The history of History – Part 1 – The Past

When Lifeslittleironies was about 4 years old and frequently bored, one would alight on a Victorian glass-fronted oak bookcase. Within those rows of fake Morocco leather straight-grain green tomes would be titles of a historical outlook. “Middle School History” was one I remember but other titles hinted at daring deeds in the British Empire or darker deeds of Tudor Kings. I saw chapter headings such as “Magna Carter”, “Oliver Cromwell” and “David Livingstone”. The close type printed words beneath these titles meant little to me but every 40 pages or so there would be a pen and ink drawing depicting perhaps a fur-coated bearded man burning cakes, or another gentleman playing bowls with ship sails in the distance or another fellow sheltering from the icy blasts of snow writing in a diary. What these meant I did know, but I knew there were great stories therein and I could not wait for my first day of school to decode their meanings.

Summer ebbed away and I set foot one early autumn morning to my own “city of dreaming spires”. “Here we go!” I thought as I waited for my first history book to be handed to me. But no. I was presented with a book with large type with the words “The Apple is Green. The Banana is Yellow and the Cat is Black and White” written in 14pt Century Schoolbook font. Quickly dispensing with this footling prose, I was entreated to write “The happy boy plays with the spotted dog” and “The little girl skips down the lane”. Despite my frustration with this diatribe, lessons did not improve. I was counselled that if the pony-tailed girl had two red balloons for her birthday and acquired another red balloon, she would cheerfully have three. Moreover, if the naughty boy took a pin and burst two of them she would be thoroughly bereft and in possession of but a single red balloon. I understood this to be some form elementary mathematical computation.

“Ok”, I reasoned, collectively my classmates and I needed to get on the same page before we poured over the origins of the “Wars of the Roses”. But alas no. Instead I was being asked to paint said boy, girl, balloon and dog but only ever succeeded in producing curious purplely-brown smudges, which struggle as teachers might, barely evinced a happy smiley face from the preceptor.

Summer gave way to winter then spring and one school year gave way to another and despite this ironic passing of time no historical instruction was forthcoming

I gave up Elementary school as a lost cause but believed that we would double-down, history-wise at Secondary school. Now dressed in my dark blue blazer, striped tie and long trousers I believed we were about to get serious. The previous six years were just a preparation for the historical examination that was about to begin.

Frantically, I scanned my timetable for History or some modern pseudonym of said subject. The nearest topic I espied was Social Studies. Was this the proxy I was looking for? The lessons seemed to be split in to two; alternating between social skills and those with somewhat cursory historical pretense. The Stone Age and Dinosaurs were two examples. More anthropological than historical but better than nothing. More promising were lessons on the Egyptian Pharaohs, Greek Gods and Roman aqua-ducts. Interesting in their own-right no doubt but this was not the “meat and two veg” that I was hoping to satiate myself with. And no sooner were these subjects introduced they were swiftly consigned to the back of the classroom credenza.
At some point I might have asked where the great historical stories for which I craved elicitation, were on the syllabus. Would we be introduced to the story of the Battle of Trafalgar? “Nooooo” came the answer. What about Waterloo? “No way!”, they responded. The defeat of the Armada? “Huh!? They snorted” What about the Battle of Hastings? “Okay”. I listened intently. From the fragmentary information I received, some team called Anglo-Saxons United defeated the Viking Invaders at Stamford Bridge but then lost the away fixture in the European Cup Final against the Normandy Conquerors in extra-time. During the match the Saxon captain picked up a nasty injury, which ruled him out for the rest of the season. Or something like that.

Now a teenager, I had figured out our educators’ reluctance to teach us about our past. I was being taught by the post-war generation. Their parents had lived through and survived the World Wars and wanted for the most part to forget about them. Their children gladly acquiesced in this conspiracy. These post-war babies aspired to be the generation of the future, replete with sci-fiction movies, moon-shots and a dodgey dress code. They were more interested in free health, free milk, free love and free festivals! “The past is history; Man!” They chorused.
But there was still hope. At fourteen, I could choose my own subjects to study and the first tick I made in the selection boxes was for History. But the post-war generation had one more trick up their sleeve. They would make the teaching of history so mundane, so boring, so mind-numbingly matter of fact that no one would ever wish to open a history book again during the course of one’s natural life.

Nonetheless, history was history and I could soak up the historical timelines regardless of the manner in which they were taught. The opening subject on the first page looked promising. The Industrial Revolution. Yet they made sure that the interesting bits were kept well out of sight. No inspirational tales of the inventions or ingenuity of Watt, Stevenson or Brunel. Instead, the historians-in-name before us taught the assembled pupils that really there was no Industrial Revolution. And if there was, it found its origins in the Low Countries or Germany. And if Britain seemed to contribute to these technical improvements and gained some affluence then it was only because it had the right kind of coal inches beneath its rain-sodden moors.

If we were not put off already they were ready to bore us to the core. How about three terms of the Poor Law, Workhouses, Lord Shaftesbury and Joseph Rowntree? OK! Next, let’s learn about poor sanitation, Trades Unions, Tolpuddle Martyrs and William Cobbett? Ready to stick a fork in your flesh and burning hot needles in your eyes to overcome the monotony? In which case, welcome to the Chartists, Fred Engels topped off with a bit of Marxian dialectics.
Fast forward and four years of study culminated in the final examination questions. The eight questions on the paper always could always be summarized in one of one of two categories, thus:

Question 1. Give five reasons why the Gradgrindian Victorian industrial middle classes were utter, utter bastards to the deserving, yet poor and exploited working classes?

