Art

Mixed media, blue synthetic wig hosts Velcro bell chain belt, hair clip, safety pins, Steve the Stegasaurus, a ball of wool, the rolly car off the gravity toy thingo, and enough dust for a thousand asthma attacks. If only it were rendered in menstrual blood. 

500 words – Technology and kids

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 8.55.41 AM.png

This kind of thing pops up on my facebook feed from time to time. This time it’s from a woman by the name of ‘mudfaery’. I am grateful for the resurgence of the term ‘faery’ –  it is an extremely quick and incisive way to delineate the type of person who is constantly amazed by the body’s ability to heal itself! I could say more. I won’t.

Anyway, apparently technology is replacing human connection, play, creativity, social interaction, gardening and the ability to eat handfuls of dirt and smash your teeth through your top lip. What is the world coming to? It’s the END. The END!

Well, yeah, if you allow your kid to spend all fucking day in front of a screen playing something really inane, then yeah, it might be a problem. But let’s be real, most of us don’t do that, and the parents who do are shit parents anyway. Tech isn’t the cause of their problems, their misuse of it is a reflection of them.

There’s something else we often overlook – technology often gets used instead of TV, and frankly, that’s probably a good thing. In the ‘olden days’ – usually a halcyon period in the 1960s fondly misremembered by baby boomers – kids got to play outside all the time. This was because no-one was allowed inside. Because Mum had been driven ABSOLUTELY FUCKING MAD BY ALL THESE FUCKING CHILDREN CHRIST ALMIGHTY GET ME A DRINK.

Nowadays children can remain inside during snow storms largely due to the advent of technologies that keep them quiet (or prevent them from being born in the first place).

We use tech in our house as chill-out time – we’re careful about the games that are on the ipad, but there’s no hard and fast rules about when or how long they can be played for. I think kids old enough to play these games (+ 6) can regulate themselves on this, in the same way they can regulate their intake of sweets. They actually can. I’ve never had to tell my kid to stop eating lollies, as long as she eats them slowly enough she can tell when she’s had enough. She usually eats a couple and stops.

Anyway, I’m over the tech paranoia – it’s making our kids way smarter in a lot of interesting ways. And they’re still playing and engaging in ‘creative play’ – which is also different to the ‘olden days’ where it involved a complete lack of supervision resulting in endless bullying or setting fire to the local library.

I think tech means kids are less bored now. They’re still bored enough to come up with their own fun, they’re kids, they’re just less bored. For the record, my kid spends more time reading books than playing with tech. As she grows older she will likely do even more learning on her ipad – she already does maths that she doesn’t do at school on the ipad. She’s learning that this kind of maths extension is fun and interesting, and she can do it at her own pace. This is a vast improvement on the good old days, when she would have been otherwise engaged pulling her teeth out of someone’s head.

 

 

 

Revenge effects

Newsflash! Australian employers encouraged to ‘retire’ casual staff at twelve months!

I woke up this morning to the news that the Fair Work Commission had accepted Union demands to give casual workers permanent work;

“If the casual employment turns out to be long-term in nature, and to be of sufficient regularity … then we consider it to be fair and necessary for the employee to have access to a mechanism by which the casual employment may be converted to an appropriate form of permanent employment,” the full bench found.

Most of my colleagues are on casual contracts, many have been for years, including myself. I’ve done the same job, for the same money for five years. Each year is covered by two casual contracts, which are zero hours when I sign them.

So you’re thinking hey this is good right? I can now ask for permanent work?

Yeah I guess that’s true except three things;

Employers can refuse the request on reasonable grounds including that…. they could foresee their position would no longer exist in the next 12 months.

First, What stops an employer from simply saying ‘I don’t think your job will exist in twelve months’?

Second, there’s casual loading in casual pay, to compensate for being casual. It’s probably about 30% would be my guess. Does this mean a pay cut? Do casuals trade permanence for less money?

But perhaps the most problematic implication is this;  employers will be penalised for employing a casual for longer than twelve months. Surely this will encourage them to replace ‘old’ casuals with ‘new ones’ to prevent them from applying for permanent positions?

