Showing posts from March, 2009

US Cars

OK, maybe this is unkind, but there's a silver lining to the imminent bankruptcy of major US car makers. Overall the US makes surely some the ugliest and worst designed cars in the world.

Not that we're much better here in Oz, but there is a sense of visual flair in some of our models. In recent years though clever dick executives in our local industry targeted the US market for exports, and they deservedly suffered. Mitsubishi aped the American look in its big cars, as did Ford a few years earlier. That pretty much destroyed their large car sales in about a year.

What is the American style? Boxy mostly, like a brick with some wheels. Roomy, which is a redeeming quality, although like everything else they super-size the trend became so ridiculous that vehicles like the F2250 almost qualify for a post code, and pity the poor bastard in the other car if they ever get hit by one. Occasionally they go for curves, but the result is nearly always more disfigurement than sophistication…


(Descartes' 1692 diagram of the brain and the eye.)

I've written here before about some related ideas surrounding the ideas of wholeness and presence. And how the idea of wholeness has taken on a sort of semi-mystical tinge since the 1960s that has probably held back its being taken seriously as a topic for exploration.

Personally to get away from the mumbo jumbo ideas and practices that tend to surround the use of the concept of wholeness, I prefer the more practical term pattern. Everything happens in a fully integrated pattern. This term gives you a better picture of what actually happens, that a wholeness is actually a pattern of interlinked things.

Having also spoken about meditation here, for a while it's seemed to me there are two important, different ways to approach patterns. When you look at the basic meditative schema, there's a foundation pattern of person-and-world, person-and-body, and it's the job of meditation to dissolve these divides by getting peopl…

The Public. Common-Wealth. Scalability.

In these days of the hopeful disintegration of neo-liberalism, or whatever name you want to call the lunatic philosophy which in modern times Thatcher got under way, Reagan gave a healthy kick along in the US and then Keating and most alarmingly Howard then imported to these fair (work) shores, it strikes me that we need to not just to dance on its grave but to figure out how it ever seemed plausible in the first place.
I reckon there's one key way in which the fanatics of individualism got away with this variety of liberalism seeming so persuasive, for so long. They were able to persuade otherwise sensible people that only the level of the individual human being is real, and every human edifice beyond that is in some ways less real, and destructive of individual freedom and liberty. Worse, that one particular such edifice, namely government, when not enforcing law and order (i.e. protecting the property of those who already have it) is always a tyranny standing in the way of the …

The Knowledge Thing

Knowledge is a very strange thing. You wouldn't think so, we talk about it in the same way we talk about everyday, taken-for-granted things. But like a lot of common ideas when you start to pick around the edges, suddenly it gtets much more baffling and interesting.

It's probably safe to say that the most common idea about ideas is that they are 'about' things. You have knowledge about X, where X could be geology, how to drive a car, current affairs - whatever. But what does about mean in this context? Peel it apart a bit more and you start to get to what's really going on here.

The basic model of knowledge, or the most common in much of the world, is that it reveals 'how things are'. Seeing behind appearances, understanding why they are as they are and how they work. The reason for something is separate to the thing itself, although linked to it in a determining or controlling way. Once you have knowledge or facts about things, you hold the key to their very…

The Beatles, Queen, Eclecticism & the Beeb

The Beatles. Strictly before my time, but with recordings you can get some of the vibe. When you place them in the context of what other bands were doing at the same time, it's like looking at the 5-foot tall kid in the Year 2 class photo.
No need to re-hash any slobbering praise for what they did. YouTube loves that sort of thing, some yokel playing the spoons is apparently an incredible genius, but not for Joe Bloggs who rolls up barracking for some other spoon player, and a couple of comments later fuck you and your grandmother. (Mailing lists and forums usually degenerate into pissing contests too.)
They did great music, but this isn't about that. What more than anything makes them sound so different to their contemporaries (at least amongst well known bands - chances are somebody was churning out great stuff in a shed somewhere we never heard about) was the vast eclectic range of what they were doing. It's become a sort of truism that they were eclectic. Just a few year…

Fairies in the Garden

There have been a couple of prominent shows out of the US in the past year or so based around the work of what is sometimes called mentalism. Mentalism not in the philosophical sense of ideas being the basis of reality, but as a set of techniques based mostly on autosuggestion and hypnosis.
Derren Brown is to me easily the most proficient of the modern mentalists, and that short-changes him, because he has many other talents on top of mentalism. His TV and live shows must rate as some of the best and most thought-provoking entertainment available today, but unfortunately he's not well known outside of the UK, and his TV shows in Oz for example are consigned to pay TV, in unfriendly timeslots. But they've recently entered the US market, largely in response to shows such as The Mentalist, which rates in the top 3 shows in the country I think.
[To give you some idea of the colour in Brown's shows, he did a special called The Heist, where he used his mentalist skills to cause …

Clean, Fierce Rage & Other Strong Emotions

Interesting piece by Julian Baggini in the Sydney Morning Herald Today about anger. And more generally about the value of emotion, and why we shouldn't be afraid to have emotions, even the ones that have been increasingly classified as negative, such as anger.

