Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 - a challenge to Integrity?

So, here we are, digesting the knowledge that the information really does seem to want to be free.

2010 might prove to be the year of Trust No-One, as the whole time it seemed one revelation after another about the state of what we used to think of as our 'privacy'; and the secrecies and abuses of privacy practiced by governments and corporations were brought to light.  Maybe we found some new black and white for a moment or two there, before the inevitable greying of entropy and the chaos of life set in.  The contrasts we saw remained stark right to the end.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I shall quote Julian Assange to illustrate:

"What are the differences between Mark Zuckerberg and me? I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I'm a villian.

Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations for money and he's Man of the Year."

So at the end, we all got a nice fat dose of what we knew all along: those who control the mechanisms of society (to the extent that they are controlled) lie, hide, and don't play fair and they do it for their own gains. 

 "We now know what happens when we build institutions that are not transparent to our eyes even though they demand transparency from us. We now know that the net we depend upon can be yanked away from us if we anger those who control it. We now know there are those in control. We believed the net to be mere anarchy loosed upon the world - turns out it’s just another shopping mall." - Mark Pesce.

Many are now awake to just how much of what we once thought of as 'our' information is simply now let loose.  There are many who have risen in anger about all this.  Many will change the way they operate online at the very least to try and re-protect their personal life from scrutiny.  And there are those who will simply accept that this is a new reality and enjoy the good parts, adapt to the more irksome ones.  I think this year will see a massive rise in the use of all sorts of online tools and methods to re-privatise not just personal spaces, but protected group spaces too.

Still, the cat's out of the bag.  Someone can upload a picture of you and without even tagging your name to it The Machine may recognise you and tag the picture for you.  Another little data blip attached to your datalife doppelganger.  We've been feeding this shadow-self for a generation now, allowing ourselves to be tracked with our credit card purchases, our net surfing, our social networking and even our physical locations through our ever-present mobile devices.  And since these datasets are valuable to someone, because they tell a pretty good story about us all added up,  there has been an ironic twist added to the struggle of your information to free itself; the corporations to whom it has dollar meaning, and the governments to whom it has political purpose wish to liberate the data for their own use, and now those very institutions have lost control of it through the mechanisms and agents of we (the people) wishing to wrest the power back from them.

I started writing a post about privacy quite some time ago, and restarted again when US student Tyler Clementi killed himself.  You might remember, he briefly became a posthumous cause celebre for those railing against our new information tools' ability to facilitate the rapid spread of personal information.  In his case, this information was a webcam recording made (without his knowledge or consent) by a roommate of him having sex with another man in his dorm room, and posted on Facebook.  Tyler was not exactly openly gay, it seems, and in a sad irony he posted his last words on Facebook.  "Jumping off GW bridge.  Sorry."

We have never been able to legislate or dominate our citizenry sufficiently to ensure nice and proper behaviour.  Never been done, ever.  Yet now anyone with a net connection can say anything about anyone, reveal any information and imagery, and there's nothing we can do about it except hope no-one does OR- to not care.

Imagine if Tyler lived in a reality where coming out was OK, because obviously he didn't.  A reality even where 'coming out' was not a term we had a use for any more, because sexual preference was just not an issue for anyone.  Expand that thinking out, to a place where people just naturally 'did right' by one another, where there was no argument over creeds or rights,  and you've entered the heart one of John Lennon's greatest pieces - Imagine.

That might be a little way off yet, I think.  In the meantime, how to adapt?

There was much hue and cry in the UK when they started getting full-on with the whole CCTV thing, but then the powers-that-be  and Have Your Say Champions Of Justice rallied around the tired old cry of "if you've got nothing to hide then what is the problem?"

Well, um, exactly.  What if, right, we just behaved with integrity?  You know, told the truth?  Sure, I've been as guilty as anyone of selectivity and creativity with what is real for me throughout my life, but eventually properly worked out that it was a shitty way to live.  The explosion of online media has made it so easy to show only a part of yourself (or none, to be seemingly anonymous) or to present only a carefully-crafted version of who you are, and it's so tempting to do that.  As we used to say in NLP class "why be yourself when you could be someone really useful?"  I've tried to stay faithful to my stated aim of honesty here in this blog and otherwise in my life these last years.  It doesn't have to be full disclosure (after all, I have my honest commitments to care for others and protect their confidentialities and privacies) but it does require a certain willingness to be open about one's failings and weaknesses.

Of course, it's a rare person who sees themselves very clearly much of the time anyway, so we can only be honest about what we believe to be our truth at the time - and be honest when that changes.

Had Tyler Clementi had maybe just a bit more support from a friend, or a family member, he may have made some different choices.  Had his roommate been behaving with a little more empathy and compassion - which I believe we all feel but are not always honest with ourselves about - then things might have been different too.  I'm not here to judge in that way, but what seems clear to me is this:

  •  Your information can be gotten out, and very likely will be.
  •  Hiding is a choice, but requires virtual hermitage, and even have a past.
  •  If you spend the time to get comfortable with being who you really are, publicly, and choose to try and behave well toward your fellow man, then when it all comes out - who cares?
It can probably only go one of two main ways, I reckon - a hive mind with massive homogeneity where new ideas flare up as storms in the zeitgeist and are quickly either subsumed or discarded - the Borg.  Or a consensus to agree to respect boundaries that others erect around themselves, should they choose to do so, for no-one will be able to enforce such a respect.  The first way to me has dangers of totalitarianism and too great a loss of individual liberty and creativity.  But might well work anyway.  The second way seems far more fulfilling, and more in line with how I see our spiritual and social evolution.  But without honesty, no-one wll be able to be a part of it.  

Can you see a different way that has a good ending?

Happy New Year all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Someone died yesterday, and it was.....good.

For the last year or so, I've been following the story of a young woman, Andrea Clegg, from a distant country, as she's been waiting for a heart transplant.  Her blog site makes for great reading if you treat it as a story and start at the beginning, you can find it here:

There's a certain kinship in us folks who have dangerous or life-limiting conditions going on, and with the whole Rise Of The Internet has come a greater ability for people to share and support one another.  I came across Andrea's story through my association on the Blenderized Diet forum, a place of great community knowledge and support for tube-fed people and their carers who want to use real food, because Andrea's sister-in-law Shannon is a member there, and has a tube-fed son Ashton (who, as an aside, has one of the mad-craziest smiles ever seen on the interwebs).  Shannon just popped a little post up one day about Andrea's story and new blog, and I started following.

I'll admit that there is a subtle and subterranean sense of ghoulishness involving yourself - even just as a witness - to someone in this boat.  You're watching a life-and-death thing here after all and by saying hello and giving your heartfelt wishes you're now invested somehow in the outcome.  There is a little of the car-wreck-watcher syndrome.  But that's not really what draws one in.

Andrea's suffered from such bad heart problems that for a long time now as well as an implanted defibrillator she's been tubed up to an LVAD, essentially a battery-in-a-backpack powered artificial heart, and came pretty close to death on multiple occasions along the journey.  It's trite to say, and these days it's almost completely expected to say, but Andrea is a rather special person, and so are the people around her.  That's why it's been a privilege to watch and why last night was so terrifying and elating all at once for me - just some guy in at the other end of a computer in a faraway land.

