Tuesday, November 25, 2008

~ the party mill

my daughter's first attempt at a sick note

It may seem unbelievable, but in my prep class, there were fifty kids. In Polly’s there are about nineteen and ten of these are girls. When birthdays come up, the boys go to the boys’ parties and the girls to the girls’. There are no exclusions and little overlap.

By the time of Polly’s birthday in November, the ten girls of Prep P were experienced social operators. That is - they were familiar with each other in the celebratory context, (as well as the educational). They’d been to lots of parties and their behaviour was becoming formalised: with the screaming, the dancing, the eating ... Familiarity with the process also makes it easier on the parents; they know what the children expect and deliver it. Nice and simple. A party mill. Drop them off at one end. Let the apparatus do its sweet pink deafening business. Pick them up two hours later.

One can even have it done by a third party. Any Fairy Shop worth its salt will run a lucrative sideline in girls' parties. And, for children of the void, there is always the freakish hamburger clown, whose minions will happily provide a loud, reliable, desolate, fattening sub-celebration.

The birthday girl functions at an extreme level of excitement. Rationality evaporates in a welter of cake and chocolate crackles. Hard won conditioning is lost in a chaos of triumphal screaming. and the security of pack-behaviour. The most trivial of slights or misadventures brings a flood of tears and it is no wonder. The ductile young brain, (perhaps excluding the pre-frontal cortex,) runs red hot at one of these birthday parties. Like locusts the children descend upon table loads of treats, reducing them to a sticky ruin before proceeding to the next vortex of fun. There is something wildly orgiastic about a six year old’s birthday party.

This year, to my shame, I failed to manufacture a piñata. Instead I forked out a ridiculous sum for a prefab: a traditional pink quadruped which might have passed as a horned alpaca or llama, if it hadn't been advertised as a ‘mystical unicorn’...

And the shimmering mountain of gifts. Bratz dolls. Bratz bedding. Bratz stationary. A catadapt Brat. Two Polly Pocket equestrian sets, [horses and dolls with matching outfits and bridles indistinguishable from hats]. A revolving fish nightlight. A Veronicas outfit. Make-your-own-windchimes. Make-your-own-finger-puppets. Jigsaw puzzles. Skipping rope. Hair accessories. And Beados - the replacement for Bindeez. [These ones taste more poisonous than strychnine.]

With the removal of packaging, the gift mountain diminished by two-thirds, but it was still impressive. Too impressive. A monument to over-consumption.

I have a plan for next year and it involves making Polly’s party carbon-neutral. We’ll arrange for a few very nice presents, but beyond that ... guests will be invited to spend potential gift money on the salvation of the moonbears ... or on carbon offsets ...

(... or on the installation of a modish self-destruct switch assembly on the dash of their SUVs. Passing drivers will envy its design ethic and its subtle metallic sheen. They will not previously have seen the colours thream and plome employed in a commercial device, (though they may have heard media reports of their discovery by the deep space robot-probe orbiting Fomalhaut.) ...

- You know, he could just reach over and just ... flick it, observed Ahenobarbus with undisguised envy.

His wife looked up from the pages of her magazine.

Keep your eye on the road, Ahenobarbus.)

Polly’s friend Mia was the odd one out. She’s not at school yet and is just a little timid. She is also innately sensible. When asked why she wasn’t playing with the others, she replied, “I just don’t want to run around screaming, that’s all”.

a guy from one of my wife's life-drawing classes produced this pastel sketch

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

~ immaculata

On my walks, I pass a place where the Grey Creek briefly swells into a pool. It was once a surprisingly picturesque spot, but since the council removed the ancient shady willows it has lost its character. The exposed grey mud is speckled with shards of coloured plastic, faded whiskey cans and lost lime tennis balls; it bakes in the pitiless sun, releasing the earthy, septic smell that is characteristic of the Grey Creek. The odour is toxic and would not be present if the creek flowed through pristine lands, yet it has always been there and I associate it, almost fondly, with my childhood.

When she first moved into the region, the beautiful white duck Immaculata chose this pool for its beauty. Now, despite the changes, she does not leave. She has come to know the place. Experience has taught her that it is defensible against her enemies. The struggling ecology of the Grey Creek is just rich enough to afford her a staple diet and walkers on the nearby path will sometimes stop to feed her bread.

