Sunday, 30 August 2015

Red Flags and Rudeness

One of the best pieces of free advice The Spear ever received was something along the lines of “If you don’t like the look of a person / a group of people, cross to the other side of the street.”  Now, perhaps this advice is largely irrelevant for those with a more wholesome or small-town lifestyle, but for those in a big city who go out late at night, this is a truly invaluable piece of advice, right up there with “if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it” (source unknown).

Big cities expose their populace to a higher sample of the overall breadth of the human condition on a daily basis.  And while this may sound fairly innocuous, another way of putting it is you are more likely to come into the vicinity of crazies and unpredictable personalities.  Thus, it becomes necessary to judge people in a matter of seconds if one is to try and avoid proverbial two-legged wrecking balls.

Akin to a police officer using a broken taillight as an indicator of more sinister criminality, The Spear will tend to actively avoid people who he automatically detects display some combination of the following (one sign by itself often isn’t enough):

1.       They are wearing physically imposing or gang-affiliated clothing
2.       They are covered in intimidating tattoos, especially on their faces, neck or hands
3.       The clothing is in tatters or is very dirty
4.       Their clothing is being worn inappropriately (laces undone, pants too low, sidewards cap etc)
5.       They possess a physically intimidating posture/gait
6.       They are twitching / moving jerkily
7.       They have a strong body odour or smell overly of tobacco
8.       Their facial expression is worrisome
9.       They have unkempt facial hair / grooming
10.   They are staring at strangers for far too long
11.   They are yelling, swearing loudly or raving
12.   They are in a large, boisterous group
13.   They look like they are on ‘roids
14.   They are actively harassing passers-by
15.   They have something in their hand that could be used as a weapon

This screening is done largely subconsciously, with an overall ‘red flag’ being raised by The Spear’s brain within a second or two. 

While he is sure the red flags have made him avoid some otherwise nice people, when it comes to risk management, the best method is elimination.  By eliminating the interaction before it has a chance to take place, The Spear can avoid taking more drastic measures later.

Alas, while a two-legged wrecking ball can be easy to spot, there are people out there who for the most part appear normal, but who will completely destroy your life if you can’t see the warning signs.  Those real ‘white collar psychos’, so to speak, are very good as flying under the red flag radar, such as some serial killers and sexual molesters.  The only red flag you might have with these monsters is that gut-feel, when something just doesn’t feel right, probably because you are being asked to enter a situation whereby you know you will be vulnerable, but there is pressure to oblige out of politeness or the ‘rules’ (just like that scene out of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when Daniel Craig is lured into the torture chamber).

While judging people so quickly and potentially leaving others in a bind may feel rude, when it comes to your own health and safety, you are the one with the most to lose.  There are often less risky alternatives to whatever is being proposed (such as crossing to the other side of the street rather than walking past a group of dickheads, or declining that lift from a stranger and calling someone you know), and your safety is worth a little rudeness!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Half Baked Blogs

Believe it or not, some of The Spear’s blog ideas - for one reason or another - never make it to Spearbook as fully formed blogs.  Usually the idea is too weak or The Spear just can’t be arsed (although sometimes a dormant idea can be resurrected years later).  But what The Spear hopes is that maybe, just maybe, by combining enough crappy ideas, together they shall give birth to a fully formed blog of their own (this blog).

Below is a list of titles and rough descriptions of unfinished blogs.  Hopefully this can give readers a better insight into the creative process, and possibly allow for the uncovering of reader demand for any particular one.

