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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tick Tick Tick: Climate Change Campaign

As we get closer to the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, it's time to get involved and let your local government members know that you're expecting more to come out of Copenhagen than a happy snap of Kevin Rudd with Princess Mary.

There is no reason why the foundations cannot be laid in Copenhagen for an internationally binding agreement on climate change.

Former Secretary of the UN, Kofi Annan, has put his support behind a campaign to mobilise people to pressure their politicians for a fair, binding and global deal on climate change in Copenhagen. Midnight Oil have lent their song Beds are Burning to the campaign. Check out the video below, then visit the website, and get involved. It's really easy to participate. Talk about the campaign with your family. Speak about it with your friends. Post the website as your facebook status. As Kofi says, "The issue is too important to leave to politicians alone."

Here are three easy things you can do:

1. Sign up as a climate change ally on the website.
2. Write a letter to your local political leader.
3. Let your friends and family know about the campaign.

Ane Brun - Don't Leave

I went to see Ane Brun last night at Cafe de la Danse. Standing in front of a floodlit stone wall and backed by what she referred to as her "Diamonds", 3 Swedish/Norwegian elf-like musicians, the Norwegian singer shared what was almost two hours of pure un-manufactured honesty with a packed Parisian crowd.

I chanced upon Ane Brun's second album about 4 years ago in a Paris record shop. One of those, "geez this is good" moments. The clarity of that voice, and the honesty of her lyrics. I bought it straight away. Her songs have travelled around with me on my ipod ever since.

A lot of Brun's songs seem to be about love, or lovers, or loving. "This next song is a bit of a bitter sweet love song", Brun remarked last night before smiling and adding ironically, "...which is a bit of a change for me".

I heard this particular song for the first time last night and was transfixed. I wasn't the only one. When she finished singing, eyes closed, head to one side and one hand raised, we held our breath for what must have been 10 seconds. We stood there in shared silence, a room full of people, stood in stillness, while the air-conditioning unit gently hummed. It was as if to clap was to break the spell, to signal the end of that moment, to acknowledge the end of something unusually special, something that is normally so unattainable to us. To breath was to admit the return of our own very attainable reality.

I've included the lyrics here, because I really believe they are special. I love the simplicity of her imagery. Here, Love is not a gushing impetuous superlative-laden blockbuster declaration of undying and untempered adoration. Love is a hand next to yours on the couch. You can hold it if you like.

Don’t ever leave
That is what you asked of me
do you know what it means
when you plead?

Don’t you ever leave
that is what you said to me
do you know what that can do
to someone like me?

It won’t do us no good
it won’t do us no good

I have no plan to be
anywhere else to but here
or to become someone that leaves
I didn’t even know there was an exit here
darling, don’t you try
to capture me

it won’t do us no good
it won’t do us no good

I am here now
I’m right here by your side
I’ll lay my hand on the couch next to you
you can hold it if you would like to

it will do you good

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Painted Face

The Lucardo Effect

What is The Lucardo Effect? It is not accepting the easy option, venturing one town further than you want to, into the unknown, with nothing to guide you but belief. It is battling the darkness when your faith in the light is at its most cynical. It is turning a corner and instantly having your eyes opened to rays of golden sun, finding that place you were looking for, with that view you dreamed about, and that light you always saw it in. The Lucardo Effect. Look it up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Through the Studio Door

I love it when bands let you into their studio. It's such an intimate experience. It's as if you've been allowed to hang out with them for a few minutes in the underwhelming normalcy of their reality.

Without the flashing strobe lights of the concert stage, they're stripped right down. We see their wrinkles and their bed hair. We see the bassist concentrating manically on his five notes.

Best of all though, we get a glimpse of the genesis of their songs, before they were mastered and remastered by producers across the globe, and we can imagine that explosion of excitement that came with the original moment of creation. I find it's a very voyeuristic experience, like I'm watching something I wasn't quite meant to see, as if I've chanced upon some special private gathering, to which I wasn't really invited.

