Top drawer stupid

Here’s today’s quote of the day, from the typically hawkish Nature journal, regarding the European Court of Justice’s decision to sanction a case that argued a man’s MS was caused by the Hep B vaccine;

 “Scientists’ concerns are exaggerated and do not show full awareness of how courts and the legal system as a whole operate,” he adds. “If courts were to use scientific methods of proof in all cases in which they must determine disputed facts, they would hardly be able to make decisions and to deliver timely justice to people.”

“Justice is generally best served when courts are free to admit whatever relevant evidence they wish and judge it on its own merits along with the rest,” says Stein.

This is top drawer – lawyers decide what science they want to use, then make their decision based on that. I mean, seems sensible, right?

The true cost of books

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This (old) article from the Huffington Post popped up on my facebook feed yesterday. It asks – what’s the true cost of cheaper books?

It got me thinking.

I’ve never written a book in anger but I’ve self published two of them for fun. I ‘make’ about $6 from each one sold (at the bookshop).

Although the writing bit happens relatively quickly (for me), each of my books took at least a hundred hours of editing. The price doesn’t begin to reflect the cost.

Shameless sycophants tell me that they very much enjoy my books. This response is nice, lovely, in fact, given that I write such rude stuff. But it’s perhaps not surprising, given the amount of time that went into producing them. You can’t polish a turd, but if you spend a hundred hours trying it’ll at least take on a high shine. 

And yet pointing this out is like driving a fork into an untouched shibboleth. To talk about ‘my practice’ as ‘actually practicing a lot’ seems to denigrate the idea of artists as divining some kind of rare, unfathomable genius. Real genius doesn’t take time or practice. It’s genius! 

I blame the visual arts. The visual arts celebrates the artistic genius – the idea that an artist can whip out to the washhouse and churn out a masterpiece between goon bags. Perhaps this reflects my recent lap through the hallowed Boyd studio at Bundanon. In the artist’s studio we listened to an eager volunteer deliver a rattle-gun analysis of the huge paintings propped up around us. They all looked to have been painted in a tearing hurry to me.

The idea that a ten minute painting might look anyone other than a twelve minute painting in good light is anathematic in the world of visual arts. Painters routinely expect to be paid thousands of dollars for work that took a few hours, or perhaps a couple of days. Sure, they might claim that this price reflects years spent ‘engaging the their practice’ – basically, honing their skill, but writers do this too.

Unlike painters, writers cannot rely on the ‘immediacy of the message’. You can’t stand in front of a book for two minutes and claim to know what it’s about. In fact, it needs to be extremely well written for readers to comprehend it at all. You can’t just chuck all the words onto the page and give the audience the finger – that’s called experimental poetry. Experimental poetry is the literary equivalent of modern art, except it looks better under the kitchen sink than above the fireplace.

Or perhaps the immediacy of the message is the key to understanding why visual art expects to be reimbursed for its quick-and-dirty ‘genius’. Perhaps we value it more because you can instantly judge the work. A book, on the other hand, requires commitment. You can’t know anything about it until you’ve read a few pages (and you can’t claim to understand it just by standing in front of it like a winsome ingenue either). Really, what we’re really paying for is our own lack of commitment as viewers.

Something to think about maybe…

My general thought is that writing and literature is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Writing follows the same patterns of economic history as everything else. The late 20th Century democratised the production of literature. For the first time, poor people were both educated and could sustain themselves long enough to pen their epistle. Those days are now drawing to a close. We’re heading back to the time of self-sponsored drivel that represents the cushy upper classes, where we will once again be forced to choose between the florrid insights of upper class toffs and (televised) penny dreadfuls.

Bring it on.

NZ Political analysis from the beltway

….if the beltway is comprised of tea, cats and church.

Here’s my Mum’s take on the NZ Labour Party;

‘They’ll never win. Nope. Not with that chap in charge, he is such a whinger. Everything the government does he whinges about. Everything’.

‘Yeah, I think that’s why it’s called ‘being in opposition’ Mum. If he agreed with them he’d be in the National Party’.

‘Well, he can have a jolly good think about all the whinging is all I’m saying. People aren’t interested in whingers’.

‘Right’.

SJW

I wish all those social justice warriors out there tweeting pics of their kids to make a point would actually think about their rights for once.

Kids have a right to decide what details they disclose about themselves, and when.

Pepi pods

New Zealand is currently going through a pepi-pod phase, encouraging new parents to place their baby in a small sleeping pod to prevent cot death. The pepi-pod enables the baby to sleep in the bed next to its parents without fear of being squashed, suffocated, or otherwise lost amongst the Minties in the glovebox.

Yep, turns out that most cot deaths aren’t caused by some mysterious set of factors, they’re just caused by unfashionable ones – poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and formula feeding.

To engage in a little social history…when I was a fresh new Mum my own mother offered to whip me up a ‘banana box’ bassinet. These were common in the 1970s – a long skinny banana box covered in cotton fabric and a little wadding. Babies were separate but accessible – my earliest memories were of a gentle hand reaching down to me through a miasma of cigarette smoke so as I might receive another bellyful of thick, yellowy formula (I should note my Mum didn’t smoke, Dad did. But then so did everyone else. It was the 70s after all).

On another note, I asked Mum the other day what women did before formula. Mum grew up on a remote sheep farm – in those days new Mums did not scrum it out with sinewy Chinese girls for another tin of Karicare, yet breastfeeding wasn’t universal. Cow’s milk was the answer there – fresh, unpasteurised cow’s milk. I’d be fascinated to know how many babies received cow’s milk as their first food.

