the view from the tower

arcite's day

Saturday, January 31, 2004

I had dinner last night with my poet friend Michael. He brought up politics, not me (honestly). He agrees with the conservative leader, Don Brash (married to a Singaporean, by the way), that all Maori land claims should be scrapped and that the Maori parliamentary seats should be abolished. I disagree as I think that the Tories are shit-stirring for the election and there’s no advantage to this course of action. In other words, I think that this is all a manufactured media panic. The issues are secondary to the desire for power: previous Tory governments after Muldoon here actually worked well with Maori thanks to the leadership of Jim Bolger and others. The NZ lesson: You know the political landscape is OK when even the Tories don't seem that bad. So this sudden lunge to right strikes me as desperate. Anyway, then he argues that all this left-wing whining about Iraq is misguided and of course Saddam should have been kicked-out and all the reasons for the invasion were totally justified. Again, I think that the moral arguments are pure theory and other more worldly political concerns provide more adequate explanations for what's happening. But I do concede to having a sort of half-assed opposition to the war--I mean, it is Saddam 'take them out and shoot them' Hussein after all. We both agree that pulling out of Iraq is probably a mistake but I wonder who is going to explain that to the next family from Florida or Georgia whose kid dies over there. I try to turn to conversation to other matters. Can’t we just talk about music? But he doesn’t listen to music. And he doesn't like any living NZ writer!

Anyway, after a game of pinball and coffee I came home.

I think of my friends in AA shoveling snow. I think of Ikrek and Brittle Lemon and how, in Singapore, everything is so modular so you take everything and everyone for granted. Everyone is just part of the furniture until you move away. And then you think: what would it be like to meet for the first time in different circumstances, what faces would they wear and how would they be different and how would you be different? And isn’t that question after all the final question of ethics and politics? I still glad, in the end, that we went there.

PS: I’m still hopelessly besotted with our kitten. And Geeta is having fun in Auckland.

...arcite at Saturday, January 31, 2004...

Friday, January 30, 2004

OK, I'm going with Geeta: blame FreakyTrigger that I linked to via Brittle Lemon. And goodbye Awful Plastic Surgery and hello Bruce Sterling.

...arcite at Friday, January 30, 2004...
Sunita has yet to come up with a new name...kind of tricky and she's left to visit her sister for the weekend in Auckland.

...arcite at Friday, January 30, 2004...

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Well, I just posted to Blogger but I’m hit by the Mimail virus. Shit! Another reason why I will never run Windows again.

Sunita (my beloved—like the new handle?) and I have just had meeting over at the Ministry of Education. They asked about our book and told us about the current research on autism and education in NZ. We’ve been invited back in three weeks for them to tell us more about their work so some contract work appears in the offing.

Sunita also starts work next week as a special education teacher helping an emotionally disturbed autistic boy in the mornings. Apparently, his mum used to leave him for hours locked in a room. Great. For this work Sunita gets paid a measly $12 per hour.

I picked up the lads from school yesterday and as it was their first day back I bought them a large cream donut and told them they could have half each. Mr T: "Dad, can I have the biggest half?"

And how did I ever live without a cat? I am in love.

...arcite at Wednesday, January 28, 2004...

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Well, after a rather stroppy, semi-threatening e-mail from Raju’s ISP, I decided that it would be a good idea not to use his account any more and to sign up with Telecom Xtra for a simple $30 a month dial-up: I’ll wait till I’m earning before we switch to go to broadband.

I finished Simon Blackburn’s Think and while I enjoyed a tour of the great Western philosophical problems I wanted more on some very specific—though troubling—philosophical whirlpools. It seems rather too easy to dismiss post-structuralism and post-modernity as varients of nominalism. I remembered an interesting conversation I had with Ikrek just before leaving Zingers: I said that I’m confident that the laws of physics are universal. These laws apply throughout the universe and should we contact an alien civilisation then we can be sure that they would have a similar understanding of Kepler’s laws, redshift, etc. Ikrek wasn't so sure that the laws are so universal and felt that even at the level of basic physics culture intervenes and contaminates these laws so that they are culture-bound and not universal.

Of course, at stake here is what we mean by 'universal' and also what we actually claim to know in disciplines such as Astronomy. I’m pretty sure that my position is sound but I also respect the very pressing doubts raised by Ikrek’s 'post-modernity.' But these issues—or indeed the whole problem of language—aren’t really addressed by Blackburn in his punchy, well-written and entertaining introduction.

Great cover though:

...arcite at Tuesday, January 27, 2004...

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Why Debbie Gibson? Well, my good friend Miss J is taught by a man who wears a t-shirt and a necktie. I was google searching for t-shirt and ties and Debbie just came to me. Doesn't she look like Leeza Gibbons or most young women on American TV or a character from a Douglas Copeland novel, say, Susan Colgate? American hair. Tri-Delta adolescence. I don't mean to be smarmy--it's a living and at least I see a peace sign in the design. What does Debbie think about the war in Iraq or Arnie? What about conditioners? OK: I'm bored and should go back to geeking out with my astronomy software.

...arcite at Saturday, January 24, 2004...
Well, Rover did phone home and isn't feeling too well. And the interview went well yesterday with only one or two nitpicking questions. My poem 'Nanosphere' is rejected by The Listener and given the rather shocking typo in one of the lines I have to say I'm more than a little relieved. I normally do zap them before they go out but this one was a little rushed, so there you go. How I miss Miss J's helpful eye. (Aye, aye).

We're not getting cable as I see no reason for us to pay for five year old Mr. T to sit around watching The Cartoon Network all day. But we did get a spanking new aerial fitted and so I was able to enjoy The New Pornographers video "All for swinging you around" this morning.

All there errant probes make me cross my fingers for Cassini-Hyugens. Don't go offline...don't go offline....

...arcite at Saturday, January 24, 2004...

Friday, January 23, 2004

Rover, phone home! The last 48 hours on Mars have been very odd. First olivine is found that suggests no water, then we have a host of speculation about 'brine' due to the 'mud' that was uncovered by the Lander's balloons. Then nothing.

I have a big job interview later this morning and my heading is itching like crazy: just like R's and T's and L's. If you are a parent with young kids at school you know what this means. All I have to do is to try not to scracth before I get to the chemist and get us all the right combs and shampoos. Yes, I can see the funny side of this. What lousy luck, though.

...arcite at Friday, January 23, 2004...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I'm seriously thinking of dropping 1001 Nights as I can never post or email comments to her. Blogs need to be two-way, don't ya think?

...arcite at Thursday, January 22, 2004...

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

We approach movies differently from CDs. To say “X has watched a movie 30 times” implies some sort of quirk as opposed to saying “Y has listened to a CD 30 times.”

The autistic sensibility flattens narratives told by visual images (which is why I am such a bad film critic). “But you know the outcome!” is a foolish rejoinder. What matters is the flow of sounds and colours, the way a particular computer or robot behaves: all incidentals. Autists invite us to re-think film outside of narrative or ideology. (Peter Jackson: “Does it have good battle scenes?”). A certain other approach to film; an idiot’s sensibility if you will but also a designer’s or a photographer’s (back to Le Divorce: the way the bag floats down at the end of the film).

One other minor point about the Singapore story. The equation Singapore=human rights abuse, while not entirely untrue, cannot be said to be true either! It ignores SEA, Malaysia, etc and feeds into the nationalistic notion that we are best. In other words it's another smug story BUT it also recognises Amnesty as a legitimate news source--which is why it is a good story. I was a member of Amnesty for two years and I've always been a little surprised that I was allowed in to Singapore despite this rather mundane fact (I think I wrote two letters as a member--hardly a committed member). Got 2 go...

...arcite at Wednesday, January 21, 2004...
Speaking of the happy isle, I wonder if the Straights Times covered this juicy little story that featured in NZ press, TV and radio: Singapore leads the world in executions. That's right, guys, keep on racing ahead lap after lap!

...arcite at Wednesday, January 21, 2004...
Well, we're having freak weather here in Wellington. It's very cold for summer and we have strong winds and lots of rain. I've just been to get a haircut in Johnsonville as I have another job interview--for the same job I was phone interviewed for in Singapore--on Friday with the CEO.

...arcite at Wednesday, January 21, 2004...

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

"This is...a problem most people get wrong.

Suppose you decide to check yourself out for some disease. Suppose that this disease is quite rare in the population: only about one in a thousand people suffer from it. But you go to your doctor, who says he has a good test for it. The test is in fact over 99 per cent reliable! Faced with this you take the test. Then--horrors!--you test positive. You have tested positive, and the test is better than 99 per cent reliable. How bad is your situation, or in other words, what is the chance you have the disease?

Most people say, it's terrible: you are virtually certain to have the disease.

But suppose, being a thinker, you ask the the doctor a bit more about this 99 percent reliability. Suppose you get this information:

  1. If you have the disease, the test will say you have it.
  2. The test sometimes, but very rarely, gives 'false positives'. In only a few cases--around 1 per cent--does it say that someone has the disease when they do not.

These two together make up the better than 99 per cent reliability. You might think that you are still virtually certain to have the disease. But in fact this entirely wrong. Given the facts, your chance of having the disease is a little less than 10 per cent.

Why? Well, suppose 1,000 people take the test. Given the general incidence of the disease (the 'base rate'), one of them might be expected to have it. The test will say he has it. It will also say that 1 per cent of the rest of those tested, i.e. roughly ten people, have it. So eleven people might be expected to test positive, of whom only one will have the disease. It is true that the news is bad--you have gone from a 1 in a 1,000 chance of didease to a 1 in 11 chance--but it is still far more probable that you are healthy than not."

Simon Blackburn. Think

...arcite at Tuesday, January 20, 2004...

Monday, January 19, 2004

Over 4 million Vietnamese died in the Vietnam wars.

...arcite at Monday, January 19, 2004...

Sunday, January 18, 2004

It's lovely having Canopus with us and once I sort out a decent image server then I'll post at least one picture of our new kitten!

R. is keen to have a web counter on his blog--so if you know of a good visitor counter please leave a comment so my 8 year nethead son can start fooling with code. And he wants a clock on the blog!

A kind friend from Japan has sent me XP disks so I can reboot 'Crasher'--my PC from Singapore whose system was deleted when R installed the Dos Shell. Now it is back from the dead and we'rew on the web using the rather zipper Mozilla browser. Pretty zippy.

Does anyone else think that the grandiose 'men on the Moon, men on Mars' may all be about corporate contracts--how much money can you make from scientifically valuable cheap shots to Pluto?

...arcite at Sunday, January 18, 2004...

Saturday, January 17, 2004

I’m a little tired after spending a sunny afternoon in the Kaitoke National Reserve. L’s keen to find Rivendell but we make a early turn into the park and picnic near the cold clear river. There’s no shade and we find a flat spot on the river bed. Me and the lads splash around in the river. We decide that this can’t be the right park so we drive about 5 kilometers closer to the Rimatukas and go into the popular part of the park which is quite busy with folks swimming in the river and jumping in from bridges. The early part of the trail is too steep for Deepa so me and Rohan walk into the bush for twenty minutes or so. You really need good shoes for the walk because it’s steep as you drop down to the river.

I’ve finished Kundera’s Slowness: a short, stylistically accomplished though vacuous and somewhat distasteful novel. This is my first and probably last Kundera novel.

...arcite at Saturday, January 17, 2004...
Having a few insert image problems! Is the top image of the tower--kindly created by Ikrek--still there?

...arcite at Saturday, January 17, 2004...

Thursday, January 15, 2004

You’re in the Otari Native Plant Reserve, just a few minute drive from your home. The cloud is low but you’re already under a cloud. This morning, after a reminder from L, you rang the IRS to query a $50 late return fee. After all, you weren’t in the country and have not needed to file a return before. To your horror, you she tells that you are not only liable to pay tax on your property income but that you need to submit all your income from Singapore for three and half years. Surely not, you say. Yes, she says, “If the income tax rate in Singapore was lower than the income tax in NZ then you will need to pay the difference.” You do the math and this works out a staggering amount ($30K?). But you don’t believe it; can’t believe. You try to get a hold of your tax consultant and for a while, just a little, you shake. But in the park you grin and say ‘no way am I filing these returns.’ It just can’t be right. You’ve been there five minutes and splash! R has fallen in the river. He cries all the way home.

That afternoon you speak to your tax consultant. Yes, you have to pay tax on the rent (fair enough). No, there is no way you have to pay tax on that income. And L reminds you of the media reports of people whose families claim were driven to suicide by the Inland Revenue Department.

...arcite at Thursday, January 15, 2004...

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

We have a new member of the family: Canopus, a ten-week old ginger moggy. There were no kittens at the SPCA so we went to a good pet shop and bought him, complete with vaccinations, food, litter, transport basket, toys, treats, worm pills and flea treatment. R. decided on the name after I took him to the Observatory last winter and the head astronomer there pointed out Canopus projected on the planetarium dome and told a long tale of his beloved cat Canopus-pus and how this was a fine name for a kitten if you were ever going to get a kitten. I wasn't that keen to get a kitten just now but I reminded L that she had promised R so she had better keep her promise and Colin & Amanda (cat fanatics) had bought R a 'looking after your cat' book for his birthday. Of course, once I held the kitten in the shop it was love at first touch and I thought about how much I’d looked after the family cat and the family dog in the past. So now Canopus is hiding under the bed in T's tiny room and we’ve put his litter, food basket and toys there. I’m trying to get the kids to leave him alone until he’s ready to venture out and then I’ll snap a photo.

...arcite at Wednesday, January 14, 2004...

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Soundtrack: Unzip. Abc.

On the way to the pool “I heard it through the Grapevine” plays on Classic Hits. I had been listening to French (Algerian?) rap on Radio Active where I was once a jock, but R changed the station & as Marvin sings I remembered when I first heard a version of this song, on a cheap K-Tel 45 of covers that we bought at Tescos back in Delph , 1973, & I thought that he must have heard it at a grape farm or winery because I took it literally.

A sign at the pool’s changing rooms (tane wahi) reminds patrons that cellphone are not to be used in the changing rooms do to the taking and swapping of pictures on the net.

When I interviewed Sarah she explained that she had spent about eight months learning idioms with her speech therapist: ‘wet blanket’, ‘thick as a brick’ etc.

So we sit by the splashing waters and discuss the gene pool: I didn’t talk till past three, had tantrums, used to eat weird substances (coal, dog food, carpet), was taken to doctors because I thought to have ‘brain damage’ and we move on to discuss my sister Jo, also odd, and my sister Jayne’s son Campbell and his late speech development as he is slow with language. And, well. Well. Well. You know. You feel kind of weird. Again.

And you thought that you just had the curse of the Irish in your family.

So we drive along the old Karori road to Johnsonville, the cloud so low you can’t see the hill tops and a light drizzle falls as the radio now plays Stella’s Undone and T says “Mum, I know of a really good name for a girl: Courtney.”

...arcite at Tuesday, January 13, 2004...

Monday, January 12, 2004

I cooked quite a good veggie lasagna last night (cottage cheese, Italian herbs, NZ tasty cheese, kidney beans, parmesan, fresh toms, tinned toms, onion, garlic, olive, oil etc).

I’m sure that I don’t need to give you a link to Pres. Bush’s hints of a bold new space initiative. I’ve tried to contain my blogging about the current Mars mission as I thought it might be tedious but Bush’s ‘hints’ do warrant a few words.

I’m a little sceptical of this whole approach. Sure, in the long term, we do need to put people on Mars. Why? Because a long time from now the sun will expand and Earth will be fried. We will be able to live, provided we have the technology, for a limited time on Mars.

But this is all many millions of years away. And I wonder what other parts of the space program will be affected by this bold new initiative. Does a Moon/Mars mission mean that we don’t build super space telescopes that could be used to produce images of other Earth-like planets? Does it mean that the US will no longer fund CETI research or send probes to distant Pluto (which gets further and further from us every year) or the Kuiper belt?

It’s a pity that the Stardust mission, which is now returning to Earth with a sample of comet material, didn’t quite get the fanfare it deserved.

So I’m a little dubious about these proposed missions. I’d like to see the total space exploration programme. Putting people in space is very expensive and what do we gain in terms of what we learn? In contrast, a small satellite like COBE which measured the cosmic background radiation was able to effectively ‘prove’ the big bang and provides a wealth of information about the early universe. I don't think that this is the right time to spend so much money putting people into space when we can explore more with robots.

...arcite at Monday, January 12, 2004...

Saturday, January 10, 2004

I Watched a bit of the Brit TV show Stars in Their Eyes which is a glorified karaoke show. Contestants compete with each other to imitate a particular star—last night I watched a guy sing ‘Every breath you take’ and a young woman imitate Christina Agulaira (but she was wearing far too many clothes and lacked CA’s tackiness). The format of the show is always the same: you see the contestant as an ordinary person, delivering milk or working as a real estate agent and then they are introduced as the particular star they will imitate. Now, I think karaoke, like line dancing, is sort of fascinating in terms of encouraging participation but this show always strikes me as cynical and pathetic. You’re only claim to fame is by impersonating someone famous. There’s a real anti-punk agenda at work: you will only be famous by copying never by taking the place of the original. Even The Darkness—whose work I dislike—have to be respected for understanding the jump from copying to making (the lead singer realised he was a goer when he got such a good reaction from a pub crowd one new year’s eve when he imitated Freddy Mercury.)

...arcite at Saturday, January 10, 2004...

Friday, January 09, 2004

life in nz

I see Kevin Bacon naked. On national TV, 11.00PM, and I catch the end of the B-noir movie ‘Wild Things’ which I kind of enjoy. Anyway, Bacon steps outside the shower and you get to see the sausage. I admire his nerve—Kevin Bacon’s own piggly wiggly. Or did he use a double?

ZMFM’s promo cart: “While you’re on holiday, we roll the hits for you all day long. Ten in a row.”

And the Auckland Womens’ Hospital wants volunteers to take part in a research study on the meta-amphetamine P. A scary drug; a real scary drug.

Goldenhorse are playing tomorrow and next week so are Turin Brakes. But we're short of money and we are still trying to get R used to the idea that he can stay the night with T at Nana and Nani's. Difficult.

...arcite at Friday, January 09, 2004...

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Another cloudy wet day—hard to believe, up here, that the south island is stricken with drought and fires. We see the cover of the book that uses the handwritten design created by Rachel whose life story appears inside. I know that I need to work on the proposal for book two—which we’ve already partly written—but L’s sick, the kids are at home on school holiday. We need to spend a couple of mornings down at the city library. Which whizz kid thought of the name ‘sleepy hollow’ for that crater on Mars—the publicity dept?

And, no, I don't think that Di was murdered, but ...

...arcite at Thursday, January 08, 2004...

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

I spent the whole day gardening with Dad: I’d already cleared up the back of the section a little removing old Punga leaves and chopping away growth. Yesterday Dad accompanied by Mum, Jayne and Campbell, brought a trailer load of wood chip down from Otaki. We weed out the beds, place a thin plastic sheet over the soil, cut holes in this sheet for the plants and cover the plastic with wood chip. In the course of all this gardening I remove a cabbage tree (too many in the back) and the weed Old Man’s Beard and plant Rosemary (nice practical plant, lovely smell.)

Still on antiobiotics! I submitted ‘Nanosphere’ to The Listener. And, late in the evening, Latika, I’m afraid comes down with a raging temperature and is bitten by the flu.

Our book is now in production and we should read the proof in mid-February.

...arcite at Tuesday, January 06, 2004...

