Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pictures that should not be forgotten.

There are going to be lots of piccies of Edward Moore Kennedy's gravesite, so I thought I'd make sure that another grave is also given an appropriate display.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ahh, Microsoft...

Microsoft erases black man from web photo



I don't know what is more disturbing and carries wider implications: that they did this at all, or that it was done in such an amateurish way. If the latter bears any relationship to the way they engineer software...

Actually, come to think about it, it's all beginning to make sense. And people keep on buying their crap! In their millions! Billions maybe?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ernie and Bert(ha): a tale of Australian Magpies (sort of)

Having moved out into a rural area north of Brisbane, we found that there's no need for pets. Indeed, they'd be in the way, chasing birds, or killing themselves trying out their ill-luck on the local population of the very ugly and very poisonous Cane Toad. Ugly buggers and they're all over the place around here.

But a cat or dog for sure would get in the way of our relationship with the local birds, which range from several members of the 'parrot' family, to a whole bunch of honey-eaters, plus Kookaburras, Butcherbirds and, of course, the Australian Magpie. The picture at the top is of a male of the variant that lives around our area.

Magpies and Butcherbirds (picture below) belong to the same family of birds. They are highly intelligent and can become casual pets; meaning they come and scrounge for food and expect you to deliver it. The other day I saw a Kookaburra (picture below) doing the same, in a very friendly but insistent way, at the place of some neighbors a few miles away.


The local pair of Magpies, who are currently in the final stages of building a nest in a nearby gum tree, have adopted us as their food-provision-fallbacks. I named them Ernie and Bertha, because I was thinking of Ernie and Bert—and not of 'Ernie, who drove the fastest milk car in the west'! Some people did, of course. It just goes to show how people's associations differ. I still think Sesame Street is the best of kids' programs around, even after all these years and all the PC-fying it has undergone.

Ernie was the forward one, who ended up taking food out of my hand (very gently and delicately), while Bertha hung back and was a bit of a scaredy-cat. Ernie was also very jealous of his food, and when I threw stuff to Bertha, he used to run over and grab all he could, leaving Bertha somewhat deprived. I always thought that was rather un-husbandly-like of Ernie, and I have been known to have scolded him on occasion. Not that it made a difference.

And, yes, then there was the embarrassing revelation...

Because I looked the species up on the web. And, oops!, it turns out that Ernie—the forward one, the bold one, the greedy guts, the one that sits there on the banister and sings away until we drag ourselves out with a morsel or two—was actually Bertha and that Bertha was Ernie. Which means we're dealing with a severely hen-pecked—literally!—husband. Whimpy-puss metrosexual no-good-for-anything scaredy-ass loser. And she's a bossy boots that's got to be seen to be believed.

There's something else I don't get, and that's bird psychology. Inter-bird-species psychology, I mean. The Rainbow Lorikeets are the definite bossy-bullies around here. They screech and dive bomb other birds when it comes to getting to the food dispenser.

Never mind that Magpies, for example, have beaks that could spear the little colorful blighters without any great trouble. Still, the little things rule the roost, and woe to those birds that get in their way.

Still, in the interaction with humans, Magpies are far more courageous, while the Lorikeets are very cautious and take much, much more work. Besides, I don't really want to get too friendly with them, because they can become serious pests. With the Magpies you can establish a well-defined relationship that includes "Shoo. Get out of my space!" and they will behave. Parrots are a tad more pesky, and besides there are a shitload of them; so I'm keeping my distance and avoid too much pal-dom.

So, what is it with these birds? Maggies are scared of Lorikeets, but get pal-ly with humans no problem? Bertha has been known to hop over the threshold into out kitchen and have a careful peek around to see if we're getting her the soggy bread she so likes. That's pretty gutsy, I think., Mind you, not that I could see Ernie doing it. They also adapt themselves very much to the humans they interact with. There is a definite capacity in them to sort out different human individuals and assign different behaviorisms when dealing with them.

I wonder if it has to do with the fact that Maggies are much more solitary than many of the parrot species. It makes for a different kind of 'socialization' I think. Maybe there's some stuff we can learn here for human psychology, who knows?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy: What defines a man, words or deeds?