Andrea's a pretty small lady, meaning that many donor hearts simply wouldn't fit.  She knew that chances were she'd be waiting for a child's heart, just to add extra poignancy to the whole organ donor thing.  It's not like a heart is coming from a live donor now, is it.  This, some other factors, but mainly the woeful rate of organ donation in the US have all combined to make a lengthy wait.  She celebrated her first anniversary on the list not long ago.

There was a false alarm a few months ago, with a possible donor situation......oh well.  Never mind.

Last night (my time) she got the call, and the drill began.  Status updates were made on Facebook, posts were made on the BD list, the blog was updated, and all the many, many people that have been sharing this journey - family, friends and strangers alike - lobbed in their blessings, wishes, prayers and tears that all would go well, that the heart would be a match, that all would go well.....

To say Andrea is a brave woman is also trite.  Of course she is.  She carries on living as normally as possible despite having this amazing burden of uncertainty, advocating for organ donation, sharing her story with all who will listen to aid that cause, and never complains of her own ills publicly.  She has faced down unkind comments (can you believe it??) on news stories about her with grace and compassion, and has been it would seem in some ways a core of strength for all of her carers to draw from.  So saying Andrea's brave or courageous or gracious or simply awesome is redundant.  Because it's obvious.

What is less obvious at first glance though is the fortitude and sheer love of those around her, and this has been some of the greatest stuff to watch.  I mean, just imagine for a moment being her husband.  No really, just imagine it for a second.  Shaun; kudos to you.  That is all I have to say.  The sort of man that can make you quietly proud to be a man.  Props, fella.  Shannon, a tireless campaigner and fierce sort-of protector, an unexpected gift when you get yourself a new sister-in-law.  And all the innumerate family and close friends doing all their bits, pulling their little bits of weight, all in the same direction, towards a new heart for their loved one.

Maybe you had to be there, I dunno.

So anyway, yes, someone died yesterday.  And it turns out they were an organ donor, and all the right boxes were ticked.  It was late and I had yo go to bed still wondering if the heart was a match but when I got up and got online, well, there it was.  As I write Andrea has a new heart, beating inside her, doing its thing, and the doctors are completely happy with the way it all went - even the operation was shorter than usual.  It's early days of course, and I'm tipping she's going to be one SORE lady when she wakes up and for a while, but for now she's no longer dependent on wires and batteries and pumps and electric shock devices and what-have-you.

Look - a heartbeat.

All because someone had the heart - pun fully intended - and created or was lucky enough to have the family support to be an organ donor.  Their life has given not new life, but rather renewed life.  To Andrea, and to all the souls around her now weeping and throbbing with happiness and joy.  This amazing woman and all the people who have grown in ways the planet just needs more of have been given a stay, a prolonging of life on earth; and for this we all would best be grateful.

Who knows?  Yes, the thing that is almost never said is that of course this might not work, and Andrea may not make it through the recovery phase.  And if that happens, OK, life has its sadnesses too.  But even just taking all the time up until now, this moment, and all the good that has come from this journey for everyone involved and even those of us just able to barrack from the sidelines - hasn't it all been worth it?

So the question now remains:  if you are not a registered organ donor, why not?

And lastly Andrea?  Good luck.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lunch at my place - check it out

OK, so I've posted it on the other blog because it's fairly topical for that audience, but I think you'll find it intriguing and enlightening also.  Plus, there's good music, and a cute ending.

Go HERE to see.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Giraffe vs Coconut. You know it makes sense.

I'm covering all outlets on this one folks, because WE NEED YOU to spend a whole 5 minutes or less of your life completing a tiny survey so I can produce for the universe a hilarious tally of your responses about giraffe and coconut farming (amongst other things).  Also so as I can have a good evaluation of the back-end of the survey tool itself before I get all deadly serious with it (assuming it's as good as they say) and doing some major scientific data-collection and collation.  For a very good cause.

Here is a link:

Click here to take survey

Thank you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dr Weaselword will speak with you now.

The weasels deserve better.  These sleek and wondrous mustelidae have been unfairly tarred with the brush of what is sadly an increasingly common term (sad because it's needed more and more often): 'weasel words.'

They're everywhere, those words that purport to mean something that they don't exactly mean, like "Up to 50% off!" also means that there may be no discount at all, whereas the implication is that things will be half price.  Politics is especially fertile ground.  But the arena that sorely gives me the crunchy irrits the most is where people's health and wellbeing are directly affected.  The issues of dishonesty and disingenuity in medical speak.

Anyone familiar with my recent history knows I've had ample opportunity and motivation to learn lots and lots on a wide range of medically-related subjects.  This is not just on my own selfish behalf, as my journey has found me also somewhat engaged with a whole teeming subgroup of humanity who share my experience of feeding through a tube, or who care for someone who does.  And you get a tube placed for an enormous variety of reasons.  Through these folks I have learned much, and deeply.  And, you know, I care.

Even the definition of diagnosis has come in for some weaselling recently.  It used to run:

Diagnosis (n, medical):  The identification of the nature and cause of an illness; The identification of the nature and cause of something (of any nature)

but now it's been expanded in what I see as a butt-covering sort of way to:

Diagnosis (n, medical):  A label given for a medical condition or disease identified by its signs, symptoms, and from the results of various diagnostic procedures.

See what's happened there?  It used to be that for a medical professional to make a pronouncement that usefully encompassed a medical condition, thereby leading directly to a body of knowledge and experience able to be employed in the treatment of said condition, both the nature and the cause of an illness had to be clear, unquestionable, explicable. Otherwise it was just a description, not a diagnosis.  Now, just fitting some set of symptoms or descriptions agreed upon by who-knows-what process and who-knows-what panel of arbiters is enough to pronounce a diagnosis.  Which would be fine, except for one very large thing:  We, the plebs, still tend to believe - and in the throes of fear and uncertainty about our health or that of our loved ones want to believe - that a diagnosis is still somehow indicative of a cause, and thus a vital foundation of treatment and a hopeful cure.

Just found this pic - anyone know what on earth it's all about???

So let's talk about things like FTT and GERD (or if you're in the non-American anglophone world, GORD).

There's a certain certainty to an acronym, as there is to a scientific-sounding long word.  Whenever I read on a forum somewhere some mother saying how her child has been 'diagnosed with FTT (Failure To Thrive)' my heart sinks a little and I do a conscious double-check of what has been written.  My heart sinks not from sadness - compassion does not make my heart sink, it more just sort of swells a bit - but from the possibility that this person has been on the receiving end of a sale by some doctor somewhere.  Hence the double-check, I read very carefully to try and gauge the belief and feeling of the author to see if they bought the line or not.  Because FTT is not a diagnosis, it's a description.  And doctors are increasingly buying the BS of their own profession too.  (BS may be a diagnosis, I'm not sure :-).

This isn't just rogue pedantry here, because there's a serious danger to this phenomenon.  FTT is a very, very confronting thing to be presented with as a parent especially, as it all too often carries with it some direct implication that you are somehow at fault.  It also holds out a false sense of control, and thus perhaps misplaced hope.  Going back to the need for a 'probable cause' component to a diagnosis, FTT could have a whole plethora of possible contributing causes.  It's used pretty loosely too, in that it can be applied to any person who is an outlier on the 'normal' weight/age charts, and it has anecdotally been abused too - I have heard more than one story where a parent has been threatened with a "diagnosis of FTT and having child services called in" for daring to question a doctor's directions.  I should clarify that the usual first-recourse response of the medical profession with FTT is to simply 'insert more calories' and that typically means forcing in more canned formula.  Sometimes it works for a while.  Sometimes.  But it doesn't address the root cause usually, does it?

