The Null Device


Senator Alston, that Savonarola of Canberra, has condemned the ABC for anti-US bias in its news reporting, possibly signalling a new round of political purges within the ABC.

The dossier of alleged examples is heavily critical of AM presenter Linda Mottram, instancing a series of reports in which the journalist referred to the US Government's "propaganda war" and described the death of three journalists as a "body blow" to the coalition's campaign that "undermined the Pentagon's claim that it is waging a compassionate war".

Of course, given the fact that left-wing idealists gravitate to state-run non-profit newsmedia (right-wing idealists are either Randian/Thatcherite free-market platygaeans who abhor the very notion of state-run media as interference in the perfection of the market or else religious moralist types who don't trust a Godless state interfering in their work), the effect of purges would be brief, unless Alston appoints a permanent office of witchfinder-general to keep hunting down those pesky Communists. Either that or bans the ABC from news/current-affairs reporting, restricting it to a mandate of "relaxed and comfortable" lifestyle programmes and those British comedies too crappy for pay-TV to buy the rights to. I know; perhaps they could cut the ABC's news budget to 0 and do a deal to licence content from FOXNews or someone.

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WASHINGTON, DC--With the nation safely distracted by the NBA playoffs, Congress passed the terrifying Citizenship Redefinition And Income-Based Relocation Act of 2003 with little opposition Monday.

Andy Guthridge of Savannah, GA, is among the estimated 240 million Americans unaware of the sweeping package of civil-liberties curtailments, voting-privilege re-qualifications, and mandatory relocation of the working poor to the Dakotas. "Man, I was so glad to see the Lakers finally get knocked off," said Guthridge, who was glued to TNT while the bill's passage aired on C-SPAN. "Shaq and Kobe and the rest of those dicks have had it coming for a long time."

Meanwhile, in the same issue of The Onion, Bassist Unaware Rock Band Christian:

"Jack's amazing," Rolen said. "He writes all these super-heavy, Metallica-influenced tunes like 'My Master' and 'Blood Of My Father,' but then he'll turn around and write a killer love song like 'Thank You (For Saving Me).'" "Actually, Jack writes a lot of songs about chicks," Rolen continued. "'Your Love,' 'When You Return,' 'I Confess'... I don't know if they're all about the same girl or lots of different ones, but one thing's for sure: Jack loves the pussy."
"At the audition, [drummer] Greg [Roberts] said Pillar Of Salt was going for a Believer-meets-Living Sacrifice sound," Rolen said. "I didn't know jack about either of those bands, but I knew I could play bass like a motherfucker, and that's what got me the gig. Afterwards, I asked Greg what Living Sacrifice sounded like, and at the first practice, he gave me a tape. It's not Slayer, but it rocks. He's given me some other stuff by Whitecross, Third Day, and Stigmata. I've always prided myself on knowing metal, but these guys put me to shame. They must really have their ears to the ground to know all this music I've never heard before."

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I've just heard that the ABC is showing In the Realm of the Hackers, a local documentary about two hackers/crackers from late-1980s Melbourne, their exploits and the law's pursuit of them, tomorrow (Thursday) night at 10PM. I saw this in the cinema earlier this year, and can recommend it.

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Concept of the day: taste tribes, a somewhat gimmicky name for the phenomenon by which tastes in different categories cluster. (I.e., two people who like books by Author A are more likely than not to like music by Band B, or have political opinion C, or somesuch.) This makes for a useful heuristic for finding potentially interesting things, without exhaustively searching the entire space of ideas.

Where this becomes really interesting is when taste cross-pollinates between one medium and another. The guy in the Kraftwerk t-shirt may recommend that I read Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. On the surface, there is no direct connection between Kraftwerk and Douglas Coupland. But underlying both of these signifiers is a whole world of shared cultural assumption and contextualization. Not to mention the unspoken trust implicit in the transaction of ideas, which goes something like this: the guy in the Kraftwerk shirt is obviously an individual of high intellectual quality, because he likes the same things I do. Therefore, his recommendation is likely to be of the same high quality. Nobody thinks this consciously, of course - to do so would be to admit to a certain egotism about one's own intellect and taste. But we all think it nonetheless. This person likes cool stuff, therefore, they must be cool, too. Again, it might be superficial - but it turns out to be correct most of the time.

He goes on to tie this in with the phenomenon of blogs-as-commentary, or as advertisement of one's interests/tastes.

Many people - myself included - use their blog not only as personal diaries, but as a sort of informal critical journal. Surf any random blog and you'll find a few reviews of books, movies, albums, or concerts. Because bloggers are not under the same commercial constraints as mainstream media sources, the length and subject of these reviews tends to be far more diverse - one blogger may write a 2,000 word critical essay about the Clash's London Calling, another might write a 500 word review of the local band they saw last night. I might write twelve different pieces about Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska while drunk, and probably have.
While it might be argued that this tendency to publish one's opinions is somewhat self-indulgent, the same can be said of professional criticism. My personal experience as both a blogger and professional journalist is that the level of quality in the blogosphere is pretty much on par with the mainstream media, which perhaps says more about the mainstream media than anything else.

IMHO, using blogs to kibbitz about electroclash or avant-pop literature (or just about ideas/concepts in general, i.e., whether "electroclash" or "avant-pop literature" are overrated/a load of rubbish or not) is a lot less self-indulgent than using blogs to kvetch about one's (lack of a) girlfriend or expound one's daily routine in excruciating detail. Or, as some Portuguese blogger called it, "masturbating in front of a mirror". But I digress.

