It was the turning of the 89/90 decade. I was in Berlin for New Year’s Eve. Fireworks were only allowed then To celebrate the turning of the year. I was at a party well away from the wall But had this urge to move up on up to it.
We made it just in time! A large crowd swarming Five hundred metres way up to the Brandenburger Tor. That symbolic centre of both the wall and Berlin herself. There was a determined push towards the gate Both in front and behind us, surging like a tidal wave As if the whole crowd moved with a collective psyche.
And then the fireworks began. Lighting the sky above. The dark shadow of the gate ahead, I could move Neither back, nor left, nor right, but only forwards. As more and more people joined the push Towards the tiny gap only created a few weeks before On, on, on, there was no going back.
I then realised I had no passport. My friend from Berlin Was allowed to go through with no papers, but I should not. Too late! The powerful crowd took that decision for me. We were pushed through the tiny gap and there – On the other side were two 12 ft replica cans of Coca-Cola! The American marketing machine had beaten us to it!
Illegal or not, there were no guards: it was a surge to freedom. We were discharged out onto the Unter den Linden, The boulevard of lime trees on the Eastern side of the gate. A calm peace after the hectic push and scrabble. We spent an hour or so soaking up the atmosphere Before returning back home to the Western side.
Elias Canetti, summed up in his 1960s book “Crowds and Power”: The crowd always wants to grow – it has no natural boundaries. Within the crowd there is equality. Differences … are irrelevant. The crowd loves destiny … it can never feel too dense. The crowd needs direction … and moves towards a goal. And so it was. The wall collapsed to create modern-day Europe.
Once upon a time in a land far from here there lived a wise King. As he neared the end of his life, his barons gained in strength and the King was forced to pass many laws which gave away power. The kingdom became a less certain place.
The King’s eldest son, (nicknamed “The Prince of Promises”) was a quiet and thoughtful man, but was unsure of his own position in the court. He was full of good ideas and promised many things to many people when he would become King – but few now listened to him for they thought his promises were empty.
Time passed and the King became ill. Whilst he lay on his death bed, the Prince asked his father “What is the one thing that you have learnt that you want to tell me before you pass on?”
The father said “Go and seek counsel from the wise man in the mountains. He has taught me so much. He lives in an old hut that has a blue door and with a yellow circle. Ask him about the story of the grains of salt”.
When the King finally passed away, there was a week of mourning. Soon after, the recently crowned Young King (who some now called the King of Promises) set off to the mountains to seek out the wise old man. The court, by then, was running itself with the barons creating much discontent and division in the lands.
After several weeks of travel through some very treacherous areas, the Young King arrived at a modest hut which had no sign, save the blue door with the yellow circle. He knocked and a voice said “Please come in”.
The wise old man was very natural and very gentle and said “Ah, you must be the Prince”. The Young King said “No longer a Prince. My father died last month and I am now King and have come to seek your counsel.”
Within the hour, the Young King was relaxed and finally mustered the courage to say to the wise old man “My father told me on his death bed to ask you about the story of the grains of salt. Can you tell it to me, please?”
The wise old man sighed and said “Of course!”. He lit up a pipe, drew deeply on it whilst closing his eyes. He then started to hum with a low droning noise before reopening his eyes. Looking directly at the Young Prince he started the story.
“When your father was much younger, the land was in chaos. There had been a civil war and the barons were very powerful. Your father had a good mind, which was full of many good ideas, but he had trouble putting them into practice. Before he had time to act on one thought, another would enter his mind. Maybe you have some of that in you?” he asked with a wry smile, knowing the Young King’s former nickname of the Prince of Promises.
The Young King nodded in agreement. The wise old man continued.
“Ideas are like grains of salt. There are many ideas and many grains of salt in this world. However, a single idea that is shaped into something that others understand is like 10 grains of salt. An idea that is shaped further into something that can help solve a problem is like 100 grains of salt. An idea that is shaped further into something that for people to buy because it is valuable to them is the equivalent to 1000 grains of salt. And an idea that is so useful that the majority of the kingdom will buy into it is worth a mountain of salt.”
“And so it is, Young King.” he continued. “Be careful about who you share your many ideas with and who you give your promises to. The effectiveness of your reign will be dissolved very quickly unless the ideas that you have are simple enough to explain and useful enough to grow into the larger mountains of wisdom that you will be remembered for.”