Just giving something a diagnostic name gives the impression of some power over the condition, and the cultural hangover of diagnosis=knowledge of cause too often means both medicos and caregivers backpedal or even entirely cease in their efforts to find cause - to heal, rather than treat.  The emphasis shifts not surprisingly onto getting some measurable outcomes using the 'scientific' tools available:  get that child back in the middle percentile on the weight charts, even if it's all fat and too much weight for their fragile small bones to safely bear.  Even if it means living in a world of vomit, retching and pain.  Even if it means otherwise clinical malnutrition.  At least then we've got the FTT licked, eh?

A bogus diagnosis like this too often means real healing is pushed right out of the frame, as cause is not sought, and the 'whole person' approach withers in the face of a potent-sounding acronymic lump of weasel droppings.

But wait, there's more.

GERD (GORD) stands for Gastro-Esophageal (Oesophageal) Reflux Disease.  And it's not even a disease, let alone a diagnosis.  It's been going on in humans since the dawn of time - certainly much more prevalent these days due to the whole modern diet and lifestyle catastrophe but it's only recently been given it's shiny new name.  By the pharmaceutical companies.

The described set of symptoms encompassed by the acronym GERD can be caused by any number of wildly varying factors and effects.  Including, say, standing on your head too often.

Just like with FTT, all too often seeking a root cause or addressing the real reasons for ill health get ignored when so succinctly wrapped up in four capital letters.  It gets all normalised - it's just a thing that sooooo many people have and isn't it great we have these marvellous drugs to so effectively treat it?  Except that the drugs don't.  Treat it, that is.  The main drug prescribed and marketed throughout the world is esomeprazole (Nexium, Prevacid, a hundred other commercial names) and even some doctors seem to believe it successfully treats acid reflux.  No.  It de-acidifies whatever does reflux and true, in some cases the less-acid stomach contents mean reflux happens less often or less severely but in the main it just stops it hurting and damaging the esophagus when reflux does occur.  Oh, and over time it can rather tend to destroy your stomach lining.  And other stuff.

(Disclosure: I take Nexium.  I have yet to find an alternative that works effectively.)

So whenever I hear someone talking about GERD my first instinct is to urge further questioning.  Yes, but why?  Again, too many will stop at the controllable-seeming catch-all that is a 'diagnosis' and currently-preferred treatment.

But is it any wonder?  Viewing the news media with any scope or objectivity we can quickly come to realise that we are simply being fed what it is we are most willing to believe, at least when it comes to opinion if not selection of what is 'newsworthy'.  In a scary health situation we even more want our alpha figures, our parent-types who will tell us what is wrong and what to do.  We want the comfort of a century's scientific experimentation and experience behind it, and we want most of all to believe there is a straightforward answer.  Some say this is precisely why we invented religion.  But in the end, we do ourselves a grave disservice by disempowering ourselves in the face of a profession as commercially-driven as it is driven by the best of intentions.  We must always be the final decision makers in our own health, and that of those who rely on us.

My beef is that it's just downright dishonest, and I suppose in the case of GERD (and just too many other 'diseases' to name) to big money.  Pardon the pun, but I don't buy it.

And lastly, of course I'd like a proper diagnosis for myself, not just a great antiqued funky steampunk-sounding name for a disease.  But then I know that the cause is elusive to modern science, and by now, essentially irrelevant.  Can't help a curious mind though eh?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Things I want right now #7

In truth I've been a little remiss in not popping these up here lately - but then again, they seem to be getting fewer over time.  That said, not 2 minutes ago I read elsewhere on the webs a mention of...

A peanut butter sandwich.

Yep, that's all.  No need to go messing about with its simplicity by adding jam (that's 'jelly' in US English).

I flashed instantly to plain old soft white bread, slightly chewy crust, and smooth peanut butter.  You know I honestly can't recall how long ago it might have been since I had such a thing, because back when I was eating I'd been a multi-grain type guy for years and years, and of course for the last few years PB was just too sticky for my oral functions to handle properly.  Even all melty and oily on toast.  Oh well.

There's that weird feeling again.  I wasn't really hungry just before either but now, well.....

Honour thy peanut butter sandwiches people; one of the true culinary classics of Modern Western Civilisation.  Which, when you think about it, says quite a lot about us, doesn't it?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hearing the dog whistle.

It's a term that seems to have made itself a regular entrant in the Australian political speech competition these days.  Most often used perjoratively, 'dog whistle politics' is a term for a type of political campaigning or speechmaking which employs coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience.  The analogy is that the code is outside the range of the 'normal' listener's awareness, as a dog whistle is above our range of hearing.

It's intention is typically that of plausible deniability.  As an example, and it's where I suspect the term originated, the Howard government's statements surrounding 'illegal immigration' in the mid-1990s were said by many to be designed to appeal to the racist elements of society, yet none of the language used was technically or overtly racist.  The racism could plausibly be denied, and thus those who were not racist but would otherwise support the Howard government could vote for them with clear(er) consciences, alongside the supposedly racist folks who heard that dog whistle.  Anyway, Australians voted for him in droves.

I'm not exactly changing the subject now, people of Australia and fellow citizens of Northam in particular, but I'd like to ask you a simple question and have your first, viscerally-determined response before your wily self-image-protective mind gets hold of it please:

Would it make a difference to you if the announced Immigration Detention Centre in Northam for up to 1500 single men was instead to be replaced by a medium security (male) prison of the same capacity for Australian criminals?

If you felt a little discomfort for a second there, or just answered a simple resounding "yes" then you might want to run a bit of internal systems check.  

To do this, we need to separate the issues out; primarily we need to separate our debate around how we manage the fact that there are asylum seekers arriving, what we do with them when they do, and how we reconcile everyone's fears and thoughts about the effects on our culture and wellbeing in the long run; from the simple issue of where we place a detention centre - as it's a given that we currently put them all (the men at least) in detention.

Northam had one of those 'town hall meetings' very recently that was supposed to be an information evening for concerned residents but which was predictably hijacked by a relative minority of louder, angrier folk (many of whom were not residents, arriving with their One Nation placards etc from Perth) whom the media naturally turned towards for good sound-bite footage as a frog naturally snaps its tongue at the tastiest-looking grasshopper it can reach.  Commercial news reality there.  So what ended up happening was that the many people who attended seeking some actual fact and information were unable to get it (what little there was to be had, that is) and just saw more piss and vinegar than they wanted to have in their lives.  And the land as a whole by and large saw another NIMBY population to feed their fears and enjoy a tiny unspoken guilty moment of "thank goodness it isn't coming HERE".

I'll just put two words in here to encapsulate where we could head if we're not careful:  

Tea Party.  

There.  I said it.

Just recognising the dog whistle doesn't make it unaffecting, you see.  Because once you identify it you have the responsibility to respond to the ugly fact of deceit - whether it was intentionally done, or just an artefact of the new reality that news must sell so what sells makes news. Even public broadcasters feel the need to compete for audience share if not market share to retain relevance so they fall increasingly under the same rules of engagement as the rest.  In a way, the increasing partisanisation (is that a word?) we see in the US where you can just choose a news channel that whistles directly to your hearing range of opinion and/or prejudice is so much more honest.  I mean, not everyone in Australia actually realises that The Australian is an anti-Labor propaganda screed as much as it is a valid news service.  And not everyone appreciates that SBS does in fact have political agendas going on intentionally or otherwise simply by selling to a particular demographic and choosing the stories and angles to support that audience's set of self-images.

So what do you do when you see the whistle being blown?

My plan is to ask my fellow townsfolk which they'd rather - immigration detention centre or prison?

(Oh, and pardon my dog whistling.  I do mean it to call out those who need to look at their issues with race and nationalism, as a priority over making decisions about the placement of detention centres.  Apparently, dog whistles can hurt dogs' ears.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Let's just be clear, it's not that I love the banks......

The first Tuesday in November has been famous in Australia for 150 years as the date the Melbourne Cup, that Race That Stops A Nation is run, and in recent years it's been just as in the news in Australia because First Tuesdays are when the Reserve Bank of Australia releases it's monthly pronouncement on official interest rates.

Then, as happened last Tuesday, the Big Four major banks respond publicly, typically changing or not changing their lending rates accordingly.  It's become a weird ritual.

Last Tuesday the Commonwealth Bank did something that sparked no small measure of piss and vinegar in our reportage by raising their rates well beyond the increase made by the RBA - 0.4%, as compared to 0.25%.  And yea, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth across the land, and mortgagees were seen to lament and rend their credit card statements.  The whingefest commenced and the cries of the people for the government to "DO SOMETHING!" resounded from every second soundbite over the airwaves.

It's a business, people.  The banks are not here for you, unless you are a shareholder.  It looks to me like a sensational triumph of branding.

Where I grew up on the lovely Northern Beaches area of Sydney, there was (and probably still is) a real beach culture.  We kids were at the beach every chance we got, and being able to surf was nearly as compulsory (for a boy) as being able to swim was for everyone.  we were really used to the shark alarm going off, and having to all get out of the water until the Surf Lifesavers could confirm that Jaws was no longer lurking about.  Shark attacks happened just as regularly as they do now, but these days the consensus attitude has changed.

Back then, when a large shark attacked someone in the area, or any other popular swimming areas about the coast, there was a hue and cry and a hunting party was raised to rid ourselves of the brute.  The voices against this knee-jerk ridiculousness were there, but small, and drowned out by those who preferred to see us as masters of our domain, who sought perhaps some vengeance and balm for their fearful souls.  Over time though, we know this has completely turned around.

Now when someone is taken, we keep a better eye out for a while, but what we mainly hear in response are things like how the person involved always respected that this is the shark's home, and we are the visitors.  That sharks are carnivorous hunters, and that we might just be tasty.  That this is the natural order and we are rightly humbled in our place in it.  This is a good thing, that we have come to respect the shark's right to behave like a shark and do what we can to protect ourselves - we've grown out of our childish anger and punitive tantrum-throwing destructiveness.

Why is it then that we expect a business, whose reason for existing is by definition to make profits for its stakeholders - in the banks' cases their shareholders - to behave in any other fashion than that which it is designed or born to do?

It's 'reporting season' now too, and yep, the Big Four are all showing us their record profits.  They are also telling us that they have done a poor job getting their customers to understand that their 'cost of funding' has risen due to other factors.  We dummies out here just see more bank profit + higher interest rates = cause and effect.

OK, sure, there are all sorts of ameliorating arguments; for example it's an unfortunately perpetuated myth that the RBA cash rate is the main determinant of the banks' lending rates.  It's a major factor of course, and the banks' habit of using the RBA rate rises as cover for raising their own rates has not helped the public decouple a cause-and-effect theme in their minds.  Lots of thing affect a bank's ability to make a profit.  they are very complex businesses.  Well, it's true that most of us shall never understand fully the labyrinthine machinations of the globalised finance sector and precisely how it impacts our home loans but it doesn't have to be that hard.  They make more money, and we are paying more.  Looks simple enough from out here, yes?

Yet here in the modern commercial world we have chosen to accept a bizarre situation - that corporations are somehow a part of society; that they are essentially citizens like us with social responsibilities.  The banks do a super job of telling us in their marketing that this is *exactly* who they are, because the choices we make (or at least, the choices many of us make, to date) about who we do our banking business with - who we trust with that most crucial element of our self-value, our money - are not based solely or even mainly on hard-headed maths or pecuniary self-interest, but on *feel*.  We want our financial affairs to feel, above all, safe.

Banks are NOT people.  The profit motive will only be subservient to other social motivations insofar as it can be seen to support profit.  It's a circle.  Money spent on environmental programs, charity, all that - recouped in the power of their image and the continued success of their branding - their branding that makes us think that they do in fact support us.  Banks support business, of course they do - like bison support the great plains.  They must have a rich environment in which to feed, yes?

So there's a mighty disconnect here.  The larger and more successful a bank is the more likely we are to see it as a worthy entity to do our business with, but of course they got there by making more profits than their competition.  And apparently we don't like that.  Because we think they've done it by taking money from us.

And oddly, there are so many better options than the big players out there for home lending (just as an example) yet very few take up these different opportunities.  Doing so is not only the best, it is perhaps the *only* way to change the ways the banks operate in their treatment of customers.  We all know that in the Australian environment that the small-pond syndrome of having only four major players leads to price collusion (go ahead, sue me) as surely as we know we're being ripped off mercilessly by encouraging the situation where 75% of our grocery market is owned by just two players.

Democracy has been just a little bit crippled here, but we've let it happen.  We've bought the fallacies we're sold ($10 Coles meal anyone?) and dimly lie down to let them have their way.  We can't see a way to smash the status quo so we have our whinge, blame the government if at all possible, and bend over for some more.

What if, instead, we just used the system as it is?  Bank with an institution that behaved a little better, or at least gave us a better deal?  Grew a few more veges rather than buying lemons imported from the USA?  Used the local shop - paid a little more for the local milk from the corner store to support local jobs and the industry outside of the monopolistic players?  And on the larger scale, engaged with politics is a way that made our concerns about the government's useful roles in changing all this actually heard by both those who represent us, and by our wider community?

If we pressure the system to make it more competitive - to act 'rationally' as the free marketeers say we apparently do - and the institutions thus drive their rates down to win or win back our borrowing business, then that is where we are successfully engaged in the ecosystem of finance, as symbionts.  Right now most of us are just behaving like prey or worse; like a domesticated herd.

No use railing against the banks, really.  They're just doing what they're designed to do, and they're doing it very, very well.  Let's look more closely at this cause and effect stuff before we waste all that energy we could use for useful change on railing against something that is how we made it in the first place.  Let's not be those folks who buy a house at the end of the airport runway and then complain about the noise.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Postcard from an edge of darkness

Me: "Definitely the left."
Male Voice:  "Better than the right, or just because I'm on the left?"
Me: "The right's a bit busted up, the inside's deviated and stuff."
Female Voice: "I'll do the right then."

Time seems to pass. It's still dark.

Me: "No, that's not working.  Try again."
MV: "How's that?"
Me: (thinking) "I think it's too big"
MV: "But the right's no bigger..."
Me: "Right...haha...the left is better.  Try twisting to the left..."  Humour?  Really?

And the picture came clear for me.  A moment of apparently perfect synaesthesia, where I could see what I was feeling as if from a point within my own body, so I could act as a better guide.

