Lazy Luddite Log

30.6.15

Scheduling Logan

Any day now I will write a short story that focuses on the same character as did this one. I still have to decide if this story will also be told in 'second person' and therefore needs its own observer of the named character. Or it could have more than one observer...

Cross posted here.

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28.5.15

Only Annoying

By a process of both selection and coincidence most of my 'Friends List' on Facebook can be politically described as moderate to progressive. There are also a few radicals and a few conservatives. This is mostly to my liking. Too many conservatives would anger me. Or rather too many vocal conservatives would do so. One thing I have noticed is that they tend to keep things to themselves. I observed this while looking at the online profiles of takers of my Political Objectives Test. The conservatives were more careful in what info they shared. They had more personal data locked away. Those who value stability also like privacy and tend to "keep their own counsel". What I do for my personal life they tend to do for anything of significance.

What this means is that I am more regularly annoyed by the radicals (or progressives that talk like radicals) than I am by the conservatives in my life. I have to remember that this is only annoying rather than worrying. I have to imagine what it would be like if I had to endure a lot of bullshit statements coming from conservatives. I am lucky. I do however want to take the time here to vent a bit about the kinds of thinking that annoy me coming from my 'side'.

Online Activists

To say my 'side' is to betray that I too am seduced by some of the simplifications that I resent. The post-modern online identity-politics array of movements loves grand narratives that lack any kind of historic context. History is 'culturally constructed' so one can safely dismiss any of it that complicates ones own perspective. The problem with this is that you miss some very important things if your focus is on contemporary impressions. For instance you may think that respectful debate is an affectation of the elite (like which cutlery to use during which course) and miss the possibility that it was developed by and for hitherto marginalized groups and has helped change the world for the better.

Some odd contradictions seem to develop. On the one hand online activists (rightly) dismiss the simplification of a 'gender-binary'. On the other hand they accept the simplification of racialist models that serve to mask huge diversity. These models only work in very specific contexts and many of them are US-centric. Indeed (and in contradiction of an older post of mine) I suspect much of the online activist scene is a captive of 'US cultural imperialism'.

Online activists can however say some very important things. The concept of 'intersectionality' is both elegant and useful in understanding the complexity of power and prejudice. However once the talk is done the end result is all-too-often just substitution of old prejudices for new. If advantage and disadvantage is context-dependent then you would think that anyone and everyone can both have or lack those in different settings. And yet frequently it is the powerful person in a US context who is deemed to be the hegemonic face of humanity across all of space and time. This derided figure sits behind all problems in the imagination of the online activist. And yet anyone can be an agent of that hegemon because of a particular definition of 'privilege' that allows anyone to be tarnished with that label and dismissed from having a valid opinion.

One thing that seems to be missing in all this is compassion. Surely if everything that we are is culturally conditioned by the society in which we are immersed then everyone needs to be cut some slack for thinking as they do. And yet such consideration is barely existent. Everyone is instantly expected to have the same political consciousness as the online activist and if they lack it then they are dismissed as wicked. This is a form of prejudice or exclusivity. There are many kinds of privilege and I'm inclined to say that 'privilege privilege' is one of them - anyone using the term willy-nilly betrays themselves as part of a well-connected and politically literate group with the power to change words and concepts. That brings me to another thing that bugs me - messing with the language.

I'm aware that language is a constantly shifting and changing thing. But there is a difference between changes to the way society uses words and the imposition of group-specific jargon. Jargon has a tendency to allow members of a group to demonstrate that they belong together as distinct from the rest of the world. However one frustrating thing with online activists is the tendency for them to think that the way they use words is the way everyone should use words. If the average person thinks that privilege still refers to the landed gentry (or at any rate to those who truly hold riches and power) then how can they just be expected to switch definitions to something more complex and challenging? Once more there is a presumptuousness here that is annoying.

Some of it also serves to blunt communication. I have noticed a trend online to re-cast the word 'sympathy' as bad in contrast with 'empathy' which is deemed good. What they miss is that both things are different and both are useful. If you are only allowed to be empathetic and this necessitates a direct understanding of a unique experience then a lot of the time that empathy simply cannot exist. If however you are prepared to accept that someone cannot understand your exact predicament but offers care and consideration anyway then you are that bit better off.

I have to stress that all of this is only annoying rather than worrying because the movements described are somewhat self-restricting. In another post I described how some groups use parts of the Internet as 'sheltered workshops' and it is worth noting that a lot of the thinking that I find frustrating is the product of having been marginalized and stigmatized. One thing that such abuse does to a person is to distort how they perceive the world and limit how they can engage with it. Some online activists will stay in relatively safe online spaces (while sometimes mistakenly thinking non-safe spaces are safe). Others however will eventually move into wider settings in which vigorous debate is okay. It is only then that annoyance may turn to worry but in most cases these activists will push for reforms I agree with. I may even approve of some 'political correctness gone mad' - we need a bit more of that.

Supposed Secularists

So far my rant seem to characterize me as a modernist lover of reasoned and empirical debate. To some extent I am but I also wish to distance myself from others who trumpet the same virtues. In my post I have made reference to compassion and the ability to communicate with a wide audience and I think these are values they overlook. And while I can be annoyed by the trendy jargon of online activists I'm also annoyed by those who use old but pretentious words like 'ergo'.

The next group I will vent about therefore is the supposed 'secularists' who forget that a secular society is one that accommodates all beliefs however fanciful they may be. These champions of rationality also tend to be lacking in the kind of human relations nuances that help develop alliances. Frankly a lot of the time they come across as arrogant and belligerent. I touched on this a while back in referring to sceptics who think they are so clever.

A lot of the time you find some pretty blinkered thinking among those who you would hope are constantly scrutinizing how they think. And while they have a passing interest in history they also have a mindblowingly selective interpretation of it. Pretty much anything ideological can be described as ‘religious’ if they have a problem with it. Under this prejudice Hitler was openly religious while Stalin was covertly religious. Why? Coz all religion sucks and all sucky things must come from it. And why do they think this way?

