Fifty Shades of Magnolia

Let’s face it, when you think of a magnolia, this is usually what springs to mind – or worse, if you live in rented accommodation (like I do) something like this –

Something vaguely cream, off white, inoffensive and bland are words usually used to describe magnolia. In plants, I often think of spring, cascades of gorgeous flowers and sweeping up petals about a week and a half after they bloom. They do get everywhere. So imagine my glee when I discovered that there are over 200 types of magnolia in the world – and they certainly don’t all look like that! In fact, very few of them are actually magnolia coloured – and yet again, I’m surprised.

The most common variation in magnolia is the colour, and the overwhelming majority of magnolias are various shades of pink, as you can see here:

This is Magnolia Betty, a deep pink/mauve which retains the “traditional” shape of the magnolia flower. Another, Magnolia Marilyn, combines the pink and white in a beautifully contrasting flower:

It’s a bit of a showstopper isn’t it? I’d be delighted to have that in my garden, although I’d need to keep her well pruned back as magnolia do like to take up space.

A very unusual type of magnolia is the star magnolia, so called because they have beautiful stellate flowers. They also come in a range of colours but the one I’ve chosen is almost pure white – simply gorgeous:

It doesn’t really look like a magnolia does it?

And, because I simply can’t resist finding a flower that totally bucks the trend, here’s a yellow magnolia – just to prove that they really do come in all shapes and sizes:

I’m fairly sure if I looked hard enough, fifty shades of magnolia wouldn’t be difficult to find at all.

Fear of the Other

I found this on t’interweb a while ago:

Whilst on the one hand it made me smile – there’s nothing quite like humour to take the edge of terrorist incidents – it did make me think as well, but that’s partly because of what I know about language and also some of my favourite TV shows when I was growing up. And I’m not sure I liked what I concluded.

Daleks, as most people know. are the quintessential Dr Who villains; a totalitarian hive mind of slightly demented pepperpots intent on taking over the world. But has anyone (apart from me, who spends way too much time doing this) actually thought about what Dalek means? It’s a Serbo-Croat word that means “foreigner”.

Star Trek is just as bad, although we need to look at some of the latter day series to really see where they were going. They introduced us to these ugly bugs:

Now I had long gone under the impression that these were Romulans, but I am reliably informed (admittedly by Wikipedia) that these are Ferengi. Ferengi is Sanskrit for (wait for it) – “foreigner”. And if you hang around Thailand long enough, you’ll soon hear the word “farang” which also means foreigner and comes from the Sanskrit.

So now I’m wondering if my childhood viewing has tried to make me believe that all foreigners are bad guys and should be treated with suspicion. I doubt that this was ever the intent – and certainly Terry Nation was much cleverer than that – but it is bothering me. It’s that right wing idea that anyone who isn’t like us is to be feared and separated, which is almost a sure fire way of ensuring that they harbour prejudices in the future. And in light of recent terrorist events, that kind of separation, ghettoisation, “us and them” mentality really isn’t helpful.

That said, if anyone does have any photos of Daleks falling down the stairs at Baker Street Station, they’d certainly cheer me up.

A Host Of Golden – seriously?

Every so often, I like to confuse people by demonstrating that flowers aren’t always the colours we seem to think they are. We may believe that irises are all blue, but they’re not – and when Mother Nature got her clever little mitts on the humble daffodil, she was hell bent on proving Wordsworth to be a pretty good poet but not much of a naturalist.

daffs

Most people are quite used to seeing daffodils in various shades of yellows – the lovely bright golden yellows, some with white petals and yellow trumpets, yellow petals with orange trumpets and even white petals with orange trumpets. The lovely thing about these are that they bloom at slightly different times, so you can have a display of narcissi (to use their technical name) for quite a long time by being inventive with the varieties. They come in different sizes as well, so you can vary minis with standards and even giants. It’s really very pretty.

Then Mother Nature starts with her curve ball…

pink-daffs

No, these haven’t been Photoshopped and there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight. These are, quite genuinely, pink daffodils, or Narcissus rosa to use their technical term. In all my years (and there are many) I’ve never seen a pink daffodil before – and since I found this picture, I’ve seen loads. There are even mauve ones as well:-

purple-daffs

Wordsworth is really starting to look a bit daft now, isn’t he? I have to say, though, that my favourite is the Dragon Daffodil, presumably invented by a deranged Welshman:

dragon-daffs

So – don’t ever tell me that all daffodils are yellow. I may just be forced to get my paintbox out.

