Monday, November 26, 2007

Jesus and the Mary Chain

Things that have happened so far,

Finished thesis and University
Australian labour Party won the Federal election.

BTW this is the first incursion into Jack's blog by me, thanks Jack. Thanks Jack doubletime for the re-invite cos I missed the ship when it was blog that is.

Being at uni for 5 years I have learnt to be a student, - ...if the whole system runs the distance, then I (sorry "we" inc. all the other p.grad newbs) will be bending over to be lubed in the bike tube by the skills shortage in Australia when it comes to professionals outside of the Arts.

Uni maybe typically cynical, that maybe a biased view coming from the Arts...or a generation Y thing, but after half-a decade of learning its only fucking now I realise that the golden gun isn't there at all, in fact satisfaction could actually be found joining the local YMCA, which I didn't do, and now with two pieces of paper, being qualified couldn't feel more insipid. So where to travel to next? Well fuckit. Time is perpetual, and you'll be doing something, even if it is staring at the ceiling with 10mg of Diazepam cursing through your veins whispering to yourself "god I feel benign...". But that latter scenario is rather specific, what about the Green Fields (tm), !!??? Well, yes green fields, no valium, no celing just a beautiful girl who you love, wheatfields sort of day, wine in your hand, gentle southerly with warm air to fucking flies - is that cynical enough?, cause if it sounds that way I can lie using words well cuase I was being serious.
I think it was this French philosopher Montaigne who championed wisdom in life not necessarily in the education system. But then plural geography teaches me to be nuanced in my understanding of black and white scenarios (which is a good thing) so maybe tertiary education is wisdom giving, but Hey! fucked if I know!. So the only thing that is of any offer in this, the expedition into blog, is my own worth in telling someone out there some - thing - useful. So, everyone do ethics when you go to uni if you havnt already...

they'll be more poignant prose when I am boyed by my own wisdom...but now thats all I got...sorry Jack.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Experiencing Bangkok

I almost got it right. Especially about the shithouse tattoos and cosmopolitan tourists. I think Thailand is the respository of the world's lamest tatts. Jack Cambrian needs to come here just to even it out a little bit. I was expecting a more visible homeless population, but it turns out Los Angeles appeared way worse than this. Maybe downtown Bangkok is heavily policed so all of the homeless people get shifted to other areas. I don't know. Travelling in Thailand is SO EASY! It's ridiculous. I was expecting a little bit of a struggle. I was also expecting a bit of hostility and the occasional feeling of not being safe. But I feel more in danger walking around Chapel street late at night on weekends when there's those roaming packs of young men in very nice clothes looking for an excuse (for example: eye contact) to bash someone.

I haven't yet found the glamorous side to Bangkok that I was expecting, but my description of Khao San wasn't far off from the reality. It's been weird how much of the shit I've read has stuck in my head. I was on Ko Chang the other day and I missed Jed. I actually MISSED him. A fictional character (from The Beach). I was hanging out by myself thinking, wouldn't it be great if Jed was here? Fuck.

Another strange experience was the sensation of having been here already. Thailand felt so familiar. All of the stuff I'd heard about before I came here really had an influence on me and it couldn't be helped. But this feeling is probably also influenced by the overwhelming desire to find a reference point to FORCE myself to experience Thailand as familiar. I was walking around Bangkok and Ko Wai thinking yeah this is like Mozambique or that is like Madagascar and I had to stop myself. It's nothing like those places. Just because a place has a beach and coconut trees doesn't make it the same as fucking Madagascar! Or just because an apartment building is dilapidated doesn't make it the same as Mozambique. There are all these layers of difference that I stopped myself from experiencing and instead focussed on very basic elements of my visual experience. I'm not sure why I did this but it happened spontaneously. Possibly I was kind of scared being alone in a big foreign city and wanted to stop myself from feeling stressed. It worked.

I don't have a creeping sensation of danger walking around Bangkok (which I had in Maputo, Mozambique's capital and Antananarivo which is Madagascar's). Mozambique and Madagascar are much much poorer countries and this makes a big difference. The food is totally different. The architecture is way different too, (besides a few vaguely similar apartment buildings), and the buildings in Bangkok are in much better condition. Actually, almost everything in Bangkok is in much better condition. There's a very prominent tourist culture in Thailand which possibly makes the locals more used to our presence here, which means we receive a lot less attention (both negative and positive). Also, movement through the country is unbelievably easy here and comfortable, which changes the way a place is experienced.

I didn't expect Africa to be such a big influence on the way I experienced Thailand. Almost everything in my first few days in Bangkok I related to my time in Madagascar and Mozambique. It was something I had to force myself not to do, and now finally, after about ten days in the country, I am experiencing everything for the first time.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Imagining Bangkok

This is Part 1 of a two part blog I'm writing on Bangkok. I'm going to be in that city tomorrow so I want to detail all of my preconceived ideas of what I imagine Bangkok to be like. I am also going to do a list of all of the sources that have influenced my ideas of Bangkok, so when I get there I'll write another blog (Part 2) about the reality of the city and how it compares to my preconceptions. And Part 1 also allows YOU to share your thoughts and experiences on and of Bangkok, for the sake of kicks and more comparisons.

I imagine downtown Bangkok will have a real flashy side. Like Chapel street with a shitload of neon. There will be clubs blasting lots of horrible music like House except it will be ok because of the context. But fused with the flashy side will be a seedy side and a poverty side. I expect beggars and the homeless to be alongside the rich and glamorous. There'll be trashy strip joints and 'massage' parlours etc, and all of this will be mixed together but whenever you read about this area they will only mention the flashy parts.

