Friday, November 14, 2008

The New Camelot?

barack obama rides to victory on the democrat donkeyI am not an American, nor am I of African descent (am I allowed to say "not black"?), but nevertheless, I must admit to shedding a few tears during Barack Obama"s acceptance speech. The campaign had been so exciting, so filled with hope, but still there were nagging doubts at the back of one"s mind; could something go wrong? Obama"s election is a truly historic milestone, and I can only imagine the wave of emotion felt by his supporters (particularly African Americans) during the culmination of an incredible campaign. Some have described Obama"s oratory as "celestial" and I completely agree. I can only hope his presidency reaches the same heights as his speeches.

Obama"s victory represents the greatest ray of hope America and the world has witnessed in living memory. He is highly intelligent, shrewd and articulate. The challenges he faces may be huge but he gives the impression that he will relish rising to the occasion. However, despite the tsunami of hope placed in Obama as an agent of change, it would be naïve to expect him to engineer any kind of social revolution. Despite his background of working with the underprivileged he is a rich man. To govern effectively he has to have the support of the Democrats, some of whom are more conservative than moderate Republicans. The main thrust of his campaigning was directed at the middle class, the poor and homeless never rated a mention.

Nevertheless, Obama"s election is undoubtedly an incredibly significant event. Some have pointed out that other blacks have attained positions of influence; Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell etc. but they are almost always conservatives. The only aboriginal politician elected here in Australia that I can remember is Neville Bonner, who again was a conservative. It"s almost as if non white candidates need to balance their minority status with a right wing position. Barack Obama on the other hand is a left leaning liberal. Sorting out the financial crisis will take priority before any advances in social justice but it least it"s on the agenda. It"s strange to think that a 6% win in the popular vote translates into a 2-1 whitewash in the electoral college. I’m starting to understand the U.S. system but it still doesn"t completely make sense to me. I think Obama"s victory carries a great deal of symbolism which is why it has resonated so much, in the U.S. and around the world.

It remains to be seen how Obama will handle the massive challenges that face him but at the very least the U.S. political landscape will never be the same again. We can only hope, but every time I hear him speak I can"t help but whispering to myself: "damn he"s good!"

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Poor Malcolm's deprived childhood

malcolm turnbull warped

"I do not come to the leadership of the Liberal Party from a lifetime of privilege. I know what it is like to be very short of money..."

malcolm turnbull warped

"I know what it is like to live in rented flats. For a time daddy and I had to rent a dingy penthouse in Double Bay..."

malcolm turnbull warped

"Daddy even had to drive the Rolls Royce himself for a time when we couldn't get a chauffeur; good help can be hard to find..."

malcolm turnbull warped

"The other boys at Sydney Grammar laughed at me when I drove my new MG to school; they all drove Porsches and Maseratis..."

Ok, this may be bending the truth just a little and Malcolm Turnbull may well not have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is however, a very rich man; Turnbull's wealth is estimated at $120 million. Turnbull is the quintessential Eastern Suburbs silvertail. He will always struggle against the perception that he is arrogant and out of touch with the so called 'battlers'.

Turnbull's gaffe on football further underlined this perception. Asked in a radio interview to nominate which football teams he supports, Mr Turnbull said: "I have to confess I vote for, I support, in Australian Rules the Roosters, who of course aren't in the Grand Final sorry the (Sydney) Swans". (The Eastern Suburbs Roosters of course play rugby league). This might seem an inconsequential mistake, but football is religion to the average battler.

Just as the Australian electorate will never elect anyone with the title 'Doctor' (ask John Hewson or Brendan Nelson; we respect them but just don't trust them) they are just as unlikely to elect someone with arch silvertail status. At least the Liberal party in electing Turnbull as leader is leaving little doubt as to which end of town they really represent.

"Alcopops? That is the sound you get when you open a bottle of vintage Veuve Clicquot, isn't it?..."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who won the debate?

lipstick on a pigSeveral commentators have stated that Sarah Palin won the vice presidential debate simply because she exceeded expectations. While Palin may not have committed anything like the excruciating gaffes she made in the interview with CBS's Katie Couric, her performance was anything but convincing. Others have said Palin won by being more 'likeable'. While her folksy language and mannerisms might endear her to some, anyone who can muster a few thoughts would surely dismiss her posturings as nothing more than cheap populism.

Palin managed to avoid making more monumental bluders with a novel strategy; she simply avoided the issues, and the questions in favour of well rehearsed campaign rhetoric. Joe Biden came across as approachable, human and credible. His detailed answers on foreign, domestic and economic policy gave a firm impression of an experienced statesman who knows what he is talking about and knows what he is doing.

Biden has a right to feel aggrieved by analysis which awards a win in the debate to Palin just because she made few mistakes. His was a solid and credible performance. Palin's performance did little to change the perception that she has recently established: she is a political airhead.

Butterfly Award

Biotek has very kindly nominated me for this award; thanks!

I also nominate:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kevin'07: Obama'08?

rudd, obama, howard, mccain, morphing comparison Can any parallels be drawn between the Australian elections of 2007, (the Kevin’07 campaign) and the current U.S. presidential elections? There are some similarities and some obvious differences. For a start, America is a super power and its political trends have far reaching global implications while Australia is by comparison an inconsequential backwater (the arse end of the earth to use the phrase coined by ex prime minister Paul Keating). Australia’s political system is fundamentally different to the American system and is based on the British Westminster system. Despite the fact that in Australia and Britain votes are cast for one party or another rather than the leader as head of state, both have moved closer to presidential style campaigns in recent years. The personality of leaders is ever more important and campaigns are carefully planned in response to polls and demographic analysis.

In both the 2007 Australian election and the 2008 American election, long serving conservative governments faced off against an opposition claiming to represent the winds of change. Despite McCain’s efforts to distance himself from the Bush administration and present himself as a ‘maverick’, years of alignment with Bush’s policies will make any distancing difficult. Howard described himself as a ‘climate change skeptic’ and refused to sign the Kyoto protocol. McCain is also seen as weak on the environment.

Both Howard and McCain are older men and both struggle to represent themselves as men of the future. Both Rudd and Obama are younger men and have found it much easier to present themselves as a breath of fresh air, despite lacking any truly revolutionary policies.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between the Australian campaign and the U.S. campaign is the advent of the internet as a potent political force. Howard was slow to employ the web to his advantage and his use of it showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium. Howard’s YouTube videos were stiff and conventional, much a like a party political broadcast on tried and true TV. Howard’s YouTube received numerous negative comments and users were outraged when their comments were promptly deleted. It also quickly became a spam magnet. Rudd primarily used MySpace and his tone was much more casual and relaxed. The majority of comments were positive but negative comments remained on the site. Rudd’s savvy use of the web medium made it easier for him to be portrayed as future friendly and helped his campaign resonate with younger voters.

John McCain claims not to know how to even use email and has all but admitted he is technology illiterate. Obama’s campaign seems to be using the web much more effectively. The reasons for this are quite simple; the Obama camp spends way much more on advertising. Obama’s web site is much more popular McCain’s site; it is visited monthly by 4 times as many people as McCain’s one (2.2 million vs. 583 thousand). Obama is also much more popular with various social media sites as well.

comparison of Obama and McCain web traffic
Comparison of Obama/McCain internet traffic source

Sarah Palin's use of her personal email account to conduct public affairs in Alasksa, which allowed a hacker to gain access to her account does little to negate the perception that the Republican camp is technologically challenged. McCain may have chosen Palin as running mate partly because of her youth. Despite getting a temporary boost after the convention, Palin's inexperience now seems to be doing little more than making McCain look old.

