Wandering Thoughts

June 30, 2009

Goldmine!

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:31 pm
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Gold! – for anyone who ever tired of reading about the world but who doesn’t mind listening to other people talk.

Thanks to my IPOD and the LSE public lectures audio site, traffic jams will never be the same…

June 28, 2009

Santo Antao

Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 7:25 pm
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Reeds Higher than we were

Reeds Higher than we were

Hazy in the morning heat Benji and I meandered along the riverside. Through bamboo-like reeds that grew higher than we were. Water gurgled and burped over the stones, in and out of pools. It wasn’t much of a river, a creek really, but it was the first flowing water we’d seen in months. After barren Sal and Sao Nicolau it might as well have been the banks of the Amazon.

Like the name suggests, the Cape Verde Islands were green once, covered in trees. That was the way the Portuguese found them. Uninhabited and verdant, oases off the edge of the Sahara amongst the thirsty Atlantic Sea. Ecosystems that had eked out an accommodation over millennia, trees feeding the rain that then fed the trees. The Portuguese put an end to this. Burnt the trees for farms and then watched in despair as the rain went too. Furthest west, Santo Antao remained the greenest. Fed by occasional showers, shrubs and bushes grew. They didn’t get far, but they sprung out of the soil in an intense purposeful green, shocking the brown around them. Villagers cultivated gardens, exporting fruit and vegetables to the rest of the archipelago. And the local divers grew pungent pot in the valleys somewhere, bobbing stoned in the trade-wind-swept sea.

The river led us past small villages of small stone houses. Past occasional smiles from doorways and the patter of life lived quietly. The islands had been a way-station during the height of the slave trade, and the villagers were a mix of Portuguese and African pasts. Their soft brown skin made them look more like Afro-Brazilians than West Africans.

Villages Santo Antao

Villages Santo Antao

Eventually, we reached the head of the valley, where the track left the water and started up the hillside. Puffing up the cobbled switchbacks we climbed into cooler, clearer air, stopping occasionally to take photos or catch our breaths. Two thirds of the way up we reached the clouds; small, grey tufts, they swept in groups off the sea and bunched against the hillside we climbed. We followed them up as they flowed over the ridge, eventually reaching the top of the track and the pass down into Cova. Cova (I’m sure I’m spelling it wrong) was the name we’d been given for the place at the track’s end. An ancient, extinct crater, a few hundred metres across. Its rim formed the head of the valley we’d climbed. Its centre was a flat field covered in grass. We wandered down into it.

The weather followed in its own strange way. Propelled by the wind the clouds kept climbing – up, maybe 100 metres above the ridge’s edge. There they were deserted, abandoned by the breeze. Heavy all of a sudden they fell, vertically towards the centre of the crater, dissolving as they reached the ground. We stood and marvelled, agreeing that though we’d both seen plenty of clouds in our days we’d never seen ones that flew straight down. We were still marvelling when we were disturbed from out reverie by clatter and laughter. Riding towards us were two kids on tiny, unshod and unsaddled donkeys. They had loamy brown skin and shiny white grins and were in complete control, directing the donkeys with switches of dried reed. Judging from their laughter and pointing we were obviously a splendid joke – two long haired surfers in rag-tag traveller’s clothes. No doubt every bit as strange to the kids of Cova as they were to us – children on donkeys, riding down with the falling clouds into a lost crater, beyond the track’s end on an almost forgotten, almost desert island.

On Donkeys

On Donkeys

June 24, 2009

Globalisation

Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 8:21 pm
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First time I got sick I stayed for a while with a friend in Bethnal Green. High up in a red-brick block of flats with black iron gates that separated the gentrified world within from the not so certain streets. I slept in the bed of a travelling South African. A window open for the summer heat let in sounds from the road below. One time, shouting woke me in the afternoon. Outside, a bunch of kids with pasty skin and shaven heads were trying to mug a Pakistani pizza delivery guy. He twirled a tiny length of chain as if it might fend them off, before thinking better of it and dashing for his scooter. Speeding away as one of the kids booted the back of the bike.

One night as I lay in bed unable to sleep I heard the smash of glass. Then the thump of car panelling being kicked. I lay flat on my back, curious but too sore to move. Wrench – a windscreen wiper bent or broken. Smash. Crack. One after another cars being vandalised. The trail of destruction moved under the window.

“Wait don’t ‘it that one,” a slurring drunken voice, an East End accent, “…it’s English.”

“Yeah.”

The owner of a Jag or a Rover got lucky and the vandals kept on down the street, breaking things, uglier than before, comforted by a lie.

