Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Sunday, April 30, 2006


I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and the section on unconscious racial bias caught my eye. Gladwell took the well-known Implicit Association Test (IAT) on race and found that despite his conscious assumption that races were equal, his unconscious had other ideas, caught deeper. He, like the vast majority of Westeners who take the test, found that it was easier and quicker to associate African-Americans with negative words than whites. This came as a great surprise to Gladwell, a self-professed liberal who happens to be half-Jamaican. You can do the test here.

There are a number of other association tests you can do, which prove that people are more prejudiced than they would like to think. People tend to be prejudiced against fat people, assume that women are linked to homes over careers, choose white over black people and straight over gay.

Gladwell's account of unconscious racism and negative stereotyping made me think about political correctness. The IAT test shows people are more prejudiced than they think, influenced by the dominant culture, media, socialisation, pre-existing stereotypes and the remnants of historical evils like slavery, manifesting in lower wages/lifespans/expectations for black Americans. But after the Nazis took eugenics and racial science to their logical extreme, the pendulum of public acceptability swung the other way, eventually producing political correctness as a means to police the thought of individuals and attempt to rectify unconscious stereotypes.

It seems to me that the reason political correctness has encountered such resistance is not only the thinly-veiled resentment of open bigots, misogynists and homophobes, but also that it patently attacks the end result of something most of us have very little control over. Correcting thought to the accepted norm does not touch the deeply buried biases we have accumulated and built over a lifetime and does nothing to address the socio-economic imbalances that further the existing negative stereotypes. Political correctness seems to be a New Labour-styled solution to entrenched inequality: lip service over hard work; gloss over substance.

Also, this is an amusing headline.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


These days go so fast as a worker bee. But one thing you find, in contrast to the lovelorn fool of old, is that love is quite real and that, far from being something that strikes you like an arrow or bolt from the heavens, love is something that grows slowly out from a seed, until you find yourself thinking of this girl and wondering what she might be doing and feeling undressed without her arms, until your self-centredness warps outwards to encompass another tiny creature alone like you, until you find yourself wondering in an abstract way what the hellish wreckage of last year was all about and whether happiness is quiet dissolution.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

When is a game not a game?

I used to play a lot of video games as a gangly teen and it dawned on me this morning that the appeal of gaming to me is that games represent how we think life ought to be. When you're stuck in situation in game that you don't know how to get out of, you never get depressed because you know that the game has a purpose and that it has been designed to be finished. This is in stark contrast to the meandering, ambiguous, make-what-you-like-of-it nature of life, with few clear divides, few real, constant needs, and a hell of a lot of making it up as you go along. Games always appealed to me because of the system, of the sense of a designer watching benevolently. Wherever you are, you know that it's ok - there is a way out. There is always an exit, always a new entry. I took a lot of pleasure in games when I was younger because I was fearful of that open-ended pile of uncertainties and half-judgements and interactions that is real life. Is it any wonder that people are increasingly choosing gaming over real life? Certainty over uncertainty? Is it a heretical notion to suggest that if God did exist, He would have designed the world like a game - with real moral choices around every corner; with distinct beginnings and ends; with the gamer's egalitarian sense of fairness (all start with the same weapon and make it under their own steam); with fewer toilet stops and diseases and mucus and ambiguities? Where you aren't stuck with what you're born with but can recreate yourself again as you want to? And isn't it interesting that now we have the power to make games that can nearly compete with life, that so many people - millions upon millions - are opting out of this life for the promised better life that is the game?

I wonder if fame has become a new social divide over and above class. With the rise of all forms of entertainment and the much hyped creative classes, the measure of a person's standing is increasingly less about money, I'd argue, and more about fame - the process of becoming known. Fame crosses over into business and leadership hagiographies, but the divide is clearest in the creative industries. In a media-heavy, digital world, seas of data are available for consumption - but how do you choose to allocate your time? Who do you choose to listen to, see, partake of? Fame is crucial, selecting in favour of those already known and making it harder for the unknown to become known.

