Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year that Began on New Years

I was all class. I ended 2011 with a visit to the Nazari's where I indelicately ate a peach and talked about school with the kids. I cycled to a sophisticated gathering in Moonee Ponds, in an apartment building where the hosts wore kimono's. Then I made with the economics talk at my final destination with a media type from Broken Hill talking about the inherant risks of property and irrationality of the market.

I felt dizzy, like I'd been standing too long and I crossed the living room into the study where I discovered the air conditioner. And that at some point before midnight I'd managed to get drunk somehow, probably the plastic pineapples full of cocktails I'd been drinking.

Anyway I say I'd walked into the study where the airconditioner was, but I kind of walked into a chapter out of Catch-22. Chapter 16 my favorite chapter.

I don't even recall how it started, or whether I or somebody started it, but suddenly I was surrounded by Italians. Like Italians from Italy. And here's what I don't know who or how started it, but suddenly I was defending my accent.

This happens to me a lot. More frequently than I ever anticipated. It never happened to me in Ballarat, but afterwards, all the time. Every third person I meet asks me about my American accent.

I had learned to brush it off with my standard line 'I just watch too much television' but this wasn't washing over. Then the bella donna at the back of the room started attacking me over US foreign policy. I was like 'I grew up in Ballarat'

For some reason drinking unlocks the language center of my brain, and I started pulling out all (both) my italian phrases. I was still classy enough at this stage to not do the 'ciao bella posso di conocierti?' (I can't spell italian, but it's like "Hey beautiful, can I get to know you?') then again, now that I think about it I'm not sure I didn't.

That would explain her wonderful hostility. I am so much more comfortable when people give me a hard time than when people are nice and friendly. That's the fucked up way I roll.

So when I produced every piece of ID I had in my wallet to try and prove my nationality, I was having a delightful time. Things were either going really well or more likely incredibly poorly, when suddenly little Italy left.

I lacked the class to sit stationary feeling sorry for myself, and managed to ask the girl how I would ever find her again. Once again, I couldn't detect whether they were being coy or hostile, when they were like 'facebook, email blah blah blah.' something quite literally like that without any actual information.

Anyway, I was quite literally (yes, this is how classy I am) going 'ooooooooohhhhhhhh' as I turned around and stopped and got straight into another conversation. In hindsight, I was flirting with self-depreciating humour, that in that setting was in fact entirely deserved. I was a drunken douche. In face saving further hindsight, I'm pretty sure that girl just enjoyed the flirting and flattery, and had no actual interest in me from the outset.

I bought pizza, at some point after asking my host to 'surprise me' and handing my wallet around far too often to not be lucky to still have it. (probably everyone realised I had nothing in it worth taking). I recall my self depreciating humour just digging me into a hole where I literally crushed my own esteem. Then waking up at my tram stop and getting in home somehow miraculously.

I also remember typing 'predictive' into a text message and being amazed at the miracle of predictive text and then writing a whole bunch of random words and sending it. I'd really like to know what was in that text message.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Like Catch-22 I ended up home alone like Yossarian. But I realised, that unlike Yossarian, I just can't close.

This was a horrifying revelation for me. And coincidently it became my new years resolution.

You see, I'm fairly predictable, my motivation is simple... I admitted this for the first time yesterday, and now I'm kind of horrified that its how I've been living.

My motivation is: I don't care about me, I am here to be used up. I just care about other people. I'm quite really, emotionally masochistic.

I've gotten this way, because it was easy, and it was better than where I came from, which was where I simply didn't care about anybody. And I don't know how I got there.

So I've decided to change. Which was easy, doing it is harder. I am naturally a back foot player. Better in defence than attack.

I've always outsourced my support. Other people support me, and I generally neglect myself. My idea of supporting myself is just pushing myself harder to be more awesome.

I do think I'm pretty awesome, I just never tell this to myself. I'm always just 'I'm not good enough, I'm not ready.' I'm used to being in other peeps corner, never my own.

I think I'm a good supporter. I could use my own support. So this is what I'm trying to change. My self talk and everything. It's hard I have a lot of habits to break.

But I can see the progress, not just on that front but every thing I do. I'm in a positive place acting like its a shithole. Like an Olsen Twin or something.

Ya basta! It's time for me to start acting like I am who I want to be. I'm a long way there already. That's how my year began.

I never thought I'd say this but, thankyou alcohol.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

On Economics

As my economics degree draws to a close (I have one semester left, mostly finance subjects) I have come to the weary conclusion that economics as it stands is little better, if not worse than theology.

The quotation that has shattered my thinking on economics is this:

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men, how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. ~ Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit.

When I embarked on this second degree, Bryce asked me why the fuck I was doing it when I should be holed up in a room somewhere drawing. A very valid question. Bryce knows I have a passion for drawing, but do I have a passion for economics? Finance?

The answer is yes, but not of the same variety. This quote by Keynes is a well worn one but worth repeating:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. ~ John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money.

The sentiments expressed are exactly why I'm passionate about economics and it's current and continuing malpractice. But while Keynes' quote blew my mind sometime back in year 11 when I first discovered this incisive and observative thinker, Hayek is new to me and the effect on my thinking probably more profound.

He makes drawing the line between economics as religion vs science easy. It reminds me of a book I picked up in a Dusseldorf bookstore called 'irreligious' in the Dawkin's fueld athiest boom of several years ago.

