Archive for the 'art and culture' Category

Maslow’s hierarchy of me me me

When I was in Thailand recently, I was wondering whether the ever-popular Maslow’s hierarchy of needs triangle had ever been tested against Asian cultures, in which the emphasis is on family and community rather than individualism.

When I asked on Twitter, Daniel pointed me to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need: Psychology Myth Busting #1 by Joe Leech who concludes

Self-actualisation, the idea of people becoming the best they can be is a very individualistic idea. Asian cultures are about the community and family that is collectivist in focus. Placing this very individual goal at the top highlights Maslow’s background, a man living in the individualistic USA.

There is also little evidence that the model is the same for men and women.

Nevalina pointed me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: An Islamic critique which concludes

It is the basic line of the Islamic approach to strike a balance between material and spiritual needs in any situation of human existence, in times of saturation and need, stability and change, health and illness, happiness and distress. A model of a hierarchy of the different needs like Abraham Maslow’s can therefore not give credit to the reality of the interaction between material and spiritual aspects of the human being in different life situations, even if the spiritual aspect was to be named first.

It’s said that Maslow was influenced by the Blackfoot tribe of native Americans, but misunderstood them. In Maslow’s hierarchy connected to Blackfoot beliefs, Karen Lincoln Michel writes up a lecture presented by University of Alberta professor Cathy Blackstock at the 2014 conference of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

“First of all, the triangle is not a triangle. It’s a tipi,” Blackstock said. “And the tipis in the Blackfoot (tradition) always went up and reached up to the skies,” she said.

Another difference noted by Blackstock is that self-actualization is at the base of the tipi, not at the top where Maslow placed it. In the Blackfoot belief, self-actualization is the foundation on which community actualization is built. The highest form that a Blackfoot can attain is called “cultural perpetuity.”

So it looks as if a white academic male in hyper-individualist America thought that everyone in the world is like him. What a surprise. I hereby rename his over-exposed diagram as Maslow’s hierarchy of me me me and forbid you from ever using it again.

On #StopFundingHate and Center Parcs

I’m very glad to read the news that Center Parcs pulls Daily Mail ads over Tom Daley article — of its advertisement next to a homophobic Richard Littlejohn article, the holiday organisation said “We felt this placement was completely unacceptable and therefore ceased advertising with the Daily Mail with immediate effect”. London Southbank Centre also said, “We monitor the environment in which our advertising appears, to ensure the values of a publication are compatible with our own. We have no future plans to advertise within the Daily Mail”.

Predictably, there has been a little faux-anguish about “free speech”, which is mis-placed. I’m a great believer that anyone should be able to say what they want to say (even “hate speech” as long as they’re not inciting violence). My position is “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it. But that doesn’t mean I want to waste my time listening to you”.

Similarly, I have a choice whether to fund your free speech. In our democratic capitalist society, I have a once-every-four-years opportunity to vote between largely-indistinguishable political parties in a General Election. But the true power I have is in my choice of goods and service that I consume.

So it’s a game of “follow the money”: Centre Parcs wants my money (that’s why they advertise); the Daily Mail wants some of Centre Parc’s money; Richard Littlejohn wants some of the Daily Mail’s money. (He’s perfectly free to set up a blog to publish his views, after all. He has every right to air them, and everyone has the right to read them, or not, as they choose.)

So if I tell a company that I won’t buy their products because they indirectly fund Littlejohn, or Breitbart, that is my right and my (only) leverage as a consumer. The key is to tell organisations why you consume their products or not. That’s why my tweeting “Good” to Centre Parcs is not “virtue signalling”; it’s letting them know that I will continue to purchase their products, and why. (The last good time I had with my dad — who was gay — three months before he died was a family holiday in Centre Parcs, which he paid for. We had a great time.)

Am I trying to close the Daily Mail down? Not at all. But right now, money I give to Co-op, Hertz, Visa etc indirectly subsidises the Daily Mail’s cover price. If those companies pull their advertising, then avid Richard Littlejohn fans can continue to pay to read it, they’ll just pay more. If they don’t want to pay more, and they stop buying it, that’s up to them. It’s called “the free market”.

There are many things to dislike about consumerism and capitalism. But the fact I can tweet to organisations and exercise financial influence is a power that I cherish, and will continue to use.

Feel my mighty influence!

The Birmingham Mail has published a totally scientific list of Midlands Twitter users who “have the ability to influence the UK more than most in the region”.

Apparently, I’m a respectable number 101 which means I’m more influential than

  • Black Sabbath (#191)
  • a Personal Beauty Shopper at Selfridges (#188)
  • Sutton Park Donkey Sanctuary (#164)
  • Birmingham city council (#120)
  • James Morris, Conservative MP for Halesowen & Rowley Regis (#115) – ha!
  • Solihull police (#112)

I was pipped to the number 100 post by Drayton Manor theme park. Now we know why they were so damn anxious to build their Thomas The Tank attraction, Thomas Land.

I’m now crowd-funding “William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch Land” to be built in my back garden, and am recruiting mugwumps. I must beat Drayton bloody Manor.

Review: Volpone, Royal Shakespeare Company

Volpone at RSC was very good last night. Sometimes the pacing was a little wobbly (mostly in the courtroom scenes), and Henry Goodman fluffed a line or two, but it was only the second performance. Goodman’s big set piece – Volpone pretending to be an Italian snakeoil peddlar – was hilarious (and he accused me of being a Norwegian from the stage in an audience participation section).

It’s a Ben Jonson play, so all of the characters are ciphers (and named according to type: Volpone the fox, Sir Politic Would-be, Corvino the crow etc) so don’t expect deep psychology, but more the Jonson parade of fools, monsters and freaks. The drawf, hermaphrodite and eunuch were excellent, and Trevor Nunn’s direction setting it in the Facebook and selfie era was inspired.

Shake your Brucie!

Once in a generation, there is a perfect combination of circumstances that leads to the creation of something truly extraordinary. Today is that day – the flawless union of programming, content, beauty and functionality.

This week at the Future of Web Apps conference, the Stella McCartney of geek crochet, Ruth John, gifted me with a hand-made, individually-designed crocheted mankini. A photo of me wearing it is available on my fashion blog What’s Bruce Wearing Today (caution advised).

At the same conference, Syd Lawrence demonstrated his accelerometer-driven app Shake Her Booty which allows you to control J Lo’s bottom (“booty”) by shaking your phone.

Claudia Snell asked “when can we expect the @brucel version?” so Syd mashed up some video he’d made of me dancing in the mankini at the FOWA after-party, and today has released Shake Your Brucie.

Just tap my booty to begin.

Enjoy.

My Krispy Kreme playlist: ten musical guilty pleasures

Like everyone else on the Web, I’m a musical snob. I’d far rather listen to arty difficult stuff like Can and My Bloody Valentine than Abba. But I’m also a musician so have a love and admiration for great catchy melodies and brilliant production. Here are top ten guilty pleasures – the Krispy Kreme Playlist – of songs that I genuinely love, not through wanky PoMo irony, but because they’re great.

Gita Gutawa – Bukan Permainan

This song obsessed me when I was doing a University lecture tour of Indonesia and heard it in a taxi. The helium voice, perfect production, harmonies and vocal line took residency in my brain within 4.3 nanoseconds of her starting singing. I attracted quite a crowd in a Jakarta shopping mall attempting to sing it to astonished music shop counter staff. They finally handed me – a middle-aged white man – a CD of a girl in a big pink wedding-cake dress who looked about ten years old. They must have thought I was Gary Glitter’s brother.

Wham – Young Guns (Go For It)

Sexist, crass and great.

Sugababes – About You Now

YouTube is full of videos of angsty teenage girls strumming moody acoustic covers of this in their bedrooms, but the mechanical drums and bounciness of the original makes it flawless in every possible way.

Oasis – The Hindu Times

Oasis are, of course, preposterous cockheads who steal their tunes, grunt their meaningless lyrics and walk like incontinent chimps. But this has a great moron riff and splendid changeover from chorus back to verse, thumping drums and a wall of sound. I bet even Blur like this.

Natalie Imbruglia – Torn

Perfect. Some splendid bass guitar wiggling around under Natalie. Lucky bass guitar.

Betty Boo – Doin’ The Do

Sassy girl singer, great bass, great video and great dance music. It was a hard decision whether to include this, or Dee Lite’s Groove is in the Heart, but she won because (a) she’s British and (b) I am genuinely in love with her and want to bear her children.

