Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Certain Style

I will admit it does take a certain amount of energy and restraint to keep in a positive frame of mind, and this investment on the whole pays great dividends. But in a departure from that I'm just going to use this space to rant and gripe for a while, here in the safety of the 'blogosphere' where 'never before has so much been said, by so many and read by so few'.

My sister is into fashion, I think apart from IT types resigned to the safety of jeans and white sneakers, everybody is but admits it to lesser or greater degrees.

For years I have felt the victim of a kind of societal 'informed ability' regarding high fashion and the vaguelly defined 'style'.

The ones that were hard to ignore unless you live under a rock are hopefully obvious - like SJP from sex and the city being regarded as 'sexy' and often making it into best dressed lists. More recently there is the phenomena of Ann Hathaway, being thrown in my face constantly as somebody who is meant to be sexually appealing, but to me seems badly out of place. This is not to discredit her as an actress, just as a sex symbol. Casting her as Catwoman is to me, somebody emotionally invested in Batman and thus holding Selina Kyle up as a lofty ideal of sexiness, is frankly a slap in the face.

The same goes for my inability to pick which aspiring 'models' will do well/win shows like America's Next Top Model, Britain's Next Top Model etc. I sit there and say 'well that girls the most attractive by far, she's a shoe in.' then a bunch of judges I can't understand at all will tell somebody who is otherwordly beautiful that they are dissappointed, and that they just don't have it. Only to then have a girl who is anemic and translucent and with the posture and grace of sesame street's Big Bird how much they love their picture and they cruise through.

And through the everyday exposure to style and fashion that one cannot avoid in this society, I just was afraid to admit that for a long time, long beyond reckoning, I just haven't understood women's fashion at all.

Then this week I stumbled via my sisters open webbrowsing session the Man Repeller and to me, a man, a straight man, her style is by-and-large repulsive. Light travels faster than sound, and she wears the kind of outfits that could kill a conversation between us just by observing each other across a room.

But refreshingly, liberatingly she admits this limitation of 'style', she owns it. The clothes she loves to adorn herself in, buy, design, research and read about have little to no appeal, nay are actually offensive to myself, to mankind.

I feel calmer and more relaxed, having had somebody finally acknowledge this. I don't hold a double standard as such, there are thing I and other men wear that are chosen purely to impress other men. I think this is good and healthy, what I always resented was having women in repulsive outfits (to me) pointed out to me and told 'isn't she gorgeous' expecting me to acquiesce.

What is troubling is that this admission isn't more embraced and more widespread. The 'informed attractiveness' of so many style icons doesn't do favors to people who are trying to attract and believe purchasing those items is the way to go. I know of few men, if any that truly care or appreciate how 'well' a girl dresses. It is if mentioned at all, a bi-product of their attraction, not even the icing on the cake, more like the dusting of cinnamon. A 'oh yeah and she knows how to dress' after all the other desirable qualities sought for by straight men - physical attraction, confidence, intelligence, kindness, humor etc.

The problem being that there are no hard and fast rules, no objectively clear path, no verticle heirarchy to attractiveness... YET there is a pervasive desire innate in most (if not all people) to be accepted and validated by membership to something large. A primal 'safety in numbers' attitude many rely on. They try to express themselves by signalling most loudly through their clothing membership to a particular group. (This phenomena is beautifully documented on Exactitudes)

High fashion, following the 'trends' out of Paris, Milan, London and New York, reading Vogue and following the Sartorialist is simply a form of expertise in a language of clothes thats utility is self contained. That is, not everyone speaks or appreciates the language.

The most obvious reason being that not everybody (and most of anybody) puts 'sophistication' and 'stylishness' high on their list of desirable qualities when looking for a partner. Fashion is a world that feeds and sustains itself. It is a complex artform, and fashion designers are some of the rare artists that will make most of their money while still alive. But it isn't attractive and can quite often be repulsive.

Few would equate a keen interest in World of Warcraft and Fashion, but I guess this is the point I am trying to make. Imagine talking to somebody at a party and you ask them what they are passionate about and they begin a long monologue about World of Warcraft, the limitations and advances it has made as the game evolved, the various expansion packs and the qualities of each and what exciting new developments Blizzard promise to keep the game fresh and new and worth the subscription.

If you have no interest in World of Warcraft, they have conveyed a sense to you that they spend a lot of time and energy on something you don't appreciate and don't understand, and furthermore think its important. Fashion is exactly the same, except with the downside of while Computer Game enthusiasts are unlikely to A) be at a party and B) speculate and evaluate other people's gaming ability, fashion enthusiasts will hold everyone who wears clothes to their standard.

If you love fashion, this is something to keep in mind.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


First Angle:

In late february Janice and I had lunch and an argument. It was the second such confrontation in as many months. Janice had had a habit of second guessing, and critiquing my decisions in life ever since I had gained the necessary consciousness to start making them. Basically every time I made a decisions about where to live, what to do with my life, how to spend my savings etc. she would approach me with 'have you thought about this?' and 'what if you want to have children someday what about then?'

This post though isn't about Janice, she just made an assumption that lead to behaviour that is unsupportive. The rational Janice, and many people, including myself share goes like this: "Isn't there value in me finding possible holes and weaknesses in your plan, so you can then make more informed and therefore better decisions?" this is known as the 'Black Hat' in Edward De Bono's '6 Thinking hats.' or more commonly as the 'Devil's Advocate'. There are situations where one has a position forced upon them where it is better to have somebody try their hardest to shut you down to be better prepared for future possible resistance.

We can also assume that many people who pursue their passions are driven by a constant desire to get better, to better themselves and thus welcome criticial feedback. Thus I myself played devil's advocate for years as my preferred form of 'giving support'.

The limitation of all these assumptions is wrapped up in the support-givers ego. We flatter ourselves by thinking we are that rare honest and intellectual friend whose criticism can be delivered as a breath of fresh air amongst a sea of sycophancy.

The truth is, Devil's advocates are common as dirt. For one thing, most people with rare exceptions, extremely rare exceptions are there own worst and most ruthless devil's advocate. Openly supportive and encouraging people are so rare they are to be cherished.

Much of my life's greatest achievements are the fact that I have surrounded myself with these rare gems of these people.

We must trust that people re better qualified to criticise themselves and more willing than we will ever be. In playing devil's advocate we are supporting the the side of them that holds them back and hesitates. As mentioned before when somebody takes a position in life that isn't voluntary or is unfortunately necessary, trying to shoot down that position in a safe environment is of value. But more often people are taking some kind of personal risk, when people are taking a risk, that risk will weigh enough on their minds already, success and happiness requires risk taking and here we should be encouraging, using our intelligence and honesty to point out how the downside risk is not as big and ugly as it appears.

Second Angle:

If somebody supports our free expression and noble pursuits they are a supporter. If they support our self destructive behaviours they are an enabler.

These two terms have been designated negative and positive meanings arbitrarily they re one and the same thing. Lorenzo Di Medici was as much an enabler of Leonardo Da Vinci as Nancy was a supporter of Sid Vicious.

The limitation of supportive people, is that often they are unconditionally supportive. I mean most partners will get angry if you undertake something obviously self destructive like using heroin, but I mean they support you taking a job, then support you quitting it. They support you, no matter how inconsistent your approach to life is.

The genuinely supportive people are somewhat astringent, they have an opinion about what is best for you, because they (if not you) have observed enough of your behaviour to know what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. Their support is conditional that you exert energy on the useful stuff.

They create a secure base from which they encourage you to go out and take risks. The most common form of support though can be the kind that has you slowly decay into misery.

This is the support that encourages you to stay in your comfort zone, to do whats easy. It is the support that says 'it's okay you can work this job a couple of years and just save money' and 'So you gained a lot of weight, I still love you!' here instead of acknowledging that the individuals wellbeing is best served by finding a chalenging career and maintaining some kind of fitness regime, they are encouraged not to think or worry about their own mortality, and that we only get one shot at achieving true happiness in this life.

Third Angle:

When I am supportive I am self-serving, in part. I think life encourages largely through our education system and economic models a view that success is a competitive venture, that one person's success is by default another's failure. Only so many people get into Medicine and Law courses, the lesser's must content themselves with Dentistry and Actuarial studies. Only one person 'wins' Australian Idol, only one team can hold the premiership cup aloft, the other sits on the oval crying with their head in their hands.

By and large I reject this view. I have a karmic approach to success (though I also know I need to succeed based on my merits, the intrinsic merits of my work that is.) I try to support anybody who is producing something, that makes something, that is creating something of themselves that they offer to the world. I try to accept these gifts whereever able.

I was not always this way, I seldom exerted the effort to go and see what the bravest and best of us were producing. I don't know when or why but one day I just started holding myself personally accountable. I needed to feed my own optimism.

Have you ever been to somebody's party where there was a poor turnout and they fretted more about who wasn't there than who was? That has been me, eventually I realised that I myself generally never bothered to attend parties, and thus had no real right to expect people to attend mine.

In the same way, to believe that I can succeed as an artist, in drawing comics I need to believe that my audience can and does exist, that there are people who will make the effort to come and see our performances, and buy our wares. Once I became such a person, it was much much easier for me to believe that people like me do exist.

I genuinely want people to succeed, sometimes supporting people is easier than other times, but even if I can't relate to the subject matter, that particular expression of that particular artist, I still want them to succeed, I try to think of friends who would enjoy their stuff or help them better than I can.

I don't even give my suport with reciprocal expecttions, I assume this will happen, but the people I support are not necessarily the people who will in turn support me and become my audience.

I just strongly hold the conviction that we have no right to expect support if we provide none of it ourselves. We cannot hope to succeed if we don't help others succeed also.

There is room enough for all of us to be better more productive and creative people in our lives, thus we shouldn't look at the people that can potentially enrich it as competitive threats, but that there success is in some way ours.

Thus win being supportve we should encourage and enable people to be the best of themselves, not the least.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Hammer is Amazing

I remember watching edumacational videos in physics (or perhaps in the earlier years of 'Science') that claimed that there where really only two 'tools' in all of human history - the lever, and the wheel. Then everything else mechanical is just a variation/combination of the two, pulleys, corkscrews etc.

One thing about drawing is that it puts me in touch with tools and materials that have changed relatively little since Da Vinci and Michelangelo were studying in florence. Shit like pencils, rulers, charcoal, erasers. Sure erasers have evolved from gum, paper from vellum, the mechanical pencil instead of a stick of charcoal. But there is still a myriad of technicue you can wring out of a small array of tools, mostly being pointy things that can create a mark or impression.

I love them, I love experimenting and toying with them. I love figuring shit out and I feel like I only understand the tip of the iceberg that is everything you can do with a pencil.

Then you have Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft. Tech companies, that need to innovate constantly and try and compete with each other.

Evidently, having a blog, I also have a gmail account, a gmail account I never use, apart from logging into blogger and google reader, and occassionally providing to websites that require an email address that I never wish to hear from again. The reason I never use google, is because my hotmail account does the job I require of it, it sends and receives emails. In the past 15 years, the only innovation I have appreciated as regards hotmail, is that they added a search function to the email. Otherwise every other innovation has proved annoying.

Before my hotmail I used, my address was I wouldn't have changed that to hotmail except for the fact that start went broke.

Now I recieve invitations from people to join google plus. Tellingly, these invitations come from people who have (or have in the past) deleted their facebook accounts, most (both) being people who deleted their account rather than from a mounting paranoia that they had shared too much, simply shared too little to make it worth having a facebook account. And now they want me to join them on google plus. They advocate 'features' of google plus too to try and coax me over, like the increased security and privacy or some shit, shit they never really needed to worry about with facebook.

Why are we such suckers for technological innovation? Why is it so fucking persistant for companies and people to think that meaningless features sell, rather than benefits?

My only complaint about facebook, similar to hotmail is that the owners feel a constant need to innovate and 'improve' it, making changes to the interface and shit. There are major ones that were good, in the past, namely making the newsfeed home and your own wall secondary. But now it works, and it works fine. You don't need more innovation, you need it to be like a hammer - a tool for the job. The job of facebook is to create a platform you can bleat or broadcast to anyone who cares enough to pay attention, and also for organising and publicising social events and shit. That's it.

Much muchly, apparantly most people use less than 1% of microsoft words features. When I think about it, I would use 'New' 'Save' 'Save As' the word count tool 'Copy' 'Paste' and 'Undo' as well as the font and font size selections 9000 times more often than the rest of the features combined. That is saying, if you released a version of word that just had the commonly used functionality - it would have around 10 buttons. 20 at the most. But it would look inflexible and crappy, like note pad. It would be hard to justify the added expense, it would look like it had been developed as a garage project by somebody who plays WoW, not the best and brightest.

So vis a vis, Google, Microsoft, Facebook et al. I don't need one company running fucking everything for me, I don't need some omni tool I can pay off in 12 easy installations of $24.95, I just need a hammer so I can beat your fucking heads in.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Vague Post about the Vagaries of Success

Travel is often advocated as a way to 'broaden oneself' a hypothesis testing that is the premises of 'An Idiot Abroad'. I think travelling is to some extent, not the experience it was pre-internet. Specifically pre-"globalisation", that is if you have money, to stay in hotels and shit, cuisine aside (and decreasingly so) countries are remarkably similar - as a consumer experience.

It all depends how deep you can dig (into a given culture, rather than your pockets). But one thing I discovered from travelling is that you get in situations, where you only exist, because you have money. I fucked up transfers between bank accounts, or got burgled on occassion and thus discovered that whilst being broke in say - Melbourne, where I have this social network (not facebook, but actual people who know who I am and wouldn't think twice about feeding and clothing me and possibly offering me shelter) is very different from being broke in Dusseldorf, a city where I know nothing and nobody. When you have money you can participate at a level that is superficial, you can buy the local cuisine. You can get somebody to repair your bike, you can find a roof to shelter under.

This experience of existing or not existing on the cash in my wallet gave me an insight into whether success is 'having a lot of money' I think superficially it solves a lot of problems. Money can for example secure you (as much as anything can be secured) permanent accomodation arrangements, but as the Sarah Silverman Show proved to us all, we are just one set of lost keys away from being homeless.

I went to school and I got a great ENTER score, that was .5 away from getting me into a doouble degree at Melbourne University and my first preference for accomodation on a crescent based college that year (2002 I think). For the amount of emphasis placed on the importance of my education, the awards I recieved and the post secondary colours I recieved to adorn my pocket, my education whilst sometimes stimulating is almost wholly irrelavent and inconsequential to my life as a pursuit of happiness.

One of the earliest 'Chiustream' videocasts by Bobby Chiu, he spoke about his early days as an artist when you struggled to publish your own art books to take to conventions which you loaded up in boxes with your friend into your second hand station wagon and drove across country and how even then, in the tough/make no money phase of your artistic career, that he would look back on those days and recall them as 'the good times'. I find myself sentimentally agreeing with Bobby Chiu, even though I am similarly projecting forward what I will look back on.

I just feel that 'fame' is a hollow and intrusive state, you are able to utilise it to solve certain problems, but it is more so than being rich, riddled with downsides. Like you can't just have friends. I imagine it is like the assymetry of running into an old friend that reads my blog, and facebook posts and yet publishes nothing themselves about their lives. We know eachother, but they know how I've spent the last 4 years, I don't even know which country they live in.

I imagine being famous is that x 10. I like just performing and creating for my peers, and I have these friends in a band that now tours and regularly plays festivals and even their local shows they 'headline' on a list that runs till 2am. Which is past my bedtime. Do they think nostalgicly of the days when they played the Tote, and knew everybody in the audience some how. Now I am anonymous amongst a bunch of people that I don't identify with watching them play, and they seldom emerge from backstage before or after the show to just say high.

Selfishly I preferred it when they did residencys, not headlining. They make money which solves other problems, but do they enjoy the gigs as much?

I don't know, people who do know are unable to define what success is (here's a hint, Economists don't know).

I will consider myself successful if I feel my existence is validated by people I respect and care about, and if my interactions with them are rich enough for me to go to bed and wake up each morning on the whole feeling positive. How to achieve that is a recipe that can be improvised by each of us. I'm pretty sure it doesn't require social media though.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Actual Reasons I Need A Girflfriend

Walk into a sleepy melbourne cafe, and Bryce will have asked me about my sex life before we are even seated. Many of my friends take the view I don't even need a girlfriend, I just need to get laid. Maybe they're right, what would I know, but for me getting laid is the least of my concerns. I don't think I'm single by choice, not my choice at least. I feel though I do 'need' a girlfriend again though for the following actual reasons.

#1: Lazy Sundays.

I woke up last Saturday at 7:47 AM and got up, then was hit with the sudden revelation that I haven't slept in for like 4 years. Not even the last time I was dumped, but the time before that when I was working full time and shit, my psychologist put me onto enriching my life and getting to like my own company.

As a result, I am busy, I am busy all the fucking time and I cannot stop. I have tried to relieve this busy-ness in the last week by playing computer games, but alas I still get up at 8:30 at the latest.

I feel my life is rich, enriching, I am a supportive person and well supported. What I need now is that person that makes me want to call up and cancel work on a Sunday, lie in till twelve and then go have breakfast at one of those 'breakfast all day' cafes. I don't think I can actually put the brakes on myself. I need somebody to slow it all down for me, I need to rest, after 4 years of sustaining myself, I feel I am getting low on fuel.

My relationships thus far have felt like being on a seaworthy vessel (the relationship) then it capsizes, sinks, or I am swept overboard (the dumping) then I tread water, swim sidestroke for ages (singledom) then you get hauled onto terra firma (a new relationship) only to discover it is not terra firma but yet another vessel on a vast ocean. Which is alright, and I'm aware, I'm aware that some people are my age and have had, no relationships. But fuck it, I'm tired, I'm tired of supporting myself. I'll keep doing it, but I'm tired.

#2 I need a hit.

Most recreational drugs exploit the neural systems reward centers for forming relationships. Dopamine, oxytocin, the good stuff. You can get some pleasure from anticipating a relationship, but I would like, very much the full cocktail of love drugs. Oxytocin, which builds attachment gets released in the 'cuddling afterwards' and it's highly relaxing, dopamine, I can get when a woman I'm attracted to looks at me, it's pretty good and I forget the rest but basically I'm looking for those hits as evolution intended them, and a steady supply.

#3 Testable hypothesis.

Since I don't know 2005? I have put a lot of effort into becoming a better person than I was. There is much in my nature that is still bad, takes a lot of effort just to mute, and certainly there is a long way for me to go. But I feel I am doing something right, I suspect I am much better boyfriend material now than I was say 2 years ago. I suspect my ex's like me more now as a person than they did when I was dating them.
Also, from the aforementioned #1, there is a wonderful thing about exclusive relationships of two, and pretty much any positive, supportive relationship - they create their own energy, as a carry over of both reasons #1 and #2 - When in a blossoming relationship I was able to stay up till like 4am bowing and performing tea ceremonys and shit, then get up at 5am cycle across town to my home, get changed for work at 9am and still have more energy than everyone else there, despite having more late night plans.
I don't just want to recieve that kind of energy and support, I want to give it too. I think honestly, that I am a much more supportive, tolerant, honest, kind, humourous and optimistic potential boyfriend than I was before.

You know if I don't draw all day, I will usually need to sit down at work, or schedule the next day to draw. I need to express myself in that medium. Writers block is never a problem. I have a need to actually express my love, caring and support, I can in numerous platonic avenues, but it's kind of like only having a greylead and a school desk to draw on. I would like to have that outlet in an actual relationship.

#4 Singular Identity.

I feel sadly, that I have been single so long that it is becoming part of my identity, I feel anxious at the prospect of actually not being single anymore. This is a trap, a hole I will struggle to crawl out of. I don't want to become somebody that pushes others away.

Further more, on like Monday or something I had a rare misanthropic tantrum, where being such a supportive person I felt almost as if I had become the pillar of my social network that everyone could safely ignore. Like the doctor who gets sick, or the leader requiring some leadership, or the you get it you get. That is to say, because I appear to have all this energy to support people in their various pursuits of happiness, doesn't mean I'm doing that having captured lasting happiness myself.

On reflection there was little evidence to support my spurned feeling. I had just garned up the perception that I was all alone, and exerted a bias on my surroundings.

But this is part of being single, I have these periods where I just want rescuing from myself, tired of having to rescue myself all the time - which eventually evolves into the revalation that nobody is going to rescue me but myself, then I end up rescuing myself.

#5 Too many variables.

In the same way that having brakes on a bike can make you faster (providing you have to turn corners etc.) having a relationship provides a secure base from which you can explore the world. Particularly since I have now spurned most other forms of 'security' and as per my swimming-from-shipwreck-to-shipwreck metaphore, true security is an illusion. But some forms of security exist, and to get really romantic, although I agree that the idea of monogamy is overemphasised as the ideal, arguing for polygamy, open-relationships, polyamorous etc as superior smacks of the same 'works on paper' argument that classical economists applied to flexible wages.

Most people want to be employed on a contract, to build a degree of certainty into their future, that enables them to then make decisions. In the same way, I'd like at least to have a stable relationship, that I can then work on the myriad other decisions I have to make in life.

Which isn't to say there is anything inherantly wrong with being single. Having spent a 5 year period jumping from long term relationship to long term relationship, this can be unhealthy as well. I think a well trod path of unhealthy relationships is where you have two people supporting eachothers unhealthy lifestyles. Where one or both partners maintains a comfortable status quo and wastes years of their life not venturing out into the world, until the other becomes dissatisfied enough to shake things up with a break up.

But as Ted Roosevelt said "It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Met her for

I just want to crash in a bed that sags in the middle, covered with blankets, with my head on a pillow, looking up and out at the stars, through a window of a sturdy weatherproof cabin, perched on the precipice of a ridge, on a mountain in a vast unknown wilderness.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rethinking Education Part 3: The Innocent Stop Protecting the Guilty

Any time you talk about educational reform you inevitably have to talk about schools and subsequently teachers.

Earlier in the week when I concieved of writing this post I tried to think of the names of all my various teachers over the years so I could try and figure out a ratio of good:bad teachers.

I was alarmed at how many teachers I can't even recall. I must have done 8 subjects a semester through highschool, and sure many teachers teach multiple classes, but I can maybe recall a handful of teachers, and only the good ones.

The rest, not only the teachers are largely forgotten, but the whole subjects they taught, With some effort some come back to me but really it highlights something.

Even those of us who claim to have a good memory, only remember interesting (and perhaps important) stuff, the rest is forgotten.

But we need to mention the elephant in the room: Many teachers are just plain bad. They are bad in multiple ways. They are place holders, 'fillers', unmotivated and uncaring.

They inspire aphorisms like 'those who can't do, teach.'

The earliest blog I ever read Bob C Cock's weekly rant had the memorable phrase 'some of the most boring and uninspiring people I have ever had the displeasure of meeting have been teachers.'

Once out of the education system, your mind probably exercises a similar bias to mine, it simply forgets all those painful hours spent with teachers who taught us nothing at all. Instead when asked about our high-school (those who had no traumatic experiences in the locker rooms) will probably recall instantly our beloved Physics, History or Music teacher outshining the other 60+ members of staff we scratch to even remember the face of.

And I went to a good school.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani said in his book that 'the education system exists to protect the jobs of those who work within it.' and this grim admission is applicable almost everywhere. It shows up in the way education is reformed or revolutionised.

Acceptable ways to reform schools:

Build buildings.

Buy computers.

Fund teacher training programs.

Unacceptable ways to reform schools:

Insist on staff transparency. (starting with management, down to teachers)

Raise prerequisite qualification standards of teachers.

Merit based pay.

I went to a high school where students were mandatorily required to have a laptop. My laptop died in early year 11 and I just stopped using one. From my personal testimony I can say laptops and computers contribute nothing to the quality of education and quite possibly detract from it. (we mostly used our laptops to play computer games in class, I can vividly recall how to beat every level on skyroads and almost none of what was taught me in year 9 science).

Year 12 our fancy technology was next to useless, we couldn't use them in exams and we spent most of our times practicing under exam like conditions, even SACs had to be handwritten.

Our laptops were an expensive piece of flashy sophistication, with little substance to back them and they 4 kg piece of shit antiques we used (top of the range for the day) probably caused back problems.

Putting computers in schools recieves a disproportionate amount of attention in complaints about schools being underfunded and under-resourced. I already know what every teacher is going to say -

'we live in an information age, most business and professions use computers and to be competitive in the job market students need computer literacy.' my mother a literacy coach for teachers alluded that 'the information age' is now even taken into account in text book design, explaining those annoying 'pop up' boxes that punctuated text books.

I suspect part of the bias towards putting computers is an accident of history, adults learn differently to children and subsequently there is an esoteric reverence for 'computer skills' being difficult to learn late in life that is projected onto teenagers.

