Monthly Archives: February 2008

everything I know I learned

You’ve might’ve read Robert Fulghum‘s great mini-essay entitled ‘Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten‘. It’s cute. Full of stuff I wish was true – or, that at least was the way we conducted business and/or employment and/or the way we treat each other in work as adults. What Robert neglected to mention was that order in the kindergarten was maintained by an all seeing, all wise adult teacher who’d ensure everyone played fair and did as they were supposed to at the right time, and provided the milk and cookies. Or so I believe, I didn’t go to kindergarten.

I did, however, have the pleasure yesterday of watching a young man teacher (sorry, I didn’t have my camera to get a photo of this incredibly rare sight, but I swear this is true – there was another witness) it was a young man school teacher, yes, in Wellington, and yes, with a class of primary aged kids – I know – amazingly rare – anyway, this guy cruises up with his class, explains they were going to have lunch in the park, and there were other people here and we’re going to treat this place and these people with respect, and please, sit down and enjoy your lunch. I know, I didn’t have a camera. Guess what. The kids sat down, with their teacher, and everyone ate their lunches. Not much got fed to the gulls and pigeons, so I take that to mean they all enjoyed their lunches.

And then the teacher got up and said, ‘Everyone wait here, I’ll be right back, and I can see you from where I’m going.’ I’m glued in by this stage…

The teacher went a few metres away, grabbed out one of the public bins, and brought it back for the kids to dump their trash. At this point I had to leave because I knew you wouldn’t believe me anyway. I was so completely and utterly stunned – and on so many layers. A young, male teacher – probably not more that five years out of training. In control of a class of primary age kids. In public. Everyone seemed to be having a polite, pleasant, respectful, positive learning experience, on a beautiful day, near the waterfront, in perhaps the most wonderful day of the year, in this astoundingly fabulous capital. My faith, so cracked and smeared by how kiwis seem to be treating each other these days, was shockingly restored. I felt shattered that somehow the stuff that was once normal in my childhood world seemed so foreign and exotic. I really didn’t know how to respond. I was (I still am) completely inspired. My heart sung, to be honest, that this looked like the first excellent teacher that I’d seen in a damn long time. I wonder if he’d had superb training at uni (I’m sorry, that’s totally unimaginable) or perhaps he had parents with a special gift. No matter what, I hope that young man stays in teaching forever without become a jaded, stressed-out, cynical 30-something. I hope the kids go on to become Robert Fulghums. I hope their parents thank their lucky stars that somehow fate sent them the best teacher I’ve seen in decades, and that they do everything they can to support him. Whoever the mystery teacher is (you and your class had lunch in the park on the bridge over Capital E, by the Fowler Centre) I wish you all the success from the bottom of my heart, and I hope above all hopes there’s 1,000 more just like you working in classrooms and showing such wonderful leadership across New Zealand. We need as much of this as we can get.

120 Days of Sodom

I don’t imagine there would be many more reviled books than The 120 Days of Sodom – Marquis de Sade, 1785. It’s a book that sits somewhat by itself, somewhere along the allegory…fiction…satire continuum, it’s got something for everyone to be repelled or revolted by, and it’s hardly the stuff of genteel company. It has been my first read in my year of reading dangerously, and I don’t imagine for a moment that there will be anything to equal it, and, if there is, frankly, I don’t want or need to read it. More about that later. First, to revisit the criteria for my year of reading dangerously (myord),

First, in order to acknowledge the future of the book, it must be available online – as a download, whatever.
Second, the book must be one I haven’t read.
Third, in order to be dangerous, the book must have been banned at some stage, somewhere.
Fourth, I’ll write a review of the book with the url so you can go mad with your year of reading dangerously too.

So, now, on with a potted history of the book. Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille in 1785. Somehow he manages to find an unused toilet roll and writes a story in his best hand writing. In 1789 (July 14) the Bastille was stormed, and Sade was devastated because he thought he’d lost the roll. Well, you can imagine. Other people were busy losing their heads, so a toilet roll with tiny handwriting would be quite special. Modern. Fast forward to 1904, and a German psychiatrist publishes the first edition. Somehow that came as no surprise to anyone. The book didn’t really go ‘mainstream’ – as much as it has – until the second half of the 20th century, when all the postmodernists thought it was worthy of their attention. Simone de Beauvoir, Camille Paglia, and other ‘ists’ of varying levels of shrillness; and not surprisingly, Michel Foucault – more about him later. 120 Days of Sodom has been rated as ‘Indecent within the meaning of the Indecent Publications Act 1963’ by New Zealand’s Indecent Publications Tribunal, 1 May 1972 (Publication Number: IPT 72-488).

OK, so why this book. I’d watched a part of a tv-docu-dramatisation of the Moors Murderers – Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. In the story, Brady was reading from one of Sade’s other books, Justine. By the way, according to wikipedia, Napoleon called Justine “the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination”. Well, enquiring minds wanted to know; and thanks to the tv and wikipedia, a host of vileness oozed forth. Warning to parents thinking their cherubs are using wikipedia to do their homework…

What’s the story all about? Dealing with the storyline first – four wealthy perverts set off to a private retreat in the country (Switzerland), and take along menagerie of prostitutes (to tell inspirational tales of depravity) and some studs, and a selection of victims – daughters of the perverts, 16 beautiful kids aged 12-15 (kidnapped), and four repulsive old women (to contrast with the beauty of the children). Secure from the outside world the perverts wreck havoc – brutalising the victims over a five month period. Three of the daughters, and a number of the kids (and other characters) are killed in various perverse ways.

It’s easy to see why this author would appeal to Brady and Hindley. I found the book thoroughly unpleasant, and not easy to read either. Quite apart from the repellent content, the writing style is difficult – perhaps if read in the original French the story would flow better, however I am unable read well enough in French to be able to give real analysis.

The book has given me much to think about. Sure, on the first level, as I mentioned, it’s probably something to offend everyone. But somehow I found myself wondering about what Sade was showing in the four wealthy perverts – an aristocrat, a bishop, a banker, and a judge. These characters are totally devoid of compunction – their perversions, their passions are the only laws they obey. I wondered what had changed so dramatically in our society – for aristocracy, I read politicians and political processes; the bishop, the various church influences across denominations; the banker, the various financial forces; and the judge, the judicial processes. Together, these four horsemen of the apocalypse continue to stampede across the lives of common people everywhere – and in many respects the complete beauty of the children only serves to highlight the horror of their fates.

Sade possibly didn’t make up all of the various points of the story himself. Gilles de Rais, in the 1400s, and later, Elizabeth Báthory in the 1600s, were the Brady and Hindley of their respective days. Sade writes of the corrupting influence of complete power, and it’s not as though we don’t see evidence of this today. And this is where Foucault comes in. Wikipedia summarises Foucault nicely “Michel Foucault is best known for his critical studies of various social institutions, most notably psychiatry, medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. Foucault’s work on power, and the relationships among power, knowledge, and discourse, has been widely discussed and applied.” In many ways this also summarises 120 Days, however this is my interpretation. Foucault limited the expression of his interest in Sade to fleeting references or comments, rather than in-depth analysis.

Overall, I reached the following perspectives about the book. Yes, it’s offensive, probably because knowing that the ability of power to corrupt each and every one of us is something that makes us uncomfortable. We like to think we’re bigger, better, but in reality no-one is exempt. What starts in small ways can quickly grow in perversely unpleasant ways. Who knows what darkness lurks in the hearts of men? And women. Let’s not be forgetting the women.

Initially I thought this could never be made into a film that truly reflects the content. And then there was a flash of realisation that made my blood run cold. I was absolutely shocked and sickened when I realised that it had been made into a film – a documentary – in fact, I’d seen it on the evening news. No, not the Brady/Hindley story, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse story. Here covered by 60 minutes, and here and here by Al Jazeera.

I’m extremely offended to discover 120 Days of Sodom is as fresh as the day it was written, and what’s more, appears to have become a textbook for certain military regimes.

texas textures

The images flickering past in the header as you reload the pages are extracts from some of the many images I grabbed on our recent visit to Austin, Texas. Sure, Austin is the capital of Texas, and Texas is big enough to be a country in its own right. Some might think it’s big enough to be a world in its own right, but I’m not so sure about that.

One evening Trevor took Marica and I down to the lake. It was one of those sultry evenings – you know the kind – when you want to just do stuff, but not so much as though you’ll waste any energy on doing it, because it’s too damn hot. I didn’t think it was too hot, however, I was keen to breathe some night air. It was about the right temperature to be laying back and taking another sip of your mint julep or margarita. Or an icy beer, with about three wedges of lime. We were have a great time fooling around on the wharf, taking photos, dreaming dreams, telling stories, laughing, and watching the sunset.

An elderly man approached me – he would’ve made a great stand-in for Colonel Sanders – although not as heavily set. His cheeks had the transparency of age – skin that’s known the touch of a razor for probably 50 or 60 or more years, and his eyes were blue and sharp. He reminded me of the old man in Whitman’s, I Sing the Body Electric, from Leaves of Grass.

He was a little shy, a little nervous, and then, “What part of Texas are you from?”

I was highly entertained, and I loved the approach. Apparently all the world was Texas, (or wants to be). I grinned. “We’re all from the south, in fact, the deep south.”

His eyebrows raised. I guess my accent was not immediately obvious as Texan, even from the deep south. “We’re from New Zealand, and Trevor – he’s originally from South Africa – but he lives here now.”

The old man smiled, happy to be dealing with fellow Texans, even those from the very deep south. He proceed to tell me stories about how this wharf was something he’d managed to get made through his negotiation skills in his younger days when he worked as an attorney. How his family had paddle wheel boats on the lake, how his mother had taught countless children how to swim in the lake during World War II, and how, as a young man, he used to swim across to a spot on the other side of the lake for a spot of lunch, and then swim back. I though his stories were wonderful – it’s so nice to meet someone who has spent their entire life in a place, and listen to them telling of the changes and how their lives have been shaped by their environment, and how they’ve responded.

It would’ve been nice if time had stretched longer – his phone rang – “This’ll be my spouse looking for me…but I like to come down here to see my wharf…” He spoke briefly and ended the call. We shook hands and he left. I would’ve liked to capture his story on tape – he was modest and yet clearly his accomplishments were many, and his pride and satisfaction with his achievements seemed well founded.

The sun had all but set – just a few faint pinkish clouds. We left the ducks and the other waterbirds to enjoy the night in peace.

up to date-ish

At the end of a great deal of frustration I think I’ve finally managed to get most of the new template sorted, including the latest upgrade for the engine, and all the plugins the provide the background functions working. I’ve used up all the battery in my wireless mouse, and I’m restricted now to using the touchpad on DeepBlue. But it feels good – there’ll be some cosmetic fine tuning to get the visuals working how I want them for this year at least – and that should be sorted out over the next few days. At least now the pages are hanging together (as they should) in a number of different browsers. I do wish the majority of the world would use FireFox, or that MSoft would see its way clear to adopting the standard instead of its standard.

The big key is I’m feeling like writing again, and I know that I’ve got most of the presentation ducks in a row. Yay!

new year, new theme

We recently clicked over into the Year of the Rat. It’s traditional to celebrate the new year with new clothes. In the absence of money due to a recent thrashing of the credit card buying dental experiences (nearly there – only another hour to go at this point…) but I have started to explore a new theme here. It’s a work in progress. Unfortunately, the old theme has had some compatibility issues with the upgrades of the engine, and rather than spend time trying to re-sort the style sheet I decided it was time for a new look presentation.

It’ll take a few days to sort this new presentation but so far it seems to be working faithfully – as ever, the simple solutions are usually the best.

Later: Argh! Buggy, buggy, BUGGY. A curse on these browser incompatibilities. And another. Argh!

Much, much later, and three FIVE themes later: Much less buggy, widgets working-ish, and sort-of ok a bit in the browsers – at least it’s on screen. Slightly. Exhausting.

songs in the key of geek

Since the early days of the new year I’ve spent hours labouring over DeepBlue, my laptop. First I did a web site design for my mate’s business and installing the various applications within that – the forum and shop as examples. Then across the various AkoNet writing spaces finding the page presentation was incompatible with the engine upgrade. I still haven’t resolved all the issues, but they’re presentation rather than structural. I’ll get back to sorting our the css and resolve that before too long.

And then, just while I’m trying to figure it all out, uh-oh, the blue screen of death. Again. And again. I spent the best part of a week working at the command line trying to find what was wrong, while poor DeepBlue just wanted die. In the early hours of the morning I dreamed what might be a solution. When I woke up I rushed down stairs, found a suitable sized screwdriver, opened the case, popped out the expanded memory, and *bing* the blue screen went away.

I have done a very thorough backup, restore, defrag, check, re-check, and everything else I can possibly think of to reduce my stress next time it happens. There’s a problem with the digital lifestyle – too much stuff is stored on hardware that’s subject to failure. Gee, I bet no one else has ever thought that. Today’s excursion has been into trying to get cURL working on DeepBlue’s XAMPP installation. Amazingly effortless.

Ok – now if I’ve done a great job of impressing you with my uber-geekiness, let me assure you that there is some standing on the shoulders of giants. For enabling cURL, as an example, a simple short posting that’s been very helpful. And there’s no doubt I would’ve never guessed the munted memory card without prompts from people who have figured out what the arcane codes e.g. 0xC0000005 (0xC8704C40, 0x00000000, 0x80524D4B, 0x00000000) on the blue screen of death mean (hint: rip out any additional memory and see how that goes). I’ve become really aware of how much generous sharing of geekoid information there is on the web. Thank you, one and all, plugin and widget writers, forum commenters, posters sharing – fantastic – thank you, please keep up the good work.

surreal event of the day

Sin CityToday I had a new experience – a first. While lounging around in my dentist’s surgery, enjoying the full application of technology to sorting out my aberrant tooth, I was able to watch a movie. How cool is that?

Unfortunately they didn’t have any KennyG videos, or Marathon Man – so I was happy to accept Sin City. I hadn’t seen it on the big screen and it had been strongly recommended to me. The sound was delivered via very nice, battery powered headphones, which unfortunately flat lined after about 45 minutes into the movie. That’s ok, I’ll see the rest next week :} oh endless joy.

It was, however, more than slightly Clockwork Orange (or Monty Python) -ish to be reclining watching a movie in which sex and violence take a forefront in the storyline, whilst two women yabber away oblivious to the spectacle taking place above their heads. It occurred to me that this is possibly where Michaelangelo was going with the Sistine Chapel ceiling – no-one below could work out what was going on, but he was entertained anyway. I barely managed to suppress the giggles at the thought.

Now, if only there’d been some nitrous oxide or other substances I’m sure the whole scenario is something Hunter S Thompson would’ve enjoyed…

busted!

Oh, the power of the net/googbots. I get home from work, and find this email in my inbox:

Dear Lynsey,

In the spirit of living dangerously, I invite you to take the “Banned Book Challenge.” The Pelham Public Library in Fonthill, Ontario, Canada is once again challenging people to set a goal of their own choosing to read books that have been banned or challenged. The challenge runs from Feb. 24 (Freedom to Read Week in Canada) to June 30.

Sign up here: http://pelhamlibrary.blogspot.com/2008/01/banned-book-challenge.html and read the rest of the blog to explore these issues with us.