Effective use of online media may not be the deciding factor in this campaign, nor was it in the Australian election, however, it is undeniable that the political importance of the web is now much greater. This is also a particularly telling factor when candidates attempt to promote themselves as agents for change and leaders for the future.

McCain is looking more and more like yesterday's man, as did John Howard.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Panther sightings: urban myth or smokescreen?

Nathan Rees and the Penrith PantherNew NSW Premier Nathan Rees has told the press that sightings of a large, panther-like cat in Sydney's western suburbs might be credible. "I don't think it's necessarily an urban myth, there are too many people reporting sightings." Mr Rees told reporters. Sighting of big cats - dubbed either the Penrith Panther or Lithgow Panther - have been part of local folklore in Sydney's west and the Blue Mountains for decades. Rumours persist the big cats escaped from private zoos or a circus in the area years ago, and even the local football club is called the Penrith Panthers.

As recently as last month Mr Rees dismissed panther sightings as just another urban myth, so why the sudden turn around? The answer is likely to be quite simple. Any story which deflects attention from the woeful state of affairs that exists in NSW is welcome to the government. The poor financial state of affairs, crumbling infrustructure, inadequate public hospitals, unreliable public transport, the electricity privatisation debacle and the general public perception of mismanagement have made the Labor government highly unpopular. If we all start worrying about ravenous mystery panthers perhaps the other problems will just go away.

Of course, big cat sightings are not confined to Sydney's west. Numerous sightings of large, panther like cats have been reported in the UK and in the USA among other places. Although paw prints have been photographed and cast in plaster, no one has actually produced hard evidence of such a feline. Perhaps goverments in those parts also wanted to deflect attention from their management records.

Reporting a recent sighting of the Penrith panther, a western Sydney woman described the animal as a large black cat, about the size of an Alsatian. Panthers and jaguars are usually quite a bit larger than Alsatians. The cats sighted are much more likely to be large feral cats that have grown a dark Winter coat. It is quite conceivable that over several generations feral animals have grown a good deal larger than domestic moggys.

Nathan Rees has made a good impression in his early days as premier (with me any way). He has a direct and straightforward manner and actually answers questions instead of skirting around them as so many politicians do. He has had the courage to admit to his government's past problems and to accept responsibility for them. I believe he deserves a fair go as new leader but only time will tell if he can turn around public opinion before the next election.

Whatever the case, it will take more than a few panther sightings to save the NSW government from political oblivion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I love your blog too

iWalk has nominated me for this award, for which I am very honoured. I encourage you to read her blog; it is a fascinating record of her travels around the world and includes her wonderful photographs of memorable sights.

I nominate:

The award comes with easy rules:

  1. Link to at least 7 other blogs you love.
  2. Link to the person who gave you the award.
  3. Let the 7 bloggers know that you have tagged them.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Palin: a very ordinary person

lipstick on a pig Apparently Sarah Palin has attracted a great deal of support because people identify with her; because she appears to be an ordinary person, "just like you and me". The truth is, successful politicians are not ordinary people. They have highly specialised skills, knowledge and experience. Such qualities are kind of necessary when managing a national economy or facing a potential global crisis. Anyone who disagrees with this should consider running for office.

In response to questions on Palin's foreign policy credentials, supporters have said that she must have a good grasp of foreign policy as Alaska is close to Russia. Perhaps she also has a strong grasp of space policy; Mount McKinley is in Alaska and quite close to space.

The New York Times called her “a tyrannical woman who pursues vendettas and fires people who cross her.” She made an ex schoolmate director of the State Division of Agriculture after citing her childhood love of cows as a qualification for the job. She has also had her office ring to berrate bloggers who posted material that offended her. Perhaps I’d better be careful as to what I say about her. No matter what your opinion of Palin's 'pro choice' pro NRA evangelism might be you'd have to admit her leadership credentials are a bit shaky.

The U.S. and the world now faces an economic crisis, possibly of the dimensions of the great depression. A McCain/Palin adminstration would only continue the distastrous economic policies put in place by George Bush. Ill advised tax cuts, a highly expensive war and mounting levels of private and national debt have brought about the current crisis. China is one of America's largest creditors and seems set to become the new global super power.

Now is surely not the time to elect an 'ordinary person' with little economic or foreign policy experience. Only an extraordinary leader has any chance of dealing with the challenges which loom on the horizon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The dogs of democracy

Costello and latham, dogs of democracyPoliticians must be aware when they enter politics that they have a use by date. Sooner or later, due to scandal, party machinations or electoral rejection the time comes when there is no option but to make an exit. If politicians are aware of this, why do so many of them feel the need to publish memoirs subsequent to political demise which are intended to be highly damaging to their own side?

The Latham Diaries, published in 2005 were unashamedly spiteful. The same can be said about Peter Costello’s recent memoirs which abounds with attacks on his political colleagues. Michael Costa recently added his name to a growing list of disgruntled politicians taking the opportunity to damage their own party after being shown the door. Did these people enter public life with no ideals of serving a cause? No matter how disgruntled you are, why not make a dignified exit rather than become a wrecker? Such indulgent expressions can be seen as nothing more than rampant self interest.

Sometime during his career Peter Costello acquired the nickname ‘dog’, mostly for his looks. Now more than ever his behaviour deserves the same title. Costello has no excuse for the venom contained in his new book. After years of waiting for the Liberal leadership to be handed to him on a silver platter he now refuses it when it is laid at his feet. Perhaps a deep self doubt lies behind Costello’s ‘captain smirk’ egotism. Perhaps he realises that when push came to shove, he never had the ability to win an election in his own right or lead his party through a bleak period of opposition. Costello's behaviour since losing the 2007 has been mysterious. Perhaps it is true, (as has been suggested in the press) that his current position on the leadership is just a way of promoting sales for his book.

Costello’s memoirs are nothing more than the culmination of a long period of sulking due to John Howard’s refusal to hand him the leadership or have him and his wife over to dinner. While many might now decry Howard’s mishandling of Kyoto, The Republic issue, the children overboard affair, refusal to apologise to aboriginal people, the industrial relation debacle etc. his refusal to step aside for Costello now seems his most astute decision.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Howard no coward: the eyebrows have it

john howard Former prime minister John Howard believes he would have been seen as "a coward" if he had stepped down voluntarily for Peter Costello but would have quit had a delegation of senior ministers demanded him to. Mr Howard's views and those of other key figures are contained in a recent essay by Sydney Institute executive director Gerard Henderson.

John Howard has been described by some as “Australia’s greatest Prime Minister”. History might well see him in a different light. Despite almost equaling Sir Robert Menzies record as the longest serving Prime Minister, the Howard years have left a string of bad memories. Among them: the draconian 1998 waterfront dispute lead by then industrial relations minister Peter Reith, the infamous ‘children overboard’ Bob Hawkecontroversy (later found to be untrue) which secured Howard the 2001 election, mandatory detention of illegal immigrants and their children and the wrongful deportation of Australian citizens and of course the ‘Work Choices’ debacle which put the final nails in Howard’s coffin. Voters might have forgotten many of the previous sour memories but were not so easily fooled when their working conditions and pay came under attack. Perhaps Howard never really realised that a wholesale attack on unions was not just an attack on the Labor party but an attack on Australian workers themselves.

Staying on as leader might well have been described as “a courageous decision” by Sir Humphrey Appleby (of Yes Minister fame). In actual Edward Gough Witlamfact, it is unlikely that after Work Choices anyone in the Liberal party could have done any better than Howard. In fact, Peter Costello might well have incurred even more wrath from voters as the principle architect of the highly unpopular Work Choices policy. Current speculation about a Costello return from the backbench is unlikely to worry the Labor Party very much either. Memories of the Work Choices betrayal are much too fresh in our minds. Having lead his government to a landslide defeat and the ignominious loss of his own (formerly blue ribbon) seat does little for the Howard legacy.