There I came across a particular stunning explanation/argument against 'Intelligent Design' it pointed out that anyobody (capable of picking up that book in a bookstore) could in all likelihood walk down the street and into a shoestore and find a shoe that fits their feet, that they can purchase and walk out of the store with. Same goes for Bras, meals and any other of the complex goods and services readily available to anybody with money in our global economics system.

Does this mean some omniscient being had prior knowledge of my shoe size and material demands and thus 'designed' by some super intelligence? No, the incredibly complex system that produces goods 'for us' is largely blind to our existence. Modern retail has EVOLVED through trial and error, the effecient business practices win out over ineffeciencies and suplant them totally. They are operating on an accellerated evolution to biology because successful business practices can be imitated (loyalty programs, Just-In-Time manufacturing etc.)

The blinding flash of obviousness that Hayek articulates so well, is that economies just like the extreme diversity of life on planet earth is not designed. If you took away the economists, there would still be an economy.

To stick with the analogy for now, it is my belief that morality is something evolved. Many philosophers have struggled over centuries (milennia) to explain our moral system, and yet the field of biology (particularly condensed into 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins) provides a far simpler and elegant and satisfying explanation of human moral behaviour. Without exploding the details everyone struggles to explain why consequentialist moral codes only work some of the time/in some situations (Utilitarianism, Machiavellianism) and other times it seems right to be Absolutist (Kant's Deontological Ethics - eg. even if it causes more hurt, you should tell the truth).

Biology says that different genes dictate different behaviours, and the ones that tend to survive certain situations. The implications of this is that there may be no 'right thing to do' or 'right way to live' but infact only a bunch of different right things to do, in different situations.

It is I feel the conceit of most religions to have very specific ways to do the right thing in all circumstances and in the act of subscribing to a particular belief system you can actually circumvent your intuitive moral judgement.

So too it is the Fatal conceit to think we can somehow design a perfect economic system. Much like advertising and it's regulators, the jungle of the market produces behaviours that I feel will always outpace regulation.

Particularly in financial markets the 'sophistication' of financial products (like Collaterised Debt Obligations) is evolving faster than the regulations that govern them.

What then is the role of economics?

Not whatever it currently is. I feel regulation should be on the general rather than the specific but I wouldn't go as far as Hayek to poo-poo say Stimulus in all situations etc.

Robert Schiller, a fan of Keynes points out one problem with free markets and probably the best case for regulation and government intervention in the markets:

'The market is incredibly effecient at producing goods wanted by consumers. The problem being that if the market demands snake oil, it will very efficiently produce snake oil.'

Yes that argument employed by totalitarians everywhere 'people need to be protected from themselves'

Economics as practiced is incredibly complex and suffers ironically from a lack of 'Japaneseness' (If you don't know why this is ironic, look at Japan's economic performance since 1990). That is as a science it lacks the discipline of quality control. Or as Toyota and Honda practice it: Total Quality Management.

Economics is a soft science. Throw out the mathematic modelling and aggregates. We are modelling human behaviour, subject to emotion AND rationality. Take for example 'profit maximising behaviour' one of the central assumptions of (Neo) Classical economists. They say that profits are maximised when Marginal Cost is equal to Marginal Revenue (a further increase in production will not yeild a subsequent increase in revenue). In practice most (if not every) firm cannot know at any point in time that is useful what their marginal cost and marginal revenue is. Most do not price based on economic modelling either, deriving demand curves etc. They use a 'cost-plus-mark-up' approach.

Much of economic modelling that I have learned is of no use whatsoever in understanding how any given business does (or even should) operate.

But observations and tests of human behaviour even in a soft science can be derived from controlled and replicable experiments. Not backfitting mathematics to historical data.

I would dedicate economics as attempting to overcome shortsighted behaviour. Keynes pointed out in the long run we are all dead. I believe the role of economics, beyond Hayek's demonstration of how little we understand is to make that long run as long run as possible.

Economics currently assumes that personal material enrichment makes you happy even though other sciences far more respectable than economics have proven time and again it doesn't. It also doesn't look forward, the GDP maximising model is expressely short term. We FIGHT it to make any provision for the future right now.

Economics needs to be the exact opposite of this. Not to impoverish people but to make sure our material wealth/abundance/opportunity is the maximum in the future. That is it needs to intervene where we cannot see past the short term.

I look at economists of little to no influence in current thinking like Henry George, who illustrates a good example of long term economic regulation - that is using resources as your tax base rather than productive income/wages. This makes it hard to monopolize a resource without productively using it.

It would have made Rockefeller's wealth impossible, it prevents bubbles (or punishes the foolhardy speculators for engaging in speculation) and basically protects people from being suckered into cycles of illusory reward and catastrophic ruin.

But whatever they are teaching in school, has one and one use only - to be informed of the disinformation current economists consider themselves informed by. To give Mark Twain the final word:

'Never let your schooling interfere with your education.'

Monday, December 20, 2010

There's Something About Sasuke

Naruto is the number one selling comic title in Japan and the US, ah Japanese comic that is. I'm not sure if DC and Marvel still outsell Japanese comics.

Japanese comics and western comics have a lot in common anyway, they are 90% crap, and dominated (like anything else) by 2% of the comics produced commanding a majority of sales. These in turn are usually from a genre that dominates. In western comics it's superheroes and in Japan it is the young boys adventure epic.

Both are charecterised by the proven formula archetypes. You have Batman and Daredevil, the same dark anti-hero with their emotional disfunctions, and then you have 'Kid Hungry' the pure of heart young boy who can never stop eating and sticks up for the weak in Japan.

I love One Piece, and am indifferent to Naruto. I have started reading it again recently mainly because 8 months or so had passed since I last got bored with it.

I got bored with Naruto because of Sasuke, somewhat childishly, Shuonen jump runs these reader polls to see who the most popular character in a series is. These would be more meaningful in something like Batman where the same rogues gallery has been rolling around for over 60 years, but alas it is a staple of the ongoing Japanese comic publication.

Where One Piece (same genre as Naruto, or at least same archetypes) has Monkey D Luffy the protagonist regularly coming in at Number 1, Naruto is almost constantly beaten out by Sasuke his ultimate nemisis.

I can see why Sasuke is popular, he is like Batman but if you even thought it possible even more one dimensional. Sasuke is the reason I routinely get bored by Naruto. He is just a plain boring fucking character. I suspect somehow to the majority of Shonen readers, he is somehow cool. He never says much, has little motivations and what little he possesses are not particularly inspiring. But he is A) strong and B) cool (in the Japanese sense) that is he has the haircut of a Japanese rockstar and is tall, where the protagonist is like this ugly ranga kid.

Sasuke illustrates I feel one of the chief problems that faces anybody creating anything - what is popular is not necessarily what is good.

How to illustrate this, say you have a hero, and you have a villain and the villain is in a building. You have two ways to resolve this conflict.

The first way is to have the hero walk into the building and confront the villain, talking it out and through feint and counterfeint large themes emerge, drama is created and the reader can reflect on the human condition while being surprised. The reader identifies with both characters, sympathises with the villain and ponders the dilemma and how it can be resolved and whether there truly is good or evil, or justice. Then the resolution comes about in a surprising way that makes you think about it for hours.

The second way is for the hero to announce he has a new special attack, a level 3 daidenkiron which he summons up and bystanders say things like 'unbelievable!' and 'my god, it's power level 30,000!' and then they blow up the building with the villain in it.

The second way to an unsofisticated audience (the majority) is far more popular, and requires almost no imagination, tact or skill to pull off. This was a large part of my problem with Dragonball Z and also why I never could get in to world of warcraft.

The process was as simple as it was appealing, you establish a villain as powerful by giving them some number that seemed high (like pinball scores) eg, a 'Battle Level of 10,000' as was used in early Dragonball. Then you have somebody rated at 3,000 to battle them. After struggling for a bit they find some new inner power and get re-evaluated at 20,000 and they beat the villain.

Dragonball had some merits, largely in it's lecherous humour which I don't feel is enough to elevate it to the classic it is. It inspired One Piece though which is one of the best comics out there at the moment so it's hard to begrudge.

World of Warcraft though demonstrates this same popular but ultimately unimaginative dilemma: You level up your character to be more powerful and equip it with objects. On one level this requires a bunch of diverse and fully realised details including rare items and shit that you have to spend hours aquiring to great enjoyment by WoW's loyal subscribers. But on a lower level, what is happening in all these battles is a bunch of numbers are being thrown around. Bigger numbers win, smaller numbers lose and no matter what the details are it is as simple as that.

Perhaps though there is a Sasuke of restaurants, worldwide the most popular restaurant is McDonalds. It makes a lot of money, and is enjoyed by millions worldwide. But then there's people who go for years slaving away to create restaurants like Noma in Denmark, Heston's 'The Fat Duck' in the UK. These are one hopes labors of love, requiring tremendous effort and collosal risk to make a small fortune as a 'celebrity' chef. (plus Heston has to routinely feed a pack of douchebags a 'feast' and they don't even pay to maintain his profile). Nothing like the steady returns and worldwide recognition that McDonalds enjoys.

The author of Naruto whom I don't admire enough to actually learn his name offhand has clearly put far more thought and heart into Naruto's backstory and motivations, character and mannerisms than Sasuke that really is the same tired old archetype of the dark foreboading loner. Yet paradoxically the imagination injected into Naruto is not rewarded by the readership, they want something easy and pallatable like McDonalds, instead of the complex and rich Snail Porridge that is Naruto.

The fun fact is that you don't get to pick your fans when you produce something.

The dilemma is do you give them what they want or do you stick to your guns. Do you deliberately write 'Money' to sell people 'The Dark Side of The Moon' not to say Money isn't a good or even worthwhile song, it's just these days you music isn't bought the same way, writing that hit single may not translate into anyone getting your album, it just sells itself.

I don't have the answer to this dilemma, probably because each one is different. It depends on the motivation. If you can't succeed at what you actually want to do, I would suggest you will have to live with that. You shouldn't let yourself be driven by what your fans demand.

My friend Tommi told me of friends that were criticising some bands new direction on some new album, he made an astute point: 'You can still listen to the old albums though, they can create new stuff and you don't have to listen to it.'

If you hate Kevin Smith's new stuff, just keep watching Clerks. He isn't obliged to keep making movies for you.

Conversely, if Tool's 10,000 days wasn't new enough for you (it wasn't for me) you can toss it aside as a redundant 'Lateralus Part 2: Not as good as Lateralus' (And in my view Lateralus wasn't as enjoyable as Aenima).

If the author really finds Sasuke interesting and more interesting to write about than Naruto, then I can just skip over or stop focusing on chapters that are dedicated to Sasuke's boring decent into evildom.