Question 2. Imagine you are a widowed penniless woman thrown on to the streets by an unscrupulous landlord with two sickly babies. You are begging quietly for a crust of stale bread, when some plummy-accented tosspot with britches pulled over his extensive pot-belly kicks you in the face, spits on your babes-in-arms and pinches the thruppenny-bit lying pitifully in your tin cup. Explain how you are feeling towards your antagonist, how you came to this spiteful predicament and what progressive social reformers will strive for over the next fifty years to remedy this injustice?? Aarrrgh!!

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Sinking into an abyss of a new Dark Age – A Darker Irony Part Two

Those doltish gun control advocates are crawling out of the woodwork! So some madman cuts down some unknown journo’s (well, I don’t know them) in rural Virginia and all of a sudden it’s “Bye-bye Bereta”,  “Au-Revoir Remmington” and “So Long! Smith and Wesson”.  But if Vester Lee Flanagan couldn’t get buy a gun so easily would these folks be alive today? OK, so they would be alive, but the important thing is we need protection from the bad guys. If the reporter had a gun do you think she would alive, today? OK, OK, she would still be dead ‘cause she weren’t lookin’. But that’s not the point. We gotta protect the 2nd Amendment . Why? Because..because it’s there!

So after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Infinitem, ad-nauseum, Vester Lee Flanagan AKA Bryce Williams has somewhat upped the ante in terms of Social Media mass murder. The Columbine kids, as befits the pre-Facebook era, could only manage scrawled notebooks chocked full of evil intent. Ok, I guess, but unlikely to be read by anybody apart from an officious Mother  clearing out empty pizza boxes from under one’s bed.

Our more tech savvy mass murderer now has new social-media weapons at his/her disposal. You can now submit your rambling manifesto on Facebook for all to see seeking to explain your depraved actions. Cunningly, you start will some innocuous diatribe of perceived slights that no one has any interest in reading and gradually you up the rhetoric, hinting at some dark deed. Next stop Walmart to pick out your preferred weapon of mass murder. Then it’s “Show time on Prime time!” Of course, it’s not easy vying for airtime even in the world of rolling 24 hours news programs. What with bombings in Bangkok, killings in Kenya, massacres in Mosul, slayings in Sousse and ISIS beheadings in…..well just about anywhere, you got to make sure you get your message out quickly and with a bang, as it were. How about a 140 character tweet on how you are going to shoot up  the local movie theater? Share an Instagram piccie of yourself in full military fatigues, weighed down by assault rifles (sans price sticker if you please). That is bound to elicit momentary interest. But is that enough to guarantee time on the morning news? I guess Vester (or Bryce) struggled with that dilemma until he hit upon the idea of executing people live on the morning news show. A more captive audience there never was! And if there was no doubt that every gory detail would played out live, (Note: He waited for the cameraman to pan around back to focus on the intended victim) he filmed the massacre from his own point of view camera. I guess if a massacre is worth doing, its worth doing with as most evil, degenerate wickedness as you can muster.

The denouement to these scenes is always the same. Flee the scene, make sure you upload your final edits to Facebook and it’s death by your own hand or cop on some mundane highway on the road to oblivion. That and the hollow sound of hand wringing audible across the country because it would never do to discuss gun control. And it’s on the next news story.


Which got me thinking, the USA is the country of Exceptionalism, or so our politicians tell us. Land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade? Easy-peasy. Fly a spaceship 4.67 million miles and take a snap of a icy rock on the fringes of the Solar System? Then just say “Cheese!” and  t’will be done. Build a telescope so powerful that it can see back to almost the creation of time? Some boffin will scoff and with an insouciant  wave of the hand and tell you to come back with something less easy to work on. Fight wars half way across  the world and spend trillions of dollars then just vote “Aye”. Bring it on” Then you say, “Could you perhaps ensure that owning a gun was a smidgen less dangerous? You know, make owning a gun subject to reasonable background checks? Or enhanced safety features on guns so they can be tracked or made unusable if stolen? Or, here’s a easy one. Make sure you don’t sell a gun so powerful that it can wipe away the Fourth Grade before double Math. The reaction is always the same. Slack jaws drop to floor, sucking and blowing of cheeks are heard, chins are scratched, fingers tapped, eyes rolled and forehead creases. “Gee, you got me there. Boy!, that’s a toughen. A real humdinger of a doozy” “Nope, I don’t think its possible. You see, it’s not the gun that kills what about the bad guys?  er…it’s mental health issue, isn’t it? I got it! You gotta protect the 2nd Amendment. Now pass me that Poincare Conjecture. I have to prove it before Jeopardy starts”

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“By the lights of perverted science” – A Darker Irony Part One

“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark”

Dante’s Inferno

Oh for Spring! The cool fresh air of a clear sunlit morning. Cool yes, yet the warmth of the sun kisses my face. As I squint into the distance, one hand raised above my brow the other holding a steaming mug of coffee with its microscopic droplets of steam swirling as if in a hypnotic dance, I see a dewy lawn peppered with little robins and sparrows eagerly pecking at the worms who had likewise craned their ‘necks’ towards a serene new light. My eyes acclimate to the glare and focus in on the buds, the blossoms and the sparse and protruding stalks of what will be beds awash with Summer flowers in the weeks to come. An instant inner serenity becalms me. The faint intonations of the radio waft past  gently ebbing and flowing with the twittering birds and morning hum almost in some pre-agreed harmonic pact. I let out a breath which seems to have been held since that bitter, icy wind blew me sideways when stoically  I scraped the snow off the car windscreen with numbed knuckles. I give an  involuntary shudder. Was that only 4 weeks ago? Seems like an eternity. As the thought evaporates from my mind, my shoulders drop and my heart-rate falls. I am re-born, reengergized, sure that I will re-double my efforts, develop new strategies; lift my head up confident that I will succeed. This time things will be different.

Who can we thank for this apparition of serene spendour? This bucolic delight? Mother Nature doing its thing? Sure, it’s rational and scientific but also cold and clinical. It does not seem enough somehow. It’s too prosaic, too mechanical. It feels more than just a happy combination of physical and chemical reactions. It’s more complicated that that, there is a subtext, a deeper meaning, surely? God in his Heavan? Just weeks after Easter and death and raising of his son, it seems possible, approriate even. His gift to us for following his light to salvation. Our small insight and preview of his Heaven, our Heavan! so long as we stay on the path of righteousness and turn away from sin. But no, wait!; salvation or predestination? Am I already saved or already damned or can I still earn my place in his mighty kingdom? Maybe I have to loiter in some kind on ante-chamber and lobby for my sins to be reviewed, referred and ratified before being released into eternal sublimity. God may well have laid out all that I can survey but his followers are not looking at the ‘big picture’ . The God I know would not have made the path so confusing, so inconsisent.

My right foot shuffles as I take a half step back as the voices of a hundred philosophers chatter away in my head in some kind of Platoesque symposium arguing whether this panoramic perception is innate or a learned experience. Should we be rationalists or empiricists. They hardly know themselves as they argue with each other. It’s too confusing! The radio intonations grow. “It’s eight o’Clock. Here are the headlines”.

The Romanticists – yes, they had it right. The rejection of rationality, order and rules. It is not what it is, it is what  you feel – its your interpretation and experience of what you touch and feel. Rather than explaining what you see, you become part of the experience at one with nature. No longer a prosaic explanation but a poetic one. Yes, that could be it and nothing can spoil it  “Heavy artillery shelling by Israeli forces are targeting  Palestinians in retaliation……”

Then again what about going all the way back to the  Greeks with their fairytale stories. They mythologized life to make sense of the non-sensical, explain the inexplicable and explore the unfathonable.  We may, in our modern way, dismiss their fancible stories but do they make any less sense than the scientific, rational order we strive for? Does it make makes us feel more sure and more satisfied, more contented when looking out on this sunny morning. I do’nt think so, so why not believe that this really is Demeter’s celebration of her returning daughter, Persephone from the Underworld after four months of sadness. The return to growth and renewal. Perhaps it is not my face being kissed by the Sun it’s Persephone and this time its for good. To live in perpetual sun. No more rainy days, icy blasts, taxes, artillery shelling. I shut my eyes and move my face higher up in the air, immersing myself in passionate kisses. In a moment the light and warm kisses  vanish.  My eyes open and scan the horizon where I see a small stray round cloud with a dense grey center passing over the sun completely depriving the vista of its luminescent color. As I scan further I see the grey light chasing the sunlight over the hills far into the distance. Looking behind me,  clouds have moved stealthily from the west amassing like some Zulu force atop a mountain ridge ready to strike. The birds retreat. A chill air creeps in. Nothing moves. It is still and quiet except for the radio

“And in the United States, Sarah Palin told a gathering….”

I shudder again.


Does Demeter listen to the radio?


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The Watercress file meets Fridgegate

Given the apparent heightened interest in the contents of my fridge and pantry by certain circles within the  Country Club enclave Lifes Little Ironies thought it would provide selected highlights of some of the delicious tuck and vittles on display.

Milk, bread butter and cereals are in abundance followed by eggs, bacon and a good selection of vegetables – all courtesy of the local grocery store. I am particular pleased with the home grown tomatoes and carrots but admit that the cream cheese is reaching its Use by Date and the exquisite  chicken liver and pork terrine is an aquired taste. Alas, for those possessing a sweeter tooth, searches for cookies, sodas, chips and candy are likely to come away disappointed.

Forage deeper and you will discover a particularly delicious Baccala Mantecato that would make even the most discerning epicurian gourmand slaver with anticipation. Indeed Tacitus himself would have to draw favorable comparisons with the decadent banquet tables of Emperors  Nero or Augustus albeit flamingo tongues and dolphin sweatmeats  will never grace our table.

But there I go again, wittering away and digressing at the drop of a toque. Why, I hear you musing, would the yummy comestibles elicit such an enquiry from the cosseted community?

I discount Leviathan envy. No, envy here is measured by the number of cylinders in your car, clubs in your golf cart or inches on your flat screen TV. Let us then consider the alternative and scan the virtues. Temperance maybe? I fear not – humility, abstinence and modesty are epithets not normally flung around the well manicured lawns.

I don’t think you would want to mess around with Harry Palmer’s fridge

Dissatisfied,  I eschew  the teachings of the Catholic church for something more exotic and spiritual. Buddhism speaks of “Five Poisons”. Glimpsing the translations- “ignorance”, “delusion”, “arrogance” and “conceit” I sense I am getting warmer but would be naive if I thought study of Buddhist teachings was prominent on anyone’s night time reading list here, so  maybe I should take a more direct approach. What do you think?

