Sunday, September 30, 2007

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Oftentimes one finds—at least I do, though I think the experience can't possibly be confined to me—that a simple sentence or statement, apparently innocuous and perfectly sensible, nudges this thought and that, often only days or weeks later, and then, bang!, it suddenly isn't so 'sensible' and/or innocuous anymore; because you realize that in the context of this this and that, when you reconsider this 'perfectly sensible' thing, it becomes not just questionable, but outright wrong, dangerous, misleading and just plain un-thought-out.

Here's one of them, coming from the context of martial arts. Superficially it may appear specific to our sub-specialty, Samurai sword craft, but it really isn't. And it harks back to something I've said in some blogs (1 2) way back in 2006; and as was almost inevitable, it's coming back to bite. Don't it always?

The rituals associated with the practices of martial arts are as varied as the arts themselves, and very often have the quality of religious ritual. In this particular instance I'm talking about the rituals of a) bowing to the sword, b) bowing to the dojo, c) bowing to the images of salient past and present 'masters' of the style, d) going through an elaborate pre-training ritual which involves (a) and (c) in some way, together with elaborate poses and movements in between these critical points.

Our style's headmaster considers said initial ritual as important as, say, the style's more obviously relevant sword-forms. Also, the students were told—not by me, I hasten to add—that all that bowing to everything and everybody and sundry is an essential element, required to express our respect for dojo, style and the 'masters' who gave us all this martial knowledge alike. Respect to history itself, as it has been expressed.

All of which isn't a bad thing, since it serves, for the duration of the training, to focus the mind of the student—as much as it can be. 'Student' being, at least to my mind, everybody; including the teachers.

You can see the 'but' coming a mile off, right? Well, yes. Of course. How could I help it? And it probably would be better if you read these two other blogs I linked to above, just to get the framework; but it isn't necessary.

Things is this: I'm one of those people who thinks that ritual has a place, but that it should also be kept in its place. Ritual is for those who need whatever ritual we're talking about—be it 'daily life rituals' or elaborate church or dojo practices. That's my take anyway. It expresses nothing at all, but said need of those who use it. The elaborate pre-training ritual involving persnickety motions that someone invented for purposes lost in the mists of history obviously fulfills somebody's needs, but I think it by and large a waste of time, especially if people get so damn serious about it. That, by the way, is always a sign of a ritual being past its use-by date.

There's only two aspects of the ritual I subscribe to:
  1. Bowing to the sword.
  2. Bowing to the dojo.
(1): The sword is at the heart of all this. By what is is and by what it does it represents the fine line between being alive and being dead. It also reminds us, insofar as an inanimate object can, of that, entirely self-imposed, thing called 'duty'.

(2): The dojo is a place of learning. By showing it respect we show respect to learning. Not a bad thing to reinforce.

When we, however, are told that to bow to the teachers who have brought us these teachings is to bow to history itself... that respect for the style itself is in effect respect for history... that everything we do, we do only because we are standing on the shoulders of giants who have shown us the way and brought us all these skills, which they have labored to learn, develop and transmit...

True enough. Probably beneficial for the students as well. It is helpful to have a sense, if you're doing this kind of thing, to feel yourself connected to a long venerable tradition and all that—not just to some fly-by-night loonie system of teaching, invented by John Doe or Peter Piper at the spur of the moment and promulgated as some cool kick-ass martial art. That probably also applies to the 'mature' student; with 'student' again being just about everybody, including the teachers, for this is supposed to be a context of continuous learning. It's amazing, the strength of the desire to feel connected to some tradition like that. Not surprisingly, of course, since all 'meaning' is ultimately derived from placement of whatever 'meaning' is being provided for into a larger context.

So, indeed, nothing wrong per se with making people aware of the connection to the past, if you will; though I see it more as a history of something not unlike the history of life on Earth, in which certain things have survived, because they just were the best adapted to survive. Doesn't matter whether it's an organismic property or a skill. What didn't work is no more. What did, continues to be around. (That, by the way, makes 'religion', which is mostly if not all bullshit, a real bummer to explain away; unless one considers it in terms of its function for the continued survival of the species. There is evidence to suggest that this is precisely why it has survived.)

Back to martial arts and that tradition we're supposed to bow to.

Whose skills are we actually talking about here? Anything we learn today in the context of Japanese ryu—traditional martial art schools, as opposed to newly created ones—is taught by people who have almost certainly never wielded a sword, or any weapon, to defend the lives of either themselves or anyone in their care; who have never put their life on the line, knowing it was going to be dependent on their swords. The worst that could have happened to them might have been a loss of 'face'; which, admittedly, in some contexts is serious and consequential, but can hardly be considered anything but a cultural quirk and can't hold the water to the seriousness of life-and-death combat.

Despite their not-infrequent claim to 'lineage'—either physically/genetically or else, and here's a favored term that means exactly nothing at all, 'spiritually'—and in spite of their earnestness of practice and intention, the best these people can ever lay claim to is as 'preservers', if you will, of skills developed by people who had to develop those skills, because otherwise they would not have survived; would not have survived, one might suggest, for long enough to breed—not necessarily just in real terms, but with regards to transmission of the knowledge of their craft. Like ourselves in the dojo today, these people were effectively playing games. Taking themselves very seriously, of course.

Don't we all? And isn't that basically about the same kind of thing I have discussed before, and which crops up, in various disguises, in my novels? And not just mine, but every story that tries to go below the surface and reach to the core of what we are? Isn't is really all about us losing, in the context of our 'urbanity', sight of what is really important and what 'matters'—and what, when it comes to the crunch, meaning when the comforts and cocoon of urbanity is stripped away, turns out that it does matter? We conflate in importance the seriousness of people who play games with that of those for whom these things are not games.

But, or so one might argue, isn't it more civilized—more advanced, more heading toward a purpose over and above the seriousness of what amounts to bloody conflict and behaviorisms humanity should leave behind if it is to become more than it currently is—to practice these things, whatever their origins might have been, in a spirit of, say, self-improvement and to develop certain of its aspects into 'style' and indeed, a form of 'art', practiced, if for no other reason, but at least for its own sake? Just because it has a beauty and that beauty itself is sufficient justification for doing it?

Well, apart from me disbelieving that beauty is anywhere but in the eyes and minds of those who behold it, I have no argument to offer against the notion that such behavior is indeed more 'civilized'—for this is indeed how 'civilization' tends to define itself; and that's all the attribute 'civilized' will ever be: entirely self- referential and grounded only in its own view of itself. From a General Semantics point of view a classic example of a semantic void. There was a nice example of that in my favorite noir flick, Lucky Number Slevin—and pointing it out earned the one who pointed it out a bloody nose. There's a lesson for you. Don't know what it's about, but it's got to be about something!

The bottom-line is that I can't buy this thing, because it makes no sense to me. To substitute 'style' for 'substance' is just the kind of thing that gets my hackles raised every time I spot it. As an absurdist/existentialist—whatever label suits better at any given time—I consider it the epitome of inauthenticity.

So, one might wonder, how do I cope with this issue in my martial arts practice? For it is with me every time I draw a sword, or even just don a gi. Or when I enter the dojo and bow to it—and, above all, when bowing to the sword before and after practice. When I force myself to ignore the mummery and instead...

...look down...

...to see who are the giants on whose shoulders I'm standing; or if there are any at all.

Well, there are, but they're not the ones we bow to. The ones whose shoulders we're really standing on are covered in blood, their own and that of others. Some of them were good people, who did the best they could. Others weren't and did their worst. Some were noble; other were thugs. Some of them conquered; others, despite their best efforts, were conquered. Just about all of them qualify as having been 'warriors', whatever their motivations and urges might have been. Very few would have died of old age; and if they died on their bedsteads, they were probably murdered there. Many of them you really wouldn't have wanted to have known personally, or been affected by, directly or indirectly.

Despite no doubt having a 'civilized' face, these giants also would have had another, that was savage, fierce, uncompromising, brutal, lethal. (Though last night I saw an episode of Terry Jones' Barbarians, and it made me ponder the wonders of 'civilization' or 'advanced culture'—and oftentimes it makes me think that maybe 'civilized' might be more justifiably used as an insult.) To 'honor' some of them strains one's capacity for dissimulation and denial of the truth of what they were.

But we're not doing this—well, I'm not—to honor their flawed existences, but to be picky and choose that which we can honor. In this case, apart from their nobler attributes—that being a matter of personal taste and judgment of what is 'noble'—it's the skills these giants developed in the courses of their sometimes woefully short lives. Their martial skills. Not how good they were at bowing or tea ceremony or politicking; but what they knew about using a sword to do what a sword is designed to do.

Some would say that it's a package deal and that I can't just pick and choose which part I want. Everything's connected and all that. You can't have this without that, or that without this. That's a matter of opinion, and I beg to differ. So sue me.

Insofar as I can honor them—flawed though they might have been—there is only this: to do my best to always place substance above form and/or style and never to confuse the two. Do that cut right this way, not because it's the way you're told to do it, but because this is the way to do it right—and if someone teaches you to do it wrong, then go do it right anyway, and screw them.

How do you know this is right and that isn't? Well, you don't; but you can think about it carefully, and you'll figure it out. You will. Eventually. But do use your head. Above all, do that! And call no man 'master' unless he's proved to you that he is. Call no man 'giant' unless you can look down and see that he's not looking tall merely because he is standing on the shoulder of a giant. And you may judge his character by whether he's able and willing to admit this, rather than pronounce himself to be, and expect others to see him as, a giant.

This quality is sometimes labeled 'modesty'. It's in damn short supply.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stardust


Notice:
This blog will have a lot of piccies sprinkled throughout, all of them clean and suitable for kids. They're there just to keep you reading to the end. Of course, you might just look at the piccies and ignore my cogent rant. But that's OK, too.
You can lead a horse to water and all that...


Last night I learned an important lesson. Or maybe I should say that I was prompted to understand the difference between two things that, in popular usage are conflated, and thus, as is often the case when terminology gets used lightly and carelessly, one tends to overlook the finer points of the things being thus labeled.

The cause of the lesson/understanding was a viewing of what might well be the most enchanting and just sheer bloody enjoyable 'fantasy' movie of recent years, and possibly this decade, Stardust.


If you follow this link, you'll notice that, apart from a few naysayers, it has been received very well; and many of the comment made at IMDb would reflect my views. Though, I hasten to add, quite a few, even positive ones, don't; because I look for different things and think that many reviewers tend to nitpick and lose sight of the big picture.


Bygones. The bottom line is that this little flick—well, not so little, with a runtime of 130 minutes!—is a bit of almost-pure magic, with just about everything in it done right. Stardust is so totally unpretentious that it sets new standards for that particular attribute, unpretentiousness, in the area of 'fantasy film'. I can't imagine how any of the current or up-coming crop of same-genre flicks could possibly rival it. Oh, yes, they may have more drama, more tension, more violence, more tragedy, more romance, more action, more special effects, more character development, more 'intellectual stimulation', more 'stars'. Whatever. These things might all be true and pertinent in certain contexts and as answers to particular questions and judgment systems of what has artistic, story-telling or cinematographic merit. However, in this instance they concern me far less than something else, which has to do with that quality of a 'fantasy' movie that makes it into what's commonly called a 'fairy tale'.

Nowadays it qualifies as 'commonplace wisdom', and in terms of language use it's a matter of interchangeable terms, to conflate, say, 'fairy tale' and 'fantasy story'. This is due to, by and large, justifiable similarities between the two, their origins, structure, subject matter, the kinds of creatures populating them, the use of magical themes, and so on. Indeed, one could argue, again with justification, that even some non-magical tales, taking place in this world and at this time, might be considered 'fairy tales'; mainly since there adheres to them a quality of...well, let's call it 'unrealism' or maybe 'surrealism', depending...that gives them certain properties which are also those of 'fairy tales'. Nobody would seriously dispute the connections, overlaps and shared history.

Yet, watching Stardust—which instantly, and despite a very different plot and context, brought to mind The Princess Bride, which was made almost exactly 20 years ago!—I realized that the ready conflation of 'fairy tale' and 'fantasy story' conceals some important differences. For fairy tales, or so I realized, are a very special kind of fantasy story. So special that they deserve their own niche and should be considered on their own and separate from the larger genre.

So, what's the difference? What makes, say Lord of the Rings into a fantasy story, but Snow White into a fairy tale? Or, maybe more provocatively, what makes Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy in to a set of stories that rightly belong into the 'fairy tale' niche of the much broader general 'fantasy' spectrum. And what, to come back to the original subject of this blog, makes Stardust, like The Princess Bride, into a fairy tale—whose appeal, by implication, will not necessarily extend to the full range of 'fantasy fans'; but to those to whom it appeals it will do so with significant intensity. Just like, let's face it, fairy tales aren't for everybody, and one has to be of a particular disposition to relate to them. The same, naturally, applies to the subset of people who like 'fantasy', and to whom it 'speaks'—while others just can't handle the symbolism and context(s) and require more real-life, present day, immediately familiar contexts for the tales they like to listen to/read/watch.

By the way, and this will no doubt get a lot of hackles up, but 'science fiction' of any kind is also a subset of 'fantasy'. But that's by-the-by and not pertinent to this discussion.

I know a lot of this sounds like, and maybe is, splitting semantic hairs; but so be it. Sometimes one has to in order to understand things. As a follower of sorts of General Semantics I would be the first to agree that words per se are basically meaningless, unless symbol-grounded in some way; and everybody will ground said symbols differently from everybody else, sometimes significantly so, at others hair-splittingly. But it is also true that conflation of different symbols encourages an attitude that lumps together, but loses sight of possibly small, but nonetheless essential and significant differences between the things considered, be they real-world objects or more conceptual.

I'm still not certain just exactly what makes me say that Stardust is a 'fairy tale', while Lord of the Rings is not. It was a matter of sudden insight, more than anything else—and it no doubt had a lot to do with me basically having been reared on fairy tales; an influence that has proved perennial and pervasive in at least my 'literary' preferences, and probably has had wider ramifications, possibly extending far beyond just my own person. And I admit that if you started pointing at this story or that one and asked "Fairy tale or not?", I'd probably be stumped in most instances. Because there are a lot of stories lurking in the nebulous area where you can't really tell. It all becomes a matter of trying to find, as we humans usually do, some set of classifying phenomena that allow us to make such judgments.

The thing is that some stories are all the way in fairy tale land, while others are definitely not so. Stardust is in it with both feet, and body and arms and legs and everything else that counts. I could almost hear Ian McKellen continue his brief intro voice-over throughout the narrative, and I could imagine this same story, almost with the dialogue verbatim as in the movie, told around a spooky campfire—in installments!—or maybe to a young kid before bedtime. Every beat was 'fairy tale', with maybe a few slight mis-steps to mar the perfection. But that's cool, too. The actors obviously enjoyed themselves hugely in their respective roles. Claire Danes was a radiant 'fallen star', and the unknown Charlie Cox wore his role like a glove. Robert De Niro though really has to watch his alter ego, 'Captain Shake-speare'. And there was that term: 'whoopsie'. Never heard it before, but, yep, it fits just right.

Stardust wasn't what you might call a 'character piece'—and I don't know if you'd noticed that fairy tales never are; for they're not about 'character' per se, but what people do with the character they have. It was about something quite different. I still am working on trying to figure out just exactly what that is.

Give me time. I'm sure to come back to it. I only know that I haven't just 'enjoyed' myself quite as much in the cinema for quite some time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who Wants To Live Forever? (In the Beginning Was the End: parte tertia)

Last Saturday the Otago Daily Times, a publication which in my estimation ranks even below that of the New York Times, published in its magazine section a two page (TWO PAGES!) article on living forever—or not. It wasn't the ODT's writer, of course, who penned the thing, but a correspondent, who works for them part-time I guess. Or maybe they bought it from another publication. They must have. There were no spelling mistakes in the whole article; at least none I could find. That is fairly indicative. The ODT's proof-readers by and large suck.

Anyway, back to the immortality thing. The occasion was a gerontology conference in Britain, I think, and the main focus—with his long shaggy beard prominently displayed on a huge photo, was one Aubrey de Grey, who is a bit of a maverick in the field of gerontology, mainly because he's brash and loud, and he's not interested really in making old age more bearable, but abolishing the process of ageing completely. His colleagues, with few exceptions, take exception to that. They call him everything from 'charlatan' to merely 'irresponsible'. All agree that his approach does not conform to your standard everyday dignified science procedures. Many consider that he damages the image of 'science' and does what they consider the 'really important' gerontological research and the image of said research considerable damage by association—thus hindering progress that might otherwise be made.

I think I should take this opportunity to declare my full support of Dr. de Grey, strange fellow thought he might be. And I don't agree—surprise, yes?—with his detractors, despite the basic cogency of their arguments. Yes, his approach isn't your traditional scientific one. No, he has no 'laboratory experience'. Yes, he bypasses the polite peer-review process. Yes, he out there, unapologetic and making statements that border on the risqué; maybe go well past it. Yes, he makes the efforts of a large number of people working in the field of aging science—people who are interested in making the lives of old people better—seem like they're basically irrelevant and a waste of time. Yes, he seems to be advocating a course of scientific and technological research that could spell immense and frightening changes for our species and the world at large. Yes, he qualifies as a 'fervent'.

But...

Hey, it's about survival, people! Not 'science'. I've never believed in the 'science for the glory of knowledge' thingie anyway. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's bullshit. Science is all about lending a cool methodology to natural curiosity—which is an adaptive trait that by and large has survival value. Proof: the trait has survived and thrived. Science, contrary to the high-brow crap spouted by scientists and philosophers alike is about figuring out how the world works so we can manipulate it better and do what we can to ensure our survival, as a species and individuals. Medical science—you know, the the whole thing about maintaining our 'health', and how can it then possibly not also be about keeping at bay that ultimate example or result of un-health: death?—is even more blatantly about just this one thing.

It's at the very least disingenuous, and at worst simply dimwitted, of scientists to claim otherwise. And since today everything is about research funds, where the best fund raiser gets the best toys and maybe also the best results...well, good for Aubrey. Go man!

As to whether—as the ODT article, and its headline, just couldn't help mentioning—we really want to live forever...well, let's jump off that bridge when we get to it, shall we?

Or not.

God Doesn't Have a Foreskin

Warning:
This one's not for kiddies and contains sexually explicit materials.
So, children, ask your parents first before reading on.
Come on! Be good! Ask first! All right?


Last night, on the NZ edition of 60 Minutes, there was an item on the movement to reintroduce male circumcision, and to inflict it on babies right across the board; and never mind the issue of 'choice'. The proponents of said practice—those shown ranged from an amazingly ignorant GP, who does it routinely because right now hospitals won't, to an Australian doctor whose public-health fervor was rivaled only by his ineffably inane arrogance—are gaining strength, and I have a sense that the thing might just become common again; and possibly compulsory in the nanny states of the enlightened western nations. Sorry, that should have been 'benighted'; it just sounds so similar...

The person who took the cake, however, was one high-ranking NZ Rabbi, who finally elucidated the real reason why it should be so—provided that...

See, it's like this:

Adam and Abraham were born without foreskin. Adam and Abraham were made as close to the perfect image of God as is possible. Hence not having a foreskin is more 'perfect' than having one. Hence circumcision is a good thing—provided that...

...well, provided that—get this one and savor it!—you do it for religious reasons. If you do it for public health reasons then it's 'mutilation'.

When pressed, the rabbi conceded—albeit under duress and trying to wheedle himself out of the spot he was in, because he knew how that would look—that the same applies to female genital mutilation. And, yes, one had to concede, he said, that in those places where 'the women accepted it'—for religious reasons of course!—it was kinda OK and should be tolerated; despite what he called the 'attitudes of our society', who by and large frown on this practice, at least when inflicted on women.

Men? Well...it's different. Kinda. Sorta. Less invasive. You just snip off that wrinkly bit of skin and that's that.

What's different? Search me, but some weirdo!s—that's a new word, by the way, introduced in the previous blog: 'weirdo!'—obviously see a difference.

Not that there is. The prepuce in males and females have similar origins. They're both saturated with nerves that help to just make sex more fun. Of course, the foreskin also makes masturbation much more fun. Tut tut! But in this day and age, should it matter?

I've often wondered what the effect is on a man—and on his psyche and his relationship to women, especially in the romantic/sexual context—of being deprived of a part of the anatomy that stimulates and enhances orgasms and the whole intercourse thingie. I know this is a family-blog—sort of; except for the occasional aberrations—but the fact is that a man with a foreskin has less work to do to get himself going full blast (excuse the pun) than one who doesn't. He can, for purely physiological reasons, be gentler and still get there. It also means that intercourse for him is overall a more pleasurable and rich experience on the whole.

So, imagine whole nations—whole damn nations!—and scattered-across-the-world cultures, like the Jewish one, living in a condition where the males of the species can never be like that. Where the males will never know what it means to have a particular kind of sexual experience. They can't. They don't have the equipment anymore; it was snipped off shortly after they entered this world wonderland, and they were mutilated by rabbis who think that doing it for religious reasons makes it not be just 'mutilation'.

Scary, huh?

Of course, this nutcase behavior isn't confined to the Jewish religion—or to 'religion' as such. Apparently 30% of males worldwide have been thus disfigured. In some cultures, not just in the 'God doesn't have a foreskin' example, a circumcised penis is considered esthetically more pleasing and its bearer considered more 'virile'; quite without a reference to the perfection of the God image. Now, I wonder if that's partially because of something I said above, because these same societies often associate—even more than we do—'virility' with 'vigor' and possibly violent predilections of the gratuitous kind. These are also societies with a strong male-dominant element; more so than usual (though I admit I'm not sure what I mean by 'usual'). Pretty much what one might expect of societies where males have a stunted physiological apparatus for experiencing pleasure through sexual intercourse.

And it's been like that basically forever. And it seems that, in some guise or other, with whatever screwy justification, it's not going to go away either anytime soon.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In the Beginning was the End (parte secunda)

So, you may ask, what do men's habits post-going-to-the-'bathroom' have to do with the End being in the Beginning?

Ahh, well, right now they only have a connection in my head, but soon they will have in yours, too. Provided, that is, you keep on reading. So, how's that for a 'hook'? And, no, you can't read ahead to the End to see how it all comes out, because in my usual way I shall scramble things all up, and you really won't know where the End actually is...so just give up and read on.

The fatuosity of some 'research' and its conclusions never ceases to amaze me. Here's a few lines from it, to save you going to the page:

One-third of men don't wash their hands after using the restroom.

Not only that, if he tells you he washed his hands, he may not be telling the truth.

This is revealed in results of the latest Hand Washing Survey, released Monday at a scientific meeting in Chicago by the American Society for Microbiology and the Soap and Detergent Association. The survey found that although 89% of men claim in a telephone poll to wash their hands every time they use a public bathroom, only 66% were seen doing so.

The survey found that women outwash men, though they also overstate their cleanliness: While 96% say they always wash their hands in a public restroom, 88% of women were actually seen doing so.

Number of people 'surveyed': approximately 3k men and 3k women.

Hmm. Interesting. What it really tells me is that there are far too many cameras in public places, and that quite possibly the information from said cameras is being made available entirely to the wrong people. The 'Soap and Detergent Association'? Huh? What right to they have to access such records? Imagine some weirdo! from their research staff quite possibly watching you pee on video and then washing your hands, or not—of fumbling with your fly or what-have-you. Ahh, banish those images from my imagination! Get thee hence, fiends! weirdo!s

Unless I'm wrong with my preliminary conclusion, in which case the evidence for the '66%' claim must come from somewhere else, and these have to be observations supplied by human observers. More weirdo!s, who must have skulked at length in the close vicinity of those relieving themselves in public relieving-places; a veritable army of men and women—or men disguised as women, or women disguised as men, just to cover all our bases here! (again: weirdo!s)— all dedicated to determining who washes hands and who doesn't.

Great job! Remind me never to apply for one like that... Skip that. Don't remind me. I'd rather forget such things are possible. Certain imagery unsettles settled stomachs and should not be imprinted into one's brain.

Human observer results of the 'true' post-pee-or-crap-hand-washers are not necessarily reliable, for any number of reasons. Just to pick one at random: if I had some weirdo! hanging around in the men's room with a writing pad or a little counter-clicker in his hand and watching me like a hawk, all the while pretending he wasn't—just imagine that scene as a movie clip; it has incredible stand-up comedic potential—well, I'd not only not pee against the urinal, but try to find me a cubicle with a lockable door and once done get the hell out of there, and never mind washing my hands. There are worse things than a few germs on your fingers.

Beside—and how about some practicality here??—urine is clean. Hell, you can drink it and use it as a rinse for wounds and all sorts of things. Other things aren't so clean, but it occurs to me that the crap on toilet seats, door handles, cubicle locks and so on, is much, much worse. So you do the right thing and wash your hands—and then?

Well, either it's the blow-dryer that not only blows whatever germs you may have left on your hands right into your face—cool!—and it also nicely warms them up and blows them into everybody else's breathing orifices; including the weirdo! with the pad or the clicker. Else it's the towels on a roller, that might or might not have been hygienically sterilized by the towel supplier. Problem with the towels is you can't take them with you...which makes the paper towel option much more attractive, because not only can you dry your hands on something that very probably has never been touched by a human hand before, but you can also fold it over and use it to open the door(s) you came in through, such as to avoid touching the germ breeding grounds on the handles. But make sure you use at least two layers of paper, or else the wetness from your hands will transmit the germs straight from the gripping side to your hands, and then you're screwed anyway. And make sure, when you're done with all that, that you fold the paper over so that you don't end up touching the dirty side.

Of course, soon after you've finally disposed of the disposable towel—whose 'environmental friendliness' should at least be investigated, if not doubted—you will touch other things contaminated with germs, and be it only somebody's keyboard, where stuff lurks you really rather not know about! In other words, why the hell bother to begin with, especially since your immune system does need constant challenges to stay on guard, for otherwise it soon slackens off and/or doesn't respond appropriately. And, let's face it, when it comes down to the crunch, your immune system, and not some disinfectant is what really protects you against whatever skulks on the fittings of the 'bathroom'—though not against the lurker with the pad.

There are other serious issues with the methodology these 'researchers' use to establish a baseline for whatever they say 'really' happens in bathrooms. Issues so grave that I think said baseline is entirely a matter of conjecture.

But enough! What I really wanted to go on about was the fact that people lie and that that really and honestly shouldn't come as a surprise. I mean, would you tell the asshole who phones you to do some 'research' what you really do in the privacy of your post-peeing ritual? Especially given that said 'researcher' does indeed have your number—your phone number at the very least, and so, no matter what anybody says, these things are never anonymous. Why should anybody expect to tell the truth here? I'm utterly surprised that—assuming we believe the baseline figure, which I don't to begin with—the numbers of liars are apparently so low! Obviously the phenomenon evidenced on TV these days, where random dysfunctional people or groups thereof allow their most debasing and one would think embarrassing attributes to be exhibited to the world at large, is quite pervasive and not confined to just a few definite weirdos! Also interesting are the apparent implications—again if we believe the baselines!—of the gender-differences in the responses. Are they so because of the differences in the methodology involved in the determination of the baselines themselves; in the interview-related psychological aspects of gender-difference; or because of both?

And so we come to you, dear reader, because I'm wondering if you're a liar or not. Actually, I don't wonder, because I know you are—because we all are. Little white ones without selfish intent or harm done; to the big bad ones, to others and yourself. We all do it. At the very least we do it through 'denial' of things awareness of which we either want or need to deny during the normal course of a day. Denial is lying, make no mistake about it.

So tell me this: do you, at least occasionally and maybe 'accidentally' read the end of a story before you even begin it? Or do you decide to watch enough of the last snippet of that DVD you just rented from the store, so that you get at least a notion of whether the good guys win or not, or who-really-dunnit, or if the guy gets his girl or the girl her guy? And if you don't like it, do you watch the DVD or read the book anyway? Because you did fork out cash for it; and who wants to admit, even to themselves, that they wasted money because of an error in judgment, hard to make though it might have been?

OK, so don't tell me! Because if you say 'no' I won't necessarily believe you anyway, and we want to keep that nice easy relationship we've got going, right? No need to inject dissonances.

But do some serious honest-with-yourself thingie here. How often do you place the end, or the knowledge of the end, before the beginning? Does this awareness, once you have it—and once you do you can never remove it; no more than most of you can not see the Dalmatian (sniffing at the ground) in the image below, now that I've told you that it's there—make that experience of pre-knowing of any story, excepting maybe straightforward whodunnits, into something that enhances or degrades the story itself?

Does it maybe depends entirely on the story? How do you set a value on a story? Has it got to do with how much you'd like to hear/see/read it again, because of how it affects you? Or does it live mainly by the not-knowing-the-ending? Will you not spend time on a story because right now you remember much of it, so that hearing/seeing/reading it again will not add anything to the perceived benefit you get from it? If this is the case, then why do you not treat a piece of music the same way? Or a poem, say? Or why do you keep looking at that picture on your wall, which also tells a story of sorts?

So what, you ask, was the connection between In the Beginning was the End and male hand-washing habits? Lies, of course. You probably figured that by now, but for those who didn't I thought I'd mention it anyway.

Convoluted trains of thinking? Hey, aren't they all?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In the Beginning was the End (parte prima)

The other day I, reasonably accidentally, read a critical bit of information about the end of a story while idly browsing through a book I was about to read. I do 'browsing' of that sort, at random positions, in the way of 'sampling', as it were. I can usually tell if I shall like a book by doing a few of those. In this instance I browsed too far to the end and knew stuff I wasn't supposed to.

Did I still read the book? Of course. And it was good. It really didn't matter that I knew the ending. It was still enjoyable.

Would it have been more enjoyable if I hadn't known this crucial bit of revelation?

I'd bet that most of you would say 'yes', and this response is reasonable. I mean, the 'reveal' about 3/4 way through Lucky Number Slevin (a.k.a. The Wrong Man) was a surprise that I didn't see coming; and the emotional and intellectual experience of that revelation—I don't want to call it a 'twist' because that isn't what it was; and anyway, the term 'twist' is overused and overabused, and there is no virtue per se in a 'twist', except for twistophiliacs, of course—certainly contributed to an 'experience' which subsequent viewings didn't have. Said viewings, however, had the experience of the anticipatory value of the 'reveal' coming; which is a different experience, but is it therefore any less interesting?

I know that those, who constantly moan about movie-trailers often giving away too much of the story and/or its turns and twists, would say 'definitely'. So, what are they saying: that they actually go to see the movie to find out 'what happens in the end'? Do they not go to see any of the other stuff? Do they pay out their dollars to be left in suspense about an 'outcome' of some contrived tale? Do they, I ask, have nothing better to spend their dollars or, more importantly, their time on, than this? How sad their lives must be, if they feel compelled to do this; or, say, they feel equally compelled to deride a flick merely because of its denouement 'predictability'.

Consider this: as an author I am of the kind who wouldn't start writing a story without having a fairly clear vision, sometimes in great detail, of the final scene—or at least the final scene that matters for the story; which, by the way, if it does matter, should be the final scene! If it doesn't, then why is it there to begin with? Right?

In other words, as an author or storyteller I'm of the kind that is much more interested in the journey than the goal. For the goal can usually be described in fairly pithy terms as can the issue of whether said goal is 'achieved' or not. Even if it's kind-of achieved, though maybe with an ambiguity in terms of desirability or effect of the achievement or what-have-you, a summary is usually simple. Try it sometime. Even the most amazing story will end up sounding quite...well, 'bland' maybe, when you're taking that kind of approach.

But start talking about the 'how' and then things get 'interesting'. For then we have 'story'; not just 'start' and 'finish', 'beginning' and 'end'.

If you don't believe me that knowledge of the 'ending' of a story is far less significant than what happens before the end and how things get there, consider the simple fact—pervasive throughout the world and all cultures, and really degraded to secondary importance only in our own neophiliac culture—that people listen to/read/watch stories again and again, and that indeed the quality of a story is usually measured in how perennial its qualities are. Not the ending, but the journey there.

Indeed, the endings of most of the stories told to us are known to most of us. The same goes for, say, pieces of music, long and short, classical or 'pop'. If it were something special, knowing the ending, and if that something special were taken away by knowing it, then why should it be that, as many of you will surely agree, stories grow on us, and that indeed the whole purpose why they are being told is to show how to get to an end that we already know very well. Stories are not about the achievements of goals per se, but about how it can be done.

The teller of tales, being in the role of a guide along a path, is even more in need of not only knowing the endpoint—albeit possibly just a temporary one; which they all are, except for death, of course!—but of understanding its existential position, if you will, relative to the starting point, or wherever one happens to be at any given moment.

And so, the end—the knowledge of the end—is indeed in the beginning. Maybe it even precedes it, for if we ask "in order to get there, what do we do if we happen to be here?" then it must indeed be so. And 'being here' is invariably a matter of what is, and that could be anywhere. But the 'there' we're heading for, or are trying to, is within the scope of intentionality, decision making, choices. And that is, after all, what 'living' is all about.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007



More sage advice from that remarkable book called the I Ching (12[5])

He who keeps danger in mind is he who will rest safe in his seat; he who keeps ruin in mind is he who will preserve his interests secure; he who sets the danger of disorder before him is he who will maintain the state of order. Therefore the superior man, when resting in safety, does not forget that danger may come; when in a state of security, he does not forget the possibility of ruin; and when all is in a state of order, he does not forget that disorder may come. Thus his person is kept safe, and his states and all their clans can be preserved.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Georgette Heyer

Devotees of Jane Austen, as well as others who think that the English language reaches its pinnacles in the writings of a select group of authors throughout the centuries, usually recoil in horror and dismay when I confess—for in a manner of a 'confession' it is, and how could it be anything else, at least in their eyes—that, like my elder daughter, I am a devotee of the novels of Georgette Heyer.



Said folk—that is, the assessors of literary merit and whom it should be ascribed to—some of them friends of mine, exhibit a range of physically visible reactions: open frowns; carefully-contrived expressions of indifference designed to conceal their feelings at such gaucherie; utterances representing variations upon the theme "Surely, you're joking!".

After I have made my heretic pronouncement—said pronouncement being the 'confession'—and made it clear that, no, I wasn't being jocose, some of them have never looked at me in the same light again. My own literary efforts, paltry as they may be, sink to a lower level of worthiness in their consideration. For surely, anybody really 'liking' Georgette Heyer—meaning someone who actually reads her novels in preference to more worthy works—cannot have the same literary aspirations and never rise to the same heights as one feeling the same affection and/or reverence for, say, Austen.

Lest someone misunderstands: I have a great affection for Austen's work. But let me follow this immediately with another heresy, that should induce quivers, possibly quakes, of indignation in the literati. It is this: just like I much prefer the Lord of the Rings movies to Tolkien's novels, so I enjoy several of the Austen film adaptations—all of them for TV, as opposed to the feature-movie incarnations, which are inferior—more than her writings.

The operative term here is 'enjoy', of course. I wouldn't deny for a moment that, from a purely literary point of view, the novels can lay claim to some kind of superiority. Yet not everything literary is necessarily 'enjoyable', unless you happen to enjoy literary things just because they are 'literary'. And it so happens that Austen just translates very well into the film universe. A lot of the things she's spends extensive effort of describing can be taken by a good screen writer, director and some good actors, and be displayed in inflections of speech, gestures, facial expressions and all the other tools available to one in that medium.

Back to Georgette Heyer, who lived somewhat longer (71) than Austen (41), whose life took her along a very different path, and who, here's another bio, appears to have been a woman of 'character', whose main vice appears to have been smoking—a lot. Well, who's perfect? Still, she died of lung cancer—albeit at 71—and one wonders what else she might have written, had she lived, say, another decade and into the 80s. But these things we will never know.

Heyer's life experiences are reflected in her novels, of which there are more than 50—not quite in the 'output' league of the likes of Edgar Wallace or Agatha Christie, but definitely right up there with my personal literary guiding light, Jack Vance.

