29 November 2007

Undergraduate. Just like my humour.

cash advance

Yes, folks, it's official. My blog is categorised as "Undergraduate".

Further proof that I need to lift my game.

Thanks to Ryan of Answers In Genesis BUSTED! for that little snippet of your lives which you'll never get back. His is a very informative blog which is rated "Postgraduate".

BTW, if you're trying this out yourself for your blogs, remember to remove the ad at the bottom of the HTML. I don't support pay-day lenders, and I don't see why you should, either.

22 November 2007

Dikkii's pre-election round-up (part 2)

Anyway, this is part 2.

Part 1 is here.

I didn't mention for the benefit of my international readers that voting is compulsory in Australia.

This is important, because it could be considered a wasted exercise in the electorate where I live: Jagajaga.

Jagajaga is a safe Labor seat. Current member Jenny Macklin will be comfortably re-elected on Saturday unless a natural disaster were to hit the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Consequently, my vote is like Stan's in that episode of South Park where he's forced to pick between a douche and a turd sandwich.

Not that I'm suggesting that Macklin or any of the other candidates in Jagajaga are either of these.

But I am not just voting for my local member. I am also required to cast my vote for the Senate.

And that is always truly interesting.

But anyway, here are my options on Saturday, and here is my present voting guide:

Dikkii's How-To-Vote card for the Division of Jagajaga

Here are the options as they will appear on the ballot paper:

Ballot Position

Candidate Name

Party Ballot Name


LELE, Stephen

Citizens Electoral Council



Australian Labor Party



Australian Greens


CONLON, Andrew

Family First


D'SOUZA, Conrad




Australian Democrats

The first thing that should be noted is that the Citizens Electoral Council (CEC) candidate is first. This gives him a go at any perceived "donkey" votes.

However, as Lele should be eliminated reasonably early on, the donkey vote will favour Macklin.

And thank goodness for that - the CEC is a bunch of Larouchian toerags who wouldn't know a cogent economic argument if it punched them in the face.

Interesting. We have a Family First candidate up for grabs. Family First are grievous religious kooks.

This answers my first question: Who to put last on the ballot paper?

We'll come back to that one.

Who to put first has always been a no-brainer for those who know me. This is how I will be numbering.

Number 1

Hodgson of the Greens.

And why not? The Greens haven't gotten power mad yet. Or contradicted themselves in a major hypocritical way. Yet.

Number 2

Graham of the Democrats.

Dunno why the Dems - they are going to be pretty much extinct as of this election, with no more members in the Senate. Sad.

And they've never had much of a presence in the House. Oh well.

Numbers 5 and 6 are going to be hard. You're looking at nutters versus wackos. But here's where I am at the moment:

Number 5

Conlon of Family First.

Number 6

Lele of the Citizens Electoral Council

I might add that this is largely academic - Macklin will probably get a majority on primary votes alone. So my 5th and 6th preferences are extraordinarily unlikely to be used.

So on to the hard bit. The major parties. Do I preference Labor over Liberal or vice versa?

In the end I did this:

Number 3

Macklin of the Australian Labor Party

Number 4

D'Souza of Liberal

In the end, the horribly negative campaign that the Libs are running has me practically wanting to see their local guy humiliated.

OK. So wasted vote finished, what about the Senate?

Dikkii's How-To-Vote card for the Senate - State of Victoria

There are 68 candidates for Senate seats from Victoria, representing 23 groups of candidates, and four ungrouped ones.

Two options to vote - either the number 1 only above the line for a group, or below the line where you have to put a number in all 68 boxes.

Voting above the line is silly, undemocratic, opaque, and fraught with all sorts of complications which I can't stand.

And it's for those reasons that I will be numbering the boxes below the line. Oh, and I'm a complete bastard who likes to make it hard for the guys who count my vote.

Upper preferences

My initial preferences will include the following groups:
Australian Greens
Australian Democrats
Carers Alliance
What Wimmen Want
Climate Change Coalition
Senator On-line
I have to research some of the others a bit more.

Lower preferences

Last will be the nutters and extremists:
Socialist Alliance
Australian Shooters Party
One Nation
The One Nation WA ungrouped candidate
Socialist Equality Party
LDP (which stands for Liberty and Democracy Party)
Family First
Citizens Electoral Council
Christian Democratic Party
I will probably put the Shooters last, but the CEC will not be far ahead of them.

