Saturday, May 31, 2008
Occasionally my life is a little like the television show Friends, only a hell of a lot funnier, and without the annoying laugh track and even more annoying friends. So today, Henry and I accompanied Jenry into town while she did a little shopping for supplies at Spotlight. Henry directed me to a few local landmarks to photograph (some of which I will feature on this very blog), and then we met up and stopped into the local Hudsons Coffee Shop for a sit down and some scripted banter.
In the photograph, you can see that Henry has forgone his usual triple shot macchiato for an apple juice, and Jenry went with the medium hot chocolate sans marshmallows. Predictably, I played it safe with a cappuccino.
[UPDATE: Sorry dear, you've been bumped. The world wanted more Henry.]
Friday, May 30, 2008
(My) Photo of the day, Or Yesterday, and days before, sun is cold and rain is hard, I know; been that way for all my time
The seemed to be a fair bit of rain last night and this morning, but it appeared to clear in time for my walk to the bus stop, and then from the other bus stop into work.
Naturally, the wet weather did nothing to persuade the many fools in high performance motor vehicles who (in an endeavour to demonstrate their own joie de vivre) routinely accelerate to preposterous degrees in the attempt to claim victory in that oh-so-meaningful feat of reaching the next red light first!
Might I add that, despite the impression one would get from the esteemed Tasmanian press, the aforementioned hoons are not always young men draped in gold jewellery and featuring ghastly haircuts. Just as often one can spot the middle aged female – similarly draped in gold jewellery and with ghastly haircut – looking to drop young Cassandra off at the elite ladies college up the road ("ten thousand dollars a year, but worth every cent!") Then, she will proceed to a big grey building where she, and many like her, will pick disdainfully at expensively catered delicacies funded by the taxpayer during her weekly strategic planning meeting and no doubt complain forcefully and with great indignation about the offensiveness of government waste and how these uncivilised young men who terrorise the road should be locked up and the key thrown away for good.
Bitter? Why, of course!
I have not commented mainly because I have not really had the time to devote to expressing myself with the clarity that I would like. As might be expected, venturing into the mine field that is a discussion that pits the notions of ‘artistic merit’ and ‘contextuality’ versus ‘the rights of the child’ and the legislative and judicial protection of minors is not one that I want to go in half arsed (not that this has stopped many commentators!) Moreover, my footing is not too sure when I venture into the legal notions that appear to underwrite the shut down of the artistic display.
Now, I am not making a call either way on Henson’s work, because quite frankly I am not too sure of my opinion! But I do have some sympathy to both legislators and those whose job it is to enforce the law. Legally, it seems to me that a firmer line has been established with regards to ‘the rights of children’ and what constitutes an infringement on those rights over the past ten to twenty years. By and large, this seems to be a good thing.
In this sense, I just cannot agree with Australian playwright Michael Gow when he says that any debate about the ethics of art should not involve the police. For mine, this is tant amount to saying that art is above the law. For me, the real problem is the question about who (or perhaps what) defines what equals art and what equals porn?
Given the absolute subjectivity of art itself (as I have already discussed on this site), this seems to me a ridiculous notion. For example, there was an outcry a few months ago over a story involving Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas allegedly tying up a starving and sick stray dog as part of an art exhibit. The story claimed that the dog eventually starved to death as an artistic statement. Now, contrary stories have emerged over whether the dog died or not, but for me, whatever artistic merit might be found in Vargas’s statement should not override any law that prevents cruelty to animals. Of course, it limits the freedom of artists to express themselves as they would like, but it does so to the broader benefit of animals elsewhere who may also be mistreated.
For me, it really gets back to the whole positive and negative freedom debate (as most arguments about rights and the state eventually do). As an unapologetic and self confessed social democrat, I am happy for the state to infringe upon some of my liberty to enhance my liberty in other areas and give me a pleasant vista.
Thus, for me, the simple recourse to ‘this nude child equals art because the artist (or art world) asserts it so’ has the potential to knock a pretty big hole in the legal framework that has emerged around the protection of children, one would think.
Now, I don’t intend this to mean “Henson should be locked up”, but I don’t think it is as straightforward as commentators of either extreme are framing it.
How does one quantify concepts like ‘artistic intent’ and ‘viewing context’? Where does the notion of ‘informed consent’ begin and end in an artistic context? Legally, the line in Australia on consent (although it has shifted) seems to have been reasonably clear (although I may be talking out of my backside on this one). I know that the mother of one of the models has defended the artist (and thus the art), but where does this stand with regard to the law? More importantly, where should it stand with regards to the law?
Supporters of Henson claim that the naked images of the thirteen year old at the centre of this controversy are at the same time ‘un-sexualised’ as ‘pushing the boundaries and provoking thought on the sexualisation of minors’. Talk about sailing close to the wind!
