Gernot has had this quote on his homepage for as long as I remember:
The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily mesaured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide.
I've tried to source it. Of course "McNamara" is Robert S. McNamara, famous for his attempts to run the Vietnam War on "rational" grounds by, for example, seeking advice from game theorists. As for the words themselves, I can only find them expressed in Charles Handy's The Age of Paradox (p221, 1994, first published as The Empty Raincoat in Britain).
Free wireless at the Verona café. What a great space for lurking.
This is a lot less violent but no less graphic than Flags of our Fathers, with a focus on the effect of decreasing morale amongst the Japanese forces on Iwo Jima.
Mid-afternoon dip with Jen at the Redleaf Pool at (the eastern bay of) Double Bay. In no sense is it a proper sea pool such as one might find at Coogee; it's simply a bit of beach ringed by a (shark proof?) fence, containing two pontoons. I reckon we saw a tiny little stingray (perhaps a foot wide) just near the sand. The coffee shop there is top-notch, and parking is free and plentiful.
Googling for "Red Leaf Pool" makes me think the place is perhaps most famous for the public facilities it provides, listed in the National Public Toilet Map. I am both surprised by the existence of the website itself and that there are still free public facilities in Sydney at all. Perhaps this is what all the pay-to-pee money goes towards.
I was a bit shocked to see that infamous smirk on the news telling anyone who might organise or encourage a boycott that they may face damages for doing so. Would this apply to the Green Bans? You can bet your animal-product-free underpants it would, but the article makes it clear the existing laws already did.
I'm not sure what the limits of these new laws will be (sometimes being a lawyer would be most helpful) but I speculate they must also apply to Linux and Free Software proselytisers pushing a "Boycott Microsoft" line. Does it matter if one pays for an equivalent product, or is the word "boycott" a sufficient trigger? What about encouraging the free downloading of Debian, is that costing someone a sale? How about a system for "boycotting" ads on time-shifted TV?
The key observation is that, like the industrial relations laws, the government increases its discretionary role in this process. Rather than leaving it to the courts and (say) the National Farmers' Federation, we have the ACCC organising and funding the actions. Fair? Of course! Farmers are doing it tough. Heck, even Channel 9 is doing it tough. Remember everybody, have three kids and make sure they eat a pig at each and every meal.
As with Leonard Cohen, John Lennon is best when he's doing the talking and singing. This is partly a warning about political interference in the INS but mostly hagiography from talking heads. The boomers will love it.
On the topic of political protest about Vietnam in the late 1960s, I thought it's time I watched Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech in full. Contrast it to current political rhetoric (did I hear Kevin Andrews roll out the tired old "We decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come?") and despair. Heck, even accountability is rare, and I find Nixon's resignation speech unthinkable now.
I think the Western Australia Premier's book awards reviewers more-or-less nailed it:
Proudflesh is a collection of coolly cynical stories about the contemporary world, concerned particularly with connections and relationships between people as well as their foibles and stimulants. Its range of interests is wide: popular cultural forms, psychology, addictions, missed connections, love, obsessions, loneliness. Most of these stories have a sharp edge; the writing is always controlled and self-consciously literary.
It's the last bit that kills some of the stories, the self-conscious literary style, the substitution of enumeration for description, the invocation of a name that connotes all to her and naught to me. Still, as David Malouf ably demonstrates, writers tend to begin like this and amble towards naturality.
- Consuming Passions (I and II). These are character sketches of two women whose lives happen to intersect in London, concluding in a rather lamely observed powerplay.
- Living Arrangements, an easy-come-easy-go entanglement. I couldn't help but compare it to David Malouf's Every Move You Make (from the recent collection of the same name), similarly told from a woman's perspective.
- The Human Kiss, a tale of a woman moving in with a man with kids, one of whom has a heroin addiction. The portrayal of split loyalties is excellent, though the drug theme is fairly standard and unenlightening, somewhat like Helen Garner's efforts without the levity.
The title story, Proudflesh, is available online.
The UNSW alumni association has been organising these talks for a few years now. I thought I'd give it a go, partly because of the topic:
Professor Archer will present a fascinating discourse on Australia as the home of the world's biggest, weirdest and oldest fossils. Hear all about flesh-eating kangaroos and bizarre creatures that go back to the dawn of life on earth.
but mostly due to idleness. Yep, he described all kinds of weird ancient creatures, mostly at a level that would impress a primary school student. More interesting were the implications he drew from the fossil record, such as the relative success of marsupial and placental animals and the possibility of human inhabitation of this continent going back millions of years (and not just thousands). Political sensitivity made him pull his punches on the latter, unfortunately.
These stories of empirical science — the field work, the cross-discipline collaboration, arguments about the balance of probabilities, the broad interest in the results — make me realise just what a weird field computer science is.
When I started at UNSW I didn't go to O Week, and I guess that must have scarred me for life. Tales of all-night booze ups, predatory behaviour and insane yellow shirts in jumping castles only come second-hand to me. Anyway, I found it wryly amusing that CSU has disallowed the political parties from having stalls. Back in my day, it was the Christians that clashed with the powers which protect the youth from sullied minds.
Circa 1994 or 1995, Campus Bible Study (CBS) wasn't registered with CASOC (the Guild's Clubs and Societies coordination and funding committee) for reasons unbeknownst to me, and so some wags got together to register CBS, the Children Born of Satan, inaugurating their club by sacrificing a watermelon on the Quad lawn. The O Week rules were that only CASOC-registered clubs can approach the mobs of first years and solicit their membership, and there was a lot of rumbling about the lack of teeth in CASOC's response to the unofficial CBS, whose actions were deemed predatory and unseemly by many. (I grant there may have been some anti-Christian sentiment in all that, but some rules were violated as I recall.)
Anyway, this got resolved some time in the late 90s when the officially registered CBS folded and the CBS as we know and love it got CASOC approval to do what the hell they wanted during O Week.
(By all means correct my faulty memory in the comments.)
At the Verona with Jen. Structurally this movie is quite similar to Per Olov Enquist's fictional historicism The Visit of the Royal Physician: they share the mad kingpin, the handsome physician besotted with a/the queen, the refraction of the story through a physician-as-intimate-and-trusted-advisor prism, the betrayal of the initial ideals of improving the country and the acceptance of the omelette doctrine. Abstractly we see the struggle to throw off the imperial yoke degenerate into quite another sort of fiasco, and the bloodlessness of the English establishment. Forest Whitaker is excellent, and I'd only quibble a bit about some of the signature FilmFour camera work and editing.
Suffice it to say that if you liked one you'll probably like the other (though the book requires some patience).
Again, not one of his best novels. The humour is droll, dry and melancholic, with some "jokes" stretched from the start of the book to the end. These are the jokes that life plays on you, not the ones that make you laugh. Conversely there are flashes of gentle humour, particularly apropos his eternal fascination with the Communist mindset:
You smile as though you were thinking to yourself.
Being his first novel he attempts to do everything within it, and his characteristic authorial interjections are lamentably absent. Indeed, one feels that Kundera's life to that point (the mid 1960s) is a variant of Ludvik's (p170):
... I had begun my own research almost ten years later than my colleagues — I had still been an undergraduate in my thirties. For a few year I had tried desperately hard to bridge this gap but had then realised the futility of devoting the second half of my life to a pathetic chasing after lost years, and so I resigned myself to it. Luckily this resignedness had its compensations: the less I chased after success in my own narrow field, the more I could allow myself the luxury of looking out from this field on to other areas of research, on to man's being and the existence of the world, and could experience the joys, among the sweetest there are, of speculation and reflection. My colleagues, however, knew full well that if such contemplation gives a man personal pleasure then it is of little use for a modern scientific career, which demands that the scientist should burrow zealously in his own field or sub-field like a blind mole and should not lose time lamenting lost horizons. For this reason my colleagues half envied my resignation and half despised me for it, as they gave me to know with gentle irony, calling me the institute's 'philosopher', and sending me journalists and news editors from the broadcasting company.
The book is essentially about change and capriciousness, mutating loyalties and the unknowability of others. He revisits some of these themes in his later (and to my mind, more successful) novels, painting less dire images of how life slips out of control.
The translation of this one has apparently caused him grief over many years. I read the original butchered translation from 1969.
...the bland leading the bland down corridors of beige...
As this campus is being reconstructed into a super-uni where only the biggest and fittest faculties survive, its intellectual and atmospheric properties are being coloured over by the blue and beige paint. Soon students will have to walk around in uniforms, differentiated by symbols emblazed on jackets representing the faculties to which they are allowed to belong. The upside down tree, once located near the construction site outside the architecture building, was a statue of hope in the milieu of indifference. It represented a moment of mother nature's turmoil and the possibility of recourse to sameness. A tree that meant more in death than in life. In its non-existence we have been left with a cenotaph parading as a Library. 'UNSW RIP' it barks at the city of Sydney.
Colour is where this campus is at. As life has ebbed away from campus 2052 colour has been the flotsam that has surrounded the island of the chancellery. Well, to be closer to a truth, it has been the jetsam ejected froom all aspects of campus life, be it political, emotional or edible. Soon all the dye will be drained from the most resplendent icons on campus, and what will be left? exactly what was there in the beginning - sameness. A void... avoid.
<fade out to flashback>
A naive middle-class 17 year-old boy arrived at Eddy Avenue in the early part of 1990. He was ready to be transported through the corridor of Surry Hills, this time by a blue bus and not the family volvo going to the Easter show, along the leafy parades named after our beloved ancestors to finally reach an institution that was surrounded by spike-topped fences - to keep them in or keep them out? We all wondered.
It was a warm summer's day as hundreds of greenhorns stepped off the 393 to be greeted by people bathed in yellow. More happy to see us than our parents at our birth, the colourful fuckers yelled in unison, "Follow us! We will show you that there's more to uni than studying." Wow, we all thought. You can be cool and have fun too at Kenso Tech.
After hours of lectures that made you feel like you just re-entered year 7, the yellow coated jellybeans dragged you around campus espousing myths like this place is better than Disneyland. Geeze, does this site of ugly brick buildings and as little grass as the CBD situated on a fucking hill have a soul? What else would drive fifty or so students to wear the same t-shirt for a week just to show a bunch of freshers around? Answer: the bar.
Does Sydney Uni have an O-week? Or more importantly does Sydney need an O-week? For some reason UNSW feels like the life is dripping out of it. It is being slowly suffocated by an overdose of sameness. The yellow shirts, in all the naive glory, try to stop this institution without a soul from sinking deeper into the depths of beige. They ought to be congratulated for their effort, but it was doomed from its inception.
<fade to present - vaseline lens>
Ah Esmes, the last bastion of intellectual and spiritual life remaining on this campus. Imagine crusty orange chairs encapsulated by booths. To get out of them you had to climb over people and mind their coffees. So old and cruddy was the furniture and the carpet that you felt, or well I felt, at home. Searching for the pile of disposable ash trays amongst students pretending not to be as bourgeoisie as their parents you felt a company (even with total strangers). Is this life? Was this spirit? I don't know. But it was a melange of shitty short blacks, intellectual diversity, difference and acceptance. The cappuccinos always had a filthy froth and the film on the long blacks was the envy of Cecil B. de Mille. Thas was then, but what about now?
The Union, to which you pay $181 a year for food, entertainment and yellow shirts (yes, I know that the last two on the list can be considered one and the same) renovated Esmes (you call neon signs, plastic plants and faux wrought iron chairs renovated??? - eds) when it was where Badabagan now is and then moved it to where it is currently. Better view. Better coffee. No atmosphere. Is not the University Union, to which the students elect the board members, responsible for the lack of colour on this campus? Is it possible that places such as the bar and Esmes are lifeless because the people who control and run them treat students and stadd as a homogeneous mass who are to be treated like sheep about to be shorn? It's as though a bunch of them sat in a boardroom and said "Let's give the masses the illusion that they have control over their consumption - 10% off if you show your student card, that'll placate the non-believers." Soon the uniform of the Union lackeys will be that of beige and not of hypocritical yellow, and beige coloured lattes will become the portion controlled beverage of UNSW inc. Only the radicals willing to be outed will dare to order a short black.
The Student Guild though has been moderately active in responding to this campus' fading into beige. One could suggest that they are partly responsible for the bland out of this uni, I mean they wear beige shirts accompanied by only the merest splash of purple (or is it mauve?), and they have certainly been complicit in the creeping conservatism. Then if you look at the percentage of people who actually get around to voting in Guild elections then you see that 90% of students are participate in a form of passive euthanasia - they are helping to kill their own environment. The rave on the lawn earlier this year organised by the Student Guild and the politics behind it (temporary autonomous zones) was a shining light in a very dim fog and should be embraced as a method to respond to the blanding out of UNSW. It made me feel that I was being confronted by new ideas and experiences; and having fun at the same time. All colours of the rainbow shone across the campus that day.
"Why has thou forsaken me?" yells the spirit of this campus. Or is it the cry of St. George campus students to the self-made God, John Niland? What difference does it make as this university moves towards a metaphorical crucifixion, not to rise again in three days, but to fade to beige.
This article appeared in deaTHARUNKA (issue #14, '96), the student rag at UNSW.
burn FAST burn BRIGHT
Post Political Smoking: Is Tobacco the Heroin of the Next Millenium?
Ruby E. Royal
It is happening again. In backstreets and alleyways, schoolyards and bedrooms, the pungent aroma of smoking tobacco is staging a comeback. Faced with the hassles of maintaining expensive smack or crack habits, junkies and drug afficiandos alike are rediscovering the joys of tobacco. The number of young smokers is actually increasing despite increased awareness of smoking and its bundle of assorted dangers. Mainstream persecution of smoking has made it such an uncool and distasteful pastime that it has paradoxically renewed its rebel appeal and counter-culture chic. Demonised by scientists, the media and recent government anti-smoking campaigns, tobacco is looking to be the dope of choice as we head into the new millenium. Smoking 'schwag' has become an act of nihlism and disinterest, the perfect vice for today's cynical, disaffected youth. It's strengthened status as 'fringe activity' has turned the famous convivality of the 'smokers bond' into an emblem of cultural identity, of solidarity between disparate individuals. Whispered with the conspiratorial urgency of any secret society, the knowing looks and loaded subtext behind "Got a light?" have made it the definitive pick-up line of the century.
Marijuana is passe, it dulls the senses and carries too much hippie baggage for today's forward looking radicals. The new-wave of nicotine-surfers describe a high that is more intellectual than physical - a euphoric experience of freedom sourced in a rejection of contemporary social mores. In lighting up, they are saying "Whatever!" to an increasingly confusing and catastrophic world. With antagonistic relish and odious selfishness, the new smoker partakes in the sadistic pleasure of tormenting their oppressively moral and puritanically rational non-smoking neighbours. This determined refusal to surrender personal desires to those of the consensus, has canonized smoking as an individualistic and life-affirming assertion of "I am here, watch me breathe!" - a triumphant display of being able to do whatever the hell you want, despite the controlled and regulated environments we live in. The "Bring 'em on!" attitude of famous chain-smokers such as John Wayne and Dennis Leary appeals to universal desires for empowerment, re-investing the atomised individual with the freedom to flaunt the tyranny of 'common-sense' and to give the finger to mainstream opinion.
Vices are pleasurable because their irrationality lies closer to the essence of the human condition. Consequently, each cigarette offers the individual the heady rush of invulnerability that comes with sucking at death's nipple - the ultimate disposability of life personified in a symbolic gesture of confrontation with the infinite. With each drag the modern smoker is saying "Come on death! I'll take you on, but on my terms." The very damaging properties of tobacco supplied as readons for not smoking have instead been turned on their head and incorporated into the smoker's philosophy. Lung cancer? Heart Disease? Death? "That's the whole point!" they exclaim, "It's death at your disposal!"
This cynical god-complex has proved popular with kids facing another seventy years of fatalistic existence in a world plagued by serial disaster. The traditional anti-smoking reproaches such as "Each smoke takes five minutes off your life" fall short of Generation Me's gritty social realism. With black humour they reply "As if I'll get a root in the last five minutes of my life anyway!" The trade-off is alluring - increase the intensity of youth at the expense of decrepit old-age - live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. So what if smoking is a filthy habit? That's half the attraction for a generation which has embraced the trash aesthetic and junkie culture as more than a pastime, but a way of life.
A whole philosophy has grown up around abuse and excess, colonising our pop-culture and collective consciousness as evidenced by the long list of famous addicts-for-their-art and substance-martyrs. Models, actors, rock stars, painters, writers - anyone with any talent appears to be hooked on something. It's not hard to see why every little boy and girl wants to appropriate an addiction for themselves. The problem is serving them all in an orderly and efficient manner. Hence cigarettes - habitual, easy to manufacture, but above all, bad for you. You don't need to be intelligent to do them, there's no messing around with needles or teaspoons, mirrors or razors, no risk of flashbacks or overdosing. It's Russian Roulette made cheap and easy. Unlike their predecessors, who had to indulge their escapism covertly and illicitly, the nicotine addict has the advantage of being able to score almost anytime, anywhere, from newsagents, supermarkets, even petrol stations! Tobacco is also retro enough to claim a mythology of its own; as an appetite suppressant it keeps you thin at the same time as giving you the voice of a blues singer! No wonder it's being hailed as the perfect drug.
There are certain rules to be observed with any addiction however. 'Nicking' (a cute tag for nicotine withdrawal) is taken for granted - it's what you do with it that counts. It's not enough to get the shakes or fidgety fingers, the enlightened smoker must convey the deeper meaning behind voluntary dependency, a recognition of humanity's tenuous place in this impassionate and unpredictable world. This is the age of the masochist, the martyr, and smoking is the most favoured choose-your-own-noir adventure. In a nihilist world, tobacco is the nihilist's choice. As any hardened smoker will gladly explain (between drags) "Smoking kills? Oh tell me something I don't know baby. The entire boat's sinking and if you want to drown in your seat that's your choice. The world is fucked and every one of us is dying a little bit each day, so you may as well choose your own exit, and enjoy yourself while you're at it. I'm gonna roll my way to heaven, up there in smooth clouds of ready-rubbed Class A. You have to respect that. There's nothing more infantile or prudish than the limp-wristed crowd of puritans making exaggerated hand gestures and gasping like beached whales. Don't they know the three great consumptive pleasures in life - sex, coffee, chocolate - are all made better with a good smoke? Smoking is everything. Smoking is the light at the end of the tunnel, through which the world is going to hell in a handbag. We're all blindfolded prisoners in front of the firing squad see? Any last requests? Well yeah, gimme a smoke."
This article won the author a creative writing competition at UNSW sometime in the late 90s.
Not one of his better novels from this vantage point of the twilight of his career. The timidity of his characteristic authorial interjections brings nothing to weak and cliched characters and plot. Clearly he lacked the courage to just run with it, to make the novel respond to his whimsy in the facile and melancholic way that made his later work so much greater.
The text is replete with the vaguely amusing contradictions of communist propaganda, e.g.:
"Revolution in love" - would you mind telling me what you mean by that? Do you want free love in contrast to bourgeois marriage, or monogamy in contrast to bourgeois promiscuity? [...] that can be put much better: "Long live socialism, long live the socialist family!"
Perhaps most disappointing is that his attempts to skewer the Czech communist regime lack his later dexterity and indignation.
(I read the revised original English translation by Kussi.)
Finally got around to reading Barry Schwartz's book that fleshes out his excellent talk at Google. It's a well assembled melange of ideas organised around the gap between what economics promises to optimise (property, wealth, choice, income levels, education, ...) and peoples' wellbeing. Yes, you'd be right to call it a self-help book, albeit one with a lot of academic citations.
I hope to go through this book again in the near future and tease out some of the arguments over on the wiki.
On a related note, an article by Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon, Why Hawks Win.