Sunday, November 29, 2009

Teen Angst

'Teen Angst' (or 'Teenage Angst') is a term-couplet bandied about by many people from all walks of life, from the obviously naive to those who think they aren't. It's also very poorly understood and used too-often in a condescending manner; usually by those not 'teens' anymore.

So, basically, teenagers don't really 'get' it because they're living through it; and non-teenagers don't get it because they're not teenagers any more. Psychologists don't get it, because they're asking the wrong questions, and philosophers don't care, because they don't care about anything that smacks of being less than something 'mature'. Parents don't get it because parents, by and large, are hopeless at parenting, and especially those aspects that require putting themselves into their offspring's emotions. Media people don't get it, because they also don't really care about anything but the notions of dimwitted adults about what it's like to be a pre-adult. Educationalists don't get it, because they are obsessed either with controlling or 'managing' the phenomenon—it being very inconvenient to them, as might be expected.

And yet Teen Angst is not only essentially simple, but indeed an element of 'growing up' that the likes of me would consider essential for creating a rounded, aware and emotionally developed human being.

It is nothing but the juvy version of the same angst faced by every more 'mature' Absurdist or Existentialist—an angst that has its roots, as you may have guessed, in our awareness of our mortality, and which is especially pronounced in those who, for whatever reason, are unable to live in permanent denial-mode about the dreadfulness of our ultimate extinction. Teens—Young Adults!—usually do not yet have the sheer body of life and experience 'context' required to deal with it in the manner 'adults' would. And since they haven't learned yet to displace and prevaricate about it, it all comes out in those symptoms that we know so well, and some of which may be very dire indeed.

And, yes, it is as simple as that. Add to that a brain developing toward some form of neural maturity, plus a hormonal system in a state of acute turmoil, and...well, that's what you get. Nothing mysterious about it at all. And certainly nothing that requires the condescending, paternalistic attitude displayed toward it by adults; many of whom will deny their own former experience of the phenomenon, because they feel it's almost embarrassing that they were ever subjected to such silly emotional upheavals. And it also is nothing to fear by those undergoing it, and I wish the apparatchiks running our educational systems realized that the best way to deal with it is not to deny or try to 'manage' it, but to help those in their care to welcome it with open arms and accept the dread it brings to their lives.

It is through facing dread that we grow. Pretending it doesn't exist isn't only cowardly, but, above all, simply stupid.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Global Warming and Scientific Corruption

I would hope that by now even the most withdrawn from reality will have heard of an instance (or instances, or a culture of) of what can only be called 'corruption' at the highest levels of the GLOBAL WARMING debate.

I really don't give a sparrow's flatulent greenhouse emissions about the reasons for such deliberate dishonesty. Said reasons may range from genuine Save-The-Planet zealotry to genuine self-serving research-fund grabbing. It is possible that those who would withhold scientific information supporting the 'warming doubter' position—or who would at least cast into doubt the influence of the human element, such as those expressed by David Bellamy—do so in a spirit that, in their own minds at least, makes them into great human beings, who are in some way actively saving the world. Like haven't we heard that before...

The point is that it still amounts to corruption. And every instance of such a thing, no matter how justified, will serve to enhance the credibility of other attempts to withhold data, falsify them or simply make them up. All it will require are reasons qualifying as 'beneficent'.

Of course, someone can challenge my argument by, for example, suggesting scenarios where the corruption becomes so grey-in-grey that one gets stuck in an argumentative mire. Like, how should one view this scenario, which may be more familiar to readers of sci-fi:

There's this scientist—or person with a scientific background, though he may or may not be employed as a 'scientist' per se—who discovers or invents something that might change the world. Some of my favorites are:
  • A way to generate unlimited electrical energy (even if it doesn't involve potentially world-destroying sources, such as balack holes etc).
  • A method to take mankind to the stars at minimal effort and cost (my favorite here is the 'phase ship' approach explored by Gordon R Dickson in Mission to Universe, because that's got such obvious flip-side implications).
  • A way to create something like real 'force fields' that can act as physical protection.
  • 'Real' honest-to-goodness 'teleportation' (see Stephen Gould's Jumper).
You get the idea, I'm sure. All of these things have potentially huge benefits and also serious word-destruction potential. So, what is the ethical situation here if someone, for example, finds a way to create unlimited electrical energy without pollution, but he or she also realizes that it doesn't take a lot to use the same technology to create weapons that are seriously world-destroying? Or, maybe even if there aren't dangerous consequences to the world, revealing such a discovery could definitely pose serious threats to the welfare of the person involved, or his family or friends. Yoy can surely work that one out, too.

So, what does he do? Conceal it and let the world continue to pollute itself? Reveal it and try to do it in such a way as to retain some control? Just publish it on the internet and let the world run with it?

Remember the law of unintended consequences: there are always many more of those than intended ones and most of them fall in to the Rumsfeld category of "things we don't know we don't know".

Should he choose to conceal his discovery/invention, would that make him 'scientifially corrupt'?

Well, no. It would make him corrupt if he published information in a scientific context—peer-reviewed journals, for example—in which he deliberately falsified or withheld information relating directly to his discovery/invention, thus leading to a conclusion by the 'scientific community' that whatever he discovered/invented could not be discovered/invented. By such communication of misleading information—even if it is in the way of withholding it; i.e. lying by omission—he could commit an act of scientific corruption, because 'corruption' is a social concept, whereby someone agrees to abide by certain social standards, but in truth acts contrary to them, for whatever reasons. One who has not made such an agreement, either explicitly or implicitly, cannot acts corruptly, because the term just doesn't apply. If Joe Blogg, in his workshop, invents a machine that can provide the world with unlimited power, but chooses to conceal it, because he judges the unintended consequences to be so dire that they outweigh any potential benefits, then Joe Blogg makes a personal decision—but it isn't one to which one can apply a standard that one pin the label 'corruption' on.