Unsure at this stage

I don't really know where to slot these ones in, yet. So they'll probably go down in my lower preferences:
Democratic Labor Party (DLP)
Conservatives for Climate and Environment
The unnamed groups and the ungrouped candidates (except for the One Nation one)
Will be doing some homework first on these.

The major parties

These will go in the middle, and just like in the Jagajaga ballot paper, they will go in this order:
1. Australian Labor Party
2. Liberals/The Nationals
Again, no surprises there.

So that's it, folks.

Enjoy the election. It promises to be a beauty.

21 November 2007

Tagged again

Folks, Plonka has tagged me. Again.

And, you know, I just have to participate in this one.

So here's the rules:

  1. Describe my earliest memory where the memory is clear, and where "clear" means I can depict at least three details.
  2. Give an estimate of my age at the time.
  3. Tag five other bloggers with this meme.

And so here is a visit to Dikkii-land, circa 1974.

I was with my mother at the local Woolworths supermarket. I can remember a couple of things, but where it was once quite vivid, it's now getting fuzzier and fuzzier.

I can remember looking up at the handle of the supermarket trolley. I can remember the way that particular aisle used to be laid out. And I remember just the bit of that fateful moment when I reached up and pulled down on the handle of the alarmed fire escape in the corner of the supermarket.

I was 2 at the time. Mum remembers it quite well. She says that the alarm was quite loud and she was quite embarrassed. I don't remember the alarm at all.

Strange, because you would expect that this would be the bit that stood out.

So on to tagging five other bloggers with this meme blog tag. It'll be some of the usual bunch, together with some others:

Silly Humans - MB normally loves this sort of stuff, even if it takes him a while.
BeepBeepItsMe - I'll get her blogging again by hook or by crook.
Tales of an Ordinary Girl - OG's blog is cool. I don't read it enough.
Random - An old housemate of mine from the days when we were all innocents.
Contempt - He probably won't respond, but at least I had a go.

And anyone else who wants to respond, feel free. Just let me know when you do.

18 November 2007

Dikkii's pre-election round-up (part 1)

Hi folks. As this appears to be becoming a bit of a tradition at Dikkii's Diatribe, it's time for me to give my pre-election round-up.

For the benefit of my international readers, who are mostly American, I better give a quick run-down on how the Australian political system works.

We have a Westminster parliamentary system in Australia. Our Head of State (called the Governor-General) is a totally separate person from our Head of Government (called the Prime Minister). The Government is elected through general elections which are called once every three years.

Skipping out all the assumptions and theoretical bits, the party (or coalition of parties) which wins the majority of seats in the House of Representatives (the lower house of parliament, where legislation is proposed) is the party which forms a Government.

The leader of that party (or the senior party in a coalition), who is normally also a member of the House of Representatives, will become Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then appoint a Cabinet, and an Outer Ministry. The Cabinet and Outer Ministry are together known as the Ministry. The Ministry runs the Government.

The other members of Parliament are called the Opposition, with the leader of the next biggest party in the House of Representatives known as the Opposition Leader. After losing the election, the new Opposition Leader will appoint a panel of spokespeople to address issues raised by the government and to propose issues of their own. This panel is known as the Shadow Ministry and from this group, a Shadow Cabinet is assembled.

Elections are held to elect members to the House of Representatives and half the members of the Senate, which is the upper house of parliament, where pending legislation is reviewed.

Members of the House of Representatives (or MHRs) are elected to represent localised districts called "electorates". These are loosely based on population distributions, thus highly populated states such as New South Wales and Victoria will have the most, whereas states such as Tasmania, South Australia and the territories will have the smallest number of MHRs.

Senators are elected to 6 year terms, and are elected to represent each state or territory. At each election (every three years), there will be 6 senators elected for each state, and two for each of the Northern Territory (NT) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Jervis Bay Territory (JBT) only has a population of a couple of hundred, and is thus included as part of the ACT for federal electoral purposes.

Currently, the Government is a coalition of the Liberal and National parties, and the Prime Minister is a man named John Howard, who is the leader of the Liberal Party. The Opposition is headed by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and their leader (also the Opposition Leader) is a man named Kevin Rudd.

The Government also currently happens to hold a majority in the Senate, as well.

Right. That's out of the way. On to the round up.

More than anything else, the impression that I've got throughout this election campaign is that it has really dragged. Six weeks is a really long time between calling an election to actually having it.

