Better Than Life

Augmented reality, social work hell, and why politics is still a numbers game.

So today I read this article. It suggests that we are in a computer simulation.

I’m a social worker, spending somewhere around 5-6 hours of my working day on a computer, swallowed in a world of reports, kpi’s, and totally extraneous fucking emails that heavily imply the sender wants direction from you with passive aggressive hints while c.c.ing you so confusingly suggesting the email is for information only…also, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Safari, Guardian app. I am already in an augmented reality.
Maybe I should change my name to Mr Anderson. 

Speaking of augmented reality, I am keeping half an eye on the EU referendum count in the UK. The first few results are trickling in. They are showing Leave doing far better than expected. There had been some Remain optimism in the final days and from the news updates on the evening itself. Leave supporters were conceding. I have to say, I trust the results more at this point, but it’s still early days as I write.

There’s been a clear move by right wing campaigners over the past few years to underplay their hand, despite being secretly confident of winning. This is because it makes their result look even better. I remember during the Crewe by-election in 2008 the Tories were claiming it would be a big shock if they were to win. As a Labour activist on the ground I saw how much trouble the party was in. It had previously been held by a Labour MP who had been popular (the late Gwyneth Dunwoody). It became clear to me that it was a safe Dunwoody seat, not a strong Labour one. Demographics worked against the party and it was deeply unpopular at that time. Any objective analysis would quickly conclude the Tories would sweep the result. Of course, the shock win version was allowed to flourish. 

There’s an underlying pattern here though about confidence in politics. I think politicians are losing their mettle, certainly compared to their forebears. It’s a product of the risk orientated neoliberalism from the 1980’s, and the erosion of expert opinion. In sociology this is referred to as postmodernism – (western) society becoming increasingly eclectic. Since opinion is more fluid, politicians adapt that way too. They swing more by the desires of what people want than by setting a leadership stand. Therefore their self confidence wanes.

Would like to write more on this, but Fremantle beckons as my bus ride draws near to my stop.

Enjoy your augmented reality, or just take a walk for a dose of realism. Either way, take care for now.

Leave, Remain

I saw a guy on the bus – he had Union Jack socks on. It’s a sign!

It really isn’t.

A real sign is a multitude of experts telling you the same thing. It’s a strange mentality to accept a given – experts are people and therefore can and do get it wrong – and apply that as an absolute rule – experts can be wrong therefore all experts are wrong all the time.

Like climate change.

Like Ellie Butler.

So it goes…

There has been a perverse celebration of ignorance in Britain, and that isn’t a recent phenomonen.

I remember the film American History X, where Danny is ruminating on the root course of his brother’s racism. He thinks back to a moment when their father casually discounts a teacher’s methods on the basis of the teacher’s skin colour. It’s a saddening moment of realisation for Danny – ‘it starts at home’.

For the UK, history means a great deal. Magna Carta gets cited a lot. I doubt most people really understand its significance. British Empire – invasion of other countries. In Australia, Stolen Generation happened under the auspices of the Crown. British soldiers shooting peaceful protesters in India. There’s even a monument in my home city of Preston, dedicated to striking workers shot dead by the army. Victorian society charged forward with scientific advancement, making so many arrogant and ignorant assumptions about the world as to make such advances almost a Pyrrhic victory. So if I look back to Britain’s own casual and rationalised racism, I feel it has yet to meet the realities and ephiphany that young Danny reached.

Poison starts at home.

If the underlying principle is flawed, what chance for anything else? 

Sat at a distance, 16000km away, I have fluctuated between outrage and impassioned belief about the referendum. Most of the time though, I have sat with increasingly sad disinterest. It’s been an unwholesome campaign, and justified every prejudice I held about you Great Britain.

Politicians do bear a great weight for what has occurred in this campaign, but you know what? They are just pandering to what they think Britain will respond to. They do this, because people have more often than not acted in that same way.

Sick of politicians lying to you? Don’t encourage them with expectations that can’t possibly be met.

Sick of politicians not listening? Speak some sense and understand you may be ignorant of the issue on which you speak.

Tired of the establishment? Don’t vote for it then. Don’t celebrate the purest of pure establishment – unelected monarchy – while at the same time deriding democratic standards – like the European Parliament.

Sick of immigration? Stop endorsing foreign policy that exploits poorer nations, forcing millions of people to seek work in wealthier ones (like the UK).

Stop cultivating your own ignorance Britain!

Poison starts at home.

Leave is poison. This whole rhetoric is poison.

A woman died because of this fucked up referendum. Have you still not cottoned on how much, as a nation, you are responsible for that poison?

