3
Local residency: Lives in Penarth. Doesn’t say he’s Cardiff born and bred, but I think he is. I’m going to ding him a point for the second home thing. 2 points.
Campaign promises: 15 (and an impressive ‘record of achievements’ while in government)
SMP: 5 negative references to other parties, although he makes specific criticisms rather than just flaming them, so as far as slanging match points go, these are the most civil. Still: -5.
Total: 15

Liberal Democrats
Tagline: ‘The Local Choice for Change’
Candidate: Dominic Hannigan
Big plus: Dominic Hannigan stood in the Welsh Assembly elections, and I think in the last general election. He is a very prominent campaigner in the area most of the time. He obviously really wants to win.
Big minus: The Liberal Desperates, sorry Democrats, look, well, desperate as usual. Their material is insanely negative. Apart from venomously attacking Labour on everything and dismissing the Tories and Plaid’s chances, I couldn’t really tell you what they stand for. They do have policies, but they are hidden behind all the bile.

Items: 7
Local residency: Dominic leaves in Butetown, part of the constituency. 2 points.
Campaign promises: 12 (mainly just reiterations of national policy)
SMP: Unfortunately, the more stuff I get, the more slanging match points tot up. Not counting the many repetitions of Alun Michael’s expenses or the fact Simon Hoare lives in Oxfordshire, I’m awarding a score of -39.
Total: -18

Plaid Cymru
Tagline: ‘Think Different. Think Plaid.’
Candidate: Farida T Aslam
Big plus: The only woman and the only minority candidate standing (as far as I know, like I said these ratings are based on what’s come through the door)
Big minus: Nice policies, no real chance of getting in

Items: 2 (identical leaflets)
Local residency: No way of knowing, but pledges to be “an independent-thinking Plaid MP who always puts our area first”. 1 point.
Campaign promises: 10 (including an “ethical policy”)
SMP: Says the other 3 main party candidates will “toe the London party line” and that’s about it. -3 points.
Total: 10

Results Table
Independent George Burke: 23
Conservative: 23
Labour & Co-operative: 15
Communist: 11
Plaid Cymru: 10
Christian Party of Wales: 9
Liberal Democrats: -18