Awesome librarians and mining industry conflations…

First thing to say is this – the librarians at the University of Adelaide (Barr Smith) Library are fricking awesome.

One of them has gone above and beyond the call of duty and dug up some stuff I didn’t even know they had, which is going to be very useful for my thesis.  Huzzah!!  Definitely getting a thank you in the acknowledgements, and I will also write a letter naming her to the chief librarian.

Part of ‘the stuff’ was the papers of the 1988 Australian Coal Association Conference.  Two things to note –

a) less importantly, at some point between ’86 and ’88 the Australian Coal Association re-did its logo from a simple ‘ACA’ inside an outline of Australia to a post-modernist squiggle.

b) more interesting, 1988 was the two hundred anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet (some unexecuted dregs shipped out to other people’s lands to stop the French getting it).  There were ‘celebrations’, at least among some of the whitefellas.  Here’s a song though, from one cool dissident whitefella…

A ship is sailing into harbour
A party’s waiting on the shore
And they’re running up the flag now
And they want us all to cheer

Charlie’s head nearly reaches the ceiling
But his feet don’t touch the floor
From a prison issue blanket his body’s swinging
He won’t dance any more


The image shows a ship from the first fleet and a coal transporter.  A claim to ‘authenticity’ and nationalism is being made, not very subtly.

1998 aus coal conference image

Next up, I tracked down a 1992 publication from the Australian Mining Industry Council (industry lobby group, underwent a detoxification in 1995 and became the Minerals Council of Australia, which is still going ‘strong’.)  The images don’t need any particular commentary…

what mining means to australia

what mining means to aus 002

what mining means to aus 003

what mining means to aus 004

Taking the piss: Vietnam and who learns what….

“I remember the moment when I knew we were going to lose the war. Frustrated by our inability to find the elusive Viet Cong, we had developed a top-secret program to locate enemy troop concentrations. It was called a “people sniffer,” a device sensitive to the presence of ammonia in urine; could be hung from a helicopter flying low over the jungle. When a high reading was identified, artillery was directed at the area. One evening in 1968 I attended an end-of-the-day regimental briefing where an infantry captain was describing a sweep through the jungle. He and his men had encountered something they could not explain: buckets of urine hanging from the trees. Patton and his intelligence officer exchanged looks of chagrin as they silently acknowledged that we were firing artillery, at $250 a round, at buckets of urine all over Vietnam. It seems funnier now than it did then.”

p. 37-38. Livingston, G. (2005) Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. Sydney: Hachette Australia.

Images of our green future;  from politics to platitudes in 29 short years.

What hopes do ‘we’ have for the future?  What choices do we think we will have to make, or perhaps seek to avoid?  What do our old hopes tell us about our new fears?

All good questions, which I can’t really answer particularly well, until I’ve had a longer think/looting of other people’s thoughts.  But while failing, I will at least be able to share some interesting images I’ve stumbled across over the last few days, that come with words like energy, community, coal and so on.  They’re from 1978, 1992 and 2007; from just before neoliberalism properly took hold, from the beginning of its long peak and from the year before it should have imploded but didn’t…

First up; during his talk on Tuesday night, Dr Mark Diesendorf alluded to a conference he helped organise in Canberra in 1978, called ‘Energy and People’ (for a fascinating personal history of Australian wind power research, see here).  By coincidence, the following day I stumbled across a copy of the book that emerged from it, and scanned the cover.


So, on the left, low-rise and co-operative. On the right, autogeddon.    The war over whether our cities would have streets (for pedestrians, play) or roads (for cars) has been going on for a long time.  Battles are won and lost.  Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide accumulates….

Next up, the 1992 Australian Coal Association Conference.  The cover is a fairly crude ‘we’re one of you’ bid, about which not much more needs to be said perhaps. Oh, alright – this – White family, man in charge (it’s only natural), and none of them has any asthma or health issues. Oh, and ‘Community’ is a hard-working word…

1992 australian coal conference cover

Next up, from that same conference, from a presentation by Tamio Kawamata on ‘New Coal Technologies – How Critical in Ensuring Coal’s Acceptability’, here is one of the first images from an actual coal industry publication that I’ve found of what carbon capture and storage might look like.

1992 aus coal conf ccs image kawamata

So, we’re at the stage of ‘yes, there are serious problems with capital accumulation – insofar as it causes carbon accumulation, but Our Technology Can Solve It.’ This is classic ‘you don’t have to make a choice’ stuff, for a future that has been sold off, and folks atomised, aka ‘ecological modernisation‘.

That logic continued through the 1990s, with its soothing platitudes.  By 2007, in Australia at least, climate change rose (back) up the political agenda, for a host of reasons, to do with state-level action, prolonged drought, international events (Al Gore, the IPCC, the Stern Review, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme), and the Labor oppositions’s use of climate as a stick to beat the incumbent Prime Minister with in the run up to the November election.  It’s in this context that  the ‘Your Eco Handbook’, published by the closest that Australian mainstream print media has to reasonable journalism – the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald – should be read.

yr ecohandbook covers



The final image here contains one of the hardest-working words in the English language – ‘balance.’

yrecohandbook inside back

We know there are problems.  We know that all the previous promises of technological resolution (if not revolution) have not worked.  But we can do Our Bit (since collective solutions are dead), and intone the magic incantations.  And she’ll be ‘right’ mate.  Except ‘she’ won’t.

Damn glad I am in my mid-40s, not my mid-20s…

On the physical pleasures of… research. And buying books

Things I learnt today-

  • you can’t watch half an episode of ‘The Good Wife’ – it’s too compelling in a gourmet bubblegum for the mind kind of way.
  • chest expanders are fun
  • the physicality of archival research is fun.

On the third point – those of us old enough to remember Before The Web might recall that the way you found academic articles was to get hold the most recent article you could and then ‘mine’ the references backwards. That died as a necessary technique in about 1999 (perhaps earlier?) when online bibliographies showing where something was cited popped up.  At about the same time, the physical skills of knowing how to ninja operate a photocopier, having paper clips, staplers, folders, biceps and stamina for ferrying heavy bound journals from dusty shelves to the one or two functioning copiers all went kaput in the blink of a pdf developer’s eye.  You no longer needed to be an acrobat, just to have one.

For a long time since then, you could, if you wanted, surf.  But if, like me, you are studying obscure stuff that is on the cusp of the digital age, then there is no substitute for cunning and hard graft. And the kindness of librarians.

So, I’ve been digging up the conference papers of the Australian Coal Association. I thought I was going to get every year from 1990 to 1998, but it turns out they’ve only got 90, 92, 96 and 98.  It’s not the end of the world – (but unmitigated anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions probably ARE.)

Anyway, I was expecting to spend a small fortune on photocopying, and having to not buy books so that I could take my photocopies back home as part of my 5 tonne vandalism.  But the university has these magical scanners, kind of like what Googlebooks presumably has.  You can place an A3 book on a dinky procrustean-bed style cradle, and start pushing buttons more or less at random (and the software is largely idiot-proof. Trust me on this) and save your stuff to a USB.  Vwa-lah.

It made me even happier than finding out the public access computers do indeed have usb ports, and I don’t have to do the convoluted saving to a non-dotcom email and then emailing myself wodges of pdfs.  I know, I know, I should get out more, and not to academic libraries….

Now, about those books. I got the following-

Hamilton, C. and Maddison, S. (2007) Silencing Dissent: How the Australian government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Have read bits of this, but a copy is needed.

Pearse, G. (2007) High and Dry : John Howard, climte change and the selling of Australia’s future. Camberwell, Vic: Viking

Have a copy of this elsewhere, but a reference copy here ain’t gonna hurt

That was published in 2007, as was Barrett, G. Payten, P. and Goldsmith, S. (2007) Your Eco Handbook: Achieving a Sustainable Future. Pyrmont, NSW: Fairfax Books

More on this in the next blog post. A curious document, very much of that odd year, 2007.  Which is the subject of the other three;

Brett, J. (2007) Exit Right: The Unravelling of John Howard, Quarterly Essay 28. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Kerr, C. (ed) (2007) The Crikey Guide to the 2007 Federal Election. Camberwell, Vic: Pe2007 crikey guide 001nguin

Stuart, N. (2007) What goes up… behind the 2007 election. Carlton, Vic: Scribe

Will I read every word of every book.  No.  Will I fossick out nuggets? Oh yes….

Renewable Energy and South Australia – 100 per cent event…

On Tuesday 16th June, Dr Mark Diesendorf was in the hot seat.  In front of a capacity audience of about 120 people, he outlined the report [pdf] about achieving 100% renewable energy that he has just written for the Conservation Council of South Australia.  He also fielded a very wide variety of questions from the audience.

All in all, an excellent event; here’s a video of the first 80 minutes of his talk (at which point my camera battery died- there is an irony in there somewhere….).  Most of the rest of it was captured by someone else, and as soon as I get that footage, I’ll upload it too.

