Archives: October 2005

29 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

Typing with intent redux

Author: Helen



Thanks Laura of Sills Bend (via comments on Road to Surfdom) for finding the transcript of the panel discussion on RN which I’ve referred to in a recent post.

I knew any post based on something listened to on a deck chair on the Balcony (as opposed to read, re-read and checked) would contain errors. But did I listen to myself? No? (Slap!) So, I owe Hilary McPhee an apology; it was Ramona Koval saying

And I put to Hilary McPhee the question of whether something like New Matilda would ever only be preaching to the converted. Unlike publishing a newspaper or hard copy magazine where you can hope that maybe on a train or in some dentistís waiting room, a person whoís never bought that newspaper or magazine might well pick it up and read it, but thereís nothing accidental or serendipitous about reading an online magazine or a blog, you have to actually log on to the site, you actually have to want to know and seek out whatís there. So how do you broaden an online readership beyond those who are already in the loop?

So the remark about people running online magazines not understanding how the internet works is completely invalid, because it wasn’t Hilary making the statement.

Still and all – an experienced cultural commentator like Koval should probably be better informed. Koval is someone I have a lot of respect for, so I’m not implying some kind of overall cluelessness. The problem is that public intellectuals like this can comment on the blogosphere without having, as it seems, been there much. But that’s just re-stating what I’ve already said.

Here’s a parallel: My own memories of the attitude of “mainstream” musicians to the burgeoning punk / new wave / alternative movement (with its DIY, untutored element) gives me a strong feeling of deja vu in this discussion.

27 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

Grass roots, not astroturf

Author: Helen

I might have mentioned that public transport out our way is cactus.

My SO, who is a talented graphic designer, decided to help. He’s produced this newsletterfor distribution in the Melbourne inner west (written by local Greens Liz Ingham and Colleen Hartland).

He did a beautiful job.

Please send it on to anyone you think might be interested.

26 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

Typing with intent

Author: Helen

Heard a panel discussion on RN the other day on ìnew media publishingî, with reference to online magazines like New Matilda and blogging. As with other references to blogging in the msm (Main Stream Meeja) lately, it was patronising, insulting and depressing.

One lowlight was journo / opinion writer Andrew West opining that much dead-tree writing is superior to Just “Any Old” blog. Oh, well then. So Robert Manne, Adele Horin, Ross Gittins and himself are stacked up against a few OMG WTF LOL livejournalling teenagers. Apples and pears. He frames the discussion so as to set the blogosphere up to fail.

And the old saw that blogging isnít journalism. Repeat after me 100 times: Blogging is not, and has never been, intended to be journalism. (Political blogs – which are only one of many categories – can cut through the agenda-setting of the msm by highlighting and pointing to stories that otherwise would be buried by the stories the powers that be consider suitable for us.)

It was evident the panelists had done little or nothing to really find out what is available in the blogosphere.

The other bit which had me whimpering in frustration was Hilary McPhee saying (Erratum: it was Ramona Koval) that she really didnít know where the ìnew mediaî was going to go in terms of readership, because, she says, there is no serendipity there. She reckons you have to ìlog onî somewhere in order to read anything on the net. Iím not sure what she was trying to get at but she seems to imagine that people choose one or two online mags which they have to know about first; subscribe; log on to those one or two sites and just read. Sheís aware that people come in and comment at New Matilda, but she doesnít seem to understand how people really move about on the internet.

For exampleÖ hasnít she ever, for instance, gone over to Barista from where she follows a link to Professor Q (while being directed to various overseas mainstream media articles which she otherwise might have missed, along the way), then decided to go over to the Purple Rodeo for a while just because the link is on Quigginís blog, or maybe via Catallaxy, canít remember; thus discovering a treasure trove of historical writing called Philobiblon, who, together with Susoz, provide enough feminist links to keep her up way past her bedtimeÖ

Serendipity, in spades. I didnít know any of the blogs I knew today a couple of years ago. I have followed an interlocking, non-linear mass of links to topics and writers that particularly interest me ñ and many topics, and writers, that intrigue or horrify. A person who is running an online journal should know how the internet works. (See “Typing with intent redux” above for correction).

Iím not the only onewho has been disappointed lately with the attitude of the msm to bloggers. What’s with this tribal sniping?

Update 29/10: Found a transcript, and the comment was actually made by Ramona Koval, to McPhee. See Typing with Intent Redux.

20 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

Choice, mate!

Author: Helen

I just saw a Catalyst program on intelligent design.

Brendan Nelson: “It’s about choice, reasonable choice.”

That word again. What with WorkChoices and all, “choice” is becoming the Orwellianest word of this decade. There’s a poll on the Catalyst site, “should ID be taught in science classrooms?” Go there and add to the No vote, for your kids’ sakes. Or if you’re not going to have any, just do it to give Brendan the shits- it’s worth it.

It was interesting to see “The Wedge Strategy”, the document circulated by the Discovery centre, an anti-evolution think tank. You can find it here. It’s like a conspiracy theory, only real. Unfortunately. This is the DVD the Discovery institute’s using as the thin end of the wedge. Keep an eye out for sightings in your local school or library.


Now I’m going to write to Brendan Nelson demanding equal time for the Pastafarian interpretation of the origins of life on earth.

20 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

We’re all f###ed, part 3

Author: Helen

Anyone been musing on Peak Oil lately, while the signs at the service station go from


To a ridiculously cheap $1.19?

(OK, so I liked that graphic so much I posted it again.)

From time to time I hear reports in the media that sales of small cars are already up, which seems a bit silly – you’d think if you were going to think about a smaller car you’d have done it before; but it may be due to a mixture of demographic factors as much as rising oil prices. Certainly people seem to be loving the big gas guzzling SUVs as much as ever. Peter Costello doesn’t mention the p-word; he talks as if it’s just a problem with the refineries and when they get pumpin’ again, we’ll all be right.

Unfortunately, the world oil price looks as if it’s going to be high for some time, and that means that Australian consumers are going to be paying higher prices at the bowser than they were last year and for quite some time, although not at the levels we saw with the spike after the hurricane.

Let me make it clear that petrol prices, high petrol prices, are in no-one’s interest. They’re not in the interest of the consumer, they’re not in the interest of business, they’re not in the interest of government, they’re not in the interest of the world economy. But until such time as refining capacity comes back in full and the world oil production increases we, unfortunately, will have to live with higher prices than we’d like.

Of course he would say that, because to a neoliberal government like his, the alternative is terrible to contemplate. If peak oil is a reality, it ends the easy economic growth bonanza and ushers in a very different world, not based on endless consumption.

I’ve been thinking of what my suburban world would look like when petrol becomes scarce and prohibitively expensive.

All those roads! What’ll we do with them? I have visions of riding my bike comfortably down multi-lane highways and formerly busy roads, like Geelong road and Francis street out my way, which are now too scary for me to ride on. For a few months, or years, riding bikes to work and school will become a real choice for those of us now scared off the roads by trucks and hoons. I imagine sailing along Francis street on a warm summer night, unmolested by speeding Commodores.

But then, without the registration and petrol taxes for their upkeep, those roads will soon resemble the old alphalt footpaths in the inner suburbs– mini-mountain ranges cracking and heaving from below, with triumphant weeds sprouting through. They won’t provide a smooth and joyful surface for bicycling then. If the state governments are sensible, they’ll maintain a strip on each wide enough to allow bicycle traffic to continue. But we know they aren’t sensible, so I don’t know what will happen to all that tarmac.

The Victorian government will finally have to do something about the horrible state of our rail network, which has already reached capacity. Since the Hurricane Katrina petrol price rise, my 7.30 city loop train from Footscray has been so packed that passengers have been left standing on the platform. I felt so sorry for the dad the other day, holding two little schoolboys by the hand, staring after us as we moved away like a mobile tin of sardines. If it’s like that now, picture the scene once passenger vehicles have been rendered a plaything of the rich.

Talking of play, there’ll be fewer drives down the coast and bushwalks in the Strzleckis. A car trip will be something to be saved up for (and fewer of us will own cars, so we’ll have to hire them). Holidays like the one we’ll be enjoying next January on the Gippsland coast will be fewer and farther between. Overseas? I can’t see the era of cheap air fares continuing much longer – and by the time my kids are old enough to be backpackers, the backpacker era may be gone.

I hated the Big Bad Supermarket ™ which just got built just around the corner, but hey, now I can get a trolley and go, well, just around the corner. But it’s not just transport that’s the issue. What I’ll be able to buy at the BBS ™ is a moot point, because a fuel shortage will affect the price of everything. One thing’s for sure, cheap mangoes from Queensland and cheap asparagus from Peru or wherever the hell they get it from, will be a thing of the past. (Mmmm… Asparagus… Must stop at BBS after work…) We might regret building housing estates over all the best arable land in Victoria.

So many of the things we take for granted are based on petrochemicals. Just look at the millions of things in our daily life which are made out of plastic. Life will change dramatically when the sources of plastics are drying up. We won’t just be able to reach for an empty ice cream tub whenever we have leftovers to store, or buy household necessities for peanuts at Mitre 10 or the $2 shop, or reach for a plastic supermarket bag to carry our wet swim towel in. Some of this will be a good thing — Some of the avalanche of useless stuff, which mainly ends up in landfill, will be stopped. But a lot that is useful would go as well.

Like fibres. A lot of the modern ones are petrochemical based as well; bye-bye affordable clothes. (We’ll still have wool and cotton, both of which have sustainability issues of their own.)

A real decline in petrochemicals will usher in a new era of scarcity,unless research has something up its sleeve which will save us all. Neoliberals had better start praying.

8 Oct 2005, Comments (0)


Author: Helen

It’s Spring again.

You can see why Australia’s early settlers were freaked out sometimes. Every morning at six or so, when I take the dog for a run in the park next door, I come out to a cacophony of birds making noises which are the antithesis of twittering, chirping, or god forbid, singing.

There’s a couple of honeyeaters which make a sound like those rattles which British soccer fans carry and another one which has a harsh cry like someone who is trying to call for help, while being slowly strangled. Others sound like badly oiled machinery. And then there are the blackbirds.

Of course, these wouldn’t have been so much in evidence in the olden days – the settlers hadn’t been there long enough for the feral imports to take hold. Why in hell did someone import blackbirds, anyway? it’s not as if you can eat them or shoot them (which would have made them attractive to the nineteenth century citizen). The only explanation I can think of was to mitigate the above racket with some English birds who would make twittering noises more conducive to the Lake Poets idea of Nature. But these guys just go chuck chuck chuck or for variety, chuck dee chuck chuck chuck. According to Gummo Trotsky, they’re not expressing very romantic, Springtime sentiments either:

…listening to a blackbird, perched on the highest part of the house, proclaiming to the world that this was his TV antenna. In the distance another bird warbled back to let him know that he didn’t want the TV antenna, he had a perfectly good one of his own and if you come over here mate, I’ll give you a good kicking.

Not really Wordsworth, is it?

Sometimes I hear ‘Bong!’ which is not one of the locals, as you might think, but a little frog which likes to burrow under the earth and just sit there – what a life – and if I’m really lucky I’ll hear them in the creek, the poor, abused Stony Creek. We are killing off our frogs at an amazing rate all over the world, and I worry about them.

Pounding around the park after the delighted dog- who is a classic Australian mongrel type, black and tan with a permanently guilty look – I really know it’s spring because of two things. One is the smells. Once the Victorian landscape heats up over a certain amount, the smells change. the Eucalypts, Melaleucas and wattles start to give up their volatile oils and the exotic species in the surrounding suburban gardens do likewise. If I had some kind of disease which made me unable to feel heat, cold and wind, I’d know summer was coming because of the smells.

The other is the feral undies.

Every year it’s the same. I’ll be walking with the dog round the park in the half light and there they’ll be, a smallish pair of women’s undies lying in the park in the dewy grass. I can just imagine Michael Leunig doing a cartoon about it.*

The feral undies are real proof that the joy and fecundity of spring is stirring in the loins of our usually sedate citizens. Even more than cricketers emerging from hibernation in the parks, Boynton. Or… do you think Warney’s been this way lately?
*Update: Now I remember where I got that from… He awoke to find that his underpants were missing. He went searching and met the milkman, who told him that he had seen a pair of underpants moving like a ghost along the foggy street in the direction of the paddock Ö
Michael Leunig, Why dogs sniff each others Tails.

2 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

No Choice

Author: Helen


If you’re a parent and you work, and it’s not the 1950s so you don’t have a wife at home to pick the sproglets up from school, what do you do?

You use After Care, or Out of Hours School Care, or whatever your child’s school calls it. You can imagine how important After care is to a working mum.

Imaginary conversation following Howard’s IR reforms. Scene, job interview room:

“I’d like to negotiate a finishing time of 2:30 PM to enable me to get to my child’s school by public transport by the time school finishes.”

“OK, see ya.”

I’ve had a child or two in After Care for the best part of eight years. It’s a demountable building and it looks anarchic, but it’s a home away from home for the kids who go there.

Evelyn (until last year) and Cathy provide a motherly brand of crowd control, snack provision and supervision. Cassandra, looking like she should be auditioning for HAIR in 1968, is the craft queen, getting the kids making and doing. Marie and Pam have them cooking something different every night, from pikelets to samosas. Steve is the Outdoors, bat-and-ball man, and is also good for putting the hard word on little boys who get above themselves. There are computers and videos, but they are strictly rationed. Mostly, the kids get to indulge their inner eccentric, working on projects so dear to their hearts they are hard to get home. “Just a few more minutes mum!”

I wonder what I’ll find when I pick the boy up from After Care tomorrow, the first day of term?

In the last week of term we were “advised” by the school Principal that a corporation called Camp Australia was to take over the service. How’s that for the superior consumer choice available under Market capitalism?

Bullshit! There was no choice at all. And competition?

This is not possible. Kids aren’t allowed off the school premises by themselves – that’s why they have After Care in the first place. It is not possible for another business to function as a competitor. Need I mention Camp Australia charges more? Choice, competition, market forces…Bah.

No, we were just told Camp Australia were taking over and that would be that. As for “consulting stakeholders”: the After Care workers were given as much choice as we were. None. Oh, they have been told they can all apply for new jobs with Camp Australia in the same place. I’m afraid nice, hippy Cassandra will be passed over for some “bubbly” little chick in Nike gear and trainers with some Diploma in Phys Ed or something. Steve and Marie won’t be applying.

Cathy and Cassandra are still thinking about it.

The rationale given by the Principal in their letter to parents was that the School Council just “could not continue running an after care service”. Now, they weren’t running it at all, Cathy and Evelyn were – and subcontracting their service to the school just as Camp Australia will be. The Principal accused them of being in the red, but Cathy says this wasn’t the case. Will we parents be allowed to see the books to see who is right? No, Camp Australia has come along with a glossy promotion and a slick sales pitch, and the school has unilaterally decided to go for it.

Looking at Camp Australia’s website, my heart sinks as I see the activities they promote: Sport, sport, sport, and just for a change… sport. Now I have no objection to sport per se, but I see nothing that would approach the multifarious hive of activity that is our old After care. You can google and find actual schools’ programs which mention cooking, craft and other stuff, though. Good. I hope that means CA’s program isn’t as agressively sporty as it appears on its website.

Anyone clicking on these links will notice the repeated references to Nike (also Uncle Toby’s and McDonalds). As Naomi Klein points out in No Logo, Nike has been sponsoring sports programs in schools in the US for years – as fast food companies have been taking over canteens and corridors – thus removing the schoolyard as “the last unbranded space” the kids have left.

Public space, or pseudo-public space, is now a luxury item that is only really available to the very rich. Once you move up the class hierarchy, things get a lot more tranquil and quiet, and you sort of pay not to be marketed to.

That’s funny, because with the increased fees, we’ll be paying more to be marketed to. I’m not sure of the form this will take, so I’ll be on the alert for Nike promotions here, there and everywhere – This item suggests free giveaways are the weapon of choice.

I’ve done a lot of googling on Nike and sport programs, and it looks fairly innocuous. We’ll see. But the element of choice and competition are just not there. Where is the beneficial effect of the market in this one? And why are we increasingly leaving these essential services up to profitmaking corporations?

(Image from here)