All that is real is relevant, and all that is relevant is real

From the weekend’s Australian Financial Review:

The president of the Australian Hotels Association, Bill Healey, said every Australian employer was paying for the sins of an unscrupulous few and a highly effective union campaign that got in before society could have a “critical debate” about the “relevance of penalty rates in a 24/7 world”. [Tracy Ong, “Bewildered employers caught in AWA spotlight”]

What does he mean, ‘relevance’? ‘Relevance’ has a substantial entry in the Australian political lexicon, generally in the sense that said political force is ‘irrelevant’, in other words ineffectual, and therefore exertions to rebut its arguments are superfluous. In some ways it’s an admirably materialist epithet.

But applied to a convention of industrial relations? What does ‘relevance’ even mean here, besides the fact that hoteliers would prefer not to pay penalty rates? Healey seems to be making a rather Hegelian argument, that reality has already abolished penalty rates but the actual contracts have yet to catch up. Therefore ‘society’ must ratify relevance by holding a ‘critical debate’.

Published in: on 25 September, 2007 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Album of the hour


Sonic Youth was the band that turned me into a music collector. I first heard them when this guy Richard in my Classics class passed me his earphones and said I should listen to this song. It was a simple, driving, repetitive riff and a woman growling “now I wanna be your dog” over and over again. I asked who it was and he said “Sonic Youth” and I bought one of their albums right away to hear the song again.

That was Washing Machine, which had recently come out. That song wasn’t on it. As it happened, Richard’s family moved to England (I think) and I didn’t get a chance to ask him what album it was on. These were the days when you still had to buy albums, and my only income source was a $4/hour job I worked at after school two days a week. But one by one I bought every album they had ever released, working backwards. That song was on the last one I got – of course, it’s their Stooges cover on Confusion is Sex. (You couldn’t get their debut EP back then but eventually I found it on cassette, where the whole thing is repeated backwards on the B-side.)

Sonic Youth were a private obsession, my friends tended to be into hardcore, (we would drive into Wellington from the Hutt Valley for all-ages gigs at Thistle Hall) and my girlfriend was into other great 80s stuff like the Pixies. Neither of these were in any incompatible with Sonic Youth of course, but no-one else I knew listened to them. It set me off on a path where I generally got into music by myself, rather than socially, which the internet has only accentuated. At university I worked my way through bands that were in some way connected to Sonic Youth, tastes shifting with new discoveries until by 1999 I was listening mostly to electronic craziness like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Coil.

At that point the whole universe got dumped through the black whole of Napster and… at some point my tastes became ecumenical. I’ve developed a critic’s taste – I listen to everything, as long as it’s good, with a sense of how the scenes all fit together historically, and no deep attachment to any of them. How much this is personal and how much it’s of the epoch I’m not sure. I sure don’t regret getting access to all of recorded music history, but there are things I miss…

Tonight I played EVOL, from 1986, for the first time in several years I think. Despite having heard all too much music since I first got it, it still gets right into me. I see Pitchfork rates both Daydream Nation and Sister ahead of it in their “top 100 albums of the 1980s”. But EVOL is my favourite. It’s so damn dark, more melodic and slower than those other classics. (I’m afraid I haven’t developed a critic’s ability for actually writing about music.) But… it reminds me of a different kind of musical obsession, which is also a different time.

Published in: on 20 September, 2007 at 10:18 pm  Comments (2)  

The undeserving depressed

Lame op-ed in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald: Psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed starts with the trope about the psychiatrisation of unhappiness and segues neatly into boilerplate about ‘welfare dependency’. Recombinatory conservatism.

Ahmed is “struck” by poor people’s “amazing uptake of mental health language”:

They skilfully weave technical psychiatric language into their reporting of symptoms. As a result, comments such as “I’m pretty sure I’m coming down with a depressive disorder” or “I think I’m developing a personality defect” are not uncommon, even from people with minimal education.

One day the chattering classes are talking harmlessly (yet self-indulgently) over their lattes about how depressed they are, and the next thing you know, baristas are overhearing and passing along this newfangled discourse to their partners in recreational drug-use, and all of a sudden even people with minimal education are presenting with the symptoms of bipolar disorder!

While the middle classes debate their happiness and psychiatry acquires a cultural prestige well beyond its powers, the poor inherit the new straitjacket of psychological language.

The straitjacket comes, you see, because all these people with minimal education are blinded by all this newfangled psycho-babble from “the possibility their actions may have played a role in their problems.” And it doesn’t end there. They have the misfortune to see a psychiatrist who lacks Ahmed’s insight into the human condition, and the papers are signed condemning them to “lives of dependence and misery” on the disability pension.

The funny thing about Ahmed’s piece is that he spends the first half assuming that “people with minimal education” have passively absorbed this psychologese from their betters and believe it themselves, and the second half not-quite-insinuating that there may be some trickery going on, because the disability pension is more generous than the dole and doesn’t make the recipient jump through so many hoops. He seems to realise that many people are rationally playing the system, and his target audience is other psychiatrists, for whom his message is that they ought to be policing those with minimal education a little better.

Some brands of pop psychology, though, are apparently better than others: he launches right into familiar refrains about the “pathological symbiosis” and cycle of welfare dependency. It’s not the meaninglessness, stress and humiliation of a cycle of crap jobs that causes mental illness, it’s the disability pension! Poverty is a state of mind!

They are hardly poor in a historical sense, for they have enough money to eat and are housed, educated and medically treated by the state. In formulating their situation, poverty in this sense is more like a psychological condition than one determined by socioeconomics.

Published in: on 17 September, 2007 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Construction site, shrine, tourist destination

To mark the occasion, which seems so long ago now, here are some photos I took you-know-where last year.





Published in: on 11 September, 2007 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

If you see something…


From the Sydney Morning Herald

Police were also called to investigate a suspicious package in the ladies toilets of a Darling Harbour shopping complex this afternoon.

Having cordoned off the area, authorities discovered the package was a woman’s handbag left behind accidentally, and the hairspray and make-up were safely returned to its owner.

Published in: on 5 September, 2007 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya…

…but I’ve been really lazy. Raych was back in the home country, so I had the place to myself, and holed up in the spare room for a week to write some serious thesis. I know, sounds like the perfect opportunity for writing here, but I actually got some work done and didn’t feel much like writing anything else. In my downtime I did all kinds of things I don’t normally do (and for good reason) these days, eating junk, playing computer games, reading sci-fi… (Besides, Raych makes up roughly half this site’s readership, and if it weren’t for people googling ‘David Schirmer’ or ‘The Secret’ that share would be substantially higher.)

So the day Raych was getting back I left the cave to get some proper groceries, and there were cops everywhere, on the train, on bikes, in the shops… APEC has crept up on me.

Now like I said, I have hardly left my house in the last couple of weeks, so maybe I have missed all the posters and suspicious activity. And I’m not that good at predicting the size of Sydney rallies – they have consistently been bigger than expected, I suppose on account of the city being more populous than the home country. But I have heard far, far more hype about APEC protests from the police, the police commissioner, assorted politicians and newspapers than I have from the activists I maintain some loose contact with. Is it really going to be that big? It seems hard to believe. A lot of people in high places seem to really want it to be, though.

It goes without saying that all this security state stuff is outrageous. My question is, to what extent is it cynical and calculated, and to what extent do these people really believe their own hype? I have leaned towards the former. It would certainly be in Howard’s interest for some serious scuffling to break out, and the ‘current affairs’ shows, tabloids and talkback hosts are gagging for it. But such ridiculous things are being predicted that I’ve come to think there is some genuine fear there. Then I walk out the door this morning and these new ‘national security’ ads are all over the place: “KEEP AUSTRALIA SAFE. KEEP THE INFORMATION FLOWING. 1800 123 400 Trained operators take every phone call seriously. You can remain anonymous. National Security. Every detail helps.” (In the graphic, snatches of imaginary phonecalls: “I overheard them planning something… I felt like I had to let you know… They have a lot of pool supplies in the courtyard but they don’t have room for a pool… It’s unusual for him to be receiving deliveries like that, especially at that time of night… I know this person who has downloaded a lot of documents from suspicious websites…”)

Do you laugh or cry? I have to admit, again, I’m still leaning towards the former.

Published in: on 4 September, 2007 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment