Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Calm your horses, before they trample you!

I wanted to run. I wanted to get up and rush to the exit, maybe I'd get away, perhaps if I sneaked. They said boredom never killed anyone, but I didn't want to take any chances. I am sure school assemblies were similar for you. Fortunately, neither of us raised our backsides from the chair and fled those monotonous voices... Not in high school anyway... in Grade 2 I had decided enough was enough, and landed in trouble. As adults, we know the importance of self control. Children don't quite yet have the potency of will.

In the adult world, though, the same sort of urgency is still common enough. It is just generally better justified, latent, or expertly hidden. People get this sense of urgency, urgency becomes desperation, and keeps its annuals in stress. Whenever I have done something I whole heartedly regret, that urgency egged me on. I am told I am calm in most emergencies... I certainly didn't used to be. I thought self control would be a useful skill to master. I didn't realise quite how difficult it would be until I realised that I had never been guilty of a faux pas without that nagging sense of urgency. Patience is not merely a virtue, it is the power by which self control has a foothold in our lives.

When you want to do something you shouldn't: to eat that creamy chocolate cake that calls your name during a diet, to respond to an insult when you just know it would cause a fight... to say things you really shouldn't say... have you ever done anything you regret that was not accompanied by an unusually potent sense of urgency?

There are times for urgency... it might be wise to run if you are late for an important exam. It can be pretty urgent to get out of the path of an elephant or of an out of control truck. Urgency has a place, but generally its place is limited. When I am about to make a mistake, I might not realise that I am being foolish at first. What is always obvious to me is that sense of urgency. I just have to do it... I must... When my thoughts become urgent, I take a slow deep breath and ask myself if there is any real reason to be urgent... usually there isn't, and once calm, I see the fault in my thoughts.

Some of the more famous saints of the Catholic canon are famous for doing all sorts of exotic things to maintain their self control. Scary things, like jumping into a painful thorn adorned bush to undo their naughty lusts. I imagine they transferred the urgency they felt to do naughty things, upon an urgency to jump into a nest of thorns. No doubt that pretty lady who wanted them, noticed their passion, and regretted asking a monk to coffee or a date. The same desperation for company redirected, caused the painful jump, and with their desires cleansed, they limped away from their floral friend. Thomas Aquinas, who every lawyer learns about, was among such saints... when his family hired him a prostitute against his wishes, he directed his excess passion to chasing her out of his chambers with a fire poker... yes, that Aquinas, every lawyer learns about. And yet, in a non-medieval society, it is not socially acceptable to jump into someone else's perfectly pruned roses, or chase our fellow man with a fire poker... Deep breathing exercises and logic will have to suffice for the modern professional.

They say the wolf you feed is the one which grows. Over the years, a focus on calm and patience has truly reduced my levels of stress.

Even when urgency might be warranted, I find a calm has come over me... the less you stress, the less you are controlled by it. A few years ago I was halfway up a steep staircase, and saw what looked like paper on the step above me. I started to bend down to throw it away... next I knew, I was a few steps up, staring down at a snake... no paper had rested on the stairs. My voice sounded like that of a little girl's, but I stuck it out, just out of reach of the serpent, waiting for help without letting it out of my sight. If I had not learnt to fight urgency in my daily life, I might have run... and lost sight of my nemesis, the snake.

There is a place for urgency, but it is a very limited space.

Next time you feel just a bit too much stress, the child of urgency, ask whether the urgency is warranted... if it isn't, take a few deep breaths, calm yourself down, and passively continue with your day. I find that when I shelve undeserved urgency, I get far more done during any one spin of the earth around its axis.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Easy statements: how to damage your reputation overnight.

The annoying song blasts from the speakers. Advertisers purposely use annoying tunes, in hopes an earworm will play their song as you sleep. Computer generated cartoons prance about as Budget advertises their insurance product.

Buy the wrong insurance, and when something goes awry, you may be left in the deepest of dark holes. People I know, people you no doubt know, have experienced this. Insurance comes down to trust in a provider to be that safety net. I don't know much about Budget, I am sure I could look them up at the CIPC, the FSB, or the Who Owns Whom database, but their actual business is not what I am discussing here. I will note that the unfortunately ruined people I know were not insured with them, however, with the consequences of any doubt in the reputation of an insurer, their advertisement makes a terrible mistake, which harms their credibility in a field where trust is everything... they make an unnecessary absolute statement, which is easily verifiable as entirely wrong.

It swiftly reminds me of a Nedbank campaign where a well-spoken voice, seemingly of a white male, tells you, and newly wealthy black Nedbank client, Eugene, to be 'more savvy' with your money... The phrase 'more savvy' is far from unused, and does appear in a number of newspaper articles. A search of all major dictionaries via a specialist search engine, only sees the phrase appear in quotations on news media (3 results) in one specific online dictionary, namely Dictionary.com, and in Wikipedia entries. A search for use of this phrase in the Oxford Dictionary of English, however, turns up no results whatsoever, suggesting it is not proper English in regular usage. Oxford Dictionary of English would have us use the generally accepted word 'savvier'... in their advice on word use.

Clearly the advertisers thought they were being clever, and maybe they were: people I met suddenly began to speak of being 'more savvy'... rather than being 'savvier'. As for the Budget advert... the dreadful cacoffiny of the horrendous commercial always ends with the same phrase: 'nothing rhymes with premiums'. Absolutist statements are fine if they are verifiable and correct. Unfortunately, very many words rhyme with premiums. I will list some of them for you a bit later, below.

