Mad Teddy's website: All that glisters...

Mad Teddy's web-pages


All that glisters...

Funny old-fashioned word, isn't it? What does it mean?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary (eighth edition, 1990) defines it as follows:

glister v. & n. archaic -v.intr. sparkle; glitter. -n. a sparkle; a gleam. [ME f. MLG glistern, MDu glisteren, rel. to GLISTEN]

Okay - so it's related to both "glitter" and "glisten". Without going into too much detail, in its definition of "glitter" the Concise Oxford uses the phrases "ostentatious or flashily brilliant" and "showiness; splendour".

(I think we all get the idea: more to do with appearance than with substance.)

So what's my point?

In a modern context, as far as I'm aware the word is used only in the expression


All that glisters is not gold...


which occurs in William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act II, scene 7. (Click here to read an article placing the quotation in context.)

Let's think about gold for a few moments...

GOLD

Gold is one of the chemical elements. Its chemical symbol, Au, comes from its Latin name aurum. The word "gold" comes from the Old English word geolo, which means yellow. ("Yeolo", perhaps...?)

Gold's atomic number is 79 (i.e. each atomic nucleus has 79 protons), and its atomic weight is 196.9665 (which basically translates into the fact that - in the only stable isotope of the element - each nucleus also has 118 neutrons).

It's one of the "transition metals". In the periodic table, gold is in the sixth period (between platinum and mercury), and in the same group (group 11) as copper and silver, with which it therefore shares certain chemical properties. (Gold is often found in copper ore.)

The arrangement of the 79 electrons in a gold atom:

1s22s22p63s23p64s23d104p65s24d105p66s14f145d10

means that gold is a very good electrical conductor. (Not quite as good as copper, mind you - but still pretty good.)

Chemically, it's fairly unreactive (it's considered to be a "noble" metal). In particular, it doesn't tarnish in air, so that it's always shiny and thus looks pretty.

Gold is a soft metal; it's malleable (which means that it can be hammered into thin sheets) and ductile (which means that it can be easily drawn out into a wire).

I can't resist the temptation at this point to mention a story by the late Dr. Isaac Asimov called "Pâté de Foie Gras". This mock-serious, very tongue-in-cheek piece is about a goose that laid golden eggs - or, at least, more-or-less normal eggs with a high concentration of gold (even a thin layer of the raw metal itself) in their shells, leading to a lack of structural strength. The gold is produced as a result of a very specific nuclear reaction taking place in the goose's liver, involving radioactive isotopes of the elements iron and oxygen. (Asimov was a chemist by training, and a biochemist by profession - when he wasn't writing!)

The story revolves around the perplexity of a group of scientists who are trying to figure out what is going on, in an attempt to duplicate the effect - or, at the very least, to somehow persuade the goose to lay at least a few normal eggs which may hatch into further geese with the same property, before the original one dies - thus enabling further research.

The best part of this crazy story, for me, was the dead-straight way in which the chloraurate ion (AuCl4-); a gold-containing variation of hæmoglobin (which the scientists dub "auræmoglobin"); and several other chemical / nuclear references, come into the scientists' deliberations. Great fun.

It's in a book of SF short stories by Asimov and others named "Where Do We Go From Here? Book 2", edited by Asimov and published by Sphere Books Limited in 1973. (You've guessed it - it's another of my many literary treasures!)

To read a bit more about the story, visit this page, which is part of the official Asimov website. (Scroll about four-fifths of the way down.) You can read an excerpt from the story itself by clicking here.

Right - enough of this nonsense! Let's resume our serious discussion of gold!

- - - - - - - - - -

What use is it?

Historically, it was used for coinage. Its comparitive rarity meant that it was going to be difficult for ordinary folks to make counterfeit coins, and its chemical inertness meant that it would last a long time and always look shiny. Thus it became known as a valuable metal.

For basically similar reasons, its second major use is in jewellery. A gold ring - especially a wedding ring - has the association of something precious which will (hopefully) last a long time. Somewhat akin to this is its use in trophies (for example, Olympic medals).

During the 18th and 19th centuries, when science was beginning to understand electricity, the gold-leaf electroscope became important. This very sensitive device can detect very small concentrations of "static electricity". (I remember seeing one of these in a high-school physics class.) The gold leaves are extremely thin - the thinner the better - so that they will bend easily under the influence even of an extremely weak electric field. Thus very little gold is actually used in the instrument.

