Saturday, May 19, 2012

All praises be to blogging...

...the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds.

The former contributors to this blog have been 'seal-team sixed.' I'd like to say it was through some elaborate, swift, operation. But, it was more through their own benign neglect.

No pictures of the bloodied, dismembered corpse have been distributed. According to some absolutely ad-hoc moral code, it has been dumped into the ocean. We are led to believe this is to ensure it does not become a martyr to a whole new generation.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Royal Wedding - Great but, so What?

Kate Middleton’s pretty cute, for a British chick. She’d be about an 8 I reckon. What’s-his-face has done pretty well for himself to get to nuptial point with her. Good on them. I could go for a pub lunch right now.

Beyond this thought, I fail to see why I or any other young Australians should actually care about this wedding. It would be good to see a case put forth for why our media is so enraptured by a union which for myself at least, quite frankly, probably ranks a couple of rungs below Geoffrey Edelsten’s wedding to that well proportioned 25 yr old. At least Edelsten is a taxpayer, a citizen, a philanthropist, self-made man who’s done some work and then had some work done (but that’s a different story). As for the royals, well just because your family has a Facebook page does not make them relevant.

Sure the Prince can’t be blamed for the privilege he was born into, and from most accounts he seems like a nice bloke. But surely, there is something so wrong with the way our media pines over a royal who:

a) Has not spent more than 3 months collectively in Australia, despite being a future head of state.

b) Is not influential to Australian politics or society in any way other than the surge of subscriptions to No Idea and the like.

c) Unlike his predecessors, has not had to conquer or colonise foreign lands. Or maybe he’s done that by marrying non-royal bloodlines – technicality?

So what exactly is the effort they have made to earn the gushing wide-eyed praise of us proletariat, their ever loyal subjects? At least in blighty they seem to have lifted the mood of a society ailing economically and in national confidence, and they would undoubtedly bring in some much-needed cash from tourists and exports of commemorative teacups and assorted china. However for Australia it is perplexing in the least that, as a democracy which largely operates independently of the Crown, we place any of our national value on a family living off the best welfare deal in history. Even Katie Price, another doyenne of the tabloid trade, had to pose topless, write a few children’s books and at least married an Aussie – as much as most of us were happy to see Peter Andre leave our shores. So how do we justify the immense attention this wedding is receiving in Australia?

Some might say ‘But we’re a Commonwealth, we’re such amicable brethren!’ Oh I forgot about that, what with U.K reporters taking pot shots at our cricket teams, the hopelessly irrelevant circus tent that is the Commonwealth Games, and England bidding against us for the FIFA World Cup. We voted against a republic? Oh you mean when we voted against the model for the republic, and then had a royalist PM speak for the majority in declaring we didn’t want the republic. Howard was enacting a political version of Paul Newman in ‘The Hustler’, and admittedly voters got played. Even still, karma had its way when bushy brows Johnny didn’t get the top job at the International Cricket Council (ICC), in what was essentially a colony vs. ex-colony standoff. If it’s any consolation I think he’ll probably get a wedding invite though.

This reminds me, I have a small request for our tabloid mag editors. I have a couple of close friends getting married in a couple of weeks, both of them vote, work honest jobs, have a small mortgage and I think they’re pretty photogenic. There’s relevance, geographic proximity, an event, a very romantic ‘how they met’ story and some glamour...all the pieces are there. Would you mind putting them on the cover and doing a 5-page feature?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When Oil Spills Go Viral

Viral videos are a phenomenon particular to Internet culture. At best, they tap into widespread cultural psyche, opening up a well-considered issue for commentary and more often than not, pillory or parody (Obama girl or United Breaks Guitars). At worst they confirm the opinion of many that sites such as YouTube have simply become a stage for the banal and mediocre to take undeserved status (via millions of views), consuming space better deserved for other artists or productions. Numa Numa is one of the worst but then again, what's so great about Funny Cats? Luckily, UBC Comedy's video 'BP Spills Coffee' falls into the former category, and with almost 8 million views as of 28th June. Beneath the humor of crudely characterized corporate lackeys, the skit has likely tapped into frustration with a company and the oil industry. Additionally, it connects with the concerns of many regarding the broader environment and social climate that allows these practices, such as BP's gross negligence, to thrive and persist.