Book Review: “The Big Score” – Down these Mean Aussie Streets

Corris, P. (2007) The Big Score: Cliff Hardy Cases

bigscorePeter Corris is an Australian author of very very many books (with a relatively small book market, if you want to pay the bills, you have to pursue a high volume low margins strategy). One of his mainstays is the Private Eye Cliff Hardy. Based in Sydney, Hardy is the ‘typical’ private eye- good with the ladies, good with his fists, clever enough and tenacious.
Corris writes well, with rarely a wasted word, and the plots are usually satisfyingly devious without being ludicrous. There have been many many novels in the Hardy series and a few collections of short stories.
Short stories can of course be much harder to write – you have to pack plot, people and punches into ten or twenty pages. Corris is good at this too. The Big Score, a 2007 collection of 11 stories has no dogs and a some stand out stuff. One story “The Worst case scenario” -in which Hardy is ‘responsible’ for something awful – is a retread of a much earlier story, but nonetheless excellent Hardy also tracks down missing children, investigates the mysterious post-tournament behaviour of a rising tennis star and much else.
I whipped through these stories in top speed, but I am heading back to the library for more… My PhD supervisors can wait… 😉

Films on a Plane – Nightcrawler as neoliberal parable

Night Crawler

You should see this film. Especially if you care about understanding noeliberalism and its consequences for those who perpetrate it and those on the receiving end.

Jake Gyllenhal is brilliant as “Lou Bloom” (the name is a joke – there is nothing fertile about this guy, he drops toxic leaves all around him). We first meet him stealing chain link to fence (sorry about that). When caught, he checks out if the guard is private or a cop. It’s the former, and he beats him up. Nothing is made of it, but this sums up Lou- he has an (un)healthy disregard for boundaries, and cool calculation of precisely what he can get away with.

Lou then stumbles into the world of freelance cameramen who prowl Los Angeles for clips of people (preferably white) who are bleeding from accident and violence. The clips can then be sold to the voracious beast that is cable news (“if it bleeds, it leads”). The rest of the movie charts his rise. Bloom is a Horatio Alger for the 21st century, having imbibed all the homilies and bromides about reinvention, self-marketing and flexibility that are neoliberalism’s mantras and dogmas. He is a relentless and clever manipulator and shape-shifter, akin to the liquid metal Terminator in Terminator 2. Here though, there is no vat of molten metal to dissolve him. He probes weaknesses, leverages strengths and knows how to defend himself from the state when necessary, how and when to use it to his own advantage. He is of course the very embodiment of neoliberalism.

While skirting self-parody near its climax, the film is definitely up there with other great films about the role of the media and image in constructing reality (I am thinking Network, LA Confidential and Series 7: The Contenders).

Los Angeles has rarely looked so bleak, so alienating and alienated. The breathless media clips are pitch perfect, and Rene Russo brilliant as the news editor who doesn’t realise until it is too late what she is dealing with.

Also in the “identity” business is a German techno-thriller called “Who Am I – No System is Safe”. It is competent, entertaining and not worth thinking about too deeply (unlike Nightcrawler!). It twists and turns but is ultimately “The Usual Suspects” meets “The Matrix” via “The Edukators” (A 2004 German film about the ‘activists’ who… re-arrange people’s future.)

Such a pity to see a director who was as good in his day (Heat, Collateral) as Michael Mann delivering dross that looks like it has been shot on my video camera. Mann has always done steely competent men being steely and competent, with criminality and stylised gunplay as demonstrators. When it worked, it was exhilarating. This starts well enough – with a nuclear reactor being hacked and sabotaged, Chinese military intelligence wrangles, and the hacker-in-jail trope. But it soon becomes whack-a-cliche, with the squared jawed American and his tiny Chinese love interest, absurd gunfights with no apparent consequences in terms of paperwork (there is ALWAYS paperwork). There are signs of re-writes on the fly, and that irritating thing where because someone is good at skill x) (computer hacking) they suddenly are also good at skill y) (shooting people).

Behind it all of course is the head henchman and the Dr Evil character. The actors do well enough, but the script is alternately flabby and portentous, the plot preposterous. It tries to be Jason Bourne does the Matrix, but ends up more Mr Bean does Johnny Mnemonic. I fast forwarded chunks of its 2 hours and 13 minutes, and don’t think I missed anything.

Films I fast forwarded/abandonded

“I Kissed a Girl” – A gay French guy ‘converted’ by hot Swedish babe just before his wedding. Hilarity ensues, at least in a parallel universe where this film wasn’t  quite so obvious. Engaging performances can’t save something trite and shallow.

Men’s refuge (or some such)- German comedy about three men hanging out, each with their Own Secrets. Managed 20 minutes.