Tuesday, December 10, 2019

How sure are you?

How sure are you?

Step in front of a fast moving train and there’s a more than fair chance you’ll not survive to tell the story of why you were dumb enough to step that way.
In fact, if you suggested such I thing to a friend, they’d consider any anticipation  on your part they might survive with some measure of scepticism. And who could blame them?

There seems to be some things we can always rely on: the Sun rising and setting, taxes, death at some point, rising prices, and the applications of Murphy’s Law to name a few.

But there are some things we can’t guarantee. Conception, for example. In spite of the effort we put into achieving fertilisation of ova with sperm and the disproportionate amount of sperm cells the male delivers to the ova, it’s still a bit of hit and miss. 

Increasing the chances of a version of a particular event occurring is often sought. In the case of conception the male might gain access more than once, the female might secure the sperm in a number of ways, an appropriate time is chosen for delivery of the semen, or, in the case of reducing the risk, a prophylactic might be used. Among some, a wish, hope or prayer might be employed either way, fertilisation under supervision is now a thing, and, as always the exuberant youths will always keep their fingers crossed instead of their legs.

All this assures us of only one thing: nothing is certain in love and war.

Mathematically, chance can be calculated, sometimes with a great deal of precision, which does seem a contradiction in principles. For example, according to motor vehicle statistics, there is a one in four chance of a motor cyclist between the ages of 18 and 25 of having a significant accident in any one year. The insurance companies and regulators use such figures to make rules and laws in an effort to reduce the probability of a payout or death.

Making a prediction on anything is prone to dispute if not done efficiently. With the kind assistance of Thomas Bayes the task has been made simpler with his rather sobering yet utilitarian Theorem stated thus:


For those who recognise it, they will also be familiar with its importance in all sorts of things including current predictions on climate change and stock market evaluations to name just two. For those who are baffled, fear not. You’ll still loose on the pokies just the same.

In spite of some knowledge on probability and it’s determination there are a number of things that puzzle me about chance and predictions that few will admit to understanding and none have explained to me in a satisfactory manner.

 Let’s say there’s a more than fair chance it might rain tomorrow. I dress accordingly, venture out, and return as dry as I left. Not a drop of rain fell. What happened? How wrong could the weather man be, and how inconvenient?
When I was told by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) I was assured there would be an 80% chance of rain. The result of the days precipitation was that there was none. What BOM should have said was there would be no rain where I anticipate walking.
Then, in an effort to get it right tomorrow I once again ask BOM to tell me how to dress when I venture out. They suggest, with a great deal of confidence, it will not rain.
Guess what? I get wet within minutes of leaving my door mat.
When challenged on these inaccuracies their response is quite predictable yet equally puzzling

Dear Mr Dinning.
Thank you for your enquire on our methods of prediction.
We do not predict weather; we determine probability of events based on current measurement and historical statistical data.
For yesterday’s weather, we determined that there would be a less than 5% chance of rain in your vicinity. We can only determine this probability with a certainty of 40%. 
We suggest you prepare yourself for all possibilities during this season as weather forecasting is not 100% accurate, except in retrospect.
 Yours sincerely
Chief meteorologist
Darwin BOM

So, my question is: Why do we have prediction in the first place? Most circumstances can be reduced to two possibilities: right or wrong, left or right, up or down, in or out, good or bad, plus or minus, yes or no. There are more complex issues with more than two possibilities but the ‘one way or the other’ approach seems to take care of most situations.

As my Old Man would say: “If you make a wrong turn along the way, you’ll surely turn up somewhere and it may well be a better place”.

But we fret when there is more than one possibility. Our greatest anxieties often have their origins in choice. We want to be sure. We want a particular outcome. We demand the right answer. We expect predictability. We want to be sure about the one thing we can’t ever be sure about:  the future.

I flip a coin or role a dice, play eeny-meeny miny-mo, read the cards or tea leaves in order to detach myself from any decision making. I don’t trust my own judgement so I place a great deal of faith in a process assumed more reliable that I could ever be.
Giving away our responsibility amounts to the suggestion that we don’t like to be wrong. We are under a misconception that it is better to place our decision making in someone else’s hands than to make a fool of ourselves. How foolish we might seem when we venture out on a sunny day with an umbrella clearly displayed for all to deride. How humiliating an adolescent might feel when explaining to her indignant parents how she got pregnant.

