Heavy Plant

Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...




The ferry to Circular Quay from Balmain



Insert worm gag here

At the weekend a worm caused a storm in a teacup. The worm in question is not a political candidate but a screen graphic used by Channel 9 to measure public approval of candidates. It takes the form of a line at the bottom of the screen that changes colour and tracks up and down an onscreen graph based on the real time electronic voting of a studio audience of undecided voters.

The storm in a teacup was because Channel 9 did not have permission to use this under the rules the National Press Club applied to allocate broadcast rights of the debate between Kevin Rudd and John Howard. They used it anyway and the NPC killed their feed. Channel 9 then switched to rebroadcasting ABC's feed with the worm patched over the top and claimed that the Press Club had bowed to pressure from the Government in killing their feed and called it a violation of free speech.

Almost everyone is ignoring this non-story except the two broadcasters involved and the international press who love a claim of free speech violation. Channel 9 may not have had permission to use the worm but do they really need permission? The damn thing was more of a distraction than anything, particularly if, like me, you had absolutely no idea what it was.

Oddly though Channel 9 had a news crew inside the online production suite; not something you do without good reason. Might they have had an inkling that this was going to happen and have actually bent the rules deliberately in a cynical ploy to gain ratings? Surely not.

The worm was an issue because John Howard does not fare well under the gimmick. He had only been on screen 3 seconds when the graph(ic) went into a negative reading from Rudd's immediately positive reading. The worm being left out of the broadcast was almost certainly part of the negotiations to actually get a debate aired. Rudd had wanted 3 debates, Howard has cleverly agreed to only one.

Cleverly because Howard is a very professional and polished politician with 11 years practice at being PM. People know who he is and his extempore speaking seems natural, he appears to know what he's talking about even when he is winging it. Rudd is not a familiar face nor do people necessarily feel they know what he's about. There is an air of Blair about him, although he is much less creepy and seems more genuine. Actually on those criteria he's nothing like Tony Blair but you take my point.

Rudd used the time well outlining policy and using phrases like "what my party stands for", "what I would do in office" etc. but on balance I'd have to give the debate to Howard. The PM consulted his notes far less, seemed more composed and didn't make the error of breaking eye contact with the camera or the person posing a question when he had finished talking, which Rudd did. Phone polls by the broadcasters and the newspapers broadly agree with me. Political analysts though split the honours evenly, citing Rudd's better use of detail and Howard's slight hesitancy on reconcilliation with Aboriginal people and troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The worm firmly gave the debate to Rudd. If the audience really was composed of undecided voters then Howard may not be the totem he once was. This election is going to be a hard faught one in the marginal seats and if Howard provokes disapproval just by appearing on screen then he is going to need something extra. For me though the debate was proof that Howard is still tough and definitely more than a contender. [lazy joke about electorate being worm that turned goes here]


Naked PM?

I either have astonishing reach and influence or a talent for stating the blindingly obvious. Today’s video clip is the Liberal Party response to the Labor response to the Liberal unions campaign ad.

Look, it’s Howard and he’s perched on a desk (they must have sawn the legs off). In a bit to out-casual Rudd he’s also jacket-less; how outrĂ©! This is begging the question how far will they go? Until Vladimir Putin’s recent photo shoot and since Mussolini politicians don’t really strip off. The fat Italian fascist’s favourite political posturing involved going bare-chested and do manly thinks like mucking in with the hay balers. In a close election are Rudd and Howard prepared to bare flesh? Will we see Kevin in his grundies and a string vest? Will there, the Australian public wants to know, be Prime Ministerial nipple? According to the viral marketers the two are already prepared to change their hair.

As the dominant narrative of the moment the election has considerable use as a marketing too if you can get in people's heads. The election has been expected for so long that companies and their agencies have had plenty of time to prepare and as a media meme an election is all pervasive. Commercial ad campaigns are beginning to mirror the political one.

Apologies, I haven’t actually watched the video above, I’m at work and can’t be bothered. It’s probably Howard saying that he’s not scaremongering but engaged in informing the public about the potential unionist content of a Labor cabinet that would mean the thin end of the wedge for [small] businesses. He probably says something about flexibility in employment and industrial relations and taxes too.

I have noticed from the front page that the theme of embedding your rival’s advert in your own is continuing. Will we also then see this repeated so that by the time a government is elected you will be able to trace the story backwards by finding the adverts referenced in each clip? Has that actually been the case and are you reviewing this post 6 weeks from now tracing things backwards to see how Australia ended up with a naked PM? Interesting.

For speed, and appropriateness of response the Liberals score some points here but this is a definite ‘me too’ advert. It’s the same thing without a jacket (I reserve the right to change my opinion after having watched the video, but I doubt I'll have to).


First blows in the campaign

The first blows in the election campaign fell early in the week. Things are going to move quickly of necessity, 6 weeks is not long to win hearts and minds especially when people already have a well formed impression of your party. Possibly this is why I was a little disappointed with the standard of the opening salvo.

The Liberal Party, rather predictably, weighed in to Labor for its’ Union connections, as it has been doing for the last month.

The move was so predictable in fact that Labor had a reply ready to go which was posted on their website within half an hour of the Liberal ad going live.

Perhaps it is a little early to expect innovation. The Labor – yes, that is the correct spelling here as wrong as it looks – political movement has been linked to Unions since its’ inception (in Australia 1891). That the Labor front bench might contain unionists seems a little obvious.

Whilst the ad is very polished and hammers its’ point home with the requisite force it has opened up with a negative, attacking the opposition not starting from a positive. The Liberals have plenty of positive at their disposal, unemployment is at the lowest rate for 33 years, the Australian economy is booming and the Government is in a position to offer big tax cuts and arguably still manage spending. Why not remind people of that? The polls say they've forgotten.

Strange too that it was left to the Treasurer and deputy PM to launch the advert. Costello is a credible financial manager and is most likely to succeed Howard as PM in the medium term. Immediately before the election was called the Liberal party suddenly had a tizzy fit about who would lead, and for a while it looked like Howard might not be fighting the election as leader. The party eventually decided to hold on to Howard but what does that say about the election prospects of ‘Captain Smirk’? If Costello is not seen as strong enough to win an election and Howard has said he will step down in the not too distant future who exactly are Liberal voters voting for? And, more importantly, why associate this problem so closely with the opening of your campaign?

Howard is notably and noticeably absent from Liberal advert as is mention of any Liberal politicians or policies. Rudd’s response was concise - perhaps overly so - and personal. In a country still so conservative in outlook that any and all newsreaders appear behind desks for even the briefest of bulletins Rudd was perched on the front of a desk with a TV remote in his hand talking to the camera with an easy non-threatening manner (not that I suspect he is capable of being very threatening). It builds on the media created notion of the election as Rudd vs. Howard and it shows Rudd as the voice of his party. The image of the much shorter John Howard trying to perch on a desk flickered briefly through my mind. Rather unkindly I wondered if his feet would touch the ground. I expect Rudd on his desk to become a motif of the campaign.

Round one to Labor.



"You can bite my shiny metal iPod"

The doped masses, heads hanging, blank eyes badly hidden behind over-expensive sunglasses sit on the bus together, nodding to the invisible beat of the anaesthetic administered aurally via the white umbilicus.

"Yesterday, I swear I got to work and had no idea how I got there."

Every smart suit and pair of clicking heals living in denial of their symptoms. The brain-surgeon working on itself excising the horror of the daily commute asks only for a little music to cut by.



The two countries that I have lived in for any substantial time are both gearing up for a general election; one definitely and soon, the other probably and not until next year. All being well with visas I will have the peculiar sensation of watching the Australian election, that I cannot vote in, from the perspective of living in the country and in the new year watching a British election which I could vote in, from the other side of the world.

In my native Britain the sitting Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, would be seeking the validation of having won an election on his own merits, having inherited leadership from Tony Blair, but has ruled this out until 2009 saying that he 'needs more time to lay out his vision'. Brown had considered an Autumn election and has faced criticism for leaving the country in suspense about his intentions, most notably from his deputy.

In Australia, where I currently live, the Liberal coalition will be seeking another term in office to return the 10 year veteran of the top job, John Howard, for only a few years before he steps down in favour of, who we don't quite know but probably the current treasurer, Peter Costello.

In both counties questions were being asked about when the election would actually be called. As the Head of State for Australia is in fact Queen Elizabeth II, John Howard is obliged to get permission from the Governor General to dissolve parliament and call an election; something he flew back to Canberra to do this weekend. I have just learnt from the BBC News website whilst doing a light bit of research for this post that he has, as expected, called an election to for the 24th of November.

Howard had been expected to call an election before now and his reluctance to do so has caused some bitter acusations from the Labor opposition. The accusations are that the Australian Federal Government is using its' advertising privilidge to market government policies and the delay in calling an election was to allow these to run their full course before polling day. There does seem to be some weight to this argument given the noticeable increase in frequency of these adverts on the TV every time a poll comes out favoring Labor and a definite slant in the advertising towards selling the legislation rather than telling people how it works.