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name

Undeniably, Bono’s a nob. Indubitably, U2 are flatulent stadium rock. But this is great and you won’t convince me otherwise with sophistry, even if you’re Lou Reed himself.

ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) – Midnight Blue

A lovely tune, so over-produced that it’s in grave danger of collapsing under its own ludicrousness like an orchid wearing loads of rapper bling and Argos sovereign rings.

Dexys Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen

The warbly vocals. The slow down and speed up again bit. Excellent.

Hanson – MMMBop

Anyone who doesn’t love this has cloth ears and no humour or soul. And that’s proven by science.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Murder On The Dance Floor

Oops – a number 11 in a list of 10. But this is too good not to listen to.

Here’s the Spotify playlist.

On sex education for 7 year olds in UK schools

The BBC reports that Sex education should start at seven, Lib Dems say.

Of course 7 year old kids should get sex education at school; puberty is from 8 years old for girls, 9 for boys.

The whole point of education is to prepare kids for life, so you have to tell them about stuff first (hint: that’s what “prepare” means.)

Sex education results in fewer sexually transmitted diseases and fewer unwanted pregnancies. This is not only good for the people involved, but is better for the whole nation – which makes it excellent public policy.

However, “parents will retain the right to pull children under 15 out of sex education lessons” according to the Daily Mail. Why? Do we let them take kids out of Maths or Geography classes?

There should be no opt-out from parents trying to foist their religion or sexual hangups onto their children. Education > indoctrination.

The fruitful lady of dawn

I really enjoy Brian Patten’s love poetry; he writes of joy and sadness and how the two can mingle, while never using words that you wouldn’t hear in an everyday conversation. He’s the only living poet whose works I regularly raid for my song lyrics. So when my battered old copy of his Love Poems fell apart, I invested in a shiny copy of his new Collected Love Poems.

Curiously, in a volume called “Collected Poems”, one of them is missing. It was in “Love Poems”, substantially revised from a previously published version, and revised for the better. But I can only assume Patten was still dissatisfied and so dropped it.

Because I’m talking online to some people about his poems (and who have bought his newest book on my recommendation), I’m copying the poem here so they have the text. Brian – if you want me to remove it, I will. But I think you’re mistaken; it’s a lovely piece. (And, sorry, but I stole the blue dress image for a song called “The girl in the room“.)

The fruitful lady of dawn

She walks across the room and opens the skylight
thinking: “perhaps a bird will drop in
and teach me how to sing.”

She cannot speak easily of what she feels
nor can she fathom out
whose dawn her heart belongs in.

Among the men she knows
she knows few
who understand her freedom.

Baffled by her love and by
how she withdraws her love,
she remains an enigma,

and under the skylight
puts on her red dress calling it a blue one.
She approaches breakfast as she would a lover –

She is alive,
and one of her body’s commonest needs
I have made holy.

“åpp større” and the Finnish Inquisition

A number of readers cast doubt on yesterday’s throwaway aside that in Finnish, “åpp større” means “fellate a demon”.

It’s true that in modern Finnish it doesn’t. That’s because it’s wrapped up in a dark era of Finland’s past, a past which modern Finns prefer to forget.

“Åpp større” means “fellate a demon” in the Middle Late High Hämeenlinna dialect. Hämeenlinna is a small city of 68,000 people, but in the fifteenth century it was a hotbed of Catholic religious fervour, centered around the monastery of Häme Castle. In 1498, the Finnish Inquisition began (unexpectedly), and most of the Inquisitors were recruited from Hämeenlinna.

Suspects were tortured until they confessed to carnal relations with minions of Satan – åpp større – and then punished by being weighed down with stones and thrown into a fjord to sink the accused to Hell, known as “Hell-sink”.

Although much of this is forgotten or suppressed in modern-day Finland and most Finns will strenuously deny it, some linguistic clues remain. The modern-day Scandinavian surname “Helsing” indicates a descendant of the Hämeenlinna inquisitors – indicating someone who sent people “sinking to Hell”. The city that was nearest to the fjord where executions took place became known as “rapids where they sink to Hell” – or, nowadays, “Helsingfors”: Helsinki.

You can’t argue with history.