A lot of the time I think it is sufficient to assess an argument sans information on the identity of the arguer. But it can also be interesting to take a look at who is saying what. Many of the most vitriolic opponents of religion in the form of militant atheists are that way because they have a religious background. Family or friends who were religious made life difficult for them. They may even be deemed victims of its restrictive conditioning. They deserve pity for that but it also suggests that the way they respond to all forms of religion is distorted by emotion - ironic for a group who try to remove emotion from discourse. It gives you some inkling into why they respond so vehemently to trivial things like the voluntary labelling of food for religious purposes.

The other thing I have noticed is that even if they have removed religion from their lives they will tend to supplant it with something to fill the gap. Certainty still comforts them. Something that can reduce complexity into a tidy pattern is still attractive. They will sometimes embrace the kind of behaviour models promoted in the corporate world. But just like religions these are still just things invented to help make sense of things and they serve as rationalizations rather than rationality.

Once more I’m mostly just annoyed by these secularists rather than concerned by them. In some ways they may crudely exercise power over others. But in other ways they are limited by that lack of emotional nous and self-reflection. I can tolerate them and it can even be fun to turn the frustration back at them.

Revolution!

Technically this last group should be discussed in a separate post because they are in my opinion beyond-the-pale. A revolutionary is almost as much of a concern as a fascist. They want violent oppression. However the context in which I have met them effectively neutralizes them and I will tell you why. I once stood in front of a group of adherents of the works of Trotsky and asked them something like this:

“If somehow you managed to have a successful worldwide revolution and were now in control then how would you respond to dissent to your regime?”

I should have shortened my question because the opening part (involving the word “somehow”) was all they focused on. This is hardly surprising as the accusation that what they want is too much of a long-shot is one they face all the time. Naturally they latched onto that and ranted that revolution was more likely that I expected and could come at any time (and some I imagine were also thinking “and then you will be one of the first up against the wall”). My worry however is that it could happen and if so then what would they do with dissenters to the power they would hold? Would they return the favour that democratic regimes give them? They never responded to my substantive question and I have zero confidence that they ever will.

On the one hand this is a worry because they deny the danger of what they could become. On the other hand it was reassuring because it showed how lacking in critical self-examination they were. All they would do is all they ever did as they uttered the same litany over-and-over.

And then there is what they do in practice. They never try to capture the post office or the police station as they did in historic times. Rather we see them in the mall asking us to sign a petition to preserve funding for the ABC. Any moderate could do that. In the current kind of society and economy we live in I think they are just another movement lobbying for peaceful reform. In that context they are merely annoying. And if they ever became something different it would be because the context had changed and it would be the fault of conservatives if that were to happen.

Remembering Who The Enemy Is

Enemy may be too harsh a word. It smacks of war and bloodshed. Better words may be rival or opponent. In any case I have taken the luxury of criticizing those who are mostly working for the same things I am and in some cases even having a positive impact. I should keep this sort of thing to a limit however and focus on condemning the stupid or nasty things conservatives do to our society, economy and environment. This post then stands for all time as a rant. I can refer back to this from time-to-time and say “I made my objections known” rather than expend time poorly on arguing with those who only annoy me and who are otherwise making the world a better one.

And hopefully my conservative friends will keep their own counsel while I say the things I should be saying. I will argue with you but in all honesty an even better use of my time is in convincing wavering moderates of my politics.

Cross-posted here.

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23.4.15

More Corners

I have very much settled into my new home (as announced here) and am now returning to my old ‘Four Corners’ meme (referenced on that afore-linked page) with photos and musings from my new room. And I use the term 'room' rather than 'bedroom' because for a house-sharer like me the room I occupy is far more than just the room in which I sleep.

Incidentally it only has four corners – technically fewer than my last room – but ‘More Corners’ had a nice ring to it as a title for this entry. It has fewer corners because it lacks built-in wardrobes. That one factor has very much altered the arrangement and look of my room from its last iteration. Having huge built-in robes between 2010 and 2014 allowed me to stash away and forget a lot of stuff. Indeed much of that space was taken with storage boxes of stuff I had left back in Melbourne during the time I lived in Canberra (2009-10). This time however I knew I needed to look over all that stuff and get rid of a lot of it.

I did get rid of a lot of stuff. Nonetheless I still discovered that I had less storage space for hiding things so I had to make decisions on how to put things on display. A lot more of what I own can now be seen. Onto the photos!

South East Corner

I took this photo from beyond the door entering my room and facing towards the south-east corner. The closest item (just next to my door) is a twenty-something year old calander from the old Valhalla Cinema in Westgarth that I recently re-discovered in my files and laminated for display. My family on my mother’s side came from Fairfield so I had a link to this cinema even before I became part of a young-adult nerd culture that would attend 24 hour science fiction movie marathons at that place.

Many other things seen in my room are familiar from Como Court. One thing that is new is the very old free-standing wardrobe in the corner. I will return to the topic of wardrobes later. On it is a suitcase that currently stores other bags. There are also my role-playing books and notes. The plush dragon came from Sean. And there is a picture of Gandalf that I got from Emily.

North East Corner

Now we come to the bulk of my stuff. The iron-frame thingy has now returned to its intended purpose and has some clothes hanging from it. However it still displays some fun things. Toys are still there including a few sonic screwdrivers. There is also space for me to display a ‘coffee table book’ (currently the wonderfully titillating and kitch Hollywood Nudes In 3D!). On the wall is a photograph of the Earth from space that was given me by Polly & Olav.

Around the corner we come to a very tall set of shelves and my creative use of furniture to display posters. I’m advised that the walls here suffer under the application of any kind of adhesive but I am free to stick posters to my own stuff and only need some of those shelves to be installed. As well as that waterfall poster there are a few other fun things.

