Friday, May 30, 2008

Should We Protect or Deride Artistic Freedoms?

Controversial as it may be, with accusations of ‘child pornography’ and criminal charges about to be laid, Bill Henson’s latest art exhibition has caused a whirlwind of hullabaloo in political, legal and artistic circles.

In an era of sexualised children and constant government enquiries into becoming a nation of thoroughly bred moral crusaders, the media, police, and politicians have hounded Henson like a pack of hyenas.

Critics and blogosphere’s alike have wanted to give their two cents on the controversy, more specifically regarding Kevin Rudd’s reaction: that of deeming the photographs ‘revolting’. As an ‘intellect’ many were expecting Rudd to understand the artistic and creative beauty behind the piece. What many were failing to realise however, was the practicality and logic behind his denouncement.

Children as young as 12 are being exhibited in these photographs. It would only be common sense to realise that the Prime Minister of the country has no alternative than to condemn the exhibition of unclothed children. With the recent government emphasis on 'letting kids be kids,' and enquiries into the sexualisation of children in the media and society, Rudd has no alternative but to condemn for the sake of consistency. The papers would have a field trip otherwise.

The greater predicament lies in using ‘art’ as a common veil and disguise: hiding the lewd and controversial under the pretence of art.

Giving this the green flag and essentially giving someone license to publish/disseminate whatever they see fit with a label of ‘creative freedom’ is a misused and exploited concept and wrongly so.

It’s only expected that something so readily accessible to the public should come under fire when it offends the sensibilities of society. An unequivocally lawless approach cannot be adopted in terms of art and creativity.

Intellectual and artistic freedoms weigh into the discussion in the examination of freedom of expression and censorship. In a democratic and liberal society, which exceeds the other? Protecting the subject matter when the government/police see it as essential, or freedom to express ideas and concepts which fall within the creative model?

Always difficult to ascertain, general moral standards shouldn’t be traversed for the sake of unreservedly administering a standard of freedoms. However Henson is being utilised as a scapegoat and criminal proceedings are exerting a rule of extremity.

Most people purporting critical views are missing the point. The deeming of it as ‘pornographic’ has offended the artistic sensibilities amongst us.

We all accept that Bill Henson most likely had no intention of producing these photographs for pornographic intentions. This isn’t an issue of adding to the collections of paedophiles across the nation.

What people fail to realise, is that by granting exemptions, a standard is set thereby increasing the general tolerability. When you legalise something, the law is telling society it’s acceptable and okay.

If Henson’s artworks are classified as suitable because it’s stored under the pretence of ‘art’, then it’s being validating and deemed okay in the name of creativity and intellectual/artistic freedom. The problem then lies in that in granting it some acceptance, it may validate child pornography in the minds of those with such tendencies.

Some restrictions are necessary. A blank cheque can’t be provided to every domain to reign free.

Pornography or art. Thoughts?

Photo: ABC TV

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pretty pictures: The City Minus the Sex

Images: TFS, Witchery Fashions, Mimco,, Aldo, Kate Hurst.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Writers' Festival: The Road to Bennelong

Margot Saville acknowledged the danger of being too close to the book’s subject when trying to objectively pen a political biography. “In the end it was my book, my reputation and the book had to stand on its merits and not to be seen as propaganda,” Saville told a Sydney Writer’s Festival audience at the Walsh Bay precinct.

Speaking about her book The Battle for Bennelong – The Adventures of Maxine McKew aged 50something, Saville conceded it was not her idea, likened the experience to childbirth and said she would do it again.

On knowing Maxine well, she said, “that’s kind of good and bad, I copped quite a lot of criticism for that and I think rightly justified in that it’s very hard to write objectively about someone who is a friend, and that was a constant balancing act for the book.”

To compensate, she was sometimes harsher on McKew than she needed to be to validate its contents.

The friendship didn’t hinder the substance of the material. Saville had no background as a political reporter, yet the publisher approached her because they didn’t want a standard political book.

Following Labor’s star candidate on her quest to unseat the Prime Minister, facilitator Deborah Cameron dwells on the importance of consulting both camps of the political spectrum: to which Saville says, “I did greet him warmly at Paddy McGuinness’s funeral. I greeted Mr Howard like an old pal but it was not reciprocated.”

But what was the difference between the candidates? “Mr Howard would only turn up [to local events] if there were media there. That was the difference.”

With odds at $4.50 at the start of the campaign, Saville calls herself an idiot for failing to bet. Then she “kept thinking that I wanted her to win because then I’d sell more copies of the book.”

When McKew won however, people started looking for explanations, and thought maybe her husband was responsible.

“Lot’s of people like to think that strong women are always directed by a man. It’s commonly held and people are always saying to me, Hogg’s behind it isn’t he.” She says, “I honestly think that’s not the case.”

With a Maxine the movie in the works, an audience member queries whether Bennelong has changed her. As a public figure, McKew’s become more cautious. Margot recalls a moment during the campaign when Maxine was standing in a queue to buy underwear and an onlooker commented ‘are you going to wear that on election night?’ She says Maxine can’t go out and do what she used to, because “there’s always someone with a mobile phone and a camera.”

Saville spoke of her transformation into ‘wallpaper’, mastering the art of becoming invisible. She was in and out of the office so often and present at all the events that everyone assumed she was there to work: “you get the best moments, when people don’t realise you’re actually observing them.”

A key setback was that she filed the book before Howard’s concession of Bennelong, which the audience noted happened after an extensive period.

Referring to the candidates as chalk and cheese, Saville says Howard clearly lost touch with key factions of the seat, enabling McKew to tap into the electorate.