Consequently, what I thought were the key issues identified at the start of the election campaign don't even appear to have registered with the voters. But I really don't have a clue. In any event, this is what I see as the key issues:

1. WorkChoices

WorkChoices has been designed to shaft workers and eliminate unions. Essentially, it there to capture the votes of small business, and to great deal, it has worked. The federal government, however did go too far in implementing this, and was forced in May to implement a "Fairness Test" for all new employment contracts (called AWAs).

I notice, cynically, that the Fairness Test can be dismantled really easily if the Government of the day chose to.

The Fairness Test has backfired on the Government to some small degree. Most notably, some businesses are finding it truly expensive to adhere to the requirements of the Fairness Test, and have reverted back to the cheaper enterprise bargaining system.

With the economy motoring along at close to full employment, don't expect to see the workers of Australia voting on this issue - they don't really care if their rights are stripped away with the Fairness Test in place and more money from employers on offer.

Expect to see the Government water-down or eliminate the Fairness Test if re-elected. If the Opposition is elected, they've indicated that WorkChoices will be eliminated entirely, although the substance of their policy details indicates that some of WorkChoices will be retained.

2. Climate and the Environment

Once upon a time, "climate" meant the overall political climate. Now, it refers to global warming.

Fortunately for us Australians, global warming denialism is a spent force in Australian politics. Unfortunately though, because corporate donations to political parties are still allowed to taint the political process, the Government will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The electorate will vote strongly on this issue - even more strongly than the Government expects.

Complicating this is the issue of water, and the Government's traditional power base amongst farmers and the bush.

If the Government is re-elected, expect no further action on emissions. Water, on the other hand, could be interesting - but I don't see anything major other than what current Minister for the Environment Malcolm Turnbull has proposed. If the Opposition is elected, they have indicated that they'll ratify the Kyoto Protocol. I have no confidence in this, and I expect them to renege. Shadow Environment Minister Peter Garrett has already shown that he can be bought, and I actually don't expect to see him holding this portfolio if the Opposition is elected. The Opposition, on the other hand could really work wonders on the whole water front, but I'm not crossing my fingers.

Climate and the environment stands to deliver some Senate seats to the Greens. This is always interesting.

3. Health

Health Minister Tony Abbott has not had a good election campaign at all.

Yet, reading between the lines, the Government has possibly the best health strategy lined up if they win power, with the exception of the whole "communities run hospitals" silliness.

This is the problem. The electorate will only see this, and not the actual fix. Our health system is extremely good, as anyone who has seen Sicko will attest, but it could be better.

The Opposition, for all the good work of Shadow Health Minister Nicola Roxon during this election just don't really have anything other than lamely copying the federal government's policy stance. Improved performance measures will not register with the electorate.

What's wrong? The federal government is in charge of Medicare. The states are in charge of public hospitals. Don't people understand that such a stupid situation is untenable?

I expect that the copycat tactics of the Opposition has made health a non-issue at this election.

4. Secondary Education

It was left, ironically, to principals of private secondary schools to enunciate what was wrong with the Government's policy delivery on this. And with Julie Bishop going missing conspicuously during this election campaign, the government don't have a scapegoat either for what could have been a well received yet blatant attempt to bribe the electorate.

I will attempt to post a follow-up post this week about why secondary education in Australia is so completely fucked, but just like the Government, I don't like my chances.

This will be an issue during this election. Despite this being a boost to the pockets of middle Australia thanks to our high private school usage, no one likes it when the wealthy get handouts.

The Government will implement their policy of handouts to parents of private school kids if elected. The Opposition has wisely chosen not to copy this particular policy and have benefited from the fallout.

5. Tertiary Education


Oh, I forgot. Something from the Opposition. Scholarships, I believe. But scarcely a blip, really.

Wasted opportunity all round.

6. The Economy and Interest Rates

Treasurer Peter Costello has wasted no time going round and trumpeting his economic credentials, and with good cause - unemployment is at record lows and the economy is doing spectacularly well.

Too well, in fact. Inflation is not under control, and interest rates are on the way up as a result.

Unfortunately, spinning this into something that grabs the punters is close to impossible, especially when having a mortgage is almost a legal requirement for the Australian voter.

And while it is unlikely that we'll have a credit crunch like what they're having in the States, it only takes a couple more interest rate rises to see a housing price collapse, particularly with housing affordability the way that it is.

On the downside, both parties have made a lot of costly election promises. And as Master Yoda would have said:

Spending leads to inflation,
Inflation leads to rate rises,
Rate rises leads to the Dark Side.