Perhaps John Howard’s best claim to being a great Australian Prime Minister is his development of a fine set of owlish eyebrows in the Sir Robert Menziestradition of other notables like Menzies, Whitlam and Hawk. Such a fine set of eyebrows seems to imbue a Prime Minister with an air of knowing wisdom. Howard’s eyebrows may well go down in history as his greatest achievement.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Paris Hilton's bid for The Pinkhouse

view the Paris Hilton parody John McCain has released a television commercial that likens Barack Obama's celebrity status to other celebrities like Paris Hilton. The comparison was not meant to be complimentary. It targets Obama's youth and inexperience with the catch phrase "Is he ready to lead?" Paris Hilton has released a commercial in response. Her parody calls McCain 'the oldest celebrity in the world' and likens him to figures such as the Golden Girls, Colonel Sanders, Larry King and Yoda from Star Wars.

view the original McCain adParis Hilton states that she is not from 'the olden days' and that she does not stand for change; she's just hot, "so thanks white haired dude". She does actually put foward an energy policy involving tax incentives and limited offshore oil drilling. She ends saying that if elected she might paint the Whitehouse pink.

McCain's response is that Paris Hilton has a better energy policy than Obama. It's quite surprising that Paris Hilton has actually made a coherent political statement, albeit inadvertently. John McCain's age, the perception that he is rooted in 'the olden days' and out of touch with the future is at least as much of a negative than any doubts about Obama's youth and inexperience.

In fact, it may well be much more of a negative than he realises.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sport and Politics: The Beijing Olympics

aryans, berlin olympics 1936 Rene Roch, president of International Fencing Federation (FIE), said in Beijing Friday that the Olympics should not be mingled with politics. "No one should capitalize on the IOC to boycott the games," Roch told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the 2008 FIE World Championships, which kicked off in Beijing on Friday. "We should look ahead in a long term and avoid conflicts," he said. source: Xinhua

Many commentators have echoed this sentiment; wouldn't it be nice if we could just enjoy the games and avoid all the political unpleasantness. If only the issue was so simple. In May 1931 the IOC decided that the 1936 Olympic games would be held in Berlin, Germany. This was a great moment for Germany; it gave them a chance to show the world how great and powerful they believed they were. For some people in Germany, like the rising Nazi party, this was also a chance to show the world that the Aryan race was superior to all other races. (Hitler was incredibly annoyed when Jesse Owens' achievements contradicted this). While the Chinese can't quite be compared to the Nazis, their motivation is similar; to increase national prestige and to promote trade. source: Bloodshed and Politics Over the Olympic Rings

hitler, berlin olympics 1936During the rebel cricket tours of South Africa in the 1980s, most players used the 'let's keep politics out of sport' excuse to justify their involvement. The South African government's involvement in the tours was politically motivated. The matches served a propaganda purpose, helped to split the solidarity of the international campaign of isolating South Africa, and satisfied white South Africans' desire for international sport.

The fact is that involvement in international events and politics is inextricably linked. Involvement tacitly supports the policies of a regime. The decision to award the 1936 Olympics to a country with a human rights record like Germany now seems highly questionable. A more politically aware approach to such decisions is essential. Boycotting the games might not be the answer, but raising human rights issues is a moral responsibility.

Anyone who watched the coverage of the opening ceremony would realise that the olympics is indeed not about politics, or sport. It is about the sydication of television coverage. Athletes have to pass through media cordons before reaching events and there are more commercials than action.

Beijing haze

beijing birdsnest stadium in smogBeijing Olympics organisers have denied manipulating pollution statistics as thick smog worsens in the Chinese capital during the lead up to the opening ceremony. Climate change sceptics may quibble as much as they like, images like this one of the birdsnest stadium in Beijing are surely evidence enough for anyone that the environment is in a great deal of trouble.

While humidity has undoubtedly played a part in the recent build up of smog, air pollution levels have been more than twice the level considered acceptable. According to World Bank statistics, outdoor air pollution in China causes 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths each year. (The World Bank also reports that 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China.) For a lifelong Beijing resident, to look at a building whose edges are blunted by smog is, in effect, to consider your own mortality. China and India, the only two countries to have a population greater than 1 billion, together possess more than a third of the world's population. China is now the world's biggest carbon emitter ahead of the US. Considering the booming economic growth of these countries, levels of pollution are hardly likely to decrease any time soon. Whether climate change is real or not, the fact remains that we are poisoning the planet at an alarming rate.

Climate change sceptics seem very reluctant to acknowledge their own scepticism. They are aware that considerable numbers of people are very concerned about damage to the environment. Environmentally sceptical politicians are all too aware that scepticism has become electoral poison and now couch their inaction and stalling tactics in terms such as 'getting things economically right'. John Howard described himself as a 'climate change realist' and didn't fare too well. In the longer term, no one will profit from a poisoned planet. People are now accepting that short term sacrifices are the price we must pay for future survival.

I doubt too many athletes are looking forward to competing in the Beijing haze. The whole world might soon be competing to catch a breath as it engulfs the planet.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Dalai Lama's Olympic handshake

The Dalai Lama's Olympic handshake is circling the world, headed for Beijing. Click below to see more and join the call for dialogue!

As the Beijing Olympics begin, the world looks on with mixed emotions. It's a moment which should bring us closer together, and Chinese citizens deserve their excitement - but the Chinese government still hasn't opened meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama, or changed its stance on Burma, Darfur and other pressing issues.

Even worse, extremists in China are promoting the view that Olympic activism is anti-Chinese. We can't stay silent, but we also can't let our efforts be abused to divide people. So what can we do? The answer comes from the Dalai Lama himself, in an unambiguous gesture of Olympic spirit and friendship: a handshake.

It began in London, passed hand to hand by thousands of us - now the handshake has gone online, and is criss-crossing the globe on its way to Beijing. All of us can join, Chinese and non-Chinese, and it comes with a promise: to hold ALL our governments accountable where they fall short, in Tibet, Iraq, Burma or beyond. We'll deliver our message in a bold media campaign in Hong Kong and around the world: Click below to see how the Olympic handshake started, sign up to join in, and watch it circle the globe:

The worldwide outcry has produced a little progress, but much resistance from Chinese officials so far. If we are to see advances not setbacks after the Games, we need to show both that our voices will never fall silent, and that our challenge is a positive one.

We have one last chance to reclaim the spirit of the Olympics, with the message of friendship and dialogue we share with the Dalai Lama. The more people join the global handshake, the more powerful our message will be when it hits the Chinese and international media. So let's forward this email on, encouraging everyone to join in. "One World, One Dream" is an ideal that's bigger than the Olympics - it's time for citizens around the world to take it back.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Oral History

Oral history can be defined as the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical information, based on the personal experiences and opinions of the speaker.
It often takes the form of eye-witness evidence about past events, but can include folklore, myths, songs and stories passed down over the years by word of mouth.

Source: Wikipedia

Oral history is a developing field and an increasing amount of importance is ascribed to it. Most major museums now employ a director of oral history. Schools include an increasing amount in teaching programs. While the thoughts an feelings of common people undoubtedly do allow a valuable insight into the way events effect people, placing undue weight on personal accounts has the potential to undermine a true understanding of history.

