Monday, July 26, 2010

The Utility of Prices

Okay so I'm back at Uni, and after what feels like months and months of not thinking about economics and finance at all, my brain is reengaging. Anyway this semester is actually looking pretty good subject wise. I only have one economics subject 'Pricing Theory' and it looks like it is taught 'well' by my definition unlike my Macro subject last semester which oversold its difficulty and employed too much coercion.

So Utility one of the central concepts of economics, it pretty much underpins all the decisions we make and all economic policies. Most often utility is taught as basically meaning 'happiness' which whilst I'm all for avoiding big technical language Orwell style I make an exception when lecturers simplify utility to 'satisfaction' or more painfully 'happiness'.

I'm fairly certain that they (John Stuart Mill and the classicists) employed utility because to suggest their models could explain or satisfy 'happiness' would be an outright lie. But similar to the behavioural management school - which manages behaviour because behaviour can be seen as opposed to 'attitude' which we can only infer.

Thus similarly I kind of assume that we use 'utility' because we can see people using shit, but can only infer whether it makes them happy.

So anyway, the past two weeks have been spent (not) drawing indifference curves. (I don't take notes in classes unless I absolutely can't avoid it) which are basically a two axis graph of X and Y (which can be anything) and a bunch of non intersecting curves that bow towards the origin. If you can't imagine it click this link.

And they kind of work well. Particularly when you add budget constraints, you get a nice neat world where people try to maximise their utility by maximising their consumption as far as their budget allows. Thusly thuserson you can even suggest that good X represents savings while good Y represents consumption and so forth.

People aspire to the 'highest' indifference curve. Are you following?

Now they've introduced three types of goods. A 'normal' good is a good that as your income increases or its price decreases you increase your consumption of it. Then you have 'inferior' goods which as your income increases you consume less of it (in favor of some substitute - eg. public transport, the richer you get the less you use it) then there are 'giffen' goods, these are goods that get cheaper but people consume less of them. They are treated as strictly hypothetical...

And this is where I always get interested in a lecture. The oddities, or when people see fit to introduce something that is only hypothetical - because this is perhaps my favorite half-baked theory of why economics is fucked yet.

See budget constraints, indifference curves and utility are all well and good if you keep utility and price away from eachother. But you get a quasi goedellien self-reference when you suggest that people derive utility from a price itself rather than the good it is affixed to. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmahuhuh?

Imagine you got a pen right? right. You can use it to write right? right. So typically you would say the utility of a pen is its ability to write. But suppose you had a magic kind of pen that you could use or not use and it went up in price. All you had to do was hang onto it and it would go up in price. Now I guess we could call the appreciation of its price an indirect kind of utility, you can sell it and then use the proceeds to buy goods that have their own utility. This is kind of an opportunity cost or something, indeed money itself is worth only all the various things it can purchase if you want an on hand example.

But magic pens that go up in price regardless of how used don't exist right? wrong. This pretty much describes any speculative behaviour and it's corresponding wealth effect. Whether it is tulips, tech stocks or 'houses' speculation describes people deriving utility from price itself, rather than 'real' utility of the underlying asset. And these behave like giffen goods.

If people are consuming for price reasons, that is they buy a house anticipating further price rises and don't bother to live in it or rent it out (and worse, renovate it) then they are buying for the utility of the price and not the utility of the actual accomodation/location/infrastructure.

Now, this is another paradox I intend to deal with the 'risk averse' designation of consumers that inevitably drives them to risky speculative behaviour, but basically when people derive their utility, their pleasure through the 'wealth effect' which is the feeling one gets when sitting on an asset that is going up in price and then it drops in price - people consume less of it.

Which is all well and good, but whats exciting to me is the self-referential nature of goods that can impart utility from their price, or prices driving utility which makes it hard to ever fully explain consumer behaviour, rational prices etc.

Will ponder more... I need to get back onto Naive investor too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Small Australia

As I write this Julia Gillard is telling me 'not a big Australia, but a sustainable Australia' new approach to population all that shit.

As somebody who has attended multiple Sustainable Living Festivals, I always thought sustainable population Australia were a bit of a joke. I still do, but unlike Prosper Australia which got a nod from the Henry Review and the fiasco that became the Resources Super Profits Tax, 'Sustainable Population' seems to have gained traction not just with the conservative side of government but the supposedly liberal side too.