Either way, many would be loath to do any business with either Budget Insurance or Nedbank... brands in industries requiring extensive trust from their customers... for the simple fact that they made statements which in hindsight should have nothing to do with their ability to do their business.

The world is filled to the brims with armchair experts, and bush enthusiasts. Experts are usually loath to give an opinion on anything they have not researched. The law changes so quickly, that unless you carefully monitor it, or have a specific area of practise, utter caution is often much needed. I pay a lot of money every year for access to up to date information of various areas of law, as do many in my field. A mere ill thought tangent can permanently damage your brand, even if it is an ill-conceived statement which is entirely unrelated to your field... This mistake has been made by many an architect commenting too rashly on car design, or lawyer - on stock picks.

Personally, one of my favourite things to do is to research and authenticate information. When I speak, I have usually read up on what I am saying. Often, I have consulted the word of an expert or two. The process of finding out the truth gives me a bit of a rush, especially if the real answer is unexpected. I have gained access to many specialised search engines, tools, programs and databases, some I have made myself... just to satisfy my own curiosity. A proper fact check via sources not every Joe knows how to access, can be mightily fun to do.

It is, however, essential to do some basic research into what you are saying before you attach your integrity and your brand to an ill begotten mast.

Below are two advertisements from the respective campaigns, and explanations as to some of what is wrong with their presentations.

Nedbank "Savvy"


URL for the video of the offending Nedbank advertisement: https://youtu.be/A4BY8m5A0Vs



The Budget Insurance advert, and below it, words that rhyme with premiums:


URL for the video of the offending Budget Insurance advertisement: https://youtu.be/gEgk5GNxP1I


Take a quick gander at a list of 31 words, which in British (and South African) English, rhyme with premiums (from the phonetics program, PhoTransEdit). I imagine that advertisers couldn't complete their rhyme, and so decided to make up their absolutist claim:

premiumsː ˈpriːˌmɪəmz

compendiums /kəmˈpendɪəmz/
condominiums /ˌkɒndəˈmɪnɪəmz/
craniums /ˈkreɪnɪəmz/
crematoriums /ˌkreməˈtɔːrɪəmz/
delphiniums /delˈfɪnɪəmz/
emporiums /ɪmˈpɔːrɪəmz/
encomiums /ɪnˈkəʊmɪəmz/
euphoniums /juːˈfəʊnɪəmz/
geraniums /dʒəˈreɪnɪəmz/
grahams /ˈɡreɪəmz/
graham's /ˈɡreɪəmz/
gymnasiums /dʒɪmˈneɪzɪəmz/
harmoniums /hɑːˈməʊnɪəmz/
honorariums /ˌɒnəˈreərɪəmz/
hyams /ˈhaɪəmz/
idioms /ˈɪdɪəmz/
mediums /ˈmiːdɪəmz/
moratoriums /ˌmɒrəˈtɔːrɪəmz/
museums /mjuːˈzɪəmz/
pandemoniums /ˌpændɪˈməʊnɪəmz/
planetariums /ˌplænɪˈteərɪəmz/
podiums /ˈpəʊdɪəmz/
praesidiums /prɪˈsɪdɪəmz/
presidiums /prɪˈsɪdɪəmz/
prosceniums /prəˈsiːnɪəmz/
requiems /ˈrekwɪəmz/
sanatoriums /ˌsænəˈtɔːrɪəmz/
sealyhams /ˈsiːlɪəmz/
stadiums /ˈsteɪdɪəmz/
symposiums /sɪmˈpəʊzɪəmz/
trapeziums /trəˈpiːzɪəmz/

Oxford Dictionary is clear on the related forms of the word 'savvy', 'more savvy' is not among them:

RELATED FORMS:

savvy (noun)
savviness (noun)
savvinesses (plural noun)
savvy (verb)
savvies (third person present)
savvied (past tense)
savvied (past participle)
savvying (present participle)
savviness (verb)
savvinesses (third person present)
savvinessing (present participle)
savvinessed (past tense)
savvinessed (past participle)
savvy (adjective)
savvier (comparative adjective)
savviest (superlative adjective)
savviness (adjective)


Monday, 14 September 2015

Our moral compass defines our identity (to others) - science.

It seems obtuse at first. As it comes into focus, it still appears somewhat off. People are shown other people - walking. Those who walk at the same pace as the crowd are seen as smarter. The slower and faster walkers are looked down upon. If I told you this was the basis of all laws, regulations, and of government itself, you might look at me slightly strangely. After a while - much against your better judgement - you'd start to agree.

When people are asked to judge another's intelligence, they tend to look at Emotional Quotient (EQ), not Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

People walk at many different paces. No crowd walks as one body. People's behaviour within the crowd is... random. When, however - a crowd becomes one mind, as they do during specific incidents of rioting... or some protests, its members can become as synchronised as a primitive tribe. When a crowd is walking at one pace, a custom is created. EQ is heavily associated with an ability to abide by custom. High EQ is also associated with the ability to intentionally disobey customs. The person who wears a shirt with the word 'costume' on it to Halloween is perceived as smart. The one who steps too far off the mark, or unintentionally flouts custom, is a different story.