But scientists living and working within the framework of 'the scientific community' deliberately withholding information about something that may influence the lives of billions...that's something else completely. It is akin to the citizen of a country placing his religion above the social contract he was with his fellow citizen. It's the real reason why a soldier went out on an army base in Texas, shouted "God is Great" and killed people who implicitly trusted him not to do such a thing. He is the ethical equivalent of these scientists; as they are of him.

The damage these morons inflicted on the case for GLOBAL WARMING—and continue to do, because some are are actually defending their perfidy!—is incalculable. This is quite independent of whatever the merits of that case happens to be, which isn't something I'm discussing here. In other words, they, too, have just become the victims of the Law of Unintended Consequences of their own stupidity and zealotry. Whatever that means for the planet and the issues under dispute remains to be seen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Massacre at Mary Smokes Creek — Carl Hiaasen, we love you!

I've previously commented on the ugly, poisonous brutes called 'Cane Toads'. If you haven't read the blog, it would be a good idea to do so, because sometimes life does play rather off-color jokes. You can take the following as a metaphor for a lot of things, but I'll leave it up to you. No particular meanings are implied. But you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

I have developed the most humane killing method I can think of, which transports the creatures from the land of the living to that of the dead with alacrity. I must confess that the idea was brought to me by that famous fairy tale The Frog Prince, wherein the spoilt princess tries to dispose of the pesky frog by throwing it against a wall—not by kissing it, as the sanitized versions would have it!

Well, I am no princess, and I don't throw the beasties against walls, but usually, with significant force, on hard ground or against a concrete water tank. They have yet to turn into anything but splayed out toad-Jesuses, with limbs spread out from the final neural shock of the fatal impact—and maybe the similarity with the crucified one lacks in conviction because the rear legs are spread out just as much as the front ones. You gotta do it hard though, because these blighters are tough. A princess, especially a spoilt one, would probably not even make a dent.

Anyway, so I thought I had my relationship with Cane Toads all worked out (I see 'em; I kill 'em)—until today, when I walked down to our 'dam'—which is what they call the water-collection ponds that dot the countryside around here. Ours is more than 150 sqm, and I was going down there to plant some Irises. The level of the water, after months of very little rain is rather low, with the vegetation verge well away from the water's edge.

What I found at the pond induced a moment of what was almost panic.

This is a tiny section of the pond's rim, and the objects you see are thumbnail-size Cane Toadlets. I estimated there to be something like 2000, give or take 1000. They saw me come and leapt into the water in a tiny-toad kind of Mexican Wave, swam out for maybe 0.5 metres, then returned to the shore. Our newly-introduced Water Lilys were covered with them, to the extent that the leaves were submerged like overloaded refugee boats.

I looked at this and my brain had something like a metaphor-explosion going on inside it.

W—T—F ???

I tried to calm down and work out how to deal with this. Scenarios ranged from beating the shits out of them with a spade (yeah, like that would make a dent!) to pouring petrol over them (too expensive and poisonous) and finally, as my wife suggested, scooping them up with a fishnet or something (very difficult, since the things were mostly on land).

More metaphor moments. Was there really a deeper message in this for me? For all of us? Were these tiny f---ers a sign from a morbid deity of some sort? How can you kill a few thousand of these things and not pollute the pond; or spend the rest of your days chasing them down?

Victory by numbers. Victory by exhaustion. The devils! The devils!

We are so screwed!

Salvation did come though, because I knew there had to be a way. Damn it, I'm a human being and I have a brain larger than the mass of all these little f---ers put together! Am I going to be licked by a few thousand little toads?

Not me, chickadee. A solution came; one so ingenious, original and, let's face it, completely and utterly sick-in-the-head, that Carl Hiaasen would have been truly proud of me. (Hell, I am proud of me!) The key words here are 'Chemo' and 'weed-whacker'—the latter known in Australia as a 'whipper-snipper'.

Hiaasen fans will instantly make the connection, and they would have watched in awe as I, representing humankind, accomplished the impossible. My 2-stroke Ryobi weed-whacker was a dealer of death, such as Cane Toad-kind has never seen before. Within less than 15 minutes the phalanx of (living) tiny toads had been reduced to a few hundred max—and those will experience the wrath of the weed-whacker-wielding-human tomorrow morning. In the heat of the day (35+ºC) the whirling blades delivered judgment day.

I even caught, quite by accident, one of their progenitors, who leapt forth from a clump of grass and was caught in the whirling nylon-of-death, with limbs and bits and pieces flying here and there and everywhere, mingling with the corpses of its offspring, which were floating in the water—in the characteristic kind-of-toad-Jesus pose, of course.

A swimming insect—a larva of some kind, I guess—swam past and dragged one of the tiny corpses into the depths of the murky water. I guess somebody will be having a feast right now.

So, peoples, here's a great way to start solving the Cane Toad problem. About this time of year, everybody in the vicinity of a dam or pond take your 2-stroke weed-whacker and deliver some serious Armageddon to Cane Toad-dom. Within 15 minutes I removed about 2000 of them from circulation. Think of the potential here! It's so much easier to get them this way than having to do the spoilt-princess thing with them—which I'll be doing, I guess, on a regular basis for as long as I live around here.

The sale of 2-stroke—as opposed to electrical—weed-whackers should skyrocket, too. But that's just a fringe benefit.

On a cheerier note, here's a pic of one of our resident Green Treefrogs.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In the Moment, but nor for it. For the Future, but not in it.

People seem to have issues with the 'living in the moment' thing. It appears that there's some mystery associated with the notion. I never could figure out why, but never had the words to explain it. Invariably, it ended up long-winded and convoluted, worthy of some academic philsopher's attempt to explain in plain English a simple concept that he doesn't actually understand himself, but has to pretend to understand. There, I got my dig at philosophers in yet again. Whoopee!

