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The Lucky Country

It is a tragic irony of Australian existence that a country -- a continent -- the size of Europe can be so much the same shore to shining shore.

Among its 23 million peoples there is seemingly very little difference one person from the other.

We speak the same language. Deploying the same accents. Follow the same sports. Watch the same TV channels.

We are Rupert Murdoch’s  play things. Hell -- he’s one of ours.Local boy makes good.

The most monopolized media networks in the western world make sure that the political debate doesn’t drift too far to the left.. We may have a national broadcaster -- modeled on the BBC -- but that too is very much under threat today.

In this mix is the long standing national expectation that this is  indeed ‘the lucky country’.  

Aside from a comparatively buoyant economy sustained by the boom in mining and mineral prices, we have not known civil war, famine, political cataclysm, invasion or relentlessly bad cricket scores. 
(Duration: 5:51 — 9.8 MB)


Stuck in the South Pacific -- a first world country surrounded by various foreign lands we seem blessed. Despite the turmoils to the north over the years, the  mass slaughter of at least half a million  communists next door in Indonesia in 65/66, the Vietnam War savagery, the long term genocide of the people of East Timor…Australia could go about its capitalistic business as though its marooned in fairyland.

The wee scattering of islands to the east in the South Pacific may be sinking under rising climate-change driven seas but all we see on our shoreline are sandy beaches and an excuse for a suntan.

This sense of containment  has been fueled for over 200 years by the overbearing dominance of Anglo Celtic peeps as the root stock of the country’s existence. The keen attempt to wipe out the indigenous population may not have worked as it was intended   but for most of its existence the country has had a White Australia policy.

Supposedly ‘we’ know who we are. As the Labor Party immigration minister quipped in the 40s, “Two Wongs don’t make a white’.

This sameness  is sustained by xenophobia. Fear of the ‘Yellow Peril’ was utilized as a backbone of Australia’s foreign policy for decades. The nation ignored Asia and preferred to mix it with 'ole Blighty. If anything Asia was seen as a series of land masses that only served as potential stepping stones for godless communism.The domino effect dominated national consciousness.

To defend the land from the occupation of the REDS -- Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian  or Malay -- Australia  made a pact with the United States and the ongoing alliance has ensured that there is hardly a bang up shooting  war worth fighting that Australian hasn’t got a hand in.

Our government cheer-squaded any and every US invasion. It garages its bases. And defers to its foreign policy interests.

When the country sought to top up its population in the post war years  it begrudgingly allowed non English speaking Europeans into the place and later engineered the demographics under cover of the nationalist ideology of multiculturalism. And lo! folk started migrating here from all over.  This shift  didn't have anything to do with opening up the country to ‘huddled masses yearning to be free’ but it was a gesture to those markets --like Asia, the local bourgeoisie sought to draw their profits from.

Walking through the Central Business District of any Australian state capital today you’d think the place was some melting pot of all the world's peoples. In the street would be people of Chinese, Arab, Slavic, Maori, Italian...or whatever descent. You’d presume that fortress Australia -- the chronic isolationism of the country -- had been drowned in  a melting pot of mixed ethnicity.

You’d be very much mistaken.

Australia is much more racist today than it has been for over 50 years. A conscious tag team exercise, sponsored by both the country’s Labor Party and the local Tories, has bought back a xenophobia  under sponsorship of the War on Terror. 

And in an irony of political manipulation there is a new push to base the national identity on its Anglo Celtic past rather than its ‘multicultural’ present.

Indeed if you were wondering what ever happened to the old South Africa with its apartheid habits and sharply divisive racism -- I tell you: it crossed the Indian Ocean and now resides in Australia.

This country may not have a  crudely xenophobic racist outfit like UKIP rising in the polls. We don’t need it. The duopoly of the two main political parties -- the ALP and the LNP -- are doing a fine job of racist bashing  and blaming by themselves.