1.       Top Down Memories – it is easier to recall specific details from the filing cabinet of your memory if you start the process of recall in a top down fashion from big ideas to minutia.
2.       The Highlight Moment – what makes a passage or a phrase ‘highlight’ or quotation-worthy.
3.       The Disneyland Fallacy – adults, like children, believe there is a place where everything will be alright, with fun on demand.
4.       Mortgage Envy – an internet advertisement seems to imply that a mortgage is seen as differently to other ‘debt’, and is indeed on the top of the list of desirables.
5.       Competitive Sensitivity – just  a rant about the race to be the most offended.
6.       Desperate Times – top 10 money saving tips from The Spear
7.       A lesson in productivity –the real small-scale productivity improvements The Spear actually saw when he was doing some manual labour over the period of a few hours.
8.       Teleportation – A short story about a guard at a government controlled military deterrent teleportation facility with twist ending being the government actually uses magicians as it’s cheaper.
9.       Limited Vision – Our eyes only seeing the wavelengths emitted most strongly from our sun as an allegory about professionals having tunnel vision ‘when you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail’
10.   Little Stupid Moments – The Spear sees some horseplay and likes it.
11.   The butterfly effect – another futile look into causality.
12.   Pressure cooker of capability - Don’t really know what you are capable of doing most of the time unless you are forced to do so by some external pressure such as university deadlines, war, literally being forced at gunpoint, crisis.
13.   Partner Perfect - a person’s choice of partner is very much a reflection of their own self-worth.
14.   Born Guilty – the tendency to feel and act guilty/wrong even when you know you are right, like at airport security.
15.   Ice buckets madness – why everyone felt inclined to ice bucket challenge.
16.   Punitive Stimulus – riding public transport etc is necessary to encourage people to want for something better.
17.   Over-Sharing – people over sharing every moment of lives especially eating.  What is appealing (like a meal when you are hungry) is very much not a universal feeling.
18.   Wishful thinking – another anti-idealist rant
19.   Captive audience – there is real power in having a literally captive audience
20.   Grey sock sympathy – The Spear felt sorry for a kid and gave him his favourite toy simply because the kid had grey socks.  People are not rational.
21.   Personal Trainer Breaks Promise of ‘One More Time’
22.   Competitive Forces – another anti-union rant
23.   Hell is other people – rant about selfishness and lack of shame
24.   Diminishing Returns – on the Japanification of the world economy
25.   Infinite Time – What could one achieve if one had limited resources but literally infinite time
26.   Granted Growth – another anti-green rant
27.   Attack of the clones – there are people out there eerily similar to yourself
28.   Shark Aversion – why it is natural be to scared of sharks. Don’t go where you don’t belong.
29.   On the racist aussie image
30.   Keeping the Faith – on insecurity loops and depression
31.   Natural pressure cookers which can accelerate some experiences
32.   Switched at Birth – A short story about simulating the outcome of your life if you could trade places at birth with any figure from the past
33.   A Bill of Rights in Australia must have everyone given a non-derogatory nickname.
34.   On Déjà Vu – observing the fundamental nature of time for a split second?
35.   Dacking – on the psychological damage of being dacked.
36.   Chicken Exposure – on people taking risks with old chicken that The Spear wouldn’t dream of, making The Spear re-evaluate his risk tolerance settings.
37.   Alcoholic content of beverage to determine future of relationship / person’s existence.
38.   The Cool Pill – a pill which makes you cool.
39.   Lance Armstrong - means and ends.
40.   Area man has “no fucking idea” what is going on in Formula 1
41.   Crash Landing – short story about a plane crashing, what is going through the guy’s head, him preparing his last tweet / status update.
42.   The utter pointless life of a jelly fish. ‘Environmentalists launch mission to rescue beached jellyfish’
43.   Free speech rant
44.   The double edged sword of Routine
45.   Grey areas – poem about the shades of grey between right and wrong
46.   Interview with a minister – satirical interview
47.   Above The Law – short story about a lottery held by government in financial crisis allowing the winner/s to be above the law, and its implications.
48.   Blackouts
49.   Swearing
50.   A world without debt
51.   Restaurants should have a ‘random’ dinner guest option
52.   Friend Criteria
53.   Problems which can be solved by ‘chucking some cones around it’
54.   Party-bot 2000
55.   “What flavour – orange or red?”
56.   Draft emails/letters vs actual emails/letters
57.   Short story about guy who pretends to be dead on facebook just to see how everyone would react – kind of like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral.
58.   The impact The Simpsons has had on The Spear’s generation.
59.   The difference between experience and ability.
60.   Short story - Historical figure Big Brother / Survivor.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

More Essential Reading

Alas, one blog just wasn’t going to cut it.

·         E.H. Gombrich – A Little History of the World (1936)
This book, written by Gombrich in an intense six weeks, is a great introduction to world history for younger readers or for those who have never picked up a history book under their own free will.  An easy-reading narrative of the major happenings across the globe to provide wider perspective and context.

