7 December 2009

human stupidity: nature or nurture Pt 2

On Saturday I toddled down to my local beach. Sometimes the beach is closed, and this Saturday was one of those days. In this neck of the wood, on days with an onshore current there are several yellow signs on poles with a swimmer icon crossed out, saying:
There is also a large volunteer lifeguard tent right in the middle of the beach and paid lifeguards in the the tower. People still surf, using the rip to get out back, and swimmers still get in, because it's not like you can build a fence. If people stray into the waves the guards corral them back in making use of whistles or the loud-hailer or the beach PA system, with regular warnings that the conditions are very dangerous. Oh, and there's no flags up.

On days like this there is a nasty little drop off, just a couple of metres from the water's edge. The waves aren't huge, maybe just one metre at most, and if you're not familiar with the conditions it is hard to see what the issue might be. The problem is when they surge you get pulled off the beach, and can end up further from shore than you intended and if you try to swim against the rip you get tired very quickly and can panic and start to drown.

So on Saturday, I have to admit I watched the other swimmers for a bit, checked out where the lifeguards were getting people out, got in for about 30 seconds without going past the depth of my neck and got out again. And even then I nearly got knocked over by a wave in thigh-deep water.

Then I lay on the sand for a while reading my Margaret Atwood short stories. Presently, the Dad-type next to me exclaimed "oh look they're doing a rescue" - and sure enough the volunteer lifeguards were going in with the tow rope to pull out a girl of about 13 or 14. Her and a friend has been playing in the edge for a while, they weren't any further out than the few body surfers, but one of them must have been struggling. The friend got out on her own, and I watched the two of them walk across the beach towards the clan. The friend was asking the rather shaken-looking rescued girl if she was okay, if she wanted to sit down, etc, generally being pretty cool. As they approached Mum, the excitement of the moment overtook her and she was all "hey did you see what happened?! Katy just got rescued! She got towed out by the lifeguards!"

Mum sat up from her towel like she'd been stuck with a pin. Wasn't a big-gosh-fun-adventure for her, oh no. She'd been reading a magazine the whole time and didn't even know anything had happened. Wouldn't the prowling guards and loudspeaker announcements at least make you look up?

So this post is a twin to the stupid posters one. I was astounded that where the signs and announcements were actually immediately useful and could actually prevent you drowning, there was this total disregard for it. This is not an anti-mother rant - just an anti-human one. Too much information where it is useless noise, and a tendency to completely ignore the signal where it is clear, un-ambivalent and critical to your own safety. I think there as a factory flaw in the human genome, basically.

6 December 2009

human stupidity: nature or nurture Pt 1

Back in winter, some train station advertising made me wonder if there weren't larger forces at work to push us that bit further into complete loss of cognitive function, coupled with total dissatisfaction with our corporeal selves. The first is a series that seem to be showing the consequences of getting too close to trains. The slogans we simply mind-numbingly obvious tinged with totally patronising. Like this gem:

"getting caught in the door will hurt" - accompanying a photo of a guy in a suit with his arm, holding a briefcase, sticking out of the door.

Other ones were about prams on the platform and about crossing the tracks. I mean puhlease. That there is a hundreds of tonnes of metal hurtling into a station on electrified tracks isn't enough to encourage people to be careful? Is the logic in the comms strategy meeting (and I've been to a few, dear readers) that - if people were just to know the consequences of running to the those closing metal doors - then they wouldn't do it? If you can't work that out after the first time to see them actually shut, then you're an idiot and you deserve the bruise to teach you.

And the second one was part of the federal government's "How do you measure up" campaign, runnning with this beautiful bit of creative:

The full caption is, wait for it, "are you on your way towards chronic disease? I was confronted with this poor guy every day when I hit the bottom of the station escalators. Looks like the campaign is encouraging people to measure their waist as a trigger to lose weight to save themselves from SUDDEN DEATH.

It's been a while since I ranted here, but can I just say.. "what the hell?" I mean really, is this actually a real health issue? Or is this social conditioning out of control? Losing weight is so the new religion, Dicko did it, Madga did it, Mikey Robbins did it, it's highly trendy and a public rite of passage for fat celebs in the Emerald City. But, really, are we just compliant in shifting the global marketing coup of making women hate their earthly form - to our men? Is the health department playing into the hands of those big corporates who can shift more product if the general populace feels a little melancholy about those few extra kilos, the love handles and the muffin tops? It's not just diet programs and home gyms and such.. when consumers constantly feel like shit, everyone wins - from chocolate ice-cream to cars to beer to diamond earrings to flat screen TVs - anything to make you feel like you might satiate that longing for a perfect life.

Now, I'm going to come out of the closet on this one.

I reckon that guy in the poster could be eminently shaggable. He's so far from a hideous fatty it's laughable. I, for one, probably wouldn't turn him down, if he was funny, smart, playful, or perhaps had a love of cinema or could teach me a language, or was into body art or any bloody thing that wasn't about his goddam waistline. I bet the actual model has a happy marriage and a couple of kids who he takes to Nippers swim club every Sunday at crack of dawn and remembers to put the bins out every week. Jesus, he could be a Judo champ with that physique. I hope he got a decent pay packet for that ad is all I'm saying. For the humiliation of having to push another cack-handed attempt of the government to tell us we could get a bit crook if we eat junk and don't exercise.

