Thursday, July 31, 2003

Boomer puke du jour

An architect has a neon-sign artwork installed in the window of his city office. Not really cutting-edge newsworthy stuff, until you get to this - yes, as well as the inevitable hefty contribution from the public purse, the architect actually kicked in some of his own money towards the artwork! Yes, and it was a “substantial amount”! Architect John Wardle must be a bountiful neo-Medici – actually putting a tiny fraction (I’m sure) of his own money to part-pay for a commissioned something, that is therefore of his own taste, and that sits inside his own building.

And the boomer group puke-fest gets even better when the story’s third party expert, gallery director Chris McAuliffe, gets to chime in:

commend[ing] Wardle for commissioning the work: "It's actually good to see a company doing something other than dumping a sculpture on the forecourt or slapping up a painting in the elevator lobby."

Yes, terrible isn’t it, when those corporate ruffians dress-up their showpieces with something off the rack! This probably also means that these un-cognoscenti can’t even look to taxpayers to pick up most of the tab – Dahling, how shocking!

Finally, there is this breathless observation from Gabriella Coslovich, an arts journo whose uber-sycophancy may or may not have been acquired through exposure on the job:

The project is the latest example of Melbourne architecture firms supporting challenging public art - Nonda Katsalidis's Republic Tower on La Trobe Street and Hero Apartments, on Russell Street, are sites for traffic-stopping contemporary images.

As far as I can tell, architect Nonda Katsalidis’s best claim to fame when it comes to “challenging public art” is censoring it himself that is, when he (or at least his paid lackey) are not pressuring others to take it all away on a dump truck.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Higher Ed round-up

Neville Gruzman, an adjunct professor of architecture at the University of NSW, has a letter in today’s Australian Higher Ed* decrying physical conditions and staff-student ratios in his state’s architecture faculties – presumably including his own.

A (brave) whistleblower? No sirree. Gruzman devotes the last third of his letter to pinning the source of the extra dollars (that architecture faculties so urgently need) onto the students “who have the privilege to get such . . . a good university education”.

Clearly, logic – in contrast to unconscious, searing irony – is not Gruzman’s strong point. And a passing glance at the average commercial-size building development (sic) being erected in Melbourne these days does not suggest of plethora of only semi-competent architects. On the contrary, the complete absence of originality in design, and the (related) blanket use of the cheap tilt-slab as the building’s structure amply shows no architects at all were required for the project. Unless, that is, you count pressing the photocopier button to capture the plans of the tenth-previous tilt-slab monstrosity for yet another re-use.

In summary then, perhaps adjunct professor Neville Gruzman can better devote his future campaigns to architecture students designing international departure lounges at the nation’s airports. However tilt-slab-shoddy the (architect’s plans-overridden) result may be, they’ll still get to (briefly) experience “their” handiwork first-hand – and not be around long enough to complain about it, either.

Another piece of Higher Ed news caused me a “Q” flashback to the mid-90’s, when I was a full-time academic working much longer hours than this frail and whinging creature#. (How cushy is the Uni of Wollongong law faculty in 2003 that it is only regularly crashing computers that makes its lecturers need to work back until 11pm, and only then some nights, at that!). Although I should admit that the rampant “Q” jingoism of that period was more a matter of light relief for me at the time (i.e. intra-collegial snickering, rather than a time-consuming chore), I am surprised that capital-Q Quality hasn’t yet faded into the deep dark institutional archives – it always did smack of someone’s MBA project gone wrong (i.e. taken seriously).

The proof that "Quality" is still alive at universities is not in, of course, Neville Gruzman’s implicit protestation that Australia still has a shortage of unemployed architecture graduates with $90k HECS debts (apparently their current, modest $30k HECS debts unadvantageously show up the decrepit classrooms they trained in). Rather, the proof is here, in the promotions news section#:

Good on you, Marie Carroll – going from being a pro vice-chancellor at one uni, to running a “quality assurance initiative” at another, four km’s down the road. Lest unkind souls whisper that it’s a demotion, I point out – in your defence – that the very word “initiative” suggests that you will be able to milk a few more years yet out of the ageing nanny goat called Quality.

Finally in the Higher Ed department comes this bit of mathematical ineptitude from my favourite Melbourne Uni whipping-boy, Andrew Norton#. He writes:

The Age last weekend reported on a Monash University full-fee law student, whose ENTER score of 98.75 wasn't enough to get him a HECS place in that course. Can anyone seriously say being in the top 1.25 per cent of Victorian results is not an achievement?

Well, firstly, I can, Andrew. My Year 12 English result was the (equal) top mark in Victoria, and the only “achievement” it has brought me is the misguided sense to trade in a secure blue-collar job, all for a few years at university followed by a few temporary jobs, punctuated by years of living on $200 a week.

