Lazy Luddite Log


Lazy Decade

Ha! This blog has existed for ten years this month! I just noticed in looking back over it and this gives me the perfect topic for my monthly blog post. The fact I do it monthly is one of many things to have changed since I started Lazy Luddite Log back in November 2005.

For a start it had more than one post per week. Admittedly it was new and some of the posts were 'housekeeping' in nature. Some of them provided a sort of guided tour of the sidebar (now much simplified in content). Some justified the existence of my blog while also expressing my wariness of the new medium. One is a short-but-sweet musing on the nature of written records as a way of us putting our tiny stamp on history. Since then my posts have gotten longer but also less frequent and I wonder why.

My level of time-commitment to work and non-work past-times has waxed and waned over that decade but never by themselves are they an explanation for my blogging word-count. Two things seem to have happened. One is that I started writing longer posts on substantive topics that interested me and then decided that this was what my blog was for. The other is that I lost the impetus to do that as much as I once did and so reduced the overall number of posts. Now they are monthly but usually rather wordy.

One thing that has definitely affected these trends is other kinds of Internet products. Facebook has had a major impact. Small pithy observations now automatically go to it. Announcements of events I wish to promote now go there too. All that is left for Lazy Luddite Log are true online essays. But I am likely writing more of those small things on FB now than in the days of only having a blog and surely we all have a total word-count per month in us. Maybe that is why I'm written fewer posts overall.

There may be other factors too. I am more of a private person than I once was in the sense that I have a much smaller role in public life than I once did. I also have a somewhat bigger private life than I did at the start of writing this blog. I also think I'm just slowing down a bit. I enjoy a night at home more than I once did but I also just enjoy passive distractions like looking at old movies. Once more the Internet facilitates this sort of thing like never before.

Some of those oldest posts have been edited since. That was in keeping with my original concept that this blog was subject-focused rather than chronological in nature. I therefore attempted to reflect changes in any post relevant to that change. The fact however is that as your blog archive grows that becomes a prohibitive task. It also makes dating information more difficult. Another and better method I am more likely to use now is the adding of comments to reflect a change while preserving the original post content.

I wonder if I will even be blogging in another decade. We shall see. For now I may spend some time looking over a decade of sometimes forgotten posts. And there may even be a few more excuses to turn an old topic into a new one in coming months.

Cross-posted here.



Food Chart Scrambled

Much of what we know we try and reduce to models to help others understand or to better regulate public behaviour. One instance of this is charts providing a graphical understanding of foodstuffs and how much of them we need. Abstractions are seductive. Changing information and trends are also a factor. Who consults the old 'Food Pyramid' anymore? With all this in mind I decided to have some fun by developing my own food chart which is structurally inspired by the colour wheel of primary and secondary colours. The considerations behind it are nutritional, culinary and taxonomic but they are also personal. This schema is one that I can work for me. So my food groupings are as follows:

Primary Groups

* Animal Products

* Grains And Cereals

* Vegetables And Fruit

Secondary Groups

* Beans And Nuts

* Starchy Table Vegetables

* Fleshy Table Vegetables

I will let you guess which primary groups the secondary groups sit between as blended forms. I will however clarify what falls into some of those groups. Starchy Table Vegetables includes potatoes, cassava and maize (in relatively natural form such as corn kernels or corn cobs). Fleshy Table Vegetables are from an entirely different life-form altogether - fungi. Beans And Nuts includes chocolate…

One of the charms of this model is it reduces the emphasis on animal products by putting them all into one category. Another is that it differentiates between different kinds of plant matter in such a way to show those of us with a child-like aversion to our 'veggies' that there is more to it than just stinky greens. From here I then go and start making recommendations such as this - a 'complete snack' can consist of any primary food item and a food item from its most contrasting secondary group. So fish and chips (animal product with starchy table vegetable) is a snack. So is grilled mushrooms on toast (grains and cereals with fleshy table vegetable). So too is baked beans in tomato sauce (vegetable or fruit with beans or nuts). Of course you need more than snacks in your day and so a 'complete meal' should draw on three or more groups that maximize contrast.

To this end I decided to try and make a meal that drew on all six of my groups and, while I was at it, overcome a food aversion I've had ever since I was a child, and which I have practiced throughout adulthood. I have a problem with eggs. Something to do with the taste and texture and even concept of the things is off-putting. If they are processed beyond recognition then I'm fine with them. I like pancakes and mayonnaise for instance. And if I think back I admit that I also am okay with scrambled egg if adulterated with other ingredients. They say that eggs are a good thing. Besides if you want a cafe brunch you have to pretty much reconcile yourself with the things.

So I recently got some friends I was staying with to show me how to make scrambled egg and incorporated many ingredients into the dish. The egg provided the animal product. Some sliced button mushrooms were my fleshy table vegetable. Some corn kernels were my starchy table vegetable. Some pan-toasted pine nuts were my bean or nut. Some roquette and garlic and lemon juice were my vegetables and fruit, Finally I needed grains and cereals and wanted to throw in some risoni but my hosts objected on some sort of vague personal preference grounds. The compromise was that I could serve my scrambled eggs on a slice of wholemeal toast. It all worked very well and was a tasty and arguably nutritious meal. Next time I may fulfill my desire for a truly one-pan meal by replacing the toast with croutons thrown in while scrambling.

That is my model for now. Feel free to use it or develop your own.

Cross-posted here.



Twisted Chamber

As a politics nerd I have always been interested in the different designs of representative institutions. In this post I will discuss one of the strangest and most deceptive - the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that existed from the late 40s till the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I have a personal connection to this topic in that my father came from East Germany (common name for the GDR) but it is intriguing in its own right as a twisted imitation of more democratic institutions. But what is democracy?

Some criticize our own polity as merely a 'sham' democracy but I think it is more realistic to say there are different forms and degrees of democracy. The participatory democracy of some ancient Greek city-states inspired them all but the concept has been adapted to different cultures and societal conditions. Modern mass society is a very different thing from a community of a few thousand. Representation becomes necessary for all but the smallest of groups and some kinds of representation work better than others. There have always been flaws in design and implementation. There have always been distortions due to human fallibility. And in a model with any longevity there will be odd historic relics (for instance some of the senators in the anachronistic and elitist Irish Senate are elected by university graduates). However there are some basic ways in which to assess the democratic degree of a design. Here are two.

One is to consider the number of links or layers between citizens and governors. In Australia there are basically two - one link from the voter to the parliamentarian and another link from the parliamentarian to the cabinet ministers they choose from among them. This basic concept is replicated at every level of government. Contrast this with the number of layers in (say) the extinct Soviet Union - citizens voted for local representatives who in turn elected province-level representatives who in turn elected republic-level representatives and so on. It is a layer cake with as many connections between citizen and executive power as there are levels of government. Soviet citizens had elections but they were far removed form those in power nationally.

The other way is to look at the number of political parties involved in a polity. In the Soviet Union all those representatives came from the one political party. This contrasts hugely with our parliamentary model with its allowance of freely formed parties. One response to my comparison is to note that even in a one-party regime a variety of perspectives can be accommodated in the form of factions. Another is to say that the many parties in our polity all conform to the same capitalist ethos. But parties are organizations that take on a life and agenda of their own and evidence of that resides in the history of the GDR.

The GDR was one of many satellite states of the Soviet Union and the tendency across the Eastern Bloc was to replicate Soviet institutions. There were exceptions however and the GDR was a prominent case of a one-party regime pretending to be a multi-party one. I was told this long ago and it always puzzled me. How exactly would that work? I put my curiosity at the back of my mind till I saw a book entitled The German Democratic Republic by Peter Grieder and I purchased it. It referred to the multi-party phenomenon but never described it and I then remembered that I now have the Internet. Naturally Wikipedia told me what I needed to know. So how do you rig a multi-party parliament in an effective one-party regime? This is how...

The Volkskammer (Peoples Chamber) had 127 members from the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Incidentally the SED was the result of a forced takeover of the larger democratic socialist party by the smaller communist party in East Germany following World War II. This was the ruling party of the GDR and yet lacked a majority in the 500-member Volkskammer. Next came the four other political parties with 52 members each. These parties represented different strands of politics in German society - liberal, conservative, communitarian and agrarian respectively. They originated in authentic movements but were pressured and cajoled into a compliance with the SED as part of a National Front. They pretty much always voted with the SED but even if they behaved independently it would be rare for those four to all agree in opposition to the ruling party. Besides which there were also a number of demographic representative groups in the Volkskammer - 68 members of the labour union federation, 40 members of the ruling party youth wing, 35 members of the national representative body for women, and 22 members of a national cultural association. As soon as you consider these other groups you can see how the numbers were rigged so that the ruling party could pick-and-choose its partners in any given vote. Except remember that was never even an issue because all these groups were conditioned to do and say the same things in support of the SED.

How exactly do you run elections that result in these same parliamentary numbers every time? Well each voter is given one ballot paper. On that paper is listed all the proposed Volkskammer members across the various groups. The role of the voter is simply to say yay or nay to the list and that is it. You wonder why they even bother. Surely this is the most transparent bullshit. But this is the thinking of someone who has always enjoyed multi-party parliamentary democracy. If you had been living under the Nazis for over a decade and survived the devastation of World War II then the GDR model may well have seemed fantastic.

The other thing to consider was the proximity of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the temptation West Germany represented for East Germans. I can well imagine that replicating a semblance of what they had over the border helped to satisfy citizens and keep them home. East Germany had a huge problem with defecting workers and anything that could curb that was worth a try. The Volkskammer design shows both shrewdness and a degree of desperation. These were key ingredients of the Cold War atmosphere.

I was saying that parties have an agenda of their own and once the Berlin Wall came down the 'cringing lapdogs' of the ruling party in the GDR suddenly showed they had an ideological memory and began promoting those original values in the re-united Germany. Each of those parties participated in free elections and eventually merged with other parties across the augmented FRG. Authentic ideological diversity had been hibernating for decades in a facade designed to imitate it. Differences of opinion will find a way to survive till the day that oppression falters.

There are other deliberately deceptive models of representation in history and I may have to look at others in future. The 'tricameral' parliament of South Africa in the dying days of Apartheid was a doozy (and incidentally very different from the Israeli Knesset despite what some simplistic campaigns imply). More generally ones that play with demographic rather than geographic representation (such as the 'functional constituency' concept in Hong Kong) are also interesting. For now however I will look at the comparisons made and feel lucky at the kind of parliaments I get to vote for.

Cross-posted here.



The Opposite Of Nothing

In this post I will show that I think radically differently from the rest of you. Or maybe I will just show that I have a penchant for stating the bleeding obvious. It concerns two related concepts underpinning so much of how we think (or how we communicate what we think). Those two concepts are ‘negative numbers’ and ‘opposites’. I deny that they exist. Let me elaborate…

I touched on my dismissal of negative numbers in passing some time ago. Here however I express my refusal to accept reality at full tilt. And I betray the fact that I have never entirely abandoned childish notions. One such notion is that zero represents nothing and my assertion is that you cannot have less than nothing! Others have moved on and understand that zero stands in for all sorts of things.

Sometimes zero is the useful yet arbitrary temperature at which water freezes. But we know that it gets a lot colder than that and that you cannot get colder than zero movement of all things. You cannot have less movement than none at all. Hence I reject negative temperature.

Sometimes zero is what you have if what you own and are owed is exactly the same as what you owe. But there is never a moment in which a person possesses less than nothing. Rather there is another person who wishes they had more so that they could then pass it onto them. Hence I reject negative monetary values.

Sometimes zero describes the neutrally-charged state of an atom with the same number of protons as electrons. But a negatively charged atom is still there and just behaves differently. And while in the atomic realm I may as well move onto opposites.

Matter is composed of atoms and in each the nucleus has a positive charge while the electrons have a negative charge. Anti-matter reverses this in that the nucleus is negatively charged while the positrons are what that name suggests. Things are kind of inside-out. Is that what constitutes ‘opposite’? If so then is an invertebrate with an exoskeleton the opposite of a vertebrate with an endoskeleton? Or are they simply different?

Life as a kid watching science-fiction derived cartoons can be confusing. My original encounter with the concept of anti-matter came from something in which anti-matter was the stuff of another mirror universe in which everything was in reverse and somehow sinister. The above description of anti-matter atoms however makes them mundane by comparison even if they are exotic. But we do tend to think of opposites in terms of opposing or rival forms constructed to be in eternal rivalry and with this in mind we use the term far too often.

A lot of the time all it takes to talk of opposites is to have two alternative variations of the same basic thing. Take my instance of vertebrates and invertebrates – we are just two major branches of Animalia and have far more in common than those things that distinguish us.

And what if we only think we have two variations of a particular thing because we are ignoring further variations? In my younger days I would assert that men and women were simply variations on a theme rather than ‘opposite genders’ but now I’m aware we have more than two such concepts. What use then is the word ‘opposite’ in this context? And if we abandon the word then do we also abandon the related notion of ‘opposition’? Whither then goes the 'battle of the sexes' amusingly explored in 60s romantic comedy films? The answer is that it was always bullshit (and sometimes bullshit can be fun).

Sometimes supposed opposites are the presence and absence of something – consider light and darkness. Sometimes they are phenomena that are as different as they can be (or as different as we can imagine them) – north and south are ‘opposite directions’ but then they are still both directions and on a sphere may still bring us to the same location. Sometimes they are just two things that act in particular ways – this takes us back to electrical charges and the attraction or repulsion behaviours they exhibit.

Now I’m sure you all understand everything I say here. I’m sure you recognize that these words have many definitions. And you may be wondering why I feel the need to labour the point. My hunch is that while we move into adulthood accepting the intellectual definitions of the many different kinds of negative and the many different kinds of opposite we nonetheless on some emotional level hold onto the simplistic notions that these words originally conveyed to us.

We then go onto classify all sorts of things as good or bad and other things as wins or losses. If we look at them another way we may find that they are just different things and that each and every time we have to make value judgements on those things. What is the opposite of this blog post I wonder. I reckon it will be less-than-nothing because this post sure is something.

Cross-posted here.



The Seven Samurai

I watch lots of movies both good and bad. Every now-and-then I should review them and what better movie to discuss than the all-time classic the Seven Samurai (1954). The whole family watched it on SBS back in the 80s and I have to say I enjoyed it more now than I did then.

The Seven Samurai is a movie by famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and is frequently listed as one of the top five greatest films ever made. I'm hardly a critic but I can see why they keep on saying that. For me every moment of this movie has something to offer over the course of its 3 hours. It could be edited to a more convenient duration while maintaining the story. However it would lose something because every scene is variously charming, intriguing or gripping.

The film is set in the Sengoku Period of Japan (corresponding to the Age of Discovery) and focuses on a small village menaced by bandits. The villagers know the bandits will return following the harvest and the village elder (who lives in the local water mill) proposes that they go to the closest trading town to find some Ronin (freelance Samurai) and preferably hungry ones because all the village has to offer is food. Much of the movie focuses on the slow recruitment of six samurai and one try-hard samurai and then on the time they spend helping the villagers to fortify and prepare for attack. A lot of screen time is also spent on depicting the eventual attacks and counter-attacks. If this sounds like a familiar plot then maybe you have seen The Magnificent Seven (1960) or Battle Beyond The Stars (1980).

It is well-known that The Magnificent Seven was a western that ripped off the Seven Samurai but in some ways it was a case of cultural exchange since Kurosawa had himself been inspired by westerns in developing his movie. Seven Samurai is one of the older movies I've seen and so what I'm inclined to compare it with younger movies. I suppose both Japan and the 1950s are foreign lands for me. Much of the enjoyment I get from it comes from observing all the tiny bahaviours that seem unusual. In many ways I watch it as a kind of 'comedy of manners' examining the conduct of different classes in Shogunate Japan. The contrast between proud but desperate knights and scared yet secretly prosperous serfs is a key theme of the movie. However Seven Samurai is an action movie and the strategy and combat are also fun to watch.

And then there is a bit of romance. The youngest samurai and the prettiest young woman in the village are inexorably drawn to one another. This is despite the father of the girl anticipating the problem and getting her to pretend she is a boy. I tend to assume that traditional cultures are always very strict on matters of sex and so the controlling nature of the father is hardly surprising. But then it seems as if he is at odds with others. The village elder tells the concerned father that it is foolish to fear the loss of your beard if you are at risk of losing your head (an odd but memorable analogy). Once the one-night-stand occurs the other villagers and Samurai sort of look awkward and then try to joke the issue away. In this part of historical Japan it seems puritanism is mostly given lip-service. The try-hard samurai also jokes before battle that the men had all better love their women a lot that night and villagers of both genders cack themselves silly.

That try-hard samurai I keep referring to is ostensibly the central character (played by Toshiru Mifune who worked on many other Kurosawa films) but I had to look at an old movie poster to realize that. He is distinctive as a wild survivor of samurai excesses who has responded by emulating the very thing that destroyed his family. He is both villager and samurai and so I suppose it makes sense for him to be the central character. Kurosawa gave Mifune leeway to improvise a lot of his action and it produces some wonderful antics (which I suspect inspired some of the mannerisms depicted much later by Monkey in Monkey Magic). And yet in watching the film I felt as if the elder samurai who recruits and coordinates all the others (played by Takashi Shimura) was the central character. Possibly this is because I was most taken by his depiction and manner - the way he pats his shaven scalp indicates various moods with effective subtlety. One of the virtues of the Seven Samurai then is that it can allow viewers to make these decisions for themselves. And there are plenty of interesting characters to choose from.

An exception to this focus on character however comes with the bandits themselves. We never get any sense of who they are and they barely express much personality. They may as well be wolves or flood-waters - an external and destructive force that cannot be related to other than by resisting it. Newer movies would try and get you into the minds of the enemy but possibly we never need this. We are perceiving life as harassed villagers do and for them bandits are just a force of nature.

I cannot say Seven Samurai is a perfect film. There are things I feel are odd and things I would have done differently. The whole scene involving the bandit enclosure seems somehow inserted into the movie rather than a fundamental part of it. I wish they more blatantly signaled a change of scene from the village to the town. And I have qualms about exactly which characters live and die (which I may refer to in a comment to Lazy Luddite Log). Finally there is the matter of millet...

The villagers are giving all their rice to the samurai to eat and having to subsist on millet. Millet was just a word to me so I went to Wikipedia and discovered that millet is far more nutritious than rice. I can only assume that culture had given rice a status at odds with its utility as a foodstuff. Suddenly I was concerned that the samurai were lacking in the energy they needed to fight the bandits. But then I reconsidered this - most of the grunt work is done by the villagers in constructing defenses while the samurai instruct them. The lesson I took from this is that fighters need rice but labourers need millet.

This is a wonderful film. The black-and-white footage is charming. The costumes and sets are convincing. The music alternatives between sparse traditional percussion to swashbuckling orchestrations. Somehow it all just works to bring the viewer something that is at once thrilling and relaxing at the same time. If ever you get the chance then do see the Seven Samurai.

Cross-posted here.



Scheduling Logan

Here is a short story that focuses on the same character as did this one. That one was written in 'second person' but the character observed by the reader was Logan. In this one I'm writing in 'first person' but from the perspective of several observers all (once more) focused on Logan. There is also a hidden interviewer and maybe that is 'you'...

I've been massaging Mr Mallee for a few months now. My name's Peng and I run this shop. On first coming in, he told me he was looking for something to give his Mondays ‘distinctiveness’. Luckily he got me as his masseur because I have excellent English. He is rather chatty and the other staff always try to give him to me. He usually gets the neck and shoulders massage, which he says helps him, as he stoops too much when he sketches.

The first time he came in, he asked for the head, neck and shoulders massage, and I can remember his flinch of surprise on discovering that we masseurs consider the face to be a part of the head. I imagine getting fingers pressed into your cheeks was unusual for him. He might have even been embarrassed. Mind you Mr Mallee says embarrassing things sometimes, so I feel as if we're even. He once commented that, at his age and in his circumstances, nobody touches him, and that our massages take care of that human need in him. I blushed a bit at that, but luckily I was standing behind him, so he never noticed. I think he meant it innocently, as he has also said that a massage is better than a haircut, but you never know with old men.

Mr Mallee definitely had a twinkle in his eye, and has asked me to call him Logan, but I prefer to keep things deferential. I can see that he could have been a charmer in his youth. I gather, from our conversations, that he is a widower, and seems content with his life, which includes a dog, a house and garden, and activities intended to give every day ‘distinctiveness’. I wonder what he did with his Mondays before my shop opened.

* * * * *

Mr Mallee comes in here every Tuesday to return and borrow books, sit and read some magazines, and use the Internet. My name's Perdita and, here at the library, I run various classes in using computers, the Internet and genealogy databases. That's how I met Mr Mallee, and it’s usually fun. I say usually because, during his first Internet lessons he was a difficult student. Rather than just say he needed help with something, he would criticize the interface design for its lack of complete consistency. The thing is, I agree with him, but I cannot do anything except show ways to work around the fact that, like anything that has been designed and redesigned over time, software will never make complete sense. That was a while back now, and Mr Mallee surfs the Net with the best of them, and even gives others helpful hints.

The thing that drew Mr Mallee to our classes was his interest in genealogy. He had tried visiting church records, but confessed that churches had always made him feel like somebody was trying to sell him something, while here at the library he gets only what he's looking for. Mr Mallee lacks any children of his own, but has ‘plenty of family lost in time’ as he likes to say. As he finds ancestors he then writes short bios for them, and even draws illustrations of what they might have looked like. In that sense, he uses one interest as an excuse to engage in another hobby. It's a trick I should use more often, if ever I get the time. Maybe, once I'm retired I will take a tip from Mr Mallee on how to keep active. I'm happy that the Herevale Herald wants to make him the focus of a coming 'Local Characters' column, and I hope it won't make him too self-conscious.

* * * * *

Logan? Yes he comes to my milk bar to get milk and bread. He says he also visits the local shopping centre every week but that, by Wednesdays, he needs to ‘replenish supplies a bit’. He ties his dog up to the bench outside and then walks in, always with a smile and a ‘Good Morning Mandeep’. Before he purchases his groceries, he often sits and orders a milkshake or an ice cream soda. Very few customers do that, but Logan says that such drinks are what make a milk bar more than just a convenience store. These small musings over words interest me and I think that, talking to someone like Logan is refining my understanding of the subtleties of Australian English.

I might also be learning some economics from Logan. He could get his extra groceries cheaper at the shops, but he says that he likes to ‘put my pension into as many pockets as possible’. This interests me, as so many his age want to keep every penny, but he says that spending some of his money helps keep the economy turning. I'm lucky he does. He lives almost as close to the shops as he does to me, so he actively takes a walk in my direction just because he likes the traditional milk bar, and for a small-time operator like me, every bit counts. Besides, it makes my day more interesting when I get a chatty customer like Logan.

* * * * *

Mr Mallee comes to our weekly Chess tournament on Thursdays. He's never yet been invited to any of the smaller games run by private members. I think this is because he talks too much. I have tried to tell him that many of our members really just want to play Chess, but he just says ‘Emmett, I'm giving them the chance to change, if they want to.’ Maybe some of them do want to, and I've noticed those that play with him are more likely to be middling on the Extrovert-Introvert scale. I'm one of those and, I'll admit, he does have some interesting things to say. I'm into military history and so, even if I think his focus is more on cultural developments, we still have a common frame-of-reference.

Talking while playing reduces my effectiveness as a player, and I've sometimes wondered if chatting is a deliberate strategy of Mr Mallee's. It certainly takes me longer to beat him than many other, technically better players. He's still not accomplished, however. I think that, if we lived in an area that had those big Chess sets in the park, that attract the elderly who stand around commenting, that would be perfect for Mr Mallee. We're really a bit too purist for him, and some of his comment put the others off. He once said he plays Chess to help stave off senility, and I could just see several members looking on, aghast, because they suddenly had to think about what could happen to them later in life.

On the other hand, it is nice to have an extra member who's prepared to do things like stack chairs or fill the urn at the scout hall we hire. Too many of the others arrive just in time to play, put their heads down over their pieces, then flee as soon as it's time to tidy. I mentioned this to Mr Mallee and he says it's a generational thing. I think he's mistaken and it’s a thing of temperament. I've been involved in other groups of young adults and they've been fine. It's just this group, we're different, and Mr Mallee challenges that.

* * * * *

Yes, Logan comes in here every Friday to try something on our menu. His favourite is the lamb kebab, but sometimes he will have the felafel or the barramundi. He says he's been coming in here for years, since before this was Göker’s Grill. I’m Göker, by the way, and this is my shop. Great, hey? It was a fish-and-chip shop back in the day, and they served souvlaki, so it was a small step for me to get the locals to buy my kebabs. But we were talking about Logan, weren’t we?

Logan chats a bit, but he also just sits and watches the world go by. I think that’s why he has a coffee after his meal, since he’s already had a tonic water with his food. Why? Well, the coffee gives him extra time just to observe. On a sunny day he’ll sit at one of our outside tables. My customers love it, ever since the council let us introduce al fresco dining on the footpath. So, yes, we talk a bit and then he sits and takes it all in. I guess he likes to think a lot, about the way the world is now, about how things have changed and, maybe, how things stay the same.

Why do I say that? Well, he likes history, and I know this because he’s complimented the photos on my walls of ancient ruins in Turkey. He looks at them and says things like, I wonder what an average day looked like back then. Are they shopping or making things or even just stopping to chat? I have to admit, I rarely think that way, unless something like a movie prompts me to, but Logan seems to do it a lot. He looks at things, then past them and through them and around them. He sketches, so it must be an artistic way of thinking. Me? I’m more focused on what I can see and do now. Hey, would you like something to eat or drink?

* * * * *

Logan is a welcome addition to our Shillelagh club. We meet every Saturday afternoon and I provide instruction to the members in use of a Shillelagh, or indeed any walking stick, as a martial art. On initially meeting, Logan noted that my name, Finn, is Irish, as indeed is the Shillelagh, and then went onto say that he had decided to join us to get back in touch with his Celtic heritage. Only much later he admitted that was just a throw-away line, and he'd never even seen a Shillelagh in his youth in Dublin. Rather, he was involved to keep himself ‘limber’ and to ‘get the blood pumping’. I approve. He walks a lot, but walking only does so much for you.

We have a lot of older participants, and Logan is the oldest, but I forget that, because his mood is more optimistic than you would expect. He gets into a few polite arguments with some of the other retirees in the group, on the nature of the world. A few of them say they are here because they need to defend themselves, what with all the gang violence these days. Logan, refreshingly, reminds them how much more violent the streets, and indeed the pubs, used to be decades ago, when everyone thought that a punch-up was just what you did on a weekend. It's good to have him there, because he helps to bridge the gap between our older and younger members.

I want to have a growing membership, and to do that we have to welcome to a more diverse cross-section of the community. I learned that in the police force, which I only recently retired from. Some assume that we are a bastion of tradition but, if you're the pillars of the community then you need to keep in step with that community, and Logan helps us do just that. I wonder what he does on Sundays. He likes ‘small things to make every day different’ but I get the feeling that Logan sets aside one day to do nothing and have a rest from his weekly schedule.

Well that took ages to do. I think I'm in the mood for less realist and more fantastical things at present. These interests seem to come in waves. I wonder what the judges of the Monash municipal short story contest will thing of this one...

A Milkbar

Cross posted here.

Labels: ,


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.


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.

Labels: ,


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.

Labels: ,


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.



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.