Thursday, January 31, 2008

Moving (Part 16 of X): Ripping Them Up And Putting Them Down

Roots, that is; of the residential kind. On the day that the settlement for our, now former, house in Dunedin came through we made an offer on a place in Arana Hills, Brisbane, and signed a contract the day after.

Again, as those who knew our former residence will immediately spot, the house in on a sloping section.

It's also atop a rise but doesn't have a wide view.

Instead backs onto a wooded area, behind which are more houses, but further down the hill. The environment, if experience is anything to go by, makes for lots of colorful, and possibly quite noisy, Australian birdlife.

The front is shielded from the road by a wooden fence that not only provides privacy, but also dampens the noises of passing cars.

Finding a house wasn't easy. I spent endless hours going through pages and pages of Real Estate ads on the two main sites that cater for this kind of thing in Australia. Suburbia is a sometimes profoundly despressing place, which is one of the reasons why this here probably isn't forever either. But in the context of a modern city like Brisbane it's just about as good as you'll get within the range of not-quite-inner suburbs. When I finally finish with the job down the Gold Coast and very likely find contract or other work in Brisbane itself--there being, at a quick scan of about 20 times as many jobs in Brisbane for the likes of me than down the Coast-- then there's a suburban train station withing less than 5 minutes' drive or bike-ride and maybe 15-20 minute's walk. Or there's the bus, of course, but train is infinitely preferable.

So, this is all good. I consider us extremely fortunate to have found this place, because much of what we could afford and would therefore have been forced to consider basically fell into the 'depressing' to 'hideous' categories; both, from the point of view of location/environment and/or the characteristics of the dwellings offered. But the area of Arana Hills where the house is located qualifies as 'older', meaning most dwellings are 25+ years old and predate the rabid 'development' trends in vogue right now and which will probably get even worse, as if that were possible.

You wouldn't believe the kind of shit people pay huge money for in this town; all because house-prices here are still very much on the rise, what with the continuing influx of new residents into Brisbane, as well as into the surrounding areas, both up and down the coast mainly. It was an eye-opener, this brief sojourn of mine into the Real Estate pages of the web.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Muscular Morons

So, what's wrong with this picture?

There I am, walking through a Brisbane street, and it's hot and sticky and all that, and there is this guy, somewhere in his upper 20s to early 30s, walking along among all the other folks cramming the sidewalks, and he's dressed all trendy in gym-ish kind of gear: carefully tousled haircut; bronzed skin; cool cross-trainers (hot on the feet? no shit!); gym shorts; sleeveless singlet, designed to show off his arm muscles (too much bulk, which makes him strong but inherently slower than someone with less bulk but more tone), pects and abs. In one hand he holds a half-full dummy-tit-bottle of some kind of energy drink.

In the other he holds a half-smoked cigarette.

Reminds me of this... Pretty close.

OK, so here's what I don't get...

Ahh, never mind.

By the way, Brisbane is riddled with bloody smokers. Not more than other places I suspect, not on a per-capita basis; but with craploads of people in the CBD they are just more visible. I guess I see it more than others might because I came here from small-city New Zealand, where, even if there were the same proportion of smokers, you'd still see far less of them. I also can smell smoke a mile against the wind and around several corners, and so that probably makes it even worse.

These people don't seem to know--or maybe just not care--about how pathetic they look when they skulk in nooks, crannies, doorways, entrance halls, and so on to get a puff.

What's the difference between them and a heroin addict, except in the drug they use? It appears that the dependency is similar, with a comparable preparedness on the part of the addicts to look...well, find your own label. Same goes, of course, for cocaine-snorting yuppies, I guess.

I mean, I should understand, I guess; after all I, too, smoked for a significant number of years and a lot of these folks are about the age I was when I still indulged in that habit.

But, in the way of a partial explanation, 'then' we didn't know just how utterly stupid it really was. Just like much of Europe still doesn't know, I guess; or Asia, or Africa, or South America. But nowadays we do know. The epidemiological evidence is pretty damn clear. It isn't just a filthy habit--and that only in the eyes of those who don't do it, so maybe that's a pure value judgment that shouldn't be applied here--but a lethal one.

To explain it all by referring to Frank Zappas dictum about stupidity being like hydrogen may not suffice; though it is tempting, of course, to bury it under flippancy.

To moan about it--and similarly dumb-witted habits--by saying that these people cost the 'health-system' too much money, only makes partial sense as well. It certainly does right now, but since these people are likely to die sooner than they would have if they hadn't smoked, they won't load down the health systems by being 'old people' in the future.

And also--what with being concerned with people's rights to choose their fate if that's at all feasible and socially sensible--I think that to legislate smoking out of existence, through taxes and prohibitions of where one may smoke, isn't necessarily 'right' either; though I think that the rest of us have rights as well, namely not to be molested and inconvenienced by either stink or secondary smoke inhalation effects.

Geez, I wish I could be more simple-minded and see one side of an issue. It makes life so-o-o-o-o much simpler!

But this really isn't a matter for flippancy.

And on a positive note (you'll have to click on the image to see it better):

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Power, Lust, Scandal, Bribery, Violence, Sex, Mayhem, War

There, that kind of title should attract so many readers to this blog-post that I'll make up for my missing quota for this month!

Mind you, all I'm really going to talk about is 'Power'--though, let's face it, among those who have aplenty of it, there's heaps of the other stuff as well. After all Power Corrupts, they say, whoever 'they' are, and furthermore it is also often asserted that Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. But, you know, when you're looking for a decent definition of what what is meant by 'power' in more than a definition-by-instance, you're pretty much left to look in vain. The Wikipedia definition is only one case in point. Feel free to google 'power definition' and see what comes up!

'Power' is one of those terms used in so many areas of human activity that a simple definition appears to be unachievable. And yet it isn't, if only you know where to look and how to retreat to gain a better sense of perspective.

This issue came up the other day as a side-product of a discussion about 'empowerment', a term I'm very fond of--and which I consider a noble goal to work toward, either in oneself or for others--but which, almost as a corollary to the general confusion about the fundamental nature 'power' in a psychological and sociological sense, is being widely abused, often the context of throwing it in, in the manner of a category mistake, into discussions about, for example 'selfishness' and 'self-interest' and so on. The philosophy of Objectivism is founded on this kind of thinking-screwup. (Yeah, I know: cheap shot. But Objectivism, like Scientology, is such a wide open and inviting target that I just can't help myself. What a bunch of tards!)

Not that the extant definitions--well, more like 'descriptions'--of Power are actually 'wrong'. It's just that they are too particular and usually refer more to how Power expresses itself, rather addressing the nature of the essence, if you will; of the common thread joining all these expressions. Part of the reason for this is that somewhere there always lurks a notion of the physical nature of power, and inevitably it is joined up, without careful differentiation, with notions about 'Force', which is much more blatantly physical or at least used as a metaphor deriving its impact from the physical.

All of this obscures what 'Power', when the term is applied to people or groups of people, is at heart, and it is this:

Power is a metric applied to the ability of an individual or a group to make decisions.

OK, so that doesn't help, says you, esteemed reader.

Well it does. What it means, trodden out in a few more words is this:

Power is just a way in which we measure the degree of ability of an individual or group to make decisions. Meaning that Power is like a ruler that we put alongside the many ways in which this decision-making capability expresses itself. So, when you read about the gazillion variations and incarnations and instantiations of Power, you're actually talking about the things that the ruler is held up against. And these things are the many ways in which the ability to make decisions expresses itself.

"But, but, but..." I can hear you start saying. But stop protesting and think about it some more, and maybe you'll come around to my point of view. For in truth, everything in human affairs can be mapped into conceptual spaces that can be measured with the 'Power' metric. I forgot who said that decisions define us--I don't think it was I who conjured that up--but from an existentialist point of view it's clear that it cannot really be any other way.

Thus, when those of existential inclination speak about 'empowerment' of the personal kind, they will probably have 'empowerment to make decisions' in mind. This empowerment can take many forms as there are contexts, but one thing about it must be clear: that it is neutral. By itself, increasing a person's or group's ability to make decisions--however this 'ability' may be understood--is neither good nor bad, and neither will it lead by necessity to either. Someone 'empowered' may use his or her 'powers' for whatever his or her disposition might be. A psychopath may choose to become vicious and methodical serial killer. Someone stuck in a stultifying job might choose to go out and do something meaningful instead. A king might choose to become a benevolent ruler or a nasty tyrant.

The notion that 'empowerment' in inherently good is severely flawed. It's like everything else, really. No empowerment at all makes for a pathetic excuse for a human being. Too much of it can make for an egomaniac dictator or a Jim Jones. We're back to the Middle Way and moderation; for excessive empowerment detaches the empowered from his social context, while not enough of it makes him a slave to it.

And, yes, being empowered is potentially corruptive--though we must ask "corrupting what?" Maybe what we're talking about here are just the 'beneficial' things that could be accomplished with the proper application of the acquired power. And the more power there is, the more fertile a breeding ground for that corruption it is likely to be.

Again, it seems to me like we're left with another one of those catch-22 situations common to humans and human societies. For without being empowered we would be unable to decide; yet with no constraints on our decisions the whole thing is likely to go nuclear.

I'm not offering solutions here; just a few observations of an existentialist kind. What you do with them...well, I hope you're empowered enough to figure it out for yourself.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mangled Corpses and Other Ponderables

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes. No.
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.
Shrek: No.
Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin' little white hairs.
Shrek: NO. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions.

We're currently staying in Brisbane and, equally 'currently' I have a contract that takes me down to the Gold Coast every morning. Just over 80 km, 95% of it highway driving, with no major traffic issues, since a) I tend to go before the rush hour, and return as well and b) I go against the flow.

This is just a preamble to explain how I'm getting to the subject I'm getting to. Just in case anybody wonders. The other path to today's subject comes via my last blog, and especially the last part, before the American Pie lyrics.

So, this morning, extending over maybe 1 km or so, the highway lanes going south, all four of them at the stretch in question, were littered with bits and pieces, still bloody and fresh it seemed, of what once were live creatures, probably birds judging from what looked, passing and occasionally bumping over them at 110 km/h, leftovers of white feathers. Could have been cockatoos, maybe a swarm of them it looks like, possibly collected in the grill or other 'catching' parts of a large truck, and dropped off as it continued on. Unless there was something more sicko going on here. You never know. Let's assume the accident-scenarios is the right one. Don't really want to know if it was anything else, except maybe as material for some unpleasant movie.

Anyway, there they were, being bumped over by the tyres of the early morning traffic and distributed more evenly across the lanes, so that ultimately every passing car would be sure to not be able to miss getting at least some of the sad leftovers on their tyres and maybe centrifugally disposed and splattered over the insides of their mudguards.

Nice one. A somewhat revolting demonstration of the second law of thermodynamics. For ultimately that's what it is, only with the additional effect that, in a way, it actually reduces the dimensionality of the objects being randomized, since ultimately everything gets crunched and ground and squeezed into flatness. Geez, I really got to stop running with these images!

Let's assume these were cockatoos, which are pretty birds, with lots of what, in an avian context, qualifies as 'personality'. Which kind of leads me to where I wanted to be with this topic, because things like 'pretty' and 'personality' are stuff that is somehow connected to the blobs of shredded and squashed meat and blood on the highway, there between Brisbane and Coolangatta; but it's also above and beyond. And while the organic matter those cars were bumping over is somehow preserved, albeit in a somewhat randomized and definitely dysfunctional form, the 'pretty' and 'personality' are gone. And, as I noted in my last blog, those things are the superficial ones. The 'core' stuff is ground into flat, bloody road pizzas all across the M1 and sundry.

