By Katy Swain, 4 July, 2024

I've long been astonished by a particularly irrational form of loss aversion that I've taken to calling "Zero-sum NIMBYism". Here's how it works:

A lifetime ago, I was living in a little seaside village which had an annual festival day that the local chamber of commerce would put on. Every year, the chamber would arrange to close the main street, invite stallholders, entertainers, and so on, and a lovely time would be had by all. Visitors would come from all over the country (in the off season!), and cars would be parked all along the streets for anywhere up to a kilometre. A day wandering up and down the street in the sunshine, snacking and drinking; what's not to like?

And every year, the owner of the local surf shop, plus one or two similarly entitled misers, would complain bitterly about the cost to the chamber of organising the thing, and the loss of on-street car parking directly outside his shop.

By Katy Swain, 2 July, 2024

The other day I was on the margins of a conversation about "the refugee problem", biting my tongue as one does. (Deep breath: No, it's not the people who are the problem, it's whatever is making refugees of them. You don't solve anything by shoving people into concentration camps or leaving them to perish from drowning or heat exhaustion.)

I was feeling sorry for the couple of Asian people present, but I'm afraid to say also relieved that for once I wasn't the elephant in the room. The conversation then turned to the specific difficulty of assimilating a large number of people from a different culture in a short period of time.

Again: why should this be a problem? Or more pointedly, why is the difficulty situated wholly within the incoming contingent rather than the resident population? Is building walls and turning back boats any sane sort of cure, or just a symptom of another, more serious, problem?

By Katy Swain, 25 May, 2024
An array of breakfast ingredients.

Breakfast! The most unexpectedly time-consuming meal of the day. Back in a previous life, when I was the size of a house, breakfast was indistinguishable from lunch and/or dinner. The silver lining of posessing only a small fridge is that you can't prepare a huge amount of food, and consume the same unhealthy fare, in excessive quantity, for three meals a day until you run out, and then rinse and repeat.

By Katy Swain, 21 May, 2024

When I left my last place of paid employment, I put on my sunglasses and lit the fuse of a stick of dynamite with the end of my cigar, before tossing it (the dynamite, not the cigar) over my shoulder with a cry of "See you in hell, boys!" as I stepped nonchalantly into the street.

A box of tightly-packed groceries.

But before that — actually for some months before that — I had the presence of mind to stockpile a few boxes of non-perishable groceries. I thought of them as a gift for future me, when times got a bit tricky, financially. I'm still working my way through that stockpile. Thanks, past me!

By Katy Swain, 17 May, 2024

I once vaguely knew the headmistress of a local school who, in the midst of a lively scandal over a run of instances of bullying, declared — privately, of course — that it was all poppycock. There was absolutely no bulling at her school. 

The bully never sees themselves as a bully. Nor indeed does their appreciative audience, up to and including, in some cases, the school principal (assuming they are not the individual doing the bullying at the time). 

The bully is doing the Lord's work, putting the aberrant and eccentric on the path to self-improvement. Bullying is rarely premeditated; it's most often purely reflexive. "See something, say something." Also shove something, trip something, punch something in the side of the head, pull something's pants down in the middle of the playground, if necessary.

By Katy Swain, 11 May, 2024

I was recently invited to take part in a study. The person doing the studying was studying people who live in apartments, and their relation to food, or their attitudes to food, or summat.

The upshot is that I've been taking a photo or three every day, to document what I do with food. Not so much the eating of it, but more the sourcing and preparing of the foody substances.

Rather than just allow such vital information to moulder away in the dusty halls of academe, I though I should also share it with the wider world. So here we go. Strap yourselves in, cats and kittens.

By Katy Swain, 18 February, 2024

One night last year I was sitting at my computer here in my tiny flat, and heard amplified fiddle playing in the near distance. I couldn't make out the tune, but the optimist in me thought that maybe it was an Irish folk band, and that I should go out and investigate. It was getting dark, and I was knackered, so I didn't want to change into my baggy old fat man clothes to do so, and I did what I had never done before: I went outside dressed as me.

Now "me" is an old lady in high-waist mum jeans, t-shirt, and cardigan, so this isn't all that scandalous. But it was the first time I'd ever gone outside without making an effort to look vaguely like a man. As I rounded the corner into Lygon Street, I started feeling a bit exposed. I also couldn't hear the music any more. This made no sense. It's Carlton; where else but Lygon Street is music going to come from?

By Katy Swain, 3 February, 2024
Willimstown Beach, Victoria.

I'm often amused when I see schoolchildren here in the Far Future. It's the uniforms with floppy broad-brimmed hats and light, loose, long sleeves, and faces shimmering with youth and multiple coats of SPF 50+.

By Katy Swain, 4 December, 2023

Cory Doctorow recently cited this article which talks about how insurance is a terrible instrument for mitigating climate risk. The standard neoliberal patter on this runs that insurance will send a price signal that steers investment away from environmentally damaging activity and towards adaptive responses.

One problem with this is that the people doing the damage are not necessarily (or even likely to be) the people who will experience the worst of its' effects, so this will do little to prevent investment in — for instance — fossil fuel extraction. In fact, you'll likely see investment flowing away from the uncertain business of keeping populations alive and secure, and directed towards digging up minerals and sludge.