Saturday, December 24, 2005

Stop the presses!

I had actually planned to take a couple of days off from blogging, reading news, checking email etc but I just had to post a story about this. It couldn't wait. And I couldn't wait to tell you.

Naomi Watts, human lead in the recently released King Kong film, Australian actress (born in England but we claimed her after she became famous), friend of Nicole Kidman...

... are you ready for it?...

... sure now?...

OK. I'll tell you. She visited a herbalist. YES! In Surry Hills. I can't believe it. I've heard on the grapevine that she has been known to put petrol in her car from time to time, but that may still be a rumour. That she visits restaurants and has a mobile phone is certain. People have taken pictures of it. And anyway, "sources" close to the star have confirmed it.

This is almost as huge news as the time I heard about Hillary Duff walking into a Starbucks and ordering a machiato. Who'd have known?

I probably won't blog again until new year unless something really important happens. Like Nicole running up to the shop for milk.

So until then, have a safe and happy Xmas. And make sure you spend spend spend. Cos that's what it's all about.

Credit to vee8 for the photo

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I never metaphor I couldn't milk

Here's a little piece I stole from Kevin Marks who stole it from Susan Cheevers.

It's late at night, and you are in your homecube cruising auction sites for furniture on the Internet. You know you shouldn't be doing this because according to the law we must avert our eyes from other people's furniture unless we have bought a licence. You want to go to sleep, but you can't because those same laws prevented you from ever getting a bed and you don't know what one looks like. Then you see something out of the corner of your eye. What the hell is it? It's some weird woman with white paint on her face pursing her lips and holding her finger in front of them. She's wearing a stripey shirt. Oh my god. It must be a mime artist; I heard about those when I was a kid. What's she doing now? She sits on the floor, lies on her side, puts her hands under her head and closes her eyes. Is that what you do in a bed? Can I get arrested for watching this?

WTF?? She's got the same breasts as me. How can that be? And look, she's rubbing her nose just like Grandad used to when he told lies. That can't be right?! She can't be entitled to that - it genetically belongs to me. By law. That's outrageous! What a shame that the copyright for the electric chair was bought by that freakshow Amnesty bunch of weirdos.

I raise my hands to my breasts in alarm. Thank God. They're still there. Well at least I'm not disfigured. I paid a fortune for those.

Thx to Bright Tal for the photo

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Off the rails

I hope those bloody New York transport authority workers go back to their thankless, subterranean, service industry jobs pretty soon ‘cos I just can’t afford the consequences. I wasn’t there either yesterday and I’ve just heard that the penalty for not turning up is two days pay for each day you’re not there. Shit. I must owe them millions by now.

But you’ve got to admire a law that allows the employer to earn twice as much as they pay you. Hell, someone should set up a franchise! I’m more surprised they didn’t encourage these people to strike sooner. And more often.

And for what? For conditions they don’t deserve, even though they’ve already got them. Clearly they’ve had them too damn long.
All across this city, workers who have no pensions and who must pay huge premiums for health insurance hear about transit workers fighting to preserve pensions at 55 and employer-paid health insurance. They fall prey to the Bloomberg line of "greedy workers."
These greedy workers are just trouble. And, by the sounds of it, in dire need of constant surveillance.
Local 100 President Roger Toussaint has repeatedly complained that the MTA issued a phenomenal 15,000 disciplinary actions against his members last year.
I just hope he got disciplined for complaining like that. It's not his place to complain.

So it’s good to see some objective journalism being practiced in these highly emotional times, such as the cub reporter who penned this:
The Transport Workers Union has elected to illegally strike against the citizens of the City of New York and all of those who live in the region and need to travel into the five boroughs. This is an outrageously irresponsible action and a terrible miscalculation.
Until then I hadn’t quite realised that the strike was against citizens, let alone the citizens of the City of New York who have suffered enough for one lifetime. That's so un-American, isn't it? So I say cut to the chase; call it the urban "terrorism" it is and get the bloody SWAT team in there pronto. And while we wait for the sound of Humvee’s and helicopters to arrive, let’s hear some more from the cub journalist:
The key concept here is that such a strike is unlawful. The State Legislature, under the Taylor Law, properly set up a procedure to protect the public from the unfair power a municipal union can wield against the people of a city. But in so doing, it allowed for other procedures, including arbitration, to settle matters when they become stalemated. If anything, municipal unions have been treated fairly under the Taylor Law. The union is now being held in contempt.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the negotiations, it is clearly necessary for public agencies, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to get a better handle on rising health care and pension costs…
Can’t argue with “properly” set up procedures, I suppose. Nor laws. That’s why they're called laws. You just have to obey them and shut the f*** up, see? And according to Seattle Times,
most New York unions dealing with public sector employees have been getting wage rises for years. That these haven’t kept up with the overall level of inflation in the country isn’t the employer’s fault. Even if they are sitting on a pretty surplus of $1 billion. That’s just more “nitty gritty” stuff that might confuse you if you start thinking about it. And the two-tier salaries? Two is twice as many as one. So it’s gotta be good.

Considering the transport workers haven’t gone on strike for 25 years in a city that is famed for its crack whores, homeless, muggings, tourists, ganstas and that cultural abomination Sex and the City suggests they’re probably just pulling a stunt. I mean, if they could handle all that for the last quarter of a century, why strike now? No. They’re just being peevish, trying to threaten consumers' God-given rights to travel the city in search of bargains 24/7 and deliberately making maids and nannies and bus boys and waiters late for work. And as if that’s not bad enough, the suffering seems to have no bounds:
At the United Nations, diplomats ate cold salads or served themselves from steam tables when most of the kitchen staff didn't turn up for work.
What is this? Freaking Darfur? At least Wall Street had the sense to charter luxury busses so that the important work of buying and selling abstractions could continue in peace. They probably had better catering too.

Witnessing these levels of resilience is almost as poignant as the time that spoilsport Greens member tried to ban drunkenness for politicians in NSW parliament. At taxpayer subsidised alcohol rates of course you’d get pissed, you fool - who you trying to kid? And it's not at all ironic now, nor was it then, to note that the same group of politicians were at that very time coming down hard on Sydney’s own subterranean transport workers, threatening to sack them if they so much as had 0.1% of alcohol in their systems, one fifth of the legal limit at which you may drive a car in NSW.

The Premier at the time had a fairly decisive view on things:
Asked why politicians should be allowed to be drunk while on the job when public sector workers such as train drivers undergo drug and alcohol tests, Mr Carr said MPs can't be compared with those who, among other things, have to operate brakes.
No. Much more dangerous to operate brakes (on vehicles which have the option of automated brakes being applied if impulse response buttons are not pushed every 30 seconds, on tracks which pretty much go in one direction) than to make decisions about billions of dollars, millions of people, hundreds of laws, shitloads of roads and national parks and hospitals and schools and aarrggh – I don’t think I can go on... - let's get back to that strike in New York...)
The strike comes at a time when the labor movement has suffered serious setbacks at every level. Most recently, auto workers are being asked to take unheard-of cuts in pay and benefits and union membership continues to free-fall in the private sector.
I have no satisfying explanation for the many embittered folk who, instead of considering their own losses and disintegrating work rights in recent years (which, surprise surprise, coincide with the demise of unions and changes in legislation), form a nasty, hungry, resentful pack, trying to divest the "lucky ones" of what they still have, reminding me of compounds in South Africa (we call them "gated communities" - at least South Africa didn't mince words there) where an armed black guard would stand ready to shoot anyone who attempted to enter the property and was quite often more racist than his masters. I see it, I recognise it, I don't understand it. It's like a collective mental illness or something.