The Fridge and Pantry Experience:

New for Summer 2012 you no longer need to schedule your appointment via the Child Protective Service or through Law Enforcement. Township police should also be advised that the self service buffet is closed to late night visits without prior arrangement.





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Climate Change? No (High)Way!

Last summer Life’s Little Ironies took a road trip and drove along the flat, expansive, endless highways of Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. I remember one particular day. It was high noon. The air was as dry as dust and statically charged; the type that makes newspapers crackle as you leaf through its inky pages. The golden wheat was waving majestically in the fields as the sun beat down on the plumb-line straight highway in front of me, disappearing in a mirage of heat ray producing lapping lakes.

I tuned in to the local rock station and turned it up to a deafening crescendo upon hearing the first few bars, appropriate as it was, of Tom Petty

Into the great wide open

Under the skies of blue

Out in the great wide open

A rebel without a clue


In fact my sun roof was also wide open. The wind was rushing through my hair as my forehead collected beads of sweat, which paradoxically made me reach for the air-conditioning dial to achieve that perfect combination of heat and cold. Mechanically, my right foot pressed the pedal further to the floor. I passed 70, 80, 90 and (I hope no law enforcement official from Comanche County is reading this) 110 miles per hour. I could feel my cheeks buffeted by the winds and the adrenalin levels rising exponentially.

From here you can see nowhere

Nearing the end of the second verse the hitherto silent GPS burst in to voice and cutting in on Mr. Petty proffered this advice “The highway terminates in 5 miles” “Surely not” I muttered as I screwed my eyes towards the horizon that still conveyed the appearance of infinite pools of water, magically hovering over asphalt. I groped for my Rand McNally resting on my lap. I pulled it level with my eyes and, sure enough, the blue-veined Eisenhower-designated highway stretched unbroken all the way to the crease at the edge of the map. I sighed contentedly as I turned the map over and my eyes continued to track the thin blue line until, wait! It abruptly stopped. My index finger scratched at the white void where the highway marked line should be. “Must be a stain, or a misprint” I thought dismissively. These thoughts vanished immediately as the Heartbreakers gave way to Talking Heads

“We’re on the road to nowhere

Come onside

We’re on the road to nowhere

We’ll take that ride.”


I love Talking Heads but the song jarred. “Road to nowhere? We’re going somewhere, aren’t we?”

The song faded only to be replaced by one of those impossibly smooth tongued DJ’s who proceeded to update his paltry audience with the latest weather and traffic every 10 minutes. He had repeated the same mantra for the past three weeks.  “Hot’n’sunny with a passin’ stray cloud’. The traffic update was much the same. All main highways were running freely with no hold ups. My mind was beginning to wandering but as he signed off I thought I heard him say the highway was coming to an end. This jolted me back into consciousness. I raised the Ray Bans above my eyes brows and peered again towards the horizon. It was slightly gloomier now as that stray cloud had passed between me and the sun and seemed to cling doggedly to the yellow disc in the sky, preventing it from peeking through. I angrily jabbed at the radio station buttons and alighted on the gravelly tones of Chris Rea

“This ain’t no upwardly mobile freeway

Oh no, this is the road to Hell”

This time I hit the Off button and squeezed the throttle just a little more. Now, I don’t know about you but I still was not convinced about the end of the freeway. It’s true that the Sat Nav had alerted me and increasingly aggressively so, but they are notoriously unreliable especially out it the wilds of Kansas. Indeed, the map seemed to corroborate the GPS but it was more likely the map was just plain out of date and the freeway had  been competed many moons  ago. As for local radio station jockeys, who knows what they have been smoking! I looked at my passengers for reassurance but they seemed tense, rigid, wide-eyed and sweaty. I turned my gaze back to the road but, too late, I saw a red and white boarded road sign with the words “End of Road” undemonstratively, but neatly, painted. As I smashed through the barrier and sailed through the air I grumbled a little as to why the sign writer had not painted the words somewhat larger or at least added an exclamation mark. It was certainly an anti-climactic way to forewarn the termination of the tarmac.


Once in this predicament, dear reader, one’s options are limited. Applying the brakes to slow the descent has a marginal effect, if any, and placing the gear lever in to reverse has even fewer merits even though I affected to do both in order to show I was at least doing something. Shrieking is another way of passing your time as the cool blue azure water at the bottom of the ravine comes into sharp focus as well as the incongruous salmon-colored boulders that litter the water ways in the Wild West. It sure was a pretty, colorful palette

For most people, counting down their last few seconds of mortality, they say their life flashes before their eyes. For me, I savored the metaphorical juxtaposition between my careering towards a rocky ruination and the climate change debate. To wit, as a global community we are informed of evidence that points to anthropogenic (man-made) influences of global warning. We calculate the extent; we can model it thousands of times in labs using the biggest computers and brightest scientists. Statistics spew from their spreadsheets indicating a 2-3.6C warming of the planet in the next 100 years and a 70cm – 90cm rise in sea levels in the same period with all its catastrophic impacts on crops, disease, erosion and clean water sources[1].  We look outside our windows and switch on TV’s and see evidence of smoggy, polluted cities, extreme weather patterns, melting ice caps and flooded deltas. Yet for all this, we are not entirely convinced of these inconvenient factoids enough to let up the accelerator pedal just a tad let alone brake and turnaround. No, we pin our hopes on our vain glorious ability to stop as soon as we read the red and white painted sign or, at the very least, hope that someone else is driving when we come to the end of the global warming highway.

