A PNG politician, warts & all

Old fogey cognitive deficit disorder


TUMBY BAY - You may have heard more than once persons of senior years proclaiming that the older they get the less they know.

That proclamation doesn’t mean a shrinking knowledge. What these aged folk mean is that the older they get the more they discover the vastness of human knowledge and the small part of it that they know or understand.

It’s a bit like suddenly being able to see the incomprehensible vastness of space beyond the stars visible in the sky at night.

Younger people rarely admit to such a lack of knowledge. As far as they’re concerned they know just about everything and what don’t they can easily find out with a few taps on their smart phone.

There are a few subtleties involved in elderly knowledge of course. There are some things, for instance, that elderly people don’t actually want to know about.

Technical stuff is high on that list, especially if it is related to mind-muddling digital matters.

There seems to be a constant snowstorm of technical guff blowing across the landscape designed specifically to befuddle older folk.

At the other end of the spectrum is the ancient stuff they discover they should have known about a long time ago.

A similar phenomenon is finding out that something they have believed all their life is wrong. That happens a lot. Older people often vividly remember things that never happened.

All of these discoveries, whether old or new, are delightful chirrups at the tail end of life. Waiting for the next revelation can be life affirming.

As you have probably guessed I’m speaking from experience. Fortunately I’m old enough to admit to my cognitive deficits and my inability to understand stuff.

There’s lots of stuff I can’t get my head around no matter how hard I try. It comes and goes but a recent example is what economists call ‘quantitative easing’ and journalists refer to as ‘printing money’.

How on earth can a government simply print more money without having some sort of asset like gold bullion to back it up?

Now, I know there are financial wonks out there dying to explain it all to me but please be assured that I was programmed way back in the 1940s and my operating system doesn’t recognise fuzzy logic.

What I think happens is that governments like the USA and Australia, who seem able to print money when they feel like it, actually do so by selling the banks and other financial institutions a form of promissory note or bond.

Those who buy these things are taking a gamble that they will eventually be able to sell them back to the government with a bit of interest added.

This can get a bit dodgy, as the USA is finding out, because one of the major buyers of their bonds is China. Sooner or later China will be in a position to bankrupt the USA by cashing in the bonds they hold. Except, of course, it is also up to its neck in debt.

No doubt treasurers in Papua New Guinea have contemplated printing money by issuing bonds at some stage but then realised no one would buy them because they knew the likelihood of getting their money back was next to zero.

Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe it’s simply a matter of the treasury department telling the finance department to type numbers into bank accounts.

Keystrokes on computers in a virtual system creating money out of thin air! Imagine how that could work in the wrong hands, inflation going through the roof.

If that’s the case it also means that the government, if it was so inclined, could turn the value of that $10,000 you’ve got stashed in the bank into $1,000 in the blink of an eye. Such is the tenuous nature of our money economy.

One thing plain to me is that the global financial system is floating on very thin ice with nothing underneath to save it if the ice gives way.

That’s the bit I just can’t grasp. To me that all sounds incredibly dumb. But, then again, there are lots of things going on in the world that seem dumb. Ignoring climate change for instance.

Well, dumb to me at least, but I’m just an old grey fogey who can’t be expected to understand.

Now why does that make me feel so uneasy?

Maybe I’m better off not knowing.


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Marum Katze

I am 76 years young and worked at the cutting edge of technology for thirty years (computers, lasers, etc). I just love all technology.

My job took me to PNG usually for a week or two at a time, but I never lived there. Typical of me, I guess, I quickly learned Tokpisin and liklik save lo Motu.

I got friendly with my fellow PNG technical people, and often got out to their villages on weekends. Being a brown-skinned-Aussie (part Aboriginal) they soon forgot I was wanpela waitman.

So, like most of you "old hands and Territory brats", I developed a love for the country.

Stap gut yupela lapun olgeta. Marum. (Wanpela puskat.)

Chips Mackellar

You are absolutely correct, Paul. At your suggestion I searched Wikipedia. It displays a Roman abacus from the first Century AD and explains it was not beads on wires as we know the abacus to be, but beads in grooves on a board, said to be a bi-quinary coded decimal system related to Roman numerals. Thank you for solving this problem.

william Dunlop

Good one Daniel. However, bear in mind neither Francis Nii nor Stephen Hawking required pockets in their Funeral Garments.

Paul Oates

It's been suggested that the Romans didn't use their numerals at all but just used an abacus. Whether this is true is anyone's guess since while the Roman Age and Empire lasted hundreds of years, no one considered it worth recording how they actually did their complicated mathematics.