Elaine

My first thought? Horrors! Busted! Have I ever borrowed books from the Pelham Public Library in Fonthill, Ontario? And applied my usual, ‘non-return’ policy? Quick check. No, apparently not (yet). Phew. Ok. Let’s go have a look. Oh, before you do, if you’re a Wellywood local (and who doesn’t want to be, be serious now) you can grab the kids and head off to the city libraries for Out of Reach: the forbidden bookshelf and explore some banned kids books. Banned kids books? What on earth can be so utterly scary that kids books have to be banned? I think I need to find out, however, in my opinion, some the selection is fairly genteel – Harry Potter (obvious – made the author filthy, obscenely rich), and His Dark Materials (again, obvious, apparently hideously deformed movie version). Otherwise, why aren’t the Babar the Elephant books there? All those naked elephants and French colonial attitudes – what are they teaching our young’uns, Jack Zipes, what?

my year of reading dangerously

Recently at work we were discussing whether we were ‘explorer’ type kids or the ‘sit back and watch’ type of kid. I figure I took a bit of a fusion approach – my parents were very sure we/I wasn’t going to get up to no good by damaging someone else’s property, however that didn’t stop me looking, wondering, and exploring. ‘Oh’, said one of my colleagues, of a less adventurous peer, ‘You would never have discovered Narnia then, would you?’

And I smiled to myself and thought, ‘No, I wouldn’t have discovered Narnia. But I did discover the Screwtape Letters at age 12.’

I never had much time for censorship as a kid. I wanted to see the movies that had a glistening R(restricted)16 rating. They were the cool ones, the interesting ones. I was self censoring – I wouldn’t have gone to see the horror or violent movies, but there were plenty I did want to see, and wangled my way in to see. R16, by the way, meant you had to be 16 (or older) in order to get in. Any younger you would become a perverted drug addict ax murderer satanist. Or something. Woodstock – a documentary about a hippie rock festival. R16. Snuck in. Even the posters promoting the movie were censored – I can remember there was a photo of verdant farmland, the caption was blackened out. The caption? ‘Grass’. Wow. Dangerous stuff. Easy Rider. R16. Spare me days. Again, it was the drug scenes that led to the restricted rating. The night I chose to go – a midweek as it happened – the deputy principal of my high school was there. An interesting conversation took place next day… Straw Dogs – R18 – violence. I was a bit older by then, but I was drawn into the story – Dustin Hoffman from memory. And after I’d read the book, I loved the movie version of Clockwork Orange – again, R18. Note, unlike today, you weren’t seen to be an adult until you were 21.

I made a decision at high school, based on my learning, experience, and the lack of teaching guidance to the contrary, that I would read, I would get any book I wanted from the library, and I wouldn’t feel bad or put down for wanting to read it. So I got out little kids books, and adult books and scary books and boring books and books I simply judged by the cover. Some were good, some were shite – but the key thing was, I would not back away from getting those books up to the issue desk, getting the book stamped, and getting out of there to see what secrets they held.

According to if:book – from the Institute for the Future of the Book, 2008 is the National Year of Reading in the UK. I was interested that Chris Meade observed the internet was taking a bit of a back seat in the process.

I’ve spent the last few months working on reducing my book collection. There are still more than a few books I want to read. I decided I would spend this year reading a dozen or so books. I asked my colleagues what they thought I should read. I’ve taken their suggestions and applied a few of other filters. Here then, are the rules of the game:

First, in order to acknowledge the future of the book, it must be available online – as a download, whatever.
Second, the book must be one I haven’t read.
Third, in order to be dangerous, the book must have been banned at some stage, somewhere.
Fourth, I’ll write a review of the book with the url so you can go mad with your year of reading dangerously too.

Warning – if you become a perverted drug addict ax murderer creative intelligence kind of person – well, that’s what happens when you stay home reading ‘those’ kinds of books.

drawing closer – the movie

Drawing Closer - How big do you think Heaven is?Late last year Marica and I were lucky enough to go to Austin, Texas to (amongst other things) help out with the filming of the movie Drawing Closer, with our good buddy, Trevor Romain. We got to hang out with the cast and crew – hey, we were part of the crew, and even got credits to prove it. Nice.

The premier screens tomorrow, February 8, 7:00pm, Highland Galaxy Theatre, Austin. Be there or wish you were there. Greetings to Carl, Trevor, and the cast and crew – congratulations on a job very well done.