Safe travels!

[1] IPCC Special Report on Emission Studies

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Actually, I don’t need your critique!

Resumes (or C.V’s) are very personal constructions. One’s life is a sum of its parts and through the resume you are exposing your raw self to an unsentimental world and putting yourself “out there” as the saying goes. To further this analogy it’s like placing your profile with a dating agency. You let like minded people know what you like, what “floats your boat” whilst also tentatively outlining what you’re interested in, in such a way as to deter the obvious nutcase but couching the language in a manner that 99% of the populous could imagine that the ad was targeted directly at them. I’m talking as a guy here. We keep our threshold pretty low..

Given this scenario, one might be less than exuberant if we were to see responses to our pictured-profile that poked fun at our big nose, or lack of muscular manliness or doubted our experience in the “ways of the world”

This came true for Life’s Little Ironies when receiving an unsolicited critique of a resume that had been posted to the recruitment web-site. The unrequested free consultation ventured that I lacked dynamism, displayed weaknesses in my skill set and my resume was visually unattractive. This was not the end. There was more. An unspecified spelling or grammatical error had been spotted and I came over as a “doer” not an “achiever”. In short order “you would not pass the thirty second muster” . Whatever that meant.

Fear not dear reader, there is salvation. It seems LLI can be fixed and made more attractive to my suitors. My wishy-washy, namby-pamby personality can be turned into a titan of corporate, Donald Trumpesque brusqueness. Would my savior reveal the secret to eternal CV beauty, have silver-haired HR recruiters beating a path to my corner cubicle clutching the Executive washroom keys between their calcified knuckles? Would he banish the hell of watery coffee, sub-standard canteen food and conceited, yet coquettish eye-candied Cassandras and Charlottes who roll their eyes over me with barely disguised disdain?

Yes, in fact he would if I sent him $374 (this included a 25% discount. He must have really pitied me) and in return he would rewrite my tawdry memoir and transform this poor excuse for humanity with a suaveness only Cary Grant could hold a candle to. (He would even let me pay by installments). How could I refuse this magnanimous gesture? I thought for moment and thought some more. I don’t know what it was but something was not quite kosher.  There was something, let’s say, generic in the critique, boiler-plate, bog-standard even. The more I re-read it the more I thought it was like a palm-reading. Just possibly you could read almost anyone’s resume and make the same assertions.

As courtesy demands, I replied to the offer in these terms as reproduced in the extracts below

“Thank-you for glancing over my Resume….I have learned to steer clear of the vanity-focused, superlative-driven critique that you are implying in favor of substance and logical and progressive career progression. I am not a thirty-second scanner of peoples’ resumes  searching for eye-popping dynamic words that have no bearing on the reality.

I continued

“I think resumes should tell a story that uncovers peoples’ motivations as well as the contexts in which their careers took twists and turns rather than the flat ‘I went here and I achieved this superlatively and then went there and accomplished that brilliantly. The philosopher Diogenes said that ‘three good anecdotes could convey the nature of any man’ and it is a concept that is gaining ground as an antidote to our list-obsessed world.

And finally

“My advice (to myself) is to stick to the facts, avoid the subjective embellishments and give an insight to your personality and motivations through a concise narrative that links your career progression and hope that you are not always subject to the 30 second cursory glance. Yours etc”, 

I am particularly chuffed that I could insert a reference to Diogenes in a discussion about a C.V. This must be a first. Alas, I did not get a reply but I am not surprised that our computer-generated Resume Expert had not been programmed to recognize Greek philosophers and, even less, the loquaciousness of my riposte.

There are two points here, one banal and the other more profound. Firstly, should our success in the job market rely on the prowess of some sweaty, pale-faced ginger-haired programmer with flaky elbows plumbing the depths of Roget’s Thesaurus for dynamic sounding words to fill his algorithm-challenged, resume-recognizing software code?

The second point is about what we expect from our leaders? There is an excellent podcast available from the BBC Radio Four Analysis programme called “Do Leaders Make a Difference?” The conclusion is that most good leaders in politics and the boardroom were borne out an accidental convergence of chance and timing. They were merely present when history happened. Few actually shape  destiny. There are a few exceptions. Churchill is one. Crucially he did not attain the mantle of great leadership by vacuously streaming uplifting soundbites to rally the morale of the nation. No, he was a great leader because articulated the gravity of the situation and mirrored the fears of his kinsfolk.

“Wars are not won by evacuations…Our thankfulness at the escape of our Army…must not blind us to the fact that what happened in France and Belgium is a colossal military disaster” (House of Commons June 4th 1940)

From here he was able to turn a defeat at Dunkirk to his advantage and sow the seeds for victory. These are the types of leaders in politics and industry we deserve. I just fear that Resume Shredder-Pro will not recognize that.


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Colonel Gaddafi’s Bad Day Out

Life’s Little Ironies is feeling a little sorry for Gaddafi. You could image the scene. Gaddafi is spending his days staring wistfully out of the window looking at the heat rays shimmering off the sand blasted, corrugated tin roofs, inspecting his fingernails while performing minute manicures with the tips of his teeth and kicking any limping stray tabby that was unfortunate to connect with his boot. Then Mo’tassim (Mo to his acquaintances) Gaddafi bounds in. “Hey Dad!” (Forgive the poetic license on the salutation, my Arabic is not quite up to snuff. He could equally have said “Praise, to our noble and glorious revolutionary inspiration, be-littler of infidels, victor of Lockerbie, harem dweller of beautifully blond armed bodyguards…..” and so on. These Arabic salutations can go on quite a bit. But no matter, we will stick to the short-form salutation for brevity sake.) “It’s a beautiful day for a drive out in the country. Do you fancy a spin in the Merc?” As he was finishing the sentence he was already salivating at the idea of stopping off at the Libyan equivalent of Mr Whippy for an ice cream cornet with two flake bars as befits an heir apparent of a sun-scorched, sand covered oil well.

Gaddafi curtails his preening for a second. As he slowly licks his lips in anticipation of his first root beer since the outbreak of hostilities, his dark hollow eyes betray more than a hint of caution and concern. “Weellll, I don’t know. Are you sure it’s…..? He breaks off while searching for a euphemistic phrase to describe their predicament. Mo cuts in “Sure” he confidently replies, “This Kulfi-wallah here,” pointing to the prostate man at his feet clasping his hands over his head “ told me he heard it’s a two for one special on Thursday”  oblivious to the true meaning of his father’s apprehensiveness. As if to allay his fears Mo continues slowly, and in a lower tone to the one he had used throughout the preceding dialogue, looks to his left and right then craning his neck towards his father says “Our intelligence is very good” mistaking his father’s quizzical look as one of skepticism over the deeply discounted desserts rather than the American drones hovering overhead. “OK, OK we’ll go!” he says in a rather irritated tone. Sensing he has been a bit harsh he breaks into a smile lifts his arms up and beckoning says “You’re always thinking of your papa” The salutation was actually longer but I promised to keep this brief.

As they stride to the Mercedes it becomes apparent that Mo has invited the Defence Minister, who had been at somewhat of a loose end since his army had deserted.  One thing leads to another, and in the end 20 cars and SUV’s full of dry-throated apparatchiks packed in like sardines head off in search of choc-ice nirvana.

When Gaddafi asked for two scoops of ice cream, he got more than he bargained for

What happens next is still subject to dispute and conjecture but we can be reasonably sure that Mo’s next words were “Are we there yet?” While Gaddafi senior’s were “What’s that up in the sky?” followed by a blinding flash, an ear splitting noise and the smell of burning flesh. He was probably a little non-plussed by this but cognizant enough to remember that his last trip to the beach was slightly more pleasant and much less eventful. As he scampered towards the sewage pipe I wonder if he allowed himself an ironic smirk as he thought about Saddam and Osama in similar dire straits. If he did let his thoughts stray it could not have been long for no sooner had he caught his cardamon-cum-goat stew-laced breath he was being hauled up to terra firma again, cuffed around the ear-hole and roundly sodomized by a bayonet. Then as bad luck would have it some stray bullets that had been whizzing around the vicinity finally struck home into the heads of Gaddafi senior, junior and defense minister as quick as flies to a dead camel. As a member of the Libyan Transitional Government later conceded, Gaddafi had a bad afternoon but Libya had had a bad forty years.

As I scanned the internet for news on this story I found an upload on YouTube that was removed almost immediately. You can see the gruesome spectacle of the last few seconds of Gaddafi’s existence. He is clearly dazed with sweat and blood pouring into his eyes, blurring his vision. A khaki-uniformed soldier raises a .357 Magnum; pointing it right between the eyes . Momentarily Gaddafi looks relieved. He lifts his head a little and says “Thank Allah, at last!. Is this my ice cream?


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A Sermon on the Mount – A GOP Interpretation

Life’s Little Ironies was absent-mindedly watching the TV the other night when I heard a preacher extoll to his flock “Blessed are the wealth creators, for they will inherit a tax free earth” The congregation purred their approval. I looked up thinking I heard misheard. I had, but the gist of the proclamation was correct. As my eyes focused on the pixelated screen, it dawned on me that I was watching a GOP primary debate. Each of the candidates was eager to inform the moderator that raising taxes on the rich would in fact harm the very people it sought to protect – the poor and employed, whom one presumes will become poorer and will have more company in the unemployment queue as they swap tips on where the best soup kitchen is located. We will test that hypothesis later but what struck me was that the audience was in full agreement with the GOP apostles. Was it possible that the invitees all earned above $1million and were concerned where their next yacht was coming from or, and this is a kinder interpretation, that they earned less than a million bucks, had read their economics primers and briefs and putting all self-interest to one side decided, reluctantly, that they only way to kick start the economy was to pour largesse down the rich man’s gullet in the hope that some would trickle out of his backside on the plates of the thronging and grateful unemployed.


