Wednesday, October 26, 2005

keep on dancing

Another Tuesday at the community centre, smiling, assisting and evading. Probably the highlight of an eventful day was ‘tea dancing’, I don’t know why it was called this, in which we danced some formal things like the Gay Gordons to dauntingly upbeat music. I made a fair fist of it, even with the tricky waltz parts. I was roped in as the only male there apart from the teacher. So I was expected to lead. The key, as with most things, is to sweep along confidently, as if you’re quite sure of what you’re doing, so that if you get into a tangle, your partner blames herself – ‘Oh dear, I seem to have two left feet these days, but you really are magnificent.’

There were six, sometimes seven dancers, depending on availability of staff. Three of the five women might be classified as elderly, a word possibly on the verge of being outlawed. I felt their lightness and frailty in my arms. I don’t know how illusory the feeling was. One of my partners, doubtless the oldest of them all, was got up in flaming scarlet, her mouth a brilliant gash. She had to sit down much of the time, the tempo a little brio for her, though she told me she’d been a sprightly dancer in her day, and I believed her.

Afterwards, back at the front desk, in the character of receptionist and computer trouble-shooter, I was approached by her, in farewell. ‘It was a real pleasure,’ she said, almost simpering. 'I just wish I could get into it like the old days. I have arthritis you know. Here – and here. All over. And things can just happen – you know, I was going down the, oh you know, where you take your shopping – the escalator, the escalator, and I just felt something sharp, tugging at me, and I didn’t know what it was, and you know it wasn’t particularly painful or anything, but I just had this feeling, and when I got home, I was bleeding, all down my leg…’ Here eyes glittered and her voice was charged with wonder. I thought it might be a good state in which to pass out of this world, a little stunned, and curious about what you might be suffering.

pretentieux, moi?

The film Supersize Me has at least motivated me to get off my butt for a bit, to dust off the old pedo and get moving. Just back from a 75 minute walk, required to get my steps up to over 10,000 by 8pm tonight.

I first put the pedo on at about 8.30pm last night, so I vowed to measure my steps at 8pm the following night. That time is now, and I’ve managed 10023, but only because of this lengthy walk, because at about 6.30pm I noticed I was still down in the four thousands. I’ve also more or less skipped dinner – ate a toasted chicken and cheese sanny, courtesy of Sarah. Still too much bread, and no greens. Peckish after the walk, might chop up a banana and an apple, with yoghurt. I’m trying. Of course it’s what I don’t put down here that really counts.

All of which reminds me that one of my favourite books is Rousseau’s ‘Reveries of a solitary walker’ – now how might I try my hand at an updated version of this sort of lightsome romantic gush?

Quand le soir approchait , je descendais des cimes de l'île et j'allais volontiers m'asseoir au bord du lac sur la grève dans quelque asile caché ; là le bruit des vagues et l'agitation de l'eau fixant mes sens et chassant de mon âme toute autre agitation la plongeaient dans une rêverie délicieuse où la nuit me surprenait souvent sans que je m'en fusse aperçu. Le flux et le reflux de cette eau, son bruit continu mais renflé par intervalles frappant sans relâche mon oreille et mes yeux suppléaient aux mouvements internes que la rêverie éteignait en moi et suffisaient pour me faire sentir avec plaisir mon existence, sans prendre la peine de penser. De temps à autre naissait quelque faible et courte réflexion sur l'instabilité des choses de ce monde dont la surface des eaux m'offrait l'image : mais bientôt ces impressions légères s'effaçaient dans l'uniformité du mouvement continu qui me berçait, et qui sans aucun concours actif de mon âme ne laissait pas de m'attacher au point qu'appelé par l'heure et par le signal convenu je ne pouvais m'arracher de là sans effort.

Somehow an hour of pavement-pounding through Oz suburbia doesn’t quite get me there. Nice roses but.

Monday, October 24, 2005

a possible conversation starter

Today’s ESL conversation class was a bit dithery and under-prepared. Two new students, from Korea, but the three elderly Chinese people took the day off. A pity, they’re real live wires. So I ended up with a much younger group, four Koreans and a Japanese. Did some brief exercises around household items, moving from room to room, then moved outside, into the garden. Talked about herbs and vegies, somehow got onto native animals, cane toads, redback spiders, and of course cooking. Chatted about a few places of interest in SA and Oz generally, sounded quite the traveller – if they only knew. Anyway, next week, I’ll actually find them something to read – something exotic like the Tasmanian tiger, I’m thinking.

technicus horribilis

Wasting far too much time on the technical side of this stuff, with precious few results. Have spent ages trying to develop ‘expandable summaries’ as they’re called, just because I needed one (I felt) for my (unfinished) Chalmers review, below. Finally managed to get the ‘read more’ thing working, but now it’s confusingly at the bottom of every post, in spite of the promise of ‘conditional formatting’ or whatever. I’ll nut it out eventually I suppose.

Have reluctantly put the clock right.

would you buy a used car from this kid?

I still consider myself a foster-carer, in spite of my indefinite suspension due to this nasty allegation, and so issues of child abuse, society and the law always tweak my attention, both because of what has been done to me and for broader fostery reasons.

So I was very interested to hear criminologist Caroline Taylor being reported on the ABC news as claiming that child abuse isn’t being prosecuted as it should, and that children’s concerns aren’t being sufficiently believed and acted upon. Having listened to the audio of, among other things, Taylor’s own experience of having been abused as a child, both by a family member and later by the legal system, I can understand her frustration with the law. However, I’m naturally seeing things from another perspective. It’s a fraught area and I for one would endorse the idea of setting up a specialist court, especially if it brings about a speedier and more focused process. These numerous adjournments and delays must be particularly distressing for teenagers, assuming they’re exposed to the process at all.

In my case, the most frustrating thing about it is that, if the adversarial approach was jettisoned, and everybody – lawyers, foster-carers, parents, social workers, police, agency reps, medical staff, previous carers – were brought together to actually ascertain the truth behind this allegation, it would probably be resolved in a matter of hours, or a few days at most. As it is, my lawyer has prepared me for an end-date to this piece of preposterousness, some two years hence. But of course there are lots of cases besides mine, and everybody’s very very busy…

There's also a worry about databases, so regularly mooted. Who goes on the database - convicted child abusers or the merely accused? It's a delicate area - what's called child abuse can range from the egregious and sickening to borderline cases which might simply involve misunderstanding, cases where the likelihood of re-offending is small. My own current situation makes me worry about the witch-hunt mentality, naturally.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

a nice view of science

I’ve had it in the back of my mind to do a comprehensive review of What is this thing called science? by A F Chalmers, so as to try to get clear in my own head what science means to me and what I think of the positions Chalmers critiques (those of Lakatos, Popper and Feyerabend in particular). It’s already been some weeks since I read the book, and I feel a bit daunted by the task. Also, I haven’t had many clear spaces of time to get stuck into it.

The treatment by Catalyst the other day of the ‘Intelligent Design’ controversy – unsurprisingly, they pretty well endorse the view that ‘it’s not science’ – makes the question of what actually makes for science a little more urgent. Not that it’s up to me to provide the answer, but I must try to satisfy myself at least.

I first read What is this thing called science? in 1980, at a time when I was dabbling in philosophy far more frequently than I do now. It was a seminal book for me, making me an instant expert on the problem of induction, the flaws of falsificationism, and the dangers inherent in the relativism promoted in their different ways by Kuhn (the sociologists’ favourite) and Feyerabend. Having just reread it twenty-five years on (in its original edition, not the apparently expanded later edition shown here), I think I’ve gotten a lot more out of it this time around.

One not-very-flash reviewer has described the book as solid but uninspiring. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I think the book’s extraordinary sales testify to its impact on and interest for a great many individuals, as it’s not entirely an easy read - though it successfully avoids the abstruse. I can only really write of its appeal for me. For a start, it was a book that not only explained but tackled the major themes in philosophy of science. As another critic wrote, it’s very much a sceptic’s primer, so if you’re a combative type he provides plenty of material to use as ammunition.

The first chapters of the book deal with the inductive logic-type view of scientific understanding, a view which is still – and will perhaps always be – the popularly accepted view of how science works. Basically, this involves generalising from specifically observed ‘facts’ to create rules or scientific laws. Chalmers hammers home convincingly enough the theory-ladenness of our apparently innocent observations, which, together with the old problem of induction highlighted by Hume, renders naïve inductivism – well, just too naïve.

Chalmers then argues that a more sophisticated inductivist would wish to point out that, though it might be true that our observations only make sense as coming out of some more or less implied theory, there must be some sense in which the theory has been drawn from observation. At least, even if the theory is produced through some extraordinary intuition or stroke of genius, it must be supported and validated by observation. The difficulty here is obvious – that observations in turn depend upon theory and are never ‘innocent’.

Chalmers ‘finishes off’ inductivists by claiming that, though they may find ingenious ways to evade the criticisms directed at them from the perspective of the problem of induction and theory-dependence, their program is a degenerating one. Inductivism reached a dead end, more or less, with the logical positivists.

Chalmers next deals with the falsificationism of Karl Popper. This is a highly controversial area, with most current supporters of Popper’s ideas claiming that to call him a falsificationist misses the point, and subtlety, of his position. I’m not competent to wade into this matter, so I’ll deal here only with Chalmers’ characterisation of Popper’s views.

Science develops through a series of conjectures and refutations. Certainly all observations are theory-dependent, but there comes a time, with the growing technical sophistication of methods of observation and the accumulation of contradictory and confusing data, when current theory starts to feel the strain of observational pressure. New conjectures are required to account for the otherwise unaccountable. Almost of necessity these must be bold and imaginative, but once put forward they must be rigorously tested. They must withstand every effort to refute them.

However, such conjectures or hypotheses must be of such a nature that they can be refuted, or falsified. Examples of unfalsifiable statements include those that are necessarily true (by the definitions of terms), those that are all-inclusive (of the type ‘either x or not x’), and those (statements or hypotheses) that don’t carry any clear information, so that no statements clearly contradict them. Unsurprisingly, it’s this latter category that’s most controversially cited. With it, Popper tried to rule out the truth-claims of Marxists and astrologers, inter alia.

ye olde case againne

One thing I’ve observed through my arrest and trial is that both the police and the legal profession have ‘insider cultures’, though they’re each quite distinct. What they have in common of course is their exclusion of precisely those people whom, you might say, it’s their purpose to serve. Not surprisingly, the exclusion practised by the police is more brutal and blatant, whereas that practised by the courts gives the impression of being almost an oversight, a sort of avuncular forgetfulness. I’ve made three or four court appearances so far, and my presence has been completely superfluous. It’s all rather ghostly.

Friday, October 21, 2005

in chancery: some dispiriting legal plodding

Well, after a jaunty enough beginning, I’ve fallen into a heap again, and it already looks as if my blog’s title’s too ambitious. Weekly, perhaps?

Excuses: bronchitis, engagement with and avoidance of housing co-op work, child-minding, the community centre, and a dispiriting conversation with my lawyer about a crazily serious case against me that stutters along from adjournment to adjournment.

On the latter: I’ve been advised by the lawyer not to talk about the case to anyone (within reason). This seems to be standard legal advice. I suppose this also accords with the awfulness of my alleged crime (for example my name is one of the very few that’s suppressed on the court lists, which brings home to me the scariness of it all), but it’s also very natural, when you’re accused of something as outrageous as this, to want to tell everyone about it, perhaps to try and offload a burden that you feel you don’t deserve to have to shoulder. I mean, I’ve always been of the belief that if something bad happens to you you should blame yourself, if at all possible, but, though I’m sure I could’ve and should’ve handled a few things differently, nobody could’ve predicted that this boy would make this claim, or that I would be arrested and charged on the basis of this boy’s story, without any investigation, or without any evidence as far as I’m aware.

I have to be very careful with matters sub judicae, especially as I’m now writing under my own name, but I don’t believe I’m in contempt of court or anything. I’ve checked this out as far as I’m able, but even so I’ll be cautious, and I’m certainly not going to name names.

I’m dispirited because, at the September adjournment, the DPP’s representative was heard to say to the judge that the case ‘may be withdrawn’. With my usual naïve optimism I interpreted this as meaning that the case would definitely be withdrawn, probably at the next court date. The adjournment in September was due to the DPP rep wishing to obtain a report on the mental health of the plaintiff. I wasn’t sure if this was a delaying tactic or what, but I didn’t think they’d get much info one way or another. I arrived at the October hearing, just over a week ago, fairly confident that this would be my last appearance, but the DPP rep told the judge that she’d just received the report and needed time for deliberation. Another adjournment, to November. And now, a conversation with my lawyer to the effect that the report on the boy’s mental health suggests that there are ‘no problems’, and that there’s no indication that the prosecution will withdraw.

Naturally, all this considerably dampens my spirits, but I have to bear in mind that my lawyer, presumably for professional reasons, tends to cast matters in the poorest possible light. Still plagued by optimism, I’m convinced that it’s a matter of when the prosecution withdraws, rather than if. And when the prosecution at last withdraws, then at last I’ll be free to pursue the meagre courses available to me to obtain just a little bit of justice for myself.

Monday, October 17, 2005

eccentricity made easy

I’ve just noticed that the posting times at the bottom of each of these entries is a bit surprising. I’m reluctant to correct the clock though, as it makes me seem more interesting, perhaps.

bitter with age

It’s hot suddenly, a few days ago I was putting on the a-c for the heat, today I was tempted to put it on for the cooling, it’s the battle for total control.

And speaking of control, I did a spot of weeding in the front garden today. My aim is to pull 50 weeds a day. Numbers are an important part of my life, which always needs reducing.

I pulled out quite a few dandelions (taraxacum officinale), using a trowel to dig out those long stubborn roots. Of course Debra, who apparently isn’t blessed with dandelions on her property, often speaks enviously of them and reminds me of their culinary uses, but am I ever going to exploit them? Well, never say never.

Here, for my own benefit, is Mrs Grieve’s advice on the consumption of dandelion. The young leaves are a pleasant addition to salads. Avoid older leaves, they become bitter with age. Young leaves make delicious sandwiches, with butter and a little salt. And try adding lemon juice and or pepper. Tear the leaves to preserve the flavour. It’s often preferable to blanch them. They can be used to make a simple vegetable soup. You can also boil them like spinach leaves. The root can be ground up or grated and added to salads.

There’s much much more, including dandelion wine, and medicinal uses. Thank you Mrs Grieve, you’re a mine of information, and I’ve merely glanced down the shaft. I’ll be back to visit your herbal, I’m sure.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

my oscar

Oscar Wilde is 150 and everybody Irish and otherwise is saying HB to him and blowing kisses and winking and smiling and raising a glass and wetting an eye. For me I can say that Oscar taught me to love youth, which I still and ever will do, and to relish the wearing of a mask.

Up yours, matey.

through a glass, darkly

I’m not finding the time to write much about my life. I’ll try again.

I’ve been getting up quite early, always before eight, usually after a spot of morning reading. I didn’t read this morning though.

On reading, I’ve been doing a lot less of it lately, since I got my new specs, about two years ago. I think the optometrist got it wrong when he tested my eyes and prescribed the new lenses. I find the old lenses better for reading, but the other night in bed, when as usual I tried unsuccessfully to stay awake and alert for a spot of reading (Proust, which doesn’t always help), I tried reading without glasses at all. I had to hold the book closer to my eyes, but it worked. I could see much more clearly than with glasses. For a while anyway, before I went cross-eyed.

I was moved by this experience. It took me back to my teen years, back before I wore specs, which I’ve been doing now for thirty years or more. The intimate contact between my eyes and the page, unmediated by glass or plastic lenses, was my first, or almost my first, since I read Thomas Hardy novels, back to back, morning to night, as a sixteen-year-old. Instead of earning an honest living. Or going out and living, with girls.

So I should stop wearing glasses, for reading. The idea of doing eye-strengthening exercises also occurred to me, but no, I should know I’d never have the motivation to keep that up. So why do these things keep occurring to me?

pavlov's cat