If you check out Australia's standing on human rights -- according to the United Nations --  in the way the country incarcerates  asylum seekers,   manufacturers and treats ‘terror suspects’, or suppresses the aboriginal population -- we’re up there among some of the most autocratic countries on the planet.  
 Way to go Australia: Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!.
We’re not just good at sport, making Kylie Minogues or servicing Dame Edna Everidge with anecdotes...Australia has engineered a very nasty attack on civil liberties at a time when the true depth of austerity and economic downturn has not hit. 

How smart is that? We have a boss class that thinks ahead. 

How lucky can any one country be?
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Recent political cartoons about Messrs Abbott and ALP

To enlarge just click on the image to partake of its message in greater detail.
As it turns out, 'Heroes of Bi-partisanship' may be my most popular political comic so far. It seems pretty sharp and savage and I like that edge immensely. Often  my  cunical take is lost of many people and they miss the 'joke'. I suspect hardly any one got 'No way'.  I guess seeing the consequences of 'Sovereign Borders' through its own obscene POV  and spin didn't register. Check out the archive HERE.

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Some recent cartoons:Abbott, Queensland elections

What with the Abbott shenanigans and the fall of the LNP from government in  Queensland  the political universe has been  kind to satire.

Click on images to enlarge view...
For my money --since I'm the only one paying -- both my technique and my confidence is improving. I reckon 'We had such big plans ...' is one of the best synthesis I'm assembled. Check out the archive HERE.


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The ready conflation of 'freedom of speech' fillip with free-for-all racism

Most satirical cartoonists I follow tend not to agree with Joe Sacco's take on CH. 

But I do.

The ready conflation of 'freedom of speech' fillip with free-for-all racism seems to have missed their perspective, at least within the black and white constraints of comic making.
But Sacco attempts to express the complexity of the context and reflect that back on the responsibilities of satirists.

At issue ultimately is calling out CH for what it is and for what it does. That's not the same as advocating that satire be censored. 

Unfortunately the whole 'Je suis Charlie' thing will transit a pandemic of public Islamophobia under guise of 'freedom of speech' and the most racist dog in any land will be celebrated for their courage and POV.

Under cover of 'satire' -- more public racism against Moslems, more excuses for rolling back civil liberties and a festering rationale for either killing more of 'them' offshore and xenophobia.

"Freedom of speech" historically is supposedly about empowerment and democracy -- enabling the oppressed and brutalised to articulate their protest. 

So how does that stack up with the current fall out?


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We'd rather fight Climate Change

Click on image to enlarge view


We'll spend $29.3 billion on defence this year -- at least 1.6 % of the GDP -- but since 2003 the Commonwealth has spent just $8 billion on emergency relief, with only $115 million since 2009 going to mitigation measures.
 This is Australia after all... in the stranglehold of Climate Change. 
So is this perverted or what?
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Terra Australis Proprietary Limited

The Reserve Bank in conjunction with the federal Treasury is making arrangements for turning the whole country into a limited liability company. 

And lucky you:every Australian citizen will be offered shares in the float. The new enterprise will take over the country as a going concern, together with all available assets, pre-existing good will, gold reserves and debenture stocks.

This novel initiative is a logical consequence of the currently very popular trend towards privatisation. 

We're fast-tracking it, that's all. 

The formation of Terra Australis Proprietary Limited and its listing on the nation's stock exchanges is intended to shore up the local share market at a time when investors could do with an injection of confidence.

The present zigging and zagging of the All Ordinaries does no-one any good. Your everyday, run-of-the-mill Aussie battler-type person could do without such uncertainty.

Furthermore, the overbearing pressure of state debt will be a thing of the past. This way we settle up and wipe the slate clean in one swoop without having  to  put up with all this relentless  year in year out budget rigmarole.

