Pham Xuan An

September 26, 2006

As a sometimes visitor to Vietnam, I was not surprised by the story of Pham Xuan An (thanks to Barista) who has just died. He seemed to represent a characteristic of many of the proud (in the best sense of the word) and dignified Vietnamese I meet there – charming pragmatism. Like many, he clearly recognised the tight controls placed on people but still found a way to be true to himself.

The more I read and learn about Vietnam and the Vietnamese people the more I admire them and the more angry I become that, save for a brief fight against my call-up, I could have been there in 1970 killing them.

Men’s Ties

September 21, 2006

How can you resist ties like these?

Pity that the ‘Spinners’ only present a selection of religious ties because the actual vendor’s site Starwonders has seemingly hundreds of ties of questionable taste. I could show some but you’d be better off looking for yourself.

Of course finding a site that sells hideous ties is all the impetus I need to start wandering round the bowels of the Web looking up tie sites. I am particularly taken by the ‘One nation Under God’ tie.

All that does is prove to me how naïve I am, as a largely non-tie wearer, in the ways of ties. I have had to study the diagrams carefully to work out what is going on. No not how to tie a bowtie (I can do that thanks to a mirror reversed diagram that I tuck into my collar to follow the steps in a mirror), but rather what is a tie align or a tie thing.

I was starting to worry that the Americans had a monopoly on bad taste neckware until I came across an Australian site that made it all seem alright. Except … aside from a few oddities, I recognised these as the same ties I had discovered on Starwonders but priced at US$8 instead of US$4.95. Maybe the shipping is cheaper but I do feel cheated. I want Australian ties with Australian animals on them. Australian beers and Australian sports. They must be there, but I haven’t found them yet.

What to believe

September 11, 2006

You know the familiar look of the email – WARNING shampoo causes cancer; WARNING a virus has just been released that will destroy all the files on your hard disk; WARNING the government has wasted $12 million developing a pen that writes in space while the Russians manage by using pencils.

I am often the recipient of such emails. Not usually directly, but often sent to me by members of my family wanting to know if they are true or not. There is really only one answer to that question. They are not.

The two most recent ones to come my way were something purporting to be a speech by Bill Gates to some high school students giving his 11 Rules For Life; and a supposed letter from Steven Spielberg to Mel Gibson attacking him for being an anti-Semite. The Spielberg letter was easy. The intemperate language was most unlikely to have been Spielberg’s – he’s too experienced a Hollywood hand to put such thoughts into writing and besides, I was pretty sure that he would live in California not New Rochelle, New York! The 11 Rules For Life we not so obvious. They could have been said by Bill Gates and perhaps the only reason for doubting it was that it was being sent in a circulated email.

I assume that everything that is sent in a forwarded email is False unless proven otherwise. But how to prove it? I have got into the habit of checking everything with one or more of the sceptics websites. Truth or Fiction is a good stating place for rumours and hoaxes. Urban Legends Reference Pages are a useful source of exactly that. Medical and scientific claims are easily checked on various sites such as Csicop , Quackwatch, and The Pathology Guy (who has a good section on alternative medicine).

And yet … What am I saying here? Don’t believe stuff on the Internet unless you have checked it on the Internet? Seems like a bit of a contradiction. And it is. Perhaps the only way to act is to go with what seems sensible, especially if it can be verified from several independent sources (noting if they are simply cross-referencing each other; if it is important act on it otherwise ponder on the advice but DON’T SEND IT ON.

So here are my two simple rules for dealing with circulated information.

Rule 1. Nothing you read on the Internet is true.

Rule 2. Some things you read on the Internet might be true but even then it doesn’t matter unless they are asking for money, so don’t send it to anyone else. See Rule 1

At least when you read it on a Blog, you know it’s opinion. Don’t you?

Family history

September 7, 2006

Read a beautiful and loving piece by Joshua Micah Marshall that made me cry. It wasn’t just, as Uncle Kvetch points out, that his father was not his biological father, it was also the comment “One of the great heartbreaks of my life is that my dad did not live to see his first grandson…” that did it for me. I feel the same about my mother who died last year not knowing my first grandchild, although I then pull myself together and realise that there are a million and one things that have happened or are going to happen that she didn’t know about either. Somehow that idea though is still a powerful one.

I have always had a strong feeling of attachment to my family in a way that is hard to explain. I keep the family tree up to date and add anyone who I can establish even a remote connection to. I don’t particularly need to know the people, but do want to know who they are and something about them. As David Velleman suggests in the abstract of his paper on family history “… knowing one’s relatives and especially one’s parents provides a kind of self-knowledge that is of irreplaceable value in the the life-task of identity formation.”

Even if one avoids the arguments about the importance or otherwise of biology and environment, I am sure that the family stories form an important role in reinforcing or dissuading certain behaviours because they become seen as a family trait.