There will be more tourists than what I thought possible. Tourists escaping their lives in the West. Tourists looking for the 'Real Thailand' (Vietnam). Sex tourists, shopping tourists, adventure tourists, 'sea, sun, sand' tourists, drug tourists, food tourists, drunk tourists, tourists with bad hairstyles and shithouse tattoos, sunburnt tourists, crazy looking tourists, hippy tourists, and also tourists who will be some of the coolest people I've ever met.

Khao San will have two to three storey buildings on either side and the whole street will have a claustrophobic vibe, because it'll be really packed. The buildings will have shit hanging off of them everywhere - lots of clothes, signs and flags. There will be lots of vendors selling awesome yummy food and fresh fruit, and also selling lots of tourist garbage. It will be very LOUD. The tourists in Khao San will be more of the backpacker style, and the mix of nationalities will be fairly cosmopolitan. Not just aussies, but lots of Europeans from all over that continent, plus heaps of Israelis relative to their population. The Americans there will be the cool types.

The downtown area will be surrounded by really poor areas. The city will be pretty safe most of the time. I'll get harassed a bit by dudes trying to sell shit but it won't be much of a problem. Public transport will be pretty good. The traffic will suck.

Ok, I could go on for longer but I'm writing this from the library in Darwin's Parliament House, so I don't have much time. Tell me what you imagined and tell me how right or wrong I am!


- word of mouth from friends and people at parties

- The Beach by Alex Garland (one of my favourite books)

- The Ends of the Earth by Robert Kaplan

- Lonely Planet guidebooks

- movies

- my imagination

- my experiences in Africa

- TV shows

- photos taken by friends in South East Asia

The following academic journal articles on backpacking:

- Erik Cohen's Thai Prostitutes and Farang Men: The Edge of Ambiguity

- Teo and Leong's A Postcolonial Analysis of Backpacking

(these two are from the journal Annals of Tourism Research)

The following academic books

- In the Cities of the South by Jeremy Seabrook

- Planet of Slums by Mike Davis

I think they're the major ones. Look out for Part 2!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Climate change skeptics. Are they skeptical about anything else?

Catholic Archbishop George Pell is a cretin. This week, he reaffirmed his view that climate change is not a big deal and that the church doesn't need to do anything about it because "radical environmentalists are more than up to the task of moralising their own agenda and imposing it on people through fear." He is a climate change 'skeptic' - an epithet so embarrassing that it has even been discarded by our time-travelling dwarf-minister John Howard. George Pell personally believes that The Virgin Mary bodily ascended up to heaven, that communion wine literally turns into Jesus' blood as you drink it and that all sin in the world originated from a talking snake that offered fruit to the world's first woman. Presumably, the idea of anthropogenic climate change is just too far fetched. At what point does Cardinal Pell's world-view become evidence based? He has said that church leaders should be 'allergic to nonsense'. The entire basis of his employment is the propagation of bronze-age mythology! If people really did become 'allergic to nonsense' then George Pell would be out of a job.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Kingdom

I really wanna see that movie The Kingdom but nobody wants to see it. Typical discussions go like this:

Me: Hey you wanna see The Kingdom?
Deadbeat Friend: Errrrrr, do you think it'll be good?
Me: OF COURSE it will be good. It's an ACTION MOVIE!
Deadbeat Friend: Errrrr, it's gonna be terrible. It'll be racist and it'll be shit because Hollywood doesn't understand terrorism and Islam and Saudi Arabia and blah fucking blah.

But who does? Of course the message is going to be confusing and jumbled and insensitive. It's HOLLYWOOD! Hollywood doesn't even know shit about Hollywood. I'm not expecting intelligent and thoughtful insights into globalisation and terrorism in a post - 9\11 world because when I want that I go to a fucking library. Action movies like The Kingdom are about entertainment, not learning, and it seems like all my deadbeat friends are missing the point about this and it frustrates the shit out of me.

Malcolm Turnbull and the Third World

Malcolm Turnbull don't give me that shit about Tasmania's new pulp mill 'operating under the most stringent environmental conditions in the world' because I know that you know that deforestation is happening most rapidly in the following countries: Brazil, Bolivia, the fucking Congo, Indonesia and Australia. We are up there with some of the most fucked places on earth - those countries don't regulate their timber industries! Tassie's pulp mill will have the most stringent environmental standards by default, because any environmental standards are more stringent than no environmental standards. I don't buy your bullshit!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Five songs written by once successful bands who are now washed up in which they lyrically incorporate the title of one of their past hits in an attempt to remind you that they used to be good:

1. 17 Again - Eurythmics. The Eurythmics were great. They were responsible for some of the most memorable hits of the 80s whilst being both a commercial and critical success. Their latest greatest hits release Eurythmics Ultimate Collection contains hit after hit - but which song did they select for track #1? I've Got A Life, a new song which is not nearly on par with their former glories and which you have to sit through (or skip past) to get to their superb single Sweet Dreams. As if to further illustrate that Annie & Dave aren't above melding their classic back catalogue with their lacklustre current efforts the pair conspicuously incorporate the line 'Sweet dreams are made of anything' into one of their new tracks, 17 again. I guess they were hoping to induce a psychosomatic response in the listener that would cause them to involuntarily think 'Hey, these guys used to be really good'.

