Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Face to Face with CMC..

Digital culture, digital communication and digital conferences are often described, by their participants, in terms of positive outcomes for society. However, a characteristic of Computer Mediated Communications (CMC) often overlooked is: "the possibility, even likelihood, that as CMC grows in popularity, there will be less need for face-to-face interaction. It is one of the supreme ironies of the Utopian view of CMC, that it is likely to reduce that felt sense of community that it so nostalgically seems to uphold as virtuous." (http://well.com/user/hlr/text/VCcivil.html)

With CMC fast becoming as accepted and normal as face to face communications is it possible to envision a future where the two forms of communication become so intertwined that they become indistinguishable from each other? Or are CMC, as a digital form of communication, still too foreign to our daily existence? Are face to face communications the cement which bind our community together? Still, once Skype sort out their audio - how often have you fiddled with it shouting 'Can you hear me? - the sky, it would seem, is no longer a limit...

...as I'm writing this critical analysis I'm being forced away from our home computer by my girlfriend who urgently needs to go on-line to talk to one of her video chat room friends somewhere in the world...


Currently the communication mediums of our digital culture do not allow for the nuances of free expression provided by face to face contact. Subtle nuances communicated through, for example, visual references of body language, attitude or subtle facial expressions. All are lost; greatly disturbing the transmission of a message (especially when Skyping). During CMC it is not difficult to disguise real emotions thus rendering the message less personal. In popular social networks, where the participants can not see each other, such as the email and messaging services of Microsoft Live Hotmail, Yahoo, Facebook or MySpace, people hide behind emoticons or abbreviations (lol) to communicate feelings or thoughts quite different to what may truly be felt.

Even CMC where participants can see each other, such as our friend Skype, do not signal true intent as clearly as when having a face to face discussion, no amount of swaying slightly left to right will blur what is really on your chest. Visual as well as a host of other clues telling a true friend all he or she needs to know. More meaningful interaction between community members is created through face to face communications as any ambiguities are more intimately and informatively transmitted.

It is obvious during direct, personal, face to face communications when one of the party is disinterested, bored, angry, sad or perhaps preoccupied with more pressing matters. Face to face communications allow for the creation of the trust needed to bind us together as a community on a level not as yet achieved by CMC primarily as modern cultures, despite the enthuses of the participants in our digital culture, are still vastly reliant on face to face communications.

To Indigenous communities around the world the communication of knowledge orally is an important part of establishing and maintaining status. This is likewise true in our society where one aspect of maintaining status is best achieved face to face, namely, resolving misunderstanding or even conflict. "It is either the height of arrogance or defeat when one chooses or is forced to leave his or her community over an unresolved conflict"
(http://well.com/user/hlr/text/VCcivil.html). This is one of the multiple layers of face to face communications which enable an immediate resolution of misunderstanding or conflict thus keeping intact our standing within our community.

This naturally takes many forms, in fact, as many different expressions as there are human like creatures we can relate to. This could be in the form of 'saving face' as seen in many cultures or as right now... my girlfriend allowing me to get back on-line to continue blogging. In the meantime her video chat room friend experiencing, hopefully (for I'm not a jealous man), a far diminished personal communication with her then I've just had. Face to face communications, in whatever form, even a humble lets-make-up kiss, allows for a truer freedom of expression then provided for in the dingy chat rooms of digital culture... :)

Despite the claims of the pornographers of CMC, any vision of any harmonious intertwining of CMC and face to face communications may have to wait for generation Z. CMC's inherent depersonalisation of its participants, its inability to meaningfully resolve misunderstandings or conflict and create the trust needed to tightly bond our real life community together will not see it become too entangled with any sort of face to face communication for some time yet... x x x

Monday, July 7, 2008

Australian Cyber Politics

It was Kevin Rudd's understanding of his e-lectorate and his recognition that if successful as a nation the basis for our economic wealth creation must be intellectual capital, which helped him win a landslide victory. Despite the fact that today we're still waiting for a sign that the promises will be kept, he did, at the time, have his finger on the nation's pulse. For the first time it felt it was finally dawning on our leaders that Australia was being left far behind in the quest to use the available information technologies to created a smart nation capable of dealing with whatever the future might throw at us.

Rudd's campaign targeted the next generation, promising - as witnessed by millions of Australians participating in social networking sites - a billion dollars to be spend modernising secondary schools with access to their own computer for every high school student (years 9 to 12) and to connect the nation's 9000 schools to super fast broadband. The Herald Sun quoted Rudd as saying: "Labor understands that in the 21st century information technology is not just a key subject to learn, it is now the key to learning all subjects." Rudd recognised creators of valuable intellectual property and those who manage knowledge based businesses are needed in his super smart electronic democracy.