Or he might not. In any event the spending promises during this election campaign have been profligate. In fact, I awake in dry sweats thinking about it. Ex-PM and Treasurer Paul Keating has savaged both parties for the disgraceful spending that has been promised.

For once in my life, I agree with him.

Expect the voters to give the Government the big thumbs up for economic management - they already appear to have bought the line that interest rate rises were unavoidable and that the Government weren't lying through their teeth at the last election about this very issue.

7. Housing Affordability

Housing affordability in Australia is a DISGRACE!!!

And both parties think that they have the solution: throw more money at buyers.

Needless to say, this will be extremely popular with the electorate, who have proved that they have the economic nous of a doormouse.

I'm a poet and I don't know it.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk. (Cue: "Wiseguy, eh?" followed by Three Stooge-esque violence)

In any event, this will be influential in the marginal seats. Never mind that inflating demand will only exacerbate the problem. Houses will only become more unaffordable. Why don't people realise this?

Something really needs to be done about people's economic literacy.

8. "Family"

This will thankfully be a minor issue that this election. Thank FSM for that.

9. Religion

And because 8 will be a non-issue, so will point 9. It should be mentioned that thanks to our ridiculous preference system in the Senate, the key religious party, Family First stands to gain a seat (at the most, I'm tipping) but they've been quiet.

It will be interesting to see how the preference deal between the Liberals and the Christian Democrats for the New South Wales Senate seats goes - they're even more of a bunch of nutbars than Family First.

10. Bennelong and Liberal Succession Planning

John Howard has indicated that he will stand aside during the next term in favour of Peter Costello. Don't expect that there won't be as fight if this happens. Brendan Nelson, Abbott and Turnbull will, I expect, put in a real humdinger of a fight for the top job.

But that could happen sooner, particularly if the unthinkable happens in Bennelong.

Bennelong will be the most closely watched seat in the House. Not only is it the electorate of the PM, but there is also a really good chance that it could be won by high profile ALP candidate Maxine McKew.

If that happens and the Government wins the election, we will, theoretically, have no Prime Minister until Peter Costello is confirmed. Again, though, watch this space. Nelson, Abbott and/or Turnbull (who has his own fight for Wentworth to look at) will get treacherous.

Hope that you enjoyed that. I'll do a part two later this week, where I cover off on which way I'll be voting.

I notice that in my election polls, there is a really big wish that the Greens could win the election. I would never have thought this about my readership.

Party on!

15 November 2007

Rock epic of the month: "Trilogy" (Sonic Youth) 1988

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

This month, I'm all excited because Sonic Youth are touring in February. Now I went off Sonic Youth a little while back when they lost their song thread and just started putting out art-wank.

However, before this execrable part of their careers, they released a remarkable string of albums that positively dazzled. The best of these came at the midpoint of this sequence and it was Daydream Nation.

This is the reason I'm all excited about Sonic Youth touring - they are going to play Daydream Nation from start to finish.

Daydream Nation would have to rank in my all-time top 5 favourite albums. There isn't a single dud track on it. So of course, it's topical that the rock epic for this month comes from this album.

But which one to choose? There are several tracks that qualify as rock epics from what was a sprawling (puns: you gotta love them) double LP: "Teen Age Riot" (6:57), "The Sprawl" (7:42), "'Cross The Breeze" (7:00) and "Total Trash" (7:33).

But I went for the bleeding obvious and chose "Trilogy", a ripper three-parter that manages to reference William Gibson (natch), Dinosaur Jr and ZZ Top. In total, it comes to 13 minutes and 59 seconds.

Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had played with various groups prior to forming Sonic Youth with bassist (and painter) Kim Gordon and went through a broad succession of drummers and 3 albums, including a live one, before hiring Steve Shelley just before recording the EVOL album. Sister followed.

Shelley added an urgency to Sonic Youth's sound that allowed Moore and Ranaldo to go nuts over the top of. People never notice Shelley's drumming under the dissonance, discordance, feedback, unusual tunings and bizarre modifications that Sonic Youth is better known for, but his is a driving rhythm that holds it all together with the rumbling basslines of Gordon.

And then they recorded Daydream Nation.

"Trilogy" is the closing three tracks of the album, a blistering three parter:

"a) The Wonder" - 4:15

"b) Hyperstation" - 7:12

"z) Eliminator Jr" - 2:37

Vocals on The Wonder and Hyperstation are Moore's, whereas Gordon takes over lead vocals on "Eliminator Jr".

