Lazy Luddite Log

2.2.18

Salad Days

I have never been a huge fan of salads and barely if ever made one till recently. Somehow the mood took me to take one to a barbeque, but I made it to my own liking, informed somewhat by my food wheel notion.

The number one thing I did was to reject lettuce as an ingredient. What a banal and tiresome thing lettuce is! The base of my salad was one or both of baby roquette and spinach. Roquette in particular is a far more tasty and interesting leaf.

Next I added some slivers of red capsicum. I also considered adding similarly sliced onion but a few friends are sensitive to that flavour-enhancing bulb, so I spared them. That was all I included of more traditional salad vegetables but I added other and more novel forms of plant matter.

I threw in generous helpings of both pine nuts and corn kernels (minus the tinned brine they tend to come in). I did discover that too generous a helping of these results in them gathering at the bottom but a bit of salad tossing fixed that. These are both things that salad sceptics like me may favour for both texture and taste. But there was more.

I had wanted to find some marinated sliced mushrooms at the deli and throw them in. My thinking was that the marinade would serve as my salad dressing. It seems however that such a product is rare and so I settled for marinated eggplant. This worked rather well but on another occasion I had more time to spare and so got both mushrooms and some balsamic dressing and did it myself.

Already my salad has interesting ingredients and a flesh-like ‘star’ of the dish. And as described so far it is vegan. However my original version was vegetarian because I had added in some baby bocconcini (once more minus the water it is packaged in). The cheese instantly pushed the marinated fleshy thing aside as the protagonist of this dramatic concoction.

Oddly, I was the only one to bring salad to two separate parties, and in both cases it was welcome by those present, and complemented other foods well. However, I like to think it serves as a bit of a meal in itself, due to its eclectic mix of ingredients, which for convenience I will list here:

Core Ingredients

Baby Roquette, Pine Nuts, Corn Kernals, Mushrooms, Balsamic Dressing.

Optional or Substitute Ingredients

Baby Spinach, Red Capsicum, Onion, Marinated Eggplant, Baby Bocconcini.

Labels:

7.1.18

Game Over

I announced my fantasy setting online here and then enthused about a new game set in it here. That game went for over four years and was only recently completed. I have never been in a game that lasted so long and with such stability. We had the same Games Master (GM) in me and the same four players for the entire time (with the occasional guest now-and-then).

I think logistics helped keep the game running. We almost always played at the same share house (in which most of the players lived). We almost always played on a Saturday (daytime). We negotiated dates at which we could all attend which averaged to one long session per month. A more important factor was that everyone was committed to the activity because it was fun. Part of that fun arose from spending time with friends we may have otherwise missed. However a lot of it also came from us enjoying the game itself.

My manner of GMing focuses on story-telling. The problem with this is it can make for a game that is overly directed by the GM. However my players seemed to welcome my structure and it did allow for a lot of leeway. The overall direction of my intended campaign was preserved but there were many player-directed twists and turns along the way. These necessitated me responding with re-routings of my story that were usually better than the original plan.

A story-telling focus had me talking a lot but the others seemed okay with that. I did share some of the work however by getting players to read narrative passages or participate in written dialogue. Everyone seemed to like the play-acting aspect of this.

Most of the talk however was paraphrased or improvised as is usual in role-playing. I was narrator and also (over time) scores of incidental characters (which I loved inventing). I discovered that it was both efficient and interesting to re-use many such non-player characters.

You would think that a role-play game set in the imaginations of its players would lack the limitations of budget imposed on (say) a television serial. However in practice I found that a GM has only so much time and energy to invent new concepts. As such old incidental characters would return to the story as needed. Likewise key locales were re-purposed at different times. There was economy to this but it also had an interesting affect on players. The familiar resonates with us and helps provide a sense of coherence to a long campaign. It also allowed me to put new twists on old concepts and this was sometimes more surprising than a wholly new element.

A favourite re-use of something for me was the Jagged Tooth Keep. This site had originally been visited ‘in the flesh’ by the original characters but then much later the Lost Wanderers (played by the same players) stumbled into a magical simulation of it. Confusion and suspicion ensued. The Jagged Tooth was just one of many concepts for which I made maps, illustrations, descriptions and even chose themed music (Fortress Around Your Heart by Sting). In this way I got to be creative and expand muchly on the content of The Lands.

Gaming definitely expanded the information content of my setting. This included mundane things like describing livestock (small kine and huge fowl are the norm) and local customs (such as a ban on propositioning someone more than three times). However it also resulted in some extraordinary content (such as demonstrating that a string of objects sometimes seen following the Moon were in fact an ancient and magical sky elevator).

With a few glaring exceptions I made my world a small-scale one. In some fantasy settings we see fortresses as tall as modern skyscrapers but I preferred something more modest. Part of this was a desire to anchor the setting in history. Another was to make the few spectacular things all-the-more impressive. And yet another was to make The Lands seem like a cozy world – one worth saving from the enemy forces of my long-term campaign.

My players were presented with a complex story but I also made some effort to incorporate other kinds of gaming into my GMing. My players enjoy solving puzzles and so I did what I could to present some. However I lack skill in this area so borrowed concepts liberally from existing games and tales. Once I even purchased a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that was part of the story but also had to be solved by the players themselves for the characters to succeed.

Another area in which I lack skill is strategy and combat simulation (even using my own ‘home-brew’ rules variation). However we had a number of eventful encounters during the campaign and got better at them over time. The last one involved an Undead Dragon that belched aging at its rivals and which was set in a 'dungeon' based on the current map of Chadstone Shopping Centre (sometimes it saves time to use existing things and any old thing will do).

I found it challenging to make my game challenging. For one thing my story had a relatively optimistic tone to which my players responded well. For another it is difficult for one mind (that of a GM managing however many antagonists) to face four minds each focused on ensuring the safety of four protagonists. I did a few novel things to give the characters bigger challenges. One was for the renowned Lost Wanderers to experience a flash-back game in which they were novices. Another was to give my players minor protagonists to temporarily play to get a feel for what life is like for villainous minions facing champions.

The key villains of my game were anonymous and distant in nature. They were impersonal supernatural forces motivated by hunger rather than cruelty. It was necessary to fight them just as it is necessary to respond to a locust swarm. This concept has always interested me but I do feel I could have put more work into also developing personal villains for the heroes to have an enmity with. There were a few non-player characters who could have done this but I never drove this and in the end they all became allies facing a common menace.

