Lazy Luddite Log

25.9.07

Just Say No... Just Say Yes...

I have been involved in a number of different formal groups in my life and have experienced different decision-making methods. The two kinds I am most familiar with are 'majoritarian' and 'consensus'. The former is the most common one utilised in everything from sporting associations to national parliaments. The latter is presented as an alternative to traditional meeting procedure despite the fact that it also has a long history (e.g. Quakers in the eighteen hundreds).

I have a strong preference for the majoritarian method. It is criticised as a method in which a majority always dominates a minority. This overlooks the likelihood that the majority and minority in most groups shifts and changes from proposal to proposal such that nobody is always one or the other. It also opens consensus method to the response that in practice it is really "the rule of the most stubborn minority".

Under consensus method a decision cannot be made till everyone agrees to a proposal and the proposal must be altered and altered till such time as it wins unanimous support. One would hope that everyone involved in such a process was in a mood to compromise but this cannot be assumed or assured. It is all too likely that those with the greatest commitment to a given course of action will always dominate in such circumstances.

The specific actions undertaken in the two processes are worth picturing. In a majoritarian meeting there is debate followed by a vote (usually) by show-of-hands. The 'yays' hands rise. Then the 'nays' hands rise. Then the hands of those abstaining rise. Everyone can see what everyone thinks. Everyone is expected to have personally shown assent or dissent. Even those who have been silent during debate now must take some active role and express an opinion. In majoritarian method everyone is asked to say yes or no. Everyone accepts the decision but the mistake of assuming everyone is happy is never made.

In consensus however one is simply asked "is there any dissent". Debate ends once nobody responds. Dissent may have evaporated because everyone is content but it may also have ceased because everyone is tired and wants to go home. Under the consensus method silence is consent and everyone is assumed to be content.

On experiencing consensus method I quickly decided I preferred majoritarian processes on grounds of speed and efficiency. However I now think there is more behind my preferences than that and these lie in my feelings on inter-personal relations.

Translate these two methods to everyday informal life circumstances. We have a natural tendency to want to mutely go along with things. If a salesperson proffers a pamphlet at us as we walk past in the street then we are inclined to take it even if we lack any interest in the product. It takes effort to resist even this mild form of pressure and I would hazard a guess that the majority of such pamphlets are taken by shoppers only to be binned seconds later.

Most of us want to minimise contention and we want to be polite. We also are inclined to bend to those who seem surer of things than we feel we ourselves are. If we seem indecisive then others will jump in and make decisions for us. In this way we can be swept along in a cascade of propositions and find that we never truly participated in that decision-making process. It can happen among friends and relations and produce all sorts of simmering issues.

With all this in mind I think it is worth saying this:
It is better to ask than to assume.

Also: It is better to say "yes" or "no" than to go "m-hmmm..."

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18.9.07

Imagining


The blogs of today are full of photos (just hit the 'Next Blog' button to see what I mean). Lest I be rolled over by twin forces of culture and technology I will need to do the same (if my film camera will oblige)...

I expressed a wish to do this ages ago and then put my mug shot here but I have only in the last week started adding more photos (via my FlickR account). The trick for me is that I am still using a film camera and will do so till it is kaput! But rather than get prints developed, I am now getting the images put on disc. I have put a few photos here of recent events and will also retrospectively add some images to old blog posts if I feel they are relevant to the subject matter. In this way I will get the site looking more interesting. Still it will only be an occasional thing here-and-there.

I have added a new 'Images' label so that I can quickly find past posts with photos incorporated into them.

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10.9.07

The Lyrebird

Everyone feels lacking in ability at times. I feel this way every now and then while engaged in choral singing (particularly as there are many I sing with who are just supurb). This feeling can affect my motivation but I get past that most of the time. It helps that others are supportive. The following bit of fiction was written over 12 months ago - at which time I was much more intensely aware of my own singing shortcomings - and was only shown to a handful of friends. Now however I feel like sharing this whimsical tale with the world. It was inspired by personal experience but departs from reality in all sorts of ways...

The Lyrebird was sifting through the mulch on the floor of the rainforest, hunting for worms and beetles, when he heard a marvellous chorus of sound echoing through the trees and ferns. He rose from his rummaging and, walking slowly over a hill, and under a fallen tree, he came across a flock of Bellbirds all chortling in wonderful unison. He stood on the ground, while they sat in tree branches and made a splendid racket, a deluge of sound, which filled the Lyrebird with a thrilling new sensation.

The Lyrebird was adept at imitation and, given repetitive exposure, could replicate almost any sound with unerring precision. He listened for a while to the Bellbirds and then attempted a mimicry of their timbre, tone and timing, with success. The Lyrebird fluffed his feathers with the joy that comes only from succeeding in something new. The Bellbirds seemed to accept the new voice added to theirs, and continued as if nothing had changed. That evening, the Lyrebird went back to his nook and fell into a very self-satisfied slumber.

