Home Grown

Turning over the garden, turning over thoughts and memories of growing up in a hunter growing family I noticed the accumulation and intersections of meanings unfold. There was also the realisation that there is a purpose for crocs, they are in the garden – socks optional. So while I have been reading and immersing myself in some rich philosophical texts I still feel a need to ground my thinking in familiar activities and metaphors. However it isn’t the growing ideas I want to go with, it is the process of gardening itself, of cultivating, deciding how to plant seeds and the ways this reveals some of the cultural and historical practices of knowledge.

My Dad grew up in the 50’s, hunting and fishing were part of the Man as provider story emerged out of other philosophical discourses about nature (woman) needing to be tamed, dominated, conquered, brought under Mans control. Gardening was a big part of my childhood as was fishing and a bit of hunting and I feel enriched by these experiences. Dad’s garden and style of gardening reflected the values and self sufficiency of an age where industrial production of food was still in it’s infancy. The post–war generation learnt how to take care of themselves, it wasn’t a fashion statement it was born out of a genuine experience of hardship. But my goodness as a kid in the 70’s, it was like a religion with Eion Scarrow being our own green saviour. Yates bibles filled the shelves and anything that got in the way of producing perfect tomatoes, silverbeet, etc was annihilated. Chemical warfare was absolutely legit practice, he was Mr “Spray and walk away”. If things weren’t growing you just put more fertiliser on – more, more, more. Bugs didn’t stand a chance, neither did weeds, neither did birds – nature had no business in nature. Being alongside it and respecting the natural world wasn’t the kind of relationship being modelled at the time (things did change). But we ate well (let’s just side step the chemical bit) – no shortage of greens. And I learned about generosity and sharing. Because there really are only so many grapefruit and tomatoes you can eat juice, freeze, pulp. Looking after your neighbours was part of it and a good way to practice your fishy story telling (probably where I learned the art of hyperbole). People swapped seeds, shared tips and tools and connected over their successes and failures, learning from each other.

Moving through the 80’s – 90’s saw a huge shift economically and as such culturally for the ways we related to food production and what we ‘consumed’ in terms of associating gardening with lifestyle. For me this is where I feel a bit of nostalgic loss for ye old school ‘rip shit and bust’, ‘number 8 wire’, ‘bit of 4 by 2’. DIY grow your own has been reabsorbed as a commodity, a brand. Garden stores are almost like jewellery stores – just going into certain ones gives people a sense of status. Cooking shows dominate our screens, often with ‘fresh home grown’ produce as part of the tag line and ‘looking good’ while doing these activities ensures there are also stylish gumboots to wear. Now it’s not just ‘putting in a garden’ it’s ‘what kind of garden’ with an undertone of assessment of the gardeners ethics or spiritual alignment with the earth – or brand loyalty.

I’m not sure what kind of gardener I am, but I do know the joy and pleasure of eating something you have grown. I don’t mind sharing with the odd snail or white butterfly. I’m unlikely to buy fancy footwear for the garden, isn’t that what old running shoes are for? Dad doesn’t garden so much these days, however the silverbeet self-seeded and is growing wild outside the confines of the neat and tidy cultivated earth, in the hard clay – and it is thriving. Go Nature.


Crying Vowel

Auckland harbour has a problem with effluent. Oh, I’m sorry that should read affluent. What a difference a simple vowel can make. The giant superyacht Serene belonging to Russian Vodka Baron Yuri Schefler is a great monument to the excesses of ‘big business’. How wonderful that someone can make that much money producing a neurotoxin that causes so much physiological, social and emotional harm. Do I agree that this is wonderful for tourism? It might, but what does the Serene leaves me with an extremely uneasy feely, a queasy giddy sense of vertigo not unlike being intoxicated. The opulence, is both breath taking for its grand statement of financial success and a monument to the stench of consumption with so many chewed up and shat out in the process.

The difference between rich and poo is R we willing to put our heads that far into a dark place and pretend the air is sweet? Think I need a drink…dang it… out of fejoa vodka. Perhaps I could get an I O U.

Failure To Lunch

Children’s lunch boxes have been the focus of Campbell Live this week with a nutritionist declaring last night that sandwiches should be avoided due to the carbs they contain in the bread and other nutritional concerns. Without contributing to the already frantic and ever so slightly vitriolic response from outraged parents I’d like to suggest we have well and truly shot the messenger – dissected her and feasted on her bones like some paleo fiend.

