Saturday, July 6, 2019

Snake Oil: education solves all problems

I wonder if anyone believes that education solves all problems. Education solves problems, education provides opportunities, education is a worthy and useful pursuit, but it is not a panacea. C.S.Lewis said it best.

What values underpin the rationale behind and the aim of public service announcement ads? I suggest a shared community value of respecting other people's three Ps: person, property and peace. These types of ads are clearly designed to educate people, unlike most ads which are designed to persuade people to spend money on things. Advertising is all about influencing people. Public service ads attempt to change people's behaviour. The problem is that the people most likely to pay attention to these ads are those who agree with the message of the ad, and are already doing so.

The ad I'm particularly interested in at the moment is a message from Darwin City Council about responsible pet ownership. What are the chances that irresponsible pet owners are going to see this ad, repent and turn over a new leaf? For starters they probably can't even hear the ad because their dog is barking and they're vainly yelling at it to stop. When people buy pets, they generally know what they are in for: some degree of trouble. When they buy puppies, they've got a good idea of exactly what sort of trouble they're in for, and what they can do to prevent it.

Nuisance behaviour is preventable. That's the main message of the  ad. The slogan says "Good pets start with you." Does anybody not know that? Does anybody not know that if you don't train your pup, it will become a pain in the neck? If I owned a dog, I would at least attempt to train it. I don't want to deliberately make my life more difficult, but that's exactly what people do. With dogs, I'm sure people have the best of intentions, but life gets in the way. Or maybe it's sheer laziness. Perhaps it's delusion.

I have been a victim of nuisance behaviour by animals many times in my capacity as house sitter. I am the victim of nuisance behaviour right now by Whiny McBarkenstein. I'm helpless to change this behaviour. I can only deal with it as best I can. At most I spend three or four weeks in some one else's home looking after their pets. Often it's less than a week. Powerless I sit, watching these ads about dogs acting badly, and shaking my head.

The one shining light in all this-there are several actually; the truth is that getting into house sitting which I've been doing full time since April 2018, has saved my financial bacon. But the other thing house sitting has done is fire up my writing. This blog post is a brief sample of my WIP which is called I Used to be an Animal Lover. As my wife said when I was complaining about not being able to sleep because of the dogs and a rooster, at least I have a lot of ammunition for my book.

I've already completed 34,861 words of the first draft in just twenty days and I'm loving writing more than I have for quite a while. In the process,as is always the case, I'm learning lots of fascinating things related to animals, and as the book is part memoir, I'm also doing what all writers do; dealing with demons in my head.

Finally, back on the ads. I think they reinforce good behaviour in those who are already behaving properly, according to a shared community value. (respecting person, property and peace).The ads do not change the behaviour of people who don't. I'm not sure many people are even capable of acquiring new values.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Dog's Eye: what weird folks do

The license plate reads "liontmr". I quickly fill in the missing vowels, then begin to wonder. Those are two things I do compulsively; read and ponder. (I have considered, for example, why the rimes in wonder and ponder are identical on the page, but pronounced differently.)


Is the owner of the car declaring their occupation? Making an aspirational statement about their future vocation? Or letting people know about their attitude to life? Perhaps they simply like lion tamers, although the "attitude to life" explanation is far more romantic and indeed powerful.

She's driving ten kilometres an hour under the speed limit, in the extreme left of the lane; so far left in fact, her tyres are in the breakdown lane. It's a three kilometre stretch of road. At roughly the half way point, she accelerates to ten kilometres above the speed limit,, and moves back to the centre of the lane.

Is she a terrible driver? So fearful of a head collision she drives in the breakdown lane? Or was she simply distracted for the first section of that journey? I noted her visor was down in front of her eyes, and wondered why it was there when the sun was beating down on us from the left- which is where I had my visor positioned.