I hate these population capping advocates, why? well they range from bigotted to vacuous. People who talk about keeping the human population down always, always lack any real vision - their arguments always hinge around some silent status quo ideal. Few ever articulate it.

All I'd ask is some guiding principal eg. 'Our objective should be to maintain the largest biodiversity the planet can sustain.' I like that, I don't think population controls are the solution, but it would certainly help somebody build a case.

Instead nothing is mentioned thus 'Little Australia' or 'Small Australia' arguments come across as bigotted and fail to acknowledge the myriad issue of 'who' who gets culled. I thought I'd look at some of the woeful oversights of population arguments because its starting to piss me off and get personal.


Basically the 'non-racist' stance comes from the simple observation that resources are finite. The planet earth simply cant yeild the resources necessary to satiate everyones material desires, therefore you can presumably cut back the population and needs will be sated.

We already have a methodology for dealing with allocating resources, it isn't perfect but its called the market.

When I say it isn't perfect, that's reflected by the fact that some 10% of the worlds population control upwards of 80% of the worlds resources. Infact I suspect 1% of the population controls 80% of that 80%.

Then there's water, land etc. all of these have markets in which immigrants have to compete. They have to compete against people who own 3-5 'investment' properties, they have to compete against coca-cola, aluminium manufacturers etc. for water.

Amartya Sen points out in 'Development As Freedom' that almost no famine in history has been the result of inadequate food supply. It is typically characterised by inadequate food access. What's the difference? Well one is where there is no food. The other is where people are priced out of the food market.

Even in Ireland, during the great potatoe famine, Ireland was exporting food to England. Famines are generally a failure of government to intervene in market prices in an economy where most of the population can only trade on its low skilled labour.

The point being that most resources problems are a question of how they are distributed amongst a population, and these issues are rarely related to the size of the population itself. Fact is you could try to 'stop the boats' by I don't know spreading peace and prosperity throughout the world, or you could say tax rent seeking mining companies on their super profits and redistribute that income to the community and achieve a better resource distribution outcome much more easily, effectively and morally than offshore processing.

Economic Arguements

Generally fall down, lets break it into two groups though - skilled and unskilled migration. The easy one is skilled. Australia's academic institutions are not world class, we can't compete with Ivy League Universities in the US or their equivalents in Europe. What we can offer is a lifestyle that many wealthy nations can't compete with.

US we have healthcare, UK and Europe - space. Same goes for Japan, China etc. Take Japan, last time I was in Japan I thought that it would cost close to $20 to recreate a typical Australian home lifestyle in Japan. Why? First you have to buy all the property, then all the adjacent property, then pay to have the powerlines buried, trees planted, roads widened even then you don't have access to the acid free rain or any way to stop right wing propoganda trucks cruising round your hood playing 'yuki ya kon kon' over and over again.

Skilled migration is cheap, people who have paid all their education et to come to Australia, help business and pay taxes for the community. So cutting back on skilled migration is not much of an argument at all.

As for unskilled immigration, that's trickier. Generally though, business like high levels of immigration because they feel it undermines workers salary bargaining position. But having a larger population does provide more labor for new industries when times are good, stimulates construction, etc. Plus they send their kids to schools and those kids can be anything. Their kids can be anything...

Allthough unskilled migration is tricky, it brings me to my next point -


Countries don't exist, not in the way water exists, dark matter (doesn't) exist, stars exist, continents exist etc. They are artificial constructs acknowledged only by humans that are trained to see them there. Fancy sounding?

Well yeah, but what I mean is that nationalism is ultimately transitory and illusory. Those ANZAC diggers we (supposedly) go out and support for example were fighting for Queen and Country, a COuntry where an Aboriginal Woman couldn't own her own home, where employers could discriminate against homosexuals and any number of pre-reform characteristics of our society. My Grandfather presuming he didn't diddle Japanese girls himself when stationed in Hiroshima would probably have had a hard time predicting that his grandson would date a Japanese girl one day.

'Nations' characters evolve and shift between generations and are essentially indefensible, you can't stop the children of tomorrow from valuing different things not without severely hampering their education by excluding what is constantly being discovered about life the universe and everything.

One thing remains relatively constant though, a nation is a social agreement to command exclusively some resources, most notably land.

Any resource on earth imparts some usefulness, some utility. Many called 'natural' resources are not created through human endeavor, they are a natural bounty.

