Conversation Survival Strategies

The ‘conversation survival guide’ is topical at this time of year as many people mix with family and associates that do not hold congruent political and social values. Here are three:

1. How to survive your conservative relatives this Christmas

The piece I wrote last year for SBS: It’s that time of year again: when extended family comes together to laugh, love, and vehemently disagree on political issues. But what to do if you’re progessive, outnumbered and outgunned?

2. BBQ Ammo – How to Handle the Anti-Cyclist

You’re at a BBQ or a dinner party or some kind of social gathering. Conversation turns to you and the fact you like to ride. Quite a bit. Someone hears this and starts giving their two bob’s worth about how cyclists should be charged registration. Cyclists think they can totally disregard road rules. Cyclists shouldn’t be allowed on major roads. In short – let’s ban cyclists from our roads!

3. 12 ways to deal with a climate change denier – the BBQ guide

[It] probably means we’ll be subjected to at least one ranting, fact-free sermon by a Typical Climate Change Denier (TCCD). You know the drill. Make an offhand remark about unusual weather, and five seconds later someone’s mouthing off about how the internet says that climate change is a bunch of rubbish.

So, when you’ve been cornered by your TCCD, what do you do?

Frank and Robot


Go and see it.

Great track. “Fell On Your Head” by Francis and the Lights.

The point isn’t whether or not he was going to kill himself, it was that he had a moment of lucidity — and he wanted to share that with his kids; and when he was debating whether or not to erase the robots memory it was a realisation that if he did, he was being deleted; a metaphor for his state of being — he wasn’t living, if he couldn’t remember.

Economies of Competence

I was forwarded the below email. I am posting it here with comment below for anyone who was also sent the email and who finds it as abhorrent as I do. I make a simple argument below to indicate its fallacies:

An economics teacher at a local school made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Gillard/Brown socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.
The teacher then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on the Gillard/Brown plan”. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).
After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.
The second test average was a D! No one was happy.
When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.
As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.
To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the teacher told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. It could not be any simpler than that. (Please pass this on)
Remember, there IS a test coming up. The next election.
These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:
1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

The high school economics teacher who carried out this little experiment should go on some kind of sabbatical to give the teacher time to head back to university and learn some basic political economy. What is wrong with the logic of the email? It equates marks received during education with money. Such an obvious error leads me to believe an actual teacher would never actually carry out such an experiment.
Money is a quantitative measure. The difference between $74 and $75 is only a difference of $1. The difference between a mark of 74 and a mark of 75 is also a difference of one mark, but it is also the difference (at my university, at least) between a distinction grade and a high distinction. Marks are a quantitative measure of a qualitative difference.
Why is this an important distinction to make? You do not take part in education to get marks. You take part in education to get an education. When employed, you work to exchange whatever work you carry out for money; money then allows you to go do things. You do not exchange anything while being educated; the point of education is to be transformed at a basic level from someone without skills or knowledge to someone who has achieved a certain level of competence. Competence is qualitative. There are good and bad students just as there are good and bad teachers.
The worst possible conclusion to draw from the email’s example is that students take part in education so as to ‘accumulate’ marks and not for the explicit purpose of becoming competent. This is actually a common phenomena. Students will try to minimise the amount of effort and work required to learn and expect to achieve the same marks. They follow the exceptionally poor advice and embody the ideology contained in the email. They try to ‘game’ the marking criteria and assessment details so as to ‘accumulate’ marks rather than acquiring competencies. If you have children or friends who are studying at whatever level encourage them to study so as to learn.
People who embody the faulty logic of the email may find it hard to adapt or even imagine some other way of ‘working’ that is not premised on a market model (you work to accumulate some ‘number’ of something, be it marks, money or whatever). Clearly, they have not thought too hard about the various other non-market based economies that operate in most developed countries. Here are a few:
1. Children. How do you measure the ‘success’ of your offspring? In terms of how many you have? Maybe that is good in non-industrial or non-developed agrarian or nomadic societies. In developed countries we invest a huge amount of resources into our children. What sort of return do we get? We hope children will have a high quality of life. One’s quality of life can be represented in quantitative ways, but like educational assessments, the number represents a quality.
2. Education. I don’t mean for students, I mean for the teachers. People don’t become teachers because of some quantitative measure of success. They believe that they can make a difference in the lives of their students, help their students (and others) live better lives. If the local high school teacher did believe what was contained in the above email, then why are they working as a teacher? Surely they would work where they would maximise the economic return for their work?
This leads me to my overall point. Most of our activity as human beings is not carried out to get a quantitative reward. The love of parents or the care and consideration of teachers is more important to the future of Australia. That is why I find the email so offensive. It was written by someone with an axe to grind, but has clearly never thought about the purpose of education.
I won’t even bother engaging with the explicit political point of the email regarding the redistribution of ‘marks’ as if they were a form of money. The abject stupidity of the analogy makes me sad.

Brief Photo Essay of My Childhood 1

Some photos from my first excursion around my old neighbourhood. I was feeling a bit diown being back in Perth. I basically didn’t want to be here and was feeling home sick for Sydney. A friend suggested I walk around to the various places that were important for my childhood. She was in Melbourne with her best friend and she was doing something similar.

There has been something slightly cathartic in touring these old sites and seeing all but traces of my own childhood. It at least kept my mind off thinking about missing my Sydney life for a while.

Project ULTRA

With my current regime of ultra-disciplined eating and daily exercise on a perfect day where I only eat what I am meant to and exercise on the bike for 35min I am actually burning up over 2000cal a day. I am sure this isn’t healthy. It means I am losing approximately over 300g of energy per day.

I don’t always do the perfect day however as this would be a shit life. Going out to dinner once or twice a week and a few nights on the booze balances it out. I am choosing my meals carefully to make sure they are healthy and contain very few calories. Plus I mix up my exercise and do sometimes more and sometimes less than 35min on bike (most of the time it is only 20min if I do less, then a walk). It will be interesting to see if it is accurate however, because it means that even including these ‘normal’ meals and a few nights on the booze with the odd slip up I am losing over 1kg a week.

If I was super-ultra-disciplined it would mean I would be losing over 2kg a week, but the regularity and relatively boring diet would drive me (more) insane.

Just so you don’t think I am starving myself, this is my diet and energy consumption and burning/exercise according to my iKeepFit iPhone app that has a database of all foods (and allows me to input ffod and beverages like corn wraps and Mother energy drink).

8x cups of black coffee 8kcals
mother energy drink 208kcals
Celery 6x stalks 62cals
Apples large raw 116cals
tuna in lite oil x2 466kcals
corn, raw, small 62kcals
spinach raw 2x cups 14kcals
corn wraps x6 389kcals

Total consumption 1325kcals

Base metabolic rate -2521kcals
Activity level desk job -504kcals
Exercise -429kcals

Net kilocalories -2129kcals
Weight/gained lost -304g

This is per day remember.

With five weeks to go before the wedding at which I am doing one of the readings, I reckon I might aim to meet my next weight goal of 115kg.

Above meals consist of an apple for breakfast, celery and tuna for lunch, corn stalk for arvo tea, corn wraps, spinach and tuna for the evening meal. The celery and the wraps fill me up and give me a satisfied feeling of having eaten so I don’t feel like eating any sugary or fatty foods. The celery in particular is magic at this. It contains bugger all calories and would almost use up more energy digesting it than in what it contains. There is hardly any sugar in my diet except for the apple and the Mother energy drink. There is basically no fat except in the minuscule amounts in the low-fat oil used in the tuna.

I enjoy being disciplined again. It gives me a sense of purpose.