Baggini writes:

One reason why it has become harder to promote the beneficial side of emotions such as anger is that the moral vocabulary of good and bad has been replaced by the self-help lexicon of positive and negative thinking. Armed with such pop-psychology, it's easy to convince ourselves we are emotionally literate, when in fact we're just using crude rules of thumb to gloss over the complexities of the human psyche.

This immediately reminded me of something DH Lawrence wrote nearly 100 years ago now, in his essay "Education of the People". Lawrence was a superlative essayist, though the novels seem more laboured. Very like Shaw in many ways, the dramatic work ended up sounding a bit didactic, a lot of…

The Medium is the Message - Part 2

I suspect the readership is flat-lining here. Ah well, it was only ever for myself.
A good place to start with McLuhan is his most famous phrase - "The Medium is the Message". Many at the time and since interpreted this to mean that McLuhan was saying that all communication was nonsense and you should drop any attempt at meaning. So outrageously stupid educational installations were commissioned, with flashing lights and speakers and whatever else, which supposedly would automatically educate kids if they stood in front of them and played etc.
This isn't what McLuhan meant at all. The medium is the message because the distinction between a message and the communication of that message is a false one. There is no such thing as a neutral channel or communication technology that simply transfers a separate message more or less faithfully. The standard theory is shown in the image above, which I nicked from Wikipedia. There's a pre-existing sender and receiver, and some …

The Medium is the Message - Part 1

Marshall McLuhan has faded a bit from the firmament of serious thought. Having been lumped in with the hippies of the 60s, a lot of serious thinkers discarded him without having read much of what he wrote.
In reality McLuhan was a tweed-coated professor of literature, who actually didn't much like many modern communications technologies. And yet he saw it as his duty to understand them, which is noble and a long way removed from the mindset of most thinkers, who tend to have about one limited idea that they then flog repeatedly until retirement or redundancy overtakes them. (Actually even great thinkers tend to have not much more than one great idea, which they then explore all of the implications of, but what makes them great is that the idea isn't just some banal cliche.)
If you actually read McLuhan's books, you're in for a treat. They're very possibly some of the most creative and visionary works published in the 20th century. Yes some of them experiment with for…


Well before my dad died, he nearly died. Having been diagnosed with inoperable and in all other ways untreatable lung cancer, the highly paid specialist gave his treatment options as "have a family reunion, preferably within the next 3 months." (Gotta love specialists, they earn all those taxpayer dollars.)
But he didn't die. Not then anyway, not until more than a decade and a half later. And not from cancer. What saved his life was meditation.
Now I know just saying that might send the one or two readers who occasionally end up here by accident scurrying for another web page. But be assured, my dad at that time would have done exactly the same thing. He wasn't a hocus pocus man, he was a man who loved his science and engineering and traditional medicine. But given an apparent imminent demise he decided to give the Gawler approach a try, because what did he have to lose etc. This isn't about Gawler's own approach, although it's worth noting he was himself a…


With the exception of that peculiar breed who not only pay a lot of money to join a gym, but also at times actually seem to enjoy bouncing up and down to music loud enough to be heard from the moon, or to stretch and strain themselves against shiny steel and rubber machines...with the exception of these people and others who deliberately 'exercise', the natural evolution of the human form over a lifetime seems to be towards flabbiness.

[Honestly though, most of the gym junkies and pavement joggers and other exercisers don't resist the flab for long. Not many of them seem to stick with it for any length of time.]

Doesn't it seem a bit odd that most people as kids aren't flabby, and then they become flabby? And that as kids they might run around a bit, but nothing as structured or as intense as a 'workout'? Because the obvious reason people become flabby is that they stop exercising. But kids don't exercise, or at least generally their activity isn't st…

Birth, Death, Atoms

The old atomists - Democritus for example, shown above - get bad press in education. I still remember them being wheeled out as a silly or basic pre-history of science, in science lessons, with their supposedly simple concepts now left far behind by modern cleverness.

It's easy to read archaic mysteries into the ancient world, in a Da Vinci Code sort of way. Not least because lots of what they left us was lost, and any time you're left with fragments you can join the dots in so many different ways that some of them will always be loopy. But the atomists left us enough, we're just generally hopeless at understanding it.

The atomists, and the genius above all of Archimedes, didn't make a distinction between the social and natural worlds. That distinction would have seemed a complete nonsense to them. Equally ridiculous to them would have been the idea of a knowing subject. But above all else the message the ancient atomists left us, which we turned into a caricatured fairy…


Apologies to the 1 or 2 people who read this blog for the infrequent updates of late. Had a few trips away for work, which are now slowing for a while.

Erm, The Global Thing

This has me scratching my head.

Here in Australia the main political opposition are the conservatives. Or at least they call themselves that - in reality they're radical moral reactionaries. It'd be nice to see a genuine conservative in politics again, rather than somebody who does all of the things conservatives used to profess to disapprove of, like demolish public institutions. But that's for another day. Here and elsewhere the conservatives trot out an argument opposing too much action against climate change that goes something like this.

Because the biggest polluters in absolute terms are places like the US, India and China, unless they sign up to some sort of reduction in emissions, we'll just be shipping our jobs overseas if we go it alone. In other words, we're a pimple on the global economic arse, and anything we do alone won't make any noticeable difference to global warming.

Ignoring the valid counter-argument that per capita we're carbon junkies, r…

Impossible Objects

Behold a miracle. I'm guessing just about everybody has played with a top at one point in their lives. (What a strange name, a 'top' - another one I should look up the origins for.)
Science is a funny thing. It truly is our new religion, when we dumped God objectivity quickly rushed in to fill the gap, and science as an actual cultural practice is now as hierarchical, prejudiced and blind as religion or druids or any other priesthood has ever been. Of course some have rejected science and replaced objectivity with subjectivity - the whole universe revolves around the little ego in that 1500-odd cubic centimetres of grey matter in their skull. Doesn't change an awful lot, you still end up with a transcendent, inhuman something or other lording it over the rest of us, mediated by the sacred priesthood (even if the priesthood has a membership of one, for the precious dears so enamored with their little ego that they think it shapes all of reality).
Not that I'm anti-sci…

A Spade is Still a Spade

What's the origin of that saying, "call a spade a spade?" Somebody must know.
I love the sentiment. OK it's like anything, you wouldn't want to overdo it, becoming some social terrorist truth-teller. You meet those types, usually in cheap suits and after shave, selling insurance or real estate. The bulls in the china shop of social nicety, with their macho pseudo-pragmatism.
But it's past time we went back to a bit more truth telling. Away from peoples' sacred opinions and dog whistling and spin. Away from puerile attempts at 'balance' which only ever end up defending the right of every nut job to peddle their quarter-baked shrillosophy. It's the lazy fat loudmouths who swamp the airwaves, because they're bullies and nobody stands up and says "sorry, that's crap, and that's bullshit", because they've bullied the more moderate outlets into actually believing that they have just as much right to a say as anybody else.


Sometimes a cartoon says it all much more succinctly.

Stereo Pics. Theories of 3D (Part 2)

Still fumbling my way towards a new idea about how we see in 3D, or more specifically how we see stereo pictures as 3D.
Brian May has some beautiful examples on his site at the moment, of crocus flowers. I've reproduced them below, having now acknowledged the source! The first is for 'free viewing', which means you have to look at the two images but be actually looking to infinity beyond the screen i.e. you have to 'look' at the pictures but actually be looking as if you were watching something miles away in the distance. This seems impossible at first, because you'll tend to want to focus on the screen itself, and you might also think "how can I look at two things at once?". But it's a sort of peripheral awareness of the flowers, while looking with your eyes aimed to infinity, just as you can be aware of both the road in front of you (to infinity) when driving and what's going on in the car (peripherally, like the flowers in this case).
[I sus…

Dangerous Times

Dangerous times, if you leave out things like meteor impacts blacking out the sun for decades or volcanoes doing the same, are usually times of social (whatever that means) disarray. Like the current financial situation.
But what multiplies the danger and makes it really nasty is always the response to the bad times. In times like these the thing to watch out for is, as always, fundamentalists. European history in the early 20th century at the time of the last really big financial crisis gives a beautiful study of how it tends to pan out, with despots selling quick fix scapegoats. The end result was tens of millions of dead people and a devastated landscape.
But the despot is nearly always a very late character on stage. There's a gradual building up to their appearance through repeated harping on simplistic, scapegoating themes. People eventually get whipped into such a frenzy of blame that they'll then unite behind any tinpot twit who comes along and promises them salvation.…

Wally Wallington

Meet Wally Wallington. Also to be found on YouTube.
Maybe another case of the world's wonders being right under our noses, and we're all so fascinated with ourselves and with other people that we don't even notice. Some of the ancient Greeks recognised that the world is full of wonders, offered for free, and that the human group is usually too narcissistic to even notice. But even more they realised that our relationships with each other and our relationships with the world aren't separate. So if we actually noticed these natural wonders, which would mean turfing all of the command and control knowledge superstructure like atom smashers and professional associations, we'd also be much more at peace with each other, and these wonders would be the stuff of our everyday lives.
I'm not holding my breath. We love the dialectic stoush, slugging it out.