Allegory - Coffee to Oil

The video begins with an innocent coffee spill which becomes an empty debate on how to stop the spill, before turning into widespread panic amongst the hapless boardroom attendees, whose pathetic attempts at containing the spill (e.g. throwing hair onto the coffee) only exacerbate the problem. External consultants and Halliburton suits are similarly ineffective, and 48 days later the boardroom table is a neglected wasteland of coffee cups, paper towels, hair and sushi trays (in hilariously simple allusion to damaged sea life). Throughout the unfolding events is a central and recurring theme, with every action the BP employees are only worried about themselves. While the employees' prolific incompetency and selfishness is in satiric traditions, it also reflects the views of many who question the decisions and motives of BP's management in taking the risks that allowed such disastrous damage to be done to the environment and livelihood of local fishing industries.

Coffee and Oil - An Aside

While it was likely an unintentional decision, coffee is an interesting choice as an oil metaphor. Increasingly, the takeaway coffee is undergoing an anti-oil revolution of it's own with focus on takeaway coffee cups, consumed at a rate of millions daily worldwide (estimated at above 16 billion/year in the U.S. alone). Most takeaway coffee cups are lined with an oil-based resin for insulation and to stop coffee leaking from the cup. The environmental impacts are significant, and the industry is beginning to move toward non-oil based alternatives, as evidenced by the Starbucks sponsored Betacup project, promoting the development of a reusable coffee cup.

The oil consumed throughout the coffee supply chain, from growing a coffee to feeding the worldwide love affair with the beverage, are enough for coffee chains to take notice in reducing their oil-based impact on landfill and emissions. Thus it is interesting that UBC's video shows Halliburton - as the Gulf spill's other guilty party - providing styrofoam (read: cement) cups for the boardroom coffee, with BP employees insisting they share the blame for the spill.

The Value of Viral

Of course the BP spill, while certainly one of the largest, is not the first of it's kind. British Petroleum has been responsible for some of the most damaging instances of rig failures, including the 1965 Sea Gem oil rig disaster. The corporations' history is stained with deceit and dubious practices in an endless pursuit for profit, including (famously) their collusion with the CIA in overthrowing Iran's Government in 1953. The Gulf of Mexico spill is merely one of their more publicized failures (shattering the idea of safe offshore oil drilling), perhaps due to it's proximity to the U.S. Unlike previous decades, in this age of social media it is more difficult to suppress public dissent. As the UCB team have deftly demonstrated, channeling criticism into ridicule can also be a way for the broader community to share their frustration, albeit in a darkly comical manner.

The sheer volume of viral video audiences (in the multi-millions within weeks) and their accessibility also have the power to create public awareness of social events, their history (e.g. how the political power and arrogance of large corporations is borne), and what people can do about these issues on a grassroots level. Viral, for so long a negatively laced term, has in some instances, been turned into a shining light of the Web 2.0 generation.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Michael J. Fox: Small Fortunes Are Worth Looking Up To

Memoirs are ultimately fluid journeys structured as life 'chapters' to fit the modicum of book publishing. Then again, the 'life as an open book' metaphor endures, and exists ostensibly to allow people to comprehend, structure, and make sense of their journeys. Most people can map out their lives according to various 'stages', often identifying particular events which mark the beginning or end of these periods in life. These events are only recognised, as with most great observations, with the wisdom of hindsight. For Michael J. Fox, this moment came one morning in 1990 when he 'woke up with a hangover and a twitching left pinky finger'.

Any 80's child would remember just how famous Michael J. Fox was in his halcyon days as a star ofFamily Ties and the Back to the Future Trilogy. His next significant acting move was as actor and producer of Spin City, which also launched the career of producer/director Bill Lawrence (Scrubs,Cougar Town). Fox was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in 1991 and since publicly stating his condition in 1998, he has become a lobbyist for policy changes on stem cell research and an advocate for scientific breakthroughs towards finding a cure. The Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised almost $179 million and aided countless patients and their families to boost the profile and awareness of this oft-misunderstood condition. During this phase of life (he mentions advocacy as his 'true calling') he has authored 3 books including Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (2009).

Always Looking Up
follows from the authors first book, Lucky Man, while linking back to his debut in various recollections, most notably regarding expansive road trips taken across Canada with his father. Journeys, whether physical (e.g. road-trips, the well orchestrated wake up routine of a Parkinson's patient) or psychological, are a recurring theme across Fox's recollections and future plans. This book focuses on the journey of his 'post-acting' life, how he came to develop the hugely successful foundation bearing his name, and becoming a knowledgeable and involved advocate for a broader cause than (arguably) most in Hollywood can lay claim to, beside donating money and then forgetting about the issue at hand after leaving the relevant black-tie event.

Fox manages a great balance for general readers between describing his journey from Parkinson's patient to active member of the 'Parkinson's community', anecdotes of his youth and family life, and enough glamorous (yet always relevant) celebrity stories to sustain interest amongst fans and the celeb-voyeur in all of us. A particular highlight involves Robin Williams, Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) and Fox riding chauffeured toward the Arc De Triomphe at the Apex of Tour De France 2000, an episode set within his journey as Parkinsons advocate, detailing how Lance Armstrong inspired Fox to pursue his own fundraising and research goals. Similar highlights include his meeting with evangelist Bishop Pearson who assists Fox in defining his own spiritual outlook, and an encounter with his childhood hero Muhammad Ali, who arguably remains the world's most famous boxer...oh and Parkinsons patient, by the way.

Politically, the authors activism succeeds largely from a keen sense of reaching people through media 'airtime', and positively channeling the 'trust' audiences have in him. Fox himself notes that on the Davie Brown Index, which rates celebrities according to how much trust the public have in them (utilised by advertisers and marketers), he rates easily in the top 5, ahead of Michael Jordan. Understandably, Michael J. Fox treads a fine line between using his public status to leverage political action on PD and stem cell research, and appearing to align that trust with the broader political support for a particular party. Certainly this 'conflict' has been misconstrued by anti-stem cell groups and other opposition in Fox's journey as PD advocate, culminating in a ludicrous misrepresentation (and eventual 'apology') by Rush Limbaugh, of Fox personally as well as Parkinsons Disease generally. Fox takes a more philosophical stance, arguing that the potential advantages of stem-cell research make this a politically neutral issue. With his boundless spirit, positive outlook on life and the journeys he and his family have partaken through his increasing symptoms, it's hard to disagree.

Michael J. Fox recognises his own fortune despite the onset of PD, and has clearly found the direction his post-acting journey will take him. The constant presence of his family (particularly his wife, and his father as a young boy) are a reminder that all of our successes, failures and non-events couldn't happen without (sometimes under appreciated) strong social networks, and not the online type. No matter your disposition toward our celebrity-age, it is refreshing to hear a Hollywood star with a strong sense of the small things, a maintenance of which are ultimately life's biggest priorities. Fox's common touch accentuate his accessibility from those who have a debilitating illness, to their support networks, and even those facing any of the many difficulties life can throw up. As such, Always Looking Up is a worthy yet unsurprising member of the New York Times' best-seller list.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Face it: Death, Taxes and the Diaspora

With its ostentatious decor based on the foliated metamorphic rock of it's namesake, one wouldn't expect the Marble Bar's patrons to be so decisively ignorant of the changing face of Australia. Then again this is Sydney, known for our vapid pretentiousness as much as the stunning harbour views, and then again this is the Hilton Hotel (where the Marble Bar relocated in 1973), where the Friday night punters are largely well-heeled corporates in their mid-30's, many of whom are likely to be part of a very different Australia in their not-so-long-ago youths. Nevertheless, last Friday night was a revelation of sorts for myself and a couple of friends of the Gen-Y bracket, kind of a subtle reminder that old misconceptions and prejudices still pervade the psyche of many in our young pseudo-colonial nation.

The lounges at marble lend themselves to larger social groups, so with numbers 2-3 and the close lounge arrangement we were inviting the company of newcomers (or strangers, depending on your outlook). One compliment about a hairstyle, dress or something else I don't remember (obviously it wasn't about me) and before long we were engaged in small talk with two chirpy female sales executives, one blonde in her late 40's (divorced, with a son as we were to find out) and a brunette in her early 30's, let's call them Jane and Jill. After Jane commented in astonishment "wow you're Indian! But you're skin is so light", we explained the broad variation in skin colour which appears across the country, mainly by region. Really from this point the conversation was heading toward a kind of cultural Mythbusters, a situation I believe is quite familiar with most of the population labelled 'ethnically diverse'.

While Jill questioned around whether Australians of Indian origins only dated others of Indian origin (answer is, we do not), Jane had a more personal matter which exposed a general lack of cultural knowledge and also the reasons why she was so keen to ask questions related to 'our' culture. She had been pursued by an Australian of Indian origin, who like us was born and brought up in Australia, and mentioned he was a 'nice guy, good looking, I wouldn't mind going out with him' but that she'd never dated an 'ethnic' before because, and this won the award for most unexpected comment of the night, "I just can't see him as an Aussie, like me...". Seemingly, this was the only reason she wouldn't consider dating Mr.Ethnic. While I didn't take the comment personally, in my mind I wasn't sure whether to direct my frustration toward Jane or to view the comment as an indictment of the system, or simply the blinds placed over an older generation. Perhaps this was an indictment of our city, famously declared as it were by Premier Kristina Keneally as a 'city of villages'. These villages may have created diversity when looked at as an entire system, but may have conversely closed off any communication and exposure amongst villages. The lack of general cultural knowledge in spite of being in one of the most multicultural cities in the world is ironic, considering Australians are famously (and infamously) amongst the most traveled in the world. While this is commentary off a single case rather than empirical study, I and surely many others have had similar experiences. To be fair, Jane and Jill were lovely and their questions came largely from innocence, seemingly genuine curiosity, general social chit-chat and a glaringly obvious lack of experience socialising with non-anglo saxon people.

In the name of friendly socialising we were happy to discuss the differences and more often accentuate the similarities between 'them' and 'us'. However, it may be this very same brand of genuine ignorance that quickly spills from curiosity into defensive/reactive or provocative hatred when 'contentious' racially charged issues are raised such as immigration, adapting to the 'culture'. Certainly the language of Jane and Jill, their sentences peppered with 'them' and 'us', 'you' and 'Aussies' suggested that even implicitly, they hadn't accepted that Australia is fast becoming a country of many races. It may be this lack of inter-cultural education that eventually results in the Cronulla riots, Government policy on detention centres, racially motivated attacks on Indian students and even indigenous affairs.

It is certainly true that many immigrants themselves are ignorant of how systems work here, and adapting to the positive qualities of Australian society - our generally strong civic sense, a respect of 'personal space' (though this notion itself differs amongst cultures) and in some cases developing fluent English being as it is the national language. Regardless, it is also true that immigrants are required to make many leaps and bounds of adaptation aside from the cultural and superficial in planting their entire lives in a strange and foreign country often in order to ensure a better future for themselves and their children. It is Australian's who have grown up in predominantly white-Australia that mainly appear stubborn to the notion that that this country will carry on as it has, their blissful ignorance of the fact that the very demographics of the nation have changed faster in the last decade than ever in our 200 year history. Our beautiful country can still be beautiful, albeit in a vastly different manner, if we find ways to truly embrace our diversity and decrease the inter-cultural educational gap. I'd like to think we did our part, that at least Jane and Jill could walk away without the many misconceptions they had. In the way of cultural education and knowledge, Sydney is akin to a rote learner or a charlatan - knowing all the fancy words and terminology, but knowing none of the true meaning or application - a multicultural illusion if you will.

In that spirit, I should probably find out what a foliated metamorphic rock actually means...I wonder if the Marble Bar staff would know...Gin and Tonic please, oh and by the way can you explain something to me, I'll give you the background story...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

NYE - If it's overrated, it's got to be December 31

How do you ring in New Years Eve 2010? Traditionally, we’re presented with the following options:

Cruises – For those who plan ahead.

Picnics –For those who actually WANT to wake up early (to get a good view of the fireworks, particularly in Sydney).

House Party (Host) – For those who understand that come January 1, 2010, their residence is probably going to look like a Dresden shack after D-Day.

House Party (Attendee) – For those who don’t want any responsibility. A solid choice for NYE.

House Party (Small Group less than 10 people) – For a deep and meaningful session of resolutions, life’s mistakes, and possibly more regrettable (and unspoken) mistakes after loading up on the beer and sherry (assuming this is what small groups drink)

With Family – For those who aren’t old enough to drink, or young enough to enjoy the mistakes of drinking. Likely to be asleep by 12:01am.

With Partner – Likely to figure out this is the same as most other nights, or try something ‘different’. Both result in disappointment.

Alone – Either a choice (I guess?), lack of planning, in a foreign country, likely to be asleep before 12 or if self medicating, to miss the turn to New Year altogether.

Somebody may already be onto this, but I can firmly state that no matter how many streamers, new years’ novelty spectacles, free booze cruises etc are thrown around, New Years is the most overrated night of the year. Now I’m no party curmudgeon - you know the old guy, who might be asleep upstairs at a party, comes staggering down on his walking stick and pops all the balloons in sight, grunts then goes back up to take his gums out and retire. I also understand partying just needs an occasion/excuse and what better than to celebrate the turning of the Christian calendar another 365.25 days. However, the build-up to New Years is such that it’s bound to end in an anti-climax.

The best nights of the year, are the ones where you turn up to a place thinking ‘I’ll just have a couple of drinks then go home and watch Once Upon a Time in America', and then 6 hours later you find yourself stumbling back somewhere after visiting a number of places which may include a greasy kebab shop. This could be any weekend night of the year, thus resulting in at least 50 nights better than New Years. In other words, it’s all about the unexpected. High expectations may disappoint, but New-Years style build up even saddens the kid who goes to Disneyland, only to see a middle aged man, dark circles under his eyes smoking his 20th cigarette of the hour, holding up his costume’s Mickey Mouse head. So the clock strikes 12, you wake up late afternoon Jan 1st and realise it was just another night out with your best friends bar the smoke and mirrors – fireworks and an open bar (if it’s an event).

Perhaps I’m jaded by past experiences, I now lag my way into whatever New Years plans are provided by friends in order to reach a compromise with this thing called New Years Eve. I fear it’s something I won’t resolve anytime soon, and I don’t intend to make my peace with NYE through a ridiculous resolution – my other pet peeve about 31st December. Why do we make New Year’s resolutions? As Morgan Freeman narrates in Shawshank Redemption ‘all it takes is time and pressure...’ Real goals are reached by chipping away at them day in, day out, not making lofty statements you’re likely to forget once recovered from an alcoholic stupor. I would propose a daily resolution, small bits and pieces at a time. One day like the pop-art exclamation “POW” that came when Adam West’s Batman slugged a villain, you may suddenly find yourself in the desired place.

I for one am trying to get out of the habit of tacking on long jokes to the end of already stretched out sentences, like the NYE patron who explains one resolution which leads to an epiphany that there are other related ones, like ‘focus more at work’ to ‘be on time to things’ to ‘save up for a watch’ etc. As you can see it’s a work in progress. So I will go forth, bravely yet cynically to a House Party (yes I’m in the third option) and perhaps this year I’ll try to explain my disdain, which is likely to be unpopular. Either that or nobody listens between food & drinks, attempted pick-ups, karaoke and Wii Tennis tournaments (FYI check the Eager Beaver on the photo in the link provided). That actually sounds like a pretty good night. Happy New Years everyone, here’s remembering that a New Year starts with a new day. So let’s make that a great 1st of Jan.

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