According to the New York Times
The authority improved its earlier wage proposals, dropped its demand for concessions on health benefits and stopped calling for an increase in the retirement age, to 62 from 55.

But then, just hours before the strike deadline, the authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, put forward a surprise demand that stunned the union. Seeking to rein in the authority's soaring pension costs, he asked that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay. The union balked, and then shut down the nation's largest transit system for the first time in a quarter-century. (emphasis mine)
Yet for all the rage and bluster that followed, this war was declared over a pension proposal that would have saved the transit authority less than $20 million over the next three years.
So the guy who's in charge of this billion dollar authority in one of the biggest cities in the world waits until the last minute of negotiations, introduces a completely new agenda item and asks people who already are falling behind every year in relative wages to take a futher 4% pay cut, calling it a "contribution". I just hope that someone works out his salary and conditions and publishes it.

Still, not everyone had a bad day yesterday. Canny marketers, with reptilian accuracy, took ADvantage of the possibilities offered by Google. (OK - terrible pun, but it's my pun, so I'm leaving it in).

And the final word really does have to go to the following anonymous, and quite possibly prophetic, comment overheard in New York:
Suit: I read that they're gonna be replaced by robots soon. A robot's not gonna complain about pension.

Cheers to larimdaME for the great photo

Monday, December 19, 2005

Pigs fly!

I'm a bit stunned and very pleased to report that Warner Chappell Music has apologised to Walter Ritter! (the guy they unreasonably threatened after he wrote a specialised search application that was becoming popular). They've even woken up to the opportunity that was sitting there all along:
"Ritter says Warner Chappell is now talking with him about ways to create lyrics search tools with the blessing of music publishers, but the experience will cause him to think twice before committing his next big idea to code."
Like the Sony fiasco (the link will take you to an article called How Sony became an ugly sister - number 1 search result from Google news using the word "sony"...!!) and the Grateful Dead reversal, let's hope the Warner apology represents another small shift in the entertainment companies' collective understandings of what people will or will not tolerate. Let alone the abundance of talent and good ideas out there just waiting to be discovered.

Another feel-good story this week is Worldchanging's post on India's Traditional Knowledge Digital Libraries (TKDL), which has accumulated 30 million pages of data documenting traditional medicines and practices in "abundant detail".
"The goal isn't to restrict the use of these traditional medicines, but to ensure that they cannot be patented in places like the United States and Europe because of a lack of documented "prior art.""
How cool is that?

Certainly much cooler than the Telcos lobbying for 2 tier system (via Smart Mobs, via Boing Boing, via Clay Shirky, via Boston Globe, what the hell is the etiquette for these things can someone please tell me..) which is essentially a push for yet another future where some people are more equal than others oink oink;
"The Boston Globe reported on Dec 13 that the newly combined AT&T/SBC are lobbying on Capitol Hill to be allowed to create a "two tiered" speed system for their broadband customers. So that they may slow down video and presumably other content from sources outside of their company over their broadband conenctions...

...this kind of feudalism coupled with monopolism destroys the open commons nature of the internet. Most, if not all of the major business successes and innovations on the internet (Google, Amazon, Ebay, etc) have been due to the internet's fundamentally open nature.
Buggars. If they think we're going to accept a future where we serf the net, they've got another thing coming. Like bankruptcy.

Photo by Ange

Sunday, December 18, 2005

'Tis the season to be falsie

The Center for Media and Democracy is currently holding its second annual "Falsies Awards" contest to identify the most flagrant propagandists, spin doctors and information polluters of 2005.

Take their survey to vote for the most deserving loser.

(And speaking of weird media, I was listening to the ABC news on TV earlier tonight and heard them report that police had "found molotov cocktail implements including condoms". Seems to me that they've missed the whole point about safe sects...)

Cheezy grins to Dr Joolz for the falsies :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Take Christmas. Please.

Y'know I wish that bloody Grinch would steal Christmas.

Sitting at home again tonight nursing my misanthropy, dark furry and familiar little puppy that it is, telly droning in the background, tapping away at the computer. At first I didn't really notice what was on but pretty soon it became clear that it must be the Carols in the Domain time of year again. And, whoopee, this year they're the Woolworths Carols to boot! Kewl. Just like the olden days when Lordit Inbred III indulged the wassailing serfs for one brief Christmas moment, returning a fraction of the fruits of their labours as a token, but I digress…

I remember as a little kid being quite fascinated by the David Jones Christmas family advertisements on television, vaguely ashamed that my family was nothing like them, eyes drawn to the fabulous presents under the perfect tree. The beaming smiles, group hugs and poignant moments with Grandma looked a bit unfamiliar too but hey, what the hell did I know. Maybe other families were like that. But even then, Christmas was still something fairly local.

I remember going to Carols in the Domain a few years after I moved to Sydney thinking it might be good to partake of some of that public peace and goodwill to all men. And if that failed, I knew I would still enjoy the thousands of bats that fly around the Domain's fig trees at sunset - they never fail to please. But instead of participating in a candle-filled night of song and celebration, we became the "audience" for a spectacle being manufactured and beamed to the rest of Australia, complete with the host celebrity following a script, settling the peasants during station commercial breaks and urging us back into life when the cameras came back on. Most of the crowd couldn't see much of the action on the stage given the size of the event so the majority of us watched the whole thing on giant screens beside the stage, seeing the same show as anyone else who was at home watching television, apart from the bit parts we played as the happy crowd whenever we were required to cheer.

Yet as I watched tonight, on the small screen, I began to wonder do we really need Dorothy the Dinosour and the Wiggles to facilitate our annual dose of collective song? And even if their inclusion can be justified by the sheer numbers of children who absolutely love them, what's the excuse for the other minor celebrities? Is Carols just another fetish on their altar of ego? Where they would do anything for the attention?

But no. Surely noone in their right mind would want to sing "Little Drummer Boy" in front of hundreds of thousands of people, trying to remember how many bloody pa-rapa-pum-pums there are before the next bit, just to get admired by an audience? I remember how mortifying it was to sing it at school even without the weird time signatures. No. There must be some other reason. Though I'm yet to discover it.

And the poor crowd has no hope of singing along most of the time anyway. For a start too many of the songs are unfamiliar to the audience, American imports generating images of Father with his politically incorrect pipe, standing by the fire roasting chestnuts, snowflakes falling prettily outside the window. In other cases, where there might be more hope of participating in traditional and well known pieces, they're turned into cabaret arrangements where no-one has a hope of singing along unless they attended the rehearsal and learned the secret handshake. Which may not be such a bad thing given how Australians sing, but still, it's a bit churlish on the part of the organisers.

And can you imagine what poor John Lennon would make of the decision to engage Leo Sayer to sing Merry Xmas (the War is over)? Talk about incongruity! Not that there's anything wrong with Leo Sayer, but it’s a bit like Mork from Ork being invited to host Live Aid (tho' given my feelings about the insufferably pious and irony-deficient Bono, that's perhaps not such a silly idea...) And as if that’s not enough they're now threatening to bring out David Hasselhof next. Good lord!