I recently supervised a modern history Higher School Certificate (final year) exam on the First World War. To relieve my boredom, I read the exam paper. I was surprised to find that most of the questions dealt with the role of women on the home front, rationing etc. Only one or two questions actually dealt with what actually happened in military terms. It seems that a politically correct agenda has highjacked the history curriculum, as it has in most other areas.

During my first week at teachers' college, we were all asked to give a presentation on a topic we were familiar with, to practice presenting to an audience. Having studied Fine Arts, I chose to talk about the Renaissance. Five minutes into my presentation, it became clear from the blank looks that no one knew what I was talking about, and these people were all university graduates. None of them had heard of the Renaissance; I was astounded.

Another case in point is the acclaimed TV series, The Civil War. This was an excellent series, 11 hours in length. Much of the 11 hours was taken up by accounts of soldiers at the front.

"Dear mom, we are really miserable here. Laying in a muddy ditch being shot at is not much fun. Gee I hope we're home by Christmas..."

Accounts like this consume much of the series, always accompanied by the same sickly violin music. How much do accounts like this really tell us? It really comes as no surprise that laying in mud being shot at is not an enjoyable experience. All I really wanted to know was what actually happened. I gave up watching the series and read a book on the subject with much more satisfying results.

In Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith talks to an old man trying to find out about life before the revolution. He was frustrated: "The old man's mind was a rubbish heap of details". The oral history presented by the old man was evidently not very useful.

It is something of a cliche to to say "those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. We might wonder how well the Bosnian Serbs under Slobodan Milosovic, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic understood the all too recent Nazi holocaust. Hardly a recipe for social improvement.

While the insights provided by oral history might be interesting and valuable, allowing it to predominate at the expense of a balanced understanding of facts and events might well have dangerous consequences.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Vodafone's folding girlfriend

vodafone foldup girlfriendIn a recent Vodafone ad shown on Australian TV, a guy going on a trip decides he wants to take his wall map with him so he neatly folds it and puts it in his pocket. He then decides to take his computer, his TV and then his CD collection (including a large cabinet). He neatly folds them up one by one and puts them in his pocket. Just as he's almost out the door he looks at his sleeping girlfriend, then comes back, folds her up and puts her in his pocket too. Vodafone uses the slogan 'Take your world with you' for this ad.

Is this commercial not just the slightest bit insulting to women? Firstly, he takes his girlfriend last, almost as an after thought. She is perhaps the least important of his essential accessories? Secondly, is that all she is? An accessory? The intended implication is that he is taking everything he loves with him but this seems to relegate her to the status of an object on a par with a computer or a TV. Vodafone might not have meant to be sexist and offensive but they have ceratinly managed it. It may provide an insight into the subconscious of the guys that create ads like this. The CGI are impressive and the concept is clever, but the bottom line leaves a lot to be desired.

Watch the full commercial here:

Aint that the way it is?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The cost of piracy

For me, the cost of video piracy is that every time I watch a video, I have to endure a tedious warning message. I find these warnings very annoying; you often can't skip past them and they get very repetitive. For all the shortcomings of old VHS tapes, at least you could fast forward through the dross. How necessary are these warnings? Most people don't pirate but we're all subjected to the warnings every time. Does a warning deter people who pirate or watch pirated copies? I very much doubt it. The usual warning that piracy will kill the Australian film industry falls on deaf ears; it could (with a few exceptions) stand being put out of its misery.

The issue of copyright extends to all digital media, of course not just to video. The copying of software, audio and video has become commonplace. Big production companies are constantly complaining about file sharing, peer to peer networks etc. There is evidence that file sharing of audio tracks actually promotes sales. I personally would be much more likely to purchase or (legally) download a whole album if I'd had the opportunity to listen to a few sample tracks. Copyright laws have simply not kept pace with the digital revolution. Laws that might have worked quite well with more traditional forms of media don't translate very well into the digital world. Digital media is so well suited to copying suffering no degeneration in quality after unlimited successive generations, unlike analog forms. The growth of the internet has made sharing files extremely easy.

It is understandable that production companies aggressively protect their incomes. If piracy and file sharing were allowed to erode sales to a high degree, producers couldn't survive. Never the less, these companies have incredible financial and technical resources. Surely the responsibility for protecting digital products from unauthorised copying falls to them.

There is surely a difference between individuals sharing a few files and organised criminals mass producing illegal copies. When 13 year olds are prosecuted for downloading a few MP3s, there has to be something wrong with the system.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What's in a Meme?

classic monster movie montage What is a meme? Wikipedia defines it thus: "At its most basic, an Internet meme is simply the propagation of a digital file or hyperlink from one person to others using methods available through the Internet (for example, email, blogs, social networking sites, instant messaging, etc.). The content often consists of a saying or joke, a rumor, an altered or original image, a complete website, a video clip or animation, or an offbeat news story, among many other possibilities. An Internet meme may stay the same or may evolve over time, by chance or through commentary, imitations, and parody versions, or even by collecting news accounts about itself. Internet memes have a tendency to evolve and spread extremely quickly, sometimes going in and out of popularity in a matter of days. They are spread organically, voluntarily, peer to peer, rather than by compulsion, predetermined path, or completely automated means." Sounds interesting? Read more

Jenny at Multifarious Mushrooms has tagged me, so this meme is in response to her post.

Here are my 4 things

Four jobs I’ve had:

  • Art teacher

  • Computing teacher

  • Web designer

  • Jazz guitarist

Four movies I can watch over and over:

  • Metropolis (a previously undiscovered uncut version was recently discovered in Buenos Aires. Read more about the lost footage here. I can't wait to see it.)

  • Nosferatu (original version)

  • King Kong (original version)

  • Jurassic Park

Four places I’ve lived:

  • Sydney noth

  • Sydney inner west

  • Sydney south

  • North Coast NSW

Four TV shows I love:

  • Dexter

  • Underbelly

  • Gordon Ramsay, kitchen nightmares

  • Q & A with Tony Jones

Four places I’ve vacationed:

  • Tasmania

  • Cairns

  • L.A.

  • MN

Four of my favorite dishes:

  • Balmain bugs

  • Lobster sushimi

  • Beef Wellington

  • Thai Penang curry

Four sites I visit daily:

Four places I would rather be right now:

  • Tasmania

  • Cairns

  • L.A.

  • MN
People I tag:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reasons to be cheerful

Mao Tse Tung Zedong I'm thinking that many of the posts on my blog have been rather negative lately, and as I'm in a positive mood I'll try to write something positive.

Another solution to the fuel crisis: biogas generators. These are apparently widely used in 'third world' countries and have a very high acceptance rate in China and the Indian sub continent. Biogas generators have been developed which provide for the production of biogas and allow fermentation and sedimentation. A biogas generator can supply up to 60% of houshold energy needs. If the developed world didn't waste so much of its waste, almost every home could have self sustaining energy. Why pump the stuff into the sea if it can generate power? I find the idea that our own excrement could help to solve the energy crisis very uplifting.

I've decided I really like 'The Living End'. This group has been around for a while but I'd never really listened to them until now (shows how out of touch I am). They have great energy, great tunes and a killer guitar sound. They actually sound like a real rock band, not some pre packaged pop fabrication that seems to be the norm these days.

Check them out:

Read more about them here:

Chinese artists are blossoming onto the world stage with innovation and brilliance. In contrast to a great deal of Western contemporary art, they actually have ideas, humour and the technique to carry it off and make it meaningful. Artists like Zhang Xiaogang: (see images here) have made a real impression on me. The political pop art and reinterpretation of socialist realist imagery of Wang Guangyi makes sense of the rising level of consumerism and capitalism which seems at odd with hard line socialist philosophy. China is emerging not only as an economic power but as a major cultural force.