Fans have these choices though, its the creators who have the dilemma. Fans have to take what they are given and vote with their feet. But that vote isn't binding on the creator, the creator should create work they are proud of, that challenges them and brings them joy. They shouldn't just create money. I have no problem with artists actually earning a living, but if that cash-cow character, single or recipe is not used as a vehicle to sustain your creativity, you may as well be an accountant.

Last word goes to Bobby Chiu 'I would rather dig a ditch than have an art job I hate. I'd rather pick up trash than have an art job I hate. I would do anything for money rather than come home at the end of a day doing artwork I hate and be too tired to do artwork I love.' [paraphrased].

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Evolution: Brain Wall

I'm reading 'Fooled by Randomness' by NNT at the moment, his precursor to 'The Black Swan' in a way it's kind of like reading a first draft of 'The Black Swan' but there is certainly a huge reallocation of emphasis onto the noise vs information distinction as opposed to prediction and rare events.

Anyway in the chapter 'Survival of the least fit' he makes a brilliant and profound argument captured by Solon's warning. That is Solon met the richest man in all of Greece and when asked by this rich dude if Solon knew of anyone more exulted than he, Solon proceeded to give the accounts of dead men that had died nobly in battle and lived respected lives. When the rich dude asked if Solon knew of anybody alive more exulted, Solon pointed out that the rich dude's life wasn't over yet, so he couldn't really say whether his life was that great yet.

This anecdote has so many applications, for example Steve Keen whose forecasts of doom and gloom for Australia's debt fueled property bubble have failed to materialise calls it 'calling the game at half time'. Keen like most economic prophets can accurately forecast the devestation, but when dealing with something as irrational as a property market, calling the 'when' is a lot more difficult.

Anyway Evolution. This is all to do with evolution, because success is a temporary and transitional state. One does not attain it permanently, or necessarily at all. One occupies it until they are evicted.

Now NNT claims that sooner or later everyone proclaims themselves an expert in evolution. I found this to be a personal challenge, as I've read 'The Selfish Gene' n shit and feel I am no lay member of the evolutionary theory crowd. But since I've devoted so many words to being an atheist on this blog, I thought I should write about evolution.

Firstly, you have to be a monkey fucking moron to not accept evolution. Namely the theory of natural selection. It is very simple, if you have two species occupying one planet. One experiences intense pain and anxiety when they commit a reproductive act, the other species experiences orgasmic pleasure, you would expect that in a very short number of generations the pain species population would be dwarfed by the pleasure species population, simply because they posess genes that encourage them to reproduce.

So evolution is really at its base simple, it says, simply, that traits that tend to aid survival, tend to survive. Ones that disadvantage survival, tend not to. Thus over multiple iterations (generations) like millions of years traits that help creatures survive eradicate the traits that disadvantage them.

Now Intelligent Design has absolutely no evidence for it whatsoever. The most common argument is one from probability - which is always going to be a dumb argument, they say that the odds of producing a species of parasite that live only in the kidneys of deep sea squid (highly specialised existence) are so low, it is the equivalent of flipping a coin a billion times and having it come up heads everytime.

Now if you buy this argument, then you don't understand natural selection. So given an environment (a deep sea squids kidney) and a bunch of genetic traits, you will have traits that allow you to survive in that environment and traits that disadvantage you in that environment. If we call the beneficial traits a 'heads' and the disadvantages 'tails' then here is how natural selection works. You flip a coin. If it comes up heads you flip it again, if it comes up tails you scratch it, then flip it again. Natural selection simply means that all the tails get removed from the results, not that they didn't occur. Only the heads keep going to play again.

The best thing about this process is that its blind, thus it needs no further explanation.

Now here is where I feel the need to defend myself against NNT's assertion that most 'proclaimed' experts on evolution get wrong. Not that we can see forward and predict what genetic traits will aid our survival, but that in some way everything is getting 'better' at surviving. That is we are evolving into super beings that will be harder and harder to wipe out.

I had this view corrected years ago when watching a guy talk about the future of retail. He called Department stores 'Dinosaurs' and put particular emphasis on the definition of a dinosaur, being a dumb animal that is very well adapted to its environment. The important part is that most life forms are very well adapted to survive in the present environment. What this guy taught me is that environments a re subject to change.

The process is blind, because genes can't tell what their environment will be. Just like Brain Wall they stand and wait to see whether they will pass through the hole in a styrofoam wall. But the thing is that what 'position' it takes to survive in a given environment is unknown and can be entirely arbitrary.

It could even be incredibly stupid. Imagine a parent gives birth to a kid that has flippers for arms and legs instead of arms and legs. This would probably be seen as a disadvantage in our current environment. But say within 10 years the polar icecaps melt and most of the world becomes flooded. Suddenly seal boy has a distinct advantage in surviving given his mobility in the expanded oceans (the predominant source of food). Enough humans survive, but seal-boy survives easily. Women who reproduce by him have a higher chance that their children will have this loser-turned-winner genetic 'defect', those children of his that have flipper like limbs will tend to survive better (picked off by less preditors) than those that inherit their mother's limbs. Within a couple of hundred generations one could expect that flipper limbs become a dominant trait in the human race.

Then low and behold the environment changes again, and the polar icecaps refreeze, creating vast fertile lands where once there were oceans. Suddenly those 'freaks' particularly adapted to land living (previously a handicap) are in a better position to survive. Seal-boys decendants die out, the monkeys thrive again.