A theme of my game was that it is sometimes necessary to unite with those of markedly different morality to ones own. With this and other themes I made the story be the messenger rather than give characters moralizing speeches (as is the trend in much fiction these days). I subverted a characteristic of sword-and-sorcery tales by having a barbarian warrior and an undead lich (literary rivals) work together to hone a future champion of The Lands. This non-player character resented the manipulation once discovered but took on a leadership role of her own volition, did so in her own way and re-positioned her mentors as followers.

Another subversion I enjoyed presenting was that of having a classical fantasy world successfully resist an incursion by forces more at home in cosmic horror. In my teens it seemed odd that Dungeons & Dragons had familiar fantasy races in it (like Elves and Dwarves and Goblins) but also hosted products of a more demented imagination (like Mind Flayers and Beholders). At the time I just assumed the game creators had been indulging in mind-altering substances back in the 70s. I now know that they were influenced by more than just J R R Tolkien and also drew on the shared settings of H P Lovecraft and R E Howard. My campaign can be seen as me expressing a preference for the former over the latter.

Hope was very much a message but so was bravery in the absence of hope. Characters in my fantasy setting assume they have an immortal spirit but the Starborn Invaders (as I called the cosmic horrors) had the ability to consume spirit as if it were energy. The moral challenge then was to resist for the sake of others and for the future even at the risk of personal annihilation. In this sense fantasy characters suddenly faced the kind of danger we face in reality. How they conducted themselves became as significant as any eventual victory or reward.

I got to enact so many schemes that I had been imagining for ages. In particular it was fantastic to show how one can time-travel by fooling history into thinking one belongs in the past. This was done to bring Lost Legions that had vanished in the past in the present to help save the world (in a variation of the old ‘Sleeping Hero’ legend that made an entire community the long-hoped-for saviour and a time-loop into the method that brings them back).

All that gaming has been recorded in whole paragraphs that are interesting to look back over and could in the future form the basis of some fiction writing. I could also now edit and expand the content of my Lands weblog but will have to decide what information should stay secret. And finally I should modify some of my ‘homebrew’ rules with game experience in mind (in particular my clergy and rogues need to be more useful relative to my warriors and mages).

The Lands was saved in the end but has also been changed. Populations have been disrupted. Balances of power have shifted and new alliances formed. Secrets were exposed and a few more generated. The Lost Wanderers were granted a province to govern while our original party won possession of an ancient and forgotten ‘sky-ship’. There could definitely be more gaming but for now I will give it a rest and get on with other things.

Thanks to my players Varia, Marty, Katrina and Sarah for all that gaming. You are fun-loving, inventive, creative, and as skilled at making peace as at winning wars. Thanks also to occasional guests Josh, Belinda and Cameron for help and extra company. I had a fantastic time.

Labels: ,

15.12.17

Same-Sex Marriage Victory

Around the turn of the century I was sitting among a group of progressive campaigners discussing whether there was any way of making same-sex marriage a legal fact. If only Labor would adopt a supportive policy and bind its parliamentarians to that while the Coalition allowed its parliamentarians a conscience vote then we may just have a chance of getting the numbers. A lot has changed since then.

Last week the Governor-General rubber-stamped legislation making same-sex marriage legal in Australia. This followed a decisive victory for the Senator Smith private members bill in both chambers of Federal Parliament. And this in turn had followed on logically from a majority result in the same-sex marriage postal survey that I discussed here. I was confident of the consensus across major parties to support change but it is nice to see it become an historic fact following decades of campaigning.

In this entry I will expand on some of the arguments I made in my pamphlet and discuss some of what passed during the campaign. I made that pamphlet as a 'do-it-yourself campaigner' but there was more to it than that. The official Yes campaign had a very simplistic three word message of 'Love Is Love' intended to resonate with the elusive 'average' Australian. This message was delivered in a professional and respectful manner but it was too wishy-washy for my tastes. I wanted something more nitty-gritty and so decided to become part of the large and amorphous unofficial Yes campaign.

I focused on rights and this was apparently also utilized by specialized affiliates of the official Yes campaign targetting recent migrant demographics. I feel vindicated in that the neighbourhood I letterboxed is very much a migrant area. I cannot ever be sure my few hundred pamphlets had an impact but I think it was important to try methods others were neglecting in this era of electronic echo chambers. I also did it because I discovered those electronic methods can be counter-productive.

On Facebook I had stated my position and invited disparate friends into discussion with me if they felt differently. This overture was almost instantly undermined by friends quipping that they too supported a Yes response and considered a No response to be stupid or nasty. Who is likely to engage with me if they see the dogmatic company I keep? I differed from much of the unofficial Yes campaign in my focus on respectful debate and my desire to change minds. This task has gotten harder in the past decade and that was amply demonstrated in the hours following the announcement of a nation-wide Yes majority in the well-attended postal survey.

Very quickly punters could see that some of the few electorates that showed only minority support for a Yes response were working class areas of diverse migrant populations. Soon I was countering all manner of comments on Facebook that were expressing opposition to homophobia by betraying borderline racist, creedist and classist attitudes. How can we switch so rapidly from humane to inhumane stances at the glance of an electoral info-graphic?

Part of the problem was the simplisitic notion that the campaign was defined only by 'love' and 'hate'. This dichotomy excludes the possibility of other conditions such as ignorance, confusion, fear or indoctrination. I met a lot of resistance to my advocacy for a more nuanced take and it was only on the following morning that antagonists started to back down.

The thing that made them step back (other than the passage of time in this fast-paced world) was the circulation of a long and well-crafted post by a queer campaigner of recent migrant background giving us a reality check and confirming that it takes time and work to change the minds of those who have been conditioned by particular traditions. It seems we trust personal anecdotes more than expert or even common sense arguments. This frustrated me because of my hours of effort the preceding day. There were many ways of thinking that had been sidelined. Here are a few:

* Any understanding of the facts will tell you that every electorate in the nation harbours thousands of both Yes and No respondents. It will also tell you that our citizenry excludes permanent residents and minors who cannot vote. Characterizing entire swathes of suburbia on the basis of one voluntary survey at one moment in time is beyond stupid.

* The concept of Pluralism tells us that society is composed of many overlapping interests whose political allegiances shift and change from issue-to-issue. The person you oppose today over same-sex marriage will be the person you side with on refugee rights tomorrow. With that in mind it seems emotionally vexed to demonize someone for any one stance.

* Historically, progressives like me have embraced universal notions of our common humanity and thus had understanding for those who think differently. Such a stance also allowed us to find common ground and change minds. Possibly this philosophy is too reminiscent of the utterances of some religious philosophers and therefore deemed hackneyed by many. But it works if we let it.

Any one of these concepts would have prevented the profiling of whole electorates but only the demand to back off from campaigners of particular demographics worked. In this sense identity politics proved ineffective. You would think the concept of 'Intersectionality' would have done the trick but it seems too difficult a concept to digest. Many were so stuck on the one track of opposing homophobia that for that moment all other forms of prejudice were forgotten and only personal anecdotes from particular activists could prompt a switching of tracks. Embracing our common Humanity would have done it automatically and allowed a 'privileged' person like me to get the job done. But I find I cannot use the power I supposedly have in online settings. Hence I stepped away from the computer and onto the streets.

Within the word limit of my pamphlet I defended 'Political Correctness' (PC) as a contemporary form of manners. That seems to contradict my criticism of identity politics in this post. However a distinction needs to be made. Few if any adverse effects of PC fall upon ordinary members of the public. Only its own adherents are hampered by the constant peer-driven behaviour management it engenders. This is a problem for progressives rather than for society as a whole. As such I can happily defend PC to the public.

The No campaigners made reference to lots of other tangential issues besides PC. My pamphlet summarily dismissed ludicrous notions like marrying animals or objects but I skirted the issue of Polyamory. I support the notion of a society that recognizes and accepts the practice of non-exclusive relationships between consenting adults. However it is also a debate for another day. Society needs time to consider this issue and polyamorists ourselves will have to decide exactly what it is we want from society.

Another distraction was the Safe Schools program but I never bothered to reference it. I have been on both sides of the educational fence and as such can be rather sceptical of ever-changing educational trends. But I also see the wider context of a society in which pragmatic teaching staff, family members, friends and popular culture all serve to ameliorate the shortcomings of theory. Overall, any education program that helps children have a better grasp of reality is one I support.

I argued for laws that conform to the way society is today. This by itself could result in problems but such laws need to also meet the test of minimizing harm and maximizing quality-of-life for all. Harm Minimization is also why I supported the consensus bill that accommodated some religious concerns. This is far better than a zero-tolerance driving of such resistance-to-change underground. Let them openly stand apart and have the public walk away from them in droves. Growing religious diversity will allow for the ability to shop around.

The one novelty of my pamphlet was its argument that same-sex marriage improves religious freedom by allowing those religious supporters of same-sex marriage to celebrate it. This even seemed to surprise progressive religious persons I shared it with (it is almost as if the truly compassionate among them are so focused on the needs of others that they forget that they have needs too). It was only once I sent this message to a number of religious groups who support change that I saw them starting to use the same argument. Possibly this straight agnostic had a small impact on how they saw themselves but you rarely can say for sure with campaigning efforts.

And now it looks like we are to have a public inquiry into religious freedoms. This is a last-ditch effort by the moral conservative minority within the Federal government to claw back some of what they feel they lost with the Smith bill. However inquiries tend to take on a life of their own and I think we will find this grows into something that represents all variations of religion in Australia rather than just those who called for it. So for instance what works for Christians will also have to apply to Muslims and this will limit how much any group pushes its case.

The moral conservatives have tested the concept of the 'moral majority' and found us wanting. I wonder what impact this will have on them. I suspect that it will embolden the moderates (across the major parties) to understand that Australians are far more permissive and accepting than they had imagined. I think it will also benefit parliamentary democracy at the expense of populist alternatives like plebiscites. And most importantly I think it will give confidence to queer Australians themselves to enter more fully into all aspects of society.

The survey was a divisive one but in reality any debate would have been. We still cling to the notion promoted during the Enlightenment that rights are innate but in practice they only exist because we make and maintain and refine them. A lot of work has been done by brave and tenacious queer campaigners. The result of same-sex marriage is far more than just a gesture. Existing marriages conducted overseas were instantly recognized and many more will soon be entered into. The legal rights associated with marriage will tangibly benefit many. Lives and even livelihoods will be improved as the economy gets a boost to wedding-related services. And there will be some very festive celebrations.

I have spent too many words in this post on whinging. I should remember that something I have actively supported for over two decades has now succeeded. This is a victory to be savoured and it is worth noting that nothing like this has ever happened in our history. We have done better than just win back lost ground. Rather it is new ground and better ground at that. Bring on the Summer of same-sex marriages galore.

Pamphlet

Labels: ,

27.11.17

Ensembles

I have always liked action and adventure tales focusing on a group of distinct characters working together. It usually draws my interest more than the lone champion single-handedly saving the day. This has impacted on many of my preferences in consuming fiction.

This is part of what makes Dungeons & Dragons, with its focus on a 'party' of adventurers, an appealing hobby. It's also why I preferred team-based arcade games like Golden Axe (1989) over the player-versus-player format of Mortal Kombat (1992) and its ilk. Yes the solo adventure Prop-Cycle (1996) was my all-time favourite due to its immersive nature but had it been a game of many winged bikes then it would have been better. Heck, the appeal of teams is even why my favourite Freddie Krueger horror is Dream Warriors (1987).

I am so attached to this format that I become vexed if ever it loses ground. From the moment the Mission Impossible (1996) movie turned into a solo adventure I lost enthusiasm for it (I'm more forgiving of its sequels because they construct a new team around the sole survivor of the first). I would rather watch something that had a team at its centre, even a reluctant one, and so much prefer The Man From UNCLE (2015). And while I still enjoy something like James Bond, the fact that they show the super-spy relying on the gadgets and data of support staff demonstrates that nobody is truly an island.

At this point you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m simply betraying collectivist political tendencies, but for me the 'team' concept enhances individuality much more than it promotes uniformity. The beauty of teams is in the differences between characters that provide for a complementary array of skills and dispositions. This make them more effective as protagonists and more interesting as characters.

