Plato’s Cave and Days of Iron

Shameless self-promotion. It works for me.

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This is just a post to let everyone know that my second science-fiction novel, Plato’s Cave, is now out in paperback and is available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Platos-Cave-Russell-Proctor/dp/147930879X/ .

It’s actually sort of a blend of science-fiction and philosophy, with a bit of good-natured humour thrown in. The story was inspired by the cave of the same name detailed in Book 7 of Plato’s Republic, about our inability to understand the real world. Set in modern day Brisbane, Plato’s Cave details the adventures of Emily Charlotte Anne Branwell (yes, the Brontës), who wakes up with a shocking hangover one morning and finds that her horoscope is astoundingly accurate and she can walk through walls. On top of that, the contents of her house mysteriously vanish into some other dimension, leaving just one rather peculiar – and ultimately significant – houseplant.

But it’s when the otherwise blue November sky splits down the middle and reveals nothing but blackness beyond that Emily thinks she (and the Universe) might have a problem. Perhaps her search for meaning is going in totally in the wrong direction.

My other science-fiction novel, Days of Iron, is, of course, also still available at http://www.amazon.com/Days-Iron-Russell-Proctor/dp/1460934636/

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That one is about terrorism in the future. There are three species of human beings – two have been genetically engineered – who have spread out into the galaxy. One race, the Helots, have been bred as slaves. They begin a war of terror against Homo sapiens (the Sapes). The novel examines why people become terrorists, and whether it remains an option in the fight against oppression.

I am being interviewed this afternoon by Kevin Dawson on Global Talk Radio http://www.globaltalkradio.com/  about Plato’s Cave and a few other topics of interest.

You can also check out my books and other writings (or order copies) from my website at http://www.russellproctor.com/   

That is all.

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Crime and Punishment

There is ongoing controversy about the punishments handed out by Courts, especially to juvenile offenders. The Courier-Mail had something to say about this today:

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/teen-criminals-laugh-at-court-ruling-after-eight-month-crime-spree/story-e6freoof-1226586344837

But it’s not just offenders under 18. People are complaining that many offenders seem to be getting off lightly. The judges seem to be reluctant to hand out prison sentences, or anything at all like a “real” punishment.

There is some sense in their reluctance. Keeping someone in prison costs money, and the emphasis on punishment these days (at least here in Queensland) is rehabilitation rather than retribution. Both of those reasons make sense. Of course, really serious offenders may be exceptions to the rehabilitation rule, but surely teenagers just being immature and making mistakes should not have the full weight of the law thrown at them? Especially given that most of us could probably remember stupid things we did at that age and didn’t get caught for.

But it’s a complex problem. At what point does a bit of teenage stupidity become punishable by something more than a slap on the wrist? There are millions of possible scenarios and millions of people to make judgments and that means that no punishment will ever be able to satisfy everyone.

We can all feel distress when some kid walks out of Court figuratively (or even literally) thumbing his nose at the law, smiling because he avoided any real punishment, and not deterred in the slightest from breaking the law again. That’s understandable. But the judges have an enormous – some would say impossible – and certainly onerous task before them.

You can’t satisfy everyone. Does punishing one person deter others from doing the same thing? Does the punished person learn from their mistake? Does setting up someone as an example to others work?

Yes and no. Sometimes. Not in all cases.

And that’s the problem. I don’t know what the answer is; I don’t even know if there is one.

I used to be a lawyer. I saw a lot of punishments handed out to my clients and to other people. And I know that each time the Judge or Magistrate thought long and hard about what to do. They are bound, too, by the rules laid down by the government. If anyone should be targeted for being too lenient, it should include those making the laws, not just those enforcing them.

As a lawyer, too, I saw the effect punishments had on my clients. Some were genuinely affected by it. Others not so. That’s only to be expected. No one solution works for everyone.

Social reform may be the answer. Maybe we should be tackling the reasons crime occurs as well as handing out punishments when it does.

I remember when I was a full-time teacher seeing a sign on a Deputy-Principal’s wall: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get the same results.”

Something needs doing. But just what exactly is a hell of a big question.

Garfunkel and Oates v The Stupid

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of stupidity in the world. But I’m comforted by the knowledge that Garfunkel and Oates are there to point out exactly where it is.

