Archives: December 2008

31 Dec 2008, Comments (9)

Another year on the Balcony

Author: Helen

Give 2008 the arse!

Happy new year to everyone who reads and comments here. Have a good one!

Mia Dyson
Too silly

I do love those articles which come out from time to time purporting to tell us what the future holds for popular culture, always getting it wrong. I remember one from TIME magazine in the eighties which reckoned the Future for women in popular music was: Pat Benatar, Ellen Foley (who?), and some other footnote in history whose name I don’t recall. But they were all white, skinny and American (and mysteriously, all signed to EMI). Don’t despair, though; in 2009 we can have white, skinny women from the UK, New York and New Zealand. As long as they’re, well, ladylike.

This article title is “What’s next? The New Madonnas“, which reinforces from the get-go the avatistic message that women should not display mastery of actual instruments, but prance around performing femininity and sexual availability on stage with headset mikes, pointy bras optional. And guitars and drums are for blokes. I’m not against being a vocalist who doesn’t play; I’m against making it compulsory for women.

In the paper article, two photographs were displayed: the one of Lady GaGa in the linked article, plus a shot of Ladyhawke. I can’t find that on the web, so here’s a different image. Oh! Erk! … Only joking – that’s the Canadian Ladyhawk. here’s the other Ladyhawke here. Do you notice anything? Two women – sorry, girls – white, young, thin, attractive (yawn), apparently to represent the entire future of girly musicmaking in 2009. What makes it even more uncanny is that these two could be twin sisters: same blondeness, long face, long nose, white lips, panda eyes and fringe. Yeah, welcome to the ethnically and musically diverse early 2000s.

These “girls” like to describe their rather well-worn pandering to certain entertainment norms as “radical”. “I sing about oral sex in my underwear.” Gasp! Never seen that done before. Subvert that dominant paradigm, Gaga. Skimpy costumes and boobs: who ever would have thought?

You’ll note that there is no room for being overweight or less than conventionally pretty in that paradigm. As stage decoration, any plain or fat little girls contemplating a musical career should just forget about it. Now.

Now, according to this person (does she realise her nom de techno means “white sauce”?, this person looks “a bit stupid”. Ahem. Submitted without comment.

But let’s have the full quotation from La Roux from the article, because it was used as the callout in larger font on the page.

Girls look a bit stupid playing electric guitar and drums. It suits blokes better. But girls look wicked playing synths.

Layer upon layer upon layer of wrong there. It’s more important what “girls” look like than what they sound like, if they’re musicians. Instrument choice should be based, not on talent and inclination, but on rigid gender lines (and appearance). Oh, how edgy, oh, how twenty-first century. As a crusty old pop/rocker looking to see how far the younger ones have come since the days of my youth, I can only shake my head and look forward to merciful senility. Of course, what the quote means is “I’m only twenty years old and can’t yet distinguish between my own personal performance preferences and making stupidly prescriptive statements for everyone else.” Yes, she’s still very young and I should make allowances for that. On the other hand, the Fairfax press have apparently elevated this stuff to a pronouncement of wisdom for the coming year. Some degree of mockery is badly needed.

Further down the article, we find there are other and less flattering reasons for their success. It’s not just the Ladies’ and LaRouxes sheer awesomeness that has swayed the music industry: they’re cheap. As the recession bites, two people with boxes cost a lot less than bands with four people and guitar amps.

Serendipitously, while I was about to post this, I came across Michelle Schwartz’s Canadian Club post (via Stephie Penguin). Irked by the assumption that guitar playing is for the boys, which the advertisers revive Frankenstein-like from the 1960s (see how modern and edgy your prejudices are, Ms. Whitesauce?) Michelle uses the make-your-own-poster app on the CC website to make some statements about women guitarists. The Raincoats, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Joan Armatrading. And I’d just love to watch Dallas Frasca eat Whitesauce for breakfast, on toast, with bacon and double fried tomato.

I don’t believe in interbreeding, myself. We need to preserve the Aryan race. That’s what I think.

…Actual conversation at the annual Christmas party of the Eartha Kitt Memorial Dog’s home and Cattery. She’s a relatively recent starter, has been there about a year. Has young children but looks all of twenty-one, bubbly, pretty, enthusiastic like a golden retriever. She’s already done and said one or two things that make me go “hmmm”.