These walls rush at particular species and wipe out millions of years of evolution constantly. Chomsky introduces his book 'Hegemony or Survival' with the question 'is it better for survival to be smart or stupid' this question is valid because the average lifespan for a species is something like 500,000 years. Homo-sapiens have the capability to wipe themselves out in less than a tenth of that time. A bacteria would go on prospering for millions of years. As Chomsky says, our best hope is that that question will never be answered.

All this reiterates that evolution as simple, and elegant and majestic as it is really quite stupid. There is no design. To think that our intelligence, our ability to learn, communicate share and adapt to changing environments (and change our environment) could actually be an evolutionary liability vs. the cockroach that is just plain fucking resiliant.

Now the 'Brain Wall' or as it was called in Australia 'Hole in the Wall' isn't quite the best analogy. What would represent evolution better is if you have a bunch of contestants faced with one hole. Only one is getting through as that wall comes on and the decision of who survives is quite arbitrary. The thing that would be hard to replicate on a tv show is that on the other side of the wall now that there is no competition the remaining contestant can reproduce up some children for the next wave.

That is evolution, we tend to resemble survivors. But everything that is alive today is descended from something that survived the past, nothing yet has survived the future.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Janice came back from China last week, and our household imploded within three days.

One's relationship with parents is always going to be part luck, part design. By design I mean there's going to be a foundation for getting along because you are almost certain to adopt many of your parents values. And by luck I mean the age old cliche that gets poo-poo-ed far too quickly and dismissed that you can't pick your parents, you can't even decide to be born.

But peeps come in three varieties - Nourishing, Toxic and Blah. Nourishing people you should actively seek to spend time with wherever and whenever you can, Toxic people you should actively not spend time with, and Blah just be friendly to.

This goes for everyone, and I really have to emphasise it includes parents.

I chose to do something awful in the past couple of days and that was to tell Janice that she was 'border-line Toxic' this was an awful thing to do, but I did it because something had to give. Body-language can't lie and my siblings and I had been avoiding Janice like the plague. Everyone knew something was amiss and it was better to just break that negative silence than let it fester.

I said border-line and I meant it. Janice is a chronic worrier and always has been, and I know the 'Toxic' behaviour actually comes from a place of love and concern. Specific to me, she routinely gives me 'reality' talks. That is, for those that know me I'm currently restructuring and exploring my life. I want to take more risks and I feel fortunate to have been put in circumstances in the past that have allowed me to realise that what I want in life I can't buy with money. I have to work for it and work really fucken hard.

My mother gets anxious about the cost of undertaking this work, namely that I'll meet some partner and want a house and to send my kids to the best schools & shit. It's entirely plausible, the thing is I decided when I set out that these are the things I'm willing to put at risk to pursue what I want and that I will have to forgive myself and not be bitter at losing out.

Now, what I need is support and encouragement from peeps I know and 90% of the time I get it. But from my mother I get doubt and anxiety, I get long conversations that force me to apologise for my existence, push back and revisit all my doubts and anxieties. Over the years though it has become pure pushback, I told Janice that I just switch off the moment she mentions 'reality' and go into a mild depression.

It's bad, it's very bad because Janice percieves me as a wholy different person than most people. She sees me as an aggressive intimidating bully which for a large portion of my life I was, but now I suspect most peeps see me as a lovable douchebag.

What I articulated to Janice was that 'your choice is whether you are coming with me or staying behind.' which is an unfinished thought but I was thinking on the fly, the finish to it is 'you don't get to decide where I'm going.'

What makes it awful is that Janice is just another mum. Miki would have been quick to lecture me 'you don't understand about her feelings' but I do. I know everyparent is fallible to creating hopes and expectations for their child and then is going to experience undue anxiety when their child deviates from their imagined path.

Probably no parent on earth wants their child to consciously take a gamble on winding up a bum on the street in order to pursue some ideal and perhaps delusional career. But any individual can concievably make that choice and be at peace with it.

So I understand. I know some TRULY toxic parents, that don't even do the basics, like lavish love and support on a child in trouble, and my parents are not these parents. This is why I say I'm fortunate, I don't have to actually remove my parents from my life. We are quite capable of being friends, Ijust have to do awful things like tell them I no longer enjoy spending time with them.

And I'm sure now we will move through it and over time, hopefully the behaviours can change, I can stop defensively lecturing Janice, she can stop second guessing my life.

In another way I'm unfortunate. Choosing a career path is a choice, unlike sexuality and if I was gay I'm sure I'd never recieve talks about 'reality' from Janice and constant questioning of whether this was just a phase I was going through. My parents are that enlightened at least.

Now I need to speak about parents in general. I hold the view that some call childish but I shudder to contemplate what is implied in the alternative, that children owe their parents nothing and their parents owe their children their lives. Parents are responsible and accountable to their children and not the other way around. Whence children become adults then they can relate to their parents as they would to any other adult.

I think most peeps envision that I'm saying kids can act like a selfish fucking prick and parents just have to suck it up. Not at all. Parents have a responsibility to make sure their kids are taught to empathise, respect and have compassion and all the shit that having possession of makes life much easier. Much in the same way 'Anarchy' doesn't mean that peeps will instantly start killing whoever they want and raping the corpses.

This regards the important things, who someone loves, what somebody believes, what somebody does, who somebody is are all personal decisions and Parents recieve no special priveledges or indeed any say at all. Their choice is the same as Janice's they can decide to go along for the ride or they can stay home, they don't get to pick the destination of your lives.

Things like your hometown, where you go to school, if you are schooled etc. or more broadly speaking what Bill Gates called the 'ovarian lottery' (you have a 80% chance of being born into abject poverty and not surviving your first 12 months of life) such things are not really choices made by parent or child, a great deal of opportunity is pre determined. If you can survive infancy though, I think even the poorest of us have a great deal of choices left, and these choices should always be made by those who have to live it.

Everyone is a child of somebody and every child has the right to tell their parents to 'just fuck off'. For some people cutting their folks out of their lives completely is the right choice. For me an awful and uncomfortable conversation was hopefully the right call. I believe that my mothers intentions have always been beyond reproach and it is merely the articulation that is toxic, and that is relatively easy to change so long as you are made aware.

The sad irony is that Janice is one of those good mothers, and furthermore as she mentioned to me a lot of her anxiety comes from the fact she grew up in poverty both materially and emotionally. Everything I said of Janice she by rights could say 100 x over for her own parents, whom like I to her she still loves. I know she loves me, and doesn't want to become her own mother, which is why for me telling her I didn't appreciate her interrogating my life choices was the awful but easiest option.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Concept vs. Execution

Peeps can be categorized in 4 ways, predictably predictable, unpredictably predictable, predictably unpredictable and unpredictably unpredictable.

My fondness increases as we progress from the formermost to the lattermost category. The vast majority of my dearly beloved friends are in the predictably unpredictable class. These peeps are usually called 'intelligent' and 'funny' and stuff like that. They speak my language. It is hard to say where I fall on the spectrum given that I find EVERYTHING I do predictable, because to me everything I do makes absolute sense and is clearcut to me.

However while having lunch with a friend yesterday I hadn't seen in a long time, I had been complaining about peeps who are 'hard to read' when I was informed I was apparantly 'hard to read' myself.

Anyway, I digress. Truly unpredictably unpredictable people are so rare I have in fact only met 4 in my lifetime. They make me laugh so much my face hurts. I feel stupid around them. Yet they are to be treasured for that fact.

The latest of the 4 I only met recently, they were perhaps the first person I have met that when I tried to remember what they had said that was so funny, I just started laughing without ever getting around to remembering what they said.

Okay so the point of all I have said thus far is to simply establish how funny this person is. I invited them to collaborate on my webcomic, and here in lies the lesson for all.

The lesson for me is a reinforcement of the learning cycle - I had become unconsciously competent in this and hadn't realised it until going through this collaboration experience.

The Concept is easy, it is fun and exciting and energising and grandiose. The execution is hard, it is gruelling, tedious, painstaking and draining. Over the past two years, I had unconsciously come to accept this fact of life.

See the thing about being hilarious is when you are standing in a bar talking or where ever, you just have to mention the concept that is funny, and your mind fills in the rest. But when you are making a comic, cartoon, screenplay and all of that, you have to fill it in yourself. All the details, not just the hilarious dildo gag, but what direction they walk up the street to the dildo store.

You can't skip it over, and well you can't put less effort into the setting...

let me put it this way, If I am good at drawing a character in the foreground, the picture will still look shit if you don't put as much (and in most cases, more) effort into the background.

Most of the time I leave backgrounds out.

It can be unsettling, for indeed unpredictably unpredictable people are fairly spontaneous, fairly non-sequiter, and being forced to second guess things that will be said with some kind of permenance is a big departure.

I don't really have any way of dealing with it, I have just adopted the motto 'good is the enemy of done'

Uniquely though this applies to comedy, comedy is impossible to judge yourself in much the same way as I can't tell if I'm predictable or not. I just completed a commission seconds ago where my patron was sure I 'would come up with something hilarious' having completed it and sent it off, I have no idea whether it is hilarious or not, nor did I even try, which sounds bad but really I just have to do what makes sense to me. I never laugh at my own hilarity with the exception of when I find something I had totally forgotten I had written.

Anyway, I think once you have 'executed' once, it gets easier from then on. It's just the grind and you know how to grind. But still this most recent collaboration has reinforced a lot of stuff, and it's been one of the most productive ever.

I shall have to devise some new vehicle that we may collaborate more.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Much Bad Advice is Offered Freely

As a potential future financial planner, I'm sure I will spend the rest of my life suddenly shutting my eyes at social gatherings and gritting my teeth while trying not to break the glass in my hand whenever somebody offers some particularly terrible and naive advice about investing.

The thing I've come to learn about advice though, is that people almost never ask for it, and as such you should almost never offer it.

One! I'm a firm believer that nobody has the answers to our deeper, inner questions but ourselves. Another person is no more the answer than a puppy is. They can be a comfort, a distraction but not an answer. You gotta figure it out for yourself, you can't be told the answer. Thus with matters of the head and heart, when peeps ask you for advice, you really should be giving them questions. Your answers aren't their answers, even if the decisions to be made are identical. Your experience doesn't fit.
My psychologist asked me startelingly simple questions and eventually I arrived at answers I needed to figure out myself.

Two! My brief experiences in consulting, and pretty much every experience anybody ever has in marketing is that when people come asking for advice often they are asking for permission. I'm a firm believer in taking responsibility, so I try to refrain from giving people permission. I sow doubt, which I'm not sure is helpful for anyone, see point one. But what I mean is that peeps ask for your advice in the same way they may ask 'how was your day?' as a courtesy and what they want is not your honest opinion, insight or even clarifying questions, but for you to agree with them so they feel better. Or to be taken to some meeting and back them as a genius. If you don't, and are honest about it, you can be taken as discourtious. The trick is to learn when it is concerning a matter of import or not. If it is important, you should risk being seen as uncouth, if it isn't just be courteous.