The pros of a democracy are that it's citizens are usually well informed and cyber savvy. As citizens are moving virtually all of their other activities to the Internet, it is logical to conclude that voting and political participation will move on line as well. Although Rudd's experiments with cyber politics might never become historically noteworthy - another polly looking to pork barrel swinging electorates - he does show an understanding for the need for his government to create a new, nationwide, high-speed system of interactive public dialogue with on-line Australia. This is attested by his Internet site - Kevin '07 - which includes his blog and links to his YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Amazon sites.

The cons of an electronic democracy solving the old and intractable issues ingrained within society can be seen in international examples. The cyber governance model of Singapore's government has led to accusations of it curbing the Internet presence of opposition parties and exploitation for political discussion and even propaganda. For Australia it has so far meant broken promises and unless the excuses for not moving forward are seen as just that we'll never become the intellectual capital of the free world and Rudd will never be the new cyber Pericles. Any political party attempting electronic governance must be held accountable for promises made as electronic voting should not solely be used as a tool to measure the shifting currents of popular opinion, as the Rudd government seems to have done.

The lack of real and effective on-line access, whether being able to access - the promised - super fast broadband or being able to meaningfully participate in governance, will be detrimental to any government presenting itself as an accountable leader of an electronic democracy. Just as no politician wants to be held to election promises, no electronic cyber government wants to be held accountable for anti social trends amongst it's citizens (such as an increase in on-line gaming) without having any real means to control it. A electronic government not as informed or cyber savvy as it's citizens faces increased cynicism and distrust from a public that demands more and has the means to hold it's leaders accountable.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008



Seemed O was in a bit of a mess, although "out of his depth" would be a kinder description, the reasons why his feet were no longer touching the ground were not entirely unknown to him. Others, close to him had suffered similar calamities but this was the first time in his so far peaceful existence that the trappings of family had become personal. A not entirely unforseen death of a loved one, his wife of 28 years, through suicide, had rocked him to the core. ‘It never rains it pours’ O’s wife would have been fond to point out to family members enduring what he was now, and he’d always knowingly agreed. Knowing that she was always right and ran the roost, the roost from which the chicken’s had now escaped..

Not for the first time now O’s dearly departed wife sounded, to O, as being full of shit. Come to think of it this would’ve been exactly the sort of drivel she’d have come up with when consoling a grieving family member. Something about rain or sunshine or silver linings. It all sounded bloody hollow now. The chickens had done, he was told, the predictable. They’d hired the best lawyers they could afford and slaughtered each other in court over mother hen’s meagre fortune. Apter clichés for his predicament ran through his head but a promise to his beloved wife regarding swearing stopped him saying anything profane out aloud. Would such promises still be binding if one found oneself in these sorts of troubled times? O, wondered briefly. He’d been having a lot of these unsettling sorts of thoughts lately and he was still a little afraid of what she’d say, if she, somehow, knew. O struggled to think of something cheerfully apt she might also have said, but found, for the life of him, that he couldn’t..

What O didn't know was that his wife had long seen it coming. ‘Pack all your troubles in an old kid bag and smile, smile, smile..’ is what she’d told him he should tell the brood if anything happened to her. He’d put it down to a major senior moment although that was exactly what he’d been doing since she’d gone to meet her maker; smiling like the deranged idiot which, everyone afterwards, would point out his unfortunate wife had become. There had been early signs and clues ofcourse, but he’d never told anyone. Not his kids, not even his wife. Whenever O’d been remotely interested, say when there was a break in the cricket on telly, he had observed others deal with the mad, so why should he? He knew of the havoc raging through his family’s life, and he always, faithfully, agreed with his wife’s assessments and the hollow platitudes she would offer, however kiltered they in hindsight sounded..

What comforting cliché would you’ve come up for this one bitch? O caught himself thinking before it was far too late. What would she have said to the chickens who we now accusing O, and each other, of causing mother hen’s mental collapse? What timeworn, slightly roasted saying would she have come up with? Share and share alike? Fat chance, O realised, of that. For the last week O had to do his own cooking, cleaning (and particularly painful; make the bed he swore was still warm) and now he was expected to glue the family together? O knew it was time for him to ‘stand on his own two feet’ and realise ‘the first step is always the hardest.’ Trouble, for O was, he’d never done so before. And worse, he’d never bothered to learn from the things which drove his wife insane. It dawned on him now they were connected but he’d run out of warm chestnuts to explain why. What he did know though; this winter he was going to starve..

Still, there was always the internet porn he’d recently become addicted to. Not surprisingly this particular does she somehow know about this guild had been the first to pass. Perhaps it was nature running its course or maybe O no longer cared. He’d even come up with his own half-arse saying to comfort himself: ‘God rewards those who’ve lived a good life with never conceived off before opportunities.’ Which even to O at times sounded more like an excuse then a reason, but hell, like swearing, there was no one to give him shit no more. O had never intentionally wanted to enter the world of internet porn. He’d seen things on midnight sport channels, knew of people that knew of people who’d surfed the net for smut and filth but he’d never dared look..