This naturally takes me into the topic of ‘representation’ in fiction (which I discussed in the context of Star Trek ages ago). I selfishly value diversity in a movie because it helps me keep track of several characters I'm expected to recognize within a short timeframe. Movies made since the 60s, during which the counter-culture prompted the relaxation of dress-codes, are easier for me to follow because there is more to characters than suits, dresses and neat hair.

A more significant argument for representation in movies is that diverse audiences deserve to be presented with diverse heroes and villains. A fictional setting that looks more like our own world will seem more realistic and will give us a sense of our own role in both its mundane and fantastic aspects. Seeing someone like you playing a role in tales of daring-do can enthuse and empower (except possibly for those of us who have always been most drawn to the monsters and robots that we can never hope to be). Ensembles have the potential to do this well, even in just one story.

There is another justification for depicting diversity and it comes in the form of international cultural diplomacy. Hollywood has slowly come to recognize the massive audience that exists beyond the Anglosphere and has started to factor this into story and character design. A case of this is The Return Of Xander Cage (2017). The original Xander Cage movie was a solo spy flick with extreme sports elements, focusing on the titular character. Now in the new movie we are presented with two rival groups of agents who eventually combine into one. This group of mixed genders and cultural backgrounds includes both US and Chinese nationals. The movie was particularly popular in China and it is interesting to note which characters are 'good' and which are 'evil'.

The good characters are from many backgrounds and nations including both the US and China, while the evil characters are associated with the US government. In the flawed democracy that is the US nobody is remotely fazed by negative depictions of elites. In contrast, you cannot do the same thing to Chinese elites and hope to get a movie allowed into that one-party state. There is a smart side to representation in fiction that will slowly foster common values in story-telling.

The thing that prompted this blog post was that I recently saw Justice League (2017) and then revisited The Avengers (2012) so that I could compare the two comic book ensemble movies. The natural tendency among fans is to regard these as rivals (DC versus Marvel). I enjoyed both and think both do a decent job of giving room to some very larger-than-life characters. I also think it a mistake to regard them as arch-rivals. I partly say this because both movies benefited from the creative contributions of Joss Whedon, someone known for multi-character story-telling. I also say it because the competitors here are movie studios as much as comic book publishers and, with that in mind, we could be comparing Warner Brothers with Disney and with Twentieth Century Fox. I name that third company because another comic book ensemble movie - X-Men (2000) – is a favourite of mine.

The movie follows on from its comic book inspiration and lends itself perfectly to the characteristics that draw me to ensemble adventures. The characters all fit the one setting well because they are all understood to be 'mutants'. This is a lot more elegant than the Avengers or Justice League which both ask us to accept that our super-heroes are variously aliens, demi-gods and tech billionaires. In X-Men there is a good team and an the evil team (rather than just one enemy with anonymous followers). On both sides there are characters we can understand and even admire. And, to focus on just one aspect of representation, X-Men has a better gender ratio than either Avengers or Justice League, despite its name.

In the movie there are six heroes (Xavier, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Rogue, Cyclops, Storm) and of these, three are women. In solo movies the lone champion may be all things but in a team, different aspects or roles must be allocated. The leader and the action hero can be distinct. Likewise the point-of-view character can be different from the protagonist. Jean Grey is the in-story public face of her mutant community. Rogue is the character that young viewers can most relate to. And Storm arguably has the coolest mutant powers. This is all impressive stuff for a movie considerably older than either Avengers or Justice League.

In our Internet-facilitated present there is more communication back-and-forth between the producers and consumers of fiction than at any time since oral story-telling was the only show in town. As a result, there is a constantly refining check-list of things audiences want. It is interesting, then, to go back over movies from past decades and notice that factors like demographic representation were sometimes better then than now. How did past creators get things right in the absence of fans commenting on every move they made? We tend to forget the ebb-and-flow of historical progress. I’m still looking for more movies with ensembles in them. Feel free to give me some suggestions, so I can assess a larger representative sample...

Labels:

31.10.17

Long Barrows And Longer Flights

A few months ago I went on an eight night visit to the United Kingdom and now I'm writing about it while the memory is reasonably fresh. I'm presenting things more-or-less chronologically but may scatter some thematic elements into the mix.

Friday

My flight from Melbourne was on a Friday night and I had dinner in the City with Belinda before making my way to Melbourne Airport via Skybus. I was taking the contents of just my backpack and what I was wearing. Things went smoothly in getting onto my plane but there was one problem - I cannot sleep sitting. Therefore I just had to cope with staying awake for in excess of 36 hours (once factoring in the day of wakefulness preceding my flight). I killed time by watching movies but was too tired to truly concentrate on them. Meals and visits to the loo punctuated the purgatory of the long haul flight. There was also a change of planes in the seeming oasis of civilization that is Abu Dhabi. It was interesting to note the differences in security processes. Only there did I have to remove my belt. Is it because they are more thorough or because their technology is less sophisticated? Such musings filled my long journey to the other side of the planet.

Saturday

It was a relief to get to Heathrow Airport but my journey had to continue a few hours more. I had chosen to start my holiday in Cardiff and so travelled overland via train from England to Wales. However I was very awake as I was once more moving and daylight let me take in the sights of British farms and towns speeding past my window. We went through a very long tunnel that I later discovered was the Severn Tunnel cut deep under the Severn Estuary separating England from Wales. Following this, station signs bore both English and Welsh names.

It was a Saturday night in Summer as I walked from Cardiff Station to the Holiday Inn via an array of pedestrian malls and the youth of Cardiff were gathering to play in pubs and clubs. I reckon I heard more English than Welsh accents but I saw lots of flags depicting the Red Dragon of Wales. On getting to my accommodation, within sight of the River Taff and Bute Park, I noticed a restaurant on the ground floor and decided that my journey was over. I settled stuff into my room and then had a tasty dinner. There were net-connected computers in the foyer at which I had a quick login to tell friends I had safely arrived. Just like at home, I confined my net use only to local computers while in the UK. I had a lovely hot bath and slept solidly from something like 8pm to 8am.

Sunday

The following morning and for the next several days I felt fantastic. I was early to bed and early to rise. I had big breakfasts and moderate snacks later in the day. I had much less coffee and much more tea. I walked way more than even I usually do. It was fortunate as travel is a good time to feel alive. I have barely maintained this back in Australia since. Breakfast at the Holiday Inn was complimentary and was a smorgasbord of hot and cold fare which I sampled liberally. I even willingly ate egg (scrambled). Following this I prepared for the adventure of the day and the key attraction for me visiting Cardiff.

