Sunday 27 January 2013

Jumping on the band waggon

It is always mildly frustrating when people who have remained silent on an issue for months or years suddenly claim, “I always felt X was corrupt/incompetent/bone idle” or “Martin is quite right. The current system for doing X, Y or Z simply doesn’t work.”

I find myself wanting to ask them, “Where were you when I was saying exactly the same thing five years ago?” “What support, covert or overt, did you offer me when I first raised the matter - long before it was fashionable or politically correct to do so?”
I don’t think for a minute that in most cases the band waggon-jumpers as I call them suddenly changed their collective minds just before deciding to speak out. Almost certainly most of them agreed with my opinions for some time before they plucked up their courage to go public. To me they lacked the moral fibre to speak out until the tide of public opinion was clearly flowing in their favour.

Sometimes it can years before the truth about a person or organisation emerges into the full glare of public scrutiny. To me what makes battles of this type worth fighting is that eventually the whole story almost always does come out and it can be very satisfying to know that events have proved me right.

At the moment I only have three campaigns on the go. Of these one is nearing completion and my “gut feeling” about the person, negative as it was, has been shown to have been over-optimistic. The other two issues have been rumbling on for years but the evidence base is building up and the tipping point might be quite close. I remain optimistic.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Endemic misinformation and the AAVSO!

What is the link between Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)?

Goebbels worked on the basis that endless repeating the same lie was a highly effective way of making large numbers of people believe it. So it is with some of the senior people in the AAVSO. Goebbels also was a firm believer in the old maxim that “the end justifies the means.” So it is with some of the senior people in the AAVSO.
It was impossible to have any meaningful political debate in Nazi Germany. It is similarly impossible to have a meaningful scientific debate on the economic, ethical or scientific merit of some of the activities of the AAVSO. Within the AAVSO dissent is seen as evidence of disloyalty. Dissent, or as more reasonable people might put it, an alternative perspective, is something to be ignored or censored. When all else fails what we describe in the UK as “playing the man, not the ball” is undertaken.

Despite any protestations to the contary senior colleagues within the AAVSO were just as unresponsive to my comments or questions when I was a subscription paying member as they were after I had resigned. The “answers” I received – sometimes 12 months after my initial contact – were masterpieces of misinformation. Almost inevitably the "answers" or “facts” shared with me were either demonstrably false or were based on nothing more than wishful thinking or on a systematic rewriting of history.
As I said in May 2012, “The vast majority of the work carried out by the members, officers and paid employees (of the AAVSO) has been of a high standard - which makes the endemic bad practice that prevails when “something goes wrong” all the harder to explain.” This is presented as me disliking the AAVSO which just goes to show how anxious some people in the Association are to avoid accepting responsibility for recent problems of their own making.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Collecting postal history (2)

In an earlier posting I identified the criteria that might cause me to reject a country as a possible candidate for a postal history collection. It is now time to move on to consider in more detail those countries that haven’t been eliminated and then to put together a short list of possibilities.

South America – There doesn’t seem to have been much published on 20th century postal rates and without this information “writing up” covers is almost impossible. Although it might be possible to locate Post Office Guides that would tabulate this data I assume they would have been written in Spanish or Portuguese neither of which I speak. On the plus side there is a reasonable quantity of material available and, I assume, relatively little competition for it since most of the auction lots I examined had attracted no bids.

Colonial Africa (the non-English speaking parts) – Information does exist on the postal history of French West Africa but I imagine that the quantity of mail coming out of these countries is relatively small which, to me, would imply that that anything other than the first-tier letter rate covers would be in short supply and highly prized (and priced). At least I do understand enough French.
Eastern Europe – Language is the main barrier here. Logic dictates that substantial quantities of 20th century postal history must exist but without the skills required to decipher postal marking differentiating the common from the scarce and rare seems too big a challenge. It certainly isn't impossible that I might do a more detailed survey of what is available sometime in the future.

Scandinavia – I’m prepared to bet that somebody somewhere has published information on postal rates but again my poor language skills are a major barrier.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Collecting postal history

The first challenge for the postal historian is to decide what to collect. One approach is to eliminate countries or eras that do not appeal or that are impractical – it can be quite surprising how long the list of rejects can be!

I don’t speak Chinese, Russian or any of the non-English languages spoken on the Indian sub-continent and in my eye that is an almost insuperable barrier to creating a high quality collection of these areas. Much of the Indian material also suffers from heavy climatic discolouration and I would take no pride in displaying tatty-looking material however rare it might be.
Other countries are too expensive to collect – either because I would be in competition with other, far more wealthy, collectors who have forced prices of even quite plentiful material sky-high (19thcentury USA would be a good example of this) or because large quantities of material never existed and what does exist is being chased by a, albeit much smaller, group of enthusiasts.

Another constraint is where all the interesting or unusual covers are held in a few, sometimes a very few, exhibition quality collections -effectively leaving nothing for everybody else. Just try to locate decent material from the Orange Free State to see what I mean. This doesn’t always have to be expensive material. I am aware of one massive hoard of Guyana provisional stamps on commercial covers that is in private hands. This was put together in the 1980s when the stamps were issued and I am tolerably certain that no other significant stocks exist.
Next time – after the deletions, what is left?

Saturday 5 January 2013

Mentoring young people (2)

You should never get involved with mentoring young adults unless you are prepared to accept that you will never hear the end of their story.  I always use the analogy of travelling to a foreign country – I might be the person who takes them to the airport, or I might be the pilot of the plane, or the coach driver at the other end or even the hotel receptionist. I play a role, perhaps a quite important role, in that young person’s life but eventually my time helping them must come to an end.
Yes it can be quite upsetting when this happens. You will have invested lots of time and emotional energy and it leaves a gap in your life when you realise that the relationship has come to an end. When it is a quick, clean break it isn’t so bad, particularly if the young person has found stability and happiness in their life.

When it becomes really quite unpleasant is if you know that your client is still deeply troubled or unhappy or when the decision to break all communication isn’t by mutual consent. If you have exchanged emails on a weekly basis for many months it can seem really hurtful when the messages suddenly stop and all your attempts to get back in touch are ignored. If this is something that you feel would be unendurable then I would have to say that being a mentor for a care leaver probably isn’t the best job for you.
I have been fairly lucky. None of my long-term projects have ended messily but in my head I realise that one day it is bound to happen and that I will have to be a “big brave boy” about it.      

Friday 4 January 2013

The great leap out of the Middle Ages.

I get tired of people throwing Bible verses at unsuspecting Facebook readers. This is something I came across many years ago, and I still laugh every time I read it.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to the French but not to the Scots. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Scots?

2. I would like to sell my daughters into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for them?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath when he drives to Church Stretton to buy a newspaper. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My Brother-in-Law is a farmer. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.