I am not going to suggest how anyone should vote, but I am suggesting how you might want to think. 

Rationally, sensibly, and humanely. 
Stop poisoning yourself.

I am a cliche

Photo cliches can be annoying, but in some way they are an integral part of the learning process.

I saw this YouTube video the other day, about photography cliches. On looking at the list, I am glad to say that I am only guilty of 11 out of 25 (I don’t sign or watermark my photos – duck that’s annoying). It’s comforting to see that I don’t completely fail an arbitrary list of cliches.

Not that I mean to be critical – I agree with the blogger. Maybe not arbitrary; subjective is perhaps a better word. And in a good way subjective. 

If I were to add anything to the list it would be photos of your own shadow (guilty!). That was probably going out of fashion, but then I noticed that a Vivian Maier photo of her own shadow was heavily publicised, so I can only imagine shadow photos are making a come back. Also, using film for the sake of using film – that’s another cliche. The artistic quality comes purely from the fact the photo is on film and not a memory card. Yep, guilty as charged.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the list.

Photo cliches. Why do they happen? Lack of artistic integrity? Crappy photographers? Actually no, I don’t think so. I happen to think I have both integrity and am a good photographer. Yet I still cliche from time to time.

Cliches exist because they have been done so often. The photo subject matter is popular, so people want to be popular. If it works, why fix it? It’s a bit like a company using the same slogan ad infinitum into cliche. It works; it’s familiar and safe. Newbie photographers are more likely to adopt this approach – entering the field and lacking confidence. It is better to fall back on tried and tested. I used to do that a lot, because I wasn’t really sure what else I should be doing.

Sunset photos (6 on the list) are particularly prone to this. People like them. I like them. Why not offer people something they want?

Another reason for cliche is the fault of professional photography (by this, I mean those whose primary income comes from photography). Obviously, I don’t mean all pro’s, but rather the abstract collective sense. Professional photography is based around things like weddings, babies, pets, that type of thing. There is scope for artistic variation to be sure, but the expectation will be for some standard bride, groom and respective parents/in-laws shot; smiling baby; dog with head on owners lap etc. Technical aspects become very important and expectations exist. Even the equipment is vital – imagine everyone’s face if you started taking wedding photos solely with a Holga, and a Polaroid using Impossible Project film…(oh my god, someone do that!).

Technical aspects. Professional lessons have a lot of blame here. Their lessons are almost always based on technical aspects of photography rather than artistic expressionism. I know they might not feel that is their responsibility, it is in the power of the photographer after all, but in a photography world that harks on about the ‘pro’ standard, it is easy to forget the creative variance critical to photography as an art form.

This brings us to the central issue. 99% of photos are crap. Rubbish. Useless. Ancillary at best. To find those golden 1% is difficult. I don’t mean out there in the world – there are amazing photographers out there that blow my mind. What I mean is in the photographer themself. Most photos taken will be ‘meh’, some good, a few great, and just one or two that make you catch your breath. Perhaps it’s just me.

To get that high standard of artistic expression consistently is difficult. So it becomes easier to opt for cliche. I know fully well I am taking a cliche shot when I take one – indeed, sometimes it is a tongue in cheek thing. I do it because the opportunity is there and they are an easy means of communication (the beauty of smartphones and social media). Selfie’s for example, like the one I took for this post, are partly for effect, but also for benefit of family and friends living in other continents.

Having said that, my own creative zest seemed to be heading into cliche (at least that’s how it felt), hence my recent hiatus from digital.  It’s about creative discipline – thinking more in the moment and worrying less about the technical aspects. 

Cliches have a place, they really do (remember, popular), but it is vital to distinguish between technical versatility, and artistic expression. The former you can be shown, the latter comes from within. But even that bit of Karate Kid wisdom is a cliche. 

Maybe just fuck it. Take some photos, and go for broke.

Bus seating is like chess, or sex

Get on the bus. It’s busy. Lots of people in seats. Luckily, half of the bus disgorges  at Canning Bridge, providing opportunity for me to get a seat with more legroom. I have to time it right, because often someone else is trying to do the same thing.

So it’s a little like chess. Get in the right position. Wait patiently for others to make their move. Take advantage and slot right in.

I feel like Swiss Tony.

So as I got on the bus I noticed a considerable amount of people doing one of two things. One group – of kids – were busy chatting to each other from their position of social power at the back of the bus. Elevated above the common herd and all that. The other half were engrossed in their mobile telephones, many with headphones.

I am used to seeing complaints about the impact of mobile phones on people, implying it can bring a sense of disociation, and points to a general decline in, well standards of human activity I suppose. 