Every year the same ole same ole…






(Duration: 2:40 — 2.9MB)




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You can take comfort in my presence

GOOD NEWS! I have survived another year. The smiling dial that marks me out has not changed one smidgin in yonks. I'm ageless, that's what I am. I'm still the same bloke I was way back when ; still my dear old mother's son, the crème de la crème of the Highett Rileys in the prime of his wonderful life.

How can this be, you may ask. Surely one day he must be touched by cruel time?

My resilience from the toll life levies rests on a little-known feature of my existence: I'm the second son of God.



(Duration: 2:45 — 3.0MB)
Music: Hopeful Ambience -- Richard Culver September 9th, 2013 (FreeSound)



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Through my own fault

I am not usually one for public confessions, but I feel that something must be said. You can imagine how difficult this is for me to admit to. I am just an ordinary Joe Blow trying to make their own way in the world. There's nothing special about me. And since there's not, maybe what I have to say many of you can relate to.

I'm different, perhaps, because in this matter I'm more in touch with my feelings than you are (or maybe it's just the way I was bought up). When the consequences of my actions dawned on me I, personally, found the guilt overwhelming.

In order to seek some relief, at least allow me to confess what I have done.

You know that huge budgetary shortfall the new federal government is talking so much about? The one that seems so hard to addres without financial pain and suffering... 

I caused that. Little ol' me — through my own carelessness and selfishness — drove this country so deeply into debt.

But how can one person, you ask, be responsible for debts of such a grand scale? I, on my lonesome, of course, wasn't that wasteful. But me and a few million others like me can do a whole lot of damage when we throw caution to the wind.


(Duration: 4:03 — 1.9MB)



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Mr Spermatozoon finds a home

Pick a day — any day — and there is sure to be a lot of human semen entering the world from private parts unknown. What it gets up to — when it gets out there — is anyone's guess.

Each day there's buckets of the stuff discharging forth half a teaspoon at a time. If we were to check the manifest, despite the current trend for low numbers, 200-300 million spermatozoa are on board bravely going where no wriggly thing has gone before. Just imagine how many sperm are sent on a mission each Saturday night! What with one thing and another, most of them are going to be dead by breakfast. 

Such is life ... for sperm. 

Lest we forget them.

If it wasn't for those few who make it, where would the patriarchy be today. For millennia we just thought milking males for semen was a fun thing to do. We didn't know it could help make babies. And now that we do, every sperm is suddenly so very sacred — so sacred that we are encouraged not to spill a single drop.

(Duration: 2:32 — 1.8MB)



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Meme images



The top image is the most popular I've done. the slogan comes from Alex Bainbridge, the Socialist Alliance national co-convenor -- but I'm dedicated to the graphic as it gave me an opportunity to pay homage to John Heartfield.

Unfortunately some folks don't get it.

Click on images to enlarge view.
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Un-Australian quiz

The graphic grew out of some online discussions. My guess is that a lot of people hate it but others love it --  maybe, I hope, because it is so vicious. Regrettably it is true. 
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Trespassers Prosecuted

Here we are, somewhere in the South Pacific. That's the big picture: a big brown stain in a puddle.

Those in the know didn't know about this spot for some time. It was terra incognito — the secret country.

The first civilised person (by that I mean someone who wore underpants) to visit these shores was Lemuel Gulliver. 

I’m sure you have read of his adventures.

His visit down-under was to the outback settlement of Lilliput, which was located in the inland region of what is now known as Western Australia.

See if I'm right. Gulliver's first journey ignored the big dry bit in order to have himself pegged out on a beach at some distance from the briny and within cooee of Uluru. 

This spot is not now listed on any Admiralty chart, but back then it must have been. 

Kathump! Gulliver lands in WA and the cute little Lilliputians take him to their hearts. They feed him and clothe him, and besides the bits that get edited out for the sake of the kiddies, a good time is had by big and small.

What if Gulliver were washed up today?


(Duration: 3:08 — 3.0MB)



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No one podcast fits all

Why did  I ever drift away from audio! I could be quite skilled up by now if I had remained focused and engaged.

Just saying...

Aside from my own in-house tech issues and angst, the New York Times captures a more general trend when it wrote recently:
And then, sometime around 2009 or 2010, the podcast scene seemed to wither. The stalwarts ("This American Life," "Radiolab") stayed around at the top of the iTunes charts, but there wasn't much else happening. Download numbers fell. Interest waned. People moved on to online video and streaming music services as a way to pass the time.
I think that's very true --  video killed the podcast stars. Well, maybe not 'killed them' so much as winged them. So I wasn't alone.

But the NYT also captures the new trend -- a renaissance -- and that's the exciting part because the gadgetry is better and cheaper for those who seek to move away from their desktop, like me.

But let's not get too juiced up because despite the growth in podcasting it  is not comparable to main station  radio in way of listener numbers. As Ashley Milne-Tyte points out,"Most of us are laboring away in a vast, overpopulated digital landscape, trying to be heard above the din."

She's doing alright with 10,000 listeners, a respected podcast (The Broad Experience), highly recommended in review. But that's the drill: podcasting by niche: in Milne-Tute's case, woman in the workplace.

Indeed to go looking for podcasts to listen to is all about trawling for specific niche and subject matter. No one podcast fits all.

Nor is it easy to determine where radio stops and podcasting begins as there is so much cross over -- albeit skewed by music copyright law. Nonetheless,  while radio has veered  to becoming something of a generic swamp, podcasting is dynamic audio ecology,with an open ended agenda still unknown.The irony being that through the medium of podcasting you access the best of what radio has to offer.

That said, this time around I'm more aware of my niche.I have a cunning plan....at least in my head. The size of the audience isn't the issue -- it's the journey and my own satisfaction with the audio I produce. It amazes me that i can go back to podcasts I produced  five and six years ago and be taken with  their verve, advocacy and accomplishment. You can't do that with video it seems to date much more easily I guess because its content is less 'dense'.

Take this episode, for instance -- Choosing with Work Choices. The two channel stereo  interplay is a bit annoying  but what I've done is captured a historical moment during the trade union response to John Howard's  industrial legislation by mixing in actual protests with satirical takes.

It can standalone.

Today I'm not so keen to produce 'shows' with segments. Today I'm interested in generating standalone segments that stand or fall on their own merits. No fluff. No packaging. Short and, hopefully, sweet.

I may suck as a text editor but I do cut a mean audio track.

It's all about montage -- audio montage -- laid out on a RSS feed. Like a comic with its panels.
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Every home should have one

I wonder if I could have a few moments of your time?

I feel that it is my responsibility sometimes to remind the reading public that a society such as ours goes about its everyday business often with strict regard to certain well-established norms of behaviour.

In this regard, I wonder if I could prevail upon you — it will only take a moment — to reach down between your legs and see if you can locate something to grab onto. You don't need to go far — just keep searching at arms length in a region often referred to as the crotch.

More than likely you'll know what I'm talking about as many of you no doubt find an excuse to visit this locale several times a day. In your hand is a tackle box. If you don't possess this item of anatomy, I need trouble you no longer. You can go back to the crossword.

The rest of you should not take this opportunity to spend an undue amount of time down there exploring a structural component which you are perhaps already quite familiar with. You can adjust it. Hitch it up. That will do. All I'm interested in is reminding you that it's there.




[3 mins 13 secs   3.1 MB]



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A Podcast Perspective

I was planning on concluding my series on podcasting with a few considered recommendations, but I seem caught between what I may do, and what others could.

To recap, I've been waffling on about web audio, media and podcasting  in the context of what I see is the online here and now.
My thoughts -- such as they are...

I want to now  put together what I see as a 'news and views' podcasting niche which I think is viable. 

1.Frequency 

Audio is easy to create, edit and publish such that it is on par with online text in the way it comes together. After recording you can edit up in Audacity as quickly as your skills allow. Converting to an mp3 file is seamless and once you upload  to a file host you'll have an url to share. It can be a very quick turnaround.