It happens because minds think alike - great minds, lesser minds, minds that really love Jean-Luc Godard or Kenneth Cole or the booming garage-rock scene. The Russian lap dancer who links to my ninth drunken review of Nebraska is likely to be someone whose tastes I instinctively get - like the theoretical guy in the Kraftwerk t-shirt I mentioned at the beginning. If she likes Nebraska, she probably likes the Cowboy Junkies. She might read Flannery O'Connor (whose short stories heavily influenced Springsteen when he was recording the album). If she doesn't, I can suggest these media to her. And in return, she can turn me on to some vastly beautiful and eminently depressing Ukrainian alternative country band that I would never, ever have come in contact with otherwise. She is another member of my taste tribe, and we can introduce each other via our links to others like us.

But wait, there's more! This also ties in to the concept of decentralised discovery of good music, and the impending death of the RIAA and extinction of the manufactured Britney-clone armies. (via Die Puny Humans)

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The latest from the frontiers of science: in the future, gravestones and other such memorials may be replaced by trees containing the DNA of the deceased. Though whether people would want to eat apples containing their grandmothers' DNA is a cultural question yet to be answered. Meanwhile, science has found the perfect eyebrow shape, bringing humanity one step closer to a race of superhumanly beautiful cyborgs.

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This looks like a fun book: Lucky Wander Boy, about an over-intellectual video-game connoisseur's quest for an ultra-rare game. Some excerpts:

Who doesn't love "Frogger"? It draws its power from our shared memories of powerlessness. Wherever we are now, at one time or another we have all felt the poor frog's anxiety in the face of the world's intransigence, its blind and callous disregard for our happiness or well-being. We are not killing anything in "Frogger," except the occasional fly. It is all we can do to stay alive, avoid the fast cars, snakes, gators and weasels long enough to get a lady frog and make it to the top of the screen for our moment of rest. More than anything else, we'd love to stay in that Frog Haven forever, existing in a state of amphibian bliss -- but we are forcibly dislodged, and have to repeat the whole ordeal. Most of our antagonists do not even know we exist. They are not "after" us. We are not a target. We are just in the way.
And the world of "Double Dragon" is a world of car ads and wanted posters and brick buildings, not the iconic idea of a building we see in "Donkey Kong," but recognizable individuated buildings. The Classic games were Classic because, like classical music or architecture, they strove to give life and weight to ideals of order and proportion, to provide a vision of timelessness. In "Double Dragon," we can see the cracks in the brick, the mold growing on the drainage pipes, the unmistakable deterioration of the world we live in. We are thrust rudely back into time. When I put a quarter into an arcade machine or call up an emulated game on my computer, I do it to escape the world that is a slave to the time that makes things fall apart. I have never played these games to occupy my world.

(via TechDirt)

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Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology have written a program which identifies the sex of an author by their word usage frequency. Apparently women use relationship-related words like "with" and "for", whereas men use more specific and absolute words like "the", "this" and "as"; which brings us back to the old rock-logic/water-logic cliché.

The results showed that the words favoured most heavily by men were what grammarians call determinative words such as "the," "a," "as," "that" and "one." Female writers favoured "she" and relationship words such as "for," "with," "in," "and" and "not."
"This is surprising, since, unlike conversation, writing a book or an article does not involve direct social interaction"

Hmmm; if one wrote up such a program and applied it to, say, blogs on the web, I wonder what proportion it would sex accurately.

Update: the paper may be found here (though you have to subscribe to get the PDF). However, there is also a copy on the personal page of Prof. Moshe Koppel, one of the authors. And it appears that they're from Israel, not Illinois. (Perhaps the journalist confused the abbreviations?)

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I went along to the Fair Go 4 Live Music meeting at Trades Hall this evening. There were a lot of people there; the meeting room was packed solid, and many people who showed up later had to listen to proceedings on speakers placed outside, in the bar. A number of speakers spoke: Sandra from the Empress (who's leading this fight, faced with her own yuppie neighbour from hell), a home-owner from Sydney who sued to shut down a pub (apparently a really badly run one, though) and gave some advice on the good fight, and one of the people involved in a similar battle in Adelaide, which ended with victory and legal reforms (partially) protecting venues from noise complaints.

Points which came up: telephoning or writing letters to politicians/councillors is a good idea, as is writing to newspapers (the major ones, as well as local community papers and ethnic papers) explaining the issues (in a nutshell, that the current regulations are biased against established venues, allowing new residents to shut them down with a single complaint, not recognising that the venues contribute to the local community, and placing no burden on real-estate developers to inform their clients of the locale or install soundproofing). Getting an established spokesperson, even if they're "not cool", may be good; the general public would respect a campaign fronted by, say, John Farnham, more than one fronted by Machine Gun Fellatio. Finally, the residents aren't the enemy (regardless of how many jibes about Saab-driving warehouse dwellers one hears); the problem is the unfair and unreasonable regulations.

So far, it looks good. With the momentum building up, we may well come out of this with our live music scene intact; though we can't afford to be complacent. So if you don't want to see Melbourne turn into Sydney or someplace, phone your MLA, or write a letter to your newspaper. Or both.