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!

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Religion 5.0

One thing you may not know about me is that deep down I'm quite "religious". As a small child I'd sneak into empty churches to talk to God. It just wasn't the same when services were on - all those dour adults, all that droning and standing up and down and kneeling. I also was never able to fully accommodate the idea of men in strange costumes and Fred Flinstonesque "grand pooh bah" hats. To this day I cannot see a bishop without feeling startled and a bit sheepish. No, as a child I much preferred it when it was just God and me alone together. And at the time I really thought I was talking with the big guy. I never got into the Sunday School stuff about lambs frolicking with lions in heaven but I did feel enormously motivated to discover meaning, acknowledge mystery, seek comfort. Other times I'd go there to look at the amazing windows and artefacts. And what I've always remembered is how palpably and genuinely humans can feel these things, even as children.

From what I can gather (and I'm showing my ignorant western bias here in not specifically drawing on religious traditions from places like China, India, South America, Africa, indig
enous Australia and in fact most of the world - my purpose here isn't to start a career as a religious scholar, my purpose is to express something on this traditional day of spirit in a way that marks my reverence and recognises something about the culture in which I have marinated) so... from what I can gather in my typically skewed human way, we're in Religion 4.0 at the moment.

The way I see it, Religion 1.0 was the original Gaia orientation of prehistory, where everything was Mother and crude statues of Venus of Willendorf were some of the first artforms that articulated a human appreciation of these mysteries.

Religion 2.0 came after the discovery of agriculture and the shift towards settlement. By then humans had worked out how babies were concieved and how plants were grown. So this led to a polytheistic view of the universe that finally gave males a place in the pantheon. The gods of Olympus would have been Religion 2.6 or so, the gods of Rome 2.7 - essentially what I'm clustering here is a period where man (meaning humans) explored the idea of a range of gods to accommodate an increasingly complex epistemology.

Religion 3.0 started about 4,000 years ago when somehow it transpired that there was only one god and it happened to be male. I include Judaism, Christianity and Islam in this family because even though they cover everything from "an eye for an eye" to "turn the other cheek", it still points (in my mind) to religious forms that have enough in common to be considered a group (and I'm not going to elaborate here 'cos the last thing I want is to get into an argument about religion or attract a whopping great fatwa).

Religion 4.0 in my opinion has been the post-war grab bag of the secular age where anything goes and we're seeing all sorts of DIY approaches to the sacred. This includes neo-pagans, the "recovery" movement, the cults of consumerism and celebrity idol worship, new agers, neo-conservatives and so on. And it's only now that I'm typing this that I'm realising what it is that I don't like about all the current manifestations of human religion - they're all "neo" something, like we're Moses' lost tribes stuck between one religion and the next, clinging to versions of what has gone before, lacking the faith and imagination to go forward and discover what might come. (And yes, I think the great god Science belongs in this cluster too after succumbing to the hubris that in some ways has encouraged the rising tide of anti-intellectualism that's lapping at our ankles as we speak...)

But what this all points to, in my opinion, is a seemingly universal religious instinct (or whatever you want to call it in your politically correct, culturally preferred versions) which appears to be shared across cultures and all times. And the reason I'm not using the word "spiritual" instead of "religious" in any part of this post is because the words don't matter to me as much as what they're attempting to say. Religions 1.0 to 4.0 have all been versions of the same thing - the human need to make sense of the universe, find meaning, overcome fear, learn how to live. Just like the "F" word (ie feminism), I refuse to give it up just because other people have given it a bad name.

So while I'm waiting for Religion 5.0 to emerge out of the cosmic soup, I'd like to take the opportunity today to observe a Religion 3.0 ritual that honours those who have died but are not forgotten. One version of this observance is called All Saints Day on November 1, followed by All Souls Day on November 2. Most of us don't know about it because death is the last taboo (which reminds me - the so called "wellness" movement is approaching level 4.0 religion status bigtime if you ask me...). But like it or not, death is the only certainty (taxes being optional for some, in the US at least...).

So on this suitably grey November day, with every beat of my fragile human heart, I celebrate the Mexican Day of the Dead and light a candle of love and rememberance for those I have lost as well as those I have never known. May all souls be remembered today.


Thanks to LeoL30, dharma and selva respectively (and respectfully) for the beautiful photos.