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Safe!

_web 2.oh my_

June 8, 2007

Second Life has, unintentionally but inavoidably, taken over my thoughts in the last couple of months – I see avatars and chat-bars, even though the summer has just begun, and I should probably be frollicking around a May Pole or something. It’s like an inescapable place you’re only allowed to leave when you stop thinking about it for too long, which doesn’t happen that frequently, but probably might have to at least for a bit, soon. SL, forums, blogs, messaging, emailing. We’ve never been so interconnected! It’s Web 2.0, it’s 3.0. It really looks like it has to reach breaking point soon. But why should it?

I took the job on the Second Life newspaper. I thought it would be a good idea, despite its brash and in-your-face tabloid style, the lack of any real substance, or genuine wit. Despite too, that I thought, as much as anyone, that virtual worlds were for the more bizarre members of our race. Nerds, if you will. And I feel like a real fool now. Maybe there are alot of bizarre folk there. A lot of pretenders, fakes, scammers, sociopaths, over inflated egos and probably paedophiles too. But that isn’t the point. They’re all learning.

I’m a convert, now. It takes a month or two full time. Eight hours a day, nine to five , on Pacific Standard time – Sl Time, in my case. I’ve seen what the hell is going in. A bit – like in any small community, to be fair, but not that much. There aren’t seven million people ‘in’ SL. There are usually 20-30,ooo, if the grid isn’t playing up, interferring. But it’s growing pretty fast. And the brands are coming too; Adidas, and Sky News, and Vodafone, and dozens more global giants, all cramming in (or not exactly, in a world where you could build your own plot too), and doing not much.

There’s hype, but if you go to the Vodafone or Channel 4 sim, you will see they’re virtual graveyards, already; they’re offering basically nothing new, most of them. A company like IBM, not to mention hundreds of SL start-ups, use it for meetings and R&D. This is bright. But if someone opened up a big empty air hangar with a logo on it in my town, and said you can ‘come have a look’ I might not waste my time. ‘We’re crossing boundaries they say’. They aren’t – it’s too late to be the first now. The reason usually given by firms is that they need to be where their customers are, and this is crucial. They might not be making any money now, but they are learning how they will need to make money in the future. In no time at all, we will be that one step closer to the ‘singularity’ as some in cyberspace like to call it – it’s not science fiction, it’s science very bloody likely.

Any individual, or worse, any marketing manager, who thought a company could go without a website when the 2D internet exploded in 1994 was better off denying they ever said it. It would be defy common sense to not think that SL’s decendent worlds will become the social, economic, and perhaps, bizzarely more than worryingly, spiritual hub of the lives of individuals, companies, charities, church or terror groups, in much greater numbers, and in not too great a time.

Writing this from Berlin, it’s hard not to be surrounded by news and coverage from the G8 conference taking place in the north of this semi-willing host of a country.

 Leaders of the wealthy world are meeting, discussing, in no uncertain terms, how to run the world. How to maintain their far from democratic grip on poorer nations, and whether this status-quo needs to be maintained. Undoubtedly, some are getting hotter under the collar than others. Despite the public facade, Blair will be annoyed that Bush is a non-budger on certain issues – even if he makes occasional grand claims on global warming.

The problem with this meeting, though, is that these self-proclaimed leaders of the free world are holding their meeting far, far from the thousands of diverse protestors who are opposed – not unfairly – to their way of doing things. Freedom of speech is, without a doubt, being supressed, as protestors are forced to gather behind a giant security fence located kilometres from the conference area. This is not acceptable. Each and every time the media condemns ‘stone throwers’ or ‘anarchists’ they refuse to accept that it is plain wrong that it’s been made illegal to protest the actions of this unelected quasi world government.

 The protestors have a right to protest the gathering, and at the same location. 911 did not change the world that much. If they cannot get to the location, then what can the authorities expect? They can expect rocks to rain down on the police deployed, and they can not be suprised by it.

Without a Poppy

November 10, 2006

You wouldn’s have to be an acute observer of the press in this country, the UK, to have noticed the level of debate that has raged on the issue of Muslim women’s dress over the past few months. Yet perhaps the wider issue being debated is the right to express opinion on subjects set to offend certain groups, this in a society where freedom of speech is so highly regarded.

