21 June, 2009

She is the one in fifty million who can help us to be free
Because she died on TV
- Roger Waters

The news coming out of Iran is both inspiring and gut-wrenching. Most of it is coming in almost real time via Twitter. Cable news networks, the traditional go-to source for breaking news for the last 20 years, have been left in the dust, reduced to reporting on what has been posted online.

The movement now has a face - a girl known as Neda. According to 'blog reports, she was shot by a Basij sniper and an accompanying YouTube clip shows the last minute of her life.

I'm not going to post the clip or the stills. You all know how to use the internet.

While the uprising in Iran has brought a new level of "citizen journalism," one thing hasn't changed - we relate better if we see it.
Some of the outpourings of grief being reposted all over Twitter include,

The Voice of Iran - We Will Not Forget You Neda - You Will Not Have Died In Vain

Neda died with open eyes. Shame on us to live with closed eyes

The World cries seeing your last breath, you didn't die in vain. We remember you.

Why will we remember?
Because we saw it. She's not one of the nameless, faceless thousands merely listed as "killed," we actually saw the life fade from her eyes as blood spilt out her mouth and nostrils right there on YouTube.

What's important to remember is that this young woman is not merely the face of Iranian repression, she is the face of every victim on every side of every conflict.
Every regrettable incident, every tragic mistake, every piece of "collateral damage," every order to fire, every attack, every crusade, every vengeance, every necessary evil looks just like this - or much worse.
The only difference here, is that we've seen it, unfiltered.
So while we grieve and rage for Neda, let's also remember all the others who we didn't see.

15 June, 2009

Quiz Time: What's wrong here? UPDATED

I received this chain email for at least the second time today. I'm going to post it here and see if you can guess what's wrong with it.

Remember as you read that this is NOT true.

= = = =

Subject: AFL or NRL which one fits the bill

Have been accused of spousal abuse


Have been arrested for fraud


Have been accused of writing bad cheques


Have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses


Have done time for assault

Cannot get a credit card due to bad credit


Have been arrested on drug-related charges


Have been arrested for shoplifting


Are defendants in lawsuits and


Have been arrested for drunk driving
In The last year

Can you guess which organization this is? AFL? NRL?

Give up yet? .. . ...

Scroll down


it's the 535 members of the AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT IN CANBERRA

The same group of Idiots that crank out hundreds of new laws each year,designed to keep the rest of us in line.

You've got to pass this one on!

= = = =

No, please don't pass it on. It's not true.

Did you spot the glaring error? If so, post it in the comments.

I will post the answer as an update later.

It's heartening to see people on both sides of the Pacific picking up on this one.

Yes, there are only 226 members of the Australian Parliament (150 Representatives and 76 Senators), but there are 535 members of the United States Congress in Washington.

Of course, it's not to say for a moment that there aren't crooks in the Australian parliament too, but someone out there is so upset about that possibility that they've re-sent an American chain email, pausing only to change the nationality and the leagues.
Now what was that about fraud?
If you're going to complain about the standards of the government, at least learn something about it first.

Whenever I receive and email like this, I send it back with corrections to every address on the list. It will be interesting to see if that is forwarded as widely as the fiction. One day, I might post the exchange I had the last time a chain email tried to emotionally blackmail me into forwarding a message so that Make-a-wish foundation would allegedly give 7¢ to a dying kid.

As for the original version of this email, here's an assessment of its veracity:
Even if there were a time when it was all true, chain emails float around the internet for a lot longer than congressional terms. If email had been as widespread in the 80s, we might still be getting stories about Reagan's astrologer.

13 June, 2009

Grimshaw vs Ramsay: Handbags at dawn

The Chaser are so last week!
This week's celebrity drama is much more fun; Gordon Ramsay is mean to Tracy Grimshaw and Tracy bites back.
Why is this news? I dunno!
Gordon Ramsay is not a celebrity chef, he's a celebrity arsehole who cooks a bit. Everyone knows that, so why so surprised? As for "our Tracy," she probably didn't deserve it this time around, but she fronts the show that a couple of weeks ago, tried to make a star out of the "chk-chk-boom" girl, conveniently sidestepping the fact that it all came about because a man was kneecapped, so Grimshaw has no claim to the high moral ground. In her public reply to Ramsay's comments, she claimed to have been a good sport by not asking Ramsay any uncomfortable questions about his marriage. Well why not, Tracy? Are you a journalist or a publicist? If she's that thin-skinned, then what is she doing in television current affairs?

I don't care about either of them. As far as I'm concerned, they deserve each other. It's just fun sometimes to watch a bloodless spat like this. I can be catty like that.

Also, it gives me an excuse to post a skit I did for Strawberry Fields Radio last year. I left it until the weekend because it is definitely NOT safe for work. You have been warned.

12 June, 2009

Big Small Gestures

Obviously, I write this ’blog to be read and in trying to make it more widely read, I’m not above a bit of cross-promotion. I’ve tried two communities so far with opposite degrees of success. I made a submission to www.blognosh.com well over a month ago and only heard back from them this week. I can’t even remember which post I submitted but I know it was something to do with political commentary. (So that narrows it down!)

My piece was declined, and fair enough since it would be completely out of date, but I found the other reason for passing rather curious. The editor said, “part of it is that I'd really love to read more of YOU in that post.”
Well, sorry folks, but this IS me! This is what I talk about and anyone who knows me personally will tell you as much. Also, I don’t know how much of the writer’s life they are expecting to glean from a post on political commentary. As brusque as I can be on the subject, I do try to make my commentary just that – some (hopefully) well thought out analysis rather than my own personal story. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter approach, it’s just that I’m more interested in writing about what I think than what I feel. My personal history and feelings only come into it when they’re relevant to the topic – and they will be next week, but you’ll have to wait for that one.

The most used tag on this ’blog is “comment column” and the way I usually approach anything I post here. The great thing about ’blogging is that it can be whatever you want it to be. For some it’s a diary, for some it’s a place to hawk their business, for some it’s way of keeping in touch with friends and family, for some it’s a place to post adorable childhood photos. For me, it’s an otherwise unpublished comment column, which has the added advantage of not having a weekly deadline. It’s that weekly deadline that is the undoing of many great columnists because sooner or later, there are going to be weeks when they don’t have any great observations on what’s been going on lately and will inevitably fall back on writing an essay about what they did on the weekend.

This is all a very long-winded way of introducing the topic of this entry which comes by way of a very nice community at www.blogthis.com.au. Although I seem to be an odd-one-out in the group, they’re accepting of all contributors and they have started issuing weekly challenges for members to write or post about. I will only be responding to the topics that I feel I have something to say about, but this week’s in one that I felt I could get my teeth into,
If you could name one small gesture someone else has made that had a big impact on your life, what would it be?
Blogthis Challenge 4
Well, being the pathological bystem sucker that I am, I can’t name just one. Instead, I’m going to mention four. I could mention five, but the other one is reserved for next week’s post. It’s partly because I couldn’t decide on which of the four to highlight, and partly because if you’ve only had one small gesture turn into a big impact on your life, then that’s a very sad story.

Mrs B was my kindergarten teacher and she would sometimes play guitar for us. I liked to sit right up the front for this because I was fascinated by guitars, even at four. One day, she had to get up and attend to something in the middle of our session, and that meant she had to put her guitar down – right in front of me. Now, it was probably just a $30 learner’s instrument but I knew nothing of that at the time. What I knew was that I was staring right at a real, live guitar! I couldn’t help myself, and I started touching it and picking the strings.

Of course, a couple of girls saw me do this and decided to tell Mrs B about it. And they were quite right to dob on me too. After all, I had no right to be touching it. But when they called out, “Mrs B! Bill’s touching your guitar!” she just replied, “That’s okay, he’s experimenting.”

What felt so good about this was not getting away with it but realising that Mrs B got it. She understood that I wasn’t being naughty, but that I was having a discovery.
Now that I have a few guitars, and ones of the kind that little boys like to touch, I never discourage kids from playing with them because I remember how I wasn’t discouraged from touching Mrs B’s. And if they knock it out of tune, so what? I know how to tune it, and I can even show them how. The only stipulation I have ever made is that one refrain from using it to play AC/DC.

The second small gesture that comes to mind is also to do with music and encouragement. I was about 13 and we were on a family trip to visit Uncle O – and event that I would live to regret not doing much more. I had been playing guitar for about three years and had just started learning the recorder. Uncle O played the bagpipes and gave me his chanter to have a play with.

For those who don’t know (and I would imagine that would included anyone who doesn’t know a piper), the chanter is the part of the bagpipes that is fingered. It can be detached from the bag and blown into directly for practise. It’s in a different key to the recorder, but the principle of playing them is the same, except that the pipes are a reed instrument that required a lot more wind than a recorder, which you merely breathe into. So I picked it up, played Amazing Grace, put it down and wondered why everyone was surprised. I spent the rest of that evening playing with their piano. I learnt to pick out chords and basic songs that night.

