Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Post#102 An thou bloggest, thus shall it be... + Blogsoldiers!! Abandon ship!

I started at Post#2 by saying:

"In olden days they used to say, "Hire a hall if you want to make a speech!" Now it's "Start a blog!" People should be careful about saying it. The recipient of the advice might take heed and do just that. But what to blog about? There's everything and nothing. Let's have a bit of everything to start:"

And, so I started. The "Hire a Hall" series of rants and raves were subtitled to show them as part of the categories "Everything" and "Nothing". By that I meant to separate the topics into the great and the trivial. Looking back, I see that hardly anything made its way into "Nothing". Most apparently trivial things lead back to the great issues of life. This is something the makers of parables have known forever. Jesus, or whoever wrote his material, applied it all the time. There's probably some arcane Classical Greek rhetorical term for this type of exposition. Something meaning "arguing from the particular to the general". In fact I'm sure there is; I just can't think of it. So, I've decided to dispense with the "Hire a Hall" device and title the posts with whatever seems fit.

One thing I've noticed in roaming the steppes of blogdom since April is that a large number of blogs are moribund. People start with a burst of whatever it is that starts them and fizzle out. The blog servers must be strewn with the wreckage of millions of withered blogs that people gave up. The most plausible reason is an apparent lack of readership. The counterpoint to this is all the blogs urging other bloggers to "monetise" their blogs. Hub sites like BlogCatalog, MyBlogLog and Spicypage are full of spruiking on this topic. These are the efforts of people hoping to make money by blogging to other people about how to make money by blogging to other people... The revenue stream is apparently supposed to come from the advertisements on the site which will be clicked by the millions of visitors you'll receive. Just send a payment to this account and you'll learn the secret. I find it a bit sad; it's just like those gambling/real estate/whatever schemes that are offered by post or email. The anomaly is: if the sender knows the secret to becoming filthy rich, why are they bothering to fiddle around with a mail-order business? If they're doing it for love of humanity, why don't they just post it publicly once, for free?

I can think of plenty of ways of attracting visitors. Most are common sense and are given away as free advice by the "traffic ehancement" experts as a tease for the potential customers. They're also superficial. They attract people to blogs but usually don't entice anyone to actually read the damn things. Tricky titles for posts, leaving comments on other people's blogs, including images in posts; they're well-worn features of the blog culture.

Then there are traffic exchanges. These are sites where you receive credit points for visiting member's blogs and receive reciprocal visits according to how much credit you have acquired. The same problem afflicts this concept as with much of bloggery; people want others to visit their blogs and read their writings and click on their ads...they're not all that keen on being the readers and clickers. An economic model of this pattern would feature many sellers and few buyers. Even though these sites usually have timers that require you to access a blog for a minimum period, many people seem to simply open the site, reduce the window to a size just big enough for the navigation controls to be visible and then just click on it occasionally as they do something else. So they can't even see the blog sites they're "visiting". Several of these sites also are poisoned by bad management by the site owners. They want to receive income from paying members and don't look after the non-paying accounts to a degree that would encourage them to upgrade. I had this experience at Blogsoldiers which was, unfortunately for me, the first such site I tried. I didn't know enough at that stage to recognise the signs of a dying site and I wasted a lot of time on it that would have been better spent elsewhere. The main indicator that I should have spotted is that a lot of the blogs on the site had not been updated for a long time. Their existing credits were slowly being eroded by the small remaining community of users. Having jumped on a sinking ship I paddled away for several weeks acquiring useless credits by surfing blogs which would never provide me with any traffic. This happened in the period when i was waiting for my blog to be listed. This took about three weeks and, when it happened, amazed me with the lack of result it produced. I currently have 248 credits remaining which I'm allowing to run down to nil before I delete my account there. If you're reading this blog from Blogsoldiers you must be one of the fifty or so regulars there who still haven't jumped. I recommend you do so and join me at Blogexplosion, where things are a lot more lively. The rule I follow when surfing is to at least have a look at every site I visit and scroll down and see what the general quality of the posting is. I blogmark any that attract my attention in a positive way. I figure that the exchange traffic concept is a bit like speed dating. If you discover one blog in fifty that you'd like to read and there's a prospect of developing a correspondence with its author, you're doing well.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Post#101 Want To Be PC? - It's Easy As ABC!

I usually break out the flamethrowers to defend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from the yellow cringing dogs of the Right (aaak- ptooey), but last night I heard something that wore even my Socialist patience out. A presenter on ABC Regional Radio was conducting a session in which listeners were attempting to answer each other's questions on the meaning of various sayings. One of the topics of discussion was the origin and meaning of the American phrase "Jim Crow". A listener, who had a timid manner to begin with, offered a quote from an American author which she prefaced by saying, "Now I'm quoting here, this isn't my choice of words.."