Interesting then, the almost religious sanctity that surrounds the wearing of the poppy each Remembrance Day – a day to remember the people that fought for that very right to freedom, so we are told. Many British men were sent to terrible deaths in the first half of the twentieth century, but the horror of war transcends national identity. It was disappointing then, that an E-mailer to Radio Four’s Today show this week joined in the berating of a Christian speaker promoting the wearing of white poppies, something the host was having a fine job doing, as the guest attempted to promote this colour poppy as a symbol of pacifism (in place of the traditional red poppy) to remember the deaths of all sides in the aforementioned wars. ‘We may as well just wear swastikas and hammers and sickles’, the listener complained.

But as sad as it is to hear such voices of anger, the other point of note is the almost hushed arrangement surrounding debate on the issue of wearing the poppy itself. Detractors caught without the flower of honour may as well be dragged to the gulag. Seeing spokespeople from African nations discussing totally different issues on British news shows wearing the poppy means we have it all wrong. Why must these people feel they have to somehow go out of there way to say ‘yeah, as bad as the slaughter in my country is, you guys had it pretty bad in Flanders.’ The patriotism surrounding Remembrance Day will probably wane over the next ten or twenty years, and rightly so. If we really want to remember the horror of war, we must focus on stopping it happening again, not confusing the issue of innocent men, be they from Nottingham, Stuttgart or the Congo dying in war, with that of patriotism. Wearing a poppy goes someway to honouring those who have died. Yet shooting down those who don’t, as well as those that question the colour of the paper used, does not.

A review of the Sydney Big Day Out 2006, orignally on http://www.inthemix.com.au

We were somewhere in the middle of Olympic Park station when we spotted the dogs. Damn dogs, damn radio stations and newspapers scaring the crap out of people. Damn beefcake arms of the state standing round with otherwise safe-as-houses Labradors, nabbing liveforthemoment kids wanting nothing more than a laugh. But a laugh aint what she got, more a face white like a sheet, when pooch’s game got a little more fun on finding his treat, and her Big Day Out got a little less fun in just as little a moment. But we soldiers breached the first level of the gauntlet, no sweat bro, only to find security guards stocking up supplies for their big night out later on. Said dudes were also no match, and we was inside. Now stadia might not be the best place for music, but that’s where you fit thousands of punters, and Olympic Park shed it’s ghost town image for a day of music, debauchery, rampant over charging, sun, showers, unbridled patriotic fervour, and a few laughs too.

 

The line up for the 2006 Big Day Out was by no means the greatest ever. Classic headline Iggy Pop was there, while big namers like the ever-trendy Franz Ferdinand and the White Stripes stood out for many, but not all. For fans of electronica, at least of the live sort, (perhaps ironically better served in previous years), you may have been pretty well served if breaks was your interest, but other genres were left wanting. But hey, it was Australia Day, and what’s more Australian than fuck off loud guitar riffs? Hip hop, meanwhile, was not too badly attended to at all. One of the highlights had to be The Herd, coming on to one of the smaller stages with cheers of respect for the country’s indigenous inhabitants, with cheers from some, and repressed facial expressions of contempt from other tools draped in the ‘nation’s’ flag. The Herd, for the record, were as tight as they usually were, but the sound ate arse. Figuratively speaking, sure, but a big hairy one. But hey, stadia. They bigged up the Hilltop Hoods who had surprisingly been billed on the main stage, not long after so-called Erskineville kings Wolfmother had got down and dirty to the first monster crowd of the day, 55,000 according to some (arguably highly dubious) reports. They might sound a bit been-there-done-that for puritanical types, and the SMS message reading ‘ACDC played a good set’ on the giant screen was worth a laugh, but man, they rocked. Predictably; Great vocals and big balled Aussie rock, and the kids was moshing down at the front. The famed ‘D’ safety mechanism was also in effect, installed to prevent another death marring the event as in years gone by. But the funniest thing this drunken reveler notice from the windows of the atmosphere-free VIP area was this system breaking right down. Noise makers Mudvayne were just coming on as a black T shirt clad mob pushed ever harder to get past the gate, and the crush hadn’t been prevented, only moved. Eventually it burst, the guards were forced to open the gate, and kids flooded in, while others ran round the side and jumped the fence, the several employees on hand standing by. But what could they do? Sweet F.A., it would appear. One guard attempted to confront a fence-jumper, but fisticups briefly and amusingly ensued.