The decision as to who has access to these resources (and community created ones like health, education and infrastructure) is relatively arbitrary. It is decided principally through the 'Ovarian lottery' that is, where you are born.

You have a 1/4 chance of being born CHinese for example, which means a quarter of the worlds children are born without any basic freedoms, you have a less than 1% chance of being born in Australia and if you want to enjoy the 7.2 hectares of resources in an Australian's average carbon footprint (sustainable consumption is 1.2) free health care, civil liberties, public education, wide open planes, fresh air etc. you have to move here.

People don't choose to be born, and they don't choose where to be born. But what fucks me off is that people who talk about immigration and sustainable population never have there hands up to leave these shores.

There's a suggestion of 'we were here first' of which I'm all like 'who's we?' well this quote from an excellent crikey article explains:

"‎Nearly all Australians are the children or descendants of immigrants. To demand a slashing of immigration is a staggering example of inter-generational opportunism on our part, in effect denying to future immigrants and their children the advantages that we ourselves have accrued as the result of the generosity of generations past."

Then there's NEVER any question of emmigration. These people want to suggest that living in Australia is a privelege not a right yet they don't then go on to say that we should pack low skilled Australians on a boat to make room for greater immigration from high skilled migrants. That we shouldn't Cuba style send all our convicts to the shores of Florida. Nor that we should send our poorest to countries where their meagre savings make them incredibly rich and take on some of the worlds poorest to provide them with the opportunity to become relatively rich.

Now, I know these arguments are untennable as forced emmigration obviously creates some obligation on the destinations. In the question of refugees we do have a moral obligation, as one decent human being to another we should offer shelter. Refugees don't 'want' to be here, they aren't like 'oh great war has broken out, I can leave my community, my ancestral home, my livelihood have fun in an offshore processing centre, and finally move to Australia!' that's not how shit goes down. People are never glad that war gives them a 'queue jumping' excuse to emmigrate somewhere. The loss of a homeland is devastating, so devastating we should as gracious hosts try to make them feel as at home as possible.

But more broadly, people should be able to move around the world, unharrassed and unmolested as the world is our common heritage and our ward. All this cordoning off into fences and divides is nothing but in-group/out-group gang mentality. If somebody is dangerous it is up to their immediate community to reject them, somebody on a permanent protection visa really has the same opporunity to do harm to the community as a backbacker on a 30 day visa does.

Why punish somebody just because they weren't born on the same patch of land as you? Why reward somebody because they were? This nationalism masquerading as environmental/economic concern is so sickening I turn to Bill Hicks:

I was over in Australia and everyone's like "Are you proud to be an American?" And I was like, "Um, I don't know, I didn't have a lot to do with it. You know, my parents fucked there, that's about all. You know, I was in the spirit realm at that time, going 'FUCK IN PARIS! FUCK IN PARIS!' but they couldn't hear me, because I didn't have a mouth. I was a spirit without lungs or a mouth, or vocal cords. They fucked here. Okay, I'm proud.'"

You can't pick your parents, your family, in many places you can't pick your government, or who your government works for, but people can and should be able to pick their country and be unharrassed by people who don't even bother to check whether the arguments they raise have any factual basis.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Heart

I remember on warm September nights riding to Napier St in Fitzroy and thinking I'd entered some kind of fairy land. It's an old suburb with quaint little houses and oldschool hotels on the corners. It was different from Brunswick, this is probably no real news at all to people who lived in Melbourne all their lives, but when you move here from Ballarat to go to Uni you don't really take time to explore all the hoods.

Plus my normal cocktail of brain chemicals was ascue because I'd just really got a handle on my grieving process. At that time I felt like a worthless bug just waiting to be crushed. I remember listening to 'Smaller and Smaller' by Faith No More over and over again. On top of that when you spent 9-5 in a drab office under flourescent lighting McDonalds upholstery is going to seem like Disneyland.

I spent every Thursday night with a group of cool people learning how to tutor refugees with the Fitzroy Learning Networks 'Community Networker' program. I think it was like 6 weeks of 3 hour training, police checks etc.

We learned how people deal with the trauma of being tortured, about how men are often too old to get work in Australia when they bring their families here and the problems of having the wife become the major bread winner while the man just stayed at home becoming chronically depressed.

