Saturday, June 30, 2012

How Policy Is Made

I was just reading this article in the Herald-Sun "Tony Abbott digs in heels over asylum-seeker panel" of which the editorial decision in composing the headline is misleading, particularly in this case because it isn't even dramatic.
A much more on point headline would be "Tony Abbott refuses expert advise".
You can read the article, it isn't particularly explosive, it's just that there is a panel of experts on the subject that has been put together to come up with advice for what policy will remove the deadlock on the asylum seeker issue.
Tony's stance could be defensible if he for example said 'It's a waste of time, coalition policy was devised based on consultation with experts on immigration, asylum seekers, border protection, international law et al. and they crafted the best possible policy which our party has already adopted. Thus this is just a stunt to forestall... blah blah blah.'
But he didn't instead he said:
"The Coalition doesn't need an expert committee to tell us what our policy is, because we have a policy and it's a policy that we will stick to."
Another appropriate and informative headline could have been 'Tony Abbott: I don't listen to experts.'

The reason Tony actually said the above quote and not the hypothetical defense, is because the coalition policy was probably crafted by listening to opinion polls and few if any actual experts.

Now my favorite, analoguous hypothetical.

Imagine if you would that within Australian borders, there was a flare up of HIV+ cases. It started spreading through the general population once again.

A cluster of health experts, doctors, specialists, experts on HIV and epidemics and STI's etc. gathered together and put forward a recommended policy - The promotion of condoms as the best means to prevent STI's, education programs and improved access to condoms, as well as discussing abstinence, needle exchange programs etc. Stockpiling and distributing the drugs used to manage people already afflicted etc.

Sounds sensible because this is what we have done in the past.

But imagine now that the belief that HIV+ can be cured by having unprotected sex with a virgin was for some reason popular. That is, a popularly held belief amongst none other than Australian voters.

It is of course, pure superstition. But what would the coalition's policy be under such circumstances?

Well Tony Abott would be appealing to the popularly, and perhaps more importantly, passionately held beliefs of the Australian public. He would defer to the polls rather than the experts.

You would see promises to relax rape laws, or at least allow 'emergency medical treatment' as a defence for raping a suspected virgin.

This is despite, despite the belief being entirely testible, testible and falsifiable.

And this is the point at work where somebody would shoot down my hypothetical as ridiculous and unfair, except for the fact that within the cosmos of my workplace the chances of finding a Liberal voter are literally 1 in a 130 or something.

But it is fair, the average Australian has no more access to a human rights lawyer than many HIV ravaged African nations have access to a health care professional. That is somebody who will forcibly correct their superstitious belief.

The belief that having sex with a virgin will cure HIV is nothing more than superstition, the results of such a practice are demonstrably false, and quite probably destructive in that it results in A) rape, and B) further transmission of HIV. But such superstitions can survive as wishful thinking without the presence of authorative experts.

The experts may even be present, but simply disrespected or disregarded, overruled by local authority figures who are lauded by taking a hardline stance against 'the experts' discrediting them and making baseless accusations of malicious intent.

While it is ridiculous to assert that in Australia a belief that having sex with a virgin can cure HIV would take off (barring some apocalyptic socieatal restructure), this is because in Australia Doctors and other health care professionals are respected experts on the matter. The public will defer to medical expertise in this (but not all) regards.

Fuck, schools teach this stuff, that is good policy, but probably has a lot to do with Australian culture being such that every dux of every private school in Australia goes off to study medicine somewhere and that many Australian's would take financial advice from a Doctor despite them having no expertise at all.

But while almost every last Australian has some kind of relationship with at least one doctor, would know at least 6 people that aspired to be doctors, and would have at least 3 friends that are nurses or other health care professionals, I would wager close to 0% of Australian's have ever knowingly interracted with an Asylum Seeker, close to 3~4% know a humanitarian lawyer, 0% have ever had to engage a lawyer for humanitarian purposes, and maybe only 5% know somebody who serves in the coast guard.

A Rwandan's exposure to healthcare professionals is probably greater. The numbers are of course entirely fudged, but my point is that views can be maintained that are popular eg:

- That asylum seekers are illegal immigrants
- That most asylum seekers arrive by boats
- That Australia is a specificly targetted destination by asylum seekers
- That asylum seekers are freeloaders, economic refugees etc.
- That Australia is being swamped by refugees

None of which are true. Firstly and most greviously, there is absolutely nothing illegal about turning up on Australian soil and claiming asylum. If you are found to not legitimately be in any danger, fleeing persecution and particularly physical harm, they will deport you, but anybody on the world can legally turn up in Australia and claim asylum.

Australia also due to it's geographic isolation, processes a tiny portion of the world's refugees, and an even tinier portion of those refugees arrive by boat. Of those that do arrive by boat some 98% are granted refugee visas. That is, they are found to legitimately be fleeing persecution.

Which is to say, for every boat that arrives on Australia's shores full of Asylum seekers, they are laden with some of the worlds weakest and most vulnerable people, but even then, they represent a tiny sliver of the humanitarian cost of global instability.

I cannot presume what the assembled committee of experts may recommend to the government, but if the problem is people catching boats to Australia, expensive and unseaworthy boats, the challenge is really - how do we get these people to do what everyone else does and pay far less for a plane ticket here?

I read something like in 2011 there were 1,100 refugees registered in Indonesia, of which Australia granted 97 visas. Recalling excellent SBS program 'Go Back To Where You Came From' which is coming back, I'm not sure if this represents people fleeing persecution in Indonesia, or whether Indonesia is another staging post for people from other regions.

Australia's refugee intake is abismally small, we have our isolation to thank for that, but also beauracracy, boat-people are often denigrated as queue jumpers, but some years ago now (I know this issue has amazing longevity) Crikey did a brilliant piece of investigative journalism that revealed there simply is no 'queue' the asylum seekers are jumping.

Whatever 'queue' they could find, was the equivalent of being asked to form an orderly line in an office fire so that 1 in 100 people could escape. If you were put in such a situation, you wouldn't just jump the queue, you would jump out the fucking window. The average Australian is less respectful of such queuing situations at KFC.

Sam Harris' TED talk has this brilliant exposition on domains of expertise, and how in some debates, certain views are simply invalid. John Stuart Mill is the first place I at least, read the concept of the tyranny of the majority. Popularly held beliefs can be intuitive rather than fact based, and that is to say, simply wrong.

But Tony Abbott's job as opposition is not some Kantian position to righteously uphold the moral imperative, his job is to become Prime Minister. I'm sure his position isn't entirely arbitrary, but the point is that what policy gets you elected, and what policies experts recommend are not going to always line up.

And this isn't just true of Tony Abbott, Gillard, and Rudd before her take expert advice and accept, dilute or reject based on what is politically feasible.

The fact is that they as individuals, and the greater organisations and interests they represent are rewarded and punished by popularly held beliefs.

George HW Bush once said "Think about every problem, every challenge, we face. The solution to each starts with education."

We are fortunately living in a society that is unlikely to vote its way into legalised rape of virgins, but this is only because every school child for generations has been taught to trust the medical experts and not be superstitious, maybe its time that schools stopped just lauding the boys and girls that do so well they grow up to be doctors, but also celebrating the boys and girls that do well enough to grow up to be scientists, engineers, philosophers etc.

Maybe one day too, we'll learn to stop listening to economists, who possess no real expertise at all.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Thought Experiment

Under what circumstances would you pay $15,000 to $20,000 to a known criminal for a place on a vessal that is borderline unseaworthy, where you could somehow be aware of Australian refugee policy and yet not be aware of the risks of the boat sinking, catching fire and sinking, capsizing or breaking apart and you dying?

Fucken come on.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Girl Guide to Picking Up

Yesterday I had a lunch where I was able to actually extol some advice on being a man. Particularly a shy man that blunders through sexual politics mostly ineffectually. But I thought it's been ages since I wrote anything on this blog glossy-magazine worthy and thought I would extrapolate my half of the convo here. Note that I am not qualified to write a 'Guys Guide' to picking up, because I am grossly unqualified in this regard, but I can write one from my perspective as a non-sexually aggressive male.

Let's Get Antiquated

Permit me this, it is no longer 1920, ladies no longer attend finishing schools and then get presented at a debutant's ball (unless you live in Ballarat), suitors do not attend the manner and negotiate dowry's with your parents. What I'm saying is, a girl can ask out a guy.

But I believe I am not being radical or chauvinistic in saying that the social contract that guys pursue and women play defence remains. Practically and behaviourally speaking, when there is an attraction between a man and a woman, a man is supposedly responsible for asking out the woman.

Let me dismiss as an option the 'lucky dip' approach which is go to a backpackers get as drunk as you can and start dancing with somebody of the opposite sex and then start kissing them and then hope they will take you somewhere semi-private to have sex. Not that it doesn't work, but that a guide to how to take that approach is exactly as long as that sentence was.

So, in any situation where you want to hook up with somebody, somebody has to make that happen, and going from a possible attraction to confirming/disconfirming that attraction bears with it risk, and that risk is expected to be taken by the man.