Instructed to form four separate lines, most of us do so reluctantly. Questions about which queue will move more quickly come into play. People like me, who always pick the slow lane, hesitate. Eventually sorted into four divided lines we begin our march to the cable car which will take us up to Sunworld in Ba Na Hills, Danang in Vietnam. After a fifty metre shuffle we reach the first corner only to discover that there are now only two lines. It could be four or three, or even five, but it's hard to tell. It takes a good twenty minutes, maybe half an hour before we arrive at the end of the queue, sweating from the heat. The end turns out to be only the beginning of another erratic and ultimately vain attempt to redistribute us cattle into new lanes.

Finally, we seemed to be inching forward again in three or four different lines which I'm certain was only supposed to be two. It's a people jam par excellence. I think I know how to function in a queue, but I realize I could have it all wrong when every step forward I take results in the person behind me banging into me. It happens three or four times, and although I might be mistaken, I have a feeling it's just plain rudeness on his part. So I turn around and tell him to stop it. I make a gesture with my palms, suggesting he keep his distance. He smiles, nods his head and we move on.

I like to think there's a reason for everything people do, even if I can't see it. However, I have a feeling that people are often unaware of their behaviour, and furthermore, that their behaviour may not even be the result of conscious decision making; it may simply be reactionary. That is, a programmed response to a particular set of circumstances. If thought is given to action including personalized license plates, then what kind of logic underpins it?

People are very odd. I'm a person. Therefore, I am very odd. (see what I did there?) I'm also still, despite my age, quite self conscious, which I think makes me a very considerate person in public places. Self control, self awareness and sensitivity to context and setting are important I think. Then again maybe I think too much.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Dog's Eye: devolution

At different times in most people's lives there are periods of necessary financial constraint. Sometimes it's a choice in order to save for a big want, like a house for example. Other times it's a situation of lacking money. You can't spend what you don't have, right?* A common expression, often heard during these times is "things are a bit tight now." 

People faced with the need for belt tightening look at ways of saving money. Money smart folks do it regardless of their circumstances. In fiscal feast or famine, they still try to spend carefully. Money, and in particular our various attitudes to it, is a huge topic about which libraries of books have been written. It is not my intention here to add to that volume.

Image result for garage saleHowever, I was recently reflecting on second hand goods. I'm a member of a buy, swap and sell page, and although I am not in the market for anything at the moment, the notifications pop up in my feed. Speaking of food: my current living circumstances have also contributed to these musings. I'm a house sitter, and this won't surprise you, but some people have an awful lot of stuff. Some of it is probably saleable, but I suspect most of it is junk. In either case, I wonder why people hang on to so many useless possessions? I suspect it's either laziness or possessiveness.

I digress. My main subject is the buying and selling of used items and the impact this has on the economy. Early in my first marriage, we had very little money so we accepted a lot of gifts and bought a lot of cheap second hand items. Later, (many years later) ,when we felt more comfortable, we began to purchase new items, albeit often by using credit. At one point I remember deciding that I did not want to buy anything second hand anymore. It became a status thing, for me to go to a shop and buy something new. After years of using old second hand lawn mowers, it was a thrill to go to Bunnings and buy a brand spanking new one in a box.

Image result for new lawn mower
I have almost no desire to buy stuff these days, and of course that's partly due to the fact that I don't have a home, so I have no need for things. There's also the practicalities of needing a place to store stuff.

My life will change when my wife and children join me in Australia. I don't know when that will be (hopefully soon), but I do know it will be a dramatic change. Thankfully, my wife is not very acquisitive or materialistic either so that will make things a little easier. Stuff will be required though, and we will need to discuss how much we can spend, how much we want to spend and whether we should buy new or secondhand.

The outworking of all these musings is excitement, but I did have a thought about economics as well. What would happen if everyone stopped buying second hand goods? If, when we no longer needed something, we simply threw it away? What would be the impact on the general economy if everyone only purchased new products? Alternatively, what would happen if everyone stopped buying new? Interesting thoughts I reckon, and worth some discussion. 

Suppose no one bought new furniture from Jape Furnishings. They would go out of business. Imagine if no one in Darwin bought new furniture. All the new furniture stores in Darwin would close. or perhaps they'd become second hand stores instead. Hopefully, the latter would happen otherwise all the employees of those stores would lose their jobs and then have to tighten their belts and only buy secondhand furniture which would be the only option. If there was only second hand furniture on the market, would prices go up and become prohibitive to those on low incomes, or no incomes like the people who used to work in the new furniture stores.