Monday, January 05, 2004

I’ve just finished Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark There are two concise reviews of this novel, one at January Magazine and the other at Sfsite. In a year in which Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has become known as the one of the better works of autism literature, Speed of Dark, I feel, is a far superior novel that touches on the issues of normality, different cognitive styles, disability and marginalization. Lou is by far the most complex, well-rounded autistic character I’ve read. Moon’s experience as a parent of an autistic son does pervade the novel: Lou is different and has many contradictory feelings about his autism. What’s clear, though, is whole alignment of medical/educational authority that works to define him and restrict his choices. I was delighted to see Speech Therapy revealed as a whole set of disciplinary practices—it certainly can look that way. I remember once feeling overwhelmed by waves of sadness and misery as I watched R. in a speech therapy session on CTV. (After that I followed my hunches and decided that I just wasn’t going to put us both through that any more.) At the end of the novel, Lou decided to undergo a therapy that would make him ‘normal’ and would cure him of his autism. Ignore the SF label—the novel is set about 20 years in the future and is really exploring what’s normal and what’s different and how we think through the challenges (personal, intellectual, emotional) presented to us by autism.

I’ve also finished Geoff Cochrane’s Acetylene. He’s a local poet living here in Wellington. Here’s a poem I greatly enjoyed in this collection:



The Day Room features piano, pool table,
a great stuffed bird in simulated flight.
And Shaky Pete himself is having lunch:
Fish cakes and beetroot and shredded lettuce.

By one means or another,
he quit the Methadone and the cigarettes—
only to scald himself and break his hip
in two unfunny kitchen accidents.

And this is where they’re put,
the young ones with indifferent prognoses,
the stroke victims and those fucked up in prangs.
Fish cakes fry in an electric pan.


‘You’re looking much better,’ A.J. tells Peter.

Walking with the aid of the stick,
the patient shows us to his room.
It’s full of the things
Pete has always owned and had about him.
His punter’s binoculars are hanging on the wall;
the telly’s showing TAB Trackside.
On a low shelf, Into India mixes it
with James Lee Burke.

Behind a Van Gogh print
faded to within an inch of its life
(the painter’s cell at Arles)
Peter has contrived to hide a bag of dope.
‘Would you like a smoke, A.J.?’

‘I could be tempted, Shaky.’

‘It’s only a bit of cabbage. What about you, Geoff?’

Perhaps I’m slow to answer
(grass doesn’t do for me what I want done.)
I’m looking at an oval-framed image
dating from the Sixties,
a photograph of Peter and his late brother, Brian,
sharp young blades abroad
in clobber from His Lordship’s.

...arcite at Monday, January 05, 2004...

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Today's soundtrack? The Strip Soundtrack. I don't agree that Sophie sounds 'tired' but I've been away, after all.

...arcite at Sunday, January 04, 2004...
Hi all. I've recovered from the flu though I'm still on massive antibiotics so hopefully the blog will stay up to date.

...arcite at Sunday, January 04, 2004...

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Well chics, I’ve been sick. I’m on 2000 mg of penicillin a day which for some odd reason feels like some sort of accomplishment. How northern male hysterical is that? Speaking of which, I haven’t yet had time to take in Ted & Sylvia’s Excellent Poetic Adventure feat. two miserable kids, a plague of biographers and some stunning verse—the sort of verse that makes you feel like a rabbit at night caught in the glare of headlights from the truck hurtling towards you. Yea, that kind of stunned. Now, Ted being from up north I wonder just how bloody hysterical he is. Not hysterical ha ha but hysterical as in Salford’s Mark E Smith’s Joker Hysterical Face ‘There’s no cure so find a case for it!’ Ph.D candidates await.

New year’s eve list: best book ‘The essential difference’ Baron Cohen. Best film: too crappy, no award. I guess The Two Towers (yawn). Best CD: Gramsci Object. MH’s burnt compilations (comps are better than real cds). Best drink: Guinness Foreign Stout, Hobbies: astronomy, poetry, masturbation. Best poetry: Rita Dove. Web site of the year: Blogger.

For some reason this morning I’m ringing bells, lighting incense, looking at rupas, pausing, big mind, big sky, big space, empty hands. Ringing. Some flashes somewhere. And you don’t believe anymore in the written word. You are here you are not not here.

Yes, well.

Happy new year! Ikrek, Bitter Lemon, A&J, Pete, everyone else.

...arcite at Thursday, January 01, 2004...