Friday, July 31, 2009

My earliest memory of reading; Psyche, Port Moresby and Doggybook

Pav is compiling a book. First experiences of reading. In an aside, I like that I know a couple of real writers now, Pav is indeed claim-to-fame material and I do hope for this reason in particular that she gets the Booker one day for something.

So anyway I added my own recollection, as much an image, a frame of memory interspersed with characters and emotions as a story:

Port Moresby, 4-5 years old, behind is the garden dominated by a couple of huge rainforest trees, perhaps figs, sun filtering in, I'm looking at a blackboard, or maybe one of those word charts, the word I remember was dog, dog was important because of Psyche, my first and only dog, Psyche didn't mind when I was adopted into the family, she adopted me too, her crazy, bug-eyed blue heeler face smiling and happy in my first memories of the world, so I read dog and my father approved and everything lined up in my world.

Later I learned she would stand in front of my cot, becoming aggressive when anyone other than my parents approached.

30 years later I put down a brochure on Steiner schools because they talked of reading like it was a chore. I loved it then, I love it now.

So does Bear.

Mitts is too young of course, but his favourite toy is Doggybook.

Life is more of a continuum than is first apparent...

I do not know whether we will still read, in a way that you and I would now recognise, in a couple of decades. But I hope that the art of enjoying books, and sophisticated narrative, is not lost in the continuing spiral of blogs, tweets, iPhones and high volume information dispersal.

The visceral pleasure of handling the book has not yet been lost. One day, Mitta Man's love of mauling Doggybook may translate into a Phd thesis containing the secret to peace for all humankind.

If we get to the point where it is all downloaded instantly into our brains, I think something will be lost. Call me a luddite, a sentimentalist...

Loss of Yoof #466: Comfortable Clothing

I saw a sale at Kathmandu. I went there and tried on the clothes. I bought 3 long-sleeved tops. One is not even for active wear- a fitted navy merino wool top that will get worn in situations where sartorial effort is noted and expected.

Just 5 years ago this would have been unthinkable. The problem is a single top I bought about 4 years ago, in a sale, on a whim, as a 'backup'. And the problem, really, was that it was so, so comfortable. And resilient. And capable of going running with me, or sitting under a jacket quietly keeping me warm, or allowing my torso to breathe just the right amount as I huffed under a couple of dumbbells on a sweaty bench. And, despite having no pretence to fashionable status, it didn't look half bad either- good colour and cut can take an item of clothing, and its wearer, a long way.

Now I have 3 more. I am a dad, and 40 approaches. 5 years ago I was playing lead guitar in a dirty indie rock band called the Fat Controller. Now I read books about him.

I think I am at peace with this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Out of the mouths of Bears...

The frankness of children.

Beloved had just passed through the checkout, with Bear sitting up in the trolley taking in all and sundry, and was still within earshot. Woman at the checkout, in addition to being rather grumpy, was notably well-padded.

Says a Bear:

That lady had a BIG TUMMY. I think she's got a BABY in it.

In other Bearisms of the moment I particularly like Hostabull, as in Daddy, dolly's got a sore head, SHE's got to go to da HOStabull.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Honesty Time: I am an irritable drunk

Calling all parents, take note. Time to fess up to your negligence, at home and at work.

From this week's Crikey squatter compilation in my inbox:

Nearly all individuals deprived of two- three hours of sleep per night over a week will show impaired brain function with a level of functioning equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration between 0.05-0.08%. Similarly, the majority of people when reduced to an average sleep duration of four hours per night or less will become irritable, subject to emotional outburst and will engage in stereotypical thinking and language.

From Professor Drew Dawson, sleep boffin.




Seeing as you ask, it was 3.5 hours last night, and the night before. A wonderful combination of my insomnia at one end and Mitt-Mitts love of dawn at the other...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Snow Bear, Snow Mitts

I didn't tell the tale of our first trip to the snow. Things have been busy. But it was an extraordinary trip.

We drove up to Lake Mountain through mostly bushfire-blackened country. Shells of former homes stood, roofless, with sad figures stumbling over the wreckage. FOR SALE signs waited for takers. The random horror was exacerbated by chunks of brilliant green missed by the fire, and immaculate houses, sometimes with the charred ground running to the doorstep. It was heartbreaking.

Marysville of course was decimated, but little businesses operated in makeshift premises centred around the bakehouse, the very same one where Beloved and I enjoyed a lazy breakfast years ago, before Bear and Mitts, when she brought me to the same place to experience cross country skiing for my birthday.

There had been snow a couple of days earlier, but the weather was set to warm slightly and rain was on the cards so we were nervous. The expectations a girl had been building up all autumn were about to be realised or pathetically dashed.

Look Bear, it's dark, why? Coz it's getting close to winter. And what happens in winter? We're going to the SNOWW!

The final drive to the snow line has always built this sense of excitement and trepidation- I'm instantly taken back to my childhood as we snake higher up the mountain and the drizzle commences. Staring at the ditches, into the undergrowth, trying to spot early lumps of snow.

Parks Victoria advertised the previous day that the facilities had been damaged in a fire (another one!). They stated on their website that no entry fee would apply. This was in marked conflict with the truth on the mountain (to put it diplomatically). While I could appreciate the need to support and fund their services on the mountain and so had no major objection to paying, it never ceases to amaze me how many of my fellow public servants believe they can breach both the code of conduct and laws against misleading and deceptive conduct without batting an eyelid.

I'm sure if they'd asked for donations on the day most people would still have paid. Anyway, moving along...

A short time later the clumps appeared, then bigger white patches, and I started to get a slight sense of euphoria. Happy, I felt happy. I wanted to clap. I repeated myself over and over while pointing out the window. The cover got deeper, deep enough to play.

We got to the parking area, were guided into a tight spot designed for single people to effortlessly step out in designer gear and run to the slopes. Not for parents who have to change 2 kids while propping the door open halfway. I propped, commenced, the wind blew the drizzle into the car and on the kids' faces and reality hit. Easy. The snow would not be easy.

1 mitten was missing, a great start with the temperature hovering around 0.5 degrees.

15 minutes later Bear and I stumbled through the car park towards the main slope while Beloved and Mitts headed for a quiet spot to feed. I found a quiet spot with other young families, plopped her on the snow, and the fun began. And, despite the missing mitten (we did a lot of tucking into the sleeve!) and some of the worst winter weather possible, she had cackling good fun!

Kids are so hardy when there's stuff to play on- I was reminded of one trip to the snow when I was about 14, we got to the resort in the evening, and I insisted on going up in the chairlift and skiing the last run despite being dressed in just a cheap tracksuit. Shivering is for wimps!

We staggered around for a while trying to find Beloved, and came across a quiet pocket of untrammelled powder. There was a snowman, we built another, using little woodchips as facial features. I got Bear to smash a couple of snowballs on my chest. Her nose and cheeks were bright pink and wet, that little hand was getting icy, but she laughed and smiled and I forgot how much work it was for a while and just enjoyed.

We found the others, and our friends from Melbourne, and put their girl and Bear on a toboggan together. My mate dragged them down the slope, narrowly avoiding various other nutters, while I gave Beloved a break and carried Mitts.

He snuggled up to my chest in the Baby Bjorn, under my ski jacket, and went to sleep. Bless him and his cotton socks.

Soon the kids (a euphemism for the adults) were a bit too cold and we headed down to our cottage, Holly Lane Mews. The girls shared a room and minxed until we had to separate them (with much laughter). We ate and drank and chatted like real people do. It was good, and the setting was beautiful.

Yet charred ground ran to the edge of this property as well, and we were to learn that the fire came close, so close. People died a couple of hundred metres away. I think they appreciated the visit, and would not be averse to more.

And the postscript is- when we got back to the car after the snow, all cold and wet, the missing mitten fell out onto the asphalt. Like a smoking gun, the jury shaking their heads, the charges of parental incapacity looking indefensible...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hyper parenting? Un-hyper grandparenting?

Grandparent books. The disconnect between parental and grandparental expectations, or perhaps to frame it better expectations on themselves, is very clear when you start browsing grandparent books.

Why would I start browsing grandparent books? Possibly because my parents, always falling over themselves to improve their relationship with us and Beloved in particular, sent us a book about hyper-parenting.

Because it was my father who sent it, and he, although making stuff-all effort most of the time (he hasn't seen his grandson yet), does not have a history of criticising Beloved, Beloved took this ok. She's actually attempting to read it.

But you can only make 1 of 2 things out of such a gift: they think generally parenting has gone hyper and want to get us thinking about it, or they think we specifically are a risk for this. If it's the latter it's just the latest in a long line of cases of my father not listening, not knowing who I am and making assumptions that are rather displaced from reality.

Kind of like where being isolated and depressed at boarding school translates into 'having lots of fun and partying'.

We have no 'hyper' plans for the kids- even our favourite, number 1 preferred activity for them (music) is entirely optional in our minds and plans. We aren't planning to:

- send them to boarding school (over my dead body would I perpetrate such misery on my own children);

- judge their aptitude for creative pursuits based on whether they tough it out with strict lessons and practice;

- keep them from watching any TV whatsoever;

- get them maths tutoring the moment they start getting marks slightly less than A+;

- tell them they are a failure if they don't pass year 12;

- get them all excited about going on a student exchange then tell them they can only go if they are accepted in a program to go to Japan, because people work hard there and that'll sort you out;

- push them to 'do useful things' like cadets, learning to fly gliders, duke of ed, anything whatsoever except play with friends, because that's a 'waste of time';

- et. cetera.

Who would that be? Not the very same father who just sent the book about hyper-parenting?

Anyways, so in the spirit of humour I went looking for a suitable guidebook on grandparenting to send back. Something like the Idiot's Guide to Grandparenting, for example. And what do you know? The Idiot's Guide has all but flopped, no copies in Australia. And only about 3 books with any sense of 'instructional' about them. And about 6,000* indulging grandparental wants, from how to infect grandkids with your religious beliefs to why this really is your rightful time to have fun and take no responsibility.


How about a new grandparenting book with the following chapters:

OMG you aren't the parents anymore

OMG means Oh My God and 1000 other things you may have missed in the past 2 decades

Like the shift from formula back to breastfeeding

Was your son riding a bike and speaking French at the age of 3 or is it your memory?

Why DID that umpteenth insult fcuk up your relationship with your daughter in law?

Planes- why it's just as easy for 2 middle aged people to fly as a family of 4

Tits on a bull- rethinking useful and useless input

I'm onto something here. No grandparents would buy it, of course.

Anyway, I decided not to send anything back, partly to give him the benefit of the doubt and partly because I can spend the money more fruitfully on a large bag of Haigh's chocolates. Happy wife equates to more immediate and tangible rewards.

File under ng ng ng ng...

*possible exaggeration due to annoyance here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TV watching- an early victory

One of the times we have been most relaxed about Bear and TV is the final feed- a quiet drink of milk on the couch around 6.45-7ish. I get Bear some warmed-up milk while she 'helps clean up' (often by pulling a few more things out of the shelf) then we flop together on the sofa and stare at the box.

The highlight for Bear is Wednesday nights when "Simon an' Maggie are going to put it on it"; we watch the Cook and the Chef in action and Bear interrogates me constantly about what that is or what they're doing. Beloved usually wanders down just before 7, having fed Mitts, and requests the closing moments of Neighbours. The news headlines come on, then by the time it gets to sport (about 8 minutes on ABC news these days) we're trundling up the stairs to bed. All things going well Beloved and I are standing in the kitchen 10 minutes later toasting our continued hold on sanity with a glass of red...

Recently Bear has been throwing a spanner in the works, but one I'm quite proud of. As I've offered to put on the TV she's told me in no uncertain terms that the TV won't be going on, and requests ranging from

"dum dum the mountain song" (classical music, specifically Night on Bare Mountain) to

"Mitt-Mitts' music box the beatles' one" (Baby you can drive my car, as played on her brother's new music box)

are proffered instead.

Beloved has even made the mistake of walking out and putting on the TV, only to be shouted at by an incensed 2-and-a-half year old music afficionado!

Will it continue, or will we end up dealing with the flaccid misery of TV or game addicted kids, as is being discussed at Essential Baby? Fingers crossed, and while I have to keep reminding myself not to fall into the trap of 'pushing' a particular hobby every iota of interest the kids show in music will be matched by enthusiastic facilitation at our end.

Even at risk of humiliation: last night as I put my dignity on the line to entertain with a rocking air-mike rendition of drive my car, Bear stared at me, unflinching, as if watching a 6 foot purple frog roll its eyes.

*back to the couch*

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Shock News: China isn't a utopian democracy!

In other news the notion that underpinned trade liberalisation through the 1990s in particular, that it should quickly lead to other forms of 'liberalisation', has yet again been exposed as half-baked apologia.

It's big news, this whole 'imprison without trial etc' thing that we've suddenly learned about China. The change is encapsulated in the headline

"Magic Dragon grows into menacing bully "

So before a single well-paid executive who chose to do business in a totalitarian state knowing the risks was imprisoned, it was just a Magic Dragon?

It would clearly be too harsh to describe the following as the actions of a bully:

Threatening Taiwan?

Banning absolutely everything?

Slaughtering minorities of various types?

Killing thousands every year after fauxtrials?

It is the government's job to lobby for Mr Hu as best it can. It should also learn lessons in terms of the lengths China will go to in the name of resource security. It is a national administration that cannot be blindly trusted, and anyone (such as myself on previous posts) who had a flippant attitude towards ownership of Australian assets by Chinese state-owned corporations will be rethinking some of their assumptions.

International relations is a discipline of constant learning and nuancing, and around the world attitudes to China may experience a bit of nuancing after this.

But let's keep perspective: businesses will not stop going there, they are not above sacrificing lives to make money. There are plenty of places on the planet businesses operate at present that put their executives at far greater risk.

If Rio had refused to do business with Chinese Government interests to begin with on the basis of ethics, then this would not have happened. Likewise for the more mundane, business-related reason of the lack of rule of law, allegedly a big factor in attracting investment. China fails both tests utterly, yet Rio incorporated political risk, made decisions, and in this rare case has stumbled across awful consequences.

Other Australians who are charged overseas can end up facing the death penalty, also without anything resembling what we would call a trial, or justice.

Powerful but politically ignorant editors should do a bit of reading up on wikipedia before drafting such mind-numbing headlines.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Political Constructivism and Biological Determinism

Is it a case of ne'er the twain shall meet?

My lack of blogging in part reflects an attempt to focus on my research paper and an ongoing struggle to resolve my preferences within the existing schools of international theory. I am, as far as project 'Gnac is concerned, caught between competing ontologies (Or it is epistemologies? I find the precise demarcation of these tortuous expressions sometimes hard to pin point.).

The problem is that after years of encountering theory in an on-off way through studies in literature, psychology, law and international relations, I haven't found a home. In a nutshell, positivism seems to me extremely simplistic, and the methods of critical theory have plenty of value. However I do not share what I call automatic hypothesis-conclusion reasoning, what I see as a seamless (and in turn uncritical) shift from using critical methods to 'uncover' an alternative reading (or hypothesis) to instantly adopting that reading as a 'true' conclusion. And, to put it simply, I believe a significant portion (though far less than the total) of our personas is biologically shaped, if not quite determined.

At the political level, and even more so at the international political level, I lean towards the existing framework being constructed, something that can be re-thought and changed, while also being convinced that at least some of those constructs, and behaviours of actors within them, may be influenced from the biological level onwards.

The behaviour of supra-societal individuals like Putin, Hussein or Bush JR, for example is not always rational in a sense that fits easily within positivist doctrine. Yet while there is ample room to build theories around how national and international structures, including ideology and social pressures, may have an influence on such behaviour, there seems also to me to be room for considering how inherent factors gone wrong, perhaps even skewed by social or ideological pressures, have also played a role.

Dear blogestrians, do you have a view? And even if you disagree, if you are familiar with academic texts in the realm of post-positivist theory (as I'm sure some of you are), can you point me towards work that seeks to deal with conflicts and potential agreements between these two broad schools of thought?