She is far from being a gregarious creature. I have seen her fight the native black ducks for bread and she is capable of a frightening display of ferocity. I can imagine her defending her chicks in the same way, but a family is something that is denied her. It is unlikely that she will ever find a mate. Yet she is prepared to do everything she can to survive, regardless of the hand that fate has dealt her.

The odds do not lie in her favour. For beginners, she is perfectly white. Foxes, dogs and cats can see her at a distance, even at night, but she seems to have developed a survival strategy that works. Because she is not native to anything outside a farm, she lives under constant threat – just like the willows – of being removed from a habitat reserved for native species. And there is always the chance that a low man will attempt to take her for food. That is why her reticence with people is encouraging.

Despite everything, she is strong, healthy and beautiful. And she wags her tail in a very endearing manner. She does seem a little flustered and stressed, but that is to be expected given her circumstances. I feel a great deal of sadness and respect for Immaculata, defending her tiny cul-de-sac between the motorway and suburbia, forgotten, abandoned by nature, excluded by the plans of humankind.

Happily, over the last week, she seems to have formed an alliance with a pair of chestnut teals and a pair of black ducks, with who she sits with in the shade of the creek bank.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

~ the tunnel

The clear blue sky is an affront. The sweet warm air and the gentle breeze are a plague upon my senses. I walk quickly, shunning the flowering bushland and the birdlife, concentrating on the vast concrete wall ahead and the black patch of shadow at the angle of wall and ground, which is the opening of the tunnel.

Upon entering there is an instant change in temperature. I feel the sensuous cool of the crypt. Gone is the murdering light of the sun that impales the material world with writhing spears of poisonous energy. Now just the flat sullen glow of neon panels, set in the ceiling at intervals wide enough to maintain the analgesic gloom. Immediately, I feel the dampening effect on my soul and I am thankful.

I tread through the near dark at an even pace. A pace I could maintain indefinitely. The walls are roughly poured concrete, still bearing the fossil imprint of hessian. The roof too, which I could reach out and touch, like the lid of a coffin, and the floor, where a thin layer of grey sand has collected, and which bears the many footprints of moving bodies such as I.

Everything relaxes in these tunnels. Electrons find their resting states. Systems idles. The eyes have only soft dull shapes to process. The skin feels only cool. The smell, which I have come to love, is that of damp concrete.

As the square of light that is the entrance diminishes to a point, so the silence strengthens, broken only by my breathing and the soft impact of my footfalls. I am coming to a place. I am leaving it. No one sees me. No one expects me. No one remembers me. I walk towards a goal which I need never comprehend, nor which I will ever reach. I am compared to nothing. I am the last man and the first. In the healing null-space, I am unrecognised. I need not be provided for. I am on pause. Effectively, I am nothing.

The tunnels fork, form tributaries, recombine like a vast neutral river system. From time to time, I sense other men flowing through the shadows, but never is a greeting exchanged. It is enough to hear the footfalls in the lifeless sand, to know that there are others, many others, who have developed a taste for this singular resource.

The tunnel system is extensive, that is clear, but just how vast, I do not know. Nor do I know how many walk its dark floors, at peace, neither before nor after, neither alive nor dead.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

~ the sweet death knell of ABC Learning

The monstrous entity that is ABC Learning seems at last to be on the skids.

Readers of this blog may recall a couple of posts dedicated to the corporation and its venal progenitor Eddy Groves, and I feel obliged to wind things up with some sort of eulogy

My opinion was, and remains, that something as delicate as early child care should not be run for profit. As I understand it, a publicly listed company must by law attend to the needs of its shareholders before all others – yet the others in this case are very young children in the most formative periods of their lives.

Eddy Groves lived the high life, feeding off this teratological outgrowth of the free market system. He owned basketball teams, luxury sports cars, before, in September, he was at last removed from his position as head of the failing company amid reports of ‘dishonesty’. To my mind, he deserves rotten tomatoes and the stock. A ghastly parasite that would happily fatten itself on our very young ...

ABC’s fall into receivership gives our ostensibly socialist government an opportunity to shift early child care out of the private sector. Sadly, I've heard Julia Gillard say that ‘we are not in the business’ of child care - yet perhaps actions speak louder than words as the Federal Government – albeit of necessity – is providing grants to keep the centres running. We have a government run education system, do we not? What is so strange about extending its boundaries?