Anyway, one day, when I was struggling with significant problem—which usually mean that one's attention is focused on them and directed away from the moment, in terms of attention and appreciation alike—the simple solution almost fell into my lap. It did not require grand philosophy, but merely a few words; like a simple formula might provide an explication of what might initially have appeared a puzzling physical phenomenon.

The title of this blog is actually too long-winded It could be said even more pithily:

In the moment. For the future.

This is snappy enough to be remembered, even by the densest. I think.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Existentialism, Immortalism, Teen Angst and Twilight

Two guys from Channel Nine's Today show, co-anchor and entertainment reporter, today admitted that they had read the Twilight-series books. The two women, co-anchor and newsreader, said they hadn't. Given the whole thing about these being teen-girl books and movies, makes you wonder, don't it?

And here's the ultimate irony, right at the end of Twilight, that flick based on a book written by a Mormon. Life and irony—what is it with those two anyway??


Edward Cullen: Shall we?
Isabella Swan: You're serious?
Edward Cullen: Oh, why not?
Isabella Swan: [sighs] Hmm.
Edward Cullen: See? You're dancing.
Isabella Swan: [giggles] At prom. Edward why did you save me? You should've just let the venom spread. I could be like you by now.
Edward Cullen: You don't know what you're saying. You don't want this.
Isabella Swan: I want YOU. Always.
Edward Cullen: I'm not gonna end your life for you.
Isabella Swan: I'm dying already. Every second I get closer, older.
Edward Cullen: That's the way it's supposed to be.
Isabella Swan: Alice said she saw me like you. I heard her.
Edward Cullen: Her visions change.
Isabella Swan: Yeah, based on what people decide. I've decided.
Edward Cullen: So that's what you dream about, becoming a monster.
Isabella Swan: I dream about being with you, forever.
Edward Cullen: Forever?
[Bella nods]
Edward Cullen: And are you ready right now?
Isabella Swan: Yes.
Edward Cullen: Is it not enough, just to have a long and happy life with me?
Isabella Swan: [after a second of thought] Yeah. For now.

This is immortalist, existentialist and a dollop of 'feminist' thrown in for good measure—though I fancy Germaine Greer would have issues with that last label.

I also heard the entertainment reporter, in his comment, alluding to 'teen angst' in relation to the sequel. I've always considered that aspect of teen-hood probably its most productive. It's where you are still allowed, by society and your elders, to have a general unease about 'being' and its uncertainties. Where you can still, with license, truly worry about what and who you 'are', and whether life is about anything but your own angst-ridden self and its current preoccupations, like love affairs and the 'meaning' of it all, and shit like that.

As you get older and become an 'adult', entertaining the same kinds of thoughts and feelings becomes suspect to the rest of the world around you. You're supposed to be a 'grown-up' and all that. Grown-ups may have their difficulties in life, but they're not supposed to fret over them—not unless you have some license by virtue of being not-quite-normal, like artists of all types, for example. And if you're a woman, you definitely have more license to have your 'what is the meaning of my life?' days than your average guy, who is supposed to be pretty much immune to getting emotionally worked up over life-philosophy. Women who agonize over their lives are far less likely than men of being accused of things like 'irresponsibility' or being asked to 'get over it'.

Is this a good thing? Well, yes and no. It's good that one learns—some do anyway, though their proportion is invariably overestimated—to take responsibility and look at things through lenses of 'rationality' and the wisdom of years and 'experience'. But the price for that learning and for adopting the attitude that comes with it is very high indeed. In many ways something very precious—what we somewhat derogatorily label 'teen angst'— is being brow-beaten out of us.

But in truth, at least for some, it doesn't actually go away, but lurks there, not that far below the surface at all. And if you're an Existentialist/Absurdist (which few are) or an Immortalist—that's even fewer, because few want, or can bear, to live with the constant awareness of, as Isabella puts it: "I'm dying already. Every second I get closer, older."—then it's not just a matter of it 'lurking'.

Some while back I had a blog about the 'Fire Inside', with reference to a Bob Seger song. It's basically the same thing we're talking about. And in far too many, the fire is either quenched beyond the point of flaring up again; while in others it merely smoulders, with its smoke polluting the psyche to the point of poisoning it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Seven Dwarves and Snow White?

Well, so I came across this version of the tale of the seven dwarves. Not quite as elaborate as the Disney version, and nowhere as nice. But I thought I'd share it anyway.

The Swiss Version:

Auf einer der Hochebenen zwischen Brugg und Waldshut am Schwarzwalde wohnten sieben Zwerge zusammen in einem kleinen Häuschen. Da kam einmal spät Abends ein junges nettes Bauernmädchen verirrt und hungrig des Weges und bat um ein Nachtlager. Die Zwerge hatten nur sieben Betten, dennoch stritten sie sich, denn jeder wollte dem Mädchen sein Bett abtreten; endlich nahm sie der Älteste von ihnen zu sich in seines, kaum aber ging's ans Einschlafen, so kam noch eine Bauernfrau vors Häuschen, klopfte und begehrte Einlass. Das Mädchen stand gleich auf und sagte ihr, wie die sieben Zwerge hier selber nur sieben Betten und sonst keine Platz mehr für jemand übrig hätten.

Darüber wurde die Frau sehr zornig und schalt in ihrem Argwohn das Mädchen, in welcher sie die Beihälterin von sieben Männern vermutete, ein Lumpenmaitschi. Unter Drohungen, dass man einer solchen Wirtschaft bald ein Ende gemacht haben werde, ging sie grimmig davon; noch in derselben Nacht aber erschien sie mit zwei Männern, die sie vom Rheinufer her geholt hatte, und diese brachen sogleich ins Haus ein, und erschlugen die Zwerge. Man verscharrte die Leichen draußen in dem Gärtchen und verbrannte das Haus. Das Mädchen war darüber den Leuten aus den Augen gekommen.