It turned out that the quote referred to racism in the USA and, inter alia, the epithet "nigger" was cited. The presenter interjected sternly, "I really wish you hadn't used that word...", further intimidating the caller. I busted out at that point with a few epithets of my own. I know that the word is as dangerous as nitroglycerine in the US. Media types there are cowed to the extent that they now use the expression "The N-word". Not without reason. For a white person who has any aspirations, to use the word "nigger" in any context is career suicide. A few years back a senior executive in a corporation there destroyed himself by unthinkingly using the expression "nigger in the woodpile" during a press conference. That's an ironic turn of events because that expression derives from the activities of the Abolitionists who ran the Underground Railway for absconding slaves. One of their tricks was to build hideouts for the slaves which would be concealed under a pile of firewood. Most people today seem to think that it means some kind of obnoxious intrusion, as with "fly in the ointment"; it actually denotes a dangerous secret, like "skeleton in the closet".

Lots of these sayings float around in the background of cultural memory and pass unnoticed until they're brought out carelessly into the unkind light of a politically correct day. The old version of "Eenie , meenie, minie, moe.." used when I was a child, contained the line "Catch a nigger by the toe!" Kids learned that by rote and didn't even know what "nigger" meant. If someone had bailed me up on that at the age of four and said "What is a nigger?", I couldn't have said whether it was animal, vegetable or mineral; real or mythical. I know what it means now. I know what goes with that word: Redlegs, Jayhawkers, Copperheads, Abolitionists, "Burning Kansas" (and Lawrence thereof), Quantrell's Raiders, Andersonville, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Shiloh and on and on. And then Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan. That word "nigger" is soaked in blood and hate. It's been spat from the mouths of men who've hauled other men up into trees with rope necklaces or dragged them, first behind horses and wagons, then Model A Fords and more recently 4x4 pickup trucks. It's been the last word heard in this world by the ears of men being flogged on a tree or tied to a burning log or hearing also the blast of close-range gunfire or the whoomp of a firebomb.

When I grew older I discovered that I was a distant relative by marriage of Ulysses Grant and that members of my father's family live still in the United States, cousins whose names and numbers I can't even guess at. Some of their kin and mine are no doubt buried in those cemeteries that contain the tens of thousands of dead from those battles. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, those great slave-driving freedom fighters, bequeathed that also with their slave Constitution. And still it goes on. I read an article in the Weekend Australian's magazine a couple of months back (when Hillary was a contender and Sarah wasn't) in which a redneck customer in a gun shop was quoted saying, "I ain't votin' for no woman and I ain't votin' for no nigger." I suppose if he kept his word he must have refrained from voting. (Praise the Lord!) Nor should we forget Mr Rodney King and his eponymous riot. "Why can't we all just get along?" he asked. Good question. Perhaps when the aliens arrive they'll tell us what it's all about. Or the AntiChrist will. Or the real Christ. Or not.

In the meantime (mean time), we battle on fighting the bushfire of bigotry, flame by flame. Perhaps that's what that twit of a presenter thought he was doing when he chided the caller for saying "nigger". I wouldn't choose to use that word about anyone. In the context of addressing someone with it or calling them by it behind their back, I surely don't want to hear it on the national broadcaster. But really, mate. Complaining because someone referred to it in the context of a discussion about racial discrimination? Being that silly just puts fuel in the tank of the likes of Janet Albrechtsen.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Post#100 "Jelly balls" may slow global warming - A story from the Sydney Morning Herald via Digg.

VAST numbers of marine "jelly balls" now appearing off the Australian east coast could be part of the planet's mechanism for combating global warming...

(Refers to the salp, an obscure invertebrate which soaks up CO2.)

read more | digg story

Monday, 17 November 2008

Post#99 George Bush Proves That Imran Khan is Right!

I haven't bothered to pay a lot of attention to the story about the leaking of Kevin Rudd's telephone conversation with George Bush, but I gather this is the gist of it:

George Bush spoke to Kevin Rudd by telephone when Rudd was at Kirribilli House and was entertaining some media folk. The Australian subsequently published a story claiming that Rudd had said to Bush that a meeting of the G20 to discuss the economic crisis would be a good idea. Bush is supposed to have responded with a puzzled "What's that?" This apparently indicated that he didn't know what the G20 was, not that he hadn't heard correctly. Now, the White house spokespersons denied this "angrily", and the US Ambassador to Australia made some representations.

Mr Rudd issued a statement to the effect that Mr Bush had not spoken those words and thereafter clammed up, basically referring to the US authorities in a "what they said" manner. Mr Rudd also repeatedly insisted that this non-existent faux would not affect US-Australian realtions, or his personal dealings with the US.