Somewhere along the way, it may be discovered that providing good child care at a reasonable price is difficult enough without skimming off the top. Always there will remain the question: should this dollar go to the shareholders or to the children? I caught a news-bite yesterday saying that 40% of the individual ABC centres were unprofitable. It’s curious, as financial overextension has generally been given as the prime reason for the corporation’s downfall. Who knows? Probably, along with the company itself, the structures that generated the appearance of adequate childcare - and they must have been complex – are themselves collapsing. In time, perhaps the receivers will learn the true costs of proper child care ...

Just woolgathering here, I’d like to make clear.

If parents choose a centre run by a company like ABC over a not-for-profit community or council-run centre, they are buying discount child care. The investors expect to be paid off. The skim money has to be found somewhere. That is why, for instance, staff are paid a minimum. In order to restrict expenditure, I am told, ABC centres buy their toys and general supplies from designated providers with whom the company has formed an agreement. One would assume that cost would weigh more heavily than quality in these relationships.

As the company crumbled, I read many articles and analyses. Pundits from the business desk treated it as they would any other company, in those terms. It could have been mining, IT, retail or pharmaceuticals. Where are we as a society, if we include childcare in that lot? Happily, amongst it all, I did hear one commentator question, in general terms, the worth and the morality of corporatised early child care. The Greens have suggested ‘that the government use the opportunity ... to lift child-care standards by running centres itself and turning others over to the community sector.” Right on.

Consider: as our children grow, we have the choice of sending them to private or public schools. If we choose private, it is almost always because we expect a superior grade of education. Imagine taking an ordinary old state school – like Pinewood Primary, where Polly goes – and running it for profit

I was going to suggest, with gladness, that this will be the last we hear of the monster Eddie Groves – but, once the forensic accountants have been through his books, we may yet be treated with the spectacle of his punishment.

~ eddie groves' evil empire
~ an exercise in physiognomy
~ more pernicious mischief from eddie 'the milkman' groves

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Friday, November 7, 2008

~ aerobones

During our recent trip to Bairnsdale, Polly and I - with the help of Kyowa and the spinal column of a cow – developed the concept of the aerobone. Just one example of the enjoyment that may be derived from imaginative employment of decomposing animal parts.

When I was Kyowa’s age, there would not have been a boy in the land who did not immediately recognise the markings on these vertebrae. For better or for worse, I found myself teaching the children how to draw a swastika. How ancient I have become.

Belatedly, and as promised, I have injected some images into the post The Den of Nargun ...

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

~ the reluctant herbalist

Although I think of myself as a staunch rationalist, some of the things I do don’t quite fit the picture. For starters, I’ve always been addicted to the emotional thrill one gets from certain moments in sport, film, music and politics...

Yesterday morning I was walking around carrying dream-like expectations in my heart. Could America again be something other than a villain? With Obama in the van, it seems possible. But on what am I judging that? Probably some propaganda spillage. Media bullets aimed at wavering voters in marginal American states which hit me instead. Yet I was certainly not the only one ... And this morning the US seems like a wholly different land.

Sometimes I just take it on trust and hope and faith. Because it’s so important that I mollycoddle my liver, my ears are open to tall tales of herbs that can protect or nourish it. Or even ‘aid in the secretion of bile’.

Western medicine recognises these substances, but rarely recommends them. You are left relying on the wisdom of the naturopathy industry which is veined with homeopathy, witchcraft, Ayurvedic, Chinese and Thelemic medicines, and a whole lot of other things which, though interesting, aren’t strictly evidence based science, and which provide green fields for mountebanks and quacksalvers.

Never mind, I’ve decided to trust Microgenics. I’m fairly certain what
they sell is actually Milk Thistle. And they’re one of the few companies that supply the high dosages used in clinical trials. The medical establishment does take the active ingredient, silibinin, seriously. After all, House even mentioned it once, (albeit at a moment of desperation). And a company in Belgium has created an injectable form, (primarily to treat poisoning by Death Cap toadstools).

Turmeric with its active ingredient curcumin is something no one’s going to make a lot of money on – somewhat like aspirin - so perhaps that makes it a good safe bet, as unpleasant as it is to ingest. Currently, I’m mixing 2 measured grams with a teaspoon of marmalade to form a semi-edible bolus. Curcumin is said to dissolve amyloid protein deposits in the brain. This, apparently, is why Indians have far less Alzheimer’s. It’s also supposed to be good for the liver, but at least one naturopath has told me this is ‘because of the colour’. I’ll have it just for the brain thing, thanks.

Shisandra, the five-flavoured-fruit, is the latest addition to my regimen. It’s an ancient Chinese herb with a good safety record. It’s easy to find as part of a liver tonic, but not in a discrete form. I’m getting mine from a Chinese herbalist in Springvale. Wikipedia speaks of studies done in China which suggest benefits for sufferers of chronic hepatitis. Should one trust studies done in China, after the hair-sauce thing? I don’t know, but this herb is really delicious as a tea. Something like rosehip.

After watching a recent episode of Sixty Minutes, I’ve started buying a trans-resveratrol formulation. Now this is a very good money maker, as it’s showing marked life prolonging properties in laboratory mice. Only problem is the dosage. T-resveratrol is made from red grape skin. My current daily dose is equivalent to 6 bottles of red wine. The dose that helped the mice was a massive fifteen hundred bottles of red wine.

I also consume dandelion, goji berries, artichoke tea and probably others I can’t recall just now. I spend a fair amount of time on what is ultimately an act of faith. You swallow this pill or drink the tea and then what? It all melts and joins the complex digestive soup in your stomach. Certain molecules shear off and work their certain magic in a biomechanical operation of mind-boggling intricacy. Without vast scientific expertise, how can you really know what's going on?

I’ve no idea whether I’m feeling better as a result. I am feeling good, but that could be the exercise, or the almost-vegetarianism, or the near-total exclusion of alcohol. I’d hate to think I was being taken for a ride. Especially someone as rational as I. But then a sense of looming mortality can lead you in directions you might otherwise not take.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

~ hair sauce

I remember little about Camberwell market. I was too tired. But I did come away with a wad of small denomination bills, a jacket heavy with coin, and far fewer books. No sign of the recession biting.

Polly, whose mother blanched at the idea of rising earlier than six o’clock, set up her own micro-stall, selling small shoes and videos. She made a few dollars too, but I was particularly intrigued by an obvious growth of her interest in commerce. With the prospect of a pay-off, any shyness evaporated, and she was happy to sit right up the front, hawking her wares with a combination of cuteness and rock bottom prices.

Countless times, I’ve tried to get her on stage in front of an audience, but failed. Perhaps I should have been offering a fee? I’m going to attempt to do a stall at Oakleigh market in a couple of weeks and this time I’ll set Polly up properly. My neighbouring stallholder at Camberwell – who was very impressed at Polly’s mercantile skills - suggested baking bread and getting her to sell it. Perhaps biscuits will do. Or chocolate crackles ...

With perfect timing, Barack Obama’s grandmother has just died. There was a sound bite from him on the radio this morning, culled from one of his speeches. He was speaking of his grandmother, who had a large hand in raising him. “She poured everything she had into me.”

I immediately felt inadequate as a parent. But, I guess, so would any other parent.

Again on the radio: a news item on the melamine milk-poisoning scandal. Apparently, in China, there are many other incidences of food substitution by greedy manufacturers. The reporter reeled off a list. What stuck in my mind was ‘soy sauce made from human hair’.

Could this truly be? I did some googling and found what was clearly the text I had heard broadcasted ...

‘They've found meat filled with hormones, eggs containing poisonous paint, soy sauce made out of human hair ...’

Are unscrupulous operators setting up deals with hairdressers? Sending their trucks on weekly hair pickups? Like the biodiesel freaks who buy used oil from fish and chip shops. [note: instant noodles are said to be fried with pre-loved oil sourced from hotels and restaurants]

Do impoverished families, with no other option, surrender their hair to the soy sauce people for a few measly yuan? In what system can human hair be a cheap substitute for soy beans? Or does it add a certain texture, colour or odour? Is there anything wrong with using it? I believe hair contains a fair amount of protein. Or is it just cannibalism?

And the process? What do they actually do to the hair to turn it into sauce? What’s the recipe? Is there a purpose built machine? A hairdresser once told me that by the end of the week the hair-bin at her salon was always very full, and if you burrowed right down to the bottom you would find that the oldest hair had begun to liquefy. Perhaps this is a clue ...

Investigating further, I learnt, on a particularly breathless site, that soy sauce was also made from blood clots and animal bones. I began to feel sick. Whatever the truth of it all, I think I’ll buy a better class of soy sauce from this time on.

PS: Interestingly, this site also speaks of ‘toxic fungi processed with trashed fungus products and soaked with ink’, ‘toxic shredded meat made from dead pigs and processed with bad bread crumbs,’ and ‘toxic duck blood made from cheap pig blood.’