I’ve never improved on the piano from that evening, but from that evening, Uncle O convinced my parents – particularly my father – that I did actually have some talent. That was important.

I was in Melbourne one day, having just got off the bus at Spencer St Station and in need of a tram ticket. At the time, they had recently changed the ticketing system. In fact, the Melbourne public transport ticketing system is a whole series of comment columns going back twenty years. They should do university courses in it.

So I was staring at the ticket machine trying to figure out what kind of ticket I had to get when before I knew it, someone who had just gotten off a train shoved his ticket in my hand and said, “Here ya go, I’m finished with it,” and was gone before I could even turn around and notice his face.

People say that country is far more friendly than the city but I don’t see it. I don’t see the country as being particularly friendly and I don’t see the city as being unfriendly.

My fourth example relates to my current job. WF worked with my mother at the centre where I work now. At the time, I was basically unemployed and had no prospects that I could think of. I had run some introductory guitar courses there before and W had been in one of them. This showed her that I could teach and handle a class. Since she was retiring at the end of that year, she suggested that I take over the computer courses that she did there. She already knew I had a keen interest in computers, I used to use the internet at the centre and helped others there while I did, and I needed the work. At first, I didn’t think I could do it. I’ve noticed that some people are really good at getting jobs and some people are really good at doing jobs and the two don’t always cross over. I have a bad habit of selling myself short but W was kind enough to look beyond that. My role there progressed, taking what was basically a sideline and turning it into one of the centre’s main earners for a while. And all the work I have obtained since then, can be traced back to that offer from W, without which, I don’t know what I would have done. Everything I have, I owe to her.

Finally, for those who prefer adorable childhood photos, here’s what I looked like around the time I was experimenting with Mrs B’s guitar.
File under “What went wrong?”

04 June, 2009

Obligatory Susan Boyle Post:

If one wanted to make a really mean joke (and I don't, I'll just pre-empt anyone who does) you could say that Susan Boyle trumped every other starlet by going into therapy before even releasing a record. Apparently there was a bit of a backlash starting against her. I hadn't noticed, but it wouldn't surprise me. They say Australia has a nasty tall-poppy syndrome but we've got nothing on the poms. After a few weeks of churning out masses of articles about the amazing discovery that a woman over 25 in an unflattering dress can actually sing pretty well, they needed something else to write about. And why not? It's not as if their government is in crisis or anything.

Amanda Holden described Susan Boyle's debut performance as a "wake-up call." (And just where does Amanda Holden get the qualification to judge anyone else's talent anyway? The last I saw of her, she was playing the trophy wife of a fictitious rock star in a sit-com)

Well, if it was a wake-up call, everyone hit the snooze button pretty much immediately. The real wake-up call was how disgusting it is that a sweet-natured person with a nice singing voice has to submit herself to this kind of freakshow just to get noticed. But that point was lost on everyone. She was suddenly a star and regardless of her looks, talent or personality, they were going to treat her like every other star, and every other participant in the freakshow, by obsessing over every minute aspect of her life and the less relevant it is to what she actually does, the better.

As with every other contestant on every other one of those horrid "reality" programs, it's got not about the music, it's all about the soap opera. What colour will they dye her hair? Who will do the makeover? What do her neighbours say about her? Has Oprah called? She might as well have been Amy Winehouse or Liam Gallagher. It was all the same old story, just a different name and face. Had it happened to anyone else on that dreadful show, I'd have had no sympathy at all, but this is one competitor who I think can genuinely claim that all she wanted was to sing.

And sing she did - very well, too. But that's all. No, that isn't a backlash comment, it's just a bit of perspective. I mean, isn't that what people on talent shows (even this one) are supposed to do - sing well? Apparently, just doing that was enough to make her a hero to millions. Sure, you could have worse heroes but don't go making this woman the vehicle for all your hopes and dreams. Susan Boyle's fans have done just as much to almost destroy her career before it started as the media parasites have.

To give the producers just a little credit, I suspect the fact that she didn't win was an act of mercy. She didn't need that extra pressure. She did what she set out to do. She has a recording contract for when all this has blown over and I truly hope it serves her well and that she gets to just do what she does well without all the bullshit from all sides.