2.Welcome To The World - 10cc. 10cc were one of the coolest British pop bands ever, until 1977 when half of the quartet left to do inventive, experimental pop records*. The remaining two members of the band continued under the 10cc name, released a couple of decent albums and descended into a valley of maudlin, M.O.R. pop blandness. The biggest single for this incarnation of 10cc was 1978's Dreadlock Holiday ('I don't like reggae, oh nooo' pretty much sums up my reaction to the song) so it's unsurprising that they artlessly name-drop the title into the lyrics of Welcome To The World from their forgettable album of 1980, Look Hear (2 stars -

*The departing duo Godley & Creme actually incorporate the chorus of 10cc's first single Donna into Group Life from their dark, satirical album L, however it's a device cleverly used in a song satirising life in successful band. You can get away with these things if you do them well.

3. Welcome To The Room... Sara - Fleetwood Mac. My love for Fleetwood Mac is like a passionate love affair. However I've never been able to reconcile this love with one Stevie Nicks. Sure, some of my favourite Fleetwood songs are by Ms. Nicks but I can't seem to shake the feeling that she is simply an average artist who had a few flashes of inspired genius and then just spent the rest of her career hanging around musicians with real talent like a blonde, coked-up leech. On Fleetwood Mac's 1987 album Tango In The Night (containing the huge radio hits Everywhere and Sweet Little Lies both written by the infinitely more talented Christine McVie) Nicks contributed the song Welcome To The Room... Sara - a reference to the hit single Sara from Fleetwood's 1979 masterpiece Tusk. Why not just release a single called Hey, Do You Guys Remember Rhiannon?

4. Tonight - New Kids On The Block (Remember them?). Check out this excerpt from NKOTB's song Tonight: Remember when we said, girl, please don't go, and how I'd be loving you forever, taught you 'bout hangin' tough as long as you got the right stuff, didn't we, girls, ooh, didn't we, girls, aah? Leaving aside for a moment that those lyrics are utter shite, let's do a count on how many of their appalling songs are mentioned in one single verse:
  1. Please Don't Go Girl
  2. I'll Be Loving You (Forever)
  3. Hangin' Tough
  4. You Got It (The Right Stuff)

That's every single from their previous album except for one. These guys should be ashamed (of themselves).

5. Glass Onion - The Beatles. Oh, Come on! I told you about Strawberry Fields - I told you about the walrus and me - I told you about the fool on the hill - Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet etc. This John Lennon character seems positively desperate to convince us that his little band, The Beatles has written a few memorable songs! This shameless plug appears on their barely noticed self-titled release of 1968 (often dismissively referred to as 'The White Album'). The band was so desperate at this point, they even resorted to allowing the drummer to sing on a couple of tracks. Enough said.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More stupid advertising

I have to catch public transport everyday. As a result I am exposed to a hell of a lot of advertising - at the stations, on trams, in trams, on buses and even on metcards. Lately, Flinders St. Station has been covered with ads for commercial radio broadcaster Triple M and their AFL Football commentary team. You know the drill; a picture of 5 blokey looking men accompanied by 'witty' slogans. The problem is that these ads don't make any sense at all, as I shall endeavour to illustrate. There are 3 different slogans used on these advertisements:

1. "Sorry, we couldn't afford a stylist." You know what? I'll bet they did employ a stylist for the making of these ads. I realise that they're going for a blokey image but no one does anything in the media today without a stylist on hand. I'll bet they employed someone to make sure their subjects looked blokey in the exact blokey style the station wanted. Are we seriously expected to believe that they were willing to do the photo shoot with whatever outfits these guys happened to throw on that morning? They're spending thousands of dollars on their ad campaign and plastering them on billboards all over Melbourne. When you're faced with the prospect of having to rely on the dress-sense of AFL football commentators, you'd be a fool not to hire a stylist.

2. "Who said boy bands were dead?" Criticism #1. They're not boys. Criticism #2. They're not a band. The 'joke' doesn't work on any level. Does anyone even proof-read this drivel before it gets approval? People that work in commercial radio are so funny! All they have to do is mindlessly drop a daggy or retro pop culture reference and they'll have me in stitches! Not.

3. "Where moustaches are still cool" It's quite striking to notice that only 1 guy out of the 5 guys in the picture has a moustache. If moustaches are so cool, how come only 1/5 of the people featured in the ad actually has one? It's like looking at a group of people, 4 of whom have moustaches, 1 of whom doesn't and remarking 'That must be where not having moustaches is still cool". I think I understand what they're going for here (see 'daggy or retro pop culture reference' above) but it hardly seems worth mentioning a feature possessed by a tiny minority of their commentary team.

So what point am I making (if any)? These ads are demonstrably inane and are presumably indicative of the audience Triple M wants to attract. Ask yourself if you want to be part of that audience.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Creationist poem

There are some people here on planet Earth,

Who think that after death there is rebirth,

Convinced despite the evidence

(Likewise ignoring sediments that prove Earth's age as surely as its girth).

There are some folk who tow the bible line,

And in their books and speeches they opine,

That every fin and spiracle

Must represent God's miracle and every eye and tooth built from design.

There are men and women living in the dark,

Who're sure that dinosaurs were on the ark,

They won't abide with fossils

Disagreeing with apostles (and they won't let their kids watch Jurassic Park).

Such people trust in musty, dusty texts,

Upon which they base all their cults and sects,

With every contradiction

There comes more and more conviction that it's Jesus and not nature that selects.

Everyone has freedom to believe,

In arks and Gods and Adam, snakes and Eve,

But to have such proud defiance

To discoveries of science and using all your talents to deceive,

- You may think you're pious but you're really just naive.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Save the dolphins

I love animals. I love every single species irrespective of how un-photogenic they are or how reviled they are by society at large. I love centipedes, jellyfish, squids - the most touching encounter I ever had with an animal was with a sea urchin. It always pisses me off that many other people have such a low tolerance for these fascinating, charming animals and yet you show these same people a tiger or a dolphin and suddenly they start babbling on like they want to go to bed with it. Noone really cares about the imminent extinction of the Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish. Dolphins on the other hand, enjoy significantly better P.R. The high profile status of dolphins was, unfortunately, not enough to prevent the extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin, Lipotes vexillifer (or 'Baiji') of China. An international team recently conducted a comprehensive survey of the Baiji's habitat and have concluded that the river dolphin is extinct. The Baiji was an unusual animal, having evolved in isolation for about 20 million years. Rivers are muddy places with virtually no visibility, a condition which resulted in the highly developed sonar adaptations the almost blind Baijis used for catching fish. However, the constant boat traffic of The Yangtze River interfered with the Baiji's sonar so much that for most of the time it was rendered sonically 'blind'. The reckless activities of humans using destructive and indiscriminate fishing techniques were a major cause of the dolphins' decline. And now they're all dead, the first cetacean (the group of mammals that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises) to be driven to extinction by human activities. The demise of any species is truly tragic, but it is really disheartening to see that even a charismatic animal like the Baiji (which is revered in Chinese folklore as the spirit of a drowned princess) can be allowed to slip into extinction by the humans that share its habitat. What hope have all the un-cute critically endangered animals got?

Yangtze dolphin dissapears - The Age

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Wikipedia Voyage of Discovery

Wikipedia is great. It's an encyclopedia with hyperlinks - that's right kids, it's a veritable educational adventure at your fingertips! I'd like to take you on a voyage of discovery that I recently underwent thanks to my good friends at Wikipedia. I began at the page of the Dalai Lama and had only read a little bit when my eyes strayed to a hyperlink to Steven Seagal. You may remember Steven Seagal from such films as Under Siege, Half Past Dead, Today You Die and Urban Justice. Apparently, he and the Dalai Lama are great mates. So I followed the link and found out that His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama, has officially stated that Steven Seagal (pictured below discussing the attainment of Nirvana) is a tulku, a reincarnation of an ancient Buddhist master. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? This would be like the Vatican canonising Jean-Claude Van Damme as a saint! (Alternative joke: 'This would be like the population of California voting in Arnold Schwarzenegger as their Governor!) The previews for Seagals' up-coming movies write themselves: 'He's a rogue police officer who never wears a bullet-proof vest. He doesn't need to; he's got Dalai Armour,' Anyways, after I had a chuckle at the infinitely wise ways of Eastern religion I scanned over the various sections on Mr. Seagal's page. Steven Seagal has released several albums, was a bigamist and has experienced what is ambiguously described as a 'mystical dog incident'. He has also been accused of occasionally kicking his stunt doubles in the nuts. Did you know that there is a Wikipedia page for getting kicked in the nuts? Neither did I, so I followed the link and found myself at a page entitled 'Groin attack'. It's a brief read, presumably because the authors assumed that it was a topic that people would either be A) sufficiently familiar with or B) disinclined to read about at length. Although relatively concise, the groin attack page had a supporting Bible reference. It makes sense when you think about it. God designed those genitals, he knows whats going to happen when they get violently disturbed. And when it comes to groin attacks, the word of god is mercifully clear: Deuteronomy 25: 11-12 'When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one approaches to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, you shall sever her hand; you shall have no compassion.' So, next time you get into a fight at the pub, make sure you've got the good book with you just in case you cop a 'Groin attack' from your opponent's girlfriend. And that was the end of my Wikipedia voyage of discovery, from the Dalai Lama to Steven Seagal to passages in the Bible about punishing women who have inappropriately grabbed at a guy's nuts! I wonder where my next voyage of discovery will lead...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Transforming foreign policy

One of my earliest memories is of Christmas 1985. This was the year that I got my very first Transformer. It was a triple Transformer that could transform into a tank, a plane and, of course, an evil robot. Like a lot of children, I generally preferred the bad guys within most toy-based good/evil dichotomies. They looked cooler, they came in better colours and they had the most devastating weapons - my first transformer had the capability to shoot plastic projectiles. Memories of the Decepticons of my youth were no less diminshed when I saw the Transformers movie last night. The computer graphics are incredible, the storyline and dialogue are not as appalling as you would expect for the genre and the actors are likeable. One of the most striking things about the movie is what a nice bit of P.R. it is for the U.S. military. The first appearance of a Transformer in the film is when a Decepticon trashes a U.S. army base in Qatar looking for U.S. intelligence. The only survivors of this attack are a plucky bunch of soldiers whose first hand knowledge of these robo-terrorists makes them invaluable in the fight against the Decepticons. Thank god for the military! I couldn't help but think that the director was trying to imagine a world where everyone actually approved of the U.S.'s military actions in the Middle East. Who's going to argue with the Bush administration if they declare a 'War on Evil Robots'? A CNN poll taken on 24/6/07 showed that 67% of those polled were opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq. If Bush wants to remain politically viable, he needs to move away from Iraq and address real threats to our way of life, ie. evil transforming robots from outer-space. Here are excerpts from an actual speech made by President Bush (as altered by me to make it look like he's fighting a War on Evil Robots):