Sure, he had his own internet account, through the urgings of grandkids, on Facebook but he’d always tout himself to his wife that even though O might be a silver surfer he was not tempted to surf the surging dark rollers breaking amongst more innocent swells. “The grass is never greener on the other side of the fence” O had lovingly reassured her when they’d first gotten connected. However, the night after the funeral, checking the inbox for messages of condolences, which had poured in surprisingly few in number, he’d gotten distracted by a small hot or not? advertisement. Oblivious to his actions he’d clicked on ‘yes’. On a woman, if he’d pass her on the street, would never have recognized; thus entering a world of cheap (he’d found a good use for the credit card) gratifications and harsh (at least for the first few nights) internal battles..

O had found her hanging from the very branch she’d promised to hang herself from. Deep down he knew the brood were not to blame. If only, like them, he’d jumped when the madness started brewing. “You left her stewed too long” they’d said. “Stewed too long in the madness, till she boiled over without you there to release the pressure.” But what did it matter now that he’d turned a blind eyes to events. Yeah sure, he could’ve paid more attention to her and let the brood know but they’d not experienced the sense of freedom since he’d cut her out of the tree. The reason why he should accept anymore responsibility now he was the Head of the Family then when he was just her husband, continued to escape him. After all, he could remain as useless as he’d always been..

He’d come to see now that none of the brood would welcome this old rooster back, so O, resolute for the first time in his life, declared himself independent of the emotional tyranny family brings. Only yesterday he had to justify himself to the barflies; “behind every strong woman stands a powerful man” he had exclaimed wildly whilst buying them all another round. Yes, that's right;barflies, for yes, sadly, the drink too had caught up with O. During the funeral, as it happened. And he’d only wanted to get away from the ever hollower sounding platitudes..

The doors of The Little Red Rooster (yes, to O also it had seemed like divine intervention) had stood wide open as the progression went past on their way to O wife’s final resting place when O, not quite understanding how he’d found himself somewhere unintended, became surrounded by understanding angels propped up along a dimly lit bar. This was the first time in O’s life that he’d felt his feet lose touch with the bottom, she was no longer there, for how long that had really been O could no longer tell, all he knew in the meantime he’d developed a healthy thirst..

O knew he could outlive the lawyer letters. He was forever telling everyone so. He’d outlived everything life had thrown at him so far, proving him a true survivor. A battler who’d learned to roll with the punches, forever hope full of the prophesied sun shine after the rain had gone. The brood, believing they could see straight through his act, just saw him as a useless old wanker. He’d come to realise their insults were just more the power to him for squandering their inheritance. His game plan seemed to be that they’d eventually stop moaning and leave him alone with his on-line girls and barfly mates at The Rooster..

Then, one day, and try to wrap your head around this one, I realised I’d completely wrongly misassembled the clues and overheard scraps of conversation. You’d be as disappointed as I was learning the hours spend grieving for what never really was had been in complete vain. This was the day when O’s wife came walking into the backyard...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another day in African politics...

Another day in African politics...

Robert Mugabe wins a - despite low voter turn out - decisive victory in the Zimbabwe polls. The lackey of the British imperialists, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been well and truly crushed. Mugabe magnanimously agrees to speak to Tsvangirai about the balance of power in Zimbabwe, a topic he's also sure to raise with African leaders who are due to meet in Cairo for the African Union summit next week, already defiantly pointing out: "I would like some African leaders who are making these statements [of political corruption and a blatant abuse of power] to point at me and we would see if those fingers would be cleaner than mine." African politics at it's best? No, not really.. It's more of the same from a continent where the words democracy and politician are incompatible in the same sentence. The continent that gave us little and big dictators - in the sense of a person who is a "tyrant: a leader who rules a country with absolute power, usually by force" - such as; Idi Amin, Joseph Mobutu and his successor Laurent Kabila, Dr. Hastings Banda, Muammar Gadafi, Hosny Mubarak, Arab Moi and the spineless Thabo Mbeki, successor of - Africa's only non morally corrupt leader - Nelson Mandela.

Robert Mugabe's unsurprising victory warranted the usual response from the totally ineffective UN. The UN Security Council said that: "conditions for free and fair elections did not exist and it was a matter of deep regret that the elections went ahead in these circumstances". The Security Council of United Nations indeed. Powerful stuff, once again, with the same show of iron will when dealing with dictators, resolve which will no doubt put Mugabe in his place, like it did Saddam Hussein. Western leaders on the whole deal with African dictators pretty badly, often playing in their hands by giving them reasons to suppress their unfortunate citizens. The democratic west managed to inspire Mugabe to claim his electoral victory as "100% empowerment and independence from British Imperialism" as unfortunately did Nelson Mandela who is in Britain, guest of his imperial hosts, celebrating his 90th birthday.