Either way, here’s the way I look at it. Kids at the back, even with their faux sense of superiority lording it over the rest of us at the back of the bus, have opted to engage in conversation. That is, they have made a conscious decision to talk to each other. It would be difficult for them to maintain a single, inclusive conversation for the whole group. So surreptitious glanced at mobile phone might occur, but ultimately all engaged with one another.

Everyone else is reading and/or listening to music. Possibly watching a video. Maybe playing a game. Literature, writing, music, video – these are artistic mediums are they not? If someone is looking through their social media are they not engaged in the same type of selective conversation as those on the back of the bus? And let’s face it, these are mainly school kids. They will be spending the bulk of their day being force fed selective pieces of information and learning at the behest of a clueless society. I think they might want some time to escape from that conformity.

Mobile phones are like red meat. If all you do is eat red meat you will die of scurvy, heart disease or something else (or at least be more prone to illness and ailment). If all you do is spend time on your phone then it will lead to a social and intellectual degradation.

But guess what, that’s not what people are doing. Not the ones I see. It’s not refreshing, because it’s not unusual. I don’t see mobile phones as this social barrier. Rather, it’s an access to all sorts of artistry. I’d rather celebrate that reality.

We just won’t talk about porn.

Or Justin Bieber.

But otherwise, yeah, access to artistry.

I want to be a sell out

I have this dream of working in a flashy office with a great view. The kind top executives and business types like to work, with brilliant views across the city scape. Very monetarist.

I work in crappy offices. I know, I’m a Social  Worker. I should expect this. But why? My last job had a window. It looked out onto the driver way and a fence. My current office has no window. Utilitarian. Grim. Prosaic. Bleak.
Office builds need a rethink. Imagine you work in a highly stressful profession. And imagine you only go out for traumatic situations. Then imagine when you’re finished you go back into a box. That is actually my life – I work in a box. I can flourish all the nice photos I like, but they are simply wall dressing. It doesn’t relax me.

At my last office, I worked in a town in the woods.The office was a converted business (I think it used to be a vets). Could they not have found a location of equal value in a more relaxed setting, such as more in the country. It would necessarily be poor access for families – it’s country so it’s a norm. 

I live and work in metro now. Is the best location really a grim, dull office block in a main street. We’re by the coast, but can’t see it. Like being in the forest, but can’t see it.

Pressurised work environments need therapeutic locations. Look out the window to a forest, or the sea. Calming.

I know the cynical view. Too difficult. It’s about access. People expect accountability – people should be working not enjoying the view. Blah blah blah.

No. I reject this. 

We should enjoy the workplace. Let it be a place of sanctuary. It should be therapeutic.

That’s why I want the relaxing office environment. That’s why I want the city view. The forest view. The sea view. I need to recover, refresh, replenish.

Sometimes I get home so tired I just want to flake out on the couch. I’m grateful I have a partner with a dog, and a discipline to walk her every day. I’m still tired, but I’m refreshed. I’m lucky we live by a river. Even at night it’s calming respite.

Entering Freo. About to crawl into my box. Maybe I exaggerate. It’s a good office to work. Vibrant staff. I like the journey (this blog is it’s own form of therapy). I like the work. I’m getting therapy somewhere it seems.

The murder of Jo Cox was a hate crime

Yesterday, a woman was murdered. Indeed, a lot of women. A lot of men too. A lot of children if we distinguish age. A lot of people were murdered, are murdered, every day. The sense of tragedy can dull the senses, and it can inflame the heart, but all I’m doing is grieving for one today.

I didn’t know Jo Cox, but even on these distant shores I feel some sense of grief and sadness. Without meeting each other there’s some commonality – human, British, European, Labour.

I read reports that the suspected murderer yelled ‘Britain first’ or words to that effect. A man described as being a quiet person by the local community, someone who they wouldn’t have suspected of committing such a crime. I don’t know why people say things like that – most muderers do not blindly rampage around indicating they are murderers. If only it were that easy to spot them.

It could be some twisted warped sense of patriotism paid a part. And if you think that the current referendum campaign, with its vitriolic fear and distorted rampant nationalism, would have no part to play in that belief, then you are deluded. Maybe mental health played a role (although community perspective makes that a difficult idea to sustain). There’s too much confusion about his motivations to know for certain. All I do know, with reasonable certainty, is that Jo Cox was targeted specifically. This was not random. This was deliberate and pre-meditated. This was a hate crime.