We had a Sudanese lady from the community come and speak to us, and I was blown away when she talked about the jobs her and her friends got 'cleaning, driving taxis...' pretty much every bottom rung ladder job you could name - I realised unlike my parents 'sacrifices' to give me a good education, these refugees were working to give their kids a chance at a shitty education so they could get better jobs so that their grandchildren may have a chance at a decent education. These people were looking forward to their grandkids, it blew me away.

Also the vegetarian pizza they ordered was amazingly delicious.

So training was great and eye opening. And then I got assigned to Zaman, I had assumed my student would be somebody close to my age. I was informed by Sara the coordinator an amazing person that as far as anyone could guess Zaman was between 50 and 60, he had no idea of his age but his papers said he was 40. At any rate I was immediately terrified of having to teach somebody twice my age.

Zaman was somewhat of a local celebrity at the network so they showed me his picture before I met him in the flesh. I remember at our first meeting he cleared space on the seat by flicking this cat really hard in the ear that was sitting there. I had instantly forgotten every single lesson plan I'd prepared in case he wanted to know something and he pulled out a Fork Lift Drivers instruction manual as part of his scheme to get a better job and hopefully get off the cursed Temporary Protection Visa.

I met Zaman when most of the hard work had been done, he had been detained on Nauru as part of Howards' Pacific solution, where the only way to call his anxious family was via Telstra phone cards that cost about $7 per minute. It was brutal and inhumane, and fortunately there are wonderful people in the world that care enough to help out complete strangers like Zaman by writing them letters and sending them phone cards.

Apparantly he'd been suicidal when he first came to Fitzroy and found out he was on a temporary protection visa which meant he was stuck in Limbo for 5 years before he could be reunited with his family who were moved constantly between Jordanian and Pakistani refugee camps. When he got work and could send money to his family he improved dramatically.

So Zaman ironically put me at ease really quickly, he turned out to be quite hilarious and describes everything as 'beautiful' even when I write a word out for him like 'accelerator'. From the get go he pretty much runs all our lessons. I just turn up, listen and try to explain how english works, often discovering that I don't really know.

Saying bye to Zaman when I went travelling was the only farewell that moved me to tears. I'd just discovered he'd never actually met his youngest daughter, and had attempted to cook me dinner, we ended up drinking tea and eating mandarins.

Yet beautiful as Zaman is, he is but one of thousands upon thousands of refugees created each year by discrimination and neglect the world over. The whole of Fitzroy plays host to a community that has become my heart.

Nowadays Zaman and I meet up in the library and walk home to his place in the Atherton Gardens housing complex. We often run into his kids, and thats the amazing thing about this corner of Melbourne. Kids are everywhere, outdoors in winter playing in the parks. Indoors at Fitzroy Learning Network playing on the computers until the teacher turns the lights out and pushes them out the door.

The community is vibrant, not without problems which happens when you've been raised to believe the police are only there to beat and brutalise you and that nobody looks out for you but yourself. But to be honest, I never see these. I feel safe wandering those streets at night and I feel welcome in refugees homes.

I admire these people like no others, because they are nobodies and they are everybody. They have nothing I don't possess in my basic humanity, a will to survive, infinite capacity to love. They are put in positions so horrible I can't concieve of them and survive. So many have walked away from their family homes, the towns their ancestors lived in for generations to escape persecution and deprevation. They have done it not for themselves but for their children and their childrens children.

They have given everything they own to people smugglers for a dangerous and inhumane journey by boat to the shores of Australia. Australia's 'Boatpeople' policy under Howard was condemned by the UN. Temporary protection visa's are a nightmare, holding people in limbo in one of the worst situations of their life and prevent them from becoming settled and constructive members of the community. Mandatory detention is frowned upon, and mandatory detention of children was a direct breach of UN conventions. It is a sad indictment of the Australian community that these policies lasted so long.

Yet these people stood it all, in pursuit of a dream. They made the kind of sacrifices the world requires right now, above and beyond what needs doing in fact. Reducing our carbon footprint is a breeze compared to the depravity with which a safe and civilized country treats 'boat people'.

They take it, stand firm and do what they can. Study english, work shitty jobs and cope with hours and hours of loneliness and depression. Beautiful people like those at FLN help them, and I guess frauds like me and you can see the result walking through the towers of the Atherton Gardens, my heart, you see kids being just kids running and playing and getting in fight and backchatting old clowns like Zaman and me. I saw a kid pick a fight with a chicken, a literal chicken.