An hour, for instance:
Record >Edit >Convert >Publish
So doing daily podcasts is very feasible. Of course that's a  tight schedule. But if several people were contributing audio to the one show, daily, or almost daily, episodes are a collective possibility.

While there are many daily podcasts online, I think the best examples of daily news generation from a radical perspective are Palestine Today -- produced by the International Middle East Media Centre -- and Free Speech Radio News (FSRN)-- before they were forced to publish weekly alone.

Both podcasts' working model was to generate daily (work week) segments as well as  a regular weekly bulletin which aggregated the best stories collected from over the week.So listeners got to choose what they listened and subscribed to.

2.Length

One big advantage of audio is that the  file size is a lot smaller than video files, so playing, or starting and stopping,  is easier and quicker than with watching video. This means that a listener can more easily jump about within an episode. This is why many long podcasts also supply a list of segments within each episode with their time markers.

You can listen to audio  while doing other tasks -- either online or offline -- the sweet spot for podcast length seems to be 10-20 minutes. Democracy Now! runs daily as an hour podcast, but it's still very feasible to browse each episodes content by fastforwarding through the playing file.

In the case of FSRN and Palestine Today, a segment may be only 2-3 minutes long but the aggregation of daily segments in the one weekly shared file is going to be 10-15 minutes long.

3.Content: News and Views

FSRN and Palestine Today are both hard news programs whereas Democracy Now! is primarily based on interviews. This explains some of the length differences, but if you go to the local daily news podcasts as published by the ABC  Radio-- such as AM or The World Today -- you'll get a very smart mix of both.

Of course there is no  rule book for content. As far as eclecticism goes the Central Australia Aboriginal Media Association manages to offer a very broad mix of audio segments on its website without actually packaging them as standalone 'shows'. You'll note too, how creatively CAAMA employs the occasional video and images..and that the site, aside from generating a 5 minute daily news bulletin, doesn't follow scheduled programming online.

Indeed,  the Canadian alt news site, Rabble.ca is a hub of podcasts. Its full name is the Rabble Podcast Network (RPN).
The rabble podcast network is a growing collection of Canadian podcasts that offer an alternative take on politics, entertainment, society, stories, community and life in general. They've been handpicked and are hosted on a platform created by rabble.ca, Canada's leading online news service for the progressive left.
Podcasts are short, web-based audio shows you can download as MP3 files.That's the same format used for most music on the Internet. Once you download a podcast, you can listen to it on your desktop computer or laptop, or transfer it to your iPod or other MP3 music player and take it on the road with you.
Most podcasts are produced by ordinary folks with just a computer, a microphone and opinions or ideas they want to share. We think podcasts are the most democratic medium to come along since, well, the Internet itself. That's why we've created rabble radio.

4.Podcasts and Radio

Many news podcasts are generated as part of radio programming and shared online. Melbourne's 3CR does this, for instance,as does the ABC. But it also happens that some programs (or episodes) begin life as podcasts and are later aired on radio. Indeed there are sites dedicated to sharing online audio for broadcast such as Radio4All and Archive.org .(And that's just the tip of what's out there.)In Australia this phenomenon has been limited by community radio's slow transition to going digital because of funding difficulties, but that's been changing.Another limiting factor can be the presumed poor audio quality of podcasts among radio audiophiles. However, I've found that in-station engineers are quite capable of  improving a segment's sound quality and making up for the  deficiencies in the original audio file.

But my point is that if a particular niche was filled with online audio it could  be broadcast by some community radio stations. Democracy Now! is broadcast locally by 3CR for instance and shared on by the CBAA, just as many local community radio-produced shows are aired around the country.

5. Advertising, Sharing and Control

One of the great advantages podcasting (or web audio) has over YouTube is that it doesn't suffer from advertising inclusions. So folk get your stuff and no one else's.