I walked from the city-centre to Cardiff Bay, guided only by a small printed map I'd prepared at home, and pretty soon saw something that puts Docklands in Melbourne to shame. The Welsh have developed an old harbour into a fantastic recreational precinct and I walked all the way to the barrage separating it from the Bristol Channel (called the Severn Sea in days past and the closest I got to seeing the Atlantic). I then turned back to attend my booked visit at the BBC Doctor Who Experience.

The Doctor Who Experience was something I was familiar with as a setting in the mockumentary The Five-ish Doctors Special. It has closed by now (the lease having ended and the Cardiff Council wanting to use it for some other development) so I'm very lucky it was still open at the time I got to the UK. My tour started with a marvelous simulated interactive adventure across a number of rooms which was targetted at children but worked well for a fan like me. Following that we entered into the exhibition proper and I saw so many artifacts from the history of possibly my favourite TV show. It was well worth the moderate ticket price I had spent online back home.

I cannot say for sure whether many other prices I accepted in the UK were value for money. I blithely spent money as if British pounds were Australian dollars. Likewise I walked around as if miles were kilometers and so I happily marched back to the city. But while still in Cardiff Bay I had a small lunch in the cafe of the Welsh National Assembly. Then back in the city I entered the grounds of Cardiff Castle to observe everything from the fragments of Roman foundation walls to an opulent Victorian mansion. My favourite bit was a Norman shell-keep and my first toleration of steep-stepped climbs. An ivy-laced alcove sporting a well prompted my imagining of medieval wenches and swains gathering for a bit of gossip.

That night I had a small shop-purchased dinner of assorted snacks in my room.

Monday

In Cardiff and beyond I had also done some wandering of back-streets and shops. There were all sorts of small differences I noticed. Of the few that had an impact on my life was some odd lighted pedestrian crossings at which one has to look sideways to see the lights change (rather than across the road). In most other ways the societal similarity between Australia and the UK (from speaking English to keeping to the left) made my solo journey an easy one.

And so my travels continued with a train ride back under the Severn Estuary and onto Bristol. I got to this vibrant English provincial city on the River Avon and had hours till my check-in time at the Bristol Youth Hostel, so I decided to get my big tourist objective done. It involved walking along streets of the harbour (more a canal) and then climbing the rather diagonal Clifton neighbourhood. I was definitely lost in that maze of steep back-switching streets except in the sense that I knew I had to get to the top of the hill. And once I did I saw my destination - the impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge. This engineering landmark of the Industrial Revolution also afforded excellent views of the lush and rugged Avon Gorge.

Later on I checked into the youth hostel in the hip harbour area and had a rest. But there were still many hours of wakefulness and so next I wandered the city asking for directions. One of my objectives was a public library (for Internet) and on the way I saw cathedrals and university halls. Later I found an Odeon (a small cinema complex of the 70s-80s kind) and watched Atomic Blonde. This action spy movie has some nudity and I later joked that this was how I got to see some 'bristols' while in Bristol.

Tuesday

I left Bristol on another train for the heart of rural England. I got off in Swindon and sat for a few minutes on the platform studying one of my maps. As I did so I noticed a pigeon tamely sitting on the window sill just behind my bench and drew the attention of a station attendant to it. This then gave me the chance to ask her to clarify directions for me within her township. I visited the post office (to dispatch some postcards home) and library. It seems to me that if you truly want to see a town then look for everyday things like that. I went to the bus station and it was while riding that bus I finally felt I was in the UK.

You see everything is a bit like every other thing and so in some ways visiting the UK was only different by degrees from visiting another Australian state. We are of the same basic culture and the gentle British Summer was very like the Spring or Autumn of my childhood. And yes Doctor Who is quintessentially British but it is also an international linchpin of nerd culture. But as my bus rushed along rural roads and stopped at rustic villages it sunk in that this was another land.

My bus took me to the township of Faringdon with its surprisingly compact market square and its tiny box-like town hall. Here I ate lunch in a pub that was a coach house back in the days of highway robbery. At the information centre someone lamented to me that the town had once been much bigger but had shrunk since freeways by-passed Faringdon (a familiar story also for towns in Australia). I had to cross one of those freeways on foot on the next and most intrepid part of my journey, as I walked to the village of Uffington.

I had been advised to walk on the right of small rural roads so that I could see on-coming cars and get out of the way. I discovered however that this was a challenge. In some long stretches of my walk there was zero space between the road and a wall of thorns. On other parts of my walk the road curved in such a way that I could only hear and not see traffic. And then in one such instance an over-flying plane made even listening difficult! Nonetheless I eventually got to the village of Uffington in White Horse Vale and my two nights of accommodation at the Fox And Hounds public house. I had a modern cabin to myself and a tasty dinner (chased with cider) in the beer garden. I also had time to wander the small community and note its village green, its store, its community hall, its church, and its town museum (only open weekends). I spent some of my evening watching UK TV then slept the slumber of the well-walked.

Wednesday

This day had always been dedicated to one long intermittent walk to some ancient British sites. I set off following complimentary breakfast and a visit to the store. Once more I had to walk along roads but, given my trepidation of the previous day, I soon decided to follow a sign inviting me onto one of the many 'footpaths' in England that cut across both public and private land and preserve ancient 'rights of way' existing since Saxon times. This removed the danger of traffic but presented a new challenge - hidden pathways. I was sure I was following the correct way in that it was of the same width and turned towards my intended destination. However it took me right into the centre of a horse farm and the farmer kindly gave me a ride in his tractor back to the correct path. That pathway was nothing more than a narrow gap in the trees. I followed it along the border between crops and eventually back onto a road. On this walk I got to see rabbits and pheasants among the coppice.

I traversed more fields and climbed Dragon Hill. From there I saw the 3000 year old Uffington White Horse, the stylized chalk hill figure of a quadruped. I next climbed the larger hill to the chalk horse itself and got as close as fencing would allow me. I took in the vistas afforded from this elevation. Since returning I have made a bit of artwork inspired by this experience.

