Change & Adaptation

I've always thought my brain was a fairly useful part of my anatomy.

But since my climbing accident last year, I've gained an increased awareness of the ways in which it is quite unreliable.

So, an article in this week's New Zealand Listener grabbed my attention immediately. It was a plug, under the guise of an interview, (and by whom, I don't recall) for a recent book by New York University professor Gary Marcus. The New Scientist reviewed it here earlier this year. The main point seems clear enough: the brain was not so much designed, as cobbled together, using a kiwi "number 8 wire" method, with whatever was at hand.

In a word, the brain is a kluge [rhymes with deluge].

Here's an example of one (from his blog).

Although it isn't elegant, it works – more or less! It certainly isn't the solution you'd come up with if you started from scratch.

It's a word which now seems indispensable!

My life is a bit of a kluge. One bit gets added on to the previous bit and I try to fit it all together with a careful narrative that is flexible enough to accommodate various about-turns!

So, we're moving up to Fox Glacier soon. I decided to apply for a position at Fox Glacier School, equivalent to the one I have here at Jacobs River, and was offered the job last week. It's a sudden change in some ways, but one which has obvious benefits for me professionally, and for us as a family.

Something that surprises me is how, no matter what decision I make, I usually find a way of justifying it to myself. It's one of those unreliable things about the brain!



The stork outside our house attests to the contribution we've made to our small community. The future of the school at Jacobs River is in doubt because of low numbers of children and the next closest school, at Fox Glacier, is hardly bursting at the seams. So, babies are especially celebrated here. And rightly so!

But throughout the world, babies are born every second. About 4 and a quarter babies per second, in fact! Mitigated by deaths, this equates to two and a half extra people on the planet each second. If you need a sobering reminder of just how fast the world's population is increasing, visit this live counter.

Remote as we like to think we are in South Westland, we're certainly not isolated from the rest of the world. Even here, I notice the effects of population growth. People from other parts of the world come here in increasing numbers, hoping to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. As a result, the village of Fox Glacier that I first visited 10 years ago has changed markedly. People I meet continue to wonder how I can possibly live anywhere so small but, to me, some parts of the village have taken on a distinct suburban feel. (I don't dare point out to them that I actually live in another, much smaller, settlement!) The latest, shameful, addition to the village's growing list of motels is a collection of fake Tuscan buildings, which have taken the place of the rainforested "Glow Worm Grotto". The sign outside says "We only look expensive".

This afternoon, I came across this video of my grandfather-in-law at home in Tacoma, Washington, answering a few questions about his book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. He first became sensitised to population pressure when he noticed the increased numbers of visitors to National Parks in Washington state. It's worth listening to him explain some of his thoughts on the matter.

Elsewhere, he makes the point that, although the Earth's human population hasn't reached the astronomical numbers Malthus might have feared, the situation is actually worse than he predicted. Because we consume at a greater rate than Malthus could have envisaged, we're using more resources than billions more of our predecessors might have. Which is why it's wrong to blame the Earth's problems on population growth in developing nations; we in the developed world use far more resources than they do, despite their greater numbers.

Incidentally, World Population Day is 11th July. Be sure to put it in your diary!


Global Philosophy

It turns out it's World Philosophy Day. I discovered this through the BBC, my source of most news.

It also turns out that David Bain lectures in Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. I can't comment on his jersey, but he provided these 4 philosophical brain teasers for the Beeb.

What I want to know is who decides what we celebrate each day of the year. ("I want to know" is rhetorical here; I don't want to know quite enough to be bothered googling it.)

It was World Teachers' Day not that long ago. My only colleague and I congratulated each other on being teachers. And that was it. Not a single card from the kids we teach. No flowers. No "Happy World Teachers' Day Mr Hattrell". We didn't even mention it to them.

I don't quite get the point of a dedicated day for teachers/philosophers/etc. What's it supposed to achieve? It's a bit like mothers' day and fathers' day. Maybe Hallmark will start producing "Happy Philosophy Day" cards! And who really believes that in every country of the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, these World [fill in the blank] Days are actually observed?

Now, as an earnest subscriber to the New Internationalist, I realise it's the International Year of Sanitation but who knew it was World Toilet Day on Wednesday (the 19th November)?

The NRDC (don't worry, I don't know what it stands for either) put out a press release about it, on the day, presumably one of many organisations who tried to spread the word. It must have got buried among other items, certainly not making into the "most emailed news stories" on my favourite news provider's website.

But apparently, “more than half of all girls who drop out of primary school in developing countries do so because they lack separate toilets and access to clean water.”

So that was one day I perhaps should have known about. Probably more worthy of global consideration than World Teachers' Day and even World Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day. And perhaps worth thinking about on World Philosophy Day. I'll just have to get one of those "Sorry I'm late" cards for it.


A Better Future...


Though I very much doubt it.

I woke up at 2 a.m. last night to find myself in Sebastian's room. I'd fallen asleep next to him when I was putting him to bed. That's how tired I am at the moment! I got up, crept into the study and checked the computer.

The little coloured icons on the auto-updating website had been shuffling around in a vaguely parliamentary formation since 7 o'clock and had finally settled. There were an awful lot of blue ones. A few more clicks revealed the precise details. I won't bore you with them. (They're here if you're interested.) But even the Labour Party representative for the West Coast had lost to his National Party opponent.

The 8 green icons were good news. That and Winston's demise. But two extra Greens aren't going to have much influence on policy, I'm afraid, despite their best intentions and their genuine concern with the future of our children and the planet we live on.

John Key promised a better future measured by the weight of our back pockets. Reducing taxes doesn't seen particularly visionary to me but it must be what people want. I'm just hoping that it's going to be a case of "plus ca change..."


Twilight of the Blogosphere

Apparently, "bloggers today are expected to write clever, insightful, witty prose to compete with Huffington and The New York Times".

That's according to this article by some chap called Paul Boutin.

Gosh! If that's the case, perhaps I should quit while I'm ahead, take his advice and "pull the plug" on my feeble attempt at a web log. Trust me to turn up at the party when everyone else is leaving! The cool cats these days twitter, flickr or facebook.

But you came to catch up with a friend. Not to listen to a journalist or a specialist of some sort. There's been no compulsion. I didn't clutter your inbox with a group email you hadn't asked for. No imposition. You're here because you feel like it. You dropped by in your own time, on your own whim.

So, I'll just try to be me

...and make it vaguely interesting.

How's that?


Alexander Olivier

Yesterday was almost surreal in its intensity.

The fact is that we now have a new addition to the family.

I hadn't imagined theatre to be such a busy environment.  Each of the dozen or so people seemed to have a role and knew exactly what they were expected to be doing, whereas I was merely able to stand and watch.  I was asked to cut the cord, but it was a symbolic gesture; the real cutting had already been done.

There was music, funnily enough.  As the newborn was snatched from his mother's belly, Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" played on the radio.  The music was turned off after that (to my relief).  However, it did seem to beautifully encapsulate this crazy complex world he has arrived into.

Te aroha o te mamae.


The waiting game

- Still waiting for the big event.

- Which big event?  In your part of the world, that would be a live gig at the Fox pub!

- No, bigger than that!

- So, a rock festival in some boggy West Coast paddock?

- No, you're on the wrong track - we're not expecting music.

- Oh, you're stressing about ERO!

- Hey does my whole life revolve around work?  (Actually, please don't answer that question, I get the point.)  No, it's bigger than that.

- The second coming?

- No, not messianic, as far as we know, and hopefully more imminent...


Starting out...

Just what the world needs: another blog!

Why exactly did I think it would be a good idea to have a blog?


I live in this crazily remote part of New Zealand (we don't even have a pub) and my friends are all over the place. And I'm so bad at keeping in touch with everybody, I won't have any friends left if I stay here too much longer! I've got do something to stay 'connected'.

Yeah, so nothing beats real face-to-face human contact. But any contact's got to be better than no contact. Aye?


if I can't just have you over for a cuppa...

if it's been a while since we went for a climb...
if I haven't spoken to you on the phone for a while...

...then this might be the best ersatz I can offer.

Oh well, we'll see what this becomes...