 

But I was outta there man, me mate wanted to catch Go Team, who were alright, y’know, but not as funny as Henry Rollins on right after. He acknowledged that when he gets up there with his hellfire brand of left wing quasi-comedy rants, he gets a few blank faces, but we almost proper shat our little selves when some shaved ape took offence to his jibes at not only the concept of a national day, but also Howard’s lapdog antics. Another plonker caped in the bloody flag screamed ‘fuck off’, I returned the favour, becoming a little too close to being over-embroiled, and he left. Rollins got a few good laughs from the crowd, but for the most part, it was preaching to the converted, and we scooted off. Fuck knows what the hell happened after that, but there was one dirty great highlight left, maybe a little later on, perhaps, but you know how it is.

 

And that highlight was Mars Volta. I had not tickets for the Friday gig at the Enmore, and if I was catching one band, ‘twas them. It was a pity they clashed with Common, sure, and the White Stripes too (is there any harm on putting some big names on earlier?), but I could live without Iggy Pop, despite my mate’s proposal of tackling him, licking his forearm, and getting high, which he did, allegedley. And ‘femcee’ Jean Grae had pulled out weeks before, so we were set. And, hey,  they made some nice fucking noise. Soaring vocals intermittently interrupted a great big wall of sound, a veritable one and a half hour jam session, with the two dudes back up by hella percussion, sax, flute, and Vishnu knows what else. Psychedelic rock lives on, and a couple of us stood there entranced for ninety Minutes. Well, my mate happened to be lying on his back surrounded by big-arse tree people when I checked, but I digress. And then, if I’m not mistaken, we took a quick sprint to see Jack White and some chick on drums, but they were done. Next thing I know we’re in the stands with some friends considerably more shitfaced than the last time I checked in, and all the lights were on. Dirty! ‘To the pub!’, we cried, and continued where we left off, the concept of a four day weekend gaining popularity as the chicken coup train ride ferried all and sundry back to town. There may well have been another flag based altercation, or a couple, but shit’s gotta be said. Australia Day is a day off work, hence the name of the festival. Stick yer nationalism up yer arse, let the music do the talking.

SPANKROCK

November 7, 2006

Originally published in the Brag magazine (www.myspace.com/thebrag)

‘He’s off doing the rock and roll thing’, laughs the Big Dada employee. ‘He’s disappeared with some girl’. Considering that ancient adage of ‘keeping it real’, it’s actually a relief to know that MC Naeem does indeed talk the talk. Because for all the hype of the post-revolutionary sound the tech-ridden beats of Spankrock’s new album YoYoYoYoYoYo are drenched in, Naeem’s rhymes are that tried and tested old skool formula – one part sex with two parts filth. If the man’s saying ‘put, put, put, put that pussy on me’, then chasing skirt is, I concede, a more than satisfactory reason for him not to be anywhere within earshot of the phone for the scheduled time of our interview. But life on tour is to be soaked up, and for these three Baltimore dudes, the temptations of a European road trip are taking their toll, as producer XXXchange and the amiable and talkative DJ Chris Rockwell explain. ‘Yeah man, we got big hangovers, we got up to some bullshit last night’ says XXXchange when I enquire as to Naeem’s whereabouts. ‘We just did an interview with radio, but Naeem needs like a LoJack, you know, one of them fuckin’ things you put on turtles, like a GPS.’ It’s sure different to Maryland, admits Chris, where the bars stop serving drinks at 1.30 and hurl the patrons out at 2. By all accounts they’d ‘been hanging for along time’ for this tour, and so they’re making the most of it.

