Wandering Thoughts

December 31, 2008

Lydia Lopokova

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 6:26 pm
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Lydia Lopokova thought that economists were “tiresome, [with] no wide outlooks, no touch with life, inferiority complexes, and no great ideas.” Yet that didn’t stop her from having what was, by this account at least, a deeply caring relationship with her husband. Nor from thinking that his final book – The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money – was “beautiful like Bach.”

She sailed over the pettiness of the Bloomsbury Group too, and had a down to earth approach to her own career, which treated it mostly as a means to an end – her own happiness.

Yay for Mrs Keynes.

December 30, 2008

Tales from a Globalised World

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:35 am
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In the wake of the last financial crisis South East Asian countries accumulated US dollar reserves to make sure the same thing never happened again.

Newly wealthy and responding to rising insecurity as their social safety net was dismantled, people in China upped their savings rates.

These two factors (plus a bit of OPEC oil money) gave us a savings glut. You can’t make money off of money if it’s locked in bank vaults so people came up with new and ingenious ways to lend it – including sub-prime loans.

And here we are.

My point isn’t to argue the rights and wrongs of all this but simply to marvel at the strange and direct lines that run from the last meltdown to the current one and from one country’s domestic policy decisions to another country’s crisis (especially when that other country is, amongst others, the Ukraine).

To (very, very) loosely paraphrase Kant, globalisation means we’re all in this together.

(Oh, and the NY Times has an interesting article about the US/China thing).

[Update: I should add, that’s a simplified version of the tale and other things went on – domestic policy decisions in the borrowing countries for example. But the main point about our interconnected world is unaffected by all this.]

December 24, 2008

Scrapbook Xmas Goodies

Padang Padang, back in the days when, so long as you ate there, you could stay for free in the beach-side restaurant.

And then, in between naps and reading, you could keep an eye out for  moments when the crowds vanished and the waves kept rolling in…


…it’s all changed now, but there are still places like this if you look. So, if that’s your thing, my Christmas wish is that I hope you find one. And, if it’s not your thing, have a happy holiday, Christmas day, and new year all the same.

December 22, 2008


Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 8:30 pm
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Paint peeled by the sun and wood warped from the damp, the Border Store youth hostel was worn out. Dilapidated. Almost empty.  Dust and thread-bare carpet, pulled apart paperback books. Tables without chairs and couches that gave up, exhausted, under your weight. The only other guest was an Italian biologist, Cristina.

She spoke hardly any English and me not a word of Italian. So we patched together conversations with Spanish, patience and slow careful phrases. But long before we’d climbed to the top of Ubirr we’d run out of words. And as the sun began to set we sat in silence, warmed by the heat radiating out of the giant old stone and looking out to the view.

Even if we’d been able to talk we wouldn’t. Set out in front of us a patchwork plain of swaying grass and bursts of trees took on colour. Fading with the heat that kept them swirling, giant dust devils performed their last pirouettes. They snaked and bent, eddies of warmth that sucked red dust high into the softening sky.

At the end of the view was the Escarpment, a long line of cliffs stretched out across the horizon. In the wet season it becomes a giant waterfall flooding the Kakadu. Drowning the roads and freeing the Crocs from the billabongs. For now though, it sat dry and quite. All the more beautiful in that evening light because it marked off somewhere I absolutely couldn’t go, the end of the road; the beginning of indigenous-Australian Arnhem Land.


December 21, 2008

From the Scrapbook

We camped for a week in the rain, on a tiny lava island, in a small decaying tent before we got to the day this photo was taken. But, as the scrapbook suggests, it was worth it…


December 19, 2008

Strange as Angels

Music can do strange things to a man.

A couple of blog posts ago we learnt how a humble bluegrass song came this close to having me spend my days in the Blue Ridge Mountains somewhere.

The first time I heard Just Like Heaven something very similar happened. The song didn’t just make me want to buy every Cure album ever. It didn’t just make me want to dye my hair black and mope tragically…

It actually had me seriously considering learning the guitar and starting a covers band – all for the purpose of playing that one song. I was going to call the band
“I Just Like Just Like Heaven”.

A couple of well-meaning friends talked me out of it, but I’ve always wondered whether they were wrong.

I know, I know, you’re going to say, “well wouldn’t one song get boring pretty quick”.

As counter-evidence I offer

Click here to read more

December 18, 2008

More Financial Crisis Humour

Reading Rod Oram and Paul Krugman is only upping my anxiety levels. Humour helps.

And so…

The first panel of this Tom Tomorrow cartoon makes the rest of it redundant, I think.


It reminds me of this old classic too.

December 16, 2008

Could be worse

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 5:23 pm

I’m absent minded, I always have been.

Still, it could be worse. In a paywalled review of a book on Museums Tim Flannery tells us:

The single mindedness of some curators is astonishing. Fortey [the author] tells us of Dr. Mattingly – a mosquito expert – whose wife arrived breathlessly at the museum one day inquiring after her husband. It turns out that the family had packed and were waiting in the car to go on their summer holiday when Mattingly sallied out the front door. Before he could be stopped he had boarded the train to London, and when his wife arrived he was hard at work, having forgotten entirely about the family holiday.

December 13, 2008

Photo Update to Previous Post

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 1:05 pm

Jerry Garcia


The Author of this Blog


December 12, 2008


The Greatful Dead crept up on me slowly.

This isn’t a horror story.  The Grateful Dead were a band. They sounded a bit like the Eagles. Or, maybe, a bit like the Eagles would have if the Eagles wrote poetry on acid and played concerts filled with 3 hour guitar solos.

In America the Dead are huge. Growing up far from anywhere though, I remained unaware of them for most of my youth. First contact was at a party once when a snowboarder fresh back from the States talked about the Greatful Dead fans he’d met. They were, apparently, into some “freaky shit”.

Next I heard of them was in the NOFX song, Jenny: “You follow us around, we’re not, not the Grateful Deaaaddd…” A friend explained this one to me. “Yeah, they’re a hippy band, they’ve been playing concerts for years. Their fans follow them from concert to concert. It’s really strange.” I agreed. It was.

I met my first Dead Head (for that, readers, is what their fans are called) in Mexico. Living off a trust fund as best I could tell, if he wasn’t following the band he was “surfing” at Puerto Escondido. He was a nice guy, even if he never seemed to surf. He’d get stoned in the evenings and play us cassettes from concerts while the setting sun melted the clouds red. We’d sip Coronas, he’d pull cones, and every once in a while he’d pipe up. “Oh man, listen to this…wow…that’s poetry.” Just in case we’d missed it, he’d repeat the couplet in a very serious voice.

Pretty soon Matt, my South African travelling buddy, and the best teller of jokes I ever met, had the poetry, and the voice, down pat. He began to use it on long bus journeys to make me laugh.

“Under the moon – you! – have to choose…Some times you win. Sometimes you…loose.”

It was mean but it worked. And, quite possibly, God made note of my mirth, and made plans for me.

A few months later I met a girl in New York, who I fell for and stayed with for two summers. She, I discovered much too late, a was a fan. She had all the CDs and hadn’t quite dropped everything to follow them round for ever, but she had been to plenty of their concerts.

I was torn. She was smart, pretty, and very cool. But try as I might I couldn’t get the music. The odd song seemed ok, but really…imagine diluting the Eagles and stretching them out over several hours. I promised never to go to a concert.

I still don’t think I was wrong about this. But I wasn’t totally right either. People are welcome to their tastes, and shouldn’t be judged for them (how could a self-confessed Duran Duran fan say otherwise). There’s more though, because there was actually one song which I really did like.

It wasn’t actually written or played by the Dead, mind you. It was a cover of Wild Horses by lead singer and guitarist, Jerry Garcia’s Bluegrass side project – Old and In the Way.

You can listen on Youtube here. I’m guessing if you do it won’t sound like anything much (the sound’s not great and such is the capricious nature of magic). But, for reasons I still can’t explain, the first time I heard it it sounded so good I didn’t just wanna buy the album and play it forever. And it didn’t just make me want to get into bluegrass, either. It made me wanna grow a beard and a tummy, hitch up my overalls and move to the Appalachians and live the fucking stuff.

Needless to say I didn’t; I’m a man of rather low motivation more than constant sorrow.

But anyhow, all this does go to show one thing. Never call other people strange at the beginning of your blog post. Who knows, before you get to the end, there’s every chance you’ll appear even stranger still.

December 8, 2008

The Perils of Words

Readers I need your advice.

There are not many of you I know, but I suspect that you are kind and thoughtful people, and quite possibly more wise to the world of words than I.

My story starts happily enough. Thanks to the wonders of prednisone, for the time being, I’m not in need of crutches. It may only be a temporary reprieve but it’s still making my life easier. In every way except one.

The trouble is, while I no longer need two crutches I still need to keep one with me at all times. My legs can lock up with little warning and caught without help I’ll be crawling.

Still, one crutch is much easier than two. Kind of…

Let me illustrate:

Last week I travelled to and from a conference with a very helpful colleague. We were carrying some gear and this kind person went out of their way to help me.

“Can I help you?” The question came as I was trying to fold myself into the car.

“Sure,” I said. “If you could just grab my cr…”.

I was saved by my mouth’s automatic safety mechanism.

Alternative phrases flashed through my mind. “Yes, if you wouldn’t mind holding my crutch…take my crutch for a moment…” and so on. None of them any use.