PROPERTY IS NOT THEFT, IT’S FRAUD

Being a bit of an old anarchist at heart, this has really jolted me – and quite forcefully reminded me of why I thought reading a couple of law books might actually prove interesting. It has, however, put paid to my old joke about why anarchists only drink herbal tea, which may not be a bad thing either.

Let’s explore this premise – found in a textbook on land law – in a bit more detail.

The definition of theft according to Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 is “the appropriation of property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it”. It’s quite exact and also requires a specific mental element – one must intend to permanently deprive. To intend to temporarily deprive is borrowing, to intend not to deprive is “oh sorry, I had no idea it was yours”. Simples, yes?

Now, Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006 is a bit more complicated as it’s in a few parts but for the purpose of this exercise, we can state that a person commits fraud if they dishonestly make a false representation and intend to make a gain for himself or to cause loss for another. It’s fairly specific, but there’s plenty of room to manoeuvre in terms of what constitutes a false representation, what constitutes a gain or a loss and so on. There are few things that lawyers like more than vague wording in a statute.

Right, so let’s now apply these definitions to property. For property to be theft, ownership of anything must include an intention to deprive everyone else of that object – be it land, a car, a cup of herbal tea – permanently. The anarchists seem to have the right idea, but I think the slogan is wrong. Property itself is not theft, but non-communal ownership may be – if property was owned in common, nobody could be permanently deprived of it, and so theft could not be committed. On the other hand, it’s not such a catchy slogan.

So why – according to my land law textbook – would property be fraud?

As an example, let’s say I own my house. That statement gives the impression that I am lady and mistress of all I survey and I can do what I like with it as an absolute right, but that’s simply not the case. I am subject to planning laws, building regulations, rights of way, access and light and if I have a mortgage, the bank may want a say in things as well. It all erodes the concept that I “own” my property. It’s a misrepresentation. It would only be fraud, though, if that misrepresentation was knowingly made with the intention to cause loss to another or for me to gain at their expense. This, I think, is where the premise falls down. Who gains? Certainly not the owner of the property. In which case – assuming we hold that the property owner has made a loss because they do not “own” their house – who has made the representation that they do? I cannot see how this works, at an individual or a social level.

There is a way to cut through this particular Gordian knot, and that is to say that any form of ownership which makes a profit from another is morally questionable – this would give justification to penalising unscrupulous landlords and people who have more than one home. Let’s face it, you can only live in one at a time, can’t you? I doubt this will satisfy the anarchists though. Perhaps they should stick with the old slogan after all. It’s definitely got a ring to it.

A NOTABLE WOMAN: THE DIARIES OF JEAN LUCEY PRATT

Jean Pratt isn’t anybody famous. She isn’t a film star, a writer or blockbusters or even married to a wealthy man. Quite the opposite in fact – a spinster, she ran a bookshop near Beaconsfield and kept cats. She also kept a diary, pretty regularly, from 1928 until her death in the late 1970s. As a document of social history, it’s a pretty fascinating read, and fortunately for me, fairly easy and quick to get through.

Jean herself, however, is very much the product of a forgotten era. Born into privileged middle class (her father was a successful architect), she was privately educated and went to university to study architecture, but didn’t fulfil her promise. The deaths of her father and maternal uncle ensured that she had a sufficient independent income allowing Jean to drift from daydream to daydream. It took the realities of the Second World War to force her into the workplace – which only served to demonstrate how detached she was from the real world. She was bright, she was educated, but didn’t have a shred of common sense.

She calls these her “romantic journals” and she certainly seems to lurch from imagined love affair to imagined love affair. In a girl of fourteen it would all be faintly amusing – and probably the stuff of a thousand Mills & Boons – but given that Jean continues this line through her thirties and forties, it quickly becomes embarrassing. She doesn’t seem to realise that she increasingly resembles a desperate middle aged woman. This is the main reason the book had such mixed reviews – readers seemed to love the social history but tended to find Jean a silly, conceited old woman with no idea of how people lived outside her cloistered little bubble.

Unfortunately, for a significant proportion of the population at that time, life was very much like that – the middle class seemed completely unaware of how the working classes lived, and the upper classes were an echelon only to be fantasised and gossiped about. Royalty were another world entirely. But they were the ones who had the leisure to write the letters and journals that social historians rely on – so no wonder it’s all a bit skewed.

Am I pleased I’ve read this book? I am, actually. It’s been an easy, enjoyable read on the train home from work. Could it have been a bit shorter? Probably, but it is only one sixth of Jean’s total output so perhaps I ought to feel grateful it’s the length it is. Would I recommend it? Probably no, even though I already know who I’m going to pass it on to. I can’t see many people reaching the end of it without wanting to throttle our not so humble narrator, to be honest.

What Interior Design Can Teach Us About Politics

trump

Ignore the meme. Just look at that wallpaper!

Seriously, by the time I get round to posting this, Trump will be president of the United States and nobody thought to consider what they could learn about this guy from his living room before they voted for him. You think I’m kidding? Seriously, that living room is more revealing than his entire history on social media.

This is a man who does not believe in understatement. His background is one where wealth and status are completely pointless unless you can flaunt them and rub the noses of the peasantry in your finest handmade toilet paper. Trump’s motto is probably “Bigger is Better” – and that applies to everything from his chandelier to the stories he spins, before changing his mind and declaring that he never said that really, must be that fake news again.

Indeed, this is reinforced by his use of Twitter, where he spends more time insulting people and spouting nonsense, usually in capitals and followed by a pointless adjective and a couple of exclamation marks, than actually conducting any business at all.

I have no idea whether or not Mr Trump is a good businessman. He is apparently quite a wealthy one, but if I were in business – or politics – I would like to know as much about the man as I possibly could and that interior is as revealing as it comes. Will he make a good president? I’ve honestly no idea, but I wouldn’t hire him to decorate my front room if his life depended on it. This level of ostentation puts the Kardashians to shame, and that’s saying something.

Perhaps instead of presidential debates, they should have that chap from Through the Keyhole nip round their house and conduct a full report on their interior design decisions. I expect that will tell the American people a lot more about who will occupy the White House for the next four years than anything they say in front of the camera. Because, you know, obviously the Russians will have changed everything and sold it on to a news station as an attempt at character assassination…

Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get this tongue out of my cheek before I choke on it.

Zombies and Philosophy

zombies-run-app

I am the first to admit that I often think of the strangest things when I’m in the bath. Like how zombism works. We all know that if a zombie bites you, you then become a zombie; it’s a bit like vampirism in that respect, and I suppose the analysis I indulged in this morning will apply equally to that. I hadn’t thought of that at the time; for whatever reason I was more interested in zombies. Perhaps it was the sight of His Lordship half asleep that did it.

Anyway, what I was pondering was this. If you kill a zombie, and then eat the zombie (a) do you turn into a zombie and (b) is it cannibalism to eat a zombie?

Yes, my mind definitely goes off on tangents most other people steer well clear of. And having done a very brief straw poll, it seems that the answer to the first is “no” and the other is “probably not”. Although the reasoning for both was exceedingly convoluted and depended a bit on whether or not one watches The Walking Dead.

That said, this does raise an interesting and important philosophical question – just what makes us human? Why would it be obvious that a zombie (or a vampire, since we’re extending the analysis) isn’t really human? It seems that having died (as both zombies and vampires have to die for the changes to take effect) they lose the essential something that renders them human – and since cannibalism is like eating like, a human eating a zombie cannot be cannibalism.

As to whether or not eating a zombie will turn you into a zombie, it seems that the key element is in the saliva (unless you watch The Walking Dead, where a whole different virus applies) – so as long as you steer clear of the zombie’s saliva, you should be all right.

I’m wondering now if random questions like this might interest a younger generation in some of the key elements of philosophy. I know many philosophy professors have used The Matrix to illustrate concepts of reality and I suppose this is just another part of that. I’d be interested to hear what other people have to say on the subject. Meanwhile, I’ve been told to have showers for a while – until my brain settles down a bit…