"The Wonder" is a hard driving number with some really great sticks work from Shelley, and serves to set the mood for "Hyperstation" to follow.

"Hyperstation" is a moody atmospheric piece with some rather nice twanging from Ranaldo and Moore.

The last part, "Eliminator Jr", I always felt was nearly out of place in this trilogy. This was, as the name implies, a reference to ZZ Top and Dinosaur Jr. It's a scuzzy, riffy track that is almost garage rock in it's approach with shouted vocals that would almost be called "cheerleader" if Gordon had a higher voice.

After recording Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth went on to sign with a major label - Geffen - and partially enjoyed financial success courtesy of grunge.

Folks, I don't have anything for you on YouTube this month, as the quality just isn't there, but I do have the next best thing - Soundpedia.

You may need to register to listen. Which I fully recommend that you do - Soundpedia is pretty good.

Listen here by clicking on the "Play" button (titled "Listen") near the middle of your screen.

And enjoy.

And thanks go to the Rev Jenner J Hull of The Church of the Everlasting Groove for putting me on to this fine site.

13 November 2007

Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll and other stuff.

Mojoey of Deep Thoughts maintains what is probably the internet's longest blogroll for atheists and agnostics which is called, wait for it, "Atheist Blogroll".

Regular reader Plonka, of Plonka's Blog has just signed up and suggested that I join too. And so I did, just like the sheep that I am. It wasn't long before I was happily completing my details in that everlovin' email to Mojoey that gets a blog link at 483 other blogs around the freethinkerspace.

You can see mine down the bottom right hand corner of this blog.

Says Mojoey:

"The Atheist Blogroll is a service provide to the Atheist and Agnostic blogging community. The blogroll currently maintains over 350 blogs. Membership is limited to Atheist and Agnostic bloggers."

I don't really endorse the exclusionism in the last sentence. I may have to chat to Mojoey about this, because this is a little bit uncharitable. It's not like theists would be queueing up to join such a blogroll or anything.

It's a good thing that Mojoey embraces agnostics, because the other blogroll that Plonka has joined is The Richard Dawkins-endorsed OUT Campaign. And they most decidedly don't.

Says the Out Campaign:

"Atheists are far more numerous than most people realize. COME OUT of the closet! You'll feel liberated, and your example will encourage others to COME OUT too. (Don't "out" anybody else, wait for them to OUT themselves when they are ready to do so)."

Oh, yes please!

And by joining the blog roll, you get to wear a big, red letter "A" on your blog, which is your way of telling the world, "We're here, we're, um, atheist, we will not disappear!" There was no mention of agnostics here, so I sent a question off to the blog organisers asking them about this:


Why specifically atheists? Why not agnostics as well?

Cheers, Dikkii.

And not long after that, I got this in return:

I'm just one of the many admin's doing link and web stuff so I don't know the official RDFRS answer to that but from my personal viewpoint believing it's possible to have a god but you can't disprove it goes along the same lines as being agnostic about teapots orbiting close to Mars. You can't disprove it but it's silly. You can't disprove something for which there is zero evidence and saying that lack of evidence is proof that it's possible just isn't a valid argument.

Dawkins schools them well. For someone who doesn't know the Foundation's official line, he knows the next best thing is to paraphrase The God Delusion.

I must admit, I wasn't expecting that ol' straw man agnostic from The God Delusion. You know, the pants-wetting fence-sitter who assigns equal probability to existence alongside non-existence? The generalisation that I blogged about in Why did you end up agnostic (part 4)? The stereotype which doesn't exist? The negative caricature which demonstrates that even scientists as brilliant as Richard Dawkins can put both feet in their mouths at once, occasionally?

Of course, I had to fire off a response to this:

Hi Mike,

Good answer, but agnostics aren't interested in proving the negative, particularly when they know the difference between the null hypothesis and an extraordinary claim. Agnostics also recognise that it's silly.

Some would say that invoking Russell's teapot to an agnostic is a little bit insulting, patronising and irrelevant, but I wouldn't go this far. I noticed in March this year that Dawkins fell into the same trap in The God Delusion, so you're in good company.

Cheers, Dikkii.
I don't expect a response to this.

It appears that this is a blogroll I won't be joining in a hurry.

73rd Skeptics' Circle

Skeptics' Circle # 73 is now up at Holford Watch where Patrick Holford has done an excellent job.