 

 

 

500 words – morons in the wheelhouse

I’m constantly baffled by why some people continue to be completely driven by ego. It is always to their detriment. Always.

Imagine, for example, if every scientist responded to legitimate criticism of their work with;

‘I’m familiar with all the work in this field. So, you’re wrong. I’m right’.

Oh, right then. Well, you’re probably on the money. Because that’s the kind of attitude that suggests a life-long dedication to learning. No, no, don’t get up, I’ll see myself out. After all, I’ve been around doors my whole life, so I know how they work. Surely this maxim will put me in good stead when I encounter every possible facet of existence on this planet and beyond. Surely.

Most people know they don’t know everything. Smart people have some inkling of exactly what they don’t know. Total fucking grasping idiots assume they know everything and their knowledge is exhaustive.

 

 

500 words Post prison world?

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Should prisons be a thing of the past? Couldn’t we just have prisoners in the community? Monitored by technology?

That’s what Mirko Bagaric from Swinburne argues, in this talk recorded as part of ABC’s Big Ideas program.

Bagaric made many, many sweeping statements. He’s Professor of Law and Director of the Evidence-based Sentencing and Criminal Justice Project at Swinburne University*.

Mostly his talk was characterised by post hoc ergo propter hoc statements. Apparently the income of prisoners many years after they leave prison is much lower than the average. Imagine how much more they’d earn if they hadn’t had their working lives interrupted by a stint in jail!

Having had a bit to do with prison, I can pretty confidently say that the idiosyncracies landed you in prison in the first place probably aren’t conducive to lifelong wealth. Clever criminals don’t generally go to jail.

Then there’s the argument that it costs heaps to keep these chappies in jail, which is does. But once you run the counterfactual – deduct cost of keeping them on the outside – Centrelink payments, accommodation supplements, healthcare etc.,. it’s starting to look rather a lot less pricey. For reference, it costs about $250 per day to keep someone in jail. Assuming Newstart plus a moderate amount of accommodation, plus the overheads of all those punitive ‘work for the dole’ and ‘work ready’ education schemes you’re probably looking at about $500 per week. It’s still cheaper on the outside, but we should be realistic about the difference.

Bagaric was justifying keeping people out of prison. Most of his arguments seemed to be oriented around the idea that most prisoners would be fully employed, healthy, well adjusted adults and parents if they were allowed to stay on the outside.. Think of the benefits to the family! Think of all those men who could be in their kids’ lives! Helping them with their maths homework and ferrying them to soccer!

Bagaric talked about drug users – as we all know, many prisoners are in prison for drug use. He positioned locking them up as self-evidently ridiculous. Cos everyone knows they’d be heaps better at home. Having a stepdad addicted to ice is a fucking fantastic addition to the family unit.

Bagaric made the terrifying claim that we should only ‘lock up’ people we’re really scared of – like murderers and rapists. I’m wondering how much exposure this chap has really had to violent offenders? Most murderers aren’t planning on actually murdering someone, they’re just administering a really stern telling off. My point is this – violent offenders are a fucking worry. Imagine if violent non murderers were ‘at home’. How many more opportunities would there be for them to beat someone to death?

Apparently, if we only lock up people we’re scared of that naturally excludes women. People aren’t scared of women because they’re not physically capable to being violent enough to cause real harm. Tell that to their kids. Women can and do kill their children, and they allow others to do so as well.

Bagaric also said women shouldn’t be locked up because of the impact on their family – they’re the primary carers of children and older people. Well, that’s not a prison problem, that’s an inadequate care problem. There simply isn’t sufficient state support for children who need alternative care. He argues that sending one woman to prison often means the family home dissolves – which is something I strongly agree with. Prison is the road to homelessness, not just for women. As is well known, many people reoffend to get back into prison. At least it’s a roof.

Keeping women out of jail is a tantalising idea, but Bagaric doesn’t seem to play this out. When I was at high school we learned one of life’s important maxims; have a baby and they won’t send you to jail. If women with children can’t be sent to jail that’s a hell of a motivation to have a baby, pronto.

He also stated that many women end up in jail for not paying fines – especially indigenous women. I can’t help but think of Ms Dhu who died of neglect in a WA jail after being locked up for not paying a relatively small but completely unmanageable fine. This was one instance where I agreed with him.

Bagaric also stated that the prison population was rising quickly, due to successive governments’ populist ‘tough on crime’ approaches. There’s no mention of how much growth is attributed to population growth, and how much is attributed this ‘toughness’.

Bagaric made some other pretty broad statements about the philosophy of imprisonment. For instance, he argues that prisoners are exposed to physical and sexual violence in prison – words like; ‘they lose their bodily autonomy and this can have serious consequences for their sense of self worth’. This was positioned as an unintended consequence of imprisonment. However, I think most Australians probably see ‘loss of bodily autonomy’ as the bloody point. We are a brutal, ex penal colony.

‘Governments want to be seen to be tough on crime’. Well, there’s a reason this works – people perceive that they’re not tough enough on crime. Frankly, Bagaric needs to be cogniscient of the reality – he lives in a country that elected Pauline Hanson. Many, many people do not think being ‘tough on crime’ is just a populist trick. There’s a reason it’s called ‘populism’.

 

*It may well be that he didn’t have the scope to adequately justify some of his arguments, but in my view some of the statements were too polemic not to be.