The major election campaigning issues which I may do further posts on are going to be:

  • Work Choices and employment law (unpopular - favouring opposition)
  • Australian involvement in Iraq (unpopular - favouring opposition)
  • Assistance for drought areas (popular - favouring government)
  • Cuerrent economic position (popular - favouring government)
  • Ongoing climate change preparation (varying but mostly favouring the opposition)
  • Aboriginal and indigenous affairs (varing and impossible to place also a latecomer to the party)
  • Howard vs Rudd - it might come to punches, which speccy nerd will you be cheering for?

The last and probably the critical issue is who can maintain credibility not just personally but throughout their party and their campaign. This is going to be tricky as Howard has probably the greatest credibility of any Australian politician and is a real political street fighter with a knack for finding vulnerabilities his oponents didn't know they had.

Rudd has weathered a few storms on this front with his wife effectively being forced to sell her interest in the Australian arm of the business she runs, and Rudd having a boozy night in a New York strip club in his past revealed. Rudd should not be underestimated though. He might, as Dame Edna Everidge(CBE) pointed out, look like a dentist but he is also a former diplomat with postings in Stockholm and Beijing. During the APEC summit Rudd was able to address the chinese delegation in fluent Mandarin. The night in a strip club story only made him look human and has actually strengthened his position.

This is going to be a tough fought election that has another interesting aspect to it. Every party has embraced the internet as a campaigning tool. Google are running campaign channels on YouTube for all the parties and have an Election 2007 tab for their very popular homepage. Both of the main parties have been using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook for a while. This is going to be Australia's first real internet friendly election.


I was trying to work dammit!

I was actually doing some work on the internet, for a bit of a change, when there was a flash and a KABOOM and the connection fried. A very sudden and extremely powerful thunderstorm wafted through and interupted every transmitter for miles. Not even the phone worked.

The connection is now so erratic I am writing this in short bursts. This occasionally happens here, it's one of the hazards of living right on the Pacific ocean. A year or two before I came to Sydney there was a hailstorm that spat chunks of ice the size of a softball from the sky. It hasn't done that yet but I wouldn't want to be outside in it.


Film festival special

Last night Em & I went to a session supported by the Sydney Film Festival that was specifically devoted to internet distributed short films hosted by two people Emily has worked with/for. This is great for a number of reasons, my favourite being that I can show you the three stand-out ones right here.

The first one is a Will Ferrell film (!) called The Landlord. It speaks for itself but if you are interested in how they got a child to do this then have a look at the Funny or Die site for 'the making of' and outtakes clips too.

The second film is too odd to describe so I shan't. It is distributed by atom films who support independant film makers through advertising. This means that there are some pre-roll adverts on the video but stick with it, it's weird!

The last video clip is a piece of machinima. Machinima - machine animation - for the purposes of this film, is taking the output of your computer and dubbing it as film. The artist in this case has built a Vincent Van Gough picture in the very powerful 3D rendering engine of virtual world Second Life, put some effects on and dubbed it then dismantled it in Second Life leaving only the video clip behind. It is a breathtaking piece of work when seen on a big screen, I'm afraid I can only do small on here.


One of those days

Everyone is in for it today.

I woke up at 5am, the internet depressed me with stories about arguing nuns and some idiot who kept his amputated leg in a smoker.

I thought I was about to pull through but have gone to the cupboard to make a cup of coffee to find that in a careless moment the coffee has been thrown away. Thrown away.

I now have to wait until I get to work before the first cup. I have to arrive at my workplace unmedicated. I haven't done that in years and have no desire to start.

I do hope my colleagues are reading this and can take the appropriate measures. Bribery with caffeinated goods and bacon sandwiches always works.


Birdcage in a fishtank

I like ideas that force a change in perspective. I came accross the image above randomly the other day and it has been troubling me for a few days. It shows a birdcage inside a fishtank.

At first I thought the image was manipulated but someone actually has created a birdcage inside a fishtank.

Something about this still made me uneasy. The thought that it might possibly be cruel to the birds bothered me, but how is this any less cruel than caging them to begin with (They still have a grill at the top of the cage to allow air to circulate)?

Something about the dissonant juxtaposition of two sets creatures, that in thier wild state would be free but here confined, draws attention to the unnatural state and wanton human interference. Particularly with the birds cage inside the tank where they look imprisoned and in danger. Somehow if the fish tank was surrounded by a birdcage it wouldn't seem as strange.

The last troubling thought was the reason for it's creation. I found the image without any contextual information. There's nothing to tell me whether the fishtankbirdcage is intended as a conceptual artwork intended to provoke those thoughts, just a visual oddity intended to make it appear is if birds were flying underwater or simply the product of someone with spare perspex, a tube of silicon glue, a twisted imagination and too much time on their hands.