“John Howard actually during the campaign never referred once to Maxine by name. We were always waiting for it. He always referred to her as ‘the Labor candidate’,” Saville says.

Photo: Taken by Bonita Silva

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sydney Writers' Festival: Signature Styles

Linda Jaivin "signing" a book

There's a scene in the film National Treasure 2 where author Riley Poole peeks out hopefully from behind stacks of books at his own book signing. Except for an old man who waves vaguely to him, he sits there unnoticed until a girl approaches him and asks, “Are you Benjamin Gates?”

It’s not easy to be at a book signing. But when it’s an empty house, it’s even worse.“You’re always full of dread when you go to a book signing that you’ll embarrass yourself and the bookshop,” says David Dale, co-author of Soffritto – A Ligurian Memoir with Lucio Galletto. “You’ll be sitting there and half an hour goes by and you can see the sales assistants thinking, ‘This bloke’s a complete dud’.”

In a perfect world, at each book signing there would a reasonably long line of people. Why? Signed books equal money. “You can’t return signed books,” says Victoria Tomkinson, publisher for Linda Jaivin, author of The Infernal Optimist. “Out there with your sharpie, that’s money in your pocket.”

“Every author knows that,” Jaivin chimes in.

“Some writers have lots of people, other writers have hardly anyone - and when that's you, it brings back memories of adolescent rejection,” says Catherine Coles, author of The Poet Who Forgot.

Or worse, it reflects on the author’s bad performance. Chief queue wrangler for the Sydney Writers Festival, Morgan Smith, says that a long queue for book signings by authors is a measure of how well they captivate their audience at Festival events.

“Obviously,the big name overseas authors [have long queues] but also those who talk really well about their books and ideas,and somehow capture the imagination of the audience,” she explains.“You can always tell the writers who have been really good by the length of the queue.”

"But there’s a downside to popularity. “My hand doesn’t get tired,” says Dale. “My problem is to think of something to write.”

Jaivin says she has a way around this: “At the launch of my first novel, the comic erotic Eat Me, I came up with the idea of kissing someone’s book to leave a big red lip print.It must have been the champagne talking. Anyway,after that,everyone wanted a kiss on their book.”

“Because I had to keep refreshing my lipstick, I went through nearly the entire tube on the one night. Kissing copies of Eat Me became something of a tradition and I still do it when people ask – and occasionally when they don’t.” Was it worth it? “I never begrudge people my kisses. In case any other authors thinking of taking this up, I have one thing to say: matte works better than gloss.”

At least a kiss is simple – fans often struggle to understand what the author wrote. But sometimes this is deliberate.

“One time, I recall beginning a dedication and then realising I was less than 100 per cent sure how to spell a key word in it,” says Mark Tredinnick, poet and author of The Little Red Writing Book. “Fortunately for me, my writing is close to illegible, and I made sure it was at its least clear for the word in question.”

Jillian Rice, at lunch with Dale and Galletto, doesn’t seem to mind the near-illegible writing and says she always gets a book signed if she can. “I feel it gives me a personal connection to the author.” On the other hand, Roger Kerr, also at the lunch, doesn’t particularly care about a signature.

Rather, he uses the opportunity to engage in one-on-one conversation with the author. “I get them in on an unusual question,” he says slyly. “I like to ask them a question they don’t expect. The book signing is irrelevant, it’s more about the talking. I’m curious as to what sort of person the author is.”

Morgan Smith frowns on this. “The main problem in signing queues is when people want to tell the author their life story or give a long critique. “Ask for [your] book to be signed, keep the chat down to a nice compliment – ‘I loved your last book and I’m really looking forward to reading this.’”

“It’s very interesting,” says Dr Stephen Juan, Sydney University anthropologist and author of the Odd books series. “If the author is famous and the person has read several of their books, the reader already has a relationship with the author but the author does not know the reader at all.

“It’s a one-way relationship and it’s easy for a reader to be offended … because they just don’t understand the author doesn’t know them.”

For all the pitfalls, one rule seems simple: have a book by the author for the author to sign. Steve Toltz, author of A Fraction of the Whole, recalls: “At one signing, someone gave me the Burroughs book Naked Lunch to sign. I signed as William Burroughs.

Pic: courtesy of the supremely awesome Kris Lapez whom I am very much indebted to.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

To Leave, or Not to Leave.

The truth is, Hillary Clinton can never satisfy the public. If she left the race at any point in the past, she’d be brandished a quitter. Suffice to say the critics would brand it as ‘proof’ that she could never be the Democratic nominee. Stay? She’s selfish, stubborn, and ruining Barack Obama’s chances. But do they supersede her own? Bonita Silva asks.

More is at stake than just a Democratic nomination and potential to be the next President of the United States of America. It may be hard to believe and potentially on the melodramatic side; but pointedly true.

It’s inevitable to note that the campaign has been defined in part by race and gender. Supporters of both camps have been wielding the appropriate issue to their advantage claiming any criticisms are based upon an institutionalised discrimination. Hillary claims sexism is part of the pressure mounted on her to quit.

Granted, this is somewhat true. Politics is undoubtedly a big boy’s club – particularly when it concerns Presidents and/or Prime Ministers. John Edwards didn’t face calls to quit the Democratic race during his campaign despite severely low chances of winning the nomination. Critics could have easily dismissed his campaign as wasting key delegates. If Hillary were the opposing male candidate, most would agree that the same calls would not be waged with such enduring vigour.