Here are some other reasons to be cheerful:

Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good golly Miss Molly and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley and nanny goats

18-wheeler Scammels, Thumbing out the candles
All other mammals must eat their oats.
Seeing Piccadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy
Being rather silly, and porridge oats

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You're welcome, we can spare it - yellow socks
Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on 40 - no electric shocks

The juice of the carrot, the smile of the parrot
A little drop of claret - anything that rocks
Elvis and Scotty, days when I ain't spotty,
Sitting on the potty - curing small pox

(from Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3 by Ian Drury and the Blockheads)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to beat the fuel crisis: work from bed

telecommuting Telecommuting is a synonym for the use of telecommunications to work outside the traditional office or workplace, usually at home. Could telecommuting be an answer to the fuel crisis? The definitive answer is yes and no.

On the yes side:

If an increased number of people were able to work from home, huge reductions in emissions could be made. As telecommuting increased, the volume of commuter traffic would decrease. Huge savings would be made in fuel costs. Huge savings would also be made in road maintenance of roads and the building of new roads to accommodate relentless traffic demands. Governments could give up trying to make inefficient and inadequate public transport profitable and use savings on roads to make it free. Studies have shown that some people just aren't cut out for the 9 to 5 routine. Their body clocks are set to a different schedule and they are more active later in the day. If non early risers were allowed to work from home and manage their own working hours their level of efficiency would increase. Telecommuting could benefit not only the environment but the productivity of businesses and the economy.

On the no side:

The current telecommunications system just isn't up to the demands changes like this would make. Australia's internet connection speeds are currently the third slowest and expensive in the developed world. Only Poland and Czechoslovakia have worse systems. In Japan the speeds and bandwidth is approximately 20 times as great. I find that at least 50% of the time I spend working on a computer is spent on waiting for something to happen or to reestablish a broken connection. If just 1% of the money currently spent on cars, roads, fuel etc. was spent on high speed optic fibre telecommunications systems, we could all have super fast connections and work efficiently from home with none of the current frustrations such work entails. We could also have digital TV and entertainment services available via broadband making working from home even more attractive. 100 movies to choose from for break time? Yes please.

dr john hewson loserThe sale of the national telecommunications carrier, Telstra has made upgrading networks difficult in Australia. Having deregulated the telecommunications industry and allowed competition in the form of Optus to enter the market (hugely subsidised by tax payers), a dilemma exists with an infrastructure upgrade. According to government contracts, whichever carrier the government chooses to roll out out the fibre optics, the other carrier must be compensated to the tune of billions. The Howard government's response to this problem was to do nothing and subsequently suffers with internet connections among the worst in the world. Selling Telstra was like selling the goose that lays the golden eggs; Telstra has made as much money as it was sold for since its sale, but with little benefit to shareholders. The expected benefits of privatisation have not materialised: consumers have not experienced lower prices or dramatic improvements in service. Optus is still owned by SingTel, or in other words, Singapore; they were never silly enough to sell their national carrier from devotion to some set of half baked economic rationalist theories.

The sale of Telstra was originally outlined in Dr John Hewson's failed "Fightback" campaign of 1992. Hewson's policies, the sale of Telstra, the GST and the hated "Work Choices" industrial relations reforms were finally realised during the term of the Howard government. The fact that the Elderslie Finance Corporation, of which Hewson was chairman until recently is now in receivership bears testament that his ideas for the nation might not have been the economic panacea he believed them to be.


  • increased power usage at home
    - computer systems which integrate entertainment (why have a TV and a computer monitor?) and other functions using power saving features could overcome this
  • increased stress on workers as the division between work and leisure time becomes blurred
    - people could easily get used to the change and learn to manage their time effectively
  • loss of social interaction with work colleagues
    - I could personally do without this kind of social life. I'd much rather spend time with family and friends I actually have something in common with. It's estimated we spend more time with the people we work with than our families, and all we have in common is we work at the same place!


  • reductions in carbon emissions and environmental benefits
  • savings on fuel costs
    - you're basically going to need to drive a whole lot less
  • flexible working hours- allows people to work at times when their minds are most active
    - allows families to work and look after their children, leading to reduced costs in childcare
  • kick ass internet speeds and quality digital entertainment services
    - if work was defined by meeting goals rather than just spending time at work we could work shorter hours and allow more time for having fun
  • time would not be wasted sitting in traffic jams
    - any stress the introduction of telecommuting might bring would offset by escaping the drudgery of the rat race and road rage
  • We could all spend a lot more time in bed!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

World Youth Day: Pell's storm in a teacup

Extraordinary new powers will allow police to arrest and fine people for "causing annoyance" to World Youth Day participants and permit partial strip searches at hundreds of Sydney sites. The laws, which operate until the end of July, have the potential to make a crime of wearing a T-shirt with a message on it, handing out condoms at protests, riding a skateboard or even playing music. People who fail to comply will be subject to a $5500 fine. No consideration is given to people who find thousands of Catholics clogging the city annoying. After the extreme police powers that were applied during last year’s APEC conference, Sydney siders have had just about enough of such events.

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior man in the Australian Catholic Church has dismissed the public outcry against this rampant attack on civil liberties as “a storm in a teacup”. It has since been alleged that Cardinal Pell covered up the sexual abuse of a man in a 2003 letter. Cardinal Pell dismissed allegations of rape by a Catholic priest despite the findings of a church investigator that they were substantiated. The Cardinal’s actions can be seen as nothing if not questionable. His greatest sin might be that he was simply out of touch with the times; in the past it was standard practice to sweep problems such as this under the carpet.

Nevertheless, it is hard to understand how a priest could ever even consider such a crime. It is similarly incomprehensible that a man responsible for the religious well being of a nation would attempt to conceal such an offence. Priests are fond of telling their congregations that unredeemed sinners will burn in hell. Do priests, or Christians in general actually believe in what is preached? If they did, crimes like this would never occur and no cover ups would ever be needed. One wonders what pope Benedict's view of these developments might be. A little public annoyance might well be in order. This issue is now the source of major annoyance to Cardinal Pell and the Catholic church.

If the motivation behind World Youth Day is to promote the faith among a dwindling flock of young people, the current scandal does nothing to inspire confidence. The storm in a teacup seems set to grow into a maelstrom

Monday, July 7, 2008

Peter is from Mars, Brendan is from Uranus

Did you ever happen to notice...

Politicians have developed the annoying habit of constantly repeating what they consider to be their key catch phrases. A line like "We're about a fair go for working families" is always quickly followed by another: "yes, a fair go for working families". Do they really think the average person is so thick they won't understand the complexity the first time? Are they not aware that it really sounds just a bit patronising? In fact, this strategy serves several purposes. It allows the media to make sure they have captured a tidy sound bite, and it's also a good way of stopping yourself saying "ummmmm" when you're not sure what to say next. Both would have about the same meaning.

Whenever Brendan Nelson refers to Peter Garrett, he repeats the question: "Which planet is he from?" I'd like to offer an answer before Brendan asks again: Peter Garrett quite clearly comes from Mars. Garrett is an imposter who has been conscripted into the Labour Party in a cynical attempt to boost the youth and green vote. Even in his Midnight Oil days he professed to be just the singer and not responsible for the group's political messages. As an Environment Minister, he makes a pretty good singer, remaining a figure head and leaving the really important stuff to Penny Wong. He has put forward a policy on the momentous issue of plastic shopping bags but he remains something of an embarrassment and a reminder that cheap populism has a price. Judging by his proposed solution to the fuel crisis (5 cents!!!???) there are strong indications that Brendan Nelson may actually come from Uranus.