Thoughts on monetising user data

Aral Balkan asked me to “cut to the chase, Bruce: do you find anything wrong with the business models of Facebook & Google (monetising data)?”

It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, but it needs more than 140 characters, so here goes. Note that these are my personal opinions. I work for Opera, which has business relationships with Google, Facebook, and its own advertising arm of the business.

But I also use Google and Facebook services privately so have my own views as a user; again, these are my opinions, not those of my employers.

I work on the web, but at home on my own, so I use Facebook and Twitter a lot. Not only is it useful for discussing work, but it’s my “watercooler”. I don’t mind that the personal stuff I write is publicly available, although I keep my location secret and no longer put the names of my kids online. (Facebook stuff isn’t public. I only really use it as it’s where non-geek real-life friends are.)

I don’t much mind that Google tracks my searching habits around the Web (although I would pay money not to have to watch Treehouse Woman again on YouTube, because she’s too shinyhappy, and puts her coffee down on a wooden surface without using a coaster).

The annoyance I find is offset by the fact that I understand why they do this; it’s how they make money to support the services I use for free, which are primarily Search, Gmail and YouTube. (I get no benefit from Google+.)

In short – I understand that “I am the product being sold”, and am OK with that. Similarly, I’m fine with getting tailored money-off vouchers for products that I use, sent to me by supermarkets who know what I use because they monitor it. I opt in, because I see value in that. You may not; that’s fine.

As long as the companys’ privacy settings are both clear, and honoured by the company, I don’t see this data gathering and data mining as inherently intrusive. I’m not sure that all companies privacy settings are sufficiently clear, however; I read a case study some years ago in which a good-sized sample of people were asked what privacy settings they had on their social networking, and it was compared with the actual setting – very few matched. The Facebook Android app permissions are certainly opaque.

Perhaps companies that do monetize data could make their privacy settings more transparent, and be even more obvious that the price of free is your data. But I think the latter is pretty obvious to those who give it a little thought; we can’t always handhold stupid people. There should certainly be a simple method to delete all one’s data and history from public view, and which will be removed from the company’s server/ archive within a defined period of time.

What annoys me most is when people or organisations use my data without my permission. For example, a few years ago, my wife had a minor car accident. Somewhere in the chain of insurance company, loss adjusters and repairs garage, our phone number was given to an unauthorised third party and occasionally I receive a phone call from a call centre trying to sell me “no win, no fee” ambulance-chasing legal services.

But beyond annoyance, what alarms me is secretive State intrusion into my life through my digital tracks. I assume that all companies – whether a supermarket loyalty scheme or a social network – regularly comply with warrants from law-enforcement agencies going about their legitimate work.

Let’s assume that the social networks and search engines, as they claim, don’t just hand over all their data to the governmental snoops. It then seems to me that, unless they’ve been fantastically lax with their security – which is certainly possible, but unlikely, given that it’s their core cash-generating asset – they can’t be blamed for the actions of the government.

We know from Edward Snowden that some companies’ data is just wholesale hacked by NSA, GCHQ and other state bodies. The legality of this is being debated in courts at the moment. The morality of this is clear (to me): it’s wrong. “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” is the refrain of the KGB, the Gestapo and every despot across the globe.

Government intrusion isn’t new. When I was a teenager, I joined a communist party. My letters from them were always opened (and no others). Presumably, this was done actually by the UK Post Office on police orders – that is, complete collusion, even thought there was no warrant or reason to fear an idealistic but naive 17 year old. It’s also long been rumoured that the voting slips of all UK communist voters were cross-referenced against their counterfoils and the names of communist voters given to Special Branch and MI5.

In short, to answer Aral’s question: I don’t feel that commercial organisations using data that I’ve opted to provide them, for the purposes they said they’ll use if for, is wrong. It’s part of modern capitalism, which contains plenty I have to hold my nose about, but that’s a much longer blog post which I can’t be bothered to write.

The worrisome aspect is states illegally stealing our data from those companies, and putting us under constant surveillance, justified by keeping us safe from this year’s bogeymen.

But those same social networks and web companies allow us to share information on what they’re doing and organise in order to protest against it. The tension between individual liberty (I believe privacy is an integral part of liberty) and state control is not new. The threat may be greater because of technology, but the platform to fight it from is greater, too.

(I invited Aral to respond to this but as yet there’s no reply.)