This time around I had to do a double take at this excellent post at Whitecoat Underground titled Quantum intuition, meet therapeutic touch…

Laugh? I nearly spontaneously combusted.

Elsewhere, there's plenty of stuff for the whole family. Enjoy.

12 November 2007

New word: "Biopiracy"

It's not often that something comes up to fascinate, appal, disgust and titillate me, but when it does I have a ball. But often, when it does, I can be left quite confused, and not knowing what to really think next.

Particularly when it tickles my skeptical bone.

Anti-globalisation was one of these things. It has been about 6 months since I read Paul Kingsnorth's book, One No, Many Yeses, and to be brutally honest, I'm still none the wiser about the whole thing. I will blog about this in the future, but I need to filter out the real juicy stuff from hysteria first.

So it was with some degree of trepidation that I followed the recommendation of regular reader Taj, who put an interesting comment in the other day on one of my infrequent posts about homeopathy:

Here is a revelant site that is enraging, entertaining and informative in equal parts:
The Captain Hook Awards

And, you know, here is where I really had my first exposure to the rather interesting concept of biopiracy.

The awards themselves are kinda like those websites that like to collect stuff to poke fun at - the Darwin Awards being the best example.

But after reading the Captain Hook Awards for 2006, I walked away with this hollow feeling like I'd been had.

There are several things that aren't quite right about this interest in biopiracy and I aim to find out about it. And, you know, I get the nagging feeling that the anti-biopiracy dudes and dudettes may in fact be just as confused as the anti-globalisation folks. In fact, for most of this post, I'll be comparing anti-biopirates to anti-globalisationists, because the two movements appear to be fairly similar.

In addition, these are only my first impressions. I really don't know much about this movement just yet.

1. Anti-biopirates may have bitten off more than what they can chew

It appears that under the broad term "biopiracy", there appears to be a lot of scope to investigate stuff. Too much, in fact. The overwhelming feeling I get is that they've over-extended themselves, and have bitten off quite a bit more than what they can chew on.

Get this, from the 2006 awards:

Worst Threat to Food Sovereignty:


For its Terminator-like patent designed to prevent potatoes from sprouting, despite the company’s pledge not to commercialize technologies involving sterile seed. US patent 6,700,039 describes a genetic modification method that prevents sprouting unless an external chemical inducer is applied.

And for Syngenta’s multi-genome patent applications on thousands of gene sequences vital for rice breeding and extending to dozens of other plant species.

or this:

Greediest Biopirate:

J Craig Venter

For undertaking, with flagrant disregard for national sovereignty over biodiversity, a US-funded global biopiracy expedition on his yacht, Sorcerer II, to collect and sequence microbial diversity from the world’s oceans and soils. The genetic material will play a role in his most ambitious project to date: building an entirely new artificial organism.

There appears to be a large crossover between the anti-biopiracy, anti-genome and anti-globalisation crowds and several others. The cynic in me would say that this was intentional - how better to astroturf an entire movement than to create an all-encompassing movement that embraces a wide variety of disparate ones?

And, in so doing, you create a wide variety of different fronts to fight on, hence the reason that I think that the anti-biopiracy bunch might have tried to take on too much too quickly. This approach works for anti-globalisationists, because they're a "destructive" movement, however it appears that anti-biopirates are a "constructive" movement.

By "destructive", I mean that the aim of anti-globalisationism appears to be to break down the current systems but there really appears to be no suggestion as to what might take it's place. A realist would note that the Marxist faction is met with denial from the other camps within anti-globalisationism, whereas socialists are met with complete antipathy.

The anti-biopiracy movement on the other hand, appears to offer some suggestions as to how things might be improved, and that's why I use the term "constructive".

2. Why the hysteria?

There appears to be an awful lot of hysteria around biopiracy. Or bioprospecting, if you like.

The term "biopiracy" for a start. It's designed to garner an emotive response.

Just take a look at the headlines of the bits at the top of the page that I've cut and pasted from the Captain Hook Awards website.

Hysteria is a wonderful tool for a movement that is building itself. Whip up some decent hysteria, and the crowds just love it. But it can blind people to reason.

Take anti-vaxxers for example. A more hysterical bunch of zealots you could ever hope to meet. Lets say that there's an SI unit for hysteria, which we'll name the "binladen".

Anti-vaxxers level of hysteria would be measured in megabinladens, whereas the level that anti-biopirates appear to be driving is probably only in the kilobinladens at the moment.