Ben of pointed me in the direction of a Harpers magazine article by Bill Wasik, in which Wasik unmasks himself as the creator of the flash mob phenomenon. One thing that Ben was struck by was this sentence:
The hipsters make no pretense to divisions on principle, to forming intellectual or artistic camps; at any given moment, it is the same books, records, films that are judged au courant by all, leading to the curious spectacle of an “alternative” culture more unanimous than the mainstream it ostensibly opposes. What critical impulse does exist among their number merely causes a favorite to be more readily abandoned, as abandoned—whether, Franz Ferdinand, or Jonathan Safran Foer—it inevitably will be. Once abandoned, it is never taken up again.

So hipsters, who pride themselves of being well ahead of the pack in unearthing the latest outcropping of cool, are in fact led to become the herd they'd no doubt scorn. I think Wasik is suggesting that the notion of fame has become self-sustaining, with little reference to former criteria of worth; that fame, being known, has become the most arbitary of divisions based on a severely limited shelf-life, and is hence even more sought after for its unattainability.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


In further proof that drinking and writing go hand in hand, I wrote this late one night with the aid of red wine and a copy of the Bible and managed to get it published in Mel's fine publication, Is Not magazine, which you might have seen on walls around Melbourne. I include it here because it was so much fun to write and I'm proud of it.

Subcultural Apocalyse!
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, who fought back with his angels; but the dragon was defeated. Then, a bit later, I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads; on each of its horns there was a crown, and on each of its heads there was a name insulting to God. And the beast spake and said, that last fight was not fair, for thou art omnipotent. And God knew it to be true, because God knows everything and knew he would kick the beast's ass with half his powers. And, feeling a trifle bored by his eternal opponent, God declared that this time the battle would be via proxies of their choice and that Satan would be entitled to conjure up subcultural humans to fight for him. And lo! There was an arena dusted in stars and the eternal battle between Good, Evil and Boredom began once more.

First come the shock troops! Fundamentalist Christians wielding lethal injections and swinging Islamofascist babies by the hair, Thou Shalt Not Kill tattooed on their chests and eyes blazing a righteous pleasure. Then, their sworn enemies, slinking from the shadows, Pro-choicers and New Lefties silvering the air with curettes and polished biographies of Mao. I choose to do this, I believe I am left therefore right, they mutter, as the Fundamentalists, eyes turned to heaven, trust in God to guide their merciful injecting hand. But God has become bored with their dogmatism, for God likes change as much as the next guy condemned to eternity and permits his followers to impale themselves on gleaming metal and paper and prove their faith the hard way. Satan grins a toothy grin and puffs smoke. He savors his triumph for a moment, before whistling in his next performers.

The Rockers and the Bosozoku roared in on ridiculously oversized motorbikes,Japanese and Westerners united against the hideous Mods. The Mods put-put around the arena on scooters, looking sharp. Their suits clash with the Rockers leather jackets. The two groups toss each other evil glares. Girls are suitably impressed. They both win and get to pass on their genes.

And now, at half time, appearing like Cheshire cats, the Dadaists. Walking, pausing, giggling amidst the carnage; a doodle in fresh blood here, a delicate composition of severed limbs and asparagus there. The Hare Krishnas! A teetering line of orange-garbed cultists, throwing cheap vegetarian food to the four winds, offering peace in exchange for Om. Several Dadaists pause. The Krishnan line falters and dies. Someone throws a fish. An aged cauliflower returns fire. More fish. More elderly cauliflower. Sound of mass suffocation arise. Satan grimaces at the scene. A draw, spakes God, amused. Is it art?

A few expatriates materialize unexpectedly and cast a disparaging look around. They uttered a few trifling words. "Not quite Rome, is it?" "You'd think He would have better taste." Amusingly irritated, God sentences them to death by tourism.