The Young King thanked the wise old man and a day or two later, he returned to the Capital of his Kingdom. On his return he spoke a lot less, gave out far fewer promises and was much more considered in his ideas and opinions. He also listened a lot more to his subjects before laying down any new laws. His subjects said that he had been transformed from the Prince of Promises into the King of Contemplation. Some even called him the Salt King – for he re-told the story to many in his court.
He ruled for a further 35 year and although he made very few new laws, each one was very effective. At his bequest, he was buried under a nearby mountain – which was made entirely of pink salt.
To this day, that mountain still exists in the Himalayas.
Last Thursday, I had a meeting with a business colleague. We had only met once before – but somehow the energy felt really good between us. Conversation flowed. Ideas bubbled to the surface. Creative spirit abounded.
During the conversation, it became apparent that I had talked in our previous meeting about intuition. I had forgotten this – but it is something I have recently become very interested in. In summary, it’s the idea that the world is far too “mental” and that many have lost touch with their intuitive guidance system – based around the heart. I’m also a strong believer in the idea that everything is connected.
And so it was, just by chance (as happens when browsing the internet) I came across this video below:
I don’t know too much about the organisation behind the video – but just love the overall theme, messages and visuals. It somehow helps us to remember things we have forgotten or lost – so we can get back into the life-force and remember who we are.
The recent events in Iraq and the rise of ISIS as a regional power makes one wonder what all of the Western intervention in the region has achieved. It reminded me of reading a book written back in the 1960s – Masse ind Macht (or Crowds and Power) by Elias Canetti.
Canetti was not an academic. He was an intelligent observer. I read the book after visiting Koln for a Beerfest. It made me understand a lot more about why and, perhaps how, Hitler came to Power. I’m not sure if it is a particularly German thing. But if you get a load of folk from that part of the world, give them beer and get them roused by a speech from someone you can barely see the other end of the room who is booming on a loudspeaker, then the binding, tribal atmosphere becomes extraordinary.
The entry in Wikipedia about the book is short:
(The book) is notable for its unusual tone; although wide ranging in its erudition, it is not scholarly or academic in a conventional way. Rather, it reads like a manual written by someone outside the human race explaining to another outsider in concise and highly metaphoric language how people form mobs and manipulate power. Unlike most non-fiction writing, it is highly poetic and seething with anger.
On asking questions: “On the questioner the effect is a feeling of enhanced power. He enjoys this and consequentially asks more and more questions; every answer he receives is an act of submission. Personal freedom consists largely in having a defense against questions. The most blatant tyranny is the one which asks the most blatant questions.”
The thought I particularly like is the idea that, for every question asked, the questioner has an enhanced sense of power and those who give answers are each time submitting to those in power. For me, this is a subtle definition of personal freedom. We have choices to submit or not to submit. To answer questions or to have a defense against those questions.
In the context of the current world order, then, who asks the questions of those who are bullys? Perhaps that is another dimension to the problem. But certainly, in the businesses that I work within, the person asking the difficult and cleverer questions is the person who sees him or herself in authority.
It was brilliantly articulated by a friend of mine this week who related the story of an ex-boss of his (now very senior in a UK PLC).
OK, please show me your plans. How exactly are you are going to achieve your objectives by the end of this financial year?
Stutters, shows plan (covering up the areas that he does not want unpicked). Relief at presenting plan.
OK. thanks for that. Now tell me what question I should have asked you that would have exposed the real weakness in your plan?
Questioners and Bullys. The world is full of them each seeking their own power. The question for the majority of us, surely, is how to expand the footprint of personal freedom whilst ensuring that the spirit drummed-up such as that described in Canetti’s Crowds and Power does not promote dictators, terrorism and crime. The pictures in the video above have an uncanny resemblance to the atrocities that have been happening in Iraq in the past few weeks. Yet the strategies and tactics to prevent such acts seem to have developed little in the past hundred years. Time to think of a better way.
This week three events happened that highlighted to me that the way that the world owns, controls and governs the 7bn people on the planet is under extreme pressure. Yet signs that the new world is responding in sensible and more conscious ways are encouraging.
