Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Friday, June 30, 2006


Edited from the BBC:

Nigeria is routinely ranked as being seen as one of the world's most corrupt countries. According to Centre for Law Enforcement Education (Cleen) director Innocent Chukwuma, their survey was conducted across Nigeria between October and December last year. He said that those surveyed were asked about their "perception of corruption - whether it had decreased or increased in the last seven years of President Obasanjo's government when a lot has been put into the fight against corruption". "Seventy-eight percent of the respondents say that corruption has indeed increased," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

The director of an anti-corruption body is called Innocent Chukwuma? That's awesome.
Three anecdotes
I know, I know - public transport stories are for teenager angstophiles and journalists desperate to fill a column. But these three anecdotes from the past week are decent, I hope.

#1: Scene - Clifton Hill station, 6pm. Two guys are sauntering along the platform and come to a Crimestoppers billboard. For your prejudiced pleasure, the two men have patchy skin, unshaven with unsteady gaits. They pause and closely inspect the grainy pictures of men in baseball caps looking shifty. One slaps the other on the back and says "Hey Joe man, that's you, isn't it?". Joe laughs a trifle awkwardly. Exeunt.

#2: Scene - Number 96 tram. Two men sit with hands folded comfortably on their paunches, looking suspiciously placid. I suspect undercover ticket inspectors. A third man jumps on the tram and looks at the two men. He whips out a ticket and attempts to validate it. The machine rejects it once, twice, three times. I glance at the ticket. It's been subjected to enormous pressure, folded, scarred and doused in water, for the final ignominity. He casts a look around the tram and tries another machine, which unsurprisingly rejects his piece of paper. Mission completed,
he announces to the uncaring masses that "he tried" and asks rhetorically, "what can you do?". His act over, the man whistles and relaxes into his alibi. I wonder how many times he's used this trick successfully.

#3: Scene: 109 tram, zipping down Victoria Parade. The tram rocks to a halt and spry small men burst on board in a blitzkrieg of ticket checking. The men pant with enthusiasm at this raid. And then lumbers on their mothership: the fattest man I've ever seen. His wiry drones buzz around the tram before returning to their massive home. He inspects everyone cooly and drapes his hands over his mammoth belly.

People are strange.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Like puzzle pieces
Dozing next to B of a morning last week, my mind drifted off. I started thinking about whether what we had would have been possible in Victorian times, or earlier, in times when Christian thinking ruled. What were relations between men and women really like? Could we have spoken honestly about ourselves? Would there have been much laughter? Or would the emotional walls and barriers erected by the terse morality of religion have kept us from this closeness?

I wondered at the concept of romantic love - a rarity, historically speaking, or at least not typical. Perhaps romantic love is linked to heightened individualism. As the sharpness of class division and the necessity religion slumped beneath rising standards of living, an unprecedented individualism took the place of these former social tensions and glue.

But individualism is a lonely place to rest; freedom is loneliness and tyranny is relief, to paraphrase John Gray. (He actually wrote, in Straw Dogs:"The needs that are met by tyrants are as real as those to which freedom answers; sometimes they are more urgent. Tyrants promise security - and release from the tedium of everyday existence ... The perennial romance of tyranny comes from its promising its subjects a life more interesting than any they can contrive for themselves")

To counteract loneliness - to make a connection between two people possible - is to implausibly heighten the emphasis on romantic love; to assume that 'The One' lurks out there, perhaps in a bar, a supermarket, an internet dating site. And once you meet this one, you will neatly, inexorably interlock like two puzzle pieces, each of your cultivated eccentricities lining up neatly, solving this proud loneliness. What a stupid myth. Divorce rates soar; people keep looking restlessly, scouring the world for 'The One' or even the person for now, out of desperation. The whole thing's a myth which arose to underpin and justify Western individualism. When I watch my parents talk, I see not romantic love but a practical, peaceful thing: two cards leaning against each other.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The perpetual motion machine

Much has been written about the vastly increased movement of people in a globalised world, with modern transport effectively shrinking the world into managable chunks of between-time. The discussion generally falls into two camps - glowing reviews of the lives of 'global citizens', nomads with money, the ever-moving creatives and jet-commuting businessmen, contrasted with the unwanted side-effects of movement - 'illegal' immigrants. With a global media increasing its reach across the globe, images of the rich are ever more available to the poor. Is it any surprise that economic migration is skyrocketing? That millions of Mexicans slip over the border to the US? Or that thousands try to find freedom and relative wealth in Australia. The poor are increasingly aware of their poverty - and of the possibility of a better life in a wealthy country. It seems to me that the life of the late modern - in both rich and poor countries - is characterised by a restless opportunism. A job is a temporary place to rest until you move on upwards; with the decline of religion and family as social motivators and constraints, career is the major measuring stick of men, and now women. Opportunism is a refined restlessness, a fixation on choice for rich moderns and an awakening to richer ways of living for the desperate billion scratching out a life under the yoke of corruption, third-world debt and wars, often Western-sponsored (If you haven't read Confessions of an Economic Hitman, please do). In the West, you can see this in the way the word 'settle' is slowly shifting to a negative connotation - to 'settle' for something now means taking an opportunity - a house, a job - as a temporary measure. Settling down, for many, is anathema and instead a neo-nomadism catches us. A million Australians are out of Australia at any one time, a full five percent of our population, and the proportion is far higher for New Zealanders. The job for life era is ending, even in Japan; the relationship for life is passing as divorce rates creep up, travel in all its forms has been democratised for global citizens, and the clamour for fame and recognition has never been greater. I wonder if this is the modern dilemma - seeking is never finding. The American dream of working up in a classless society has been globalised and exported. There's no end point.