·         Ian Jones - Joshua, The Man They Called Jesus (2000)
Providing a factual, non-dogmatic study of the man ‘Jesus’, Jones has done an in-depth research of all four Gospels as well as Acts and very often quotes from The Gospel of Thomas, a Gospel that is still not accepted as authentic.  Refreshingly clarifying for those who may have been raised in a Christian environment, it tries to explain the life and times of a man who has arguably had the greatest influence on our society and beliefs.

·         Niall Ferguson - Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003)
A lively account of the largest empire ever known, Ferguson explains how the British came to rule, how they fell, what they have given the modern world and lessons for the ‘empire’ of the USA.  Certainly helps to explain the significance of ‘the motherland’ on current society.

·         Kwasi Kwarteng – War and Gold (2014)
For those who think that the answer to all of life’s ills is as easy as printing more money.  Kwarteng provides an historical perspective on the development of currency and the varying level of successes that governments have had in balancing the printing of money with keeping its value over time.  Great for understanding the foundations of our current monetary system.

·         Alain de Botton – Status Anxiety (2004)
De Botton searches the annals of Western history and thought, from St. Augustine to Anthony Robbins, to help modern readers cope with our status obsessed world.

·         Nassim Taleb – The Black Swan (2008)
Exploring the nature of probability, chance and predictability, Taleb will have you second-guessing the infallible Mandarins of our times.  The book will leave you with a healthy dollop of scepticism regarding our obsession with forecasting with precision, in a world largely shaped by unpredictable events.

·         Friedrich von Hayek – The Road to Serfdom (1944)
A classic work in political philosophy, history and economics, it is an arresting call to all well-intentioned planners and socialists, that they know not what they do, and that they should learn from the German, Italian and Russian experiments of the twentieth century.  Written at a time when democracies around the world were under the lure of the socialist dream, it shows how the good intentions of centralised planning tend to end with horrific outcomes (whilst recognising that governments are still needed).

·         Marcus Chown – We need to Talk About Kelvin: What Everyday Things Tell Us About The Universe (2010)
A hugely accessible exploration of quantum theory, relativity, cosmology, biology and chemistry, taking our everyday experiences, Chown quickly and painlessly explains the ultimate truths of reality (well some of them at least).

·         Marcus Aurelius – Meditations (0167)
Taking  the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs, the Meditations provide stoic reflections from one of the most powerful men who ever lived, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius . While the book can feel repetitive at times, you don’t necessarily have to read the whole thing from cover to cover, and can pick it up and start reading anywhere.  It proves that no matter how high a rank one may attain, we humans are all tested by the pangs of life, so it is advisable to come to terms with the human condition.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Essential Reading

The Spear would like to think he has his ear to the ground, and is able to feel the prevailing ‘zeitgeist’, or spirit of the times, a task which has been made much easier in recently thanks to social media and the seeming need for people to publicly broadcast their every bowel movement.  In between the lattes, the smashed avocados and cat memes, nuggets of the universal headspace come to light; nuggets which The Spear frankly finds disturbing.

To put it bluntly, his observations lead him to believe that people in general aren’t reading enough, or at least not enough of what they really should be (The Spear is talking about serious adult reading here, not as mere form of entertainment, i.e. no airport novels or fantasy realms).  

There is seemingly little attempt to look into the rear window of history and learn from the previous mistakes of mankind.  Wishful thinking, based on what appears to be little more than positivity and denial of human nature, is widespread.  Self-reflection and contemplation of the nature of reality is avoided at all costs.  Avenues for self-improvement are stymied, stuck at the bottom of the hectic modern day to-do list.

And The Spear doesn’t blame anyone for it.  It’s often a time-consuming, ‘scary-thought’ provoking and potentially depressing thing - to read seriously.  Hell, The Spear himself only really did it when the alternative was to go crazy from sheer boredom due to a geographically-imposed lack of entertainment (a previously default stance which no longer exists due to technology / on-demand entertainment).  But that’s not to say that one shouldn’t try.

Anyway, there’s a lot of choice out there, so The Spear thought he would narrow down the field a little and provide some prompts for those looking to increase their dosage of reading but don’t quite know where to start.