“But, mum, we only did it once!”

We might then wonder if once is enough; or never enough.

For most of us ‘fair to meddling’ seems to be adequate and ‘just in case’ takes care of most situations where probability and chance are playing their hand. It might be wise to be prepared for any possibility, although this seems a bit excessive. Betting on every horse in a race will secure you a winner but to what end? After all, there can only be one winner. Unfortunately, the likelihood that your horse will be first past the post is what keeps the thrill in the chase and the money in the bookies bag.

For me, I’ll always take the path of least resistance, expect nothing and be grateful when I am surprised. For any outcome is a bonus, even if it turns out to be nothing at all.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Sex and other indeterminants.

“It’s a boy,” the midwife exclaimed.

My mother seemed content with that. She trusted the nurse to know the difference. My father would also be content. Two girls seemed enough for one family.

Back then there were some genetic tests to establish gender but mother seemed to rely on the good faith of the medical staff. How could anyone mistake a male baby from a female baby?

I didn’t discover my own gender until my arms grew long enough and I developed the fine motor skill necessary to grab things.

“Leave your Willy alone, Tommy. It’ll fall of if you keep playing with it”, was the concerned demand of my overly concerned mother.

“If god had meant for us blokes not to play with our willies he’d have made our arms shorter”, announced my father. Being an atheist he only used god as leverage when addressing my catholic mother. Irrespective of the biblical reference  my mother was not impressed.

“Do all men do that? And for their entire lives?” she asked.

I discovered in due course that my elder sisters didn’t have a willy. Had theirs  fallen off, I wondered? I didn’t want to turn into a girl so I stopped stretching the one thing I could rely on for a good grip; for a day or two.

Most information I learnt about gender was from my school mates. As unreliable as it was, it was all I had to work with. I leaned that boys were supposed to like girls, girls were nice to look at, dressed differently, didn’t have willies from birth and were nice to kiss.

I didn’t like my sisters, not all girls were nice to look at, they did dress differently but their attire also appealed to me from time to time, and although I enjoyed a kiss from my mother I couldn’t really understand why I would share that pleasure with a stranger. I certainly didn’t like it when my aunt kissed me. She left lippy all over my forehead. And I wouldn’t kiss my sisters if my life depended on it. 

As I aged I discovered that some girls appealed to my senses. They smelled pleasantly different, their voices were softer, they spoke of different matters, they walked with a stride I couldn’t mimic yet found fascinating. I began to enjoy their company. 
I still disliked my sisters and avoided their company at all cost.

My mates seemed somewhat obsessed with girls by the time I reached my teens. I was still unsure of what was expected so I followed their lead. It seemed that following girls around, teasing them, performing like pimple-faced dorks, singled out one girl for a time to apply affections and receive kisses in return was standard procedure and protocol for a cool teen male of any consequence.
Unfortunately, such behaviour on my part proved totally inadequate. A good thing really, as I still had little idea of why there was a need for another gender.

During those teen years I discovered there were some of my mates who had no interest in girls. So much so that chose to group together and only show interest in each other. There were times when I thought this might be a safer, at least more productive, option but I was warned against such a move. Apparently these  boys were considered ‘effeminate’, yet they seemed to have easy access to the very girls my mates perused.
Such is the obfuscation of teen life for a boy.

By the time my teens were coming to a close I was troubled with an infuriating infliction: my willy had become a full blown penis and was committed to embarrassing me at every moment. At the same time, possibly coincidentally or causal, I had been thrust into a situation where males where outnumbered by females at an alarming proportion; about 1 in 20. Strangely enough I nor my penis had absolutely no objection to this ratio. In fact I thrived on it, more so because the females took extraordinary notice of my presence and the once but no longer embarrassing demonstration of my manhood.

At this point of my life I finally understood the importance of gender and how it’s relevance could affect my well being. It seemed simple: look at females, find one that looked back, pay intimate attention to female’s needs, perform appropriate male duties, indulge in sexual intercourse, have children (male and/or female). This process, if indulged in by enough of my mates would ensure the continued  of the human race.
I was happy to oblige.