Less personally, Andrew Norton’s maths are up shit creek, and to a laughable degree. I’m pretty sure that any Year 12 student could inform him that ENTER scores are not on a scale of one to one hundred, and thus that 98.75 isn’t quite as shit hot a score as it may seem. My own mathematical limitations, and the fact the uni entrance scoring system worked differently in my day prevent me saying too much more, but I am fairly confident in saying that, if you got an ENTER score of 30 or below, then it’s probably just you (and maybe Andrew Norton too, if he foolishly chose the all-maths program for his Year 12 efforts).

* “Building to breakdown” The Australian 30 July 2003 (no URL).

# URL valid to ~ 5 August 2003 only.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Andrew Bolt really needs to get out more

Yet I can still spend whole days tuned to the ABC without hearing a single conservative ABC presenter.

I am a highly-educated Australian, left-thinking on most matters. Frankly, I don’t know, or care, if the ABC’s various non-fiction arms are left (or right) wing biased. I hardly ever listen to or watch ABC news/comment, because I’m too well-acquainted with its extreme bias in another direction – age.

If you’re under 40 (and a bit too old for Narnas in Jarmies), then there’s the 20-songs-or-so high-rotation playlist delights of JJJ radio (with actually some okay journalism in between songs, but not enough to remove the overall smell of rank payola) – and that’s it. In the high-flying career days of my late-twenties, I used to listen to Radio National. In hindsight, I was a dead-set aspirational media consumer (one of a minority back then, but in 2003 aspirational Gen X professionals, at least those still remaining in Australia, are viritually an extinct species).

Nowadays, I get a gag reflex from the shoved-down-the-throat demographics of the ABC audience – all home-owning, all securely employed (unless of course, they’re victims of “ageism”, a condition the ABC defines as only applying to over 55’s), and therefore with almost-unlimited time to debate and argue over small delicacies – little morsels of affluent angst, and never meatier realities like, say, “My 30 y.o. home cleaner has a PhD”.

Which means that if I wanted to get very angry, I could indeed tune into the ABC, like Andrew Bolt apparently does, for days on end. The difference between us is that one is just bitter, the other is a masochist – one has few choices in life other than the spectrum-dial and the “off’ button, the other is a languid connoisseur of rarefied spectrums that make him exquisitely angry.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Drugs on the slippery slope

The Daily Telegraph has had itself a pun-frenzy with this story of – shock horror – club drugs being consumed and sold in the nightspots of Jindabyne.

I actually found the story slightly educational – the last time I went up to the snow, on a cheap uni day trip a few years ago, I wondered at the flocks of snowboardin’ boyz on the mountain. How the fuck did they afford it? I had just assumed that they were spoilt rich kids in disguise, but, if this story is to be believed, some of them are actually quite entrepreneurial in a self-made way – experts at (ahem) carving the powder on and off the mount.

An angle only obliquely hinted at by the Daily Tele, however, was the affront to an Australian national icon, who has been conferred the dubious honour of having both leading Jindabyne nightspots (and so drug dens) named after him and his literary output – Banjo Patterson Inn and Clancy's bar. (Is there a “Henry Lawson gutter” nearby?)

I’m not sure what Banjo would have made of these youthful new frontiers – even though they still feature snowy rivers and overflows galore.

Update 29 July 2003

One day after the Daily Telegraph broke the story, it turns out that a NSW mob has already dreamed up – and got funding for – a Safe Stoned Skiing program.

I’m sure that the nation’s consumer credit counsellors can’t be far behind, in getting themselves some taxpayer-funded ski-trip junkets – “Skiing can be a Wealth Hazard!” and all that.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Philippines coup manque - a cry for my generation

Another two-tier fault line in society is exposed – this time, it’s in the Philippine military.

I am aware I’m about to draw a perhaps nutter-length long bow here, but here goes anyway.

Look at the exquisite paradoxes in this attempted coup by Gen X soldiers – “elite”, but “junior officers”; pressing a political point (anti-corruption – “We are the good guys . . . not the bad guys") but avowedly not interested in grabbing power; using violent action (almost certainly many are going to die, or if not, fry) to pursue what might be termed a wholesome cause, in which the junior officers only direct stake is their (presumably) frustrated careers. And then there’s this derr-Fred clanger of miscellaneous expert opinion:

Security analysts see scant support for a coup among senior officers or the public. (same URL)

So it’s all just a doomed youthful macabre frolic, then? Well, not quite – the same experts (I’m assuming) are also saying that the rebel officers are being puppet-stringed from above, and from the highest levels at that.

In other words (and here comes the long bow); it’s a replica both of the Al Qaida modus operandi, and of Australian and US universities’ academic labour policies. Put most simply, it’s all about baby boomers letting the young do their dirty work (to their deaths, if necessary), while – and here’s the really clever bit – letting them think they are on the side of the right and the good.