"Earlier this year, I laid out a new strategy for defeating the Decepticons. I wasn't pleased with what was taking place on the ground or in the depths of outer space. I didn't approve of what I was seeing. And so I called together our military and said, can we design a different strategy to succeed? And this new strategy is different, transformed if you will, from the one we were pursuing before. It is being led by a new commander, Optimus Prime -- and a new ambassador, Bumblebee. It recognizes that our top priority must be to help the Autobot government and its security forces protect their population from attack -- especially in Autobot City, the capital of their homeland, Cybertron. It's a new mission. And Optimus Prime is in outer space carrying it out. Its goal is to help the Decepticons and the Autobots make progress toward reconciliation -- to build a free planet that respects the rights of its robots, upholds the rule of law, and is an ally against the evil Decepticon dictator, Megatron. And it's in our interests, it's in our interplanetary interests to help them succeed. Earth has sent reinforcements to help the Autobots secure their population. I asked the military what they thought the chances of us defeating giant alien robots were. That's what you expect from Earth's Commander-in-Chief, to consult closely with the Earth military in times of inter-galactic cyber-war. They made recommendations, and I sent the reinforcements in to help the Autobots secure their population, to go after robo-terrorists, enormous flying robots and CD players that transform into weird, mischeivous cyber-men that incite sectarian violence so that we can help get the homeland of the Transformers under control. I think it's going to be very important for our country to have faith in the capacity of liberty to be transformative*. After all, there's more to this war than meets the eye."

* That sentence actually appeared in Bush's speech unaltered. I almost wet myself when I found it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Felix Ookean

When it comes to prominent musical scientists (or scientific musicians) not many names spring to mind. (Doesn’t Brian May have a degree in astrophysics or something like that?) Surprisingly there is one such artist that was active in the late sixties and early seventies right here in Melbourne – a Romanian born multi-instrumentalist named Felix Ookean. Although he’s hardly mentioned today, his nature documentaries and accompanying soundtracks were extremely popular in their day. Ookean was unique in that he not only produced the documentaries but he personally composed and produced the soundtracks as well. Some of Melbourne’s best jazz players can be found on his albums and they are quickly becoming sought after items amongst Melbourne’s obscurantist record collectors. I am lucky enough to have obtained a CD copy of the soundtrack to his 1969 series about Australian birds, Feathered Lives. From what I can ascertain it’s the only one of his albums that was ever reissued on compact disc and even then it’s not exactly easy to find a copy, although they do occasionally show up on eBay Australia. It’s well worth seeking out for it’s very retro-instrumentation and jazz-influenced arrangements. Unfortunately, getting any of Ookean’s album’s on vinyl is likely to set you back a lot of money. The other day I spoke to a guy from Leviathan Records – a Melbourne-based label that reissues obscure vinyl titles – who said that they wanted to reissue Ookean’s catalogue but that they were having trouble obtaining the rights. Which is a damn shame because this musician is one of Melbourne’s unsung heroes. I’ve heard mp3 samples of Ookean’s amazingly ambitious 1977 double LP Australis – Four Sides Of the Other Half and it sounds incredible. If this material received a comprehensive reissue, I’m confident that Ookean would be considered a significant innovator of Australian music and music lovers would get a chance to rediscover a true original talent.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Why I'm down on religion

People sometimes ask me why I'm so down on religion. Here's a little story. I was talking to an Amnesty International worker the other day who was describing particular human rights abuses. She cited an example of a woman who was accused of adultery and was sentenced to be buried up to her chest and stoned to death. It's a horrible story and unfortunately quite commonplace in some parts of the world. Earlier that week the worker had spoken to a woman who was interested in donating to Amnesty. She had been given some information about what the organisation does (which contained the example cited above) and was reading it after she had signed up. The woman returned to the worker and said "You have to cancel my donations. I can't give money to a charity that would intervene in this situation. According to my religion, that woman should have been stoned to death".

That's why I'm down on religion.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Someone needs to save these wealthy dullards from themselves

It's always so heartwarming when unattractive billionaires get married to models. I'm sure no Australian could have been unaware that James Packer and model/'singer' Erica Baxter got married a few days ago in a wedding costing several million dollars. The only part of the story that interested me was the possibility that they would be married in a Scientology ceremony conducted by Tom Cruise. For those of you who don't know, Jamie Packer (ie. the richest man in Australia) is a Scientologist. People like James Packer and Tom Cruise really weird me out. They believe in the literal truth of science fiction fairy tales written by a (who'd have guessed it?) science fiction author and many other accessory lies peddled by the church of Scientology. If you had an acquaintance who was a Scientologist I can only assume that you, like me, would think of them as a deluded crackpot with an overdeveloped imaginition and an underdeveloped bullshit detector. The crackpot beliefs of millionaires (or billionaires in Jamie's case) on the other hand, are afforded cautious respect. The ludicrous, unfounded claims of Scientology magically transmute into ideas with a veneer of credibility when they are espoused by the rich and famous.
I think it is fair to say with at least a plausible degree of certainty that Tom Cruise is insane. And who's surprised? Isolated from reality, constantly surrounded by employees, sycophants and yes-men, do you think he ever hears things like "Um, Tom, your views on psychology kind of sound like the ravings of an imbalanced psycopath"? Some in the media have suggested that Cruise is a homosexual who has suppressed his true sexuality via the homophobic doctrine of Scientology. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I think this is probably true. Someone needs to save these wealthy dullards from themselves. They are never going to seek help because they are apparently unaware that they have a problem. So, here's my plan: contact Tom Cruise yourself, tell him he's living in the eye of a deluded freak hurricane and that you are personally willing to be there for him as a friend, a shoulder to cry on, or just to listen as he pours his heart out about how miserable his hollow, soulless life is. I've already written my letter:

Dear Mr. Cruise,

It has come to my attention that you seem to be a little unhappy. That Oprah thing, the sham wedding; I've known you long enough to recognise a cry for help when I see one. Let's catch up sometime, maybe have a few beers, anything as long as I don't have to hear you drone on and on about Scientology. It's a bullshit religion and everyone in the world knows it (except you and Travolta). You might even think about taking some anti-depressants. Studies show them to be quite effective. Whatever happens Tom, this ridiculous facade has to end - there's nothing sadder than watching a top gun sink so low.

Dr. Jack

Monday, May 28, 2007

God knows it's hard being an Atheist

I didn't see this coming; I've become one of those people who writes letters to The Age. A couple of weeks back I wrote a letter in response to some nutbar who felt that touring a piano around the world would do 'more harm than good'. This week, I wrote in to respond to an article attacking Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene) for being a 'fundamentalist atheist'. Unfortunately, my letter was not published but they printed a letter which made essentially the same points so I was happy. Here's my letter:

It’s hard being an Atheist. We can’t get tax exempt status if we want to start a charity, we get less holidays and one of the few things that all religious denominations are united on is that Atheism is completely wrong. But probably the worst part about being an Atheist is having the same fatuous arguments thrown at us again and again about how incredibly plausible an invisible, omniscient god is (Fundamentalism, religious or secular, gets us nowhere, Margaret Somerville, The Age 28/5). Ms. Somerville implies that the existence of a god is equally valid a proposition as a godless universe. There is no evidence for the existence of a god whatsoever (And which god is the author talking about? Jehovah? Allah?
Xenu?). For the last time, the burden of proof lies with the person who makes the extraordinary claims. Proving the absence of something is ostensibly impossible. Personally, I believe in the existence of a teapot that orbits the Earth. It cannot be detected by instruments on Earth because it is too small. Prove that the teapot doesn’t exist and I’ll convert to a religious sect of your choosing. I also take offence at Atheism being described as a religion. Religious people just know they are right, usually in the face of conflicting evidence. Atheists are people who have looked at the available evidence and have tried to reach the most rational conclusion. We don’t know we’re right, we just think that there is so little evidence for the claims made by any and all religions that we probably don’t need a god as part of our worldview. This is the exact opposite of a religious mindset. We don’t want to spread Atheism at the point of a gun; we want people to reach these conclusions themselves so that we can live in a society in which the dangerous myths of religion have gone the way of Zeus, Poseidon and Thor.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Climate change is so hot right now

I couldn't help noticing a certain advertisement plastered over almost every tram in Melbourne that exhibited a brand of vacuousness usually unseen even in the particularly vacuous world of advertising. The offending advert features various androgynous clothes-horses lounging around in designer rags casually enjoying a planet with a drastically increased sea level and temperature. The caption coyly states that its clothes are 'global warming ready'. Presumably the ad is designed to appeal to people whose greatest concern for the future of this planet is the continuing availability of 'fashionable' clothes - the kind of demographic who only know the term 'global warming' at all because they accidentally overheard it on a news break during Big Brother Up Late. Climate change is a serious issue, not just some buzz word to be regarded in the same vein as the latest sitcom catchphrase ('Anthropogenic increase in the earth's average temperature? What the?'). I'm not saying that we have to be deathly serious (I do have a sense of humour - how hilarious was that 'what the?' gag in the last sentence?) but I fear that this sort of media simplification reflects attitudes that already exist in a large section of society. It's as if it's enough to just know these catchy little soundbites without actually understanding the underlying premise that they represent. It's like that guy at work who thinks he's making a very political joke when he makes fun of John Howard for being bald. Delve a little deeper into the issue. Don't be the kind of mindless shemp who sees these media contrivances and assumes that they might be saying something meaningful when they are in fact just superficially cashing in on issues with real relevance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Imagine there's no heaven

Imagine by John Lennon is a classic musical cry for peace and the rejection of the dogma that shrouds our attempts at attaining it. It is a great song, with a great message (at this point, one of my friends will no doubt point out that Lennon was a wife-beater but we can discuss that later). Lennon composed this song on an old upright piano which is now being carted around the world in the hope of promoting peace. Someone actually wrote into The Age (24/4) and declared that they were opposed to this tour because the lyrics of Imagine (imagine there's no heaven, no religion too etc. ) are representative of the secular ideology that is causing our society to devolve into an amoral, valueless quagmire of sleaze and depravity. I was so disgusted by this viewpoint that I raced down to a net cafe and instantly emailed The Age a rebuttal to the suggestion that a religious society is a moral society. Much to my delight, they printed my letter today. Here it is unedited:

Imagine launching an attack on a defenceless piano. It hardly seems like a fair or moral thing to do does it? However, Geoff Bloch (Letters and Emails, 24/4) assures us that our country should not embrace the piano on which Lennon composed ‘Imagine’ because it represents the moral decay that has been wrought by the ongoing secularisation of the world. We are told that there can be little doubt that there is a significant correlation between secularisation and the decay of society. This is a tiresome argument which has been rebutted many times already but I felt compelled to step in, if only to defend the honour of the piano. Imagine a country with an overwhelming proportion of religious believers, a land where atheists are the only minority that will not get elected to public office - The United States. According to a 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, 85% of Americans identify themselves as religious. With this kind of piety prevalent in the population, we would expect to see the most moral nation on earth. In reality we see massively high rates of violent crime, disproportionately high rates of teen-pregnancy and STD infection, CEOs that earn exponentially more than their employees and a war on terror that seems to be more influenced by archaic notions of holy war than by modern foreign policy. This is not yet another attack on America, just an illustration that maybe secularisation isn't the cause of 'moral decay'. There is no reason that a secular society can't be a moral society that values right and punishes wrong. There is no connection between religion and morality. Studies have shown that a sense of right and wrong are established in children long before they learn the Ten Commandments (And is it really that important to teach kids today that they are forbidden from making false idols?). A moral code comparable to our own has also been observed in chimpanzees. It has always troubled me that the religious seem to think that they have a monopoly on being good. After all, what is more laudable, being good because you think it is the right thing to do, or being good only because you think you are being supervised by a menacing parent-figure who will punish you for any misdemeanours? When I hear 'Imagine' on the radio I am grateful that such a simple message of rejecting faith is loved by so many people and that maybe a world free from religion isn't just a dream. Well, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one, I hope someday that piano may join us, and the world can live as one.

Lennon's piano goes solo

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Celibate German octagenarian unconvinced by evolutionary theory

I don't want to get into the habit of bitching about the Pope, but his holiness certainly says some dumb things for someone who is supposed to be an omniscient god's representative on Earth. Benedict and a bunch of his theologian mates have gotten together and written their reflections on life, the universe and everything in a book called Creation and Evolution. I haven't actually read the book because it's in German but I have read enough articles about it to suggest that the idea of the Pope and a group of theologians gathering to discuss the legitimacy of evolution would be the most pointless thing that has ever happened in the history of the world. Before I start ranting I think it's important to stress a point which seems to have escaped some people: there is no serious debate about whether or not evolution occurs, has occurred in the past and will occur in the future. Evolutionary theory is the central concept of all branches of biological science. Contrary to what the Pope believes, the theory of evolution is "a complete, scientifically verified theory". It is verified again and again over all disciplines of science from genetics to palaeontology to medicine to molecular biology. And before anyone starts defending the Pope's credibility as a debater note that he argues: "10,000 generations cannot be brought into the laboratory". Well, bugger me! Suddenly the foundations of evolutionary theory are coming crashing down around me! You can't bring a black hole into a laboratory either Benedict but I don't hear Catholics declaring that they're not real. You know what you can bring into a laboratory? Fossils of dinosaurs with feathers, fish with limbs and hominids with features of both humans and apes. I would have thought that the Pope and his team of crack theologians would have been aware of some of these basic facts when they decided to embark upon this venture. The thought of these people deliberating on evolution and creation is both hilarious and deeply depressing. Presumably all they were working out was exactly how much harm evolutionary thinking does to the first-century text that they live their lives by. They certainly weren't evaluating any scientific evidence (Do 'theologians' even know what scientific evidence is? What the hell do theologians do anyway?). The only people that are unconvinced by evolutionary theory are religious believers who are threatened by the thought that they weren't created by god breathing life into dust. There is no debate about the subject amongst the scientific community. The scariest thing is that the Pope actually sounds quite reasonable when compared to the beliefs of a large segment of Americans - results of a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans believe that god created man in our present form exactly the way the bible describes it. A Newsweek poll asked the question "Do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well-supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community?" to which 39% of respondents said 'no'. Obviously, the scientific community needs to get out there and start really marketing evolution to the masses before we lose all our funding and start getting burnt at the stake by people who think that the entire universe was created around the time of the domestication of the dog. And christ knows we are not helped by a man who has a significant influence over millions of people world-wide declaring that he thinks the theory of evolution has significant gaps. "Not that I want to cram dear God in those gaps — he is too big to find enough space in those gaps," he said. How do we fill these gaps in our knowledge? Through diligent research, experiments and fieldwork done with an attitude of intellectual honesty, or by pouring through the bible and trying to find answers in a bronze-age book written by desert nomads who thought that the Earth was flat? I'll tell Pope Benedict where he can cram his dear god...

SBS World News article about Pope Benedict's opinion on evolution

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sea cow appreciation

Sirens are creatures of Greek mythology described as being beautiful nymphs who would lure sailors to rocky cliffs with their bewitching singing, cause them to shipwreck and then devour their bodies. These seductive beings are generally depicted as young maidens of exquisite beauty. So why exactly would anyone associate them with sea cows? Sea-cows are part of the Order Sirenia, which includes dugongs and manatees. I really like Sirenians, they are many things to many people, but they are not hot. They are however very interesting, unique animals. Sirenians are the only marine mammals that are entirely herbivorous. Their diet consists almost entirely of sea grass, which is related to terrestrial flowering plants and is not a seaweed (which are algae, not plants). Sea grass is restricted to shallow marine habitats where there is enough light to enable photosynthesis and this is where you find modern Sirenians. The group shares a common ancestor with elephants and are the only group of herbivorous mammals to have completely adapted to an aquatic habitat. Although modern Sirenians are extremely intolerant of cold temperatures and restricted to warm seas, this was not always the case. There are a number of fossil representatives of the group from temperate regions. My favourite Sirenian is one of these cold-water adapted species called Stellar's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas). Stellar's sea cow was found around islands in Bering Strait and (as the species name suggests) was a giant measuring up to 7.9 metres and weighing around 3 tons. That's freaking huge - imagine a sea cow the size of a small whale. Unfortunately, the predictable reliability of human violence and ignorance coupled with the slow reproductive rate of Hydrodamalis gigas meant that they were hunted to extinction by 1768, 27 years after its discovery. Nice work. There goes my chance to see a sea cow as big as a Minke whale.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Burrowing dinosaurs

There is something wonderful about a bunch of people being drawn together by something that is at best obscure and at worst ridiculously geeky. It's the kind of feeling you get at a Scrabble tournament, or a They Might Be Giants concert and it's a feeling I experienced today as I attended the 11th Australian Vertebrate Palaeontology Conference at Museum Victoria. You may laugh, you may scoff. You may point at me and throw things at me and shout 'Ha ha, poindexter!' - but what the hell did you do with your day? Back off and stop throwing stuff at me. One particularly interesting article of palaeontological note was brought to my attention - a paper describing a new species of dinosaur from Montana. The authors, David Varrachio, Tony Martin and Yoshihiro Katsura named the new dinosaur Oryctodromeus cubicularis, a small bipedal herbivore belonging to a group called the Hypsilophodonts. As they were excavating the fossilised dinosaur skeleton out of a mudstone layer it became apparent that it was inside a strange sandstone structure within the rock. This sandstone layer was the den of Oryctodromeus, the first dinosaur known to exhibit burrowing behaviour. In fact, in addition to an adult skeleton there were also two juvenile skeletons within the burrow as well. The presence of an adult with juveniles strongly suggests close parental care in this species, something which is suspected to be quite common amongst dinosaurs but for which there is not a lot of direct evidence. In this single fossil find you can see a snapshot of life for a particular species of dinosaur that lived between 99 - 93 million years ago. But why did Oryctodromeus burrow? Many animals today dig burrows for a variety of different reasons; to escape extremes of hot and cold, to avoid predators and to raise their young. It's probable that Oryctodromeus was a burrower for all these reasons. The undeniable existence of burrowing behaviours in some dinosaur species raises some interesting questions about the final mass extinction that wiped the group out at the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago. It is generally accepted that this extinction event was kick-started by a huge asteroid colliding with the earth, devastating a large area of the planet from the impact and throwing up a huge dust layer which blocked out sunlight and halted photosynthesis of plants. Of the groups that made it through the Cretaceous extinction (such as mammals), survival has often been attributed to them finding suitable shelter from climatic extremes. Burrowing dinosaurs would surely be in this category and could have theoretically survived the mass extinction but Oryctodromeus is known from the early Late Cretaceous not the late Late Cretaceous. Further excavations may reveal more burrowers from younger localities nearer the end of the Cretaceous, now that we know what to look for. Interestingly the authors suggest that burrowing may have been a behavioural adaptation for dinosaurs living in polar environments - such as the Hypsilophodonts known from the Cretaceous rocks of Victoria, Australia. We haven't found any conclusive evidence for them yet, but if you see a fossilised burrow that looks like it was dug by something the size of a wallaby give me an email.

Science Daily article about Oryctodromeus

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Cambrian Explosion vs. The Pope

Easter is a time of reflection. A time of spiritual solitude, which somehow became a bastardised celebration of eating rodents made from chocolate. It is a time when all of us mortal men and women should be turning to the church for moral and spiritual guidance - and what bigger or more authoritative church is there than the Vatican? During this years Easter message, Pope Benedict XVI reflected upon the many evils present in the world today obstructing our quest for world peace. His distress at the unrest in the Middle East moved him to denounce "the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion," Isn't it great to hear the Pope speaking out against these issues? I can only presume that his disgust is limited to violence justified in the name of non-Christian religions. The Pope continues in this hypocritical vein when he describes the "underestimated humanitarian situation" in Africa. Could he be referring to the countless Catholic missionaries who are teaching Africans that condom use causes the spread of AIDS? Of course not. If Benedict is concerned about the humanitarian situation in Africa then maybe he should think about dispelling draconian, first century attitudes about sex that are increasing the spread of HIV in third-world countries? The Pope goes on:

"Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test?"
Presumably it would put your faith to the test when a supposedly benevolent and loving God wantonly strikes down innocent children in the most painful way. Maybe God isn't all that benevolent and loving after all? Or at least maybe you might want to ask yourself if this is a God worth worshipping? If I had a friend who caused as much mayhem and destruction as God does, God knows I wouldn't worship him. I don't think I would even buy him an Easter egg. Don't you think it's odd that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ by giving each other confectionary eggs? This is because Easter is a Christian highjacking of Pagan fertility celebrations following the spring Equinox and eggs are symbolic of fertility and rebirth (The connection with fertility and Easter is where we get words like 'oestrus', 'oestrogen' etc.). So, I propose a new way to celebrate Easter; have sex. What better way to celebrate the blossom of spring and make the fertility Goddess happy in one fell swoop? This Easter don't give your friends chocolate, give them some sugar!

Associated Press article about the Popes Easter message

Pagan origins of Easter