At some stage one has to make a decision about life and people. For what does define a man or woman: words or deeds? Are there moments that define a man, possibly beyond the point of reversal to any other definition?

Well, you choose, and by your choice, you also define yourself.

Unfortunately, Mary Jo Kopechne, who was killed by Kennedy at the age of 28, could not be reached for her comment. I wonder if her ghost will ever be able to rest easily. Or maybe, if there is a hereafter, this is finally the time for a long-overdue reckoning.

Only in...Sweden (Continuing the 'Only In..." series)

Chlamydia helps young men feel more 'manly'

Young men who contract sexually transmitted diseases often view their afflictions as an affirmation of their manhood, a new Swedish study shows.

Upon learning they’ve been infected with a sexually transmitted disease, some young people simply see themselves as unlucky, while others undergo a maturation process which leads them to be more careful in their sexual habits...

But members of a third group – consisting entirely of young men – succeed in transforming their diseases into a sign of their manhood.

With other male friends slapping on the shoulders and offering encouraging comments about “success with the ladies”, young men who contract diseases such as chlamydia or genital warts can come to view their infection as a badge of honour, rather than a serious health problem.

and so on...

I'm sure this is a sign of something. I've got some suggestions, but diplomacy forbids me to communicate them in this place.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sad Song, the Woes of Vista (such an easy target!)

Have you checked out the latest Mac vs. PC ads? Well, while Vistaphiles, or even PCphiles might get riled up and all hoity-toity about the 'inaccuracies' of it all—who wants 'accuracy' for crikey's sake? they're bloody ads!—you gotta admit that, even if you aren't a Mac guy, they're funny. There is the Vista-dirge that you might want to treat yourself to...





...or, for the Yoga crowd...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Let's think about this some more

Actually, we should think more just about anything, but there's no time for most of us. I take that back, there's no time for any of us; not right now. Even those of us who'd like to think about a lot of things, just to figure out what's what, or maybe just what is. That's due, mainly and not to make any bones about it, due to the fact that we die—far too soon to get to the point of learning to ask the really significant questions.

That's, of course, how many of these blogs come about. I realize that a lot of people look at them and go "How the...?" or "Whisky Tango Foxtrot?" or "Where did that bee come from? Let's get the repellent." (Just stick to non-DEET ones, OK? They're definitely safer.) But if you lived inside my head—and lucky for you that you don't, because then you wouldn't be 'you'—you'd realize that there's a perfectly sensible narrative going on, just like in, say, one of my novels. Well, most people's novels, I suppose. I have come to think that I am one of those story-tellers who, when coming up against a situation that should have been predictable, but somehow doesn't develop as it should—mainly because I haven't thought it out in detail, and rather go with the flow and see what happens. In such a case it's much more fun to 'see what happens', rather than go with the flow.

I 'came across'—funny turn of phrase that, when it's in a story you're writing; it's not like real life, is it?—a situation like that in the last two days during recent writings on Aslam. It was a real 'battlefield' situation, where plans, contingency and unexpected ethical issues clashed and really confused things. I knew what the ultimate outcome had to be, but had had other plans for achieving it. What intervened was my desire to use this passage to insert some social/cultural issues emerging from contemporary history. So, the storyline got tweaked to cover this, which resulted in all sorts of complications, in terms of actions and their unforeseen consequences. As you know, or at least I hope you do, there's always more unforeseen consequences than predictable ones. In the end, the originally intended aim was achieved, but in a completely different way to how I had imagined it. And there were at least two twists in there that even I didn't see coming.

This is where story-telling becomes 'fun'. If it weren't, I'd probably give it up. If all goes according to plan, or if you want everything to go according to plan, you're better of writing computer programs. Allow it to be more like 'life' instead, but don't lost track of it also being fiction, and therefore hopefully somewhat under the author's control.

Still, the contingencies that come up because one has written (or 'told') oneself into a hard-to-extricate-from corner, teach the writer to remember the unexpected. Way I see it, of your story is completely controllable, then it's probably boring. Nobody—and here I hear a chorus of dismissive comments coming up from those who think they know better, been there and done that, or just simply are more experienced, or just think of themselves as...oh, 'better writers' maybe—can design a story in every detail and then expect that it is actually truly 'interesting'. I suspect even Tolkien, with his ponderous ways of carefully planning stuff, occasionally realized that things in his Middle Earth tales weren't going according to plan. The creature 'Gollum' has all the hallmarks of having been invented at the spur of the moment and because it was just interesting; and from there developed to what it finally became.

The basic rule of life is that the unexpected is much more effective at making us think than the expected. Doesn't mean we have to like it, of course. Indeed, a lot of people really dislike 'thinking'—usually with the suffix 'too much'—and deride those who do. But when you stop thinking, it's almost inevitable that, at those end points, you replace 'thought' with 'belief'. That's why you hear people telling you, especially when they are pressed to justify unjustifiable tenets, "Well, that's what I believe! So there." It's like a declaration that, no, they don't want to think about this any further, because that's as things are. Even highly intelligent people are subject to this folly. Why, they'll ask, should everything have to be thought out further and justified and explained in detail. What's wrong with a little 'faith', huh? Just go with it, and let it be.

I tell you what's wrong with 'faith'. It depends mostly on the context, of course.

Suppose, you have 'faith' in a person's good intentions, even though there's evidence that should tell you that your faith is misplaced. This kind of 'faith' is the kind having to do with your relationship to other people. And at some stage you just have to make a decision as to what's more reliable: your belief that someone is like this, or the evidence that s/he's like that. Or maybe you tell yourself that you'll believe the first thing, no matter what the evidence says. That, too, is a decision. There are cases where the evidence becomes kind of overwhelming; like when the police knock on your door and present you with a recording of a tapped phone conversation that proves that your beloved spouse is planning to kill you—as has happened recently here in Queensland. But, short of something like that, you'll probably go in favor of the spouse, or so one might hope. If the person in question is a politician, of course...well, in my case, I reserve my judgment, but in case of doubt that person's statements will count less than any evidence to the contrary.

If you're dealing with questions of science, evidence should rule supreme, and the only acceptable tenet of faith ought to be that the 'scientific method' is to be trusted and 'taken on faith'. But whatever it leads to, now that's an entirely different question. And strange behavior, like that of String Theorists, who recently and just for once have come across a case where the so-far-basically-useless String Theory actually predicts something testable, is quite unacceptable. Right now they're dancing on the table, claiming that their explanatory framework has finally found validation—the first of many, still to come. That's the wrong kind of 'faith' when it comes to science.

Last, there's the kind of faith that comes with philosophy, and especially metaphysics. It runs amok among New Agers, any religion, plus all sorts of ideologies that you'd think would have adherents who know better. That kind of faith in particular often responds to those who dare to question its validity with either the usual "Well, that's what I/we believe!" or and even sillier "Why do you think it's necessary to question this? What do you want evidence for? How about a little faith?" Well, no. The stakes are just too high to disregard whatever 'evidence' may be available, or to dismiss further thought about the foundations of the faith as somehow nuncupatory. Like is the case for science, we have to make a really important decision, and it is this: Do we just want to believe something, or do we actually want to find the truth?

Never mind that we'll never find 'the Truth'. But we can at least catch a glimpse of it by finding things that 'are true' and valid and real and verifiable. And we aren't going to get to those by just 'believing'. Maybe it'll make us happy, and that's fine. But let those who go down that path at least be honest enough to admit that...

I'm dreaming, of course. They can't be honest about that! For if they were, they wouldn't 'believe'; for belief in something being true in preference to something else being true, that implies exclusion of that which is considered not to be true. So, you either choose to believe or you choose to ask questions about what might be 'true'—and how it might be true or have been true or maybe one-day-will-be true, and for whom and when and where and under what conditions.

Should you choose the latter, keep thinking, no matter how much it hurts to realize each time you have that extra thought that you really don't know any damn thing but a few basics—and even about those you're probably not as clear as you'd like to be. And don't let anybody or anything stop you from thinking the one extra thought that might make you get to truths that you never expected to find.

And then...

...think some more.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Macs Rule: Even Dmitry Medvedev Uses Them

Well, maybe Apple isn't the top dog in the field—which is a good thing, as I may have mentioned before!—but the image above is evidence that even Russians, paranoid as they are, trust Apple enough to allow them to sit on the desk of the Russian President. I doubt you'd find a Windows-based PC there.

Of course, it could also be a plain symbol of status; of someone advertising that they have taste and are someone of discernment. I'm not saying that Dmitry Medvedev actually is such a man, but the fact that he should choose to let it be known that he's a 'Mac' guy, tells us something.

Oh, yes, for completeness' sake, there is, of course a third possibility: that it's just Schleichwerbung (paid for or not; who knows and who cares?).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Irish Jokes?

Channel 9's Morning Breakfast show, which is your usual 'breakfast' show fare, though preferable to any of its commercial competitors, today went into paroxysms of Irish Jokes. The whole issue of whether it's funny to make jokes about nationalities, especially jokes involving not just quirks—as most Jewish jokes tend to be—but direct reflections on the intelligence of the nation concerned, is apparently not an 'issue' at all for anybody living in the realms of those nations descended in large part by, surprise, surprise, the Brits.

I won't go into the historical reasons why the Brits chose to regard the Irish as they do; the dislike is probably mutual, and the Irish have considerably more historical reasons for—and grievances to base it on—the 'dislike' than the Brits. But I think that, once outside of Britain, in the 'colonies'—where many actually have little reason to love the 'motherland' either!—the 'cultural cringe' thing, which I blogged about not so long ago, is still sufficiently alive and well, that there's some totally brainless acceptance of the 'all-right-ness' of Irish jokerism.

Thing is though, that it's just plain offensive, and that the blindness to its offensiveness and the fact that it's happily trodden out on national TV and everybody is laughing, is actually pretty disgusting and also hypocritical.

Why should it be all right to crack Irish jokes, when it really would be considered very un-PC if one, for example, inserted another nationality into the tale.

Here's a Palestinian version of a pretty standard dumb-Irish joke. I'm using Palestinians, because in the eyes of the same people who feel no compunction about cracking Irish jokes, the Palestinians' fate at the hands of Israel and that of the Irish at the hands of the Brits have a number of suggestive parallels.

Two Palestinians walk into a coffee shop.
You'd think at least one of them would have seen it!

Of course, every nation has its pariahs. The Germans have the inhabitants of Ostfriesland (East Frisia).

Why do the seagulls in Ostfriesland fly on their backs?
So they don't have to look at the stupid Ostfriesenlanders.

That's pretty offensive, too; and Ostfriesland isn't even 'foreign' to Germany.

Well, you might think, that's just 'cultural quirks'. Gotta live and let live. And, besides, these jokes are funny, right? Right?

Well, if you think that, just take your own nationality or ethnic group, whatever it happens to be; google some jokes made about the Irish; translate the contextual terms into something pertinent to your own group—and then think about it some more, OK?

And try this for size: Don't crack the joke about an ethnic group, but about some religion. Let's face it, there's much more reason to pick on religions than on nations!

So, these two M...

Just try it. You might find yourself on the business-end of a fatwa issued for your removal from the land of the living.

So, not just are we talking 'offensive', but you gotta remember that some people are very, very easily offended; and many of them don't even need anything that would qualify as a decent 'reason' to anybody with more than two interacting braincells. The Brits and descendants of the British colonialists get away with Irish jokes only because the Irish have a sense of humor. Cultural cringe or not, if the Brits started a culture of Aussie or Kiwi jokes—not just a few here and there—with the same gusto that they did for the Irish ones, the Republican movement in both countries would almost instantly swell to avalanche proportions.

P.S.

By way of disclosure of interest: I am not Irish. But the family I married into, is. As a result, so are my children, at least in part. Meaning that, yes, Irish jokes do reflect on people I hold in high regard and more. So, I'm biased. So, sue me. So, bite me.

And consider this also:

Just because a behaviorism is a 'cultural quirk', or 'custom', or whatever you want to call it, that doesn't somehow make it OK. It just means that more people do it and accept it as OK.

Two refugees in an Afghan camp walk into a tent...

What do you do when a four-year old kid in Mogadishu throws a pin at you?

Never mind. If you haven't gotten it by now, you never will.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kerry O'Brien: a Rare Exception to a Rule

Last night I had the unadulerated pleasure of watching Kerry O'Brient tie up Malcolm Turnbull into a knot and toss him into a corner, where the Australian would-be-PM lay still without any hope of recovery of his battered image.

As readers of this blog probably know, I have no love for politicians and only marginally less 'no love' for journalists. Give me a chance to have a go at either ilk and I will yield to the temptation without hesitation.

While politicians have yet to offer me examples of 'exceptions that test the rule', journalists have provided at least two. One of them is a dear friend of mine, the author of Shell Game: A True Story of Banking, Spies, Lies, Politics-And the Arming of Saddam Hussein, an exposé of Saddam's machinations and shenanigans inside the US business world long before the whole affair turned into a major, still-ongoing, war. The man is an investigative journalist with a mind like a steel trap, persistence that would make a bulldog jealous and a level of personal integrity that, if just some of it found its way to the NYT, would provide some major assistance to resurrecting that from its slide into total ethical and journalistic decrepitude.

The other example of 'exception to the rule' I watch on TV almost every weekday, because I get the feeling that here is a guy who not only carefully prepares his material, but who is also capable of actually having a genuine emotional stake in this game, which, after years and years of it, can only jade those involved in it. Or damage their brains—as I may have mentioned. Several times.

There are other interviewers around who give politicians good grillings, but I get the feeling that these guys mainly play a game. It's like they're just playing out a battle of wits, but without real substance. Everybody knows the game, and you gotta play it, I suppose.

Except that in the case of Kerry O'Brien I have a notion that, while he, too, knows 'the game', he nonetheless is somehow beyond the rules that say "play it, and play it like you oughta". I have watched him carefully over the time that I've seen his post-evening-news show, and I think to detect a genuine—carefully suppressed because you're not supposed to show it; not if you actually feel it!—anger at politician's sleaze-ball-ery. There's ethical outrage here, carefully controlled by many years of experience on the job, plus, dare I say it?, life-experience.

Last night all of that focused into persistent and unrelenting questioning on certain points related to recent shady dealing of Turnbull's—plus potentially other opposition members—with a certain ethically-challenged and probably personally very troubled, 'public servant' in the Treasury Department. It was a pleasure to watch.

Any Australians reading this: don't waste your time on crappy commercial station programs. The 7:30 Report is probably the best post-news 'magazine' programme I've ever come across. It wouldn't be, of course, if it weren't for Mr. O'Brien. Those living outside Australia: many of the program's features are available as videos and/or transcripts.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Why Dotry Doesn't Work

About two years ago ago I blogged on the subject of the culture of "It matters more that you try, rather than that you succeed". I shan't repeat what I said there. Look it up here.

Well, for those who thought it was a rant, here's a newsflash that might make you think differently:

Why We Learn More From Our Successes Than Our Failures

Brain cells may only learn from experience when we do something right and not when we fail.

If this isn't a major nail in the coffin of our stupid—yes, 'stupid'; promoted by PC-addicts who probably have never succeeded in much themselves—preoccupation with the culture of Dotry, I don't know what is.

However—and there's always a 'however'!—we have to take into account who we're actually dealing with. Apparently up to the age of eight, it's OK, and indeed beneficial, to indulge in positive reinforcement and play down negative feedback.

Learning From Mistakes Only Works After Age 12

Eight-year-old children have a radically different learning strategy from twelve-year-olds and adults. Eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback ('Well done!'), whereas negative feedback ('Got it wrong this time') scarcely causes any alarm bells to ring. Twelve-year-olds are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. Adults do the same, but more efficiently.

Nothing's ever straightforward, is it?

One of the side-effects of mollycoddling past a certain age, which now appears to be around eight years, is that we now live in a society where even adults expect to be treated like...well, infants. Under-eights. Everybody is touchy about not having their feelings hurt by being told that what they're doing isn't actually all that good; and that they should really do better. This is known nowadays as 'sensitivity'; where mollycoddling the easily wounded egos of touchy people results in them, like little children, not actually being able to figure out that they're screwing up left, right and center. They in effect never get a chance to being real adults.

It sounds absurd, I know. But that doesn't make it any less true.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Queen and the Commoner: the Dark Side of Prosopagnosia

Continuing with a confluence of themes: snobbery, cultural cringe, and charity-far-far-away-from-home.

