It’s all a matter of time

 Chondritics  Comments Off on It’s all a matter of time
Sep 232011

Two things: living bridges and share prices.

An interesting item on Deskarati describes people in Northern India who build bridges across mountain streams using living tree roots.  It works well in an area where streams run as a trickle for most of the year and as raging torrents in the monsoon season.  Such a bridge will last for half a millennium, but several generations of careful husbandry are needed before it is strong enough to be useful.

What a far sighted investment to make: building a bridge which, if your children and grandchildren work on it with care, will be useful to your great-great-great-great grandchildren!

By contrast, thinking about the current market turbulence, I Googled for “long term FTSE” and got several sites all based on the assumption that 12 months is the “longest term” anyone would be interested in.

No wonder our markets are in such a mess.  It takes more than a year to build a new factory, or a school, an office block or a ship.

But the people of Meghalaya think centuries ahead.  For them, “the long term” is far longer than the life span of one human.

 Posted by at 12:10

In times of trouble …

 Chondritics  Comments Off on In times of trouble …
Aug 172011

Instability is the lifeblood of surprisingly many professions.

  • The bankers and city traders make money out of market movements and have few opportunities for profit when prices are level.
  • Politicians need at least the threat of instability, and preferably real problems, to inspire fear and persuade people that a vote for them will stave off disaster.
  • Journalists need stories and when there is no news, will talk up trivial events, making them appear dramatic and threatening.
  • Policemen need instability to justify their existence and defend, or even expand, their budgets.

No wonder our lives are so unstable – it isn’t in the interests of these powerful groups to let things settle down.

 Posted by at 10:05

Who will guard us?

 Chondritics  Comments Off on Who will guard us?
Aug 092011

I have a second reason for thinking about Chondritics.  I live  in a stable society (one of the affluent bits of the Naughty North of England) and I appreciate that stability.

I don’t think stability is widespread – it may be taken for granted in England, but in many parts of the world stability has been absent for generations.  And even in England, the Queen’s Peace seems a fragile thing at times.  (As I write, London is clearing up after widespread riots.)

Quakers, like any other value-based community, need stability for long term survival.  Just as we need a system to decide ‘who will shovel the shit’, we need a way of responding to people who use violence and intimidation to run the world.

Do we defend ourselves – like the monks who developed Judo?

Do we rely on others, who may have unacceptable ways and standards?

Do we trust to the spirit and hope a peaceful approach will earn respect and foster survival?

Do we simply accept that, in a turbulent world, a non-violent approach will be risky?

 Posted by at 13:10

Who will shovel the shit?

 Chondritics  Comments Off on Who will shovel the shit?
Aug 092011

Years ago (early eighties) I was part of a discussion about building God’s Kingdom today.  There were lots of undergraduates enthusing about how we could all live in communes and share everything equally.

I interrupted their warm and pious fantasies to ask  “Who will shovel the shit?”

After a shocked silence – We’re in a church hall and he said ‘shit’! – someone said, very earnestly “Everyone will shovel their share.”

In practice, in most communes, this principle doesn’t work well.  Some become free-loaders while others are grafters.  Eventually the grafters get fed up with lonely shoveling and they leave.  I’ve never tried living in a commune,  but I have had many friends who set up communes, or joined them.  Communes never seem to last more than a few years.  Five years was about as good as it got.

As I said at the time “Everyone shoveling their share is not going to work if there are more than a dozen people.  Look at Maggie Thatcher: you would have a hard time getting her to admit she ever had a shit, let alone persuade her to shovel her share.”

This Chondritics thing is meant to be a more constructive response to this key question about how societies work.

 Posted by at 00:14


 Chondritics, Words  Comments Off on Chondritics?
Apr 072011

“Chondritics” is a word from astrophysics.  Meteorites – rocks which fall to earth from outer space – come in several types.  One type are called “chondrites”.  The chondritic meteorites are made of grainy stone.  Other meteorites are metallic (made mostly of iron and nickel) or achondritic (stony, but with a smooth texture, not grainy).

When meteorites fall to earth most are found to be chondrites (more than 80%).  Astronomers are interested in them because they are clumps of material left over from the early history of the Sun.  The planets formed from a big cloud of gas and grains.  Some grains were icy snowflakes, some were tiny chunks of rock, others were slivers of metal.  Most of this cloud condensed, just over 4,500 million years ago, into the planets we see today.  The bits that didn’t get swept up into planets became asteroids, comets and meteorites.

So when you look at a chondritic meteorite you’re looking at something that’s not as old as the hills, it’s even older!  No wonder astronomers get excited about them.

The word has two interesting links: hypochondria and chondritis.  Chondritis is a medical condition in which some of the cartilage in your body is inflamed.  It is a painful condition.  Hypochondria is an illness in which people have great anxiety about being ill.

The connection comes from the Greek word chondros meaning a grain (as in grains of sugar).   But the Greeks also used chondros to mean gristle, or cartilage.  If your gristle is hurting you may have chondritis.

In my body, and yours, there is a lot of gristle at the lower end of your breast-bone,  It links my ribs together in a semi-rigid way, tough enough to protect my lungs, but flexible enough to let me breathe.  So the part of the body just under your ribs is called the “hypochondria”, the “bit under the gristle”.  When you feel very anxious it can sometimes feel as though there is a big, swollen space under your ribs.  Worrying too much about possible diseases can give you a pain under your gristle: you become a hypochondriac.

 Posted by at 22:39