This is Brothers on a Hotel Bed by Death Cab for Cutie. I have mentioned how much a love this song on this blog before. The album version is silky smooth. Every sound has been digitally laboured over. By contrast, the live version in this video is raw, but I think that makes it more heartfelt. I even like that the singer is slightly out of tune every know and then.

Another cool thing about this band is that they list what musical instruments and gear they use on their websites. Why don't more bands do this?

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Patriot and the Expatriate

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an extract from the City of Sydney lecture, which this year was given by John Pilger. Pilger, the 2009 recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize, is a multi-award winning Australian-born journalist by trade. He has lived most of his journalistic life in London. In his lecture, entitled Breaking the Australian Silence, Pilger criticises Australia's continued involvement in Afghanistan, our continued acceptance of the existence of a so-called "war on terror", our previous involvement in Iraq under the Howard Government, and our present "tough line" on asylum seekers. Pilger bemoans the hypocrisy of our national leadership. More disturbingly however, Pilger bemoans the hypocrisy of Australia's national identity. On the one hand, we believe you should give people "a fair go". On the other, we believe that only we should be able to chose the sorts of people to whom a fair go is given. Lastly, Pilger bemoans our benign apathy for public debate, and our good-natured belief that our governments will always do the right thing.

In the following extract, Pilger describes what he perceives to be the inbuilt affinity for indifference that plagues Australia's current identity:

"One of my favourite Harold Pinter plays is Party Time. It is set in an apartment in a city like Sydney or Melbourne. A party is in progress. People are drinking good wine and eating canapes. They seem happy. They are chatting and affirming and smiling. They are very self-aware. But something is happening outside in the street, something terrible and oppressive and unjust, for which the people at the party share responsibility. There is a fleeting sense of discomfort, a silence, before the chatting and laughing resume. How many of us live in that apartment? A friend of mine is the very fine Israeli journalist Amira Hass. She went to Gaza to live and to report for her newspaper, Ha'aretz. She explained that her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen when she saw a group of German women looking at the prisoners, just looking, saying nothing. Her mother never forgot what she called this despicable ''looking from the side''.

The suffering of the besieged people of Gaza, and of the ordinary people of Afghanistan, and of the people of Iraq, whose rapacious invader, General David Petraeus, was awarded one of Australia's highest honours in Washington on Wednesday, all lead us to the question: are we to continue to ''look from the side'', in silence?"

In Pilger's Australia, when things are good, people don't feel the need to rock the boat, even when we're awkwardly reminded that it's not always as good for some as it is for others. One might say that, viewed through the prism of Australia's relative and largely ever-increasing affluence, the "she'll be right" approach has served us pretty well. But for Pilger, Australia's perception of itself as an inclusive, easy-going, fair society is a misrepresentation of a much more complicated reality.

Enter Gerard Henderson, conservative Australian newspaper columnist and Executive Director of current affairs think-tank, The Sydney Institute. In response to Pilger's lecture, Henderson has written a stinging article, again in the Sydney Morning Herald, deploring the fact that "tax payers' money" has been spent on getting someone like Pilger to speak in Sydney, and damning Pilger as an "ideologue", who is "long on conspiracy" and "short on facts" and who regularly engages in "hyperbole against Western democracies".

Granted, Pilger's lecture is provocative (for example, on asylum seekers, he writes: "How ironic; the people in those leaking boats demonstrate the kind of guts Australians are said to admire"). He even dares to attack that untouchable nucleus of the Australian identity - the ANZAC legacy ("Do the young people who wrap themselves in the flag at Gallipoli every April understand that only the lies have changed?") . However, Pilger's expatriotic lament is somewhat disturbingly reinforced by Henderson's embarrassingly defensive diatribe reminding all just how good we've got it down under. Here is Henderson's final paragraph:

"Most Australians accept that the country has been well governed - by Labor and the Coalition alike - since Federation. Pilger hears a silence because he does not want to accept that most Australians do not share his left-wing interpretation of Australian history."

There's something so irksomely unambitious about these statements. It's not even saying, "ok John, you've probably got a point to make, and it's important that you make it, but I disagree." Instead it says, "Bloody hell John, we've got it good down here, so keep you quasi pommy comments to yourself."

Jokes aside though, Henderson's article is a classic example of the clinical eradication of public debate through shaming and of the belligerent adherence to a popular Australian identity regardless of the fact that it might not be representative of all Australians. Henderson's attempt to snuff out Pilger's questioning, and the methods that he uses, illustrates the very point that Pilger seeks to underline in his lecture.

Rather than encourage debate, Henderson's comments are instantly polarising. "Most Australians accept that the country has been well governed". So if you don't think that, you can go ahead and consider yourself "Unaustralian" - one of the most stinging epithets that one can level at a compatriot. Secondly, according to Henderson, if Pilger hears a silence - i.e. a lack of well-informed debate - it is because "most Australians do not share his left-wing interpretation of Australian history". Once again, as the reader, you are forced into the intellectual corner that if you do agree with some (let alone all) of what Pilger says, the only logical conclusion is that you are a "raging leftie" - perhaps the second most offensive epithet one can level at a compatriot. The message is, if you don't agree with these statements, you have no place in our national identity.

Henderson's writing is reminiscent of Howard's swift and skillful delegitimisation of the silent minority oft-used during his time in government. If you don't like the way things are done, (which most of us do by the way), then you're probably not fitting in properly.

For Pilger, the lack of "questioning" in Australia is indicative of the limited nature of the national curiosity for Australia's advancement, of a fear to speak out against the convenient two dimensional flag-waving, two up playing, sport worshiping patriotism of the deceivingly nebulous and ill-defined caucus of "most Australians". For Henderson, the lack of debate is indicative - quite simply - of a lack of any need for a debate. For Henderson, if there's no debate, it's because everyone agrees. And yet his reaction to Pilger is so defensive, so dismissive. What for Pilger is the endemic and self-promulgating manipulation of an Australian cultural identity that does not represent Australians, is for Henderson simply democracy at work.

For Henderson the assumption is: We've got it pretty good. Why do we need it better?
For Pilger, it is rather: We do have it pretty good. But why can't it be better?

In his second paragraph, Henderson accuses Pilger of being an "expatriate", a man with a "deep sense of alienation with the country of his birth".

And yet I want to ask four questions: if Australian democracy is working so well, why is Pilger, a "left-wing activist journalist" still living overseas? And if he cares so little for the country of his birth, why is he bothering to ask whether it can't be better than it is? Furthermore, why is the proposition that life in Australia could still improve so offensive to Henderson? And finally, which is the more patriotic, Pilger's questioning, or Henderson's refusal to hear it?

Friday, November 06, 2009


I love this photo. I don't think I have ever seen Dad look so happy. We had lunch at a beautiful cafe overlooking the Tuscan hills in San Gimignano. Just to prove it, the second photo gives you an idea of the view. Just as I went to take the photo, a couple stopped and started kissing in the foreground. When in Rome, or Tuscany, or, well... you get the idea.

Tuscany: San Gimignano

I recently spent a week in Tuscany with my Dad. Staying in San Casciano in a small B&B, we managed to negotiate our way around the Italian roads (and their Italian drivers!) to visit Sienna, Greve, Lucardo, Florence, San Gimignano, MonteFioralli and my most favourite of all, Lucca. This photo was taken from one of San Gimignano's remaining 14 towers. There were originally 72 towers but countless seiging armies have seen them disappear. The locals are still fighting today. Granted, the issues are different. These days it's more about who makes the best gelato rather than who rules the western world. And I didn't see anyone seiging per se. But it was pretty tense all the same.

Part of me thinks ...