Friday, July 30, 2004

This week I have been reading 'Two sides of the moon' written by both David Scott and Alexei Leonid. You get the perspectives of both sides of the so-called space race.

What I find especially fascinating is the human side of science. The fact that the Russian space programme was launched by a highly ambitious 'chief designer' and because of him it proceeded. It didn't matter to him that Lenin had imprisoned him for being a scientist, he got what he wanted and had an iron will. It wasn't really the policy that got the Russians in front it was because of the chief designer.

Meanwhile the Americans for all their high ideals, they got their ideas from German rocket scientists. I couldn't believe that they actually took the brains from Germany - Hitler. In both Russia and USA policy wasn't enough. They needed inspired individuals. It just goes to show that in a big organisation you need to have characters, you need sometimes conflict, favouritism, individualism all the things that are being pushed out of big organisations today. Because it is people who achieve things, basic instincts, emotions and no matter what policy statements or 'mission statements' try to achieve this is what motivates people.

We try too much these days to be objective, to allow for everybody. Perhaps we have gone too far. There are very few people who are determined to go the extra mile. They take the idea of what they are expected to do and they toe the line. I have been thinking about this for some time and I call it the Lowest Common Denominator theory. People find the minimum they can possibly do and they stick to that. There is nothing that would make them do anything extra and they see that anyone who tries to do extra getting intimidated and marginalised. How can you be expected to fight off other companies, to work say in government and do amazing work for the community if these people lack motivation, if they simply do exactly what they are told and probably do less that they are told if they can get away with it. There are very few people who are willing to take the risk of doing more than what they are told to do. This means that if you are a customer, or say a patient and you ask for help all you get is a dull blank stare and 'I will do exactly what I am told to do and nothing else'.

The problem is where does this attitude stop, the boss does what he is told by his boss, what about the top boss - he does nothing, just sits and watches everybody else.

Anyway the cosmonauts and astronauts were heroes and all the people involved in the space programmes, there are very few people like them left.

It is like somebody decided to enforce equality, they made everyone equal and they pushed and pushed until the whole system stopped and they realised 'we're not equal' lets just go back to what we were doing.

Friday, July 23, 2004!+Photo+Album/__sr_/a525.jpg?phSfaABBc.H0jMvB

follow this link (hopefully) to see my budgie Olive. Isn't she a supermodel?
I have just finished reading a very interesting article in last weeks 'New Yorker' entitled - 'The Price of Valor'. It was very interesting, it was about battle stress, trauma and how to cope with it.

One of the arguments is that soldiers are taight to kill instinctively, without thinking and this is wrong. You may blank it out that moment but it comes back, basically because the act of killing goes against the natural will of a person. If soldiers were taught to accept the idea that killing in war was morally justifiable then perhaps they could deal with the experience better.

I find it very interesting that soldiers could be studying philosophy, even religion. The author seems to feel the best approach is to introduce more religion. This is certainly a possibility. The USA does seem to have quite a large problem because they have veterans coming home from Iraq where the fighting was in close range and these people are having all sorts of mental health problems. It is probably the same in the UK. In some wars the action may all be at long range but in others such as Vietnam or Iraq, the action is a close range, and apparently the hardest, most traumatic thing is to look someone in the eyes and kill them. It is this moment that haunts veterans and causes trauma. One veteran from Vietnam said he still saw the faces of the people he killed 'almost every ten minutes'.

I find this quite shocking.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I was reading that Henry James advised Logan Pearsall Smith

"There is one word - let me impress upon you - which you must inscribe upon your banner, abd that word is Loneliness."

about writing novels.

Also fits me this week because I am alone in the office!

Friday, July 16, 2004

Here is a quote from a letter by Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams. I was reading the biography of Adams and I found this. It reminds me strikingly of the dilemma proposed by Updike -  "The tricky thing about peace," Bech suggested, "is that it doesn't always come from being peaceable."
“ I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature, and that power whether vested in many or few is ever grasping …
That great fish swallow up the small and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.”
from a letter by Abigail Adams

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I managed to finish 'House of Sand and Fog' while I was away in Donegal over the past few days. It is a brilliant read and at some points it was more like a thriller. The last 70 pages maybe aren't as good as the rest of the book but it certainly does raise some interesting questions. There is a good contrast between the characters, on the one hand the honest ex-colonel of the corrupt shah regime and on the other the corrupt US police officer from the supposed honest police force.

As I said before the Iranian viewpoint is intriguing, the author learnt persian and read about Iranian culture and it is quite perceptive the way the emigrant is always looking back to the old country, trying to figure out if he was right to have been doing the things he was doing.

Essentially the story is about the struggle to do the right thing, what is best, to fight for your family, or to help other people. I must admit I found myself supporting the main character and feeling that it was greatly unfair to force him out of the rewards that he had fairly achieved.

Another issue raised in the story is the idea of individual responsibility. Can an individual stay good in what is a thoroughly bad / corrupt institution. Is it not better to look around and accept that you cannot remain unblemished by surviving inside an organisation that has gone essentially wrong. Or is something like a government so large that there will always be corrupt sectors and good sectors. All this gets complicated when it is not only the individual but the family he / she is supporting. Also you might argue that the best way to change something is from inside rather than staying separate and trying to change it from outside. The impression from the story is that the main character felt he was a 'good' man working in a corrupt institution. Although he may have had suspicions that something was not right he was happy to accept a large salary and support his family. When the revolution came his best friend and all his family were shot and now as he looks back he has to wonder whether he was doing the right thing.

Aside from that I don't really want to tell the whole story here, it has to read and I must admit the writing is good but for me it was the story that made it - un-put-down-able!

Thursday, July 08, 2004

More crazy weeks, last Saturday it was my


I got some great books, including a surprise book from my brother which is really good - 'House of Sand and Fog' by Andre Dubus III. I also managed to get the book on the space race by the US and Russian astronaut. It is fascinating. I have found out that Yuri Gegarov's favourite book was 'The Old Man and the Sea' by Hemingway.

I also got a book by Henning Mankell and 'The Iliad'. And a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare and a DIY guide. Rather a lot of books in fact and we'll have to see which ones get read.