Glug glug

Nothing highlights the change of season, the shifting tides, the gathering autumnal storms like searching for pieces of a jetliner in the southern Indian ocean. As many an ancient mariner will tell you, time spent riding up and down on the the wide wide wide wide sea ferments a particular frame of mind amongst men, one that see saws between humble perspective and atavistic madness. It should come as no surprise then that international cargo shipping is a gleeful and carefree enterprise, unsullied by the terrestrial anxieties of love and loss. Indeed, the ocean’s unbounded, lawless frontiers coax the pioneering, colonial spirit out of the cloistered confines of the ironed shirt, the bus pass, the fiddly little plastic container of sushi. On the high and roaring seas man can realise the same urgencies that have dictated countless conquests, separated victor from victim, sheep from goats. Indeed, sea-faring men are a law unto themselves, unto the sea.

In other words, the ocean is absolutely chock-full of shit, including floating gyres of rubbish spanning thousands of kilometres. But perhaps more significantly for the current airline predicament, hundreds of shipping containers slide into the ocean each year, some of which are actually strategically connected to one another in order to enable more efficient disposal at sea. Here’s just one recent article giving you some idea of the problem. Insulated containers can float for months and are a well known boating and shipping hazard. 

My question is, how much time, energy, fuel and ultimately money will our governments spend trying to identify pieces of sea-borne rubbish as the missing Malaysian aircraft? 


Deal me in

You know, there’s been a lot of talk lately about corruption in the New South Wales government, usually oriented around the machinations of The Continental Drift. One could be forgiven for thinking the whole thing is stitched up, with seemingly limitless monies divided amongst players according to girth and eyebrow weight. 

 However, I’ve come to the conclusion that in fact the key winner here is Quentin Dempster, routinely showing up every Friday night to detail the new and interesting ways a coterie of developers have found to rummage around in one another’ glove-boxes.
In fact, it’s fair to say that without the NSW’s bipartisan approach to good old fashioned corruption, Stateline (or, as it’s more widely known, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire) would cease to exist, taking with it Q-Dump’s CityRail concession ticket and snappy wardrobe budget.   

Attending the opening of a lotus.

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In some ways, Bermagui could be a coastal town anywhere; 1980s feature-brick arches hosting ice cream parlours and shops selling sarongs, the cloying smell of incense cut through with waves of cigarette smoke and urinal cakes from the tavern’s gaping verandah, its armpitty patrons leaning away from the creep of the mid-morning sun. And then of course there’s the ubiquitous seaside motif – seagulls and brightly coloured, swirly whale-tails emerging out of toilet blocks and rubbish bins.

After navigating the mandatory whale tails at Bermagui’s annual Sculpture on the Edge exhibition last weekend, I noticed something that’s made me wonder if it might just be time to rethink this lynchpin of the clunky seaside theme. And that’s because there’s another ubiquitous marine symbol on the rise, one that is invariably represented at art exhibitions in touristy, coastal towns – the pink-lipped muscle.

You’ve no doubt seen this sculpture or one like it before – a set of interleaving ‘lips’, rendered in stone or clay. The artist’s statement usually describes the work as a ‘form’ that represents ‘sacred femininity’, as if there’s something subtle, abstract or interpretive about a weary gash at eye level. It may or may not reference an opening lotus flower.

These vag-sculptures resonate with a zeitgeist of baby boomer towns, full of women who have ‘realised their artistic spirit’ around the same time that they discover purple is their power colour. You can be sure that every stone-vag has had several predecessors, all rendered in felt, by women whose sacred femininity is actualised with the help of unflattering rayon pants and the inability to change a tyre.

This is not to suggest that Bermagui’s Sculpture on the Edge exhibition isn’t without its charms. Whale tails and stone vaginas aside, the exhibition provides more readable works than its Sydney counterpart, running concurrently. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. A well executed figurative sculpture is a joy and a delight. For me, the giant Rhino, artfully plated in translucent white plastic, was eerily compelling, while several other pieces made me smile or think. Most importantly, hordes of people were wandering around, discussing and taking photos of the artworks. There’s definitely room for art that rejects smartypants abstractionism and tired ‘styles’ in favour of something clever, surprising and aesthetically appealing. Sculpture on the Edge contained some quite splendid pieces. If you go, make sure you also have a look at the indoors exhibition at the community hall down the road.

And, as with all regional exhibitions, do check out the large stone flange, if for no other reason than it is set to replace the whale tail as the true icon of coastal Australia, welcoming visitors into its warm embrace alongside a perennially glowing Woolworths and a string of skin cancer clinics.

P.S Bermagui is currently at war over a proposed Woolworths. For all of the above, Bermagui is gentrifying in interesting ways. If I go there again I might talk more about that.



Would you like formaldehyde with that?

Is protein as bad for you as smoking? The Guardian certainly thinks it’s an idea that’s worth a run around the paddock.

Naturally of course, the jury is still out on that one, but what’s most interesting is the reaction from health advocates. For instance, this statement from Gunter Kuhnle, a food nutrition scientist at Reading University, complaining about the headline itself, saying

“…it was wrong “and potentially even dangerous” to compare the effects of smoking with the effect of meat and cheese as the study does.

“Sending out [press] statements such as this can damage the effectiveness of important public health messages. They can help to prevent sound health advice from getting through to the general public. The smoker thinks: ‘why bother quitting smoking if my cheese and ham sandwich is just as bad for me?'”

No, actually, it’s not wrong. It is, in fact, completely right. Contrary to popular belief, the dangers of smoking are not easily mapped on a linear, dose response chart. Certainly, the  Australian public health campaign’s ‘every cigarette is doing you damage’ message is probably correct, but so is almost every other bloody thing you’re up to. However, the ‘Every moment your cells become older is doing you damage’ never made it past the focus groups.

The trick lies in figuring out the intersection of smoking and your own body. Risk profiling demonstrates that in fact smoking isn’t immediately deadly, as evidenced by the fact that not all smokers develop smoking related illnesses, much less die of them. So, the point at which the risk of developing cancer emerges above the noise and competing risks of being alive and having aging cells appears sooner with smoking than with a ham and cheese sandwich. But importantly, there is a point where the risks associated with both are still in the noise.

So yes, strictly speaking, there is a safe level of ham and cheese consumption, but equally there’s also no proven unsafe level of smoking, despite the fact that smoking’s risk profile is much scarier than a couple of slices of ham. Unless, of course, you happen to be the pig.

Who is doing the fishing?

At the risk of sounding churlish, I’m wondering, am I the only person who begrudges the Westpac rescue helicopter, manfully searching for some poor lost soul, bobbing around the in vast expanse of ocean, more dead than alive? I mean how is one meant to quietly relish one’s peaceful nighttime idyll when it is constantly interrupted by the chattering of a glorified metal house-fly, packed to the gunnels with day-glo attendants, all gawping out the doors like over-fed budgies? This is the second night running that we’ve been subjected to the ‘spotlight’ chopper searching for some pissed fisherman who has failed to navigate the nimble ballet between rock and girth.

Perhaps what is more surprising is that these fishermen manage to find themselves in the ocean at all, given their propensity to almost entirely cover themselves and the surrounding area with a birdnest of nylon fishing line, leaving only a square metre of brown-edged toilet paper to mark their precise location.

I mean seriously, how often does that huge spotlight thing work? Having spent my holidays from finishing school spotlighting from the back of a ute, I can honestly say that unless Damo is looking straight at the light from a distance of about three metres then really, he’s Neptune’s smoothie. Unless of course the chopper happens to contain a couple of frustrated, half-pissed deer hunters, in which case Damo will almost certainly be ‘located’.