We are caught in a trap woven by expert knowledge becoming more and more specific and specialised and available at the touch of a button. In the west the production of food or should I say ‘food like’ products has proliferated to the point where our concept of ‘nutrition’ has been infiltrated and hijacked by a plethora of interests least of all commercial.

Neoliberalism has married perfectly with capitalism, coupledom and consumerism in a comfortable polyamorous arrangement that has given birth to some complex and often contradictory information about food. Slap on a thick layer of parental guilt and ever changing landscapes of ‘healthy’ and voila you have a people feeling perpetually under the self regulating gaze of conscientious conformity when putting anything in their supermarket trolley that comes in a package.

People – relax and smell the organic, fair trade coffee. Your child will be ok with a peanut butter sandwich (excusing those with nut allergies obviously) but it is curious how sugar has crept its way in – watch that – but keep it real…with a thick layer of oil at the top to lubricate your sense of humour.

An Apple Product A Day Keeps The Shareholders At Bay

What time is it? Let me check my watch/phone/computer/personal trainer… And so it seems the world is whipped into another apple product frenzy with all the evangelical hoopla it can muster over something adorned on the wrist.

I don’t have an allegiance or loyalty to a brand, but it is a little cult like at times. People camping out for days to get their hands on the upgraded version of their already perfectly brand new (if they were a pair of jeans) gadget. It reminds me of mass hypnosis watching swaths of people surge like corybantic groupies high on the rush of consumption. It’s not that I don’t appreciate progress, or want to return to some version of the dark ages, although if you look at the world they still exist in some places.

Perhaps this is the chimera of technology, it divides the world as much as oceans of water do. What do we mean when we say ‘technology’ well it can be helpful to start with a definition.

1. the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.
o machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge.
o the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.

My question would be about what is practical and the meaning of ‘applied’. We live in a world where the last 2000 years exist all at once. Where once culture, religion or geography were the main ways we were isolated or divided, technology and its applications rule with the iron fist of profit exerting its grip on resources and dislocating populations in the name of mineral wealth to feed the insatiable production machine beast of the monetary system in all its configurations.

The only possible way for technology to actually improve the conditions for ALL life is to extract science in all its forms from serving the interests of corporations. Apple is but an example of the erroneous and iatrogenic trend in technology. I’m clearly sceptical when it comes to businesses having a sense of ethics or philanthropists being altruistic for that matter. If money is involved at any level of organisation the outcomes will serve particular interests always – even if the ‘eco/ego’ marketing says otherwise.

So here is my challenge, especially to those talented scientific/techno entrepreneurs out there. If you like it then you shouldn’t put a ‘patent pend(r)ing’ on it. And for the rest of us with slightly less talent but no less important – resist the Magpie within to go for the new shiny thing. Watch this space.

Racing ahead without looking behind

Down here in NZ where the oval ball rules, we have not escaped the global phenomenon of more spherical ball games including basketball. Why we have our very own Stephen Adams playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder – and all of a sudden I love basketball. That’s just how we roll sometimes, we connect personally with our fellow nest flyers…walkers (silly me forgot we are the land of flightless birds), and adopt them. It’s like living in a very large extended family. We can of course double our chances with the Adams family – sister Valerie is quite a good athlete herself. Olympic Gold, World Champ, Commonwealth Champ – yeah she puts that heavy round thing out there!

You don’t need to follow sport anymore – it follows you! Sport is a business and whilst we want children and young people to be active and enjoy the positive aspects of sport, in the end it is about generating profit. The relationships between marketing and promoting brands and sport is about as in your face as a ball in the face. What happened over the last week with the ‘racism scandal’ and the Los Angeles Clippers will be picked up as an issue around human rights, racism, justice and rightly so. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has ‘cut out the tumour’ excising as much removal powers as possible by cutting ties with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But what will be the follow up treatment and overall recovery regime for the NBA?

While this decision has been lauded by most and is probably the right one, it is hardly a brave decision. It doesn’t require any party involved to deal with the fall out or be genuinely accountable. Legal teams are probably rubbing their hands together gleefully. Silver will be the ‘good guy’ cleaning things up and taking a hard line, Sterling the ‘bad guy’ and merchandise, new branding will probably be created to ride the wave of unity while the ground swell of public awareness is firmly fixed on the NBA. Sponsors will be running to advertisers to ensure they don’t drop in too late. Rest assured it will be ‘business as usual.’

What to learn and take from this? Money talks. Everything is for sale. That is the sad truth. This was never really about exposing racism – someone cashed in with that tape. If it does generate conversations about any form of discrimination in sport or generally, then great, but these will be fleeting and more about political point scoring.

