_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.

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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.

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

Keep Our Troops There, Now!

November 7, 2006

(This was written for http://www.vibewire.net.au in September 2005. As such, my views may have altered as the insurgency gathers popular support in the face of the occupying forces’ inability to offer security and basic living standards. In other words, CUT AND RUN CUT AND RUN OH JESUS CUT AND RUN, RUN FOR THE HILLS, RUN FOR STARBUCKS, JUST RUN RUN RUN. Just kidding.)

Early 2003, and millions of people the world over found themselves marching in the streets, many of them for the first time in their lives, united in their rage at a war the United Nations would not endorse. History has taught us what we already knew: No weapons of mass destructions. Of course, there was lots of oil, and lots of contracts for Halliburton, but no WMD.

Yet as much momentary satisfaction as the phrase ‘I told you so’ can provide, it can’t turn back time. I, like many others, was just as disgusted with governments prepared to follow the neo-conservative line, and send troops, not to mention their tax payer’s money, to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Any political commentators worth their weight in salt predicted the quagmire that would remain for the US and it’s at best lap-dog, at worst stupid allies, bogged down trying to force democracy upon a land that had never had it.

The event, as it happens, is proving just as difficult as the most pessimistic suggested it would. Foreign fighters/terrorists/jihadists flood in across Iraq’s porous borders, and the carnage continues. The ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by the invading armies has been surpassed in terms of pure numbers by murderous thugs intent on sewing the seeds of religious hatred; not merely against the infidels, but between the different sects within Iraq. Despite the protestations of US officials, civil war looks decidedly more likely than successful elections. Even the Saudi’s are expressing their worry that the Iranians, the Turks and whoever else may yet be dragged into a wider regional conflict.

But strangely, many of the people who called for restraint in the use of military action, in favour of peace, now call for the troops to be withdrawn, with one outcome; no peace. It may at first seem the logical continuation; to at first oppose war and then continue to oppose foreign occupation, but the only reasonable option is to keep foreign troops there until some semblance of semi-functioning state remains. UN troops may be more desirable for all parties, but at the moment, it’s not happening. Many argue that it’s the very presence of foreign troops(re; non-Muslim, as many jihadists within Iraq are not Iraqi citizens) within Iraq that leads to the continued mayhem. Yet it’s unlikely that the mayhem that would be left behind after a hasty withdrawal would look any better for those Iraqis that simply want to live in peace. The choice, at the moment, remains choosing the lesser of two evils. And the puppet government installed, the same one entirely reliant on the alleged supremacy of US military might for its mandate to rule, remains the one with the best intentions, regardless of its shortcomings and lack of ability, for the moment, to answer back to its master.

“Regardless of what the international community thinks on whether it was right or wrong to overthrow Saddam (Hussein), we can’t turn our backs on the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi population who want to see freedom, democracy and prosperity”.

Unlike Blair, who now seeks the removal of British troops early next year, Downer has spelled it out correctly. Unlike Howard, George Bush’s presidency may yet be ended by the ‘new Vietnam.’ But unfortunately the voters that may decide his fate will do so for the wrong reasons. They will do so because US soldiers are dying, not because Iraqis are. It is harsh, but the mothers that go on TV denouncing the war in Iraq should have spent this energy convincing their sons, or daughters, not to join the sanctioned killing team to start with. Similarly, point scoring populist politicians in all ‘allied’ countries have no right whatsoever to call for troop withdrawal if they themselves lacked the courage to speak against it when it mattered most.

I don’t know if I’ve ever agreed with Alexander Downer, and whether I will in the future, but he is right when he says that ‘we’ (the liberal government that committed the crime of invasion, not the populace) can’t turn our back on the people of Iraq. Of course, the government would love to withdraw, as would many Republicans, but that would be a political faux-pas on the grandest scale.

To conclude, those that call for the withdrawal of foreign troop with no credible alternative, and no suggestion of how to create a functioning state or three, show no compassion for the people of Iraq. More people will die, and those that called for the troops to be removed will have blood on their hands. Not as much as Cheney, Wolfowitz or Rumsfeld, but they will be semi-responsible for the mushrooming mess that needs fixing, not desertion, at the point when it most requires assistance.