But it doesn't take much to drive the needle well into the red on this - the violence at the last few major conferences involving world governments and big business, such as Davos, would be measured in gigabinladens, and we've all seen the fallout from those.

Consequently, for those of us who are level-headed enough to only register in the millibinladen zone, it's very difficult to take this kind of hype seriously.

3. Allopathy, anyone?

When words are invented for purely pejorative categorisation, you just have to get suspicious.

Long ago, homeopaths invented the word "allopathic" to describe methods used by conventional medicine. Allopathy is a word that means nothing to anyone else outside homeopathy, and is designed to denigrate.

More recently, the term "neoliberal" was invented by anti-globalisationists to describe anyone with conventional views on economics. Again, the term neoliberal has no meaning outside of the anti-globalisation movement and is used by those within it as a fast and brutal putdown.

The irony about the word neoliberal not having any meaning in the real world is quite hilarious when you consider that anti-globalisationism's view of economics (with the exception of being broadly in favour of trade protectionism) is almost entirely devoid of substance. But I digress.

Anti-biopirates come readily armed with their own word: Biopiracy. However, because the alternate word, "bioprospecting" hasn't appeared to gain any traction, it appears that "biopiracy" is going to become currency.

This gives anti-biopirates the upper hand in the PR war, and certainly gives this word a better footing than either of "allopathy" or "neoliberalism".

4. A distinct whiff of anti-science

I've long complained that anti-globalisationists are extremely anti-economics in their approach. Prominent anti-globalisationists love to criticise even fundamental economic concepts like supply and demand, even though these are well documented phenomena.

Well, move over, because the anti-biopiracy front appears to have science itself firmly in its sights.

Take the case of the rosy periwinkle. This is a flower that grows in Madagascar. The locals had long held certain beliefs about the healing powers of this flower, and in the 1950's, work was commenced by Eli Lilly to see exactly what could be found out about this plant.

The hard yards were put in. Work was done. Some properties traditionally attributed to the plant were validated, but others weren't. Critically, while the plant was being investigated for treating diabetes, it was found to have applications in treating cancer patients.

Criticisms of this whole process from anti-biopirates varies...

  • Locals/indigenes don't get any financial benefit
  • The plant itself appears to get patented (see also neem)
  • Existing scientific work (if any) is poached by big pharma scientists
  • No respect is paid to indigenous considerations (e.g. plant is sacred)
  • Etc

...but I get the distinct impression somehow through the whole process that anti-biopirates appear to prefer that shamen and traditional healers dispense snake oil as a cure without any studies being done, compared to actually doing the studies.

In fact, it almost looks as though attempts are afoot within the anti-biopiracy camp to legitimise non-scientific means of gathering knowledge. I'm sorry, I said "knowledge". I should have used the word "lore" instead.

Don't get me wrong. Where the only work done by the scientists registering the patent appears to only be dotting ayes and crossing tees from work previously done by local scientists, like what happened in India with neem is a disgrace.

But let's put this into perspective, and not get carried away. More than anything else, this exposes flaws in the whole patenting process where results are rewarded and not the actual work carried out. The sooner that the movement realises that this is a whole other fight, the better.

I'll leave my views on intellectual property for another day. Likewise the US Patent Office.

5. And after all the criticism, some praise

Look, I think that some of the work being done against biopiracy is certainly worth it. For example, the bit above that relates to Syngenta's work with Terminator seeds is disgraceful in the extreme. There simply is no good reason for this kind of technology. There are a couple of weak ones, and spin doctors who beat these up are a DISGRACE!!!

Monsanto's development of herbicide/pesticide resistant canola is only for one good reason, and that is so Monsanto can sell more Roundup. How good would it be for Monsanto, if farmers could just drench their canola, soybeans or whatever in Roundup without the plants dying? How good would this be for the environment?

And, while getting the full story on this appears to be like drawing blood from a stone, the enola bean debacle in the US and Mexico is a textbook case of opportunism and why the patenting process needs a thorough overhauling.

But I worry that on the whole, the wrong agendas will end up taking over. Like anti-globalisation, there are a lot of legitimate grievances. The only problem is that, just like anti-globalisation, the agendas at work are just too diverse and there is the risk, the real risk that the agendas which win the day will be the bad ones.

06 November 2007

The Ghost glides by, hitting everything in his path

We all have our heroes. And they will all inevitably let us down, some day.

Stephen Walker, otherwise known as The Ghost Who Talks was one of the reasons that I began listening to 3RRR, all those years ago.