Secondly, for the most part of Obama's and Clinton's contest, it wasn’t like John McCain and Mike Huckabee. It was a real contest: real in the sense that both candidates were equally poised at taking the nomination at several stages. Numerically, intellectually, charismatically and policy-wise, Obama and Hillary faced equal prospects and chances. On the road to the convention, either candidate had a legitimate chance at clinching the right amount of delegates (for what was a substantial and extensive period). Yet the calls to quit have plagued the latter half of her campaign.

Though mounting pressure can have its adverse effects. Undoubtedly the pressure has only hardened Hillary’s resolve and resilience. One thing is certain: she’s going nowhere.

Admittedly, she’s managed to overstay her welcome. Option one would be to quit altogether and retreat in humiliation. Option two involves a stronger conviction and belief in her reasons for being there. Either option poses problems at this stage. Although the latter has prevailed, it’s no longer in Hillary’s hands to change the outcome. Super-delegates have failed in their responsibility to make their choices known, to end the race, and subsequently end her current humiliation.

She has still managed to garner immense turnouts and gain support from key constituents and groups that Obama is failing to register with. Where she leads over such a key demographic (that of the white, middle class, middle aged voters), critics should be weary of dismantling her efforts and discrediting her style. She’s earned her right to be standing where she is.

There’s not a single doubt that ego protruded in the way of a successful campaign. With a ‘Clinton’ brand name, she acted in a manner that suggested she was entitled to and deserved the nomination because of her ‘experience’ and all would assume – her family name. An exit of any means is now rendered ungraceful: but it’s now the super-delegates responsibility to quell that humiliation and let their choices be known.

“This is one of the closest races for a party’s nomination in modern history,” she mused. It’s true, and let the rightful candidate earn each vote to clinch the nomination.

Photo: Daniella Zalcman's Flickrstream

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Let's go to Hope Street

Vox pops from designers at the Hope Street Markets (today and tomorrow, Paddington Town Hall). Click to enlarge.

Images: Hope Street Markets homepage and Limedrop. Vox pops by Annette Lin, who had an awesome time at the markets today and congratulates herself on actually being able to find an all-day parking spot in Paddington. Skills.

A Sandwiched Generation

You take your shoes off before entering the house.
You’re not allowed to sleep over at friend’s places.
Your parents shop at Asian grocery stores, (you have no idea what they’re buying).
You can speak English without an accent.
You regret the fact that you didn’t learn Mandarin, or any other Asian language properly at Saturday language school.

You are Asian-Australian.

The 21st century marks a new generation of Asian-Australians. We are witnessing the rapid emergence of Asian-Australian youth. These of which are individuals that have been born and bred in Australia, forming a mixture of Eastern and Western values. In realizing this generation, we are noticing that dilemmas are arising in identity formation.

“They said we should go out and have smart Asian kids, then they were like Jenny and Hwasung studying in the tree, s-t-u-d-y-i-n-g!”

Jenny Nguyen-Khuong is a year 12 student, and a highly experienced recipient of racial taunts. For simply appearing Asian, Jenny has been the object of many taunts and stereotypes, and the school yard is no exception.

School days are ones in which popularity is a life-or-death necessity. Being accepted is what makes our world go round. It is this environment which influences how we grow, and how our identity forms. It is however, being a part of more than one culture that can skew our chances of becoming the crowd favourite, because Asian-Australians are obviously ‘different’ from the average ‘Aussie’.

Miss Nguyen-Khuong brings to light the idea of racial association through the taunts that she has received in the past. This is the notion that all Asians know each other, should be paired together, or because they ‘look alike’ the assumption is made that they are related.

This notion is also reflected in Year 11 student, Tiffany Hoang. From the moment schooling life began for Tiffany, she was immediately paired with another Vietnamese boy and labeled ‘brother and sister’, despite the fact that they were not at all related.

“We would be embarrassed to know each other. We got affiliated with each other, just because we were both Asian.”

It seems harmless, but racial association can lead to Asian-Australian youth to reject their Asian culture and desire the Western lifestyle. Living in Western society can certainly emphasize differences in regards to being Asian, thus to be accepted, individuals go to lengths to try and assimilate.

“We’d come up with 101 Asian things that we’d try to un-associate ourselves with, like I refuse to eat sushi in public.”

This is what we can label “Asian dissociation’. To be accepted within Western society, Asian-Australian youth aim to separate themselves from anything characteristically ‘Asian’. It allows them to question what they want to be associated with.

Seeking acceptance through Western incorporation creates identity and self esteem dilemmas, causing an imbalance in cultural relations. Asian-Australian youth are constantly measuring themselves against their Western friends, and if what they see and feel does not satisfy them, it will continue to take a toll upon their ‘Asian’ identity.

Another common dilemma is the idea that Asian-Australian parents are ‘too strict’. Asian-Australian youth are critical of their parents for not embracing a more ‘Western lifestyle’. These youths are put under constant pressure to work hard, achieve academically and also harbour the value of respect. Australian youth however, tend to be brought up in a more relaxed climate. Asian-Australians witness the greater independence their Western counterparts receive and tend to idealize this Western ‘freedom’.

Lucy Samsa-Knapp could be labeled a fully fledged Australian. She has the ‘no worries’ attitude, where everything comes in her stride. In her perspective, “Asian parents seem strict and not accommodating, you all think you’re bad children.”

It is this idea of feeling ‘bad’ which comes from defying parental rules, so as to assimilate into Australian society and obtain this sense of belonging. The rules and expectations Asian-Australian parents harbour may seem impossible to achieve.

Asian-Australian youths are expected to follow traditional Asian values, but still maintain a socially healthy lifestyle in Australian society. These two opposing lifestyles create such obvious dilemmas for these individuals, who feel pulled between two worlds.