Through adult life my actions seemed to be well accepted and acknowledges. I was ‘normal’. But I wondered about my mates who thought differently about girls and boys; the ones who seemed to be at the butt end of jokes and name calling. How was their life now? 
It turned out they formed relationships as well; with those of the same gender. Now I know it wasn’t generally accepted in the current climate and it wasn’t going to result in the birth of children but they seemed not to be overly concerned with any of this. It seemed that their relationship with another male was as satisfying as mine was with my wife at the time, a demonstrable female if there ever was one.

I also discovered there was a female counterpart to what my mates referred to as ‘poofs’ but were now referred to a ‘gay’, a suitable title I thought since most seemed to imitate the flamboyant character of Quentin Chrisp, an animated and chipper persona as you would meet in a long march.
As Quentin once said: “Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne.”

I’m not sure whether lesbians became more fashionable at the time or I just started to notice them once they had been pointed out. Previously known among friends as ‘butch’ women, I assumed they were just the more robust of the gender until I came across a couple of  said women kissing on a late train out of Central Station on one Friday evening in July. 
“What the fuck are you staring at?” called the more masculine of the couple, although she still maintained a distinct feminine charm that would not have gone unnoticed in a street full of builders labourers.
“Eh, nothing really. I was admiring the strength of your relationship with your friend. I find it quite heartening.”
Both women looked at me with surprise in their eyes and mouths agape.
“Thanks, mister,” the other woman added and they returned to their facial contact with gusto.

It seems a shame that such people as gays and lesbians have been isolated from mainstream society for so long. My thinking is that the isolation has been brought about by mistrust, ignorance, religious persecution, stereotyping, intolerance to differences and a lack of experience with such people. Even the idea that they are ‘such people’ places them outside the general perception of what is normal behaviour.
I recall those at school who were just like me; finding their way in a very confusing world yet going with what felt right for them and mixing with those who had common interests.

But like all good wagons, there’s nothing like a band on board to draw the attention of fringe dwellers. Those who could not find a place within the current categorisation of humans in the general population began to ‘come out’ as they called it. There was a need for these people to present themselves in the face of current acceptance of the Lesbian and Gay community.
There were those who could go either way, both ways, or no way at all. There were those who just took their preferences day by day, even hour by hour, those who had no choice from birth and those that were specifically gender different through a mishmash in the fertilisation process. Then there were those who simply liked to play the part.
Although these variations seem, on the surface, to be superficial, strange and unacceptable to many, they do exist. Their origin may be genetic, physiological or psychological. But so is my gender.

I should point out at this point that gender and sexual preference are not the same.
I know know enough to clearly state that my sex is male. I have XY as my 45th and 46th chromosome. My gender preference is to be male. My sexual partnerships preference is with females. I don’t expect everyone to know that. It’s important that I know it.

But I remain confused, much like I was when I was a teen. I don’t understand a great deal about the new perspectives on gender. I can’t get my vocabulary around the possibilities of gender pronouns. I’m totally lost as to how I am supposed to tell one from the other.

Now I don’t fit. Then again, perhaps I never did. I felt out of place with my mates behaviour towards girls. I like the friendship of women more than I like the mate-ship of blokes. I have on a number of occasions been mistaken for a gay male, or at the least effeminate. But that’s just me being me.

Isn’t that the way we all act? We present to the world what we want others to see and understand. We are often judged by others based on their standards and beliefs, not our own. We also judge others poorly. We get it wrong often. 

At the end of the day we can only take people for what they are. If they do us no harm we can fully accept them as we might with anyone else we meet. 

My school mate, Ronny, once informed me he had punched a bloke in the nose because the bloke had made a pass at him.

Some years later, while shopping for breakfast cereal in a local supermarket I was approached by a pleasant young man who wondered if I might come home with him to share his breakfast. I declined but thanked him for the offer. I was flattered that he would ask.

I certainly hope times have changed and we can value the difference  all humans contribute to our societies.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Are you sure?

How sure can you be ..... of anything, really?
A lack of confidence is seen as a sign of character weakness.
Yet we shake the dice and place our money cautiously upon the table.
The game is played out. When we win we celebrate our prediction. When we lose we curse the luck played on us.
The ride is shaky. I hang on, fingers crossed. Others around me wait for a fall. There is no entertainment in safety, in security, in knowing. One must take risks to please the crowd.
I am never sure .... of anything. Despite my confidence, I will fall. Somewhere.
Don’t laugh. I tried.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What are the chances?

