Reptilian Reflections

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 12.23.51 PM.pngAlmost ten years ago I spent a short part of winter working on a research station, conveniently located on a tropical island.

It was July so the weather was relatively mild. I went mad anyway. Ten years later, in the great clean up of 2017 (three days of ‘sweatin to the oldies’) I found bits of my island diary that survived being submerged in salt water several times;

“Skin infections (bites, grazes, stings and angle grinder mishaps) flourish in the heat. At 27c bacteria discover they enjoy a tropical holiday as much as the next person. The combination of hot weather and a bumpy flying doctor flight ushers in a certain conservatism with power tools….

“Customs sprung me this morning, roaring up onto the beach in a Lego-style zodiac. Why is it that I only get called ‘madam’ by people with guns? It gave me quite a shock. Standing on a baking roof in the middle of the Coral Sea, I’d quite gotten used to the peaceful solitude of removing salt-encrusted nails with a rattle gun…

“I’ve seen no news or TV, although yesterday the barge operator dropped in a DVD of the Olympic opening ceremony. At dusk we sat under a large, billowing tarp and watched four thousand Chinese dancers perform their routines with the measured exuberance of bunny rabbits on ice, as we drank cold beer. The television eventually sank into the loose sand…

“Although sausages like to travel in packs, they will sometimes break from their ‘stroke’ to sneak up on unwitting prey, as in the hallowed tale of Moby Spotted Dick, where Captain Rehab ran out of whisky and attempted to harpoon the largest sausage ever sighted on the twelve seas (fourteen if you squint).

Although sausages are territorial, it is not unknown for them to mate with other groups, as a group of intrepid Australian researchers discovered in 2008. Armed with little more than a set of tongs and a pallet of tinned beetroot these hardy souls ventured into areas previously unknown to science.

I’m not sure where this is going….but I think you can see I’m not cut out for research.


Low double standards

Here you can read the ‘harrowing’ account of a small, furry mammal, left hanging from a gin trap in Masterton. It died from its injuries.

Gin traps are commonly used in New Zealand to kill small furry mammals. It is illegal to set one 150 metres from homes, in case you accidentally catch and torture a small furry mammal with a name, in this case, Eli.

“The SPCA wants to send a clear message on this issue: Don’t set leg-hold traps in urban areas. The risks to pets and children are real and the consequences are potentially severe.”

That’s right. Make sure you only set gin traps in areas away from animals that humans think are cute. Technically, of course, it’s illegal to torture any animal to death, but no-one goes to court over a strung-up possum.

It’s worth noting that in Australia, cats are the target species.


Silleebus changez

The HSC syllabus is changing in 2018 to better prepare students for university. It will, in short, focus more on maths, science and the structure of language. In other words, students will be taught numeracy and literacy. Radical. More physics, less basketweaving.

My prima facie reading of this news story makes me sing for joy – I’ve long thought that secondary education focusses too closely on how to make a triumphant grated cheese salad or the complex plot developments of Home and Away. In this vein, the news story informs us that the existing physics syllabus invites essays detailing the achievements of famous physicists, rather than learning the physics itself. This is journalism gold; Back in my day we learned maths etc., etc.,

It’s also where I grow suspicious. You see, this story appeared on the ABC. I’ve been noticing a slightly more government-friendly editorial bent on Aunty of late. Is simply copying a biography of a famous physicist off Wikipedia really enough to pass year 12 physics?

I guess it depends on how you define biography. Understanding the discovery of a physical principal, and then figuring out how to measure and predict it, is the basis of physics. Following someone else’s footsteps through this process could be useful – a student’s own journey of discovery. If however, the biography is a florrid herstory of thwarted potential and alarming burns then I can see where we fall off the rails. Don’t get me wrong, the history and philosophy of science certainly can and does include deep scientific understanding. Equally, however, there are sociological accounts that do not. I’d be interested to know exactly what the ‘old’ syllabus contained.

What I find particularly heartening about these HSC changes is the inclusion of statistics, and a refocusing on the basic mathematics that underpins simple equations. Recently I was quite surprised to learn that statistics is almost completely absent from year 12 maths. It may not be as sexy as calculus or other ‘obvious’ STEM subjects, but in fact it is the basis of much research – in physics and engineering, but also in the popular vocational areas of data-fiddling and medicine. It also assists with avoiding blatantly stupid follies ranging from homeopathy to pokie addiction. Bring it on.


Now, keep looking at my honest hands

“Coalition Ministers have continued to defend the program, claiming welfare should only be given to those who are entitled to it.”

Or, equally relevant;

“Coalition Ministers have continued to defend the program, claiming welfare should only be given to those who are still breathing”.

Seriously, this is how the government responds to the Centrelink clusterfuck? With completely irrelevant statements?

We know only eligible people should receive welfare. The question is whether that eligibility includes the right to be pursued for fake debts. 

This is the government seizing the opportunity to denigrate all welfare recipients, pure and simple. 

Dogma, Karma, bullshit

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-4-14-30-pmHow many times must I stab the radio this summer?

In today’s ABC ‘Documentary Piece’ about Roald Dahl, we hear of a young woman’s literary love affair with the author who shaped her childhood. Dahl, she tells us, with excruciatingly ponderous pace, made her into the writer she is today.

But wait, there’s a twist! There is a Dark Side to Roald Dahl, a side so horrible that one can barely bring oneself to look into it, lest their childhood be tapped open like a festering egg!

Tell me more!

Well, apparently Roald Dahl was an adulterer. And, he once called his daughter a bitch for confronting him on it. There’s more. Dahl once remarked that he’d rather be dead than fat (he’s as evil as Kate Moss! Shuffle over, Hitler and stop hogging the blanket!). It gets worse, folks. Dahl was a racist. His oompah loompahs were originally cast as African pygmies, and he ruminated on the character flaws of the Jewish people. Why, he wondered, had they attracted such perverse persecution? Sure, Hitler was a prize bumpfswiggle but in Dahl’s view the Jews had partly brought their fate upon themselves.

The radio narrator/writer weeps and wails over their gravity and depth of these failings…. Oh my God, how could I have loved this guy? How could I have read his books? WHAT A MONSTER! I can’t believe I was somehow complicit in his vile world!

After about thirty hours of this self-righteous, hyperbolic panto routine I turned it off.

When I was 8 my Dad showed me some film footage of Jews being pushed into pits. It is still the most distressing thing I’ve seen in my life and remains securely fastened in a repertoire of lively nightmares. I’ve since questioned my father’s judgement, but I’ll never forget his words;

If you had grown up in a family of Nazis, you would believe this was right too.

Dad wanted me to think about judgement, about the relativism of right and wrong. He wanted me to think hard about the social conventions that I was growing up in. (I’m making him sound like a morally righteous demi-God – he isn’t, he’s just a person like everyone else. A person who should have looked into a bit more Disney).

And so when I hear blind judgement, without consideration of context, background, politics, family, gender or class I get nervous. Because this is truly frightening. This is the blueprint of unblinking dogmatism. And unblinking dogmatism gets you front row seats at the pit.

Simply stating ‘Dahl was a monster’ demonstrates a troubling fixity of thought, something far darker than his supposed ‘dark side’. What is really, truly frightening, is cultivating the lack of insight that allows us to come to grips with what people are thinking and feeling, to think critically about the cultural patterns, tropes and values that are in ascendence at any one time. The Holocaust can’t be understood with the idea that there were just a few more shittier human beans in the can. Dahl’s story tells us that intelligent, well-connected people, loving fathers and mothers can come to hold dreadfully dangerous ideas. We are all ‘monsters’. We need to think hard about how that happens.

Dahl was a product of multiple moments in time, of the family he grew up in, the British class-constrained school he attended, the war he fought, the Africa he experienced and the women he disgraced himself with.

Dahl was a human bean. Like the rest of us.