Jagged edges

(Estimated reading time: 1 minute 30 seconds)

I’ve watched the recent events in Charlottesville with a mixture of fascination and horror. As I’ve been doing so, two quotations have strayed across my path.


No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin…

Nelson Mandela

HT: Amy Cuddy

If accurate (and I believe that it is), this means that our preferences, biases and obsessions are based on culture. So, we must choose to pick up a flag with a swastika; carrying a burning torch; wear a white hood. But why would you?

Then I came across this quotation:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

 George Bernard Shaw

HT: Shane Parrish @ Farnam Street

Clearly, I don’t condone the ugly face of white supremacy that is evident in Charlottesville. But from the comfort of my liberal, privileged, white life on the other side of the Atlantic I’m puzzled and intrigued. What triggers this reaction in the modern day United States? What are the threats (real or perceived) to white people? Do they see the echoes of history in their actions?

But most of all… why do they choose a path of hatred? And, why is it not condemned in the clearest possible terms by the President?

And, why is it not condemned in the clearest possible terms by the President?

I feel that these events have exposed something about the human condition. And, as we look into the jagged edges of unreason, I am left with the outrage and questions. But mostly, I’m left with outrage.


A puzzle in a picture

A puzzle in a picture

(Estimated reading time = 2 minutes)

The idea for this entry came from Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. I was listening to the episode about ‘The Foot Soldier of Birmingham‘ and half-formed questions were occupying my brain. I’m still not clear about the questions, so it’s not surprising that I don’t have any answers.

What’s the story?

This photograph became an iconic symbol for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was taken in 1963, when Martin Luther King visited Birmingham, Alabama. In the photo, it seems like the police officer is setting his dog on a ‘foot soldier’ of the civil rights movement. In fact, the young man – later identified as Walter Gadsen – was an onlooker. He was not part of the civil rights movement. The police officer – Dick Middleton – was restraining the dog.

But the photo – taken by Bill Hudson – was used to show police brutality. Some say that it had a major impact in changing views about the civil rights movement. This seems like a good outcome. But do the ends justify the means? By all accounts, Bill Middleton was a good police officer who treated people equally. Is it right that he should be portrayed as a villain?

Is it right that an incident that was distinct from the protest should be used to illustrate it? What are the responsibilities of the photographer and his editor? Is this an example of fake news?

The art

Much later, this incident was depicted in a sculpture. the details have been changed quite significantly to make a point. The young man is much smaller, the dog more vicious, the police officer more menacing.

Somehow, I feel happier with these changes. For me, the passing of time and the abstract nature of the sculpture lets me know that I’m looking at something that is conveying a message more than showing a specific act.

Is that right? Is my position ethically sustainable? Can my questions about the photo be swept aside when I look at the statue?

Let me know what you think. or what questions this generates for you.

(I also referred to ‘On the wrong side of history‘  while writing this entry.)

The forgotten history of autism

This is a fantastic TED talk full of interesting information, and some clear, pertinent insights. Two key points towards the end of the talk struck home to me:

the “cure” for the most disabling aspects of autism is to be found in understanding teachers, accommodating employers, supportive communities, and parents who have faith in their children’s potential.

In short, we’ve all got a role to play, and a responsibility to fulfil.

Then by inverting perspectives we can see things differently:

By autistic standards, the normal human brain is easily distractable, obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail.

It’s worth investing 15 minutes of your day to watch this.



Building the Great Wall

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a colleague and to illustrate my point I mentioned how the Great Wall of China was built.  There wasn’t a master plan to build one continuous wall from A to B, progressing smoothly mile by mile as the wall extended.  It started as a series of fortifications, which eventually were connected.

English: The Great Wall of China
Image via Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia, the Great Wall is made up of 6,259.6 km (3,889.5 mi) sections of actual wall, 359.7 km (223.5 mi) of trenches and 2,232.5 km (1,387.2 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers.

The point that I was making is that we don’t always need to have a detailed plan before we get started on something.  In some cases, if we (metaphorically) build our fortifications at the points of greatest need, we can come back and join things up at a later stage.

Of course, sometimes there IS merit in standing back and spotting where it would be good to make the connections.

Subsequently, I was also intrigued to find that a new section of the Great Wall has recently been discovered using Google Earth.  The harmony of ancient and modern?

>The Freedom Trail



Before I begin properly, can I just say that I know how boring other people’s holiday snaps can be. So I’ve put them in a video thingy – you can choose to look at them or not. It’s entirely up to you and I won’t be offended if you choose not to.

One of the main features of the tourist-y side of Boston is the freedom trail – a red line that’s painted or embedded in the pavements leading from Boston Common to the Bunker Hill monument (or the USS Constitution, depending which route you follow at the last wee bit). Fortuitously our hotel was right on the trail towards the end – this was a handy navigational aid for us.

On our first full day we followed most of the trail – working backwards. This meant that we were going against the flow (aye, I know – nothing new in that for me), but also that we saw things from a slightly different perspective. Anyway wandering through the streets of the North End was really fascinating (although there did seem to be a lack of coffee shops open!)

By lunchtime we had arrived at Faneuil Hall where the ‘patriots’ plotted the Revolution. Anyway, right next to Faneuil Hall is Quincy Market, which is a great place to eat and be entertained. The central section of the Market is wall-to-wall food outlets serving almost every sort of cuisine – except haggis! Outside you’ll find street entertainers. Later on we discovered (or were misled if it’s not true!) that the performers have to audition to be allowed to do their stuff around the Market. They don’t get paid by the Market, they earn whatever passer-by ‘tip’ them. Some of them were really good. We saw a very good and funny juggler/clown, a group of kids doing breakdancing or hip hop or something (not sure about these sort of categories) and a very good singer/songwriter. I really liked her stuff – a bit of Suzanne Vega maybe? She’s called Cheryl B Engelhardt and if you look very closely you can see her in the bottom left corner of one of my photos. (What do you mean you didn’t look at them? I’m officially offended!) Cheryl has a website – it’s worth checking out and you can hear tracks from her second album on her myspace page.

Back to the Freedom Trail – it meanders on through the city centre past various sites of interest until it reaches Boston Common. If you’re ever in Boston it’s worth the walk, and you can get guided tours from the Park Rangers in period costume. However, I’d recommend taking one of the trolley tours, which will also let you see other parts of the city.

They may not have as much history as us, but they do it well – and probably know their history a lot better than we know ours.

>Religious extremism … in Dunkeld!!

>More ponderings/ramblings on our visit to Dunkeld yesterday.

The wee cathdedral is “a game of two halves”. The original cathedral was destroyed during a fit of un-controlled iconoclasm during the Scottish Reformation in 1560. The leaders of the Reformation ordered that the statues and icons and such-like should be removed, but that the building should not be damaged. The zeal (or greed?) of the mob got the better of them and the cathedral was destroyed.

I’m pleased to say that there is still an active, lovely wee kirk at one end of the building (unlike St Andrews where something similar happened).

Powerful thing, religious emotion – easy to incite, difficult to control. Sounds familiar?

It strikes me that it’s all too easy to judge the motives and behaviours of others – but if we look at our own history, there are parallels that are due to human behaviour – not creeds or beliefs.