Morality and custom have a lot in common. People who act in a predictable way, by obeying customs, are less likely to unexpectedly harm us. The man who opens the car door for his woman, and regularly buys her flowers, is more likely to be perceived as marriageable. After all, he obeys customs gentlemen might.

There is such a swathe of pseudo-science out there, I thought that what I am about to tell you - might just be that. It isn't. It turns out that friends and relatives of neuro-degenerative patients, only tend to feel that they no longer know the mind-loss victim, when their morals decline or their speech becomes impaired.

Researchers firstly did something abstract: something along the lines of... is your friend still your buddy old pal if they suddenly turn into a jerk. Many people would say no.

One might well add real world examples to that: Is your husband still the person you knew if he murders your sister? Most women would say no. The neighbours saying a serial killer was quiet and kind, are asserting their reliance upon neighbourhood customs. How could a good neighbour be a serial killer? Yet, every so often... they are.

Because we define others in a way that facilitates our own survival, it seems our judgements of whom other people are - centre not on their intelligence, their memories or so much else - but rather upon their moral compass. It makes sense. If someone wouldn't murder, they wouldn't murder us.

To get to know someone, is to know what direction their hidden moral compass points - whether we recognise its clear components, and how close to your own true north it rests.


It is just one study I am referring to from this point of the article. It is perhaps one of a kind, a fluke - it is walking in a different direction from the centuries old philosophy crowd. However, it makes sense, and as such I think it worthy of discussion.

The abstract of the study, appearing in the journal, Psychological Science, states:

'There is a widespread notion, both within the sciences and among the general public, that mental deterioration can rob individuals of their identity. Yet there have been no systematic investigations of what types of cognitive damage lead people to appear to no longer be themselves. We measured perceived identity change in patients with three kinds of neurodegenerative disease: frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Structural equation models revealed that injury to the moral faculty plays the primary role in identity discontinuity. Other cognitive deficits, including amnesia, have no measurable impact on identity persistence. Accordingly, frontotemporal dementia has the greatest effect on perceived identity, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has the least. We further demonstrated that perceived identity change fully mediates the impact of neurodegenerative disease on relationship deterioration between patient and caregiver. Our results mark a departure from theories that ground personal identity in memory, distinctiveness, dispositional emotion, or global mental function. ' ('Neurodegeneration and Identity' by Nina Strohminger of Yale School of Management, Yale University and Shaun Nichols of Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona, published August 12th 2015 c.f. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/08/11/0956797615592381?papetoc )

Nathan Collins, writing for the Pacific Standard ('Identity Is Lost Without A Moral Compass', Quick Studies Series, 18th August 2015), puts it this way:

'In previous work, she and co-author Shaun Nichols found that moral traits, such as empathy or politeness, seemed to be the most important component of identity. But that research focused on hypothetical situations—if a friend became a jerk, would he or she still be the same person you knew before? The new study "is an expansion of that work that aims to see if this privileging of moral traits extends to a real-world example of radical mental change, neurodegeneration," Strohminger writes.

"Contrary to what generations of philosophers and psychologists have thought, memory loss doesn't make someone seem like a different person."

Strohminger and Nichols focused on three neurodegenerative diseases: frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Alzheimer's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS served as a control since it primarily affects movement, and not memory or moral behavior. Alzheimer's, for its part, primarily affects memory, but also has some impact on moral behavior. Of the three, FTD is the one most likely to have a moral impact—its symptoms include a loss of empathy, poor judgment, and increasingly inappropriate behavior.

'Next, Strohminger and Nichols recruited 248 people from online support groups for friends and family of patients suffering from FTD, Alzheimer's, or ALS, and they asked questions like, "Do you feel like you still know who the patient is?" using five-point scales. Friends and family of ALS patients averaged about 4.1 points on that scale, but the number dropped to 3.8 for Alzheimer's and to 3.4 for FTD, suggesting that morality was at the core of how people conceived their loved ones' identities, perhaps even more than memory.

'Following up with a more detailed analysis, Strohminger and Nichols discovered that symptoms of declining morality were strongly associated with the perception that a patient's identity had changed, while failing memory, depression, and more traditional measures of personality appeared to have almost nothing to do with a person's identity. The only other symptom that had any discernible impact on identity was aphasia, a language impairment' (c.f. http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/identity-is-lost-without-a-moral-compass )

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Women rape men... often - crime statistics. #Sociology #Demographics

Reading certain newspaper articles leaves a surreal taste. Perhaps it shouldn't. Inevitably though, it tends to. New statistics suggest that we shouldn't be quite so surprised when women rape men.

Perhaps it is that manly world view, which struggles to accept statistics from America of all places: where 38% of reported sexual violence incidents recorded in their government's National Crime Victimization Survey- were against men. Just maybe, it is a result of our men-are-tough mentality, that we ignore that 46% of sexual crimes against men in that placid western nation, were performed by women.

Some examples of alleged rape by women - appearing in South African media, might include:

Terrified men are reported as claiming gangs of rough and ready women performed unwanted sex acts upon them, before fleeing in getaway cars.

Strange tales of men being stalked late at night and forced to perform at knife point - by otherworldly not-quite-femme-fatales . The men find themselves ridiculed in comment boxes and on radio shows.

Rapes of men by women - also take place in social contexts, and in schools, colleges and in the home, the Pacific Standard is quick to assert. Use of alcohol or drugs by women to rape men, is even common enough to have historical references. Lot was famously raped by his daughters in a cave, if we are to accept the biblical record of his tragic life.