Me: "OK, that really hurts; you might have to go smaller"  And interestingly, I knew it hurt, but was not in the least bit troubled by the pain.
MV: "Does the pain trouble you?  Sorry about that"
Me: "No, it's fine, we'll just try again.  Just thought you'd want to know if it hurt."
FV: "I'll have a look and make sure it's OK,'s that?"
Me: (flooded with this wonderful sensation of coolness and ticklishness) "That's great"  I may have purred.  The glidescope felt like a feather after the rough plumbing appliance of a moment earlier.

FV: "Looks fine enough, but yes, you'll have to twist to the outside."
MV: "His left?"
FV/Me: (in unison) "Yes."

MV: "OK, here we that the spot?"
FV: "Not far enough for me to see yet"
Me: "Yes, now twist a bit to the left and push......unnnghh" As the painful pressure returned.
Me again: "Yes, OK, hurts, yes, left, push, hurts still, ow, no back right a bit, push, unghh....aaaaahhhh."

And the pain and pressure which had been like trying to pass a Rubik's Cube suddenly flooded away leaving in its wake a blissful cool slipperiness, sweet air and solace.  It was really almost sexual.

Time seemed to pass.

MV: "OK, head back a bit, quickly now!" A bit agitated and urgent, with noises from the female voice too, and all of a sudden I realise there's this detached feeling of distress and utter panic within me, yet I'm not bothered by that at all.  My airway is being blocked - some huge thing is being forced into it with only partial success, so the person on the end of it is sort of repeatedly working it in and out a bit.  This time it is decidedly unsexual.
Me: "Unggh!  Hnng un, trr,  unggh, nu....." Still doing my very best to be helpful.
FV: "Nearly there, have to breathe now, breathe IT in..."
Me: "Oh...."

Time definitely passed.

Funny how clearly I remembered having an anaesthetic intubation through my nose and into my lungs whilst mildly sedated.  The very nice anaesthetist had reminded me they were doing it 'sort of awake' so I could help as he gave me a slightly worried, sorry look.  surgeons never seem to show compassion IMO, but anaesthetists to date have been the very epitome of caring.  Maybe it's the drugs, I don't know.  The female voice (I never did see her) was an assistant with the fibre-optic scope going in through the other nostril.  What  really struck me in remembrance were two things - the clarity with which I could visualise the tube getting stuck in the couple of places it did (the reason I was 'there') and help with guidance, but even moreso the split in my personal experience.  I was aware of things like pain, or that special airway-blocked drowning panic we're hardwired with, but also entirely detached from that, able to assist dispassionately.  Given what I've heard from other patients under sedation, I must be fairly pleasant and helpful to work with, which is a nice feeling.  Or maybe they're the only bits you remember.

Still, I'm fairly happy to have been fully under for the main show though.  Somehow I feel that memories of each of ten teeth coming out would probably be a lot like World War One.  A grinding sort of attrition.  Kudos to the crew though, when I saw myself in the mirror 24 hours later I was shocked at the swelling (hey, look, it's Bert Newton with hair!) but also knew I'd gotten off very lightly.  I've seen worse results just from the two wisdom teeth.  Thanks guys.

Just thought you'd like to know what it's like being intubated - since you're not usually there :-).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Welcome To Country*

A few days ago an announcement was made for which I had been waiting some months, ever since I realised that from a political and 'practical' perspective, it made so much sense as to be a virtual dead cert.  My home town (the one I live in now, that is) of Northam will shortly become also home to Australia's largest mainland Immigration Detention Centre.  It will be designed to accommodate 1500 single men at the old Northam Army Barracks, about 4 or so kilometres from where I sit right now.

Assuming just for the moment that placing asylum seekers in detention is a given, then why does this facility make sense?

1)  The overwhelming majority of boat-propelled asylum seekers (which comprises a tiny minority of 'illegal' entrants, btw) are detected and apprehended in waters off Western Australia.
2)  Northam is near enough to Western Australia's capital (and only large) city, Perth, so is close to transport hubs like the airport and also services like large hospitals etc.
3)  Northam is not in Perth, with the commensurately large NIMBY pressures that would engender.
4)  The State and Federal Electorates here have essentially been safe Liberal/National seats ever since mankind stood upright ('Liberal' is synonymous with 'conservative' in Australia, for anyone confused) so voter backlash to the Labor Federal government from this electorate or the Liberal State government is not really going to cause them any harm.  Plus there'll be the sop to the electorate/state of tasty Federal funding for stuff.  And perhaps local employment.  Perhaps.
5)  It was actually the Liberal State Premier's suggestion.  Now he says he's worried.  Tool.
6)  We have this great big unused Army barracks with maybe half of the infrastructure needs for this new political prison - let's not call a spade an earth inverting horticultural implement - already in place.
7)  There is just nowhere else on the planet that makes as much sense today politically or logistically as this.

"You're a spade."  I always call it that.

And yet as late as last week, assurances that nothing would be decided or announced without a full and exhaustive community consultation were still being bandied about.  Pfft.  Along with the local council saying they could not get any more current information, that was the clincher.

As I tweeted or FBd or something the other night, the evening of the announcement you could feel the conversation in homes around town:  The apprehension, and the seethe of hurt and anger, and the weary sigh of resignation.  But there were other things you could feel too underneath all that, like simple fear of the unknown, and a strange kind of hopefulness that there might be some good come of all this.  Who knows?

Then there's the compassion.  Much as those who would control the public agenda - politicians and media sellers in the main - have done a wonderful job of taking the long-held Australian fear of our relative smallness and strategic defenselessness and perverting it into a seeming hysteria of angst about terrorist invasion, population pressure on infrastructure (ironic), cultural erosion and the ghettoisation of Australian cities, there is a deep and abiding sense of compassion and I believe it's there in the majority of us.  Much effort has been put in to turn our culturally prescribed sense of a 'fair go' into a rant against these 'illegal queue jumpers' and away from the simple application of human decency towards someone in serious need and hope of a better life.  But when I see the issue boiled down on someone's face when they consider looking into the eyes of a fearful new arrival....that's when I feel good to know I live in a fundamentally decent society.  The compassion is there when the bullshit is stripped away.  And I do count racism and bigotry as bullshit.

The figures differ depending on their source, but I think the lowest figure I've seen shows that 95% of these boat arrivals end up being assessed as genuine refugees.  Most of those who don't are those who are classed as the 'people smugglers' who piloted the boats.  Just sayin'.

Meet your first Australian.

A humourist recently posted the observation that : "(WA Premier) Colin is worried about all those Muslim men near Northam.  Me too.  Northam would have to be one of the most parochial redneck shitholes in the history of shitholes.  Let us pray for those men."

He has a point, albeit comically exaggerated, but for sure there is no shortage of ugly rural bogan redneck types with their Bundy Fuelled, RM Williams emblazoned utes carrying "Fuck Off We're Full" stickers ready to mouth off ignorantly about queue jumpers and terrorists and fraudsters and "looking after Aussies first" and if pushed hard enough will even get all straightforwardly anti-Islam.  These would all be white people, here.  The 6 o'clock news services love 'em.  And in truth they are everywhere in this country, only the uniforms change from place to place.  Then there are the quieter closet racists; quieter because unlike our neighbouring more tourist-oriented towns where the unspoken apartheid has worked its magic seamlessly, Northam's population is maybe 20% Aboriginal.  Moreso in my part of town.  York and Toodyay would have, I'm guessing, closer to zero.  But this and Northam's status as a regional hub for outlying districts is what gives us the saving grace of a genuine diversity and larger spread of demographics than many regional centres.  And I think we'll thrive with this new challenge, much as Australia has the chance to if it chooses to more fully embrace, celebrate and share its good fortune with the wider region we inhabit - the world.