Noble spokesman Mandela may well be but, at his age, he's clearly not thinking straight. Denouncing Mugabe's dictatorship is all good and well but don't do it from Britain as this is exactly, according to Mugabe, the sort of rhetoric of failed leaders, like Tsvangirai, who are lackeys of the imperialist Brits and Yanks. The inherent symbolism Mugabe will be able to use, like all dictators he knows that a populace without myths is impossible to govern and his anti colonial stance has served him, as it has other African dictators, extremely well since he over threw Ian Smith. Too bad for Mandela there were no African leaders to share the podium with, and that his high-powered audience included former President Clinton, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and actor Robert DeNiro, as similarly this didn't win him any respect from the African dictator of the moment.

Mandela's predecessor Mbeki is not to be heard of except to support Mugabe whilst the South African embassy in Hararee boots out Zimbabwean opposition supporters who take refuge there. Why do democratic western politicians put up with this situation? I'm sure the world would be much more likely to understand why Mugabe's removal is necessary. He might not have weapons of mass destruction and Zimbabwe might not be resource rich but the man has obviously stepped over the same line leaped over by previous over-eager dictators. The British response defies belief; Queen Elizabeth II's withdrawal of Mugabe's knighthood. The ultimate colonial tit for tat. What do they hope to achieve? Instead, why not disregard Mugabe's ranting as the carrying-ons of a morally bankrupt dictator and install a democratic government? Any sort of African style democracy is preferable to the current situations.

If the west doesn't want to get involved for political reasons - there are, of course, Russian and Chinese feelings to be considered as well - then it should, at least, engage more actively and mercenary from their morally superior stance. A pleasant position for the west who, in this instance, do not have to be hypocritical - oil companies wouldn't back a coup in Zimbabwe as they backed Simon Mann and Mark Thatcher in Equatorial Guinea or the Kabilas in the ultra Democratic Republic of Congo - and could do all sort of favours for the Zimbaweans who've had their heads stomped on for far too long. One could quite confidently say that the removal of Robert Mugabe would be a world wide crowd pleaser requiring very little spin nor lies.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The only solution for Mother Earth's woes...

The most immediate technical solution to our current environmental woes would be to go completely electric. By completely I mean completely; the huge amounts of electricity needed produced by nuclear reactors. No more oil and no more gas. No more pollution and environmental damage caused during the extraction, processing and use of fossil fuels. A complete revamp of society's dependency on fossil fuels and a major economic re-think with each nation producing power for its citizens. The solution does not deal with what this will mean for fossil fuel producing nations. This is a political problem not a technical one. The good news, and there is only good news for the technical solution to our current environmental woes, is that we are capable of doing it. We can build enough non polluting, safe nuclear plants to make it happen.

Cars and motor bikes will run on electrical motors and not hybrid, as under the solution we do not want any fossil fuel based products driving our vehicles any longer. This includes the - never a great solution anyhow - biofuels, which apart from causing great environmental damage in clearing new land, also take up far too much of the existing productive land. Some leading automotive companies are currently touting passenger vehicles capable of top racing car speeds and capable of travelling 350 kilometres, a considerable distance for the average commuter, before needing a recharge. Now for a recharge; think of your mobile phone, this time the cable conveniently connecting your home grit to your car. Plugging into the main grid means many convenient recharge points such as shopping centre car parks, employee carparks or highway topup stations with the customer paying an electricity, instead of fossil fuel, bill. In emergencies you could top up at somebody’s house, getting sociable over a cup of tea whilst you wait the 10 minutes it is possible to recharge your battery today, having a friendly chat about the marvellous technological and cultural changes which have occurred recently within society.

Agricultural machinery and trucks will go the same way, using powerful electric motors. Trucking short haul, is carried on electric motor carriers, the long haul by electric rail, which would naturally need a massive expansion of an electric rail network. Which is more good news for commuters, as passengers who will be reliant on it for travel further from home, will have access to extensive long distance travel. As for the development of land operated machinery, we are close to being electrically capable of producing crops and livestock as well as transporting people and goods without any national, yet alone global, infrastructure in place; think of how fast and far we’ll be able to get by the time it is.

Transportion by sea and air of people and goods will be driven by nuclear driven jet engines, thereby becoming non polluters as well. So far the Navies of many countries have run submarines on just these engines without too many dramas and when they share their secrets (in our new much improved open society) with commercial industry this could be achieved economically and, most importantly, quickly. International co-operation in developing jet and electric power technologies for industry, agriculture, governments and the military is possible during times of cultural change, especially times when everyone, and that means literally everyone on this planet, wants a change in the way we’re doing things. Along with the great social changes brought about by the solution will be a complete overhaul of the military. The solution not allowing one rule for one and one rule for another, means they’ll have to go electric. Without oil, reliant mechanical warfare would largely become obsolete, running all those tanks, planes and ships on electricity is going to be tricky and expensive so militaries would concentrate on missiles instead. Going electric massively decreases defence budgets and provides government funds for the immediate mass development of available commercial electric and nuclear technologies.

A massive technological change, such as brought about by the solution, to a nation’s economy means major changing spending priorities for governments. Faced by a concerned populace demanding an immediate stop to the Earths destruction, more money is made available to the development and construction of the infrastructure needed to meet the urgency. Money wasted on operating and further developing fossil fuel reliant military transport, as well as developing industrial solar, wind and other alternative energy sources, is thrown, instead, into the mass electic and nuclear development and construction pot. Another hugely popular way to help raise the cash to pay for our new electric cars would be to tax the fossil fuel companies.

Since some countries are already considering taxing the emissions of their fossil fuel industries, it would only make sense to make it international and tax all commercial fossil fuel waste. A politically neutral (most un-UN like) governing body distributes the tax earnings to those nations ditching fossil fuel based economies and who develop nuclear reactors and infastructure to make an electric economy viable. Once the enormous amount of money saved on extracting and processing fossil fuels is realised, when we’ve stopped paying the fine of their pollution and when our environmentally friendly nuclear reactors are all on line, government will be able to reverse the damaged caused by the fossil fuel polluters, which includes, all of us.

What about us nuclear waste polluters? Well, global problems require global action, the solution will see all non-reusable nuclear waste, front and back end of production, buried on internationally funded sites. Even though this goes against the ‘not in my backyard’ vain running through society it can be done safely in remote geologically stable places. The same sort of places, one would imagine, governments are looking to bury the waste products of the CO2 scrubbers. As the waste can take millions of years to become inactive, it makes sense to bury it thousands of metres deep in stable, billions of years old rock on sites with no underground water movement. Happily, for us humans, these places tend to be of low economic value. Burying the waste at these sites, unlike the stop gap measures currently employed by nations faced with storage problems and despite the possibilities offered by the mixed oxide fuel burning method (which still leaves, although less toxic and non weapon grade, plutonium behind) is the least polluting and the most economically viable way to permanently and safely dispose of nuclear waste. Further, the waste disposal sites, apart from being geologically suitable, are in politically stable first-world nations with available security and technological expertise.

Most importantly though, burying the waste buys us time. Today’s technology allows us to bury the waste for ‘thousands of years.’ If we half this to allow for unforseen future blunders that will give us roughly one thousand years before the 'great unknown' really kicks in, giving us this time to allow science and technology, who are all funded up and super focussed by now, to catch up. As we've discovered since the Industrial revolution, the 'great known' is, for Mother Earth and all those who inhabit her, an absolute disaster. Fortunatly, an immediate solution for all our woes, including the disposal of our most toxic of wastes, is here, very much encouraged by recent research contemplating depositing the waste in the tectonic plates sliding into the Earths mantle. Here it would be absorbed and would come out at the other end, an oceanic ridge, diluted and chemically altered, a few million years later. This gives us more than enough time to find other ways to - if not wipe ourselves and our fellow inhabitants of the face of the planet - sort out our shit in all our dealings with our fellow humankind.

For the technical solution to Mother Earth's woes to take immediate effect, a dramatic shift will need to occur in how nuclear power is perceived by the public. This need not be difficult; not many people remember Chernobyl and there have been many advances in the safety of nuclear power stations for civilian use since. People realise the delicate equilibrium which keeps us all alive needs to be re-tipped in Mother Earth’s favour. Just like they know we need to use an alternative to fossil fuel immediately if we are to have any hope of achieving this.

With nuclear energy our land and sea scapes are wind farm-less and our deserts free of the blankets of solar panels planned to save us when it was in all probability far too late to do so. Even the amount of energy produced by the proposed environmentally friendly Geothermic method (drilling two holes deep into a heated rock layer, filling one with water and allowing the resulting super heated steam to drive generators in the other hole) would never meet the demand, even if suitable geothermic sites were easy to come by.

No, I’m afraid, for now, the solution is our only hope…

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Australia day..

People here are still talking about the last blue blue sky Australia Day and I have to admit that once again it was special. Fuzzy feeling inside special. The ritual of being able to express an Aussie-ness is at times overwhelming for a new Australian. Where I live it means barbies along the river, the kids swim, the girls do their separate thing and my Aussie mates and I spend the afternoon talking sport, usually rugby league or cricket, cars, Holden verses Ford and work. “What you been up to?” is not an interest in your personal life but rather just making sure that you are still gainfully employed and haven’t become a bludger. As a student I just pass muster although most of them recon I’m far too old and by now I should have had a real trade, such as a chippy or sparky. It’s much the same sort of light hearted banter at smoko or when we check the mail or mow the lawn at the same time and when we bump into each other at some school or community do. Yeah, I suppose I do feel accepted here, a white face and the fact that I didn’t arrive in a shipping container apparently helped.

Part of the day’s ritual was someone playing that ‘Down under’ song by Men at Work, where everyone loudly belts along when they sing: “..where women glow and men plunder..” and everyone recons that should be our national anthem. The Australian flag, first flown in 1954, was everywhere, on towels, napkins, singlets, boardies and even on the kid’s faces. Yeah, I love those moment of conformation and unity where new comers and the old stock connect and we all bolster each other beliefs that we belong to this country just as much as the Aboriginal people. Moments when our cultural artefacts take on special meaning and we make self-conscious mental notes of who’s wearing an Akubra and the proximity of the nearest Eskie. To observe the way our unique everyday cultural artefacts (such as our domestic implements, sports and social activities) together with our language used to describe them, are used to imagine our nation and our place in it, one merely needs to attend a weekend gathering of Aussies.

Take careful note of the snags and chops cooking on the barbie, the Holden utes parked on the nature strip and the eskies laden with tinnies and good tucker. Bluey will undoubtedly wanna wrap his fangs 'round another chook, whilst Shirlie watchin' her weight, will probably just wrap her laughing gear 'round another bikkie. Both will be into the amber fluid, amply available at the local bottle-o. Whilst Blue Heelers chase Galahs, the anklebiters run amock and the blokes big note themselves, gearing themselves up to try and crack onto a shiela without crackin' a fat. Each fashion item steeped with historical and cultural significance, the blokes will be clad in beanies, flanies or singlets, boardies or budgie smugglers and thongs. The girls, shielas in more remote places, wear suitable daks or cozzies with swimming togs underneath at the beach. Akubras are worn if you’ve gone walkabout beyond the black stump, your Drizabone when it rains, both, along with Uggboots, compulsory when in the Snowies amongst the jackaroos and stockman, who sleep in swags.

I don’t care if social rituals such as Australia Day and its associated ceremonies are invented traditions, all of it gives my mates and I an unique sense of place and belonging. Nor do I care it wasn’t until 1994 all States and Territories began to celebrate Australia Day consistently as a public holiday, for me it’s just a great day to reflect on what it means to be a fair dinkum Aussie. It feels good when recognized by the members of the culture you’re trying to fit into and I’ve always much admired my Aussie mates readiness to give everyone a fair go. This year almost everybody, except, of course, Merv and Robbo, approved of the Australian of the year and the Young Australian of the Year and the Senior Australian of the year and of the Australia’s Local Hero, which was an award I in my foreign ignorance had never heard of.

After a couple of cold tinnies I’m usually the first to start singing our real national anthem and it’s always a hit as I’m often the only one who knows all the words. I suppose it’s only been around since 1984, the year it replaced God Save the Queen and when we were no longer British subject, which is maybe why my old stock Aussie mates haven’t gotten used to it yet. Celebrating this day, as we have every Australia day, along this wonderful river, the blood red sun setting behind what is left of an old growth forest, my chest bursting with patriotism, and someone predictably, half taking the piss, reading out the Prime Minister’s message. I suppose Kevin‘07 knows how to play the legend making game, he knows a populace without myths is impossible to govern. This year, the PM’s message was one of national pride in our distinctive landscape, diverse society and our unique lifestyle. “Never a truer bloody word spoken Kev, good on ya” we all recon and as is expected of us on such occasions we irreverently thank Kev and God for giving us a long weekend to get on the piss and feel proud of being true blue and even prouder of the hangover we’re sure to have tomorrow.

When I got home in the evening I was feeling so Australian I did the ‘”How Australian are you?” quiz on Facebook. Apparently “while not yet a die hard Australian, I'm the kind of Australian everyone loves to introduce to their non-Australian friends." Lucky me, I’ve got loads of those. Unfortunately I havn't yet mastered the Ozzie accent, they can all spot an European heritage in my try hard drawly, tangy, nasally twangy Strine a mile away.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What are ya gonna call it Dude?

Earth's god was deeply troubled, he urgently needed a horse to come first and it looked like his bet was about to pay off. Although it wasn't so much a horse he was betting on big to turn his rapidly fading fortune around, 'No, it's nothing so grand' he often thought wistfully to himself, it was just that, this time, he could not believe the filth which he'd staked all of his creation on. For the last few thousand years Earth's god had been much admired, amongst the gods of other planets at least, for his ability to select particularly vile life forms from Earth to be featured on a reality tv show. A show very similar in format to Big Brother we are so familiar with but on a much bigger scale. However, his grandiose experiment, of letting life on his planet spiral into a mesmerizing horrific soup from which from which to calculatingly pick a winner, had recently been feeling a rather uncomfortable financial squeeze. Right where it hurt too, these days he was constantly having to count the silver in his robe for beer and his missus had stopped putting out because he could no longer sustain the payments on her obsession for accessories.

All knowingly, he knew it was the commercial pressures of today’s mass entertainment, the advertisers non stop threat of taking their product to other networks in other universes. Worse, they were winning the battle and it seemed to him that, until recently, his efforts had been left unnoticed amongst the wash of advertising and propaganda the audiences were flooded with nightly. Compounding the Earth’s god dilemmas was the audience, mainly lesser and half gods, becoming ever more demanding, wanting ever more viler and revolting life forms to gawp at. Well, tonight he’d show them all, the uneasy feeling could, after all, be nothing more than a slight wavering in his ability to create. He had been out of practice a while and his hands were getting a bit shaky. Privately, he knew he could become oddly sensitive and self-aware where his creatures were concerned and it deeply regaled him that Earth had become renown only because of it’s filth.

Meanwhile, modern times being modern times, as well as his current financial woes, dictated that tonight’s show urgently needed to be remembered for Earth’s vilest and not the jingle for MacUniverse, another of his creations which had managed to escape his weary clutches. Still he had reason to be quietly optimistic, as just a few weeks ago, there had emerged, amongst a few long term pet projects, a creature whose repulsiveness had even astonish a hardened breeder as himself. This thing, naturally, could only be a human, or rather a sub species of this abhorrent race, amongst whom he was known as Rock climber.

Now, Rock climber, whose existence had previously been restricted to climbing the rock features for which his planet was famous, had refined a bizarre form of human behaviour, namely the compulsion for naming things, to an all time low. The omnipotent masses had been enthralled by these parasitic opportunists who often found themself in a position to be able to name the geological formations on their planet, and by the mere stroke of a pen, reduce them to their shitty level. Mesmerized by their billions, as mongooses are by cobras, they had tuned in to watch aghast as universally unique rock spires and grandiose mountains were christened with filthy names such as Sheep fuckers Range, Long Shlong Peak or Baby Shit Wall. The Rock climbers never seemed to dry up their nauseating naming well and continually surprised the ever observing gods and half gods with their filthy climbing route names, usually involving dog excretions or their mother’s genitalia or both. Their perverse repressed obsessions constantly finding expression in the names of their obscure creations, the more obscene the better it seemed.

This morning Earth’s god had, preferring to rely on his ancient methodology rather then luck, carefully selected a Rock climber from his planet and delivered him, mightily confused, to the show’s producers who had instantly, and rather unceremoniously, shoved him before the huge audience usually in attendance when ever anyone has been nominated to leave the house. Yes, that’s right. One of your kind found itself suddenly involved in one of those never quite fully satisfactorily explained climbing accidents.

In order not to be held liable and sued for defamation (which is unfortunately the way of this and many other worlds) we’ll call him climber X. Life had been going well for climber X when suddenly and for no apparent reason, all was not as it had ever been before. Unbeknownst to him like Hitler, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot and a host of other notoriously bad infestations before him, he had been plucked from the hide of his planet. And now, most disconcertingly, he found himself in front of a vast studio audience, closely observed with eager fascination by billions upon billions of Beings the like of which he had never encountered before, not even in the worst of his most terrifying nightmares. The lights were blinding and at first he thought he had taken that deadly whipper he had known so long would one day come. “I’m well and truly screwed now” he thought to himself not quite believing what he was seeing and not quite understanding why he was, for want of a better word, 'dead'.

The second before he had been high up on a rock face, very certain that all knots were securely tied and that his belayer was, unusually, wide awake. He knew this for sure as he had just been passed the can of spray paint with which he was in the act of spray painting his name, in bold blood red letters, matching his Mohawk, upon the rock face, for all the world to see. His latest, as yet un-named, creation was one of his less inspiring efforts in both scale and short listed names. He knew the route was only 21 metres long and slightly contrived as it only narrowly managed to squeeze in between the routes of other climbers, but, it was his, all his! Those few metres had been conquered and over bolted by him and by strict abidance of the laws set down in stone since time began he alone deserved the right to name the thing; call it what ever the hell he liked, so not only was he going to name it, he was going to write his name, in blood red, into mankind’s history as well.

Standing here now before an audience of uncountable billions, and having watched enough reality television, it slowly began to dawn on him what was required. He was here to try and explain away a very dirty conscience. He knew that those Beings watching behind those bright lights wanted answers and they wouldn't put up with any bullshit. He would no doubt be required to explain the dark urges, only he was at a loss to how. For the very first time in his miserable life words failed him, no matter how he started the opening sentences in his head they would seem conceited and false.

Tentatively, he explained that as far as he was concerned the naming of climbs was tradition amongst his kind, the passing on of myths. Why he felt obliged to claim his own stake in history in such a vile way he was at a loss to explain. “Well it’s like this…” he began intuitively knowing that this was going to end badly. According to climber X it had been rife since he could remember. A man with a theodolite and an altitude metre had named some big mountains in the Himalaya and he knew of various famous explorers who had also done the same, naming things willy nilly without much rhyme or reason and briefly, he had wondered, unfortunately aloud, whether this had anything to do with lack of oxygen. As far as he was concerned he was part of history and the method one chose to become immortal was irrelevant. In the end nobody really cared how universal fame was achieved, even if it was for climbing rocks, for he knew that in the annals of history notoriety was as impressive as sainthood. “...and what do you all make of that then?” He concluded, warming up his crowd.

He sensed, no doubt through experience gained whilst travelling in search of rock Meccas, that these particular natives were getting restless, they seemed surprisingly dissatisfied with his worldly ramblings. He was cutting no ice and it occurred to him that they might be getting bored. Was it possible that inadvertently he was a major disappointment? He heard a few whispers amongst the front row and realised they thought him less interesting than Hitler. Inexplicably this thought bugged him immensely. He became more agitated in his explanations, jumping up and down like the preforming clown he had been all his life. The survival fight or flight mechanism of a failed comedian reverting to racist or bodily function humour kicking in. Remnants of his carefully nurtured ego still intact, he began to believe that his performance might, just yet, save his sorry arse.

A change of tact was required to regain their interest, he’d give these things something they might be able to relate to: “the great Buddha once said...” he began again, blissfully unaware that His Holy Eminence was in the audience, now wide awake in seat 69 third row, “...that the greatest of all sins is ignorance!” He was sure he had read this somewhere, “...therefore I was merely informing the public of the names of my humble creations, don’t you see?” he continued, beginning to regain some measure of self-worth, “Not only did I single handily stop the spread of ignorance but I also stopped humanity drowning in a Tsunami of bad Karma...” Perhaps he thought they were angels and this was the Pearly gate; if he had to atone for his sins he would do so in style.

Gesturing wildly he started shouting, telling the audience; Hitler unlike himself had never conquered any new worlds. All the territory his armies had conquered were known lands, he had simply renamed them. His own contribution eclipsed Hitler’s manyfold as he had on numerous occasions very nearly lost his life trying to achieve his selfless aim for the glory of man kind and not for some senseless grab for territory. Weren’t these acts of self sacrifice worthy of forgiveness? Pity pity please? he pleaded, his voice, most entertainingly, hitting the high notes as his throat ran dry.

The show producers, rather more relieved now climber X had somewhat regained his footings, agreed amongst themselves that he had been an excellent choice. Of all the critters available within the universes right now, he was defiantly the most disgusting. At his core he was just as big a Nazi egomaniac as that other wild blob of organic material that he so entertainingly perceived to be his competitor for a place in history. This creep was a cut above the usual eviction night fare. Never pausing to dwell on just how incredible it was that the masses considered this stuff entertainment, they began congratulating themselves. Deep down they didn’t really care how low was low just as long as the show churned out a profit it would keep the Bigger Boss of their back. They would attempt to give climber X just enough rope, not to hang himself with but just sufficient to keep him dangling slightly longer to satisfy the enthralled audience. As soon as climber X’s verbal diarrhoea had come spluttering to a messy end, it would be time for the public vote.

When the time finally does come for the final curtain, the viewers who had been telepathing incessantly all week, are asked, in a much anticipated part of the show, whether it will be thumbs up or down for this week’s evictee. An important moment for the producers as the advertisers demanded a huge spectator base, and as Earth's god has taught us, viewer numbers are all important when trying to survive in an already over crowded reality show industry. But what about the survival of our hero you ask? Well, if it was the thumbs up he would be allowed to stay, no doubt eventually sold of to some freak show travelling the outer regions of lesser known universes. Thumbs down means he would suffer the worse of all possible fates and return to his previous existence. A hell that even the most demonic of gods secretly found hard to stomach as they had grown perversely fond of climber X and his hat full of obscenely mesmerizing magic tricks.

Climber X knew instinctively that he had finally arrived at the place the priests had long ago told him about. It was as if he had shrunk, he felt immensely small. What was it he was supposed to do again? He couldn’t remember. Was there anything he was supposed to say at this moment? If only he had listened. Suddenly he felt incredibly juvenile. Somehow he could feel that those in charge of this show were collectively holding their breath, as whoever was out there judging him, was reaching its final verdict.

For Earth’s god, as ever watching in the wings, as well, a daunting moment, with a gambler's uncertainty creeping in. These crowds were always unpredictable and things could yet go very badly for his unlikely star. There was a lot resting on those scrawny shoulders and it wasn't just the obscene Mohawk. Could he have badly misjudged him? Had his new found policy of continuously out grossing the public gone too far? Had he misread their perversion tolerance level? Or had the audience become too desensitised to the vile ideas dreamt up by one of the most disgusting minds known?

Not to worry, all the questions of this self doubting god will soon be answered, as soon as the commercial break is over.

“What’s the matter dude? You’re getting paint all over my new rope…” Climber X heard his belayer’s concerned voice coming out off the void. “Wow shit man, you’re shaking like a dog shitting apricot seeds. Are ya gonna fall…?”

He did. Hard. Thuck, thuck, thuck... Inexplicably the shiny new bolts ripped out of his route as he plunged downward. Shot down in flames into the bottomless abyss filled to the brim with unimaginable self disgust and unfathomable self loathing. He didn’t know how long after the sickening thud he had carefully opened his eyes, knowing he had blown something big. He didn’t really know what, only that it was bad. Almost unbelievably bad. “Think I’m gonna puke” he had whispered hoarsely, before the never ending darkness came.

Did he imagine it or had it been real? Had he truly heard his belayer correctly? Not that it really matters where Climber X has gone, soon what went before won’t even be a distant memory, he will just never know that he had been absolutely right. “Now there’s a great name for your new route Dude..” was indeed how his belayed had replied to his, soon to be famous, last words.