His show, The Skull Cave which still broadcasts every Friday evening, is still one of the greatest trips through music that you can go on.

And if you know how to do it, I fully recommend that you somehow record his show when it's on next off the webcast and listen to it on your MP3 player. I must learn how to do this one of these days.

Anyway, Mr Walker now has a blog at The Age online. He writes well, normally. Just the other day, I was telling one of my mates about a great post where he was exposing roots music lovers for the reactionaries that they are.

But like I was saying, sooner or later, all heroes fall on their arses in one way or another, eventually.

The offending post was this one from last week, where Walker let fly at the ARIA awards night for the fact that it was crap.

Yeah. Award nights are rubbish. We knew that.

But rather than offering something new, Walker unleashed tired and derivative observations about the night that were uninspiring in their insipidness.

I'm going to take the lead from one of his commenters, Evil Roger, who picked up on the unoriginal theme and ran with it.

Firstly, Walker chose to make the observation that, "Music award shows are so formulaic aren't they?"

Wow. Talk about leaving yourself wide open. Roger let him have it with one barrel, but kept the other primed for the big stuff.

He next criticised the compere, Rove McManus, for being an "entertainer (not a musician)". Interesting. Last I looked, entertainers' jobs were to do this sort of stuff. His point about not having a musician in charge of proceedings was baffling, in light of a later observation that he makes.

However, we will continue. Walker then proceeds to criticise the "moshpit" down the front, right down to the "Moshpit Coordinator" who appeared in the closing credits. Walker has a point about this, but conversely, I'm going to give the organisers points for this. I so wish that the next Oscars night has one of these.

In other words, Walker was right. It's so very, very, hide-under-the-bed-and-cringe lame. But it's a thousand times better than all those music awards nights where people just sit in an auditorium waiting for their name to be read out and then feigning complete crystal meth breakdown while their one hit rings out across the gathered throng.

So what else does Walker poke fun at?

"...A succession of awards calculated somehow or other by someone or other..." Bloody hell, Ghost. What did you think you were watching? Terminator 2?

"...A bunch of relatively inarticulate winners who snigger and mumble their way through a list of "thankyous" that are generally meaningless or indecipherable to the average viewer." And you thought that a musician presenting the awards would be a good idea? What were you smoking, Ghost? And where can I get some?

"...Oh and a couple of actual musical performances scattered through the evening." Just in case you though that he fell asleep.

Honestly, this review just blows. Walker somehow manages to combine the intellectual snobbery of the 'über-cool' inner-city music goer with the charming naïveté of someone who believes that award nights actually award excellence, or maybe that Spïnal Tap weren't a colossal joke.

Check out all those umlauts! ROCK!!!!

You could just pick and choose the clichés that Walker uses here.

And, if it wasn't enough to come across as the most pretentious review of a music awards night ever, Walker saves his worst for last with some of the most disgraceful cheerleading for "an intimidating" Nick Cave that you ever saw.

Granted, Cave was a worthy inductee into the ARIA Hall of Fame. I can't believe that I just said that. But as far as Walker's concerned, his surly and arrogant demeanour added some much needed 'tude into what was, to Walker, a wasted evening.

John Butler being "co-opted into a KFC advertisement"? Gimme a break. Any wanker who gets this sanctimonious about veganism while smoking the insane amount of weed that he does deserves to be taken down a peg or two.

Incidentally, didn't Channel Ten get exactly what they were after with their subliminal advertising? The controversy in the media named the companies involved so many times, I just had to laugh.

I normally quite like Walker's blog. And there is no army on the planet that can stop me listening to Walker's radio show.

But this post was an embarrassment for the Ghost. His only shining lights came late in the piece where he finally wrote something of merit about Gotye's, Butler's and Keith Urban's musical slots. He really should have watched that excellent doco on SBS instead.

Half a star.

02 November 2007

Pareidolia and The Chaser

We all love pareidolia.

Whether it be the Virgin Mary in tea leaves, or a Jesus piss stain on the wall of an alleyway, the very idea that a random colouring somewhere will look like a bearded person (Christ) or a non-bearded person (Mary) seems to confirm that old chestnut about a billion monkeys bashing away on typewriters.

I've often wondered why it's never Vishnu, or or the Jade Emperor.

Anyway, the Chaser boys had a crack at pareidolia on Wednesday night.

It's tasteless, cynical and of course, you have to love it.