And sure they can be annoying and demanding in the library, but these kids man, its like they are oblivious to what their parents have been through. And they are, I remember fondly Zaman complaining that his kids 'have been to Zoo, have been to Aquarium, have been to Farm... nobody takes me anywhere.' Which is true, I never managed to get him to the Parliament house tour for his citizenship test preparation, not that that is as fun as the zoo.

And then there's stories that break my heart too. Like his friend who was sent to Perth whose kid dived off a bridge into a river and broke his neck becoming a quadraplegic right when he'd just gotten safe to Australia. Or his old housemate that gambled away his earnings and never spoke to his wife or bothered to apply for citizenship.

But there's nothing really dangerous about refugees, I don't even understand how its a fucking issue. The only problems to me stem from the lack of resources available to help new Australians feel welcome and integrate into our evolving community. Its when a refugee is isolated, socially, financially and by language barriers that they are going to do what any person would do, try and survive by whatever means necessary.

By contrast, the temporary protection Visas meant Zaman's eldest daughter had to recieve chemotherapy in Pakistan in the poor quality healthcare available to refugees, she has suffered complications as a result and been in and out of hospital almost constantly. The delay in bringing her to Australia was unneccessary and inhumane, and I sincerely hope it doesn't cost her her life.

But seeing fucking twerps and cunts like Abbott and Gillard working ignorant and irrelevant members of the general public into a frenzy to 'stop the boats' and subsequently make these human beings suffer more. I mean what are they fucking talking about? less than one percent of refugees arrive by boats with the vast majority flying in. Those that do arrive by boats are overwhelmingly found to have legitimate claims to seeking refuge. The 'queue' they are supposedly jumping doesn't really exist, furthermore the queues that do exist, like Australia's interview process and the UN refugee charter process less than 10% of the demand. The vast majority of Refugees are offered refuge by the worlds poorest countries. Why is this an issue? Why do people fucking care? Why do we have to be so distrustful and uncharitable to some of the neediest people in the world?

These people are capable of building a beautiful community. I see it every week, its my fucking heart and its one I really don't want broken.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Give and Take

Okay I'm a little late to the party but Lebron and Bosh are now members of the Miami Heat along with Dwayne Wade. That's a motherfucken powerhouse and promises several of the most worthless and meaningless chamionship rings the game has ever produced.

Pretty much the sole exception to that scenario is that for anybody who beats the Miami Heat in the next 5 years will hold some of the most hard earned championship rings the game has ever produced, similar I guess to the Detroit Pistons 2004 rings against Shaq-Kobe lead lakers.

But where the Lakers had Shaq and Kobe the were padded out with fading champions like Karl Malone and Gary Payton, Miami is a whole other story.

Wade, Lebron and Bosh are all more or less in their prime, they are all franchise players, that is to say any one of them can hold together a franchise on their own.

Whilst admittedly Shaq and Jordan couldn't win their championships alone, nor could Kobe, this is another kettle of fish. This is a cartel, this is a decision not to compete and simply share the rings.

I've never really liked Lebron, he can play basketball, he has an impressive physique, but his mental game is not there. I just see an infant, and I guess like Wayne Carey in AFL one of his least attractive qualities is that he's been given everything since he was 16 (possibly earlier).

For me Lebron's move to Miami ends the Kobe-Lebron argument. Kobe wins, hands down. Lebron thinks he is making the right move for his legacy but infact has killed it in the womb. He'll never be a champion. Even if he scores 100 points a game.

As Jordan himself said 'when they put the triple-team on you night after night, that's when you've reached that level' which will never happen on a team with Wade and Bosh on it. Wade and Bosh are each worthy of a double team, It's going to be numerically impossible to triple team Lebron and have any outcome on the outcome of the game.

I've always felt Wade had more 'Jordanness' in him, and I guess the one upside for Lebron in moving to Miami is that he won't be wearing another man's number anymore. That's about it. This move isn't about getting help, this isn't about getting a Pippen & Rodman, this isn't getting a Pau Gasol, this isn't in Shaq's case getting a Kobe or Wade. This is getting some ruby red slippers and a Yellow Brick road paved all the way to the finals.

