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Cognitive dissonance 18 September 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life, Philosophy, Politics.
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I am suffering, dear reader. I am suffering from cognitive dissonance.

I’m sure you have heard of that before: holding two or more beliefs at the same time, where those beliefs are incompatible in theory and practice.

I often suffer from cognitive dissonance, which is why I could never go into politics. The world is not sufficiently black or white for me to pick a side and not see the other’s merit. There are times I feel strongly one way or another, but often, I cannot reconcile conflicting beliefs to take a position on a matter. How easy it would be to be certain of yourself all the time.

This time around, it’s politics. Today, the Abbott government was sworn in. Out of 20 ministers, there is one female, and 19 male ministers. And I am struggling with this on two levels.

On the one hand, I am disappointed that there is only one woman in cabinet. I think there are plenty of capable, interesting, intelligent, measured, hard-working women in the Liberal Party. And I am sure there could have been more women on the front benches. I believe the government and the cabinet should represent the people that put them there, which may mean they should look like a cross-section of society.

On the other hand, I do not believe there should be a ‘quota’ of women that should be promoted (in any position), and merit should be the driver for appointments. I believe women are not ‘equal’ when they experience positive discrimination. I think they are equal when people no longer see their gender. As a woman, I would hate to think that I get to where I am in life because of (or despite of) my gender. I want to be respected, valued and appreciated for my brains, my abilities and my shutzpah.

I think selection bias, or the fact that one tends to select and promote people who look, feel, sound and behave like oneself, is a driver behind many appointments. And not just in government.

I don’t think it is necessarily done in a malicious way, but I think a leader who is unaware of his or her own bias might easily fall into the trap of promoting those like him- or herself. My selection bias might explain why I am disappointed there are no more women in cabinet. I want to see strong, capable women in places of power and decision making.

And as per my previous post, I think Abbott plays a dangerous game in terms of his outward views on women. Whether he actually holds a low opinion of women or whether the media is just portraying him as such, is not really the point. However, I do think it less than politically astute to give his opponents more fodder, which is what this cabinet has done. And to say he was ‘disappointed’ there were not more women on the front bench was outright silly – he chose the front bench.

There were countless Facebook posts in my feed over the past days reflecting a less-than-flattering view of “I cannot believe any woman would have voted for this government, and now you reap what you have sown” or worse still, “Abbott will take Australia 20 years back in time”. Simplistic gibes.

Because Abbott and his party did win. And it would have taken a significant number of female voters to get him there. It is, however, possible that women who voted for him are also suffering from cognitive dissonance.

The world is not black and white, and it is the varying levels of grey that makes it interesting. I will keep an open mind on this cabinet. May it do good for Australia.

Wait. What? 20 May 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Life, Philosophy.
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Last week, at the hearings on alleged tax evasion, the chairwoman of the British parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, described Google as ‘evil’.

For allegedly trying to pay less tax.

Now, taxation, especially international rules surrounding the plethora of systems and legislation out there, is an entire separate kettle of fish, which I will not jump into.

But to describe tax evasion (whether perceived or real) as ‘evil’ is a bit much isn’t it?

The word ‘evil’ is defined (by my very limited internet search) as ‘profoundly immoral and malevolent’.

Genocide is evil. Tax evasion is, at best, not very nice, or at worst, illegal.

And I am sorry, it simply does not qualify as a moral issue. Taxes are a man-made invention. It is not actually a measure of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. It is an agreement that we as humans have imposed on ourselves to be able to provide a ‘greater good’.

And I get that it was a play on words, as Google’s mission is ‘do no evil’. And that we all have to pay our fair share. And that without taxes, a government can’t implement all the lovely things it would like to implement.

So if Google has broken laws in what it has done, let them pay restitution. Throw the book at them, or whatever. If they have not broken any laws, and you still disagree with the level of tax they paid – then change your laws.

But let’s not water down the English language and start calling all the things we disagree with as ‘evil’.

As they are plainly not.

New years resolutions 4 January 2012

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, Philosophy.
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I scoff at thee.

Sort of.

I do not believe in new years resolution, mainly because of the appalling rate of failure in sticking to them across the board. And it is not just me, oh no. Many, many of you have made new years resolutions that you will either not be able to keep or that you have no intention of keeping.