The Australian Democrats have finally drawn their last breath. I doubt too many people will shed a tear over their final demise. A great many middle class, small l liberals thought they were very clever during the Democrats heyday and would announce: "I vote Labor in the lower house and Democrat in the Senate, let's keep the barstards honest!". They didn't feel so clever when Meg Lees capitulated to the GST. This was surely a crime against the electorate; no one wanted it and once installed we'll know we'll never be rid of it. So much for keepin the barstards honest; Meg Lees may also be from Uranus.

Keep watching the skies...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Climate Change Political Football

earth wrecking ball On Friday 04/07/2008, in the first comprehensive assessment of the impact on Australia of climate change, Professor Ross Garnaut reported that Australians must pay more for food, petrol and energy or risk a rising death toll, economic loss and destruction of natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef.

The Howard Government’s policies on the environment, climate change and global warming: scepticism, inactivity and a steadfast refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol did little or nothing to address concerns raised by The Garnaut Report and other similar studies. None the less, it was to some extent highly politically astute. Howard understood that any positive measures in environmental policy would have a huge economic cost and be political poison. However, Howard failed to accurately gauge the mood of the Australian electorate and the piecemeal environmental policies he took to his humiliating 2007 sydney flooded due to global warmingdefeat were seen as too little too late. The rise of the Greens as a force to be reckoned with attests to the fact that the environment is now a major concern to considerable sections of the community.

The Kevin '07 campaign made considerable ground by declaring environmental policies which at least appeared to have some credibility, as long as the capitulation on the Gunn's pulp mill is put to one side. There were key Tasmanian seats which might have been put in jeopardy had Labor opposed the mill. The Rudd government has undoubtedly been damaged by the recent trauma over petrol prices. The decision to implement an emissions trading scheme and meet the Kyoto goals is likely to damage Rudd's government even more among sections of the population that votes with their hip pockets in mind. It may actually improve his standing among those with a genuine concern for the environment. The backroom boys have undoubtedly already weighed up the statistics. Still, the climate change political football is looming more like wrecking ball for both sides of politics.

sydney desertPerhaps this is the fundamental flaw with democracy. It is natural that any government strives to ensure its political survival. To do so, it necessarily introduces short term policies that aim for approval within the next electoral term. Dealing with the environment has always required much longer term vision and a good deal of short term economic pain; making 'climate scepticism' a very attractive response.

It seems clear that governments will always create policy agendas in line with voting intentions. The responsibility ultimately falls to the electorate. If the majority aren't willing to spend more on petrol and make sacrifices to help save the environment governments are unlikely to do anything more than make expedient noises in an attempt to pacify the minority who understand that sacrifices are necessary to ensure the survival of the human species.

The irony is the long term economic cost of ignoring conservation will be much greater than any short term hardships we might endure securing the future. How much prosperity will we enjoy when coastlines are under water and the rest of the country has turned to desert?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Revenge on Telemarketers and Email Scammers

hitler on the telephone In my haste to answer a phone call recently, I managed to spill a glass of orange juice all over the keyboard of my new laptop. Imagine how angry I was when I realised the call was from yet another telemarketer. These calls can be relentless, and requests to stop calling seem to achieve nothing. Here are some ways to deal with these pests:

  1. The Seinfeld strategy: poiltely tell the telemarketer: 'I'm busy right now and I can't talk; give me your home number and I'll call you back later.' When they decline to give their home number: 'I'm sorry, I suppose that's because you don't want people calling you at home? WELL NOW YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL!!!.'

  2. Three little words that work: 'Hold On, Please...' Saying this, while putting down your phone and walking off instead of hanging-up immediately) would make each telemarketing call so much more time-consuming that boiler room sales would grind to a halt. Then when you eventually hear the telephone company's 'beep-beep-beep' tone, you know it's time to go back and hang up your handset, which has efficiently completed its task. These three little words will help eliminate telephone soliciting.

  3. Do you ever get those annoying phone calls with no one on the other end? This is a telemarketing technique where a machine makes phone calls and records the time of day when a person answers the phone. This technique is used to determine the best time of day for a 'real' sales person to call back and get someone at home. What you can do after answering , if you notice there is no one there, is to immediately start hitting your # button on the phone, 6 or 7 times, as quickly as possible. This confuses the machine that dialled the call and it kicks your number out of their system. Gosh, what a shame not to have your name in their system any longer!!!

  4. When you get those 'pre-approved' letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to 2nd mortgages and similar type junk, do not throw away the return envelope. Most of these come with postage-prepaid return envelopes, right? It costs them more than the regular 50 cents postage 'IF' and when they receive them back. It costs them nothing if you throw them away! In that case, why not get rid of some of your other junk mail and put it in these cool little, postage- prepaid return envelopes. Send an ad for your local chimney cleaner to American Express. Send a pizza coupon to Westpac. If you didn't get anything else that day, then just send them their blank application back! If you want to remain anonymous, just make sure your name isn't on anything you send them. You can even send the envelope back empty if you want to just to keep them guessing! It still costs them $1.00 The banks and credit card companies are currently getting a lot of their own junk back in the mail, but folks, we need to OVERWHELM them. Let's let them know what it's like to get lots of junk mail, and best of all they're paying for it... Twice! Let's help keep Australia Post busy since they are saying that e-mail is cutting into their business profits, and that's why they need to increase postage costs again. You get the idea! If enough people follow these tips, it will work ---- maybe you'll get very little junk mail anymore.

  5. Do you ever recieve emails from people claiming to be the wife of the ex president of Nigeria or some such place, telling you that they have millions of dollars they can't get out of the country and if you just help them with $10,000 dollars to cover the transfer they will give you millions? Reply to the email and agree to the conditions. Tell them you will meet them at Nairobi airport (preferrably somewhere that requires them to do some very expensive travel) next Friday at 4.00am and that you will bring the $10,000 in cash. Of course DON'T TURN UP.

My laptop keyboard remained sticky for months. Taking a little revenge has at least given me some satisfaction and I haven't had any spam phone calls lately.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Zeitgeist: Conspiracy or Internet idiocy?

While Zeitgeist is an interesting and unusual film, the ideas it presents should be approached with some caution. Before taking my word for it, visit this site to watch the movie online: » click here to view

Zeitgeist abounds with conspiracy theories and makes a very good case against Christianity (according to the film; there is no record of Jesus as a historical figure; the story is more an astrological metaphor), and it also has a section attacking the central bank of the U.S.: financiers like J.P. Morgan intentionally precipitated the depression by calling in loans on mass for their own advantage, and the central bank continues it’s hegemony by providing the government with currency at interest that can never be repaid.

There is also an expose on 9/11 claiming it was all an inside job, perpetrated by the U.S. government. This really does seem incredibly far fetched; although some very compelling evidence is presented. The buildings collapse in the manner of a controlled demolition where a series of charges cause implosion. Why did the interior steel structure collapse? Why was there practically nothing left of the planes? (Even with particularly bad crashes, there is always substantial wreckage). Why did an adjacent building which wasn’t hit by a plane also collapse? You can even see a series of small explosions down the WTC just before it collapses; makes you think anyway.