As the old-world sovereign-states governments try to balance their own budgets and wrestle with their own, unique, local problems, multinational companies increasingly put two fingers up to them to avoid paying corporation tax. Apple is a good example which, this week, apparently saved over $9bn in tax with a “bond manouever”. If you were Tim Cook, you’d probably have done the same. Yet the countries that need the tax revenue to help get themselves out of the debt that they have are being out-manouevered by the multinational tax avoidance network that serve the corporate giants that belong to no country and are accountable to, well, their shareholders, of course. Big companies seem to get it all their own way.
In the middle east, even after all the investigations over the justification of the Gulf War and whether or not Saddam Hussein did or did not have weapons of mass destruction, we are fed confusing news that civilians are being sprayed with nerve gas in Syria – and that West military intervention is, once again, becoming more intellectually justifiable. Soil samples have degraded and there is not enough evidence for going to war. So we have to wait.
Yet there are interesting counter-pressures. As a beekeeper, I have been keenly following developments on the EU which, this week, voted for a two-year restrictions on the nerve-agent pesticides (called neonicotinoids) blamed for the dramatic decline global bee populations. The EU decided on a narrow majority of 15/27 votes. The UK was one of eight countries that voted against the ban in spite of a petition signed by 300,000 people presented to Downing Street last week by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett. The Independent has also campaigned to save Britain’s bee population. The British government’s choice to vote against the ban was based on the fact that “there was not enough evidence” that bees were being affected – and that the samples in various tests had been contaminated. The uncanny similarity between degraded soil samples from Syria and contaminated samples that voided tests for the bees made me think: how convenient! How convenient it is for a government or a leader to ignore evidence when “tests are inconclusive” or when the “evidence is not clear”. No decision is better than a decision that you could be held accountable for!
However, we beekeepers must thank the internet protest networks – led by Avaaz.org – who managed to get enough support in countries (other than the UK) to swing the vote against the vested interests of Bayer and others who have, until now dominated the decisions taken in our food chain – from the seeds we plant, the agricultural methods we adopt through to the quality of foods we eat.
The bees have a short respite and Avaaz is now pursuing the real Dark Lord in the battle for Mother Earth. Go on. Vote. It can only help a growing wave of public opinion to counter the madness of global corporate arrogance that they are accountable to no one.
I believe that there is hope for us all with this new type of democracy emerging. The vote to ban neonicotinoids was a turning point for me. It would appear that these online campaigns really are starting to get policy makers in multinationals to think again and change their minds. They have a new body that they need to recognise – and a protest can come from nowhere and expose issues is uncontrollable ways. PR companies and even newspapers are becoming less and less effective in this new world of informed internet politics and political activism. Even governments must be encouraged as it gives them a new reason to act, not just sit on the fence because “there is no evidence”. After all, most of them want to get voted back into power.
Interested to know what you think – please do leave a comment below.
I was very privileged last year to submit evidence to the House of Lord’s Communications Committee on their report “Broadband for All”.
Below is The Earl of Selbourne’s summary of what needs to be done from his speech on Monday evening when the report was debated in the Lords:
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I join others in thanking the chairman, my noble friend Lord Inglewood, for the way in which he chaired the committee and introduced the debate today. From the speeches that we have heard, it is clear without doubt that the future of our economy will depend to a large extent on our ability to connect to broadband throughout all communities and sections of the population. It is not just about wealth creation and social cohesion. The ability to participate in healthcare and whole tranches of public activity will depend on connectivity. The Government must have a policy, and the Government are right to have a policy, but perhaps, as we have said in our report, they have been preoccupied by one aspect, which is to try to be the leader in Europe on superfast broadband.
The first priority has to be to achieve connectivity. If you have excluded populations, you will have a social divide and a lack of social cohesion. The Government need not worry about speed. That will follow. There are not very often market failures when it comes to cities. I therefore agree with those who have said that to spend money on improving superfast provision in cities is not something that the Government need to worry about if the market can do it itself. But there will be market failure in remote areas, where the costs of pushing out the broadband structure are too great. There will be market failure where the incumbents have an advantage, which inhibits other incomers who can help to provide some of the very many solutions that will be required to get this connectivity to all parts of the population. That is something that we are failing to harness—the undoubted innovation and enthusiasm from local communities, small and start-up companies, all of which would have a contribution to make. We go into some detail in the report. It gets pretty dense, I admit, when we talk about things such as passive optical networks and physical infrastructure access. But this is the key to it.