 

The strangeness of kidness

I am not well. I have some kind of face sinus rage thing. It’s also in my knees. I’m going to say it’s a cold, because no-one ever seems to have those anymore – everyone has ‘the flu’ instead. The contrarian in me thinks this is part of the general trend towards catastrophisation which is overtaking mundanity, good sense and any understanding of normally distributed data. The humans seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dreaming up novel versions of, ‘shakes fist at sky’.

So, this afternoon I took to my bed and quickly fell asleep. Soon after, my child quietly stole into the room and carefully tucked teddies all around my prone body. I was aware of her whispering something about making sure I wasn’t lonely, and that Mong Bear in particular would make sure that I didn’t have bad dreams. Mong Bear has a magic ‘dream hand’ that emerges out of her eyes and goes into your head to retrieve badly behaved dreams. It’s magic. Even though magic doesn’t exist it’s just science, Mum.

She also slid a two dollar coin under my pillow, perhaps in case my teeth fell out during my slumber.

It is hard to feel more loved than when you wake up surrounded by your daughter’s favourite teddies, positioned sentinel around your fevered body. She told me tonight, when I thanked her, that she wanted to make sure I felt like I was being looked after.

She also said,

‘There’s nothing wrong with your cooking Mum, except for sometimes you forget things, and sometimes you think the oven is hot when it’s not. And sometimes you cook things that don’t taste very good. And then there was that curry you made that nobody could eat. But otherwise, it’s fine’.

 

500 words; Risk, autism and wooly thinking

None of this makes much sense, it’s really just me mapping out questions rather than answers.

Recently a friend claimed that everyone at MIT (where she studied) was on the spectrum. The assumption that intelligence corresponds with autism is well known – here’s a primer on the idea that certain alleles crossover for both.

Basically, the argument runs that autism is like a concentrator – some bits of the brain get gooderer, while others get badderer. The article I’ve cited talks about this from an evolutionary perspective, including ‘assortative mating’ – like mates like.

Here’s my question – everything I’ve read about the ‘stratospheric rise’ in autism suggests that it has something to do with rapid changes in the environment (in an evolutionary sense), especially pre and immediately post-natally. In other words, the food we eat and behaviours we engage in, especially stressful ones, positively correlate with a diagnosis of autism.

I don’t know if I believe in a ‘rise’ in autism – seems like the diagnostic criteria is tremendously malleable, you can see this in the discrepancies across social categories too.

I guess I’m musing on an apparent paradox;

The rise in autism is supposedly caused by poor environment – high maternal sugar intake, high post natal stress/cortisol etc.,. and yet autism would seem to correspond with high ‘innate’ IQ – that is, ability to think about difficult topics logically (expressing this is a different story).

Does this lead to the conclusion that the rise in Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignominious have resulted in higher levels of IQ – albeit alongside autism?

Doesn’t stack up for me.

I’m wary of labelling everyone smart with being ‘on the spectrum’. As a child I was diagnosed as 100% NutBar – with many troubling behavioural and learning issues (I’m NOT labelling being on the spectrum with being a nutbar – I am claiming my own experience not speaking for anyone else’s here).

My life was very stressful but we lived in an affluent area where social problems are far more likely to be pathologised as medical ones.  Then at 13 I moved schools and started living in a hostel. Suddenly (almost) every problem I’d ever had with learning and behaviour magically evaporated. I’m not suggesting that I am completely ‘not nutbar’ – I am a bit odd, and that’s good. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being on the spectrum – as long as the consequences are good rather than negative (stigma etc.,.) but that’s another set of issues. But, I am suggesting we should be realistic about the range of human variability, and realistic about what that means. Diagnosing epidemics of this and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not suggesting autism doesn’t exist, or making claims about causality or anything else, I’m just very interested in what appears to be a paradox described above.

I guess another way of saying this would be – if we define IQ as the type of stuff people with autism are good at (the type of thinking defined in the article I cited above) then is there now more of it? And is this due to shitty western lifestyles?

 

 

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

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.39.10 AM.png

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.