Hahahaha!!! That wasn't disappointing in the least. Wish I’d filmed it or something. His song was God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman. Nice sturdy tune, no-nonsense pace, minor chords keeping it all in check. Except that if you were a Trobriand Islander you’d have wagered all your yams on the certainty that he was singing the story of Exodus. Or perhaps Odysseus’ reunion with Penelope. No, the Hoff did not disappoint at all (and really I had to hold my sides during the third verse when he swayed from side to side with his arm in the air - if someone had put a cigarette lighter in his hand it could've been an AIDS fundraiser or Tsunami appeal).

And much as I clucked and chuckled through many of the minor musical crimes committed during the evening, I really did need to take my hat off to the woman who sang one song in particular (which I cannot name because I just couldn’t bear for her to ever read this) like she was bashing a saucepan with a spoon. I actually turned from the computer to watch the whole thing because it was so startling. But at least the crowd would have been able to keep up with that one, so I suppose some community singing did become possible on the night.

I was surprised to note that there were no public warnings about terrorism or the need for huge numbers of police to protect the crowd. But then again it must have been self evident that no terrorist in their right mind would put themselves through that for the sake of a mere holy war.

While it was fun in parts, I had to sigh with relief at the end when they sang Go, Santa, Go.

And finally they went.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More on DRM

I'm developing a crisis of confidence (not to mention identity) about this damn blog business. I'm still not sure what I'm writing about, who it's written for, or why I do it apart from the original purpose, which was to learn a bit more about blogging by immersing myself in it. And in that regard I'm no further down the track than I was in July when I started. Or in the other two attempts each year before that when I gave up after three weeks. (OK, I lie. In my second blog I lasted a day. Gah).

Not only that, I'm learning a bit too much about all the crappy things going on in the world and it's really doing my head in. If it wasn't for you three faithful readers, I'd be inclined to chuck it in altogether.

So it's been good, this week, to find some happier takes on the whole digital rights management thang, such as the Rolling Stone article revealing that the Sony debacle goes on (and on, and on...).

Or the Herald Tribune, which is running a New York Times article about video bloggers and includes a snippet about the guy who runs Blogumentary:
"One post there uses video that Mr. Olsen shot without permission during an indie-rock concert at a local club. The result records not only a great performance by the band but also Mr. Olsen's argument with the club's manager, who tried to confiscate his camera. The story evolves into a smart, funny discussion of copyright issues and the philosophical difference between the world-views of the vloggers and traditional media companies. "There's no economic motive," Mr. Olsen says in titles that appear on the screen like a news crawl, noting that the viewer is not being charged for the video. "The point is to capture, and share, fantastic, fleeting moments."
The article infers that you see the argument with bar owner - you don't, but it's a still great piece of video. Called Welcome to the Future, it's worth watching (and, dare I say, downloading...?) though I must warn you to TURN YOUR SPEAKERS DOWN. THEN TURN THEM DOWN AGAIN before pressing "play". (You have been warned. Twice.)

Finally, Jon Udell's Info World column includes the two-way media Web which looks at the difficulting of quoting "a simple remark from a webcast" and moves on to some guarded but optimistic predictions about DRM...
Digital rights management opponents, who like to point out that the R in DRM means restrictions, not rights, suggest that technologies such as Microsoft’s Protected Video Path will soon prevent this kind of copying. It’s tempting to spin out doomsday scenarios but I’m a bit more optimistic. I choose to believe, perhaps naively, that when push comes to shove the Supreme Court will defend fair use. No matter how that struggle turns out, though, we’ll pay a terrible price if we let Hollywood and the tech industry define our rich-media technologies.
I'm still gropeable, and still likely to keep ranting about this for some time yet, but I am also concluding that sooner or later people will vote with their feet, companies will learn the smart way or the hard way, entrepreneurs will take advantage of the huge opportunities in the market being vacated by the fat cats and peace will descend upon the Earth once again.

Or something like that.

Cheers to mjutabor for the great shot of our nearest cousin

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Would you like freedom fries with that?

Imagine buying a bed and being told that you were only licensed to use it for yourself and one other person for the life of the mattress. Imagine having to buy sheets and pillowcases only from approved providers and not being allowed to mix and match the linen you already have at home. Imagine being required to obtain permission in writing from the manufacturer before you can, after 5 years or ten, donate the mattress to a homeless men’s shelter or sell it on ebay.

Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. Whoops, I just “pirated” two lines from John Lennon’s Imagine. I’m such a bad-ass. Some people think I should be locked up.

What the hell is going on with digital rights? While we’re all doing the chicken dance at weddings, playing World of Warcraft in secret and trying to lose the “love handles’ we acquired over the winter, the so-called entertainment companies are in the process of stitching up our cultures in ways that are beyond imagining. Not content with the innovation and technology bonanzas they have already enjoyed in recent decades, they’re now lunging for even bigger pieces of the pie, overcome with hubris and greed, sure they’re going to win the battle. Sadly though, they’re probably right. At least in the short term.

Consider the recent incident where a fellow called Walter Ritter created a search application called pearLyrics which matched lyrics with mp3’s, displaying the result in people’s iPods as the music played. Great idea. No money exchanged, just another day in Web 2.0 land where creating a tool for the common good is reward enough. And what happens? The goodfellas at Warner send in the hounds to threaten him to stop using his intellect to produce applications they don’t like even though he is in no way tampering with any of their products or services - they are in fact tampering with his right to produce. Why do they do it? Because they have enough money to keep appealing and escalating their case until they win.
As a freeware developer I can not afford to risk a law suit against such a big company, although personally I don't see where pearLyrics should infringe any copyrights handled by them. After all pearLyrics only searches and accesses publicly available websites, displays, and, at the users wish, caches its content. Something that can easily be done with any combination of search engine and webbrowser too.
Or how about Sony, 2005’s number one “digital rights management” (DRM) poster child? Who believed that it was acceptable to - without telling people - include a rootkit on CDs which installed itself onto customer’s hard drives, making those computers vulnerable to hackers and viruses. In a format that was virtually uninstallable. Who then, after being shamed mercilessly by bloggers, released a tool which uninstalled the rootkit but then created an even bigger vulnerability. And so on. So when I read thatSony's rootkit, as bad as it was, isn't the real story. The way the entertainment cartel is applying DRM as a whole is the real story.” I find myself paying attention.

Clearly the Sony rootkit is just the thin edge of the wedge. The article Music industry seeks access to private data to fight piracy describes the push by Sony, Disney and EMI to gain access to the personal communications data – records of phone calls, emails and internet use - of all European Union citizens so that they can take legal action against “pirates” and filesharers. Meaning that they want to augment recently adopted "terror" laws so that "the scope of the proposal" [ie the data collection for counter-terrorism purposes] ...can be "extended to all criminal offences," in this case meaning to those of specific interest to the Creative and Media Business Alliance. That they expect police and other public resources to be placed at their disposal for these purposes gives an indication of how much power they already think they have.

Of course once this particular genie gets out of the bottle, we can wave goodbye to our individual privacy rights, especially in an era where a significant (and growing) proportion of our personal communications are mediated by technologies that are able to record each syllable and pixel. And when you hear that there are 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels alone who are specifically there to push their barrows, it starts to look even more alarming.

As I type, on this thirteenth day of December, politicians in France are deciding whether to ratify draft legislation which includes prohibitions on software that does not integrate both a watermark and DRM, universal wiretapping systems for private communication and universal filtering systems for all ISPs. And if that’s not stringent enough, the so called “department of culture” in the land of libert√©, egalit√© et fraternit√© is threatening to ban free/open source software altogether with "You will be required to change your licenses." … "You shall stop publishing free software". Forgive me here, but I can almost hear the jackboots. Honestly. It’s like something out of Hogan’s Heroes, complete with the terrible German accents. If Bill Gates was at the helm of this particular ship, we’d be calling it antitrust and mounting his head on a wall. And imagine what Satre, Camus or any of the dead intellectuals would make of it all? Quelle damn horreur, I’d say.

"The Xerox machine was the big usurper of our potential income" bleats a representative from the Music Publisher’s Association, “But now the internet is taking more of a bite out of sheet music and printed music sales so we're taking a more proactive stance."

Pirates are stunting software growth!” screams another headline, telling us that “software piracy, rampant and hampering economic growth, is increasingly performed by organized groups regarded as legitimate businesses in some countries...” That the research supporting this view was commissioned and paid for by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the software manufacturers making this press release, doesn’t seem to make anyone blush. Elsewhere we read that "When countries take steps to reduce software piracy, just about everyone stands to benefit" ... "Workers have new jobs, consumers have more choices, entrepreneurs are free to market their creativity and governments benefit from increased tax revenues." And “The BSA's research, conducted independently by the International Data Corporation (IDC), claims that cutting the current global piracy rate of 35 percent by 10 percentage points over four years could globally create 2.4 million new jobs, $400 billion in economic growth and $67 billion in new tax revenues."

Which, by my reckoning, means that they’re already making shitloads of money. Billions and billions. So I’ve gotta say that these people are really starting to get up my nose with their hard luck stories. Happy to exploit any innovation that serves them or fills their coffers, they become very unhappy when others take advantage of those same innovations. So I’m really not sure who they think they’re appealing to when they say that the study "provides a comprehensive snapshot of what we have known all along: reducing software piracy delivers real results in the form of more funding for education, job training, health care and overall economic growth." As far as I can tell, "we" could also argue there’s no evidence at all for any relationship between increased profit margins for giant media companies and increased government distributions of tax revenue into essential services. Nor do I fail to note their ongoing abuse of the word “piracy” which can only be compared to the rubbery fate of the word “terrorist” in recent times. Do they really think us that stupid? Just because we watch their crappy blockbusters, dance to their pap and buy their plastic merchandise? Apparently so.

But they’re not too bright either, from what I can tell. For a start, they fight all the time. That’s gotta cost a lot in legal fees and may not be so wise in an era where today’s gadget becomes tomorrow’s chip tray. They seem to have no appreciation for history, or the art of the long view. And you wonder why they even bother with all that conflict given that they don't lose sales, it's just the distribution of sales that's affected by file sharing practices. Maybe they saw too many Spartacus movies in their childhoods.

They’re persistent bastards too, using their cheesy Grinch analogies to convince us to buy “real” DVDs instead of those pirated nasties. But what about our freedom not to watch their execrable commercials and product promotions? Who gives them the right to impose those? Haven’t they heard that “no” means no? No. We're told that the "value of content must be understood by consumers so that new business models can evolve. Industry must have legal certainty and the confidence that their intellectual property will be protected.” Legal certainty, no less! Let's just hope that the evolving new business models eventually relegate these giants to the dodo status they deserve.

In the short term they do seem to be doing quite nicely in the new business models department, even without their (insert arbitrary number here)% lost IP through those damned pirates. According to the Sony Internet GroupThe company said it expects to post a 150 percent rise in group net profit to $84.3 million (10.2 billion yen) for the current fiscal year to March on sales of $359.6 million (43.5 billion yen), up 10.7 percent.

One hundred and fifty percent. Profit!

And if you’re still not convinced of the shamelessness of these people who will try to sue the pants off grandparents who commited no crime, live modestly and don't even understand what has happened, consider the latest issue of Forbes magazine (“How Billionaires Live”) where we learn that most of the billionaires featured have made their fortunes through software and entertainment. Such as record executive David Geffen, worth $US4.4 billion, who spent $US47 million buying a house from Jack Warner.

It may surprise you to learn that DRM screws musicians. I would have thought that the most compelling argument for digital rights management would be the "rights" of the musicians or artists. Er, no. That's not generally the focus, even if the notion is sometimes used for its emotional power to induce guilt or generate images of artists starving in garretts. Instead, we find ourselves being herded into increasingly bizarre "business models" such as the McDownload.

Where would Elvis be today if he'd been prevented from borrowing moves and licks from the black jazz musicians? Would Bob Dylan have succeeded without Woodie Guthrie's song structures and archetypal themes, themselves inherited from an earlier time? What about fans and fan sites, the rank and file of the consumer hordes? Will the entertainment companies sue them for exchanging copyright images of their false idols? Even though to most ears their products are a recognised form of torture?

In the many, many words I've already used in this post, I haven't focussed on the role or function of culture itself. Nor have I sailed the rivers of folk songs, stories, images and symbols that have been our collective inheritence for millenia - ours to create, play with, mash up, evolve, reheat, discard and/or rediscover; from the monomyth of contemporary times to the 12 finite notes of the western chromatic scale to the spectrum of colours that are seen in a given age. I've avoided sharing my views on how the commercialisation and commodification of culture has affected our belief systems, behaviours, communities and public institutions. Because it depresses me. And I don't really understand enough about it to really hold forth in a way that is informed, well thought out or original.

Whatever the case, I believe that the legacy of music and art and dance and story that has accumulated in human history is more than a series of "entertainments" to be carved up and bartered. That the current legal "owners" of so much of our cultural inheritance consider it all merchandise says a lot about them. And it's no surprise that so much of the pop culture they generate contains themes about pimps and prostitutes and gangs. Nor that we the audience glamourise these themes. We live in pimpin' times it seems. Think about that the next time you infringe Time Warner copyright by singing "their" song Happy Birthday.

Thanks to lanterna for the bed, bat'n'ball for the music and brainware3000 for McFreaky

Monday, December 12, 2005

The ugly Australian

I am going to make this really short. Because I don't trust myself to write something even reasonably moderate. Except to report that:

Up to 5000 Australians gathered at a southern Sydney beach yesterday. Hundreds of them formed a mob which attacked a range of people on the basis of their "middle eastern appearance". Police trying to protect the victims were pelted with bottles. An ambulance helping the injured had its windows smashed.

The crowed sang "Waltzing Matilda" and "Advance Australia Fair" (our national anthem). If you hadn't known any better you might have thought it was Australia Day. Video footage today shows hundreds of Australians, full of beer and venom, draped in flags, wearing racist slogans on their shirts and bare backs, punching the air and chanting "Lebs Out" or "F--- Off Lebs".

Meaning people of Lebanese extraction. Which on this day included two schoolgirls who were born in Jannali, which makes Cronulla their beach too.