Asian Australians – they’re caught in the middle, something that we can call the ‘sandwiched generation’. They are clearly a part of both Western and Eastern culture, yet at the time they are not completely one or the other. They are considered Asian in Western society, and clearly Western in Eastern society. It adds a significant dimension to who they are, and who they are to become.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mercedes Overcome by Power

Sensationalism, chequebook journalism and ratings: three concepts you thought would escape you upon completing HSC Advanced English and ‘Frontline’ – though Anna Coren and the ‘Today Tonight’ team prove otherwise in the monotonous case of the Corby’s and the daft ex-best friend.

The portion of media interest and coverage on Schapelle and Mercedes Corby has been relentless and (overdone). Strangely enough, the media continues to bask in the tragically hopeless light that is the Corby’s. From pleas of “I’m innocent” to “the family’s embroiled in drug trafficking” to defamation cases – the courts, media and public have heard it all.

Although much has been said about Jodie Power (the ex-best friend) and Mercedes herself, perhaps the more alarming question is the conduct of the Channel Seven network in the latest controversy to plague the media and the judicial system.

‘Today Tonight’ secured an interview with Jodie Power, the “money-hungry” former friend by offering $120,000 and an all expenses paid trip to Canada. All in exchange for telling the “truth”: and by truth, we mean everything the network demanded to hear. Stuart Littlemore QC, representing Mercedes Corby in her defamation case against Seven, told the NSW Supreme Court that a letter to Ms Power from the network was “telling her what answers to give, otherwise she wouldn’t get the money”.

A pretty serious allegation when it involves entire fabrications. Locked in a battle with Channel Nine’s ‘A Current Affair’ to take the current affairs ratings title, Littlemore accused the network of degrading to dishonesty and deception.

It’s the classic example of chequebook journalism, where accessibility to the truth is hindered as journalistic integrity is compromised for economic success. Such is the paradoxical nature of the media – being locked in constant rivalry to outdo the other network thereby maintaining groundbreaking ratings, and to simultaneously uphold principles of integrity and honesty.

There in itself lies the obstruction. Satisfying society’s insatiable need for controversy and hearsay, the quick-fix for slipping ratings is a nod in the direction of falsities and trivialities; preventing the truth from being absolute, or even resolutely close to midway.

Power was portrayed as fearing retribution from her public statements, and as having fled the country in the first of the ‘Today Tonight’ programs to be aired. Is it any surprise that she had left the country 10 days earlier on a planned trip to Bali and Vanuatu – paid for entirely by Channel Seven?

‘Today Tonight’ apparently commissioned a viewer’s poll, where 82% found Ms Power’s account of the events to be credible, exemplifying just how effortless it is to construct your own truths and instil them into society. (Many will argue that the intended target audience are evidently gullible, unintelligible citizens who shouldn’t be afforded any credibility or intelligence… however it is a distressing sight when Today Tonight welds any influence over any capable person in society)

Call me naïve, but I had some hope in the principles behind journalism: it’s for this very reason I chose to do a journalism degree. But as questionable as this conduct is, to what extent is it apparent in real journalism? Would it still be naïve to hope real journalistic integrity exists in most of the media/public sphere? (…suffice to say, ‘Today Tonight’ falls outside of this category)

Maybe the fact that Ms Power lied is the issue as most media appears to be purporting. Or maybe it’s the willingness of the station to traverse ethical boundaries for economic profitability. Channel Seven’s passivity towards conceptualising truth and justice has taken advantage of a family that has arguably buried their own grave. This should provide no exemption: treating another’s private doings as a commodity in a collaborative effort to trivialise and sensationalise, effectively demeans the general role the media plays.

To belittle and lie to such grand extremes is also an insult to society’s intelligence.

It’s fairly relevant to note, and somewhat perplexing to hear the former head of the New York Times, John Swinden declare in 1953: “The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify… We are the tools and the vassals of rich men behind the scenes… Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.” Prostitutes of the intellectual variety or not, it’s pretty easy to see why half the world hates journalists.

Written by Bonita Silva who believes the Corby’s need to stop smuggling drugs and name their kids after real bogan names instead of brands they can’t afford.

Photo: Peter Morris @ SMH

Leaders PART 2

In the first part of this post, I introduced you to Putin, Medvedev, Sarkozy and Carla Bruni.

In this next part, you will be coming face to face with Mugabe and his political opponent...Tsvangirai. Hu, Obama and H.Clinton will have to wait for the next edition.

So say hello to Robert Mugabe. Mugabe has been the President of Zimbabwe for 25 years, and is known for his anti-imperialist stance. He became President in 1987, and was re-elected in 1990, 1996 and 2002. His political career, and especially his time as President have been very controversial.

For example, in the recent 2008 presidential elections, he has again been accused of vote-rigging. In the past, he has also been accused of intimidation, and preventing certain groups from casting their votes.

The 2008 elections have shown, however, that the people want a new president. Mugabe lost to his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, but insisted that there be a presidential run-off to determine the winner.

And this leads nicely, to Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe's opponent in the presidential election. Tsvangirai has agreed to have a presidential run-off, and he will be starting his run-off campaign when he arrives back in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai is currently the President of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). He is a known politcal and human rights activist, and founded the MDC in 1999 in response to President Mugabe. He lost the 2002 Presidential election against him and has been arrested and tortured on several occasions by the Zimbabwean government.

In the coming run-off campaign and election, Tsvangirai has stated that there will be free access for the media, including the international press. Hooray for the media (and, I suspect, also for Mr. Tsvangirai)!