It's something I keep coming back to, because it's one of those things which--in all discussions that touch on such subjects, from the casual to the intensely philosophical--is taken for granted: the notion that somehow the more important things, as well whatever constitutes 'essence' should be considered as being located more at the 'core' of things, rather than the surface. 'Superficiality' and 'shallowness' or their semantic equivalents as personal characteristics are used derisively in almost every culture. The 'real you' is to be found 'deep within', at the heart of things, the core, the center. Invariably it is considered 'hidden' and somehow, or so we hope, immutable and untouchable; a core of, in the instance of people, of 'essential humanity' or whatever label(s) we wish to pin on this thing.

But. But.

What is it isn't so? I mean, just suppose, for the sake of the argument... I know it's a scary and unfamiliar place to go, because it, quite literally turns everything inside out, in the sense that it makes the inside the outside and the outside the inside. The layers of the Ogre-onion aren't just layers, but a whole bunch or Moebius Strip rings of different, sometimes only infinitesimally-small-different, diameters arranged in some concentric, or almost-concentric, manner.

I mean, let's just suppose that everything that we tend to attach 'value' to, and I'm not talking about a juicy steak here, isn't really a 'core' thing, but, when you look at it closely, really 'superficial'; both, from the point of view of what is actually 'is', as well as what you might call an 'evidentiary' one: meaning you can only tell what's actually 'there' by looking at the surface, at phenomena, at what is, in the widest sense of the word, 'visible'. Not the hidden stuff, which is always inferred from the non-hidden phenomena caused by what is hidden. And what is hidden need not be a 'core' either; just something at a layer that may be hidden by others at any given instant of observation.

Am I making any sense here? It makes sense to me, but then I actually do have a pictorial representation of the process in my head. I wish I had a nice 3-d modeling program I could use to create the structure I'm talking about; it would make things so much simpler.

Enough ranting for today! Go and dream of Moebius Strips.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

You Are Special. You Want To Go To The Island. NOT!

Actually, some geeks are definitely special: the ones that are geeky about the same thing you are geeky about. (By 'you' I mean, of course, 'I'; but that's just by-the-by.) All other geeks are...well, just geeks. Weirdos with strange predilections and obsessions, who quite possibly go to bizarre conventions where other geeks like them hang out and talk shit about weird geeky stuff. That's in contrast to the Geeks-Like-Us; or maybe that should be Geeks'r'Us? Whatever. Geeks-Like-Us may be geeks, but we're not weird like that other lot. We talk cogently and earnestly about things that you'll only 'get' if you're a Geek-Like-Us. Hell, time for an acronym: GLU!

I belong to a few GLU groups. Jack Vance's writings...well, that goes without saying. How many people can quote lines from The Dying Earth stories, impromptu, and dropping Vancean profundities, aphorisms and notable utterances into apparently boring conversations; such a manner that those listening are stunned into stunned silence at first; which is often followed by all sorts of reactions, ranging from glazed-over eyes to defensive aggressiveness about one's strange conversationalisms.

Two other notable clubs I belong to are Firefly-Geeks and Blade Runner-Geeks. Among those of us who know things about these two foci of devotee-dom or geek-dom certain subtle signals are used to indicate to another member that onself, too, 'belongs' and 'understands'. These signals are difficult to quantify, but when they occur, they are instantly understood by another club member, while outsiders present wouldn't even know that there were signals. Obvious ones include mentioning the names of the objects of geek-devotion or maybe a choice quote that only the illuminati can possibly 'get'; whereupon, if they don't know you as a member of the geek-association already, there usually are covert, sometimes overt, regards of surprise. Often this is followed by conversation drifting into geek-subject territory, despite the presence of others who don't really give a crap, or else said topics will be postponed until later when these pesky surplus interlopers are out of the conversational loop.

And so it goes.

Well, for the Blade Runner geeks, how's this? The DVD set of Blade Runner: The Final Cut arrived at our current Australian mail-drop a few days ago, kindly forwarded by a friend in Dunedin, who rescued it from our almost-defunct address there before someone else could steal it.

And, no, it's not an aluminium--or as Amercians insist, for some bizarre reason or other, 'aluminum'--case, but just plastic. Inside are:

  • A cool magnetic photo holder with one of those it-moves-if-you-tilt-it pics of Deckard (Harrison Ford) leveling a gun.
  • A silver plastic replica of an origami unicorn (Yeah, you non-BladeRunner tards: that means nothing to you, right? Right? Well, that's because you just don't... Well, you're just not... Ahh, never mind. The unicorn ultimately lies at the heart of the story, or maybe it is the heart, because the unicorn is about memory, and what's real and what isn't, and what defines us as who we 'are'. Recently, homage was paid, yet again, to Blade Runner and these issues in the movie The Island.)
  • A small model of one of the flying vehicles of that dystopian future world.
  • A set of five DVDs: The Final Cut, previous theatrical and Director's Cut versions of the movie, plus lotsa extras.

I, who have compacted my DVD collection into wallets, disposing of cases, though keeping the inserts etc, will never inflict a similar fate upon this collection. I swear. It would be more than sacrilege. They'd have to invent a word to describe the heinousness of such an action.

Regarding the whole issue of memory and identity (something I recall only now as I write), I had an interesting episode the other day, during idly pondering the traffic flowing along below the balcony of the apartment we're renting at the moment. For 'memories' snuck into my thoughts; memories of events that were so inconsistent with everything that currently qualifies as the context of my life, that it jolted me into prodding at them and probing and finally extracting some salient contradictions that I could test against the flow of what else I remembered. I finally concluded that these 'memories' were surfacing snippets of dreams had either the previous night or maybe a night before. But they were so basically ordinary that they didn't actually stand out as dream-figments. They just didn't fit into the consistent pattern of life. Stuff in there simply could not have happened.

The matter is now confirmed, because by now I've actually forgotten just exactly what these memories had been; and I only remember the fact that they had been there. That's the way dream memories go; and with me demolishing their validity after a brief moment of identity-doubt--and, yes, there was that, because they were just 'there' and so strong that they really seemed to 'belong', and didn't appear like dream-intruders--they just went the way dreams usually go.

Still, for the person of imagination such episodes may well occasion speculations. I mean, there's always the Continuity Slip scenario.

Of course, that's fiction. And dreams are dreams, and memories are just memories.


Memories are usually recalled a stories or fragments of stories. The sum of these stories, as they change from time to time, defines 'us'. A wrapper around a core of identity that may or may not exist, and really just be the hollow center of gravity around which these stories circulate; and continue to do so until the day we die. Which means that death is, at its essence the cessation of internal-story telling. All of which makes life a very superficial affair, though there may be layers of circulating narratives; like ogres I guess. Which would draw some interesting parallels between this and, for example, what we call 'beauty'. For is not beauty entirely superficial? Yet, when you come to think about and remember the story-story, could it be conceivable that, admittedly layered, superficiality, that 'appearance', is actually the only 'substance' there is beyond the merely 'physical'?

And speaking of the cessation of stories and death. This morning on the way to work I happened to listen to a full replay of 'American Pie'. I don't know why, but as I was zooming along the highway, this time it sent shivers down my spine.

For those who don't know the song, here's the lyrics. Skip it if you must, but it doesn't come any scarier and multi-layered than that.

A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But february made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

So bye-bye, miss american pie.
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."

Did you write the book of love,
And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock ’n roll,
Can music save your mortal soul,
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
`cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.
You both kicked off your shoes.
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.

I started singin’,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."

Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone,
But that’s not how it used to be.
When the jester sang for the king and queen,
In a coat he borrowed from james dean
And a voice that came from you and me,

Oh, and while the king was looking down,
The jester stole his thorny crown.
The courtroom was adjourned;
No verdict was returned.
And while lennon read a book of marx,
The quartet practiced in the park,
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died.

We were singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."

Helter skelter in a summer swelter.
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter,
Eight miles high and falling fast.
It landed foul on the grass.
The players tried for a forward pass,
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast.

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune.
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!
`cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

We started singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."

Oh, and there we were all in one place,
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again.
So come on: jack be nimble, jack be quick!
Jack flash sat on a candlestick
Cause fire is the devil’s only friend.

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan’s spell.
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite,
I saw satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

He was singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.

And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the holy ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.

And they were singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."

They were singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dojo matters

So, I looked at going to this dojo here in Brisbane. I'll withhold their name to protect the innocent, and besides they are good people. I was going to start up training with them, but then, on the day I was going to get serious, I read what amounts to a manifesto of sorts, and I went to myself: "No Way, Jose." Or "No Way, Till." because I'm not called 'Jose'.

Several things in the manifesto turned me off so far that I declined to be involved with these folks; despite the fact that they do some very cool traditional swordsmanship that I really would liked to have learned:
  1. The excessively autocratic nature and structure of this variation of a modern-day incarnation of a traditional Ryu.
  2. The lack of openness with regards to what is being taught.
  3. The atmosphere in the dojo; which, in view of the other two items, suddenly became something more than an incidental quirk.
Regarding (1):

I have authority issues anyway, but when it's shoved into your face in writing...hmmfff. And, yes, I appreciate that, since this 'traditional' swordsmanship, with a view towards preserving the framework and details of a 'style', some form of autocracy is unavoidable. Someone's got to say: "This is how it's done."

But in my world that someone, if challenged--at some appropriate time and within the proper context--ought to be able to justify the 'how', especially in an openly combative style, and rise to the challenge of having it questioned. And, the more 'advanced' a teacher is, the more he or she should benefit from having such challenges offered. Autocrats who cannot abide this usually do so because from excessive arrogance about their abilities, and/or because they implicitly consider every chink in their armor of perfection a sign of a threat to whatever authority they think they possess, deserved or not.

Personally I've found that the most useful question to ask oneself at the time a challenge to one's teachings arises is "Why?" Is it because the questioner is just being a pain in the ass and/or thinks s/he'll derive some advantage from the challenge? Is it because I haven't made, to the questioner at least, sufficiently clear what s/he needs to know not to have to need to issue the challenge? Have I not thought issue XYZ through, and are there loopholes or hidden contradictions/imperfections/bad-assumptions that really ought to be dealt with? What did I do to prompt this question, here and now? (And that question has more levels and meta-levels than you can throw a stick at!)

The teacher who has an instant answer to every question and who is good at rationalizing everything he does and teaches...that teacher is probably not a good teacher. Admittedly, again, there is a time and a place for asking the questions, and the astute student has to learn to ask when the time is right and only after s/he's though some more about the question: that's what makes him a good student.

It is in the nature of 'tradition', almost everywhere, to be autocratic. That's why a given 'tradition' still exists, because if its transmission hadn't been autocratic, fixed, it probably wouldn't have survived as a tradition. It's just in the nature of the beast. But people have choices. How they choose defines what they are. I do not wish to associate with people making certain choices. Bad mojo.

Regarding (2):

There is a place and a time for secrecy and exclusivity. In a time of war, for example--whether it be open or undeclared--as the saying goes 'loose lips sink ships'. I'm completely on board for that. But in the martial arts?? For goodness sake! What, apart from the exclusivity of some traditions, is at stake here? Sweet bugger all! Maybe, if we want to stretch it, let's include the tender feelings of those who will feel less exclusive and self-important if their 'secret traditions' or 'special teachings' are suddenly spread all over the place.

All of this reveals the silliness of the whole 'tradition' thing, because it elevates it above the living, breathing people of the world. The whole notion that a tradition should ever be more than a tool to help people live, that it's something 'more', over above human lives...that, to me at least, makes no sense. There may be certain instances where something learned is abused for nefarious purposes; but that's not something anybody can protect against. The issue here is that when I learn something I consider useful and valuable to transmit to others, I will not abide by someone telling me that I'm not allowed to teach it--with due caution and exercising my judgment, of course--unless it's approved by and blessed by someone else.

As I said, this isn't the military or some spook-service, where the lives of many, directly and/or indirectly, may depend on secrecy and shutting your trap. Martial arts, at the level it is practiced, and no matter how serious the martial artists in question take themselves--which is all-too-often far too damn seriously--is a game! Even if a given style includes members beating the crap out of each other: it's still a game! A game that can become quite 'sick', maybe, but it's just that and nothing more. Apart from the fact that it's done more 'live' there's little difference between it and, say, video-games.

Ahh, the heresy! I know, I know. Every martial artist and sundry are just about ready now to jump on me and beat the living daylights out of me. Or at the very least look upon me with contempt and/or disgust or whatever.

Well, bite me and choke on the pieces. If martial arts is supposed to have any use whatsoever-- apart from ritualistic preservation of some 'tradition' or other, which basically puts them onto the same level as any kind of ritual, and very close to 'religion' and 'cult' indeed--it must be oriented toward the consumer, as it were. It's about teaching people skills, competencies, recipes they can extend and apply to their lives, physical coordination, and so on.

Anyway, these folk felt that their traditions were so important and sacred or whatever that you basically had to sign up to not teaching anything you learned there--not even if you didn't actually use their name--to anybody else without permission, possibly written.

Thanks, but no, thanks!

Regarding (3):

Nothing really 'wrong' with the atmosphere in the dojo. Everybody was well-behaved. Everybody worked earnestly at their drills or whatever. Everybody seemed to know exactly what to do, even without direct involvement or extensive direction by the sensei. I got the impression everything went like a well-oiled machine.

But I didn't see anyone smile.

So, not for me. Disappointing, really, because there aren't any other promising dojos around teaching swordcraft. So, what does that mean? Do I have to start something up myself? That's a big order, because in Australia there are insurance and other issues to start with; and that's even before you become practical and look for dojo space and, even more importantly, for prospective students.

More to think about. As if I didn't have a gazillion other things lurking and waiting.

Next on the agenda: find a place to live--for longer than just a few months. Because we've decided to stay here for a while. Because it looks like the contract job I started on may extend for some time and because it's different to anything I've done before and it's actually quite interesting. So, South-East Queensland and/or North-East New South Wales it might be for us for a few years.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


No comment...

Moving (Part 15 of X): Severing A Connection

Well, the house in Dunedin is definitely sold. The event has a weighty air of significance to it. Still, the dominant feeling is one of a"well, that's that". Snip. Cut. Finality.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

By the image shall ye know it

Last night I captured what I consider to be an image that epitomizes the more attractive aspects of, and curious contradiction that is, Brisbane.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Stuff of Nightmares

Who needs Alien vs. Predator if you can have this or this?

Warning: These videos could be disturbing. Really!

In case you watched them anyway and need an antidote, have a look at these, which might occasion a chuckle or two. The one with the hunter being roughed up by a deer is my fav.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Unsafe for kiddies

I was going to make some juicy comments on these images, but in the end I decided not to.

Just to say this: This inflated...thing...can be found right outside the State Library of Queensland, in plain sight of all the mums and dads and kiddies who happen to pass. It's a component in the promo for the SLQ's 'creating Paradise' summer awareness-and-so-on campaign.

And it stands, tied down with guy ropes and surrounded by tape reading 'Caution. Do Not Enter.' in front of the Public Library!

'Caution', eh?

