Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wake up, Australia

It's been a little while since I mounted a crusade on this blog. In fact, I've only ever mounted one from memory and that seems to have either been very effective, or so unimportant that it dropped from view anyway.

This one, however, is an issue I have come to feel very strongly about. As all of you will know from her blog, Nai, of Legend of a Cowgirl fame, has recently completed a month of working in the Pitjantjara Lands in Central Australia and has written two of the most confronting and evocative blogs I have ever read. They are the thoughts and emotions of a young white woman working in an indigenous community in 2007. The two posts, entitled Welcome to the Hellmouth (Parts 1 & 2) show her journey from feeling the responsibility of a gentle, comfortable, white outsider to respect and work with the community

"I like to think (and man, I hope I'm right) that I am in a different category from the reactionary right because I can see the 'how's' and the 'whys' not just the mess that needs fixing, but I could be wrong." (Part 1)

to the shock, anger and despair for the current (almost?) irreversible situation that indigenous Australian communities are in:

"Here is another basic timeline: Stone-age hunter-gatherer culture, invasion and disempowerment, dehumanisation (not citizens until 1967!), indentured and forced workers, limited education possibilities for the majority of indigenous people and then; "Here, have a multi-million dollar corporation and welfare/guilt money- but don't fuck it up". (Part 2)

If you only read one blog post about the current state of indigenous Australia, read this one. It's in two parts, and I strongly urge you to read them both:

Welcome to the Hellmouth (Part 1)
Welcome to the Hellmouth (Part 2)

If you have a blog, an email, a large-readership print publication, whatever, please try to direct your readers to this fascinating and infuriating piece.


GTH The points go to River for getting in first and fastest in this week of multiple blog entries! They were ginger pork dumplings from Beijing and the most delicate things I've ever eaten.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Captain Caveman deals out the parenting tips

I just had the incredibly frustrating experience of typing a long and whimsically intelligent comment on Milly-Moo's blog, only to have Blogger eat it. So I'm turning it into a blog post. Clever eh? Yeah ... well ... to you too, buddy.

Her excellent post revolved around the dilemma that must be facing thousands of Australian parents at this very moment: you and your family live in Australia and ascribe to Australian culture, but your children want to go trikRtreetin. Why? Because they saw it on telly. Or one of their bratty (let's face it) little friends saw it on telly and thought it'd be a swell way to get their paws on some free candy. They want to dress up in the spooky costumes that are just about covering every retail shelf available and knock on strangers' doors, squeal the magic words and be showered with the high-sugar vittles from the huge bowl that every Australian stranger knows to keep by the door on the 31st of October every year.
How the hell do you resist that kind of cultural blackmail? How do you stop the little darlings from harbouring resentment for ever more because you didn't let them join in the assimilation-I-mean-fun?
How? HOW?
Yes, it's simple.
That got your attention, eh?

This is a trick my father taught me (because he used the same basic technique on me once, which I will tell you about in a minute): when your eager-eyebrowed offspring ambushes you with the innocent request to go skipping about the neighbourhood for candy and treats like they do on TV and like Melinda-Jane did last year, you simply sit them down and explain that Halloween and trikRtreetin are American customs. Not Australian ones. We have our own customs, like eating yiros' and voting compulsorily. Then, while that's sinking in, you take them down to the supermarket, give them ten bucks and tell them to buy as many sweets and lollies (use the proud Australian vernacular) as they like. Then take them home and sit on the couch watching movies with them while they pump their guts full of whatever it is they've bought and yelling "Fuck off! We're in Australia!" in loud, cheerful voices whenever a trikRtreeter comes a'knockin'. They still get the lollies, but without the horrid cultural indoctrination. After that, they can make of it what they like.
How did old Dad pull this one over me?
I wanted to go to McDonald’s. Oh yeah. Despite being the son of Captain Anti-America, I still coveted the Big Mac, the Cheeseburger, Hamburglar’s fries. I wanted to be served by Grabble or Grobble or whatever the fuck his name was and live in shiny-benchtopped heaven.
Dad always said no.
I probably only asked him once, but once was enough to get the theme of future requests, debates and discussions surrounding Maccaz. But, they’re a sneaky, evil, wicked bunch (in case you have
n’t seen Super Size Me or McLibel). They got to me eventually. Through school. Free Big Mac vouchers. I could hardly believe my luck. To a seven-year-old, this was the winning scratchie. I put it carefully in my bag and took it home. I had a brief panic when I couldn’t find it, and then another after I’d found it when I realised that the expiry date was the next day.
‘What do you want for lunch, Sam?’
‘Dad, um, I’ve got this, um, can I
, can we, can you take me to McDonald’s? I got a voucher thing from school.’
Silence. Unimpressed, disaffected silence.
‘Fine. Let’s go now, I want to make my lunch.’