Pictures: Reuters, Reuters Africa

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Have you Met Miss Coles?

Meet the graduate project of Melanie Coles – a tall, lean figure wearing red-and-white striped beanie that matches a red-and-white striped jumper. It’s Wally, from Where’s Wally – only he’s 16.45 metres long, and he’s lying on a rooftop somewhere in Vancouver, waiting for someone to find him on Google Earth.

Coles, a 22-year-old media arts student in her last year at a well-respected art school in Vancouver, the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, laughs as she tells the story of his conception. “I was just joking away on the phone with my friend when I came up with it. We just laughed it off.”

Indeed, most people would dismiss the idea of creating a gigantic Wally. Coles, however, is also the sort of person who can take a seemingly ridiculous idea, and make it work. What’s more, she makes it work well. Her grade for the project was an A, and media attention has been received from all over the world, from the US to Belgium and from Brazil to Portugal. Wally has been discussed on blogs around the world as well, and her own blog about the project receives over 13, 000 hits each day.

Coles takes to fame well. During our phone conversation, she’s friendly, sweet and endearingly open. “I didn’t think that people would blog about it.” She pauses and giggles. “It’s kinda nerdy.”

Hailing from the small town of Oliver in British Columbia, Canada, Coles grew up in a tight, close-knit family. Her father was a schoolteacher, while her mother stayed at home to look after Coles and her older sister, and would spend each summer baking pies, says Coles.

It sounds pretty idyllic. “It was! I’m was really lucky, I had such a positive childhood.”

So perhaps it’s no surprise that most of her artworks reflect a desire to return to childhood, or even yesteryear. A recent exhibition of hers was described as follows: “The work of Melanie Coles is lovely and smart. It brings back the past and inspires the child in you to get out the glue stick and make a fantasy world from clippings.”

“I guess I am really nostalgic,” she says in a slightly doubtful manner, as if the idea has never occurred to her. But she warms into it. “I’m into images of Americana from, like, the 1930’s to the 1980’s, and also pop culture.”

“But I also do a lot of appropriation, like I take things that already exist and put them with something else, or put them in a situation that might not necessarily exist.”

Like Wally? “Yeah, like taking Wally out of context.”

It’s clear that her giant Wally is a subject dear to her heart. Less than a minute into our phone conversation, she’s describing the process of researching Wally, her graduate project, and her round Canadian vowels becoming more pronounced as her enthusiasm begins to show.

“From about October, I had to go through the logistics. The first thing was figuring out where to put Wally, then testing the materials. It had to be thicker than paper since who knows when Google will take a snapshot? But then it couldn’t be sheets either because we’re in Vancouver, it’s really wet and the sheets would become see-through. Then if we used vinyl the paint might drip off so we went to a discount store and had to find vinyl that was porous.”

“She has the kind of infectious enthusiasm and a leadership style that made it possible for her to get a whole bunch of friends to turn up on a freezing, classical "dark and stormy night" to borrow sand from the beach,” her friend and classmate Nancy Strider said.

Coles explains. “I got all my friends together, because Wally needed to be weighed down, and we went to the beach on a stormy night and filled up some sandbags.”

Fortunately, Coles doesn’t mind storms. Nor does she scare easily. Forced to hire a studio to paint Wally in due to his size, the only place cheap enough was in East Hastings, an area of Vancouver where used condoms and syringes lie scattered on the footpaths and where the HIV infection rate is one of the highest in the Western world. “It’s actually one of the worst neighbourhoods in Canada and I don’t really like it, but the studio was only $100 a month!”

So where is Wally now? “My roof is slanted, so Wally’s actually lying on the rooftop of my part-time job,” she giggles.

“It’s an innovative and creative idea that we all enjoy at the store,” says her co-worker, Johnny Payne, at Zulu Records Store. “She’s one of our favourite employees. I’m a big Waldo fan, and I’m 100 per cent behind her, everyone is. She’s a really smart and creative person – I thought [Wally] would take a lot of work, but she totally got it down exactly how she wanted to.”

Well she’s worked hard at it. Not many people would want to do what is technically homework on the weekends, but Coles did. And as she says, “It’d be the best story to tell – ‘What did you do on the weekend?’ ‘Oh, I painted a giant Waldo.” She laughs.

All this work has paid off and Wally fans from around the world have inundated her with praises and adoration. But Coles, it seems, takes it with the attitude of a girl who still can’t believe her luck. Nancy Strider says, “We were walking home at midnight on the seawall after the school closed, and I pulled out my voice recorder and asked her how it all felt. She talked about how up till a couple of days before she would have been happy with 20 hits, and that now she had gotten 10,000 in a single day. I asked her how that felt, and she said, ‘It's hilarious!’”

Many thanks to Henry Ngo for finding the subject.

Pic: supplied by subject

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I Can't HEAR You.

Modern technology allows us to say ‘fuck off’ in a socially acceptable way.

Words: Amy Huynh

Headphones are like the ‘do not disturb’ sign that you find hanging on hotel-room doors. It’s a privacy statement. You enjoy the music, whilst everyone else knows to leave you alone, without you even having to lift a finger.

The explosion of portable music systems, such as the MP3 and iPod, has encouraged this passive form of communication; just shove on your headphones and you’re suddenly off-limits. It’s a magical people repellent. These ingenious contraptions allow us to shut out the world, even in the most public of places.

I’m a regular bus and train commuter. I know that when it comes to catching public transport, headphones/earphones are a must. They work in avoiding the weirdos and twats that always seem to lurk in these public domains. My regular weirdo is an old man, who on every bus trip takes it upon himself to sidle up to me and whisper: “Hello, you look like my daughter”.