Yeah, I know some people think it’s a bit shocking. Hitler. You know Hitler? Well, basically his philosophy. (Deprecating laugh). Well, I didn’t agree with the things he did, of course, but yeah, his philosophy pretty much. The Aryan race has to reproduce itself and not be bred out.

Of course, I can’t talk. I’m a bit of a fuckup myself, my husband’s a Kiwi, my kids are mixed race, so I’ve fucked up there.

I sit, clutching my glass of champagne, staring out over the city and wondering what her beautiful kids would think about being a fuckup. Next to me is R, second-generation Indian Australian. His profile gives nothing away. I’d say he’s been here before.

“So, A. Do you know what Aryan means?” he asks.

“Yeah! It means blonde hair and blue eyes.”

R. turns to me. “Do you know what Aryan means, Helen?”

“Um, well, as far as I know “Aryan” refers to people originally from the subcontinent.”

“That’s right. A: Aryans were asian.” A. looks doubtful, but defers to R, who’s a manager.

This woman doesn’t just work where I work. She lives in my suburb and we bump into each other regularly on the train. Her boys play sport with Exploding Boy.

We change the subject.

I watch the evening sun creeping over the steeple of St Patrick’s. I knock my champagne back and make my excuses.

24 Dec 2008, Comments (6)


Author: Helen

I hope all my bloggy mates have done all their shopping and are relaxing with a nice glass of bolly, or maybe Bombay Sapphire, and that noone suffers a meltdown or kills any of their immediate or extended family this Christmas season. FSM’s will be done. I’m off to get that glass of wine. Seeya!

And as I always say, watch out for the idiots™ on those roads.

A finished box of cereal or dry biscuits should be:

a) flattened and put in the paper recycling

b) put in the bin

c) returned to the cupboard.

An ice cube tray with only two or three cubes remaining should be:

a) Washed and refilled and returned to the freezer

b) Returned to the freezer- might as well use the remaining two

c) Emptied of the remaining cubes and then returned to the freezer.

Drawers and cupboard doors should be:

a) pushed in neatly

b) Doesn’t matter too much if they’re not 100% in

c) Left dangling way out for that freshly burgled look

Taking the rubbish bins out on bin night, and bringing them back in when empty,

a) Is the man’s job

b) Is a job that can equally well be done by the man or woman

c) Is unnecessary – they trundle in and out by themselves.

Baking sheets, cutlery and saucepans are clean

a) When all hard stains and crusty bits have been scoured off.

b) When all loose food scraps and grease have been washed off.

c) When I say so.

What does your bathroom counter (“vanity”) have on it?

a) A scented candle and a dolly varden toilet roll cover

b) As little as possible

c) Two newspapers, a crime novel, someone’s underpants, T shirt, track pants, assorted rubbish and a battery-powered fish which sings “Proud Mary”

The most suitable bed for a medium-sized dog is

a) A leopard print velour bed

b) A practical sling bed, the kind with legs

c) Ones’ dressing gown.

A kids room should be tidied

a) Daily

b) Weekly

c) Every two years, whether it needs it or not.

Image from

I’ve been musing a lot lately on our financial situation, and everyone else’s, and I thought I’d write about it without a licence. No, no economics degree, no MBA, not even bookkeeping in secondary school. Whooee! I’m living dangerously.

I don’t think Rudd’s “fiscal stimulus” is going to do much to save us all from a recession. Why? Because although we’ve had the resources boom, I think a lot of our economic “growth” has been due to demand created by people spending more than they earn, and doing it for a long, long time. I think it’s unsustainable and will inevitably have to stop, and I’m no Robinson Crusoe there. We’ve heard a lot about people who have credit cards stacked on top of other credit cards and who end up declaring bankruptcy. I think that from now on we’ll hear a lot more about the other story, people pulling money out of their houses for consumption spending.

Like me, you might be watching the price collapses and home defaults in the US and thinking “is it going to be just as bad here?” Many well-informed people think it won’t. It’s scary, though, to see so many people lose their homes there.

Of course, the flip side is that houses might become more affordable. If, that is, people still have jobs and credit to buy them with.