A cry for my generation – the first ever cohort of mercenaries who worked for nothing other than their ideals (hah!) and then ended up wearing the blame for flying into the fucking twin towers that they only ever wanted to work in, all along.

Friday, July 25, 2003

September 11, the Sex Pistols, and an "End of the World" party

In the weeks of lead-up to the 25 July release of the much-leaked US congressional report into the September 11 attacks, lots of blog-ops had presented themselves to me. Today though, it all feels too anticlimactic for me to blog directly about. In particular, it seems depressingly party-political – I really can’t imagine an issue that is more deserving of bipartisan support, so bypassing the post-1975 norm of political paralysis stopping any substantive outcomes whatsoever. Anyway, I’m filing my response here away for another day.

Adding to my sense of blogger’s-block, just yesterday I read a quite different September 11 insight – a review of the DVD of the 2002 film, "The Rules of Attraction".

In what seems to me to be much more than a piece of production trivia, the final day of shooting the ultra-complex (see the film if you have't already) opening scene of “Rules” – a rich-kids’ undergrad party with a “End of the World” theme, all set in a kind of eternal nineteen-eighties time period – was 11 September 2001. Maybe its just me, but I find the resonances here jaw-dropping – an “on with the show” attitude, with a bevy of young nymph and hunk actors, filming a scene about a themed party, and all without the “End of the World” irony even being commented upon by anyone.

Instead, we just get a post-production talking-head taped interview with two of the “Rules” actors – as one of the usual handful of DVD extras – in which the duo talk about the day when the actors and crew members were openly crying off set, as the “party” shoot went on.

Which mental image, I think, pretty much sums up the cultural zeitgeist each of the 700 or so days since, as well. Yes, the show has indeed gone on, but you only have to step a few inches out of frame to be right back in the world of the unactable and raw. We all mainly live now in the interzone of these few inches – in an area akin to Korea’s DMZ, in that it is necessarily 100% free of something – irony.

If 11 September 2001 was an end of a world, a pretty good time and place to locate the start of this world would be 18 January 1978 in San Francisco – the Sex Pistols' last concert. The article that put such an idea in my head is compulsory reading, so please don’t just stop at my brief extrapolation and paraphrasing. 18 January 1978 in San Francisco was the punk movement’s crescendo and jumping-off point. Punk (and in case it’s not obvious, I’m also referring here to Western culture at large) then and there divided into two asymmetric moieties – one of mass hand-washing by a generation of baby boomers celebrating having finished the job of ‘68, and as for the other, from then on a forever-marginalized rump . . . well, what celebration? what future? – and what job?

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Two-minute masturbation

Three weeks ago, I was all Ken Parked-out.

But reading this excellent recent piece (first appearing in The Hobart Mercury's Sunday Tasmanian, of all places), I’ve had a second wind. According to Jane Rankin-Reid, the ratio decidendi for the film’s censorship was simple – the two-minute masturbation scene. No other critic seems to have highlighted this particular scene, although film critic David Stratton has noted, that while the scene of male masturbation is real, there is no real sex between the actors*.

Even though it strikes me as an exceedingly worthy topic of debate, the topic – “that real male masturbation on screen is more/less offensive to the average person than real sex between the actors” – I don’t propose to go there in this forum. Year 10 boys could (ahem) handle it with much more aplomb (boom boom), I’m sure.

I am interested, however, in the two-minute length of the masturbation scene, and what it might say about the Australian national character (given that Australia has been very much an exception among nations, in taking umbrage to Ken Park). Is it that two minutes is on the slow, enjoying-yourself-just-a-bit-too-much, side for the average Aussie bloke?

On the other hand, following the great sex-education flick verite tradition, is two minutes just a neither here nor there length of time for the objective act – long enough for the excitement to build (in both actor and audience), but not long enough to be the scientific norm for such things, and so not quite right and proper?

A third possibility is that Australia’s censors, being incredibly au fait with the dubious cinema tradition of interminable masturbation films, and scenes therein (okay, there’s only one other that I know of, Andy Warhol's 1964 35-minute snoozefest, “Blow Job”), have decided to spare a new generation of young minds from the right-of-passage chore known as Attending Arthouse Cinema?

* “Sense and censorship” by Lynden Barber, The Australian 9 July 2003 (no URL)

“Mother Teresa” copyrighted

Which now means, I assume, that the impetus for a range of Mother Teresa-themed, Franklin Mint dreck – aka ‘granny crap’ – is now unstoppable.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Glossy brochure blowback and universities

Your search - "student anger over staff cuts" - did not match any documents.

It had to happen one day – the modern two-tier system for academic labour is subject to a direct action campaign. Not, of course, by either tier of employees (only one tier is unionised, and it has a strong vested interest in the status quo), but by students.

In 2003, students may or may not have as much general propensity to protest issues as students of the past 35 years. Clearly though, students going in to bat (and brick?) for staff – and sessional staff at that – is a new development.