In recent times, gold has found an important application in electronics. Its high conductivity, combined with the fact that it won't tarnish, means that it is excellent as a connector in integrated circuits - chips, to use the modern jargon. (Of course, you don't need much in this application either; a little gold will go a long way - just as in the case of the electroscope.)

You may like to click here to read about this issue, and also see some comparisons with other good conductors - copper (Cu), silver (Ag) and aluminium (Al). (Warning: this appears to be one of those sites that require Javascript to be turned on; even then, using Netscape 4.01, it may or may not load on particular occasions - goodness knows why.)

There is a dental use, of course, if you can afford it: gold caps on teeth!

(I remember a TV comedy show in which the line "He may look a bit of an arse, but he'd have the gold out of your teeth while you were laughing at him" was uttered, incongruously, by two different people on two separate occasions, about the same character. Still makes me chuckle...)

- - - - - - - - - -

Does it have any other practical uses?

Well, you can't eat it. ( King Midas, in the famous Greek fable, discovered this the hard way.)

I suppose you could build your house from it - but if you could afford to do this and actually went ahead, your neighbours would probably not want to have too much to do with you. (Not that this is necessarily always a bad thing... )

Even the traditional application, for coinage, is pretty much a thing of the past. These days, coins are usually made from much less "noble" metals like nickel and brass.

Could gold be used for general wiring applications in the same way that copper is (notwithstanding cost considerations)? This web-page lists some of the properties that would influence a decision to do so (density, tensile strength etc.). There appear to be several practical (as opposed to financial) reasons why copper remains preferable for general electrical applications.

Which all begs the question: why, in these modern times, do people still make such a fuss about gold?

Over the past several years, a phenomenon has occurred. Every night, when watching the TV news, we are subjected to some affectedly jovial commentator rattling on about "finance". (This usually comes just before the sport section.)

Amidst all the inane, sterile waffle about "bulls" and "bears", and interspersed with those (supposedly) critically important charts with wiggly lines going up and down, at some point there will be a mention of the current price of gold.

"Oh, goody! Gold's down a bit - let's go and buy a swag while it's on special!"

"Good idea - where shall we put it...?"

"In the bank, of course - where else?"

"...But then how will we be able to enjoy appreciating how nice and shiny it is??!"

Call me a cynic if you like; but it seems as though the fact that gold is treated with such reverent awe is that it's traditional to do so - and that the global financial community sees it as in its own interests not to disabuse a compliant, befuddled public of the notion that gold really does have great intrinsic value above and beyond its practical uses, even into the 21st century.

It'd be funny if it wasn't so tragic. We live in a world in which millions of people live in dire poverty, while we chew our fingernails over the price of something which - in real, meaningful terms - is of minor significance.

UPDATE, Friday, 6th February 2009

The current issue of "National Geographic" is mostly about various aspects of gold. I've bought a copy, and it's fascinating reading.

Certain facts about gold (presented in the magazine) are rather alarming. In particular, click here to see an article entitled "The Real Price of Gold", which examines the human cost of producing the stuff. One quote in the article, from Peter L. Bernstein, author of "The Power of Gold", is telling:


Gold has always had this kind of magic, but it's
never been clear if we have gold - or gold has us.


UPDATE, Thursday, 10th February 2014

I've just seen on YouTube a video, also from the National Geographic stable, about the catastrophic effect gold mining has had on the nomadic life still lived by some people in Mongolia, where the land they rely on for agriculture has been badly damaged as a result of this activity. For as long as it lasts, the link is here. Well worth a look.

In case you haven't already realized it, this page is not primarily about gold, or its price or its "value". It's about how, in our modern "civilized" communities, we can so easily miss the point about the things that really do matter.

Let's re-state our basic premise:

"All that glisters is not gold..."     (emphasis added)

All right, then - what else glisters?

In these times of increasingly corporate government, our leaders would have us believe that "the economy" is the only thing that should concern us. Rare are the occasions on which a senior government minister will make a speech, or take part in an interview, without mentioning "the economy" several times. It's a mantra - just like "weapons of mass destruction". (Presumably, if we hear it often enough, we'll put our BS detectors on indefinite standby, and begin to believe it.)

"The economy", we are told, is the ultimate reality. As long as there's a "strong economy", everything will magically fall into place. The clear implication is that it's of more fundamental importance than absolutely anything else, including:

job security         truth in government

the presumption of innocence         the rule of law

natural justice         human rights

...even, most terrifyingly of all...

freedom of speech      and      democracy

- the very pillars of modern western civilization, hard-won over centuries. These, apparently, are now all required to kowtow to

THE ECONOMY

It seems that the populations of developed countries are increasingly accepting this as gospel (and thus tacitly embracing the suggestion that society must serve the economy, instead of the other way around). Why else would they continue to re-elect governments which pursue that agenda?

As far as I can see, it's down to two main factors: fear and ignorance.

I consider myself fortunate to have been a young person at a time when a vital and indispensable aspect of education was development of the mind. These days, it seems, the word "education" is often taken to mean little more than "training", i.e. the acquisition of "skills" geared toward a particular vocation - even, increasingly and disturbingly, at university level. A degree or diploma is now seen, not so much as a qualification, but as little more than a "ticket" to a well-paid job - a mere commodity (like gold!).

Of course, the imparting of "skills" has always been an important part of education. The hackneyed, politically-correct adage "we don't teach subjects, we teach children" is just nonsense. The fact that there are two quite different cases of the verb "teach" (one objective, the other dative) in that clichéd expression begs the question: "Yes, but what do you teach them?"

However, real education doesn't end with the acquisition of skills - it merely begins there. Real education involves encouraging the student to think analytically, to solve problems, to examine issues, to question, to debate, to challenge. It's about the growth of the student as a fully-functioning, thoughtful, self-assured citizen within a civilized community. (Have a look at this page - written in 1997, but now even more relevant than ever - to read some alarming comments about the impact of computer-based teaching, the internet, and the corporate world on the way tertiary education is increasingly being conducted in these supposedly enlightened times.)

What's the alternative to a well-educated community? Provocative though it may seem, as far as I'm concerned the only alternative is an ignorant community.

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is about lack of empowerment. It's about vulnerability - and it's about fear.

A less-than-complete education leads to a confused, inarticulate population. Citizens who lack the ability to consider complex issues are not in a position to make meaningful judgments. It's only too easy for patronizing politicians to use their gobbledegook (economic and otherwise) to nullify people's inexpertly-couched concerns and protests without a second thought. The introduction of draconian laws, ostensibly designed to "protect" the public by using "security agencies" to spy on individuals, thus generates the effect which is really intended: a compliant, frightened, silent populace.

And it's happening. This emphasis on "the economy" is presented as something that the peasants should simply get used to, and not worry their little heads about. Add a dash of "terrorism", "weapons of mass destruction", the "level playing field", etc., etc. - and they're eating out of your hand.

UPDATE, Tuesday, 27th March 2007

Later this year, there will be a federal election in Australia. One of the main platforms of John Howard's Liberal (read: conservative)/National government is the so-called "work choices" legislation which has been brought in over the last year or two.

On the one hand, the Labor opposition is committed to "tearing up" what it sees as a very unfair piece of legislation which puts altogether far too much power into the hands of employers, with employees' rights (pay and conditions), hard-won over generations, being discarded.

On the other, the government's line is that its "sound economic management" is responsible for the fact that Australia currently has the lowest unemployment rate for decades, and that this is due to its approach. Against this, it can be argued that the current resources boom is more likely to be the real reason for the "strong economy" and its associated side-effects, rather than any particular legislation the government has put in place in recent times - and that such legislation is purely and simply ideologically-based.

On and on it goes...

Lest any should think that my position is too far left-of-centre (perish the thought), here's a link to a page I've just discovered which features an "e-debate" on issues like the economy, free trade, international corporations, outsourcing, and related matters. The participants appear to be presenting well-thought-out points of view, sometimes agreeing, sometimes agreeing to disagree.

I'm not taking or opposing the point of view of any of them; I'm merely suggesting that it may be of value to have a look at what they say.

There are innumerable websites which have some commentary on the biblical quotation "The love of money is the root of all evil". You can find almost any interpretation you like.

I've seen one web-page that somehow manages to use this quote to justify open slather gun ownership; and some of them, while decrying the stock-market (addressed below), use a literal interpretation of biblical references to heavenly streets "paved with gold" to conclude that gold has great intrinsic value, right here on Earth...

To see a page on the subject of money that is thought-provoking, rather than arrogantly prescriptive, click here.

And what is it that makes the widespread acceptance of so-called "economic realities" even remotely possible?

As a teenager, I first became aware of the stock market when my parents started avidly following the news of the "nickel boom" of the late 1960's. I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. What was the big deal?

At some point in my young adult life, I learned of the great depression of the 1930's. Having been born much too late to have experienced anything like it myself, it was not something I could really understand, other than to have some vague notion that it must have been pretty grim for those who lived through it.