These sometimes almost sensationalist tales are the sort that make for headlines by the media, however - statutory rape of men, performed by older women is also a matter that evokes perhaps misplaced disbelief. Sober sources state that even if a relationship seems fine at first, long term damage can be done upon the underage gent. Abandonment issues emerge when the lax lass inevitably breaks the arrangement to shreds.

As legal practitioners and members of the public, sometimes we need to be reminded that rape is not a crime with only female victims. Men may not quite so often come out and say it, but they do report being raped often enough to the police to cause just a bit of concern.

As girls, women are as violent as men are. Society rather than genetics is responsible for reduced physical violence among women. Passive aggressive behaviour such as false compliments, and rumour mongering often replace aggression among women in socially sensitive scenarios. This is why men far outnumber women in jails. However, a statistically relevant portion of sexual crimes continue to be committed by women.

This article was inspired in particular by an article in an American sociological magazine, the Pacific Standard. That specific piece of journalism opens with the bizarre headline 'Young Men and the Unspoken Danger of College Campuses', and was written on the 10th of August 2015 by a David L. Bell.

http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/young-men-and-the-unspoken-danger-of-college-campuses


Friday, 24 July 2015

Holster that pen... you scoundrel.

Write as you speak? It's what they said. They quoted so much garbled text, your mind quickly acquiesced. You knew no better. You obeyed.

Use short sentences, they uttered. Long sentences are a no-no, they said. And speak so a two year old can comprehend your dribble, they slyly added, as you fell in step. You looked at their many acolytes on Twitter, internet jet-set, and you dared not use that excellent word you'd saved to spread.

90% of communication, it is posited, is non-verbal. That is, it is not said. If you actually write as you speak, no one will understand a word that your heart's depths truly said. You can use emoticons all you want in a lover's text. Professional writing, however, should carry its own mood, and through nuance, and word choice, subtly show your truth.

Perhaps an example would convince you instead?

"The hunter and his acolyte crouched in ambush. Before them, the corpse-to-be, a young woman, casually walked. She floated joyously upon the road, as she softly strolled home in a yellow and black polka-dot dress. There'd be red polka-dots, below her throat, and upon her chest. A fashion crime she'd die with, the hunter and his acolyte both later said. Her shadow stretched, fleeing her form, as she walked naively to her killers, who meted out her death."

Or shall I write that as some-of-you'd no doubt speak?

"This guy, so, like, he and his pal, they are like serial killers, dude, and like, like, they attacked a woman, and killed her by the woods. Eish man, Yslike. Life is too short, man. You know what I'm saying?"

To be honest, I don't. You have communicated just ten percent of it, if that, and without enough information, most people will not feel too overly moved.

The pen might be mightier than the sword, but not in the hands of those who'd typically resort to a bullet or a blade. Good writing is learnt, an art lies in great literary words. Upon the page, with black and white, you can pen a watercolour, or the iciest snows.

Yes, I have used more words than these online language gurus have, but the words created such an image in your mind that you could swear you were there. You felt close to the victim. You feared for her life, your heart as heavy with dread, though you were not that poor innocent she. You perhaps felt vomit creeping up your throat, and sensed it, as she lost eternal control of hers.

Short sentences? A staccato effect. They have a place.

Better, though, is to gauge each word you write. Consider the image it paints, how words can cause an emotional and intellectual effect. Big words like acolyte, or thunderbolt, can be dynamite upon the page, if the context is correct. The studies where people thought users of big words were stupid had a nuance to them. The larger words were used where smaller words were good for the running. They added nothing to the sentences, no rhyme, no rhythm, no empty things hidden.

Short sentences, used for suspense, are good. Overuse, has another effect. Our working memories are only so big. That is why shorter sentences, and simpler words, these days, are so big. Reference, and another big word, allusion, however, turn a single word into an entire library of books. They, and the odd adjective, not only convey emotion, they make you feel it just the same. The mightiest pen convinces, as a killer's blood-soaked-murderous-blade never could. The difference between an amateur and a writer lies in how they choose to write. Sentences come naturally to a writer, through the shear volume of their extensive written work. Practice sometimes perfects, it can be said.

The next time you write a text, tweet, or something indiscreet, try to write without emoticons or slang. Attempt a game where you never use the same word twice. Paint a picture with your use of phrase. With practice, and a handy pocket dictionary, your future writing might cause some surprise, hopefully of the best kind... prayerfully that, and not something utmost worse - a study in wrong use of words, those sacred, sometimes ill-gotten, things.

Friday, 26 June 2015

I, artificial-intelligence-lawyer

Panic is ensuing. Lawyers are scared. Aren't they always? The same fears the Luddites had during the Industrial Revolution are sweeping many more industries than ours. In one sense, the Luddite mill workers were not incorrect: many lost their jobs, wages did not improve for them, and rich landowners benefited while workers did not. A hundred years later, wages had increased, and the improved efficiency of machines had created jobs no one could imagine existing. The job market grew because of machines, eventually.

Most large commercial aircraft could fly themselves. In fact, most of the time they do. In the age of Twitter, news media very seldom break a story. However, the news has not disappeared, at least not yet. Social media users fall prey to a hundred thousand different scams. The knowledge and skills of the journalist, in providing an authentic and verifiable voice, are indispensable in a world of disinformation.

