Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Entering a conversation

It's an ... I'm not entirely sure what the word is, comfortable maybe? A comfortable thing to be able to sit in a cafe and be okay with randomly jumping into a conversation between staff and another regular. In this morning's case it was a discussion which started, if I recall correctly, with a trivia question that was somehow related to the Simpsons. This took a minor tangent into the discussion around Hank Azaria, Apu and cultural appropriation. The barista on the side of we should all just ignore it, another patron in the thinking it was all a bit excessive but willing to concede the point that in the context of the industry as a whole, it's probably not an ideal situation. And myself and another staff member on the side of we don't get to decide if it's offensive and/or cultural appropriation or not, the people who's culture is being portrayed get to do that and we get to decide what our response is - i.e. do we take note of others offence and alter our behaviour or do we take note and do nothing.

It's reassuring that discussions like this are taking place in cafes and bars, even if, as I suspect, they're not happening anywhere enough.

For the record, the barista conceded some points but wasn't, I think, swayed to the point of giving Azaria any credit for his offer to stand down once he was made aware of the potential offence. It was also noted that the Simpsons is now in it's 29th season and that it should have ended approximately 15 seasons ago. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

TOP bros

I have, for the last few years been associated in a minor capacity with a research group called Te Punaha Matatini, devoted to the study of networks and complex systems,  based out the physics department at UoA. Amongst their redeeming features is a commitment to bringing together diverse groups of voices, in part because there is good evidence to suggest that avoiding the old pale, stale and male makeup that is prevalent in much of academia results in better science, but mostly because it is the right thing to do. Even better, it is a commitment that is acted on, which makes me proud to have been associated with them.
I have, for the past year or so, been involved in the organisation of a festival called Kiwiburn. It is a group that aspires to many of the same ideas as Te Punaha Matatini. I would note, that it is an overwhelmingly white culture. There are a lot of good people involved in Kiwiburn. There are a lot of people who are actively trying to get across the idea of a culture of consent. A culture without the misogyny,  the blindness and the ignorance that leads to a culture where women and minorities don't feel safe. Fuck, it's got a long way to go. Most of these people are women. Some are men. Some are men who talk the talk, but then use the trust engendered by the new culture they are trying to build, to abuse. Some are men who stand by and watch this abuse, on the basis that the abuser is a friend or something. I love 95% of what Kiwiburn is and does. I cannot, at this point, say that I am proud to be associated with it.
I have seen female friends point out misogyny,  point out dangerous behaviour,  and be written off as shrill, abrasive feminists. I have then watched as I, a middle class white male, have said the same things and been greeted with people nodding and saying,  yes, this is terrible,  we should do something about it. It sickens me. Like, literally,  makes me want to vomit a little bit. 
I have watched idiot software engineers embedded in the bro culture of silicon valley, side with MRA's and try and use my discipline (biology) as a justification for why women avoid STEM fields. They suggest that they have the science to back them up, that their opinions,  with regard to biology are all grounded in evidence. I know, exactly how spectacularly wrong they have the science.
How does  all this relate to TOP?
I have seen women mention that they are uncomfortable with Morgan's use of language.  I have then seen men (it's always men) at best ignore them, at worst, tell them that they're being silly and that they should look at the policy as if policy is the only thing that matters in politics. 
I have seen men (it's always men) who are all very suddenly very concerned for the future of the country. Men who claim it's all about the policy. That policy,  is more important to them than the misogyny and litany of personal attacks that Morgan launches at people every time someone tells him his language is troubling them. I have seen all manner of poorly thought out excuses trotted out by numerous men (it's always men) as to why, even though Morgan's speech is problematic,  we should ignore it and focus on the policy.
I have watched,  as women, who are experts in their field, go and look at the TOP policies,  as all the suddenly very concerned men insist upon. I have then watched as these opinions and quietly ignored and the discussion moved, by very concerned men, to other topics, especially when the opinion is poor.
No one person that I know has neccesarily done all of this. No one person that I know of, has necessarily been subjected to all of this. Standing back and watching the community though, this is the pattern that's apparent to me.
Politics has never been, is not, can not and never will be a thing where only the evidence matters. Politics is relationships,  full of moral judgements,  messy, and if we're lucky,  at least partially backed by evidence. There should be more evidence based policy, but it's not the only thing that matters. TOP, and it's supporters, look to me like they are fetishising evidence and seem to think that policy is going to solve everything. To make matters worse, when I go digging through their policy at the behest of suddenly very concerned men, I see a party that treats people, as economic units, rather than, y'know, actual people. And I see men, adamant that we as a society,  have been misled by authority in the past, and adamant that we should no longer trust authority,  then act puzzled and mildly hurt, respect their authority, even though, according to them, they are obviously right, why won't all you silly little people listen to reason - as if fucking reason is some platonic ideal that has only a single logical interpretation, i.e. theirs.
And my view of this, I don't think, is going to change until people stop making fucking excuses for Gareth fucking Morgan, and acknowledge that politics is not just economics. It's not just policy. It's not just evidence.  It's all of these things.  And more than anything, it's people. Morgan does not get that.
Yeah. I get that you might actually think TOPs policies are the bestest cute little bunnies wearing bowties and capes that are going to swoop down off a rainbow and save us all. I think you're wrong. I can live with that. When I see someone supporting TOP though,  I don't see just that. I see someone who is often willing to condem misogyny, preach consent and is at the same time willing to tell women to  tolerate a culture that treats them like shit. It all contiributes to our culture and to be honest, it makes me sick. Like, literally,  makes actually want to vomit a little bit.
Fuck that shit.
Right, writing this has completely ruined my morning. I'm going to try and find a halfway decent cinnamon bun.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


There's a cafe around the corner that I don't like. Never been in it. Still don't like it. It has that whitewashed wall, lots of glass, black metal shelving, slightly ... not quite hipster but sorta aesthetic. It's become, over the past few years, incredibly common. In Auckland at least.

It's not, I think (hope) that fact that it's common that bugs me. Though the level of pretentiousness that often comes associated with it is alarming. Which in turn, engenders the rather depressing statement that that generalization is, in itself, quite pretentious <sighs>. The thing that I think bothers me about it is an association with newness. More and more I find myself not liking new things. By which I mean physical things. New physical objects. I quite like doing new things, learning about how to do new things. Actual physical objects though, generally speaking, no.

I'm beginning to wonder how much of this aversion is due to the lack of a story. There's always a story for things like the new cafe, but it's so often a pat little marketing story about a person deciding to do something cool. If you sit in a cafe that been knocked around the edges a bit, you can see that the place stories, live has happened there. The little marketing story may be a story about how a place came to be, but the place itself doesn't have stories. Those styley whitewashed walls, to me the feel like they're actively trying to prevent stories from happening, they're clean, sterile.

This in turn makes me wonder about the effect of popular culture on my view of the world. I tend to read a lot of sci-fi. Movies that aren't to deep and don't make you think about the shitty things going on in the world, which paradoxically, when you think about them a bit, let you question all the shitty things going in the world. In a noticeable proportion of these things, especially the movies, the story doesn't usually take place in the clean, tidy, fashionably sterile parts of the world. Those places may be where the story climaxes, often as those places are destroyed, but the stories themselves take place out in the world, in the slums, in the wild, in the in between places.

More and more, I stop and look at the world as a story, or a bunch of intertwined stories. Polished whitewashed walls with no stories interrupt that view.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tired, stale politics.

Jacinda Adern wins the Mt Albert by-election with a landslide. Surprise, surprise. Whilst Adern is one of the few Labour politicians that I still have a modicum of hope for (there's really not very many left), I think the landslide nature of the win is unfortunate. Not in the least surprising, but unfortunate.

In the longer term it reinforces the notion that for an MP to aspire to leadership roles, an electorate seat is required. It's one of those annoying hangovers from FPP politics that still hasn't gone a away, like the party with the largest share should automatically get to form the government even if it's less that 50%. Or that not running a candidate in a particular seat so as to not split a vote and let an allied party gin the seat is somehow underhanded rather than y'know, basically common sense. Holding an electorate seat can make elections less risky for a politician. That's not a good thing though. If you're an under performing MP, you should get the boot regardless of whether you're on the list or holding an electorate.

In the nearer term, I can see it being spun, by Labour at least, as a vindication of the current state of Labour. Which is depressing. The recent acquisition of rape apologist Willie Roast Busters Jackson* to Labours ranks suggests to me, that it's a party without ideas, with no ability to look forward.  it suggests a party that doesn't think it has anyone worthwhile coming up in the ranks, so that it has to go back to the same old tired politicians that have fucked up in the past. A by-election in a safe seat shouldn't have been used as a reward for long-service or pander to those who think an electorate seat MP is more valuable, more worthy than a list MP. It should have been used to showcase some new talent the party thought was worthwhile. Instead, as worthwhile as Adern may be, we get stuck with the same ol' same ol.

*yeah, he apologized, but seriously, do you really want someone who's dense and out of touch enough that they'd make victim blaming comments in the first place? 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Local politics

Everything is political. Even not participating in politics is a political act. To me, this is an incredibly basic concept, I look on in terror at people who refuse to acknowledge this.

I'm currently in the market for a workshop. I've spent the past year or so as part of teams building large pieces of art and I've grown quite fond of having a decently kitted out workshop within a few minutes of home. The workshop that I've been using I'm stepping back from, for a number of reasons*.
There is a community workshop a few minutes walk away in a different direction that I wandered down to have a look at a couple of weeks ago. It was closed, but there was an old codger pottering around who seemed a nice enough chap for a bit. He did have a habit of talking for a bit to long - talking about houses eventually turned into a mildly racist dig at people from China buying houses here in Auckland. And comments about the construction of a table revealed a bit of old school sexism (it was built by a woman would you believe? who's also a carpenter!) that didn't sit particularly well. Friends who know people involved in the workshop/community hub tell me that even before it's all open to the public that there's internal politics at play.

All of this I have to take into account with what I'm doing over the next year or so. I'm definitely stepping back from one thing. Do I launch myself into the maelstrom of dealing with a new bunch of people with their own foibles?

Every interaction you have with other people colors how you see the world. Every time you do something, it's political. How does one deal with people when you're trying to do small things? How does that affect the world. How does one deal with people when you're trying to make the world a better place?

*There's politics for you right there. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Doing things you don't know how to do.

I was recently asked to write a post for a blog about my experiences as part of and leading crews for large art projects. Something to do with the positive experiences, the camaraderie and the learning of new skills etc, to inspire people to get off their behinds and launch themselves into new and exciting projects.

I declined. There are a number of reasons, most of which I'm having trouble articulating. One of these reasons is the fact that I launched myself into the various projects I've been involved with over the past year or so, primarily because I thought they sounded cool at the time. Not from any overwhelming desire to improve myself or overcome some hurdle that I thought was stopping me. I suspect this means that I'm not entirely comfortable exhorting people to enter into large projects for these reasons.

The one problem I have when I'm turning this over in my head is that I realize, intellectually speaking, that I have a certain amount of confidence when launching myself into things that I have no idea how to do, that I will be able to learn how to do whatever it is. Maybe not to an expert level, but at least to a moderate level of competency. It's not an explicit confidence, it's more of a ... it never occurs to me that I won't be able to learn something to a moderate (or minimally sufficient) level of skill, so I just steam roll on ahead. I also realize that not everyone has this sort of confidence. I just don't get it.

As in, I understand that not everyone has that sort of confidence, but when I try to put myself in the position of someone who thinks like that, it confuses me. I'm pretty sure most people can learn the basics of a new skill if they wanted to. Despite the fact that there are almost certainly a myriad of reasons why people shrink from tasks that they don't already know how to do, from my point of view, it feels like sheer bloody mindedness on their part holding them back.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The meaning of words

Might. As in maybe. If I say I might go to an event, don't act all surprised if I turn up, after all, I said I might be there. And don't get all disappointed if I don't turn up. After all, I only said I might be there.

I hate that people use might/maybe as a way supposedly polite way of saying no. After all, we have a number of perfectly polite ways of saying no already. Such as "no thanks" or "not today thanks"