From there I walked along The Ridgeway, a chalk road between farms and national parkland. It was a fine day, which was fortunate, as there was scant shelter on this hike. Eventually I came to a grove in which lies a 5000 year old long barrow that in much more recent Saxon times was dubbed Wayland's Smithy. I sat on a log while taking in the setting and had a ploughman's cheese sandwich and elderflower mineral water. I experienced nothing numinous at this time but visiting this neolithic tomb was still an emotionally satisfying experience. I moreorless reversed my walk back to Uffington and spent another slow evening in the village, reviewing my experiences to date.

Thursday

On this misty morning I stood outside the Fox And Hounds waiting for a taxi to take me back to Faringdon. The taxi driver was whining to me that that township was getting too big with too many migrants and I found this comment contrasted markedly with what I had been told at the information centre two days previously. You cannot make everyone happy it seems.

I feel that my UK holiday had a goodly balance of structure and flexibility. For instance, rather than return to Swindon I decided on a whim to get the bus onward to Oxford so as to cover new ground. In that university town I witnessed more tourists per capita than I think I did at any time in the UK. I wandered around admiring canals and buying postcards in a domed library. Following lunch I took a train to London. On the way I saw more of rural and urban England and wondered at oddments like the now obsolete gas holders or 'gasometers'.

By the time I got to Paddington Station it was a lovely sunny day. I walked into the streets of London and it just went on and on. I recognized many landmarks but never till then had a sense of the huge space in which they are arrayed along the Thames. Melbourne has massive suburban sprawl but the city centre of London itself seemed never-ending. I walked passed a diversity of Londoners enjoying the day in Hyde Park. I barely acknowledged Buckingham Palace. I continued briskly because I was late to meet my hosts Steve & Nieves. Eventually we met and took the tube back to their neighbourhood of Roehampton. In that area I saw squirrels frolicking in the same way one does possums in Melbourne suburbia.

It was good to stay with friends and have company. And yet it also made things a bit tense for me in that suddenly I had to make compromises and plans with others. I had grown accustomed to making all my decisions solely for me. Still I was more than compensated by home cooked dinners and watching action movies in the living room with friends.

Friday in London

It was a workday for my hosts so I went on a lone exploration back into the city. I walked along both sides of the Thames and saw Big Ben, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Saint Paul's Cathedral and Australia House. My objective for the day was the British Museum. During this holiday I was frugal with some things and fancy-free with others. So for instance I deliberately saw only those parts of the museum that were free. On the other hand I had whatever food I felt like and purchased public transport tickets one at a time as whim dictated. In the British Museum I concentrated on classical Greek, Etruscan and Roman relics, including the Rosetta Stone. It is surprisingly tiring to browse all that history and so I enjoyed a relaxed night with my hosts once I got back to Roehampton.

Weekend in London

On the weekend Steve & Nieves shouted me to a ferry ride from Westminster to Greenwich. There was lunched at some fantastic markets and then walked to the famous observatory. One has to pay to get into the yard in which the International Date Line is marked on the pavement. However we had walked around the compound so I remarked we had already crossed the imaginary line twice!

Back in London proper we wandered around seeing more public spaces and this experience prompted me to start singing things like "feed the birds tuppence a bag..." Then we returned to the Roehampton area and had a pub dinner nestled in a neighbourhood surrounded by Wimbledon Common (but I never saw any Wombles).

The next day we walked to the massive Richmond Park and had a good wander around. It is so massive it supports its own herd of deer. Following lunch I made my way back to Heathrow and started my long journey home.

Monday And Tuesday Return

Another purgatory of plane flights followed and I coped pretty well. It was a relieve to be home partly because I missed friends and familiar settings. However it was also a relief because I had been aware of the additional dangers I faced by travelling. Yes statistics were on my side but it is also true that I did many things I only do sporadically. Fears of plane crashes, terrorist incidents and falling asleep on an ancient hillside to be whisked away to Fairyland all crossed my mind. I had even made preparations back home for my demise to make life simpler for those left behind. I think this is wise but I also was bugged by a vague sense of guilt instilled in me by that old and stupid superstition of 'jinxing' things by thinking or talking of them. Well I tempted fate and survived.

The ride back into the City on Skybus in the wee small hours was cool and dark and prepared me for a good sleep-in once I finally got home. I'm left with a sense of having had a short yet enriching holiday and think I will do more in future. For now however there is plenty of fun to be had back home.

Labels: ,

24.9.17

Same-Sex Marriage Campaign

Here in my homeland we are presently facing the most divisive and protracted one-issue political campaign of my lifetime in the form of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. It has been a while since I blogged on the topic of marriage equality but right now it is useful to record my reflections on the issue. I’m a bit of a do-it-yourself campaigner and designed my own pamphlet promoting a ‘Yes’ response to the question ‘Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?’ In this post I will share text from that A4-sized three-fold in which I offer locals 'the personal view of a neighbour who has voted Yes in the 2017 Postal Survey'.

My key arguments for supporting same-sex marriage are:

* Human Rights are by definition universally shared by all those who can exercise them. Marriage should apply to all consenting adults wishing to marry. And the beauty of this is that extending a right to a hitherto excluded group still allows full enjoyment of that right by those who already have it. This is a win-win scenario for us all.

* Right now our society has same-sex couples living in long-term committed partnerships that lack the legal protections that only marriage offers. Right now there are kids with two mothers or two fathers who suffer because of the disadvantage their parents face. We have many different forms of family but the law is lagging behind this reality. Our laws should recognize the way our society is today.

* Even religious freedom is an argument for same sex marriage. A growing number of churches support same-sex marriage but currently they cannot conduct weddings for some of their members. A truly secular society should give all religious groups the same standing. But for now the wishes of only some persons of faith are dictating how the rest can express that faith. A change for the better will allow all groups to decide who they will support in marriage.

* I have friends who are in committed long-term same-sex relationships. Some of them have children to whom they provide safe and loving homes. All of them deserve the recognition and the legal protections that only marriage can confer. I want them to be happy and be accepted by our community.

* I for one am angry that we are having this postal survey at all. It is a distortion of our parliamentary democracy and a waste of public funds. Some who feel the same way are talking of boycotting it. But how is ‘boycotting’ any different from simply forgetting to mail your survey back in? A better way is to participate. This political campaign has been imposed on us by a small group of politicians who insisted on side-stepping parliament. They are a minority even among conservatives and hope to win by changing the rules of play. And never forget that this stubborn gang want us to vote ‘No’. Only a ‘Yes’ vote will send them a message that they are part of a bigger society that is sick of political games.