…mainly built by foreign companies – Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by Tata Motors of India, BMW owns Mini and Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen owns Bentley, while the MG is owned by Nanjing Automobile Group of China…

Someone should have told them. But someone stayed quiet, staring up at the roof, a wandering New Zealander, immobilised by a disease he caught in Africa, listening to angry oafish East Enders kicking in their neighbours’ cars.

June 20, 2009

State of Play – a very, very short review

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 8:54 pm
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Plot twist? Plot dislocation would be my diagnosis. A painful waste of $16.

Four Things From Four Days in Samoa

Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 8:40 am

Four things from four days spent in Samoa:

1. Language: sliding down l’s, hopping apostrophes and circling o’s, Samoan is a surprisingly beautiful language.

2. The Pacific: dotted with forlorn clouds looking for misplaced islands; cut by the splash of white on the reef’s edge; and patiently travelling, blown along by the trades – I could have stared at the Pacific for days.

3. Colour! Painted on the buses and shacks, and bursting from gardens. Colour, colour, colour.

4. The tropics: dilapidated roadside stores covered in posters for soap powder, the  smell of burning, the unhealthy dogs and hungry looking cats. Wherever you go, the tropics have more in common than the weather.

June 19, 2009

Wheels!

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 6:00 pm

I’m not much of a cyclist. There was the frame snapping crash in Richmond Park. The surfboard fin through the spokes in Eastbourne. The time my sister (who is a good cyclist) took me mountain biking – exhausted uphill and terrified downhill I walked most of the way. Then there was the time a friend took me mountain biking along a hillside walking track. I stopped to let some hikers past, got my foot tangled in the pedal while trying to start up again, and keeled over the edge of the track and down a bank, bike on top of me. Only my pride was hurt, but that was sufficient.

Anyhow, I tell you all this because maybe, just maybe, my ineptitude on a bicycle explains why this you tube video is so darn amazing to me. Maybe. But I doubt it.

June 13, 2009

Terminator Salvation – a review

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 7:37 am
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200px-Terminator-salvation-posterIt’s 2018 and LA has been laid waste. Buildings crumble and collapse. The roads are potholed and there’s garbage everywhere. Clearly that whole thing with the referendum and the un-repealable tax cuts has gone way too far. Arnie is nowhere to be seen.

There’s a war going on too, between man and machine. From the first early skirmishes with the Microsoft Office Assistant to the fuck-off robots now marauding the streets, it’s gone badly for humanity. By 2018 only the hunkiest and hottest people are left alive. And they’ve been reduced to wearing ragged, revealing clothes and speaking solely in clichés. There’s hope, though, because the robots’ latest weapon is a creature – a half robot half human – and maybe, just maybe, its human side will win out.

I was 10 years old when Terminator was made. I suspect I was a few years older still when I was finally able to watch it on video at a friend’s place. With its buckling switchblades and “fuck you arsehole”s, it was total teenage cool. Hardly a masterpiece but it almost had a story and a dark edgy world as well. I was old enough, by the time Terminator 2 came out, to cringe quite a lot. But the leaping trucks and Guns’n’Roses made up for the Hollywood dopiness. Or, actually, they were part of it. But they were good dope.

As far as good dopiness goes, Terminator 4 (I completely missed Terminator 3; was unaware it even existed), has a bit. Mighty leaps, shuddering explosions and helicopter crashes that will have you ducking. They’ve all the imagination of a cut and paste from an explosions manual. But you’re still going to want to cling to that dope, because it’s the only thing that will get you through the movie. Over the continent sized holes in the plot. Past the sheer corniness of almost every word that is spoken. Beyond the most implausibly easy open-heart transplant ever performed. And to the last line, which is essentially an advert for the next sequel. (This in itself is scarier than any of the cyborgs).

None of this is news of course. And I suppose anyone who goes to see the third sequel to any movie deserves what they get. But how hard would it be, with all that money, and all the ideas out there, to make something that was still silly but at least resembled a story more than it does a spreadsheet formula:

=BOOM(8*STUDMUFN–(PLOT/1000)*SUM(CLICHÉ)+POPCORN+SQL) = $200,000,000

If this is entertainment then the robots have already won.

June 11, 2009

Starlings

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 9:15 pm
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Starlings roost in the middle of Wellington, near my wife’s work. Depending on the hour, when I’m waiting to pick her up, I sit in the car park and listen as they settle in the billowing trees. Hundreds of them, dowsing the car sounds in bird song. Chattering, chattering, chattering like crazy to each other. I don’t know, maybe they’re gossiping, or telling the stories of their day, or spinning delighted tales about the glory of flight. Or maybe they just chirp because that’s what birds do. But that conversation, taking place on a thousand branches, over the tops of the lonely commuters, as the street lights replace the sun, is the most reassuring thing. A secret, happy urban joy.

June 7, 2009

The Positionality Meme

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:09 am
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Quite possibly the smallest meme on the entire Internet. Simon started it, Harvest Bird picked it up, and I can’t resist. (The other two didn’t actually call it a meme, but when a third person picks it up that’s surely what it becomes.)

Anyhow, the rough idea is to write down your positionality in 10 points or less.  Positionality being something like the intellectual baggage you bring into research. You’re not actually writing chapter two of your masters thesis but rather a blog post, so personal rambling is encouraged, detailed digressions into Foucault, not so much.

1. …honestly though, while I’m open to thinking about knowledge production and belief in in a way that endogenises these things into a broader set of structures of power, I think the doing so is more useful as a tool for augmenting other ways of thinking rather than a helpful starting point in itself. And that post-structuralists take it all way too far, often using it as an excuse to cover their own woolly thinking. Anyhow, look what it does to your prose.

2. That leave’s me a analytical-liberal of sorts. The frame for my thinking is rationality and the starting point is the choices of individuals set amongst the world they live, bearing in mind this needs to be augmented by an understanding of the messy fuzziness of human existence.

3. I think Utilitarianism is the least worst political philosophy, and so the purpose of politics and development should be to maximise well-being.

4. I’m a left-liberal insomuch as that I think that some collective action is required to achieve (3). But that there are limits to what collective action can achieve and risks associated with it.

5. Or, to put it all another way, if you were to ask me what utopia would look like, it would be a radically different place from the one we inhabit. But – like Simon – I’m conservative in a way: cautious (or pessimistic) about what humans can really achieve.

6. I’m white, male and from a well-off family. Perhaps this explains 1-5 above?

7. I was raised by agnostics. My closest religious relative was my Anglican Minister maternal grandfather. So, other than a couple of years at an Anglican intermediate school, my upbringing was remarkably free of religion. This hasn’t stopped me wondering, wondering and wondering about religion. The end result: I’m an agnostic, like my parents.

And yet, exposed to the sublime in nature I can definitely lapse into a kind of ‘surely there must be a point to this all’ Pantheism. And I have an odd sneaking sympathy for Anglicanism. Oh, and I really enjoy listening to Hymns on Sunday on National Radio.

8. I’m a quicker thinker than learner, and my relative strength is synthesising – pulling ideas and theories from information. I’m not as good with details. And, like Harvest Bird, I pick things up much quicker if they connect to things I already know or debates I’m already having.

9. I can write pretty well but always wish I did it better.

10. I am plagued by rogue commas, typos and poor spelling.

June 4, 2009

Wellington!

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 8:15 pm

I know, I know, I’m always saying this, but wasn’t this morning – with it’s ice covered windscreens, mist clogged valleys, and faint-hopeful sun – quite possibly the prettiest morning in the history of Wellington?

June 3, 2009

The Freedom Paradox by Clive Hamilton – a short review

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 8:18 pm
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The argument runs something like this:

From Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose to Australia’s Work Choices Legislation, much of moderfreedom-paradoxn politics and economics is sold to us in the name of choice. After all, what can be better than letting people choose for themselves? If they’re rational and operating within rules of a game that’s fair, even if they choose in their own self interest, their decisions will still be for the common good.

And yet, choice really isn’t that simple. Often our choices are constrained by interactions with the choices of others. Other times we’re forced to choose without complete information. Sometimes – as Kant pointed out – sating our short term desires may not be in our long term interest. And yet we still give in to our desires. Sometimes we’re just plain irrational. Nowadays marketing is all around us, coaxing us, working on our sub-conscious. Choice is not all it seems.

Reason is not all it seems either; true it can help us unravel the deceptions of supposed free choice, but it what it can’t do is provide us with a compelling case for altruism or a basis for a truly moral code of ethics. Recourse to reason and rationality is where Kant went wrong. Instead we should merely borrow from Kant when he talked about the phenomenon and noumenon – the world as we encounter it and the world as it really is – and follow Schopenhaur in rejecting reason and waving our hands quite a lot and appealing to something else. Namely – wave wave – our sense of the noumenon. Our sense of what is true to the real nature  of existence. How do I know this? Well I just do. And you just should just to. And how should you know what the real nature of existence requires of you? Well I can’t really explain that because explanations tend to hinge on reason and I’ve already eschewed that. You could try Eastern thought. Moving along, let me offer a few digressions about sex, suicide and nature.

Do I sound exasperated? I hate writing negative reviews. Especially as Clive Hamilton is an interesting thinker and has written some good  stuff. But this book frustrated me. Not because I disagreed with it: actually I’m pretty much in accordance with everything up to the discarding of reason. And even then, I’m open to the idea. I see reason’s limits. It’s just that, to me, Hamilton’s attempt to move beyond reason is under-argued; it doesn’t convince at all. To be fair to Hamilton that may well be because making that case for post-rational ethics is incredibly hard, while still being necessary. But even allowing for this, the book is too loose. More time should have been spent on the tricky stuff and much less time on the diversions (and while we’re at it much better evidence could have been mustered on the deceptive nature of ‘choice’ – see Tom Slee’s “No One makes you shop at Wall Mart”, for example).

The Freedom Paradox probably won’t put me off trying Hamilton’s next offer. He certainly seems to be asking the right questions. It’s just a pity that in this book he doesn’t get very far towards answering them.

[In the interests of fairness, here’s a much kinder review, from someone much better qualified than me to comment.]

The 80s reconsidered

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 8:14 pm
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Perfect

Hat Tip and thank you Dimpost.

June 1, 2009

A Holiday to Remember

Filed under: Going Places,Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 10:55 am
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an old blog post reworked…

I’ve been in a bar fight in Bali. I remember it well. We’d been drinking arak from jam jars in a pub shaped like a pirate ship. Steve and I had almost two excuses for this. The first was the six weeks we’d spent in a tiny Catholic village on an island in the Timor Sea. Surfing all day, going to bed at dusk and waking with the roosters before dawn. We’d earned it. The second excuse was Trish, a friend of Steve’s from Wellington, in Bali on her way home from Europe. Part Malaysian, with gentle brown skin and a body that ebbed and curved pleasantly, like waves on a good day. She was keen to party too.

Steve had wandered off and Trish and I were dancing. Silly dancing to be exact – exaggerated motions, extravagant moves. To be honest, it’s the only way I can dance: I grew up in Lower Hutt. I’m sure Trish could dance properly but she was indulging me. With our spirals and twirls we cleared ourselves a corner of the dance floor. Except for a local guy with blow-dried hair that swum over his shoulders and muscles that tugged at his just-too-tight shirt. Slowly, he triangulated the dance floor so it was him dancing with Trish, not me.

It was ok for a while, all part of the joke. Trish rolled her eyes. Eventually though, it needed to stop. Trish wasn’t interested and I was going to run out of dance floor if he kept it up. And so, following the advice of the Lonely Planet, I told him we were married: “Sorry mate – kita karwin”

If he understood my slurred Indonesian he didn’t listen. Trish tried next. She spoke Indonesian better than me. Unfortunately, she hadn’t read the guidebook: “Not interested friend. I like girls and he likes boys.”

That was a mistake. Not because he actually believed her. But more because it showed he wasn’t being taken seriously. He puffed up, turned away from Trish and – whap! – punched me in the throat. I can still remember my shock, my rising adrenaline, the gasp as my airway closed for a moment.

It wasn’t much of a fight. Like I said, I grew up in Lower Hutt – I know a thing or two about fights. In
particular, how to avoid them. I started talking, mollifying. Trish did the same, Steve turned up and things were eventually smoothed over.

And that’s the end of the story.

Funny thing is there’s another tale from that night. One I heard Steve tell years later at a barbeque in Manly. Almost every detail was the same, except in his retelling, Steve was the guy getting punched. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t know what to say. But I’ve wondered about it ever since.

Steve must have believed what he was saying was true. Why make something up in front of someone who was there. He even started the story by turning to me and saying, “remember that time in Bali?”

So I have a theory. Stories are currency on the road, exchanged to ease boredom while waiting for planes, shared on overnight buses, told to gob-smacked strangers around campfires. And, as far as surfers’ tales go, that bar fight’s ok. At least if you’re the guy who got hit. But if you weren’t, you hardly have a story. So I figure Steve must have begun retelling the story, with him on the receiving end. A small lie, all fair when you’re spinning a yarn. But told and re-told, stories take on a life of their own. And this one, I suspect, eventually ejected his real memories from the nest. By the time we were both sitting at that barbeque,

Steve was telling the truth as he remembered it.

Of course, there’s a competing theory. As you may have noticed I like story telling too. And, lord knows, there have been enough overnight buses and delayed planes in my life. So, it’s possible that I’m the culprit, maybe. But I don’t know. That punch, that choke, that shock, they all still feel awfully real.

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