I'm generalising obviously, of my 6 exes, I asked out 1. Just 1. So my personal experience disconfirms this social expectation. Yet I would argue it still exists. But let's deal with my experience.

The Ace Up Your Sleeve

Is simple, ask him out. It is the most powerful tactic you have in your repertoir. I personally would never be turned-off, or disrespect or even feel emasculated to be asked out by a woman, even a girl.

What I would feel is A) flattered and B) incredibly relieved. I don't subscribe to these gender roles, or any gender roles per se. However I do still feel an acute failing as a man to overcome my fear of rejection and ask a girl I like out, my fear is irrationally crippling. Like the thought of asking out a girl causes me to go instantly into a panic attack, heart racing, heavy breathing, all things that make asking a girl out much, much harder.

People feel stress at public speaking, jumping off tall things, running in an 800m, going to job interviews, presenting ideas to the board, riding a bicycle down a hill... all things I scoff at, yet I know how crippling irrational fear can be, because I feel it.

But obviously my evolutionary disadvantage is at an extreme, obviously there's a spectrum ranging from me at one extreme to Shawn Kemp at the other.

Here's the thing though, this is a guide to picking up a guy you like, the one you have some kind of existing relationship with, be it friends, you are in the same dance group, catch the same train, work together, or they donated one of the organs you are currently using. You like them, they like you. Neither is certain until somebody asks out somebody and somebody responds 'Yes'.

It's the uncertainty, the risk of rejection nobody wants to deal with. Furthermore, ironically, and allow me to presume to lecture you on psychology here, the more he likes you the less likely he is to ask you out. It seems counterintuitive, but we get pleasure from anticipating a relationship, the more time somebody spends thinking about the pleasentness of the future relationship, the greater the percieved risk of rejection. In 'Stumbling on Happiness' Dan Gilbert sites a study where people were asked to describe a date or something with somebody they had a crush on. They found the more elaborate the fantasy the less likely they were to ask the person out within the next 2 months.

Piling on top of that, here is the deal. If a man is expected to assume the risk of being rejected and thus the onus falls on him to make the relationship happen, he gets the downside of having to experience being rejected. He also has to go through the motions of overcoming the fear of rejection. Sounds pretty shitty?

But from your end, if you like a guy, what can you do? Encourage him and build his confidence to the point where he can overcome his fear of rejection and ask you out. Otherwise, the guys you have to pick from are the ones that ask you out. Not to be misogenistic, but you become a begger not a chooser. You can choose whether to date somebody, or not. You can't choose 'who' asks you out. The best you can hope for is influencing who asks you out.

If you are good at flirtation and he is good at reading signals, then this can work pretty okay. But I know a number of women that agonise for months, years as to whether a guy likes them or not, and whether they are being too subtle, too overt or slipping into a delusional fantasy land.

The upside of the guys end of this deal, is that rejecting people can be empowering, but is more often unpleasant, thus if not interested the guys only compensation for the expectation of having to ask a woman out, is that they can just ignore advances and pretend ignorance. Even though this probably exacerbates and prolongs the mental anguish of many women, a guy can't exactly preemptively reject somebody who doesn't ask him out. The best he can do is hook up with somebody else.

The Ace is even Acer

And that's an important point. If you break convention, and ask out a guy, you not only have a competitive advantage over other women who might be trying to attract his attention, if it's a dud you can resolve shit much quicker.

As much as I fear rejection, I can at least comprehend rationally this last point, that it is healthier to know, resolve and move on with your life than live in prolonged limbo. I will from time to time enlist help to actually push me out of my anticipatory fantasy land, through my nauseating fear and actually ask a girl out.

But, I once had a girlfriend that on first impression I wasn't very interested in. People say first impressions last, but I 180'd on this girl because a thankfully superficial and perverted friend pointed out she had a 'hot arse' which I noticed for the first time. This was a catalyst that changed my view of her and I came to like her, then love her and then get dumped by her some years later.

The point being though that she was (arguably) lucky to have someone intervene and change my view of her. You can't obviously count on these random exchanges happening. But asking somebody out will inevetibly force people to reevaluate. It may even be after they reject you. Asking them out may be the first time they even truly notice you. What I'm trying to say is, that even being rejected, all is not necessarily lost.

Am I right ladies?

Now to speak from a very subjective personalised view, but if a girl I liked asked me out, there is literally no way she could get it wrong. She could call me up and say:

'tohm, you are a disgusting human being, I find you reprehensible, your artwork is crap, you are full of shit, you are arrogant and often misinformed, the more I learn about you the less I like you, I don't know how you live with yourself... will you go out with me?'

And I would say yes.

She could text:

'wil u go out wit me?'

And I would say yes.

She could text:

'go out wit me. I really love the Black Eyed Peas'

And I would say yes.

She could change her relationship status on facebook to in a relationship with me and when I recieved the notification to confirm or not I would say 'yes'. And go along with it.

If a guy likes you, you can't get it wrong. There is no bad time to call, there is no bad way to ask. The only thing you can get wrong is to leave it ambiguous so as to not really ask at all. There is no real way though to ask out a guy that likes you and screw it up.

I don't know if it's the same for girls, and that's straying off topic, but I assume if somebody liked me I similarly can't really get it wrong. But the perception guys have of guy-kind is that they are creeps that just want to get in womens pants and I, and I assume many men worry that we can get it wrong, that women are sensitive to guys coming across as creepy, or presumptuous or a million other deal breakers.

A Caveat

If a guy doesn't like you. There's almost no way to get asking him out right. He will say no, even if you are perfect in your elocution and punctual in your timing.

I see no point in denying though that there are a body of the male population that will sleep with women just because they can. You can ask them out and provided they are not at that moment having sex with somebody they prefer to you, they will probably agree to a date and see if they can sleep with you.

The advice I draw from this is twofold, don't procrastinate and agonise over whether the time is right or you know what to say, if he likes you it certainly doesn't matter, if he doesn't like you it almost certainly doesn't matter. The second-fold is that even if he doesn't like you you may still get a date and some sex out of it. No guaruntees.

A Return To The Classics

So you can't bring yourself to it, to ask out a guy. You would rather take the passive approach and play a game of hide & seek. Read and interpret and analyse his behaviour and see if you can encourage him to take the leap of faith.

And you find confidence attractive right? Why not see if he has the confidence to ask a lady out on a date?

Okay, I mean it's valid. Unless you rejected him and have since 180'd and now like him, then you are either going to have to be exceptionally fucken encouraging and he will almost certainly resent you that you didn't have the labia to ask him out, and expected him to do so twice.

But pretty much except for that, oh, also if you used to be married to his best friend, you should ask him out, that way your ex-husbands anger at him is misdirected and hopefully he doesn't hit women or anybody smaller than him.

But except for that, you really don't have any moral obligation to ask a guy out. So don't. Fine. What are you left with?

There's No Such Thing as Too Encouraging

I have a number of friends that enjoy reputations as ladies-men, lady-killers etc. As such one expects them to be uber-confident when dealing with the opposite sex, and professionals at sexual politics, confident they are reading all the signals right and know just what to do.

Yet when recently called upon to do wingman duties, I made light of a lady-killers seeming self-doubt, and he turned to me and said 'I don't think you realise how anxious I am'.

My point is, even amongst men who appear to be confident Mad-Men esque cads, the fear of rejection and anxiety shows up still.

Most people (gender and sexual orientation is irrelevant) are risk averse, that means that they fear the downside (in this case rejection) more than they look forward to the upside (a relationship, sex etc.)

Man, woman etc. If you want somebody to assume that risk for you, then you need to minimise it by being as encouraging and unambiguous as possible.

It's hard, but consistency counts too. The reality of risk aversion is, that if every encouraging thing you do (smile at them, wink at them, laugh at their jokes a little too enthusiastically) is one step forward, every discouraging thing you do, whether intentional or not (be tired and run down around them, fail to laugh at their jokes, respond to an email with 'whatevs') is ten steps back.

Arguably, it isn't ten steps back, but back to scratch. The confidence required for a large number of men to ask a girl out is immense. Immense and fragile, very, very fragile. Furthermore fear of rejection makes any excuse to delay and reevaluate very attractive.

My point is, you can't be too eager. A guy will literally tell his friends 'She brought me a chocolate souffle she baked herself to work today and it had a love heart in syrup on top... I think she maybe likes me.'

I mean there are also guys, much more competent and confident than me for which a smile or wink is enough, and there is always getting really trashed at a backpackers bar and making out with them let's not forget, but many guys need a very compelling case, beyond reasonable doubt to get the courage to ask a girl out. Especially, if they really like you.

Ambiguity is your enemy, inconsistency is your enemy. You don't get to have a bad day in their presence. If you can bottle up your rage and frustration with other aspects of your life and release them liberally when they are not around, so that they may hear of how angry you are around everyone except them.