·         Arthur Koestler – The Gladiators (1939).
First published in Hungarian, this book actually forms part of a wider trilogy on Koestler’s ideas regarding his experiences of communism, the other two being Darkness at Noon (written in German) and Arrival and Departure (written in English).  Like Georege Orwell and Ayn Rand, he is an interesting character touched by communism in the 20th Century, and his ideas are not to be missed.

This is a story not particularly of Spartacus, the Roman Gladiator, but of his revolution, and the fate of most mass-revolutionary movements that are based on ideals alone.

·         Kurt Vonnegut Jnr – The Sirens of Titan (1959). 
Often portrayed as a science fiction writer, Kurt Vonnegut is so much more, and to label him as such would be to deny him his due to the world of literature.  This is a man who clearly enjoys thinking, who plays with ideas, and will seemingly insert them at will via stories within stories, mini science fiction if you will.  Deep, dark and accessible, if you enjoy this, he has many others of equal quality, his most famous being Slaughterhouse 5.

His second novel, it involves issues of free will, omniscience, and the overall purpose of human history.  Much of the story revolves around a Martian invasion of Earth.

·         Phillip Roth - Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
Perhaps a book that men will be able to relate to more than women (but that women will find fascinating), in lurid detail and outrageous candidness, it touches on the nature of lust and self.  You’ll have a laugh.

Portnoy's Complaint is a continuous monologue as narrated by its speaker, Alexander Portnoy, "a lust-ridden, mother addicted young Jewish bachelor," to his psychoanalyst.

"Portnoy's Complaint: A disorder in which strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature..."

·         Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Ok – it is Ayn Rand – a more politically-charged figure would be hard to come by.  But all The Spear can say is, while this book may be painful to read at times and is awfully long, it DOES capture something about human nature which everybody should at least be exposed to.

The book, which includes elements of science fiction, mystery, romance and a certain kind of philosophy, depicts a dystopian United States, wherein many of society's most prominent and successful industrialists go on strike, for lack of a better term.

Please be forewarned that even Rand admits that her characters are “persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings”.   That said, still worth reading.

·         Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs and Steel (1997)
The book attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations (including North Africa) have survived and conquered others.  A very interesting read for those with anthropological leanings.

·         Joe Haldeman – The Forever War (1974)
If you only have to read one pure science fiction story, in The Spear’s opinion, this is it.  Think of it as a sort of Interstellar but with a lot more aliens, physics, sex and violence: all of which should be plentiful in any good science fiction story.

Widely perceived to be a portrayal of the author's military service during the Vietnam War, it touches on the absurdity and alienation that war can entail.

·         Tom Holland – Rubicon (2003)
A greatly entertaining historical narration of the end of the Roman republic, it provides insights into the glorious rise and spectacular falls of the key individuals of the time.  And while its events may have taken place over 2000 years ago, the modernity of the problems faced by the protagonists bring home that while the times may change, the characters always remain the same.

·         Edwin A. Abbott - Flatland (1884)
Perhaps not as serious as the other reads, it is still a little something ‘a bit different’ that will get you thinking about the geometrical nature of reality, without needing to understand General Relativity.

Writing pseudonymously as "A Square", Abbott used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to comment on the hierarchy of Victorian culture, but its more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions.

·         Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Really, this book says what The Spear was trying to say at the start of this blog much better than The Spear could ever say it, regarding the benefits of reading.  The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found. 

·         John Gray - Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1993)
You may think this is a joke but this is a book that is super-accessible and may actually change your daily interactions with the opposite sex, or at least change your thought processes.  Just give it a shot and you will find yourself rummaging over the debris of your love life saying ‘aha’, as you remember every nonsensical nail that was driven into your coffin of failed relationships.

If you are after something a bit more philosophical, see Essays in Love (1993) by Alain De Botton.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Loser Worship

Our capitalist society is understandably based on the adulation of ‘winners’; those rare individuals who have cracked open the head of success and feasted on the goo inside.  But alas, to ‘win’ - in and of itself - means nothing, without those who make it all possible: the losers.  For what is success if everyone is successful?  As the saying goes, ‘It’s not enough that I succeed, my friends must fail’.

