The Null Device
UK indie band Spearmint have a new fans-only acoustic CD. Titled "The Boy And The Girl That Got Away", it features nine songs written especially for an acoustic tour earlier this year, and may be found at Spearmint's label's website:
This album is strictly limited and will not be available in high street shops or from other websites. Featured tracks are:
Your New Gay Friend
Your Southern Skies
Some Men Are Like That
Why I'm Sad
A Little Better
Alone In A Town
Another Gloomy Sunday
The latest advance in Windows worms is a worm which takes over people's instant-messaging accounts and chats to their friends, attempting to talk them into downloading it; in short, an automated form of social engineering:
According to IMlogic, the worm, dubbed IM.Myspace04.AIM, has arrived in instant messages that state: "lol thats cool" and included a URL to a malicious file "clarissa17.pif." When unsuspecting users have responded, perhaps asking if the attachment contained a virus, the worm has replied: "lol no its not its a virus", IMlogic said.Which suggests that the Turing test may be easier to pass in an environment where people start messages with "lol". If your friends suddenly turn into giggling prepubescents and start trying to convince you to download a file, you know what's happening.
I wonder whether this will lead to an arms race in worm conversational abilities. Perhaps the next one will trawl message logs and pick out phrases/words used by that contact (or use them to change its own writing style)?
Two stories have recently made the Australian press: firstly, the government pushed through its sweeping "anti-terrorism" laws, rolling back presumptions of free speech and civil liberties taken for granted with no meaningful resistance; there being nothing in the way of a formal guarantee of rights in Australia, post-Whitlam institutions of free speech and civil liberties crumbled like so many sandcastles in the path of an incoming tide. Secondly, there was mass outcry as a convicted drug smuggler, Nguyen Tuong Van, was executed in Singapore, only to be reborn as a national symbol alongside the likes of Ned Kelly and Breaker Morant, with unofficial national moments of silence at the time of his execution and numerous strangers attending his funeral to pay their respects. It is quite likely that shrines will be erected in his honour.
On the surface, the two stories seem contradictory: though, on a deeper level, they are an example of the larrikin-wowser dynamic at the heart of Australian society. The crucial point being that Australia does not have a strong tradition of civil society. It has a strong tradition of authoritarian and paternalistic governance (from the penal-colony days, through the Menzies era to the present, minus an anomalous period of fashionable liberalism in the 1970s, 80s and 90s) and arbitrary authority exercised as a means to an end (such as has been manifested in the oft-publicised incidents of police corruption), and of censorious social conservatism of the sort that would not fly in more cosmopolitan parts of the world. It also has an opposing tradition of borderline contempt for authority and propriety; the larrikin tradition, manifesting itself in everything from the Rum Rebellion to the stencil art scene, not to mention in numerous incidents of political, artistic or cultural radicalism or impropriety and, of, course the summary transformation of anyone who dies in the course of pissing off authority — even if they were undoubtedly guilty of unsavoury crimes (and most Australians, presumably, do not condone armed robbery or heroin trafficking in principle) — into a folk saint of sorts, as we are seeing now.
That's all very well, but the downside of this is that there is no centre to hold between the two; no entrenched, stable institutions of a liberal culture, but only a precarious balance in an ancient war between two extremes. Usually, these are well balanced, and things stay roughly where they are. Occasionally, one gets the upper hand, pushes the other back, and gains ground. It happened during the 1960s and 1970s, when the wave of cultural change that resonated through the Western world pushed back the the conservative status quo of Anglo-Saxon Protestant wowserism, itself undermined by the challenges of immigration and cosmopolitanism; it's happening in the opposite direction now, because of terrorism and the resulting culture of fear.
As of today, it is a crime in Australia to make any statement that inspires discontentment with the monarchy (there goes the Fenian wing of the republican movement), either house of parliament, or any of Australia's allies (looks like Brendan Nelson finally has a stick to use against the "anti-American" teachers he has been griping about). So you'd better lay off the unkind remarks about fat SUV drivers, Australians.
I wonder whether Australia's allies include Singapore, China or Saudi Arabia, and, if so, how much criticism of these states' human rights record or democratic credentials is allowable.
As for claims that the government won't use the sedition laws, the Scott Parkin incident suggests otherwise. A few months ago, they arrested and deported a US anti-globalisation activist who was about to give a workshop on non-violent demonstration. Back then, they would have been unable to act against him had he been an Australian citizen. Now the gloves are off, and all protest or dissent more vigorous than writing polite letters to a newspaper is essentially a crime. Australia is moving closer to being like Singapore, where activism is reserved for those with nothing left to lose, and there are severe disincentives to rocking the boat in any way (see also: "relaxed and comfortable").
The fact that Labor whipped its MPs to vote in favour of the sedition law, even with the Tories not needing their support, is depressing, and doesn't bode well for Australia becoming a liberal democratic society again within the next decade or so. Perhaps the period of liberalism and civil rights of the past 3 or so decades was an anomaly, and in the longer, historical sense, authoritarianism (from the penal-colony days to the first Menzies era of which Howard is so fond) is the Australian norm?