A translation: (I very slightly modified the one on the web page.)

On one of the high plains between Brugg and Waldshut, near the Black Forest, seven dwarfs lived together in a small house. Late one evening a nice young peasant girl, who was lost and hungry, approached them and requested shelter for the night. The dwarfs had only seven beds, and they fell to arguing with one another, for each one wanted to give up his bed for the girl. Finally the oldest one took the girl into his bed. Before they could fall asleep a peasant woman appeared before their house, knocked on the door, and asked to be let inside. The girl got up immediately and told the woman that the dwarfs had only seven beds, and that there was no room there for anyone else.

With this the woman became very angry and berated the girl, whom she suspected of being a slut, cohabiting with all seven men. Threatening to make a quick end to such business, she went away in a rage, and that same night she returned with two men, whom she had brought up from the bank of the Rhine. They immediately broke into the house and killed the seven dwarfs. They buried the corpses outside in the garden and burned the house. With all of that happening, the girl disappeared from sight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twilight: on the difference between beliefs and values

I finally got around to watching the first flick in the Twilight series. Yeah, I know: I'm behind the times, what with the second one just out. But there's a time and a place and whatever. Last night was it, and that was that.

About the movie: it was very good. Teen flicks, more so than other movies, tend to be inflicted with endless strings of cringe-factor-TEN dialogue lines; the stuff written by people apparently incapable of crafting believable, yet original dialogue. This is one possible explanation. The other is that they think the vast majority of the teenagers watching these flicks are linguistically shallow, unlikely to respond to a anything but stereotyped prefab lines, and possibly also intellectually challenged, because it seems like they need everything explained at length and in platitudes. Neither is true, and the attitude smacks of self-serving contempt.

Twilight's dialogue didn't go that way, though it was definitely 'teen'. It also spanned very nicely the spectrum of teen vernacular: from the laconic/reluctant/surly, to the chatty and 'whatever' and 'so' and 'like'. The dialogue also didn't make it appear like every teen was somehow mentally deficient or incapable of having thoughts that were definitely adult. For those having read through recent blogs of mine, you can see how I found that refreshing.

So, yes, I liked Twilight. It took the vampire/un-dead mythos, soon to be added-to with some more werewolf elements, and put a 'Young Adult' 2009 spin on it. Very cool.

Now to beliefs and values. Twilight got me thinking about this, in a thinking-about-thinking kind of way. As I mentioned before, the author of the Twilight series is a Mormon; and when you come to think about it, the fact that so many Mormon value elements are incarnated in vampires, of all people—'people'?—is quite remarkable.

It certainly doesn't appear conform to what you might call 'Mormon Beliefs'. These are the kinds of things that people believe actually happened. Like the Angel Moroni (sic!) handing Joseph Smith some golden plates with the contents of the Book of Mormon. Or the veracity of the biblical stories woven, in particular, around the figure called 'Jesus'. The kinds of things, in other words, where people, when challenged, will sit back defiantly and say "That's what I believe!"

What Twilight does very deftly, is to separate mythos and 'belief' of that kind from the values associated with it. One very important element in Mormonism is the significance of the family.

Rosalie Hale: [after Edward asks her to put on Bella's coat to distract James] Why should I? What is she to me?
Dr. Carlisle Cullen: [Hands her the coat] Bella is with Edward. She's a part of this family, and we protect our family.

And, yes, there's the patriarch, too; which tends to turn a lot of people off, but let's face it, it could be a matriarch also—though maybe not in the context of Mormonism—with the basic element being that 'family' and a strong 'family head', who acts as a kind of family guide/preceptor/conscience, often, if not almost always, go hand-in-hand. This may be in the nature of human social organization. Most people need someone to turn to for reference. That's just the way things are.

But the quote from Twilight above isn't a statement about 'beliefs' but an assertion of life values, which may result from certain 'belief' elements in a given 'faith'. But they are not the same thing. Of course, one needs to 'believe', if you will, that certain values have 'value' and that therefore one should endeavor to live by them. But those are 'meta-beliefs'; that is, beliefs about beliefs and their consequences. This is where we run into terminology issues, as one often does when discussing philosophical concepts.

It is probably a very good idea to consider the difference between beliefs and belief-associated values; because in the course of this one might that:
  • Just because some 'belief' may be demonstrably 'wrong', that doesn't mean that the values associated with the belief are therefore also wrong by association.
  • One may indeed have the same values as people whose beliefs one does not share.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, of course, but unfortunately it does. The majority of people will conflate 'belief' and 'value', or draw a direct connection in order to judge the 'value' of 'values'. This is both, wrong and very, very destructive, to human understanding.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Toasty Today

So, this is what it was like much of the day...

Right now, at 7 p.m. it's a mere 30º C, and it feels slightly cool-ish!

KEAEN 2nd Edition - DOWNLOAD FREE for a limited period only!

Until the end of November you can now download a copy of the 2nd revised edition of Keaen for absolutely nothing. This copy can only be read on-screen. Printing and copying have been disabled.

The Second Edition has been revised majorly to:
  • Bring the narrative of the first book in the Tethys series into line with the sequels.
  • Get rid of some quaint-isms I'd rather not have in the book.
  • Remove some of the linguistic 'flattening' that happened as a result of the publishing process for the first edition.
  • Restore story elements that were removed in the process of preparing the book for the first edition.†
In return, I only ask for this: that you write and leave a review here.

This is, of course, a promotional exercise, intended to suck you into the story of Tethys and its people.

Warning: Some of these elements involve the deliberate violation of deeply ingrained social taboos.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Peter & Max, Fables and Bill Willingham: Sheer Genius

It may require someone nursed on comparatively unexpurgated, original language, versions of Grimm's Fairy Tales, to fully appreciate the genius of Bill Willingham. Well, I was, and I do.

For those interested, here's a sympathetic review that I almost entirely agree with.

The whole Fables universe, including the satirical allegory that is the Jack series spin-off, represents not only a long-overdue resurrection of fairy tales, but also runs counter to the current trend to sanitize the tales until their are limp, pathetic ghosts of their former selves. I found out that apparently this trend wasn't just a recent thing, but dates back through the whole series of fairy-tale revisions. This is just one example. More can be found in the links on this site. For those interested in such matters—and especially the evisceration of the true meanings contained in the original fairy tales—it makes for grim reading.

The popularity of Fables does give me hope though, as it appears to demonstrate that, while the majority of our species— at least in the Western and Western-influenced world—is drowning in a cloying morass of conformity and fear of anything that may threaten our currently prevailing delusions about our human nature, there are quite a few who at least sense that this is not only wrong, but—as Willingham obviously believes and tries to put across, sometimes very overtly—indeed destructive of the human spirit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

People-People Time vs. People-Computer Time — The Rise and Imminent Demise of the Intelligent Peripheral

"A laptop for every child!"

"We're going to refurbish 1000 classrooms, to bring the best modern technology has to offer to our children to become computer smart for the future." (Paraphrasing that strage creature, the current Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh; whose name should indeed sound familiar!)

This is the kind of verbiage coming form those who want to appear as if they cared about the education of our children. Because anybody who advocates or promotes the advancement of 'computer literacy' must care—about the future of the planet, our society, our children. And the Australian Prime Minister—and in this I find myself agreeing with someone I universally disagree with by default: Rupert Murdoch—is definitely obsessed with the future of the planet; to the point of OCD and with a grandiose naïveté that borders on, and maybe crosses over into the territory of, dangerousness. But he's not alone. Whenever anybody who's got anything to say about the subject, for reasons of self-advancement of self-opinionation, such catchphrases as "a laptop for every child" will be dragged out of the closet and intoned like the national anthem. And throw in "internet" and "research'" as well, because that makes it sound like it was really, really useful.

Trying to stop this hysterical mania is the social equivalent of trying to avert GLOBAL WARMING. And, like G... ahh, you know what... the best one can do is to try and learn to live with it, and salvage what can be salvaged—which in this case means as many children and Young Adults as possible.

For those who don't 'get' what I'm talking about, consider this.

To achieve 'computer literacy' for a person under the age of, say, 18—and especially given that said person is very likely to find a computer in their home environment as well!—takes almost no time at all. Making a big deal out of littering classrooms with computers and what's referred to as 'technology' is something that belongs into the last century, not today or tomorrow. It may make a difference in areas where children are unlikely to have access to computing equipment for socio-economic reasons; but that's about it. For the rest of the kids it may have use as a tool to "find information", as some people put it, but that, too, has a dark side. For, like just about anybody else using computers and the internet for extended periods on a daily basis, I find my research habits changing, to the point of being afraid that I may slip into a kind of ADD territory, though I am missing the hyperactivity component of the syndrome. And I'm a very disciplined internet user, who very rarely 'surfs', but almost always tries to find things using search engines, and then very occasionally follows links he may not have had on his radar. Those not exercising such restraint will almost invariably waste incredible amounts of time learning nothing at all—not in the long term anyway, because most of the things they find will go into short-term memory and disappear from there into neural never-never-land.

The consequences of the increasing ubiquity of computers at school as a major component of 'schooling' are grim. They relate closely to what I said in the previous blog. Human-human time gets muscled out by human-computer time, because, contrary to the promotional imagery, human-computer time is mostly one-on-one. It is not a social activity, except in the case of such things as tele-communications between, for example, groups of people separated by distance, but connected by some audio-visual link-up system. But that's not the way these things are used. Most of the time it's human peripherals staring at screens. And while at one time, these human peripherals merited the attribute 'intelligent', this may well be redefined once homo computerensis takes over the world.

For computers do not make children smart. They just change them and reconfigure their cognitive spaces. Whatever lies at the end of that, nobody knows. But I don't think it's good.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Let children be children?

I have serious issues with people who try to make their kids into wunderkinder. I think I have a notion of at least some of the reasons why people might want to do it, but none of them elicit any sympathy.

I also have serious issues with many of those on my side of the fence on this issue. These are the people who say the right things to some degree, but then justify them with all the wrong arguments. Which means that, were they to have their way, I'm not sure the damage they'd be doing wouldn't be even greater than what those overzealous parents who try to turn little Johnny into Einstein, so he gets 'the best chance in life', or little Jane into Elle McPherson, so that she will be in the enviable position of being both beautiful and rich. Thus the children will hopefully become nest eggs for mum and dad in their dotage; and if that isn't what it's all about, then maybe it's about trying to correct one's own failure to lead the life of one's dreams, or even to give it a decent 'dotry' (see here and here), and trying to make the kids live those same dreams, and never mind what theirs might be.

The catch-cry "let children be children" or "don't take away their childhood" or something along those lines has some justifiable basis. There are elements of childhood cognitive development that are critical to creating an optimally functioning adult brain. That's, if you want to phrase it in biological terms. Another way of saying this is that children's intelligence and social and emotional skills for adult life develop best, if they are allowed to do the kinds of things and indulge in the kinds of activities that millions of years of evolution have configured and optimized them for.

I know, that last way of putting it still sounds very biological, and it is. But I'm not aiming for some religious or airy-fairy way of looking at things. Besides, the main supporting argument nowadays for the "let children be children" rallying-cry comes from bio-science. Google 'teenage brain' and you're bombarded with biology—and pseudo-biology, of course. Everybody and sundry is on the teenage-brain bandwagon these days, and everything appears to be explained by reference to the associated science.

Now, I don't disagree with the science; not the basics of it anyway. The developing brain is different to the developed brain, and development doesn't stop for most people until their mid-20s. Though, yes, for many it definitely seems to stop there, with sclerosis beginning its long dismal path of destruction. And this time I'm not just talking 'biology'.

The 'teen brain' has been dragged in to explain just about everything about teens, from their propensity to take serious risks to the comparatively high rate of suicide at that age. What hasn't bee studied, of course, is how much these mostly-negative things are actually direct consequences of biology, of whether it's actually got much more to do with the interaction of the developing brain with the kinds of societies that now exist around the world. And the epidemiology of what you might call the 'computerization' of the brains of the young is in its infancy at best, and as yet very much groping around in the dark. As usual it's about the right questions, which people seem to be unwilling or unable to ask.

It's also about terminology. The word 'childhood' is being applied nowadays to everyone from from the age of zero to, as a lot of people seem to think, going into the early twenties. Some years back there rose another term, 'Young Adult', which is still being used, but doesn't have half the prominence it should have.

Words matter. Terminology matters. They're called 'teens' and they see themselves as teens, and through the very terminology and what comes with it they consider themselves as isolated from adults. They think of themselves as 'teenagers' and so do adults. As a result, they are looked on and treated as 'teenagers'. Say 'Young Adults' instead, think 'Young Adults', and it's all quite different. But we're almost at the stage where 'Young Adult' is considered 'quaint', except maybe as an age-group to use for labeling the age group for certain types and genres of novels—and even here it seem to be going out of fashion, because, as 'educational authorities' will tell you, it's really about 'childhood'.

It is a fact that we have to live with the existence of structured education system. Well, then we may divide the lives of most people in western societies into three phases:
  • pre-school
  • school (including basic university or some other 'tertiary education')
  • post-school
Right now, the way it goes in Australia, for example, it's like this:
  • pre-school: AGE 0-5 (even less if including pre-'pre-school' schooling)
  • school: AGE 5-21
  • post-school: AGE 21-whatever
A system that would be better adapted to what people-in-development—commonly called 'children'—need would have the following structure:
  • pre-school: AGE 0-7 (no pre-schooling!)
  • school: AGE 7-18 (including 3 basic tertiary years)
  • post-school: AGE 18-whatever
School, from the point of view of 'essential curriculum', by and large proceeds at a snail's pace. Much of the time at school is spent with what amounts to 'fillers': subjects that aren't only useless but acutely fatuous and basically none of 'school' business to teach. But they are 'teaching' them, thus giving parents even more excuses not to pay sufficient quality-attention to their children's development.

The main objection to a rearrangement of early-life structure will come mainly from those who see school not so much in the context of 'education', but of either child-minding or of keeping young adults out of the workforce, thus tweaking unemployment figures and helping governments to waste money on things that line the pockets of those whose support said governments find essential. In any decent society that kind of thing would be called 'corruption', but it's covered up so well and made to appear so respectable that it's regarded perfectly legal and ethically unobjectionable; basically a non-issue.

Let "children be children" all right. But do it at the right time, which is before we pack them off to school and teach them, in the words of Jethro Tull, "how not to play the game". And get them out of school in time to stop them from feeling that they are a breed apart from 'adults', as is the case now.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

ATMs and Digital Self-Checkouts (and why I hate Shopping Malls)

OK, so froggie here has nothing to do with ATMs and/or Digital Self Checkouts. But I took this picture last night on our back porch and thought it was very cool. During the daytime, this guy—or maybe it's a 'gal', which is actually likely—sits in one of our downpipes and makes occasional strange noises, which reverberate through the piping system.

Back to ATMs. Couple of days ago I heard a report that Australians have taken with a vengance to using the self-checkouts that are now sprining up like weeds in supermarkets. It made me think about something that happened a while back, when I was discussing ATMs with someone, and specifically the use of outside-the-bank-ATMs to withdraw money instead of going to the the cashiers inside.

Of course, the way this efficient world of ours is going, checkout-chicks and checkout-guys as well as cashiers are becoming so rare and overworked that, yes, one is almost forced into using the electronic devices supplied by supermarkets and banks alike. Except that I usually don't—not in supermarkets anyway, where I'm quite willing to wait in a queue, if not too long, for the next COC (Check Out Chick), rather than subject myself to becoming a part of the supermarket's automated system for processing customers. Actually, let's not call it 'customers', for that's long turned into an insult to our intelligence, because we're nothing else but wealth-providers to the creeps who own the supermarket empires; and, yes, that includes the shareholders, who really don't give a rat's ass about how they make their money, as long as they make it. Actually, shareholders are the worst! They're the economic equivalent of those meat eaters who want their steak served up in such a way that you'd never know it comes from a slaughtered animal.

In a similar vein I find the very existence of these large suburban shopping centers offensive to my sensibilities—or, for that matter, the malls that have replaced them in many city centers, where once upon a time there were 'shops' instead of whatever it is that's replaced them. They're just large collections of outlets for the flow of goods from some producer, mostly in China, to those poor benighted souls called 'consumers'. To think of an equivalent, consider the automated feeding systems used for battery hens. They're made to look pretty to attract the consumers—think of honey attracting bees, or rotten meat flies—but they're actually unbelievably ugly, soul-less and actually completely devoid of any trace of what you might call 'esthetic quality'.

Going into a modern shopping mall or a large department store like Target, Big W, K-Mart, Myers, David Jones, etc makes me edgy and uneasy. It's as if every fiber of my being rebelled against being a part—actually the ass-end, to to put too fine a point on it!—of that giant pipe of commodity-flow that powers our artificial and pointless urban economies.