I also responded to some of the arguments introduced by opponents of same-sex marriage:

* Free Speech means that I can express opinions and you can respond. If I say something offensive I can expect someone to tell me so. ‘Political Correctness’ is just a kind of manners asking us to respect members of our diverse society. Like manners it can be taken too far but like manners we each decide how much to accept it. The fact we are debating this proves we still have free speech.

* A civil union or de-facto relationship is better than nothing but there are many legal rights that only marriage ensures, including inheritance, child custody and medical power-of-attorney.

* Producing children is only one purpose of marriage. Consider all the male-female couples who will never have children but who are still allowed to marry. There are also mixed families, sole-parent families, adoptive families. Children should be made aware of all this.

* ‘Will same-sex marriage be followed by marrying the family dog?’ Such ridiculous questions overlook a fundamental concept – Informed Consent. Put simply, Rover cannot say 'I do' no matter how much you ask. The postal survey will at most result in the legalizing of same-sex marriage and nothing more.

Finally I gave a short reflection on why I decided to make a pamphlet:

* I want there to be more to this campaign than slick ads and smart-arsed Internet memes. I decided to become like the pamphleteers of old and engage with my community by presenting arguments rather than just slogans. All I did to bring this to your letterbox was use a word-processor, print at the local library, and have a walk in the Spring sunshine. I hope you take a few minutes to read and consider its content.

There is a lot more I could say on this issue but for now I will just keep it to what I managed to fit onto one sheet of paper. Following the close of survey collection I will expand the content of this post. If there is any Australian citizen looking at this post at the time of its publication then feel free to comment - I welcome any respectful and reasoned discussion.

Labels:

1.8.17

Long Intended Short Holiday

This month I will be having a holiday in the United Kingdom (England and Wales specifically). In this post I will refer to my key destinations and my motives for choosing them.

Most of my flying experience has been within Australasia. It was over two decades ago that I last went as far as Europe and I was much younger then. As an older person I suspect I will feel more aches from the long flights. However back then I only had a short story anthology and pen-and-paper to while away the hours. This time there will be much more in the way of personalized audio-visual entertainment.

But onto the objective of my journey. I have wanted to travel for ages and initially was intending to do something more ambitious. However the weeks and months would pass with me making few if any plans. Finally I decided to truncate my intentions and suddenly I was getting things done. I figure that a short holiday in the UK will act as a testing bed for my experience as a lone traveller and then following that I can try for more things (such as more of the European Union and also visiting some long-lost relatives in Japan).

I will be starting my holiday with two nights in Cardiff. The key attraction that warranted this decision is the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. I am that much of a fan that this is an exciting thing for me. I will get to see lots of cool props and sets such as some console rooms including the current variation from the Peter Capaldi era. I wonder if there will be any new designs on display intended for the latest Doctor incarnation to be played by Jodie Whittaker? The imagination runs wild!

There will be other attractions to visit in the capital of Wales. I hope to walk passed the Welsh National Assembly and will be staying close to Cardiff Castle. I have also chosen to visit Wales in recognition that the UK is one state but more than one nation. However from there I will move onto England and have a one night stay in the provincial city of Bristol and see things like the Avon Gorge.

The centrepiece of my holiday is an adventure in the Vale of White Horse. I will stay at a village inn for two nights so that I can potentially spend a whole day walking to and from the ancient sites of the Uffington White Horse and Wayland’s Smithy. These attract me more than something more well-known like Stone Henge and possibly this is due to a TV show I saw in childhood called The Moon Stallion.

I call this part of my holiday an adventure because to get to and from my accommodation I will need to take trains, buses and walk many miles. The UK may be a world power but it still has its remoter parts (for a non-driver at any rate).

The last part of my holiday will be spent visiting friends Steve & Nieves in the world city of London. My hosts of three nights have some things planned for me and I also hope to visit things like the British Museum. I get the impression from maps that merely wandering around will show me some iconic stuff. I can expand on what I see in another blog post.

One philosophy I am taking to this holiday is the notion that you cannot do everything but that anything you do is worth it. So my visit to the UK is a mere sampler but in the parts I will experience something of the whole. I just hope they have some bottled iced coffee once I get there.

Labels:

12.7.17

Testing Times

In this entry I will explore the fate of my online tests. My tone may be somewhat testy...

Class And Stutus Test (Considered)

I was recently motivated to design my third online test by what struck me as overly simplistic discussions of class during recent elections of world significance. It seemed that too many were now reducing the concept of class to just differences in income. This then legitimized arguments that one can only have economic grievances if one is of markedly low income. Such thinking instantly clashed with my own observations and preferences.

For most of my life I have fitted the description of a person of below-average income living in an urban area. This is a position I would much rather be in than the contrasting one of an average income person living in a depressed rural area. Infrastructure, services and personal networks are far more important to me than (say) affording a house in a hick-town. And yet many of my cohort summarily dismissed the concerns of rural voters in the context of the last US Presidential election because there existed urban voters of lower income.

This got me thinking that it could be worthwhile to make an online test that expanded the notion of what makes us well-off. One possibility was to draw on the Weberian distinction between economic class and cultural status. I drafted some questions and then visited the website OKCupid (also known as HelloQuizzy). It was then that I discovered a problem.

Links to my existing two online tests took me to an apologetic webpage declaring that something was broken. Other well-known tests from the same site had the same problem. And it went on for months. I sent a message to the administrators and the only response I got was to acknowledge that a problem exists rather than to say they had any plans to fix it. What was I to do?

Political Objectives Test

Only one of my two online tests particularly mattered to me - the Political Objectives Test. It had been operating for over a decade and had been taken many tens of thousands of times. It was one of the best-rated tests in its category and had garnered lots of positive feedback from across the political spectrum. I enjoyed observing it assess the ideology of test-takers and then comparing that with the content of user profiles (which tended to confirm my test results). I was proud of it and wonder if I should find a new host site.

Finding a new site will take time and effort. Re-writing the test into a new template will be fiddly. I have been busy with other things. And I also now have a sense that times have changed since my test became operational. Even just in the last decade something has shifted in the nature of politics that transcends ideology. Take a look at the underlying message of my test.

It gave users one of over twenty labels but it also showed them how those labels were inter-related and overlapping. My own test results are a case-in-point. As a progressive I got 78% in both equality and liberty and only 28% in stability. In other words I gave stability some credence but within limitations. As such I had something in common even with ideological rivals. This understanding is one at odds with present forms of political awareness.

Now more than anytime in my life the default is to assume we are nothing like those we argue with. Combined with this is a sense that many of us now define our politics by what we oppose rather than what we represent (as discussed here). And to the extent we represent something it tends to be defined by demographics rather than ideology. The notion of universals that we can all ascribe to is replaced by clannish interests determined by what we are rather than what we believe.

With all this in mind the Political Objectives Test may be rather obsolete. It can hardly compete with newer and slicker Internet-based interactions fostering a growth in political awareness that is both rapid and rudimentary in nature. I hark back to the many times I stood at polling places for a political party. It was usual for campaigners across party lines to interact well and this frequently surprised the average apolitical voter. The impression of politics as conflict (admittedly bolstered by the use of military words like ‘campaign’ and the play-acting of parliaments) is never disabused by the rushed and distorted forms of indoctrination I now observe online. And since political activity can safely be enacted from ones own room one need never have caricatures of politics challenged.

If you are still interested in my test you can always take it manually at this site of mine. But there are more fun ways of spending time.

British Eccentric Test

The other test of mine that is broken was the result of a conversation with a friend that turned into a silly test done just for fun. The British Eccentric Test can still be taken manually here if you are that way inclined. I suspect only an eccentric would bother.

Incidentally I will be visiting the United Kingdom soon and so will possibly get a chance to observe British eccentrics in their native habitat. I wonder if that will make me want to revise my impressions of what makes them tick.

Labels: ,

12.6.17

Carry On Trucking

Recently I've been re-watching some old Carry On films which I have a perverse fondness for. These comedy romps dominated British cinema in the 60s and 70s and delivered a brand of bawdy humour that is now rather dated. I originally saw them as a child who was oblivious to a lot of that bawdiness. It was just silly fun for me. I now find them both fun and charmingly indicative of changing times.

I once scripted and recorded an audio-only spoof trailer for a non-existent Carry On movie. This was done as a bit of a joke for Belinda who was driving a pink truck at the time as part of her sanitization job. I remembered that I still had it on my smartphone and decided it would be fun to share here. The text of that script follows.

* * * * *

Narrator: In 2012 the economy depends on sweet-smelling workplace washrooms. Is the future a sterile and sanitary time? One company delivers scent-units to all workplace washrooms in the city until...

Foreman: Gov'nor, a few of the men are reporting in sick with man-flu!

Worker: Gordon Bennett, I got the man-flu.

Boss: But we have to get all units delivered daily, or there'll be a furore!

Narrator: That's when young Nancy in payroll chips in with a suggestion.

Nancy: Boss, I drove tractors back at the farm in Shropshire. I can drive a lorry, and all my accounts work is done for the next few days.

Narrator: Nancy does her round in record time and so the boss gets her to show the ropes to another employee, Cindy from quality control, and that's when the fun begins!

Nancy: Cindy, our first delivery for the day is to the Boxtop Paint Factory. I'll just take the units in and you stay here in the loading bay.

Narrator: Later...

Nancy: Cindy, what have you done?

Cindy: I'm sorry Nancy, I never meant to back into this mountain of paint cans!

Nancy: Our poor truck is all pink. How will the lads back at the depot take us seriously now?

Narrator: But whatever the truck colour, the round must be completed, as Nancy and Cindy visit an aged care facility...

Old Letch: Nice tush you got there.

Cindy: 'Ere, keep your mitts to yourself!

Nancy: These geezers may be old but they're still like boys down at the local.

Cindy: I'll say.

Narrator: A mannequin warehouse...

Nancy: Blimey, I wouldn't mind having knockers as perky as those plastic ones.

Cindy: Get outta here Nancy, I'd love to have smashing bristols like yours.

Nancy: Well you say that now with them all covered and coddled.

Cindy: Come on then, let's compare ours while nobody's looking.

Narrator: And Luna Park!

Nancy: Cindy, how in blazes did you get the truck onto the Scenic Railway?

Cindy: Look out! Here comes the roller coaster!

Narrator: Take a look forward to the year 2012, as Nancy, Cindy and a pink truck deliver good, clean fun in the smash hit of 1973, Carry On Trucking.

* * * * *

This still brings a smile to my face with how dumb it is. It is also rather representative of what it spoofs and includes slapstick, innuendo and messing with once entrenched gender roles. I'm kinda scared of how it will be received on YouTube but disabling comments should insulate me (that and the fact that this is a needle in a haystack of online content).

Labels: ,

24.5.17

Cross-Posted

Way back in November 2005 I started this blog (as discussed here) as part of a trend among Korner friends. Then a short time later in August 2006 I was persuaded onto LiveJournal as Originaluddite to follow the gossip among choristers. Initially I did longer-form writing here (as I still do) while Originaluddite was for shorter and cuter posts. Eventually however Facebook (initially accessed to help me keep track of Lukas while he was adventuring overseas) became my medium for pithy stuff and I made the content of both this blog and Originaluddite identical from May 2009. But that has now changed.

Recently the ownership of LiveJournal changed hands and as a result its terms-and-conditions are now subject to the laws of a multi-national state that is a tad too authoritarian for my liking. Now it may well be that this change would never have a direct impact on me. However many friends feel (i) that you cannot be too careful and (ii) that it is ethically better to distance ourselves from this particular world power. And so I have closed that other account.

However there was content on it that I wanted to keep and so I went on a screen-capturing frenzy to get its unique content from 2006 to 2009 (or at any rate the stuff that was still of interest). This included many of the attendant comments posted by others (which had always been set to 'public'). Then I pasted many of the comments since 2009 to the corresponding blog posts here (Originaluddite in that timeframe tended to get a lot more commentary than I get here but in recent times even it has dwindled to almost nothing).

This act of wariness also fits my other objective of having a simpler life online. As a result of this I will never more have to write 'cross-posted here'. There is still one more thing I have to do however and that is remove all those links to a now non-existent account (because broken links are a form of messiness that vexes me). I will do a bit of that now...

Labels: