Lazy Luddite Log

21.11.20

Weberian

I made passing reference to a Weberian concept a while back but will expend on it and others here. Max Weber was a German sociologist who died of the Spanish Flu pandemic a hundred years ago. He produced some key academic concepts that I was exposed to at uni. Many of his works were published posthumously by his wife Marianne Weber who was a sociologist in her own right. The Webers were politically involved in the small-l liberal party of the Weimar Republic but never became historical icons of that cause. The focus of Weber was on describing society rather than proposing alternatives. However some of his notions are very useful even today.

Class And Status

One thing that draws me to Webarian thinking is its acknowledgement of the complex interplay of factors in human behaviour that make it difficult for the humanities to aspire to the predictive power of sciences. Weber was careful to include many and even subjetive elements into his models. So economics can shape culture but the inverse is also true. Something I wish was in more use was his distinction between 'class' as economic and 'status' as cultural. By separating these concepts Weber could fit his theory to the reality of 'the new rich' and 'the new poor' rather than say that riches and honour must always go hand-in-hand. The model was further elaborated by the addition of 'party' as the fracturing of political allegiance - you cannot assume my party preferences simply by knowing my status or class.

Distinguishing class and status can help better understand various groups and interactions between groups. Australian 'bogans' for instance can suffer inter-generational welfare dependence but they can also be self-employed and rather well-off. As such I think of them as a trans-class status group characterized by boorish manners.

Tensions often exist between those of more esteemed status and those of more affluent class. Some political differences correspond to clashes between cultural and economic elites. In particularly entrenched cases they can align with other differences - consider the case of Fiji in which the nobility are native Fijians but many entrepreneurs are of Indian origin.

Bureaucracy

Another area Weber examined was the development of bureaucracy as a 'rational' (that is a rules-driven and expert-managed) form of human organization (which I understand can both be public or private). The thing that stayed with me the most from this topic is that such organizations are formed to serve particular aims but then also add one more aim - perpetuation of the organization under all circumstances. Naturally bureaucrats want to keep the jobs and even power that has been invested in them. So a bureaucracy will always find ways of redefining itself to still be needed.

I feel that the same can apply to amorphous movements too. Participants find a sense of belonging and purpose in them. They may well then focus on more vague and distant aims. They may even have difficulty recognizing progress they have made if this makes the cause seem less urgent or important. An organization uses memos to communicate its directives while a movement will have memes to help set trends. And while one has officers, the other will have its own natural leaders.

Charismatic Leadership

Weber examined different kinds of leadership across human history. One of the oldest was 'charismatic leadership' but it is still with us today in our everyday lives. Other leaders are defined by inherited traditions or formal rules but charismatic leaders have a personality and behaviour to which others gravitate. They may never occupy any named position yet still hold sway over the way in which groups function. Even the most voluntary and consensual of groups can have one or a few members who sit at the centre of interactions. I think we have all witnessed this in our own lives (for good or ill) and I can therefore never get too idealistic about anarchic political concepts. This may also be why Weber recognized the value of the state and what it can do (within limits) for humanity.

Labels:

1.10.20

2016-2020

It is a decade to the month since I started my ‘autoblography’ and - yikes - three decades since I finished school. The last entry was one of contrasts and I suppose this one is too.

I spent more time with Lukas as we worked together on sorting Dad’s estate, from decluttering his stuff to arranging an ashes-scattering event in rural Maldon in 2016. I hung with Lukas now-and-then at his new project site. He has rented an inner-suburban warehouse in which craftspersons can hire creative workspaces. The common area can also host events and he has even converted part of the place into his living quarters.

In my own working life, note-taking for special needs students at tertiary institutions freed me from welfare and, while casual, became my longest-term role. It could be difficult however, as the balance of roles offered shifted more recently to upper-secondary vocational students with behavioural conditions, whose raucous classmates and smartphones perpetually distract them from school work.

I maintained some civic involvement and am pretty happy with how I do that. But more of my spare time was devoted to personal interests. I was now only an audience member at MonUCS concerts but still participated in a few intervarsity choral festivals.

Some choral friends maintained regular contact via events like pot-luck lunches hosted by the Woodgates and entertaining soirees held at the Kerferd Road share household. Belinda & Rohan & M-ra invited me to dinners and video nights. I also continued to go on many dates with Belinda. A particular focus for us was visiting galleries, museums and zoos. We even did this on holidays in Sydney visiting Sarah & Damo.

My furthest travel by far was a solo holiday in 2017 to England and Wales, a long-postponed and much-cherished memory for me now. But there are only so many times one can do things like that, and I spent more time having fun at home.

My D&D game came to an eventual end but then I started indulging in that other old hobby of collecting Transformers. This went beyond browsing shops to attending second-hand toy bazaars and collection events with friends such as the Bowies.

Another thing to do was visiting suburban festivals, such as Live At Warrawee in Oakleigh, from around 2018. Our local government hosted various live bands, food trucks and community stalls, and I gathered friends together for picnics there. It seems like this was still a time of fun, but it contrasted with its past because the number and variety of friends coming to things dwindled. Friends of different generations, some more rapidly than others, were settling into lives of work and family.

I was given more responsibility too. By 2019 Mum finally accepted she needed to move into aged care and her kids took charge. Once more Lukas and I were decluttering and this time it was a vastly bigger job. There was also a ton of adminstrivia in finding and getting her into a decent nursing home. And then there were the many months of fuss as Mum herself fitfully adjusted to residential life. It took close to 12 months to find a semblance of normality. We started having some fun at her local cafe and in a visit to the Darebin Parklands of her youth. But then global pandemic hit and severely limited our movements and face-to-face contact.

Coronavirus has changed much in our lives. Hardly surprising for a ‘once in a century’ calamity. Suddenly tiny changes in a life close to home become novel. I did some cat-sitting for Jen just a suburb or so away and it felt like a short holiday. Otherwise my life is pretty sedate except possibly for a rich internal life.

I had to overcome my technophobia and buy some new tech to allow me to get with the huge trend of video conference calling. Craft went online and I sometimes attend. I also partake in a semi-regular Zoom session linking Melbourne (Jen) with London (Steve & Nieves) and Edinburgh (Paul & Helen). Sharing holiday houses is more fun but this is better than nothing.

One of the more surprising uses of Zoom for me has been involvement in a local trivia night with strangers. I was vetted for invitation to it by the operators of my favourite local cafe (which I visit via creek walks). I’m getting into this recurrent activity slowly. Neighbourbood interaction has never been much of a thing in my suburban life but, if ever there was a time to revive some neglected practices it is now.

2020 has got me thinking that proactive change is more important yet also more difficult than it was. I have some aims for once we get past all of this. One is moving address to something that better fits changing circumstances. Another is a job that does likewise. Yet another is more travel even if within smaller horizons. Then there is concerted creativity in the form of a short story anthology set in my fantasy world. Finally, forming closer bonds with particular friends is somethng I desire. The last decade and especially the present historic moment has shown how important that can be.

For now I’m done reminiscing. Possibly I will make more such posts in another five years or so. Of course I could at any time be hit by a Coronavirus infected bus and if so, the moment has been prepared for. Ages ago I blogged on what sort of funeral I would wish to have. Or better yet I shall look both ways while sporting a mask.

Labels:

11.9.20

CoronaCooking

It is getting onto six months since I blogged about the Caronavirus pandemic we are experiencing and nothing fundamental has changed in my perspective or experience as described there. Restrictions have waned and waxed and my ways of coping have been refined but today I shall just focus on one small aspect of this life - cooking.

Suddenly I was home a lot to try new things (or variations on old things). I got into one-pot meals in a big way. It takes longer than using pot and pan but it somewhat reduces dish-washing and I do plenty of that thanks. Somehow it never occured to me that one can slowly reduce the water pasta cooks in and add other ingredients till one has a sloppy pasta sauce (rather than use a strainer). I made Pasta Primavera in this way.

The more water the more something can be called a soup and sometimes I never bother with reduction. A lot of my soups start with a short-cut - using a sachet of cuppa-soup as the 'stock' for a proper soup. That gives it a flavour boost to which I then add things like celery, carrot and corn. And one time I made a sauce from mushroom cuppa-soup (just add less water than usual) to pour over a mixed plate of food.

By 'mixed plates' I mean the traditional thing of having a few different cooked items on the same plate. As a kid I had an aversion to 'meat and three veg' and so have spent most of my adult life cooking pasta sauces and stir-fries. But finally I've been having things like grilled baramundi fillets with potato gems and tabbouleh. At other times I'll have a mix of cold items but I guess that's just an indoor picnic for one.

I'm much more of a sandwich-maker now. Slopping spreads on bread got boring quickly so I moved onto things like toasted linseed buns with grilled bacon, avocado, roquette and chilli mayonaise. Such dishes can be done in so many combinations to keep things interesting. The grilling of ingredients takes a bit of time but I have plenty of that.

Now and then, I took this 'all the time in the world' attitude to extremes. I had a tin of mixed beans but felt that the chickpeas in it were the 'odd ingredient out'. So I removed each and every one of them and then made them into hummus. I soaked the chickpeas overnight in spicy water then cooked both together the next day. I lacked sesame seeds for the tahini component so instead doused sunflower seeds in sesame oil. Both these were turned to a grainy paste by mortar and pestle and then mixed with minced garlic, lemon juice and a dash of honey. It made sufficient hummus to have with one packet of corn chips - a lot of energy and preparation for just one snack but, what they heck.

It has been fun but, every week or so, I just get sick of my own cooking so have been exploring different microwave meals and takeaway food. I also make sure to have something a bit indulgent for those nights I 'attend' some online event. Oh, and on a whim I bought a pot of parsley, with which I can garish some of my 'creations'. It also keeps me company on the sunlit porch while I sit and read. We need all the company we can get right now, whether it be animal, vegetable or mineral. I'm managing alright but damn, it will be nice to once more cook with friends or eat out.

Labels:

18.8.20

Titans Of Titan - The Game

What follows is fiction and much of it is a fiction within a fiction. It expands on what was described here...

The Titans Of Titan Role-Play Game was hastily written to try and revive flagging interest in the toy franchise and a small run was published in 1988 by Aquila Publishing (producers of quality books on cookery and wine-making). It came as a boxed set comprising a game book (including a colour insert of images drawn from the telemovies), a card-paper ‘Game Programer’ screen with cellophane windows, some dice, a plastic hex-map scaled to the toys, and a pad of player character record sheets. That pad included pre-filled sheets for characters depicted by the toys.

Games such as Dungeons & Dragons were controversial in the 80s. The Duchess Gloriana XIII and her Ducal Minister for Trinkets ‘Professor’ Dom Woodlock were aware of this but figured that the rather matter-of-fact science-fiction story-telling of Titans Of Titan as shown in the telemovies would escape the scare. After all, there was nothing supernatural or pagan in its content. You cannot please everyone however, and the rather occultist Grand Fenwick chapter of the Worldwide Order of Oddballs (WOOB) objected to this very lack. How could such cold and clinical story-telling ever prepare the hearts and minds of Alpine youths for the wonder of transcendent oddness? Woodlock attempted to placate this influential group, with whom he regularly shared drinks at the Fenwick Grand Coffee House, by reminding them that key Titans Of Titan characters were named for immortals of antiquity. Gloriana went one better, however, by hinting to them that there were coded occult messages hidden within the text and illustrations of the boxed set. To this very day, Fenwickian WOOBs argue over the true meaning of the game.

The telemovies were all set on Earth but the Titans Of Titan game proposed storytelling on the never-named technological homeworld of the Titans. It was a setting of clashing factions, side-switching mercenary crews and non-aligned energy shelters. Several elements of back-story were described only in the game book. The homeworld was of immense age and the Titans themselves told tales of its design at the hands of an utterly impersonal yet clock-work obsessed prime mover. They went onto say they were the oldest existing sentient species and that it was they who had created organic life as an aberration of nanotechnology. Despite this, key aspects of the Titan body plan were distinct from those of other life-forms. They had what looked like heads but only sensors and a sense-coordination processor were housed within. The central computer of a Titan was located well inside its torso and as such the head was technically an extremity.

Titans were far from self-sufficient however and needed external technology and energy. The ability to assume fresh camouflage was renewed by ancient and sophisticated installations called Progenitor Kilns. Likewise new Titans could only be forged in these same devices. The only way to activate a Progenitor Kiln was for two existing Titans to work in tandem. This ensured a degree of collaboration and negotiation in the fabrication of such powerful robots. Each Titan was programmed with a 'code key' that interfaced with Titan technology. Titans possessed either an electronic or a positronic code, the former more common than the latter, and activating a kiln required the involvement of both codes.

Woodlock regarded robots as neuter but Gloriana insisted that they be masculine or femimine for the sake of character appeal. Only in the pages of the game book was a compromised explanation given. It was important for long-term Titan survival that they identify who possesses which of the two code keys. Automatic translation of Titan communication into human languages usually rendered this distinction by utilizing gendered pronouns. Among the few Titans met by humans the electronic coded ones tended to be bigger and had more bass-toned vocal simulations. Humans went onto regard electronic and positronic code-holders as masculine and feminine respectively. Titans responded by saying this was a flawed understanding and one that overlooked the role of the kilns themselves. Some Titans advised humans that they wished to be known as ‘it'. Others however were happy with and adapted to the human perception.

Only some of the game book was given over to such esoterica. Most of it was dedicated to character generation and game-play. The rules were rudimentary and had many gaps which players were left to fill. Some of its game mechanics were the work of an original mind but others were very derivative. The most blatant of these borrowings was that the concepts of Strength, Intelligence, Speed, Endurance, Rank, Courage, Firepower and Skill were taken directly from rival Transformers brand toy packaging.

Rank And Ability Scores

Rank is separated from the others characteristics as the equivalent of experience level in the game. Characters start adventuring at Rank 1 and can advance as far as Rank 5. Promotion is awarded by the Game Programer (the referee-narrator) following successful missions. Every promotion beyond Rank 1 results in an improvement of 1 to each of seven Ability Scores (and consequently the re-calculation of other derivative scores).

To generate Ability Scores players are allocated 35 points to distribute as they wish among Intelligence, Skill, Courage, Speed, Firepower, Strength and Endurance. However each initial score cannot exceed 10. The maximum Ability Score of 15 is the result of additional bonuses described herein. A Titan named ‘Template’ (the most average of all alien robots) at Rank 1 has a score of 5 in each ability.

- Intelligence determines access to a list of computerized super-powers. Each super-power has a value of 3 Intelligence to compute. So far Template can only use one super-power but at Rank 2 once it has an Intelligence of 6 it will have access to two.

- Skill determines how well one performs functional tasks. A 20-sided dice is rolled and Skill score is added. An 11 or better total is needed for a task to succeed. Template rolls a 5 and even with its bonus of 5 still falls short of success in a chosen task.

- Courage determines position in the sequence of turns taken in combat. Template takes its actions after someone with a Courage of 6 but before someone with a Courage of 4.

- Speed indicates how many actions can be taken within ones turn. Actions include mode-changes, using a super-power, performing a duty, attacks or seeking shelter. A character can take one action for every 3 increments in Speed. So far Template can only take one action but at Rank 2 once it has a Speed of 6 it will be able to take two actions.

- Firepower is added to damage done by all projectile and energy weapons. Template can add 5 Life Force damage to what its energy blaster automatically inflicts.

- Strength score determines damage dealt in hand-to-hand combat and is added to damage done by melee weapons. Template can punch or kick for 5 Life Force damage.

- Endurance indicates how much damage is regenerated per turn. Template has a total of 5 Life Force restored to it per turn (assuming it has taken that much damage in combat).

Size

All Titans fall into the sizes of Small, Medium, Large, Huge or Massive (only the Game Programer can operate characters of the last size which tend to be gestalts or armoured augments). Each limits what a Titan can camouflage themselves as. Among Probots a small Titan could be a motorcycle, a medium Titan a car, a large Titan a truck, a huge Titan a passenger helicopter.

Small characters get a +1 bonus allocated to Speed but a -1 penalty to Endurance. Large characters get a +1 bonus allocated to their choice of Strength, Endurance or Firepower. Huge characters get bonuses of +2 to allocate to one or two of those same scores. Massive characters get bonuses of +3 to allocate across any of those same scores. In all cases however a total score can never exceed 15. Template is Medium in size so nothing changes.

Life Force

Life Force is generated by multiplying Speed and Endurance scores and is re-calculated at every Rank promotion. Damage is deducted from Life Force. If it is ever reduced to 0 then the character is deactivated. If half of ones total Life Force is deducted due to just one attack then it results in the loss of a robot or camo-mode extremity. Template has a Life Force of 25. If it is promoted to Rank 2 then that will be recalculated to a Life Force of 36. If it takes 13 damage from one attack (half of 25 rounded up) then Template could lose its head!

Camo-Charges And Camo-Modes

Camo-Charges are expended by Titans to assume Camo-Modes in addition to the default robot mode. Expending one charge gives a character one form of camouflage to use as much as they wish. Expending another allows either the replacement of that form with a new one or the adoption of modularity. Modularity allows a character to combine into a new form with fellow Titans as a gestalt or to itself be composed of separate modular components with limited autonomy. A character can only be using two Camo-Charges at a time. A character is given a maximum of three Camo-Charges at a time by the Progenitor Kilns. Template has so far expended one so has just one rather pedestrian Camo-Mode of a utility vehicle.

Factions

The game lists the Factions that a character can belong to as the Probots and Kronotons. It also provides suggestions on how to devise new factions and sub-factions. Probots and Kronotons tend to assume civilian and military Camo-Modes respectively.

Belonging to a faction can convey particular super-powers to a character free of the limitations of Intelligence. Krontons have Short Range Flight and Signal Blocking for free. Probots have Magnetism and Pressure Resistance for free. Note that Template is a Probot.

Functions And Tasks

A character can choose to fulfill one of the following roles known as Functions - Warrior, Scout, Engineer. Occupying such roles determines which functional Tasks a character can perform. Massive characters can only be Warriors. Characters of Rank 4 or 5 can occupy two of the three functions. Template is yet to choose a function. Each Function can perform the Tasks unique to it on a successful Task check as described under Skill.

- Warriors must have Courage of 6 or better and either Firepower or Endurance of 6 or better. They can (i) Anticipate And Deflect one attack from the turn of a following opponent if they choose to use one action of their current turn. Warriors reduced to Life Force 0 can still have one more turn to perform a (ii) Drone Attack - a final instinctive berserk assault.

- Scouts must have Courage and Skill of 6 or better. Smaller ones tend to act as spies. Scouts can (i) Detect Energy And Minerals (including metal and therefore fellow Titans) within as many kilometres as they have ranks. They can (ii) Hack Security Protocols. And they can (iii) Secretly Store Sensitive Data.

- Engineers must have Skill and Intelligence of 6 or better. Larger ones tend to act as labourers. Engineers can (i) Multiply Life Force Regeneration by 2 for themselves or another robot. They can (ii) Modify And Maintain Machines. And they can (iii) Design And Construct such structures as shelters and energy stores.

Super-Powers

All Titans can perform the sorts of technological acts one would expect of sophisticated robots. This includes direction and altitude sense, short range remote communication, recording and relaying sense data, infra-red and ultra-violet vision, super-and-sub sonic hearing, universal translation and whatever operations arise from particular Camo-Modes. They can also choose extra super-powers within the limits of one per every 3 increments of Intelligence from the following list. Which super-power should Template choose?

- Armoured Camo-Mode allows one to take one-half damage from any attack while in camo-mode. One cannot use robot mode weapons while in this mode.

- Force Field Generation forms a barrier that has half the total Life Force of the robot that generated it and can be utilized in the service of that and two other Titans of the same size. It can last as many turns as the user has ranks or till it is extinguished.

- Holographic Projection can produce an illusion within line-of-sight that includes visual and audial components and lasts as many turns as the user has ranks.

- Invisibility can deflect light around the user to grant it invisibility for as many turns as the user has ranks. This allows one surprise attack before Courage scores are arranged for combat sequence.

- Long Range Remote Communication exceeds the limit of short-range communication (as many kilometres as the user has rank) and can extend to an entire Earth-sized planet. It can be performed once within a turn.

- Magnetism allows the user to move ferromagnetic objects at a distance of as many meters as they are tall. The objects cannot be bigger than something that the robot could move by handling them. It can be performed once within a turn. Probots have this automatically.

- Pressure Resistance allows Titans to survive in environments of significant pressure such as dense atmospheres or oceans. All Titans can survive thinner atmosphere or even space. Probots have this automatically.

- Program Override allows one robot to temporarily take over the actions of another within as many meters as they have ranks. The potential victim can resist by rolling its own Rank or lower on a 20-sided dice. The effect lasts as many turns as the user has ranks and the victim can make a resistance roll every time. Also acts of self-destruction cannot be forced by this power.

- Signal Blocking prevents short range remote communication and reduces Long Range Remote Communication to only short range. It can be performed once within a turn. Kronotons have this automatically.

- Short Range Flight allows flight in robot mode within as many kilometres as the user has rank. To fly long range a character must possess an appropriate Camo-Mode (such as a plane). Kronotons have this automatically.

Weapons

All Titans can punch or kick but can only interface with one weapon. Warriors get an additional weapon. Huge or Massive characters also get an additional weapon. An oversized warrior therefore has three weapons. Template however only has one. Weapons themselves determine chances of hitting on the roll of a 20-sided die.

- A Punch or Kick (only at close range) successfully hits on a roll of 11 or better and does damage equal to attacker Strength.

- Melee Weapons such as Electro-Blades and Vibro-Maces (only at close range) successfully hit on a roll of 11 or better and do damage generated by one 6-sided die.

- Machine Guns successfully hit on a roll of 8 or better and do damage generated by one 4-sided die.

- Energy Blasters successfully hit on a roll of 11 or better and do damage generated by one 8-sided die.

- Explosive Projectiles successfully hit on a roll of 14 or better and do damage generated by one 12-sided die. They also inflict half damage to any characters standing next to the character hit.

Any weapon incorporated into a Camo-Mode (such as explosive projectiles of military vehicles) does half the damage that an equivalent weapon would wielded in robot mode. Remember to add Strength or Firepower bonuses. With these and other rolls round up or down in whichever way benefits the player characters the most.

The role-play game managed to survive despite its rudimentary game mechanics and is still played as a novelty now-and-then. Complete boxed sets are very rare but the basic Titans Of Titan rules have been preserved online so anybody can play them. And if you are very lucky you may crack the code of its alleged esoteric lessons...

Labels:

2.8.20

Titans Of Titan - The Telemovies

What follows is fiction and much of it is a fiction within a fiction. It expands on what was described here...

Three Titans of Titan telemovies were made which blended live-action human actors, stop-motion robot models, different sets scaled for both humans and robots, and tilt-shift photography rather than standard stock footage. Much of the work was done using Swiss facilities and staff. These were the first Grand Fenwick Radio And Television productions aimed specifically at tween and teen audiences and were more popular than the toys they promoted. The first even got public screenings at the Grand Fenwick Theatre as Titans Of Titan The Movie.