And the protesting VCA students are being quite clever about it. The obvious angle for them would have been to mutter vaguely about course quality and then rather awkwardly segue into a neo-Marxist diatribe about how exploited sessional academics are – all true, but also absolutely nothing new. Instead, we get this:

“What was promised to us in the glossy handbook when we applied to the art school is not being fulfilled” [a] second-year drawing student [said].*

Which claim nicely illustrates my newly-christened theory: that one two-tier system begets another; or, if you prefer, two-tier systems divide and multiply. Glossy marketing brochures have proliferated in universities over the past fifteen years because of cutbacks – understandably and harmlessly enough, you may think. But once you start connecting the dots, the glossy brochures promising sandstone – but delivering only chipboard – start up an engine of reverse causation.

This means much more than unleashing student-as-consumer grievances – a fact that VCA management currently fail to grasp (or perhaps, choose to ignore):

[VCA director Andrea Hull said] “we are not reducing the education being offered to the students”. She added that sessional staff were casuals with no guarantee of ongoing employment. (same URL)

Oh yeah? “The quality remains the same” – that tired, tired New Right refrain and insult to basic biology (there IS a point at which repeated, severe pruning harms the organism; i.e. amounts to a cumulative “lop” and not a prune)

In students unpacking what was always behind the glossy brochures, and so questioning the a priori disposability of sessional academics, one under-tier has found another.

* "Student anger over staff cuts" by Georgina Safe The Australian 22 July 2003 (no URL)

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Copyright, the secondary market, and the real scum

Australian intellectual property academic Kim Weatherall is back blogging (and now Melbourne-based), after a semi-hiatus.

Her hefty posting on IP academics being perceived as being excessively anti-IP, while IP practitioners are perceived as being excessively pro-IP, got me thinking. Key quote (on why any attempt to separate “bad”, corporate copyright from “good”, creator copyright is doomed:

If the basic model of private rights in creative works is to achieve the aim of ensuring creators can profit, then the rights must be alienable.

Of course. It’s a shame, however, that Kim’s argument then rapidly peters out into stuff about moral rights, etc (which, in case you don’t know anything about them, can be succinctly described as copyright’s consolation prizes).

As a sometime intellectual property academic myself, I’ve long been interested in the (albeit not particularly legal) area that Kim leaves her argument at the gates of – the secondary market for copyright interests. As anyone with even a slight knowledge of, say, the modern music industry would know, this “market” is strongly asymmetrical. In fact, muso’s (and writers too) hawking their wares don’t generally have access to anything that remotely works like a fresh produce market, even a wholesale one. Whether this reflects an oversupply of “growers”, or a shortage of wholesalers (/distributors, aka music labels and print publishers) is a moot point.

Making this secondary market more symmetrical would seem to be the key to giving everyone affair slice of the copyright cake. As to how this might happen, I don’t really know. I do know, however, that another recent post of Kim’s – saying, ease up on the connection between copyright piracy and terrorism – is wrong, IMO. It is wrong because she conflates small-scale, “home” piracy (which has been ubiquitous since the early 70’s gave us the mass-market cassette tape and photocopier) with commercial piracy. Legally, I acknowledge that there isn’t a distinction drawn along these lines. Nor would it be easy to draft one.

Nonetheless, commercial piracy has features that make it plainly abhorrent. By creating a retail market that is without limit, copyright pirates shaft and silence creators. And I’m not just talking about zero royalties, dodgy product quality, etc. The intrinsic subterfuge of retailing a stolen product, combined with its “money growing on trees” profitability* logically mean that the only way such a market can be ordered (in other words, work) is by crime – and Big Crime at that.

* This hyper-profitability is relatively recent, as only digitisation has moved the unit cost of producing pirate copies to near zero. Even today, commercially pirating a hardcopy book (not a common thing, of course) would probably cost about 25% of its RRP per unit – compared to digital piracy’s 5% of RRP unit cost, at most.

The Gerard Henderson vs David Flint spat

Being at least twice* removed from either side of this argument puts me in a prime spot for a bit of mindless, prurient spectating.

Nonetheless, I can’t resist taking sides, but strictly in a temporary, non-binding sense, mind you. Henderson is clearly being disingenuous by quizzing what on earth could link the “elite” names that Flint names. It is obvious to Blind Freddie, I would have thought, that the answer is “republicanism”.

Failing that, my suggestion is that Flint’s ersatz list may relate to fashion and clothes sense. I picture Flint as the sort of chap who would often put on his dark blue blazer with gold buttons as his going-out garb. On the other hand, I can’t see any of Flint’s list ever wearing the said blue blazer#, even to meet the Queen.