For the first time in my living memory of public spectacles, girls participated actively, assaulting other young women to the delighted, encouraging, demented chants of "Cat fight, cat fight...", as well as being victims of the random brutality.
About 7.30pm a young man of Lebanese appearance, arms held out imploringly, sprinted south on a footpath towards the protective shield of the police stationed at Cronulla Beach, hotly pursued by a drunken mob numbering hundreds. He outran the mob and was saved by police, who placed him in the back of a police van, which was then surrounded by the mob.

As the van drove away, one young Caucasian girl laughed and said to a male companion: "That was sick. I've never seen a dumb Leb run so fast. How good was that?"
Somewhat mysteriously, our Prime Minister refuses to call the violence "racist". Which implies that he will not be taking advantage of the new sedition laws which he forced into place a week ago for precisely this purpose. So one starts to wonder when and why they're to be used.
Mr Howard also dismissed any suggestion his government's warnings about home-grown terrorists had fuelled the rampage.

``It is impossible to know how individuals react but everything this government's said about home-grown terrorism has been totally justified,'' Mr Howard said.
``Put simply, most Australians want a nation where, irrespective of their background and always respecting the right of people to maintain affection for their own culture, ... we should encourage to the maximum extent possible everybody to become part of the integrated Australian community.

``Any emergence of so-called ethnic gangs is a manifestation of tribalism and something ... we should try to discourage.
Unless it's "us" that's the tribe, of course.
Asked whether yesterday's violence was an example of tribalism, Mr Howard said: ``No''.
I can only wonder what our indigenous Australians are making of it all. Especially with Botany Bay just up the road.

Later in the evening news reports were being phoned in from the suburbs of Maroubra and Brighton Le Sands, telling of large mobs of people "of middle eastern appearance" smashing car windows randomly, throwing Molotov cocktails and wreaking revenge.

More disgusting acts. More vandalism. More violence.

I don't support either "side" in this urban war. But I do think that the young people who are caught up in it are the canaries in the coalmine, spouting the poison that's seeping into all of us, playing out what we collectively have accumulated in our hearts anyway through the recent years of manipulation, lies, fear mongering and global violence on all sides.

Unfortunately the only thing apart from violence that all the people in these stories share is the Australian accent. When I was listening to various individuals defending their positions on radio today I really couldn't tell which group was which.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Oi, Oi, Oi!

Nice photo, travisnicholson

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Liberating the (fish) net: Part 2

In the same way that Geek Gorgeous 2006 wondered “why should all the ditsy girls have all the fun?” the first question answered in the Girls of Geekdom universe is "are they real?" except they’re not referring to silicon enhancements; it’s “geekdom” they’re selling.

The producer of the calendar, in this case a male, goes to great pains to assure the consumer that the girls are genuine geeks. Presenting himself as the final arbiter of these matters, he pits the girls to a grueling test that rivals even the Princess and the Pea:
I asked for geek credentials, discussing "Last House on the Left" with the Horror Geek, talking endlessly about Star Wars and comics with the Comic Book Geek, asking about costume creation from the Renaissance Geek, discussing MS-DOS with the Computer Geek, looking at the Video Gamer Geek's Tri-Force tattoo, trying to get the Online Gamer Geek to get off her World of Warcraft game long enough to take the picture, choosing books from the Book Geek's LIBRARY, paging through the Pin-Up geek's collection of pinups, trading Ghostbusters quotes with the Movie Geek (who also makes movies), talking about Dali with the Art Geek, discussing craft and the usage of first and third person with the Writing Geek and having the RPG Geek explain why she needs so many dice. I'm not being snarky here, just assuring you all that these girls most certainly ARE geeks.
Gee. I’m so impressed with the depth and breadth of his experience and learning. Someone hose him down and bring him to my room immediately. Though I am a bit confused about the use of the word geek here. What the hell is a pinup geek? Someone who collects pictures of pinups? Has geek become a term that can be applied to anything? tells us that geek means:
1a. A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy.
1b. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.
2. A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.
which is followed by interesting paragraph on the circus origins of the term.

And all is confirmed in the Girls of Geekdom geek manifesto: "Once upon a time, it was a name for a sideshow attraction. These days it describes a whole subculture, a world that the non-Geeks fear and wish they could just sweep under the rug."

Yes David dear, but not for the reasons you’d think…

Rather tellingly, the latest headline of news on the site is “7th girl shot” which says it all if you ask me. But, like the previous calendar, it’s all a bit tame, including the Retro Gamer Geek who seems to be just about to fellate a game gun while staring at the camera with all the docility of Bambi - really she could be anyone’s daughter. Compared to that, Online Gamer Geek looks positively scary, with her scarlet bustier and word bubble icon that seems to say “insert your disk here”. Smokin’!

We never actually hear from the girls themselves. However we’re safely in the hands of “self confessed ubergeek” David Grelck who is both producer and photographer of the series. Apparently what makes David a real live geek (rather than a nerd, like his real-live rocket scientist brother) is his obsession with “NASA and space stuff”. “I'm a geek because I'm obsessed with things I should have no reason to know about. You're not a geek until you take your obsession beyond socially acceptable levels.”

I’m glad he cleared that up. As it turns out, I’m a geek too and didn’t even realise it! My specialism is men with vegetables. Perhaps I’ll apply for a grant or something.

So in my mind the whole thing is best summed up by the quote at the end of the article about the calendar which really does say it all:
"The geeks will inherit the Earth, that's true," Grelck says. "We're smarter and we'll live longer. We'll know what to do if a comet destroys Earth."

Merci beaucoup to agkamai for the fabulous space babe

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Liberating the (fish) net: Part 1

I can't help but think how proud Mary Wollstonecraft would be of the society that she helped shape today. I think she'd be especially pleased with the new generation of women with brains and beauty who are so generously sharing so much of both with us all.I was struck with this thought again recently via a post at Slashdot which pointed to two new 2006 pinup calendars.

The first, Geek Gorgeous 2006 Calendar, is raising money for a college fund for women to enter science careers by - er - putting other women in scanty clothing and parading them like lumps of ham. But hey, it's fundraising ham, so it's kosher OK?
"Sick of hearing complaints from male co-workers about the lack of attractive women in the computer industry, Lilac set out to show the world that there are plenty of beautiful, intelligent, and interesting women in the fields of computers and engineering".
Nice one, Lavender. That's like me complaining about the lack of attractive black people in my suburb. Or bemoaning the lack of poodles being walked past my house. If Stephen ever gets his Logical Fallacies site renovated I may even be able to find the name of the manipulative technique you’re using to justify your motivation, you wily wench.

In any case I wonder whether male geeks even would complain about the lack of attractive women in the industry. From all accounts, most of them are happy to have female coworkers at all. More importantly, as a rule “geeks” aren’t dumb-arse males anyway. Furthermore, here is the highest ranking result for “geek porn” on Google. And this pornographer isn’t going to have any trouble getting laid at all if you ask me. (Warning: contains language that may offend).
"All the models in the Geek Gorgeous 2006 Wall Calendar are women in the fields of computers and engineering. Although they have the technical skills to hold their own in a male-dominated industry, these women are far from being your typical computer nerds."
True. Though typical male computer geeks seem to be able to make their way in the world of tech careers without having to make backhanded apologies for their capability ("although they have the technical skills...") or dress in rollerskating waitress uniforms in order to feel validated. And, from what I'm told, they can also hold their own. So to speak, of course.

We also learn that:
"Her goal is not to objectify the girls in the calendar, but to dissolve the 'computer nerd' stereotype and allow these intelligent women to flaunt their fun, sexy sides and unique personalities, in addition to their technical skills."
Which is a bit mystifying if it's also true that women are still struggling to win credibility as genuine "computer nerds" in the first place. That the girls then include “thoughts and stories on working in the male-dominated high-tech industry” on their profiles while submitting to the camera in their underwear makes this blogger guffaw loud enough to wake the bloody neighbours.

Responding to people who may find the calendar offensive, Duff comes up with this exquisite piece of doublespeak:
"When women choose by their own accord to show off their bodies not to attract men and not to advance their careers, but simply to show they are proud of who they are both inside and outside, they are taking the power away from men to view women as one-dimensional sex objects."
And this:
"What is so wrong about intelligent women showing the world that they can be just as sexy and comfortable with their bodies as the bimbos, but hold careers where they are valued for nothing more than their brain power?"
Yeah, baby! But how can we tell if the men who are being attracted and are in a position to advance grrrl’s geeky careers realise this when they're tempted to slobber over the pictures? I mean, some of them are sexist too, y'know. Maybe the calendar should come with a user manual or online helpdesk just to be on the safe side. I wouldn't want to have you mistaken for "bimbos" or anything.

My favourite bit however is the bit at the top of her "protesteth too much" piece when she says: "The sad, but honest truth is that very few people would pay attention to, much less purchase, a calendar that features women looking ordinary." Because just being ordinary, like everyone else, just doesn’t cut it. So yeah, show us your tits by all means. Or, more correctly, show us your underwear. Because it seems you gorgeous geek girls are still a bit too vanilla to go all the way. And the result is laughable - a bunch of preppy women playing bourgeouise vamp. Give me a pastie-totin', loud mouth stripper anyday. At least I'll know what to call it.

Before I move on to the next calendar, I'd like to share these “comments” from fans (which sound suspiciously like the sorts of things you’d get your friends to write if you’re copping shit for all the right reasons):
"I like your calendar. I am a Director of Technical Operations and I am buying copies for myself, my brothers, and all of the guys who work for me."
Way to go, dude! I hope you remembered to take it out of the staff development budget, bein' a fancy "Director of Technical Operations" 'n'all. Though I am concerned that you failed to allow for any lesbians in your family or workplace. Tch tch. Ain't you ever heard of Equal Opportunity legislation?
"The women whose bios I read are quite impressive in what they do and have accomplished, and I agree with the premise of the project that it is about time that the world sees that female geeks are like the rest of the population"
Or, in other words, the 2006 guilty equivalent of “I read it for the articles”.

And finally,
"My production group is fascinated by your calendar's innovation and revolutionary concept."
which just has to be irony, surely???

By this stage I did start thinking, “OK. I am a bit of a terrier, I do love to take the mickey out of people just for the fun of it and I am sometimes too hard on people. What if I’m absolutely wrong about this?”

Fortunately (or otherwise) this pornographic image settled the question once and for all. (Warning: Not Safe For Work!).

And buggar it, I’ve run out of ink. I’ll post the next bit tomorrow.

Friday, December 2, 2005

For shame

Forty seven percent of people polled in Australia believe that executing another human being is more acceptable than trafficking an illegal substance. Most of these people, dullards at best and sociopaths at worst, have enjoyed peppering stale cliches like "Do the crime, do the time" through newspaper message boards all over the country in recent days.

Like chicken counters clucking excitedly before anything has hatched, many quoted the figure of 26,000 doses that could theoretically be obtained from a 400g batch of heroin, a figure they learned from the media, a figure they proffer as pregnant with meaning, a figure that settles the question. The fact that no drug user did die seems not to warrant consideration.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publication Statistics on Drug Use in Australia 2004, 0.2% of the Australian population used heroin in the last year. Other illicit drug use during the period includes ecstasy (3.4%), meth/amphetamine (3.2%), marijuana (11.3%) and cocaine (1.0%).

Deaths from accidental opiod (including heroin) overdose in 2003 and 2004 amounted to 364 and 357 respectively. Or approximately 360 people each year. So it becomes a tad difficult to tolerate the bad math from the dolts who refer to the "thousands" of people who were put at risk by Nguyen Tuong Van, aged 25, a first offender with no previous record, who was hanged by the neck this morning by the Singapore government and presumably died within the statistically average 15 minutes.

By comparison, a November 2000 Suicide and hospitalised self-harm in Australia report starts with the sentence: "Suicide is a prominent public health problem in Australia. Currently, more than 2,500 people die by suicide each year" with a similar number (around 2,100 each year) dying in transport accidents.

Research into drug use in this country overwhelmingly shows that tobacco and alcohol are by far the most dangerous drugs in society. Yet alcohol, the drug that is most likely to affect other people through violence, family breakdown and abuse, is celebrated as a central part of our national character. Inuit people are said to have 30 words for "snow". Australians have at least that many for "drunk". So the government is to be applauded for its funding of various initiatives aimed at minimising the use and abuse of these legal substances. But it is sobering to read that:
"the net government revenue associated with tobacco products increased from $4.3 billion in 1995–96 to over $5.6 billion in 2003–04 (Table 2.4)"
"The net government revenue associated with alcohol increased from $2.5 billion in 1996–97 to an estimated $3.3 billion in 2003–04 (Table 3.6)."
That no-one in public life alluded to the seemingly arbitrary and culturally determined nature of drug law (where some countries allow opiates, others incarcerate alcohol drinkers and the line between prescription medications and street drugs is increasingly blurred) during Nguyen's final days surprised me.

If we had been considering a vicious murder or violent rape I'd have concluded that the nature of the crime itself had led to this level of public support for execution as an appropriate punishment. But it wasn't. It was a law relating to a drug that is amoral in itself - opiates are used legally in most countries to provide pain relief. It was a law relating to a substance that the user/"victim" chooses to obtain and inject. It was a law relating to illicit scenarios where the people who profit most from the crime are rarely identified or arrested, where the dime a dozen drug mules are disposable pawns of no genuine value in any sincere "war on drugs".

Meanwhile jails and brothels all over the country contain countless individuals who are addicted to both legal and illegal drugs and who have ended up in those places because of those addictions. But before you say "Well there you go - drug abuse is the scourge of our society!" consider this: "There is...a direct correlation between children being sexually abused and youth suicide, homelessness, prostitution, crime and drug abuse."

Anyone who wants to find heroin doesn't have to try too hard. It's out there. But how many of us do? How many of us have even considered it? Buggar all, if not less. Is heroin the problem? No. Is execution a solution? No. Does child abuse get identified as the issue deserving the most urgent attention in a civilised society? No.

A survey last year asked people to prioritise a list of key issues facing society that concerned them. Child abuse rated 15th on the list. Which may have been forgivable if "interest rates" and "council garbage removal" hadn't rated more highly. So it's no surprise to notice that child abuse is becoming more prevalent each year. (Being a government report, it is careful to note that the "substantiated" cases aren't rising at an alarming rate but a quick read of any newspaper will, on most days, tell the sorry story of another overworked and underresourced child protection worker or another child who fell through the gaps).

That the hypocrites who brayed for Nguyen's blood would on a different day, in a different poll, register their contempt for drug users whose lives were supposedly saved by his execution at dawn this morning only sickens me further.

I hate the idea of all drugs and the harm they wreak in a society. I really do. But the idea that Nguyen was alive this morning and is now lying mutilated in a coffin fills me with extreme horror and gut wrenching grief. That anyone in this country supports this cold blooded murder only makes it worse. What terrible, God-forsaken times we live in.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Suicide Blonde

For months now I've been struggling with my mixed feelings about the Suicide Girls - 21st century pin-ups who come in just about every flavour you can imagine. They even have a weekly podcast that's one of the most popular aural entertainments on the web.

Visiting the site I notice that you can take your pick from a drop down stable of 858 fillies. Each girl's personal page includes a whole swag of demographic data such age, birthday, gender as well as things like body modifications (eg "tattoo of a cross with a staked heart on top of it, zero from nightmare before christmas, the quote "it can't rain all the time", another quote "my body is secondary to my soul", a dandylion, 12 stars down my side, and tally marks and bellybutton, nipples, hood, and tounge pirced"...[sic]), fave bands/films/books/TV, what they're "into" (eg "looking at boobies" - though she doesn't indicate whether she means breasts or men), Amazon wishlist and so on. In fact just about all the things you'd be interested in if you took the time to find a real girlfriend.

Now while I find it hard to believe that anyone other than 11 year old "tweens" are genuine fans of this genre, I'm told it's extremely lucrative. They even do tours.

Each girl, apart from publishing an ongoing intimate photo set, posts to a blog which is a bit Bridget Jonesish - information on when they last had a cigarette, what they've eaten, descriptions of squabbles with siblings etc which is charming enough in its own banal way but things sometimes get quite poignant, such as the girl who excitedly posts "i now work... at a pizza place.... it rocks.... life is good!!!" which almost brought tears to my eyes.

Paid up members, who pay $4 a month to access various sections of the site closed to cheapskates like me, are given personal pages with similar "about me" lists, a "salon" (no less!) where they host discussion and a section for pictures of their favourite Suicide pets. And from what I could tell, most of the members are males.

But I don't want to pay someone $4 a month to look at breasts when I've got two perfectly (and I do mean perfectly) good ones at home, so I figured there must be another way to peep behind the curtains. And there was. I could become a Suicide Girl too. What the heck, I thought. I'm emancipated. I'm into grrrl power. I have charming idiosyncrasies that could earn the attentions of swarthy weirdos with aspirations. Especially if it'll get me free membership, stickers and the coveted pink SG panties which I could wear when I'm not at work.

The application form was straighforward enough: Have I modelled, what do I look like (send lots of pictures) and why do I want to be a Suicide Girl. Piece of (cheese)cake! Though I did wonder why there were no questions about body piercings, whether I'm a vegetarian or how I feel about Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Never mind. Maybe they'll ask me that at the interview.

The website continues: "Your journal will reach millions of people, and you're free to advertise your projects, events or art... Just from being featured on Suicide Girls, girls have been hired to appear in music videos, tv shows, radio shows, film and music festivals, fashion shows, countless magazines and advertising campaigns." Hot DAWG! That sealed it. Maybe I could one day get a job as one of those booty shaking popettes in 50 Cent videos. That'd be so great. I've never walked on a leash before.

But just as I was uploading nude photos of myself I started to lose confidence about whether I could handle the pressure - all that blogging, for a start: "Watched Australian Idol which totally ROCKED!!! Had pasta carbonara for dinner. Saw a tampon ad that really made me think!..." Could I handle the pace? The adulation? The sheer flattery of being part of an 800 strong database of drop dead gorgeous, drop down menued chicks with attitude?

To be quite honest, most of the girls made me want to spit into my hanky and clean their face. I couldn't find one over the age of 21. And anyway, I'm not even sure I have what it takes, which became quite apparent when I was browsing the site for ideas on what I'd write when asked "most humbling moment" and "favourite sexual position". (Er, "awake"?).

In the end, I came across this fantasy from one of the girls, referring to us, the customers/admirers: "It rains lollipops and you get a tattoo of my face in your ass crack."

And once again, I found myself right in the middle of those mixed feelings about the Suicide Girls.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Something fishy

I just made a snack with some tinned salmon and noticed that the salmon smells exactly like cat food. So does that mean that cats are on a good wicket or something more sinister?

Have brushed my teeth, blown my nose, washed my hands, had a drink. Cannot get the taste out of my mouth. If this doesn't stop soon I'm going to have to cough up a furball.

Photo by Kevin Steele

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The wrong dismissal

Anyone who missed tonight's 7.30 Report should kick themselves. Kerry O'Brien did a 30th anniversary special on the Dismissal that was worth catching. Far from the usual dry, blow-by-blow account of the same old story, O'Brien interviewed Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser in an intimate and sensitive way that encouraged the men to reflect on the past, present and future.

Apart from the refreshing take on this important part of Australian history, I was struck by two important things:

1) Why has it taken me all these years to notice that Kerry "the thinking person's crumpet" O'Brien is gorgeous? Have I been sleeping!?

2) Gough and Fraser, elder statesmen of Australian politics, lifelong political adversaries, ideological chalk and cheese, now stand aligned on one thing: their deep misgivings about our current government and the direction in which we're headed as a country.

Think I'll eat some chocolate.

(Cheers to nutaroonie for the photo)

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

It's just not cricket

I know that this blog only has three readers and even then no-one gives a rat's arse about my opinion anyway (given we've all got one) but I do want to publicly register my strong disapproval of people who "leak" other people's stuff.

The lastest thing I'm reading about in the blogosphere is a supposed email correspondence between Bill Gates and some guy called Ray Ozzie. I see other examples almost daily. More often that not, it's so freaking banal that it astonishes me that anyone's even interested, such as the recent email spat between two legal secretaries in Sydney which circumnavigated the internet within hours.

I don't CARE whether Posh whoosit and David whatsisface have "issues". I am more likely to think very poorly of spiteful, avaricious and unscrupulous people who try to profit by betraying another person.

The only time I think that kind of behaviour may be called for is if there's something really important at stake, like politicians lying or crimes being committed or other scenarios where the greater good is served by breaching someone's trust and privacy. But those sorts of examples are rare. Or if not rare, the more corrupt among us seem to be better at covering their tracks and staying out of the newspapers.

The surest way to stop this sort of traffic would be to simply refuse to engage. Don't buy the magazine that contains "stars without makeup" or saucy, intrusive telephotos that rival NASA's zoom capability (and would be considered "stalking" under any different circumstances). Don't read mail that wasn't meant for you. Don't engage with behaviours that shame people, like passing on those terrible "joke" emails of people breaking up with a lover or discovering infidelities or whatever.

Just don't buy into that shit. It diminishes us all.

Apologies for the boringly serious post. Normal programming will resume on the morrow.

(Thx to carribeancricket for the photo)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Animal acts

Now I don't know about you but whenever I think of Denmark I think of legal prostitution and royal babies (in that order). I also know that they're tall, open minded, cultured and fond of The Little Mermaid. So you can imagine my surprise when I found an entry called "Something Rotten in Denmark" in a blog called Ad Busters.

Essentially the story is that Denmark introduced some anti-terrorism laws post September 11 and the first and only time they used these laws was to convict a bunch of Greenpeace activists who went into a public building, locked the doors, unfurled a banner and then surrendered peacefully to police.

When I read this I had to take another look at the front page of the blog to make sure I wasn't reading The Onion or The Chaser. But no, the story about these long haired, vegetable loving "terrorists" was for real. And, rather chillingly, when they challenged the use of the new law to punish them "the judge found no basis in the legislation as written for applying the regulation solely in connection with terror activities". (Which, in English, means that the judge didn't see anything in the legislation saying they couldn't use it, so they did).

And what crime were these terrible people attempting to commit? To let people know that Danish pigs are being fed genetically engineered soy which (according to the activists) 98% of Danish people would want to know if given the opportunity.

Hang the bastards, I say. Any more of that sort of rubbish and people might start suspecting they're in Animal Farm.

(Thanks to Leigh Blackall for the link to Ad Busters and Heather for photo)

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Thursday, November 3, 2005

It goes on

Reading Roland Piquepaille's blog this morning has reminded me of another item I meant to include yesterday about some clever bees who were trained to sniff out landmines. Roland's post today also includes a piece how bees are solving complicated colour puzzles which may lead to the design of sophisticated visual systems for robots. The list goes on... :-)

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Dumb beasts

One of my favourite Simpsons episodes is the one where Lisa undertakes a science project to find out "Is my brother dumber than a hamster?" The second experiment in the project involves a cupcake that gives an electric shock if touched. Needless to say, the hamster learns to avoid the cupcake after the first shock whereas Bart continues to reach for the cupcake (even though there's a sign saying "Do not touch"), getting shocked repeatedly until Lisa concludes the research with the result "Hamster 2, Bart 0".

I'm reminded of that episode whenever I hear people make pronouncements about how we
(homer sapiens) are supposedly the smartest banana in the evolutionary bunch. And we add insult to injury when we attribute all the awful things about ourselves to our animal cousins – “pig ignorant”, “dog ugly”, “rat cunning”. One has to wonder, who’s calling whom a dumb beast?

Consider Alex the African parrot who appears to understand the abstraction "zero". Researchers working with Alex conclude "(t)he results add to growing evidence that birds and other animals are much smarter than we thought" (just like earlier, similar “discoveries” about black people and women!) Later in the article we hear how coots can keep track of their eggs in a nest, even if they're mixed in with other birds' eggs. How many of us could (in all honesty) identify our offspring in a ward full of bald infants? No. We attach labelled wrist bands to our neonates and, in the case of twins, make them continue to wear them until the child is able to tell us which twin they are.

Further in the article we learn that black-capped chickadees are
able to warn their communities about the size and threat of specific predators. “Bird-brained” humans won't be surprised to learn that crows use tools. Prairie dogs - in perhaps the most clever adaptation of all - have come up with a prairie dog version of the word "humans!" to bark to each other in alarm. Finally, at the end of the article, we leave Alex and the researchers to discover how well Alex can count and subtract.

In other recent news we learn of some dolphins at the Epscot Disney Centre in Florida who have learned to sing the theme from Batman! Now some of you won't know that the tune from Batman involves two separate competencies - pitch and rhythm. And apparently these dolphins are able to demonstrate both. (Think about that the next time you watch the Australian Idol auditions). But even that is not enough evidence for some, such as the human psychologist (not involved in the experiments) quoted in the article who tetchily responded "I think music is a human construct" … "I doubt that it has pertinence to animals, although the elements of music, such as pitch, time, timbre, rhythm, etc, may be incorporated into animal communication." Oh no, mister behaviourist quadrant brain couldn’t tie your own shoelaces pedant, no pertinence at all. Might upset your overweening ideas about human intelligence and the whole educational psychology applecart. Much better to stick your fingers in your university educated ears and hum I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK, hmmm?

But someone over in the land of the free must know a thing or two because it has also transpired that some “(a)rmed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater” (!?!) escaped into the Gulf of Mexico during the kaos of hurricane Katrina. And I do admit that my first reaction upon reading the story was to imagine Maxwell Smart haplessly trying to explain the situation to the Chief. Somewhat mysteriously, Don Adams - the actor who played Max - “died” at around the same time, so who knows – I’m beginning to think that anything’s possible nowadays. Rather troublingly, there is also some concern about civilian divers and windsurfers being mistakenly targeted by the escapee dolphins but personally I’d rather take my chances with armed dolphins than armed humans lurking underwater. I like to think that the escaped dolphins will meet up with a wild group of bottlenosed funsters, throw down their guns and start singing Batman like any creature in their right mind should.

Closer to home, Brisbane City Council employs a couple of Jack Russell terriers as rat catchers around its waterways and, in its enlightened way, pays them a proper wage and entitlements including holiday leave, meals, sick leave, long service leave and so on for their services. Though one has to wonder what will happen to the poor little fellows once they have to negotiate workplace bargains for themselves in this brave new “fairer” Australia that is being stitched up as we sleep.

And it should come as no surprise to be reminded of the incredible achievements of our closest primate cousins including
  • the tres debonair Kokomo Jr who not only acted in television programs but also painted, played saxophone and violin and skied
  • Nim Chimsky who, like his namesake Noam Chomsky, helped humans research the underpinning biological constructs of language and in his spare time played practical jokes on his human sisters
  • Koko the gorilla who had a vocabulary of more than 1000 words, kept pet cats and cried (telling her handlers she felt “sad”) when a beloved kitten died
  • Wild gorillas who, left to their own devices and without our “training” use tools to negotiate territory and survive in conditions that would have most of us crying for our mothers within minutes
Even the story of Clever Hans says more about human nature than anything else. “Ooh", said the fancypants scientist Oskar Pfungst "Clever Hans wasn't counting - he was reading the body language of his master and responding accordingly". Well derrrr, Herr Doktor. Could I respectfully suggest that that's still a tad more intelligent than a species who employ “executive life coaches” to tell them how to wipe their sorry arses? I can just imagine perfectionist Pfungst, were he alive today, exclaiming “Batman? Batman?!? Get them to do Wagner's Ring Cycle and then I’ll call it singing!

Now if, at this point, you’re thinking “ah well – yes, but that’s because she’s talking about mammals and they’re just like us” consider this: For years researchers dismissed the so-called "waggle dance" of the honeybee as the mindless gyrations of an excitable being (which I suppose is forgivable considering that human behaviour was the only thing they had to go on at that stage). Instead, years later, we find that these tiny, perfectly formed, disciplined and gorgeous creatures are displaying “the most sophisticated example of non- primate communication that we know of" (and it really is satisfying to finally see the words “that we know of” included at the end of a scientific sentence acknowledging that perhaps it is “we” who need to learn more rather than “they” who need to prove something to us).

So next time you’re tempted to say something patronising about an animal, bird, insect or reptile, or inclined to insult an animal by comparing them unfavourably to a person, think twice. Otherwise you might just end up sounding like a big ignoramus erectus.

(Luvly photos by kms, stefan and

PS: Tonight I learned that mice are the troubadours of the animal world, composing individual songs for their beloved. View this article to listen to some mp3s!