Then, in the late 1980's, it looked as though it might be going to happen all over again. The news was full of the latest shenanigans on the stock market. It didn't have any direct effect on me, but I learned later that some friends had lost a lot of money as a result of plummeting share prices.

I had already developed a bad feeling about the stock market long before this débâcle - which only served to consolidate my position. I most certainly didn't want to have anything to do with it myself!

________________________________________


Beware of Maya...


- George Harrison, in "Beware of Darkness" from "All Things Must Pass"

( "Maya" is a Sanskrit word meaning "illusion".)

________________________________________

Before there was such a thing as an "economy", and long before there was any such thing as a stock market, or any perceived need for concepts like "a hedge against inflation"; before Jesus caused a large sensation by taking a whip to the money-changers in the Temple, and Judas accepted thirty pieces of silver (atomic number 47) for his betrayal shortly thereafter - indeed, before the discovery of gold, silver, and other metals, thousands of years ago - life just went on (as evidenced by the simple fact that we are here, now). If people traded at all, they would have done so with items of real everyday importance - not gold, and certainly not "shares"!

If you've visited my Fractals #1... page, you'll probably have seen a paragraph in which I provide links to other websites discussing how the share market is chaotic, in a technical, mathematical sense. This means that about the only thing you can be sure of is that, eventually, people who put all their assets into shares are courting disaster. (See the purple paragragh about a quarter of the way down that page.)

I shake my head when I see on television some presumably intelligent young couple talking excitedly about how they've mortgaged their house and put the money into shares. Not only can you not eat shares (any more than you can eat gold), but you most certainly can't build your house out of them - in fact, you could very easily lose the one you already have!

The present madness is unsustainable. With a world deep in crisis on many fronts - social, environmental, and energetic, to name but a few - we delude ourselves if we think that we can continue on our merry way as if there were no tomorrow. This website's main theme is that there are ways to make the world a decent place for all its inhabitants, but that we need to start now.

This has nothing whatever to do with outmoded ideologies like communism, socialism, and capitalism - or other more recent but equally stupid "isms" (in particular, the anti-democratic obscenity of economic globalism) - which are all about enabling the "haves" to exercise power and control over the "have-nots", and denying ordinary people their full humanity. No - it's about logic and justice; and it's about applying our common sense, common decency, and that incredibly well-developed object between our ears that sets us apart from our fellow creatures, to give ourselves and every other living thing on this planet a fighting chance. In good old Aussie terms, it's about everyone getting a "fair go".

There's only one "ism" that makes any sense to me: realism. Trying to make some sense of it all where there's any to be had; trying one's hardest to generate some where there's none. (Let's be clear: this has absolutely nothing to do with "economic realism", an oxymoronic expression which is increasingly and patronizingly used as a banal excuse for just about every outrage imaginable.)

At some point, the movers and shakers will have to wake up. The present system of "placing value on the worthless" - whether it be an undue emphasis on any one commodity (and yes, gold is the classic example), the chaotic casino known as the "stock market" , or any other destructive nonsense which simply glisters - can only end in disaster. We need to remember who - and what - we are, where we came from, and where we may well go back to if we don't start to use our brains.

To quote from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" again, from the song "Time":

"...And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death..."

There is so little time, and so much to be done - not only for each of us as an individual, but for the world as a whole. If we are ever to reassert our right to live as citizens in a society, rather than as mere functional units in a global economy, it can still be done - but there's no time to lose.

"Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood..."

I realize that the position I'm adopting may make me appear a hopeless dreamer to some. Permit me to clarify:

In an ideal world, there would be no need for any kind of monetary system. However, you and I both know that this is far from an ideal world, and we only have to read or watch the news to realize that it's a lot less ideal with each passing day. Ironically, in a world dominated by greed and arrogance, a monetary system can actually provide at least some protection for the weak and helpless against those who would either exploit them or simply discard them. Where there's money, there are laws governing its use; and some of those laws provide some safeguards.

So, in our world, money is a necessity. We're stuck with it. However, I don't believe that every single aspect of our lives should be dominated by it - and that is precisely what's happening, more and more each day, as we move ever closer to a global "economocracy". (Or should it be called a "corporatocracy"? Either way, it's a hollow mockery of democracy.) Our very humanity is on the line - and you can't put a price on that.

