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Issue No. 142 28 June 2002  

Safety First
This week's Safety Summit, called by the Carr Government, is a timely opportunity for the union movement to put occupational health and safety into a contemporary perspective.


Interview: Safe as Houses
Labor Council secretary John Robertson outlines the union movement's priorities in the lead-up to this week's Safety Summit.

Safety: Ten Steps to Safety
On the eve of the NSW Safety Summit, Workers Online went looking for the ten biggest workplace health issues and what needs to be done to address them.

History: Staying Alive
Neale Towart winds the clock back to discover that contemporary arguments that regulators should stay out of workplace safety and let the market do its business are nothing new.

Unions: Choose Life
While Commissioner Cole struggles with the concept of unions trying to improve workers� wages, out in the real world, bosses daily thumb their noses at safety authorities, as Jim Marr discovers.

International: Seoul Destroyers
The rise and rise of the Korean national football team in the World Cup competition was more than matched by the rise and rise of the number of imprisoned Korean trade unionists.

Corporate: Crash Landing
Did Ansett workers� productivity really crash Ansett? Jim McDonald weighs up the evidence.

Activists: The Refusenik
At 20, Rotem Mor has spent more time analysing how he will live his life than most people twice his age. A month in prison and another 18 serving in the Israeli army saw to that.

Review: Dumb Nation
Michael Moore's new book, 'Stupid White Men' exposes the rorts behind the Bush presidency with bitter humour, writes Mark Hebblewhite.

Poetry: Helping Out The Rich
From proposals to 'deregulate' (ie raise) university fees, to attempts to restrict workers' right to strike in the name of 'genuine' bargaining the Government's rhetoric about helping out the battlers is wearing just a bit thin.


 Redundancy Bonus for Members Only

 Tax Office Backs CFMEU Case

 Lib MP Named in Cole Commission

 Sentencing Guidelines for Safety Breaches

 Revealed: Costello�s Hit List

 Virtual Cold War Over

 Safety Lock-Out Enters Second Week

 Unions Seek Talks With New Airport Owners

 Journos Attacked by NRMA

 Strip Bosses Face Dressing Down

 Beattie Called Into Bargaining Impasse

 Nurses Deliver Largest Ever Petition

 US Braces for its Own Waterfront War

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Back to the Future
McKenzie Wark argues that the future of the book relies on the future of a sphere of public debate.

Chain Reaction
The Big Australian discovers a uranium mine it never knew it had, a corporate fraud sparks a worldwide market plunge and the price of investing ethically.

The Locker Room
Three Colours Blue
After a World Cup that saw post-colonial cultural theorists chanting 'we beat the scum one-nil' on the Terraces of Inchon, it was the natural order of things that prevailed, writes Phil Doyle

Poll Positioning
Unions Tasmania secretary Lynne Fitzgerald gives an overview of the State Election called earlier this week.

Week in Review
The Weight of Office
Apart from the Teflon John, power walking at his own pace, would-be leaders everywhere turned in shockers as Jim Marr discovered.

 Link Wages to CEO Pay
 Voodoo Unionism
 Good News from the Pilbara
 Go Mark, Go
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The Soapbox

Back to the Future

McKenzie Wark argues that the future of the book relies on the future of a sphere of public debate.


I think we are all a bit tired of the new, new thing, of the idea that somehow the next technology is the one that is finally going to make the future arrive. I want to suggest, to the contrary, that the internet is only now starting to appear in its true colours, now that it is some 20 years old. It is not a bridge to the 21st century. It's a bungee jump into the 18th century.

To put it a bit schematically, the 18th century was when a few things came together. One was the printing press. This was really a very cheap and reliable technology by this time. A second thing is a certain degree of freedom from state control. A third was a very weak and leaky copyright regime. A fourth was a network of distribution, the post. Put these things together, and what you got was that magic thing we call a 'public sphere'.

We are all used to the high peaks of literature that poke out through this era. It's when novels were fun. Its when political and social thought really gets cracking. But what we forget is the great mass of popular literature, the diatribes, the libels, the letters -- all the network of things that make a literature great. There can be no literature without the post office.

Well, I think we're back in the 18th century again, only better. This time around, the public sphere isn't just for white men in tights and wigs. Its for everyone, at least potentially. We have the undergrowth, the network of writing that is in my mind more important than the few beached whales of great literature that we remember from the 18th century. It was more than that -- it was an ocean of thought.

The things is, we may lose this neo-18th century public sphere just as surely as we lost the first one. The consolidation of so-called intellectual property law, the narrowing of the cultural forms for use of the internet, the commodification of its spaces. It could get rather bleak. Communication is culture. The design of the vectors along which information flows sets a limit to the kinds of culture and society that can bloom along it.

I think writing is most interesting when it takes into account, at the level of the text, the things that are going on in terms of distribution and archiving, or in other words, at the level of the vector. The 18th century version of enlightenment was both a theory and a practice, a way of thinking and a means of communicating. We're right in the middle of a flowering of just this kind of comprehensive writerly culture. You don't see it reflected all that much in the old print world, but its there, informing it. There's still a reason to write and publish books. I publish a book series, media.culture books. Graham's new book Future Forward is in that series. But like all the books I publish, it is informed by the networks of communication that the internet makes possible.

People wonder what will happen to the book in the internet age. I have two answers. One, the book will always be with us. It's a really convenient vector. On the other hand, the book really disappeared completely about 10 years ago now. Now there are no books at all. Authors, editors and publishers all work digitally, with computers. The book is now a computer print out to read on the bus or the bog, or to give as a present to someone you want to impress.

The future health of the book depends on the health of this neo-18th century style public sphere, where ideas can move freely and cheaply. Books are already in a large part the beached whales tossed up by this very energetic ocean, the internet. So if you want to save the whales, preserve the seas. Keep information as free as possible, both in terms of access to archives, the liberty to use them, and the liberty to become your own favourite author, editor and publisher.

Speech to the Sydney Writers' Festival by Pluto Press Culture Series Editor, McKenzie Wark


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