I haven't got the words...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


...are now available from

And if you would like a copy of the, not necessarily perfect-yet, 2nd revised edition of Keaen, you have to ask for one. Just click on the cover image you'll find on the page.

The Hywel Index

Welcome to 2008 C.E.

This is the year's first blog, and it was prompted by someone I shall refer to as 'Lady S', who read Finister closer than most would have and caught me out with a major, glaring and, to someone with a thinner skin, profoundly embarrassing snafu; cockup; goof. And, now that Finister is in the system, as it were, I can't even fix this anymore!

Well, thanks a lot, Lady S! And, no, I'm not being snippy. Flattered is more like it. That she should have been prompted to go back, for whatever obscure reason, to Finister after reading the whole series and actually applied the Hywel Index calculation to herself...

For those of you who haven't read Finister...

...the ‘Hywel Index’: named after its creator, Ifan Hywel, a Gaskarian Wearer and sage. It is an open-ended indicator of the probability that a woman will bear a favorable ratio of men-children. The index is computed by the formula: 50 x (ratio of male to female offspring in the woman’s generation) + 25 x (the corresponding ratio in the woman’s mother’s family) + 12 x (the corresponding ratio in the woman’s father’s family) + 12 x (the total ratio of male to female offspring in both sets of grandparents’ families).

The 'HI' was meant to represent a primitive and probably quite inaccurate pseudo-mathematical scheme for quantifying something that requires considerably more variables. But it fit into the general harebrained mythical-mumbo-jumbo environment in which these people live.

The problem with the calculation are the implicit singularities. Since I haven't been specific about the mathematical systems of these people--like, do they have a concept of 'real numbers' and calculus?--we might as well assume, all evidence to the contrary lacking, that they know, at best, integers and rational numbers. And the numbers of offspring in those computations are always integers. Meaning that we're in real trouble once the number of females in a ratio-calculation is zero...

Lady S rightly concluded that for her, with at least one factor in the equation becoming infinite, that would likely make her into the most desirable female around Thalonica. Actually she wrote 'revered', but the two are synonymous, at least as far as your average 'Wearer' would be concerned.

Not that I am arguing the merits of Lady S's suggestion. My life is too dear to me. And I won't even get started on the issues associated with the relative sizes of infinities. Because Lady S wouldn't be the only one with singularities in her family's HI equation. So what about others in a similar position? Would they be more or less desirable; or revered, or whatever?

Never mind such persnickety matters. The bottom line is that Lady S's comments reveal a potentially fatal flaw in my simple HI computation.

An oversight? You bet. But I am a teller of stories, and so I do what tellers of stories tend to do: try to story-tell my way out of this mess. And so, ignoring that I hadn't thought this through, here is a simple rule to get me out of this pickle.

Families and segments of family trees creating such singularities are excluded from the computation. This is because Ifan Hywel said that it was so. He didn't have to rationalize it, because the whole thing's bogus anyway, and there never was an 'Ifan Hywel' to begin with. Those who read the Tethys series, or even just Keaen and Finister, will understand what I mean.

The 'explanation' usually provided to the great unwashed masses of Finister is that folk without daughters simply haven't tried for long enough, and if they have and still have no daughters, then there's something wrong with them, because singularities in the HI equation actually reveal flaws in people who have families that create said singularities.

How's that for screwed-up reasoning? Cool, eh?

'Not believable' you say?

Ha! Have you recently looked at the world of 'religion', divine or just otherwise FITH?

As a saving grace, maybe we should allow still-births to 'count' toward the girl-child tally. That'll make it more likely that this doesn't happen too often.

All of this, including that last stipulation, has a whole host of social and behavioral consequences, direct and indirect, some quite potentially twisted and nasty, that I don't want to even start to get into! If I had thought of it when writing Finister I probably would have used all that material, but I didn't and Lady S's comments came way too damn late for me to use them.

So, where was she when her critical input was needed? Where? Huh?

I suspect I know what she might say. But I say 'bah, humbug'!

So there.