Saturday, October 13, 2012


At home on a Sunday, planning to watch Happily Never After on DVD with a young relative who's spending the day here.

Within a minute we've been taken hostage by the evil fairy who's decided that we need to watch several full minutes of the Starlight Children's Foundation's marketing schlubble whether we like it or not.

Scene after scene of sick children - burns to their faces, bodies in casts, scenes from hospital wards. Aw shucks. Sick cute kids. What's not to love? Where's my wallet?

Frankly it sickened me and made me utterly furious. We were unable to proceed to the movie (a kid's movie) and I ended up turning the television off with the DVD rolling until it was over.  Which took several minutes. I kept checking from time to time, only to be confronted with more images before the screen mercifully offered to 'play movie'.

I don't like having horrible scenarios in full colour video forced down my throat when I'm innocently sitting at home schlepping around on a relaxed afternoon with my favourite kid. I particularly don't like the thought of this young child, who owns the DVD, being forced to watch these advertisements every single time she watches her cartoon.

I was almost reluctant to write this post thinking "ooh - sick children - I shouldn't feel like this" but at a gut level I know there's absolutely nothing wrong about my reaction. How dare they FORCE us to watch their advertisement?  How dare they sell these DVDs without advising the buyer that the viewer will not be able to watch the movie without watching the commercial. Every. Single. Time.

Once the movie is rolling, I go to my laptop to read the newspaper. The top right corner has a child with a disfigured face, the advertisement headline screaming at me to do something about it. Once again my reaction is visceral - shock; distress. The ads where they show pictures of poor, abused bears, dogs, cats are just as bad. It's relentless and utterly uncalled for.

It makes me less likely to donate or respond positively to the cheap marketing ploy and even more cynical about fund raising in general, which I already find unimpressive with their backpacker representatives on each corner, lunging when they see you, trying to make you guilty before you have the chance to back away or think of a suitable response. The fact that there's a whole industry out there of fund raising companies who are contracted by the charities makes it even less likely that I'll find the milk of human kindness within me on this particular day. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Emergency calls

Sitting at home watching A Current Affair which is on after the local news as I check email, Twitter etc. (Blushing. I can't believe I'm admitting to watching this dreck).

There's a story on prank callers to emergency services - ie "000" - which is the number you call, in Australia, for emergency access to police, fire and ambulance services.

And yes, of course the people who ring up when they're drunk, or stupid, or kids having a lark should be punished for tying up the lines, however one example caught my ear tonight - a lady (clearly drunk) ringing up to say that the local Dominos pizza place wouldn't give her a small pizza until she handed over $30 (which is much more than a small pizza should cost).

Which got me thinking. Why is it legal for Dominos (or any business) to ring 000 if the lady walks out without paying for a pizza whereas people (who pay for emergency services) don't seem to have the right when they've got the same grievance against a business?

Photo:  Dunechaser

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Midweek, sitting in my pyjamas, watching (the rather execrable) Big Brother on television and waiting for inspiration to strike. The inmates are dressed in Hawaiian shirts having one of their theme dinners and someone is calling out questions from a sheet; "What song could you listen to over and over and over again". Camera pans to various inmates who sincerely name their faves "Here comes the sun"... "The Prayer. Reminds me of me mum"... and so on.

The reason I'm actually paying attention is that I've lost interest in Twitter tonight, which is twitching with outrage at the suggestion by the recently departed Cory Bernardi that the gay marriage issue will open the floodgates to other minority groups wanting equal marriage; namely polyamourists and bestialists. (Is that how you spell it? I'm reluctant to consult the Great God Google for obvious reasons...).  (Ok ok - it's zoophilia. I'm such a pedant I just couldn't proceed until I knew. So I searched and now we know).

Normally I'd just have a bit of a chuckle about this but I'm feeling a bit perplexed. Normally I'd think that people with liberal values are more evolved than conservatives but tonight I wonder. Twitter was aglow with indignation at Bernardi's comments, cheering at his resignation and rubbing it in his face. If I didn't know the context, I'd think they were nutjobs.