Our little valley.

Our prosperity is nothing for us to fear.  And the slavish adherence to protection of perceived or actual competitive advantage as the driver of all forms of commerce between the people and the peoples of the world not only has as a natural consequence the limiting of our compassion for our fellow man (and thus our own true happiness and fulfillment, I'd posit) but is in itself self-limiting and ultimately doomed to fail as a system to sustain us.  This population and poverty crisis really is a greater moral and survival challenge than the climate change issue - linked though these two things are.

I lived in Fremantle when we had the influx of Kosovar refugees during the Kosovo War and subsequent NATO incursion.  These folks did not arrive on boats but instead were seen to be temporary refugees taken from UNHCR processing camps in Europe and shared out amongst wealthier nations - for the duration.  The local community almost as one embraced them and rallied about to help and support them in all sorts of meaningful as well as practical ways.  But then again they weren't a real threat to us, being 'visitors', and of course, it was in liberal (note small 'l') Fremantle.  And they were sort of white; let's not pretend that's a non-issue for plenty of Australians whether they'll admit to it or not.  Of course, many were Muslim too, but that was before the whole 9/11 debacle, with its subsequent wars and irreligious animosity that continue unabated to this day.  I think it's time we're getting over all that now.

Northam could actually go a similar way - look at Christmas Island.  It's an even smaller community than Northam, and in a funny way less ethnically diverse, being 70% Hokkien Chinese, and another 10% or so Malay - this is not counting their asylum seekers in detention and elsewhere.  They appreciate the economic benefits the processing and detention centres have brought them, but there's also an undeniable compassion.  The arrivals are greeted by locals bearing gifts, alongside the Immigration officials, and some asylum seekers are eventually able to live within the community rather than behind the razor wire in the camps.

The Christmas Island detention centre.

We just may find that this massive change - an extra 25% population increase in the area, all single males in detention - brings us together in more and more lasting ways than the simple negative NIMBY response.  The local resignation has well and truly kicked in already anyway, a probable side-effect of having a relatively 'battling' and disenfranchised-feeling socioeconomic profile (on average) in town.  I can quite easily see a creeping spread of involvement in groups dedicated to supporting the detainees, to this sort of thing becoming fairly quickly something of which the town rightly becomes proud.  This is the sort of thing that genuinely changes how people think of themselves, when they see surprising changes in their neighbours, and find the courage to examine and change their own convictions also.

We could do it as a country, and I'm really glad that we're bringing the processing onshore.  I'm not glad we're still locking up people and segregating the men, women and children (how come single men have a lesser human right than women or children, who are now largely going to be able to live within the community?) but it's a step forward.

Note Base Safety Level today is 'bravo'.   ???

I don't have the answers to the complex questions around all of this; short of a Utopian dream whereby no-one wants to be a refugee anymore because everywhere's safe to live or - almost as good - a situation where all refugees can quickly find themselves safe and decent haven, supported by a community who truly cares.  We do not live in a planet of scarce resources per se, even at this late stage, but we do enshrine a system of economics, governance and polity that ensures scarcity for many.  This makes wars and famines and pushes people to do all sorts of environmentally and socially destructive things.  We are as a global people both increasingly world citizens and increasingly aware of the preciousness of our unique cultural differences and diversity.  We wish to harmonise but we want to sing our own notes.  But we can overcome these things.

It's only fear of having your stuff taken away; just like these asylum seekers have experienced.  As could any of us, at any time.  So let's not judge any longer, eh?  That'll make our search for the answers so much easier.

* "Welcome To Country" is a relatively modern institution based on extremely ancient Indigenous Australian practices of welcoming a person into "country", which in this sense means homeland, and in a deeper sense, as the homeland is spiritually inextricable from the people, a welcome into the people's sacred place.  A Welcome To Country is performed in a variety of ways (depending a lot on local culture) from a simple speech to a long presentation of dance and music and 'smoking' ceremonies to open major events and now almost all events in Australia feature an opening acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nothing. Good will come of it.

There's been a lot of nothing about lately.

I alluded to it in my last post, as it's been, well, something I've been doing more and more of recently.   It came more fully to my attention that I need more of it too, when my regular respite stay was cancelled (no room at the inn, as it were) because I sort of save up a lot of my required nothingness time unconsciously for these respite weeks.  I felt really deflated and frustrated when I got the call the morning I was due to go in.  All the same, I do a fair bit of nothing anyway.  Proper nothing, I mean.

Then fellow blogger (and noteworthy wordSmith) edwarddebozo says lobbed in a timely and well-wrought post on his increased taste for nothing, and just yesterday I was moved to reply to a 'question of the week' about "what you wish to do before you die" on a geeky in-crowdy web-memey site I lurk about from time to time with a post about how I want nothing.  And crikey, it seemed to strike a bit of a chord over there in b3tavia.  Indeed, a moment of nothing meaning something.  Seinfeld, anyone?

The term they use in contemporary Ho'oponopono circles (as set forth by Ihaleakala Hew Len building on the work of his teacher Morrnah Simeona) is "setting the mind back to Zero", and that's a pretty good description of this nothing of which I speak, I reckon.  With this comes a sort of freedom from rampaging emotions - the sort driven by our habitual self-talk and fearful memories - but it would be wrong to think of this state as emotionless.  This is because the emotions that I do experience in the increasingly frequent but still relatively rare Zero moments I can sustain longer than a few tens of seconds are able to course through me untrammelled and untrammelling, regardless of their flavour, simply because I have no thought to attach to them.  I can't even really name them now for you.

I suspect it's the sort of pre-nirvana state Gautama Buddha was on about with the freedom from desire stuff.  Thinking about it, this is even more key a concept than freedom from suffering, because in my experience at least to date the biggest component of my suffering is the desire to be free from it.  When I'm Zero'ed out there can still be pain or discomfort, but it's just there, it's no problem at all.  It's very cool.

"But what's the point of life without the highs and lows of emotion - power and passion - isn't this just another egotistical way of trying to control life?" I hear someone ask.
My answer is simply "No."
I can see how this would work, faking it as it were, and I was sceptical of the concepts when I found them formalised in modern ho'oponopono too, yet they just sat so naturally and well with me.  It's where all this 'cleaning' talk comes from.  I'm not proselytizing, and I'm not proactively seeking to do healing work either these days - such work as I need to do seems to have a way of finding me anyway, which is lovely.  But I'm wondering if you see what I mean, if you know what a Zero moment is like?  Sure you do, you remember.

Recently I've discovered sort of a new level of awareness with this stuff, and I have more than anything else my illness to thank for it.  You might have read some of the ongoing Things I Want Right Now series here, about my food cravings.  These are waning somewhat btw, but have not fully abated.  Other losses though, are mounting.  Actually mounting is entirely the wrong word; losses can't mount, there is nothing to pile up after all.  Let's imagine an anti-pile of losses.  A complete opposite of mounting up.  Which is not digging a hole, wiseacre.  Lose that thought right now :-)  The loss of abilities is slightly different from the loss of desires, in that the former tends to lead (via grief, usually) to the latter. For example the loss of my ability to physically ride a motorbike brought me back to my long-held dreams of long-distance riding, eventual reconciliation with the near certitude of it's future impossibility, and subsequent release of that desire, with all the 'memories' and habitual thought patterns around it.  And when I have such a moment of realising that I have just 'let go' (for want of a less New Age term) of such a desire, in floods a wonderful moment of.....nothing.  Zero.  It gives me this awareness of myself as a being existing throughout time - connected to past and future as well as now, like standing in a room where now is here, past is over there, future there, and paradoxically the room is also me.  Oneness with all.  That stuff.  And it infects (well, cleanses) all sorts of other memories and thought patterns which I never would have thought had anything to do with long-distance motorcycling for me.