McDonald’s. I was finally getting to go to McDonald’s! Not for fries or a cheeseburger, but a Big Freakin’ Mac!
We walked out to the car together. It was very hot and I held my voucher in my hand to make sure it didn’t blow out of the open window. We drove quickly to the McDonald’s on the Cross Rd intersection and parked in the car park. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but Dad followed me inside and up to the counter. I quietly gave my precious voucher to the man behind the counter and he turned around, yelled something and passed me a hot cardboard box.
‘You ready?’ asked Dad.
We went out and sat in the hot car in the car park. I opened the hot box and took out the big, not-so-big Mac. It had tart mayonnaise and orangey cheese and lots of thin shreds of warm lettuce kept falling out of it and onto my t-shirt. I felt a bit sick eating it in the sun, but I was still eating a Big Mac. I finished it and put the cold, soft edge bit back into the box.
‘Put that box in the rubbish bin.’
I got out of the car and walked across the hot car park and put the box into a bin filled with more greasy cardboard. After that we drove home and Dad made a sandwich and I never felt like McDonald’s again.
Take away the facepaint, the charities, the music, the quirky music, the toys and the worldw
ide safety-net for those who are squeamish about unfamiliar food and all you’ve got is a crap burger.
Like Halloween: take away the marketing, the money spent on dress-ups, the incalculable cost of taking on yet another aspect of American culture as our own and all you’ve got is an expensive sugar spew.


I would like to extend my congratulations to Tallora and Luke on their engagement last weekend, and in particular the immense amount of fun we had dressing up for their Halloween Engagement Party.

Monday, October 29, 2007

He should have gone with the magic beans

I just finished watching Four Corners.
No, this is not going to be a blog about how I'm becoming my parents.
Tonight's story was about Australia's fleet of aging fighter planes. In order to keep the ladies interested, I'll keep the technoporn to an absolute minimum:
The F-111 has been Australia's fighter plane for ages. In an age where you replace your computer more regularly than your car, these things have been flying around blowing up shit since the 60s. So, it's time to replace them with something new. Something exciting. As any fan of technology will tell you, "new" and "exciting" almost always equal "spine-gougingly expensive". There are a few planes around to replace the Kingswood Of The Skies, but Four Corners focused on the one we Australians eventually bought to replace it: the Boeing Super Hornet. It interviewed a bunch of pointy-heads who said that it was a piece of shit, and a couple of jarheads who loved it.
I can't tell.

It flies, it shoots. Done deal.
Four Corners made it seem like a bucket of bolts, and that may be true, but it's not my concern. What piqued my interest was the little tale about how we ended up pressing the "Ship Now" button on the Boeing website in the first place, on a whizzer that apparently the US didn't really want, but bought anyway because it felt bad that no one else in the world wanted it (except for eventually Sheriff South-East Asia). Brendan Nielson apparently watched the Boeing promo video, decided it was tops and told the Australian Government to hand over its credit card. The rest of the show was about how shithouse the Super Hornets are and how we should all just stay with the Kingswoods Of The Skies. The bit that caught my attention most, however was how much a carton of Super Hornets cost:
6.6 BILLION DOLLARS! (place little finger on bottom lip). That is with a 'B' as in 'bullshit', by the way. For 24 planes that are only being used to fill a gap until the next bargain comes along from Lockheed-Martin, which should arrive sometime before we all divide into Eloi and Morlocks.
I was dumbfounded, as I'm sure you are (or better be). I'm not about to debate the cost of effective military hardware and arms races and all that frankly macho bullshit. The point is that it's $6.6 Billion that I seem to remember a certain politician taking away from my colleagues and myself during the horrors of V.S.U. $6.6 Billion that he carefully trimmed away from higher education like so much long-pig so that he could spend it on planes that fly and shoot, but, as demonstrated in a simulation on Four Corners, couldn't actually make it to Indonesia and back without needing paddles, inflatable life-raft and a few infants to toss over the side to ensure national attention around election time.
As someone who is about to start work on the dreaded Research Quality Framework, making humanities and social science academics justify the positive life influence of their research (like trying to extrapolate the cost-benefits of telling children stories at bedtime), I want to just send this video along instead of every report with a note that says "I might be studying poetry in an extinct language, but at least I'm not blowing $6.6 Billion on shit that don't work!"