The huge explosion in global communications has put enormous power into the hands of those who, even before, already had it in spades. Their influence now extends, instantaneously, around the entire planet. If ordinary people don't wake up and issue a challenge, the world could very soon become a kind of monetarized feudal system next to which anything similar that existed in the middle ages will pale into insignificance.The global backlash, when it finally does come, could leave our world in ruins. These pages are one man's attempt to draw attention to the situation, in the belief that enough thinking, well-intentioned people may actually be able to make a difference. A dream? Perhaps: but the alternative is a nightmare.

I don't have all the answers, any more than you do. But I do believe that I (and many others) can identify some of the issues that need to be addressed if we are all to have a future, and can see how to make a start. This website is an attempt to get like-minded people thinking and involved.

For all our sakes, I really hope that this includes you.

MAJOR UPDATE, Tuesday, 17th June 2014


Well - I never thought I'd see anything like this.

On page 2 of Launceston's "Examiner" newspaper, last Saturday (14th June 2014), was a story with the following headline:



Attack on ‘money idol’
Pope scathing about global economic system


The story begins as follows:


BARCELONA - The Pope has launched a sweeping attack on the world's economic system, saying it discards the young, puts money ahead of people and survives on the profits of war.


Now, I'm not a Roman Catholic myself, so I don't feel in any way that I'm required to give allegiance to the Pope; and I'm the first to admit that in times past, I've felt that many pronouncements by other Popes - and other major Christian denominational leaders also, unfortunately - have been less than uplifting. But this time around, I'm giving the present Pope a big cheer for doing this!

It's big news; and there has been plenty of reaction to it around the world. As you'd expect, out-and-out supporters of the capitalist system which typifies much of the world's economic thinking these days have been horrified, and have reacted in scathing terms. I'm sure you can find out plenty for yourself by doing a bit of Googling about it; but just to help get you started, here are a few links:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-13/pope-francis-says-global-economy-discards-young/5523226

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzoWdRMl4Jk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJpopKXJa0w

(The first of those three links is from an ABC news web-page, of course. Shouldn't cause you any problems. A word of warning, however, about the two YouTube videos, both of which are from the satirical "Young Turks" stable: there's a bit of "bad language" there, especially in the second of them; so if your sensibilities are delicate, you might be - shall we say - "put off" a bit by them. But I reckon they're well worth a look, because they throw a whole lot of ugly things into sharp relief - in particular, that unhappy human condition known as "hypocrisy".)

I've become thoroughly fed up over the last few decades with how "Christianity" has somehow become associated with ultra-right-wing thinking. I remember my early "born again" days, back in the 1970's, when such a thing was unthinkable to my young idealistic mind - even though, as I've mentioned elsewhere in these pages, I know that at least some of my Christian friends, even in that era, had a distinct "lean" to the right. But how it has become so entrenched in these times is a complete mystery to me.

So when Pope Francis comes out with an uncompromising condemnation of all that is wrong with the "civilized" world as we find it now, it's absolutely like a breath of fresh air. Finally, a Christian leader who takes his convictions - based on the pronouncements and actions of the Jesus who drove the money-changers out of the Temple with a whip - seriously, and is prepared to risk vilification for doing so. As the saying goes: "Praise the Lord!"

Enough said - for the moment at least.

Update, Friday, 10th February 2017


About a month ago, I found myself looking through my collection of books for an old hymn book, for a particular purpose which need not concern us here. I didn't find the specific book I was looking for; however, I did find another one which caught my attention, and started leafing through it.

The book is "Hymns of Faith and Hope, Second Series" by Horatius Bonar, a minister of the Church of Scotland who lived from 1808 to 1889. He was a prolific hymn-writer; some of his hymns have appeared in many hymn-books I have seen down the years. (Click here to see the Wikipedia page about him.)

The particular item which caught my attention - and which is absolutely on topic as far as this page is concerned - is entitled "Gold and the Heart":


Gold filleth none!
     That which hath life
     Alone can fill the living;
     That which hath love
     Alone can fill the loving.
     Gold is not life or love,
     It is not rest or joy;
     It withers up the heart
     It shrivels up the soul;
     It filleth coffers, hearts it cannot fill.

Gold healeth none!
     It has no balm for wounds,
     It binds no broken hearts,
     It smooths no ruffled brow,
     It calms no inner storm.
     It cannot buy from heaven
     One drop of rain or dew,
     One beam of sun or star,
     Far less the heavenly shower,
     Or light, that has the healing in its wings.


I found this page which contains an actual copy of the poem, right down to the particular page number in the book (page 113). The page appears to have breen created from an exact same copy of the book I have. In fact, it's possible to scroll up and down to read other poems in the book. Do please have a look!


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