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Garfunkel and Oates are the musical personas of singer/songwriters Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci. I’ve listened to their album All Over Your Face (http://www.amazon.com/Over-Your-Face-Garfunkel-Oates/dp/B004VMXA46) a lot since I received it only yesterday. Ten songs about what is stupid about a lot of things, from sexual expectations to cannabis licences to sex with ducks. Yes, that’s right, ducks. Although, it’s not actually sex with ducks they claim is stupid, just the belief that it has anything to do with gay marriage.

Some people no doubt have complained about their explicit language. Even the song titles contain profanity, such as one charming number called simply Fuck You. But pointing out stupidity often requires profanity. As the American philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett commented: “…there is a time for politeness and there is a time when you are obliged to be rude, as rude as you have to be.”

These girls know about being rude, and there isn’t anyone, apparently, they are afraid to take on. This is a healthy thing, and made healthier by the insertion (they would find a great rhyme for that word) of a good deal of humour into their otherwise bitter comments.

Far removed from the angst-ridden excesses and self-guilt of someone like Alanis Morrisette, Garfunkel and Oates lay the blame for failings in the world squarely on other people’s shoulders where they belong. Morrisette might sing deep-and-meaningfully about love and relationships and connection; Garfunkel and Oates climb out of the bed and try to sneak out of the room while putting their bras on. They don’t sing about love, they sing about lust and one night stands and, well, fucking. Even pregnant women get told where to go. And it’s about time.

I pride myself on being a grumpy old man. I treat people the way they ask to be treated. As my father used to say, “Act like a mug, you get treated like a mug.” So if someone treats me like an idiot, I treat them the same way back. But I have been put in the shade by these two young women, who dare to say things that would attract more criticism were they not so fucking hilarious.

I look forward to lots more G&O.

As for the sex with ducks…just listen to the song.

For the Love of Cats

I had to apologise to the cat last night.

It was my fault. I arrived home late from work. I’d been out tutoring and spent some extra time with a student and then had to go to the shop on my way home, and I got in about half an hour after I was supposed to. He was at the door, waiting for me. He had a few words to say, which I took on board and then apologised and promised to let him know in future if I’m going to be late.

His name is Humphrey. He’s a nine-year-old Rag Doll, which is the largest breed of domestic cat.

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He isn’t the most active cat I’ve ever seen. In fact most of his time is spent horizontal. If he were to have an appointment diary, it would probably look something like this on a typical day:
4.00 am Wake up human. Demand food.
4.05 am Refuse to eat food given. Go back to sleep.
6.00am Wake up human. Lie on his chest. Purr.
6.10 am Eat breakfast set out at 4.05 am.
6.15 am Wash.
7.00 am Morning nap, outside under steps.
9.00am Enter house. Check food bowl. Complain.
9.10 am Look for sleeping spot for the day, preferably one most inconvenient to human.
9.20 am Sleep
5.00pm Wake up. Demand dinner.
5.30pm Join human watching TV. Wash.
7.00pm Check outside to make sure grounds are secure. Avoid neighbour’s dogs.
7.30 pm Enter house. Check human for possibility of being patted. Purr.
8.00pm Sleep.

As you can see, he spends a lot of time contemplating the mysteries of the universe while giving the appearance of being sleep. At least, that’s what he’d like us to believe.

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He’s what you might call “high maintenance”. He needs a lot of grooming – Rag Dolls grow a lot of long hair. And despite his rigorous schedule, he does find time to get dirty, too: his work in the garden seems to involve a lot of digging and looking under things and exploring the bushes. He has a patch of lavender that he spends hours in, and we have to prune the lavender carefully to maintain his “special spot” in the middle where he can see out but passing people and dogs can’t see in. He is inordinately fond of tummy rubs. He is fussy about his food: won’t touch chicken, prefers room-temperature kangaroo meat, likes the more expensive brands of canned fish (shredded tuna with crab is a big favourite). And he only drinks water out of the tap. I have to turn the tap on and let it run into the kitchen sink so he can lap at it. If I put a bowl of water on the floor he won’t go near it.

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Of course, he doesn’t get it all his own way. He’s not allowed on the table when there is food there. He’s not allowed to sit on my crossword puzzle so I can’t read the clues. And he has to climb down the ship’s ladder to my office – I’m in the basement – all by himself. (He’s good at climbing ladders, and going down them is a complicated procedure of twisting and turning a complete circle on each step.)

But what is it about a cat that makes people go silly? Why do I climb out of bed at 4am to feed Humphrey, rather than tell him to go away or close the door so he can’t come in in the first place? Why do I tolerate his luxurious lifestyle?

Well, I love him, of course. Silly question, really. Don’t know why I even bothered to ask.

I have had other cats, or my family has. In fact, I can’t remember a time when our family didn’t have at least one. One of mine I remember fondly was named Groucho. He was white with brown eyebrows and a brown moustache (hence “Groucho”). He is immortalised in my novel Plato’s Cave  http://www.russellproctor.com/pages.php?tabid=12&pageid=2052&title=Plato%27s+Cave as Bruno, the cat of remarkably similar looks, owned by the main character. Phoebe was a Burmese owned by my parents. She survived a fall of four stories one night when she went for a stroll on the window ledge. Went on to live to ripe old age. Then there was Pinky, a stray that Dad found in a hospital one night and brought home. Never quite tame, she nevertheless found an eternal place in our hearts. And, of course, Rosie and Lucy and Wedl and Linus and Tup Tim and all the others.

Let’s face it, we love cats. And whilst Humphrey may be demanding and lazy and tends to walk across my laptop keyboard when I’m trying to write, I wouldn’t want him any other way.

There are many quotes about cats, but one of my favourites is from Jules Verne: “A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.”

Any cat lover would understand.

Go Date Yourself

So, Valentine’s Day approaches once again. Can’t say I care much.
Now you’re thinking I’m single and bitter about it. “Valentine’s Day? Bah! Humbug.” No Valentine; no partner; all alone in a hostile universe. Yes, I am single. But I am certainly not bitter.

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I love being single. I’ve had romantic attachments. I was even married once. But right now I just don’t happen to like having someone else in my life. That’s just me. If you love someone, go for it. I don’t.

 
But having a partner isn’t everything. What I object to is the ideal that a large section of our society seems to uphold, that you need someone in your life – indeed, in the words of that abysmal actor Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire: “You complete me”. What a crock. We see this kind of pressure in movies, we hear it from our families and friends: you aren’t complete without someone else in your life.

Yes, you are.

Not everyone likes bananas. I hate bananas. I live in Queensland, Australia, where they grow a lot of bananas. And I hate them. I don’t have anything against them and or try to stop anyone else eating them. It’s the same with a relationship. I just don’t want one.

But why do so many people try to force others into a relationship? I’ve had friends with children who declare, “You must have a baby! It will change your life! You don’t know what you’re missing!” But I’m not going to bring a child into the world on the off chance I might like it. Making me happy is not a reason to create someone. That’s just selfish.

I am single but by no means desperate. Relationships and I just don’t work. And arguably they don’t work for a lot of other people too. That they do work for some is great. But it is merely generalisation to assume that what makes one person happy will do the same for another.

I used to be lonely, way back in my teens and twenties, very lonely indeed. But then I decided to ignore the loneliness and in doing so, I killed it. I don’t get lonely anymore. Solitude is very important to me.

So if you find yourself alone this Valentine’s Day, feel good about it. Rejoice in the fact that you are independent and empowered. Date yourself: take yourself to the movies, buy a box of chocolates (and eat all of them!), get a good bottle of wine for dinner, or have a romantic night in with yourself. There will be no one to ask what they want to do, no one to please but you, no guilt trip. You are your perfect date.

You deserve it.

Cats and the City

If you’ve never been to Brisbane, Australia, you’ve never met the City Cats. It’s not a football team or a group of exotic dancers – although that might be fun. They are the City Council ferries that ply up and down the river: large, powerful catamaran passenger vessels. They are a great way to see the river. Although they aren’t the fastest way to travel in Brisbane, they are certainly the most scenic. You can go all the way from Brett’s Wharf where the big ocean liners dock to the Queensland University, passing through the city and Southbank on the way. Well worth the few dollars it costs.city-cats-first-generation

I took one yesterday to go into the city for coffee with a friend. She and I have these coffee meetings every so often that usually turn into lunch and we discuss writing, life, the world at large and the cosmos in general. We come to some fairly amazing conclusions and have pretty much got it all figured out. We’re just not telling.