The only catch is that in this economically conservative environment, the cost of paying for those fighter planes is probably less than the cost now needed to re-invigorate Australia's education system to the point where we can actually think our way out of the need for them.


I'd also like to take this opportunity to welcome to the blogoblag, my personal hero: Jimmy Thins. The Jimmy Thins Style is a publication of taste, hilarity, hand-made flash and chocolate chips. I wanted to link one of his videos here, but he is mix mastering them to a new location, bitches. I will host the next one. I urge you to check it check it one two. Now!


Trent rolled out with the dirtiest joke (I won't reprint - check last post's comments!). Sorry O.o. Sam, crapped out. Jono was geographically closest with his guess at the Cologne Cathedral for the picture, sorry Neil, it was the St Peter's Cathedral in Prague.

Monday, October 8, 2007

One size fits all my butt!

I have long considered the possibility that I may be religious.
Allow me to pause a moment while those who know me well wipe whatever it is that they were drinking from their screens, keyboards and sinuses.
It's true, I don't tend to hold religion in the highest regard, although lately I've come to think that it's perhaps not the nature of religion itself that causes so much torture and pain in the world, but the silly people who use it to justify cutting off their own testicles and forcing other people not to enjoy themselves.
I've just finished reading Robert Winston's The Story of God, which, apart from being very informative and a wonderful companion to Sophie's World (a young adult primer on philosophy from Socrates to Foucault), seemed to hold the view that religion resulted in the quite evolutionary need for soft pink monkeys to hang around in groups in order to survive. This, coupled with the evolved monkey brain's need to explain the things it couldn't (ie. What's the sound? and How did this banana get here?), formed a sort of mud-map of existence and meaning.
A + B = C
Water + Dirt = Mud
Og + Punch = Fight
Dancing + Chanting = Rain
Sacrifice + Gold = Prosperity
No Prosperity + More Virgins = More Sacrifice
That kind of thing.

Read in conjunction with
Sophie's World, The Story of God allowed most religions I had heard of to make sense. Religion is very similar to philosophy in that it attempts to explain the world. I think religion is a bit more proactive in that it attempts to explain what to do once you've explained the world, which is probably why it gets into so many fights with science. Science is still stuck on the first bit about how the world works while religion seems to behave much like the impatient maths student I once was, throwing the answer sheet on the teacher's desk and bounding out the door without bothering to show all working out.
I admire that in religion. It's a very selfish philosophy, really. Not in a bad way either. If the answer seems right to you, who is anyone else to say any different? We're not talking about numbers here folks, we're talking about whether you should steal, swear or have sex with certain kinds of people! It must be very gratifying to follow a religion and be right about these questions all the time.
Swearing? No! Never!
Sex with boys? No! Evil!
Fish on Fridays? Yum yum yum!
See what I mean? Always the correct answer! You don't get that kind of positive reinforcement anywhere else!
I do have a tiny philosophical issue with religion in that since I regard all people as different, I think that every single person needs their own code of practice. What's great for one person isn't necessarily wicked cool for someone else. That kind of thing. Religion doesn't really provide for that diversity of people in society. Each religion has its own set of rules to be followed and most religions have great rules: don't hurt other people, be nice to your parents, be nice to your children, don't steal, etc, etc, etc. You see where Robert Winston got his enthusiasm for the theory that religion developed out of a need for physically defenceless monkeys to form groups to survive. The monkeys that had the best groups survived and the best groups tended to have least number of thieving arseholes in them - hence the rules. 'Follow these or you're on your own the next time a sabre-toothed tiger turns up'. Good incentive, that.
But these days sabre-toothed tiger numbers are down, sadly. Monkeys are up. Yet the rules remain. They're still great rules, but mostly self-evident, I feel. The problem is that the rules still seem to be under some kind of moral copyright, as though the values and modes of nice human behaviour were held in holy patent offices, stamped and traded to the thankful consumer.
'Oh, thank [insert deity] I did not kill my parents!'
'Praise [insert deity] that this beautiful day exists/my lotto numbers came up/I got the job!'
It's entirely ego-centric of me, but having lived a life entirely without religion, I am yet to come across a moral conundrum that I couldn't sort out myself. Of course, there have been a few fuck-ups along the way, but I own those. They were all part of the learning process.
And here comes the schism between my own beliefs about correct moral behaviour and religion:
I don't think that you should tell other people how to live.
That's it. The difference between my perfect ethos of life and religion is that I don't think other people should follow this rule, because it's not even a rule yet. It's just a philosophy, a theory that could be proven wrong at any second! But I'm pretty confident it won't be.
Religion has a whole set of these rules and explanations that have kept billions of people happy for thousands of years, so it can't be doing too badly for itself . But it's still telling people what to do and how to live without letting anybody figure it out for themselves. This might seem tough to live by, just letting people do what they want and trusting that they will do the right thing, but remember, I'm not peddling answers and explanations here - this is all about me.
Get your own.

The thing I do admire about religion is its art and its rituals. To the right here you will see my favourite building ever. It is the Cologne Cathedral and is, without exception, the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. I will write about my first, exquisite encounter with it another day. Without religion, it would not exist. Would anything be in its place? The answer to that is as pointless as the question and best left to fiction, but churches can be incredible things to behold. But, being devoid of religious influence, they simply cause me to wonder at the glory and talents of human beings, rather than explain my rapture through some intangible feeling about the inexplicable.

The ritual is another aspect that I find strangely attractive; comforting even. To me every religious ritual from prayer to blessings to yearly festivals seems utterly meaningless, but soothing, fun and calming nonetheless. Rituals are that aspect of religion that causes the individual to stop all else, re-centre, re-focus and engage with whatever explanations for existence, meaning, hope, despair and life they have in their brains. I imagine it's like the comfort a mild sufferer of obsessive-compulsion feels when they switch the light off for the second time, safe in the knowledge that it didn't blow the instant they turned it off. The engagement of ritual sets the scene for a world about to be put right and its completion brings satisfaction and strength within the self.

I said at the beginning of this post that I have considered the possibility that I may be religious. I'm not, but I do have a ritual. A calming, meditative state that can be achieved only at a certain time of day and under the correct conditions. Those conditions aren't always present, but not a day goes by when, at 6pm, wherever I am, my mind enters its own little prayer-room and, if fortune is with me, my body follows. Here is my own personal ritual for calm and peace, followed by a call to prayer:
At 5:55pm I finish all activities, save all documents, close all webpages, bookmark all pages, stack all papers and remove my shoes. I go to the fridge. I select a bottle of Cooper's Pale Ale and place it in a stubby holder. I do not remove the cap, but I ensure to invert it gently to allow the yeasty mud to trickle through the sweet, heady liquid, just as my own troubles dissipate and disperse, diluted with perspective and calm. I fetch a packet of fancy chips. Never plain, never chicken. Every day needs a luxury, a treat, a reward for feeling happy and a salve for feeling sad. I banish all others, sit comfortably in front of the television and watch Jane Riley visit another part of the Adelaide microcosm to report the weather. I watch the post-news Channel Ten plug and am grateful that I don't care about whatever it's talking about. Life is good.
The music starts:

GTH: For those of you who just skip to the end of the writing for a grab at glory on a the world's 1,803,855th most popular website, the winner is The Other, other Sam. It was indeed taken at 2006's Adelaide Arts Festival Opening Night. There were dozens of beautiful floating globes drifting around the river, forever ingrained into the minds of the hundreds of Adelaidians who were so thoroughly disappointed at the school pageant/lighting warehouse clearance sale that was the OzAsia Opening Night. However, there are points to River and Neil for their kick-arse jokes.
I also mentioned in the last comment thread that there would be a joke-related competition this post. So: dirtiest joke wins. That's it. Make of it what you will. Nothing shall be censored, unless it's racist or in any way supports the Dutch.

An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32