I will be keeping an eye on proceedings but so long as my boy Stephen is playing well and representing the silver fern I will ride my own wave of national pride vicariously and cross my fingers he gets the respect he deserves as a player because of how he plays. I’m also hoping coaches with a homophobic streak get a bit of a wake up call. A note to Mr Silver then – you might want to look into that to.

Assessing the cost of assessing

Auckland was hit by gale force winds yesterday. The remnants of cyclone Ita and the collective exhalation of thousands of teachers on the last day of term added to the perfect storm. In my wisdom I decided to brave the elements and rode my bike. Observing that there were no other two wheeled vehicles on the road should have been read as a warning but I just clutched onto my drops harder and decided this was an epic opportunity to practice extreme mindfulness. I really was about as comfortable as a fish on a bike.

It was exhausting on every level. I’d used every ounce of concentration, skill, sense and bit of luck to get there in one piece. Walking into work looking at the faces of my colleagues the fatigue and weariness matched mine, although they were somewhat dryer. As students began arriving, they too had ‘done’ stamped clearly across their glazed eyes. It’s only the end of the first term!

I occupy a role in education that affords me some distance from the classroom and allows me to have conversations with young people about how they are making sense of life, including learning. I’ve done my time teaching – it was more learning than teaching if I’m honest and rolled sideways as I became aware of the rumbling avalanche of NCEA and the ‘A’ word – Assessment.

Jump in a time machine back to the 80’s (if you dare) – and New Zealand was experimenting with a combination of exams and internal assessment. Generally however the number of assessments we sat were minimal. Stress wasn’t something any of us really had a concept of except for a very short intense period before end of year exams. Teachers were able to do what they do best, inspire, provoke curiosity, play, create, respond spontaneously, and had TIME to explore content with students.

Before you reach into your memory of High School and pull out the ‘worst teacher’ story – because we ALL have one, this is about structural changes that I feel have come thick and fast and something has to give. There is a cost to both students and teachers. Both have been left scrambling through curriculum content, pushed along by looming deadlines, re-assessment opportunities, evidence gathering and perpetual feedback and progress reports.

When people scoff at youth (let alone teachers!) being stressed at school and are from my generation or older, I resist sarcasm or derision – but not always successfully. The relentless assessment regime over 3 years IS hard on everyone and the carnage is what I see on an increasing level. What is that? Significant anxiety, not just test nerves, but paralytic and overwhelming anxiety. Professional burn out and loss of passion and en-joyment of teaching. Intense pressure to be ‘perfect’ and work harder, longer and to keep ‘raising the bar.’ I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim high but for some reason we have come to believe that more is better and if you say ‘no’ that this indicates some level of failure, or incompetence.

Squeezing more and more out of people is doing nothing to improve the quality of education. That storm yesterday reminded me of the internal struggles I see teachers and students grappling with daily. Fierce winds of change, coming in gusts and catching you off guard on a slippery winding road where the difference between gaining and losing traction is delicate and requires huge reserves of strength at all levels of being.

Insurers measure damage in monetary value. I suggest the cost of the current level of assessment in education is incalculable because it is invisible or worse, desirable. They say if you are caught in an avalanche to ditch the heavy gear, hold onto something, start swimming. Ideally and this is perhaps unrealistic but hey – this is just me writing my thoughts, I would say ‘ditch most assessment’ hold onto authentic and creative teaching and learning, and swim for leisure not for your life.

A cycle of polarity – period

The human reproductive system is perhaps the most obvious definer of gender difference. As open as I am to concepts of identity – if you are born with the reproductive parts that are designed to grow babies, then it comes with such intense and fiercely contested meaning of self that sometimes I wish it was possible to be a single cell organism and hand over my survival to mitosis.

I’m mindful that male/female biology is also not quite so binary and that there is a vast array of inter-gender/intersex people out there but if you born with some combination of female reproductive anatomy – if not the whole lot – then chances are egg production and fertilisation feature in your life somewhere.

Sexuality also aside, we seem to place women’s reproductive functioning in polarity. On the one hand we celebrate at an almost evangelistic level – pregnancy and the bringing of children into the world, but the timing of ‘when’ children should occur varies greatly between cultures and generations. Women also seem to be quite comfortable talking about the process of conception and ‘when this occurred’…in unnecessary detail at times. But we don’t want to talk about what happens ‘in-between’ not being pregnant. Ovulation happens! and the ‘uncomfortable’ truth is menstruation happens fairly frequently. Girls have to deal with this, it’s not really much of a choice, it’s pure physiology and it is kind of amazing if you bother to investigate the complex processes involved.