Then, after the deities have availed themselves of refreshing orange slices, the gates open again and a shuffling horde of otaku freaks come forth to face their sworn enemies, the LEET-talkin' hackers. The armies moved closer. Closer. Closer, until the geeks and otaku can see each other's teeshirts, replete with pixel-pics of Unreal Girls with Giant Bosoms, the likes of which the jaded pornmonkeys had never seen before. A vast rustling and sighing swept the crowd, as the stench of unwashed crotches heralded furtive masturbation. God delivers a stern look. Suddenly, hair sprouts from their jiggling palms, and spreads, tickling the sinners to death.

The arena is abuzz – the titanic contest closer than anticipated! And here! Look! Satan's Goths! Facing - no! surely not! - their long suffering parents. The two deities reflect in anticipation. Surely this would be a fight worth watching. Brandishing confiscated scalpel blades, the parents moved as one. "This is for the five years of angst-wank you've put me through," cries one, speaking for many. The Goths syncronize a flick of touselled hair across eyes, taking out black eye-liners and ostentatiously sharpening them. "You never understood me," spat their leader, a blackened beanpole of a boy. His mother narrows her eyes across the divide. "There was nothing to understand, you banal fuck," she screams. "Try childbirth for real suffering." But wait! Who are they in the darkness? Legions of Gothic Lolitas, fresh from Japan’s suburbs! They inch forward, peering through the dark, trying for a good view. One Goth falters. “Such… such fiendish beauty! Such suicidal grace! Such schoolgirl outfits!” he says wonderingly. The Lolitas creep forward and engulf the Goths. God cups his hand to his ear and captures a moment. “You… you understand me. You understand me and you’re sexy,” cries one. The parents seize their moment and slice outstretched wrists. The Goths sink next to their partners, bleeding on black silk. Perfection.

The final showdown. A tense silence. Satan unleashes his Skinhead Neonazis. They skulk about like uncoordinated sharks, seeking the scent of BlackJewNonWhite blood. Suspense builds. A vicious little scuffle in the corner explodes. The Skinheads home in, sensing blood and kill one of their own. Ah! God has called up his final subculture. How fitting. Streaming in, direct from LA and New Yawk, the roughest, toughest, danciest motherfucking Black Rappers the world has ever seen. The Skinheads coalesce. They form a Nazi cross. God points out they’ve reversed the arms and it’s an ancient religious symbol again. The Skinheads kick Jesus because they were wrong and make a better cross. Then they pounce. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth and beating of heads against walls. Breakdancing destroys many barescalps. Rap challenges humiliate others into self-immolation. The Skinheads are strong and numerous and unemployed. They aim their rage at a designated Black target. They thrill in battle, in defending Whiteness against Black Cock. But! Ah! A secret weapon! The Rappers fall back and regroup, whipping out spraypaint. In a second, the Skinheads are covered in black paint. They turn on each other. One of them has sex with his cousin before committing suicide in a bunker. The others tear each other apart and flee to Argentina. It’s glorious! God wins again. You love it! You watch it again and again and again. The End.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Two things

If you were to avoid traditionally based morality in which a life is sacred and indivisible and plump instead for utilitarian thought and cost benefit analysis, you'd find some interesting things. This report notes that malaria costs some African countries around 1.3 GDP growth points per year. There is a strong relationship between malaria and poverty - tourists are reluctant to enter malarial areas; traders are unwilling to set up businesses; and farmers lean towards subsistence cropping because of the impact malaria has on labour.

But malaria can be treated, despite the disease's propensity to quickly mutate and overcome drugs. In terms of cost-benefit, it's been estimated that spending between $1 and $8 US will give a person a year of healthy life. Contrast that with the estimated $12 million it costs to keep a quadriplegic Westerner alive and supported for the twenty to thirty years they may live post-accident. For that amount, between 12 million and 1.5 million extra years of malaria-free life could be bestowed on Africans. The greatest good for the greatest number doesn't stretch well across borders.


I find it increasingly hard to watch American television or talkshows or anything when Americans are exposed to television cameras. The ebullience; the euphoria and self-acclaim of being American, the inventors of self-help, the people who successfully captured the world's attention for fifty years and counting and who now believe their own hype.

What if it's this certainty, this cocksure extremism of the self, this hyper-individualism that is sponsoring the return of the churches? For if an American's life is worth far more than that of any other nationality, as the War on Islamic Countries tells us, then this valuation requires support and validation. You will have life after death - you're an individual. You're an American. Of course there's a point to your life. Read the amazing stories of the men and women who died and came back to life to tell us that our lives and our country do have meaning. Defend our country against all criticism. Seize on the promise of Christianity to make individual life take on meaning. Even Superman needs purpose. Superman needs immortality more than the nameless many. Many are called, but few are American.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Tourism as pacifier

While it has become popular to condemn tourism on the grounds that it destroys cultures and recreates them as empty spectacles, I wonder whether the net effect is in fact more positive. One aspect of tourism is that it subjects little-known countries to the public gaze. While this is largely for lifestyle purposes - the reinvention of still-Communist Vietnam as an earthy, unusual destination for backpackers a mere generation after America lost the war is a case in point - it also creates Vietnam as a newer, more vital image in the Western public eye, and subjects it to scrutiny.

A good example of the power of tourism is Fiji. Beneath the idylic palms bubbles a long-lasting conflict between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians which erupted into a coup in 2000. But after only a year of instability, democracy returned in 2001. I'd argue that in part, this was due to Fiji's tourism-led level of importance in the minds of Western media makers, disproportionate to its size or global importance. (Note, for example, the much longer incubation time of the conflict in the Solomon Islands, or the slow slide into bloody tribalism in Papua New Guinea, both places without significant tourism infrastructure as a base.) In short, it is in the interest of tourist destinations to brush up on human rights and appear welcoming, at least in glossy brochures. Countries who don't buy into tourism can still survive - the junta in Myanmar does well enough as a narco-state supplying the pleasure needs of other Western and regional subcultures - but once installed, tourism is an addictive source of funds. Western tourism means an onslaught of white people with white expectations of being treated OK, who expect not to see bodies on streets. Recommend-a-friend schemes don't really work in relation to muggings or inpending civil war.

But then again, tourist dollars have readily become a weapon in an internal war. The Islamist Bali bombings were well-aimed for two reasons. The choice of Bali as a target was a chance to attack the decadent West at its weakest; wiping out blind-drunk, sleazy white men in a land of sexual opportunity. But it also represented a chance to take the Hindu-dominated island down a notch. How dare the Balinese elevate themselves financially in a Muslim nation? What better way to install humility than by removing the tourist drip?

Thursday, April 06, 2006


The interesting thing about the much vaunted service economy is that it at last allows us to attach a rough value to the unpaid, unseen work of the home. It's easily arguable that the service economy arose as a result of the successes of feminism. Of course, the boom in singledom, wanted or unwanted no doubt helped, but there's no doubt that women working outside the home led to the rise of the service economy, with formerly domestic-sited work now increasingly done outside the home due to increased income and less time available for "women's work." The irony is, I suppose, that it's often women who end up specialising in one service task - the final frontier of Fordist specialisation.

But if a woman's work was tradtionally never done and rarely noticed and unpaid, perhaps it's time to retrospectively value this work. I'm sure I'm not the first to do so, but here goes:

Raising young children: Childcare retails for between $40 and $100 per day, ignoring the Government's offset payment. If the average is around $60, that's $12,000 a year for 40 weeks.

Cleaning, washing and ironing: If this chore was outsourced to a cleaner/dry cleaner and presser, I'd estimate an average of $50 a working week, which is $2400 a year.

Cooking: Replaced by fast food / instant meals. Estimate $10 per working day; around $2400 a year of 48 working weeks.

I think those three would comprise the main burden of work. So, using my very rough figures, a woman's work would have traditionally been valued at just below $17,000 a year. Lucky that women had men around to earn the real money.