The top shelf is ‘clunky retro robot’ themed. The two standing at the ends of that shelf are the transforming Ultra Magnus and Astro-Magnum (aka ‘Shackwave’ who is obscured in the photo by the shelf frame) while between them are two non-transforming robots (one an alarm clock and the other an imitation of Robby The Robot) given me by Avril and Ian for my Fortieth Birthday. There are other Transformers on those shelves and some of them even hide among the video and audio discs I am still keeping (sometimes only for sentimental value). There are also some games and puzzles on the bottom shelf and that includes an Othello set given me by my Finnish god-parents for my Twenty First birthday (who I have long since lost contact with).

North West Corner

Now we roll over my bed and take a look back towards my doorway and into the dining-cum-library area of the house. To the left of the door things are pretty functional what with a card table and clothes basket. That plastic brown stool is the only survivor of a set of four my family had from the 70s and it still comes in handy today.

To the right of the door things get more interesting and a lack of storage has made me display all my books. This I have decided is a good thing. Mine is a small collection because books are expensive and I use libraries (or more recently book-swapping schemes). It was even augmented recently because Belinda & Rohan & M-ra organized a huge book voucher for me for (for my Fortieth birthday) that got me a few nice new volumes. My books are separated into five groupings that are matched by some whimsical display items. So (from top to bottom) literature for both adults and children is matched to an ornamental box (somewhat arbitrarily)… non-fiction (a mix of both human and natural history) is guarded by Ebony the Triceratops… science fiction is accompanied by some Star Fleet vessels… fantasy is inhabited by some denizens of Middle Earth… and the reference and display books (many of them concerned with pop culture and music) are matched to a band of Smurf musicians!

South West Corner

My window lets in a lot of air and light if I want it too. My bedside table has useful things on it. And then there is another wardrobe. On it are more useful things like files and boxes. Also I display a few images on it. One is an historic landscape from the part of Germany (Thuringia) that my father comes from. The other is my favourite statue from the National Gallery of Victoria (Circe). Also hanging there is my swimming bag with a faded Amnesty International logo on it.

More A Bedsit Than A Pad

A friend commented of my last room (at Como Court) that it was my ‘pad’ and I guess it did have a sort of smart modern apartment look to it. Looking back at images of it now I find it a bit minimalist. My preferences seem to have changed in just a few short months and I now prefer the more furnished and busy feel of this room. It evokes the term ‘bedsit’ for me. I think that is partly the presence of carpet and older fixtures. The two wardrobes in particular I think define that look. They were left there for my use and apparently the short one is called a ‘gentlemen’s wardrobe’ in contrast with the tall one which is a ‘lady’s wardrobe’. I just keep clothes and odds-and-ends in both somewhat randomly.

The wardrobes do look old and one curious thing is the inclusion of keyholes in them. I have never lived with wardrobes like that? Who locks wardrobes? We are told that things were safer in the ‘olden days’ and that nobody locked external doors to homes. If so why lock wardrobes? Maybe it was in compensation – a burglar can get into your home but cannot get at your more prized possessions. I think it may also have something to do with the different ways we lived. Bed-sitters and boarding houses and other forms of shared accommodation were much more common a few generations ago. Rather than secure the house you secure your possessions from the mix of familiars and strangers with whom you co-habit. I guess that makes sense.

As for me I trust my housemate but I am suspicious of the cats – I close my door to them. Otherwise I’m rather settled in and feel cozy in this room. I hope to stay here for a while.

Cross-posted here.

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26.3.15

Old Regalia For A New Empress

Even this monthly blogging commitment can be tricky at times to keep. Recently I have gotten busy with settling into a new home, getting extra note-taking shifts for tertiary students in need, and still having fun. One of those fun things continues to be my role-play game and it saps a lot of my creative use of words and concepts. However it also produces excess notes and sometimes these will take the form of narrative. I can always share them here if ever I have nothing to post. So what follows was drafted months ago and refers to a part of my fantasy world that is far removed from the concerns of the current game (just in case my players are reading this). I must have been watching old Carry On movies at the time. Be warned it concerns royal boobs...

“Must I wear this ridiculous costume?” opined the young Empress Omega. Her servant Alexis responded in a patient and careful manner. “It has been the tradition of your ancestors for millennia, your august Grace.” Omega looked dubiously at her regalia and muttered “well, I would have expected something more elaborate.”

The young Omega had in mind the many-layered gown she had worn at the funeral of her father, the Emperor Omero of Nerina. A month had passed since then and the time for mourning was over. Now Omega had a new challenge to face – her coronation. The prodigy with a sage-like memory was confident that she could do and say all the right things that custom demanded. What concerned her right now, however, was the Trappings of Coronation.

Alexis had an answer to the words that had slipped from the royal lips. “The Trappings of Coronation are most elaborate, your Grace. There is the ruby-studded gold circlet, the chalcedony collar, the citrine bracelets, the emerald-encrusted copper rings, the sapphire-spangled silver belt, the amethyst-adorned iron anklets…” If the loyal and long-serving attendant had more to say it was cut short by the new monarch.

“All those trinkets are wonderfully intricate but once you look past the finery what I will be wearing tomorrow is basically a short, white hemp kilt.”

“It is the kilt that your father wore, and his mother before him, and her father before her, and so on back to the days of the legendary Oryan.”

“Yes, loyal Alexis, but in the days of Oryan the subjects of the Empire were little more than naked savages. Since then clothes have become the fashion and yet, on this one day of my life I’m expected to stand before the assembled throng in next to nothing.”

“Your father the immortal Omero wore the very same attire with confidence and aplomb.”

The Empress Omega looked at her servant for a long moment.

“Must I say it Alexis?”

“Must you say what your Grace?”

“My father, now enjoying the riches of the Afterlife, never had bosoms like these!”

“Your Grace has bosoms worthy of admiration.”