Similarly, the whole debate forces us to think about who sexualises such images. If an adult who has a sexual interest in children gets his/her jollies off on the pictures, is that the fault of the photographer, or the viewer? To flip this, if Joe Bloggs in the street (rather than internationally renowned artist Bill Henson) for whatever reason likes to take nude, but ‘artistic’ pictures of the little girl next door, do we extend to argument of ‘artistic merit’ to him? I would pretty quickly guess that we have not done so recently, and the odd are that the law would not. I think that the case of actor Chris Langham (Roy Mallard, how could you do it!?!) is a nice counterpoint to the Henson example.
Anyway, I said that I wanted to have my say and now I have. I would direct people to an interesting post on the Skepticlawyer site, who writes with much more authority on the legal issues than I ever could, and expresses an opinion that sounds like the one I have in my head, but cannot quite get out today! There is also some fiery discourse to be found on both Lavartus Prodeo and the Public Opinion blog. Have a look, and join in if you would like to have your say.
UPDATE: the art life has a neat encapsulation of the debate thus far.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I don't care what anyone says, I think that this photo is lovely. I am posting it as a companion piece to the sunrise I posted the other day. Only this time, I am going to call this a ‘moonset’.
It is my firm belief that the moon gets a raw deal from people. The moon is also closely linked to two of my favourite things.
First, many cultures link the monthly cycle of the moon – in contrast to the annual cycle of the sun – to women's menstrual cycles. That’s got to help explain why so many of the mythological lunar deities are ladies. Think Selene, Phoebe, Artemis and Diana.
Second, the words 'lunacy", ‘lunatic’, and ‘loony’ are derived from lunar because of the folk belief in the moon as a cause of periodic insanity. Think about werewolves assumed their shape shifting abilities because of appearence of the full moon.
So the next time that you find yourself accusing your wife of reacting like a rabid werewolf or crazy loon at ‘that time of the month’, you may well be closer to the truth than she might acknowledge!
However, moments after sending it I did give pause to thought: is thirteen appendices bad luck?
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Some terrific light this morning. And of course I am back down at Franklin Wharf, this time though, I have got my back to the water. Here you can see the original Marine Board building, and its more (in)famous replacement. The original has the appearance of almost glowing, due to the sunrise reflecting off the river. It gave everything a nice yellow hue.
Personally, I don't think that the newer building itself is as bad as people say, it is more the fact that in 1972 they decided to build a 'modern' gigantic brown structure in such a prime waterfront spot. It might not be big by New York standards, but as the fourth tallest in the city, it is huge for Hobart. Of course, the fact that such an unexceptional looking building happens to block such a magnificent view is bound to annoy somebody!
As an unapologetic man of science, I am (of course), an enthusiast of immunisation. Whatever the standpoint that I try to attack it from – historian, scientist, logician, economist, philosopher, parent or just plain old gambler working the odds off the pure metrics that we have – I can come to no other conclusion that immunisation has been a boon to human society. As it is my blog, I can assert this with total and utter unyielding authority.
In this manner then, I always find that the best World Health Organisation campaigns are those that are blunt and to the point. Thus, I really, really like this immunisation campaign poster from 1975.
I apologise for the poor quality of the image, but the pictures should be clear. Here we see two new mothers, one trusts the health worker and chooses to immunise her child. The second is not so sure and chooses to not do so. Of course, baby number one now has a glowing protective halo, and baby number two does not. When disease strikes (as it inevitably will), baby number one is happy and dandy, and baby number two is like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch. Oh, and mother number two has tears running down her cheeks.
Nature is indeed a cruel mistress...
ANYWAY, if you are up for it, visit STATS.org for an interesting little discussion on the science behind pro- and anti- immunisation position in one well-known US case. There’s another example of the ‘casualties’ of the debate in the UK, and something else to consider, how changing your behaviour based on media interpretations of ‘the evidence’ is not always a good thing.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Contrast this with the number of attempts to set up a catamaran service that could cope with the Bass Strait crossing, from George Town to Melbourne. These Tasmanian-made vessels do very well in around the globe (in the Mediterranean, Baltic, Caribbean, the eastern seaboard of North America, Japan, the Middle East, they even supply the US Navy).
While the ‘Devil Cat’ was an extraordinarily cool-looking vessel without doubt, it unfortunately did not seem to cope well with Bass Strait’s unique tendency to big swells, especially in winter. My father worked on this run for a short while, and tells wonderful stories of seamen endlessly swabbing the decks as most passengers could not avoid the losing their breakfasts, lunch AND dinners on the course of the journey.
It turns out that this post was number 400. I just thought that I better note it!
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
Over the past few years I have heard a reasonably famous quote from a controversial character being bandied around by people as an example of political nonsense. Without wanting to get drawn into the relative merit (or otherwise) of one Donald Rumsfeld, I cannot help but feel that he gets a raw deal on this score.
You see, I have never really understood why people think it is nonsense. I am not sure whether my brain is hardwired to think in a convoluted and ambiguous way (it could be true, I have been accused of this, and I have also spent time locked in rooms with French post-modern feminist thinkers), but from the moment that I heard it, I couldn't see the fuss made about the quote. it seemed to make perfect sense to me right off the bat.
Let's go over the quote again before I move on:
...there are known "knowns". There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.
There it is. Simple really. Straightforward when you think about it. Perhaps not as succinct as we could crunch it down to, but probably concise enough given the universality of the idea. To break it down, I am going to try and use the example of alcohol and public policy.
- Known 'knowns'. This is the easiest part. For example, we know that a lot of people drink alcohol, and that some demographics drink more than others. We have collated plenty of hard data on this.
- Known unknowns. Now, we know about quite a few of the factors that influence why certain people drink, and why people drink the way that they do or why people drink the quantity that they do. But we also know that there are other factors that appear to influence behaviour in one way or another that we do not really understand (for example, why do some girls binge more than others if, demographically, they are the same?). However, in a public policy sense, we at least know that we do not know. Thus, we can try and find out.
- Unknown unknowns. Who knows? If we knew them, we'd know them. For example, in the last few years some researchers have explored the notion that people are genetically predisposed to consuming alcohol at risky levels. That was not really foreseen years ago. As Mr Rumsfeld says, there are always things that we are not aware that we don't know. The best that can be done about this is be aware of that fact ("we don't know everything"), and be prepared to react when we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns (that is, when we become aware of the blind spots in our thinking).
See, clear as mud!
Monday, May 26, 2008
I have been treated to an impressive series of sunrises over the past week or so. I think that this was the pick of the bunch that I took this morning, but I don't really have a lot of time to try and get the best shot.
On other matters, Henry did a little feature piece for the local news this morning. Jen tells me that it went well, and I will endeavour to post the details as they come to hand.
The descriptions in today’s ad are top notch. Only the best adman in the business could get some of this stuff across the line. As a lifelong non-smoker, for the most part the images promoted here are the antithesis of smoking in my mind.
Read the descriptions to yourself, and even better, read them in a husky, feminine voice. Go on, you know that you like doing that:
- the 'coolness'
- the 'true mildness'
- the 'ripe, delicate taste and fragrance of smoking pleasure at its best'.
Right, where were we? Yeah, the whole thing screams what French literary (wankery) types call jouissance. Looking back at some of these ads, I can actually get some sort of sense of how something as unappealing (on so many levels) as smoking cigarettes managed to become so popular. If it weren’t quite so tragic, it rightly could be recognised of one of human history’s greatest achievements!
I also like the notion of 'more smoking for your money'. Being able to save while you smoke sure comes in handy for all of the lost hours that you'll need chained to the oxygen tank.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
(My) Photo of the day, Or It begins nowhere and goes nowhere, an incidental, unmeaning inconvenience to passers-by
Geilston Bay. Saturday, May 24, 2008. 7:36 AM. The fog was upon us. We later headed down to the market to get out of the house and pick up some bits 'n pieces.
But enough of that, it is now time for the question of the day!
Is it normal for a toddler to eat a kilogram of strawberries in 24 hours?
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. He says he hates gay people and wants to chop all of their heads off.
Let me look at that photo again:
Yeah, the thing is you see, you're still not convincing me...
Now, I'm not one of these guys who has jumped on the "I hate Australia because they are so arrogant" bandwagon. However, I want the Windies to win. I have decided to run through today's team to try and figure out what the reason may be.
Jaques: Can't even spell his own name correctly. New South Welshman, which means he has had a 'smooth selection' into test cricket. Looks unfit, and he's a rubbish fielder. Let's just say I haven't warmed to him...
Katich: How many chances does one bloke get? And isn't it funny that it has taken a move to New South Wales to get all of these chances?
Ponting: He is originally from Tassie, but has lived in New South Wales for years now. Consider that a black mark against his name.
Hussey: I like him. Waited around for years until he got a run. Should have moved somewhere else, that may have helped.
Hodge: I don't like him, but he has had a rough run with selection. How they persevered with M. Clarke and Katich while he wasn't given a run is beyond me (actually, that's not true, we all know why).
Symonds: He seems a nice enough fellow off the field, but has an awful sense of style. Consider me on the fence.
Haddin: Meh. New South Welshman. I like Ronche.
Johnson: Would have chosen Noffke myself.
Clark: New South Welshman. Seems a nice chap.
BLee: New South Welshman. This may explain getting picked consistently for 7 years without producing. He's come good, but if you wait around at the bust stop that long, it'll eventually arrive.
MacGill: New South Welshman. I am sure that this contributes to the fact that I have honestly never disliked a cricketer more than S.C.G. MacGill*. It's rare to see such a pretentious, posing, odious little thug in the game of cricket. Look at his two wickets today, Morton and Chanderpaul. Rubbish balls that batsmen get too excited about and get caught slogging, I'm sure that there is an art in it, but forgive me for longing for good balls getting wickets.
[* I tell a lie actually, I didn't like Hansie Cronje from the moment I saw him.]
Looking over that, the reason is obvious. I want the Windies to win because (if you include Ponting) seven of the eleven are from New South Wales. I can't be seen supporting that sort of carry on!