I suggest that what is widely regarded as 'computer literacy' is a misnomer, it is a far more fundamental transferrable 'soft skill' which I will liberally call 'search skills'. Anytime an office worker purchases and installs a specialist piece of software and gets somebody from the IT department or a colleague whom ALSO has never used it to demonstrate how it works, that colleague is employing search skills.

That is they know how to find information and teach themselves, much of my former job involved looking up excel functions on google and through excel's inbuilt help function to find solutions to all the weird things executives will demand their spreadsheets do.

I have even had to program shit in VB, I am not a programmer nor have ever studied programming, but I know how to find shit out. You can teach students these skills with Mechano sets or lego, or ikea furniture, you don't need huge expenditure on quickly obsolete IT.

But this inevitably is where all the funding goes and any talk of reform must head. Australia builds a Broadband Network to help our rural cousins keep pace with the city folk. To me internet access arguably should become more irrelevant to education, with smart phones and wikipedia we are reaching a stage where everyone can carry around pretty much all the tacit knowledge known to man in their pocket. Having access to information in an information economy will not be the key differential. It will be, as it is and always has been a persons richness in soft skills.

Skills modelled by the secure base, the parental figure and role model that is their teacher.

I read somewhere that many doctors cannot accept as fact (in fact a truism) that half their graduating class were below average. Something that must mathematically be true. It is a relative scale, but in absolute terms we need to admit to ourselves that:

On average, teachers are average...

...At an elite school like I went to. To say Private schools chief advantage is their superior funding is a cop-out. Private schools are businesses, and follow a simple business principle - customers pay for value. Thus their chief advantage is that they can fire bad teachers and reward good ones. They demand results and people pay a premium for them.

Admittedly the results are pretty foolish, ENTER scores that are relevant for about 2 months and then do little to prevent anyone from derailing their life with a general lack of motivation. But nevertheless the private school system attracts dollars largely because the teachers do what they are paid to do, teach students how to score well on exams. Elite schools go a step further and directly intervene in subject selection making sure students learn useful and more importantly generously scaled subjects like 'Latin' and 'Hebrew' and 'Specialist Mathematics' that not only will contribute to a generous ENTER score but prove practical for the rest of their lives when time travelling or dealing with imaginary numbers.

Yes the good schools weed out the 'bad teachers' who inevitebly end up in greater concentration in public schools, their lack of interest in their students education creates a surplus of energy that can then be channeled into internal staff politics and making other teachers lives miserable. Their distaste for their profession may even be so great they set their sites on becoming a vice principal or principal so they largely don't have to deal with them anymore unless of course they are punishing them.

The unmotivated teacher is only one kind of bad teacher, there are also teachers who are just plain stupid and not really qualified to be teaching anybody. My mother was coaching teachers at a school where the principal held up as a role model to all a teacher that had graduated from the school with a study score of 17, but thanks to government intitiatives, loop holes and what not had been able to become a teacher and help shape the next generation of under achievers.

Then you have teachers who are passionately bad at their jobs. They think their authoratarian style harks back to some golden-age of teaching and they think they are doing an excellent job, loading their students up with massive assignments and homework schedules. Keeping them on edge by picking students at random to perform difficult calculations on the board in front of their peers at risk of humiliation and locking students out of class for being late. All serving to increase the brains production of cortisol inhibiting the hippocampus and thus their students ability to learn, a few students cool under pressure shining, the teacher rests on his laurels as having produced such stars, in the same way that exposing thirty lab rats to radiation until only 2 - the strongest, survive albeit much much weaker than they were before the radiation bombardment.

All these teachers are bad, and worse, entrenched in our education system. I forget where I read it, it was either Goleman's 'Social Intelligence' or 'Freakanomics' or some similar science type book, but a good teacher generally in objective terms will impart 1.5 years of course material to their students, whereas a bad teacher will impart just 6 months of course content to their students. (How this stacks up with the Chicago study that said we all retain less than 7% of our high school education, I don't know).

I went to both a public and private secondary school, the public school I went to had a good reputation despite being really large. From my brief experience there I would say the proportion of teachers that are good is roughly the same as private. Private schools seem to be populated by good and average teachers, where public schools have some good, some average and far too many bad teachers.

I feel I need to lay down a chunk of text from Goleman's 'Social Intelligence' before going on:

The power of an emotionally connected teacher does not end in first grade. Sixth-graders who had such a teacher earned better grades not only that year but the next year as well. Good teachers are like good parents. By offering a secure base, a teacher creates an environment that lets students' brains function at their best. That base becomes a safe haven, a zone of strength from which they can venture forth to explore, to master something new, to achieve.

The most critical thing you can do for your education, is get a good teacher in front of you. Good teachers exist, but trying to obtain one for your child in the public system is like playing russian roulette. It is also quite hard to get one in the private system, at least though you probably won't have the teacher who instructs their kids to read from their textbooks queitly for 50 minutes while the ensure silence through threats of detention.

On the one hand, much of our inability to reform anything can be explained away by the political trade cycle. In Australia a government has 3 years to make plans and execute them, they cannot guaruntee they will still be in charge to reap the benefits of completed construction processes. Thus it makes sense that if you need to improve education, you throw money at laptops and buildings - things that I'm sure have been proven to have little impact on students education and success in later life.

If you watch grand designs, complex builds that run over schedule and over budget still only take 2 years or so to become water-tight and habitable. That's not even using commercial building techniques like prefabrication and concrete, concrete! concrete!!, buying a bunch of computers involves negotiating a lease contract or purchase and then rolling them out in such a way as to sew seeds of envy and suspicion amongst staff and students and ensure that they are almost obsolete by the time the last has been delivered.

But yet these are the kind of 'reforms' that can be implemented in 3 years and achieve almost nothing.

Reforming the teachers themselves takes generations, and there is a social responsibility to actually take care of those useless and destructive teachers that have been implicitly endorsed by the education system that exists so they don't drink themselves to death in a caravan somewhere.

Firstly you need to build an environment that is attractive to high perfomers, and high performers are motivated by performance. Thus you need transparency, accountability and a system where good and bad performance are duly rewarded. In fact it is probably more important to any good teachers retention that you get rid of bad teacher colleagues than it is to necessarily reward their good efforts.

Then you need to raise the standards, the requirements to become firstly a principal (so good teachers have the necessary support) and then a teacher. You need to make those peg holes round so the square pegs can't get in in the first place.

Of course, these are not radical suggestions. Governments (including the current one) have tried to implement just such reforms.

What holds these reforms back?

Good teachers.

The most bitter irony of all. The innocent come out in force to protect the guilty. Things like the 'Myschools' website are seen as an attack on their integrity. Passionate teachers call up John Fane and tell stories of the differences they have been making for years whilst being underfunded and underappreciated.

Students exerting the same bias my memory does, call up and talk about their shitty school's one teacher that made a difference in their life and now will be punished by the damning report of 'MySchool' for all to see.

But what I have come to admit, is that if you fired 100% of the teachers we don't remember, and 20% (the bad ones) that we do, we wouldn't miss them when they are gone.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rethinking Education Part 2: Choice and Responsibility

Today I'm going to flesh out just one aspect of the kind of fundamental lesson that has a large impact on wellbeing. Decision making.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." ~ Yogi Berra

To avoid the sprawling directionlessness of yesterday's post however let me clearly articulate the problem with education as it stands.

Problem: Current education is geared towards an ideal of eliminating risk, or risk aversion. Students are encouraged to expend as much effort as possible to obtain higher marks and subsequently keep as many options as possible. This leaves students averse to making decisions that involve dilemma's and poor at them, worse, many members of society fail to identify where they have made a decision.

For example, I read in a newspaper article around the time 'an inconvenient truth' came out, long before ETS or Carbon Tax discussions were going on, where a Latrobe Valley worker was asked their thoughts on getting rid of the coal fire power plants and he said something to the effect of 'at the end of the day we all have to turn the air conditioner on.' I can't say if this was poorly worded, but air conditioners are a luxury item, nobody is compelled to use them, they are not mandatory yet the notion that they somehow were ostensibly informed the person's attachment to coal fire electricity.

In a more everyday sense I used to come across many people who had bought a house for security reasons, only to discover it had mainly 'secured' their profession for them. That meant they felt unable to leave their job because they were dependant on the income stream to make their mortgage repayments. Many people in this position lack the imagination to create a contingency (whilst also having made an uninformed decision in the first place) - selling the house or defaulting on the mortgage are options, thus you are not actually trapped in your current profession, it just may be unpleasant to leave it. If the consequences of losing the income stream are more unpleasant than continuing to work, you are making a conscious choice.

