Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I euthanised my dog last weekend, her kidneys had failed, and she was deteriorating rapidly. She was my second ever dog, And I've realised that I think of her as my 'new dog'. A recent member of the family, but she was 15 years old, a quikc google search tells me lab life expectancy is 11 years (10-12) which means physically she was the equivalent of a 120 year old. Which she wasn't. She was for one thing, beautiful and without proper scrutiny was often confused for a pup.

She was also, highly mobile right up until her rapid decline.

It has caused me to realise a lot about death, and I plan to write more when I find time. But I just want to talk about my dog Bess. My love.

I had the opportunity to tell her everything I wanted to say to her. She passed with no regrets from me. But it occurs to me that a dog can't speak English really, I think they can understand emotion fluently though.

But that I can write to you Bess, here and now. Because word wise you have as much ability dead as you did while alive so I thought I'd write you a letter.

Not even, it's this. I think Lana Del Rey is a talented lyricist, and with a few subtracted lines, this sums up perfectly what you meant to me Bess:

It's you, it's you, it's all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you

It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two

I think the greatest gift in life is to be surprised at just how much you love something. My recent work on mindfulness allowed me to really be present with you, we achieved something together that makes any escapist desires for a reunion in eternal paradise redundant. We had it, and how much paradise do you need?

The experience can never be taken away from me. And your passing now means that it cannot be tarnished ever. Only love can triumph. You have. I have.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tamper Tamper Tamper

Congratulations you've got the job. Nothing exciting but it'll help pay your bills while you put yourself through Marine Biology.

$16 an hour. Your job, tossing coins. It gets better, you're unionised so at the very least there's a collective agreement in place protecting you from a repetitive stress injury or carpal tunnel syndrome by restricting employers to one toss per employee per minute.

Good job right, no brainer, impossible to take home, and you get to stand around with a bunch of other employees at a similar stage in life or pursuing similar lifestyles and shoot the shit.

Let's head upstairs though, where the numbers get crunched and the bottom line watched. Here's their deal.

For every coin toss resulting in a head - the mysterious benefactor whose tender they won pays them $100. For every coin toss resulting in a tail they receive no revenue.

Some managers sit around looking at the data that comes through after the first quarter of the tender. They crunch the numbers and it turns out using their industry regulated fair coins the average revenue per toss turns out to be hovering around $50.

Now some truth about coin tossing. Turns out, the odds of coin tossing are quite predictable. Which is to say, 50:50 outcomes. I forget where I read it, but a POW once lacking other opportunities did actually empirically test it, in fact I found him right here. Law of large numbers.

Enter 'management' and inevitably tampering. Tampering is an important concept, a really important concept little discussed and little understood. Anywhere. But it nevertheless is a term, an actual term with a very short Wikipedia entry dedicated to it.

Except that page simple though it is, I feel makes it hard to appreciate. Hence our coin tossing job. Now imagine some manager comes in and tells you that anyone who achieves an average toss revenue of less than $60 will lose shifts. You'd be pretty stressed. Because there's actually no real way to game a coin toss. There's no way to bias a 2 sided object (dice yes, coins no) and most importantly there's nothing you can really do to produce the desired results.

Even without the threat of lost shifts and income, just consider the prospect of having a night where you achieved 53 heads in every hundred tosses and being pulled aside by a manager and asked to explain why your (literal) headcount is so low.

The answer is 'variability' it is in fact slightly improbable that it would be so high. Yet this is what tampering is. Furnishing a reason where there is none, because if you can explain your performance you can address it. Which by the way you can 'random chance', doesn't ensure but leaves it entirely possible that tomorrow you will produce the desired outcome. Over the long run of course you won't, nobody will, as the number gets larger you'll approach 50:50. And if management initiatives don't directly fuck up a process in the organisation they can indirectly fuck up the people carrying out those processes by stressing them out.

I feel though that it is an ironclad law of physics that tampering must result in long term detriment. That is, it's efforts are doomed to fail. Tampering will never be as clear cut as demanding children to be taller, or coin tossers to get more heads. But it can take many forms, like a certain number of sales orders per 1000 will result in a cockup and a return. It may seem admirably '6 sigma' to task oneself with eliminating those returns and improving bottom line and reducing waste while achieving higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Unless it doesn't.

It can result in employees juking the stats ie, refusing to take responsibility for their mistake and penalising the customers in order to appease their direct manager. It more likely will simply be more costly  to fix the problem than leave it be.

'Parameters' are established for this purpose. In my own VCE I was semi-confident that I could get a score in the 90's based on comparisons between myself and my own brother who had gone before me. But I felt to get 99.95 would involve exponentially more work, plus I didn't need to get that high for my ambitions. And even if I did work harder there was no gauruntee that I would do any better, I would be getting into new territory since neither my brother nor I had ever really worked hard at school.

Same goes in general, it will cost less to make a 30% improvement in a terrible process than a 3% improvement in a decent one. This is called the law of diminishing returns. Tampering isn't strictly about that, but it can often result in '$10 solutions to $5 problems' basically any problem you can afford is kind of worthy of leaving within your standard parameters.

Here then is the tragedy of tampering. Tampering occurs in business models that while imperfect are quite efficient. No brainer business models. This bumps heads with career minded managers. When the villains of Catch-22 reveal their motives they are simple - because Full Colonel is better than Lieutenant Colonel and General is better than Full Colonel. Tampering doesn't strictly come into Catch-22 but the Colonel's demands for tighter bomb formations (in order to make more pleasing aerial photographs) and having the Preacher conduct a prayer before missions are similar though not stat based initiatives to the kind taken by tampering managers.

Tampering I think merits more play, more discussion, more salience. As does risk itself. So keep it in mind, look for it in your own workplace or even everyday life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

India's Daughter

Is the name of a documentary ABC's Four Corners program purchased the rights to. And I watched it. 

The crime was harrowing, the peripheral victims (family & friends) traumatized and devastated and the one perpetrator of the gang rape interviewed... confused.

They are described as unrepentant, the one interviewed certainly maintained that he only drove the bus where the crime took place.

Of course the only information I have is what was in the documentary and I have no information beyond that on either Indian culture or Delhi culture nor India's economic and legal systems. Furthermore, the other convicted members of the gang weren't interviewed and the question of psychopathology was unasked.

As presented though, the perpetrators appear as a product of their culture. It takes the crime beyond it's own immediate gruesomeness. 

The one interviewed assailant, convicted and sentenced to death, feels unfairly treated. Overshadowing this feeling are his espoused views of victim blaming, that women are more responsible for rape than men are. These views articulated obscure a kind of unspoken complaint - that the crime of rape and gang rape are commonplace and these rapists were singled out, apprehended, trialed and convicted when most go unpunished.

What testifies to this complaint is how easily the men were caught, and they were caught because they didn't take the kind of precautions one would take if you expected the crime to end your life. They dumped the two victims naked by the side of the road from the bus where the crime took place, leaving both victims alive. (the interviewed driver speculates that his death sentence will mean that future perpetrators will kill their victims rather than risk them testifying) They drove the bus home and while the did clean it, they parked it outside their residence. Then they stayed home. No paranoid 'I've seen this in the movies' burning of the vehicle and all it's evidence, fleeing town and never coming back again.

Assuming you are likely to be Australian, and if not living in a western democracy US, Canada, Europe. If I told you a common 'crime' committed by most Australian cyclists is running a red light to make a left-hand turn. (right hand for a right-hand drive country), it is fairly commonplace among impatient cyclists. Now imagine you go out and do this on your bike one day. You consider yourself a casual cyclist, you pull up to a red light, there's no traffic around and rather than wait it out, unsure of whether the intersection requires something as massive as a car to be stalled there for the cycle to change, you just ride through the red hooking straight through to the bike lane.

There is in Australia, nothing illegal about dismounting your bike, picking it up and moving to the side walk, then making the turn inside of the traffic light as a pedestrian and mounting your bike. Running the red left hand turn is a lazy shorthand for going through these motions, but is a traffic violation.

That's how you rationalize away the transgression in terms of it's consequences. But 6 days later the police knock on your door and throw the book at you. You are prosecuted and fined, your picture is published from the CCTV footage in the local papers and your name published. Talkback radio entertains rant after rant about you and your irresponsible riding.

Now, there is no question that what you did was wrong. I and you can rationalize it, but strictly speaking it is indefensible. It was undertaken with an expectation though that you wouldn't face the consequences, and this in expectation was based on the observation that virtually nobody faces the consequences of running this light in this way.

When I put myself in this scenario, and try to use it as a basis of empathy, I project and like to think of myself that I can accept that I deserve to be punished. I still feel entitled to a sense of anger and injustice that within my social environment, immediate and broad (culture) other people are committing this transgression and not being punished. I have (arbitrarily or not) been singled out for punishment.

This Indian gang was singled out, self-evident because the media coverage singled them out and the production of the documentary singles them out alone. 2000 officers were put at the disposal of the supervising police officer (I can't recall his rank) and I'm left with impressions, imaginary or not that they were sped through the trial process.

They weren't singled out arbitrarily (I hope) although the interviewed convict felt other people had committed worse crimes and nothing had resulted. 

The convicted men in India absolutely should experience the adverse consequences of their actions. They did what they did, and the get what they get. 'Justice' is a hard concept to wrap my head around, I personally don't believe in capital punishment and I also don't believe in scapegoating.

The perpetrators will be hanged until dead. The scary part of that is the possibility that the cultural factors will be buried with them. I doubt these men felt that rape itself was on the same scale as jaywalking or running lights, but they clearly feel it is analogous insofar as that it is an accepted part of the culture. I couldn't guess how the reconciliation is done exactly, but the defense mounted by the lawyers would not in Australia constitute a legal defense.

By comparison, using a fictitious example simply because I also watched it recently - The Redfern Now Telemovie dealt with rape. The accused rapist's legal defense was in light of the forensic evidence that intercourse had taken place - was that the two parties had engaged in consensual sex and then the alleged victim had attempted to extort money from the alleged rapist.

By comparison the lawyers interviewed in the Indian (real) case presented a defense that did not address issues of consent, or that any of the gang were under duress from another member. Nothing that to my (limited) understanding of Australian law would constitute a legal defense against the charges. From my perspective, in the Indian legal systems the defense consisted basically of pleading guilty to their actions and trying to justify their actions.

I see no real value in me personally dredging up the arguments made, except that they unashamedly confess to a patriarchal - victim blaming culture. Such that the men in their own minds felt themselves vigilantes, meting out justice for in their view 'the natural consequences' of a young woman going out escorted, but not by a fiance, husband and male family member at 8pm at night.

When I lock my bike up in the city and notice somebody else has left their bike lights on their bike. I have the intrusive thought 'somebody will steal those, I should steal them to teach them a lesson.' One quickly followed by 'but I'm not a thief' and though their is some truth to 'opportunity makes the thief' that is not where responsibility lies. 

These men will die, and I would not be outraged if they experienced some chagrin over the fact that they were unlucky to be caught in a society where their crimes, though illegal, are viewed as a risk rather than a strict prohibition. Of any belief they hold that they were vigilantes or somehow conducting moral instruction to a woman, I would believe myself that they are simply wrong, and before their lives end they may or may not realise this.

At the very least, I doubt they will reoffend, with the possible exception of the juvenile whom received the maximum punishment available for a juvenile and remains unnamed. The question as to whether he will come to the understanding that what he did was wrong will remain a question. 

I have severe doubts as to whether and by what incriment Delhi will become safer for women. The question applies also to India at large. One question unasked by the documentary are questions of class, caste and inequity. The lack of information makes it perplexing, the central victim of the crime appeared to be from a poor background but had achieved some degree of social mobility. 

Education is often expounded as the universal panacea to stopping inhumane acts. Watching the large protests of India's educated was quite moving, and were I the government I would have been moved to act and bring the long arm of the law down on these men. I also watch scholars and academics commit slips of the tongue when they refer to India as a 'developing- developed' country and any time I here talk of India as the world's largest democracy I always feel the insecurity behind it. A self-conscious anxiety that the world thinks of India as a poor, backward and superstitious nation. I don't sense national pride but national shame. Perhaps this has manifested an actual policy driven rush of development that seeks to meet the highest of world standards rather than improve the across-the-board standard of living for Indians. 

If one Indian child is recieving the education solution that men and women are fundamentally equal, that victims are not to blame for the crimes that victimise them and so forth, while other Indian children are being taught patriarchal garbage, then I can see how this fatal divide over what constitutes 'common sense' and 'decency' is opening up. 

That though is all speculation, Australia itself has demonstrated it is no exception to men thinking they can use and abuse women, take their lives. I certainly feel a difference in the standard of our defense lawyers is established, but the fact is that our egalitarian education system steers clear of moral instruction and it shows. People in Australia have all kinds of values, women in Melbourne have been suffering for that diversity, and it goes nation wide. 

I remain puzzled, but I think it is worth being that way for now. So that the answers may come in time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Numbing Out

Apparently cause and effect are an illusion, a projection of the mind. I'm not convinced, largely for lack of trying, but I kind of see what is got at. Because B follows A we supply a cause, causation is actually a conscious attempt to build predictive models. When watching a film the motion is an illusion, we are perceiving a 'moving picture' beause one static image is followed rapidly by another static image but the arc of motion is supplied by our mind. When watching an anvil fall through the sky in a cartoon gravity is not in effect, our perception is.

I do believe in a deterministic universe though where as complex and random as life seems, we are really just a witness to a very convoluted setup of falling dominoes. Deprived of a vantage point to ascertain most designs.

But we can percieve some, even, like gravity, without understanding it. as our confidence in probabilities decreases eg. it looks like it will rain, but who could say if and when it will. cause and effect starts to very much take on a superstitious nature.

I suspect it's our superstition around cause and effect, or causal relationships that bring about the society wide inclination to numbing - specifically most people have an unconscious belief that if they can eliminate the effect, then the cause ceases to exist.

This is all sounding very esoteric, even to me. Let's get specific.

You have a stressful day at work. You get home, and have a glass of wine to take the edge off. Your mind slows and stills, you feel better. Almost as if you have undone the stresses of the day. And what if tomorrow very much resembles today? It's okay because literally 'at the end of the day' you can numb out the experience of all your tomorrows with the stress relieving medication.

Which is to say, most of us have a fairly systemic lifestyle. The system that can be called our lifestyle systematically produces stress. We then append another system on top of that to cope with the stress of our day to day lives.

For me, this ordinary stress is hard to notice. It's present in a baseline way, such that until I practiced a meditation - one that was guided and directed me to notice tension and release it in my body, I was not aware how much facial muscles were tensed day to day.

I would be remiss to overlook that a routine of meditation can be a numbing system. If one sets aside twenty minutes a day to 'release' or 'undo' tension accumulated from your daily routine, you (or I) are only further along the spectrum from somebody needing a scotch to take the edge off.

Not that there aren't meaningful differences along that spectrum.

But this is distinct from addiction which I harp on about but would actually struggle to define. There's a common ground but numbing is more akin to the quality control sense of the word 'Tampering'.

Which is to say, attempting to fix a problem to the opposite effect. Tampering too I find hard to define though, wikipedia isn't much help. Think of it this way, you have an infected tooth causing you continuous pain. Tampering would be to take strong painkillers adding a new daily process to maintain prior comfort levels, treating the pain so to speak. Pulling the tooth out would address the source of pain.

Note that the painkillers though do not address the underlying causes, the infection. The problem in a fashion, goes unchecked. So while tampering in this example treats the pain it does in the long run kill you prematurely.

What of simply working 40 hours a week in a stressful job? Here I personally am not even in the middle of an experiment. I can't really draw any conclusions because my career as an artist is yet to pan out, and that's a career so variable that it's hard to look to precedent. I'm sure in 20-30 years time whatever outcome I'll be confident enough to find more regular career paths to serve as a fair comparison to what my life could have been like. In the meantime though I just have my intuition.

Really that intuition should be self evident, persisting as an artist takes conscious commitment. It is not a routine you can slip into, unlike a salaried position. If I did not believe I was gaining more than I sacrificed, I could not recommit to the artistic pursuit.