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Monday, November 3, 2008

~ serpentine dream theory

Southland Tales: the newish film by Richard Kelly, [Donnie Darko]. It’s very entertaining, a sprawling futuristic comedy not unlike Idiocracy; more vaudeville than high art, and different in nature to Kelly’s previous film.

I mention it because of a seemingly casual reference made to the ‘self-destruct switch’ of an SUV.

An interesting idea, no? It flows with the essence of the device, does it not? Fictional spacecraft tend to be fitted with them. And I’m sure the driver of, say, a Hummer would think it was right on ... the power to annihilate himself in an exploding ball of fire ... right there, at his fingertips ...

Rather than mandate it, authorities would automatically frown on such a thing. Too much collateral damage for a start. But if we are capable, as a society, of inviting such monstrous devices into our streets, then surely the sight of them detonating should not appall us that much? In a frightening greenhouse future, things that may once have seemed shocking may become commonplace. It’s just a question of emotional perspective.

Like seat-belts and air-bags, the self-destruct system would naturally have to pass stringent regulations and be of the highest quality manufacture – yet it’s still difficult to see how extraneous damage to other vehicles, infrastructure, onlookers [and their emotions] would ever be avoided.

Does this kill the idea? I don’t think so. Designated zones might be created, even thunderous death arenas; but my instinct is that a high percentage of self-annihilators will be acting on the spur of the moment - and the world would not want to lose those precious seconds in which a noxious parasite was prepared to voluntarily wipe itself from the face of the Earth.

What we require is implosion, rather than explosion. In a necessary riot of harmless light and sound, the vehicle would safely crumple in upon itself, leaving a small recyclable cube or sphere. Crumple zones are already incorporated into car design, they just need more development.

The SD switch, required by law for all personal vehicles over a certain weight and fuel consumption.

Southland Tales also mentions something called Serpentine Dream Theory. Whatever it is – and the explanation just washed over me - it could never be as good as it sounds.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

~ the cloud of unknowing

On Thursday I took the long road to Langwarrin in order to console Kylie, who broke four ribs falling off a fence. Interestingly, she claims to have been only slightly intoxicated - at least in comparison to her personal precedents.

Kylie is one of my dearest friends and near to qualifying as a nurse. I cannot think of a person more suited to the job. She is almost pathologically empathetic, particularly when it comes to animals. She is feared by local vets, to who she regularly brings near-dead possums scraped from edges of roads. She keeps a blanket in the back of her car expressly for this purpose.

It’s been a while since I’ve been down that way and it was unrecognisable. Indeed, I got lost. What was once pleasant and semi-rural is now undergoing rapid change.

Housing developments are spreading like a necrotising rash, an untiring cloud of unknowing. These are the fabled mcmansion estates, which may only be visited by converting large amounts of gasoline into poisonous exhaust. Other means of transport are either impractical or non-existent. The children who grow up here will struggle to avoid alienation in their cavernous, appliance-filled houses. Perhaps the internet will be their saviour. Perhaps there will be helicopter airlifts.

I saw no solar panels. No water tanks. I imagine the large developers have lawyers to sleaze them out of those annoying obligations. Do these houses have double glazing? Solar hot water? I wonder just how ugly they really are? When carbon trading begins, just how difficult will it be for the dull sublunary occupants of these macmansions?

At least the financial ‘meltdown’ will slow the carbonators down a little.

I do go on.

I’ve got a stall at Camberwell Market tomorrow, in case any one is in need of vast quantities of ridiculously cheap books. It’s been a while since I’ve culled the distributed tumour that is my book collection. The blame rests with my embarrassing second life as Lampsucker the ebay seller - and with what my wife calls my ‘Asperger’s syndrome’.

Admittedly, I do have trouble disposing of objects. I am a recovering hoarder. And I am subject to sudden consuming obsessions. And I have a well-established reputation for saying inappropriate things in social situations. And I have been accused of lacking emotional reciprocity. And I do react with abnormal intensity when others interrupt my routines ...

Aspeger’s is a ‘spectrum’ now, not a ‘syndrome’ – so perhaps I lie somewhere in the very mild reaches. Personally, as the occupant of my own mind, I think it’s possible. Others, excluding my wife, say it’s just eccentricity. But these days even things like eccentricity seem to need a medical description. So be it. After all, Einstein has apparently been post-diagnosed with Asperger’s.

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