That first movie drew the ire of Grand Fenwick’s sole morality campaigner, Marika Weisshauser, who objected to both its action violence and some very skimpy clothes that featured in its nightclub scene. Weisshauser had a lobbying method that was as unusual as it was effective. She would visit the Grey Goose Pub frequented by Fenwickian parliamentarians and sing her favourite arias until they gave her what she wanted. The Duchess Gloriana XIII and her Ducal Minister for Trinkets ‘Professor’ Dom Woodlock quickly mollified Weisshauser (even if they wished they could immolate her). In the two Titans Of Titan sequels nobody was destroyed and everyone was modestly-dressed.



Only the first movie was released for home consumption. Some fans suspect that the other two have been erased but Grand Fenwick Radio And Television have never confirmed this. They could have been lost, along with many other records, in the Fenwick Fondue Incident of 1990. Scripts and still images did survive however, partly thanks to the Titans Of Titan role-play game. Story descriptions of the three telemovies follow.
 More information on the alien robot characters can be seen here.

Saturn From Titan

Titans of Titan (1986)


In the year 2000 a staffed expedition to the Saturnian moon of Titan discovers something startling inside its icy surface. Two very large and geometrically shaped objects are detected. Some speculate that they are two portions of a crashed spacecraft while others say that they may in fact be two separate craft.

Excavation finds two much smaller objects closer to the surface. They seem to be large statues. The closest is successfully removed from the ice and transported to Earth for further study at the Alpine Institute of Human Advancement (establishing shots for this and other urban settings imply that they are set on Lake Geneva). Due to its long incarceration in ice the relic is named Kronos for the ancient Titan of longevity.

Next the survey crew work on freeing the other ‘statue’ from the ice and notice its vibrant red livery. This prompts the explorers to name it Prometheus for the ancient Titan who gifted humanity with fire. They are disrupted by a sudden attack from a flying saucer. All the crew present are killed off-screen while automatic cameras film the attacker altering form into another ‘statue’ and proceeding to dig its way to one of the entombed structures. This robot dubbed Charon had been hibernating in the rings of Saturn but was awakened by a passive homing signal transmitted by Kronos.

The two huge ice-encased structures are the spaceships of the rival Kronotons and Probots. Charon makes his way into the Kronoton ship and starts the process of re-activating its crew. Soon he has revived the espionage specialists and also gets the teleportation chamber operating. A ship with the power to cross interstellar space also has the power to teleport crew members within interplanetary distances but takes time to recharge and has a limited capacity. The Kronotons who journalists will soon name Specteron, Waveform and Crookbook are sent to Earth to find their leader - none other than Kronos - while Charon continues to thaw others from hibernation.



Much closer to the surface Prometheus is revived by exposure to the atmosphere of Titan. He digs his way to the Probot spacecraft and in his turn starts reviving his followers. Soon the Probots that will be called Hornet and Ace Rider are revived and teleported to Earth on a mission to make contact with the locals and find a safe haven for the Probot crew.



In Europe, the Kronotons are teleported to a warehouse but cannot get a more accurate fix on Kronos, whose signal has ceased. They assume he still functions but that the signal has been blocked by humans who are hiding him. They study Earth media and decide to kidnap the European President and use him as leverage to free Kronos. Specteron thinks he can do this alone and so visits a Geneva television studio at which the statesman will be giving a speech. Specteron, like all Titans, can assume new camouflage (known as a 'camo-mode') to fit the local environment. They can adopt fresh camo-modes a limited number of times, and Specteron takes on the form of three interlinked TV cameras. However, the security service of the President is surprisingly effective and manages to get their leader away from the marauding alien robot, who flees in panic.

Hornet and Ace Rider teleport onto a traffic island and quickly adopt the forms of a sports car and a street bike before speeding away. However they had startled several motorists and caused a minor crash. Both a roadside mechanic and a local traffic reporter attend the scene. Andrin Gupta and Talina Werner soon get hot chocolates together at a late night cafe to compare notes on the odd things several witnesses told them. Hornet and Ace Rider park at a nearby drive-in and watch a movie in the hope of understanding Earth culture. They see an advertisement which declares that “Autobahn Nightclub is the centre of the universe” and assume it is a seat of government. There is also a glimpse of what looks like Transformers The Movie, suggesting that in this setting it is fictional.

Waveform and his pet Crookbook devise a new scheme to leverage human power structures. They have discerned that the European President’s daughter, Letizia, is an avid ‘clubber’ with a far smaller security compliment than her father. The two Kronotons assume the form of a speaker stack with DJ booth and a laptop at the Autobahn Nightclub and attempt a kidnapping. However, Hornet and Ace Rider had just parked outside and come to the rescue. The Kronotons, who can fly short distances and jam surveillance, escape. The Probots make contact with Earth authorities, aided by a grateful Letizia. A frustrated Talina, accompanied by Andrin, gets there too late to witness any of the action.


Back on Titan, Charon revives Astra who then takes over operations. She loves Kronos and so is far more motivated to succeed. With Cloudwrench and Stormburst she teleports to Earth with a new and more ruthless plan. The warrior trio arrive at a British air base and destroy it once they take on new military plane forms. They fly to and terrorize an Alpine sports stadium, while a soccer game is underway, and hold all humans present hostage.

Hornet and Ace Rider send a report to Prometheus who decides to bring reinforcements himself, taking Panega and Argus with him and leaving his lieutenant Epimethius in charge of more revivals. The three newly arrived Probots assume the forms of emergency service vehicles outside the stadium, enter to take on the Kronotons and allow the humans to escape. Waveform, Crookbook and Specteron arrive, however, and outnumber the Probots. Hornet and Ace Rider try to get into the stadium but panicking crowds hamper them.



All this time Kronos has slowly been reviving and discovers he is in a secret military and scientific bunker. In his own rush to escape he uses his last camo-mode charge to assume the form of the first vehicle he encounters - an experimental tank. Had he held off even minutes longer he would have seen a hover jet and could have mimicked that, however he can still fly a short distance and follows the signals of his minions to the stadium. Around this time, Talina and Andrin also arrive, and narrowly escape their vehicles before they are destroyed by falling debris from a crumbling light tower.



Back on Titan the teleportation device is recharged and Epimetheus makes the rapid decision to bring all those currently revived with him to help on Earth. There are only two others and they set the teleport to automatic transmission, hoping it will successfully home in on the other Probots. They are separated, however. Epimethius appears on the roof of a truck stop, which collapses, and then assumes the form of a prime mover sans trailer. Phantom appears on a Formula One racing track and assumes the first form she sees. Tracker finds himself in forested hills and, coming to a road, models himself on an abandoned four-wheel drive parked there.

All three Probots converge on the stadium just as the Kronotons, now lead by Kronos, destroy Penega and Argus. Prometheus and Kronos are fighting hand-to-hand while Hornet and Ace Rider are in a pitched blaster fight with the rest of the Kronotons. The Probot reinforcements get into the action and, suddenly, human military forces arrive too. Astra and Specteron are both destroyed and at this, Kronos calls a retreat.

Talina, with help from Andrin, managed to get much of the action on tape. Later, the European President and his daughter present the Probots with medals for helping save the lives of so many sports lovers, and welcome them to Earth, offering to house them in a secret Alpine bunker.


The Progenitor Kiln (1987)

These are some key scenes from the second telemovie:

- Ace Rider and newly revived Dusty are racing each other along a lakeside beach. A drunk notices these cycles have no riders and throws his booze away.


- Newly revived Atlas and Waves rescue a recreational fisher stuck in stormy conditions - he is Dr Ito from Japan who is a visiting fellow at the Alpine Institute of Human Advancement. The scientist is delighted to discover the helicopter and jet-ski are in fact the famed alien robots.

- 

Waveform and Crookbook destroy an old abandoned mansion overlooking the lake after finding evidence in it directing them to the ancient lost progenitor kiln that the Titans were aiming for when they got into a fight around Saturn.

- Ace Rider, Dusty, Waves, Atlas and Dr Ito meet at the burning structure and manage to salvage some evidence from its even older cellars. Atlas informs Dr Ito that a progenitor kiln is a device that can both generate new Titans and imbue them with the fresh ability to assume camo-modes.

- 

In a flashback depicting some long-since destroyed progenitor kilns, the dead characters Specteron, Astra, Panega and Argus are seen.

 It is shown that the installations can only be activated by two Titans working in tandem.

- In separate scenes both Prometheus and Kronos are shown giving orders to discover the progenitor kiln or prevent others from finding it.



- Newly revived Streetslick and Spanners assume camo-modes which compensate Talina and Andren for the vehicles they lost in the stadium battle and work with them as undercover operatives.



- The five newly revived Democrons are in work vehicle cameo-modes at a seeming construction site, but they are really excavating for the lost progenitor kiln. Streetslick, Talina, Spanners and Andren discover this. Groundhog, Dirtdigger, Flatchat, Forks and Doze attack the interlopers.

- Hornet, Phantom and Tracker are all transported to the firefight by Epimethius using his new trailer. They convert it into the Probot defensive stockade at some distance from the excavation in which the Democrons shelter.



- Prometheus and Kronos arrive and have a deliberate collision in camo-modes and follow it with fighting as robots.



- Atlas has a dog-fight with Charon who had lead Cloudwrench and Stormburst into battle over the impromptu battleground. The three Kronotons threaten to overwhelm the big Probot.


- The Democrons combine into the gestalt Demolizor and clash with an exoskeleton-augmented Epimetheus, who eventually gets the upper hand, and shatters their unity.

- Members of both factions attempt to take control of the progenitor kiln - Waveform and Crookbook for the Kronotons and Hornet and Ace Rider for the Probots. In struggling to do this both Hornet and Crookbook accidentally activate the device.

- However at that same moment human military jet fighters blast the progenitor kiln in a desperate effort to end the urban conflict. The explosion sends a peculiar burst of energy across the city.

- The Kronotons retreat and the Probots are left to help tidy the damaged site. Dr Ito asks if there is any way to restore the progenitor kiln but the Probots think this is a very long shot.

Portal To Andromeda (1988)


These are some key scenes from the third telemovie:

- Dr Ito has been studying Titan technology and developed his own radical new machine - a wormhole generator located in a secluded Alpine ravine. Prometheus says that the Probots could use it to return home to the Andromeda Galaxy. He even suggests negotiating with Kronos so that the Kronotons can also go home and let humans live in peace once more.

- The energy wave from the activated then destroyed projenitor kiln resulted in the random metamorphosis of some local works of artifice into Titans - some animatronic Mesozoic reptiles in the Alpine Museum and some arthropod sculptures in the nearby lakeside plaza. These have been living secretly for some time but then the two groups clash one night and suddenly all the world is aware of them.

- Atlas, Streetslick, Spanners, Dusty and Waves intervene and manage to end the clash. The arthropods escape into the sewers. The reptiles however stand firm and the Probots manage to convince them they can be friends. The new allies are named Mesobots.

- The arthropods exit at a rubbish tip but are confronted there by the Democrons. The new Titans are so awed by the combined form of Demolizor that they offer to ally with them and so become the Invertocrons.

- Both Mesobots and Invertocrons have issues integrating into the factions. They also express a desire to live in a world that belongs to them rather than one that is dominated by organics.

- In a surprise to all, Prometheus and Kronos come to an agreement to work together on perfecting the wormhole generator.

- The new Titans known as Grindstone, Whirlpool, Wingspan, Locus, Scorpio and Slator all volunteer to test the wormhole generator.

- The volunteers are gated away from Earth and the final scene shows they are indeed on another planet orbiting a distant binary star. However it is a barren world rather than the technological marvel they were expecting. The two trios glare at one another across a small space and wonder how well they can get along.

- The end credits inform viewers to "prepare yourself for the coming Cold-Blooded Clash"...

The only thing that ever came of this promise was new packaging for the few Titans Of Titan toys sold in stores in 1989. The telemovies soon became the sort of faded memory that aging Gen-X Fenwickians would half-think they had imagined rather than seen.

Labels: ,

13.7.20

Titans Of Titan - The Toyline

Everything that follows in this long-intended entry is fictional. Some of it is a fiction within a fiction. It is arguably descriptive crossover fan-fiction and a new level of whimsy for me...

One of the most popular trends of the 1980s was toys that converted from one form to another. The biggest brands were Transformers and Gobots but there were many others and those brands tended to have local variations and overlapping product lines. One of the most unusual and overlooked was Titans Of Titan from the alpine Duchy of Grand Fenwick (known as 'Titanoj de Titano' in Esperanto which had been adopted as an official language of the micro-state alongside English at the start of that decade).

The prime movers behind this toy line were the recently crowned Duchess Gloriana XIII and the Ducal Minister for Trinkets ‘Professor’ Dom Woodlock. Both harboured a love of international pop-culture that they decided to explore under the guise of developing “a new enterprise that will bring fortune and renown to the duchy and act as a testing ground for integrating existing Fenwickian industry into future-focused multi-media and the service sector”. Such terminology wowed the locals and obscured the fact that the duchess and the professor were having a wonderful time playing with toys.

Most of the toys in the Titans Of Titan line were licensed from various manufacturers in Japan. As such many Titans Of Titan are simply differently decorated Transformers or Gobots. However the Duchess and the Processor were keen on local value-adding and so many items were also re-tooled and some were original Fenwickian designs. Modifications were done by hand at the ducal trinket works in possibly the only instance worldwide of formal large scale ‘kit-bashing’.

Gloriana and Woodlock clashed on some creative matters including seemingly trivial things like colour. The toy that became Ace Rider was delayed for release onto toy shelves because Gloriana wanted to make its torso pink but Woodlock wished to keep its original Japanese red. Eventually they ‘compromised’ on a violet chest but by then packaging and artwork for the line had been finalized and Ace Rider was relegated to mail-order status advertized by stickers hastily attached to the boxes of other Titans Of Titan toys. Ironically this made the toy more interesting, it sold out, and more were prepared for sale on-shelves the following year.

Relatively few Titans Of Titan sold internationally because they were competing with very similar products and were somewhat late to the converting robot party. The worldwide craze had begun in 1984 while Titans Of Titan debuted in 1986. Gloriana and Woodlock had anticipated this and so never produced too many of the toys. For them it had always been an exercize in fun. The toys were only sold in numbers within Grand Fenwick from just seven outlets - The Fenwick Capital Toy Shop, Fenwick Department Store, Onador Games And Hobby Shop, Onador Emporium, The Nether Rhimney General Store, and the factory-direct showroom at the Mount Fenwick Trinket Works.

The toys were also given as gifts to the children of diplomats who visited the micro-state or its few international consulates. In the decades since then Titans Of Titan have become a much desired rarity among adult collectors of retro memorabilia. They are so rare however that a hobby of replicating Titans Of Titan by modifying more common toys has developed.

One Titans Of Titan toy became a source of controversy because its name - Specteron - was seemingly pilfered by another state-subsidized toy maker in the faraway Himalayan micro-state of Shangri-La. That Specteron was a very different toy however, converting into binoculars, and legal advice to the Duchess suggested it was best to let the matter pass. The Professor, however, made a scene at an international conference of tinkers with his counterpart from Shangri-La which resulted in some small media coverage of the ‘amusing snippets to start your day’ kind. This news drew the attention of an international toy company which noticed that those toy binoculars were one of its designs that had never been licensed to others. This time legal action did result to the financial detriment of Shangri-La (and an incidental cooling of relations between the two micro-nations that lasts till this day).

The Toys



Sixteen Titans Of Titan models were released in 1986 (divided into the rival factions of Probots and Kronotons). All sixteen were re-stocked in 1987 alongside another ten designs. In 1988 two of the original designs were re-stocked alongside the ten from 1987 and another six new models (see here and here). Finally in 1989 only those last six were re-stocked under the new banner of Cold-Blooded Clash (Titans Of Titan) but by then Fenwickian kids had lost interest and those six are the only Titans Of Titan that can be readily found second-hand. Many of them however are rather dirty and rusty as they became a popular porch and garden ornament among Fenwickian grandparents who purchased them at clearance prices.



Human companions of the Probots appeared in the telemovies and two were depicted as toys. They were auburn-tressed Talina Werner, an FM radio reporter, and Andrin Gupta, a roadside assist mechanic and child of Punjabi migrants. Keen collectors noticed that likenesses of these characters were made as 5.5-to-6cm tall figurines for the authorized Grand Fenwick large-scale model railway set of the time (they should have been packed with the Titans Of Titan that assumed the form of vehicles for them to drive). Only one other Titans Of Titan toy accessory was made - A sturdy card-paper and cellophane Progenitor Kiln diorama was included within the Titans Of Titan Role-Play Game boxed set and doubled as a 'Game Programer' screen.

Very few children of Fenwick collected the entire line since arents considered such collections an extravagance. Enthusiastic children had to collaborate with friends to make sure they got distinct designs as gifts so that an entire collection could be amassed by the kids of one neighbourhood or village. The fact that the thirty two robot characters depicted by the toys were masculine and feminine helped make the Titans Of Titan a unisex brand which assisted in the practice of sharing among siblings and friends. They were also popularized locally by the three telemovies and a role-play game.

Well that was a bit of an effort getting those various linked pages written and all for the most obscure combination of topics. I would be very surprised if transforming robots and satirical micro-states are something that have ever been blended. It was fun however indulging in the wish-fulfillment of imagining a quality transforming toy line of finite size.

Labels:

6.7.20

Citizen

Following my withdrawal from party politics I felt rather lacking as a citizen. Involvement in campaigning had defined me for much of my younger life and I suddenly felt negligent. In the decade since I have been overcoming that feeling.

What were the alternatives for me? Party politics had set other aspects of my life back a lot and I needed a rest. I have since gotten a more balanced life and need to maintain that. None of the parties entirely fit me anyway. I'm too much the classical liberal for the Greens, too much the social-democrat for the Reason Party, and not quite pragmatic enough for Labor. But there are plenty of alternatives.

For a while I considered active membership of pressure groups. But which issues matter to me the most? Which ones will allow me to have a political impact while escaping the frustrations of meetings and approval processes? What I did was simply become an active yet independent citizen. The benefit of this is that I can decide to do something and then simply do it. I may invest less time now than I once did but my time is far more effectively spent.

Some of this personal campaigning has included publishing letters on welfare issues, letterboxing pamphlets on queer rights, starting a petition on public transport improvements, making a parliamentary submission regarding religious discrimination, promoting an environmental rally and most recently donating to an Aboriginal legal service.

The Internet makes it a cinch to be involved in numerous campaigns. However there is one aspect of online political activity I have been limiting - debate among friends and acquaintances on Facebook. I have never adapted to what feels like a semi-automated slogan-swapping game. Others have taken to it and for some it is the only kind of discourse they have ever known. I feel more effective in the naturally flowing discussion that can occur on professional media comments sections.

There is only one problem with this - some seem to think that ones activity on something like Facebook is all one does and can be critical of seeming silence. Imagine if I had taken that attitude in the 90s and 00s while others seemed apolitical? I never did because of the futility and rudeness of such a stance. A lack of political activity tends to go hand-in-hand with a lack of power and if it looks like someone is apolitical then it is worth handling them with care.

The notion that 'the personal is political' has I think contributed to judgemental attitudes. While it is accurate in some contexts it can obscure others. Consider these three:

The personal is still personal - Each of us has a unique personality and faces a distinct set of life circumstances. If you try and understand that by fitting it into a purely ideological framework than you will very likely overlook something important in understanding others.

The political is still political - Politics is both a very complex subject and a challenging undertaking. A comprehensive understanding of it can only come from long study and experience. A crash course by political Internet memes cannot substitute for that.

The political is sometimes personal - What can look like a political quarrel could be a personality clash that has been rationalized in ideological terms. Take away the topic of an argument and it could well have been another thing that triggered animosity between belligerents.


This could be worth sharing with friends but one can never be sure how it will be received. I think it is better for me to focus on political activity that looks outward to our wider polity and there will always be plenty to do.

Labels:

8.6.20

We As You

Some university choristers recently attributed the problems facing our scene to Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). The last time I mentioned that stupid policy was during its advent in 2006. VSU would have made it more difficult for student governing associations and councils to fund essential student services. However clubs and societies were always something students chose to participate in over-and-above general campus life and the fortunes of particular groups had always fluctuated.

If VSU had an impact then it was a delayed one. I got involved in choraldom from 2006 and the large and vibrant group I discovered stayed that way for maybe another ten years. Once it did start shrinking it also became more sedate. Those two things could well be linked and yet I have known groups that were small yet vibrant. Something more than funding had changed. The new members themselves seemed different.

Returning members were always told to be inviting to ‘freshers’ during orientation. I did my bit and usually fared well in starting conversations. But then there was a meet-and-greet in which my efforts were met with brusque responses and averted gazes. This was nothing new to me as a nerd who knows nerds. But three such encounters in a row was unusual and I withdrew to skulk in a corner with friends.

A growing age gap might have been a factor and yet younger choristers than me also remarked on how our newest members behaved differently. The new batch attended rehearsal but never went to ‘pub’ or ‘coffee’. This reminded me of the oldest of mature-aged members who were just in it for the music. And yet they tended to be chatty. 



The reticent youngsters had come to us that way rather than be made that way by uni. The explanations then go beyond any policy specific to university. I think we were seeing generational change shaped by society-wide factors. More hectic family lives, more protective parents, more isolated households and more engrossing technology could all contribute.

Involvement in clubs has apparently been waning for decades (see the books Bowling Alone and Disconnected) but I think the post-war growth in pop-culture fandoms may have slowed that somewhat. It was also slower to impact uni life. But once the change came it definitely made me more inclined to follow the natural process of membership churn and move onto becoming a lone audience member at concerts.

Does this matter? I have the experiences and friendships I got from my involvement so I’m fine. But is it a pity that others will lack similar experiences? That depends - possibly as they are shaped by a changing environment they will value and find different kinds of experience to be satisfying. We can hope.

Labels:

20.5.20

Architectural

For me architecture is an occasional spectator sport. I sometimes play at drawing floorpans for imaginary fortresses or spaceships but I cannot fathom the mathematics involved. I am however wowed by some of its better achievements. And sometimes I’m even just curious about what is just around that corner in a sit-com apartment set.

Recently I have been drawn into online tours of unusual houses both big and small. At one end of the scale is the tiny houses movement and they are cute. Eventually however there is only so many ways you can do a shipping crate-sized layout and so I veered into tours of mansions. That soon took me back to an old love - the works of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).



Wright was always twenty five to fifty years ahead of his time. His 30s stuff for instance looks totally at home in the 60s and that has always been an era that draws my attention. I love his low-slung structures incorporated into the landscape. I likewise love his use of natural light and the clever segmentation of nominally open-plan spaces. The house Falling Water is amazing but so too are the Johnson Wax Building and the Marin County Civic Centre. They look like places it both be around and in whether alone or in company.

More recently I have been impressed by the works of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016). Her structures curve and twist into the sky like so much living metal or futuristic ceramic. Apparently two designs of hers will be completed here in Melbourne - the Mandarin Oriental skyscraper to overlook Southern Cross Station and the Mayfair residential tower on St Kilda Road. Once they are done I will have to take a look.

Most recently I came across the words 'Futuro' and 'Venturo'. These terms denote the designs of Finnish architect Matti Suuronen (1933-2013) for modular holiday homes that could be transported between locales. The Futuro was inspired by flying saucers while the Venturo was more box-like but with curved corners and a space-age look. They are mere curios now and scenes of a semi-abandoned resort village of them in Taiwan are both exciting and pathetic.



All these inspire retro-futurist daydreams. What if we worked in something by Hadid then shopped or lived in something by Wright and finally went holidaying in something by Suuronen? But who are ‘we’ exactly? Well the whole community hopefully. Many architects are interested in how they can alter our way-of-life for the better. But it was a philosopher and mathematician who made me aware of that.

At uni I did some extra-curricular reading of In Praise Of Idleness And Other Essays by Bertrand Russell. In one essay he proposed designs in which several homes were arrayed around shared courtyard gardens and common areas. Russell hoped such plans would serve the human needs of both privacy and community spirit. Even today I think few of us have a chance to get that balance right.



I could do with a better balance. It could take the form of living in the wing of a rambling villa or of occupying a tiny home in a cluster of such structures. And yet I’m someone who has possibly come closer to this than many. Living in suburban share households within walking distance of other such households has been pretty cool. It also brings me to one more comment - loops.



The best party houses are ones that allow a person to circulate from room-to-room via loops. Many house plans allow movement from hall to living room to kitchen and back to hall. Such loops allow for more mixing. You can get to those you wish to converse with or get away from others more quickly. A fun exercise is to design a floor plan with as many loops as you can. If anyone is reading this then have a go.

Labels:

22.4.20

2011-2015

Back in 2010 I wrote an ‘autoblography’ in four installments, each covering five years of adult life from eighteen to thirty eight. That done I moved onto other things. 2015 passed me by and now in 2020 I reckon it would be worth giving my latest decade similar coverage. So here is what I recall was significant for me from 2011 to 2015.

I consider July 2012 to be the best month of my life. I had recently finished a stint in data-entry for the latest Australian Census. This surprisingly fun role had left me with plenty of back-pay and I was living a life of leisure. I did some interstate travel. I participated in my favourite intervarsity choral festival of MIV. I hosted a cracking fortieth birthday party. And my love life was coming along rather well. I call it the best month of my life and I even suspected as much back then. It is good to be aware of such happy times while they are happening. But I need to backtrack a bit.

I started a new and recurring interstate fling part-way into 2011 that lasted till late 2013. I also entered into a non-exclusive yet committed relationship from 2012 which overlapped with that fling. I fondly recall a relevant moment from MIV. I was lunching with both those concerned but then excused myself to visit the loo. They took the chance to confirm that everything was fine between them. Consent was assured in a warm yet matter-of-fact way. I recommend excusing yourself as something to do during gatherings. You never know if your friends need to ‘talk behind your back’ and it may well be for your benefit – they could for instance be organizing a surprise party for you!

Since 2012 my relationship with Belinda continued in the form of regular dating and communication. We became companions rather than partners (terms I use to distinguish between the meeting and the merging of lives). Our relationship is non-exclusive partly because she had even older commitments that have since been confirmed by cultural marriage. I may have other interactions if the opportunity arises (keeping in mind that I’m rather reserved and somewhat fussy). And I can be considered polyamorous simply because I have the ability to share.

Moving in a choral scene had definitely given me much but I think I made a contribution too. Till the end of 2012 I was MonUCS social-secretary. I enjoyed this so much more than any sort of party-political role. My task was to facilitate fun for others, something I do in my personal life anyway. I organized pretty much everything I had intended, from a hedge maze visit to nights for bowling and pool, and retired from the committee after two years. But I stuck with MonUCS and averaged singing in two concerts in every three. By then I felt I knew who my personal friends were and we did more stuff among ourselves. I even started a role-play game with mostly choral friends in late 2013.

Also in 2013 I started working as a sometime invigilator and then note-taker and integration aid at tertiary institutions. If the Australian Census had been my best employer, this would over time become the role that suited me best. It was in education but had the freedom and variety that teaching had lacked. It was casual but I was soon getting more and more shifts. It was of definite value to those I served but it could at times be edifying for me too.

Alongside work I made occasional contributions to civic life. One involved getting choral friends Jess and Paul along to a meet-the-candidates event. Another was to be an interviewee for an oral history project in 2014.

I have had a look over my photos from the time and they remind me of assorted things worth remembering. I had the regular company of Belinda on dates involving everything from Mongolian barbeque to boating at Fairfield Park. Holidaying with London visitors Steve & Nieves was always a good way to see old friends like Sean, Jen, Paul & Helen all at once (rare in our ever-more distinct adult lives). There were some fine costumes on show at Halloween parties held at Greta Street. And other events with Korner friends included seeing the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special at the Jam Factory, witnessing a roller-derby game complete with ska band, and dog-sitting for the Bowies.

A few things changed in 2015. One was that my long-time share arrangement ended and I moved a mile into a neigbouring suburb. It was surprising what this small shift did to my preferred public transport routes and shopping destinations. Some old routines changed as it took more effort to attend MonUCS and less to attend half of Craft nights (since I now lived in one of the two houses that hosted it). Dad visited on one occasion seemingly to check that my new abode was okay. There was an unusual sense of purpose to his visit. Soon I think I discovered why.

In July a close friend of Dad pressured him into calling Lukas and I to tell us he had lung cancer. We went into a frenzy of calm yet grave activity. He was taking what medical help he could. Some of that time he spent at home with help from others. Some of it he spent in hospital and the last few weeks in a hospice receiving palliative care. It was September and he enjoyed having the door of his room left ajar to better smell the springtime garden he could otherwise only see. We made sure his friends knew and got a chance to visit or call. We did what we could. Dad died at the age of 76. He had been smoking for over five decades and I think he got away with more than many smokers do. Only six months before he had been camping with amateur prospector friends. Only three months before he had been living independently and taking walks at his local beach. And even in his last week he managed to enjoy small things like dark chocolate. That is the sort of talk that informed his eulogy.

Organizing the funeral that October was a lot of work, especially in a small family. Our parents had been divorced for decades and Mum could do barely more than ask how things were and confirm the odd fact for us to pass onto the civil celebrant. Dad's own relatives were far away in Germany. Still I think Lukas and I did well – friends of Dad even commented that they now had a model of simplicity for their own funerals. But it made me feel older somehow. Surely it was the sadness and stress of it all and yet, I almost feel as if the death of a parent triggered aging itself in me.

Well, that was a lot of ground to cover and a huge contrast from start to finish. I will give it a rest now and return to this topic in six months to cover 2016-2020 at the tenth anniversary of my ‘autoblography’.

Labels:

30.3.20

CoronaPost

This is my Coronavirus entry to discuss aspects of the pandemic facing Humanity. There may be other such posts but we shall see. I’m of the opinion that there is an excess of information currently online. Even discussion of confused government directives tends to magnify the confusion. It is also worth asking why those messages are sometimes confusing. My answer is that this is a perplexing time for everyone. Even the experts that governments are thankfully heeding are a somewhat divided cohort on the specifics because this is something very new for us.

And yet it is something very old too. We have never had control over this world and even now the best we can do is manage risk rather than eliminate it. However the post-war long peace has given us a semblance of control. We now lament its shortcomings but I think it worth pausing to reflect on how effective it has been for successive generations. In historical terms most of us were born in a golden era. But how quickly we forget all that.

Looking back over the last several weeks it seems that the problem was looming in the mid-distance. We would give it a sidelong glance and then get back to our everyday lives. I happily sat in a Chinese restaurant with an old friend discussing the issue in a rather detached fashion. We scoffed at those who were allegedly scared to do the same but now nobody can dine in any restaurant at all – by law we can only get take-away. At a similar time I sat with a close companion in a public bath as I agonized over the feasibility of my travel plans in the face of problems mostly brewing overseas.

Yes I had plans to once more travel. On my itinerary were Rome, Florence, Venice, Montreux, Strasbourg, Aachen and Berlin. I decided to ‘postpone’ those plans while I still technically had the freedom to keep them. My motivation was a fear of the fuss and bother surrounding the creeping pandemic rather than the virus itself. Now I can scarcely imagine getting stuck in what they are bravely facing in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere (especially given my vulnerability as an older male with respiratory and circulatory conditions). Once my plane tickets are re-funded I intend to donate some of that to emergency services in Italy.

Back home life still has a semblance of normality. I can go out for utilitarian purposes – exercize or necessary errands. There is still public transport but I‘m keeping away from it and confining my life to a walking distance. Within my self-set limits are essential shops and some natural open spaces. I am focusing my patronage on one each of key shops like grocer and pharmacist. It is okay but I worry that coming wintry conditions will make things more restrictive.

I have defined my own ‘village’ but key friends are beyond its confines. I envy those in larger share households right now. Naturally we are still permitted to live with whomever we happen to live with. Remote communication helps but only so much. I have talked in the past of the difference between loneliness and solitude and now suspect I will discover whether I truly have a capacity for turning the negatives of the former into the positives of the latter.

There are problems beyond my own circumstances. Last year my mother moved into aged care and now thinks she depends on family bringing her assorted requests. We can technically still visit if we meet some criteria (such as a temperature check) but how wise is it to do so? The aged have the greatest vulnerability to this and fever is only the most likely indication of an infection. It may be better for Mum to cultivate the old wartime spirit she admires and recognize that her needs are met at her nursing home. So far she seems to be managing okay with phone calls and the company of those carers she has grown fond of. I think she also finds that a day punctuated by naps, meals and telemovies can go by quickly.

I'm finding that to be so. I have creative projects to slowly work on. I’m enjoying reading on a blanket on the lawn while the weather is still clement. I‘m cooking and washing dishes more. It could be time for me to finally sort the paperwork and memorabilia of my father – Dad died back in 2015 and I never announced it here. I might even enjoy the nostalgia. And then there is the plethora of distracting content one finds online. And yes I do want to address some aspects of online Coronavirus discussion.

We quickly started seeing criticisms of classical liberalism due to the Coronavirus. Yes free enterprise alone cannot manage this emergency. But all models will find this challenging. The solidarity so important to socialism depends on large face-to-face collectives (such as in a factory co-dependent on a neighbourhood) and these are ill-fitted to slowing a pandemic. The links of family and community celebrated by traditional conservatism likewise will be tested by this calamity (yet possibly fare better). And any model perpetually in disaster mode is itself a bit of a disaster.

Better is something that can adjust to both good and bad times. All models are abstractions and what we have in practice is a blend of many forms. Our governments are rapidly changing how they do things but that is an indication of the flexibility of a democratic state and a mixed economy. A free society can be orderly. Right now I’m in a mood to match the non-partisan manner seen from our political leaders at all levels of government.

It will still take a lot of luck for our good sense and efforts to succeed. I worry that we are asking humans to do something that contradicts our nature as pack animals. But then what of the hermits of old? These characters voluntarily entered into isolation and it was philosophy or theology that drove them. I have a hunch we will see a growth in personal contemplation in coming weeks.

I could make other predictions. Some are things I hope for. One is more generous and less punitive welfare provision. Another is more job-sharing along with working from home. And another is better public etiquette (smart-phone addiction is the bane of safe distancing right now). But there are other things I’m critical of that will suddenly have renewed attraction. Urban sprawl and car dependence suddenly look pretty cool for a society scared of itself.

Is it right to cast my gaze so widely? Maybe it makes more sense just to look to the small everyday things of life. Right now I have most of what I need and some of what I want and I can adjust to that. Hopefully my next post here will focus on other topics because all sorts of things still exist as truth or memory. There is room for all that other stuff.

Labels: ,

29.2.20

Sweet Concord

I usually discuss music itself but here I want to look back over my experience of attitudes to music. Each of us has distinct musical tastes and yet one thing we all share is that we are all into some kind of music. Well most of us anyway. Shakespeare stated that "the man that have no music in himself, nor is moved by concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, statagems and spoils". Well, I'm keen on music both sweet and savoury but I get his sentiment. Music seems like something fundamentally human. And yet I have met the odd person who seems to lack that. Or if they are at all into music it is for its non-musical aspects - consider the comedy of Weird Al Yankovic. But that is rare and for most of us it is differences over which music we are into that can be striking.

I have long been puzzled by musical snobbery or even narrow tastes. However I have been guilty of these in the past. A big one for me was the dismissal of electronic music. In feeling that way I was following my nerdy university peers. Eventually I realized that was a flimsy position to hold while also loving electro-magnetic amplification. The old acoustic purists of folk and jazz had firmer ground to stand on. And yet even they would listen to recordings of acoustic music. I think our underlying problem with electronic music back then was its new and growing application as dance music and its 'mind-numbing' repetitiveness. However since then I have enjoyed the same mesmerizing repetition from a band jamming for a writhing throng. Iteration can serve its purpose very well.

Criteria for judging music are subjective. I object to cultural relativism in relation to human rights but for something like music it makes more sense. We could say that complexity makes music more challenging to play and more rewarding to consume but that is just a definition we set for ourselves. And many of us apply such criteria selectively so that our emotional preferences are favoured. Thus we re-cast our favourite music as the ‘best’ music.

By the time I got involved with choristers I was thoroughly into popular music. I was therefore a bit wary of musical snobbery among these classical and theatrical enthusiasts. And yet what I discovered was more acceptance of music in its variety than among Korner friends. I was so relieved by an opera student among them putting on Shaggy while dancing about cooking a dinner!

If anything, I find that the more musically versed a person is the more accepting they will be of all kinds of music. Possibly a part of this is that they have a greater curiosity for music. This contrasted with the lack of curiosity I observed among others in my younger days. It was a common thing for someone to have an album, possibly a movie soundtrack, in a genre such as blues. It would be much played and yet was token because they never bothered exploring the genre beyond that.

This has changed more recently with friends getting the memo (aka meme) that diversity is important. Lists of artists of different backgrounds that one should patronize have circulated. I never had to try because diverse genres result in a diversity of artists. Variety is the spice of life and I hope those lists promote enjoyment rather than just a sense of worthiness.

Another recent trend is the tendency to critically scrutinize lyrical content for its lack of ethics. I’m wary of this because I think we are foolish to conflate depiction with endorsement but, even if there was something to this, I find the standard is applied selectively. The songs of daggy old popular artists in particular come under fire, while the intentionally offensive and gross content of some alternative acts somehow gets a free pass. Once more the issue is subjectivity – we like whatever we happen to like and rationalize it as something more than that.

If I need to improve my own listening habits it is to try new music more. However there is so much music in every decade that I can discover new music in both the past and present. And if anything that stance is more common now than it once was. I get the feeling that the youth of today are more into the music of circa 1970 than the youth of then were into the music of circa 1920. Music of any era or origin can be worthwhile. Even if it cannot promote 'concord' or hamper 'strategems' I still think it enhances our lives and our ability to cope with its challenges.

Labels: