Spirit on the Spirit of Tasmania

Ok, so some people may know that my family and I were on the recent Spirit of Tasmania voyage that lost a man overboard.

I don’t want to sensationalise things, or try and make this a thing about myself, but after having this experience, I do want to say a couple of things on the subject.

One thing that I say to my son as often as I can when bad things happen is that I believe people are inherently good. It may be naive, but that is what I think. And I love the fact that this view gets vindicated so often; time and time again. Sure there are horrible examples of people doing terrible things, but these are the outliers, and I would argue that the bulk of humanity are good decent people.

So when the alarm sounded on-board last night, and people drifted drearily yet urgently toward the mass meeting at the rear of the Spirit of Tasmania, it would have been easy to imagine people being irritated, or annoyed at such an upset to their plans. But when people began to understand the nature of the situation, and that it was someone’s life possibly on the line it was amazing to see everyone come together in solidarity.

No one was complaining; no one appeared irritated. There was a solemn atmosphere as everyone’s thoughts were clearly with the man overboard, and the rescuers putting their lives at risk to help (one of whom was apparently injured).

People are inherently good.

What’s more, you hear a lot about people alleging our current selfie generation, and how people are all too keen to snap a photo, or click a button, rather than engage in something truly human. Yet when there were lights spotted out the windows, and people could see the rescue vehicles going about their job trying to provide essential assistance, there was no flurry of cameras, there were no extended arms trying awkwardly to get cameras far enough to include their owners faces in the frame. People were interested yes, people looked on, and passed on information to those around them. But it wasn’t selfish, it wasn’t for them; it was for others.

People are inherently good.

After nearly three hours sitting in our makeshift meeting area, when we would all have preferred to be sleeping in our undulating cabins, nary a complaint was heard. People were worried, people may have been scared, but they were nevertheless united in an understanding that no matter what inconvenience might have befallen us that night, it paled in comparison to whatever was taking place on the roiling seas below, and the impact it would have on other peoples lives.

People are inherently good.

In those seas below was yet another sign of people lending a hand. Two freighters joined the search, circling in a makeshift flotilla of hope. The second Spirit of Tasmania halted its journey back to Melbourne to lend a hand, and remained there until early this morning. The crew had earlier asked for help in spotting the man in need of rescue, scores of hands rose instantly in the air.

People are inherently good, and though this was undoubtedly a terrible event, a horrible night on the Bass Strait that appears to ultimately have ended with a life lost. It nevertheless reinforced in my mind the fact that us humans are deep down a decent bunch. We care about others we don’t know, we are willing to put aside ourselves when others are in need, and we do it all instinctively.

People are inherently good.


Parental Guidance Recommended –Reflections on determining what’s suitable for my son

I went to the movies recently to see Marvels latest outing; Ant Man. I was thoroughly impressed with the film, but as I was watching it I noticed that a new thought process was taking place in the back of my mind. Not only was I suspending disbelief, and trying to keep track of plot lines, or character arcs (or as this was a Marvel film; keeping an eye out for Stan Lee); but I was also evaluating the films suitability for my son.

It was strange, as this wasn’t as intentional as it had been when my wife and I had gone to see Jurassic World recently. Being true to the 50% of his genome that I contributed toward, my son is a massive dinosaur nut, so when the latest addition to the Jurassic Park franchise was announced, he was naturally interested to go. I wasn’t so sure however, as though he is 9 years old now, he can still be sensitive to the content of movies.

So  knowing this, when recently he wanted to watch the original Spielberg Jurassic films I was sure to watch them along with him, and made sure he was aware of any possibly disturbing upcoming scenes. Yes we may be sheltering him a bit, but it seems preferential to be involved in his viewings of such things, rather than let them go into the wilderness alone and possibly see something potentially disturbing (as I did when an aunty hired Watership Down for me, thinking it was a kids film, and left me unattended to bear witness to the horrors within).

Indeed a lot of my thoughts on this stem from my own childhood. When I was a lad and attended the premier showing of Jurassic Park at the cinema, I was unduly terrified of what I might see, as I had read the book beforehand to prepare me. The thought of seeing Nedry’s intestines spilled into his hands, or Henry Wu’s ripped out of his body, kept my hands firmly placed over my eyes for all of the famous death scenes. No surprise then that years later when I rewatched it I was surprised at how tame the scenes were, and how much worse I had imagined them. But I still wanted to make sure that my son was properly prepared for what he was going to see. It is after all a PG movie, and I am the P, so might as well do the G.

So for instance when Nedry was going to be killed, I let him know; when a lawyer was going to have a bad time on the toilet, he was fully informed. He handled it all well enough; was amused at the demise of Genaro as so many are, and generally wasn’t fazed by the experienced (in a negative sense anyhow; he loved the film. Next stop: The Lost World.

Again I was cautious, because though you don’t see that much direct carnage in Jurassic Park, the fate of Eddie Carr in The Lost World seems far more graphic. Again I prepared my son, told him what would happen and so forth, he was willing and excited to see it, and after the Rexs had had their meal, he was relieved and all was well. So I figured, hey that’s good; worst part of the movie over.

I was wrong.

I gave cursory warnings for what was going to come. Raptors killing people in a field; all good. T-Rex chomping a guy through the waterfall; he can handle it. However I was a bit surprised when the lead up to Dieter’s death was interrupted by a distraught look on my sons face (my wife on the other hand was more on the ball). At first I thought he was reacting to the frightening visuals of a man being swarmed by a flock of tiny dinos, but it turns out he didn’t like the bit where Dieter grabbed one of the compys by the neck and appeared to be strangling it!

We had a similar start many years before when a strangulation scene in Journey To the Centre of the Earth affected Harry more than anything else had (he had even been fine with Donovan disintegrating into dust in The Last Crusade, and the Nazis heads exploding and such in Raiders of the Lost Arc). So after this movie experience was over, we started to get a better idea of the things that bothered him (the repeated stomping of Carter was likewise not well received).

Women getting strangled, animals getting hurt, and protracted death scenes seemed to be the main causes of concern.

So armed with this knowledge, and aware of his excitement at the release of Jurassic World, my wife and I decided to evaluate its suitability for him when we went to see it.

*Spoiler Alert*

It didn’t take us long to come to a conclusion; this was not for Harry!

Women getting strangled/protracted death scene; the demise of Gray and Zach’s minder seemed very excessive, and not the best thing for a young kid to enjoy (you are almost relieved when she is put out of her misery!). But more to the point; the heartbreaking scene of the Apatosaurus death was definitely something we didn’t want our son to get upset about.

He is a caring boy, and he gets emotional as a result; it is a quality that I admire in my son, though it can be hard to deal with some times (like for instance when he questioned the right that my wife and I had to kill a plant that was entangling our fence, and grieved its loss).

Harrison was not very pleased when we informed him that Jurassic World was not a movie he would be seeing at the cinema, but he has accepted our reasoning, and we are glad that he is able to understand the motivation behind it. Furthermore my wife found a junior novelisation of the film for him to read, and he tore through it with vigour.

In previous times when we had warned him at the graphic nature of some movies and shows he would seek to allay our fears us by saying stuff like ‘Nah I’m fine with that. I have watched a bunch of murder shows with Pops; it doesn’t bother me’.

First of all, by ‘murder shows’, he means stuff like Foyle’s War and Poirot. Secondly we explained to him that we don’t want him to be ok with stuff like murder, rather we want him to be able to process it appropriately. Again he generally understands our views with stuff like this and begrudgingly accepts our parental censorship.

Now then, before this post gets too out of hand; back to the initiator of this post: Ant Man.

Sitting in the cinema, I became aware of how much I was evaluating scenes in terms of whether it was suitable for Harrison. It wasn’t at the front of my mind; I wasn’t doing it on purpose, or spending the majority of my focus on it. But I did notice that after a scene had taken place, be it a fight, or a death, or a adultish joke; I would think to myself ‘Yeah I think that’s ok for Harrison’.

It is interesting to note how little mental processes like this begin to form when you become a parent.

For example, I like to swear a bit in my casual voice. I don’t think I am an overly explicit person, but I like the emphasis afforded to English’s most versatile word, and if someone like Stephen Fry can extol the virtues of using the odd swear word now and then, I think I am in good company.

“Swearing is a really important part of one’s life. It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing… There used to be mad, silly, prissy people who used to say swearing was a sign of a poor vocabulary -such utter nonsense. The people I know who swear the most tend to have the widest vocabularies and the kind of person who says swearing is a sign of a poor vocabulary usually have a pretty poor vocabulary themselves… The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest or -is just a fucking lunatic” – Stephen Fry on the joys of swearing

Nevertheless once my son got to an age where he would comprehend, and repeat words; it was clearly something that had to change. However I wouldn’t say that this change was an overly conscious decision; rather it just took place, and I noticed it at a later date. Suddenly I was like ‘Shit; you know what? I don’t swear that much at home anymore.’ Perhaps this is an easy switch to make, because I had already cultivated a mind that at a younger ages ensured that I didn’t swear around my parent, but still had sufficient four letter words when amongst friends.

At any rate, this was just a bunch of thoughts that entered my head recently, and I thought it might be interesting for anyone that has kids, or watches movies, or simply likes to read words online.

Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments; that’s why they are there.



*Spoiler Alert*

Oh, and for those wondering, the worst things you will see in Ant Man involve people, and in one case an animal, being shrunk down unsuccessfully to that all that remains is a small blob of flesh and blood coloured gloop.

Some thoughts on Kim Stanley Robinson’s work

Kim Stanley Robinson is the author who I would say has had the most influence on my life.

I got into his books when I was young enough that a lot of what I read I didn’t really understand. The psychological representations in Red Mars left me confused, the eco-economics and gift economy went over my head, the idea of social revolution, of building a new society free of the ‘straightjacket of history’ was fascinating, but much of the more complex themes in the book generally left my young mind perplexed (not to mention the sometimes very explicit sex scenes).

But I thoroughly enjoyed the book, enjoyed reading a science fiction story that felt more like a history book transported back in time from the future, and less like a fantastic tale of make believe. It felt real, and it was simply transformative. It helped me form a lot of the ideals and principles that still hold fast in my mind today. It gave me a way to see the world as an adult, when I was still just a kid.

Indeed it was only last year that I took it upon myself to read the Mars Trilogy again, and was shocked at how much of what I thought of the world seemed to have been ignited by that story over 19 years ago. Though while the Mars trilogy is by far my favourite of KSR’s tales, his other offerings have also left undeniable imprints on who I am.

The Science in the Capital series drew my attention to game theory, the idea of a paleo lifestyle, thoughts on how we could impact our world in opposition to climate change, and a better understanding of how other cultures ways of thinking could be incorporated into our own. It was also nice to have a protagonist who was an attentive father (which at the time I was attempting to become).

The Years of Rice and Salt was an eye opener in that it showed a world free of the cultural lens that I had viewed it through for most of my life. Reading an alternative history without a western civilisation, but still with tendrils of parallel events, experiences and social progress flowing within, helped me to understand history a bit better, and to seek out an understanding of how the world came to be as it is, and how those living at certain times may have faced the challenges of the world.

Overarching themes in Robinson’s works also embedded themselves in my mind.

My first exposure to Arab culture as a young man came through the Mars Trilogy, and then in a post 9-11 world it was fascinating to read about an Islamic world in The Years of Rice and Salt, and to be presented with compelling characters, thoughtful ideas, and a new way to view Islam; all much more interesting than the caricature of Muslims that became so prevalent in those years (and even now).

Forty Signs of Rain introduced us to a protagonist who liked to examine the world through the prism of the savannah, and the human races evolutionary origins; using game theory and sociobiological tools to understand how modern humans are a result of prehistoric human’s journey through time. Then Shaman completed the notion by giving us a first-hand account of how life may have been for those humans who were genetically so like us, but whose lives seems to disparate from what we consider a human existence today. So different, yet still so similar.

His novels are also interesting to me in that they offer me a chance to see the world through different eyes than a lot of other science fiction experiences (especially moves and TV) commonly available. Being a white male from a western society, it is easy to find characters I can seemingly identify with, but that connection always seemed so superficial. In Kim Stanley Robinsons works I was able to identify with characters from wildly different backgrounds than my own.

The Mars Trilogy gave me characters of different nationalities, as many books do, but it also eventually showed me people who have not only been born Martian, but perhaps more interesting; those that have become Martian. The Years of Rice and Salt has a cast of characters who not only seem to be reincarnated throughout history, but who are exclusively non-European. It has African, Arab, Asian and Native American protagonists in abundance. Shaman is populated by Stone Age characters, who seemingly have no corollary with today’s cultures, but nevertheless are distinctly human (except for the Neanderthal that is). And lastly 2312 introduced the post-human possibilities where people skewed both gender and family roles until it was almost unrecognisable from today’s terms.

But throughout it all they were very grounded characters; very human, and as such undeniably flawed. Just as they should be.

At any rate, I write this seemingly random fanboy post because Robinson’s new book Aurora was released a few nights ago. I had pre-purchased it on Amazon and spent the first few seconds after midnight repeatedly tapping the refresh button on my kindle until I had it firmly ensconced in the ones and zeroes of its digital storage.

I have read about 40% of it so far, and I have to say that though I am enjoying it, it does seem somewhat less optimistic than a lot of his other works, though I guess you have to push your characters down a few troughs before you can be suitably invested in them climbing back up the hill.

Strangely, the story only seems to feature one point of view character, though Robinson’s tendency to include interesting narrators for sections of his novels continues here. In the Mars Trilogy we had mythological Martian figures narrate sections, The Years of Rice and Salt had intermissions between characters set in the Buddhist afterlife (with appropriately weird narrations), Shaman even managed to have ones ‘third wind’ personified as a narrator. So I guess the fact that he utilises the ships computer (which has been tasked with constructing a narrative of the journey) to narrate a few chapters seems to make a bit more sense.

Kim Stanley Robinsons books are science fiction the way I like it; real.

I have a deep respect for science that perhaps wouldn’t have survived my transition from idealistic uni student, to pen pushing local government bureaucrat, were it not for the passion that these books ignited in me. I believe deeply that our planet, and other planets, and the environment, and so forth are an important part of who we are, and not just a resource to be used up.

Perhaps these books also have a deleterious effect on my opinions also. Maybe I am a bit too open to anarchism than I should be these days, because Arkady Bogdanov was such a charismatic figure. Perhaps I would be too willing to drop everything, grab my family, and jump on one of Elon Musk’s rockets to Mars, than caution would warrant. But really I would prefer to find an author who is able to inspire a passion and yearning for utopic ideas, than one who fails to create any such long lasting effect on my mind.



A Conspicuously Stellar Morning


This morning’s walk to work was nice.

Turning a corner I was struck by how bright the sun was. I know it’s a stupid thing, after all I see the sun every day (well this is Ballarat, so at least an approximation of the sun on some cloudy days). But nevertheless, it should be a mundane experience by now; to turn a corner and find yourself in the rays of our local star should not offer any new impressions. But today seemed somewhat different.

The sun was low in the sky. It was morning like I said. Low but brilliant. Streams of photons transferred their energy to me, ending their 499 light seconds travel through the inner solar system by increasing my skins temperature ever so slightly. It is an amazing thing to consider. I who is made of what once was a star, now absorb a new stars energy. An awesome cosmic experience.

The reason why I am describing this in such terms is because this morning the sun really felt like a star to me. Often we forget our true place in the solar system. Hurtling around a star which is in itself orbiting the centre of the galaxy, and so on as we were once told by Eric Idle. We forget these astronomical truths because we have evolved not only as a species, but also as a culture, with a set view of life on this planet. We adopt things like the curvature of the earth as a flat plane on which our experiences lie, and figure it the truth. Likewise, we talk of the sun rising, or setting, or moving in the sky, and somehow lose sight of the fact that it is our relative movement around the sun, and the earth’s rotation on its axis, that cause these illusory appearances.

Sure we know these as facts, but the quotidian nature of all this often numbs us to the reality.

“You realize the sun doesn’t go down,

 It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round” – The Flaming Lips

But something about the sun this morning, its place in the sky, its brilliance, seemed stellar. It seemed different than usual. More than just the light from above, more than just the thing that delineates day from night. The sun was suddenly there to me, in all its glory. A great ball of hydrogen and helium millions of kilometres away: A massive fury of nuclear reactions.

I think it was simply the position in the sky that did it. Usually you can walk around at ease without any actual view of the sun. We evolved it seems to focus on horizons, and on things close by; our primate ancestors needed this to be the centre of their visual world, because this was where the danger was most likely to come from (or where the good times would hopefully happen). So the sun, traversing its daily arc across the sky, simply wasn’t as important. Sure it may be in there, perhaps at the apex of your vision; but you don’t notice it.

When I turned that corner I couldn’t help but notice it. I had to squint. The sun isn’t that big in the sky really; you can blot it out with a thumb extended the length of your arm. But this mornings sun commanded my attention.

Maybe there was more to it than just the physical effects in order for such a humdrum thing to stick in my mind so. Maybe I am remembering this so vividly because of how it made me feel; because of my state of mind at the time. I don’t know. But on a dreary day, when you are walking away from your home to a job that you aren’t all that excited to be going to, the arrival of a literal ray of sunshine in your life can help change your perspective. it reminds you that the world isn’t just a machine to house the cog that is you; rather it is a world that you are living in. There are things out there greater than you, but you are alive to experience them; and that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I don’t know if this post has done much to interest anyone, or to convey the experience as I felt it, but a part of me was inspired and just had to write something.

Cheers. MM