Three! Dan Gilberts work shows that whatever decisions we make aren't really that important in terms of our percieved long term happiness. We will simply backfit our lifestory to pretend things worked out for the best. This is an evolutionary marvel. It allows us to dread things that may threaten our survival, such as becoming paralised, but if we do it ALSO allows us to avoid things that would threaten our survival by not accepting our new circumstances and becoming suicidal. Once your back is broken, it is no use to go on dreading the lifestyle, it is much more useful to accept it and start dreaming within its confines.
This doesn't as a prospective financial planner let me off the hook legally - you can't say 'it doesn't matter that I invested your mothers retirement fund into a Ponzi scheme, now she has lost all her money she'll start appreciating the opportunities that destitution affords her!' no. But legality aside, this is why we should be cautious and conscious when offering advice, just because somebody can survive a situation doesn't mean you can get away with putting them in it. The thing is that you can give somebody objectively bad advice (something that makes their life more challenging) and they may thank you for it. It's not that it doesn't matter, its that its their choice not yours.

I endeavor to offer Advice in the form of a question. But lastly, it is very flattering to get asked your opinion by anyone, ever. The temptation is always to give it. Asking questions is the cornerstone of listening, and its hard. That is why there are professionals who give advice on shit. Peeps should use them.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Phase #3

I'm entering a new Phase of my life. I've held for a while that at 16 people are probably as mature as they are ever going to be, and I've since heard research that in terms of how people deal with their emotions and other people is set much earlier.

I have met 40 year olds with less 'maturity' than some 16 year olds I know. I don't think one 'matures' as you get older you just make more mistakes.

Phase #1 of my life then went from 16-23, in terms of raw working material my IQ, EQ, SQ, height, genetic predispositions, personality, behavioural preferences haven't changed.

This phase though was characterised by a defensive insecurity, putting people done, pushing others away and retreating into myself. I bridged the gap with girlfriends whom I depended on for esteem.

Phase one ended 5 years ago, Phase #2 began with councilling.

Phase #2 was the revelation that I had no actual self-esteem. It was like being woken from a life I'd sleepwalked through, I was 'successfully failing' that is doing everything I was supposed to do so peeps would leave me alone. Because I was in a grieving process I was not supposed to make in bold sweeping changes. And phase 2 has been a gradual building of self esteem over 5 years.

Phase 2 has been good, I became a more supportive person, I started with tutoring Zaman and volunteering at RMIT REW running social basketball. I made a bunch of friends and suff and I spend a good deal of time being single. The majority in fact. I worked through my issues and tried to become independant. Putting more trust in peeps.

If in phase one I thought things like 'I'm an introvert, so people should get used to it.' in phase two I thought 'I'm an introvert, I have to make an effort when socialising.' that is I started adjusting my behaviours. I have heaps upon heaps of bad habits still, but this was what characterised phase 2 - adapting and adjusting my behaviour. Thus at core nothing changed, I was still me, I didn't get any stronger, wiser or purple coloured. I just started giving more of myself to others and what not.

As recently as two months ago I articulated my fundamental motivation, that is if one were to 'figure tohm out' the answer was simple 'I don't give a shit about me, I only care about other people.' It occured to me in the past fortnight, that something was wrong with this. I saw a councillor that wasn't great but was also free. After a long 'chat' which was basically me trying to catch up to what had happened with my personal development from phase one through phase two she gave me one string of feedback.

One blinding flash of the obvious.

She said 'You are very critical of yourself' right now I am really upset I backed away from a flaming car that had nobody in it. Because I didn't know there was nobody in it, and I didn't reach in and burn myself to check.

Also there were like more than 6 people standing around taking pictures of it with their phones. Why didn't anybody help me? Even when I fell over my own bicycle. Why didn't anybody else call triple 0?

Phase 3 is this. Phase 1 tohm supported nobody not even himself. Phase 2 tohm supported everybody but not himself. Phase 3 tohm has to learn to support everybody and myself.

I don't believe in myself and I have to start. I think Miki and I worked out because we mirrored eachother. Motivated by others before ourselves. That worked out while the 'others' were her and me. I cared about her, she cared about me, neither cared about ourselves. Then her family needed her and she left, and I let her leave because I accepted that I wasn't important.

It worked out how it worked out, I just raise it as an example of my refusal to stand up for myself. I don't need to be selfish or narcissistic, I just need to not let people walk over me, exploit me etc. At some point I'm going to have to ask for money for my work.

Phase 3 has begun, and I have the seeds to progress. I don't believe in many of my abilities. But I do believe in my ability to learn.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Too Much Perspective

For some reason Hoddle St became Nicholson street in my head and I went to far. I'd forgotten that exhibition st turns into Nicholson once you cross victoria parade. So riding along Hoddle as soon as I remembered this I turned down the first lane that presented itself.

There I was riding along.

An SUV parked in front of a business on my left had smoke come out its window. Like it was just a glance but it was like a white smoke signal emerging from this car it was too big to be cigarette smoke and too small to be a sheep.

I thought 'I better check this out' or I 'have to check this out.' Now I have to stress here, up until I fell over my own bike, I really didn't think at all. I WASN'T THINKING, a bunch of decisions were just being made so when I try to rationalize what I did it may sound dumber or smarter than it actually was.