It might be easy to dismiss the idea that she was targetted because she was a woman; after all, it could have been any MP right? Maybe, but it wasn’t. There is no virtue in being male or female, but we make it one. Society finds considerable ways to target women AND rationalise it afterward. I doubt Jo Cox was killed because she was a woman, but the fact that she was one makes it relevant. I don’t intend to rationalise her gender as being as being irrelevant, because it most definitely wasn’t.

Seeing tributes paid, many focus on her being a committed MP, a campaigner for refugee rights, and a mother of 2. Without meaning to, we made her gender part of who she was. Being a mother is a gendered role; being a parent is gender neutral. See the difference?

I know my sense of solidarity might seem like futility from such a distance, but it’s there, for her family, and the Labour Party and Labour movement, which I love. In every sense, there is something in this tragedy that binds us. 

I have little time for the crocodile tears of the right – a couple of days ago they would have poured scorn on her beliefs, and her achievements. I think particularly of that recent, racist Brexit poster about immigration (using images of refugees). I know Remain has hardly covered itself in glory, but it’s fear is centred on the abstract uncertainty of economic outcomes. Leave campaign has been based on outright lies and fear of the foreigner. Ironically this is probably why it has succeeded – fear of immigration seems more tangible than economics, even though it actually isn’t.

At this point though, I can’t say that Brexit’s particular brand of venom is a factor in Jo Cox’s death. Those media reports could be wrong. So I withhold that judgement about that, even if I think their mourning is hypocrisy.

I still believe though, that this was a gender crime. It was a man murdering a woman. It happens a lot. In Australia, 31 women have been murdered this year alone by domestic violence abusers – men. I don’t see why this should be any different. Premeditated hatred (cause) and death of a woman (effect) are the same.

A successful , dedicated, influential woman was murdered. She was murdered out of hate. It was not unique, it was not isolated. Unless society takes greater stock of its culpability, then this is a sad and tragic norm that will continue.

Foot’s on the other hand now, isn’t it Kramer?

I write this in the midst of a faux raging fury. Somehow, between leaving my house and getting to the bus stop, I enter a time warp where I miss my bus AGAIN!? Maybe the lack of an early morning coffee has not helped. Indeed, I suspect it to be the culprit. Coffee is the source of all time displacement. I blame the coffee. How can I, you ask, when I was the one that made an active choice not to have a coffee? Easy. I will apply sentience to the coffee. The coffee knows what it’s doing. The coffee made me do it. When I drink coffee, I drink people. 

…I think I need some coffee.

Feedback arrives for my stories. I’m through the looking glass. After  a couple of years giving out devastating lines of feedback for written assessments, now I am on the receiving end. The master has become the apprentice!
Once I get over my slightly irked feeling of actually getting feedback – I wrote the story like that? Really? Me? What was I thinking? – I learn to embrace. Like a literary massage – it feels like it’s tearing the muscles off, but you know in reality it is simply reordering them to make you feel better later. That’s feedback, and it feels good.

No school kids today. Have I caught an extra early bus? Has school ended? Now there are only adults, who know better than to inanely yabber. On the other hand, maybe the kids have something to say. Maybe I’m on the bus with the most boring adults in Perth.

As I write that, a school kid gets on the bus. Now I am more confused; where are all the other kids? 

An older lady has boarded the bus and pulled out A Feast of Crows (Game of Thrones for the uninitiated). Rape, murder, and isn’t that the one where Theon Greyjoy gets his nob cut off? I really don’t know where the books and TV diverge. Oh well, either way, have fun with that one grandma.

More school kids board. Inane conversation floods the bus. Now I feel guilty for whining about boring adults. I miss the quiet!

The narrative of my blog has broken down a bit, can you tell? Good timing perhaps, as we trundle into Freo. 

It is cold. Really sharp cold.

I’m going to drink people (coffee).

The mongoose was sleeping around

All things return to their normal state. The snake no longer lies with the mongoose. The cat and the dog sever their shared tenancy agreement. I catch the bus on time. Natural order is restored. A sense of calmness descends. 

But fuck me it’s busy on the bus this morning. 

But yeah, sense of calmness. Even the loss of the top of my coffee cup is not enough to cut the cords between sanity and consciousness. I will buy a new coffee cup. There; simple, ordered, structured. 

Sometimes my life is like a reverse Kinder egg. The crappy toy fused to the plastic orange casing, within which lies the melted crushed remnants of crappy chocolate that someone has crushed with their bare sweaty hand.

Mostly, I am glad to say, my life is better even than a normal Kinder egg – it’s more like decent chocolate with a copy of the Catan board game inside the orange ovoid (yep, big fucking egg).

With the general chaos of missed buses yesterday I managed only a few sections of my book, so today is catch up. 