“That is what concerns me. Everyone from the Ambassador of Farport to the local street sweepers will be admiring my orbs. I can just imagine them asking each another if they’d gotten a good look at the dugs of the new Empress!”

“I think you exaggerate, your Grace. The coronation is an event of utmost decorum and every subject understands that. Custom dictates that nobody discuss the dress or manners of those newly ascended to the throne.”

“Well I suppose... but they’ll be thinking it!”

“Your Grace is perceptive.”

Omega stared arrows at Alexis and then sat pondering for a moment, as she looked in her mirror.

“So is there nothing I can add to the Trappings of Coronation?”

“This set of items has been the same for scores upon scores of generations. It is traditional, your Grace.”

“As a child I was told that I would be more powerful than the grand sire of the Narmans, who is just one member of a council dominated by republican rulers. Likewise I was informed that in Rovnara the warrior-king must share power with his sorceress-queen and that, in contrast, I would hold power alone. And yet what do I find holding me back at every turn but the ghosts of tradition!”

“Tradition has served the Empire well your Grace.”

“And yet fashions have changed since we all wore kilts like this. I wonder whether I could insist that all attending the event go in only underthings.”

“But your Grace it would be presumptuous of the populous to even consider dressing in the same manner as the Empress.”

“Fine! You have advised me well, as always, my devoted Alexis.”

“Thank you your Grace. I think you will find that the ceremony feels just as natural as does attending, say, the royal bathhouse with your personal retinue.”

The Empress looked deflated but then her eyes sparkled and she looked back at her servant.

“Indeed Alexis, indeed. I wonder now if you can go and fetch for me the royal cosmeticians – all the royal cosmeticians. I want my flesh to do justice to these wonderful gem stones and I think some pigmentation will help in that regard.”

“Of course your Grace.”

* * * * *

The following day the Sun shone over the wide harbour of Nerina City. A crowd gathered in the Imperial Square to look upon their new Empress. There they saw Omega standing far above, on a platform extending from an upper level of the Eternal Palace. Her subjects were impressed with what they saw – a woman who seemed to be covered all over in scintillating, dotted patterns of swirling red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Her predecessors had worn as little or as much pigment as they had wished but Omega had done something new. She was still practically naked and she knew it. But in the course of her argument with Alexis she had realized that defying tradition and twisting the rules, even just a little, was what mattered to her that day. Those who had come to gawp were dazzled by her pigments rather than her curves. Omega glanced at Alexis for a moment and would have sworn she saw her servant betray the briefest of smiles, surprising on a face of usually mask-like composure.

It was only once during her rule that Omega would have to do this. The Empress had made a thorough examination of all her future formal attire and had discovered that the Trappings of Coronation were as ancient and scanty as her costumes would ever get. Omega smiled and waved with all the dignity she had been conditioned to display as an inheritor of power. The crowd cheered, and Omega went inside before her pigments started to melt.

I warned of the boobs! But is it funny or merely crass? If it serves any purpose it is to show that I do think nudity has a role within fantasy settings but that it can be there to amuse as much as to titillate. This is way more closely aligned to Carry On movies than it is to Game Of Thrones.

Cross-posted here.

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25.2.15

I Think They Think

Most of us imagine what others are thinking of us. Some of us also sometimes imagine what others imagine we are thinking of them. I did this recently while on an almost deserted train carriage one evening. I had been sitting in one set of seats alone. Another person was likewise sitting alone in the set of seats behind me. I had got on the train after them so as I sat down I think we both had a chance to look at each other. After a few stops however I stood up and went across and along the carriage to another set of seats a short distance away. As I did this I got to wondering how they had interpreted my action. This is the content of my wild speculation.

Had I moved because there was something the matter with them personally? That person could have then wondered if they smelled. Or what if I had decided I had some problem with who they were in terms of observed characteristics? In various ways we were different and by most assessments I belong to more advantaged demographics they they do (within an Australian context anyway). What if they had just become the target of silent prejudice? If this is something they have experienced in the past then they may have been conditioned to expect such conduct.

Now you never can tell but then we rarely if ever confirm our suspicions - we tend to let them take on a life of their own. My action of moving to another part of the carriage may well have set off a host of difficult and disturbed emotions in that other person. And they will never know what my true motive was. But I can tell you.

I moved to a more empty part of the carriage because I was about to fart.

Now there is every possibility that the other person was living a rich internal life of memory and musing and that I had barely if at all impinged on that. They may well have known that everyone has all sorts of different motives and dismissed my action out-of-hand. I hope so. However I'm also aware that sometimes we are prone to interpret offence in all manner of observed behaviours. And knowing that I should possibly have behaved differently. I hardly want to contribute to someone feeling marginalized.

I could have just stayed put and farted. This is just one of the risks a person takes by using public transport and they would have coped. On the other hand I'm aware that tiny things like that can be regarded as a huge affront that will result in some flustered venting online later than same evening. I would suddenly be that rude bogan who fluffed rather than walking away. It seems in the world of perceptions we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Far too late I devised an action that would have spared my fellow commuter both actual discomfort and imagined offence. I could have temporarily walked over to a train network map on the wall a short distance away and pretended to consult it before returning to my seat. Perfect! Only someone with a ludicrous attachment to the virtue of truth would have a problem with this and what they don't know won't hurt them.

There are also those reading this who will say that I just think and worry too much. Stay put and fart. Move to another seat and risk making the other person self-conscious. Pretend to consult a map. Who cares? In the grand scheme of things none of these things seem to matter much. But I do like to minimise harm and maximise help as I move through life. Furthermore I get the impression that this sort of thing does matter to many.

They were most likely thinking of anything but me right? Right.

Cross-posted here.

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29.1.15

Indoor Camping

The title of this post is deceptive. My living conditions in the last few weeks have been way better than it suggests. I was originally thinking of using the title "Squatting" but that is stretching the truth even more. The fact is I am legally living in my own home with the security of locks and keys. I have water pressure and power. I'm still sleeping in my own bed. But even small differences can have an impact on ones routine. You see my share household since 2010 is disbanding and as part of that process I have been living with fewer modern conveniences ('mod-cons').

My housemates Polly & Olav are moving closer to the city while I am moving a few kilometres from our current location. They have bit-by-bit been transferring some bigger mod-cons and I have willingly embraced the experience. Just what is it like to have access to fewer of these things? Here is my description of the key differences...

Pass Me Down That Can Of Beans

I have managed well in the kitchen even if I lacked refrigeration. For one thing we are having a mild Melbourne Summer thus far. For another there are a lot of things I enjoy that keep perfectly well in a pantry. Grocery shopping for me has included muesli bars, ultra-heat treated single-serve soy milks, Ryvita, Nutella, mixed juice, soda water, cans of corn, pinto beans, and "hearty" soups. I even made some toast in a frying pan.

There is a dish-washer but I rarely if ever use those. Somehow I prefer washing in the kitchen sink. I suspect this is because I prefer standing to bending or crouching. The one big drawback of lacking a fridge is that I cannot take advantage of the better prices that come from buying two iced coffees at once because I cannot store the extra one safely till the next day. Iced coffees are getting expensive but those two-bottle discounts bring the price back to something like it was a decade ago! I did try a tub of ice in the bathroom basin but it melted too quickly to seem worth it.

Scrubber Dub Dub

I have also managed without a washing machine. This is a bit more involved and I have employed two alternatives. One is to walk with my basket of dirty clothes to the closest laundromat. Those machines are pretty impressive in speed and performance. The danger however is that while there one will get eat-in dinner at a neighbouring restaurant and I did just that. I also had a novel to read. The other method is that - gasp - I hand-washed a few things in the laundry trough. It worked pretty well but it is also drudgery. Besides I lacked the thick old stick with which to churn the clothes and I felt as if somehow I was missing something historically important.

In My Day We Just Read A Book

The home Internet and phone service was switched off. Everyone uses mobile phones now so for calls I was fine. For accessing the World Wide Web it was another story. I can use my smartphone but I feel rushed by the notion of expending credit. Besides I detest using such a small interface. My solution has been daily visits to a local library for free Internet access using a full screen and QUERTY keyboard. I find that I can do what I need to in half an hour and a lot of what I want to with an additional hour.

I can also 'timeshift' the composing of particular messages or documents to home-time. How? Well because I still have a computer and there is lots one can do even without a net connection. I've been word processing text for transporting on a data stick. I've been updating digital photo albums (I was 12 months behind in that task). And I've been designing and re-designing my music playlists. I'm thankful for the hiatus in home net use as it was a chance to do these things.

There are other ways to keep busy too. I have finally finished a novel I was stalled on for months. I have done a bit more in the way of sketching. And of course I have been sorting and packing and tidying for my move. I only have the possessions of one share-householder living in one room so I am well on top of the task and have re-discovered many forgotten possessions. Also I have experienced just how the Internet has changed our needs and wants - I disposed of an old dictionary and thesaurus because I never use them now.

The time has flown pretty quickly except I must admit that half a week was taken with me visiting yet another intervarsity choral festival - this time Sydney 2015. And I have also had other things to do relating to friends or family or work. It has been only a few weeks of simpler living and I think I did well. It will however be nice to get back to my more usual routines in my new room.

In Your Room

I'm moving into a spare room in the home of friend Kellie. I have a general mental map of how I want to arrange my room but I suppose the final form will only take shape once my move is done and I'm unpacking bags and boxes. It will be an opportunity to play with a somewhat different combination of décor and displays. It will work well but I must admit I will miss my room of the past four and a half years.

It has had a lovely modern unified look and I've enjoyed spending time in it. I will particularly remember it for having friends over for life-drawing sessions or for indoor picnics with Belinda. However it was much more characterized by solitary past-times like watching old TV shows online.

This blog post has been sent from a public library but I expect the next will be done in my new room.

Cross-posted here.

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26.12.14

Playsets

I went on a quest for information recently. I wanted text and I wanted images. It involved a flurry of online hunting followed by several months of forgetting it till some stranger in the world gave me the key to what I was seeking. And the key was the right words to use. If you cannot find something online because you lack the right search terms then sometimes you can throw questions into the ether and hope that one day someone will answer. This is the ultimate virtue of the Internet - other minds that will always understand you better than a dumb search engine.

I have blogged about toys before but they were ones I am an expert on and can name all the names. That information will be something I can always find as they were toys I got into as an older child and pop-culture icons that I am still into today. But what of toys you barely remember let alone can name?

I wanted to find images of two very cool things from a more formative time. I had a department store playset while Lukas had a service station playset. I remembered them as having the same very basic human figurines. They only had a head and body and never limbs but they did have ball bearings set into them that allowed them to roll down inclines (like a Dalek). But what were they called? Who had made them? I had a few basic words and an assumption they were made in the 1970s.

I was mistaken in thinking they belonged together at all. A bit of hunting online showed me that the service station had the Little People figurines by Fisher-Price which lacked ball bearings. It was the Play Family Action Garage which you can see here and here. A characteristic of all these sort of playsets was lots of levers and buttons to do things like tip ramps or move lifts or rotate sections of floor. The figures sat nicely in the cars. It all just worked.

But what of the ball bearing figurines? They must have come from my department store specifically. I hunted some more and eventually discovered that such figurines belonged to a range of playsets made by the Japanese company Tomy and had names like Merry-Go Zoo and Merry-Go School. You can find images and footage of them online and they are super cute. But it seemed like nothing had ever existed called a 'Merry-Go Store' or anything like that.

And a problem with the phrase 'toy department store' is all it gives you is images of toy departments. So I abandoned my quest several months ago. However the last thing I did was to post questions on relevant web pages (such as YouTube reviews of other playsets) describing my lost toy and then went on with life (or at any rate moved onto the next retro or nerdy interest).

Then last week I got a response to one of my messages. Some lovely stranger knew exactly what I was looking for. It was called the Push Button Small Mall and was apparently from the department store Sears. Now I only know of Sears from pop-culture references like the Billy Joel song Scenes From An Italian Restaurant and I know Sears has never been in Australia. But I punched in those words and this is what I got. Wonderful!

Small Mall has all the push-button fun of the other set but it was also made for the ball bearing enabled figurines. Every floor sloped so that shoppers could move along one floor then fall via a hole onto another level and so on. My hunch is that Tomy made the playset for Sears and that (furthermore) some other Australian department store then imported them (whether from the US or directly from Japan).

You will notice that there were these transparent pink coins (life size) - they too had tracks that they ran along. The coins could be superimposed over back wall decals of products (thus representing a purchase) and roll from floor to floor all the way to the cars at the bottom. We had those coins way longer than the set itself.

And now we come to the sobering part of this story. This image reminds me of more recent recollections of the broken parts of the playset. We later on utilized them as background fixtures in science fiction action figure displays. Somehow we had broken the department store and sections of it had moving parts that just made them work well as things like a super computer for robots to use. Gone all but for the memory and (now) these images that I have photographed from the Internet and put on my own websites.

Why does all this matter to me? Is it some childhood nostalgia? In part it is and I do get a warm fuzzy feeling from looking at these good-time playthings. But I think it is more than that. It extends to an interest in history because of what these products tell us. They show how toys have developed over time. The design is reminiscent of trends in Twentieth Century architecture. And then there is this.

A boy and a girl (of different backgrounds too) are playing together with the same playset on its promotional packaging. Here we see late-70s manufacturers wanting kids of both genders to share a toy. Things seem to be different now and there is a lot more 'gendering' of toys. We tend to have this simplistic and mistaken notion of history as progress. Sexism is slowly reducing in our culture we are told. And yet now we have a lot more 'toys for boys' and 'toys for girls'. I suspect the motivation is economic rather than political - if kids share then parents can spend less money but if they all have to have distinct toys then toy sellers make more profit. What dismays me most is how much adults have become dupes to this con. And we ourselves had different childhoods from the ones we now impose on our kids.

I look at that image and at old kids TV shows. In this post (under 'Marashara! Wirra! Ari!') I suggest that the central character of a program full of dinosaurs and alien technology was a girl even if those things are more regarded as for boys. I look at other old shows or adverts and see a world in which both boys and girls wandered around in jeans and striped shirts and floppy haircuts. They all rode bikes. They all got drawn into adventures and they all argued over how best to escape the crooks. I expect this vision is the product of selective memory but I also feel like we were closer to that vision in my childhood than we are now. But I cannot tell for sure because I have nothing much to do with the programming or products of children of today. I wonder what others think.

By the way there is a problem with hunting for things from your past. Sometimes you chance upon other things you had forgotten till you see them once more. I guess we must have had this rescue centre too. Our parents gave us some awesome things. There are still plenty of awesome things in the shops today but we just need to filter them more than our parents had to and it may take a bit more work these days to instil in children the practice of sharing.

Cross-posted here.

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20.11.14

Clumps Return

I originally did this for the 2013 Federal Election Senate contest. Now I’m adapting it for the use of voters in the 2014 Victorian State Election Legislative Council region of Southern Metro specifically. You can see the text of the original Clumps post here.

I’m sharing a method of mine to help me decide my below-the-line preferences in the Victorian state election. It is written with progressive voters in mind. In presenting these clumps I have made a study of the candidates via (i) Wikipedia (ii) party or candidates webpages (iii) my own link into the Zeitgeist as a long-time activist. In assessing I have chosen to overlook preference recommendations of the groups on the grounds that these decisions are often strategic rather than ideological.

My own intention is that once I have ordered those clumps I can then order the specific groups within (or in some cases across) those clumps. Note that these are all judgement calls and in many cases clumps could have been defined differently or particular groups could have been put into different clumps.

Feel free to do your own if you find this method useful. Likewise if you live in one of the other seven regions you will need to do your own research. Finally take a look at the bottom of this note for an important difference in the voting method for Legislative Council ballot papers.

I present my clumps moreorless in reverse order of palatability for me. I have included the letter designations (A to R) for each group on the white Legislative Council ballot paper.

RELIGIOUS ULTRA-CONSERVATIVES: Australian Christians (A), Rise Up Australia Party (D), Family First (N)

For this lot everything is dictated by what they want to think God says. A wonderful excuse for prejudice towards anyone who is different from them in terms of sexuality or family values or religion. They tend to be accepting of different backgrounds and can look multicultural. But they want a society in which we have a homogenous culture defined by fundamentalist Christianity. Tend to be pro-business and anti-environmentalist. Note that I have put the DLP in another clump.

REACTIONARY RECREATION: Shooters & Fishers Party Victoria (M)

I call them this because they may well never have gotten political if particular laws did not interfere in how they like to live. Government regulations protecting Australians and the natural environment piss them off. They want to fish, hunt and hoon all over Australia. Are necessarily anti-environmentalist. Tend to be conservative or libertarian to the extent they have an ideology.

COMMUNITARIAN: Democratic Labour Party (B)

Imagine a community that both takes care of you via welfare and industry protection _and_ polices your personal behaviour 'for your own good'. The Roman Catholic DLP epitomise this and it is an unusual political tradition with a long history. I have made this separate from the mostly Protestant religious clump because the DLP are far more into interventionist economics.

LIBERTARIAN: Liberal Democrats (C)

These have an ideology wishing to minimise government involvement in all aspects of life except legal defence of person and property. So in economics it is sink or swim for both persons and corporations (we just happen to know that corporations are better swimmers who tend to swim right over the rest of us). And in personal life it is literally your decision and therefore your problem whatever the consequences. The_tone_is different from what a lot of us feel. Rather than "yay celebrate difference" it is more "do whatever see if I care".