Do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) legal contracts had been available for years from Horters. Sage Pascal has now entered the same business, with their LegalWrite software platform, offering over one hundred contracts to laymen seeking to avoid a visit to the office of an average lawyer. I went through every one of these contracts in preparation for one of my board exams. As I read through them, I could think of a hundred scenarios where something could go wrong if a lawyer did not in the very least bit read through the final contract with the knowledge of the person's circumstances.

Many lawyers fear that clever AI (that is, artificial intelligence) will replace them as legal advisors, contract drafters, researchers, and as the writers of wills. And yet, for the same reason that large commercial aircraft companies still insist on pilots in their planes, and that news media still exist despite Twitter, artificial intelligence will not take the jobs of lawyers.

Laymen have drafted their own contracts for many years. Much of litigation is thanks to this practice. A nonlegal mind is often unable to adapt a contract to their inevitably very specific circumstances. Even if an artificial intelligence, or pro forma contract could be adapted to every circumstance, people would still require lawyers for the same reason that they require pilots. My suggestion is that artificial intelligence will not take our jobs as lawyers, but that it might automate some of our processes, speeding up our ability to do our jobs. People go to lawyers, because they want to be absolutely certain that their interests, embedded in their contracts, will stand the test of time. Even if machines land up drafting our contracts, legal eyes will still need to read over the contract, and edit it where necessary.

What once took a lawyer six hours, might, within coming decades, take a lawyer six minutes, with the help of a deep learning machine to draft the actual contract. However, the same product would be bought from the lawyer, namely an ability to properly interpret the law, foresee pitfalls, and ensure the quality of the contract, the requested will, or of a memo giving legal advice.

Just as the Internet adage goes, that a product which takes a person fifteen minutes to create, and cost an absolute fortune, is worth a fortune. What is being paid for, is not the fifteen minutes it took to create the product, but the many years of study, skill, and experience required to make the product in fifteen minutes.

What is likely to happen, is that, over time, legal services, with the help of deep learning machines, will reduce radically in cost. This is what happened with the Industrial Revolution, in relation to blue-collar jobs that did not require much thinking. What also happened, is that demand for the products of the machines increased. Every person wanted to own a cotton shirt, several if possible. If anything, the deep learning machine revolution, will allow legal services to be more swiftly and easily provided by expert lawyers. With less effort required by the lawyers providing the services, fees will likely go down. With fees going down, more people will be able to afford legal services, more of the time.

Economics being as they are, the advent of personal computers, meant to reduce the effort and work human beings have to put in, in doing so, increased their workload. If anything, with the aid of deep learning, artificially intelligent machines, lawyers will have more work than they ever have. The deep learning machine industry, furthermore, will impact all other areas of the economy, where human intelligence is currently required. If your architect does not have to draw the plans, but merely go over them to make sure that they are safe and accurate and compliant, more people will be able to employ architects. Intellectual services that once only were available for the elite, could suddenly become available for everyone. If anything, the future holds the potential of more jobs for lawyers, not less. It also holds the potential that what money these lawyers earn will get them further than ever before.

So fear not, my colleagues. The machines are not out to get you. Like a personal computer, and that brilliant invention known as email, they are merely here to increase your workload.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Smile if you want to be happy.

I am, alas, an unfortunate fan of sociological magazines, such as the much trumpeted: Pacific Standard.

Such high brow publications always talk about these obtuse studies, where people are asked to think or write about some distant past situation, in their short and no doubt meaningful earthly existence. The unwitting-subjects-of-these-experiments' subsequent decisions? They are compromised by these purposely engineered prior thought crimes, and sociological conclusions are quite rapidly drawn on everything from social exclusion, power and poverty to the effectiveness of game theory.


Think about a time when little old you were... gasp... socially excluded, and you, yes, you - with the crooked smile and the coffee stained teeth, are statistically likely to become... wait for it... more likeable.

Think about when you were weak, and you will gain empathy for those in a pinch.

People who think of others as their superiors - are better able to read their emotions. When told a picture is of an inferior, it becomes perplexingly difficult for the people - inevitably called 'subjects' - to read the emotions of the lads and lasses in those same pictures.

Think about yourself as smart, and you lose intelligence in subsequent test results, but think of your humble little muggins as trying hard, and always doing your best, and your results in tests somehow go up.


When, as a young boy, I moved to a new school... I moved from the government syllabus to the posh IEB, and along with it, to a school outsiders called... 'snobbish' - at the best of times. It was not a pleasant shift, needless to say.

One of the girls in my class once did a thoroughly boring prepared-speech on none other than 'happiness'.

She said that smiling itself caused the systems in the human body to magically release those special chemicals that cause happiness. I left that class with a fake smile, and faked happiness that day, until I was a happy lil' chap.

Life being as it is, I soon returned to blank expressions, and held to that for a few years, way back when... but c'est la vie, especially when moving to a different school.

Besides, I prefer to see my emotions as alarm bells, warnings of something that my subconscious mind has secretly picked up upon, and that poor old inobservant me just hasn't picked up yet... I would rather be genuinely sad, than peppy happy, any day of the week except Sunday. I do believe I am genuinely happy, but that does not mean a few thought crimes don't sometimes help me become better at what I need to achieve.


Actors will teach you something similar, they say that if you want to be successful, pretend you already are. Your posture changes how you view the world. It also changes how others view you in a given moment. The most annoying opponent is one who smiles when they lose a game. The absolute worst, is one who encourages you when you miss the ball, and insists on wishing you the best of luck.


Returning to those ridiculous, yet bizarrely effective, thought experiments that the inevitable sociology obsessives gravitate to...

Put a pencil in your mouth, so as to force yourself to smile. You will be less critical of what you are reading or being told at that moment... try doing so while reading this very article, and await that spinning wheel television shows portray as hypnosis. You will be an optimist, or more so, if you insist upon a breakneck speedy smile.

P.S. dear reader, you being less critical at such a critical moment, will not prevent your nearby colleagues from being critical of you, for your use of a pencil (hopefully your own): as what they might, for-some-unknown-reason, perceive as a chew toy.

Frown heavily now, and you will spot far more errors. I often enjoy a hardy frown, and a bit of bitter coffee... when it comes time to edit my tremendous or horrendous prose... it works wonders that a smile never could.


So, back to those lessons that unfortunate aspiring actors do get at sub-par-and-above schools of the arts...

By mimicking powerful or successful people, actors do something they don't even notice at first. Think of the first time a beautiful lass or two said she loved you (or, for the ladies, and those so oriented, the first time a lad did... mutatis mutandis, and all). Your posture will straighten. You will smile from ear to ear.

Just, as going to sleep at a certain time, will set and reset your biological clock, smiling from ear to ear, even without those champagne bubble memories, and standing up straight - along with that - will undoubtedly affect your internal confidence and happiness clocks.


The saying that you should treat everyone you meet as an old friend, in order to curry their favour (stop being so diabolical, dear reader) - also seems to ring true. What we think, and the way we behave, influences our mind and the behaviour of others.


So, if you are not feeling particularly confident, after you phoned up that first girl... or lad - who ever said s/he loved you - and s/he quite politely told you that s/he just isn't whatsoever interested in you anymore...

Pretend you are a puppet on a string, being held up by the top of your head, or that you are hanging on for dear life - by a wooden beam between your teeth.

Mind you, in the second example, don't put your teeth to the sky: have your face at exactly 90% from the ground... otherwise, it just looks a tad strange. In fact, so strange, that you might be socially excluded by your colleagues... priming you effectively for the coming example about social exclusion.


On that sour note, read on, to just another sociology topic...

When you next meet someone new, think of a time your were socially excluded from some portion of society - one that you so desperately wanted to be included with... statistics analysis suggests you will be more charming as a result.

Perhaps, you might be thinking to yourself - you should have done so before you called up that first lass/lad/etc who - once upon a blue moon - said she... or he... or s/he... loved you. Maybe you would have been just charming enough to reignite the inexplicable spark she... or he... once somehow - for no reason you can ever seem to comprehend - felt.


So, sit up straight in your chair, and pretend you love your day job as much as you love hearing other people say they love you. You might just become more focussed on your work, and you might just get that promotion you always wished you had. You might also not, but isn't it worth a try?

In the very least, you might find that you visit your physiotherapist or chiropractor just a pinch less, and are far happier now that you have that extra bit of cash to spend. Sitting up straight can, somehow or other, do wonders for your posture.




Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Medical council appeal posthumous death warrant!

A while ago, I wrote about a bizarre set of circumstances that led to a ruling which authorised what otherwise would be the murder of a supposedly dying cancer patient, a Robert Stransham-Ford. Capetonian advocate, Stransham-Ford, in a further turn of fate, was quite dead as the Pretoria based judge read out the verdict.

I referenced a case in the British commonwealth, where a court authorised the killing of a Siamese twin, to save the life of its equally young sibling, and where the court also sought to claim it was not creating a precedent. I thought the Pretoria Euthanasia ruling might not protect any doctor involved from actual prosecution, due to a concept known to lawyers as ripeness.

The court in the British case was the highest in the land, and it had the necessary constitutional authority to make the decision it had, to authorise a medical operation which would save one life and end another. In any case, the court specifically stated that it was not setting a precedent, and the death of the Siamese twin was never prosecuted.

The primary problem for me, with the current euthanasia ruling, lay in the court pre-judging a matter which was not yet ripe for trial, in that the killing had not yet taken place. I have little trouble with a court in a criminal matter developing our case law to allow euthanasia, after a killing has occurred, assuming it has enough authority to overturn the accepted practice of dealing with euthanasia in sentencing but still convicting of murder. This case however does not involve facts already at play, but facts which would not happen without the warrant to break with the current standing decisions of the South African courts, and to kill, issued by the court.

Any law student will be taught in Constitutional Law that the courts cannot be allowed to decide on matters that are as yet merely theoretical, and not yet arrived upon. My Constitutional law lecturer, was quite the activist type, he used to say that if you wanted a law changed, you should find someone prepared to break it, and defend them after the fact. The courts only have jurisdiction over matters which are already pressing, that is to say, over ripe matters. The judiciary furthermore, do not have jurisdiction over matters which are moot, that is, matters which their rulings will no longer affect.

The place of the courts, where there is established law, is reactive. It is not the place of the courts to judge matters which have not yet occurred. Were this not the case, I could at this moment ask the courts to decide the fate of the famed cannibals of the future: the Speluncean Explorers. They certainly can rule that certain laws are unconstitutional, but were the high court to do so, for instance, where a statute infringes on the constitution, it would need the endorsement of the Constitutional Court to back up its decision. Courts can also issue declarations on the law, or interdicts in accordance with it, but they cannot authorise its breaking ahead of time without invalidating the law for the rest of us. Even the law involving criminal informants who break minor laws, is heavily regulated by case law. In effect, the decision, by basing itself on facts as yet to occur, and contradicting set criminal law, was in danger of pre-empting a criminal law case, and one, what is more, likely in a different territorial jurisdiction.

One cannot imagine the nightmarish predicament the judge adjudicating a murder trial would find themselves in, had another judge already ruled in his matter before the facts had occurred. Imagine if the cancer patient had at the last minute backed out and told his doctor he did not want to die, and the doctor decided to go ahead with the euthanasia. This is a major variation of the facts, which would call into question the decision to authorise the killing, but were this or another variation to occur, it would hurt the perception of justice and make the job of the trial judge extremely difficult. Also, it would create a presumption that the cancer patient still wanted to die, even if he had decided contrary. Would the doctor now no longer need to prove that the man still desired death to the end? In Dignitas, a suicide clinic, the patients are asked if they still want death throughout their medically induced demise.

The practical problem with such a case as the present matter, would lie in a new authority created for the courts, to warrant the breaking of the law ahead of time, without bothering to set aside the law itself as unconstitutional... Not the Constitutional Court, but mere high court judges, and judges before whom the otherwise criminal act-to-be has not even occurred.
I argued at the time of the judgement, that any reliable precedent would only occur if there were a decision to prosecute the doctor who administered the suicide, and if a court in the jurisdiction of the murder were then to uphold the pre-emptive decision.
The decision in fact occurred and was given when the whole thing was already moot. As Hans Fabricius, the judge in the case read out the decision, after his spending much of the trial emphasizing his concern for the cancer patient's wellbeing - the cancer patient was already lying dead, allegedly of natural causes. Media state that Dignity SA, and the man's lawyers were unaware that he had passed away and did not purposely deceive the court of law.

In today's Stop Press, from LexisNexis Current Awareness, there is an update on this fascinating incident. It was already well established that the state would be appealing the unusual decision which sought to bar it from prosecuting what the standing precedent setting decisions of the courts consider to be a murder. Joining the state however, report The Times, is the Health Professions Council of South Africa, the body that regulates the medical profession. The HPCSA is quite upset with the part of the decision which would see the doctor not lose their medical licence for acting in what otherwise would be classed as unethical medical negligence and the intentional ending of the life of their patient.

'Robert Stransham-Ford, who won the right to die with a doctor’s help, was wrong when he said his terminal cancer had robbed him of his constitutional right to dignity.
This is according to the Health Professions Council of SA’s appeal against the landmark ruling that Stransham-Ford be allowed to commit doctor-assisted suicide.
Stransham-Ford, 65, argued that his slow death was undignified.
In appeal papers filed this week the council said: “The process of dying does not constitute an insult upon human dignity. Infirmity, incompetence, dementia and immobility, all of them of natural origins, limit human possibility. But sooner or later they are unavoidable, the products of inevitable bodily and or mental decay.”
An appeal has been lodged by the state and its papers, filed by the minister of health, minister of justice and the director of public prosecutions, assert: “Dying is part of life; its completion.”' (The Times | 'Medics, state line up to challenge euthanasia ruling' 27th May 2015)
Notably, Dignity SA is quoted as saying that they welcome the matter being appealed, and that rightly the Constitutional Court should be the court to decide the matter. Indeed, it would be, but for such a precedent setting case, why it wasn't approached as court a quo on an urgent basis is beyond me.

As it is, we sit with a situation where a court of law states that it can authorise the breaking of standard law beforehand, and that each decision in such regard must be made based on its own merits. This is a scenario where two doctors both euthanise a patient, one with a court order and another without one, and where one goes to jail and the other does not. It is a strange scenario indeed. Perhaps it will become our standing law, but it is up to the Constitutional or other appeal court to decide that now.

 
Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.
 
 
 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Pretoria Judge authorises “mercy killing" of Cape lawyer... doctors might still be prosecuted


The authorisation of the euthanasia of the cancer patient is not the end of it.

The life of a Siamese twin depended upon the killing of their sibling. In Great Britain, the courts were asked to authorise the slaying of the marked out sibling twin. The courts created something never attempted before, in authorising the killing. The judgement set out a judgement without precedent, a judgement that future cases could not reference as a binding authority. This is something the courts attempted, in an authorised, legal murder of a little child, to save the life of an equally little child.


The standing law in South Africa is that if you kill a person out of feelings of mercy to the victim, you are convicted of murder, but are given a minimal sentence.

A Pretoria judge, Hans Fabricus, has authorised the euthanasia of a lawyer, 65 year old Adv. Robin Stransham-Ford, who practices law in Cape Town. The judge attempted something similar to the British court, setting out that each future case must be decided on its merits.

News report that the judgement set out that the doctors would neither be prosecuted nor convicted, nor held civilly liable for their intentional killing of a cancer patient.

Therein lies the problem. It is set out by our system of government that it is the role of the National Prosecuting Authority to decide whether to prosecute. The law furthermore states clearly, through precedent, that euthanasia is still murder, that is to say, no matter your motive, you may not intentionally kill another human being without justification. Cases where people have sought legal advice and acted in accordance with it, while still breaking the law, have found the violator of the law still guilty.