At the moment, we have what my noble friend Lord Inglewood called “the only show in town” for many rural areas. Whether we like it or not, because it is in the very nature of broadband to have high fixed costs, low marginal costs and great economies of scale, inevitably the incumbents will have a strong advantage. I think that we should be proud of what BT has done. It has improved enormously, by technical innovations, the ability to provide broadband on the existing infrastructure. Of course, it is rolling out broadband at great speed. It says that it hopes to achieve 90% coverage by 2017, but that immediately begs the question as to whether in national terms that is a satisfactory objective. I would certainly say, particularly as I am from a rather remote corner of the rural community and likely to be one of the 10% left out, that it is not satisfactory. So let us see what we can do to achieve that connectivity well before 2017. I do not think that anyone has mentioned yet the 4G mobile broadband technology, which is very soon to be with us and will certainly provide greatly enhanced mobile internet access to areas within adequate connectivity.
There are many different contributions to be made. The case for government involvement and public funds to be deployed rests, as I say, on achieving this reduction of the digital divide. The long-term solution will, ultimately, be fibre to the premises and the home. As others have rightly said, the cost of rolling out fibre to the home is exorbitant. We have a temporary solution, and a good one—the BT solution of fibre to the cabinet. It achieves the objective of reducing dramatically the costs. Usually, you have copper or some other connection from that cabinet. But whether BT likes it or not—it is in something like denial over this—it has the disadvantage that it does not provide open access, as I would understand it. In other words, as a local access network provider, you cannot simply move in with a compatible bit of machinery, stick it in there and do what you are trying to achieve. It is not an open access hub, as we have tried to demonstrate. That is where you come back to the technology of the passive optical network, which is a bit of a fix, as those will know who have read the report with great care. It certainly does not achieve what some of those independent service providers would have hoped for.
I think that the Government should ask quite firmly that, for the next tranche of money, which we hear will come in 2015, there should be proper open access. It is not beyond the wit of man. Clearly, there is no great financial advantage to the incumbents to roll out proper open access, but that is what is needed. If it is what is required, that is what will happen. It must be future proofed. We know that the technology changes dramatically fast. We know that some of the existing solutions, including the cabinet, will not stand the test of time for very long, but the fibre-optic cable will. Ultimately, it will be able to handle this vast amount of information. Therefore, we must make sure that as we improve the broadband infrastructure, we have the ability to upgrade and upgrade. That is why I say that, frankly, the cabinets are not very easily upgraded. You have to go back to the exchanges and think again. That is why we should look on them only as a temporary expedient.
When public money is distributed to extend the commercial network, as is happening at the moment, the Government should insist on the long-term solution. We took evidence from a particularly impressive consultant, Mr Lorne Mitchell, who is setting up a community scheme in Goudhurst, Kent. I think he was the first to put it to me how important it was for local groups to be able to access the middle mile and to get the backhaul back into the infrastructure. He said that the key to the problem is the openness of the middle mile, which is the connection back to the internet. If this can be designed in a way that gives each community a chance to get to one of these community hubs, it would be a massive leap forward. That is precisely what the committee report has tried to promote. I think it makes a lot of sense. However, the government response simply quoted a report which said that it was unrealistically expensive to have hubs in every community, and so it would be if you were to launch it all overnight. However, ultimately, it would be no more expensive than the cabinets. It is the same technology but it is a question of making sure that when you roll out the hubs, you do what you are not doing at the moment with the cabinets, and that is making them available to all. To say that they will cost far in excess of the funds available to the Government at present, as the government response does, simply misses the point. If the Government can fund any hubs such as cabinets or exchanges, they should be accessible to the community and to other providers. This simply requires a change in specification, not a change in the scale of funding.
I hope the Minister will recognise that, however impressive BT’s record of rolling out broadband is—it has, indeed, been most impressive—the interests of the BT shareholder and of wider society, particularly the 10% in rural communities who will remain without adequate connectivity in 2017 if present policies are continued, are not always the same.