Did that make any sense to anyone else?  Best I can do right now.

I suppose to follow the analogy of we people being only separated from Oneness with the Divine (I'm not bothering with disclaimers for language now, just insert your favourite signifiers OK?) by the baggage of egotistical desires, fears and layers of behavioural and thought patterns accreted over time, then the more of it we clean away, the closer we may feel to this Oneness.

I used to worry that there was Nothing.  Zero.  Turns out I was right, but Nothing is nothing to worry about.  Zero is awesome.  It's just exactly like here, but better.  And weirdly, you seem to get more done.  Go figure!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The 7 Top Reasons This Blog Is.........what?

It's a well-known phenomenon now, the one where people start blogs and it's all "ZOMG posting every day rocks!" and then it dwindles downwards to a couple of posts a week, then maybe one....then.......

And this blog looks lately to have suffered a dose of stereotype in this regard.

So what's really happened, what have I learned from it and importantly what does the future most likely hold?  Let's take a leaf from the "Top 10 Ways to Write a Blog Headline That Drives Traffic!" (gag, retch) meme and number it up:

1)  Champagne Cork Syndrome; not to be confused with First Album/Novel/Film etc syndrome.
In essence, I had a backlog of stories and things to say that I felt needed an outing, and once I opened the floodgates, a whole bunch of bottled-up verbiage spewed forth with little or no conscious direction from me.  Some glorious catharsis and indulgence in the oft-touted Opinion Tantra (see #3, below) ensued, and although there's still plenty of historical anecdote and current opinion there to be aired - with more forming all the time - the pressure's gone.  I no longer have thoughts like "gee, I really want to say X, and also Y, and a whole bunch of other capital letters, so which is closest to hatching today?  Let's go!"  Nope, don't have that any more.  Which is nice in a way, frankly.

2)  Hands.  Dodgy.
A little pout of resentiness for a bit there, sure, but mainly just bother and inconvenience.  My once good typing ability - not a touch-typist, but pretty handy and very accurate using most fingers - is no more.  As my fingers continue their inwards bend and lose reach and dexterity I am now down to index fingers only.  this means you basically have to move your whole arm for each keystroke and watch the keyboard carefully because you're shooting each stroke further than when you can spread a hand of working digits about.  This is a disincentive in itself, as it's tiring and makes for bodily soreness much faster, but it's a deeper thing than that. It's that I'd already had to slow down my thinking/word generating off-the-top-of-my-head speed to 'keep down' (as opposed to 'keep up') with my diminished pace, but now it's gotten so laborious at times that entire thoughts rush by and are forgotten while I'm still trying to remember what it was I was thinking/saying from before.
Awesome for hunting.  Not so much for typing.

This is a blessing though, I've decided.  A whole new way of thinking in words has been called for and I suppose you could say I've been having a little time off whilst developing this new way, making a cleaner break with the older more quick-fire stream-of-consciousness stuff, but a way that does not unduly censor myself.  There's the rub.  Still chafes a bit too.

3)  Opinion Tantra.
Maybe they'll invent a drug like Verbagra for when you can't get up the verbiage to proselytize or pontificate on your point of view.  But again, it's deeper.  But I would say that.

The at times very public journey of Opinion Tantra - in a nutshell 'doing' opinion as much or as fully as the whim takes me, indulging it wholly without censoriousness or any limiting set of 'shoulds' - seems to be doing its trick.  Helping me outgrow caring so much about things that will sort themselves out without me banging on about them anyway.  But then what's followed on from that, logically in a Newtonian sort of way I guess, is that I eventually came to realise that opinionating was a starting point for me to develop my themes of caring and compassion, and I very literally woke up one day with a feeling that I'd not been caring enough of the world, of strangers, of the unseen.  Because I'd not replaced the fulfilment I received and reciprocated in allowing the opinions to go to their 'right' place within me and end up more often than not as something good and kind and caring at its core - regardless of what others may at times have thought, because of course I am as imperfect a communicator as the next opinionator.

This is one of the foundation reasons I think this blog may become reborn.

4)  Eyes.  See #2, (Hands. Dodgy.) above.
Luckily my eyes are not curling inwards and becoming clawlike.  Ooh, imagine that.  But they are becoming more troublesome and for a spell there I just couldn't do the computer thing sufficiently well or without pain to write.  Because suffering is, contrary to much bullshit opinion, not greatly conducive to positivist creativity.

This too is retrospectively accepted by me as a blessing.  It made sure I didn't struggle through with writing when I was best not to.  Perhaps if I was less conflicted by all this stuff and acting it out internally so often with the act of writing in mind then my eyes wouldn't have gotten so bad.  Or maybe not, just a thought.

In any case, I seem to have effected a workaround for now and the visible world brings me not pain again, unless the light's too bright.  Result!

5)  Spring.
'Tis spring, and a young man's fancy lightly turns to.......well, gardening and home improvement mainly.  Despite all the trials and tribulations of the last few months I've been spending quite a bit of my available time and effort on things homeish.  Pictures of strawberries and artichokes will follow in due course.  Especially if I can get a faster broadband speed out here - uploads go at the speed of a recalcitrant donkey, I tells ya.

6) The Social Network
I beTwittened myself, which was interesting for a bit, but then not really.  Handy wide-ranging news aggregation network with added random funnies and wit, but now only worth five or ten minutes in my day.

What really changed was my engagement with Facebook.  I do strongly recall saying (here, as it happened) that I would not 'become one of them' and this is true enough, I haven't really.  You know 'them', the cliche of the person who would suffer contact deprivation disorder if deprived of their FB connection for more than a few hours and would possibly die from a sense of lack of relevance if it lasted a couple of days.  But my interest has grown, and I am comfortable enough there now.  So what once may have been simmered more slowly for a blog post now gets kernelled down to less than 420 characters and posted.  Or what may have been the start of a larger inspiration then sort of loses its mojo once spoken of elsewhere perhaps.

There's another little symptom that Facebook, Twitter and their ilk can throw up too, it's what I now like to refer to as the Helen Razer Effect.  She is an Australian pundit of sorts in various media, and semi-famously deleted her Twitter account not long after one of her mates, Catherine Deveny, lost her job in journalistic humorous punditry through fallout from Tweets deemed injudicious by her employer - but not for fear of that sort of reason.  Ms Razer (I refer to her as 'Ms' in deference to her notorious feminismism) explained that she felt Twitter and the short-form, always-on, hyper-connectedness of Twitter she was "becoming more of a two-dimensional person".  I can see what she means now from a personal, as opposed to a theoretical perspective.  The flattening effect one gets from too much multitasking, too many inputs in too short (or simultaneous) succession, that can so easily prevent you from doing any one thing in depth; or being in a single flow as deeply as you might like.

It's not a bad thing at all, necessarily, just a thing that requires learning a new way of self-management so I can have the best of ways without the worst of ways.  Learning it though, took me a bit further than I'd like to regularly go down that path.  I'm back in the middle now, I feel.

7)  Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid
And I've had quite a few of those in my life just lately.  You know about my honesty policy for myself here, that's not compromised by me going a bit quiet.  For in what there is that I do say, there is the whole truth - of me, that is - because it invariably leaks out and spills around the edges of my inability to shape myself in words anyway.  One does not necessarily need to hear the details of the regrinding of the valves and the porting of the head to hear just by note that an engine has been undergoing an overhaul.

Sleeping dogs.  Let 'em lie?

Seven's a good number.  So what of the next bit?  Of course, I can't say with any certainty, but on a few things I am clearer.  The inhibiting factors I've been experiencing look now to me as a sort of set; all of a oneness, and I feel like I just passed a tipping point a little way back that's sliding these ills (/blessings) down the lever into the past now.  So if there is no real change in the frequency here it won't be due to 1 through 7 above.  My guess is no good for this.  I can see a new rawness, right alongside a new gentleness.  More inspiration to write with less care about whether I do or not.

Ah yes, freedom - just a little bit more.  That's nice.  Time's too short to give a shit about such frippery, yes?

So, just sayin', is all.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

My name is Aadhaar, and I am a Tessellator...

I can't help it.  And I say to you, defiantly, that I don't think I want to change.

But I wouldn't mind knowing a bit more about why it is I do this.

A hyperbolic tessellation.

I have this working hypothesis that there are in this matter two types of people - those who innately understand my habit from their own similar internal experience, and those who just plain don't.  So I guess from that perspective you'll either get this, or not.  Something I'm interested in is whether I'll get the best insight from the 'get it' group or the 'don't get it' mob.  We'll see.

What the Hello Kitty am I talking about anyway????

I'm using the term 'tessellation' pretty loosely, but it's a best-fit for this mental habit I've got going.  Technically, a tessellation is basically tiling, like you see with bathroom walls, mosaics, and paving stones and so forth.  It actually comes from the latin tessella, a small cubical piece of clay used to make mosaics.  And I have this mental tic that surely must exist somewhere on the OCD spectrum; of imagining the aesthetic and/or functional tessellation and rearrangement of all sorts of objects in a repetitive field (like tiles, or a stack of firewood, or a tray of pens, or cups and glasses, dishes in the sink, shampoo bottles in the know I could just go on with this forever, yes?) that I've had absolutely as long as I can remember.  One thing weird about it though (oh right, only ONE weird thing here) is that I completely cannot stand Tetris.

I'll give you a really basic and prosaic example, but you'll have to come to the bathroom with me.  And I mean that in the US euphemistic sense of 'bathroom'.  From where I sit for my morning enthronement meditation I can see spreading out on the floor before me a field of square tiles perhaps an inch a side.  They are almost all a sort of neutral grey/white flecked tone, with apparently random dark crimson tiles interspersed for accent.  Say, every 20th tile or so is a red one.  Of course, order does tend to spontaneously emerge from chaos, and I spend my time seeing interconnected patterns - symmetrical or otherwise aesthetically appealing constellations created by 'joining the dots' with the red tiles and then working out the smallest possible movements to shift the random pattern into something with at least two axes of symmetry, over as large a possible area as I can.  I make little stupid rules for myself like "no tile can move more than 2 spaces in any direction" and "no red tiles can be within 2 spaces of another red tile" and so on.  Given it's a finite field of floor that I can see, I then imagine it extrapolated out up the walls or onto an infinite flat field or if my morning is proving particularly meditative (say, from a higher-than-usual fibre content in my blend lately) I'll go 3-D.

So, it's not like a compulsive need to technically tessellate; making a bunch of things fit perfectly together because I don't find that quite as much fun - even if it is sort of what I do when I stack dishes to dry after I've washed them - but in that my aim is compactness played off against good aspect for drainage in terms of gravity, airflow for evaporation and minimisation of surface tension points from adjacent objects, which I find inevitably leads to interesting and harmonious overall constructions.

Reading back that last sentence it really does look a lot like some odd mental illness doesn't it?

If it weren't for the twee tree motifs, this would very much ring my bell.  I love the way that off-centre, slightly larger gap just makes the whole composition.  No, the one to the right and up a b.....oh, never mind.

But it's SO MUCH FUN!  To me, it's an artistic exercise in form and often function as well.  I'm wanting to make a pleasing arrangement of things, and I suspect there is some deep and ancient element of the sacred in it.  That it's like a form of prayerful meditation on finding the divine in the everyday, or creating little moments of  nature's own base patterns (like sacred geometry) as offerings to God, moments of gratitude, awareness, and simple being.  And honouring that legendary 'one wrong thread' they leave in traditional Persian carpets, so as not to mock God's perfection.  The ikebana asymmetry that is every bit as visually perfect as the most symmetrical design.

Or, of course, it could just be a meaningless and tiresome habit.

And yes, I am a bit fond of flower arranging too.

People have gone way into the study of tessellation, from both scientific and aesthetic/religious angles, and often from all the above at the same time.  For example, classic 2-dimensional tesselations (where there are patterns that fit with no gaps and are infinitely repeatable in all directions) have all been arranged into 17 'Wallpaper Groups', all of which are in fact represented in the architectural details of the Alhambra palace in Granada (Spain).  And there are only, and exactly 17 groups that exist in the entire universe of 2-dimensionality.  You can't go beyond this, because of a whole bunch of basic and immutable universal facts about polygons.  I shall spare you the details, but what I'm saying is I don't care about all these interesting but trivial details in and of themselves, I just really care about the look and feel of these patterns, and how they can spontaneously emerge in nature, or be coaxed to do so with a gentle nudge.

I find great peace and beauty in this practice.  It's probably in some way related to the little counting and number games I've always done.  It very difficult for me not to count the number of cars on a train that goes by, for example.  And I enjoy adding digits of larger numbers and reducing them to a single digit, a-la numerology.  But it can't be for numerological fetishism because I couldn't tell you what 'number' my car licence plate or mobile number is without thinking it through a fresh, even though I know I've done them each lots of times, idly.  If I cared about it I'd remember, surely.  Then again, I do remember my licence plate number, and most folks don't.

I used to do this little hand/body game as a child, like a soothing ritual.  It would involve getting an overall left/right symmetry thing happening.  I'd do it on long car trips, as an instance.  I'd perhaps simultaneously clench my left toes, my right thumb and forefinger, my left buttock and the right side of my jaw, and alternate in a 2/4 beat with the opposite sides.  All of this in a minute set of movements, undetectable to anyone else.  I'd harmonise in with the rhythm of the road, or my parent's conversation, or something.  Then I'd get complex, doing repetitive patterns with gentle finger pressure patterns, with some form of rhythmic, planar or spacial symmetry involved.  Set me up beautifully for flamenco guitar!  There is of course tessellation over time as well - we call it rhythm.

Doing the mental pattern play thing seems to fulfill a similar function as the childhood counting and rhythm games for me these days.  I can almost instantly be very much 'present' as they say, pondering where the patterns lie in things, and perhaps becoming more at one with the patterns behind the ways of the Universe in that moment, just by letting myself go into the pattern-recognition space that this pseudo-discipline over all the years has created inside me.  It's like a chant that is never the same twice.

Or what do you think, am I just tunelessly whistling?