I'm still working my way through Heyer's writings; there is such a lot. Right now I'm reading Death in the Stocks, one of her mystery novels. I should also mention that I do prefer her mysteries to Christie's. They may look like who-dunnits, but in truth they're not really 'procedural' and 'investigative', but rather character character studies with a 'mystery'—meaning 'murder'— thread. To me, that makes them interesting and worth spending time on them.

Heyer's novels rank high among the literary works I would absolutely love to adapt into screenplays and movies. The other, of course, is good old Jack. The whole cycle of stories involving the characters of 'T'sais' and 'T'sain', the psychological-mirror-image twins—from the Dying Earth stories—would make an amazing and engrossing fantasy movie.

More plans. As if I didn't have enough!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Even more of less?

"The reformer has enemies in all
those who profit by the old order
and only lukewarm defenders in all those
who would profit by the new order...."

Machiavelli


Ahh, yes, good old Mac. He is much maligned in popular lore, being usually associated with the dictum that 'the end justifies the means'. But he really was all about injecting a healthy dose of reality into ideological-political discussions. Sometimes he sounds like a Japanese politician of eras long gone; and a lot of what he says, with only slight massaging of the terminology, would serve to avoid much of the political messes we're faced with.

But I wasn't going to talk about Mac at all. I just happened across that quote above, and I thought I'd share it; in the hope that my esteemed readers would ponder it for more than a jiffy and, upon realizing the stark and ever-demonstrated truth of it, would be prompted to ponder further why—apart from pure quixotic foolishness or a desire to make the world a better place for those one cares about—anybody should give a damn about making the world a better place, only to have everybody else and sundry profit from it.

Why, to continue this train of thought, go beyond primitive Rand-ian selfish-ism? And, by the way, that photo currently on the Rand Wikipedia page reminds me of the current NZ PM—who, by the way, actually looks like this (and, no children, don't be frightened! the creature isn't going to bite you; if mummy and daddy keep you at a distance!) and not like that retouched PR piccie on the Wiki page!

Could it be that the resemblance is more than just a trifle of existential irony? Or maybe said irony has to be enough. Why not?

Ahh, yes: life.

Back to the train of thought:

Why go beyond primitive Rand-ian selfish-ism? Why, to continue on with my posts (1 2) on the plight of indigenous peoples and what to do to preserve at least some of their heritage, should anyone bother?

Well, if the argument that it's just 'nicer' doesn't hold sway with you, then maybe 'because we have to' will do the job. Because otherwise the world will end up with ever more of less than it already has. Isn't that enough reason? What more do you need?

And as to those who would argue—as 'primitive Rand-ians' probably will—that people should help themselves and that assistance will only make people less self-reliant and all that bullshit. Well, it's true, of course, but that assumes, as primitive Rand-ians invariably do—have I said that often enough now?—that the playing field is sufficiently level for some folks to have a chance to even get started. Ultimately the Rand-ian argument—yes, that's the 'primitive' one; and maybe we should add 'simplistic', 'hypocritical' and 'self-serving'—is always advanced by people who are somewhere on the better and more advantageous levels of the playing field of human endeavor. Else they have major hangups because they originated in totalitarian systems.

To help a conquered culture (and cultures will continue to be 'conquered'!) to survive—in the sense of having its important and significant elements survive, whatever these 'elements' may be—is, if nothing else, a matter of fairness. Of applying our sense of cosmic or existential equipoise. And it's also a matter of 'because we can'. Because the conquering culture becomes a better culture for it. Because it will be enriched—spiritually, psychologically and, as it will invariably turn out, practically.

That's why. Isn't that enough reason?

On a completely different note—or maybe it isn't, because there is a connection— look here—just to make you while away some time considering scenarios relating to ocean-level rises and how truly dumb it is to build new structures at or only slightly above current seal levels—is a resource that every science-fiction writer interested in near-future scenarios should be aware of.

Ahh, we can always dream...

...but this is just a dream...with us maybe imagining Bill Gates on one of those chairs...

...and so is this I suppose (though this is an ode to a pre-Intel-Mac; scary how these things get dated). That girl (website) is a natural comedian—and apparently also a 'YouTube Celebrity'. Yep, there are such things. I suppose there have to be "iFilm Celebrities" as well.

In case you need another dose of You're Beautiful parody's, here's another one, called My Cubicle. A little bit more toilet-humor-ish, this one, than the original version, which you might prefer, because of the kids watching and all that. If the kids are watching. If the kids are too small to handle exploding cubicles—you know, of the cube-farm kind.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Things to frighten the moviegoers of the world

Credits scrolling past:

starring Sylvester Stallone

directed by Sylvester Stallone

written by Sylvester Stallone


Unlikely, of course.

Oh, and I forgot the final scare: RAMBO IV!

The Orb of Oz

This picture...

...prompted my friend J—name withheld for privacy reasons—to an email comment that made me realize that J is a genius. A 'genius', in my book, is someone who sees things that is hidden from others with his powers of perception and cognition, or analysis and deduction, or insight and intuition, or whatever have you. J also does really cool drawings and he ain't a bad writer either. A goodly collection of talent there.

Anyway...

...J commented, inter alia, "looks like you're on some far Vancean orb, pointing out a group of local autochthones for us", and when I replied that the imagined autochthones were probably merely the gazillion tourists camping out there, he answered "from here it could just as well have been a bunch of Chasch", at which I finally not only had a laughing fit, but realized he's right!

Now, for a lot of you this will be utterly obscure, but among the Vance fans of the world, the word 'Chasch' instantly evokes the first book in a four volume series that ranks not only among Vance classics, but among the classics of 'space opera', or, if you prefer, 'science fiction saga'. Read the summary of the first book, City of the Chasch, here, and you'll see what I mean. Strange planets—hence J's 'Vancean orb'—with aliens and humans sometimes to odd that they might as well be aliens, and yet it's only a metaphor for...well, humans and all their oddities and foibles.

And, yes, I can see how that demented picture of mine might evoke such notions in readers of Planet of Adventure. And, yes, I can now see part of what's prompting us to consider seriously leaving the shores or NZ to enter the orb of Oz. Because Tschai, which is populated by not only (all images are from here and illustrated by Caza)...

...the ever-warring Chash....

...the Wankh—or 'Wannek', as established finally and authoritatively in the VIE—...

...the Dirdir, whose sport is hunting everybody and everything else, be it in the open or in a kind of Colosseum...


...and the Pnume: fanatical historians, keepers of 'Foreverness'...

...but I kinda can see them living here...

...or here...

...or here...


... or here...

...or here...

...though this reminds me a lot of the Big Planet (review) cover of my old paperback edition.

Anyway, I can understand how the picture at the top triggered something in J's head.

Somehow I couldn't see them in the New Zealand context. When you go to NZ, and especially if you're from, say, Ireland or Britain, you'll notice so much that is hauntingly familiar. If you've spent time at the coast of northern Spain, you'll also find much that, except for the people, is virtually interchangeable; including the weather. Other places have tropical aspects, that would resonate with places in South America, the southern US, and especially California.

But NZ is manageable. You can travel along the entire length of the South Island in a day; comfortable. Compare this to, say the N.T., which is the size of France, Spain and Italy taken together. And most of that is desert and, at an estimated population of just over 200k, it has significantly less people in it that the city of Christchurch in the NZ South Island.

The NZ countryside can be harsh and even deadly, often deceptively so; mainly because it doesn't appear that way, and people are often caught unawares and unprepared. The same wouldn't happen in the N.T. You look out there and you know what you're facing, unless you're a total cognitive 404.

Sorry, just had to put that big-small in here!

Thanks to J I finally understand the attraction of the thing. We've lived in NZ for the last 18 years at a stretch, and though there are still places left to see, we've kind of seen most of it. It's comfortable and cozy and it has a blooming nanny-state mentality—in all the wrong aspects, of course; not in the one's where it should have...and what else could possibly be new with venal and hypocritical politicians (as if there were any others)—and overall it's a good, safe, handy, manageable place to be. It's just that I don't think we're ready to make this our final abode.

Well, to be honest, I can't think of anything in terms of 'final abode'—meaning the place where you will eventually to sink into terminal decrepitude and death and/or where the vagaries of contingency swipe you off the plateau of life and into the dark abyss beyond. Don't misunderstand me: I like NZ and Dunedin. But life is always at the brink of not being life anymore; and so carpe diem and all that, eh?

Time, methinks, to visit the Orb of Oz for more than just a holiday.

For, so I tell myself, who knows what really lurks beyond yonder boulder?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

911 — Those who forget the lessons of history...

Gerda Lerner:

What we do about history matters. The often repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth in it. But what are 'the lessons of history'? The very attempt at definition furnishes ground for new conflicts. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way. Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are a constantly shifting process. There are no certainties to be found in the past.

We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their time and how they solved their problems. We can learn by analogy, not by example, for our circumstances will always be different than theirs were. The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Desert Knowledge

I don't think that the certainty and the root causes of cultural extinction—meaning basically extinction of 'ways of life' that are distinctly different from other ways of life, in more than just some insignificant details—as I explained it here are really matters subject to serious dispute. The facts simply don't support any other theory. Wishful or fanciful or agenda-driven thinking might, of course; but I don't believe that's very productive, and it definitely isn't going to help those affected. Actually I think it's outright destructive and causes more harm and suffering than acceptance of the demonstrable truth.

Thing is, however, that what we do with this conclusion is a completely different matter: an issue of personal decision-making; of responsibility-taking; of, if you will, some serious existential choices that define who and what we are as human beings, individually and collectively. By and large the decisions made by the conquering societies, many of them not European or even 'white', have been...well, 'predictable'. The BHB ('Bleeding Heart Brigade') never much helped either, because by and large they're composed mostly of patronizing fervents in permanent reality-denial mode. The remainder mostly falls in one variant of the I'm-compassionate-but-today-I'm-too-busy classifications. And the media just get mileage out of it, because they, as much as the gazillion aid organizations wanting our money, try to gross and 'guilt' us out with pictures and stories of the so-much-less-fortunate-than-us during primetime TV; which mostly has three results a) we mute the sound and try not to look, and b) we're damn glad we're not on that TV screen—and c) we salve our conscience by contributing a few bucks most of which are sucked up into administrative nonsense or used by religioids to spread their questionable creeds together with the aid.

But, as we should know, everything has a price, including the exercise of human kindness. Mind you, there's hope. If even Mother Theresa had her doubts about the religious mummery she was immersed in...well, as I said: there's hope. Maybe.

The problem with pontificating, as I did, upon inexorable laws of human socio-cultural interaction, is that it's all about 'cultures'. And when, as is currently fashionable, the term 'clash of cultures' is waved around—either by those who would see the 'clash' everywhere, or by those who are denying its very existence—what is almost always forgotten is that 'cultures' are always made up of people; and even more, individual people. Cultures aren't buildings and art and music and words, and not even stories. Cultures are, at any given point in time, all those people in whom all these things are incarnated. Or, I guess,in whom they were incarnated, as would be the case where you dig up evidence of some 'culture' that simply doesn't exist anymore.

The modification of cultures—'destruction' is merely an extreme form of 'modification'!—is therefore the modification of the ways of living of human beings: individuals. How they relate to themselves, one another, the society around them and the world in general. In other words, just about everything they do, think, believe and feel. It is intrusive, ranging from subtle to terminally destructive.

A culture almost entirely of the receiving end of 'modification' and with few and ineffectual cultural defense mechanisms, such as is the case with the Australian indigenous cultures, depends on its survival—or survival of at least some and preferably many aspects of what defines it—for the cultures that are modifying it. In Australia that currently means the dominant European or European-derived culture. The key-word is 'dependency': an uncomfortable term which unfortunately is apt and to the point. Dependency of motivation, good-will and, above all, a preparedness to put money and resources where intentions are; preferably without the accompanying patronizing.

I sense that Australia, among all the nations of the world that resemble it insofar as its basic issues of colonial-vs-indigenous-inhabitants are concerned, may have developed at least one mechanism that is more than 'reservation'-like condescension. It is an organization known as Desert Knowledge Australia, and for those interested in such things, click on the image below and have a look at the organization's website.

This doesn't look like a BHB thing, nor does it have the taste of implying continued dependency. The heart of the organization is in Alice Springs, and from what I know the intention is to make the 'precinct', as they call it, into a major source not only for the generation of tourist dollars, but also of the preservation of knowledge about what is loosely called 'desert', and which covers well over 75% of the continent; a place about which Australian indigenous people perforce probably know more than any bunch of white men currently in existence. The kind of stuff Gagudju Bill knew about.

This kind of knowledge is precious on a purely practical level to all Australians and maybe beyond—like is the case with the gazillion bits and pieces of precious things lurking in the jungles of the world that are being destroyed at an ever-increasing rate. And, no, I don't want to sound like an enviro-nazi or a greenie; but things are as they are.

But the knowledge is also precious on a purely personal level to the Australian indigenous people. Because it's in their heads! They actually know stuff that we don't, and knowledge is power and this is not some heebee-jeebie knowledge about stuff that may or may not be true and probably isn't, but this is solid and valuable knowledge about the real world that we all have to live in. Having such knowledge, knowing that one has such knowledge, has the inevitable consequence of a sense of pride developing; of being important; of 'mattering', if you will. And it is precisely that sense, which invariably gets taken away from the cultures on the receiving end of 'modifications'. It's got to do with one's sense of 'value' of self to the world at large—and in this instance the 'self' is the 'cultural self', if you will. There is a parallel in the ways in which individual and collective-cultural pride and esteem is tied up with the value perceived by a wider context: one's 'group' or 'society' for an individual; the cultures or the wider 'world' for a culture.

I think DKA has a very good chance of doing this for indigenous Australians. It hasn't been around for that long and has a long way to go. But it is, I think, better than anything in that area I've heard of as existing anywhere else in the world. To find it in Australia, where ethnic relations have a troubled history—and currently there's a lot of crap being stirred up there—is very encouraging indeed. Maybe there's hope that, in some not-too-far-away-future those loitering, basically without purpose, in the streets of Alice Springs and most other towns in the N.T., will be pulled into this enterprise, and that this will ultimately make their lives, and particularly those of the children, better and more purposeful.

It's not going to save the culture. As I've explained before, nothing can do that. But, within the context of the change that is inevitable and always has been, it may save those elements of the culture that are important. And in order for that to happen, people need hope that things will be better. And they need to realize—and this is maybe the toughest thing of them all—that nobody is right about everything all of the time; and that that includes even revered figures like Gagudju Bill, whose wisdom and perception of the situation of his people's situation, as well as the European settlers' folly, is undeniable; but whose notions about the immutability of human-made law are terribly destructive at the same time.

In order to let go of some of that attachment to the past, people have to see a promise for the future. That may not be a sufficient (if-then) precondition, but it is certainly a necessary (if-and-only-if) one.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

More pictures

Thought I'd put some more pictures here, just to test your broadband connection and waste some bandwidth. The selection is willful, in no particular order, and is a mixture of the sublime, the banal and the contrived.















Friday, September 07, 2007

Dotry

An interlude, while I work on continuing a theme:

Try Not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Quoting Yoda here—meaning someone who doesn't exist—meaning the guy who wrote those words—meaning George Lucas, of course. Funny though how people quote 'Yoda', isn't it?

Still, George Lucas, despite his many flaws as a film-maker was still a damn good story-teller; and that's what counts here. So I'm quite happy saying 'Quoting Yoda here', the wise one, the John Campbell part of Goerge Lucas.

I was reminded of the try-not-do thing during a discussion with a friend who, when I noted that something wasn't being done, commented that people 'were trying' and that really and sensibly I couldn't expect anything more than that, and even less that there was going to me much more than the 'try'.

And this is, of course, where Yoda's dictum comes into it. Because it's kind-of deeper than the whole pop-culture thingie that goes with it. I wonder if Lucas is aware of that—or was aware when he penned it. Like did he think it through, and what it meant and how many layers of meaning it actually has? Did he sit back and ponder the words he placed into his little green elf's mouth and told himself "Wow; now how did I come up with this?"

Makes you wonder, don't it? Well, it makes me wonder, not least because every now and then some of my characters say something and it's like "Hmff, that's very interesting. Wonder what s/he meant by that?" And then I wonder if the character actually knew what s/he meant. And that leads to other things, and so on.

But that wasn't what I wanted to say at all. For much more interesting—and ignoring who said it and why—is the meta-meaning of Yoda's dictum; he thing that pop-culture tends to gloss over. That they do is evidenced by precisely the situation said pop-culture—expanded into official and Politically Correct culture—has gotten itself into.

The thing is this: if you 'try', then what you 'do' is 'try'. Your intention is the 'trying' of the thing, not the doing of it. You do-try.

When kids grow up we're inclined to encourage them doing stuff by encouraging them to try it. Either that, or we are of the opposite inclination, which berates 'failure to succeed'. But, by and large in the paternalistic nanny-state nations, the "You tried!" is the general response. "Give yourself full marks for trying."

And there's nothing wrong with that per se. Because for children—up to a certain point—the things we make them 'try', that is we make them do-try, are difficult. From a child's perspective they are possibly un-doable. Hence the need to get started doing them anyway, despite all that: a process usually referred to as 'trying'.

The equivalent for an adult would be trying something that s/he knows is incredibly difficult, may never have been done before, might be considered impossible by one's peers and so on. But it's got to be done—for whatever reason—and hence, despite the near-quixotic nature one gets off one's ass and tries to do it anyway. Here the do-try again has merit; it requires the exercise of courage; the capacity to make a decision to do-try despite the overwhelming odds of a successful outcome. The Dotry—here's the neologism for you, and it isn't spoken like 'dottry' but like 'do-try'—is an existential action, if you will; not a cop-out.

All that is nice and good, but this is not the way it is in practice. For the "but you tried" and "full marks for trying" has become a phrase so overused, abused and over-applied that it has generated and is continuing to generate generation of children who, as they grow older and capable of assuming a greater perspective on their life's problems and the issues confrinting them, actually end up incapable of understanding the difference between 'do' and 'dotry'.

Remember that earlier I had inserted an important proviso for the use of the dotry. It's purpose is to serve as an existential choice when the prospects of an actual 'do' resulting in a positive outcome are minimal. But, for the average adult in their life-situations, such situations are rare. Most of them will not get themselves into situations—motivationally speaking, and even less practically—that require the dotry. That's because we tend to build up around ourselves and in our lives, through doing and doing-not, contexts that do not require dotrys.

Or shouldn't!

But the way things are going here these days—and I'm saying 'these days' because it is 'these days' and in the kinds of societies, 'here', most of my blog readers live in—what's really happened is that we have taught our children to become dotryers as they grow into adulthood. (Yep, next neologism.) Meaning, of course, they never become the kinds of adults that children tended to become—and still do become—in social contexts where this kind of thing was not encouraged; and if it was, where it was progressively less encouraged as they grew up.

I think it's not overstating the case if one were to label most western urbanized societies as 'dotry' (the adjective to the noun). The problem is, they dotry on just about everything. The actual things that are being tried have become secondary. The dotry is the thing du jour. The totally pointless dotry.

I'm trying to...

  • be a good person
  • lose weight
  • give up smoking
  • making my marriage work
  • write a novel
  • be honest
  • meet the deadline
  • help people
  • learn more about X
  • do my best
I'm trying!

The last one's the worst: "I'm trying to do my best!"

So what are you actually doing? Your best? Or just trying? How can you even conceive of such an absurdity? You either do your currently-deemed-best by definition or else you're not. How can you possibly be 'trying' to do this? What is that?

OK, then. So you're trying to do...anything whatsoever.

And what if it doesn't work?

Well, I'll try something else. Gotta try, right?

See how this works? Ever caught yourself in this kind of dotry situation? Where the thing you're actually trying becomes unimportant when compared to the fact that you dotried? Do you lurch from dotry to dotry and never get anything done?

It's easy, you know. Very easy. The dotry mentality not only encourages excusism—another neologism; shit, I'm on a roll here!—but creates, nurtures and spreads it through one's mind like HIV, attacking the very systems that are meant to protect us from such folly. Nothing ever really gets done, for all energy is expended on the dotry and not the thing that needs to be done.

The dotry is an energy-sink! Any 'do' is an energy-sink; requiring the expenditure of energy to accomplish something. Elementary thermodynamics. A dotry is energy expended on...what?

"But I tried!"

OK, so you did. But did you dotry? And if you did, is the thing you dotried really in the category of the 'near impossible to achieve', quixotic tilting-at-windmills, etc, etc? Because if it isn't—and, let's face it, what part about losing weight; giving up filthy habits like smoking and getting drunk; making a relationship that can work, work; writing a novel...which one about those things really belongs into those dire categories?—then, if you do lurch from dotry to dotry, you're right on the way of doing this to the end of your life, and in the end you've done nothing of the things that matter, because you've lost sight of them in your paroxysms of dotrying. And if you dotry to give up dotrying, you may find that by the time you do, if ever, it's too late for so many things you should have done instead of dotrying.

Sound familiar? Wanna have a look in the mirror sometime?

Still, this is the kind of human being most of urbanized western societies are creating, nurturing, holding up as having 'done' something—when in truth all these poor blighters, kept in a state of Peter Pan like never-grown-up-hood, know of 'doing' is 'dotrying'.

So, Yoda's right. I wonder if GL knew how right when he penned those words.

There is no 'try'. From an existentialist point of view there is only 'dotry'. Decisions are decisions to 'do' or 'dotry'. 'Try' itself is nothing but a transitional phase of the 'do' process: what happens between the decision to do and the action of doing it. 'Try' is a state like 'the present': an imaginary moving line in time and the space of human action, separating intention from action. Said 'action' may or may not be successful, but to equate the action itself—the 'do'—with the 'try' is a severe category mistake.

There is no try.

Do.

Or do not.

Or dotry.

But think of what a dotry-life is really like. A wasteland of doing nothing at all—except dotrying. What a total f....g waste.