Bernardi is saying that it's just a matter of time before the polyamourists start clamouring for the same rights. I have no trouble agreeing with this. Of course they will. Why wouldn't they? Parts of the world have accepted polygamy for millenia. It's not as if it's a new lifestyle choice, apart from the recent development that women can love as freely as men. If enough polyamourists want to take this step they will try to get it legalised. Just like pot smokers, people who want to walk dogs on beaches and anyone else who wants to have a crack at doing what they enjoy.

The zoophilia thing is likely to be tried sooner or later as well. This wouldn't be *because* of the gay marriage debate, it would just be a group of opportunists trying to push their barrow, just like always.  In my lifetime I've seen so much shift that I have no trouble believing that this group may even succeed, especially in this era where "experts" on just about anything abound and critical reasoning or informed public debate is almost non-existent.

So I wouldn't "blame" gay marriage for this; if anything I would blame the Internet. After all, if there's anything that desensitises us to things that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, it's the Internet. Youtube alone is full of content that I can't even bear to think about let alone watch, including material that once upon a time would have been called snuff and was most definitely illegal.

My personal thoughts on gay marriage are that it's really none of my business however if it comes down to voting on it I'd happily vote "yes".

But it's not gay marriage I'm interested in tonight. (I can't believe anyone is interested in gay marriage other than gay people who want to marry, frankly). I'm more concerned about the lack of discourse in public life; the overreaction/outrage when someone expresses an opinion that's in contrast to one's own; the failure to engage with those opinions and explore the issues at a more deep level.

The housemates on Big Brother are moronic. They have all day, all week, more than a month now to get to know each other, get past the personas, think of things to talk about yet they need scripted parlour games at dinner time in order to have something to talk about. Watching them converse is like being in the waiting room at the end of the world. Not one interesting idea, not one thought that is worth pursuing, no apparent big questions or small intimacies (other than the inevitable clumsy stumblings in the dark while the infrared cameras roll). It's like watching monkeys at the zoo only not nearly as interesting.

I'd rather spend time with people who I utterly disagree with, who can explain their ideas and engage in debate, than any person who has similar views to mine but cannot defend or challenge them. It really bothers me that even "liberal minded" people seem willing to force others to censor their opinions at the same time they expect others to accommodate theirs. Both groups are disinclined to engage or enter a genuine dialogue and we're all the poorer for it.

The final thought I'll add is that there's a "teachable moment" here that has been missed; always gets missed. Unlike the older, more experienced and more cynical politicians who are running loose in public life in Australia at the moment, Bernardi is sincerely confused. Sincerely doesn't think straight. Speaks from a position of emotion and reactivity and, in fact, represents the views of lots of people who are confused and concerned at the complexity of the world around them. Wouldn't it be much more constructive for us all to engage in some genuine discussions and debates around this stuff? Explore the issues? Help people work their way through a process where they can find and defend their opinions?

Nope. Thought not.

Images:  Nuria Fatych

(Just heard the announcement that the proposal to legalise gay marriage in Australia has been defeated in Parliament. For now.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Dang. Another year; good intentions; couch potato; you get the drift.

I remember back to 1995 or so when my organisation finally decided to upgrade my PC from a 386 to a 486. For about 2 weeks I was happy - everything worked faster - I could finally get some work done.  Until about a fortnight later when I felt the old frustration. This computer had to go. And so it went until about 2005 when computers finally caught up with what I pretty much needed. Nowadays I don't care. They do what I need them to do and I don't complain anymore. Much.

With the blogging, I have fantasies about software/hardware that writes directly from my brain. I have no trouble believing that we'll see the tools in my lifetime. I've seen so much invented even in the last decade that I no longer disbelieve anything. And anyway - this software/hardware would be able to capture my ramblings and observations, allowing me to edit on the go; take notes; earmark pictures and so on.  Because I actually blog all the time. You probably do too. Once upon a time I talked to myself but since the internet I definitely blog instead. In my head. All the time. Sitting down at a computer is the hard part.

I have nothing in particular to say today. I just wanted to stretch my fingers; feel the satisfaction of having written something instead of just tweeting or grazing. I love Twitter - it's my favourite social media application - just the right balance of closeness/distance - yet it's pretty much destroyed online culture as far as I'm concerned. Almost no-one I know creates anymore. And the ones that are the most in denial about it are the ones who say they curate; facilitate; whatever.

Doug Rushkoff says we all should code.  Andrew Keen is warning us to go back the way we came. They're both right. What do you do?

Image:  wili hybrid

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shop 'til you stop

Lots of gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands in the media on the question of why people have stopped spending.

It's simple. We've got enough stuff.

I've spent the last decade staring at people in shopping malls. Every weekend I would see them. Droves. Carrying lots of bags. Just like the Christmas crowds used to be for the first three quarters of my life.

"What are they buying?", I'd wonder. I kept waiting for it to stop or slow down, thinking that it was a response to the cheap imports from China - a binge that would slow down to a trickle once people accumulated enough trinkets.

Then I started telling myself that it must be people who were moving into Sydney - the newspapers were full of stories about the people squashing into the city, driving up rents and house prices and so on.

But in the end it's even simpler than that. The shoppers were you and me and now we've got enough stuff.

My cupboards are full. I've got enough sheets, blankets, clothes, crockery, shoes, furniture, Xmas wrapping paper, socks, glasses and appliances to last me for many years.

At my local shopping mall the shops are almost exclusively full of clothes for young women. No supermarket. No food shops. Not much really. Just lots and lots and lot of clothes shops. And the clothes are crappily made. I wouldn't buy them, even allowing for my middle-aged cluelessness about what's fashionable at the moment. And yet, those shops are empty.

It had to happen sooner or later.

Martin Place on a Tuesday in August

I walked through the city last night after attending a talk at Parliament House.

Walking through Martin Place on my way to Wynyard I noticed the St Vinnies van serving food to a large number of people. At first I thought there must be a festival event on or something. As I got closer I saw that it was homeless people lining up for sandwiches and coffee. Yet they didn't look "homeless" (I worked with homeless people many years ago - I'm not making a fatuous or naive statement). Most of them looked like anyone else you'd see walking down the street on a Tuesday night. Maybe not Martin Place per se given its demographic, but certainly the sort of people you'd see at a suburban mall.

I tried not to stare, but my shock was visceral. So many people. It reminded me of the tent cities I'd read about in the US following the GFC. Why isn't this covered in the papers? Why do we keep reading about how great we've got it here in Australia? Great for whom?

And who are these people? Where the hell will they be sleeping tonight?

Walking towards Wynyard I passed a number of bars and swanky restaurants where well dressed people were dining and drinking cocktails looking like extras in a Sex and the City shoot. The juxtaposition really troubled me. Walking behind a couple of young women in suits teetering from one bar to another on 6 inch heels I wondered whether they'd even seen the van, the hungry people, the scattered belongings on the ground. I didn't judge them though. What does one know really about homelessness when one is well insulated from the problem?

Today I notice the Mission Australia press release about a $2.7m project that will provide housing and support for 70 of the neediest people. Peanuts. Our New Years Eve fireworks usually cost twice that. The stupid Breakfast on the Bridge that inconveniences thousands of motorists and startles the poor cows (literal) - who are brought in as props - costs half that.

Today I'm still haunted by the image. So many people getting their nightly meal from a St Vinnies van on a cold Tuesday night. Yet as an issue it seems to be wallpaper. Like Patrick McGorrie's mental health issue prior to his prominence, it's not sexy. Intractable. A bit anxiety provoking - there but for the love of God and all that...

That's all. Not a great post. But I just had to write it down to try get the image out of my head. We'll see how that goes.

Photo: Sweet One

Monday, June 21, 2010


I've been too busy to post a running commentary on the crocodile-teared billionaires who are trying to save the country from the resources tax that will destroy those eternally suffering "working families" that constantly seem on the brink of destitution but today's article with Twiggy Forrest announcing the end of the tax (without any evidence or announcement from the Government) takes the cake.

The fact that these billionaires have made it clear that they expect to be consulted on any significant announcement from the Government has shown me the degree to which the tail is already wagging the dog. That they are willing to spend multi-millions on advertising tells me alot about how much spare cash they seem to have lying around. And any Australian who continues to fall for this scare-mongering re superannuation and so on deserves the feudal system they're heading for.

I don't know what else to say. I'm just astonished.