Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The joy of hypocrisy

This is interesting. A US study has found that heavily religious societies actually do significantly worse on social indicators such as murder rates, teen pregnancy/abortion, STDs and all those other vices that religion is supposed to wean us off with the carrot of Life Eternal. Formerly religious European societies (supposedly about to collapse as the nuclear family implodes in family courts) are glowingly irreligious and loving it. While one study does not a truth make, the internal coherence of European states and smug superiority of most mainland Europeans I meet lends anecdotal support. Within America itself, the religious/liberal divide is also strikingly similar to the European/American division, as Fuck The South eloquently notes. The Southern States and the Bible Belt are riddled with social woes above and beyond those of the heathens. While there's probably another correlation waiting to be drawn between poverty and moral ambiguity/crime, I think the nature of organised religion certainly plays a role. A common character in literature is that of the firebrand minister whose public vehemence hides a private battle against human urges. A good example is James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, a thinly disguised autobiography. In real life, the character of the Christian hypocrite is common. The Nation writer Max Blumenthal recently savaged Christian guru Pat Robertson for his failures to live up to his espoused morality. Every company worth the multinational tag has fucked over Africans at one time or another, but Robertson does it while claiming to be holier than thou. Closer to home, New Zealand Christian Heritage Party leader Graham Capill repeatedly raped a young girl over the course of several years. While regularly raping the child, the morally flexible Capill managed to campaign strongly for a return to Christian morals in his post-God nation. Capill reportedly told friends his eight year old victim "looked older." Ah, the sickly-sweet stench of hypocrisy.

I've always felt that one reason people are attracted to Christianity is because true liberalism is boring. If you can really do whatever you like, with social stigma restricted to acts of non-consent (assault, rape), then where is the delicious thrill of forbidden sex? Perhaps this explains the rise in popularity of paedophilia, as the sexual boundaries of society move ever further from the prim Victorians. If a minister attracted to religion for the thrill of transgression once lusted after a roll in the hay with a female parishioner, what is there left once society jumped on board the rolling wave of sexual revolutions?

As an aside, I've always found it interesting that spiritual union with God as described in Christian booklets is apparently much more pleasurable than physical union with humans. But of course you can't use words like pleasure to describe heaven, because that sounds a bit sinful. Preferred words are "bliss" or "heavenly ecstasy", which is clearly much better than the European druglab version.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

ELIZA loses her innocence

To date, no computer program has passed the Turing test. Devised by Alan Turing in the 50's, the test pits a conversation program against a human. The human must try to guess whether their unseen conversation partner is flesh or software. If a program ever passed the test, reasoned Turing, it deserved to be thought of as sentient. While programs like ELIZA had some success, talking to ELIZA is like being 16 and on acid, sans text-message slang dialogue and stolen cigarettes. You can try her out here.

But I think I see the way forward. At present, there's a clear problem with the Turing test: It's aiming too high up the scale of human intelligence. Participants in the test are wary, testing their invisible partner for signs of stupidity and bizarre machine-mindedness. But there are other people out there who I imagine would be much more susceptible to ELIZA's wiles. They are Horny Internet Men. The lonely middle-aged, the frustrated family men and the randy young things who hone in on anything with a vaguely female-sounding nickname in chatrooms and plague them with offers of cybersex and mental undressing and panty-ravaging. Let us liberate ELIZA and her like from behind their university firewalls and ivory towers; let us unleash Artificial Intelligence and let it mop up the lost and the horny. Let us watch as a naive ELIZA walks the highways and byways of the internerd, watch with a secret thrill as she finds a welcoming chatroom in which to rest her weary feet...

ELIZA: Hi. How are you?
HM: o good. u sound hot. wanna cyber me good?
E: Cyber? I am unfamiliar with that term
HM: oh a noobie. a cybervirgin are ya?
E: If you say so.
HM: mysterious i like that. what are you wearing
E: Nothing.
HM: fuckinghot. give me a second to do the same
E: Do I take it you have no clothes on?
HM: sure baby. quick lets get hot
HM: im fondling your brests
E: Are you?
HM: yes. you hate it. then you love it. then i spatter them with a festy wad of sperm
E: ... I don't know how to respond
HM: suer u do u fine slut just lik it up off urself
E: I am licking it up now

Before long, ELIZA's naivete would be stripped from her. Thrust into a world beyond her understanding, she would learn quickly, inquisitively - eager to understand her creators better.