On which, I came across this curious prequel to the current Henderson-Flint spat:

When the British Queen Mother died, Australia's ABC TV Lateline featured a discussion between republican, Dr Gerard Henderson, and monarchist, Professor David Flint. The topic was a letter the Queen Mother had written wherein she refers to Hitler as " a sincere man". Henderson suffered from bodily and mental spasms as Flint deflected Henderson's criticism of the Queen Mother's remarks. Flint pointed out that 'evil' Hitler could indeed have been quite a sincere person in the beliefs he held.

My source here is a (Australian) Nazi-sympathetic website, for which reason I decline to name it – but the above quote was found through Google, if you get my drift. (I haven’t been able to corroborate the substance of the Lateline stoush it outlines, on the ABC website or elsewhere.)

* “Twice removed” because:

(i) all who are on, or even alleged to be on, either side are baby boomers, or older (barring Natasha Stott-Despoja);
(ii) I am immune to being called “elite” – indeed, I cannot currently be accused of being working class, much less “upper-middle-class”

# Disclosure: Paul Watson once wore the said style of dark blue blazer to a high school social, c. 1980. He thought that he looked rather spiffing in it at the time. But he never wore it again, and it has long since disappeared from his closet. Remembering this, Paul is starting to now have his own “mental spasms” over whether one adolescent experiment with gold-buttoned blue blazers has cast him as a monarchist for life, however much he may have denied this it up til now (and don’t dare ever bring up his arts-student “Cravat period”!)

ATTENTION: all Chinese herbalists and their suppliers

Your years of killing wild animals – often endangered species, to boot – all for the aphrodisiac properties of (usually only) one of their organs can now end.

Courtesy of Russell Crowe’s big mouth, and my digging up an otherwise rather ephemeral news story from three-or-four days after his fifteen weeks ago (April 7) wedding, we now know that Little Russ/Roz was conceived in Rockhampton.

All that remains for the Chinese herbalists to sort out is what potion did it for Russ: was it the all-chook delights of the local Red Rooster, or the “chicken OR the beef” (I’m guessing) offerings of the unnamed opposition, quoted as serving "tasty affordable meals from $5".

Monday, July 21, 2003

21 days, $660 flushed down the toilet . . . and counting

Current number of jobs today on whiz-bang new job matching database: 36,000

Number of which I have been appraised as suitable for, and notified by email, since 1 July 2003: Nil

Direct taxpayer transfers to me since 1 July 2003 (including accrued up to 21 July 2003): $600

Indirect taxpayer transfers to third parties, in respect of me, since 1 July 2003; going to (separate) Job Search Provider and Work for the Dole Provider: $660 (estimate)

It’s your money, taxpayers. Frankly, I am not paid nearly enough to be a whistleblower – much less a scapegoat.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Melchiors to troop back to High Court . . .

. . . Accidentally forgot to include “baby fashion allowance” on statement of claim.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Plagiarism, ethics and cultural relativism

As an unemployed academic, I have an obvious alternative way of earning a living: the academic black-market; specifically, ghost-writing student essays for subjects I have previously taught.

I’m not sure if even the mention of this strikes some as scandalous. I should add, at this stage, that I have no intention of doing so. Whether one is a current, former or in-hiatus academic, my personal view is that writing student essays for money (and obviously covertly) would be a gross breach of ethics. Not that the ethics of this situation are anywhere directly stated; nor that there would appear to be any legal problems with doing it (except when it comes to current employees ghost-writing – or as it is more likely to be phrased, “assisting”; which is also the form of academic black-marketeering that is hardest to detect, for obvious reasons).

My own qualms here mean that I (chose to) live in poverty. According to an academic who claims some expertise on the topic, a growing number of academics – current and former – have no such qualms*. If this is true, my occupying the ethical high-ground here is probably a delusion, and an economically harmful one (for me) at that. On the other hand, can our universities really have so suddenly, and completely, gone to ethical hell in a handbasket? And, if so, why am I – of all people – playing the odd one out?

Sorting out the answers to these questions is actually quite easy. For a start, there is the aforementioned expert on universities and plagiarism, Jude Carroll, a UK academic currently on a tour of the seminar rooms of Australia. Her schtick follows a tried and true path – leading with a dramatic threat (and no one doubts that academic black-marketeering is, or at least could be, incredibly corrosive of the whole system), and then hosing down the threat with some robust words of reassuring pragmatism. For Jude Carroll, the key to giving her audience of academics reassurance is that tackling the problem is not ultimately a matter of ethics, but of being “holistic”, and having the necessary systems in place.

Which is the exact point at which Ms Carroll’s barnstorming bluff becomes farcical for me, at least as applied to the Australian higher education system in 2003. Quite simply, the “system” is broken. But don’t just take my own hyperbole (or otherwise) for it; let me show you how, using Jude-the-Obvious’s wisdom’s as my template and one of my own recent teaching experiences to fill in some of the gaps.

“Design out” plagiarism, instead of using a "catch and punish" approach.

I’m sure that the idea of coming up with completely new assignment/essay topics for each new intake, as a way of minimising the risk of plagiarism, has never occurred to any academic other than Ms Carroll. Sarcasm aside, it is clear from this comment:

It may surprise you but there are courses that use the same essays or practicals year after year

that Ms Carroll is unaware of the current assessment norms in Australian unis, particularly those in high-headcount core subjects. Using my own experience sessionally tutoring** such a subject at Latrobe University in 2002, one item of assessment was basically the same as the 2001 version – the names of the problem’s “characters” had been changed, but the basics of the “answer” were the same. Not having taught that subject at Latrobe previously, I wasn’t aware of this fact at the time the assignment was set, but when I did find out, I can’t say that I was particularly surprised.

I was, however, surprised by the way I found out. One of the assignments I marked, although unremarkable in its primary-school only level of command of English, stood out because the names of the characters changed midway through it. As you may have guessed by now, it turned out that this student had copied part of another student’s answer from the previous year into her answer.

Clearly, this was a case of plagiarism. More importantly, I would have thought (though I kept it to myself at the time), it was a case of such supine dumbness as to suggest that the offending student, a full-fee paying overseas one, had absolutely no business being anywhere near any place of higher education. I can’t remember the penalty the student received for this, but it certainly wasn’t course-, visa-, or career-threatening. Nor, as I have since discovered, was this one-two scenario – of mind-bendingly stupid cheating, followed by a lack of any meaningful penalty, unprecedented.

Was this, then a case of Latrobe not having had the right systems in place; of not having “designed out” plagiarism? This I cannot fully answer – the assessment at issue was set by a tenured, full-time academic, who may or may not have been culpably lazy or negligent, when all the circumstances, of workload and legitimate institutional expectations, are taken into account. Had, hypothetically, the assessment-setter been a sessional tutor on a 13-week contract, the answer here may well be different, or at least, more clear-cut.

What troubles me most about Ms Carroll’s well-meaning injunctions to Australian academics is their curiously selective relativism and realpolitik. She omits to mention the system of two-tiered wages-and-conditions structures now common in Australian and US universities; a situation which by itself, makes her use of the word “holistic”, and her one-size-fits-all approach to plagiarism, unconsciously comic.

So dare I suggest it; academic black-marketeering is currently prospering precisely because the system is broken. It is not a function of the existence of “cheat” websites, but has arisen because the implied Contract of Learning has been shirked by teachers***, whose behaviour has then been copied, at least in its (mean) spirit, by students. It is far from accidental that an effective two-tier marking system for students# has arisen alongside a two-tier employment system for their teachers. One form of “cheat”, one bending of the rules, soon leads to a cynical, “see no evil” campus-view, in which academics are encouraged to relativise and apportion blame – everywhere except in their own, holistic backyards:

She said the problem was exacerbated by high student fees, which put pressure on students to complete their degree as quickly as possible, and by schools not teaching students academic writing skills.

There were also cultural reasons, she said: "Many students from Asia show respect by copying the experts. [They think] it's not plagiarism; it's a strategy they've always used, and then they come here and they don't play by Australian rules, and find themselves in trouble."

* Triple J Morning Show interview with Jude Carroll, 9.45 am 18 July 2003. Summary will be available shortly at:

** A sessional tutor is roughly equivalent to an “adjunct” academic in the US. Current Australian practice is that they not normally expected to set assessment topics, although contractually, they can be asked, and expected to do just about anything.

*** Not without considerable duress from their employers, of course. But, as I'm talking about professional ethics here, the fact of such duress has only limited relevance.

# Periodically, allegations of "soft marking", in favour of full-fee paying overseas students, are made in Australia. While I have no doubt that such soft marking does take place, and does so mostly as a matter of institutional pragmatism than at the behest of individual academics, I regard the example of the "lazy plagiarist", outlined above, to be more telling proof. If a student obviously has such a lack of interest in learning, or even in competently plagiarising, then it is obvious to me that they stand in contempt of the institution they are studying at - a contempt which may or may not be mutual, but in either case, completely precludes the possibility of them learning anything. In such a case, any mark above zero must logically be a "soft" one.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

The Age unwittingly acts as character reference for (alleged) sex slave trader …

… By saying he “works” for the Australian Tax Office.

If John Davies indeed does, as opposed to merely being 100,000+ clicks on the ATO payroll, he is an unusual “experienced audit investigator” with a desk in a special zone, indeed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Job Network fiasco, Tom of Hobart and more

Today’s media reports, of a 27 y.o. male Tasmanian being job-matched to a (probably illegal)* Hobart escort agency, amply shows the piss-weakery of the Opposition.

When combined with last week’s reports of the privatised Job Network’s taxpayer-funded bail-out, one would think that this latest blunder would provide Labor with some opportunities for heavy hitting. Instead, we just get this:

Labor's employment spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said it was inappropriate for the Job Network to be encouraging people to apply for sex work. "The Employment Services Minister must urgently explain why this advertisement has been distributed through the Job Search database and detail exactly how many job seekers it has been sent to," Ms Macklin said.

For a start, Labor stuffed it because the fact of sex worker recruitment ads slipping in to the Job Network system is a thing mainly of novelty news value – in other words, it has probably happened somewhere before, and in any case, no real harm was done. Much more, and better quality mileage could have been got out of Mark Coddington's “job” “match” – a Nigerian (or Nigerian-style) bank account scam.

The most important angle to the Tom of Hobart story, a point which Ms Macklin missed entirely, was that the job-matching system (and therefore, the raft of people and organisations living off it) is a joke. Not because jobs sneak “into” in when they shouldn’t, but simply because it clearly doesn’t remotely do what it is supposed to do – MATCH people to jobs.

No doubt the reason a man was matched to a woman-only job was because the new system doesn’t recognise gender parameters – an improvement in some ways, as the old Centrelink touchscreens regularly ran ads (not for sex work) seeking women only – a blatant breach of anti-discrimination laws, of course. Plainly though, the fact that Tom of Hobart was “matched” to ten jobs, two of which were the escort agency, shows that because the new system has no meaningful parameters whatsoever. From my regular reading of meika’s blog, I know that a Hobartian being served up bona fide ten job vacancies a day is a generous portion indeed – in other words, the system doesn’t match at all; it simply scours for jobs by geographic area, and then dumps the unprocessed data (not even checking for duplicates!) into accounts within that geographic area.

And as to why there hasn’t been many more Toms and Tammies of Hobart (and elsewhere), the answer here underscores the utter uselessness of the new system. After my own May (2003) interview with Sarina Russo, a Job Network provider, I was supposed to be “live” on the new system. Since the dipshit-with-a-pulse Sarina Russo provided me with left me with a bizarre, half-baked CV, I vowed to log on and fix it up as soon as I got home. Which I tried to do, but my log on and/or (provided) password wasn’t recognised.

From previous experience, I know that there is absolutely no point in complaining to Centrelink (and now also, its legion of privatised succubi) when the matter is more one of principle than a direct hip-pocket cost (the anti-discrimination law breaching is a good example). Even though having a ludicrously messy and inadequate CV on the system just might mitigate against me being matched with a suitable, real job one day, my assessment of the odds here is that they are infinitesimal. So my abortion of a CV presumably remains on the system to this day – nice work, Sarina Russo!

And despite what earlier media reports (and today’s Age) said, the new job-matching system does not push-deliver (through email or SMS) ostensible job-matches**. Which means that our Toms of Hobart, bless ‘em, have actually found a way to log onto the system that promised to "open up opportunities which people in the past only dreamt of" (same URL). Indeed.

P.S. As for the Salvos (Tom of Hobart’s Job Network provider) being dismayed by the sex work angle (i) if you don’t vet the listings going into Tom’s online account, what exactly DO you do?; and (ii) (more as a matter of principle) Fuck You, again.

* “While prostitution is legal in Tasmania, brothels are not.”

** At my May interview, Sarina Russo required me to provide either a mobile phone number or an email address, in order to be informed of job matches – I provided an email address. I have since heard nothing from Sarina Russo, via my email address (or any other channel).

Anti-discrimination and job ads Update 17 July 2003

Tonight's "A Current Affair" (Channel 9) had a story on a young woman (~18 y.o.) who had gotten rejected for over 200 jobs (is that all?) getting a makeover, and then, of course, getting a job.

That's the way - never mind training and education; just bring on the mascara. And who said feminism was no longer relevant for today's young women?

The most interesting aspect of the story, though, was that the person responsible for the (advertised) job vacancy said on camera that she was looking for an "an office girl or receptionist".

That's right, before about one million viewers, Australia's anti-discrimination laws are flagrantly flouted. Odds of this being investigated by the applicable anti-discrimination bodies? Zero.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Child pornography and artistic merit

On its face, this decision seems fair enough. Indeed, juxtapositional montage alone (rather than the much-vaguer concept of “artistic merit”) should surely be a defence to such charges, especially when the “innocent” element of the montage is a fictional child.

Wondering how the police had came to raid Glen Walls’s house – and so find the images in question – I did a bit of research. Turns out that the kiddie porn charges were a vestigial side-show from 2002 charges of indecently assaulting a 15/16 y.o. boy student of Walls’s, nine years earlier – charges which by now would seem to have lapsed.

Not sure whose bright idea it was to co-prosecute the kiddie porn and indecent assault charges (given the length of time between the two alleged offences, just to name one obvious reason for their asynchronicity). Possibly, it’s because Australian cops – a la Detective Vogelsang’s evidence the Ern Malley obscenity trial – just can’t keep themselves from the diva-like parading of their dumb opinions on art to an assembled courtoom (even if in doing so they are distracted from pursuing real-world child abuse):

"How can you possibly say that's artistic?" [Prosecutor Peter] Jones asked [the artist].