Here's the anomaly: If it didn't happen, and Mr Rudd never claimed that it did, what was there for anyone to be angry about or make representions about? The final proof that it must have happened is the calculatedly unfriendly reception that Mr Rudd received from Mr Bush at the G20 summit. Bush seemed to be deliberately lavishing affection on everybody else to emphasise the minimalist greeting which Rudd received. So if it's all just the imaginings of malicious journalists, why is Bush so offended?

By snubbing Rudd he's proven the tale true. Which brings me to Imran Khan. When Andrew Denton interviewed him recently on Enough Rope he asked Khan to describe George Bush in three words. Khan replied, with exquisite moderation, "He is not very clever."

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Post#98 Hire a Hall / Everything (The Wheel of Fortune)

I've just read The Pinstriped Prison by Lisa Pryor. It has a refreshingly clear style and is a much easier read than many works on "lifestyle". It provoked this response from fellow Perth blogger Sunili. It was seeing this post which inclined me to read it.

Pryor's work is an interesting attempt to describe and explain the way in which a small group of professions have managed to acquire elite status in the minds of aspiring students. They now lure the cream of the intellectual crop of graduates from high schools into preparatory degrees and also, subsequently, from other degree courses with no apparent relationship to the professions in question. The most impressive point that Pryor makes is that these three "glamorous" professions; management consultancy, law and banking are absorbing those who have particular talents which suit them to other professions which are subsequently impoverished for talent as a consequence. The graduates are attracted by the money and the verbose and deceptive promises of "dynamic" and exhilarating endeavours. The truth turns out to be that grunt work in glamorous professions is still grunt work. It's just intellectually harder. Wracking your brains over a client's tax position or corporate structure is really no more fun than laying cement. And none of it really breaks ground in advancing civilisation.

I found particularly resonant the description of how expenditure expands to absorb available income. I've experienced and observed this myself. I once held a middle-range position in an organisation in which the CEO didn't seem to have much more disposable income than I did. He was spending it at the same rate as he received it by keeping up the appropriate lifestyle.

On the other hand, things can be worse. I've also read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in Working Class America. The author went "undercover" as a seeker of employment as an unskilled labourer. (She discovered inter alia that no job is truly "unskilled".) The cruelty of the plight of those who are trapped in this stratum of society is very thoroughly demonstrated. The two issues are brought neatly together in Lewis Lapham's documentary The American Ruling Class which has featured on SBS in Australia.

What it comes down to, I believe, is that the "system" industries of capitalism are providing massive earnings to those who control the corporations that grease the wheels for short-term profit to be made. They need wage-slaves for their mills and this provides the impetus for the intense recruitment drive to the consulting, legal and banking industries.

The long-term effect is the devaluing of those who would make the constructive changes in technology and provide high-quality social services. Thus industrial design, architecture, teaching, nursing, etc. are driven down towards the base of the status pyramid. Those who might have once aspired to these professions see that they don't get no respect and that they're shortchanged on pay whenever those paying can manage to do it. It's a vicious circle in which the recipient of the service is treated to the efforts of a progressively dumbed-down workforce. In teamwork situations, the poorly-trained, unmotivated operators also wear out the patience and morale of their colleagues who want to do better. Guess which ones drop out in disgust.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Post #97 Tapping in and washered out.

Last night I gave up on strangling the taps in the shower to stop their insidious dripping and accepted that it was time to try the washers I'd bought. These are a new type with a recess in them to use the water pressure to buttress against itself. They're made by Doust Plumbing Products, a firm operating out of my home town, Perth, Western Australia.

Here's a link to the page on their site which explains how they work.

I found they worked pretty well but I'm having to turn the taps off harder than I expected. I'm wondering whether it's that the tap needs reseating or the newfangled washer is not up to the contents of the blurb. Time will tell.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Post#96 Hire a Hall / Everything (A rack o' bamab? Rack off Obama!!)

(Not that I've got anything in particular against him, but I can't turn on a radio or television or read a newspaper or a blog without having him for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The trend in Australia is to pronounce all the a's in his name to rhyme as "ah" and run it together, thus: "Bahrahkohbahmah". The commentators are busting a gut trying to fit it in as many times as possible in any utterance. Perhaps it's easier to say if it rhymes. I swore a blood oath on the altar of Mars that I wouldn't blog about him yesterday and I managed to refrain from joining the stampede. Sufficient unto the day was the blogging thereof...but today's another day. I think I've found an angle on this that's actually new, so here goes.)