I want to do a new station advertising campaign.

If you read this poster every day you will turn into a complete moron. THINK FOR YOURSELF.
(Authorised by the NSW government.)

19 October 2009

Compensation for pollution

Been a while since I quoted Ross Gittins on these pages, but here he is in today's herald talking about why polluter's shouldn't get compensation under the emissions trading scheme. I couldn't agree more. One thing that constantly irks me about free-market capitalists, is the double standard. How come you can claim the market rules all over some things like electriciy demand, but have your hand out for pay-outs over others, like an attempt to stop the catastrophic effects of your industry.

There's no insurance against loss for capitalists in a capitalist economy. Market-caused change raises or lowers the capital value of businesses every day. No one suggests losers should be compensated by the taxpayer.

Similarly, businesses gain or lose from changes in government policy all the time. No one suggests the losers should be compensated, nor that windfall gains be confiscated. To wish otherwise would be to put elected governments in an intolerable straitjacket, greatly constraining their ability to act in the public interest.

No one compensated the tobacco companies when governments took to discouraging smoking, nor James Hardie when governments acted against asbestos. No one has compensated the smash repair industry for all the things governments have done to reduce road accidents and deaths.

In any case, any investor in power stations who didn't see restrictions on carbon emissions coming was a fool.

If the private owners paid too much for their power stations the capitalist solution is clear: cop the loss and sell to new operators at a more realistic price without the station losing an hour's production.

5 October 2009


I went to have a massage last week. The style is called a 'dry massage' (no sniggering in the back please) - which means you are wearing cotton pjs and they don't use oils. They do however, twist and turn you every which way until bones in your lower back and hips that crackle like dry logs in the first fire in the grate for winter.

The lady masseuse was Thai. It was a Thai massage place. She was clearly skilled at her job, she hadn't just been shown a chart of human musculature and a few quick instructions, which is what it can seem like if you go in for these things at your regular Caucasian "beauty" parlours. At one point I was face down, she was kneeling, on well, I could be polite and say backs of my legs, but it was pretty much my bum bones, and doing something that seems to force out all the knots and strife out of my lower back.

And at this point, through the stabs of pain, I started to wonder about these ladies. Her English was pretty slight, but she clearly had a marketable skill. I started to wonder, am I actually an un-thinking supporter of one of these dodgy outfits that brings bonded labour over from under-developed countries, to service stupid rich westerners in the hope of making enough money to make a better life at home? Or bring over their parents, one day to Australia?

I mean, how do these girls live their daily lives with English limited to instructing people to lie face down, and to take their time getting up? Are they being kept upstairs by a kind of therapeutic madam, with their passports confiscated and their upkeep eternally deducted from their earnings? It does happen, didn't a high class Indian restaurant in Adelaide get busted with 10 illegal immigrant chefs living in the basement?

I did ask this fantastic angel of gnarled back muscles where she learnt to massage, and she said college in Thailand, but no more than that. Is massage a respected profession over there, or is it a little bit dubious and associated with servicing foreigners? How much do I not know about the Thai side of Sydney? Maybe she just shares a flat in Sydenham with her effeminate but streetwise brother who works in a Thai restaurant on Oxford street? I mean, there is just a squillion Thai food places, all stocked full of young people working, all dirt cheap, and doing a red-hot trade. And now with the massage. How can that be a good living wage? Don't cheap goods for the the rich come at the cost of the suffering of the masses, as Mr. Marx teaches us? Speculating like this while someone stretches your shoulder and your bent knee in two different directions is probably not good for inducing relaxation, but, I'm a speculatin' kind of a gal.

I am most definitely going back to my slightly eastern-exotic local therapy place, costs far less than a shrink, and they at least seem much more visible and legitimate than some of the garishly-lit shop front outfits that seem to be sprouting all over the beaches districts these days. I can only hope she is no different to the families of the kids I went to school with and that they give her a decent wage package for her hard work. How does one get a sense of the ethics of these things? Where's the fair-trade stamp for domestic businesses? I demand an easily recognisable logo dammit!

12 July 2009

Hottest 100 notes

Hottest 100 song list just played in Australia. This is a radio tradition set up by triple J , the government-funded youth station. The 'jays started up in Sydney in the 80s then went national state by state in the early 90s. They were brats who made it good, kinda thing. In 1989 they did the first national poll of "best 100 songs of all time". Entries strictly on the back of an envelope. Love will tear us apart" came in at #1. In 1998, "Smells like Teen Spirit" took the top spot. Letter entries were still taken and I'm not even sure if the internet worked well enough to take votes, but it was certainly less prevalent than now. I still had one email account that I could only access at the ANU computers, and I can't remember using the internet for anything useful.

Hottest 100 of all time 1998

Anyhoo - the '98 list was very early '90s - quite guitar rock-heavy, lots of Cure, Smiths, a good smattering of Aussie acts, overwhelmingly masculine, (the only girls I can see out of 100 are
B52's, Tori Amos, Dee-lite).

And now they've done it again, with 500,000 votes and the list is...

Hottest 100 of all time 2009

Guitar heavy, full of songs from the 90s, no solo women at all in the list, less Australian with a couple of notable exceptions (Hilltop hoods). Looks like about half the songs are the *exactly the same ones*. Nirvana Smells like Teen Spirit, still at number one. Other tracks that made *both* top 20s: Joy Division (Love Will Tear us Apart), Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody), Rage Against the Machine (Killing in the Name), Jeff Buckley (Last Goodbye), Led Zeppelin (Stairway to Heaven) Metallica, Radiohead.

I'm currently listening online in Amsterdam, last day here after almost exactly two years. Its nice, good to hear the accents, like decompression before re-entry. And to use the blog as note-book, here's my theories about this particlarly Aussie music poll. In an easy-to-follow bulleted list.

1) It's a product of the time JJJ went national. Early nineties. Those of us where were most excited to finally have our own station were about 14 to 20 then, we are 33 to 40 now. It is squarely a mid-30s hits list. Helllo nostalgia.

2) We are pack animals. Part of the appeal is to see if "your" song "made it in". So, if you want one or more of your songs to have any chance of making it, you're gonna pick the ones you know others will go for. I did - my favourite Nick Cave song is actually either the album tracks "The Witness Song"or "Breathless", but I picked "The Ship Song" b/c it was more of a crowd pleaser. Why pick the concert opener by Carter Unstoppable Sex Machine from the 1993 concert, or perhaps a Patsy Cline track when you know they will never get there, even if they really are you favourite songs?

3) Maybe more blokes do things like on-line polls than chicks do? When I voted I had to give age and gender - I'd LOVE to see the basic demographic breakdown they collected. Did blokes out-number girls really? If it was half half, well I guess I'm wrong, then all Australian 30-somethings love guitar-driven, big-concept boy's stories.

4) People who are only casually into music can better remember the big, heavily played, familiar stuff, easier. Singles, of course, not album tracks.

5) Being dead helps. Suicide even better. Buckley, Cobain, and Ian Curtis. Two suicides and one possible. Really, fuck you, you selfish cocks. Of course, death means exposure, lots of airplay, and sticking in people's memories. See point (4) Hello.. Michael Jackson made it in twice. No way would jjj listeners have voted for him otherwise. See also point (2)

6) "Utlimate Top Songs List" are a very Gen X things to do, and reflect the last gasp of the old breed brought up on albums and charts. I suspect the groovy kids today have big music collections mostly stored as MP3, they sample widely, they all have little niches, rather than following a few acts in one giant horde. (The adage of the internet .. eveyone can be famous for 15 people). I don't know whether they even slavishly follow a radio station, instead getting new music from Limewire, FreshFM, Itunes, from their mates' ipods, etc. Is it possile they don't even know the artists names of lots of tracks on their ipods? All those little niche votes aren't going to match the big bulk of the curve sitting firmly on early ninties grunge-rock and dead superstars. As much as I love the form, the album is dead. Perhaps for the real 'youth' (14 to 24) , the artist is dead too, and there's just the giant miasma of 'stuff on my ipod'.

I mean, come on, some of these songs aren't parent tracks, they are grand-parent tracks. If your Dad was listening to Led Zepplin in 1971 when Stairway to Heaven was released , you were born say in 1973, you were 18 in 1992 - triple J's big expansion year. (I was 16, that year dear listeners). So you've been raiding Dad's vinyl and you're also cementing your own tastes. Year of the Chilli Pepper, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Oasis. If you had a kid at 25, that kid is now 12, just listing to your 'top music'. If you let them online, will they not vote for those big boys power-rock, that "cock forest", as one twitterer descibed it? Unsurprisingly, the list has a bulge in the 70s and another bulge in the 90s.

And that's my analysis of the physcho-graphics of the Australian triple J listeners. Sentimental nostalgic types that they are.

6 July 2009

Philo- lite

A coupl e of breadcrumbs from the internets.

AC Grayling does some nice one-liners in the weekend guardian..

A human lifespan is less than a thousand months long. You need to make some time to think how to live it.

Science is the outcome of being prepared to live without certainty and therefore a mark of maturity. It embraces doubt and loose ends.

Life is all about relationships. By all means sit cross-legged on top of a mountain occasionally. But don't do it for very long.

The Athesiest's Guide to Christmas book will be out in time, for, well...

14 June 2009

And a ray of hope

A new Australian book - the Clean Industrial Revolution

John Quiggin says "if you only buy one book on climate change, this should be it" .. I'll take that as high praise indeed and look forward to reading it soon. Good to see someone seeing the opportunity and not just the cost of it.

13 June 2009

Australian coasts - rich people are shocked

"The state's view is that the risk to a property from sea-level rise lies with the property owner, public or private - or, whoever owns the land takes the risk. They gain the benefit of proximity to the ocean and they bear the risk of proximity to the ocean."
. . .

The NSW plan is being developed as scientists and councils warn that sea-level rise from climate change will greatly increase the number of beachfront homes at risk of inundation in coming decades, affecting some of the most expensive property in the country.
. . .

The NSW Government released a draft policy statement on sea-level rise in February but councils and coastal property owners are only now realising its implications for beachfront properties.

The policy is based on scientific advice that sea levels are expected to rise up to 0.4 metres by 2050 and up to 0.9 metres by 2100.

Each centimetre of sea-level rise is expected to cause, on average, a metre of erosion along vulnerable coastlines. Sydney coastal councils were warned this week that the frequency of coastal flooding would increase by a factor of 300 if sea levels rose by half a metre.

Full article.