‘Alex (XXXchange) was into jazz and drums, and was getting into down tempo and trip hop and post-punk stuff’, explains Chris when I enquire as to how it all got started. After XXXchange hooked up with budding Baltimore MC Naeem Juwan, who’d previously been rubbing shoulders with Shaun J Period and Rawkus Records artists, the formerly seminal indie hip hop label from NYC, they teamed up with Rockwell to giver their live performances that extra edge. ‘Basically’, sums up Chris, ‘We were all just wanting to go out and have a good time’- and fuck, it comes through in the music. For these US b-boys being in Europe makes a lot more sense than it might. Signed to Ninja Tune offshoot Big Dada, they possess a sound more at home in that continent’s more diverse modern musical landscape than their native US. ‘Yeah I listen to a lot of European music’ says XXXchange when prompted. Although the early nineties sounds of US booty-bass and ghetto-tech styles are more than evident in the tracks that have journalists from the Guardian to NME, and from the SMH to respected rap-rag Hip Hop Connection jizzing their loads with joy, XXXchange cites producers from a wide range of spectrums as influential to his wigged out soundscapes. ‘Yeah, you got some people in the states doing stuff like that, but I listen to a lot of stuff by the guys from Modeselektor (techno), Maurice Fulton (electro) and different sorts of European stuff.’ But when I ask if its exciting to be on Big Dada, home of Roots Manuva and New Flesh amongst others, he laughs that he’s far more excited by UK garage rude-bwoys and So-Solid aficionados Roll Deep than his dubbed out label-mates.

The unwillingness to fit into a box, or rather the subconscious desire not to, have had varying effects on hip hop crowds worldwide. ‘For our first show in New York’ Chris laughs, ‘we had all of our drummers and dancers on stage, we we’re like rocking out in the booth, with Naeem jumping all over the tables, and then people were like asking Alex (XXXchange) to move because they wanted to drink!’ Certainly not what you want when performing, but New York is New York, and Amsterdam proved a different experience- ‘We opened up for KRS One (the ‘Blayst-Master’ he chortles in an amusingly mocking Dutch accent) and people definitely didn’t know what to expect, but after a bout five songs they started to kick it off.’

When we chat they’re in the London offices of Big Dada, only a few hours off from playing ‘super-club’ Fabric, where they’re to hit the stage following the UK DMC finals, but what with the previous night’s hangover still weighing heavy they’re perhaps understandably less than hyped. Whatever the receptions they’ve had, reputation should mean there is ample enthusiasm to welcome them to an open-minded Sydney for their Basement gig, accompanied by Spaserock, on June 18. Rocking out with Chris on the decks and a sampler, with another effects box and Logic running on a laptop to the side, Spankrock live sounds like an impressive far from sit-down affair. ‘Yeah we heard a lot about Sydney, some good friends of mine just moved from there to New York. They’re a punk band called Deathset. We’d really like to tour with them’. How that might turn out is anyone’s guess. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any messier.

A Case For Australian Intervention?

http://www.vibewire.net.au

In a week where the issue of abuse and lawlessness in some aboriginal communities consumed large parts of the media, the only issue to pip it at the post was the comparable level of lawlessness taking over the streets of East Timor, which led to Australia’s subsequent intervention. Many observers, including former Australian Of The Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu, questioned the effort and costs involved in intervening in the law and order issue of a foreign country, while those of a community in the Top End went untouched. Yunupingu suggested the driving factor of this intervention was cultural arrogance on behalf of a conservative Anglo government, and even went as far as calling the deployment of troops to East Timor a ‘waste of money’. There are some on the Australian left in agreement with Yunupingu, and they have a right to be suspicious when it comes to intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations.

Since the events of 911, the Howard government has eagerly sought opportunities to project Australian power and influence. Howard and his cabinet were quick to support the Bush administration in their oil wars, not least because he reveled in playing the loyal ally to a man with whom he remains ideologically so in tune with. Of course, Bin Laden has not yet been found in Afghanistan, or indeed anywhere else, and the reasons expressed for going to war in Iraq shift as frequently as the Babylon sands, if we put our fingers in our ears and pretend that oil was never the driving factor.