Can a judge authorise a battered wife to kill her husband? Can it authorise a police team to assassinate a kidnapper or criminal? The problem with the judgement authorising the killing of the lawyer, is its shady quality. The real precedent if it comes will occur if the prosecutor decides to prosecute the doctors. Then, the courts will need to decide whether a judge can issue a death warrant by authorising killings which oppose standard law. Further, the facts are not at issue yet, the killing is not yet done, the judge might well have pre-empted an issue, and further his decision could be viewed by courts as merely legal advice, and thus not binding.

One would have expected a Capetonian judge to adjudicate such a matter, of note is that the judge is question is a Pretoria based judge, and yet, he is deciding on the fate of a Capetonian. Perhaps there is also an issue of physical territorial jurisdiction beyond that of basic concepts of jurisdiction. It would take a brave or reckless doctor to be willing to be the test case in this matter. Otherwise, we might find ourselves in a country where any odd member of the judiciary issues authorisation for any number of usually illegal activities, from killings, to burglary, to any number of cases. An attempt to pre-judge or authorise a series of events, certainly may not stand the test of time.

Ultimately the real case is yet to come. It will likely follow on police sirens, and the injection of a green substance resembling Spar Letta Cream Soda.

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Among the most despised gods of the savagely civilised ancient Greeks, was Kronos

Among the most despised gods of the savagely civilised ancient Greeks, was Kronos, the God of time.

It flickers softly, as the airflow passes through. Fire is not light. It is not heat. The fire is not the mere sacrificial smoke, or the altruistic, dead or dying fuel which feeds it.

Define it, the philosopher challenges our limited three dimensional minds. Define it, the philosopher screeches loudly. The fire burns destructively ahead of us, and yet we worship it for what it creates. We fill our churches, temples and synagogues with the flame of this magical, mysterious dead being.

The reason we struggle with defining fire is the same reason that we struggle to define life or love. Scientists say that we do not truly see the world. It is this reason that permits optical illusions, and allows colours to appear different than they are when the illusion of shadow is permeated through the mind. We see a very limited small part of the world, and even that the mind filters out, we see only what we need to survive.


It is easy to define a chair. The sky is less easy, the mind can easily comprehend it.

What we struggle to define, we the creatures who believe, in our major world religions, that God created us to name all the creatures of the world: is that which consistently changes, and that which itself is change. I am a sinner, I am a saint… The old popular music song brays against the world. Many authors of novels, of late, have come to despise the fiction art: refusing to believe that the caricatures of fiction can exist in real life. That which changes is hard to define. Fire itself is change. It is why we struggle with it.

Fire, ignites infinity. The basis of Buddhism, a spiritual suicide. The Buddha believed that life was suffering, and that Nirvana needed to be reached, that a being always coming out the birth canal as something different, is something that needed to be stopped. The God of Christianity calls himself I Am. He insists that he does not change, and that in the end all judgements will be final. Our major world religions circle around change. Repentance, reconciliation, and the criminal justice system depend on the concept. That which is most easily defined can never change.

Fire fascinates us because it is never the same, from the moment we look at it, from the moment we are born and from the moment we die and pass from this world. Fire is never the same, this fraying thread of a candle in the vicious and softly caressing winds.

It is said that if something is unexpected enough, the brain does not even perceive it. If it does perceive it, it does not remember it. And if it does remember it, it remembers it for ever, for whatever it is that it is deemed important enough to be remembered, despite being unknown, must inevitably have an impact upon our survival.

Whether baptism or a hallucinogenic spirit journey, guided by the beating of drums and the shaman's incessant whispering, the concept that a person can become something that they are not is the core of our spiritual being as human beings.

Change, the fourth dimension, is the foundation of the spiritual human person, and the basis of all of our religions. That is why we fear the unknown, it is why we dream and imagine and long and lust.

Life is the opiate of the scientific community, is what they seek to create with every discovery as they move forward. Life, change which directs itself.

Fire ignites our infinite intrigue, for it appears to mimic life, for life is change. And yet, the random flickering of gaseous flames is not alive, yet it somehow is still unpredictable enough to appear so to the human mind.

And fire is what differentiates a human being, from many of the beasts upon the plains and from the named and unnamed things hidden subtly within various mysterious forests, and from the creatures that inhabit the oceans that decorate and accessorise the ever fertile planet Earth.

To which change do you direct your aeviternal life? From the moment of our conception, we are never the same, and upon death our mortal body will decay, even in death our form will always change, and in the end there will be nothing left of us, we only exist for as long as we change.

Like the fire, we will never be the same, and even in death we will never be the same until we are void. To what do you direct your aeviternal life? How do you, a creature born of fertile earth – define yourself, if you only exist for as long as you are change? You're not fuel which feeds the fire, you are not the smoke, you are not the light, and you are not the heat. Like fire, you, life, at a cellular level, take in oxygen and fuel and release the smoke of carbon dioxide, and with it the energy that drives on the change, the fire within you that goes on until you are no more.

Fire ignites infinity, because like fire we may not truly be alive, we might simply be random chemical processes, a reaction as old as life itself. Fire ignites infinity, it is an analog for all of our spiritual lives, our strange and incessant search for meaning, for something constant and unchanging, for something as yet still alive, in the change that is our lives.

Marc Evan Aupiais

Marc Evan Aupiais

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