Lazy Luddite Log

25.6.22

Three Course

This is another lazy reproduction of something I originally posted to Facebook, inspired by an eccentric British game show. I noticed it's been a while since I blogged about food, during lockdowns, so here's something short...

Been enjoying lots of TV shows, including Taskmaster. In one segment, contestants had to devise and serve a meal using a list of twenty six ingredients, each starting with a different letter of the Latin alphabet. In more time than it took for them to do the entire task, I only managed to prepare lists of what I feel would make a palatable three course meal, rather than the crazy things they made on-the-fly...

Vegetable Soup - water, celery, dutch carrot, mushrooms, onion, kernels of corn, stock, punctured jalapeño to soak in the soup and finally, a bit of xanthan gum.

Pasta Primavera with Pine Nuts - pinch of salt, fettuccine, pine nuts, bell peppers, zucchini, garlic-infused olive oil, tomato puree, Italian herbs, topped with some shredded Edam cheese.

Yoghurt Delight - plain yoghurt, honey with pinch of nutmeg, raspberries, quince jam, apple slices dipped in lemon juice, decorated with cocktail umbrella.

All served with choice of water or white wine.

Three Courses

I did all these over a week, since cooking a three course meal for just yourself is a bit much. They all were fine, although in some cases I would switch a few ingredients around in future. Seems I have a thing for green and orange in my food. It resulted in me having some ingredients that it will take ages for me to use. I guess I could always take the bag of cocktail umbrellas to a party or two next month...

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30.5.22

Monster Mash

I was invited a while back to participate in an online role-play game. It would have been a free-form with a setting inspired by schlocky monster movies of the past. These plans evaporated but I did develop a few characters that I potentially could have played. May as well describe the critters here...

Thuban Of Alpha Draconis

Thuban is one of the reptilian aliens that secretly rule the world. They have lived for a thousand years, often hibernating, shedding skins periodically and, with them, human-seeming guises of whatever sex. Currently, Thuban can appear as a mild-mannered office clerk named Ian. Ironically, he was very much that within Draconian society, till he became impatient with the slow progress of the group project he was directing. The task was to give the gift of telepathy to humans, a boon that had helped the aliens themselves advance, but it was something very few humans could develop. The next best thing, then, was mobile Internet. Ian fast-tracked its introduction before safety eveluation was complete, and within a decade it had caused a marked regression in the functioning of both human groups and individuals. In consequnce, Thuban was exiled from Draconian society, and now lives full-time among the Terran primates. Refusing to repent his mistake, Ian now lurks online, contributing exposés to the Reptilian conspiracy theory, with a focus on the minutiae of Draconian internal politics. Humans conspiracy theorists find it insufficiently sensationalist, so his missives have little impact. The Draconians monitoring Thuban consider him a minor problem, even though he is mind-controlling a few humans to commit petty crimes for him.

The Lumpy Peril

The colloquially dubbed Lumpy Peril is a large, abstract, modern sculpture located in a public plaza, made of cement and purposely rusted iron. At night it animates and stalks the lanes and alleys off the plaza. It is relatively docile but also very clumsy. Its movements cause damage to property and scare petty criminals. However, security cameras malfunction it is presence and nobody has yet proved the existance of this shambling oddity. Nor do those who know the truth about the Lumpy Peril understand how it functions. Thuban speculates that its animation is the product of some nanites that escaped from a Draconian project facility. Reneer however assumes a rival occultist has turned the work of supposed art into a golem of some sort. Both characters think they could make use of Lumpy.

Reneer The Revived

Reneer was an alchemist and necromancer who, in 1500s Amsterdam, felt sure he had discovered the combination of ingredients and incantations that would preserve his life indefinitely. Something went amiss, however, and it took decades for Reneer to discover that he still aged but never died. He was an undead corpse with a malevolent cunning and a host of dire spells at his disposal. He worked on embalming himself to preserve bodily function in his new state. He periodically replaced body parts with substitutes he fashioned for himself. Nothing however could prevent his mind from degrading beyond its natural term and the result was a profound insanity. Reneer now believes that he is the narrator of the story through which he walks, with gnarled cane and wheezing breath, a habit he never abandoned despite no longer needing oxygen. His favourite activity is watching late-night horror movies in the cinema a block from the plaza, enshroud in the illusion of a living gentleman of indeterminate age and fine couture. Beyond that, he is attracted to any kind of calamity or mishap, and will hang about describing the situation like some skeletal reporter.

* * * * *

I can see these three characters all crossing paths in some scenario and it could be a lot of kooky or creepy fun.

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24.4.22

Star Was

A tale told in instalments tends to foster speculation between those instalments of what comes next. I have very much felt this in relation to Star Wars. It started with the very first trailer for the exciting new movie. The ad flashed many images that gave a vivid impression of the setting but gave away none of the story. Even as a five year old I could tell that this was more than just a space adventure. It also seemed to have something old-worldy about it including clashing laser swords. I saw one such figure in all-black armour - was that the black knight of space? There were glimpses of figures in white armour and I wondered whether the duel would be between a black and white knight like in Chess. I somehow forgot that one of those dualists was dressed in dowdy browns.

The story later named A New Hope was more than I could have imagined and aspects of it got confused in my memory. Back in 1977 you saw a movie at the cinema and then had scant other media to help reinforce your memory of it. I assumed that the small ship was boarding the larger in the opening battle. I also assumed that the humans serving Vader were converts from the human crew he had captured. I never understood that the stormtroopers were also human - the white armour was effectively dehumanizing. I do however remember a cousin musing that they were the 'clones' referenced by Kenobi.

I would be speculating on what was to follow for decades to come. The fact that the original standalone movie was given the designation of Episode IV drove one to wonder at its past. We knew there had been Clone Wars and that Vader and Anakin had both been apprentices of Kenobi. Would we see a war in which both sides used clone soldiers? I still think that concept is more interesting than 'the war of the clones and droids' that we eventually got. On the other hand, the revelation that Vader was Anakin was such a wonderful shock in 1980 and allowed for redemption to be central to the saga.