For the record, I don’t look like his daughter (he’s shown me pictures), I’m Asian and she’s European. I also have it on good authority that he uses this line on every girl he meets on the bus. Weirdooo. It’s cases like this when you whip out the headphones and stare out the bus window. Unfortunately this doesn’t stop the old man from staring in my direction, but it does fend off any conversation, and eventually he loses interest.

Headphones/earphones are not only used for dodging the creepy. They come in handy in easing out of conversations – particularly when you’re feeling anti-social. This is when you leave one ear-piece in your ear, whilst the other dangles on the side. It’s not rude; it just shows that you can multitask. And if the conversation dies, then luckily you have the other ear-piece to occupy your vacant ear. This avoids any additional conversation from starting. That’s right, embrace anti-socialism.

Music is your friend. Music is inspiration. Music is pretty much everything. Having a set of rancid quality earphones, just doesn’t give it any justice. A statement of privacy should be made with style.

There are some pretty nifty headphones around which makes the listening experience simply divine.

Got your wires in a tangle? Say hello to cordless headphones. These will let you rock out to your music pain-free. No longer will you look like a fool by spending half your life untangling your wires. Just be prepared to dish out a few extra dollars to get these Bluetooth wireless headsets. And at all costs, avoid headphones with antennas, unless of course you really do want to look the fool.
Even better, now there are ‘noise cancelling’ headphones out in the market. If I couldn’t hear you before, there’s absolutely no chance of hearing you now. These headphones allow full self-immersion with sublime audio quality, by cancelling out external sounds.

Oh, and it gets better. These classy headphones are even good for your health. BONUS! This is because there’s no longer a need to raise the volume to deafening decibels to block out the shit of the outside world.

So embrace solitary existence and get some noise cancelling headphones, and while you’re at it, some dark sunnies too. People will know you mean business, and they’ll bugger off.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pretty Pictures: Cheap and French Chic

French women = effortlessly hot. Why? Is it the sexy French language ("Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?")? Is it the new First Lady? IS IT THE ESCARGOTS??

Who knows. But whatever it is, I want me some of it.* Enjoy and click to enlarge.

*Escargots actually taste quite nice, smothered in garlic and butter and with a texture reminiscent of mushrooms. Just don't look underneath - the sight of all those little suction feet is kinda gross.

Images: En Vogue via Miss at La Playa, Witchery Fashions, Sportsgirl, Le Black Book, American Apparel, Style and the, TFS, Numero Fevrier 2008.

My 480 word stint as a Columnist

Let me start by putting the following into context for you. Recently, I became aware that my own father, 51 years of age, has decided to get a facebook account. In fact, I stumbled upon this information, and went straight to facebook to see if it was real.

Unfortunately, it was.

Now, I have nothing against people getting facebook accounts, and creating their own little profile on online social networking sites. However, when it comes to my own parents, I have to put my foot down.

Technology may be good in doses, you know, when it comes to emailing, and perhaps instant messaging, but once parents start using the same social networking sites as their own children, nephews and nieces…something ain’t right.

I don’t mean to discriminate, or maybe I do, but though these sites are ideally for anyone, it does feel a tad bit odd to be wandering around facebook, seeing pictures of friends and siblings, and then walk smack bang into a page all about your parents.

Perhaps there should be another facebook-esque site, dedicated to connecting parents, so that there is no generational clash. Not that I have anything to hide, but it’s scary enough to think that potential employers will hunt you down on facebook, without having to worry about parents doing the same.

And if that little anecdote didn’t do it for you, try this. My grandfather is 79 years old. No, he has not yet joined facebook and created an army of vampires (and let’s hope it stays that way), but once he got his hands on technology, in the form of his shiny laptop and internet connection, he became the person everyone hopes will not receive chain letters, or ‘amusing’ emails.

Yes, he will send anything and everything to everyone he knows, whether you were the one who sent him the email in the first place, or not.

At first it was tolerable, he was getting a feel for the internet, testing it out and expanding his field of knowledge. But this was 2 years ago, and it still continues. Don’t drink milk, or you’ll get cancer. In fact, eat nothing because everything can give you cancer, apparently. But then again, you may die of starvation. Hmm…

Once again, I say this so you won’t think that I am just downright mean, but technology was supposed to be something which would help us, and make things more convenient and accessible. In a sense, my father and my grandfather are just proving that this can be reality. However, like drinking milk, and eating various food products, it must be in moderation…or we’ll all get cancer.

Since I am nearing the end of this column, and you know how I feel about the issue, I now put this to you. Regarding older generations, is technology truly a help, or really just a hindrance in disguise?

Picture: flickr - fortinbras

Friday, May 9, 2008

Celebrating Young Talent

Junior RockIT Winners, Irksome Bliss

National Youth Week (NYW), the largest celebration of youth, had nearly 2500 high schools and 200 universities and TAFEs joining in the celebrations from April 5th to 13th.

With over 2,500 events and activities nationwide, NYW has a string of official supporters including Neighbours actor Matthew Werkmeister, and Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist, swimmer Stephanie Rice.

“It’s a time where we can highlight the positive contribution that young people make to their community. Because I think that we need to hear more positives about young people,” says the Minister for Youth, Linda Burney MP.

The joint Australian, State, and Territory Government initiative has been run annually since 2000.

The NSW Young Member of the National Planning Group, Rebecca Sowles, says the youth week launch and the five talent competitions are the two biggest initiatives of NYW.

“The national planning group has a young member from every state and territory. The big thing that they’re working on at the minute is the national launch for youth week: Video Hits is having a live to air at Martin Place,” she says.

People aged 12 to 25 have a chance to be involved. In NSW alone, the State Government provided over $25,000 to Councils to stage activities and events.

Five National Talent Competitions were held as the creative core of discovering and rewarding Australia’s youngest talent. 12 to 17 year olds applied for the junior division, while 18 to 25 year olds applied for the senior division, as either individuals or groups.

Judged by some of Australia’s most esteemed creative forces, the prospective winners will be announced on 23rd June. “It’s a big opportunity for young people to enter those competitions on a national level,” says Ms Sowles.

Ms Burney agrees, saying “As the Minister for Youth I take every opportunity to talk up young people – not talk them down – and promote their creativity, energy and ideas. Youth Week demonstrates this and more.”

RockIT entrants recorded an original composition, and DesignIT entrants created a digital static design based on the theme “make a move”. WriteIT required a 1,500 piece with the thematic concerns of improving mental health. ShootIT asked entrants for a two and a half minute film about young people being economically intelligent; and SnapIT entrants had to incorporate the theme of ‘action and adventure in the outdoors’ into their work.

Although winners receive a valued Industry Award, it’s not entirely up to the judges. Another four entries will be selected in each category for the People’s Choice Award, where the public will vote in May for their favourite.

But what exactly does this talent competition mean for young people? The winner’s of 2007 shared their thoughts.

As the SnapIT Senior winner, for her ‘Pavilion Scoring’ shot, Brenna Sharp uses her Nikon professional camera pack to take amazing shots: “you can do more when you have the right equipment!”

Media Student at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Elliot Heatwole, says “a career in the film industry has been my main motivation for many years and this motivation was a key factor for entering the competition”.

The ShootIT Senior winner uses the Canon video pack to shoot all of his current projects, allowing him to make the movies he wants without the “added technical difficulties of ageing equipment”.

“The accolade itself was (and still is) proving exceptionally valuable,” with the award being a major talking point and asset in interviews for various universities, says Mr Heatwole.

Similarly, Andrew Babington enjoys photography and visual arts, but it’s his passion for film that made him ShootIT Junior winner for his piece, ‘The Last Day’. After he completes his HSC in a few months, Andrew will be attending the Australian Film Television and Radio School to be trained as a feature director.

Of his style, Andrew says “working with emotion and strong sense of music is essential to my style”. Twelve films have been shot so far on the $5,000 Sony High Definition camera that he won, and he’s utilising it for all HSC work.

Irksome Bliss has been composing music since 2006. The high school friends won both the industry and people’s choice award for RockIT Junior. The accolade has no doubt added to the prestige the band has garnered lately, with upcoming gigs at the Gaelic Club and Come Together Festival: “we always jump at opportunities to go in competitions and get more exposure”.

The prestige complimenting the award certainly benefited Jason Morey, the SnapIT Junior winner, being accepted into Art School without an interview.

Yet sometimes it’s the reassurance that’s necessary. Kunal Sharma, the WriteIT Senior winner for ‘Some Asian-Pacific Chronicles,’ says “it has given me a great degree of confidence and reassured me of my writing style…the competition has given my work quite a bit of exposure and I’m very grateful for that.”

Robi Stalder submitted his entry for the inspiring theme in DesignIT Senior: “receiving this award really encouraged me to take my passion for illustration and myself as a designer more seriously.

Though Mr Babington says, “I don’t think the competition really furthers or teaches anything; it only encourages people to get experience on their own part by actually going and making their art. Myself, it gave me a lot of media exposure in June last year, which was extremely helpful”.

Mr Stalder agrees, believing that “promoting the individuals behind these achievements rather than simply awarding them may be more beneficial”.

The week still remains as “a great opportunity for young people to showcase their talents and raise awareness of issues that affect them,” says the Minister for Youth.

One in five young people in Australia experience depression, and Beyond Blue CEO Leonie Young says over 60 percent don’t get the professional help they need.

It is for this very reason that Beyond Blue have decided to collaborate with the national initiative, as a sponsor. Ms Young says it is a fantastic opportunity for “young people to get together, have fun and find out about where help is available in their communities.”

Photos: Irksome Bliss, Linda Burney MP, Robi Stalder - [all provided directly from parties themselves]

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Random thoughts: Take the 'A' Train

You must take the A train/To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem/
If you miss the A train/You'll find you missed the quickest way to Harlem

I can’t do everything. I can’t cook, I can’t teach people, I can’t do maths. Which is all very well – I’m sure there are loads of people who can’t do these things. But not knowing how to catch a train?

Don’t be silly, you say. Everyone knows how to catch a train. Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Until a few weeks ago, when my friend admitted that she didn’t know how to catch the train.
It wasn’t even Cityrail’s fault. See, when it was time to go through the ticket barriers, she tried to put the ticket in the top slot rather than at the front. You know, the slot where the ticket normally comes out. And she wondered why it didn’t work.

Which got me to thinking about ‘bus’ people and ‘train’ people. People who prefer one over the other. Trams and monorails don’t come into the picture because only tourists and lazy people unlike myself *coughs* catch those in Sydney.

I’m talking about people who would rather stand on a train for an hour and go on a massive detour to the city than catch a direct bus. “The bus is too slow,” they whine. Even though catching the train, thanks to Cityrail’s decree that all of us must go to at least Sydenham before we can change trains, can be even slower.

Or people who detest trains for some obscure reason like “I can’t get off exactly where I want to,” or even “trains are dirty.” Well, yes they are, but so are buses. But you know what? These people are just in denial – they don’t want to admit that they’re ‘bus’ people.

How does this happen? I think it’s got something to do with demographics, and where you live. The friend I mentioned above is clearly a ‘bus’ person, possibly because she grew up in the Eastern Suburbs (I don’t understand why the Illawarra line is also known as the Eastern Suburbs line, when it reaches only two Eastern Suburbs. Come to think of it, it doesn’t go anywhere near the Illawarra either. But that’s for another day) and therefore caught the bus everywhere.

But then, by that reckoning, I’d a ‘bus’ person too, mainly because that was also the only way for me to get anywhere until I got my license. Except that reason backfires, because now I hate buses so much I’d rather drive to the station than wait 20 – 50 minutes for a bus that may or may not come, depending on what the bus driver feels like.

In any case, it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is we’re catching public transport and helping the environment or something. But next time you’re bored, try to convince a friend who is clearly a ‘bus’ person or a ‘train’ person to catch the other mode of transport. It’s pretty entertaining.

Images: ~Livingdejavu and realcambo from Deviant Art
Song lyrics: Duke Ellington

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Coffee Conundrums: Fair and Free?

In the midst of Fair Trade Fortnight 08, Bonita Silva investigates the Australian Fair Trade movement, its critiques, and whether free trade can work together to provide a sustainable outcome.

Cameron Neil, the Certification and Labelling Manager for Fairtrade Labelling Australia and New Zealand, believes Fair Trade is an alternative way of doing trade and business, and that the producer and consumer can both win.

In response to criticisms coinciding with Fair Trade Fortnight 07, Neil says “Free trade and fair trade can go hand in hand, [but] our point is that your focus on free trade and the abstraction that is free trade, disguises the fact that people are living in poverty, being disadvantaged and being screwed over right now, today.”

However the reason why international coffee prices is so low is due to extensive overproduction in world coffee supply. Fair Trade only exacerbates the issue, as contended by the Director of IP and Free Trade, Tim Wilson at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). He suggests the best method of raising prices in everyone’s interest, is the consolidation of farms through free market.

Oxfam Australia disputes this notion, for “whether or not Fair Trade can be applied in the mainstream, the lack of alternatives and the absence of government safety nets for poor producers make this sort of support to farmers an entirely justifiable and appropriate attempt to cope with the human cost of the rigors of the free market,” says a spokesperson.

As part of Fair Trade Fortnight, the Fair Trade Association’s major nationwide event is the ‘coffee break’, where groups host a morning tea to raise awareness of fair trade related issues.

Republica, a wholly fair trade branded coffee is being stocked in Woolworths and Coles as of this year. Jacqueline Arias cited three reasons serving as inspiration in creating ‘Republica’: her love of coffee, her birthplace of Columbia, and a passion to do something ethical.

“It’s equally important to people who live in third world countries, particularly those that are not protected by any government or any sort of social forces, to be paid fairly,” she says.

Though can fair trade and free trade essentially collaborate to bring about an effective international trade mechanism?

“We’re interested in genuine honest dialogue on fair trade, and that’s been one of our core frustrations, in that any sort of disagreement has been taken solely as the basis of outwright criticism,” says Mr Wilson of IPA.

Supporters of fair trade like Mr Neil believe a lot of critics “tend to bring in elements of things that are true and then distort them from there… make huge leaps of logic and reasoning to conclusions that are very, very questionable. I think they are creating artificial differences.”

The free trade model assumes there are level playing fields, and Mr Neil says this simply doesn’t exist.

In response to criticisms, Oxfam’s spokesperson noted that “despite its success, it will be impossible for Fair Trade alone to provide a solution to the crisis because of the persisting imbalance between supply and demand.”

Republica’s founder believes the fair trade movement has made progression since she first began her coffee venture three years ago, but says we’ve got a long way to go. During its conception, no one knew what fair trade was or what it entailed, whereas now there is a slightly higher recognition and vague understanding of its principles.

“Possibly 85% of Australians still don’t know what fair trade is, so there is a huge, massive education process yet to be embarked upon,” she says.

The Fair Trade Association doesn’t dissuade groups from being critical. As Mr Neil says, “we agree that there are things that need to be improved, it’s a dynamic system and things are changing and evolving all the time.”

Photo: Crsfairtrade's Flickrstream

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Familiarising you with (some) leaders of the world... an attempt to somewhat fulfil my 'international' title.

I have picked a few who have been in the headlines more recently (whether still in power or not), so enjoy the visual delights of Putin, Medvedev, Sarkozy (and of course, his wife), Mugabe, Hu and the hopefuls, Obama and H. Clinton!

Introducing, Vladimir Putin! Up until May 7 2008 (tomorrow), he has been the President of Russia for 8 years. Over the years, he has helped Russia gain economic stability. But, his term is now at an end. Do svidaniya!

And so, we come to Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's successor. Medvedev is currently a first deputy prime minister, and has known Putin personally, for over 10 years. He also had the support of Putin when running for the Presidency, and was elected in March 2008. He will start his new job tomorrow.

Next up, we have Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife, Carla Bruni. Sarkozy is the President of France, elected into office just last year, and well known for his oratory skills and charisma. He is seen to be very pro-America in terms of economic policies, or at least, more so than previous French presidents. Earlier this year, he announced his marriage to ex-model turned singer, Carla Bruni.

Yes, yes I did pick particularly amusing images. So sick of publicity shots.
More to come!

Photos:,, U.S.News & World Report, Bertelsmann -

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pretty Pictures: Winter Vintage

Click to enlarge.

Images: Fashion Toast, Glassons, Witchery Fashions, Mollini, Frock You, Le Black Book, Net-a-Porter and Viva La Frock.