The main problem with the ideas Zeitgeist presents is that they lack credible sources. Wikipedia:,_the_Movie Gives some background info, producer etc. The criticism is worth reading:

"In addition to attracting significant public interest, it has been criticized for relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence and for using unidentified, undated, and unsourced video news clips, voice-overs, quotes, and book citations without page numbers. In a piece entitled Internet idiocy: the latest pandemic, the Arizona Daily Wildcat refers to the film as "internet bullshit" saying that "witty sayings, fear tactics and a cool, assertive air all enable them to convince the unwitting public of their points". In one of its few mainstream reviews the Irish Times called it "unhinged" and accused it of offering nothing but "surreal perversions of genuine issues and debates"
Many conspiracy theories seem to omit details that don't support their case while focussing on those that do. Zeitgeist is no exception.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lame Ducks

Has no one noticed that Wayne Swan looks rather like a duck? Considering his name and the uncanny resemblance, it's surprising that more cartoonists haven't made milage out of it. Sorry about the silly picture Wayne; I really couldn't resist. The serious issue here is the current obsession with basic commodities like petrol prices, groceries etc. Do people really think that the government has any real control over such things? Surely they realise that imports are part of a global economy and as such can't really be controlled. As far as petrol goes, if anyone wants to play a blame game here they should be pointing a finger at previous governments for not exploring viable alternatives to petrol. It has been increasingly obvious for many years that a fuel crisis would develop sooner or later.

Certainly 'working families are hurting because of the skyrocketing price of fuel, high grocery prices and interest rates. Any government would need to address such issues to ensure political survival. Ultimately, these issues are a distraction; people can't expect a goverment to do what it can't, however much they would like them to.

People should be expecting the government to focus on areas where it can have some influence, such as dismantling the diabolical 'Work Choices' policy of the Howard goernment. This was an area that most people did very quickly see for what it was; a bad joke. The very name 'Work Choices' was a joke; the only choices most workers were being offered by their bosses was 'my way or the highway'.

Government can exercise meaningful control over areas, like:

  • developing a more compassionate immigration policy (no more children behind razor wire please)

  • a more reasonable approach to the Nothern Territory intervention and indigenous affairs

  • a more equitable and efficient health system

  • an improved education system

  • a telecommunications/broadband network that doesn't lag years behind the rest of the world

  • an improved public transport system

  • a more progressive environmental policy

These are areas towards which the Rudd government has at least made some positive moves. Wayne Swan can be partially forgiven for his anatine appearance.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Police remove Bill Henson's nude photographs

The roslyn oxley9 gallery sent out a media release on the 23 May, 2008 saying the following:

Statement on behalf of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and Bill Henson

After much consideration we have decided to withdraw a number of works from the current Bill Henson exhibition that have attracted controversy. The current show, without the said works, will be re-opened for viewing in coming days.

Bill Henson is one of Australia's leading contemporary artists and is internationally respected. His works are held in every leading art institution in Australia and are included in the collections of a number of the world's most prestigious art museums. The Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria have both recently held a retrospective of 30 years of the artist's work.

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery will remain closed while the current exhibition is re-hung.

Someone had complained to the police and the Vice Squad removed the photographs on the grounds that the photos were pornographic.

Since then, controversy has raged on TV, in newspapers and on radio in Australia.

What are the photos? They are nude photos of 12 to 13 girls and boys. The photography is, in my opinion, very artistic. Shadows are used to show what the artist says he intends. To evoke the vulnerability and fragility of that stage of adolescence. Coming from the light to the dark or vice versa. The shadows also act to cover most of the sexual parts of the bodies, although not all. I don't know if that was the photographer's intention. But he has been showing such photos around the world and in Australia for many years. He says this stage of life fascinates him. He also takes many other photos of subjects not so controversial.

Recently, the Australian Government held a Twenty 20 summit including the experts in all fields of life's endeavours. Many ideas were floated and presented. It was seen to be a success. But the Creative stream of the conference, headed by Cate Blanchette, released their statement saying that this was censorship of art.

Now, I don't think it is censorship of art until the matter has been through the courts. If the works are said to be pornographic (which I don't think) then the gallery and the artist has committed a crime and the works should not be shown. It has not been the Censorship Board which has made these decisions.

What bothers me most is that a girl or boy of that age is not in a psychological or emotional condition to be able to give informed consent to being models for the photographer. Of course their parents gave consent. But is that right? I don't think I would.

The photographer is 45 and therefore in a position of power during shootings. I'm not at all suggesting that the young people were not safe in this environment. The photos portray the youths as almost asexual really. Now I don't know what control the parents or youths have after giving consent to the photo shoot. Do they have control of the finished shot? Presumably this would have to be the photographer's decision.

I know nudes of all ages have been portrayed in art. But in photos? And in these times of hypersensitivity to pedophiles and child sexual abuse and exploitation? Of course there are the really sexualized images of young girls in advertisements but these girls are clothed. I hate it, but I wouldn't censor it.

I don't think these Henson photos are sexualized. But it still disturbs me.

Well, the matter is in the courts now, so I guess not much more can be said.

But I'm interested in your view. I cannot show any images here. They are copyrighted. Many galleries do not allow viewing of larger images however

Written by contributer, Jenny Campbell from multifarious mushrooms

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Human Rights and Wrongs

Che Guevara Most people in western, developed countries take their rights for granted. We assume that we will be treated fairly under the law, that we will have reasonable working conditions and rates of pay and that our governments will govern with our best interests at heart. This is of course not the case in many 'third world' counties where no such rights exist. Even the slightest divergence from the official line is treated with brutality and harsh repression. Political and religious tolerance is non existent. People are commonly arrested, tortured or made to just 'disappear'. Many people living under such regimes take great risks to fight for freedom and often pay the ultimate penalty, such as Che Guevara (pictured). Many people in the developed 'free' world are so apathetic they don't even exercise their right to vote, or only vote because they are required to do so. They are completely complacent when it comes to politics because they labour under the assumption that they are 'free' and that their standard of living will continue indefinitely.

rodney king beatingIn actual fact, people living in developed countries have little more real freedom than those under repressive regimes. Perhaps they do not usual suffer the human rights violations common in some parts of the world, provided they are white, anglo saxon and protestant. Those not belonging to the dominant cultural group or those unfortunate enough to end up in prisons or places like Guantanamo Bay have a different experience. Images of police beating up black drivers bear testament to this.

The governments of western 'democracies' are just as repressive as goverments of less developed countries with a reputation for brutality. Their techniques for controlling the population are just much more sophisticated than old fashioned violence. Western 'democracies' allow us to elect a government from only two viable alternatives: Liberal vs Labor, Labor vs Conservative, Democrat vs Republican etc. all amount to approximately the same thing. One party with slightly left leanings, one slightly right; just two shades of barely distinguishable grey. While it is preferrable to a one party state like China, or states which pretend to have elections like Zimbabwe or Burma it basically amounts to the same thing: the interests of the ruling class are in any event preserved.

Western 'democracies' are in reality ruled by an oligarchy made up of those controlling large corporations. Any government which dared to oppose such interests would find itself quickly out of office. Just ask Gough Whitlam or Jack Lang. Large corporations are subsidised to the tune of billions of dollars in the interests of 'boosting the economy' while corporate bosses draw obsence salaries, all the while trying to cut the wages and conditions of those in the 9 to 5 rat race. Consumerism, a corporate controlled media and high levels of debt ensure the complacency and submission of the general population. Dissent is usually tolerated as it is unlikely to do any harm and 'freedom' is of course good for business.

This is a much more efficient system than countries that control their populations with old fashioned repression. The regimes of countries like Burma, Zimbabwe, China etc. are bound to sooner or later fall. When the level of repression rises and the standard of living falls to intolerable levels, heroes like Che are bound to rise and dictatorships are bound to fall.

The bottom line is: GIVE A DAMN!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Brazilian Priest Finds God

"A Brazilian priest who rode a bundle of party balloons into the horizon to set a flight record has disappeared. Rev. Adelir Antonio di Carli took off from the coastal city of Paranagua in southern Brazil, buoyed by 1,000 helium-filled balloons. Wearing a helmet, aluminum thermal flight suit, waterproof clothes and a parachute, he was attempting to break the 19-hour record of human flight by party balloons. Eight hours after takeoff, di Carli was reported missing after he lost contact with authorities. Rescuers said they have found the balloons floating in the ocean off the coast of southern Brazil but have seen no sign of di Carli, who planned to use money raised from his adventure to finance a "spiritual" rest stop for truckers in Paranagua."

source: CBC News

The Rev di Carli evidently had a great deal of faith; he did not wear a life jacket and although he was carrying a GPS did not know how to use it. You'd have to applaud the priest's bravery and his noble plans for the money raised. You'd definitely have to feel sorry for him. You'd also have the think it was an extremely silly thing to do.

Do events like this cause people to question their faith in god? Surely god would have to be looking after a flying priest raising money for spiritually bankrupt truckers. Evidently not. In early times, people thought god literally lived on top of a mountain (Olympus, Zion etc.). After a while they learned to climb mountains and found god wasn't there. It was then decided god lived above the clouds. After a while longer, basic aviation was discovered and god was still not up there. Now space travel, deep space probes, space telescopes have been discovered but still no god out there. God has now conveniently become a metaphysical entity with no physical dwelling, as science has the annoying habit of encroaching on the unknown. Despite this, a growing number of people are blindly following their religions with increasing fanaticism. This wouldn't be a problem if there wasn't so much killing done in the name of peace and love.

Perhaps the Rev. di Carli is closer to god now; we can only hope. God moves in mysterious ways but so do balloons.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

China steps up to the Olympic plate

Scenes of protesters harrasing the progress of the Olympic torch seem incredibly ironic. They underline the fact that the 'Olympic Spirit' has become something other than the IOC would have us believe.

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is the organisation's motto. Mutual understanding, a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play - that's the definition of the Olympic Spirit from the movement's charter.

How many of these qualities does China's society possess? Even before the Tibetan crackdown human rights abuses by the Chinese authorities were common knowledge, but little action seems to have been taken by western countries. Words of concern and inconsistent economic sanctions aren't enough to make a difference. Granting the Olympics to China is a tacit approval of the heinous abuses and persecution that exists in this, the last great totalitarian dictatorship.

Parallels can be made with the decision to hold the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.
"The decision by the IOC goes towards justifying a repressive political system that each day flouts freedom and violates human rights... Following the example of Nazi Germany in 1936 and the Soviet Union in 1980, Communist China will use (the games) as a powerful propaganda instrument destined to consolidate its hold on power. The decision by the IOC goes towards justifying a repressive political system that each day flouts freedom and violates human rights." said Francois Loncle, a member of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Socialist party.

The question must be asked: why choose China? China's booming economy allows them to throw a huge amount of money at the games, build the best facilities and provide the best junkets for Olympic officials.

The stipulations that athletes do not voice any political opinions could also be seen as an infringement of their human rights. Don't we have a right to freedom of speech? If the hosting nation's human rights record was not a great concern would our sporting bodies be stressing these rules?

Perhaps the Olympic movement's charter should be expanded to include the motto "money, money, money".

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Whale Sushi?

Why are the Japanese killing whales in Australian waters? Are we really to believe they are murdering these beautiful creatures for the purposes of ‘scientific research’? What is the purpose of such research? It has already been established that if you stick a dirty great harpoon in a whale it is likely to die. What do the Japanese actually do with the carcasses? Is whale meat such a delicacy that they are willing to endure international censure and constant protest by groups such as Greenpeace in order to continue the practice. Apparently, yes.

At the risk of sounding jingoistic; these question need to be asked: Didn’t we win the war? Are the Japanese to be allowed to perpetrate the same cruelty on whales as they did on their wartime victims? Can’t we just run a gunboat up there and blow their sorry butts out of the water? The short answers are: yes, yes and no…

Japanese trade and investment is of course much too valuable to this country and most others for governments to offer anything more than a token objection to this carnage. Greenpeace is to be applauded for having the guts to risk life and limb on the high seas in the vain hope of preventing further slaughter. Perhaps governments should consider that the Japanese need us as much as we need them as far as trade goes. Japanese trade will still be there long after the whale is annihilated as a species and the environment is on the brink of destruction.

So will we, but for how much longer?

Rogerson's Underbelly

Disgraced former NSW detective Roger Rogerson has been writing reviews about the hit show Underbelly, which remains banned in Victoria pending outcomes of legal hearings involving key characters in the series. The reviews have appeared in The Daily Telegraph and syndicated Australian media coverage.

“I never liked Melbourne or their crooks. And watching Underbelly last night reminded me why. It wouldn't have happened up here in Sydney like down there. We had more control over the crooks up here, and I reckon most of the crooks would agree. But as entertainment it was pretty good with more sex than violence.”

It seems very ironic for Rogerson to be writing about this program. Rogerson undoubtedly has excellent first hand knowledge of underworld dealings, but having been sent to prison for perverting the course of justice and for lying to the 1999 Police Integrity Commission it seems reasonable to wonder just how close that first hand knowledge is. Rogerson received his first criminal conviction in 1985 for involvement in drug dealing when he was charged with conspiring with notorious Melbourne drug dealer Dennis Allen to supply heroin. The conviction was overturned on appeal. Rogerson was responsible for the shooting death of Warren Lanfranchi. During the inquest the coroner found he was acting in the line of duty, but a jury declined to find he had acted in self-defence. Rogerson was later commended by the police force for his bravery. However, it was alleged by Lanfranchi's partner, Sallie-Anne Huckstepp, and later by the infamouse Neddy Smith, that Rogerson had murdered Lanfranchi as retribution for robbing another heroin dealer who was under police protection and for firing a gun at a police officer. Fellow police officer Michael Drury has alleged that Rogerson was involved in his attempted murder. Drury claims he refused to accept a bribe Rogerson offered to change his evidence in a heroin trafficking trial of convicted Melbourne drug dealer, Alan Williams. On June 6, 1984, Drury was shot twice through his kitchen window as he fed his three-year-old daughter, Belinda. Rogerson was charged with the shooting and Williams testified that Rogerson and Dale Flannery had agreed to murder Drury for $AU50,000 each. However, on November 20, 1989, Rogerson was acquitted.

If the NSW police force had more control over crooks than their counterparts in Victoria did, could it be because the crooks were on their payroll? If the events depicted in the Australian mini series Blue Murder are to be believed, you’d have to say yes. Blue Murder was similarly banned in NSW until legal proceedings involving Rogerson and other characters were completed. Rogerson compares Underbelly favourably with Blue Murder in his column, which again seems ironic as Blue Murder doesn’t exactly paint a flattering portrait of him. I find Underbelly to be more concerned with entertainment than Blue Murder was, and there is definitely much more emphasis on sex. While it seems necessary to the story up to a point; of course cashed up criminals drive fast cars and love fast women, the sex scenes tend to predominate at the expense of the plot at times. Roger has also drawn attention to this tendency. I doubt the sex scenes have damaged the ratings much, but that said; I never miss an episode, it’s absolutely riveting. Blue Murder remains for me a much more realistic and serious work. The violence was cold blooded and chilling and the implications of a state largely run by a corrupt police force in tandem with organised crime quite terrifying.

Interestingly, Roger Rogerson has been much more complimentary towards Underbelly in his most recent column: Daily Telegraph, Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I wonder who’s payroll he’s on now…