In this modern era there are products such as tampons and pads to assist women in the hidden world of ‘temporal haemocratic fluid management.’ Advertising has tip toed around this rather awkwardly, because of the unintentional contradictions this represents for marketing. There have been some interesting attempts with varying degrees of reference to the actual realities.

My favourites include:

* Blue dye (language is no barrier to understanding this)

* Men relating to sanitary products

* Women feeling really happy energetic

* The reality check – wins the ‘cup’

I did find myself laughing at the most recent addition:

It gets to the social aspects that often get missed in trying to address the practical. If you have experienced periods, you will have noticed the ‘shame’ element that seems to go with figuring out how best to ‘Keep Calm and Conceal Ovulation’. That is reality – period’s don’t just happen in the bathroom at home! Some have called it ‘degrading’ and ‘filth.’

I can understand after generations…centuries in fact of hiding and demonising (quite literally historically) menstruation we don’t know how shake off the anachronistic meaning we have constructed around it. I like the idea that we can laugh at ourselves, rather than relying on making men out to be clumsy and uninformed when in my experience they are far from this.

It would also be helpful if we could allow a bit more of a buffer with the discomfort and inconvenience of this cycle. The assumption that its over and done with in a few days has got to go. I don’t know about others but quite frankly it starts more like a week before follicular rupturing (way more exciting than saying ‘releasing egg’ don’t you think?) the actual ‘evacuation of ovulation’ (bleeding bit), and the ‘hangers on’. That’s about 3 weeks! Not 3 days!

It would also be nice to drop the idea that tampons and pads are luxury items with the associated luxury tax that is put on them – try bleeding on a budget. I find it a bit of a necessity not to bleed everywhere at work. It would be an easy protest to do over a month, especially if we all wore white. Men could join us in solidarity with hot water bottles and chocolate.

Now I think that deserves a standing ovulation.

Intelligence is all artificial

A popular theme in science fiction and indeed mainstream science is the idea of AI or Artificial Intelligence. You might be surprised (I certainly was) to know this isn’t a modern concept. In fact this idea goes back to Greek mythology. For example, Hephaetus and his automata and Talos – the giant man of bronze who guarded Europa (that doesn’t sound very sci-fi more another genre…moving on!).

I’m not convinced we really understand intelligence or have a definition that stretches beyond what we think we know about who we are as a species. Part of the confusion I believe is the role of consciousness and awareness and our paranoia about surviving. But there is a double layer of hubris and fear sandwiched between thick slices of narcissism to contend with before we can digest the idea of AI.

So here are some of the basic themes sci-fi has played with over the years to give a sense of why we are stuck with perpetual repeats of ideas but in different outfits, jargon and special effects.

1: Humanity gets technologically advanced.
2: This technology ‘mimics’ thought…problem solving…
3: Technology becomes aware of itself…(stop loading the ‘Descartes-I think therefore I am’ software would be a start I suggest).
4: Now that it is ‘self-aware’ it decides to annihilate it’s creator or;
5: AI struggles with complex ethical issues, receives mixed messages – and goes with its own solution (which is bad for us – 2001 A Space Odyssey)
6: Technology merges with biology (androids, cybernetics/cyborgs) with mixed results (word of warning, if you are at a nightclub with one, do not let it put its finger in your drink…Prometheus reference). Seems these beings freak us out the most as they are so close yet so far away from being human.
6: Death – suffering – ‘poor us’ humans lament their faith in trusting AI.
7: Humanity finds the thing that makes us unique in the universe and ‘wins’ – and its less dark, grimy and weather improves, suddenly the sun comes out in dystopic post-apocalyptic earth/world.

I am of course generalising, but I think it is necessary in order to get to the deeper philosophical levels of inquiry. That being said, I still love Alien for the sheer ‘s$*t your pants’ factor.

The rollercoaster is predictable for it rests on fundamental assumptions of psychology and biology. Particularly the role of ‘the mind’, of power, control, and popular concepts such as ‘Darwinian’ survival of the fittest. We are invited to take up the moral high ground as a species, that our level of consciousness combined with ethics and values makes us ‘special’ or more able to know deeper/higher/more complex notions of connection (empathy, compassion, love?). Doesn’t seem to stop us getting our asses kicked!

One of the most powerful working assumptions that acts as an accelerant to the AI phobia fire is the ‘absence of a soul’. Our connection to God or an idea of a creative force, with or without Religious doctrine runs deeply and goes largely unquestioned. But this presumes we know what a soul is/isn’t. Much like consciousness, we might just have to revisit the ‘flat-earth’ thinking associated with complex notions of awareness and ‘beingness’. Philosophy, religion and science are still competing for the rights to this ‘truth’…perhaps they should try and bore the circuits of AI with fanaticism from all angles “system failure…B-S overload…shutdown”.

For me the irony is plain to see – as afraid as we are of machines developing intelligence and ‘might’ want to destroy us, that is in fact exactly what we are doing to ourselves, except that we embrace it, call it progress…advancement…whatever helps us swallow the reality that we are the machines – robotic, hypnotically and unconsciously carrying out the programming of mass consumerism. Would be good to have an ‘off switch’ sometimes though – perhaps that is what a sense of humour is.

It comes down to the questionable criteria for intelligence. Intelligence is an invented idea therefore all intelligence is artificial, in that it is a social construction forged by institutional practices and knowledges such as science, religion, medicine, psychology. I think intelligence has been captured by rationalistic, modernistic thinking and could do with an overhaul, or ‘reboot’, because I feel quite uncomfortable with the current evidence of us being an ‘intelligent’ species.

Science fiction helps us investigate, explore and probe (woops, no pun intended) our ideas about ourselves from multiple angles. But please…no more Terminator movies…give us some respect for our intelligence.

So lets all ‘Rage Against The Machine’ – and Wake Up! I’ll leave it over to Neo wrap this one up.

Running on nothing so my feet feel free

Guitar solo by Mark Knopfler – anyone feeling it? Well…clearly you missed the 80’s – Money for Nothing is a classic and is the nominated backtrack to this piece (perhaps minus the ever so blatant homophobic reference in the middle of the song).

So I am ditching the running shoes in favour of going bare foot (now that title should make more sense) because quite frankly I trust my body. ‘Barefoot’ running is not quite accurate – a thin piece of rubber is strapped to your foot providing protection from sharp bits. This is where we get the interesting tension and polarity between our ‘natural design’ and the belief that technology improves on this ‘design’ (not here to argue who or what or where we were manufactured). But it is interesting that human beings have been around for ‘quite a while’ and shoes ….not so long.

It’s no mean feat (ha – pun intended) to take on the might of the scientific and medical industry that relies on our ‘design faults’ to keep a multitude of professionals and manufacturers busily providing us with salvation from all sorts of biomechanically induced ailments. There is a whole language of pathology and treatment regimes and shiny new shoes with go faster stripes are often the solution.

I’m not convinced anymore as I feel the drive for profit and marketing has captured the technological advancements in sport science leaving me with a distinct case of Iatrogenesis The challenge of those going ‘back to basics’ is to navigate the plethora of rhetoric pushing the cause of ‘improvement’ as we instantly assume that science advances things.

The fact that people can make their own shoes (I know a guy who made his out of old go-cart tyres! – bit of DIY kiwi style) is a frightening prospect to a multinational corporation and their profit margins. Eventually they will relent and find some way to say ‘natural is best’ – put their logo on and claim it as their idea and everyone will rush out and pay exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege.

So – if the shoe fits – you can still go barefoot.

Sign of the times

Schools seem to have been captured by the advertising and marketing bug. The best evidence of this is the proliferation of signs appearing at the gates of schools. They don’t just say welcome, they ‘announce’ things.

Seems in-offensive enough but I saw one today that made me cringe a little – it boldly pronounced that it would be giving ‘survival strategies’ – hardly reassuring for new students. Its one thing to provide support but another to declare to the world that any young person entering your gates might need special skills to navigate such a dangerous environment.

Language constructs experience as well as describing it. Anxiety will take advantage of fear – real or imagined. I understand that this isn’t the intention, but here is the thing – once you have a sign, you have to put things on it! And this is the bit that irks me (love that word ‘irk’).

Schools put some random and tedious things on their flash signs to keep up the appearance of having important stuff going on (isn’t teaching and learning enough???). But I am itching for a school to do something radical and just put one up that says ‘ummmmm just business as usual’ or ‘free education – yeah right’ or ‘practical sex education starts this week … just kidding’ (Monty Python fans might have John Cleese flash into their minds in that cringe making scene from The Meaning Of Life).

I don’t think I’m reading too much into this – its about an awareness of the business model and language infiltrating all aspects of our lives.

But we don’t have to buy it.