It being a nice day, I decided to take a Cat into town.

I love the Cats. You can sit and watch a world that you can’t see from the road. A lot of houses on the river have their own boat jetties from the backyard down to the water. You surge under bridges, which look a lot different from underneath than they do from above. The cliffs near the Story Bridge are quite a sight, with houses perched precariously on top of a twenty or thirty metre vertical rock-face down to the water. When you get into the city itself, the high-rise apartments are quite impressive, too. Maybe not the tallest buildings compared to other cities, but they do for us.

 
What I especially noticed yesterday was the amount of debris in the water, still floating downstream from the floods last week following Ex-tropical Cyclone Oswald. Lots and lots of branches, logs, sticks and other natural flotsam. But there were other things as well.

2050_1231debrisRiver0002At one stop I noticed someone’s hat floating in the water. I wondered what happened to the rest of him. There was a large sheet of polystyrene too, plastic bottles, a tin can that somehow was still floating upright. Other garbage. Not at all what our lovely river usually looks like. 2050_1231debrisRiver0003

The drivers of the City Cats had to take care not to hit this stuff. The ferries get up quite a speed on the long stretches and some of the logs would have caused considerable damage had we hit them.

So I just want to apologise if you are a tourist to my town and think it’s like this all the time. It isn’t, we just had a whole lot of water through lately and things are still a bit untidy.

We’ll be back earning our title of The River City soon enough. Come and “catch a Cat” and see for yourself.

In My Face

I went to the dentist today. I think dentists are brave people. I imagine myself not only looking into, but putting my hand in, someone else’s mouth – someone I am not intimately acquainted with – and it isn’t a pleasant thought. Kissing a lover is different – I guess it’s because you can’t actually see where you are putting your tongue. But staring directly into a gaping maw is a bit like being eaten by a shark, I guess. There’s just something unnerving about it.

Older_barber-dentistI prepared myself before I went. There are people who will scrub and degrease their house before the weekly cleaner arrives, presumably so the person engaged to do the actual cleaning doesn’t realise how messy they let the place get. I was like that. I worried about what I would have for breakfast – I didn’t want any tell-tale breath putting the dentist off his game. I brushed and flossed and gargled assiduously. 

I even trimmed my nose hairs. Very important that last one. Let’s face it, the dentist spends a lot of time staring right up your nose. I’m sure he or she is not especially interested in seeing a forest up there. It’s not fair that the dentist is wearing a face mask, so you can’t see what undergrowth they may be cultivating. Truth be told, they probably wear masks not for hygiene purposes, but so they don’t have to mow the lawn every second day.

Actually, while we are on the subject: it is harder to trim your nose hairs than you think. I presume you’ve had to do it sometime, especially if you are male. I did know a woman once with rather long nose hair. We dated a few times but every time I looked at her there were little tufts protruding from her nostrils and I knew that it wasn’t going to work out. There are no tactful words to use when telling someone they have hirsute nares – (or maybe they are the words to use, then make a quick exit while they reach for a dictionary).

Anyway, trimmed and ready, I went to the dentist. I hadn’t been to this one before. I had moved into the area a couple of years ago and had neglected finding a new dentist for that long, so it was high time. He was pleasant, we got on well. But he seemed to dig around for an awfully long time in my mouth. I got a bit ashamed at the amount of cleaning he had to do, scraping away with that hooked thing, and applying polish that tasted like the strongest toothpaste ever. I knew it had to be good stuff, it tasted like it.

What amazes me about dentists is the wonders they can accomplish with only a small orifice to work in. Although there are tighter spots one can go, especially when it’s time for that prostate exam – hey, guys? That’s fun! They also manage to do it upside-down and back-to-front, looking in a tiny mirror. Up is down and left is right in the dental care world. I don’t know how they do it.

So now I sit here with sparkling clean teeth and a sense of moral cleanliness. I’ll be back in twelve months to do it again. I am 55 years old and have all my own teeth, and I intend to keep them.