I don't blame Lebron for leaving Cleveland, I'd probably think he was a bigger moron for staying. The fact that they have to play crowd chants over a PA system would be enough to make any super star leave it's a big achievement that the Cavs had such a good home game record in such a horrific stadium.

But I do blame Lebron for copping out. Words like 'undeniable' won't apply to anything Lebron does while playing with Dwade and Bosh unless Dwade takes over and he is described as 'undeniably better than Lebron'. Lebrons legacy is now very deniable, that he is great as a player is undeniable but he simply wont be comparable to Kobe or MJ because he isn't playing in the same league. He's playing in the under 12s now.

If I wanted to be 'like Mike' like Kobe did (before he started to just be Kobe) and Lebron so clearly does I would look for the strongest competitors to play AGAINST and jump over them, that's being like Mike, not trading yourself to their team.

Lebron is Give, or perhaps 'gimme, gimme, gimme.' which isn't to say he comes across as a spoilt brat or immature. He's been treated like royalty by pretty much everyone for pretty much his whole adult life, courted and pampered and what not. He probably can't concieve of a world where you have to take something for yourself.

By contrast you have Kobe, who played in Italy then skipped from highschool to the NBA refused to play for the Charlotte Hornets (or whoever) got himself traded to the Lakers and sat on a bench for a year.

Kobe has had to take everything for himself, that's the difference. As Jack Nicholson said in the Departed 'nobody gives it to you, you have to take it.' Kobe has taken all his rings, his 5 delicious Champion-chip cookies. Because he was truly hungry. To my knowledge Lebron has only ever shown the hunger once, and that was in the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit where he scored the last 35 consecutive points to win the game and go to the finals against the spurs where the Cavs were swept in one of the least watched and least entertaining series in history.

What I'm waiting for is Kobe's take on the Wade-Bosh-James triumvirate trade, I hope he's feeling hungry, I hope he sees the opportunity to cement himself once and for all as the greatest player of his era. I hope its like a rag to a bull, he can smell Lebron's weakness/immaturity and know he owns him now.

I hope Phil Jackson recognises that winning a championship against this heat team will be one of the few opportunities to actually top one of the greatest finals series ever.

I hope every team in the league can see the anti-competitive behaviour and go out hard to crush the Heat. NBA doesn't need a Real Madrid, it doesn't need a Manchester United. It needs a champion, and Lebron probably won't ever be one, and it'll be his own damn fault.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

People I would swap lives with

I think my self esteem is pretty solid, if not remarkably high, and whilst I am annoying even to myself like the 2nd season of true blood I can't bring myself to stop watching how things will turn out.

I'd never trade youth for experience (particularly since I'm now in the best shape I've been since I was 18) I never send food back at a restaurant and there are very, very, very few people I would actually trade lives with. Here's both of them:

1: Les Claypool.

Sure he's got a big nose, but so do I. Why swap with Les? It's a no brainer. He lives on a property called 'Rancho Relaxo' has put out like 10 albums of some of the most awesome and out there (and admittedly an aquired taste) music of all time. Happily married, owns a boat and oh yeah! He's the greatest bass player ever. He has to be seen to be believed, but the way he moves conveys a real joy in music. Over the years he's got real tight at performance too but I can tell* he still loves it.

Here's some awesomeness from Les:

Plus he is able to get away with wearing whatever the fuck he wants. I love people that have reached that plane of existence. I spend too much time explaining my clothing choices lately.

2: Cheeks Galloway.

Fucken log onto his blog and see if you don't agree with me instantaneously. He can draw, colour and design. He works like a workhorse or something, his style of speek is endearing and funny and he has a smoking hot wife.
I'd be surprised if cheeks had any haters really (though mathematically given all the douchebags in the world who think anything different from Jack Kirby's style is not good drawing, I assume they must).

Now sure, Micheal Jordan, Mike Patton etc. are tempting to say 'I'd swap lives if...' (I'd probably swap my entire life just to be able to dunk once from the free throw line (don't hold me to that!)) there are plenty of awesome people out there, but something about the above two. There's a kindness and generosity of spirit, a kindness, a 'I'm happy being me and fuck the rest' That ironically is what makes me happy to be them.

Hopefully that reflects that the key quality I'm trading for is one I already possess, therefore this was all pretty pointless. Including this pointless post.

Enjoy baby.

*percieve that...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


I'm currently reading the Puffin 'modern classic' "Orientalism" by Edward W. Said. It sounded really interesting, like how it might contain answers to questions I have about why Asia (and in times past the 'Orient' now generally seperated into Asia and the Middle-East) is so fucking fetishised.

I read ti though and am wholeheartedly confused. The book seems academical managing to say very simple things in thousands of words with heaps of supporting references. Arguably my preferred manner of simply proferring conjecture to be weighed up by a reasoning mind based on it's intrinsic likelihood or 'well-formedness' is how the Orient came to be and all the modern day headaches with it.

So currently the book stands at having declared 'by giving name to such a vast region as the Orient (encompassing the Levant to China) Europeans (westerners) created an us & them mentality.

Which took 72 pages. Sure there are supporting examples, but to an anarchist its like 'big woop - nations don't really exist except in the minds of folks. Tell me something new.'

But you see, I still have questions. See I don't think I'm a racist, but now I'm not so sure.

Here basically encompasses my view:

If in 100 years there are only 250 people left alive, I will be glad because that means the human race has survived.

I don't give a shit if those 250 people are all black, or asian, or jewish. I don't care if the european-caucasion is extinct in 50 years, I will simply be glad in this interconnected world that somebody survived.

That's honestly how I feel.

End - my encompassing view of race.

Now - I find generalisations about races useful. There are observable, cummulative effects of race... or are there?

That in essence is what I'm hoping to find out from Orientalism. See I have been to Japan 3 times, I speak Japanese and have travelled fairly extensively up and down Japan setting foot on 2 of it's 4 main islands, which is more than I can say for Australia (I have spent less time in Australia but outside of Victoria than I have in Japan).

So the idea is this (has anyone else noticed how inarticulate I've become lately? I must have reached a critical mass of anti-knowledge) Say I go to Japan, do I experience Japan? OR do I experience my idea of Japan?

For example, if you accept some generalised premise of Japaneseness eg. 'The Japanese people have a deep love of nature.' it's pretty easy to go find corroborating evidence in Japan. Just visit one of the Edo period Gardens, or Meiji Jingu or any of the Shinto temples, or look in the museums and galleries and read haiku for their nature based themes.

But alternatively you could accept another generalisation 'The Japanese love of concrete' and again if you are looking for it you will see all the evidence (and there's a lot), like people remarking that autumn leaves are 'kitanai' whereas parks constructed of concrete are 'kireii' (dirty and pretty respectively) the bamboo railings that on closer inspection are infact fabricated out of concrete and painted bamboo colour...

So I've always scratched my head at people's ability to go to Japan and wander through it like it's a utopian fantasy land. And in many ways it is, it's hard to beat for comfort, cuisine, convenience and security. But people seem to overlook the glaringly horrible shit - like the retail staff that work 14 hour days 7 days a week. That's brutal. All the homeless dudes in the park, the omnipresence of pornography and the fact that everybody is tired all the time.

Same same with China, people rave about 50c beers and $4 banquets and all the DVDs you can eat. Most people can completely overlook the complete absence of basic human freedoms and basic human dignity.

I thought it was maybe a function of time, people who haven't spent enough time in Japan haven't had all the small suspicious things irk them, and maybe that's true. People who haven't spent enough time abroad don't stop to think about the impact of government on people's lives. They don't think 'rich' and 'poor' just 'expensive' and 'cheap'.

Maybe, or maybe we experience the narrative that we've been sold. I've lived in international house, which was a great opportunity. It never really worked, no rainbow gang as such... I also travelled and my experience is that the more time you spend with people the more conclusive it is that they are just people.

Like my ex Misaki, just a person, a person from Japan. Same emotional spectrum, same emotional triggers. Her nationality formed a part of her identity, but as a functioning human being it had little to do with it.

For example, she spoke Japanese - that's a product of being raised in Japanese society. She had other memetic imprints from being Japanese (eg. she was offended by sharing food via chopsticks, it is however okay to feed somebody else directly with your chopsticks, but you cant accept the morsel with your own).

Anyway, these aspects of race are not say genetic so much as they are cultural. I believe that the beliefs shared by people that can be deliniated by national boundaries are generally what I dub 'reinforced' beliefs. What do I mean by that?

Well take gravity, okay so if you have a new born child, that child doesn't need any real reinforcement of the idea of gravity. Gravity reinforces itself, every moment of everyday. That kid NEVER needs a concept of gravity or its specific explanations to understand why the fuck it shouldn't jump off a cliff.

Now take a kid and give him to a Morrocan family to raise and observe whether that kid spontaneously turns into a Japanese person just as it spontaneously understands gravity. Provided the Morrocan family aren't migrants from Japan, that kid won't even be able to speak Japanese, let alone all the subtle and complex cultural nuances of what it is to be 'japanese'. Why? Because these (I surmise) are reinforced beliefs that require considerable energy expenditure to put in a kids head that they stick there. You basically need everything in their community to reinforce the memes through conscious effort. Teachers, postmen, talkback radio DJs etc.

Thus its clear to me that race is an idea invented like religion and countries in general. People have tree-mendous investments in these ideas but it doesn't make them any less invented.

But! Why do some/(most) people fetishise other cultures and a few are just like 'Oh they are people just the same, except they wear different hats?' and can other exogenous cultures invent 'what you are' in the same manner adults thrust Catcher in the Rye on unsuspecting teenagers and say 'here, understand yourself'???

Guess I'll just have to keep reading.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

'I'm a Poet and I don't even know that I am one'

[As an aside I'd like to apologize on my tardiness lately, even though I've been on facebook for years now it seems recently I've become addicted to blasting status updates instead of writing blog posts and my attention span has shrunk considerably. I'm trying to get back to more substantial posting.]

Last night I went to the launch of the 'New Poets 2010' it may have even been a society, though it didn't strike me as such. The event was free, it was packed, there was standing room only. An old acquaintance from my TNS call center days was one of the New Poets and in fact the closing act.

I had a chance to read through her poems this morning. The evening wasn't all great for example some of the more natural-world inspired poems were hard to concentrate on and visualise what was being talked about because my vocabularity wasn't up to it.

Plus at random times I kept thinking of Mr. Show's 'Monsters of Megaphone' skit which I had watched earlier that day. But those are my personal failings not the poets themselves.

The poems generally smacked of work, but in a good way. Sure the creative process is mysterious, but at some point work must be done to push anything even the humble poem to elite new heights.

See I was expecting some kind of cringe-fest like Def-poetry,with pretentious people nodding to pretentious orations by otherwise cool rappers.

Alas, (thankfully) it was not. It was a beautiful event aside from what i feel was unnecessary Masterchef Judge George bashing.

Anyway I don't really know what to say about poetry. It's poetry, and probably best captures the indefinable nature of art. I can say it was high quality poetry, but I wouldn't know how to convey the quality to you.

I bought a book of poems of one of the performers, got it signed and all. But I don't think it would be cool to reproduce her material here.

ONe thing I can talk about though is the heirarchy of crowds.

It is my intention to one day do standup comedy...again. My first experience was pretty brutal and mercifully failure is met with forgetfulness. Comedy crowds are tough, particularly when they are made up of other aspiring comedians and or people who are there just to drink or have some kind of corporate function.

You need to entertain or shut the fuck up.

Contrast this with public speaking crowds, whenever you are making a formal address the crowd is there through some sense of duty or simply a desire to kill time. They don't expect to be entertained they expect to be bored. Thus any jokes you crack have ten times the currency than they would if you were presented as a stand up comic. People shouldn't fear public speaking, its like shooting fish in a barrel.

The 'home crowd' is the friends in the school yard, work colleagues in your cubicle, thats your safe secure environment where you can experiment and fail to little consequence. You can go volume not quality and so forth. It is still probably not the ideal place to test material but it is the most forgiving crowd you'll ever have.

Then there's the poetry crowd, aside from doing strange things to people's haircuts, it's like the public speaking crowd times 10. Because if the rest of the audience is like me their mental energy is totally preoccupied trying to visualise the subject matter of the prose as it works its way into our brain through its artful coding.
Thus thusly, jokes here have ten times the currency they do in public speaking. It's like completely deleveraged from the gold standard (stand-up) or even some kind of reserve ratio (public speaking) this is SOuth America people!

So whilst I've been once bitten and twice shy of standup, I may long term ease into it via the poetry scene, I may even wind up doing poetry rap.

Also to reiterate, supporting people is really easy, If I can rearrange my roster to go see a poetry reading, you 9-5ers can just turn up and support. Do it!