Image result for economicsEconomics is fascinating. The interconnectedness of the various factors which impact upon economic activity invites endless speculation along the above-mentioned lines. I have a very simple view; perhaps unrealistically simple. You increase economic activity by spending, and you generate spending by creating demand, and one of the ways you create demand is by increasing the population because people need things. If there were no second hand products to meet these needs, then production would have to be increased and that might mean more jobs, and more people with jobs will spend more money.

What do you think would be the impact of the removal of second hand products from the market?

*this is actually not very true anymore. The ease of obtaining credit has made patient saving redundant. Australia now has one of the highest levels of personal debt in the world.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Mirror: Three Hours

Time travel stories, with narratives driven by the need to explore "what if?" scenarios are fascinating. Typically, some error in the past has caused a problem in the future, so with the possibility of time travel existing, someone simply needs to go back in time and fix the problem. Everyone is as familiar with the concept of "sliding doors" as they are with the regrets, often accompanied by shame and disappointment, over poor historical choices. That isn't science fiction; it is reality.

Image result for travellers tv showSearching for something to watch once I had binged on three seasons of Stranger Things, I discovered a show called Travelers. Sadly, it too only lasted three seasons but what a choice show. Briefly, in Travelers, people are sent back to the 21st century to inhabit the bodies and minds of "hosts" via a process called "consciousness transfer". An artificial intelligence being called The Director does the sending and gives these teams of travelers missions to change the future for the better. Of course, it is much more complex than that, as are the relationships the hosts have, and the moral dilemmas they face. Travelers is very thought provoking, cleverly written, suspenseful and genuinely funny at times.

Image result for travellers season 3 episode 3In episode 3 of season 3, the leader of the team upon which the series is largely focused - FBI Agent Grant McClaren - has his memory wiped so as to not suffer the anguish of remembering having to kill a boy who will turn out to be a monster of a man. However, McClaren can't handle the memory holes, so retraces his steps and learns that he spent three hours with this boy, and did not end up killing him. Why? The three hours were of such transformative value to the boy that his future changed, and the Director then spared his life. Regardless of the obvious impossibility of the premise, a remarkable thing happens here, and it is a truth we should grab and hold on to.


This boy had nothing but abuse in his childhood, he was abducted, mistreated, rescued then abandoned to the foster care system in which he suffered further abuse and increasing social isolation. There had been no positive influences in his life. No one stood up for him, protected him, loved him. He behaved badly which caused everyone to shun and revile him as a bad boy: a menace, worse, a dangerous anti social psychopath. He made others feel threatened because he did not feel safe.

Until McClaren spent just three hours with him, talking to him, listening to him, even eating rabbit (the travelers are all vegetarians) which had been trapped and killed by the boy, then cooked on an open fire. This relatively small period of time had a profoundly positive impact on the boy.

We may not be able to travel back in time to correct our mistakes, or the mistakes of others, but we can certainly have a very powerful influence on the future. Investing in relationships now will result in tremendous generational benefits. The impact of our words and actions on other people is often underestimated. We would do well to build people up. to encourage and to inspire them. Emotionally healthy people have healthy relationships, and despite what we are often told, healthy relationships are the heart, soul and spine of society.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Mirror: Choking on Gnats

Is James Faulkner gay or not? Apparently this is a major issue. His social media post saying he was out with his mum and boyfriend, and his subsequent backflip to clarify the other man was his best mate, has caused a media storm. I'm not sure why I am writing about this, but Israel Folau is facing the music today over his "homophobic" comments on social media, and a lot of people are frothing at the mouth. Both Folau and Faulkner seem to be a cynosure for outrage on the touchy subject of inclusion.

Apparently there are no "out of the closet" homosexual men in either cricket or rugby union, or indeed any of our major, high profile sports. Evidently this is a problem. There are no "out of the closet" homosexual men in my workplace either...should I find one (either by outing them or hiring them) so that my employer can't be accused of homophobia? Every television show now has a homosexual couple de rigeur, so I can recognize the need to have more homosexuals.