Back to digital self-checkouts. Whenever you see one, remember this: you are looking at one of the final steps in the urbanization of mankind. Not only has this process destroyed 'community', but it is proceeding to further erode any, even casual, contact, between already-distant human beings. I'd rather talk to a dull-witted checkout operator who hates being there, but only does it because s/he needs the bucks, than check myself out digitally and interact with a machine. This isn't some variation of Ludditism, but an attempt to salvage what remain salvageable of my nature as a social human being. Plugging into an electronic chain of processes, even if it's at the end of the pipe, brings us doewn to the level of the process itself, and makes us slaves to those who want us to be like that. These people have no damn right to do this—and yet we let them, more and more so every damn day!

Digital urbanization if the death of human interaction. Never mind the internet and its connecting of people from far and near in all sorts of ways. None of this matters, and none of this will help us in any way to remain noticeably human-social-animal, if we can't, as a matter of everyday existence, continue to interact not just with people we know, but also those we don't, and who just drift in and out of our lives. Interaction with only those we know sclerotifies our social capabilities, and as those people are becoming fewer and fewer—and as many of them are becoming more removed in a physical sense, because they're just entities presumed to be human at the other ends of digital communication lines—we effectively become autistic, whether we like it or not. It may make us in to whizkids and whizadults in many ways, but it also results in some serious retardation of capabilities that once were considered essential to our humanity.

The price of 'efficiency', as implemented through the degradation and impoverishment of human interactions, including 'casual' ones, has never been calculated; as most people, and especially those who should know better—like educationalists, who should be promoting human-human contact-time, rather than human-computer contact time—just don't seem to 'get' that there actually is a problem.

The Piper will claim his prize though. He's already doing it, except that nobody seems to notice. And when it's all done, and when he's taken the children away forever, we'll all wonder how we could have been so dismally stupid.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Does accountability create liars?

The short answer:

Yes, it does.

The longer one:

Some of the basic facts of human existence are these:

  • People are flawed, and their ability to do everything 'right' and according to plan is inherently limited. They will therefore make what's known as 'mistakes'.
  • People's flawed-ness extends into the realm of ethics and morality. Besides, said realm is littered with ambiguities, especially when coming into contact with 'real life'.
  • People screw up—an alternative way of saying 'make mistakes'—and when they do, they don't like being found out, for any number of practical and psychological reasons.
  • The only way to avoid being found out when having screwed up is by taking actions designed with the goal of not being found out in mind.
  • Lying—directly or through obfuscation, in word or in action—is the only means available to conceal mistakes or hide the fact that the mistakes are one's own.
Hence... Well, you connect the dots.

The irony of the whole situation is that our current current obsession with 'accountability'—which is one of those organizational yak-speak buzzwords nowadays, like 'stakeholders' and 'progressing' or 'actioning' something—is creating a tidal wave of deliberate and calculating liars, who are preoccupied with their inherent fear of 'accountability' and spend, and waste, incredible amounts of brain space, time and effort on methodologies and procedures to ensure that they either get everything completely 'right'—as 'right-ness' is specified in whatever organizational context they happen to operate—or that, if they don't get it right, they have strategies to obfuscate their screw-ups.

Of course, one might argue that, from an organizational point of view and historically speaking, this is really nothing new. And it isn't. What is 'new', if you will, is that what once used to be a, albeit widespread, implicit organizational problem caused by life and human nature—which, however, human organizations had adjusted themselves to and found a kind of 'working balance' for—has suddenly been catapulted into prominence by having been made explicit and one of today's buzzwords.

Everybody wants accountability from everybody else—but when applied to oneself, everybody's basically shit-scared of it, and will do everything to ensure that it doesn't bite one in the butt. So, far from creating a culture of accountability, we are in a headlong rush to create a culture of liars; adding to what you might call the already existing 'natural background level' of lies that are a part of normal social life anyway.

Am I advocating a removal of the whole accountability concept from the political-correctness agenda?

Of course not. I'm just observing here and calling attention to it—for yet again Peggy Noonan's dictum about history being an irony-factory proves only too true.

The only solution, as usual, is not implementable, because it would rely on a change in the statistics of human nature. If 'accountability', or the value of it, were an integral part of the ethical code of most people; if people realized that being personally accountable for one's actions is a good thing, and one to think about with pride rather than trepidation; then we wouldn't have this problem.

But people aren't like that. And they may never be.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Truth and Falsehood, Art and Philosophy

I wonder whom I caught with that preposterously high-flying blog title.

I never cease to be amazed—on the occasions when I waste my valuable time thinking about these people—at the mental contortions and torturous conceptualizations, usually supported by fragile and unnatural skeletons of jargon, of those calling themselves 'philosophers'. However, every now and then something happens that reminds me of it, and then it's like "are these people for real?"

Well, they are, doing their usual best to obfuscate any clarity we might strive for. Now, I know the universe isn't a 'clear' place; far from it—at least as far as anything 'human' is concerned. Anybody who makes it appear as if it were clear is, to paraphrase Heinlein, either a fool or trying to sell you something, or he's a fool trying to sell you something, or he just wants your money. Which, one may note, most philosophers do, because someone's got to pay them for the time they spent producing copious amounts of...well, 'bullshit' is one word for it. Paid they must be, because unlike artists, who, never mind their often dismal quality and pretentiousness, at least produce 'works' of 'art'—whatever that is—that people can listen to, read, watch, or hang on their walls or place in their gardens or parks or wherever it pleases them to put this stuff.

Artists, in other words, must have 'output', of the perceptible kind—see, hear, smell, touch, taste. Said output may consist of anything from stories told around a fire, to a symphony, to pictures hung on walls, to a really nice dessert. 'Works'. Productions. Stuff.

One might argue that philosophers also produce such things. They talk, a lot. Meaning they produce auditory stuff. They also write: papers, articles, books. There may be the odd philosophers who paints the contents of his philosophy on a canvas—but I'd argue that that guy is really an artist with philosophical depth. The same goes for philosophers to present their philosophy in fictional form. They are really story-tellers who incorporate serious philosophical elements into their tales. With characteristic immodesty, I like to think of myself as one of those.

Since everything in the human mind, and also what said mind produces, is essentially 'narrative' in nature, it looks like it might be difficult to sort out who does what. Philosophers, so it could be argued, just produce different kinds of 'narratives' to, say, fiction writers. And, yes, a book by a philosopher about a totally obscure topic, let's take Heidegger's Sein und Zeit—I picked this one because it happens to relate to whatever triggered this blog topic—does indeed look like it might qualify as a 'product', not too different from, to pick something suitably different-yet-similar-in-medium, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. So, how does my initial assertion about the difference between artists and philosophers hold up now?

Well, it's simpler than it appears, and it'll be the kind of argument that will cause philosophers to dismiss me as a facile simpleton—that's a double-banger, by the way; like super-simpleton. Still, it goes to the heart of the matter, no matter how they may squirm; and it is this:

Twilight could easily be made into a movie, and it is actually something that people will pay money for to see and/or own. In fact is has been made into a movie. Furthermore, it requires actors, another type of 'artist', to represent the characters in the story.

One could claim that even Sein und Zeit could be filmed, by having a bunch of people read it out aloud while being recorded. Or maybe one could go for the highlights, few as they are, and have them read out to some weirdo psychedelic pattern-play, or set some selected passages to some sing-song and dissonant or maybe New Age background music, that might provide an 'artwork' to be projected onto a wall during some trendy weirdo party of existential deconstructionalists celebrating...ohh, lemme think...maybe Jaques Derrida's next birthday party. Not a real one, because the guy's dead, of course.

But one can claim a lot of things. If you look at the substance of this issue you'll soon realize where the difference lies, especially in the case of any 'art' involving people—as opposed to something not requiring or being about them. It is that what is being presented is people-narrative. Not narrative about the cosmos and how it works, or about God or the stuff of physics and chemistry, or the 'nature of art' (in the sense that 'art' as seen by the likes of Heidegger, as something that actually has existence outside the context of its perception by someone)—but about what people do, and how and why (in the sense that cognitive science might); and what that reveals about them, and, by implication rather than explicitly, about the universe that gave rise to their existence and, again by implication what the universe is like because of this.

Philosophers of all ilk, with a few, very few exceptions, have no interest in actual people. I know that sounds like a rather sweeping statement, and it is. It's also accurate. They may sound as if they did have such an interest, but they haven't. Which is probably why Wittgenstein called academic philosophy "the living death", because it is about things that are, at their heart and core, dead; not living. And, let's face it, just about all philosophers who get paid for their philosophizing are academics. Nobody in their right mind outside academia would pay them for their...whatever you want to call it.

Which surprisingly brings us back to the title of the blog, because we find, as is so often the case, an issue of truth and falsehood after all. And life and non-life as well.

Those who, like Heidegger, would have it that 'art', works of 'art' that is, have an existence as 'art', or qualities/properties that somehow define them as 'art', that is in some way independent of those contemplating them, are so way out of tune with the essence of our existence, that I am staggered each time I think about them. How is it possible to be so distant from the substance of who and what we are?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

OWLGLASS: Creating a Brand, Starting a Business

Years ago, when I bought the domain name '', I couldnt' believe that it hadn't already been taken. Stroke of good fortune, no doubt, and with circumstances being as they are—more about that in a moment—it looks even more fortuitous.

About two years after buying the domain name, I was contacted by someone wanting to buy it off me. I wasn't even tempted. The short term gain of a few dollars, compared to the power of a name... I don't think so.

In subsequent years, I added to the namespace associated with 'Owlglass'; which, by the way, translates into the German 'Eulenspiegel'; and, for those who aren't aware of German folklore, there's the figure of one 'Till Eulenspiegel', who was a bit of a trickster and a rogue. So now we have a whole bunch of domain names, all based on the 'Owlglass' name. The one most relevant to this blog is probably OwlglassSF, which is the imprint under which I publish books.

Currently I am in the process of reconfiguring my life and the way I earn a living. Up to now it's been either 'permie' work, or long-term contracting. As of a few weeks ago, however, there now exists a company called, unsurprisingly, Owlglass Pty Ltd, of which I am a director and employee. All business associated with anything having to do with what is becoming the 'brand' name 'Owlglass' will be run through this company. The buttons in the sidebar of this blog give an indication of the scope of this. You can click them and be taken to the associated sites.

In the spirit of shameless self-promotion I'd like to ask my Australian readers, that if you have any business for OwlglassDesign or OwlglassProductions, or know of anybody who might require any such business, including wedding video production, please point them my way.

The development of a business and a brand is a fascinating activity. Until I actually got stuck into it, I never realized just how much work it is either, from the point of view of promotion as well as what I'll call 'administration'. Maybe the most interesting thing is to try and find something that provides some focus, or maybe you could call it a 'theme'. You'd think that, for someone making it a habit of telling stories, that shouldn't be too hard; but it is. Sometimes a picture may work better than words. But there's always a question of how intuitive the image actually is for as many people as possible—at least those potentially interested in the services concerned. So, for example, here's the one from the OwlglassDesign site—which addresses a business run in association with one of my daughters, who is a professional designer. The logo in the bottom right-hand corner of the image is hers.

The amount of just time-investment in doing all this, including getting websites designed and producing downloadable info/promotional materials, is amazing. I've basically spent a full two weeks doing nothing else—something like 80 hours or more—but setting this up. No wonder people who work full time never actually find the focus to get this set up, because it does take it out of you.

Anyway, it's all set up now, though it'll be subject to the inevitable tweaks and adjustments. Wish me luck. It's a big deal, taking that step.