Initially Vader seemed to be the key villain. I overlooked how much sway Tarkin had over him and missed the importance of the Emperor. But finally there was word that we would meet this über-villain in 1983 and I wondered what kind of armour such a figure would wear. I was influenced by Battle Of The Planets into imagining someone in garish and eleborate purple and red (like a cross between the imperial advisors and royal guards that we did see). The shadowy Palpatine in modest cloak was much more intriguing. Here was somebody interested in power rather than glory (and I have never been sure the later depicted statue of him made sense).

The Kenner action figures helped turn enthusiasm into fanaticism and also sometimes provided what we now call 'spoilers'. I saw Chief Chirpa and wondered what a Chirpa was. I saw both Klaatu and Gamorean Guard and wondered if they were a gangster and his bodyguard sharing the same green hide. I made the mistake of assuming that a character who got a figure was necessarily important. Kenner was never that logical in its character choices. But the original trilogy resolved well and made a whole lot of sense by the time I was twelve.

Then there was a long hiatus. I never got very into the expanded universe of novels. I focused more on filling all the gaps in what I knew of the original trilogy. But eventually the prequel trilogy arrived and it was exciting once more. Things I liked about them included the way they presented a more opulent and cosmopolitan galaxy. By now I was an adult so I understood all the inter-war deco designs as a way of showing that this was a civilization yet to fall into conflict. Things were smaller but more crafted and that was nifty. But I think I wanted a rather different story. Remember that two-sided clone war I imagined as a child? I also imagined that the Galactic War starts with a civil war on one planet. All that ineptly depicted stuff involving commercial interests would have made more sense as a truly political clash between the civil and military elites of a particular world - and rather than make it Naboo how about it be Alderaan that must be saved from its own coup d'etat?

The thing with only having two Sith was interesting. It was like applying the concept of terrorist cells to the old sorcerer-and-apprentice relationship and got me speculating on other Sith characters. But it was difficult for the story-tellers to justify and so eventually we see other dark side Force users effectively swelling the Sith ranks in ever-expanding ancillary media. One of the best things in the prequels was seeing Jedi in numbers working together. Kenobi and Skywalker in action were a marvel to see. But the ill-fated young Jedi was too young at the start - once more the impression left by the original movies was that he should be a brash adult rather than a surly youth.

And then we had another hiatus. I was okay with that. There was plenty of other stuff in which to be interested. But of course I was all set to see the sequal trilogy once it came long. It was fun but it stretched credulity for me as a political historian. If (as we tend to assume) the Galactic Empire is analogous to the Third Reich (specifically) and to fascism (more generally) then why had it so quickly arisen from its own ashes? In our own primitive world it took twice as long for movements deemed fascist to even re-surface. The fact that they surfaced while the sequel trilogy was made possibly answers my question. But motives outside the story need justification inside the story. Why was the New Republic so flimsy as to let the First Order form in its own back yard? I wish to have seen that story told - espionage and political intrigue culminating in exposing and thwarting plots to throw the galaxy into a new dark age. I guess I wanted a cold war rather than another world war but maybe that would have been too much like the prequels.

It is an assumption that the original trilogy is a surrogate for World War II. What if it were World War I? The original 'stormtroopers' of history were elite German forces in the Great War rather than the later Nazi party paramilitary. The Galactic Empire are authoritarian and the Sith some kind of 'meritocracy of evil' but are they truly Nazis? Some draw attention to how humanocentric they are. But once more we need to look outside of the story for an explanation. Latex masks and other markers of 'alien' nature are expensive even in a blockbuster. Both sides are dominated by what look like humans. Jump back into the story and we find that an imperial officer calls Chewbacca a 'thing' but then the republican diplomat Leia calls him a 'big walking carpet'. It seems that everyone is a little bit speciesist (and who knows what slurs the Wookies have for the seemingly ubiqitous humans).

I do wish there were more aliens prominently depicted in the movies. Maz Katana was cool but then very quickly sidelined. The sacrifice play that logically belonged to Admiral Ackbar fell to another character we had only just met. For me Holdo felt more like a politician than a military commander and she would have worked very well as part of the Cold War story I never got to see. But it was all a bit of a mess. Many scenes felt like they belonged in other movies. The space gangsters preyed upon by loose rathtars felt like Red Dwarf. The never-ending mirrors into which Rey stared felt rather Harry Potter. They were cool but did they fit? I guess it is impossible to say. If you insist a setting looks only like those parts of a setting you have already seen then it will never get bigger. But then in an odd way the sequel trilogy made that galaxy seem smaller than it had been. It was a bit rushed and crammed and as a result more became less.

My overall assessment of these three sets of three movies? Episodes VII to IX were created by an ever-changing committee seeking to sell tickets to a fractious array of fans in an era of too much chatter. Episodes I to III were created by an auteur with lots of imagination but too much power. Episodes IV to VI were created by the same creative figure who once faced limitations set by both his relative youth and a few self-possessed collaborators who could curb his excesses. It is this that makes the original Star Wars trilogy the best and surely it is more than nostalgia driving me to make such rationalizations.

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26.3.22

Your Clumps

Close to a decade ago I started sharing my ‘clumps’ method of sorting upper house preferences. Friends on Facebook found it useful but, since then everyone has become so much more political than they were. So, this time all I will do is a ‘how to do a how to’. These are the basic steps I take to get my clumps together.

1. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) lists currently registered political parties and with those names you can do some research of your own of party websites. Checking these primary sources can inform you of what they stand for.

2. You will also want to check independent secondary sources. Wikipedia is usually pretty good at providing information on parties - often they will have a whole page dedicated to one political party. If there is a side-bar of quick facts then look for links on ‘ideology’. This provides a useful way of clumping parties and tends to be more accurate than party names.*

3. You might also want to consider criteria other than ideology for sorting preferences. Some considerations include how a party serves your demographic interests, how dogmatic or pragmatic it is, and the conduct of its candidates.

4. However there are other motives in yourself of which to be wary. A party might fall further below your expectations of it compared with another party but still be better than that other party. A leader might project a persona that grates with you more than a rival leader but still be better at the job. An advertising campaign may look dumb to you but obscure a worthwhile policy platform. Ask yourself whether these are the best ways to make judgements.

