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13 December 2007

One like Putin and Garry Kasparov

One like Putin (Takovo kak Putin)
Poyuschie vmeste / Ïîflùèå âìåñ

Five years ago a mysterious Russian all-girl group, called Poyuschie vmeste , came out of nowhere with a catchy tune devoted to the Russian president called "Takavo kak Putin" ("I want someone like Putin"). The lyrics are about their regular boyfriends, who get stoned and have too many fights and don't look after them properly. They've had enough of that and are now looking for a man just like Putin.

But where did this girl band come from? No one had ever heard of them. Their CDs weren't for sale and the Russian radio stations didn't seem to know where the their copies had come from either.

Then it was revealed that the band's promoter was a press secretary from the Russian supreme court. The speculation was that the tune had been manufactured by the Kremlin spin doctor's in aid of the "Putin Cult Project".

For your enjoyment - here it is:

The Lyrics:

My boyfriend is in trouble once again:
Got in a fight, got drunk on something nasty
I've had enough and I chased him away
And now I want a man like Putin

One like Putin, full of strength
One like Putin, who won't be a drunk
One like Putin, who wouldn't hurt me
One like Putin, who won't run away!

I've seen him on the news last night
He was telling us that the world has come to crossroads
With one like him, it's easy to be home and out
And now I want a man like Putin

One like Putin, full of strength
One like Putin, who won't be a drunk
One like Putin, who wouldn't hurt me
One like Putin, who won't run away!

Kasparov Interview

And quickly, on a slightly more serious note (but he is very funny) a cut-up of an interview with another Russian, Garry Kasparov, in which he blows away some commonly held beliefs about, and prejudices against, the Russians... and has some fun at Bush's expense:


10 December 2007

Aussies go to Bali, court the Americans

For a history of this log of Labor Party successes see:

Bring the troops home
Thing that make me happy
The national conversation

Climate Change, Bali negotiations and economic conservatism. This is why we voted for you Kev.

Kevin Rudd goes to Bali and promises not to make any commitments to reductions until the report they insisted on (in opposition) is ready. He stops off to talk with his "old friend" Al Gore. Peter Garrett talks with John Kerry on Climate change too - baby steps for Peter, but he's getting back in the game.

Bring the troops home from the war...

... the lawyers home from the culture wars - that is.

For a history of this log of Labor Party successes see:

Thing that make me happy
The national conversation

Signs of support for the poor and disadvantaged

Once again - here is evidence of the way that modern governments control the news cycle and the way we understand and discuss issues.

The Labor party won slightly more than 2 weeks ago - and have been in power for little more than 1 week - and yet last week they had a "public service reshuffle" and changed the role of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.

Apparently they (the Department) have been wasting millions in Legal fees chasing thousands in incorrect payments, under the Howard Government, and penalising the already disadvantaged for being, well, disadvantaged... but can you imagine this being discussed in this way if Labor hadn't won?

SHM Article - Millions lost in legal war on the poor

Let's celebrate the culture of support that this change represents. I realise we've got heaps of money lying around Australia, and sometimes it's hard to know what to do with it all, but using it to chase down people with very little and take even that from them does seems a little bit of a waste to me.

09 December 2007

Things that make me happy

For an explanation of what this list is, and why I'm keeping it - see here:

The National Conversation - how political language guides the opinions we admit to in public


9th December

That's it! We need a labor government that can push the values of "economic conservatism". Left and Right don't have to disagree on everything. Some things are sensible and Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan are proving that - for the future of the Labor Party and market economies with a real social conscience.


6th December

Rudd holds first Cabinet meeting:
* Computers in every class
* Media conference after each meeting
* Ministerial Code of Conduct

Lets educate the people - and have more transparent democracy... now there's someone who's not afraid of the people :-)

... and in Tasmania - the Liberals jump on a treasury report that says power prices need to go up now so people can get used to paying higher prices. They're trying to paint it as ridiculous.

As far as I'm concerned, sounds like a damn good idea, especially if the extra revenue goes into renewable resources research... someone has to say it - good thing the government was willing to. :-)


5th December

"Yes" to the pulp-mill. I may not agree, but that was their election promise and that was what they got voted in on. One less election promise broken (none to date that I know of). That's the democracy we live in. But very hard for Peter to swallow - maybe he's learning to be a politician after all.


4th December

After years of being told "it's just too hard - it would do too much damage", Wong promises to calculate the effects of policies on Kyoto targets and the economy... lets get the facts! woo hoo!

... a friend of mine and I had an argument over whether Peter Garret would get the Environment portfolio. She said he wouldn't because he would be punished. I said he would because it wouldn't work not to - after he'd been taken on for the job during the campaign. We couldn't see eye to eye... but hey presto! We were both right. He got Environment, because if you voted for him, you'd expect as much - but he didn't get climate change as a punishment... perfect solution to a really difficult situation. Good going guys.


3rd December

Kevin Rudd speaks about moving quickly to sign the Kyoto protocol - just to prove the issue is front and centre for his new government

Labor government, female deputy (my daughter will grow up seeing a woman in the second top seat of power in the country :-) ), signing Kyoto... don't get many better signals than that! It may be symbolic - but wow, what a signal.

"I'm pleased to inform the conference that Australia will move to immediately ratify the Kyoto protocol" - those words sent shivers of joy down my spine... What a first act for a new government - how better to send strong signals about how important this is.

... let's destroy the cliche that Labor is a high spending party and Liberals are for smaller government. Further spending cuts to fight inflation - go for it Wayne!

... and a commitment to fix long standing Health system problems through cooperation with the States. Let's hope it gets somewhere this time.


30th November

Labor creates a specific "infrastructure" ministry to combat 11 and a half years of neglect on this issue.


29th November

NSW and QLD state governments seem to be softening on GM crops. But now the Greens seem to have gotten a shot in the arm to renew their fight against them, in the wake of Labor's federal win. Keep up the fight guys.


28th November

Rudd and the new cabinet look at the reality of implementing their "Education Revolution". Bring it on guys - keep it going.


27th November

Kevin Rudd:
a) repeats determination to choose his front bench based on merit not factions (reforming the Labor tradition, yay!)
b) pushes homelessness to the front of the discussion. "Turn away rates of something like 80 or 90 per cent. Now this is just wrong in a country as wealthy as ours." - saying what I've been shouting for a long time - go for it Kev.


26th November

Rudd vows to make climate change and industrial relations two of his first priorities.

"Broadband access a priority for new MP" - let's get that infrastructure going Kevin... let's rebuild a nation!


The National Conversation - how political language guides the opinions we admit to in public

When I came back to Australia, somewhere in Howard's first term as Prime Minister, I was immediately struck by how much my country had changed.

Somehow, I realised, the choice of language coming out of Canberra was having an effect on the populous.

People who, in the early nineties, would have been afraid to voice their innate (and often subtle) racism, class-ism and other "ism"s of small-mindedness and prejudice, were suddenly vindicated by some of the arguments being made by the government of the time. Ways of defending and supporting the sexism of misplaced "family values", used by the Howard Government, gave similarly minded people a way of voicing their opinion, and sounding like they had thought about it and were expressing a well considered and carefully framed point.

It makes sense, in fact.

A politician's job is to present their position and sell it to as many people as possible - offending the fewest number possible along the way. And as such, the language of either side will always be in danger of softening and excusing extreme positions with wording designed to make the offensive palatable.

And so I found Howard, having taken the middle ground from Keating in the '96 election, was quickly using his power over the national dialogue to excuse fear of the different, to encourage dismissive arrogance towards the unlucky and socially needy, and to foster love for the culture of the individual.

Obviously, I have to admit, the same thing is done by "the other side", when the chance is given. It happens naturally as a consequence of our modern democracy, the influence of national "sound bite" driven media and the culture of celebrity we live in. But considering I'm a staunch supporter of Political Correctness for the sake of social improvement, I think that the future of our planet's ecology is a moral issue and not just a practical one and I don't believe that an obsessive focus on improving fairness in our society can go too far - when "my side" gets a go at guiding the national dinner party conversation, I don't mind. :-)

The point of all of this?

For many long long years, under a Howard Government, I was often asked, by people who didn't know any better, why I hated him so much.

Besides simply being one of those questions that's hard to answer because it's so bleeding obvious that it's hard to explain... it was also difficult for me to remember all the small ways in which Howard had, over the last week, month, year used his influence in a way that annoyed me.

I would end up quoting things like "50% off higher education", "the Tampa affair", "Children overboard"... did I mention he took 50% off the higher education budget in 1996?

I could never remember it all. The details - the little daily niggling bits. So I prevaricated. I sounded soft and unclear - like someone with an instilled view who didn't know why they believed it.

I wanted to make a list. A list of daily frustrations and reasons why he annoyed me... But I'd missed many years of evidence - some of the best stuff had already gone from my mind, I was sure... besides which - after he was elected the 3rd time in a row, I was too depressed and seriously considering leaving the country in defeat.

So! Fast forward another 6 years and Labor finally managed to put up a reasonable candidate, who could out-Howard Howard - and we won.

As I lift slowly out of the fog of depression I have been living in... as I watch the television, and the language out of Canberra takes an about-face... as I start to realise that this is the same process, in reverse - and how much that excites me... I reaslise that I have a chance to start a new list. The list of great moves made by the new government.

I decided to do this the other day when I was sitting watching the television - the announcement in Bali of Australia's signing of the Kyoto protocol. I do not exagerate when I say, it made me cry. I sat in front of the television as tears came to my eyes.

Yes, of course! it's years too late. I know that. But I was so proud. Proud in that way that a parent is when their wayward child doesn't do the wrong thing again. I wanted to cry, because I was so used to news in that arena upsetting me - it shocked me... like someone kneeling and expecting to be beaten finding the strike never comes.

I still twitch every time they mention the "opposition" and I realise they're talking about the coalition - every time they mention the Prime Minister and I have to remind myself I may not hate what he's about to say.

Enough of my this... here is the beginning of my list - it covers the whole first couple of of weeks of the Labor Party in power, all at once - as it has taken that long for me to realise I could use the words "John" and "Howard" in the same sentence, in the past tense.

Go to the list here:
Things that make me happy


04 December 2007

Howard's End Director's Cut

It has come to light that, on the night of the election, John Howard's concession speech was, in fact, pre-recorded and broadcast in place of his actual speech.

A certain member of the Liberal party, who thought it important that his final message to the electorate be revealed, recorded this on their mobile phone.

This is what he really said.

16 November 2007

Urban Tribal Chat

I was walking down the road the other day, trying to call a friend, and ended up leaving a message when he didn't answer - and this is what I realised:

Back in the mists of time, living in small villages, where we knew everyone - communication was easy. Friends walked in local streets and lived in walking distance. Many could have been contacted simply by shouting - and the rest could have been found without much more effort. Of course, people went away for a while - but they came back soon, with stories of the surrounding world. It was never difficult or a long to wait for the satisfaction of personal communication.

Every technology that's really taken off, in terms of communication, over the last hundred years or so, has had one common outcome: to replace a form of communication that was available more readily to our ancestors.

The obvious example is the phone.

Living across cities, spanning ever increasing distances, we needed a technology that would allow us to talk to each other, as if in the same room. Suddenly we could do the technological equivalent of popping in to see our village friends, who lived just next door, and have a chat with them whenever we wanted. As the urban tribe separated - we found a way to bring it closer again.

But there was something missing...

In the real world... in the old world, we were able to leave a note when our friends weren't in. Just a little note, stuck to the door, to say "hi, I was here and wanted to see you... come around and find me when you're back".

And this is where my story meets the phone message again... we made the answering machine - later to become the message bank - so we could leave little messages for each other, on the hut door, to say
"hi, I called you and wanted to talk to you... call me back when you can"

Emails were really just an extension of an earlier attempt to close the gap between broadly spread friends and relations: the mail system.

But still there was something missing... A certain organic form of communication. The little pieces of information you get from simply seeing your friends in the street, from a distance - passing by. The information gathered by actually living in the same village and watching your tribal acquaintances: randomly seeing what they're up to at any one time.

And so now we've reached the next step in this communication revolution*
- the Social Network.

Really just another step in filling the digital village with the urban tribe.

To anyone under twenty, what I'm saying probably sounds really obvious. But I'm over thirty, and to me it's amazing how closely the social network maps to the tribal village.

If you happen to be visibly online (outside) at the same time as one of your friends you can poke (wave at) each other. You can take it a bit further and message (cross the road and talk to) each other. You can pop into the local hall and take your move in chess / scrabble etc. You can go down to the bar, or meet your friends at the park and answer each others questions.

If you want, you can just log on and check the mini news feed (look out the window of your hut) and see what people are up to.
I keep being asked by my contemporaries what "all this social network thing" is about.

To them, I will now say this:

We're rebuilding the village.

It may not be the same as it was. There may be all sorts of practical differences - but the fact remains that in hundreds of years of urbanisation, humans have failed to move away from their desire for the simple tribal life.

Our close knit group of "between thirty and a hundred friends and relations"** are still our tribe... no matter how widely spread - how many other unknown people we need to pass in the street on our way to see them - or how much technology we need in order to stay in contact with them.

And if we can see why we've come the way we've come, perhaps we can get a better idea of where we're going with it - and where it can take us***.

* Or should it really be "the information REvolution". After all (and this is the point) all of these technologies serve to satisfy a desire for old forms of communication that have been lost. Lost through distance and urbanisation. These aren't new forms of communication - they're old forms of communication executed over distance. We've spread the urban tribe far and wide - and slowly, but surely the tribe is finding ways to communicate in just the same way it always used to.

** Desmond Morris. The Human Animal, 1994. See his wikipedia entry.

*** The one caveat to saying there is no difference but distance... is the existence of greater choice. We now have millions of people in our city (or even billions of people around the world) to choose our tribe from, and still communicate as if they were in the local village. That choice will bring greater challenges in the years to come, as tribes become ever more atomised, people find people who are nearly exactly the same as themselves and only ever have to communicate with people who support their own point of view.


So - I finally started a blog!

Not much to say, except "hi" and...

Welcome to my insane ramblings - my web log - my blog... about... I dunno, let's just say:

Thoughts and musings on life, politics, pop-science and technology - and how everything in life always comes back to something you learnt while at drama school.