Sometimes, they even work directly against you – like one of the bloggers I follow whose new years resolution for 2011 was to write more and to upload more pictures, which subsequently gave him instantaneous writers block, and on average he blogged less in 2011 than in 2010.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for self improvement. I think there is something noble in recognising areas in yourself that need work. We all have them. To see them, to pinpoint them and to address them is not always easy.

And there is something to be said for good intentions. And goals. And motivation.

I just don’t think 1 January is the magical day of unicorns and fairysparkles that will give you a new lease on life. If you intend to change something, do it. Just do it. Don’t set a magical date when you will start. Start now.

Want to lose weight in November? Start hitting the gym in November.

Want to read more books in the coming year? Fine, turn off the television and start reading.

Most resolutions are actually very good, and I appreciate that people want to enter a contract with themselves to improve themselves, their lives, their outlooks. So resolute away.

I just didn’t join you on 1 January.

Myself, I am continuing the journeys that I started with myself over the past year(s). There is still a lot more improving to be done.

Here’s to becoming a better person. But since I missed the new year rush, I don’t intend to wait 362 days before I start trying.

Blogging positive 14 May 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Art, Happiness, Life, Philosophy.
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In conversation with a friend today, I realised that I have more of a philosophy about my blog than I was aware of.

From the beginning, this blog has been about two things. Firstly, a venue for me to write, experiment, and to keep my writing skills up. I write for myself, as a public journal, to amuze me. I never thought I would have a big following (which I don’t). No webbies will come my way. Looking back over my blogging history, I enjoy the depth and breath that has developed in my writing since I started. The first couple of posts are a bit random, a new blogger trying to find her feet, trying to figure out how to be interesting. Trying too hard, even. But I like what my blog has developed into. A stream of consciousness and observations.

Secondly, I write for my friends and family back home, the ones that want to keep in touch with the things I do (I can be hard to follow sometimes. Literally). I try to make sure that my observations are interesting to that audience.

But I have come to realise that I also want to bring something positive to the table. I find that the (quasi-)anonymousness of being on the internet inspires vitriol and bad manners in many. People spend hours pouring their latest whinge about whatever the topic of their blog is onto the internet.

They complain. Loudly.

Maybe in an attempt to be humourous, they rip things apart with particular attention to detail. Maybe it is perceived as funny by their followers.

But that is not what I want for my blog. I don’t want to use it as a forum for anonymous complaining. If I am upset and want to complain, I do so in person. Or to a friend over coffee, where we afterwards talk about good things, happy moments. I don’t want negativity to be my only side.

In fact, when I have nothing good to say, I often (like here) rather not blog than spiral into discontent through writing about it. Of course, not everything on my blog is all roses.

But I also don’t try to (one recent post duly excepted) gush, as a consistent gusher is not being realistic, either. If absolutely everything is wonderful, fabulous, perfect, beautiful, maybe I am trying to convince myself of those virtues more so than my readers.

In general, I am a happy, positive person with normal ups and downs, and I hope the reader can see that from my blog.

Books vs. everything else 28 July 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Art, Books, Philosophy.
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A Pair of Ragged Claws recently went through the self-indulgent exercise of determining what is more important – books, or other things. The exercise was to determine whether you would give up books, and what it would take?


what things would you give up before you gave up books? This is one of those completely hypothetical, it’s Friday on Ragged Claws questions where someone comes along and says to you: I have bad news, you have to give up either books or sex. Unless you give up one of them entirely and forever, you will die. Which do you choose?

Some of his assessments were interesting (most of them funny), and all of them reflect the things he is spending time on in his life (TV, betting on horses, sex, +++).

It got me thinking. I love books, too. I am a slow reader, but I love the experiences books can give you. For the most part, I would choose books over most other activities (except for sleep!), as long as choosing books would mean a limitless supply of them. The libraries of Alexandria to my disposal? I would ditch laser tag for that!

But I also know people who have true passion in their lives, apart from books. Like music. I do not personally understand it (as shown by our esoteric discussions about whether, if you had to choose, you would choose going blind or going deaf, where I chose deaf and they chose blind). But I do recognise it – that true yearning for music, the enjoyment, the creation or the experience of it with their whole beings.

This particular person, however, also has an immense appetite for books and they are the most widely read person I know. So what would this person choose –

Books or music?

Or, if you are not musically inclined – books or your other passion? What would you choose?

Art, like love, cannot be forced 31 May 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Art, Happiness, Life, Philosophy.
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In the name of Phil Collins;

You can’t hurry love.

And I have come to realise that the same goes for art. I love art, and I often feel inspired to make something, create something. I have been a prolific drawer since I was a child, and I have taken drawing classes since the age of 7. My mum once told me that I used to sing, hum and whistle when happy, and I never used to sing more than while sitting quietly, drawing.

But since I have arrived in Vietnam, the will and the inspiration is just not there. For the past two years, my sum output has been two (average looking) paintings and maybe a handful of sketches. I have tried many a time to sit down with a canvas, but all I see is white. Nothing to create, nothing to paint. No possibilities.

It is a horrific feeling. I can imagine it is like writer’s block, when the muse is not there, you just feel empty.

Initially, I thought it was because there is so much art here everywhere – most of it cheap and nasty, some of it amazingly inventive, but soon to be copied by everyone. I thought I might feel like I couldn’t live up to it, that my surroundings were so prolific that it drowned out my little voice inside.

But being back in Australia, even just for a week and a half around Christmas, made me literally itch to draw, and I kicked myself for not bringing a sketch book. It had been so long since inspiration had struck, that it hadn’t even occurred to me that it might be something i would need! The moment I was back in Vietnam, though, all that inspiration vanished.

Soul searching last week on why I have been sick more often here in Vietnam than I ever used to be, I think I am starting to understand. I think my physical and mental health (the latter of which is contributing to me feeling uninspired) is intrinsically linked to this one pivot:

In my life in Vietnam, there is never a moment of serenity.

Have a think about that for one second.

There is constant noise. There are constant crowds.

There is constant self-awareness, about being different in so many ways. People always stare, and tell me I am fat and tall.

There is always something happening, people to see, parties to go to.

There is constant effort in trying to understand the language.

As exciting as Vietnam is, and as much as I love it, and as much fun as I am having here, I don’t think I am ever at peace here. I find myself having more road rage here than I have ever had in my life. The constant navigation (physically, mentally, culturally) is making me a very un-zen person. I try so hard to always smile and be understanding and culturally aware, politically correct. I try to do well at my job, and I like to please everyone.

But the closest I have been to being at peace was on the motorbike trip I did in the mountains last year, where there were large, open spaces, and the population was (relatively) sparse. Even with a urinary tract infection.

I think I will have to start making some serious changes to my down time, find a way to relax better to keep myself sane. First, I will need to stay away from the television more. Perhaps I need to improve my personal relationships, spending more time one on one with people I enjoy spending time with. Perhaps I need to find the right music to listen to. Second, I need to stop fretting so much. Or rather, being a natural worrier, I may have to find a way to block out my inner chatter.

And third, I need to rediscover a way to see the wonder in it all – like this blogger has. Maybe I need to head out with the camera, and see it all with new eyes. And perhaps then I will again find my muse to draw and paint and create. I certainly hope so.

I am not a feminist 24 August 2009

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I am not a feminist. Much to my mother’s surprise and my lecturer at uni’s dismay. My mother likes Germaine Greer and other outspoken women. My lecturer proclaimed that

we should all be feminists, even the men in the room.

So I disappointed them both, by not seeing myself as a feminist.

I see myself as many things. A humanist, an atheist, a centrist, a human rights advocate, amongst others. I do think I am compassionate.

So why did feminism never rub off on me?

Because my life has been easy. I have always been told I can be what I want to be. I excelled at school. I received high grades in maths, history, languages, science. I was told that I could choose any career I wanted. I went to university and studied the things I was interested in, including politics and economics.

I have never had the need to be a feminist.

I have, so far, lived a great life. I have not felt any discrimination against me for being female.

Yet the book I am now reading is showing me a side of me that all those things that I have been lucky enough to take for granted, are still instilled in my by some level of feminism, which I never thought I had.

A Room With a View, by E. M. Forster, was written in 1908. And it is a marvellous study of human nature. Yet it sometimes expresses the view of women as seen from an early 20th century setting. And it angers me. Yes, it is physically causing my pulse to increase, my breath to quicken, and for my mind to start providing vitriolic retorts to the positions stated by the author and his characters.

So I will say this once and for all.

I still do not classify myself as a feminist. But I highly value equality, in terms of opportunity and treatment. So that makes me an equalist, I suppose.

Tall reflections 4 June 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Height, Life, Philosophy.
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Something I read last Friday struck a personal chord with me.  In a recent edition of VOGUE (made somewhat less recent by its travels across the world from the printers in America to the casual reading stand in a small hairdressing shop in Hanoi) a young woman was musing on her life as a tall person.  At 6 foot 3, there were both similarities in our experiences growing up (never finding a cocktail dress, shoes or a dancing partner) and significant differences (having a mother who was highly uncomfortable with her own height, and seriously considering estrogen treatment to stunt her growth).

She also recalled something her mother had told her when she was younger; you can be whatever you want to be.  Something a lot of parents find themselves saying to their children.  However, her musings over this was what now merits this blog entry (and I paraphrase due to my significant lack of photographic memory):

For a tall person, there is one thing you never can be, and that is unseen.

Unseen.  The word struck something in me.  I never really stopped to think about this before.  I have personally never (at least not since after puberty had finished raging) really wanted to be unseen.  That is, unseen in terms of being Invisible.  Miss Cellophane, so to speak.  Why would anyone want to be unseen?  Wouldn’t being unseen make you insignificant?  Unnecessary?  Unremarkable?  A nobody?

And of course I have sometimes wished to be less visible (in the sense of not being the tallest person around), less talked about, and I certainly have never sought out publicity in the sense of getting up to speak or theatre.  But all of that is perfectly different from being unseen.

There have been moments where I have lamented the extra inches, but I have come to terms with being tall.  In fact, I rather like it. 

Even objectively speaking, when push comes to shove, being taller than average can be of benefit (figuratively and literally).  Apart from the obvious advantages when playing certain sports such as basketball, netball and volleyball (if one is lucky enough to be able to coordinate the long limbs), there are more obscure benefits, as well.

In a recent research paper, Andrew Leigh, an economic professor at the Australian National University, found that people that are taller earn more.  Unfortunately, this ‘income premium’ is more pronounced for tall men than for tall women.

How random. 

So do not aim for being unseen, but revel in the premiums your height may bring your way.

Larmes Bataviques 19 May 2009

Posted by uggclogs in Life, Philosophy, Physics.
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During my recent reading of an Australian classic, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, I was introduced to a marvelously interesting, well, thing.  The Larmes Bataviques (lit. the Batavian Tears) or the Prince Rupert’s Drop, has something so strong yet so fragile about it, that it has become my first blog entry.  They were supposedly first discovered in the Netherlands in the mid-1600.

Imagine a drop of glass.  Any type of glass, it can be see-through or opaque, coloured or not.  The drop is shaped like a tadpole, with a head and a long, sometimes twisting, tail.  The interesting part of this utterly useless, but rather pretty, thing, is that it is made of glass, but should you exert force on the thick, head-like part of the drop, you will not be able to break it.  You can hit it with a hammer, and it will not break.  It is as if the glass has become stronger than steel, with its own mind, its own will.

But were you to nick the tail, even a little, or break it, the entire drop will explode, and disintegrate into so many pieces that you would be left with a substance more akin to sugar than to glass.  What a marvelously romantic notion.  A strong, powerful body, with a tail that provides its achilles heal.

The physics behind larmes bataviques (thank you Wikipedia) is rather simple:

[Larmes bataviques] are created by dripping hot molten glass into cold water. The glass cools into a tadpole-shaped droplet with a long, thin, tail. The water rapidly cools the molten glass on the outside of the drop, while the inner portion of the drop remains significantly hotter. When the glass on the inside eventually cools, it contracts inside the already-solid outer part. This contraction sets up very large compressive stresses on the surface, while the interior of the glass is placed under tension.

The very high residual stress within the drop gives rise to unusual qualities, such as the ability to withstand a blow from a hammer on the bulbous end without breaking, while the drops will disintegrate explosively if the tail end is even slightly damaged.

I am excited to report that the romanticism of such a fleeting and fragile contraption is not lost on the poets, either;

And that which makes their Fame ring louder,
With much adoe they shew’d the King
To make glasse Buttons turn to powder,
If off the[m] their tayles you doe but wring.
How this was donne by soe small Force
Did cost the Colledg a Month’s discourse.

The latter is the 10th verse of the Ballad of Grimsham College by Dorothy Stimson.  And although I am no fanatic of poetry, the above did capture the marvel of the teardrops.

From the (probably) accidental invention of the batavian tear in the Netherlands, to the inclusion of them in a famous and acclaimed Australian novel on the other side of the globe, how could I but be charmed?