While YouTube lends itself to  viral take offs, podcasting is nowadays similarly shareable using such platforms as Soundcloud and today most web browsers will open an mp3 url in its own tab and start playing it. Just click on an mp3 file link and Voila! Instant audio. 

The mp3 files can be easily downloaded and played offline. The links can be shared by email  but you really need a platform like Soundcloud to showcase the audio on facebook. Here's an example of how soundclouding works on facebook: The Bugle Podcast.

As HTML5 takes off, it has also proven very easy to generate online players to showcase audio. Many flash players are proprietary, but coding HTM5 into your show is a very easy copy and paste-- and most browsers will read the code as a clickable online player that will run the file on the same page as the rest of the post.

Here's an example:

 

I won't go into detail about podcast engineering -- RSS feeds and such  --suffice to say is that what makes a podcast a podcast is that the 'show' as a series of posts generates a feed that can be subscribed to.

Maybe most sites online today generate feeds, news sites especially.Green Left Weekly's taxonomy creates feeds, for instance -- such as 'Comment and Analysis' --and feeds can be read and subscribed to in feed readers and podcatchers.

Depending on your subscribing platform you can selectively or automatically download the feed (and audio/media) content, just as you can opt to listen to the segment online. The only complication with feeds for podcasts is that they must carry the media inclusion, whereas many feeds tend to be little more than headlines. This is why many podcasts have their own 'feed generating' sites, which are separate from where they are showcased.

6.But are podcasts popular?

While I've dealt with this question in earlier posts but if we take the iTunes example: there are 800 million iTunes accounts on the planet...and,in sync with such a figure, there are over 1 billion podcast subscriptions.
Apple says that those billion subscriptions are spread across 250,000 unique podcasts in more than 100 languages, and that more than 8 million episodes have been published in the iTunes Store to date.
When I look at some of the play figures on YouTube -- and remember we are referring above to iTunes subscriptions which is very different from total number of plays as not all listeners subscribe-- these are very decent figures are they not? Even my own podcasts  generate    a larger audience than I got off YouTubery  when I was  using video. And I'm not aggressively promoting my stuff, but I am sharing  my audio via a few platforms.

7.Rigs and costs

The irony of podcasting is that it can be done absolutely for free. If you have a computer and a web connection you can start  podcasting.  Some podcasters prefer to keep it simple if they upgrade and will insist on using cheap $10 microphones.

Since coming back to online audio I'm using a $100 microphone which is also  absolutely portable -- the Zoom H1. It's awesome. I use it both out and about and as a desktop usb microphone. It also offers automatic gain which keeps your cadences and volumes within the same audio range.  

For interviews I'm experimenting with the $40 Olympus TP-8 - Telephone Pickup Microphone, although I could use Skype.

And that's it.You start with what you've got and  how much of an audiophile you want to be will  rule your outlay. Nonetheless, any editing in   Audacity (free download)  can improve on on any rough recording.

8.Podcasting's potential

I'll leave it up to you to consider how far hardware like this can reach but I guess one aspect that should register is the fact that hypothetically you could phone anyone and interview them as part of your podcast -- no matter where they live on the planet. There's no transcribing to be done. Just person to person. As a news gathering resource sharing audio like that has to be a big plus.

What may be sound quality issues aside, it sure generates news and views.

Similarly because podcasting is an easy DIY,with a low tech outlay, it is open  to a wide range of contributors. Free Speech Radio News in its heyday drew on audio journalists from an array of countries, who'd contribute short grab stories from their locations across the globe. Some of it was pretty rough but in the mix of reports the overview was unique coverage.

Democracy Now! -- despite its achievements -- embraces production values and a format that is not so easily grassroots. It is a show that tends to locate the dialogue between the two anchors and their guests.

I think there is a lot to be said for rough audio, rough journalism, if the niche being pursued is not being serviced. Production values and skilling up will no doubt improve over time  but as the experience of Rabble.ca suggests, you never know where audio will take you.

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