There is a much better and fairer way to make the UK’s telecoms infrastructure truly open and competitive – and also give much better value-for-money to the government’s interventions. The Lords highlighted the way – but the vested interests put a cloud over the path. Many assume because BT Openreach is called “open”, then it is open. It is not. Never has been. Never will be. Clever marketing.
In spite of many other schemes being “rolled-up” by the BDUK closed scheme where only BT can win, we are letting the Government and the English Counties inject the biggest single donation to BT’s balance sheet in a lifetime. Definitely not the best way to invest government money. Definitely not an open debate in the House of Commons on how to do it differently. Only in the House of Lords.
I am really pleased to say that we were told this week that the Goudhurst Broadband scheme that I presented to the Communications Committee is still going strong – with great support from Kent County Council and our Local Parish Council. You can find more at one of my other blogs: http://www.goudhurst.net I also blog about the final 10% (last point above) at http://www.finalninth.com – so for those who wondered what I do outside writing Thursday Thoughts – then this is some of it!
Let’s hope the Lords’ Report continues to be read and championed and that Monday was not the end of the work of trying to develop a new set of really good ideas for next generation internet access distribution for the UK.
As we leave 2012, there are many things we may remember which, for those that live in the UK, can be summed up as a year of broken records:
The driest spring for 100 years followed by the wettest 9 months since records began
The summer Olympic and Paralympic games that smashed many World, Olympic and Paralympic records
The Diamond Jubilee celebrations with cheery faces, street parties and that magnificent pageant on the Thames. (Although the Queen did not break the record as the longest-serving British Monarch – she is in good health to take the record from Queen Victoria in three years time with 64 years on the throne).
The “broken record” of economic doom, debt mountains, fiscal cliffs, war, murder, hunger etc. etc.
…..and what should not be forgotten – our own personal records – whatever they might have been.
As we enter 2013, it is the time of year where we look back and look forward. Remember and try to stretch our minds to a New Year.
If there is one thing that I will remember, above all else, it was the power of the “Games Makers”.
Through economic gloom and despondency and the ever sharper and more graphic accounts of murder and mayhem around the world, the Games Makers surely showed us how to make a difference. Whatever is going on in the world, each individual can volunteer to create their own, brighter future. A powerful message for me from 2012 that I was not expecting to receive!
I hope all readers have an extraordinarily successful New Year and the best of luck with breaking your own records in 2013!
My father used to have a phrase that he used from time to time when something inexplicable happened. “Powerful Forces are at Work” he would say. In the past week or so, I have had a very strong feeling that somehow the universe is reconfiguring itself and that powerful forces truly are at work. This is a difficult feeling to articulate – but the it got me thinking about our personal turning-points, crossroads and moments of truth that make us change and grow as we go through lief . Naturally, we can all share in global turning points like the economic crisis. But the ones that are closer to home, the ones that are personal and sometimes painful; the ones that are more subjective . These are a lot more powerful change agents than the blah-blah we get from the constant barrage from the media, news and modern-day consumerist group-think. Indeed, the Transition Movement is a collection of such ideas – interestingly portrayed in the Wordle below:
And so it was that we passed 12:12 on 12/12/12 today. It marked another milestone for Susie and me – because we got engaged at 7:07 on 7/7/07 and our subsequent wedding was on 8/8/08. Apparently there were more people married on 12/12/12 than at any other time in history! These dates seem to hold a romantic charm. We won’t have any more quite like that unless you plan to live until 01/01/2101. Most of us will be long gone by then!
Transitions in time are made more meaningful when there are coincidences – in this case with a string of numbers lining-up. We still have one more this month on 21/12/12 – which is, apparently, the end of a cycle in the Mayan long-count calendar. Some predict disasters, others a transition of the human race to a new level of consciousness. Yet others think it will pass without incident.
But what if this month truly was a major transition and a marked positive shift in human consciousness? What would that shift feel like? What would each of us be doing differently as a result of it? How would our behaviours change towards our selves, each other and towards the environment? What small changes could we individually make that would create a big difference in 2013?
In the run-up to New Year’s Resolution time, it is something to think about, anyway! I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
In my research on swarms, I came across this extraordinary video of a swarm of tiny flying machines called “nano quadrotors”. You have to watch it to believe it. The mind boggles when you think of some of the applications! Once you have watched the short video, please leave any comments on what you think!