A Mazda just drove by with the number plate ‘Mazda’, and promptly turned into the Mazda dealer. The end.

We just stopped at a bus stop and a guy was caught in the middle of the road frantically signalling for the bus to stop. I thought the traffic wasn’t going to give him a break but he was lucky and got across. He has the same headphones as me only red.

I got feedback on a short story today, for which I am very grateful. I’ve usually disliked feedback of any kind because I don’t like being fallible. Since embracing critical practice I’ve become more enthusiastic about accepting errors. Feedback used to be painful. It still is now, but confers a kind of BDSM emotional response.

I may need to reexamine my relationship with feedback, because I just inferred a sexualised connection.

Anyway, feedback is vital. It’s like my story was covered with a thin veil and it’s now been lifted. I get to see the story for what it is – most importantly to an observer – not what I wish it would be.

So some work ahead – indeed, quite literally as we come into Freo. See ya.

A question of words

Clear and crisp morning. The sky is almost white in the east, slowly turning from a faint blue to a deeper tinge. It feels clean and refreshing.

I watched a news item this morning, about the murders in Orlando. A couple of journalists were reviewing newspaper headlines. One of the journalist – Owen jones I think (a Guardian journo) – became increasingly angry at the co-journalists apparent inability to call the attack as an attack on the LGBT community. In other words, a hate crime.

Essentially he was right, because the denseness of the other journos arguments focused on the generic ‘it’s an attack on all of us’ etc before embarking on a familiar bout of questioning US gun culture. Owen Jones argument was that if this was an attack on a synagogue then no one would hesitate to talk about antisemitism, but for some reason people were struggling to identify this as a hate crime for the same reasons. Owen Jones walked off set when the (Sky) host tried to use a quote from Stonewall. I imagine the clunky attempt at misdirection (presumably a misguided attempt to appease Mr Jones) was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It was a hate crime and it was a hate crime directed at the LGBT community. It is difficult to sustain the idea that the gunman picked the club at random, and if it was not at random it was directly aimed at a particular grouping of people. Whatever people’s thoughts and feelings about terrorism per se, call this what it was – a hate crime against LGBT people.

I wish I could write more but I missed my bus and now have to take the train to get to work anything like on time. I’ll need the journey to continue writing my book (only the 2nd day FFS!) and make some semblance of progress to my daily total.

And I wanted a perm too

It’s a new day, a new dawn. Fresh beginnings. Blank slate. Start from scratch.

Nah, not really. Everything is a continuation, a growth from the past. There’s something irresponsible about trying to separate your current decision making with your past life. I see this a lot at work, as people with lifelong challenges and complex backgrounds seek to reboot their life like that (*click of fingers).

So in that vein, this new blog is just a continuation. New platform, same nonsense. Why WordPress I don’t hear you ask? Well, when I started my blog it was more for my benefit than anything else. A little self reflection, a little observation and a habit of writing each day. A literary form of daily exercise, and it worked.

Of course, there is a slight victim of success-ness here. I originally started on Tumblr, a convenient and slightly quirky blogging platform. However, Tumblr isn’t really set up for lengthy blogs. It’s more about sharing inspirational and/or vacuous quotes, and photos of lakes, mountains and mist. Sometimes with trees.

WordPress, I am told by the holy oracle of Internet advice, is the way forward for blogging. There are other platforms but WordPress apparently has the lead. So here I am, writing the same nonsense but on better quality paper. I’ll keep to Tumblr for other stuff.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I got a haircut at the weekend. I don’t think the hairdresser liked me too much. My virtually falling asleep didn’t help. Not that my (lonely surly) ‘not that much’ response to her friendly hairdresser motif question ‘have been up to much today?’ would have helped her good humour. I first got the sense that I had irked her with some less that gentle manipulations of my head, moved with such vigour I feared an injury. My hair was also cut very short. A bit shorter even than I intended, and looking a little roughshod. My head now looks like a slightly furry giant egg.

I took part in an international art performance event at the weekend. There is an arts festival on in London, and one of the performances included a type of tour by Internet. Someone in London would trace a route, and I the same in Perth. Although centred around sunrise and sunset, time difference did not allow for that in Australia, so instead I trod through Perth CBD at night, videoing various sites and talking about time, light and the end of the universe. Being a virtual tour guide was all good fun.

Entering Fremantle. Alas I need to wrap up, and I had so much more to write about. I have to curtail early because I am undertaking a new writing project – a NaNoWriMo, but in June and July. I’m keeping to bus blog to keep my mind active but otherwise need my spare time. So good morning for now.