It has been my experience that few people appreciate choices they make. They feel their life is dictated to them by external circumstance. It is a common trait of depressives, and I feel is something that can be unlearned.

Here is how one might set up the lessons in teaching decision making, with one caveat Economics could be described as the study of decision making and certainly it does provide a theoretical framework however it is materialistic and often abstracted from the lives of those studying it, I would not present 'Decision Making' as a subject in the form of making Economics compulsory:

1. Resources are limited.

Economics does a poor job of teaching what this actually means. Many managers and executives I have come across in my careers, wanderings etc. don't have a full grasp of what limited resources means.

We have to make decisions because resources are limited. If resources weren't limited we could simply DO EVERYTHING. But we can't. Students would learn in the early phases of decision making that we can only spend our time one way or another before considering other resources such as monetary, budgeting etc. The chief purpose is to illustrate that decisions have to be made, with time it will be spent whether you do something or nothing at all.

2. Opportunity Costs.

These are very economic terms, but students then learn to appreciate that a decision to do something is equivalent to deciding not to do anything else. Thus students learn to take conscious ownership of opportunities foregone. The student should appreciate decisions such as 'by deciding to go on exchange for a year, I decided I would not graduate the same year as all my friends.' or 'by deciding to study Accounting I decided I would not spend time studying science anymore.' or 'by committing to the rowing crew, I decided to give up my weekends and mornings to rowing for three months.' or 'by deciding to go on holiday to Europe at the end of the year, I decided to stay with my job until I leave.'

3. Dilemmas

Opportunity cost is all very well, students then graduate onto gaining an appreciation of situations where decisions have to be made where neither outcome is desirable - choosing whether to escape death row by crawling through a tunnel of barbed wire or a tunnel of sand paper. It has practical applications for when life doesn't go to plan and helps people identify what power they do have in undesirable situations. From banal situations like getting dumped 'do I shut this person out of my life and miss their company, or do I expose myself to the emotional pain of our changed relationship?' to medical treatment 'do I undergo the surgery and risk damage to my organs, or do I undergo chemotherapy?' to losing your job 'do I sell the car to save money and ride everywhere, or do we keep it and rent out the guest room to a student?'

4. Identifying options

Few choices are as simple as dilemma's and students can also learn to identify 'bogus dilemmas' that is where you are presented with a 'with us or against us' choice when in fact you don't have to be either. But making decisions well requires some amount of researching what choices are available. Students learn to consider the choices they make rather than leap into them, as well as identifying the time constraints that come with a particular decision. 'The boss offered me a new job, I asked them how long I had to make a decision. They wanted an answer on the spot, but admitted they could wait a few days.'

5. Dealing with uncertainty.

Here economic models would be not entirely wrong but misleading and largely fruitlessly abstract. The temptation is to deal with uncertainty in terms of probability where the odds are known. Rather students learn to identify the possible outcomes of each course of action they may decide to take eg. 'If I take out a loan and buy a house, the house prices may go up making me money or the may go down leaving me in negative equity. If I don't buy a house my money will sit in a bank making 4% interest, interest rates may go up or may go down.' Here students are taught to appreciate the possible consequences of their decision making and thus what possible consequences they decide to avoid, or allow in order to obtain desirable ones. Here students learn about fundamental risks, and making decisions while acknowledging that 'the worst may happen.'

6. Power.

Here is an appreciation of what choices a student actually has, in any situation. Ultimately the students learn that their behaviour for the most part is the only thing they really control, but that this leaves them with choices in almost any situation. 'My partner cheated on me. I decided to react by ceasing the relationship and contact with them.' vs. 'My partner cheated on me, I posted abusive comments about her online and made threatening phone calls to her to make myself feel better.'

7. Responsibility.

Here students learn that the price of being able to choose is to take responsibility for their consequences, even when choices are made under uncertainty. 'We tried a new restaurant and the portions were meagre and the service terrible, but we chose to do something new, we just won't go back there anytime soon.' to 'I'd heard some bad things about heroin, but I decided to try it to try and aleviate my depression. Trying to break my addiction was not worth the high, and it has compounded my problems. I took a risk, I have to live with the consequences.' A big part of successful decision making is being able to live and adapt to the consequences.

Much of today's problems come from an aversion to taking responsibility for the decisions we make. This is I feel viewed as a way to make our lives easier and thus happier. We act like we have no choice about the unpleasant circumstances we find ourselves in, or that problems we create are somebody elses, or that we have some kind of tacit permission from a higher power to act the way we do.

I have observed little to convince me that this actually makes people happier. At the very least their are great benefits in becoming conscious of decisions we make reflexively. People who feel cheated by life and the world make for unpleasant company, their stories of everyone out to get them grows boring very quickly. Bad decision making at least on a social level restricts our future choices and thus our personal empowerment.

I feel 'Choice and Responsibility' are one of those fundamental lessons that once appreciated pay exponential dividends throughout life and also expedite future learning, appreciating where and where we don't have control is fundamental to learning and problem solving, it is a highly transferable skill.

This is but one example of the sorts of stuff I feel 90% of our mandatory education years should be spent on, it is relatively easy to then pick up and learn a very specific expert subject like specialist mathematics, once you have learned how to learn.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rethinking Education Part 1: Fundamentals

When I think of all the crap I learned in highschool, it's a wonder I can think at all. ~ Simon & Garfunkel, Kodachrome

Most of what we now teach our children is irrelevant to their future success as human beings and they know it. ~ Gordon Livingston, M.D.

Both quotes I took out of Livingston's book 'How To Love' an immensely descriptive and practical title that is sadly, new-age sounding when you don't have the book in your hand.

The posts I plan to do this week are simultaneously rehashed and a long time coming. They may form the draft of a letter I plan to send to my Alma Mata about various issues I have with education.

On one of TED's most watched talks Sir Ken Robinson says that he finds everybody is interested in education, everyone has an opinion on it. Opinions on education are like arseholes, to use Salt N Pepa's analogy.

Here is one more. I plan to do 5, but I have no clear plan on what those 5 will be. Todays initial one was inspired by the overemphasis our society has on expertise, and how it has pervaded the education system, and made it remarkably ineffecient.

The Air Jordan shoes for example is an expensive and professional piece of equipment, for the models released during his playing career Michael Jordan wore them himself, winning 6 NBA chamionships, a Slam Dunk contest, 5 MVP awards and is widely regarded as the greatest of all time.

Of all the people to own and wear Air Jordan's however, only Michael Jordan himself won 6 NBA championships, 5 MVP awards and is widely regarded as the greatest of all time.

Our education system has become like the Air Jordan shoe, we buy the expensive, high quality component and ignore the combination of mental fortitude, physical conditioning, fundamental skills and genetics that contributed 98% of Jordan's achievement and focus on the 2% differentiated product.

Expertise makes sense from a differentiation point of view. In business there are two broad strategies - penetration (price/cost competitiveness) and differentiation (avoiding competition). In developed nations a person who can read and right and add and subtract is not very competitive, but somebody who can design hydrodynamic structures is competitive in the job market. If you need a hydrodynamic builiding designed you are going to have to pay for the necessary expertise.

School broadly speaking is now engineered towards putting people into these differentiated nitches, with the societal objective of trying to maximise compensation for our labour and create a form of material security.

Admittedly, it isn't done efficiently - our education system cannot perfectly match the nitches that demand expertise with the nitches of expertise it produces. Somewhere in Australia somebody is paying for an expert from Scandanavia exorbitant amounts of money to consult them on the use of mobile sustainable waste management systems, while an expert in Flemish Poetry goes working in a retail bookstore.

But this I am not so concerned about, it is more in the spirit of the opening quote from Dr. Livingstone, expertise is fine says I provided we don't just assume away the 90% of fundamentals common to all professions that make for good and bad employees.


This post was dually inspired by a reflection from Rod, the training manager at my former employer and one of my mentors, apparantly in total quality management circles it has been found that only 10% of problems have what are described as 'special causes' these things have alarm bells and red flags that sound and go up when something goes wrong, that is your warehouse is on fire, a gunman is taking pot shots at people from the building adjacent, the unexpected and rare event.

These account for just 10% of the waste and ineffeciences in any business operation. The other 90% comes from 'ordinary causes' these have no warning bells and that is what makes them so damaging, they are the waste and ineffeciencies that are part of the business operations already.

For example, it used to take a long time to check in for a domestic flight. Whether you had luggage or not to be checked, you had to use the same system. Instead of getting out of your cab, getting a boarding pass from a computer, you had to arrive early and wait in line with everybody else to get allocated a seat. It was a much more resource intensive process and it annoyed customers. That process driven ineffeciency is an 'ordinary cause'.

NOW similarly 90% of what makes an employee a 'good employee' are fundamental skills I have heard referred to as 'transferable skills' many are associated with leadership, but...

BUT!!! but most of these qualities are actually identical to what make somebody a good friend, teacher, colleague, lover, teammate etc. in that way 'transferable' is a highly appropriate name.

These skills are typically evaluated in the first 2-3 seconds of a job interview before anybody has started asking questions because they are quite transparent in how we comport ourselves.

These are some of the skills that I would describe as fundamental to our success not just career wise but in all aspects of life: decision making, risk taking, communicating, skepticism, reasoning, care giving, stress management, emotional management, how to avoid negative people, how to sustain positive relationships, dealing with contingencies, listening, budgeting etc.

It isn't really an exhaustive list, but these skills are transferable to almost any context, anywhere where we are required to interact with people. I have referred to them as 'transferable' but they have also been called 'soft skills' because they can be adapted to any situation, whereas thermal engineering cannot easily be applied to running a bachelor auction the same way communicating can.

The saying is 'soft skills are hard to teach/learn and the hard skills are easy.' As somebody who struggles daily to listen to other people, I can testify that creating an Integrated Marketing Communication plan and finding the equilibrium price of a monopolistically competitive firm operating in two price discriminating markets is EASY to pick up compared to the skill of listening.

Literacy and numeracy are the only soft skills our education system gets right, otherwise we are left to a more darwinian education where we pick up these skills for our own survival... or we don't.

Organisations, communities and families across Australia are populated by people who can't make decisions effectively, don't listen, can't communicate their concerns in a way likely to get them addressed, can't spend within their means, manage their own stress and broader emotions, empathise effectively, sleep and eat right and do their job.

Their is a huge potential for society wide benefits if education refocused on these fundamental skills for day to day living.

Tomorrow I will write about 'choice and responsibility' as one of those fundamental things that could be taught to people in school that would probably eliminate most of the germaine experiences that people struggle with day to day unable to relieve themselves.

But consider the trajectories of two individuals, one we will call 'House' after House M.D. and the other we will call 'Luciana' after my beautiful beautiful BMX. House possesses a high degree of specialised technical expertise, but very little interpersonal or soft skills, Luciana is a beautiful human being with excellent interpersonal skills but nothing technically beyond the core competencies.

It is my experience that in observing the two career trajectories, with both starting at entry level positions in the same organisation that sooner rather than later Luciana will be managing House, as well as others. House may well end up well compensated for his expertise, but Luciana is management material and far more crucial to the operational success of the organization. Largely because organisations consist of people and Luciana can deal with people where House cannot and has deliberately engineered his career to try and avoid having to.

Management consists almost entirely of soft skills, managing a team of doctors at a fundamental level is not much different from managing a team of brickies. There may be trade specific jargon to learn, but these can be picked up much quicker in either direction than the fundamental skills of coordinating and managing people.

Our education system is geared up to produce House's not Luciana's. In reality, because soft skills I find tend to correlate (people who listen good are generally genuinely intellectually curious) that you don't tend to find extremes like House and Luciana. You still get extremes, but I find it to be people who lack both soft and hard skills and people who possess both soft and hard skills. Tragically life is more turds and eagles than porcupines and puppies.

I feel I need to move away from the animal analogies and quickly. Because so much of our success and enjoyment of life stems from our mastery of fundamental and transferable skills I feel as a priority these skills need to be allocated a similar emphasis in curriculum. Admittedly much of what I know of soft skills comes from academic organisations, crammed into the optional elective one off seminars, guest lectures accounting optimistically for around 3% of the time I have spent in class.

Many of these skills are taught (or at least referred to) in leadership seminars, tragically delivered to students whom have already been identified as leaders by their peers, that is they naturally posess many of the soft skills through the darwinian selection. (As an aside, I should admit at my own highschool year to year their were leadership positions allocated to people with no leadership skills, as a reward for parental participation in Parental associations like school boards and committees that may have benefited from these leadership seminars).

But this is nothing like the number of hours allocated to differentiation. Numeracy and mathematics are transferable, there are many occasions where problems we encounter can be modelled mathematically and worked out on paper without the need of trial and error. But differentiation measuring the rate of change is highly specialised and covered in physics where in engineering and other professions where one is likely to use these skills and have studied physics as a prerequisite. Otherwise it is rare to think anybody will need to calculate the area under a graph and change in angle of tangents to a curve.

It is unlikely that the hours I spent on anti-differentiation, imaginary numbers, geometric proofs etc. are likely to have any real impact on my wellbeing over the course of my life apart from the natural satisfaction of studying them compared to the 0 hours I have spent in schools learning how to identify a good romantic partner, something that has caused me more anxiety than any geometric shape I have come across (except perhaps in drawing, but I do everything free hand anyway).

Yet specialist mathematics was held in high esteem by my secondary institution, despite the minimal impact it has on both our wellbeing and careers. Having been to my 10 year reunion I can say that even ENTER scores are a poor predictor of future financial and emotional wellbeing at least over a 10 year period. (in case you are from my high school and reading this, what I mean is from what I can recall of the enter scores I knew of, there is no discernable pattern).

Even university doesn't do it's students many favors. Graduates jump qualification hurdles but even with internship/workplacement initiatives an overemphasis on group assignments etc. few graduate even with a firm grasp of what they are supposed to know and even less prepared to operate in an organisational environment. Group assignments are assigned with very little education or training on how to actually manage a group assignment. They simply must be done, creating the practice whereby one individual completes the assignment and the other four sign their name to it. A good student thus learns not to delegate to people you don't trust, creating at best micromanagers to be the stars of the Australian workforce and then a bunch of people who don't actually know what their qualifications say they do.

Even then, these technical experts can be easily outshined by a salesman with incredble interpersonal instincts and no formal education or qualifications to speak of. It can and does happen and that is a failure of the education system at large.

There is nothing wrong with expertise as such, it is important, but the fundamentals, the general skills are just not being taught. To close this out with more of Dr. Livingstone, here he reflects my attitude to that 3% of time in academic institutions when I have been really engaged in something useful and interesting:

It is not surprising that most parents fall back on a series of restrictions and proscriptions, things one must not do, relating mostly to drugs, sex and driving. It's as if our fears for our children's survival overwhelm our sense of what they need to navigate happily through lives.
I think young people would respond with interest to these subjects. My experiences with teenagers in therapy is that they generally value the chance to have a conversation with a non-judgemental adult about subjects germane to their daily experience.

There is always time to go back to uni, but in Victoria at least a sense of urgency is fostered amongst 16-17 year olds to choose a specialised path of study (despite almost no university courses having a pre-requisite beyond a study score of 25 in english) and plan the rest of their lives around this.
Few graduate or leave highschool possessing an adequate grasp of something as fundamental as how to make a decision, they have made a decision that potentially wastes years of their life without any instruction as to how to make it.

Prior to 16 their are few choices a child can make in determining their own lifestyle. Most of the big fundamental decisions are made by their parents or gaurdians. 90% of the focus of education in the time leading up to this age I feel should be spent equipping them to make these decisions and manage the subsequent results of them. After that you can start specialising, and by no means finish it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Obnoxiously Drunk

Last night I got obnoxiously drunk. Nowhere near my worst by any means, but near enough for me to regret it. I was a little overexuberant because I got my solo show booked in for Feb 2012, I have a space, now all I need to do is create the artwork.

I don't know why I felt I should personally and privately celebrate this premature victory that could turn into bitter defeat by getting drunk, but I did.

I also have less than 2 months to train for my marathon and my weight is going up, not down. So that is it for drinking. As of last night/early hours of this morning my drinking is done for both alcohol and soda pop. Too many calories.

As of tomorrow, I will start cutting out all the crap I eat. I eat a lot of crap.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What is Anarchy?

We live in interesting times, for one thing Australia has a Prime Minister for which opinion polls have no meaning, sway or context. I think Julia Gillard is a moron and not fit to be called a world leader but due to the balance of power her government may be the exact freakish collision of low probabilities that Climate change needs. Whilst posessing none of the qualities I desire in a leader - intelligence, courage and astringency - she behaves as though she does, why? Because her choice is simple, capitulate to the demands of the greens and the independants or NOT BE PRIME MINISTER.

Don't get me wrong, Tony Abbott is a disaster that our best hope resides in history simply forgetting him, behind these two leaders stand Wayne Swann, Joe Hockey, the cream at the top of a list of people you probably wouldn't want running a milkbar. But it is refreshing, even invigorating to see somebody just selfishly choose to be prime minister and damn the rest to hell... and subsequently wind up doing the right thing. Australia will have a Carbon Tax, it will actually for once in its history be a world leader. In under twelve months time the average 'punter' will recieve $15,000 grand more tax free threshold the carbon tax will come in and - nothing will happen.

Well not nothing, big companies will reduce their tax liabilities by reducing their carbon emissions. They will refrain from causing the mess they didn't previously have to pay for.

That's interesting. Also interesting is this news story that is not a news story, journalism has been readily ignorable for years now. I have lived without reading any news, except on sports for 3 years and I have suffered no penalties for being 'uninformed' largely due to the fact that 'journalism' now days is not informative. But the London riots, they just fucking happened, no catalyst, no moral, no story. Details emerged, but that's fucking it. They are just happening.

For the first time in months I went to The Age's website to try and read an article about what Bishop's assasination or electoral result had triggered the riots in the UK and found nothing. Not only does this confirm there's no real need to read newspapers, but I saw shit described as 'Anarchy'

I am an anarchist and a lot of people expect me to believe that riot's and such, societal breakdown are the anarchist ideal. I would contend that what you see in a riot is usual a bi-product of authoratarianism. The violent and destructive outbursts are a reaction to the rule of law.

On the rule of law, I am not so committed to Anarchy that I don't for example believe in some kind of legal structure - the public perception of how an alleged peadophile should be treated I think indicates that when a mob of mothers think somebody only suspected of a crime should be gelded then murdered, you need some kind of mechanical judicial process to intervene and protect the potentially innocent even YES even at the cost of letting some genuinely guilty people get off easily.

But Anarchy is really, really simple:

Anarchy is the belief that people don't need to be told what to do.

It's pretty much a belief in the communities ability to govern itself. With an uneducated community, I couldn't hold this belief. Yes, my own community is not ready for Anarchy, because it is so uneducated. Each year hundreds, if not thousands of students graduate from high school that are functionally illeterate. I would suspect more go out into the world innumerate. I suspect the vast majority of people graduating high school will fully grasp terms of governance like 'tyranny of the majority' and 'innocent until proven guilty' 'burden of proof' etc.

My work in a call center exposes me to enough examples of people who assume what the law is without any actual knowledge at all. The number of people that lack the imagination to concieve that 'dinner-time' is going to vary household to household, if indeed any household actually follows a fixed schedule at all.

Here is my simple test of a societies 'readiness for Anarchy', that is when the dumbest member of society can still appreciate that a single queue at KFC is the fairest and most efficient way to queue.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


For a while I was worried I was burning out, which was most worrying because I felt I'd been too unproductive to burn out already. Then I realised it was because the heating at work was putting me to sleep at 5 in the afternoon.

But I have decided to follow the path of least resistance with my drawing, to overcome the lack of productivity. I have been procrastinating when I set myself arbitrary deadlines to do the 'important stuff' and thus achieving nothing at all.

Now I'm off to draw.

Monday, August 08, 2011


Q&A the ABC's answer to... something, brings out the misanthropist in me. It singularly depresses me where no other program succeeds in doing so. I really, really wish it didn't exist.

I honestly can't handle more than 5-10 minutes of the show at a time. You could criticise channel ten's 7PM project for dealing with serious issues in an off-hand way, but is anybody going to confuse a panel featuring Charlie Pickering and Dave Hughes as a source of legitimate information? No.

But they could with Q&A, the one show on television ever, that I literally can't handle - here is my general experience of the show from the snippets I get before I reflexively change the channel to something that I may actually learn and grow from (last night it 2003's SWAT featuring Samuel Jackson and Colin Farrel on channel GO! a thought provoking movie.):

A young liberal planted in the audience reads a lengthy, loaded and prepared question out directed at the token Labor politician.

A politician bleats out some bleating message that over/under whelms me with its factual dubiosity.

A token comedian says something close to sensible.

Tony Jones redirects the question to a Liberal/Labor party member who proceeds to bleat.

A panalist who's opinion must surely by now be regarded as invalid (eg. John Elliot) voices their opinion.

Some left leaning member of the audience makes a statement-in-the-form-of-a-question.

Those are pretty much all I see coming out of Q&A, which arguably would be better called 'Q' to dispel the misleading notion that any of it's participants may be in possession of Answers.

The show is no Insight, which I also stopped watching, but was in the least insightful. Q&A is not.

Q&A puts punters, pollies and pundits together in the studio to thrash out the hot issues of the week.

It's about democracy in action - on Q&A the audience gets to ask the questions.

It doesn't matter who you are, or where you're from - everyone can have a go and take it up to our politicians and opinion makers.

Energetic and opinionated - Q&A brings Australia's egalitarian and larrikin spirit into the studio.

Q&A is about encouraging people to engage with politics and society.

Q&A is hosted by one of the ABC's most respected journalists - Tony Jones.

Q&A is live to air - it's happening as viewers watch.

Interrestingly, the 'About' page for Q&A doesn't make any claims to impartiality and refers to Australia's 'egalitarian and larrikin spirit' which is quite the opposite of an impartial point of view.

I think people are kind of addicted to argument in some way, but they shouldn't carry misconceptions about how unconstructive the process of argument is.

The intellectual stimulation of creating new ways to defend the stance your ego is invested in can be intoxicating. But argument and 'debate' is an emotional process rather than an intellectual one.

My principal use to make me groan inwardly when he described 'debating as a sport' but nowadays I think he was probably exactly right (if not for the exact wrong reasons). But debating had us defend stances we were arbitrarily assigned for the gratification of winning. I remember shamefully after some debates we lost having sleepless nights thinking about what we should have said and how dumb some of the opponents arguments were.

Similarly what you see on Q&A is people defending and attacking positions that are largely arbitrarily assigned by the ovarian lottery. People tend to defend their moral-geographic-cultural-economic circumstances all of which they had little say in they were just pushed out of a vagina into that life. Few possess any domain of expertise that may make their opinion valid, yet they field questions that demand expertise.

This may go some way to explaining why Q&A (and the media in general) allocates a fuckload of time to issues that are not being resolved by the media on an ongoing basis like the Carbon Tax, Assylum Seekers and the Economy at large.

I feel the audiance comes to Q&A too invested in their opinions to actually be swayed by anything said by anyone on the show, do people watch it with some sadistic bloodlust hoping to see the otherside's champion fall? If so, they must feel some base animal anticipatory gratification watching the show and walk away week after week feeling dissappointed, like pursuing a relationship with a narcissist.

More worrying is anybody who does feel informed or swayed by what they see on Q&A, the logical tactics and strategies employed by the panel members of Q&A are an indictment of either the ABC's audience or the Australian Education system or both. If people with no expertise can convince people to take a stance on such issues one way or another, then perhaps those 'punters' that embody the 'Australian egalatarian and larrikin spirit' should not be engaged and participating in our democracy.

Friday, August 05, 2011

My First Poster.

So this week my first ever gig poster went up in a store window. I'm pretty pleased with how it came out. and by that I look at it and see mistakes everywhere, it was certainly a design not in my comfort zone and I have new found respect for that billionaire who drew the Hello Kitty design.

But it's a step forward for me, my name is on it, if you wander through Bar Open it is prominently displayed. It feels good, also I was paid in kind, and got to feel like a big-shot being on the door for a gig finally.

I've made it!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Ballarat or Japan?

Seems like an easy choice, but I'm seriously contemplating detonating my life by moving to either for a year. And then on the other hand, I love what Melbourne has going on culturally and the opportunities it presents, it just seems action packed to the brim of shit you can do. Balifornia is only an hour's train ride away though and when I ran around it on Sunday (almost literally) it had views, hills, Mt Buninyong, a big reflective lake, Gold Rush era architecture. One things for sure, living in Ballarat certainly beats the shit out of living in outer suburbs. To paraphrase my friend: I could be a big fish in a shot-glass in Ballarat.

Conversely I never did actually live in Japan, as much as the country feels like home, as much as I feel my host families are just family to me, I never actually lived there. I remember walking down happiness street in Shizuoka and thinking it was Japan's answer to Sydney road. I could live in Shizuoka, I could live in Nagoya, I could live I think in Osaka for a year at least. When I return there this year I might sus it out. The real catch is whether I would push myself out of the artistic scene and opportunities by relocating to Japan.

I don't want to spend a year not growing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Hey I made it, managed to crank out 10 posts in some kind of fortnight. The last value on the list of ten is flexibility, an odd one to finish on but I think it highlights some wisdom in choosing friends and partners.

Flexibility is extremely practical character trait to be drawn towards. I had a teacher in high-school that said 'organised is the only way to be.' I disagreed with him then and I disagree with him now.

Flexibility is one's capacity for coping with uncertainty. So it is different from tolerance, the ability to appreciate difference. It is basically how well somebody reacts to you being late, or calling them late at night for a lift. Their ability to find time to see you, or their reaction to a change of plans.

Some organisation is okay, perhaps even desirable. Somebody entirely spontaneous is highly undesirable as Chris Rock said in Never Scared: 'Relationships are boring, the only time relationships are exciting is when you are in a bad one. Bad relationships are unpredictable - you just don't know what he's gonna do next, throw a bottle at your head, sell your engagement ring...' okay Chris Rock never said any of that but I feel I captured the gist.

I never let inflexible people get close enough to me to have any meaningful relationship, but these are the people whom in an attempt to impose order on the chaotic world that surrounds them encroach on your quality of life.

These are people that label stuff in the fridge in a share house, count the change in their dashboard console, plan daily itinaries before embarking on an overseas holiday. They build rigid systems to govern their lives and give them an (ultimately) false sense of security.

Attempts to throw out these systems are tantamount to attacking their person, they get offended and angry. By contrast, flexible people are the ones who can go with the flow, they split the bill in the way that is easiest rather than fairest and save themselves time and conflict.

They give you free reign of their fridge and pantry, you feel inclined to drop in on them. Their houses feel lived in, you feel relaxed and comfortable in their presence. The difference between the flexible and the inflexible is the difference between sitting in a hammock and sitting in an ergonomic chair.

In Japan people can be described as 'Yasashi' which is literally 'easy' but in context means gentle. The use of easy is a reference to this easygoing nature of the flexible.

Do I need to say anymore? Not on flexibility, but I should probably give these 10 attractive qualities a wrap. Starting at the end, flexibility is probably not one of the great virtues that will ever have conceptual statues dedicated to it out the front of temples of the human spirit - but it's just one of those qualities that is desirable because traits in our peers and partners tend to become more annoying with time rather than less.

It may be that we can overlook people's imperfections for a time, have coping mechanisms, but in the long run when you are building something as nourishing and useful as a support network do you want to seek support, nourishment and love from people you have coping mechanisms for?

I am optimistic enough to believe people are capable of making changes, and great changes. In 'Social Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman, the chapter 'Genes are not destiny' finds that science has shown that we are indeed capable of changing ourselves.

This is different though from entertaining rescue fantasies, deciding we love somebody with some crucial piece missing from making them somebody we can live with. Our love does not have transformative powers. We can only change ourselves.

And that is where it begins, with ourselves. I am not a paragon of any of the virtues of the 10 qualities: kindness, optimism, courage, loyalty, tolerance, honesty, humour, intelligence, beauty and flexibility. Most are learned behaviours. But I try, I try, and in trying for the past 6 years or so those paths have become easier and more reflexive to follow.

I foster these qualities because they make life easier, they create their own energy and I hope to be worthy of recieving these qualities from somebody else.

Our love can't magically transform people into these things though, and certainly the easiest and luckiest thing is to find or attract someone who already possesses them.

Otherwise there are no guaruntees, and infact even though people are capable of change, few bother to choosing instead to blame the world. All you can hope to do is provide contrast, to deny such pessimistic views of the world by living in a way that exposes that as a lie. We can influence yes, inspire yes, but not magic peoples problems away. That has to be done by them.

So be kind, be optimistic, show courage, tolerate differences, be honest and true to a fault, be loyal, approach things intelligently, don't lose it when plans go awry and for fuck's sake laugh.

Monday, August 01, 2011


Mmmmhmmm, you know I'm going to take the easy way out on this one, say 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder, skin deep, inner beauty' that sort of thing, so why write about it at all?

Physical attractiveness counts for something, there is a deviding line between people we want to be around to drink and talk shit, and people we want to hold, brush their hair back over their ear... all of that. And it is like one tenth of the forces that attract me to people.

There are for example, some peeps that I love right to the bottom of their souls but fundamentally lack the chemistry to make me want to be with them, physically. I see no point denying this.

Having said that, being attractive gets you not far. We have ultra-fast firing spindle cells that connect straight to the Amigdala or whatever, that make decisions about everyone we come across in literally a fraction of a second. Whether we want to fight them or flee or fuck them or quite possibly eat them. BUT we then have like our orbital frontal cortex that processes information and this, our thinking mind is very capable of overriding our hair trigger impressionistic mind. Both are capable of being wrong. One works by rule of thumb, the other by careful introspection.

So the advantage you gain by being physically attractive is a slight boost in the quick and dirty evaluation done by the reactive brain. This is not enough to overcome your personality.

I have no problem with physical beauty, I'm quite a fan of it, but it's a 'nice to have' rather than a necessity. It makes a poor investment, like property people are often naivelly over-invested in their outward appearance. Make-up I will begrudgingly admit can give somebody confidence to go out and face the day, but only because they've been made to feel ugly in the first place. That sort of shit.

Now, let's start sidestepping. Over the weekend I was at my 10 year highschool reunion, due to last minute date changes and short notice and shit, many people sadly missed out. But it was a great night, I had a great fucking time, and everybody looked more beautiful than they did on our 5 year reunion. What the pop-corn?

My former brother in arms at shared earth whom we shall call Captain Kirk made the call to me when I was around 22 or so that 'all of my friends have just gotten hotter when they turned 30.' Which I was skeptical about, but Kirk was sizzlingly hot himself, so I entertained the thought and now at 27 I must concede, he has a very good point.

At the 5 year reunion, myself and my peers were going through an awkward adjustment phase, more awkward than adolescence. It was too soon for us to come to terms with the realities of ageing, that you go bald, your metabolism slows down and your body starts falling apart.

Crucially, people were playing the hands they were dealt - poorly. This is a crucial element of beauty, ownership. I am attracted to people who fucking own their appearance. They express themselves, they are in control, they are not beholden to external standards. They carry their weight with dignity, the abandon their dignity with confidence and deliberation. These are beautiful people.

I have also always maintained, that in my personal case, personality carries an 80% swing factor. Which is probably extreme, and personality is probably a vague and ambiguous term. In part this reflects that 'beauty' is just one quality amongst kindness, intelligence, humour, tolerance, courage, honesty, flexibility, optimism and loyalty.

Another thing I should probably tidy up is that personality is an assumption I make about people based on the behaviour I observe, and behaviour can be seen.

I remember Honda hired some douchebag image consultant that bastardised the 'communication breakdown' of 7% of communication is the words we say, 33% is the tone we employ and 60% is body language. He took 'body language' and changed it to 'how you look.' So let me do the reverse, since behaviour can be seen and evaluated 'how you look' consists of 1. Actions you undertake. 2. Words you say. 3. How you say them.

These are all behaviours, that I and everyone observe and evaluate. I have met some 'good looking' people in my time in the narrower sense, that have invested a lot of time, energy and money into the physique, complexion, hairstyle and attire and just completely fuck up everything else about their appearance which is the vast majority.

Does somebodies body language make you feel welcome, comfortable and confident? Do they make eye-contact? Do they make you feel interesting and beautiful?

I am yet to come across a person who is so physically arousing I can forgive their other defects in personality.

You can become wealthy enough that you can treat people obliged to treat with you like shit, but... why? I don't think you can be attractive enough that people can overlook how you treat people, nobody you'd want to attract anyway.

Which makes me think, in any given room beauty shouldn't be some pie to be divided up by it's occupants. It isn't about taking out the competition, it's about bringing a platter of beauty to share.

Somebody truly beautiful builds confidence, and confidence makes people more beautiful. Few people look better frowning than smiling. People look better yet laughing. Beautiful people make others feel better not worse.