5. Another way to do this is to identify your most trusted political party and then simply follow the preferences they recommend (noting however that they also factor tactics into these). And if you do that you might want to take the next step of volunteering for that party. Even seemingly slick campaigns tend to be short-staffed and very much in need of helpers.

* Supplementary to Step 2

Many will know how to compare different ideological stances. However, if you want to get a better sense of how much you agree with them, try this online test I found. All such tests are flawed but I think this one works better than most and can even be fun. The percentages it gives you could form the basis of a ranking of political parties (with parameters like “75% or above is good while 50% or below is bad”).

In the following lists I try to align most of the terms found in the Vetriutan Test with similar or overlapping terms found in the Wikipedia side-bars of parties.

Paleoconservative - Social Conservative, Agrarian, Nationalist, Conservative

Neoconservative - Fiscal Conservative, Nationalist,
Liberal Conservative

Market Liberal - Classical Liberal, Economic Liberal, Libertarian

Social Liberal - Civil Libertarian, Secular Liberal, Progressive

Social Democrat - Progressive, Green Politics, Protectionist

Christian Democrat - Protectionist, Centrist, Regionalist,
Social Conservative

Note that a person of any theological position can still get the ‘Christian Democrat’ result. It is a nominally religious form of moderate conservatism popular in continental Europe and Latin America. Angela Merkel is a far better example of that politics than our own Fred Nile (whose old party of the same tag better fit what is here called ‘Paleoconservative’).

Some of you might have also taken the ABC Vote Compass test. In this hastily drawn sketch I try to superimpose the Vetriutan Test terms over it.

Vetriutan Test with ABC Vote Compass overlay

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22.2.22

Civic Guidance

I'm known as the kind of politics nerd who can be informative rather than just argumentative. Others sometimes turn to me during election campaigns and I have obliged both one-on-one and online. 2022 is an election year in Australia so I need to be prepared in any setting, from a classroom discussion to chatter at my favourite cafe. But one can get rusty so I'm writing some very basic and simplified guidance here as a kind of revision.

Democracy

The word 'democracy' comes from the Greek and means rule by the people. In a small community (face-to-face and possibly now online) of only a few hundred people, everyone can participate in decision-making, and so direct or participatory democracy is possible. However, in a society of millions, it becomes necessary for the public to elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf. Australia is a representative democracy in which the majority decide who the government will be. More specifically, Australia is a parliamentary democracy. This means that the ruling majority must abide by the law and respect minority rights rather than just do what is popular in the moment.

Branches Of Government

One important democratic concept is the separation of powers into different branches of government to ensure that nobody has too much power. A common way to do this is with three branches of government, as follows:

- A legislature that debates and writes new laws.
- An executive that approves such laws and puts them into action.
- A judiciary which interprets laws and resolves legal disputes.

In some nations these three branches are strictly independent of each other. In Australia this is true for the judiciary (our various courts of law) but our legislature and executive are connected. The Parliament of Australia is our legislature and is elected by Australian citizens. Some of these parliamentarians are then chosen by their peers to become government ministers (including the Prime Minister) and together this Ministry acts as our executive. Having the executive as part of the legislature ensures that ministers must participate in and understand parliamentary debates.

The Ministry has executive powers by custom even if the Australian Constitution says that the Governor General (a representative of the British monarch) holds that role. In practice the Governor General always approves of ministers chosen by parliament. Australia is a constitutional monarchy in that the monarch has a ceremonial role only. If we removed the monarch we would then be called a republic and have a president. Note that our Prime Minister is different from a president in that he or she is only the most important of the various ministers (and is known as the 'first among equals'). Each minister is in charge of a particular government department (these include treasury, defence, health, education, and environment).

Levels Of Government

Australia is a federation of states and territories that work together for common benefit. The government for all of Australia is known as the Commonwealth or Federal Government, and is the most important level of government.

At the next most important level are the six original state governments of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania (listed here in order of population size). The two territory governments of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are also at this level but the Federal Government can overrule laws made by them. The states have branches of government similar to those already described.

At the last level are all the many local governments across Australia. These municipal councils manage local services but can be overruled by the states in which they are located.

We will be focusing here only on the Federal Government.

Federal Parliament

Canberra (in the Australian Capital Territory) is the site of our Federal Parliament. Parliament is divided into two separate chambers or 'houses'. They are the House Of Representatives and the Senate.

the House Of Representatives represents Australian society as a whole. Australia is geographically separated into 151 Federal divisions or electorates of approximately the same population each. This is done to try and ensure every vote has the same value. Each electorate sends one representative to Canberra and so the House Of Representatives has 151 members. The Prime Minister and Ministry are selected by a majority of these Members of Parliament (MPs). The House Of Representatives debates and writes draft laws including rules on how to spend taxes.

The Senate represents the states and territories. Each state elects 12 senators and each territory elects 2 senators for a total of 76 Senators (12+12+12+12+12+12+2+2) which is approximately half the size of the House Of Representatives. These senators are supposed to represent state and territory interests but are independent of state and territory governments. Senators debate and amend draft laws made in the House Of Representatives. The Senate is called a 'house of review' because its job is to let a different group of minds consider and modify laws that will affect Australians in all the states.

Federal Elections

Federal elections happen approximately once every three years and are run by the independent Australian Electoral Commission. All 151 MPs are elected to three year terms but it is more complicated for the Senate. Senators for the six states are elected to fixed six year terms and half of them are elected at each three year election. These longer overlapping terms are supposed to give Senators more experience and hamper rapid change to the composition of Parliament.

Each MP is elected by a method called preferential voting. This is different from an older method called 'first-past-the-post' as can be seen in this example. There are four candidates competing for one position in the Elementary electorate. The names and percentage share of the votes of these candidates are:

Earth (40%) Water (30%) Air (20%) Fire (10%)

In a first-past-the-post method the Earth candidate would win because they have the largest single share of votes. However notice that only a minority of voters (40%) want this candidate to win and a majority (60%) do not.

In Australian preferential voting a candidate cannot win till they are preferred by the majority (over 50%) and this is done by asking all voters to number candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the smallest number of first preference or primary votes is removed from the contest and their second preferences are redistributed to the remaining candidates. This process of elimination is continued until a candidate has a majority of votes. That candidate might or might not be the candidate who won the largest number of primary votes.

Senate voting is more complex. It combines preferential voting with something called proportional representation. Voters across Victoria (for instance) vote for a number of Senators (usually six) in a multi-member electorate. Rather than needing over half the votes to get elected, each successful Senate candidate needs a smaller proportion or quota of votes to win one of six positions (approximately a seventh of the total vote). This method results in a more diverse range of political opinions being represented in the Senate so it can work better as a house of review.

Any Australian citizen can vote and also stand for parliament but most will find they need the help of a political party to have any hope of success.

Representatives And Political Parties

There are different opinions regarding how parliamentary representatives should behave. Some say they should be trustees who are free to make their own judgements based on the debates in which they participate. Others say they should be delegates who stick to policy commitments made to those who voted for them. Parliamentary tradition assumes the trustee model while most political parties prefer the delegate model.

Parties are like-minded groups of citizens who work together to get party members elected to parliaments. The party or alliance of parties that win a majority in the House Of Representatives become the government and choose the Ministry. Many different things can bring people together to form these parties.

Ideology unites parties around a particular ideal or value, such as equality, liberty or stability. Some parties focus on just one value, while others are interested in combining values.

Demographics bring together parties to advocate for the needs or aspirations of particular sections of society, such as workers, businesses or farmers.

Issues are of importance to particular parties, and include topics like climate change and human rights.

Many political parties define themselves by a mix of these things.

Political Participation

There are plenty of ways to participate in election campaigns and other forms of political activity. In Australia it is compulsory for citizens to submit a vote (even if it is a blank ballot paper). There are also many things that are voluntary but worth considering if you wish to influence the political process, which includes:

- Informing yourself with professional media sources.
- Signing petitions to parliament.
- Submitting letters for publication in newspapers.
- Involvement in pressure groups or campaigns that interest you.
- Contacting candidates to share your concerns with them.

And if you want to convince someone of your opinions then remember to be polite and respectful. Nothing turns someone off more than getting yelled at or insulted for having a different opinion. You can be firm but also fair in your discussions with your fellow members of society.

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28.1.22

Townscaped

Something like twelve months ago I did something most unsual for me, and bought a computer game. Well sort of a game... more a toy... for making things...

Townscaper - Canal City At Night

Townscaper provides one with the virtual setting of a shallow sea within which one can construct all manner of cartoonesque maritime townships. The play space is a massive hexagon in which each tile can be one of several distinct shapes arranged randomly across that space. Click on a cell to add a block of land. Click on that to add a tiny house (possibly only one room in size). Keep clicking and you will soon have streets and apartment blocks. Explore more of the game's quirks and you can have palaces and parklands.

Others online can tell you how it is done, while I will focus on just one cool thing - that randomly generated array of tiles. If you are obsessed with symmetry then you have to confine yourself to very small parts of the space in which circular, triangular and rectangular patterns preside. If you want bigger towns then you have to surrender yourself to more elaborate contours, just as human settlements must naturally conform to geography.

Some of my oldest designs are still my favourite. Canal Town was inspired by my fantasy city-state of Nartellfar but there are some key differences between them. Townscaper depicts its designs as antique yet modern rather than the medieval setting of D&D - Canal Town is thus a more 'recent' locale than Nartellfar. It is also smaller, as the game only allowed so much space. Canal Town is an island while Nartellfar is on an isthmus or something. Finally, Canal Town has a palace and so likely has nobility, while Nartellfar is republican. If you click here (then follow the arrows rightward) you can browse some screen shots of Canal Town.

Another of my designs is Gardenvale, which maximises green open spaces by enclosing the entire design in a wall. In it I played with having a port district, but also farmland and a terraced apartment complex, complete with pool. The complex has its own gardens and, because the structure is hollow, some of those gardens are permanently shaded, and can be accessed by archways and light wells. Click here (then follow the arrows rightward) to browse Gardenvale.

The hollowness of some structures (in part an effort-saving tactic as it involves fewer clicks) then contributed to a recent saying of mine - 'alfresco everything'. This architectural topic deserves its own post but, for now I'll say that, in this pestilent time we need more transitional spaces between the indoors and outdoors, combining freshness with shelter. This affected some of my designs (see from here onwards).

Another thing that shifted my design ethos was the discovery of a website that converts Townscaper files into 'walk-thru' settings (it has a small default setting you can explore right now). This took my attitude right to street level and suddenly I was much more interested in the interconnectivity of my designs. The doors and windows in Townscaper are mere decoration. Now I was ensuring gaps and arches allowed ground access between areas. I enticed stairways to form and, in the absense of that, cascading rooftops that could be easily climbed (see from here onwards). And now many of my designs have as much insides as outsides. Only problem is huge designs challenge the walkthru website and so I now specialize in making compact yet complex settings.

I have saved the best for last. One exciting feature of Townscaper is the option of making propeller-lifted hovering platforms (somewhat reminiscent of the destination in the Prop Cycle arcade game). They can be constructed over some circular or oval patterns and are a lot of fun to find. I was soon considering how they integrated into an overall setting. Neighbourhoods had landing pads or ponds on which my sky towers could come to rest. There is even a hanger with a hovering platform harnessed inside (see from here onwards).

Clover Tower

I can understand why so many lazy days and late nights can be had in just clicking. This deceptively complex activity has done that to me. If you have the time and inclination then try Townscaper.

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21.12.21

Protestation

I have long known that protests attract a disparate array of endorsing groups and individuals representing a host of overlapping opinions. This has been the case for all but the smallest of events I attended since the 90s. I have marched even with those I have huge political problems with - lovers of one-party dictatorships who advocate violent revolution. However I always excused this as okay because protest movements belong to everybody and nobody involved. But recent talk online is prompting me to rethink what I know.

The pandemic has necessitated some decisive goverment actions to limit its impacts. Those rules are inevitably harsh and have taken a toll. In response there have been waxing and waning protests objecting variously to restrictions on movement, promotion of vaccine targets, closures of worksites and so on. These protests have attracted 'wellness' nuts, global conspiracy theorists and ultra-conservative agitators. But as lockdowns went on-and-on the protests grew in size and at the same time I saw fewer correctly masked faces on my local suburban walks. We were all a bit over it. My hunch then is that the committed protesters were now bolstered by relatively apolitical sorts who were venting frustration with personal suffering and emoting more than thinking. There were also bogans who just wanted some obnoxious fun (apparently even regarding the protests as a dating scene).

But what of the mock gallows seemingly intended for our political leaders and medical advisors? Were these metaphorical or something more manacing? The death-threats received by parliamentarians supporting the Victorian state government suggested we had to be wary and events overseas have shown that things can get verty nasty.

The feeling online among those favouring lockdowns was that all those protesters were complicit in its worst behaviours. Experts in public advocacy say it is a mistake to tar everyone in such groups with the same brush. But what if I were to go with the sentiment of critics and apply that to all experiences including my own?

The new library under construction

In July 1997 the One Nation party decided to hold a meeting at the Dandenong Town Hall (now the Drum Theatre) at which one of its key figures (cannot remember now if it was David Ettridge or David Oldfield) would speak. Dandy is a hub of our multicultural south-eastern suburbs and it was a provocative decision. The intention to protest this meeting grew organically from locals and soon drew attention from others. I went along that evening with a few friends from uni.

One Nation seemed to be using a side entrance on Walker Street and a crowd of a few thousand had gathered there. We filled the width of that road alongside the town hall. Around the corner in Langhorne Street the local council had arranged a musical celebration of multiculturalism to difuse the likely tensions of the night. Pretty much everyone however stayed in Walker Street. Many cultural and religious groups were represented and there was a postive mood in the mingling throng, which included more avowedly ideological and sub-cultural groups too.

Across from the town hall, sitting on shop verandahs, were some agile masked figures, apparently anarchists. They seemed content to watch over everything silently, till the metal structure started to screech in protest of its own, and they scrambled off into Crump Lane. Closest to the town hall were the police and some barriers intended to separate protesters from meeting attendees. At the very front of the crowd - the moshpit if you will - were the constantly yelling and chanting Marxist-Leninists (under whatever names they had back then) armed with cartons of eggs. I think I agrued with one of them. They think that making life more difficult for your opponent is a sure way of repelling them. But surely these activists knew from personal experience that adversity promotes stubborn resolve. Maybe they just never made the connection between themselves and other humans.

I cannot recall the attendees entering the meeting but I do remember them departing it. They must have noticed those cartons because somebody had provided them with rubbish bin liners to wear like ponchos. A small number of mostly elderly men and women were then pelted with eggs and jeered at. Some teens gleefully yelled 'human garbage'. The cops prevented much more than that happening. The next day this small part of the night was all that the media reported on. I was livid and even called a journalist to object. There were thousands of us peacefully protesting for hours, I opined, and only a fraction of the crowd had been involved in the egg-throwing. The journalist told me that they only focused on what was interesting and 'newsworthy'. I was far from satisfied with this, but what if the media had done what I wanted, and printed a line like this:

A handful of protesters pelt frail senior citizens with raw eggs,
as thousands look on.


If all protesters are complicit in the acts of the worst then that is what I would have deserved. But am I right to make these comparisons? You could argue that, it is one thing to throw eggs at some old potential racists and another to mock-hang a public figure who only wants to save lives. That feels like an excuse to me and protests of any kind suddenly seem like something to consider attending much more warily.

There is also the matter of whether protests are even effective. There have been sober concerns over excessive government rules and enforcement during the pandemic. These were well-expressed by a range of legal and civil rights groups, like Liberty Victoria, that lobbied state parliament to amend legislation, clarifying the role of government and the rights of Victorians during a pandemic. Contrast this with the protesters who have succeeded only in pissing off both police and public.

Despite all this, it is worth remembering that the public has overwhelmingly accepted the value of restrictions and vaccines. I suspect that the practice of lockdowns will serve us well now that we are supposed to act with personal responsibility. And I hope that civil society is still alive-and-well in this difficult time.

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27.11.21

Seen

Last month I posted about popular culture items I remembered but for which I had forgotten the names. Here I will describe some of my past successes in putting names to recollections. Here we go now...

Twoclops

A very old TV memory of mine involves seeing some climbers accosted by a giant. A while back I came across images of a cyclops from Lost In Space (1965) and assumed it must be that. But very recently I stumbled upon a two-headed cyclops from The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962) of all things. I could have seen either but am inclined to say it was the latter and older item. It would have been a rerun I saw sometime in the late 70s. If you look for images of these critters you will see they were both ridiculous but possibly ominous for a small child.

I cannot say I was ever a fan of either of these franchises. Lost In Space is simply the best of a boring bunch of science fiction shows produced in the 60s by Irwin Allen (along with Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Time Tunnel and Land Of The Giants) that was improved only by having its tongue firmly placed in its cheek. And the Three Stooges were far less funny than Abbott And Costello or even Lewis And Martin.

Basement And Junkyard Robots

Naturally I was drawn to robots as a small child and have a vague memory of two in particular. One was made in a basement by a smart kid but was just a remote-control automaton. The other was a discarded military experiment that was re-activated by the operators of a salvaging company and was very much an artificial intelligence.

The first robot featured in a Wonderful World Of Disney telemovie called The Whizkid And The Carnival Caper (1976). In it some kids help to capture some bank robbers who are posing as entertainers at the local carnival. They use the robot to help in this adventure but do most of the work themselves. Very mundane things stuck in my mind from this show. One was that the basements of many American houses are accessed externally via a sloping timber doorway and this just seemed cool to me. Another was the scene of a kid crawling into a stormwater drain to get back a toy rocket - it was terribly exciting to see adventure like this depicted in a suburban street. This was also one of those shows that reminds me of how my childhood was kind of unisex in the way both brothers and sisters played together and wore the same clothes (a topic I touched on here).

The next robot came from a TV show called Salvage 1 (1979) starring Andy Griffith as a junk yard operator who makes a spaceship from spare parts so he and his crew can go salvage space junk. In the episode Mermadon they find and fix a robot that the military somehow lost and want back. The poor robot has forgotten what its purpose is and so develops its own identity in the friendly company of those who found it. Later its true purpose is discovered and this includes a compulsion to kill. In the end the robot saves its friends by destroying itself - a melancholy lesson for a young kid to learn from an otherwise light-hearted show.

Eggs And Balls

The Children's Film Foundation was a non-profit organisation which made films for children in the UK from the 50s to the 80s (and apparently since then has funded similar projects under a different name). Chances are I saw a few of them but two stayed with me. In Kadoyng (1972) a human-seeming alien comes to Earth in an egg-shaped spaceship and is befriended by some kids. His alien origin becomes apparent once he removes his helmet to expose one fleshy antena (the name of the show is descriptive of the sound it makes as it springs forth). The other is Glitterball (1977) and this time the friendly alien visitor is a small metallic ball (possibly robotic) that can roll itself around. In this one a lot of the special effects involved simply reversing or changing the speed of footage but it worked and the story climaxes with a whole host of balls helping thwart the plans of some petty criminals.

There was a time that the Dandenong area lacked a cinema of its own, so in school holidays movies would be played in general purpose venues like the Dandenong Town Hall and an auditorium at Parkmore Shopping Centre. I think I would have seen one or more of these films in such settings, along with those slapstick action movies from Italy starring Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer.

A Better Bug

Everyone knows the magically alive white VW Beetle named Herbie. But who remembers Dudu the yellow VW Beetle that is also alive but due to computerization? This 'Superbug' starred in a number of West German movies from 1971 to 1978 and I must have seen one of them on SBS sometime. A robotic car makes more sense than a vaguely enchanted one and it is also possibly because of this that Bumblebee made sense to me once Transformers came along. Dudu never transforms but does have a bunch of moving parts and gimmicks akin to the cars driven by 60s secret agents like James Bond. Dudu was amphibious but then apparently normal VWs can be modified to do that too.

The Planets Music Video

In 1983 the eccentric British director Ken Russell, who made both movies and music videos, produced a film accompanyment for The Planets suite by Holst that was played on ABC. Stock footage of various kinds were matched to the various gods and goddesses for which the planets are named. There was everything from war for Mars and stark nudity for Venus and it was something of a surprise for me. Maybe it partly inspired my trick of turning nude sketches into landscapes, although I usually blame Allegro Non Troppo (1976), an Italian spoof of Walt Disney's Fantasia, for that.

The Other World Made My Day

This is a very specific memory and a unique example of how sense data can get entangled. I was standing in a toy department admiring a new toy line called The Other World (1982-1984) which depicted some kind of sword and sorcery adventure with small rubbery figures wielding phosphorescent plastic weapons. The line was blatently cheap but also very nifty, and some work had gone into developing its original back-story. I devoured what information I could from the packaging and possibly even got a few that day. What matters in this story, however, is that a pop song was playing while I did this, and it somehow became associated in my mind with the toy line. The cheerful up-tempo number, combined with the whimsy of the toys themselves, may have contributed to Lukas and I playing with them as if they were depicting a fusion of fantasy and situation comedy. But what was that song?

I only remembered the chorus line of 'day by day' and somehow the Internet could never tell me what that song was. Nothing seemed to fit but then one afternoon I heard it again while at the Blood Bank in Pinewood. As soon as I got a chance, I rang the radio station and asked what had been playing at that hour and minute. the answer was Made My Day (1983) by Tim Finn. I was never one for understanding lyrics. I purchased the song - a rather good one - and it has since developed its own identity in my mind, distinct from bendy warriors.

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Well that is it for now. I'm sure there are more names to find for old recollections but I'm now far closer to identifying the most enticing and intriguing of them.

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29.10.21

Scenes

I'm on a long-term quest to put names to half-remembered media from childhood. I have done pretty well so far this century and have discussed some of it here before. But it is easier to identify something if you can describe the story or whatever overall. It becomes more difficult if all that is left in the memory banks is isolated scenes or pages. Here then I will focus on just those more obscure part-recollections and start with possibly the most elusive. Can anyone who was a kid in the 70s or 80s help with this or any others described here?

A Many Faced Stranger

This memory was likely one of those animated shorts SBS would play between scheduled programs. Most likely from Europe and depicting a fairy tale. Could have been cel or cutout or clay animation. In it a mysterious yet terribly charismatic stranger comes to town and charms everyone in various ways. Someone (a child or youth) however is suspicious of him and one day follows him into the hills to discover his fiendish acts. The scene seared into my memory is of the diabolical stranger taking off his face, as if it is a mask, to reveal another mask, and another, and another. He is masks all the way down!

A friend suggested it could be Krabat (1978) from Czechoslovakia but that is a full-blown movie. I will describe it however, as it has a similar creepy vibe. Krabat adapts the fairy tale of an apprentice sorceror who eventually gets the better of his murderous master. One nifty characteristic of that story was that the master would take different animal guises but all of them would retain a prominent scar from his scalp. It was drawn like a huge crack - gruesome even in animation.

A Musical Paper Plane

The ABC also played shorts between scheduled programs. Many were music videos for instrumental tracks like Toccata by Sky (footage of white water rafting) or Incantations (Excerpt) by Mike Oldfield (footage from the moon landings). One I can describe but still cannot name.

It may well have involved the music of a classical guitarist and starts with live-action footage of a musician sitting in a cottage folding some sheet music into the form of a paper plane. He throws his creation out the window as the video transitions to cel animation of the same paper dart travelling lazily across what looks like English farmland at its most lovely. It even spends some time washing along a babbling brook till it is launched back into the air by a small waterfall. I'm sure the music was nice too but cannot recall a bar of it.

Runaways

I watched a movie on telly one afternoon that involved some kids (presumably siblings) who had run away from whichever adults were initially caring for them and are now travelling across land with another adult (possibly an estranged father or grandfather). This parental figure has promised to take them to his farmhouse, which he describes as some kind of childhood paradise. Towards the end of the film they are getting close to their new home and, at every twist and turn of the road, the kids ask whether the next house in sight is the one. Eventually they come to their house but it is far smaller and more shabby than what they imagined. I think I was as disappointed as the kids in the story, but imagine that the moral was something to do with home being with those you love.

A similar movie is called Flight Of The Doves (1971) but that involves two siblings crossing from England to Ireland (I recommend taking a look at the song-and-dance number You Don't Have To Be Irish To Be Irish). However, the movie I'm wanting the name of was set in North America.

Common Cold

Another random movie I watched (more just because it was on than because I was interested in it) felt like one of those 'Rock Hudson & Doris Day' sitcoms but the thing that distinguishes it in my mind is that a central character is seeking to cure the common cold. He says that it is ridiculous to him that humans can go into space but not do what he intends to do. That is all I can recall except possibly to say that it had an urban coastal setting. I'm okay if I never discover the identity of this one.

Future Satire

I watched some movie with my parents in which one hapless office worker in the future has a rotten day because he left his all-purpose key card at home or something. He cannot access his workplace, cannot operate his car, cannot get money (it was possibly the first depiction of an automatic teller machine I saw). I want to say it was in the European mid-century tradition of Play Time by Jacques Tati in that the story is essentially silent and shows the folly of ultra-modern living. You know the kind of nonsense? You need to replace your plastic card but to be allowed to do that you need to present your plastic card! You find yourself sent round and round in bureaucratic circles. I had that experience a few times recently in virtual form from the comfort of my own room and it is still terribly frustrating.

Cosmic And Colourful

My local library had a particular hardcover book full of lurid science fiction artwork. I suspect they fit the descriptive fiction format I discuss here in which the works of many artists are unified by the text of just one author (but it could have all been the work of one artist). Scenes I recall include reptilian aliens dressed like ceremonial guards, furry creatures hiding from the automated destruction of lush habitats, and humans in very form-fitting uniforms.

A Pantheon Illustrated

And finally my primary school library had a pocket guidebook to Greek mythology. Its entries were presented alphabetically and were accompanied by some basic but realistically proportioned illustrations. It also had a cool family tree of gods and goddesses, which I have since realized involved some editorializing because that mythology changed over the generations (this state-of-change is, incidentally, why I'm okay with modern bastardizations of mythology, like in Ray Harryhausen's Clash Of The Titans).

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In writing this short selection I was constantly thinking about the many items that I have managed to put names to. Next I shall discuss some of those...

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25.9.21

Free-Ranging Friends

In this post I describe a number of satirical anthropomorphic animals as inspired by both the Jethro Tull spoken word track The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles and the tradition of Aesop's Fables.

It was a mild and sunny day, and the Hare had just found and put on his spare pair of spetacles. Just then, he noticed the Tortoise emerging from foliage and immediately removed his seeing aids, hiding them behind his back. This was because the Tortoise had recently chastised him for lacking pride in his own natural state of short-sightedness. The act of wearing glasses, the plodding reptile insisted, was an insult to all those who lacked supposedly 'normal' vision. The anxious Hare knew by now to never argue with the Tortoise. After all, the shelled creature was a firm believer in the adage 'my space my rules' and, as someone who carried his home with him, could dictate terms whereever he went.

The Hare had only one course of action in the face of such a judgemental creature - make small-talk and then find some excuse to be elsewhere. He suddenly 'remembered' that he had a lunch date with his terrific friend, the Fur Seal, down by the salty lakeshore. The Tortoise grunted, then sat down on the warm grass for a well-deserved nap of the righteous.

The Fur Seal had left the water to look for a bit of conversation, and made towards the gnarled tree at which two other animals regularly convened. Those two were the Owl and the Kangaroo, who engaged in a never-ending argument over nature versus nurture. The Owl, a layer of eggs, was firmly in the camp of biology determining behaviour, while the marsupial Kangaroo was all for socialization and conditioning. The specific subject matter changed from day to day, but the fundamental argument was always the same. Tail thumping and feathers fluffing, they both held forth, but stopped once the Fur Seal waded into the argument. She very reasonably asked if both nature and nurture played a role in matters.

The Owl and the Kangaroo agreed on just one thing - that pesky sealion could take her complicating statements and go away - for they would rather bicker than admit that a messy world deserved complex discussions. Crestfallen, the Fur Seal shuffled back to the waterside, passing a cluster of reed-lined ponds on her way downhill.

The Newt burped hello to the passing Fur Seal, knowing that the huge mammal posed no threat, sated as she was by a regular feed of salt-water fare. Newt was a shrewd fellow who rarely made hasty judgements - the fish pond had shown him that. Big Fish lived in that small pond and seemed like a most magnanimous character. She was charismatic and bold and made sure all the smaller fish got a share of fish food. But there was another aspect of Big Fish hiding below the surface. She always got the most food and ensured the passivity of the other fish with wild tales of far-distant freshwater sharks. Every now-and-then a small fish asked if these sharks they never met were such a danger. The next day that inquisitive fish would be missing. The Newt was pretty sure he knew why - the closest predator is the one best feared and Big Fish was his prime suspect.

Big Fish played the role of best friend to the pond-hopping Newt, for he was popular with the fish. She also lived in secret fear of him because he knew the truth of the world beyond her small pond, and could dash her carefully crafted tales of its perils. Know someone well and you can practically tell what they are thinking, and so the Newt never made too many ripples in that small pond, and deftly stayed just beyond the reach of fishy jaws.

The free-ranging Hare, Fur Seal and Newt got together that evening to enjoy some relaxing, if silent company among some secluded boulders, the games and maneuvers of the day behind them, as the shadows slanted and the bees buzzed about. They knew how much time to spend with whom.

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25.8.21

Curios

Lockdowns may have the odd silver lining but are still very much experienced as dark clouds. Restrictions are necessary but they are burdensom. They reduce the risk of death by reducing our ability to live our lives. This Coronavirus feels like a lose-lose scenario if ever there was one. I'm coping okay in part because I have long been a semi-loner who can occupy himself (despite loving the right kind of company).

The company I keep is often now my interests - every tiny fact or fancy that amuses or enlightens me. But I have also been sharing these at times with Belinda. For much of the longest Melbourne lockdown I emailed her something I called Midweek Curios as another way of connecting and compensating for the dullness of our predicament. Some curios are for reading, some for watching or listening, and many are for doing. Here I will catalogue a bunch of them and in some cases, rather than provide links, I'll simply name them, knowing that links are more ephemeral than names.

Things To Read

- Seems every Aussie family made use of the recipes from this birthday cake book.

- The furthest I have travelled of late was to this Dingo Sanctuary which you can read about even while stuck within a few miles of home.

- A facscinating true story about women military staff who took on the task of war-gaming scenarios to inform Allied strategy during World War II.

- The Messy Nessy website reports on someone who refurbished their basement to look like a station platform complete with train carriage becasue they are obsessed with such a setting.

- A recipe for cripsy roasted chickpeas.

- The ruined Sutro Baths in San Fransisco are an example of how sometimes, it seems to me anyway, they had wonderfully big public facilities in the recent past, that would impress us today.

- London was to have a network of walkways in the sky and sometimes they talk of reviving it. To me they look like fantastic places for Leela and K9 to fight hapless futuristic guards.

- I Fucking Love Science tells us that chilli can improve your solar panels.

Things To Watch or Listen To

- The Terran Trade Authority was a fictional frame story for a bunch of science fiction pulp art collections and somebody turned all the wonderful space ship scenes in them into a music video.

- I've mostly resisted the online trend of watching cute animal antics but I sometimes return to this one - Bella the dog who whines and protests on knowing it's home time.

- One of my favourite busking scenes of two musos playing sitar and hang (hand-pan) on the rooftops of Berlin. Incidentally these two resonant instruments are of very different ages and origins. The sitar is close to a thousand years old and comes from India (but was possibly descended from older Persian instruments) while the hang was only invented by a Swiss company in 2000 (while taking inspiration from Caribbean steel drums).

- The Drolet Starship Museum is a great site to look at Star Trek ships in scale strewn around a desert junkyard.

- That most astounding and amazing of British inventions - the The Hovercraft! Hooray! Thanks to I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again for that line...

- Name-dropping one of my favourite YouTubers - Tim Traveller specializes in finding charm and intrigue in some of the more mundane of travel destinations - things like finding the hightest point of elevation in the Netherlands.

- Another favourite YouTuber - Seth Skorkowsky - provides advice and reviews for role-players and I recommend his content as both informative and amusing.

- Ray Harryhausen made a host of amazing claymation creatures last century and this video showcases them to some cool percussive music.

- Lots and lots of ant faces.

- An online map that allows you to compare Melbourne in 1945 with now.

- BBC Archive presents a segment of Tomorrow's World featuring cassette-based car navigation.

- During lockdowns many cat-owners have made cardboard fortresses for their pets.

- I never did get around to watching all of the Strongbad emails...

Things To Do

- Super Planet Crash lets you make solar systems till they get too crowded.

- Plaid Stallions retro pop-culture site has a great archive of old colouring books.

- Design and colour Daleks at the Doctor Who Site.

- Donjon is a website of role-play game online tools and one I particularly enjoy is this random world generator.

- One Monk Miniatures offers a huge selection of amatuer-designed card paper models to make.

- Colorforms were stickery things you could stick and re-stick to cardpaper dioramas to produce your own dynamic action scenes. Here is a Planet Of The Apes example but there were many many more in the long golden childhood of Gen-X.

- Townscaper is the only game-like activty I have purchased in ever and it gave me several very late nights during some of our lockdowns.

- Right now, there is something enticing in the notion of getting stuck in a remote location as long as it comes complete with community and so, I enjoyed using this virtual tour of a British Antarctic base.

- Wikipedia is so comprehensive that its entry on stereoscopic images includes examples which work with those old red-blue 3D glasses you surely still have stashed in a draw at home.

- This website analyses samples of your writing to somehow determine its Arc of Narrative.

- If you ever wanted to 'dig to China' like an American cartoon character, this site will tell you where you will in fact come out.

- You can make a robot picture with this online thingy.

- A quiz asking whether you're a nerd, geek or dork. Original link gone, yet to look for a repalcement test of any worth, even if it is just silly...

Some of these websites may well have other interesting content in them but I just focus on particular pages. Feel free to browse beyond. These links were curated by an individual nerd for another individual nerd and so the subject matter is rather scattered. There is other stuff I could add if I had been targetting another person. Hopefully those links will continue to work for a while.

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27.7.21

Eccentric Orbit

To some degree, all models are bunk, and all online tests for positioning oneself within those models, even more so. But they can be fun. I like to think my British Eccentric Test was fun, but one thing it never had was a groovy chart to illustrate its model. Now, fifteen years later I provide one, thanks to a few spare moments of doodling between work sessions. This is how the boringly normal, the almost normal, the bit odd, the peculiar and the eccentric are all arrayed.

I quickly rejected the use of a spectrum because one dimension is boring. Besides, I feel that there will be far more variation among eccentrics than among those who are normal. The test only has so many questions but if more were asked we would find many more eccentric directions to take, hence I drew a set of concentric circles with normality at the centre. I gave more space to successive shells to reflect greater variety within each. What this suggests is that there can be greater difference between two eccentrics than between an eccentric person and a normal person.

Next thing I did was to turn the circles into ellipses. Initially this was just a private joke about eccentric orbits but I soon ascribed meaning to it. It bulges to one side so that the centre is off-centre. This gets away from the notion that normality is necessarily the happy medium. “A little nonsense now-and-then is relished by the wisest men” as Willy Wonka says.

Finally, to draw the ellipses, I used diffuse and transparent highlighter, rather than sharp and opaque pen, because the divisions between groupings are arbitrary. If two of us stand only just apart on either sides of such a line then we are hardly different at all. Even in a frivolous online test, it is worth stressing that there is more that unites us than divides us.

British Eccentric Test

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