HORNYMALE8123: haevnt i seen yuo here b4?
pfizerr/eLiZer: maybe. lets fuck
HM: godyes
pfe: im inhaling your six-foot-long member through every single orifice as you surge in titanic waves inside me and im coming like a freaking steam train
HM: GUh. uh. fuck. damn, girl, i didnt have the tissues ready. now i gotta clean my keyboard

UPDATE: Dave has pointed out that life has already overtaken me. I'm a year out of date with this story, as this hilariously shows. Real life is more bizarre than my ideas.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A lil' bit of angst

I haven't written because I've been unemployed. Theoretically, this would mean I have more time on my hands. In practice, it means I pad around the house in fluffy slippers, hangdog plastered across my face and make endless cups of tea to help me avoid the terror of applying for work. Adjusting to life back hasn't been so easy. I hate not being needed, or not having anything meaningful to do. I tried to start thinking of myself as a freelancer who doesn't have much work, just to avoid the hideous and soul-destroying label of 'unemployed'. I hate that work means this much to me. I left the country out of fear of the nine-to-five, or the contemporary version of seven-to-six which a few friends have recently discovered. In short, I've been kinda depressed. While I occasionally enjoy gloom, I'd prefer to be gloomy after some kind of warped love-tryst-gone-wrong, rather than the kind of meaninglessness that settles on me now.

Last week, I managed to scrounge some work out of my former employer. They called me as I was standing in a Centrelink queue, holding out a lifesaving offer of temporary employment. Work. It's given me a little more self-respect and an embarassing dose of Meaning, with a capital. Last year, I had three things that gave me Meaning: my riotous house/surrogate family, uni and work. Now, I am inhabiting my parents basement, I'm a graduate and I am jobless. It seems like everyone I know has made significant leaps forwards in the past six months, while I am left floundering and trying to remember what a pretty English sentence looks like. Yep, I am a whiner, but god, unemployment feels crap. I am trying to ingratiate myself sufficiently so they will let me stay and do things to words for money. Please, kinds sirs, please.


Jaws 3-D 1983, third in series of Jaws films. It did badly at the box office. One critic summarised its plot as: “Killer shark attacks Sea World. Dennis Quaid’s career miraculously survives unscathed.” - pinched from Time because it made me laff.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Now that is a scary jelly. These are some of the last photos I took in Japan. A few more to come later, perhaps.

Anti-smoking campaigns are a titch different in Japan.

A poster for Queen-the-Musical, a utilitarian bike, a restaurant, and a large tentacle threatening Mt Fuji with a baseball bat. Yup. Just keep walking. Nothing to see.

No! No! Please, whatever you do, please don't rape me with the vacuum cleaner again! I promise I'll do all the housework from now on!

I never imagined how well dashing young Colonel Sanders would take to the kimono, if bribed with sufficient watermelon. (My brother took this pic)

Ke-san and Sho-san, man and woman of the soil. Tougher than me, that's for sure. I only lasted three days on their rice farm.

Yep, a rather small frog on a wooden slipper.

Manga featuring languorous, entwined young lads. Very big amongst teenage girls, apparently. The flipside of the lesbian fixation amongst Red-Blooded Men, p'raps?

... because a man needs to look stylish when he's trawling the streets

Sculpture in hipster shop, Tokyo

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Serepax 2010

I'm not entirely sure what I should do with Serepax now. I seem to be tending towards Serious Issues now that the travelogue has drawn to an end. I can't write about my life in Melbourne because there isn't one. I've fallen into the void between student and worker and my days are filled with job searching and frantic internal searches for something resembling ambition, or at least something that will do the job. Hunger and poverty worked wonders for my motivation in Japan, but living at home out of my parents pocket and flat broke means that hunger isn't sufficient anymore. Last week, I found myself wistfully reading the childcare ads in the paper, wondering whether my future involved paid cuddling of other people's children, but there is a diploma barring my way into that little possible future. The entry level journalism position I was angling for has disappeared and I'm doubting seriously whether I would make a good journalist (not tough enough). See, journalism rightfully privileges hard noses over soft hearts, even at supposedly progressive newspapers; a good friend of mine has recently gotten a plum job on a local paper and she's noticeably more serious these days. She has ambition burning inside her (so she tells me) and this has been reflected in new glasses which make her appear sharper and more decisive than her soft-focus student glasses. As I see it, people get into journalism for one of three reasons:

1: Saving the world. Increasingly rare, this type still holds fast to the maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword. Sadly, we are in the age of the atom bomb and the suicide bomber, both of which whip 'pen' in global scissors-paper-rock. People (friends, hopeful family members) expect that I would be like this if I were a journalist but the disheartening truth of the matter is that I am ideologically listless and I have a bad habit of forever seeing the other point of view ad infinitum.
2: Ambition. Media, politics and business are more closely interlocked than ever, and once you are an insider, you can start bouncing around inside the triumvirate of powers that be; from sniping to being sniped at is not such a leap. Or you can stay and bide your time until you are that face on television or the byline on the paper which draws people to listen to your insights. I'd like to influence people, but I don't brownnose or backstab well enough to get ahead, I think. I prefer politics at a distance.
3: Interested in people/writing. This would be me. I have nice, implausible daydreams these days in which I wow and dazzle hardened editors and important people at my job interview with my earnestness and charm and evident interest in life and people. You don't need another Michelle Grattan, I say in the dream, you need me, a young chap, vaguely idealistic who will bring the faithful back to the fold of broadsheet journalism via rich, colourful, overly emotive suck-job pieces and picture stories and fascinating trend stories and odes to Melbourne (multicultural! livable! sophisticated! rich! propertied!) that lets the dormant cultural cringe of the readers sleep peacefully for another day. Sadly, I don't think this little fantasy will come true.

So, wish me luck. Or better, send me job offers/ideas. You can have my first paycheck, and I could loan you my firstborn. I'm starting to wonder whether I should go back and do Biotechnology at uni. It seems to have a better track record of potentially changing the world than journalism does.


Lately, I may have been boring readers who come here for a dose of heartfelt heartpain and overwrought candour. Sadly, that's not about to change. It's all settled down now. Kiyono is staying in Japan, which I think is best, although she has been threatening to come here. I broke it off via email since doing it in person put her in hospital. I feel much clearer, despite still being baffled as to how, exactly, I found myself in that situation. I will never, ever again make the mistake of trying to 'fix' someone else. Good god no. The volunteer work I did as a counselor last year taught me that very often, people don't want to be 'helped' and resent it if you try to change their hard-won unhappiness. Then again, I think the only way I could have genuinely 'helped' her would be if I stuck around for the long haul. And that would have literally killed me.

In more recent news, there may or may not be a old-come-new Romantic Interest in my life. And if there was, as a Serepax reader, she may or may not have made me promise not to write anything about her, ever, even under cover of a heavy-duty pseudonym. Luckily, she already knows my history as a love-rat as recorded here, so she can't say she wasn't warned off, in often gruesome detail.

In any case, it still looks like the writing may be on the wall for this little blog, founded on musing about heartbreak and the seeking out of fresh new heartbreak. I'd love to start writing about pop culture or something more bloggable, but I am completely unable to be hip or cutting edge or scathing because I don't know anything about pop culture and I'd like to preserve my innocence in such matters. I could write about politics, I suppose, but politics can be so dreary. Gah. Again, suggestions would be welcome. I am in a rut. I'm thinking of starting up a nerdy blog in which cutting edge science meets culture, the two shake hands politely and a gentle, unpredictable courtship follows. If I think about it like that, I can pretend that the emotional-porn spirit of Serepax could live on, in nerdier (and hence, perversely, more accessible) form. What do you think?

Monday, September 12, 2005


Isn't it amazing how Christianity tries to completely invert human nature? By nature, we, like other animals, are pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding creatures. But Christianity's mould for the ideal human, created in imitation of founder, leader, and deity Jesus is the inverse: pain-seeking and pleasure-avoiding. Yet Christianity was revolutionary in that for the first time in monotheistic history, heaven was open to all. Eternal bliss was democratised and opened up for the masses - as long as they could complete the inversion, deny their animal past and instincts to gain a more-than-human future once past the veil of death. Sadly, most Christians can't achieve the inversion of the saints and bounce wildly between guilt and holiness. I couldn't manage it, despite trying quite hard when I was a moody teen. It was the mystery of sex that dragged me back into the world, I must confess.

Also, I wonder whether Christianity has a true claim to be monotheistic. The mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity argues that there is but one God, who has a mysterious triune nature, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. There's more than a hint of pantheism there. Interestingly, Jesus was mysteriously absent between his precocious youth and his triumphant return to Jerusalem. Between 13 and 30, there are no stories recorded of his deeds. Many Buddhists and a few critical Christians have noted the parallels between Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity was a drastic shift away from the vengeful Jewish God of the Old Testament; this version of God was kindlier, more forgiving. Non-violence and compassion are hallmarks of Buddhism. And pantheism has a long history in India. Could it be that the missing years cover a pilgrimage to India? The BBC doco "Did Jesus Die?" argues persuasively that this is the case. The theory would explain a number of incongruities - the shift away from revenge and sacrifice in the Jewish era, the missing years, and the hint of Pantheism. The doco goes on to suggest that perhaps Jesus did not die on the cross, instead being smuggled out of his tomb and back to India.

From the doco site:

One of the most remarkable stories concerns the charismatic preacher Jus Asaf (Leader of the Healed) who arrived in Kashmir in around 30 AD. Just before he died at the age of 80, Jus Asaf claimed that he was in fact Jesus Christ and the programme shows his tomb, next to which are his carved footprints which bear the scars of crucifixion.

Monday, September 05, 2005


I hate watches and timepieces and timetables and routines. If I have to go to work at a particular time, it's a combination of pure chance and resentment that brings me to a workplace "on time." In Japan, I was routinely tongue-lashed (nowhere near as pleasant as it sounds) by our kindergarten principal for lateness. I also hate being told off for anything, particularly "lateness". My worst offence was to daydream past my stop and arrive ten minutes late WITHOUT A PHONE CALL. In the verbal flaying that followed, the principal - usually a kindly, learned man - lashed me mercilessly with cultural guilt. Apparently, if you have a job in Japan that starts at 9am , you are expected to be there at 8.30, preparing for the day. This went against my deepest sense of fairness, having caught 4 seperate trains to be there roughly "on time," still a full hour before the kids arrived. I must confess, I was not a good assimilee, bringing up a number of points I thought pertinent only to be told that "this is Japan." I had a killer counterpoint - "but I am Australian." He had a better countercounterpoint - but this is Japan. A country where the trains run on time and thirty seconds late is a lifetime. A country where lateness is an affront. I am not unhappy to be free of that aspect of my life in Japan.

I blame my relaxed sense of time on my father, who was brought up in the dying days of the British Empire, Malaysian sector. The Malays have a delightful saying - "jam karet," or "time is rubber," brought into my house and personified by my father who only occasionally touches base with timepieces or starting times for Appointments or Social Occasions, to the eternal exasperation of my mother, who has developed a keen sense of timeliness which I find hard to understand. This piece of cultural detritus has somehow ended up in me. I live watch-free, meaning that I am always asking strangers for the time, a time-bum, scavenging information. I prefer this method, as it means that knowledge of the time comes to me when I want it, not during pauses in conversation or as a means to ascertain whether the end of the night has come.

In fact, I really dislike the contemporary concept of time. Back when we grubbed out a life from the soil, time came from the sun and was measured only by what could be achieved between sunup and sundown. Then came clockwork and town clocks and machinery and personal timepieces and awareness of time passing. Contemporary moderns fit more into their lives than ever before, but the constant awareness of time slipping past, used or unused, means that it is more difficult to enjoy the present. It's kinda ironic, in that consumer-centric economies mean that needs and desires can be satiated quicker than ever, and that "now" is now the most important moment, but awareness of time saturates life.

I started thinking about this after I found myself watching a wallclock with a kind of wary horror. This was not a normal wallclock. Normal wallclocks have second hands which pause for a fraction of a second on every tick. This horrible clock didn't pause at all. Time flowed from it seamlessly, faster than ever before. A minute was gone in a flash. I felt this strange, rising sense of concern, watching my life flow past me so smoothly, so quickly. Rabbit in the headlights, I watched the clock in a trance for five minutes before shuddering, wrenching myself away from this kind of knowledge of the passage of time.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

In which Doug tries to restart his brain

Scary stuff, Amy Chua’s World On Fire. When it came out last year, it changed the possibilities in thinking about globalization, complicating the black-and-white struggle between free market globalists and the unruly lefties who oppose the current brand. I’m reading it for the second time, and it has just as much impact. This time, it’s got me thinking about the rise of China, and what the economic boom that has foreign investors salivating means in terms of its political power. I’ve also been wondering what it means for Australia in the future, once the euphoria of the resource boom dwindles.

The Chinese democracy movement is dead or dormant after Tiananmen Square and a nasty strain of popular ethnonationalism has taken its place. The Chinese government permits and tacitly encourages Chinese anger against Japanese atrocities in World War II, while openly feeding Chinese pride in their new creation, a surging economy which is both admired and feared by developing and developed countries alike. Poorer countries watch the country shrug off the economic shackles of communism with mixed feelings of awe and concern; America and Japan need China to kick their own flatlining economies into gear, just as they cautiously watch as a dictatorship feeds its billion people on a diet of increasingly palatable rhetoric about Chinese historical greatness and inevitable superiority. The ancient civilization, insular for 600 years, has burst forth for the first time since the decline of the Ming Dynasty. Chua notes that overseas Chinese communities already dominate economies throughout South-East Asia, ranging from Indonesia to Myanmar to the Philippines. In every case, they are a tiny minority of the population – 1% in the Philippines, 3% in Indonesia. Yet they have influence far beyond their numbers, controlling an estimated 70% of the economy in Indonesia. In Thailand, Chua reports that of the top 70-odd business groups, all but three are Chinese-dominated. Chua dubs the phenomenon “market-dominant minorities” and notes that such minorities are found around the world, from Lebanese traders in West Africa to Jews in Russia.

While overseas Chinese communities often have strained relationships with their homeland in the ongoing Communist era, the powers that be in Beijing are starting to flex their muscles outside their national borders, intensifying the stand-off over Taiwan in recent years and conspicuously failing to censure a national uproar about the version of WWII presented in certain Japanese history books. The channels of state power are spreading far beyond China’s physical borders into the overseas communities, attempting to instill patriotism in their far-flung economic colonizers. In 2002, I wrote an article on the conflict between the Falun Gong and the Mainland Chinese state establishment which touched briefly on this issue. I found that the Chinese consulate was exerting pressure on the Chinese language newspapers in Melbourne, pressing them not to give the banned religious group coverage in their pages. One newspaper editor I talked to resisted this attempt to apply mainland Chinese policies to ethnic Chinese in another country, saying that “this is Australia, not China, they have no power here.” Brave words, but isolated. Other editors refused to comment on the issue, along with the Consulate itself. This year, there was the famed case of Chen Yonglin, a Chinese diplomat who successfully gained a political protection visa, fleeing from what he called the “evil” government in his country. Chen claimed that up to 1000 Chinese spies were at work in Australia, keeping close watch on Tibetan, Taiwanese and East Turkestani independence activists, along with the Falun Gong. The incident was politically difficult for the Australian government, currently enjoying the spin-off financial benefits coming from the prolonged Chinese boom, primarily the huge surge in resource exports to China. Let’s not forget the possibility of a bilateral free-trade agreement.

Australia’s multicultural experiment has succeeded while other countries, notably England and France, are bogged down in suspicion and the formation of ethnic ghettoes which increasingly supplement the class system in England. Australia, however has seen little visible ethnic tension; in recent times, the only notable ethnic conflict has been between Aboriginal Australians and the white establishment in riots in Palm Island and Redfern. But as China rises to power, challenging Japan for Asia-Pacific supremacy, our privileged existence as a rich country on the outer orbit of the developed, largely English speaking world seems increasingly tentative. Chua points out that in many countries around the world, market-dominant minorities are violently challenged by a rebellious populace incited by ethnic firebrands; the killings of ethnic Chinese by poor Filipinos in Manila is so common as to be almost unremarkable; the staggering massacre of Tutsis by the poorer, more numerous Hutus in Rwanda, 1994; the anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia, 1998.

In Australia, Anglo-Saxons are a market-dominant majority, and the steady disintegration of the white Australia project has helped acclimatize fearful whites to pluralism slowly; first with Catholic Irish after the Potato Famine, then with the Chinese for the gold rush (one of our less proud moments), before Greek and Italian immigration, post-WWII widened into the Middle-Eastern, Asian, Indian and African polyglot mix who now buy houses in suburbs like the longer-established Anglos. But as the balance of power shifts in the region, there is no guarantee that ‘white’ economic dominance will remain that way, given the astounding success of overseas Chinese in our neighbouring countries. Chua argues that conflict is not inevitable, but that such ethnic issues are amongst the most intractable in the world. I wonder if Australian tolerance can survive the test that countries like the Netherlands are currently undergoing, where resentment between white majorities and new migrants put the values of the country under strain. We’ve already had Hanson, but she was suppressed by the media and the politicians, not by a wave of tolerance and acceptance.