Firstly in hindsight when I pulled up and got off my bike I felt reluctant, it was like doing something I really didn't want to do. Like kissing a bearded aunt hello but times 10.

The smoke was white and it didn't occur to me there was a fire. I could see white smoke billowing at the windows, but that was it. Perhaps its the movies I've seen biasing my judgement, but what I 'thought' was happening (not thinking) was that somebody was committing suicide. I walked round the back of the car and all the windows where opaque with white smoke. I smelled the air and it smelled kind of funny, but not like fire funny and I don't know what monoxide smells like.

Then I recall I had my phone in one hand dialling 000 and my other hand outstreched palm to the passanger side and it wasn't hot. I remember that. The metal wasn't hot.

Then I saw the passenger door was actually ajar, like open just resting there. I touched the handle thinking it would be hot, it wasn't so I opened the door and I don't really remember what happened next. The plan was to ask if anybody was in the car. But the white smoke turned black and the car was just full of black fucking smoke, and it was black and I couldn't see an inch into the vehicle and then I saw orange and then I was on the phone to 000 behind the car.

Now I'm pleased that I stopped, and I'm pleased that I went to check if anyone was inside the car. But here is what bothers me, without thinking my mind was like 'I can't deal with this.' and I backed up and, what was funny afterwards, like maybe 20 minutes afterwards THEN I got upset about the prospect of having to HAUL a dead man out of the car. And it wasn't like I ever thought 'child could be in there' or 'that could be my sister in there' or anything like that. I just envisioned this heavy middle aged balding guy in a navy dress shirt laying back committing suicide. And that upset me even after I knew, that wasn't the case and worse than that having to help somebody who is on fire. I'm grossed out by burns and burning flesh and people on fire. So maybe it was an unpleasant but have to do it x 1000.

But the moment I saw orange flames I didn't leap in to see if anybody was actually in there or what. I just gave up and backed off. I wasn't thinking, I don't feel like I got a chance to decide. I just did things and I'm not sure if that would have been a fail.

Anyway I left the door open and connected to 000, told them fire. Then I'd assumed they'd know where I was, so I was asking this other cyclist that had stopped across the road what street we were on and he gave me some names and the 000 peeps were like which state? And then I was like 'Victoria, Collingwood' and then they connected me to the firebrigade.

I hadn't started thinking yet, I wasn't panicked or anything I felt like I sounded calm but it occured to me that standing next to a car that is on fire is a dumb idea so I started backing away as I talked to the fire brigade peeps and tripped over my own bike and dropped the phone and that ended my first call to 000 ever.

My second call to 000 took place across the street and I had started to think. Some locals had come out one with a bucket of water and I got different street names off them. Got through to the firebrigade and gave them the details, they asked me if the car posed a threat to any buildings whether it was LPG or petrol, diesal etc. I asked them if they wanted the licence plate and they were like NO WHAT FUEL? and that was the first time we actually established that it wasn't my car. Anyway ... they told me the fire trucks are on the way.

Now these are the things going through my mind still:

1. Should I have called 000 first because opening the car door in hindsight gave oxygen to the fire. The answer: Hindsight is useless I did what I did. Plus until I saw the orange flames I really didn't think it was on fire, I REALLY thought it was full of exhaust fumes. Like it seems to me that if you call 000 they could have said things like 'don't open the car door' and shit that plainly didn't occur to me. But it sounds stupid but I didn't know I was dealing with a fire until I opened the door. I thought all the exhaust fumes would spill out and I'd have to resuccitate a fat old dude.

2. If there had been people trapped inside would I have let them die? This question occurs to me, and I have no answer for it.

So I was standing across the street with two women that lived in a terrace across the road and one of them with the bucket actually wandered up and threw some water on which just made the windows shatter. So I wasn't the only person naive when it comes to fire and shit. But It was one of those things as the car roof burnt off and the engine caught fire where I couldn't look and couldn't look away because I didn't want to know but I had to know whether there were people inside.

Something blew up and burned off in a massive jet of fire about 6 meters into the sky and you tell yourself that if there were people inside with that much smoke they would have been dead already. At least mercifully unconscious.

The fire trucks came and parked and looked really casual and their truck blocked our view and by now all the local residents were clustered around watching. I gave my statement to the officer and admitted I was stupid in hindsight opening the door and giving the fire all that oxygen and apologised. He was really nice and said it was a good idea to check if anybody was inside.

And that's as far as I'll say describing the incident.

I do just want to say though. You have to stop. Somebody always stops and somebody always checks and it was disturbing to just be on autopilot. I now know anybody in a situation with fire, explosions whatever just doesn't have the luxury of thinking. White smoke black smoke? I don't know shit about smoke anyway, I call it white smoke, but I thought it was exhaust, not smoke. In hindsight, if the engine wasn't running it wasn't going to be exhaust. But I can't remember hearing anything as in I wasn't listening I was just doing stuff.

But there were heaps of people some who arrived seconds after I did, and others after I'd called the fire brigade who just took photos on their phones and others who fetched pro-arse cameras. But the point is somebody stops, and it didn't have to be me it could have been anyone and takes control, in as far as they moronically can of the situation and calls for help. If nobody did, the human race would have died out a long long time ago.

I think I'm proud of myself, but I'm not sure if I am who I want to be just yet. Hopefully I'll never get tested again.