Chips Mackellar

Thanks Paul, but you converted the equation to Arabic numerals and then used an electronic calculator. The Romans had neither of these. The question was how could a Roman engineer divide MDCXIII by XVIII, if he could only use Roman numerals.

Arthur Williams

“Money is the cause of poverty…”

I shall never forgetting that description of the current money system which is expounded by Frank Owen in his famous talk now called “The Great Money Trick” to his fellow workers found in Robert Noonan’s (pseudonym Robert Tressel) 1914 ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’

Many web pages exist about it including a musical version on YouTube. Worth a read.

An apt but controversial book for cash strapped PNG is ‘Confessions of an Economic Hit Man’ by John Perkins published 2004 ISBN 0-452-28708-1

To keep the Silures tribe of SE Wales in check the Romans built a fort at Cardiff. (a tiny remnant of their later stone fort is still visible from our main street in the rebuilt Norman version.) Then a day’s march northwards was another fort at Gelligaer. For every day’s march northwards towards Brecon they built another. The Welsh hero Caradog Latinised in the Rolf Harris song ‘The ladies of the court of King Caractacus was eventually captured and sent to Rome. On the local history site for Fochriw village near Gelligaer they claim:

‘Nearly 2,000 years ago a Roman presence was established in Gelligaer…..Caradog, when captured and taken to Rome, looked in wonder at its civic splendour and asked his captors " Since you have all this, why do you covet our huts ? "

Wikipedia supports that searching question of wealth versus poverty: Dio Cassius says Caratacus was so impressed by the city of Rome that he said "And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, still covet our poor huts?"[13]

Daniel Kumbon

Phil, The line 'Its a bit like suddenly being able to see the incomprehensible vastness of space beyond the stars visible in the night sky'' reminds of how I compared Stephen Hawking with late Francis Nii in a recent comment I made in PNG Attitude.

These two men could see beyond the stars and think big from their wheel chairs.

Their backgrounds and financial worth of these two men are different.

Francis died a poor man while Stephen is said to have been worth $20 million dollars.

Most of Stephen’s inheritance was from the sale of his books particularly his first book 'A Brief History of Time' which sold millions of copies and translated into many languages.

I read Stephen’s book and found that it was simply written for ordinary people like myself to understand complex issues like time and space.

Stephen Hawking could not feed himself, dress himself etc. All he did was to sit and think and explore time and space from his wheel chair.

He kept doing research at Cambridge University and published books on complex scientific matter from his wheelchair and died when he was 76.

Francis Nii also from his wheelchair and hospital bed could write and publish books and died when he was 57.

I tend to think that people who can explain complex issues in simple terms, deal with decimals, understand the composition of matter, count stars, explain 'black holes' and far reaches of space have got to be geniuses.

‘Intelligence is the ability to change’- Stephen Hawking.

‘A good head and a good heart is always a formidable combination’ - Nelsen Mandela as quoted by Francis Nii in his book ‘Walk My Song'.

I think old fogeys who contribute to PNG Attitude have good heads and hearts.

Philip Kai Morre

I tend to think that at the early age we develop skills and knowledge. A lot of discoveries and inventions come at the early age when our brain is fresh and developing.

Knowledge comes first and we develop our wisdom when we get old. I often have problems with my short term memory, and cannot recall names and places.

I keep looking for my biro while holding it in my left hand. However, my long term memory is all right. I can recall back to my childhood memories.

Paul Oates

Now you're pushing the grey matter Chips. Is that 1613 divided by 18? Isn't that 89.61111111111111?

So what did the Romans do with the decimal leftover? Fudge it up to the next higher numeral or send the mathematician to the arena if he couldn't make the equation?

Do you remember when we played cricket at school? We used show the Brits up by having 8 ball overs in Australia. They then couldn't cope with the strain and brought us back to their 6 ball overs. They claimed was due to timing commercial ad breaks on TV. I have a sneaking suspicion however, it was really about Geoff Boycott and how long he took to play another boring cricket over.

Chips Mackellar

That is a real teaser, Jim, and the answer is to convert the figures to their lowest denomination, that is the money to pence, and the weights to pounds. A very inconvenient accounting system.
But spare a thought for the Romans, who built monuments, bridges, aquaducts, and roads some of which survive to this day, without numbers as we know them. Our decimal numbering system was invented by the Arabs, after the fall of the empire.
So if you were a Roman engineer (without converting to our decimal system because it had not been invented then) how would you divide MDCXIII by XVIII.?

Jim Moore

To qualify as an old fogey, one should be able to work this sum out without a calculator; (I remember having to do stuff like this in primary school, and it had very real implications for every type of retail transaction in those times.)