How can the two possibly connect? Well, if we add vacuous Hollywood gossip, it's all suddenly right there. I don't ordinarily follow this, and even less grace it with commentary, but this here happens to 'connect', and, besides it's so revealing and just funny, on so many levels.

Prosopagnosia, in case you haven't looked it up already, is the inability to recognize faces, usually due to brain damage. Well, if this is the major cause, then maybe there is a large, completely undiagnosed, population of people with this kind of damage. They would appear to consist of people mainly employed by 'media'; which in turns seems to imply that either people with defective brains tend to drift into 'media' work, or else said work is hazardous to one's health in ways not yet sufficiently investigated by epidemiologists. My guess is that the two work hand in hand: mere 'predisposition' becomes fatal and permanent 'consequence'.

Wikipedia also notes that: Few successful therapies have so far been developed for affected people, although individuals often learn to use 'piecemeal' or 'feature by feature' recognition strategies. This may involve secondary clues such as clothing, hair color, body shape, and voice. Because the face seems to function as an important identifying feature in memory, it can also be difficult for people with this condition to keep track of information about people, and socialize normally with others.

Does this sound like a description of not only a lot of media folks, but also of the 'celebrity' crowd?

Anyway, back to Hollyweird. For those not following gossip rags or similar 'organs' for the promotion of irrelevant, often scurrilous and even more often manufactured, 'reports' about what goes on in the un-wonderful world of celebs: there are two actresses—sorry, that should be 'actors' in the dumb-ass PC vernacular of today—one of which is often described as a 'clone' of the other. For those not suffering from prosopagnosia, here are images of the two. I've picked a pair of images that has the minimum possible amount of 'secondary clues' to assist prosopagnostics with identification.

The one on the left is often being hailed—or reviled, depending on who's talking—as being the clone of the—or the 'new'—one on the right. The age difference between them is 11 years, which means the one on the right is panicking about her employability, especially since the one of the left is rumored to being considered for a role in an 'origin' story for a movie franchise character that the one on the right helped to define.

The one on the right is definitely the 'queen', while the one on the left is, definitely in the view of many who adore the one on the right, an upstart commoner. The one on the left has a loose mouth and is free with all sorts of opinions on everything, occasionally with offensive frankness. She also like so uses words like 'like' and 'so' and 'whatever', while the one on the right doesn't, not anymore anyway. The one on the left is the up-and-coming 'hottie' and pretty deeply into herself, while the one on the right has found her charitable side and adopts kids from far away and is into human rights and all the required 'reformed celebrity' mumpitz. Not unsurprisingly, she is quoted, when referring to the one on the left, by statements like “Is she aiding in Africa or sitting in on U.N. conferences? Donating herself to something bigger than Hollywood? I’m not familiar with her work, is she an Oscar contender?

Ouch! That's enough ammo to blast anyone in Hollyweird into charred shreds of their former selves!

Still, I seem to remember the time when the one on the right was flaunting a vial with the blood of her then-boyfriend, which she always wore around her neck... (I was referring to the vial; though I seem to recall that their public exhibitions of 'affection' were occasionally taken to bizarre extents.) Those events aren't that far back in the past; plus the things, all very public, that followed: adultery, marriage breakups, and then, of course, charity for the children of Africa! I've idly wondered what happened to the vials and their contents? Who owns the contents anyway? Was there an unpublicized legal dispute; or did I just miss it? How could I? Easily. Very easily.

I don't really give a crap about the merits of the claims to fame or whatever of either the commoner or the queen. Remember, this is all about snobbery, occasioned by whatever narcissistic sentiment I don't care. Snobbery based on status, of course—sure, that's true enough—but consider what the 'status' is based on. In both instances it is, of course, about being public (I really, really was tempted to drop that 'L' again and make it seem like a typo!) sex symbols and 'celebs'; though the one on the left is, of course, still usually referred to as a 'starlet' and the one on the right a 'star'. Acting capabilities are incidental. There are a gazillion better actors in the world than either of those two.

The rest of the status battle though comes down to the one on the right 'aiding Africa', and she and her celeb boyfriend are making damn sure, with the aid of the media, that everybody knows it. To claim, as she and the likes of her often do, that the publicity actually 'helps' the delf-styled mission they're on is disingenuous at best and self-serving hypocrisy at worst. And, going back to my last blog, the whole thing about helping the poor children in Africa while ignoring those at whatever 'home' is, that's based on a kind of reasoning that I for one just don't 'get'. To me it just sounds twisted. Maybe it makes more sense to you. I'd be interested to know how it possibly could.

Thing is, and this is the bottom line, that while it is very probably true that they're helping out kids who really need help, it is also true that for every child outside their own communities they're helping, they are not helping a child in need in their own community. How their own community can hold them up as examples to emulate and admire, appears ever more incomprehensible the more I think about it. How can their choices be interpreted as anything but, at best, indifference to, or, at worst, contempt for, their own community and its members?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Charity Begins Somewhere On the Other Side of the World

The wife of the Australian Prime Minister is the last one to discover her tender and caring sentiments for the poor children of the world. The phenomenon has the character of an epidemic among certain people, and I'll talk more about it in a future blog, in the context of vacuous 'celebrities' doing that kind of thing. But the basic trend is clear and has at least one, to my mind somewhat sick and reeking-of-hypocrisy, common denominator: the children that are being 'cared' about are not in your own country, but Africa, Asia, or wherever else the affected party appears to discern an opportunity to atone for the sins of whatever or whoever.

I'm putting it in this cynical manner, because that's the only way I can see it. The wife of Kevin Rudd, Thérèse Rein, is a typical case in point. Gushing about her new-found concern for the poor and underprivileged children of the world in a TV interview, the one thing completely absent in her statements was an expression of concern for the dismal conditions of the indigenous children in her own country. Nor was there any hint that they were somehow included in the range of those she was eager to help.

The utter absurdity of this becomes obvious when we hear things from these kinds of people like "every child has a right to...[substitute your fav human right here]". Well, it seems like the children of Africa, for example, have such rights to a greater degree than those of Australian Aboriginal communities. I know the likes of Ms. Rein would vehemently deny that, but actions speak louder than reassurances or declarations.

The conditions of life for children in Aboriginal communities in Australia are terrible. Poverty and purposelessness is ubiquitous; abuse of all form, including the sexual variety, is endemic. Hope is nonexistent.

Now I ask you: does it really matter, for any of these children, whether they live in Africa and are miserable, abused, hopeless, die young...or whether they live in Australia? Does it mean that, just because these children happen to live in what is a rich nation with all the trapping of 'Western' human rights and civilization, they are therefore less deserving of the attention of Australians who have found their sense of compassion, than the children of Africa or Asia?

How can these people even think about helping the 'children of the world' if they're not starting with the underprivileged children of their own community?

My suspicion about the reasons are, again, cynical: I think for the celebs out to 'save the children', doing it at home (and there always are deserving children 'at home'!) is just not glamorous enough, unfashionable and not gathering enough attention. It may also not help to assuage their feeling that somehow we owe it to other, 'poorer' or otherwise worse-off nations, just because we happen to be better off—and, I guess, because people may have a notion that somehow we're complicit in the misery in those places. That then, I guess, makes children in our own country less deserving of attention than those in those countries to whom we seem to 'owe' something. It's a twisted and, frankly, dumb way of reasoning—if 'reasoning' it can be called—but it seems like a plausible explanation for something that otherwise appears just plain sick.

In the case of the Australian's PM's wife, I also suspect that another factor comes into play: it's just too hard to start at home. The whole issue of how to deal with the problems of indigenous Australians is a political hot potato. Actually a potential powder-keg. And that's obviously where charity ends. It's so much easier to give charity to the children in countries where ultimately one has no control over, and therefore also will not suffer under personal political consequences, of any aid rendered. One can go home with the warm and fuzzy feeling of having done some 'good', but it's OK to stick one's head firmly into the sand if things don't go right. That then is the fault of some evil governments and safely out of one's reach of the controllable. Very unlike having to face the consequences and the full ramifications and manifold complications and difficulties associated with doing it at home.

As I hinted at before, this is not just an Australian phenomenon. It doesn't matter where you look in the 'Western' world, to find charity that definitely does not start at home.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Now THAT'S a Knife!: 'Crocodile Dundee', 'Australia' and the Snobbery of the Great Australian Cultural Cringe.


Prompted by my own recent revisit of, inter alia, the stars of the Crocodile Dundee flicks (here is a review definitely worthy of reading!), my wife and I re-watched the two first movies (the third one was a dog, I must admit), and it was fun, despite them being almost a quarter century old. How time flies...

Australia had some of the same kind of 'air' about it, but it was different mainly because CD was Paul Hogan's movie—and Paul Hogan is probably the last and most successful of definitely 'Australian' comedians. The breed has now all but become extinct. There are a lot of funny people around, but you'll find them in the context of such shows as The Chaser's War on Everything—whose last episode was a riot that had me gasping for breath with laughter from beginning to end.

But the times of the Paul Hogans and Garry McDonalds (a.k.a. 'Norman Gunston') is well and truly over. In New Zealand it's pretty much the same. When Billy T. James died, it was a comparable event in the demise of that country's comedy life. The Zeitgeist has kissed these people good-bye, and I think they may never rise again. In fact, I know they won't.

Paul Hogan has also been a major source of what's bee called the Australian Cultural Cringe. Wikipedia sums up this phenomenon by the following:

The idea of cultural cringe [is] the belief that one's own country occupies a "subordinate cultural place on the periphery", and that "intellectual standards are set and innovations occur elsewhere". As a consequence, a person who holds this belief is inclined to devalue their own country's cultural, academic and artistic life, and to venerate the "superior" culture of another country.

That's one way of looking at it, and it's partially true. But it leads to something else: overcompensating snobbery. Predictably, the phenomenon is confined to what you might call 'native' Australians—not 'indigenous' but just 'born here'. Immigrants tend not to need this kind of sentiment, because they came here and saw it, by and large anyway, as a better place than whatever decrepit ones they may have left behind.

Part of the Great Australian Cultural Cringe Snobbery is actually actively directed against what you might call 'working class people', who are, by and large, considered to be of inferior intellect, when compared to those who elevate themselves to any kind of intellectualism. Of course, that's pretty much a world-wide phenomenon, but in a country like Australia, where manual labor more often than not gets paid better than blue collar stuff, the implicit derogation of those who do said manual labor is just a tad off-putting. Country folk cop it hard. Australian urbanites by and large have very little or no respect for those living in 'small town' or 'rural' Australia. That, too, is paralleled, for example, in the US, where you can draw the line between the 'blue' and the 'red' states. The former consider the latter to be hicks with little intellect between the ears.

Admittedly, the intellectual life in the 'countryside' is somewhat...well, it ain't there, really. But in my experience it ain't there in the cities either, and among 'intellectuals' it is so scarce that their self-appellation amounts to a joke—at their own expense, and they'll never know. The truth seems to be that humans by and large simply aren't very smart or thinking much beyond what appears to be needed to be thought about; and even then there's some doubt that most people do what's needed.

Back to the Cultural Cringe Snobbery. Maybe one has to be an immigrant to realize how stupid it is to feel that way. Maybe one has to have been born on the ground of old civilizations to realize just how decrepit and on-their-way-out they are; how litte they have to offer right now anymore, even though, in terms of inherited history there's a lot there—including, one may have to be reminded, the blood spilled on the ground one walks on every day. The longer humans have been anywhere, and the more there have been at any given time, the more blood has fertilized the ground one walks on. It doesn't need grand-scale 'civilization', of course. Barbarism, as long as there are enough people around to fight each other, will produce bloodbaths just as effectively.

To the immigrant it's also immediately clear that CCS requires a reference culture that's held up as the gold-standard. In the case of Australia that's the UK—to the extent that even young 'progressives', or at least they think of themselves that way, are prone to dismissing the Australian Republican movement as irrelevant and a waste of time and money. Meaning that they effectively support the continuance of the constitutional monarchy absurdity in force right now. But anyone with two or more neurons interacting can immediately discern that it's really about not abolishing the connection to the gold-standard nation. In support of the anti-republican argument these folk usually drag in the other required end of the measuring stick, the rusty-iron standard, which in the Australian case is, of course and no extra points for guessing right, the US. The whole thing is really too funny for words, with the whole of the joke on the ARPs (that's Anti-Republican Progressives).

Which reminds me of another recent case of a joke that's entirely on those appearing at the top of the importance-heap. But I'll leave that to my next blog. This one's been long enough.