Our wealth creators are suffering under Obama

If the second interpretation is nearer the mark then it’s been a great sell by millionaires to get such buy-in for from the rest of us. It’s akin to proverbial turkeys voting for thanksgiving or Death Row inmates calling for the death penalty or Israeli settlers demonstrating for a Palestinian home land. Personally, I think the super-rich have been a bit sneaky. They have gone around to the middle-classes sub-divisions and nudge, nudge wink, wink told them they can shoot up their neighbors with their semi-automatic so long as they keep away from their gated communities on the other side of town. They may have also said “You can have your religion, enlist in the services and get sand in your eyes, and say ‘boo’ to anyone who doesn’t sport a red neck or drive a pick-up . And by the way thanks for that new Lear jet I bought with that tax-break and an oil well would look pretty good in my asset portfolio, if you don’t mind”.
Okay, let’s be charitable and assume that the middle classes are budding Freidmanites who have a Laffer Curve hanging over the mantel piece depicting the limitless additional productivity emanating from lower and lower tax rates. Have our Laffer lovers considered this simple conundrum? If the US is to reduce its deficit it can either do so by cutting expenditure or by raising taxes or a combination of the two. Either way it is going to reduce demand in the economy. But if we reduce public expenditure by $1m or increase taxes on the wealthy by $1m, which one will reduce employment more? Firstly, we can say that state agencies don’t have savings as such so this would be a real reduction in expenditure. Given that their money is spent almost entirely in the US and on US employees you have to think that wages will need to be reduced or headcount cut. On the other hand the wealthy do have savings, that’s why they are called wealthy! An increase in their tax burden might result in lower savings, less consumption of non-essential luxuries, many of which are imported, and may be the axing of the superfluous gardener or secretary. Even if they were going to invest those funds a proportion of those would be invested abroad. The point is, in the short run, the impact on employment is going to be limited compared to cutting expenditure.
Let’s not forget that wealthy pay 15% on most of their income through investment income rather than federal taxes. As for being the great Job Creators, they haven’t set a good example. The biggest companies are sitting on $1.2trillion of cash (a historic high)– not used to invest – not used to hire workers or used to give everyone a pay raise. How many more tax breaks do they need before send their HR out to pressgang the unemployed? Given that tax revenues are at a record low and that the super rich are many times richer than they were 10 years ago before the Bush tax cuts, you’d think, listening to the GOP, that a chance sighting of an unemployed shirker on the the street was as about as rare seeing a nun running a brothel!

How about listening to a sermon sitting on this cash mountain?

The GOP may have persuaded some on Main Street about the virtues of lower taxes rates on millionaires but I will only be convinced when I watch them take their tax breaks, get in their Escalade and drive through the eye of a needle. At which point I will believe they are truly blessed. End of sermon

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The Travails of Irony

The quandary with writing irony is a little like giving to charity. When you channel squillions to deserving causes anonymously you will do an awful lot of good for mankind but no one will share your evident satisfaction in the redistributive largesse you have bestowed upon the unknowing populous. Alternatively, you can set up a foundation and very publicly disgorge your wealth upon the admiring masses and receive plaudits from the great and good and lauding from high and low. The slightly malodorous dilemma is that it can be seen as self-serving and unseemly.

This is also the affliction of great iconic ironic comic writers. Twenty million readers can scan Jane Austen and all they take away with them is the impression of a lot of stuffy people going to house parties or taking picnics up hills overlooking rural England and generally talking rather a lot. On the other hand, twenty thousand irony aficionados can wallow in malapropisms by the hundred weight and multiple misunderstandings. Delight in slights and criticisms that wound or completely by-pass the recipient’s consciousness. Even the smallest faux-par or nuance can have us inwardly smirk as our reading of the text reveals some subtlety we know will be missed by our Kindle kindred. It is the cinematic equivalent of Oliver Hardy staring in to the camera and sharing with the audience that quizzical look of a man who knows he’s living in some ghastly paralleled silver-screen existence, in which indignity upon opprobrium is heaped upon his shoulders. This, in itself, is ironic as we contemplate his presumption of dignity when he clearly does not possess the wherewithal to shin up the pecking order to a position he feels he deserves.  On the other hand, if you inform your reader that you are being ironic you have failed in your mission and you lose all sense of drama and the element of surprise. You might as well let your reader in to the secret that you really don’t advocate eating babies as a solution for Irish famines and consequently lurch in to sarcasm and ad-hominens (More of which later) To sum up the best irony is the kind that is completely lost on whom it is directed and alternatively completed lost on those who utter it.

Well, that's another ironic mess you've gotten me into!

Irony no longer has to live out its life in the dense literary classics of yesteryear. They can also survive in the more febrile social media environment. I would call it micro-irony if I felt presumptuous enough to coin a new literary term. I might also go as far as to say that such writers in this new paradigm would be called micro-ironists. Who is a mirco-ironist? The micro-ironist uses bursts of irony and wit and can emerge from any form of social media using Guerilla type tactics to hit his audience with a volley of irony only to evaporate back in to the general population even before anyone has noticed. I thought I’d give it a go with some ironic comments left on Daily Telegraph blogs to rile the blue blooded bulldogs who inhabit their webpages. Here is my first response to a blog that said we should forget about foreign aid.

I am in full agreement. End foreign aid now! Why should we be funding healthcare initiatives that prevent widespread pandemics across nations due to the hopeless sanitary conditions in sub-Saharan Africa? Let them die, Serves them right! Fund research on new farming techniques that helps prevent blighted and failed crops? Forget it! They should be able to plant their own yams by now. As for one billion people living on less than a dollar a day, while MNC’s repatriate their tax-free profits back to the West to fatten up my portfolio, what’s not to like about that!? For charity begins at home Old Boy, does it not?