If a ton of cement costs 3p.4s.8p, how much would 5t.2cwt.1qtr.3st.6lb cost?
The real question is of course, why did we as a nation, persevere with this mumbo jumbo for so long?

Chips Mackellar

You are correct, Ross. The standard tool for measuring distance was the chain, which is the distance between the wickets of a cricket pitch, also 22 times the distance between King Henry's nose and his outstretched thumb, the basis for the chain.

Ross Wilkinson

And then, of course there were the old Imperial measurements of links, rods, chains and furlongs, and not forgetting the area measurements of perch, rood and acre that we learnt in primary school.

All forgotten until 15 or so years later when, as young Cadet Patrol Officers we were handed a prismatic compass and a strange canvas roll that the Assistant District District Commissioner called "a chain" and told us to go out and do a land investigation that involved a boundary survey.

Then it was back to the office to draw a map of the surveyed land, calculate the dimensions and area; all using these terms that we had learned and forgotten from primary school. And God forbid that we couldn't close the boundaries on the map from our field notes. We were allowed a very small margin for error, otherwise it was back out to do it all again.

If we were lucky, the station had an Assistant Field Officer to manage the survey and survey map, but occasionally, we had to do it ourselves.

Charles Codger

Phil, I had a word with the Fogey family in our neighbouring village, Ballyorfull, and they put your case to the smartest chap in town, the local dentist, Phil McAvity. He is some years senior to us and is the oldest Fogey in town.

'For sure, for sure' he said, which is good enough for us Codgers.

Paul Oates

That's an interesting anecdote thanks Chips.

I always thought a mile was the equivalent of a Latin Mille which was the thousandth step a legion marched along a Roman road. i.e. a thousand virtually 30 inch paces. After every 1,000 paces, the Roman Army would then place a milestone.

Inches were I thought, an interpretation of the original Egyptian 'digit' or finger width which went into a 'palm' width that then went into an 'L' length of an arm to the elbow whereas feet were logically an average size foot.

Wasn't it Julius Caesar who corrected the calendar to add a leap year every fourth year as the number of days (365) are a day out every four years.

Yards I thought came from a yardstick but didn't that originate with the ability to draw a longbow (i.e. an arrow's length), and then the ability to measure lineal feet in fabric or cloth.

Clearly I now need to conduct some more research on the matter at hand, so to speak.

Philip Fitzpatrick

When you drive south into Port Lincoln (as we do each week to grocery shop) there's a sign at North Shields that says 'Wheatsheaf Hotel 100 Yards on Left". The paint is a bit flaky but it's held up well.

Also worth noting that the Yanks still measure stuff in yards and miles. Although I think the mile is now based on the distance between Trump's brain and reality.

Chips Mackellar

Yes, Phil, this modern world is all a mystery to us old fogeys. But remember how mysterious it was for us to survive before decimal currency?

In those days the basic measurement was a yard, which was the distance between King Henry I's nose and his outstretched thumb.

22 of these arm lengths was the distance between the wickets of a cricket pitch, and 80 cricket pitches was one mile, which was 1,760 lengths of King Henry's nose to outstretched thumb.

How we managed to survive with this measurement strategy surpasses all the mysteries of our modern world.

Paul Oates

Don't feel alone Phil. There are still plenty of us around who empathise with your suggested condition. I refuse to call it a malady. When you think about it, that's really not too surprising given the relative pace of evolution our mechanical contraptions are progressing at, far out distances our evolution as a species.

Our human ancestors were clearly able to survive for over a million years with just chipped and sharpened stones. Then came the improvement of grinding the stones to a better edge and we evolved from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic Age. Copper and Bronze and finally Iron Ages all progressed at a comparable blink of an eye to the Middle ages where printing and recording of much of the world's knowledge helped humankind advance to where we were, when as you so succinctly point out, our mental hard wiring was assembled in the late 1940's.

Since then, I have seen my own world rapidly progress from the horse and cart to today's electric vehicles and a public telephone box down the end of the road evolve into a so called 'Smart Phone' that now seems to dominate everyone else's lives.

If all that can happen in the space of my lifetime, what will our grandchildren inherit? The algorithms and programs are still to be imagined and written one supposes, unless of course we end up depending on machines to do everything and become virtual zombies.

If that is the end of the process, perhaps it's better to jump ship while we still have a chance? What have we lost along the way or has inadvertently fallen off the cart while we were diverted by the magical new shiny toys that keep being thrust upon us with the inevitable demand: 'Just download the App!'

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