To lose is often a lonely and silent affair - which makes it all the more painful - as one often takes to believing that their grief is unique, and that they have been singled out for misery by the gods.  It often comes with connotations of shame and disgrace, and people think that their defeat must be hidden from public view as much as possible.

In truth, we are all losers, in one way or another.  To lose must be one of the most common occurrences in the modern world, with the vast numbers of people vying for limited resources and positions of success.  Indeed, each and every day we are swimming in an ocean of defeat, yet most of the time we are blind to it, whether due to our proclivity to hide our failures or our tendency to fall victim to sample bias, whereby we overestimate the likelihood of winning because we base our expectations on a small sample (of winners).

To paraphrase Stalin, ‘A Single Loser is a Tragedy; a Million Losers is a Statistic’.  Indeed, a million losers is a requirement, for if the majority of people were ‘winners’, to ‘win’ would become passé, and the definition of ‘winning’ would simply extend further to those at the extremity of success .  To make it to a first world country like Australia may be considered ‘winning’ while in a developing country, but for the new arrival, the success is likely to be short-lived as they grow accustomed to a new, higher base level of success.

Even though they are a necessity for winners, the sheer ubiquity of losers means they are never quite given their credit in the success of others.  While we could publish all of the losers of the lotto every week in thanks for providing the winnings for the lucky few, it is much simpler to just congratulate the winners, and provides a much needed point of focus.

Thus, akin to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, The Spear proposes a monument to the Universal Loser, to act as a point of focus for all of those who have risked something - whether it be their body or their time or their reputation or their capital - and have come up second best or worse, so that somebody else may succeed.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Bleeding Hearts

There once was a time,
When to whinge and to whine,
Was seen as unbecoming.
To be tough and chipper,
A stiff upper-lipper,
Made self-reliance stunning.

Now, venerable vulnerability,
Competitive sensitivity,
Make Outragism super!
To take offense,
Proves best recompense,
For those sans Sense of Humour!

You’re a racist, a bigot,
A sexist hate spigot,
A Nazi, for keeping it real.
Forced to sing Kumbayahs,
Self-flagellate our scars,
We ensure bleeding hearts never heal.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Parental Descent

There comes a point for most of us when we finally come to see our parents for what they are: people.  No longer are they enshrined with the parental aura of infallibility, omniscience and safety that nature imbues upon them in our youth.  They lose that special shine - that superpower status - devolving into regular people, albeit with whom you have a very special relationship.

The Spear can think of a few distinct reasons for this change in perspective:

1.       Physical balance of power shift

The immediate reality is that once you were small and they were big, but that is no longer the case.  You are now just as physically imposing, if not more so, and this balance of physical power will continue to tilt in your favour as your parents slide into old age.

2.       Monetary balance of power shift

Similarly to (1), you once were a dependent, but are now increasingly self-sufficient.  You don’t need to go begging for a few dollars allowance to fund your lifestyle, and your income is on the rise.  On the other hand, your parent’s best earning days are behind them and they will in all likelihood become reliant on handouts of their own in the form of a government pension.

3.       Intellectual / Experiential balance of power shift

You were once light on education and experience, but have now gained a degree of expertise in an area of which your parents know nothing.  You are technologically savvy, while your parents are heavily dependent on the ‘smart’ in smart-phone.  You have travelled and are wise to the latest trends and political arguments.  You have experienced different ways of doing things, different ideas and lifestyles, while your parents appear to be trapped in their ways.  Advice travels both ways, not merely downwards.

4.       Relationship balance of power shift

They were once the most important people in the world to you, but now there is more competition.  As you grow your own family and network, the pecking list of priorities will chop and change.  Although you may always be their eternal child, their number 1 priority, will they always be seen as yours?

Parental descent is sad in a way, but it is merely part of the overall process of growing up, whereby we cross items off the list of the possible.  Of course our parents were never really super-people, but to a child they certainly do seem to tick a lot of the boxes, and to come to the realisation that they are just regular people is like learning that Santa Claus isn't real

But that real people, unlike a mythical Santa, are ever able to fill the role of supreme beings - even partially and for a limited time - is testament to the sacrifices parents are willing to make to give their children a good upbringing. 

As these sacrifices become obsolete with our own independence, it is only natural that our parents should lose their special aura; an aura which will perhaps be bestowed upon us as the cycle turns.