COALITION AND SUBSTITUTES: Australian Country Alliance (O), Palmer United Party (P), Liberal (Q)

This clump is for our neo-conservative Liberal and National coalition but also for parties that would otherwise be them but have some sort of issue with those major parties. It may be personal differences with key figures. It may be problems with party culture or structures. It may be a sense that the Coalition are neglecting some deserving interest they are supposed to support or possibly some ego that they neglected to stoke.

ISSUE-FOCUSED: Australian Cyclists Party (E), People Power Victoria – No Smart Meters (H), Animal Justice Party (I)

This lot seem okay but do take a closer look online. A group named People Power existed in the past and I would have put into the small-l liberal group (see below) but I cannot be sure they have the same identity – the focus for them now seems very much on the alleged radiation concerns of modern wireless technology.

MODERATE: Group (F), Labor (L), Ungrouped (Neophytou)

It seems that Group F involves members of the latter-day Australian Democrats whose party lacks registration in Victoria. My former party is odd now - well more odd than it was. They were once a progressive party whose very moderate methodology attracted non-progressive voters. In contrast the current group seem to honestly think they can be 'centrist' in an electorate that includes Labor.

Labor are the party of the mixed economy and political compromise and wanting to be progressive but getting scared of conservative lobby groups. As centrists they can and do preference in all sorts of directions and let opportunism dictate such decisions.

From his own online presence the Ungrouped independent seems moderate to me but do take a look for yourself.

SMALL 'L' LIBERALS: Sex Party (J), Voluntary Euthanasia Party Victoria (K)

I put these together in this group because in one way or another they emphasize personal autonomy and civil liberty. They are culturally permissive. Economics is mixed (if tending to free-market).

PROGRESSIVE: Greens (G), Group (R)

Since the disintegration of the Democrats I think that the Greens are the best progressive party in Australia. And the independent candidate Luzio Grossi (a professional photographer and one-time Sex Party candidate) seems pretty progressive too.

* * * * *

There is one thing that makes the Victorian Legislative Council election different from a Senate election and that is the use of non-exhaustive preferential voting. If you choose to go below the line you only need to vote for five candidates by filling in the numbers 1 to 5. This option makes advice like mine that much less useful than if you had to fill in all the boxes!

Cross-posted here.

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27.10.14

Products Past

I reckon that most of the posts on this blog have a positive tone in that I am discussing things I value and enjoy. Some posts depart from this positivity in that they examine problems that I feel are significant ones - political issues and the occasional life drama. Something I rarely do is address trivial problems - things that annoy me but that I can get over. Indeed I think that paying scant energy and attention to these problems helps me got over them sooner. However this does put me out-of-step with much of the Internet. Today I will make an exception and have a good old whine about something.

I have particular consumer product preferences that have changed over time. In some cases my tastes change and that is okay. What bothers me however is that I sometimes become attached to a particular product that then gets discontinued! Here I will describe five such products that have been taken away from me and diminished my life as a result. Woe!

Helgolander Dark Rye

My family have always purchased rye-and-wheat breads by Atlantic Bakery. They have a distinct grubby shape and a springy texture. In the 90s as a young adult I got very into their Helgolander dark rye (named for an island off the coast of Germany). It was so dark that if you toasted it and added Vegemite it would still be as dark as it was to start with! It tasted fantastic but then it left the supermarket shelves. I wrote to the company and they told me that it was to be replaced by a new sour-dough bread. But it was lacking in something and was just another grey-brown rye. Why did they have to do that to me!

Some Crazy Cereal

I cannot remember its name but it came from New Zealand and this breakfast cereal was crazy I tell you! It was like having puffed grains drenched (and therefore both coloured and flavoured) with berry purée that had later dried. It was like pink pop-corn in a bowl! What a way to start the day! Then it went away. I was bitter at losing that sweet dish you could say.

Pasta Sauce With A Twist

Some products are designed to make you pretend you are participating in the home cooking process more than you truly are. This pasta sauce was one such item. The jar was shaped so that it had two distinct spaces. The largest and lowest part held the tomato-based pasta sauce. The nifty bit however was that the top few inches held this mix of finely chopped mushrooms in aromatic oils. One would spoon this concoction into a heated pan and sauté and it would smell amazing. One would add the sauce later but the experience came from that sizzling smelling sensation. Why did it go away? Surely others also enjoyed the experience of seeming to put together a dinner bit-by-bit and smell that awesomeness? Sometimes I think I'm alone in my culinary preferences.

Cassava Crackers

I only ever found these at the Asian grocer at Monash Uni in Clayton. They were huge and puffy and savoury and oily and kind of like vegetarian prawn crackers. They were made of cassava, tapioca and tastiness. I would buy a packet and share with fellow choristers over dinner before weekly rehearsal. This happened till recently. The shop in question never seems to stock them any more. They only ever got them intermittently but now they seem to have removed them altogether. I could always ask what happened and it may even get results. One small shop I can talk to in person is better than writing a letter to a distant manufacturer.

GV Fruit And Vegetable Juice

I have always found that a lot of vegetables have an off-putting dirty taste. However I try to find ways of getting more into me and one way is with juices. In the past mixed fruit and vegetable juices have been gross but more recently they have started to improve the mixes and proportions. There has to be a base of tangy fruit juice like pineapple for it to work. The addition of a small quantity of some other very intense fruit juice like lemon also helps. I particularly liked a brand that (if I remember correctly) was made by Goulburn Valley. It tasted nice and was cheaper than those fancy-pants fruit and vegetable juices they now shelve among the whole fruit and vegetables (wankers). It formed a part of my lunches during my stint with the Bureau of Statistics along with a roast vegetable wrap. I think that good things should also be fun things but sometimes the world makes it difficult to realise that and this is yet another instance of a product departing from my life.

* * * * *

All these products had in common the fact of tastiness and goodness (to varying degrees). And it just struck me that this is still a positive post because I am focusing on things I enjoyed and then missed. Sorry Internet but I just cannot meet your standards of negativity. Luckily there are still plenty of super tasty things for me to have.

Cross-posted here.

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15.9.14

Bring A Plate

The seed of this bit of creative writing comes from the latter part of this post and then draws on this older thing for its setting. It is more a concept illustrated by a fictional scenario than it is a short story in its own right...

Herevale was a satellite town that had become a dormitory suburb in the metropolitan hinterland. In living memory an indoor shopping centre had been constructed in former swampland. It sported one department store, one supermarket, one small cinema, and dozens of specialty shops. Many locals welcomed its convenience, but others blamed it for the demise of older local stores.

Isolated shops in back streets had been replaced by the anonymous offices of small-time tax agents who saved money on the deflated rents. The main street of town had ceased to be a shopping destination but during the day it was busy with visitors to its civic services, like the public library, and during the night diners visited its several popular restaurants. The truth, then, was more complex than the detractors would have you think, but minimalist architecture and expansive car parks never did give a good impression.

Helina drove into the Herevale Shopping Plaza car park on a surprisingly sunny July morning, with a look of disdain on her face. She was attending an extended family gathering in the area and was expected to “bring a plate”. However, she had left too little time in her morning to prepare a suitable contribution in her own studio apartment back in the City. As a result she had to endure the shopping centre that, to her, was sterile and soulless. Never mind that Helina had never accepted the existence of souls, the indoor shopping mall was a place to be derided for its dedication to conspicuous consumption.

Helina was a journalist and satirist who celebrated cosmopolitan culture and living a more authentic life. On many issues she was very insightful and provided a refreshing alternative to the credulous mass media. On some matters however she was blinkered. Helina rushed into the supermarket, mentally dismissing everyone she passed as a slave to consumerism and pop culture, and almost bumped into a gangly, mature-aged man with a manila folder clasped in his hand.

Adriano was a local political activist and right now he was walking towards centre management with a full petition. He’d been collecting signatures calling on the owners to install recycling bins throughout the centre, rather than just along the food concourse. Adriano had some success in local matters, having agitated for library opening hours on Sundays. On another occasion he had been partly successful, hoping to protect an old Masonic hall from demolition, and pushing for its retention as a neighbourhood house. In that instance the best he’d managed was to have the front façade heritage listed, resulting in a set of studio apartments hiding behind caryatid columns and ornate masonry.

Despite his avocation, Adriano was shy and anxious and, mentally rehearsing what he would say to the office receptionist, had almost bumped into Helina. If only she knew Adriano, Helina would consider him an ally, but presently he was simply someone slowing her course through the garish distractions and piped music of the shopping centre.

Having finally purchased some food, Helina needed a coffee to compensate for having had to see all the junk that a family ahead of her at the checkout had been buying. She found a cafe, ordered a flat white, and sat down. It was then that she noticed a choir, singing close by. Apparently management had decided to celebrate 'Christmas In July' to boost winter sales, and this had included hiring members of a university choir to sing carols. To Helina this was tiresome religious indoctrination, and she rolled her eyes while inhaling the fumes of her calming beverage.

Ironically, Kasey and Heng of the carolling group were thinking very much the same thing at that moment. Theirs was a secular choir, dedicated to beautiful music that, in past times, had been sponsored by religious authority and therefore had ecclesiastical content. They simply loved singing in close harmony. They were also there to make some desperately needed money for their community group and, in all honestly, to spend more time in each other’s company. Some of their peers had placed bets on how long it would take for the pair to communicate their mutual attraction. Kasey and Heng were seeing an Australian-made speculative fiction film at the cinema, after their gig, so maybe bets would be settled soon. On the other hand, one of them was an international student, so maybe they would shy away from a complex situation. If Helina knew of this heady life experience unfolding, she would tell them to give it a go, but she could not see past their black-and-white uniform to the cluster of human stories beyond.

Helina then remembered the scratch on her sunglasses from her morning drive and, deciding to get replacements, walked to the department store. Her search for glasses took her past the small book department, and a young single mother, Aroha, with her son Tama. Aroha knew that Tama was wild about pirates and wanted to encourage both his reading and an appreciation of history. Luckily, there was a plethora of illustrated non-fiction aimed at children, which drew the reader in with features like 3D glasses, and then subversively fed them facts. Pirates Of The Seven Seas In 3D presented case studies on historical pirates from all over the world. Aroha suppressed a small pang of envy, wishing that she’d had such books as a child, but even if they had existed, such things had only become affordable more recently. She overcame this feeling quickly, decided to buy the book, and focused on the fun they’d have reading it together.

If she had known of this story Helina might have been torn between lamenting the gimmickry of it all, and applauding the focus on education. However, she now had enacted her purchase and was making a hasty escape from this shrine to the almighty dollar. With her new shades on, further distorting her perceptions, Helina got back into her car and drove onto her destination, tut-tutting the ridiculous posters declaring the slogan of ‘Food – Fashion – Fun’ that adorned every blank space. Fun my arse!

At the family gathering Helina entertained relatives with various anecdotes and truisms, many of them derived from op-eds she had written. One of her anecdotes related to travel and her assertion that it was important to get off the well-worn tourist routes and spend time with the locals. She had even done this in areas that were recovering from conflict or disaster. It was only if you did this that you discovered the distinct lives of the locals and the way in which culture develops in the most unusual settings. Life finds a way, she was fond of saying. Helina was so occupied with her conversation that she overlooked how much she enjoyed munching on the dolmades and stuffed olives she had bought, even if they had come from the Herevale Shopping Plaza.

Cross-posted here.

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