I am strongly opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender, race or age. The fact there are still people in our country, and you probably know some of them, who still view people who are different from themselves, as inferior is a shameful indictment of humanity.

However, this obsession about people's sexual preferences is surely
a distraction from the main game, and the hysteria surrounding Folau and Faulkner and everyone else who puts their head above water and into the sights of "news" creators* is really annoying. In the information age people's opinions on social media generate more news stories than actual news. I don't even know what "news" is anymore.

Warnings are ringing out now, as if they haven't been ever since the advent of social media, about the need for circumspection with regard to what one posts online. A relatively recent and delightful cliche: "the internet has a long memory" states the proof of your bigotry, your indiscretions, your crimes is available forever - well, not exactly forever. You could lose your job or not be able to get one because of something you once said. You may have changed; not just your mind about a particular issue, but your whole outlook on life might have changed. Nevertheless, apparently you can still suffer the consequences. And there is no statute of limitations.

In two weeks Australia will hold a federal election. What dominated the campaign this week? You guessed it: social media posts. Liberal candidate for Lyon, Jessica Whelan's resignation is the latest example of controversy brought about by inappropriate social media comments, in Whelan's case; anti Muslim statements. Labour Candidate, for Melbourne, Luke Creasey, is under pressure due to his activity on Facebook which included such delightful things as sharing rape jokes and pornography, and distasteful comments about lesbians...in 2012. He might no longer do that, or think that is acceptable behaviour - in fact he said so when he apologized - but too bad. He said it and it can't be unsaid. It's too late. You can't grow up, change your view or adjust your attitude.

Can we talk about the issues now? I mean the issues that really matter. Education. Health. The environment. The economy. Can we have some serious discussion about what really matters? Can we stop focusing so heavily on individual indiscretions and examine the causes of our problems? Can we even agree on what those problems are? Can we stop using band-aids to treat cancers in society? Or are we going to continue to choke on gnats while swallowing camels?

In Matthew 23:24, we read about Jesus identifying this problem. He was speaking to the religious leaders of his time, but of course he was referring to people generally. He was not only saying that our priorities are wrong, but worse, we deliberately foster hypocrisy by participating in "stone throwing" exercises. I don't understand why so many people think Jesus and his teachings are irrelevant and unimportant, but James Faulkner's sexuality is. We would rather discuss Luke Creasey's comment about lesbians and their vaginas than Jesus' teachings about justice and mercy.

Anyway, as we say in Australia: she'll be right mate.

* there is a big difference between reporting on news and creating it. The latter is becomingly increasingly common, and especially evident in sports journalism.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Dog's Eye: The greatest sporting comeback ever

I develop an itch and a wild tic when the frequently abused adverb "ever" is tacked on to any statement (or question for that matter). I have a condition called HSD (Hyperbole Sensitivity Disorder). It is a companion affliction to HDS - be careful not to confuse them- which is Hug Deprivation Syndrome. The latter is treated easily with extravagant, prolonged and regular embraces. The former is not so easily dealt with. The best solution I have found is complaining. the other option is ignoring, but this is much less satisfying in my opinion.

Naturally, my hyperbole meter went berserk this week when I heard Tiger Woods' victory at the 2019 Masters described as the greatest sporting comeback ever. It was later referred to as "arguably the greatest ever" which was more palatable, but in either case it got me thinking. Was this a statement of fact, or yet another example of the gross exaggerations typical of sports journalists?

Woods came back from a double stress fracture of the tibia, numerous back injuries and surgeries, as well as the personal fall from grace which resulted from his public confession of infidelity. Until this year's Masters he had not won a major for five years. Countless athletes have come back from serious injuries - both life threatening and career threatening. Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 NFL season due to multiple neck surgeries, then changed clubs and continued his record breaking career for another three years. Niki Lauda was back behind the wheel of his Ferrari F1 six weeks after an horrific race accident left him comatose with severe burns to his head and damage to his lungs from inhaling toxic gases when he was trapped in the wreckage. Surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her arm in a shark attack, but jumped back on the board and kept surfing.

You want more? No problem. Monica Seles quit tennis for two years after being stabbed in the back on the court, by a deranged fan. Andre Agassi went right off the rails in 1996 as his marriage fell apart, and a drug habit blossomed as he struggled with a chronic wrist injury. Two years later aged 31, he burst back into the top 3. Aged 45, George Foreman came out of a ten year retirement to win the world heavyweight boxing championship by knocking out a man 18 years his junior. And one more from the only one of all those sports which holds absolutely no interest at all for me personally: golf. 

Ben Hogan was told he might never walk again, let alone play golf following a motor vehicle accident which left him with a double fracture of the pelvis, fractures to the collar bone and left ankle, and during his three month stay in hospital, a series of life threatening blood clots. The following year he began playing professional golf once more, and three years after his accident he won the Triple Crown.

Depending on which criteria you use (severity of injuries, length of time out of the game, degree of psychological stress) any one of the aforementioned champions, and numerous others could be awarded the title of greatest sporting comeback ever. Woods get the nod because he is the most recent, but his is definitely not the greatest comeback. Nor are any of the other amazing resurrections I've mentioned.

Here is, in my opinion, the greatest sporting comeback of all time. At the age of 46, an Australian man* from Dapto, ended a 30 year retirement from soccer by signing up to play for Dapto Anglican Church in the Illawarra church league. The first, and subsequent training sessions nearly killed him, and on game day he was competing mostly against men half his age. During the season he suffered a grade four hip flexor tear, and a broken rib. These injuries cost him 6 weeks on the sideline, but he pushed through the pain of rehab, and returned to play a minor role in his team's premiership victory.

Now that's a comeback!

*Following the glorious victory I retired and have been boasting of my achievement ever since.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Mirror: Folau Folly


Israel Folau has been sacked because he is anti gay...not because he is anti adultery (adultery is okay, right?), nor anti liars (because lying is acceptable as well) or because he is anti drunkenness (never mind the stats on alcohol related violence because abusing alcohol is also sweet). I can't hear anyone complaining about him condemning liars to Hell, or fornicators. The headlines don't say Israel Folau's career is in tatters after he posted anti thief comments. There is no mention in the stories, or any of the soundbites of concerned and outraged people, about Folau damning adulterers. Where's the outcry from those who are having sex with other people's husbands and wives?

Most people, even those who practice these things, accept that they are at wrong. The Bible does say that those who have sex outside of marriage ie fornicate, together with those who lie and steal will not inherit the Kingdom of God. When Folau says that his words are from the Bible, he's telling the truth. 

There is a list which includes generally agreed upon bad behaviours and homosexual practice is one of them. Call it what you want: homophobic opinion, puritanism, fundamentalism, or just call it offensive BS. The fact is Folau is simply stating what he believes to be true. The focus is on homosexuality/homophobia because he is likening homosexuality to all those other things* which are more or less acceptable depending on whatever you believe, or whatever suits your circumstances. He's saying that there is something wrong with homosexuality. That's what's wrong. I see. That must be the reason he's been sacked.

Not exactly. Regular people can have divergent, even offensive opinions. Having such opinions and voicing them indiscriminately either results in calcification of prejudice among the bigot's peers, or their ostracization by people who are intolerant towards intolerance. On the other hand, people in positions of influence, people with a public profile like sport stars, can have divergent, even offensive opinions but they had better keep them to themselves or else they will be publicly criticized and perhaps lose their jobs. They can't state their opinion about anything unless it falls in line with what opinion those who pay them expect to them to have.This is essentially why Folau's outspokenness has landed him in hot water.

The sad truth is we facing some pretty serious threats against freedom of speech, religion and association. The hysteria about Israel Folau's tweet demonstrates the distinction between public speech and private sentiment is becoming a chasm of hypocrisy and melodrama.

I'm personally pretty disappointed that no one has stepped up to defend those who worship idols, idolaters in other words, from Israel Folau's cruel judgements. What? Nobody worships idols anymore? Really? That's a relief.

*I wanted to use the word "sin" but I didn't because that word offends some people.