And so my eventual answer was. “Oh, no, I’m fine”. A statement I immediately disproved by collapsing painfully in the seat and dropping the crutch, with a clatter, on the ground.

Readers, I have a problem with my crutch. No wait…I mean…I have a problem with the words for my crutch…no…oh I think you know what I mean.

Knocking about, as I do these days, in bureaucratic circles my first solution was to refer to it not as a crutch but as a ‘ambulatory stabilisation and assistance device’. Yet the little litarary instinct I have suggests that to do this would be to offer a grave insult to anyone who has ever tried to make the English language a more beautiful thing.

So what am I to do? Get better I guess. In the meantime, alternative words welcome…

December 6, 2008


Filed under: Going Places,Surfing — terence @ 1:55 pm
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For the first time in almost five years, as the four-wheeled drive taxi stumbled along the track out of Liberia, I felt a sense of home. It stemmed from nothing much; just the colour contrast of the thirsty brown hills and the midday-blue, wind-ruffled sea. If you go surfing in the Wairarapa in summer sometimes the colours you see, winding your way down hills on gravel roads, are almost the same.wavesmall

The feeling came from nothing much and it didn’t last long. Pretty soon the fauna of north-western Costa Rica were doing their best to remind me that wherever I was, it sure wasn’t home.

My first night in the campground descended into an escalating battle of wits between me and the local mapache (a type of raccoon). They expressed interest in my bag of food. I hung it out along a rope between two trees. They climbed along the rope. I tied another rope to the first so that my food hung in mid-air between the trees. They began to clamber down. I moved the food into the tent with me and spent the night cuddling it. Several apples still went missing…

The next day I met the Army ants. A metre wide column of them crossing the nature trail I was walking on. Like an angry and dangerous queue they seethed forwards while nature did it’s best to get out of the way. All around small insects hopped, flapped and fled. And plenty didn’t make it. It was grim to watch but fascinating in a macabre way: an insect would be overtaken, and swallowed under a mass of ants, it’ struggles would cease and it would be maneuvered back down the column.

Later, having leapt over the ants and continued with my walk I met the monkeys. From high in the trees a whole gang of them watched as I passed underneath. First with sullen suspicious silence, then with jeering hoots, they let me know they weren’t so keen to have me there. I retreated back towards the camp.

In the mornings, as I walked down the beach to surf, I’d stumble across straggling baby turtles, still trying to make it out to sea. One evening playing cards, they guy next to me discovered a large scorpion climbing up his leg. I found a dead sea snake on the beach.

I’d been there just about a week when it really happened, though. I’d surfed ’til dusk in small waves, the tide was unusually high, and the sea had washed in to meet the lagoon. What used to be a sand spit was now covered in shallow water. And as the sun set I waded along this towards the beach proper. The warm tropical air was full of salt and colour and I was half lost in day-dreams.

The alligator can’t have been more than three meters away when it reared out of the water. I saw its jaws, its head, its front half, rise up, then splash down, then disappear.

Guided completely by the second bit of my fight-or-flight mechanism I turned (I had been walking straight towards the creature) and ran. In an attempt to get more speed from my legs I also began to holler: “aaaaaarrrrrrrgggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh”.

The noise sustained my sprint almost all the way to the sand dunes, where eventually I stopped. Needless to say there was no alligator behind me. Indeed, amapachesmalls I turned I could see it, no more than six feet long, swimming out to sea at speed, performing, I’m sure, the alligator equivalent of the same mad dash I’d just undertaken.

Whatever else you might say about the Wairarapa, you won’t meet too many aligators there. At least not in this geological epoch.

December 2, 2008

Design Flaws

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 4:40 pm
Tags: ,

If they cast their minds back, readers of this blog will recall that I’ve had my issues with memory and memories.

So you won’t be surprised to learn I devoured Michael Greenberg’s review of Sue Halpern’s book Can’t Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research.

One bit, though, seemed terribly wrong.

Halpern reports an experiment in which members of the Cambridge Psychological Society were asked to reconstruct a meeting of the society that had taken place two weeks before. The average person was barely able to recall 8 percent of what had happened, and almost half of this was incorrect, peppered with the recollection of events that had never occurred or that had occurred elsewhere.

Call me a stuffy guy who spends to much time worrying about experiment design if you will; but isn’t this flawed? Surely psychologists ought to know that meetings are a non-generalisable special case.

Testing someone’s memory of a meeting is like testing their lung capacity on Mars.  It’s one of those extreme environments – monotones, oxygen deprivation, agendas – which you can hardly blame the human body for malfunctioning in.

Me, I read meeting minutes with the anticipation of a novel. Each page I hurriedly turn, wanting to know what happens next…

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