XX or XY
Open in or out.
Rain or dry.
An early flight.
Left or right.
Hate or like.
Win a prize.
Die overnight.
Wrong or right.
Flip the coin
Play the cards
Place your bet
Throw the dart hard
No confidence
Try again
What is the chance
Pink rabbit dance.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Finding our way.

Most organisms find their way by chance.
The chance sighting of some food, the chance of pheromones entering the sense organs, the chance of rain for germination, the chance of flying before dying. Even the chance on which we are all born form the genes of our parents.
Humans, on the other hand, believe they can remove chance from their existence. Prediction, possibilities, forecasting, future analysis, investment, prognosis; all suggest we can, in some way, know what is coming.
And when we fail we are surprised, shocked, disappointed, even offended by the ignorance of those who could not see the future.
Then we reflect. Where did we go wrong? What can we learn? What do we need to change? What might have been?
There is the lesson. We stand on the path and that’s as far as we can see ahead of us. We can look back and see how we got here. That is a fact. What lies ahead is chance.
Throw the dice now. Tomorrow the result will be different. Walk the path but never be sure of where you will end up. Take the surprise as a gift. That’s all we can do.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Posthumous postings

In the clear light of day I see .... well, things I missed while I was alive and ..... well.
I recently read a book called Why Photographs can be Blurry. 
This was no revelation although, in the light of the local art gallery exhibition it might have been a contradiction. There I witnessed at first hand and eye, a collection of sharpness and acuity that baffled me.
Why, you might ask?
Because they displayed the bleeding obvious. Replicas of the usual suspects with the intent of imitation. They were so sharp they hurt my eyes.

Now I want to hurt yours.

Over the next weeks you will see photographs of what I see. They are not for your liking. They are a demonstration of what one might find if they take the trouble to look.

I will make comments where necessary. Feel free to do the same.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Learning to Swim

The fishing boat rises and falls on the turbulent blue-black sea.
One moment I see it, riding high.
The next it is barely visible. I wait for it to return
It seems as if the man is drowning.
Not screaming, just quietly accepting his fate
Because he didn't learn to swim.
A strange decision for a man in a boat at sea.

He places his success at what he does in the hands of his god.
He learned from his father, as his father did his. That seemed enough.
Up until now, his skills were sufficient. A strike from a stick from his father ensured he listened. 
A soft word from his grandfather reinforced his faith.
Perhaps a caress from rope burned hands and moral support from a broken back.
Up until now, he has been rewarded. A regular catch most days, enough to feed on and sell at the market.

Now he is to blame. The net is empty, his children hungry.
He searches the past for his mistakes, his wrongdoings, his sins from which no redemption came.
He beat his wife once too often and too hard.
He over-priced his catch or sold yesterday’s fish today.
A man must provide. He must be strong. 
Now he feels the weakness of his age.
His god is his only guidance now. Provide or be punished. The law is simple. It is the gospel of the enslaved. 

Now he feels the chill of the sea at his feet. His life is leaking away.
He sits and waits. God will come. God is his only hope.
A wave catches his breath. He chokes, tastes the salt, he feels the sting in his soul.
He hears his wife cry. His son is gone some years, drowned as he would, on a lonely sea. The sea is unforgiving. The waves drown the sounds of sorrow. The sea is its own god, answerable to no one. As deep and cold as any part of nature.
He calls for his son, his father, his god.
There is no answer. He knows there is no answer. 

The last wave comes. 
The fisherman casts his last bait into the Black Sea below.
He feels the tug of the deep and he resists momentarily.
He opens his eyes and sees the end. It is quiet and welcoming for him now.
There is no more anguish, no pain of living, just the joy of having lived, of knowing what life is and does.
He closes his eyes and mind against the currents of thought that brought him here.
He says goodbye to his maker and stops breathing.

The sea continues to move under the lifeless body. Fish gather and feed. Nothing remains now except the memories of others. 
Today he will be the reward for the fisherman of the sea. Him not them; the others, the survivors, the ones that learned to swim.

How sure are you?

How sure are you? Step in front of a fast moving train and there’s a more than fair chance you’ll not survive to tell the story o...