So do we give credit to the Howard government for intervening in the Solomon Islands and East Timor this year? Perhaps, although the issue is clouded when it comes to measuring Australia’s treatment of Timor Leste in recent history. Australia stood by when Indonesia invaded East Timor only days after the former colonial power Portugal pulled out in 1975. Following the US’s lead, nothing was done to prevent President Suharto’s rampage, all in the name of supporting an anti-communist ally – a valuable asset for the West in the South East Asia of the time.

Australia led the UN force following independence in 1999, but once again, one could be forgiven for being suspicious of the motives for further (albeit UN-approved) intervention following the Howard government’s abominable behaviour over East Timor’s rights to the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. Indeed, for all the talk of Australia playing a regional policeman in order to bring peace and stability to its neighbours, policemen can of course be corrupt bullies as well. From independence until the turn of this year, Australia steadfastly refused to recognise East Timor’s right to reap the rewards from the Greater Sunrise fields. For a country with the lowest per capita GDP in the world, these vast fields, if properly exploited, would represent real change for the people of this tiny nation. However, although international law stipulates that the fields lie within East Timor’s waters, as they are situated on East Timor’s side of the 400 nautical miles that separate the two countries, Australia has, much like on the issue of the Kyoto Protocol and to a lesser extent the Iraq War, taking the pariah’s role, and attempted to claim sovereignty over the fields by virtue of the fact they are located upon Australia’s vast continental shelf. Pulling out of the maritime division of the International Court of Justice, the Howard government, not for the first time, found itself in the moral bad books of many. After fighting the impoverished young country for 80 per cent of the revenue from the fields, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer finally agreed to a compromise, whereby profits from the project would be spilt fifty-fifty, and the dispute over maritime boundaries postponed for another 50 years. For all the current claims of altruism in dealing with East Timor, there was no pretending at the time of the oil grab. In his dispute with East Timorese Foreign minister Jose Ramos Horta, Downer said ‘ I always make the point as the Australian Foreign Minister (that) I vigorously stand up for Australia. I’m a very, very proud Australian. And it’s not my job to stand up for other countries.’

If these are the foreign minister’s words, then we must assume Australia is currently acting in its own interest-yet it seems as if many would argue that the desires and needs of the two countries cannot be congruent. When asked by a typically poorly-informed John Laws why Australia needed to send troops to deal with the situation in the Solomon Islands, John Howard stated that it wasn’t in Australia’s interest to have ‘failed states’ on its doorstep. That is, that without intervention from another country, parliamentary democracy in the Solomons may crumble. Of course, despite the truth behind the now-aged call that ‘the world changed on September 11’ the chances of the Solomons or East Timor becoming bases for Islamic terror remain far-fetched. The failure of law and order in either leaves behind the small chance either could become a base for narcotic or people smuggling, but essentially, it is an expression of regional might. There is the chance that were the government in East Timor to fail, its replacement may not be so favourable to the oil and gas deal many international observers have deemed grossly unfair, perhaps re-challenging Australia.

Hobbesian theory suggests that states only ever act in their own interest, but in the case of sending troops, despite the fact Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta seemed at first to suggest he had not been asked by Downer if intervention was required, the fact that many on either side of the conflict in East Timor favour assistance on the tricky road to ‘nation building’ (to use the language of the Bush administration), makes it hard to claim Australia is acting purely in its own interest. Yet the fact remains that this government revels in playing the regional hegemon – it’s certainly no simplification to imagine Howard in the role of Robin to Bush’s Batman. The biggest problem is for those who rightly questioned Australia’s role in the US’s oil wars, in that they must decide which side of the fence they now stand on. We surely cannot blindly criticise Australia for sending troops overseas at every opportunity. Most in parliament favour such ‘humanitarian’ intervention, but there are still many, like Yunupingu, that baulk at the suggestion Australia should be performing the role of a regional hegemon, suspicious at numerous misled or devious troop deployments. But maybe the interests of two very different neighbours can be congruent after all, at least in the short term.

Bill Code, 31.5.06