11 June 2009

Shouldn't we talk about the weather?

Amsterdam: 9.53 am, nearly Summer (official start: June 21)
Sydney: 5.53 pm, approaching Winter solstice.

10 June 2009

Quotes from recent New York trip

"What's going on here? This side is for US citizens only. Are you a US citizen? If not you should be over there in the black lines. Hey! I'm lookin' at you!" - Uniformed security guy at Chicago immigration, you have to imagine the accent.

"Swing it out like your sis-tah" most definitely directed at Miss J, as we emerged from the subway, while we were doing that fake confident I-know-exactly-which-crossing-to-take walk that you do in strange cities.

"For two lovely ladies, of course". When I politely asked if we could pop into a city bar just to use their restrooms at around 1.30 am on a Thursday night.

"Hey! No photos of the shark!" Security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, referring to the Damien Hirst piece in the modern art wing.

"Well I just don't think anyone is truly happy in their relationship" .. overheard at Bryant Park popping out of the general hubbub of chatter on a sunny Friday afternoon.

"Too slow swipe again" - message in LED from the subway gates, perfectly sums up the existential tourist experience. I think being in genteel Netherlands I've lost my big-city finesse with those horrible cattle hearding things.

9 June 2009

Things that make more sense now. ..

.. references in pop culture that kind of click once you've actually been to New York. This is in danger of being a really cheesy dumb tourist post, but then I'm a bit of a cheezy dumb tourist, and it was the subject of conversations while walking around the streets of Manhattan...

Billy Joel - Up town girl (she's been livin' in her uptown world, now's she's playing with a downtown guy... ). Oh so every address comes with "uptown" or "downtown" attached... clearly it was a class thing, but it is also a fundamental part of working out where the hell you are.

Marylin Monroe, late night cop dramas, gritty 80s relationship movies, Madonna in "Desperately seeking Susan" ... yes there really is steam coming out of those fucking subway vents. Ew.

"No soup for you" (Seinfeld)- everywhere sells soup! About the cheapest thing you can get at lunch, that isn't a toxic hotdog - I suppose its an ecomonic way to make a lot of servings.

Coming to America (Eddie Murphy)/ Bright Lights Big City (Michael J Fox)/ Big Business (Bette Midler) - those opening scenes where the newcomers stare goggle eyed out of the window of a yellow cab at the skyscrapers - yeah, that was us too.

Sex and the City exteriors - uniformed doormen and those marquee-like shelters over the front entrance. Definitely an uptown thing.

Woody Allen. Oh is, like everyone in this town an artist/filmaker/performing arts manager or what? The ones I met were.

Sesame street. I don't think this needs an explanation - but my, there is a lot of Spanish spoken in the neighbourhood - even to most major subway advertising campaings, being done bi-lingual.

This post is officially open to additions from recent numty travellers like myself...

14 April 2009

.. just don't know what to do with yourself.. ?

My mate's husband has just launched a new central directory for community-based activities, from painting to bushwalking, language classes and harmonica.

It looks like its got a powerful search engine, and its missions is to stop people being couch potatoes. Hence... no spuds. Miss J. Miss A, looks like right up your alley(s)!

8 April 2009

Zine./ art links

This is for Miss j.

Printed matter. A shop in NY specialising in books by artists, looks like they have an on-line catalogue

Nieves. A swiss artist who exhibits cheaply-made hand drawn zines.


7 April 2009

What I've been doing

  • Scrabble.
  • Watching "Che Part 1" in the original Spanish with only Dutch subtitles. Hard core, huh? Picked up less than 50% of the dialogue but it makes you pay attention to body language and cinematography.
  • Growing seedlings on the window sill. Watch those little babies go, now that day time temp has rocketed from 6 degrees to 16 in the space of 3 weeks.
  • Taking a new resident to Amsterdam bike riding around town
  • Seeing Kirsta and 3-month-old Max.
  • Talking to old mates on skype.
  • Case study and report writing and other arcane measures to create new work.
  • Avoiding red wine because apparently it makes tinnitus worse.
  • Worrying about climate change.
  • Worrying about the economic down turn and thinking it might be time to get a real job.

30 March 2009

some good news

Todd Stern, US chief negotiator at climate talks in Bonn.

"We are very glad to be back. We want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us," Stern said to loud applause from the 2,600 delegates to the U.N. negotiations.

They clapped again when Stern said the U.S. recognized "our unique responsibility ... as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases," which has created a problem threatening the entire world.


Stern said no one on his team doubted that climate change is real. "The science is clear, the threat is real, the facts on the ground are outstripping the worst-case scenarios. The cost of inaction or inadequate action are unacceptable," he said — a total change of tone from his predecessors.

Full associated press article here.

And Earth Hour photos looked excellent, too! Much discussion on Earth Hour, at our place. By the way, there were postcards and newspaper ads here in Amsterdam, but I don't know if there were any official switch-offs in the city. I note some commentators are taking it rather literally, like John Quiggin, who does a calculation of the emissions stopped by people taking part for one hour, compared with switching over to a few energy-saver light bulbs for good. I have total respect and admiration for JQ in his persistent use of fact, logic and his outspoken stance on climate change and target setting in the Australian political sphere. But I think that perspective is a bit too literal and doesn't really reflect what the event is about, in terms of mass acceptance.

I personally think WWF are doing a pretty good job trying to shift the symbolism of it towards a statement of "please government take more action". And surely there aren't many Earth Hour participants who think "that's it" - an annual switch-off is enough to stop global warming. Really. It's simply a good way to count how much of the population does actually 'get' this thing - that we, humans, have stuffed the balance of gases in the atmosphere by burning oil and coal. And according to Earth Hour in Aus anyway, that's more than the commentariat like Miranda Divine would have you believe.

Acknowledged, some may say it's about 10 years after this mass awareness would have been really helpful. But anyway, Earth Hour. Not a bad thing at all.

I like the photos because they show people in charge of these landmark buildings do actually believe those fundamental things. That industrialisation has warmed the globe, and that we have to make a different choice on energy use / energy supplies to fix it. Its kind of like the relieved feeling when you go on a march .. "oh, right, its not just me.. lots of people feel this way." Either that or their boss believes it is good enough PR to put the order through to turn out the lights for an hour!

Oh, and there's another thing - I'm now here in Europe spring. Easter in a couple of weeks. With life bursting out all over, birds singing, flowers literally shooting up before your eyes... a spring fertility festival makes so much more sense. In the south, it falls just as everything is in senescence. Dur.

I would love to see these kind of change-of-season rituals adapt in Aus to have a bit more meaning. They are so old that the western world has mostly forgotten the roots, and whoops, changed them to be about Jesus, etc. Perhaps an annual lights out at the onset of Autumn, in Aus, with it's associated candles and parades and outdoor 'light' related festivals could a be perfect new tradition for marking the moment. Nights getting longer, darkness closing in, an embracing of the dark, the uncertain, the dreaming. Earth hour could have the unintentional hallmarks of a seasonal event that is fitting to the rhythm of the earth, that is something the family can do together, that is a bit mystical, and a reminder of how to tread lightly, and just a wee little bit pagan. (Sssh.. don't tell the editor of the Herald who sponsors it!)

26 March 2009

Grieving for the climate

So, right, I've been working on and off in the area of climate change for a while now. (As if you didn't know). Since 2000 to be precise. Lately I've had a niggling feeling that the vast majority of western people are straight-out deniers. This is because of the comments attracted to every major and important article I read in a proper newspaper. I'm talking here about the ones that give space to those who think national governments need to stop weaseling out of real carbon cuts, not the crazy mis-information mafia like The Australian and The Washington Post.

Newspapers obviously are available to the everyone. From someone who has been campaigning on climate change since the 80s, like a colleague of mine, to someone who only just heard the term last week. They might have voted for Obama, but they're like "whaddya mean climactic change? Global warming.. hey-l it was snowing here last week." .. and so on.

My latest take on it is that large chunks of the Australian and US citizenship are going through the classic stages of grieving. Take this quote:
Whenever one's identity and social order face the possibility of destruction, there is a natural tendency to feel angry, frustrated, helpless, and/or hurt. The volatile reactions of terror, hatred, resentment, and jealousy are often experienced as emotional manifestations of these feelings.
from The Grieving Process by Michael R. Leming and George E. Dickinson

And you don't have to check out the links, as it's too depressing dear readers, but recent tell-it-as-it-is articles by NASA scientist James Hansen, and long time environmental commentator George Monbiot have attracted a wail of denial, attack, ridicule and defamation. I don't remember it being this vitriolic when I started on the issue.

Leading Climate Scientist: Democratic process isn't working (Hansen Interview 19 March)

Opportunity for 2 degrees lost (Canberra times, 23 March, reprinted from the Guardian)

The first one in particular attracted every single tired and disproved point from the denial camp that have all been carefully dismantled; some years ago.* (Btw.. it's clear that from about number 50-on the commentors are coming from the US, they talk about "our tax dollars.")

My mate who's been in this game longer says it's reflection of an anti-global warming campaign that has had a long time to work on its strategy and has been successfully selling doubt for about 10 years, and the efforts are now paying off.

Kind of weird for me, though, who worked in a fully government-funded department nine years ago, whose main remit was based entirely on the premise that global warming was real. Oh yeah, and quite bad for the economy. Back then, mind you, the preferred actions were education, PR and voluntary business programs rather than legislation. Maybe the risk of accepting the science wasn't so high.

And another thing - everyone I know personally is convinced to some degree, whether it is just to recycle when they didn't before (I know recycling has very little to do with climate but, hey at least it's acceptance that humans change their environment) to avoiding flying at all costs, to building low-energy homes, organising protests, or generally de-carbonising their whole life.

Since the turn of this century, the real science has gotten scarier, more urgent and some top scientists have broken ranks, going from simply analysts and predictors to urging strong action and even civil disobedience. Goodness.

But these days, it looks like all the cool kids post to blogs, with these angry, hurty and shouty messages. Hopefully it's an illusion. Perhaps web-zines, blogs, Youtube, etc, just attract a shouty minority of people. Perhaps the format lends itself better to flaming than to constructive discussion. Perhaps those who have read a paper more than once in their life and understand the basics of climate change just can't be bothered posting to say that the deniers are mad and bad. They spend that two minutes to sign an online petition for good solar tariffs instead. They are too busy changing the baby's cloth nappy and getting their gear on for the cycle to work to care.

I dunno. I hope so.

- - -

* In case anyone else has the energy to ever patiently talk to someone in real life who really is undecided and has heard about sun-spots, mini-ice-ages, water vapour, etc... without raising your voice ... This website has a long list of answers: http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics

Personally, I don't have the patience, I just screech "well when you are evacuating your million dollar-home due to flash flooding, don't come crying to me!". Because I'll be living in a hemp treehouse eating nothing but squid and lentils, with solar panels, a CB radio and a bike-pedal washing machine. Come the revolution. There's no room for you and your denier ass in my woven pandanus-leaf hammock.

25 March 2009


Outside my regular cafe, an elderly Indonesian man approaches me and asks a question in Dutch. He has a scrap of paper in his hand and looks like he is looking for an address. As I start to form the sentence I can say most confidently in this country's native language.. Ik spraak Nederlands niet.. he notices the delay in my answer and switches to "oh, Engels? you speak English?" Yes I say, I speak English, but I know this area well if you are looking for something. .. "So you are an outsider then. Like me." he says. Yes, I am. I reply. And then he walks off to find his destination.

22 March 2009

Recession-proof jobs ( an occasional series)

1. Piercer

On Friday I wandered to the main shopping /cinema district in Amsterdam. There, I had a quick chat to the guy in the piercing and tattoo shop. (Don't worry mum - didn't get anything done). He told me he "doesn't know about this recession - they recently renovated the shop and business has been up for the last nine months!". He thinks it's only "affecting all the rich people - the big end of town, not the ordinary people."... "Well, not yet" he added. Maybe piercing would still go well anyway in a real recession, as people without decent jobs form a punk rebel army and go marauding in search of meat, scraps of tin for their urban humpies, and un-diseased women. You would probably have to barter your piercing, lobe-stretching and scarification skills for food and medicines though.

2. Locksmith

A colleague's brother's profession. Apparently in good times, people want locks. In bad times, they also want locks.

18 March 2009

Illicit Urban Improvements

From the lovely link provided by the lovely miss megsy in comments a couple of posts back

A hand-painted bicycle lane in Canada.

A playground made from dead space in Spain

A painted- on soccer pitch in UAE

All forming part of a Canadian exhibition on altering your own urban landscape. Niiiice.

Grow your own drugs

Is the title of a new show on the BBC. Not a reference to less-than-legal drugs. It's a bit like a cooking show presented by a rather cute ethno-botanist (from Kew Gardens nonetheless), who goes out and picks herbs and flowers, then makes home remedies from them. The one I saw was featured a chamomile pillow for sleeplessness, a fruity face mask that used vegetarian geltine, and a home-made cough syrup. Nice!

Best of all, the recipies are on the BBC site. Here's the link, for the anoracky gardening readers. Sadly you've got to click on each episode then scroll down to where it says recipes. If anyone from bbc is checking their trackbacks, then note it would be a good idea to list all the recipes grouped by type (e.g. beauty, common cold, etc)

Good to see the beeb maintaining its muesli-eating, wartime rationing soul.

6 March 2009


New Booklub post. And thanks Meri Risa, I was just testing posting, because my main page disappeared temporarily.

4 March 2009



I have a need to garden at the moment. On the weekend, a great lady called Mel and I walked up and down the flower market in Amsterdam and were inspired to take our first step towards guerrilla gardening. This has been quite a thing amongst trendy post-hippies in the UK for a while now, and fits into a kind of re-claimed ye-olde-crafte-integrated-to-the-nasty-city sub-culture that also spawned knitting bombs and such.

So our attempt started local, in fact the miroscopic strips of dirt right next to my front door. For you lucky house-dwelling aussies, my front door is actually a security door to a block of 8 flats that extends right to the property boundary in a particularly urban part of the densest city in the world. It's like: door. street. No gaps.

Anyway, spring must be approaching as it is now well above zero in the daytime, and the chairs are back in our plein, goodbye icerink. At the flower market Mel got a lemon tree, and I picked up about $6 euros worth of overcrowded daffodils and blue hyacinths (i think). We popped outside to the street in the gloaming and plonked them all in, nearly 2 doz individual plants, in clumps just right where I suspect plenty of men have relieved themselves in the small hours after leaving the nightclub across the street and getting on their bike. Oh well, a bit of extra nitrogen never hurt, right. It's the tiniest addition of plant life, to a tiny strip with just a few scrubby plants, and it took about 10 minutes, but it was a good feeling!

We've both got a taste for it now, and I think I'll move down the end of my street to a long, blank wall, and perhaps do a mix of bulbs and pretty creeprs, and maybe some rosemary for the locals to pick. One thing in this country that is cheap: flowers and bulbs. Mel wants to do the area around the new trees in her street that are currently surrounded by sand, and hence, dog shit. She's even talking about adding soil first, now that's advanced.

Only thing is, it's not particularly guerrilla round here, as loads of Amsterdammers pretty up their front steps onto the street, with as much as they can cram into a space about 30 cm square, including pots and planters. I can't imagine really anyone batting an eyelid, but anyway, nice to add to the riot of colour that is spring and perhaps some tulip bulbs that will continue to pop up and self-propagate long after I've left the area. Hm, maybe a packet of sunflower seeds. I don't like to spend loads on cultivating plants for my own balcony, as they will eventually have to go.. but can easily imagine going berko in the public spaces, radiating out from my front door.

11 February 2009

Attack of the car-eating rats!

This is by far the best mistake email I have got. Reprinted below, in the right order to scroll down. There really is a publication called Foggy Bottom Current. I hope I didn't scoop her story with this. Our ace reporter's first name is changed to protect the innocent.

Subject: Re: Article about car-eating rats

- - -
On 2/6/09, Barbara[surname] wrote:
Hi Luke -
My name is Barbara [surname] and I'm a reporter for the Current Newspapers. I'm working on an article about rat problems in Dupont Circle and my editor forwarded me your note on the Dupont Forum. If you'd be willing to be interviewed about your problems with rats, I'd really appreciate it. Feel free to give me a call today at my office (202) xxx-xxxx or over the weekend on my cell phone at (201) xxx-xxxx.

Barbara [surname]
Reporter, The Current Newspapers
5185 MacArthur Blvd. NW Suite 102
Washington, D.C. 20016

The Northwest Current • The Georgetown Current • The Dupont Current • The Foggy Bottom Current

- - -
On Feb 10, 2009, at 8:01 AM, Luke Peterson wrote:

Hey barbara-- sorry I've been on vacation and still am with inconsistent blackberry service. Did I miss your deadline for this? I'd like to put you in touch with my friend whose car was eaten, if it's still relevant for you.
- - -
From: Barbara [Surname]
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2009 12:03:40 -0500
- - -

Hi Luke -
It's absolutely still relevant. I plan to write the article for the Feb. 18 issue of the paper. Feel free to give my number to your friend.

- - -
From: Luke Peterson
To: Me, 10 Feb, 2009
- - -

Hey becca-- hope you're well!

Listen, I was talking about rats on a neighborhood listserv and used your passat experience as an anecdote. Want to give comment to this reporter who's working up a story on the dupont rat infestation?

You still in germany? Take care,


- - -
From: Me
To: Luke Peterson, Tue, 10 Feb

While this email exchange is hilarious, and I think it's genuine and not robot-spam, I'm not the becca you are looking for. Try checking that email address and re-sending.

From Luke Peterson
To: Me, Tue, 10 Feb
Suject: I'm on vacation Re: Article about car-eating rates

Hi, I'm off the grid until February 15. Leave me a voicemail if you need to get in touch -- I'll have sporadic access to my cell.

Luke Peterson


File: under totally random shit. Appears Becca (not me) in Germany (close, only a few hours away) has her passat eaten by rats somewhere in Washington state. It's a similar feeling to the whole debacle with Betty-Sue.. kind of feels like I've got a small army of almost-doppelgangers running around out there who are nearly me, but not quite.

*By the way, these are all totally real titles. This is the reason why I try to never accept any new applications on facebook, no matter how cute they are, I think it adds another 50 spam emails a week to my account.

spammity spam-a-lama-ling-long

explanation of above: I have had a g*mail address ever since they were created, a somewhat catchy moniker, and I get a mother-load of spam. Approx 500 each week. Minimum.

Aside from the random viagra and russian babes stuff, I get things like Fox and Hound Monthly, Huggies Baby Network, Audi car lovers, Solar Winds, Borders Rewards, Classmates.com, the fucking St Elmo Stakehouse which look like regular e-newsletters.* At frist I thought is was my emails on a massive global database that has been sold to every cheap-ass retailer in the States. And of coures, if I try to click their (legitimate-looking) "unsubscribe" link, I seem to just get another slew of new, odd newsletters. Now I reckon it'actually the sky-net machines trying to locate every real email address on the planet, so they can more effectively track us down when they wage war on the humans.

Also I also get a steady stream of what looks like genuine people just stuffing up. There's definitely a Reverend somewhere in the States with a matching last name to my email, who really needs to update his parishoners, because he's going to be showing up to prayer meetings and they won't be there, after they emailed me to say couldn't make it.

9 February 2009


Only just got a look at the awful devestation of those fires. It's on the one hand un-imaginable what it would be like to be trapped in that but all also but all-too-easy to picture those areas going up in flames on such hot days. I was driving in the back roads around Bendigo just 10 or so days ago, through the towns that are now being torn up by fire. I visited an amazing winery in that area, Elgo Estate, they are 100% wind powered and they also fence off natives and re-use their organic wastes to condition the soil. All too rare in Australian industry. I recommend every reader buys their wines off the website, and have fingers and toes crossed they missed the worst of the blaze.

And over this side of the world, Britian is experiencing freakish heavy snow, closed roads, motorways, cancelled school, the lot. In fact, just looking out the window, the thin drizzle in Amsterdam seems to be forming into sparse snow flakes here. Heavy falls currently predicted for Tuesday. Wish I could send some your way, Australia!

Here's a picture I took on Thursday on my morning ride through Vondel Park. Note, the seagulls are standing on top of the pond.

4 February 2009

Economic celebration

On yet another leg of the 6,500 km journey last week, my car compatriots, now stinky and dirty with matted hair are coversing entirely based on in-jokes and references-of-references, as you do after 10 days in a vehicle and shared rooms with the same four people. The collective experience decides we should re-brand the supposed "economic crisis" as an "economic celebration!". The mortgage holders among us (not me, dear readers) have just seen their rates fall to about 2.5 % - saving them hundreds of dollars a month; none of us acutally have an employer as such, but seem to get by from a steady trickle weird and varied freelance jobs, and all of us relish getting to have crazy outback adventures. Fuel is cheaper, savings are still guaranteed.. economic bonanza!

From a culture-blogger in Berlin, momus calls it the "silver lining" in his post about about exactly the same phenomena. He hopes its not going to get him into cosmic, karmic trouble pointing out the good things about a slump in car sales, and a growth in public housing, but these things might just be music to the ears to the occasionaly pinko socialist among us. I wouldn't want to be carrying a lot of debt right now, and I really feel for those who are or those who just got laid off by BHP. Mind you, those miners riding the resources boom in Aus have been pulling in over 150k the last few years, hopefully they put something away for a rainy day.

All in all, how about you - can you see this period as a celebration? A rejection of the compulsion to spend spend spend and instead do some repairing, or just getting off the express train of capitalism?

2 February 2009

January 26

Drove into Melbourne about 6pm on Australia Day eve, cruising past the banks of the yarra, our assorted ratbag activists commenting on how pretty and clean the city is. Quickly followed by 'give me Newtown to look at any day.' They've got a decidedly urban grunge aesthetic those two.

People all down the riverside park setting up for barbeques the next day. The trend in Australia day over the last few years has seen more and more symbolic nationalism with a kind of diffuse and slightly unsettling focus. It seems that lots more people feel it necessary to get decked out in the flag in some way - shorts, tops, thongs, bikinis, draped as a cape (what are you, some kind of ocker super-hero?), flying on car antennas (putting the ass in class, that one), and worn as body paint.

The whole spectacle was dubbed as "morbid jingoism" by my colleagues on this trip. Can't say I diagree personally. I'm only 33, right, and from my relatively short living memory, this business is not some immutable part of Aussie tradition. We never got into flag-flying as kids. Australia day holds no real special memory of any kind of nationalist holiday, perhaps just a barbeque in one of Adelaide's many parks with a smattering of family freinds, but that was a fairly normal kid-friendly activity right through from October to March.

Perhaps Mum can set me straight on this, but I'm sure our lack of jingoistic fervour was not just a product of our suburb's chardonnay socialist leanings - I don't remember any particular fuss about it, even during high school years, where there was a slighly more bogan element. (Click "comments" to leave a note, here, technophobes).

Anyway.. see what I mean below. Early Sydney Big Day Outs always falling on Jan 26 probably sparked a trend of boozy teens trolling the flag, until organiser Ken West spoke out about it in 2007. The subsequent Howard years surely stoked this flag-waving business.

Photo from here: http://www.australiaday.com.au ... wtf?

Photo from wikimedia commons (Cronulla riots)

26 January 2009

Get your rocks off

Hi blog readers, B Sharp is on a job that takes in Brisbane, Innamincka, Adelaide, Portland, Waubra and Canberra. When groups of people travel on a dead straight road, not passing any on-coming traffic for at least an hour at a time, they develop this habit of naming stationary objects as they fly by. Like "bird". (silence) "roo". (silence) "car". (silence) "sign".

On arrival in Innamincka, heart of Australia's burgeoning hot rock electricity industry, we were confronted with a rare desert downpour, 20 millitres that afternoon and night - the most in one year. The publican and helpers were shovelling the torrent of water out from the front door, because over the years the pub has kind of sunk into the clay, creating a natural dam in the car park.

When we finally got out to the site of the new power station the next day, the verdict was "who would have thought we could get so excited over inanimate objects in the middle of nowhere?". For photography and vision its going to be tough to liven up the subject of hot rocks, you see they are 5 km underground. But for clean energy its enough to get you hyperventilating like an American virgin at a Jonas brothers concert. Maybe that's just me.

Photo: Innamincka trading post - more than a thousand clicks north of Adelaide. Sun after the rain.

Riders on the storm

On the road to Cunamulla. This town is a sliver under 1000 kms from Brisbane. A documentary maker visited there some years ago and made a film that portrayed it as the bleakest most fucked up place in Australia. They have race issues, they have unemployed youth, they have it all.

On the way in, we are approaching a storm dead ahead. We are on one of those outback roads to nowhere, a dead straight line of bitumen, disappearing into the horizon in a perfect study of vanishing point worthy of a high-school art project.

We’re going at about 100 km/ hr and there is a massive black storm cloud hanging right over the hood of the car. Lightning cracks on the horizon. Our stills photographer is driving the landcruiser and picks up the industrial–sized camera from its permanent spot beside the gearstick. He rests it on the top of the steering wheel while dropping speed by about 5 kilometres an hour. “What are you doing?” is the simultaneous cry from the producer in the front seat and the video cameraman in the back passenger seat. “You’ve just got to get the moment before the rain starts, otherwise its no good”, comes the reply. He’s trying to get a shot of the lightning which is now arcing down from the dark clouds ahead to the horizon.

“Dude, if you’re going to use the camera, at least slow down” says our slightly older cameraman. He’s competing with the roar of several tonnes of metal roaring across the desert, plus rain and extra wind. ... “What?”... “I said, use it, but use a slower speed for god’s sake!” shouted now from the back seat. “Yeah, I’m on a one second exposure”. Laughter breaks out in the face of impending death. “Not exposure time – use the break for Chrissakes.” Nothing if not dedicated to the shot.

Its official, we're in the middle of nowhere. The GPS is lost.