In the last few months I’ve been following this blog, which tracks house sales in the Irvine district of Orange County (yes, that’s “the OC”), California. Unlike the stratospherically rich suburb in the TV series, this is a place roughly similar to – I’d say – Malvern or Brighton in Melbourne. So, much more upmarket than where I live. It may not sound like fascinating reading, but in California, it’s somehow possible to obtain and publish details of the house’s financial history as well as the number of granite counter tops. The lessons to be learned are salutary.

I like the Irvine Renter’s blog concept, in which he ties each post to a song with a Youtube link, although I don’t always agree with his song picks!

One of the central themes of the Irvine Housing blog is HELOC abuse. A HELOC is a Housing equity Line of Credit. Long story short, it is borrowing money against the equity in your house, supposedly for improvements to that house which then increase the value. But in the last few years homebuyers, thinking house prices would rise forever, have been taking out one HELOC after another to support their consumer spending – cars, holidays, boats, that sort of thing. Some people are even using it as income. IR calls it the “Home ATM”, because they’re treating their house like an ATM that gives out free money.

We do this too here in Australia, we just call it a home equity loan or refinancing, and there’s a scary looking thing called a Viridian Line of Credit, which seems very much like a HELOC to me. Sometimes, financial advisers encourage people to roll their credit card debt into their house loan, because of the lower rate of interest. It seems to me that that’s not an easy way out, because unless you cut up your card after that (or become the perfectly responsible pay-off-every-month customer, which probably wasn’t happening before) you’ll just keep on increasing your mortgage faster than you pay it.

As Irvine Renter points out, this was all fine when everyone thought house prices would never fall. But now that they are, some people end up owing more than the house is worth. “Negative equity”, they call it here. Irvine Renter calls it being “underwater”. He calls the desire to spend your house “the Kool-Aid”, because it seems so simple and tempting.

We were tempted to sip from the Kool-Aid in 2001, when the presence of a second child (one more than available bedrooms), plus wiring and plumbing that had reached its use-by date, coupled with a loan that was laughably titchy in today’s terms (55,000) made us decide to get the place in order. I don’t regret that, because if I do the maths I can tell we’re unlikely to end up underwater. And I really don’t want to live with wiring that’s going to kill us.

But we’ve survived that because we’ve paid it down since then. The people featured in the IR blog have been increasing their house debt year by year. Back when we borrowed to renovate, everyone was madly sanguine about what a massive price we’d get for the house if we ever sold, but we like living here. We didn’t renovate it to flip it – we did it to live in ourselves. Thank the FSM we didn’t get a taste for the Kool-aid and start using the home equity to pay for a big shiny SUV, holidays, furniture and consumer gadgets.

An important difference between Australia and the US is that over there the homebuyers can choose to walk away from the whole mess and the bad debt is taken over by the bank. The homebuyers’ credit rating is up the creek, but they don’t get chased for the balance of the loan. In Australia, we do.

It’s going to take more than the injection of a couple of thousand per selected household to kickstart an economy if that economy is dependent on people spending more than they earn. Once the homeowners have to stop using the home ATM, the music really will stop for some. That’s going to mean a lot of pain for people who make stuff and sell stuff and provide services. More thoughts on that later.

H/T Belle (this is becoming a habit, isn’t it?)

19 Dec 2008, Comments (6)

Friday Dogblogging

Author: Helen

Oh hai!

I can haz diggnity, and maybe cheezburger?

I can haz diggnity, and maybe cheezburger?

15 Dec 2008, Comments (6)

Hollo’s Victory

Author: Helen

Here’s something which has been bothering me for quite a while now, a toxic dynamic between the media and other observers of the political process. I don’t want to seem as though I’m picking on Tim Hollo any more than any other commentator, and I’m definitely with him on this piece on Peter Garret and ANAM. I’d like to explain what does bother me about it, though.
Here’s a letter in the AGE which expressed what I’m talking about:

Please, commentators, don’t disparage this decision with phrases like “a climb-down” or an “about-face”. Rather, it is a triumph for the musical life of Melbourne (and beyond).
Ruth Boschen, Balwyn

Now look at language used on this thread. Just to reiterate, I’m not picking on Tim: everybody does it, both on the left and on the right. He says:

…It’s worth going through this story step by step to highlight the slow-motion backflip for what it is.

…This was the first step in the backflip.

…Step two in the backflip…

That’s not counting comments (“a slow mo backflip…”)

The problem is that if the tradition is to crow over every change of mind on the part of your opponents and compare it to foolish acrobatics, won’t it make them more likely to dig in their heels next time, regardless of the merits of your case? Doesn’t that style of language shame people for changing their mind on good evidence?

I’d suggest that changing policies to suit new and convincing evidence, or changing circumstances, is a smart thing to do.

People on the green spectrum of politics are reading, writing, thinking and presenting all kinds of information to policymakers on transport, energy, environment, education et al in order to try to effect a change to sustainable and fairer policies. If you want people to do something, jeering at them after they do it is giving negative feedback to a desired response. It’s a dumb thing to do.

How do you think you’re going to go next time we approach the same people- or people who might have read or seen you gloating- to try and effect the next bit of necessary change? Let’s chuck out the backdown / backflip / backflip-with-double-pike / climbdown imagery and start to applaud changes of heart and policy – where they deserve it. Or at least, don’t mock them.

In response to Mark’s comment about crossover, here’s a different Tim with some gorgeous Tognetti goodness. (Sigh)

So a fifteen year old boy has been killed, and we find he’s been hanging out with a violent neo-nazi group and making Bundy-and-coke his totem. See also.

Besides the fact that someone’s child is dead, there is so much to mourn in this story.

That an organisation like Southern Cross Soldiers can exist in my city.

That this happened in a suburb I love, where my daughter spent her toddlerhood. And no doubt in my suburb too, I just don’t know who.

That the kid’s friends and associates spew hatred and intolerance (H/T FDB), on his MySpace page, seemingly in inverse relation to their command of the english language, while one of the more literate ones complains about “hearing more foreign languages than we do english“. As the kids’d say, ironic much?)

That this is where the kids who aren’t doing so well with the reading and thinking go to get their ideas.

That drinking Bundy and Coke is celebrated on their MySpace sites like it’s their only identity and their only recreation, besides moaning about ethnicity.

That organisations like Southern Cross Soldiers feed on these poor kids.

That if you think this kind of hatred is confined to the underclass, yer dreamin’.

That Tyler’s parents don’t seem to be at all concerned about the violent neo-nazi milieu their son got into, and his habitual drinking at 15, instead focusing on making him an anti-police Cause Celebre. (There may be circumstances I’m not aware of, but they come across as enablers in the news reports.)

That he was once their baby, a bundle of potential.

Just the waste of it all.

Here’s a comment from his MySpace page: a lonely kid, who doesn’t fit the Bundy-and-Coke party-hearty image of the other avatar pics. She sits with her arms around her knees. Her pretty bespectacled eyes look up into the camera. She projects the sweetness of a kid anxious to fit in. Evidently she’s a bit on the outer but she sees Tyler as someone to look up to. FSM help us.

Special K. ♫
12 Dec 2008 01:22 AM
this is the dew saying her goodbyes.
wow, i’ve just figured out know that it was you.
im sorry mate, i just don’t know what to say.
would have been nice to get to know you more.
rest in peace lil buddy.
stupid lil island.

Give her ten years and she won’t be sweet any more.

5 Dec 2008, Comments (22)

Friday Chocolate drops

Author: Helen

This was the most terrible, horrible, really bad day. (Warning: Swear alert.)

I jumped off the train in the city and rode up the escalator… with… my shoulders strangely light. Uh oh. My backpack with my wallet in it, with my car keys in it, my cheque book in it, my life in it.

That morning I get a call at work from girlchild who’s been rung by someone called Emily with a mobile number. Apparently she has my backpack. But I call and call all day and every time it goes to voice mail. Why? Why would she do that? Anyway, my workmates gave me lunch and hugs and a travelcard. I love them.

And as usual, Connex excelled themselves in not giving a fuck. Note to the Attorney-General if you’re reading this, as I know you do of a Friday evening: If any disaffected youngsters are thinking of going the abandoned backpack-bomb route, I can tell you Connex don’t give a royal shit about ownerless backpacks reaching Flinders street. Just saying.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen. All I want is to crawl under the doona and cry, but girlchild’s friends are all coming to have a birthday sleepover and I have to make with the fucking Mrs-coping-Mum.

I definitely am going to need some chocolate tonight (and girlchild has a Brunetti’s cheesecake.)