At a net cafe on the weekend, the young guy sitting next to me was shamelessly using Myspace as a dating tool - flicking through lists of eligible-looking girls and sending tentative messages out into the yonder. He was playing the numbers game confidently, messaging at least thirty girls while I watched. It was like personalised spam - sending out questing little messages which could be safely ignored, or at times nibbled at. I wonder if the numbers of relationships have gone up overall as a result of dating sites. The increasing numbers of singles might indicate not, but in that case, what do the massive rise in dating sites signify? Perhaps it's part of this overall restlessness, this fixation on more choice in partners, this awareness of the need for upwards movement in partners.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

We grew here, but as for you...

It's strange how selective national guilt is. Germany went through an agonising orgy of recrimination post-Nazism and produced a fine body of self-lacerating literature, while Japan's nihonjinron - the doctrine of racial superiority - survived two atom bombs unscathed and continues to enrage war vassals China and South Korea.

But as for Britain's gradual takeover of the Australian continent and the flourishing colonies left behind by empire - who remembers the defeated living in desert pockets unable to support cattle? It seems like the temporary introspection of the 60s - 90s has been superceded - and with it cultural cringe - and instead Australia is prouder than ever, more certain than ever, more settled on this foreign soil than ever before.

What struck me about the Cronulla riots was this latent pride - spurred on by Hanson, spurred on by the emergence of the unAustralian - the Asian face, the Lebanese intrusion on beaches. The iconic image was the tanned surfer who had painted himself with war-stripes, as the Aborigines did with ochre, to defend his turf - "We grew here, you flew here". The image has stuck with me, capturing a defiant boy-man claiming this land as his own, emblazoning his claim on his chest. I believe the surfies-turf slogan first arose in Hawaii, as surfers - always a parochial and defensive bunch - nursed resentments against the newcomers from other American states. (Scroll down on this page). The slogan's reappearance here means, perhaps, that Anglo pride is resurgent, coming from conflict with emergent groups, as is nearly always the case.

Concerned citizens tend to view Cronulla as they did Hanson - the hydra of blue-collar racism which must be quashed. But this obscures deeper issues - increasing feelings of ownership; a more traditional form of patriotism emerging, and the way in which diversifying patterns of migration away from the restricted Southern European immigration post-war unfortunately intersects with the flight of manufacturing and the end of the long post-war boom (artificially kept alive by minerals exports at present). So Australia invites in migrants which it no longer desperately needs for massive hydro schemes or to replenish our supply of males to replace those left in lonely European or Asian graves, and with the phasing out of the colour bar, migrants from Lebanon and Africa and China flock to one of the rare lands of alleged opportunity. Here, they work their way up in time-honoured fashion, angering Anglos - job theft! face colour! Muslim treatment of women! - and undermining the multicultural paradise which makes Australia appear so inviting to the desperate refugees and skilled migrants alike. We live in interesting times.


Next Federal election, to stave off the mournful cries of inner-city lefties in distress - Howard walks amongst us again! - I am thinking of organising buses trucking the inflamed out to Cranbourne/Melton/Dandenong to engage with Liberal voters. Post-election lefty whinges are so boring - but I don't know anyone who voted for Howard, they bleat, sipping lattes amidst culture and patting a tame refugee. Well, why not try talking to those who have repeatedly expressed their confidence in Howard? Why huddle in inner-city ghettoes under siege from the right, protecting academic grants and unprofitable artists? Why not tackle the government on imprisoning desperate people with dark faces and the unsuccessful war to salvage some oil for America? If you can't make the case for change to outer suburbanites, I don't want to hear another fucking complaint about our illustrious PM.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Celebrity, baby.

My slow day at work produced a fine bantering session on the riff of sleeping with celebrities. This got me thinking. Surely, surely, surely there must be a market for celebrity sperm. Of course the Nobel sperm bank was destined to fail because no matter how many pop scientists there are, science will never be pop. China is onto the idea. But what about the country that exists to entertain the world? What about egos resilient enough to defy death, yawning silicon valleys between breasts, Scientology and celebrity sluts? What about Hollywood?

So. You're Bratt Pitt or Tom Snooze's Biggest Fan. You obsess over film minutiae, boil over with pleasure during a solid Fight Club evening - and one night, you get to sleep with your idol as a fully fledged groupie. It's the crowning moment of your life - a real and quite personal interaction with celebrity. You'll never work again. You'll never wash again. And if you're smart, you'll preserve the very precious cargo bestowed in you as a groupie. You'll skip the awkward morning after where you shrink back into your skin. Instead, you'd jump in your car and drive like the clappers to a clinic, where your precious cargo can be salvaged. You pay a curious scientist to freeze it and set up the biggest Ebay auction the world has ever seen. Bear Bratt's child? Who wouldn't? The gossip mags become feverishly interested and begin bidding anonymously to drive up the price. Ebay pulls the auction. The interest barely falters and the phone calls begin. You sell off the first .25 of a gram of Bratt and buy Kafzakistan. A new gossip mag is founded to deal with the issue. Nine months of public pregnancy follow. Bratt unleashes a legion of lawyers. A child is born. A child dies from the glare of a thousand flashes. You devise a mobile HQ and partner up with Osama Bin Laden. 99 virgins are recruited from heaven for more pressing work. A clone army builds inside Pakistani caves. The US bombs Iran out of pique more than anything else. You invade America with a Bratt pack army. Citizens run about and blame their former slaves. Loyalties are rent asunder and a somewhat less than civil war erupts. The North wins and the South broods. The country enters a second segregation era between celebrities and normals. You nurse your spare hundred million sperm and plot darkly.