I proved again that I won't be joining the ranks of "earning" psychics by expressing preference for a McCain victory in my Post#2, whereat I wrote:

"The US presidential election? I don't make any pretence about it; I'm well to the left of the Australian Labor Party these days. So, if I was a US citizen, who would I vote for? Clinton or Obama? John McCain. Yes, that's strange on the face of it, but true. The history books may well show the old white guy defeating the first plausible female candidate or the first black guy with a real chance. No doubt the future will judge it to be a reversion to type. Perhaps the last gasp of the old right guard. They'll be wrong. It'll be a victory for common sense. The only "qualification" the other two have is a desperate thirst to get their hands on the controls at any price. I hope not."

I wouldn't change a word of that. The intensity of preoccupation with Obama's ethnicity is the most prominent fact of this episode in history and it prompts me to propose that an interesting inversion has occurred. If I'd thought of it I'd have asked the question, "Would you vote for Obama if he was white?" A quick look in the Googlebox shows that some people did. But not very many. Now that the American electors have got it out of their systems and elected a "black" President, what does the cold light of the next morning reveal? An unknown quantity. I'm sure he's not a cryptoMuslim, soft on terrorism or a secret hater of America. But those weren't very plausible accusations, so refuting them doesn't really win many points. More dangerous and plausible is the possibility that he's overambitious and out of his depth.

On the SBS Dateline programme broadcast on the day of the election I saw George Negus ask an American commentator, "What will his first mistake be?" George didn't get an answer to that. But it's coming, nonetheless.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Post #95 Anagrams of a Mabo

A long time ago in that past which is another country; before Al Kyder and his mate Terry Wrist hung a shingle outside a cave in Afghanistan; before the infamous Israeli agent Lewinsky infellatrated her way into the White House*; back in the days when most people didn't have mobile phones; there lived a man named Eddie Koiki Mabo. And for a while his name was one of the most recognisable in the Commonwealth of Australia. I hadn't thought about him in a long while when I noticed that Obama spelt backwards is "a Mabo". No real connection of course, just a string of letters that prompted a memory. Synchronicity did her trick and provided an episode of First Australians about him last night, just to let me know She's still messing with me and that I shouldn't become complacent.

In 1992, most Australians heard of him for the first time when the High Court found in his favour in a case which became known simply as "Mabo". (It was a posthumous victory; like Moses he had died shortly before the Promised Land was opened for business.) It was the decision which established the principle that indigenous title may endure in Australia. It had all begun in a rather trivial dispute between Mabo and another native of Mer island, named Dipoma, about ownership of a small piece of land...the explosive finding on native title was a mere byproduct of this dispute. Mabo and Dipoma had been feuding for a long while over it and I heard a letter Mabo had written quoted in a TV documentary, in which he wrote, "Dear Mr Dipoma: Your letters are full of what drops off in the toilet after a good feed..." First change the world, then get down to the serious business. The decision has been the subject of so much blathering argument by spoken word and pen that I won't bother writing more on its technicalities. I find it thought-provoking for the ironies it embodies. One hundred and four years had passed since the beginning of the British Conquest of Australia. The highest of our courts had now decided that customary genealogical inheritance of land title applied in Australia, just as in Europe. Not a bad effort, really. The Vatican took much longer to concede on Galileo.

And what did it do for Aborigines in the world outside jurisprudence? Next to nothing. Just like the 1967 referendum everyone drags up, or the efforts of the tragically misguided Vincent Lingiari. He led a "successful" campaign to obtain the right to equal pay for equal work for Aboriginal workers in the pastoral industry. Without a right to security of tenure of employment or residency on the stations where they lived. Without a law preventing racial discrimination in the giving of employment. The station owners expelled the Aboriginal communities and started them on their long path to degradation as unemployed fringe-dwellers. The helpful government gave them "sit-down money" to buy the alcohol they needed for this strenuous work. They're at it to this day. But the government's coming to help them again, so they'll be alright.

Another great victory for the cause was the appointment of an Aborignal man, Douglas Nicholls, as Governor of South Australia. Everybody now forgets that he nearly renounced the position within a few days of the government announcing its intentions. He was grievously offended by the media's disrespectful harping on his ethnicity. Their approach was, essentially, to repeatedly challenge him as to whether he did not find it a wonder of the world that he was to be appointed. There was a nasty racist undertone to this: "Aren't you as amazed as us that a boong is to be Governor?" Not that "boong" was spoken. He didn't fail to hear it, though, and he was right. I remember with disgust the media pack trampling his rose bushes as they swarmed into his front yard, ignoring his furious demands that they depart, bleating their taunts. They'd never have dared it with a white pastor.

So, who said, "Change we can believe in?"

(*Oops!! Gave away an international security secret there. Well, it was a long time ago. Maybe it won't matter...)