The next day the Lyrebird returned to the clearing in which he had found the Bellbirds, and found them there still, preparing for more song. But this time something different happened. Some birds sang one note, while others sang another. This puzzled the Lyrebird, but, fortunately, one of those two notes was the same as the one that had been sung the previous day, so he simply did then what he had done before, and all was well. But then the Bellbirds further divided into groups singing four different notes, then eight, then sixteen, or so it seemed to the befuddled Lyrebird.

Furthermore, the Bellbirds started chiming at different times in evermore dazzling patterns, and the Lyrebird was so stumped by this performance that he began drawing on his old repertoire of imitations. He began with her ever-useful Magpie, but that did not seem to fit, so he then turned to the strident Kookaburra, but that too did not at all complement the harmony of the Bellbirds. He then resorted, in quick succession, to the raucous Koala, the staccato Camera Shutter, the rattling Chain Saw, and finally, in desperation, the Shot Gun. At this moment, however, the Bellbirds as one flew out of the clearing, leaving the Lyrebird all alone. He spent a very long night back at his nook, pondering what had happened, and how he had erred.

The next day the Lyrebird very resolutely set about his everyday work of grazing for invertebrate culinary morsels, concentrating on his task with mock relish, hoping to convince himself that this was all he had ever wanted, and that nothing surpassed the delight of munching on a crunchy cockroach or a juicy slug. He did hear the Bellbirds off in the distance, but ignored this, trusting that, in time, the rich crisp chiming chorus would fade, for him, into the ambient murmur of the forest. Eventually, the alluring sound ceased, and the Lyrebird felt relief mixed with a disquieting sense of loss.

It was some time after that the Lyrebird became aware of the Bellbirds congregating in the trees above and around him. The Lyrebird, however, continued about his food-hunting chore, till two of those gathered flew down and perched on either side of him. He stood very still, wondering what would happen next. These birds then began singing at the Lyrebird, and they were singing the same note. This they did till the Lyrebird could resist no longer, and began singing with them, tentatively, then with greater confidence. It was only now that others began singing, firstly just the one note, then other notes, then even more notes, but always with the two birds singing in unison with the Lyrebird.

After that the Lyrebird sang regularly with the Bellbirds and sounded for all the world like just another one of them. Except on occasion, just to keep things interesting, he would throw a bit of Magpie or Kookaburra into the mix, but never again in the company of the Bellbirds did he show off his superb Shotgun impersonation.

This has since been published in the O-Week 2008 edition of Lust Of Life by MonUCS.

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3.9.07

Stuffed Mushrooms

I recently did stuffed mushrooms for the annual dinner of my ADs branch. I have done this delicacy from time-to-time and this is only the most recent (therefore best) incarnation of it. So here is the how to of it...

Shopping

Get ordinary field mushrooms. I prefer to select each rather than buy in a pack - that way I can get the size I want - it needs to be a size that can fit in the mouth but only just. Also get some sun-dried tomato whether loose or in a jar or whatever. Also get some parsley. Also get some cheese - I use the pre-grated 'pizza cheese' which is a blend of cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan. In a way my stuffed mushrooms in terms of taste are like bite-sized mini-pizzas...

Kitchening

Every mushroom has to have its stalk removed. Sit the mushroom on its cup with the stalk sticking upwards. Grasp the cup firmly in one hand and gently twist and turn the stalk till it comes loose. Hopefully the stalk will have left behind a nice smooth crater in which to stuff. The stalks are a by-product of the process. I suppose you can always mulch them and turn them into part of a pasta sauce.

Now cut the sun-dried tomato pieces to size so that they can be small stipes that then curl into a ring and sit just inside the cup of a mushroom. Pop them in. Now fill in any leftover space in the cup with the grated cheese till it is flush with the top of the cup. This will both keep the tomato inside the mushroom and give the whole thing that wonderful taste and texture that only cheese can bring. Finally sprinkle a pinch of finely chopped parsley on the top of the cheese to both give it extra flavour and also a hint of green to contrast with the yellow and red.

Ovening

Hmmm... I cannot tell you the timing or the temperature or even whether to use a conventional or microwave oven (I have used both successfully). The important thing is that it cook till the cheese has melted but the mushroom still wants to be moist and full-bodied. In other words it is a pretty short cooking time. Just go with what you know and what works. The things are best served hot as finger food at a party or function. They are vegetarian (as long as the cheese has non-animal rennet) but far from vegan (I did once do these with puréed corn in place of the cheese - that sort of worked...).

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