Nice Guys/Girls Are Ambiguous

I was recently asking about the definition of pacifism, in my youth I had identified as a pacifist and refused to act violently even to defend myself. I later learned that pacifists can employ violence in self-defense. My response was 'hang on, isn't that just most people, isn't that just what a decent person does anyway? Why do they need a special word for that?'

Similarly, there I guess has to be a difference between being a good human being and being encouraging in the above sense. Like I try to be very egalitarian, and I don't know because I get no feedback, but I could imagine that for a girl that was interested in me, this would make trying to determine if I liked them frustrating, because I'm nice to everybody, I support everyone, I am also at times cruel to everybody and critical of everyone.

I probably couldn't tell you how to tell if I like you, but it doesn't matter because if I do I will eventually ask you out. In a possibly too confrontational manner.

But if you are a great person, an amazing person the cruel tragedy is that you will probably have to be an even more amazing woman and ask guys out because they will never be able to tell whether you like them or not. Maybe you can resort to stalking them in an obvious way. Even then, he will probably wonder whether you stalk them exclusively, or you keep an eye on everybody.

He Just Wants to Get In Your Pants... And Then Cuddle Afterwards

I don't want this to come across as a 'ladies, you want equality, start asking men out then!' type quasi-feminist rationalization to why life should be easier for me, a man. What I mean to say is that the number of times my trusted confidants have said to me 'just ask her out!' I feel is disproportianate to the number of times I would recieve this advice if I were a woman.

But the option is there. If you can embrace it, the world is pretty much yours. 'Asking out' seems like a risky, vague yet precise science to me as a man. I have to do so confidently, ideally face to face, failing that I should definitely call, and from their the communication channels somehow reduce in effectiveness.

My delivery should be confidant, nonchalant but not overconfident or nonchalant. Humour is okay, unless it is funny, and subsequently creeps her out. By all means we must not reveal ourselves to be creeps.

A creep is a man that just wants to have sex with her, unenjoyable sex. The sex will be unenjoyable if my body isn't perfect, men's bodies and genitalia are unattractive things. Sex with me will almost certainly be unenjoyable. Maybe I will wait until I am an elite athlete to ask her out? I can't bear the thought of her lumping me in with that creepy jazz saxophinist as a creepy guy. What if she tells everybody that I asked her out? Makes a toast at work announcing how repulsive she finds me? What if she puts me up for sexual harassment? Who are they gong to believe? A man or a woman? My reputation will be shot. I'll have to quit my job, find a new one, then kill myself.

These fears may be all irrational, the fact though is, that men enjoy and don't enjoy a reputation as being sexist pigs. The nice guy will hesitate about coming across as a pervert, because he probably is a pervert. I am one of the most undersexed guys I know, and I am a pervert. The nice guys are perverts too. They want to have sex with you. They just feel guilty about it, and they want the oxytocin hit after sex too, the cuddling, the affection.

They worry about coming across as a creepy stalker because, the nice guys do obsess over you.

It's so hard for a nice guy to be confident because he is nice. His niceness will almost inevitably result in self-doubt and restraint. It takes a lot for guys like me to admit to the natural impulse in our heads that say 'I want to fuck you so bad.' because this sounds suspiciously like the guy you don't want to hook up with who says 'I want to fuck you so bad. then discard you, then fuck your friend.'

They are worlds apart, but similarly both enjoy sex. The thing is that the latter guy is going to ask you out because he has no sense of shame, he is disproportionately likely to represent men in the collective impression of men amongst straight women.

So in short, be encouraging, be assertive. No results are guarunteed.

It's A Case Of Positioning The Feet In the Shoes

I love Q-tip. I also can't write advice for how a guy can pick up women that they actually want to be with, because I have no idea whether what works for me can be transposed onto the opposite sex.

For example, I have a theory that if a girl liked me, I really can't fuck up asking them out, but it's just a theory. I am never going to aks out enough girls to test it in any meaningful way. I would really just need to be told if it's true or not.

I am really shit at asking out women, this is something I know about myself. But I do everything in my power to resist reading 'The Game'.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why I Wear Lycra

It was around this time last year, my beloved sister and I were awaiting the commencement of somewhat fun run 'Run Melbourne' having upgraded us both from the 10k event to the 21k Half-Marathon (it still perplexes me how often I get asked how long a marathon/half-marathon is, I assumed like how to use chopsticks everybody knew by now) and we had dropped off our bags.

As somebody who wears their clothes until they are literally rags I am too cheap to ever throw away any of my warm gear at the start line, so approximately 10-20 minutes before the start of a fun run I am in nothing more than my running gear.

It was at this event I noticed that approximately 99% of male competitors wear some kind of polyester running shorts. I seemed to be the only one in lycra shorts, many wear skins or 2xu compression gear (*spitting noise*) or lycra running shorts under their outer shorts, but generally men do not wear form fitting bottoms when running.

I do. I have unusual running preferences for a distance runner, but common running preferences for a sprinter. I like my shoes to weigh under 100g, I like my clothes to only be there if they are an improvement on being naked. For me the comfort and performance offered by these preferences should surely only multiply as the distance run increases.

Admittedly I lose all sensation in my feet, but aside from that the light weight form fitting attire pays off with literally every step. That is why I prefer to run in that gear.

But I can't help but notice a clear gender divide. If you know running you know that shrinkage is a factor, your dick is never going to be particularly impressive during the cold months of the cross-country running season. Furthermore even when you run and heat up, your blood is diverted away from the genitals and the opposite of engourgement happens. So it's possible that many men would honestly prefer the comfort of running in lycra shorts but simply don't because they feel self conscious about their small genitals.

But I was lead to understand that the great masses of marketing and media messages were disproportionately devoted to making women feel bad about their appearance and thus would be far more self conscious. But there is absolutely no evidence, none, that women feel self conscious about their bodies and furthermore displaying them behind a thin veneer of lycra. There seems to be no social pressure to cover up at all.

Admittedly this has always been the case, the 'hipster' cut of jeans  suited very few womens body types, yet during the early 2000's we all copped an eyeful of 'muffin tops' as the unflattering fashion was dutifully subscribed to.

Why then do men feel an urge to cover up? Men that have unrealistic and high maintenence body shapes?

When I am in shape I wear lycra to intimidate my opposition. When I am out of shape I wear lycra to punish myself for getting out of shape (whilst simultaneously enjoying the comfort). The only, the ONLY justification for wearing cover-up shorts I feel is that no lycra shorts to my knowledge have a pocket for your keys.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"God" Debates

Thanks to Youtube, you can watch people who are celebrated and world class leading people in their fields debate eachother on the merits of God. Thanks to moveable type, the printing press and paper, you can read the summation of the debate published in a widely available book 'Why I Am Not A Christian' by Bertrand Russel. Thanks to the internet you can actually read it here.

I am going to assert, without conclusively proving, the debate has not moved onto a place where Russell's rebutals are rebutted. That is, I feel that Russell has reasonably dismissed a bunch of arguments, and arguably all the arguments. For example: 
The First-cause Argument

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.
What you will find instead is, that in a substantial number of these 'Is there a God' debates is that the affirmative (There is a God) will get up and just reiterate the 'first cause argument' in some form or another, to a varying degree of eloquence, as if Bertrand Russell had never rebutted it.

Then the negative (Athiests do not have to substantiate belief in something unsubstantiated) get up and with a much higher degree of eloquence, and varying degrees of genuine frustration and restraint, reiterate Russell's rebuttal in some form or another.

So rather than being a 'debate' as a contest, intended to pursuade the audiance is an farce. It is in practice an old familiar play, like 'Romeo & Juliet' that never moves into new territory and the outcome never changes.

But it gets worse.

It isn't just a way to act out Bertrand Russell's book for new audiences that never would read it, getting people like Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair, Deepak Chopra and Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and some Irish Mathematicians to star in the roles of rational person and believer. The debate almost always forces the negative to wear two hats. That is-it is biased against the affirmative.

Firstly the negative - for convenience I will call them athiests, not only have to argue the case of a rational view of the universe, they almost always have to spend their time fulfilling the role of the adjudicator or moderator.

Giving examples ties in with how to move the debate forward so I'll try and combine these two.


'Science' and 'reason' have very specific meanings, and within their context words like 'proof' and 'evidence' and 'methodology' also have very specific meanings. And you see these words being abused, which is to say, employed without respect to their proper definition.

Just looking at 'science' tells you a lot about how the debate can't move forward. Perhaps the most common (and tired) argument FOR god, is 'you can't prove there isn't a god'. If you use the functional, practical and real definition of science - this is not an argument at all. The reason being that science does not have to prove negatives. It's an inadmissable argument where you need an adjudicator or moderator to step in and say 'this is a reasoned debate with agreed definitions, and that argument is inadmissable', instead you wind up with 10-40 minutes of the hour long televised special being taken up by an athiest scientist trying to get across to the believers/spiritualists what science actually means, so that they can rebut the tired old argument.

Reason and logic too need to be agreed on. Deepak Chopra for example, when debating Sam Harris and Michael Sherma employs a well known tactic and informal logical fallicy known as 'blinding with science' which is where he throws out a bunch of inaccessible scientific jargon to support his views that actually have no meaning or misrepresent the science he names. After 'blinding with science' he frequently employs 'definitional retreats' precisely why to move forward with the debate you need a moderator to enforce the definitions that is a distinct role, seperate from the people representing rational views of existence.

Succinctly, you need both sides to agree to the rules of the debate.


What largely makes the debates popular wastes of time, is that the affirmative has a really easy job of holding its ground. So without agreed definitions, it can make invalid arguments that the negative has to respond to, then if they choose to respond at all, they can simply interject and mouth a bunch of meaningless platitudes. A fine example being Deepak Chopra, and after doing so, depressingly large portions of the audience will clap.

Imagine if you had a game of basketball, where one team uses a series of creative passes to get the ball into the hands of their best 3-point shooter, whom wide open (no defender is there to physically contest them taking the shot) shoots the ball into the net. Roughly half the audience errupts into applause and cheering to see such superb play, their team transitions into defence as the other team takes the ball.

The other team kick the basketball along the ground in a display of fancy footwork, directing the ball away from the waiting defenders completely and into the change room where they dunk it into a bowl of coleslaw. Suddenly the other half of the audience errupts into rapturous applause.

This takes place because there is no objective scoreboard, or even effectually referee to point out, and penalise the completely illegal, and meaningless play of the second team. The audience in turn applauds there efforts out of a complete ignorance of the rules of basketball. The first team was furthermore duped into playing in the first place because they were led to believe that they were competing in a game of basketball.

The analogy may be labored, but I'm at pains to point out that the debate can't move forward if the affirmative - believers, side of the debate can continue to pretend to be debating, when in fact they are not engaged in the debate at all.

Furthermore the negative, the rationalists by participating in such events counterbalance the spreading of their reasoned arguments by being complicit in legitimising the illigitamate opposition.

Once you stage a debate with accepted definitions of what the debate is about, and what constitutes logical arguments, and what tactics are unacceptable (known as fallacies) you can simply set up a scoreboard. Then you can have winners and losers.

What would this look like? The affirmative stands up and says 'My esteemed opposition, I respect your right to believe there is no God, but you don't afford me the same respect. You are as bad as the fundamentalists you criticise, you can't prove God does not exist, but you demand that I prove God.' The argument is invalid, based on the agreed definitions of science, athiest, proof etc. so while the audience bursts into applause, the scoreboard deducts points from the affirmative speaker for making an invalid argument. Then the moderator explains that the negative speaker does not have to respond to the argument, because science does not have to prove negatives.

I believe such a scoring system is necessary, you get points for making valid arguments, the points are deducted when somebody rebuts your argument with a valid counter-argument, which they in turn recieve points for. Fallacies and invalid arguments (ones that contradict the agreed definitions) are penalised.

In the above description, you will note that the audience applauds an argument that actually loses points or is penalised. This isn't to say the sadistic audience is cheering the failure of the hated affirmative. It is my observation that the affirmative side cheers invalid arguments and fallacies often in this debate from a place of ignorance.

The lack of a scoreboard allows this debate to wallow in pre-Bertrand Russell infancy forever. For the simple reason that the speakers that employ these invalid arguments, or vacuous platitudes or logical fallacies recieve no negative reinforcement and infact recieve positive reinforcement. One could argue that sometimes the speaker who does so is not doing so out of a place of genuine ignorance, but is actually being deliberately deceptive and misleading. The audience is I'm fairly certain always applauding from a place of ignorance.

If you add an objective element to provide negative or positive reinforcement, you can produce a winner or loser that at the very least means that no matter how convincing you found the person who believes as you do, you would have to walk away wondering why your side lost.

As it stands both sides can walk away thinking they won. Some debates currently poll the audience members, to determine 'democratically' who won the debate, this just demonstrates the problem. Under the scoreboard and moderator system, I have described you would find some of the well known debates look like this:

Christopher Hitchens (12) def Tony Blair (0) - the most civilised debate, where Hitchens systemically rebuts Blairs arguments. Blair is nowhere near Hitchens ability, but is intelligent enough to not employ blatent fallacies etc.

Richard Dawkins (8) def Irish Mathematician (-12) another civilised debate, one though where the structure frustrates Dawkins who has to skip arguments just to clear up the blatent fallacies and invalid arguments made by his opposition.

Sam Harris (30) def Deepak Chopra (-88) in some ways the best debate, and in other ways the worst. The worst because Deepak Chopra is involved and virtually unchecked by everything but the reasoning of the opposition. Almost everything he says is fallacious AND vacuous.

But under the democratic polling system, these debates could all go either way, depending on the make up of the audience as they don't understand the rules of logical debate.

Accusations of Bias

The scores for the famous recent debates I made up all heavily favor the negative, the athiest champions. And by Champion I don't mean 'winner' but those championing the cause of atheism and a rational, scientific view of the universe. That the first time such a debate is held, there will almost certainly be accusations of bias. If not from the participants, then certainly in the comment thread on youtube.

For example, when somebody makes the non-argument 'the athiest view of the christian God is bleak and depressing, that's not the God I believe in.' (a definitional retreat) the moderator steps in and deducts points and explains that the athiest attacked the God as described in scripture, and the speakers personal interpretation is not evidence based, and thus invalid.

Just trust me when I say, that under such adjudication and scoring, it will appear brutal for the side of faith. It would seem like the umpire in a sporting match was handing out all the penalties to one team and giving the ball to the other. It would appear one-sided.

Sorry to keep using sporting analogies, but my high-school principal was fond of describing debating as sport, and it kind of is. The thing is that for almost all the debates on this topic organised we have historically been presenting them as if two elite-professional teams were facing off against eachother. Instead for whatever reason, they are in practice an elite-professional team versus complete amatuers, that are committing penalties left right and center because they don't even know the rules of the game.

Obviously I have a bias, but for every debate I've watched, I'm simply struck by the inability of the believers, the Christians, or those representing faith based belief systems to produce a champion of anywhere near the quality of the negative. This is despite atheists having no major institutions to back them, no central organising body nothing.

The Dawkins or Hitchens debates certainly at least dig up presentable champions to oppose them, but they are clearly dwarfed in intellect and reasoning ability by the athiests. And this is despite the lack of moderation forcing them to give up minutes to explaining the basic presence of science and defining terms like 'explanation' and 'complexity'.

But the bias is intrinsic, Harris and/or Dawkins write about the correlation. Atheists tend to be well versed in logic, reason and science, as formally defined processes, because atheism is belief position arrived at by reason. Furthermore, the proportion of University Professors that are athiests are much higher than the proportion in the general population. Conversely, the proportion of devout believers in God, is much higher than the general population on prison death rows. Belief is weakest in developed countries with high standards of living, and highest in impoverished countries with low standards of living.

Faith, by definition, is belief in the absense of evidence. It is not a reasoned position. So the bias for something that is called a 'debate' and is supposed to be a contest of intellectuals engaged in reasoned argument, is just inherently biased away from faith and towards athiesm.

So why do them?

These debates need to take place, and can take place because there is a large body of believers that genuinely believe that faith in a personal God is a reasonable position. These are arguments in the tradition of Pascal's Wager, or Des Cartes meditations.

In terms of where reason and philosophy is at, these arguments are way behind the times, but I'm sure you will find representatives of Judeo Religions and other Personal Gods and even spiritualists that believe they can win the argument applying only reason.

Debates under the conditions I've described (and not those conditions I've criticised) would do a genuine public service, the consciousness raising Dawkins talks about in 'The God Delusion' namely. But really I want them held to actually move the debate forward. I would love to actually see somebody champion religion with the kind of quality that atheism has been championed with on the better occassions. There are plenty of people who shouldn't champion atheism, but the fact is that Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins at least have done really high quality jobs. All of course preceeded by Bertrand Russell, this quality simply has never been produced for the faith side, Blair didn't even come close, and he is probably the closest.

Des Cartes and Pascal were alright, but the debated when the standard of the debate was much lower, the debate itself in its infancy, before enlightenment thinkers like Spinoza and Voltaire came along, and Isaac Newton revolutionised the study of physics.

To me, even if no debate ever would actually change the mind of a believer or athiest, they would be valid I feel because the champions of faith only CAN do so, from a place of ignorance as to what reason is. These debates would be humbling and educational to them. Furthermore, they could actually educate the audience as to the misuse of science and the bastardisation of scientific terms. It would create more honest belief, in other words. One that is exactly what it is, faith, and doesn't pretend to be supported by reason and empirical evidence. 

Lastly you could actually just reiterate the same debate, with a track of the scores and see an improvement in the quality of debate. For example, the first time Sam Harris faces off with Deepak Chopra, he walks away with 30 points on his side of the board and Chopra has to humbly swallow -88. The next week Chopra learns his lesson and stops abusing and misrepresenting quantum physics, he may still lose, but the debate is actually about the topic and not about what constitutes science, expertise and qualifications. Say Sam Harris 10 defeats Deepak Chopra -12.

You don't even need to have the same speakers or panelists, you just need to move the debate on. On to someplace interesting in a non-Schadenfrued way.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Core Confidence

Not to be confused with core competence. People often confuse me for somebody who is confident, and have said things like 'you project an air of confidence'. Or 'you're such a confident public speaker' and in some ways its true.

What is the secret to my confidence? It's actually pretty bad.

I don't give a shit about me.

This makes me seemingly confident when it comes to my choice in clothes, being naked in public, speaking in public, running through injury, voicing my opinion to the boss, being broke because I donated to much to a kickstarter project etc.

This is not to say, that I would break down under torture and thus keep state secrets secret. But I have to usually be in physical pain before self preservation instincts kick in. Like when my body was shutting down from dehydration in Mumbai, I actually started requesting the doctors kill me. It turns out all I needed was some Saline solution and anti-biotics from a nearby abortion clinic, but still the point is that I'm not immune from the basic human desire for safety. Similarly and not as extremely, when riding through hailstorms and rain in Austria, I would turn to fantasies about having a roof over head and hot showers. Selfish fantasies I know, but I wasn't at that point concerned about anybodies welfare but mine.

But seriously, if I got informed tomorrow that I was broke, had been fired and was being evicted, I would care not much and possibly feel as much relief from the responsibility of having to turn up to work and maintain a residence as I would sense of loss. I would be pretty okay with that. Provided, it didn't effect anybody else.

The only shit in life that feels truly too terrible to avoid is when I am in some way responsible for somebody else's suffering. And by that I don't mean I don't wear Nike shoes because indonesians in sweat shops suffer making them. No more like I got me AND MY HOUSEMATES, evicted. Or I got me, AND MY COLLEAGUES, all fired. Or I lost all my money, and my friends. These risks I will avoid like the plague.

So long as I am the only potential loser in a situation, I can be as confident as needed and often way overconfident. Throw others into the mix, I just want to throw up. Thus my lifestyle may seem self-serving or self-indulgent, it is in fact simply the one that places the most risk on me directly.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Ever been sitting in a bar or restaurant and seen some picture or painting on the wall and thought: I like that.

Then gone for a squizz at the pricetag on it and seen $1200, and just about choked on your ox-tongue taco?

I think this might be common to everyone who has reached the stage of being able to contemplate buying things with their own money, and being in a restaurant where somebody other than their parents are paying. Its a suspicion I have.

Have you ever walked into a store called 'Villain' and leafed through the poster folder to see prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrints (!) of artwork by street-artists for sale for like $100 or more? I suspect this is a less common experience but let me tell you, I have.Yes, a print, a reproducable image being sold for $100 (those were the cheap ones).

I guess with artwork that ultimately it is worth as much as what someone is willing to pay for it. But figuring out what somebody would be willing to pay for something is harder than you would think.

By far the most stressful thing I had to do for my last exhibition was figure out how much to charge for my artwork. The fact that going through the process of exhibiting gave me an insight into how a piece of art on a cafe wall can be $1200 made it no less stressful.

So let's say I buy a stack of post-it-notes and take a blue highlighter and draw a dash on 5 post it notes, virtually identical and then sign each post it note with my name. Bang! artwork done. Thus far I could sell my works for $1 and be coming out way ahead of what my materials cost me, (keeping in mind I can still use the rest of the post it stack and the rest of the ink in the highlighter).

So my current price is $1. Now I just need a place to exhibit. Consider, a gallary needs to be little more than 4 walls and 1 door (to provide entry and exit), can't be too expensive right? You are essentially just hiring a shopfront for a week. What does this cost? A gallary that meets the basic sensible requirements can cost around $1200 for a week or fortnight. Sometimes this includes catering and staff for your launch. Let's say we find a cheap one, one a 30 minute tram ride away from the city. Now it costs the bargain price of $500.

So now my 5 post it notes have to cover $500 just to cover my rent, plus the gallary takes a 10% commission on all sales. So I need to sell my works for $550 just to make no money from the exercise.
Even with my crappy next-best-thing-to-free artwork, I'm going to have to charge $110 each just to cover the costs of the exercise of exhibiting, regardless of the quality of my artwork.

So one could say that the risk of exhibiting and not selling is taken on by the artist and the fact that you pay rent up front coverse the gallary owner from the risks you take. It simultaneously encourages people not to take risks on crappy artwork, but to put their prices up to cover the costs of exhibiting.

So say now, that I have painted 5 actual decent canvas paintings, good artwork, hours of study, refinement and preparation going into each. They will have to all sell for $110 each to break even still, the only thing that has changed is the likelyhood that somebody would buy the pieces at that price. But what about your time? What do you charge for your time?

Here it is difficult, the temptation for people like me is to just not factor it in, and say things like 'I do it for love, I'd pay somebody to let me draw/paint/play/whatever' and it's a strong temptation. But at somepoint you have to cross that line and start asking people 'would you pay for my talents as an artist?'

This is the equivalent of asking 'what is my hourly wage?' and if you do one exhibit a year, you are asking 'what is my annual salary?'.

And you are asking. Whatever price you put on your piece is just the opening round of negotiation - you are saying 'here is what I think I'm worth.' and unless somebody buys it, what you think may be far above the reality. But in this regard you do yourself a disservice by under pricing your art, disregarding the time spent on your exhibition... any sale tells you nothing about what somebody is willing to pay for your skills as an artist.

Most artists I'm sure, lose an average $3000 a year once they get really serious. I was fortunate to see my high school friends' brother's exhibition launch in the infant stages of organising my own. He had sold most of his pieces before the show even opened at a special preview for collectors. He made somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. And this may not sound like much to my pinko-privately-high-schooled-higher-educated readers, but having spent the last two years in a call center asking people about household income you would be shocked at how many families of five live on less than $50,000 a year in a two income household. Furthermore, he got to make that chunk of change through art. That's the fucken dream. There are not many lifestyles for me that can compete with the thought of replacing work with art.

I would probably take a $70,000 salary for an office job at the moment, but that's because I am nowhere near being able to earn $30,000 on art. I wouldn't take that office job if somebody paid me $30,000 to paint.

But once again I've fucken digressed. For me, I wanted to keep my artworks around $50. But as I went through markers and pens three times as fast I realised it was becoming impossible. The fact is that I could have sold the pieces for $30 and covered all my costs. But then I wouldn't know anything about whether I could make it as an artist. I had to tack on something for my pains and my time.

Furthermore, the thing about selling original artworks is that you only get to sell them once. After that they are in the secondary market. There are now contracts in place to ensure indigenous artists get a percentage of the revenue from any sales of their artwork. Eg. The artist gets 5% of $1,000 when the gallary sells it to a collector, then 5% of $10,000 when the collector sells it at auction, and then 5% of $100,000 when it is sold again to a Wall Street firm, then 5% of the $1,000 it is sold for when that firm has all its assets liquidated to pay off creditors. But for most the case is you get the revenue from the initial sale, and then when it sells in 10 years time for $10,000,000 you get to read your name in the newspaper and nothing else.

Furthermore the gallary will take its cut.

At some point my prices will have to stop being based on my dayjob's hourly rate, and start being in essence a job-interview with the public. Can I be a minimum wage earning artist next year? Can I pocket $16,000 or whatever from sales. Can I be taking home $30,000 as an artist in three years time? Will they ever pay me the big bucks and my prices reflect the $75,000 per year plus that I want to take home?

At the moment the question is a more pressing - will I sell a thing at my second exhibition? I subscribe, study and idolise some comic book artists that regularly sell their warm up sketch for $100 each day, plus shipping. That's the first 15 minutes warm up, before they actually get down to the business side of their job and they are already pocketing what it takes me 5 hours to earn in a call center. Then they do their Eisner Award winning comic book covers, or their creator own comic that sold a movie option.

When I can pay my rent on warm up sketches, I'll know I've made it. But that takes a following and followings take both achievement and time. There's a lot of 'love' sketches behind those $100 warm up sketches. But on the flipside of those 'love' sketches, there's a lot of 'love' sales in the early days.

Somebody suggested to me to not have prices on my last exhibit. Meritocratic payment so to speak. The suggestion was well intentioned, and is interesting because it points a way to avoiding the whole stress of having to try and guess what your artwork is worth. But I rejected it.

I think for one, it is kind of unethical. I read this article that I can't find on pricing, but from what I can remember it was something like:

'thou shall start off cheap. thou shalt publish thy prices. thou shalt raise thy prices regularly and by a little. thou shalt not lower prices. thou shalt not have one price for Sam and another for Joe. though shalt not price by talent or time taken, but by size. thou shalt not easily discount thy prices. thou shalt lay control on thy dealers and agents. thou shalt deal with those who will honor thee. thou shalt end up expensive.'

I wish I'd paid more attention to that talent and time taken. But I guess, even if you painted a Mona Lisa, the biggest determinant on what somebody is willing to pay for it will be whether its a postcard on their wall or a billboard. That's how I choose to interpret that. But I think having known and displayed prices that are adhered to is just good practice. I mean it's ultimately your rep that takes you from losing $3000 to making $70,000, there is nothing worse than a collector purchasing a work for $700 to find out you sold an equivalent piece to your friends for $70. It's just making a fraud out of yourself.

That's why over half the pieces of my last exhibition are sitting in a case in a cupboard somewhere. Maybe they would of all sold if I'd just made them cheap enough. Maybe I could have even made more money. Maybe if I'd discounted the leftovers I could have sold more. But the thing is, that that would have told me nothing. Nothing. That I can sell art for little more than the value of the materials it is made from. That I give away my time. Worse, that I don't know whether my friends want me to be an artist or not. And then, are my friends hanging their pieces on the wall next to where they work, and every now and then thinking about Musashi? or is it wedged between two textbooks to be carelessly destroyed and binned.

You got to just figure out what your art is worth, then risk it not selling. That's the exercise of pricing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

But not as low as our low, low standards

Recently I've been watching Louie, Louis CK's second show. There's a scene where a single mother of one of his children's classmates is around for dinner and she calls him a great dad. Why is he a great dad? Because he is 1) in their lives 2) cooks food and 3) picks them up from school.

Whilst a nice complement to Louis, its a sad indictment of the state of dad-kind. This notion that one becomes a 'great' dad simply by doing what one would consider the bare minimum of being a father.

Today I got sent a manager-tools bulletin titled 'how to stand out'. It was well written and lengthy as regards careers, here though is a much briefer guide as to how to stand out:

Do your job.

If you want to shine out like a star, simply read your job description and then do what it says you should be doing. Just the same as taking care of your kids seems to be the obvious thing a father should do, doing your job is a similarly obvious but elusive career strategy.

In our minds, as encouraged by the media, educators and employers in general, we have this idea that today's job marketplace is a tough and competitive environment where only the strongest survive.

The media glorifies, it looks for people who are rich and successful and then tries to retro-fit explanations for that success, calling people who are merely lucky to be in the right place at the right time, visionaries, geniuses, prodigies etc. Seldom do they call them 'trust fund babies' or 'dumb lucky bastards'.

Our educators foster a deep fear that unless we are at the top of our game, today's employers won't want us and pay us money. Who knows why, you are going to graduate into the employ of some dumb lucky bastard who isn't even entirely sure what you are going to do or why they supposedly need you.

Companies are least willing to explain their success as mere luck because they want to believe they somehow earned it. They want the best recruits and so promote themselves as genius institutions with teams of high-achievers from diverse backgrounds working together to be the best.

This is all untrue, it is actually pretty rare to find people who are carrying out their own job competently. The few support the many, and the many represent much much fat in very pear shaped organisational pyramids.

The fact is that the standards of competency, efficiency and productivity are so low in the labor force that one can shine out as a star simply for doing the job they are paid to do.

The average person won't tell you this because they simply don't realise it. The average person has no real idea how good or bad they are at their job and only a vague idea of why their job exists in the first place. This is often the product of the people that created the job and hired them for it not being very good at their job either.

If a person gets promoted, it is rarely purely performance based, it often has to do with seniority, bargaining power, politics etc. the process is highly bastardised. It's a vicious cycle, if the recruiting position contains somebody incompetent, incompetence will breed. The more managers you have that are incompetent the more incompetent employees will go unchecked.

Inversely, when somebody resigns it is rare for their managers to do anything but try and fill the position. Seldom is the position itself reviewed by a competent manager that says 'this job could be rolled into Joe's, if we just pay him $10,000 more it will save us a $50,000 wage' or 'we don't need this job at all, it's embarassing that we didn't make Steve redundant sooner.'

The standard approach to 'standing out' is to disregard the job you were hired for eg. 'Sales Manager' and try and achieve some important milestone 'Organise Customer Conference' this is as flawed a way to stand out as being absent from you entire kids childhood and then buying them a ticket to disneyland for their 18th birthday is a flawed strategy to being father of the year.

So dust off that job description, read it, and then do the bare minumum expected of you, you'll be gathering low hanging fruit and hurdling really low bars to the top in no time.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


So on tuesday I went to meet a baby, my friends baby. Throughout my life I probably couldn't tell you just how uninterested I have been in babies. I couldn't tell you because I find them so uninteresting that I'm happy for them just to occur somewhere in the background.
Look I get babies, I understand their place in society, but to me they have always seemed all risk and no upside. I have never ever wanted to hold a baby, I mean I would be holding a baby, that to me is the upside I am giving somebody else a break from holding it and then run the potential risk of dropping the baby, or having them throw up on me or shit on me or whatever.

All this thinking is background by the way, I guess my disinterest was apparant enought that nobody ever put the offer on the table of holding a baby.

Now somebody reading this is probably expecting a 'but' at some point. And how I've discovered babies are fascinating. But you know what, beyond an intellectual curiosity, babies are not generally speaking fascinating.

The exception about the baby I met on tuesday, is A) the baby is a baby of two very interesting and wonderful people, people that leave me no doubt that they will be great parents and also produce an interesting person. B) my friends put the expectation on me to be excited and fascinated, where almost nobody else does.

SO this is where interesting people come from, I mean there's some risk that being the offspring of interesting people they'll end up being one of those painfully boring people because they've had everything of interest about them given to them and not earned. But I'm fairly confident that because I'm involved in their life that they'll wind up genuinely interesting.

And so its all interesting, where a person I'll know and talk to in a bunch of years and be able to have conversations, to see, like observing japanese people, how emotionally expressive they can be with such a lack of facial features. Like baby got on well while I was holding them, but give them back to mum and boy the jubilation was palpable.

Something I find weird though is gender identity. Like it's begun, baby is a 'she' and it just seems so irrelevantly premature. Like in the first two years of her life, there's really no fucking difference, no consequence as to whether baby has this or that. Germaine Greer said that puberty is the ultimate betrayal for girls when her body inhibits her ability to be a tomboy. Agree or not, surely we can all agree that before two or something, the difference between 'he' and 'she' is conceptual, purely conceptual.

And yet, and fucking yet, this is where people, fucking otherwise feminist minded or 'this place is sexist' people and by people I'm probably sexistly saying 'women' feel it is safest, most harmless to typecast a baby girl as a girly fucking girl. Buy them pink dresses and fairy wings and dolly's and baby's for baby girls to play with and shit.

And it just seems all topsy turvy to me. I mean the gender roles are real and the 'holy grail' of raising a kid gender nuetral is highly questionable, because it probably carries with it more disadvantages than any gender role could in the current day. Plus, I mean to speak frankly 'male privelege' is the holy grail, it isn't what it used to be, but whether you have a boy or girl you want them to have that male privelege, not to not identify with any gender role.

And women have to dig themselves out of a hole, that was not intended in any way shape or form to be a euphamistic pun although immediately as soon as I read it I knew it was one. But the point being that a baby to me is just a fucking baby and it feels strange to be saying 'he' or 'she' to me because it simply has no meaning at one week old, or two weeks or... at some point it will make a difference. It makes a difference when you can say 'hey, dresses were designed for you.' or 'nice moustache' and particularly 'don't go in that bathroom'.

I don't know about gender neutral, but I mean handshaking should be taught straightout boy or girl, and how to kiss on the cheek, give hugs etc. It would seem the latter years are where you get into accentuating the particular beauty whether masculine or feminine of a child. Doing it to a baby is just way too premature.

Also, being 'Uncle' finally had a straight girl mistake me for being gay. It was awesomely entertaining.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Can you spare a dollar?

I'd almost be confident in saying that at some point in everyones lives, and by everyone I mean the usual - wealthy white westerners, we have had the thought 'if just everyone in the world gave me a dollar, all my problems would be solved and they wouldn't even notice the lost dollar.' or something like it.

Of course it amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking, we quickly recognise that although a dollar is nothing much to the people that possess them in plenty, it is too arbitrary for us to be designated as the recipient. It is too unfair to ever happen in real life.

And yet it happens, it happens all the time. You are giving not just a dollar up to somebody arbitrarily but many dollars, potentially thousands.

I'm talking of course about fund managers, finincial planners, finance experts, investment firms, managed funds etc. The entire industry exists and is sustained, propegated and well compensated for one reason and one reason only: confidence.
Confidence. noun 1. full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing: We have every confidence in their ability to succeed.

Not expertise. There is no evidence of expertise, there is almost no history of expertise, the expertise is simply arbitrary. Or post-hoc, we entrust our money to them therefore they are experts not they are experts therefore we entrust our money to them.

The vast bulk of 'mum & dad' invesotors' (a tautology if ever I heard one) funds are accrued passively through supperannuation (401k plans in the US, and I'm sure Europe and Japan have their local equivalents) and these funds have to go into some kind of 'super-fund' of which deregulation in Australia saw the number of which massively increase once superchoices came into effect and then rapidly decrease to be dominated by industry super funds.

What made the difference? Not expertise, just fees. Low fees. You would be amazed at how mythical the notion of finance expertise is.

For example, the majority of fund managers, people who look at the sharemarket every day, read the Wall Street Journal, meet in the morning with other experts, have doctrates in advanced mathemagicalness and have six monitors on their desk are outperformed consistently by index funds.

Index funds just try and imitate as closely as possible the share market as a whole. It requires no real expertise and costs far less generally than having a fund manager manage your funds.

Let that thought explode in your mind for a while. Most fund managers would have performed better if they had not performed at all. If they had not attempted to pick winners or time the market or even manage risks.

And yet we trust these very people with their poor track records with sums of money that are supposed to determine our quality of life in our twilight years. It is not uncommon for example for an investment bank or managed fund to retain a staff member on $100,000 a year, plus a $20,000 signing bonus, plus a $100,000 annual (or staying) bonus simply for staying in the job. And yes the job is horrible, but consider that they are paid this despite their average customers superannuation balance being $50,000 (and shrinking).

This works because it is scalable, that is one fund manager can manage a thousand clients funds. One decision effects 1000 people, they don't need to make 1,000 decisions. But it doesn't work because they don't do a good job. They don't do a good job because they don't know what they doing. Not only do they have no-idea what they are doing, they often have no-idea they have no-idea what they are doing.

For example, there is a compelling and beguiling theory called 'efficient market theory' or 'efficient market hypothesis' that says the market is basically this huge supercomputer that efficiently determines the correct price of everything in it, and doesn't make mistakes. I personally am a fan of EMT in terms of thinking that their is no information produced by the market that can be exploited for personal gain. I'm not a fan of EMT when it is interpreted as 'the market can't make mistakes.' EMT should liberate you from the absurd notion that you need to read the Wall Street Journal to keep up to speed with the market. I'm not a fan when it is used to disregard phenomena such as asset-bubbles.

Proponents (indeed Authors) of EMT, don't like the traditional Keynsian explanation of bubbles - markets are driven by emotions. Because they will correctly point out that 'emotions' are not an explanation. But it is better to say 'markets are driven by emotions so who knows what the fuck they will do' than to say 'blah blah blah mathematical model therefore = confidence.' or as Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts it 'it is better to be approximately right, than wrong with infinite precision.'

The problem is taxi-drivers. Estimate the percentage of Taxi-drivers that are bad drivers despite their extensive hours on the road. Now estimate the number of taxi-drivers that would describe themselves as good drivers. I'm going to guess that typical responses to this exercise are 90% and 90%. How does this disparity occur? Well the figures are probably incorrect, but can we concieve that the disparity arises because the very criteria we use to evaluate somebody else as a bad driver is the exact criteria they may use to evaluate themselves as a good driver.

Thus thusly, what I would use to describe somebody as an incompetent investor is if they earned top marks in a finance degree. Precisely the thing that gives them confidence in their own abilities. And confidence is the mistake, and why it is not just arbitrary to redistribute our wealth to them, but probably misguided.

This post was inspired by the Address to the Princeton Graduates by Michael Lewis author of 'Moneyball' and 'Liars Poker'. Lewis pointed out that as long ago as the 80's the practice of hiring people into finance to handle millions of dollars of other people's money based on a subjective view of their intelligence was thought of as a winning strategy.

Lewis was shipped to the London office of Salomon Brothers as a bond salesman. Despite his lack of knowledge, he was soon handling millions of dollars in investment accounts. In 1987, he witnessed a near-hostile takeover of Salomon Brothers but survived with his job. However, growing disillusioned with his work, Lewis quit the firm at the beginning of 1988 to write this book and become a financial journalist. The first edition was published October 17, 1989.
This isn't a once off mistake, it's common practice. Driven by confidence, not expertise. Confidence in Wall Street, confidence in experts, confidence in regulators and business practice, confidence in higher education, confidence in academia, confidence in economic theory, confidence in consumers, confidence, confidence, confidence.

The whole system is based on trust, and it probably has to be. I am not one of those moron's that thinks dropping the gold standard and switching to 'legal tender' as a system of money (*cough* Zeitgeist *cough*) was too much trust. I mean commerce is if nothing else a system of trust. I am simply saying the trust is being abused.

I have a degree in marketing, so I know that if you have somebody from the bodyshop say 'this cream will moisturise you skin and make you feel good' dressed in a hemp t-shirt and jeans made by adults in a developing economy under fair trade conditions, a person is less likely to buy the product when approached by a woman with no qualifications in a lab coat in Myers saying 'blah blah blah anti-ageing science = rejuvination'. In just the same way the people we should trust our money too, the people like Warren Buffet and Benjamin Graham before him who say 'I don't pretend to understand it, I just buy what I know when the price is right.' are cast aside in favor of 'we have 17 risk managers calculating Beta's to determine the optimum portfolio to diversify away your risk and blah blah blah derivatives = higher returns at lower risks' that shouldn't be trusted with $1 let alone thousands and millions. The government probably needs to step in and regulate away our tendency to be impressed by scientificness and repulsed by honesty and epistemic humility.

But still, next time you find yourself wishing everybody would just give you a dollar for no reason, consider a job in finance. And next time a hobo asks you if you can spare a dollar, you may as well make them your fund manager. They will probably lose less. Alcohol and Cigarettes tend to perform well in recessions.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What I Didn't Learn From My Father

My dad never asks for help.

And in many ways it was always admirable, he is a true handyman and mr. fixit and everything. He is the first person you go to for help. But he doesn't ask for help. He is not the kind of man that would ask somebody to take him to emergency, he would just drag his bleeding carcass there.

And I'm sure this has informed my borderline masochistic resilience aspect of my personality. But life is so much easier asking for help. Life is so much easier with a wingman, with contacts, with favors. We are ultimately social animals, everything our civilization has achieved is the product of cooperation, favors, trade.

My dad does this, just heavily biased towards giving, almost never taking. My dad subsequently is not the kind of man that founds a great nation:

"If you want a friend, let them do you a favor." ~ Ben Franklin.

And it's true. You can be generous just by accepting somebodies generosity. The second highest form of flattery (after imitation) is asking somebodies opinion. People by and large love to help, love to feel useful.

And by the nature of helping and being useful it makes life so much easier.

My dad is by no means, not even close, not even in the same country as being a 'failure as a father' but his resistence and aversion to recieving help is as probably as close as he's come to failing me as a role model. Fortunately giving me a priveleged background in education and socio-economic conditions really drummed in 'it's not what you know it's who you know.' It's probably the most valuable thing one gets out of private school.

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Last night I saw prometheus, then in the early hours of the morning saw At the Movies review of prometheus. David and Margeret make a valid point that there is no really outstanding performance in the movie, lacking a Sigourney Weaver type stage presence, the strongest performance is the Android David's homage to Peter O'Tools Lawrence of Arabia.

But the true star are the sets, and the ominous movements through them, and above all Giger's designs from the original Alien film. It was just emersive and emotional purely because of that. The movie could have had no actors in it for all I care, the story of travelling for 2 and a half years out into space into an alien tomb was the fucking best reason to go see a film in years. Years I tell you. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Gender Recapped

Last year I wrote this post detailing my views on Gender and Gender Issues. I wrote it before I read 'The Gender Delusion' and 'GenderQueer' so that I could one day write this very post and have some gauge of how the books and my studies effected me.

They Live

John Carpenter's 80's sci-fi horror film involved Roddy Piper putting on and taking off glasses to notice the alien overlords oppression through our everyday capitalist enterprises. In the same way, once you start studying gender you start to see just how reinforced gender is. Like glimpsing a vast architecture of truss rods holding the sky up.

Le Petit Prince pointed out how obsessed people are with numbers, when we ask about people we always ask things like 'how old is he?' etc, and never 'what does his voice sound like?' and you don't have to get very far into life before our natural tendency is to ask 'Is it a boy or a girl?' In fact this is the first thing probably said of all of us. But having the question answered - what does it mean? How would we feel one way or the other? What is the information imparted by us? For sure we immediately go off and construct some imaginary future for the person that we feel is most swayed by the alignment of gender in an individual.

But it's everywhere and it is constant. Reading the gender delusion though, I learned the important distinction between sex and gender. Sex - is biological, a description of our chromosomes and reproductive organs. It is as clear as you can get to being distinct and even then isn't always clear cut. Gender - is our social construct it is the collection of beliefs as to what somebodies sex means in defining their identity, their gender identity.

As such gender is far more malliable, it may inform our identity but not necessarily any more so than say nationality. And just as nationality can be reassigned or expanded so too should be gender.

There just seems to be a strong physical link between gender and sex, this creates friction and confusion in people's pursuit of self expression, but no more so than being Australian and having brown skin, there is every chance some bogan will confuse you for a foreigner because your physical appearance doesn't appear to match your national identity.

Attempts though to seperate and avoid the gender conditioning that comes along with sex though requires a herculean effort. In the gender delusion, myths that gender is somehow innate - eg. 'I gave my daughter a tow truck toy and found her with it wrapped in a blanket singing it to sleep/a gave my son a barbie and he used it to battle skeletor' fall way short of the effort required. One of the most powerful aspects of the book was when a family was studied that actually made real effort to raise their children gender neutral.

To illustrate just how reinforced the invisible architecture of gender is, consider that these parents drew over every children's picture story book to add beards to female characters and breasts to male characters, they ensured that the parents didn't follow any gender roles at home, meaning all cooking, cleaning, bathing, tucking into bed, singing of nursery rhymes, washing up and hanging out the laundry was split absolutely 50/50. The parents also maintained a constant pretence that they could not guess the gender of anybody unless they were able to see the persons penis or vagina. The only thing their children were taught about gender was that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. So if you didn't think having a child would change your lifestyle enough, imagine having to change it to rear the child gender neutrally. Furthermore, once your child starts socialising nobody else is dedicated to the same game. Well meaning idiots will intervene and try and gender condition your children on your behalf.

Iceberg-less tip

How much of gender is biological? Amazingly, almost none. The iceberg is all tip. The only constant difference between the genders found from much research is that men are consistently better at mental rotation tasks. Everything else 'men are good at maths and reasoning, women are good at creativity and emotional thinking.' doesn't hold up once you remove the conditioning.

If a woman is conscious that she is being tested to determine the role of gender in mathematical ability, she is unlikely to perform as well as if she were just solving mathematical problems. Most research into the differences between gender have been conducted as such.

fMRI scans of the brain also are inconclusive, they simply show a proxy for brain activity, which means all conclusions are inference only.

People with penises tend to be bigger and stronger than people with vagina's. That seems to be about it. For all the non-athletic functions of people living in an advanced society, there are no intrinsic differences between gender.

But there are differences, all it seems the product of gender conditioning.

All Powerful Conditioning

Humor me and lets pretend there is no god. There are still people who won't touch pork or other pig products simply because they were conditioned to believe that it is wrong. There are people that converse with an imaginary being in their head just because from their earliest memories they were told that somebody could listen to their thoughts.

Humor me again and pretend that nations don't really exist. There are people that would hate to the point of physical abuse somebody carrying a passport issued by a body that once went to war with them decades or centuries ago, simply because they were raised to believe that a nation had some character that was preserved across generations. There are people who won't let you enter a geographical region because you were born in and spend most of your time in another geographical region. There are people who will hang up the phone on you because they believe you to come from some geographical region just by the sound of your voice.

Gender like the above thought experiments exists purely through social reinforcement, there may have been at some point in our history when lives were a simple matter of our reproductive cycle and not much more where gender roles were reinforced by nature. You can fuck a man all you like, he won't get pregnant. These were the limits of the scientific method. But we weren't very scientific for a really, really, really long part of our collective history. Thus societies were able to be formed along gender lines that dealt with roles much more complex than reproduction. Gender roles were rolled into agriculture, theology, education, commerce, politics etc. long before any of the assumptions the roles were based upon were studied with anything approaching scientific scrutiny.

But the fact is that even though science now knows a lot more about the gulf between gender and sex, the beliefs, conditioning and reinforcement persist on their own momentum.

In exactly the same way we know how the universe was formed, how the solar system was formed, how the sun was formed, how the planets were formed, how life evolved, where the dinosaurs went, where chemicals come from, where the sun goes at night, what shape the earth is, why the seasons change, why the tides go up and down, where lightning comes from, what causes earthquakes, how earthquakes cause tsunamis, when comets will show up, which organ produces emotions, what organ produces conscious thought, what regions of what organs effect what functions etc. and yet texts written by people that guessed all these things and got them comically wrong remain authorities in this world respected by our laws and political systems.

Ideas and beliefs are powerful, and gender may just be the most powerful idea we have.

Not Lou Gehrig

Genderqueer is an elightening and powerful read. But the part that had the most impact was the concluding essay by the editor. We are all constantly affected by gender identity because it isn't about our right to be man or woman, but our right to self expression. I understand now why many people easily labelled by one of the letters in LGBTIQ hesitate to identify with them.

The moment you define a group as 'Lesbian' or 'Gay' you are defining not just the people whose interests you are representing but all those people whose interests you aren't representing. This is the reason behind the comical extention of letters from L&G to LGB to LGBT, to LGBTI to LGBTIQ. Hopefully finally having the catchall 'queer' on the end will put an end to expanding abbreviations, but if you go to an LGBTIQ rally, the fact is that half the speakers will be speaking on why 'T' and 'I' belong in LGBTIQ and why 'L' and 'G' should care.

Which isn't to speak of all the hetero normative people like myself standing in the crowd. One could be tempted to say we are fighting for you, not ourselves and how noble that is, 'there but for the grace of god, go I' though. My right to self expression is important. I should no more be beat up for insisting there's a superfluous 'h' in my name than somebody should for expressing their love of the same sex.

There should be no more scrutiny of my putting my name in lower case on a wedding invitation as whatever circumstances lead to a wedding invitation signed 'Lucy and Suzy'.

Freedom of expression effects us all, all the time. The only restrictions on freedom of expression are hate speech.

The conditioning is there, but the message of what is acceptable in our society is off point. I don't deny that a transgendered individual wont get funny looks from some rural police officer in 30 years time, it's just that that look should be no funnier than if they were looking at some city folks $500 jeans. People will carry their prejudices, but we should all fight for the right to offend those prejudices, not protect them. In whichever or whatever form it takes. Thus one man/woman/neither's gender issue is my and your self-expression issue.

I was going to write something

But feel inexplicably down, fuck it. I'm going to walk the dog and then go to the library and draw.

fuck all yous cunts.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

State Of The Art Address

We got too good and too cheap and now just fuck eachother over. Very exciting clothes and very exciting haircuts are available to very unexciting people. At some point the dike broke and everything just spilled from the internet and washed away the surf shops, leaving everyone confused and disoriented.

Are bad artists still toiling away somewhere to become better artists? Almost certainly. Is good art being produced? As much if not more than ever before. Is good art being over-reproduced? gaddamn fuck yeah it fucken is. Talking about seeing 'Andre the Giant Has a Posse' posters being stuck over local shitty graffiti, talking about local bands printing gig posters with the art of Shohei. Or posters for club nights using the iconic photos of Biggie. And every boring cunt wearing a shirt from threadless. What are we all thinking?!?!?!?!?!??????

It's actually even more boring than before, because exciting people haven't gotten any more exciting in absolute terms, they are still up to speed with the cutting edge, dress in clever well designed clothing, can spot an op-shop find and seeing obscure underground acts from around the world when they pass through our cities. They are still being inspired by the best the world has to offer. Just everybody else is too. It's like the only ingredient left in our pantries is hundreds of thousands, and nobody is paying for it.

So much noise, so little money. On the positive, those that will stick with art are the ones that do it for love. On the negative, those that stick with it will have to fight tooth and nail just to get art done. When I saw the Shohei poster, I'm not even morally indignant that they are stealing some artists work. If somebody stole my images for a poster I'd probably be bemused and flattered. The thing is that I would do that poster for free, or for a copy of an EP, or for my name on the door to the gig. Or just plain free. What am I to do now that I have to compete against the worlds best artist for the shitty local gig's shitty local gig? Offer to pay them to do their poster? Shohei is strangling my market and he isn't even getting paid. He doesn't even know, he is taking a godzilla like stroll and crushing not me per se, but the shitty artist friend of the band they don't even think to ask.

The Shephard Farey posters I'm sure were part of a commercial 'guerrilla marketing' campaign and hopefully, for all our sakes, not the work of somebody who thought they were being creative (including Shephard Farey, btw I can't be bothered looking up how to spell his name correctly). But art has always been a winner take all business, and more people shuffle past the Mona Lisa in the Louvre than any other painting and any other gallary, year after year for as long as anybody can remember. And our patrons, the public, the plebs etc aren't wrong in demanding (subconsciously) the best the world has to offer. The thing is though that the plebs are now the fucking same in every fucking city and town in the world, and they must soon tire of art itself.

People hate competition because they don't realise how much they love it. The prevelant attitude 'I love graffitti when it is done well, but I can't stand those "tags" they are just vandalism' bespeaks the general ignorance of where good art comes from. Good art comes from bad art. To dispense with bad art and just consume the good is to live as unsustainably as we do with every material resource. The supply won't get replinished. Every graphic designer/skater/dj will give up and default in months not years and almost none of these douchebags will survive and evolve into decent fucking artists/creators/producers, they will have 450 business cards left instead of 120 when they resign themselves to a real job. Only the prodigies will flourish under the current consumption habits, and prodigies have limitations - all execution, no ideas.

Where, where do I suggest we start reversing the trend? Artists should support artists, and stop fucking eachother over. I'm not even talking about the big international artists, I'm sure they already do enough. I'm talking about shitty local artists looking to eachother, buying eachothers art, going to eachothers launches, going to eachothers gigs (and not just because you are their support act), creating a scene again that you own rather than a collection of people imitating the same gold standard. Because people don't need to buy crappy imitations anymore when they can just steal the real thing.