The irony being, of course, was that even though I was arguing against Foreign-aid I was extolling all the virtues that foreign aid brings. Amongst all the other comments that were equally dismissive of foreign aid was one who replied to me saying amongst other things “I wish you would die”. Great I thought. He had completely missed the irony. I was even more pleased that 10 other readers had recommended my comment. On closer inspection of all the other comments and recommendations I could not see any, bar my angry correspondent, who was in favor of foreign-aid. I concluded that my recommendations came from those who actually took my comments at face value and had also missed the irony.

I tried again. This time a Telegraph blogger ventured that an alleged comment made behind closed doors and heard third hand via the housemaid, cook and bottle washer that the Tea Party were economic terrorists proved beyond doubt that Obama was presiding over the crassest and nastiest presidency on record. My response was thus:

Nile is right. This is the nastiest presidency on record. Biden’s comments really overshadow Bay of Pigs; Watergate; Agent Orange; Iran-Contra, Guantanamo Bay; Abu Ghraib; rendition; outing CIA agents; non-court sanctioned wire-tapping Ad infinitem. I’m surprised they can sleep at night.

(18 people liked this)

18 people recommended the comment. I am feeling good. Then El_Jungerlo replies with a non-sequitur.

What do you do when times are tight? Cut back on your spending, or go out and buy a new car, or bigger house?
It’s NOT rocket science

Feeling over confident I go in for the kill.

El_Jungerlo. Obviously you didn’t graduate in Rocket Science. Taking your analogy further; if times are tight you don’t buy a bigger car or house for sure. Nor do you stop payments on your car and house and go live under a bridge!

John Bunky chimes in.

Talk about rocket scientist! You reached ad hominem speed in nine words. You could do better than that.

Damn! Hoist on my own ironic petard. I sheepishly replied

“Actually I was going for the laconic irony. But I take your point. How does Lifeslittleadhominem sound?”

(1 person liked this)

Well, at least one person liked it! Maybe I will start giving to charity more publicly in future. Was that ironic?

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Foreign Aid – When is 0.7% just too much?

The next time your boss swings by your office and says “Henderson…” (It might be of course that your name is not Henderson. It could be Hepworth, Hendricks, Hixcock or Hepplethwaite, but no matter, we will stick to the euphemistic Henderson for now) “Henderson…it’s time we re-evaluated your value to “Haynes, Hunter, Hibbotson Higginbotham and Partners” You might be curious that everyone in the firm has a surname beginning with H but you would be more curious about the subtext behind the word ‘re-evaluated’. Would this re-evaluation lead to an upward tick in the career stock of the eponymous Henderson or some downgrading to junk-stock status where-by access to the Executive washing facilties are cruelly denied? The boss observes a slight nervousness descend over our employee followed by a sharp intake of breath and a dryness of mouth as he reaches for his protein-enhanced, water-filled polystyrene beaker. At this point the florrid cheeks and furrowed brow relax on our boss, Harold Hollingsworth-Huntington, and a smile starts to play on his lips. His voice softens and he restarts. “I mean, Henderson, it’s time for your annual pay raise” As Henderson belatedly exhales, Triple H continues to the climatic denouement…the percentage increase. “This year, Henderson. This fiscal year”, he corrects himself. “The board has instructed me to inform you that in recognition of your outstanding performance in the pursuit of the eradication of the dropped “H” that your salary will increase by nought point seven percent.

If you were the aforementioned Henderson you would be forgiven if you were to wince just a little. Or for your hairs on the back of your head to stand upright, a little heat permeate up from your neck, and cheeks redden at the injustice of it all. As it sinks in your shackles may be raised, your fists clench and knuckles whiten. But no, it’s about to get worse for now Triple H is about to justify the meagre monetary morsel. Your head is in a daze but you pick out words in the ensuing Mea Culpa. You hear “Times are tough”, “retrenchment is necessary”, “inevitable sacrifices to be made” and “the wagons are circling” This final slightly awkward idiom brings you back to your senses. Piecing together what has happened you realize that (A) 0.7% is not a big number and (B) there wasn’t much left to dole out in pay raises after the bosses had looked after themselves.

If 0.7% is such a miniscule, grudging, scrimy, stingy number, then why-oh-why do we decry the 0.7% foreign-aid budget as an unaffordable waste of tax-payers hard-earned money? Of course we do not want to see our money wasted and diverted to corrupt Governments (I mean their corrupt Governments not ours!) to fund wars and not get to the people for which it was intended. Nevertheless we seem to gloss over that we either build high barriers to entry or impose protectionst policies to prevent the free trade of goods and services with these developing countries. We find it non-consequential that Multi-National Companies often dictate the terms of foreign direct investment that involve paying little tax to that country. We mock the notion that freer trade would make these countries less dependent on state hand outs and the development of a prosperous middle-class would buy goods and services from The West and actually protect our jobs. We guffaw at the mere mention that much of the foreign-aid is spent on basic health-care, vaccinations and improvements in basic sanitary conditions, which as a member of a civilized society we should be appalled to observe and even more appalled if our Government ignored.

The saying "It is better to give than receive" has given way to "It's better not to give at all"

One more thought for poor Henderson. After Triple H had wafted over to Hopwood minor’s office he noticed that he had left an envelope on his desk. After fishing for his letter opener in his drawer, ripping open the sealed missive and pulling out his salary check, he was astonished to find that his salary had increased by only 0.3%. You see, it is unfortunate that like foreign-aid, companies and Governments make promises that they do not keep. Henderson will just have to wait for better luck and cross his fingers, just like the poor and the sick in developing countries do every year.

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