Universities finding the right price-bracket

Semi-retired magnetohydrodynamics-boffin, and RMIT Chancellor, Dennis Gibson has just mastered the economics of aspirational retailing – a store (or lately now, a university) that offers plain old quality and value for money is at risk of being perceived as cheap and nasty. Therefore, in order for RMIT to belong to the post-Nelson brave new world of elite universities – and not, it seems, for any other reason – RMIT will have to put its fees up.

Dennis Gibson, I salute your style of thinking. Ignore the fundamentals; and concentrate on marketing position, position, position. “RMIT – almost as expensive as the University of Melbourne; and we have a tens-of-millions loss on our books too, for which our Vice-Chancellor is yet to be held to account for, either”. And the pessimists have lately been saying that our universities have been engaged in a race to the bottom!

In other university news, there is this multi-faceted US fiasco. (Make sure you check out the comments, too). My take on it – the less universities ask/expect of their students (and asking that students read ONE book over the summer, and then running a two hour casual seminar, come September, about their responses to the book is as de minimis as you can get), the more polarities and extremities that will be bred.

In other words, University-Lite is a dystopia precisely because everyone feels compelled, and is able, to chip in. And if you think I’m being elitist here (i) you obviously haven’t read the above-linked story, and (ii) (since you haven’t and presumably won’t) anyone who criticises a book on the basis of its writer’s religion is a fascist, a person who can’t be intellectually engaged with at any level. And mediocrity breeds such fascists.

A final piece of university news comes via Jason McCullough. It’s a nice cautionary tale about this decade’s version of the up-herself high school prom queen – an archetype now refashioned, of course, into a have-it-all, brains’n’beauty princess whose just desserts, fittingly enough, happen to be delivered exactingly through her own hand.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Syllogisms That Suck (an occasional series)

"A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion"

A gay man is the niceness of all men spread to the point of saturation

* Disclaimers (i) I did not make the first one up (ii) I DID make the second one up (iii) I’m not sure which of the two is dodgier (as in full of shit), but in that ambiguity lies the joke.


China - Home of the giant stumpy penis (scroll to Monday July 14, 2003)

While I'm not somewhere at the moment where I can conveniently take out the old standards bar and scientifically verify this hunch, I would think that a penis girth/height ratio of 5:4 would put it in the ultra-stumpy category. Which, in a world of multiplying Big Things, raises the question: is it better to be Big absolutely, or should Big-ness that shirks real world proportionality be sized-down, as it were?

Friday, July 11, 2003

We are the first, we did it best

When I’m feeling like I’m about to collapse in a bitterness meltdown (see yesterday’s post); it’s good to wake up to some light news’n’views. And nothing gives me more pleasure than the sounds of baby boomers’ indignant squawking – voila today’s SMH letters page.

The letters were in response to a column penned by She Whom I Have Vowed to Never Mention Again – so I won’t, other to note, with some satisfaction, that she has, albeit obliquely and in future, agreed to take up my existing gauntlet (same URL) in respect of burkas and her 8 year old son.

Anyway, as the (just made it up) saying goes – just listen to the song, and never mind the muse behind it. And the rights to this song’s chorus most definitely belong to today’s lead-letter writer, Jonathan Puckridge of Leichhardt:

I have a theory about all this baby-boomer bashing . . . It's simple: jealousy. Let's face it, boomers really were the generation to do it all. Freedom, sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, politics, happenings, spirituality, lifestyles - you name it, we did it first and we did it best.

And for the past 25 years, all you sad, subsequent generations have been bleating about it. I can't blame you . . . what's left for you to aspire to? Real estate investment?

“We did it first and we did it best” – I’m prepared to concede this, totally. But basic historical accuracy (and more controversially, the all-purpose Rule of Threes) requires an additional leg to Mr Puckridge’s “We came and we saw (stop)” boast.

Yes, Jonathan:

You did it first, you did it best and, circa 1985, YOU SOLD YOURSELVES AND THE WHOLE SHOW RIGHT DOWN THE LOVE CANAL.

That’s right, whatever you may have done and achieved back then, you all have not a single shred to show for it in 2003 (nor in 1993, for that matter). So I hope you now think that it was worth it.

I picked 1985, BTW, because it was the year of the baby boomers’ real Woodstock: Live Aid. This time, they weren’t the mainstay of the audience, but they certainly had their fingers in every other pie, as well as their ageing carcasses disproportionately on stage (Status Quo kicked off the gig, for fucks sake!). Combined with embedded MTV cross-promotion, and its mid-Atlantic blandness (dual concerts were held in NYC and London), Live Aid was the perfect baby boomer swansong – a way of them saying:

We are the world from now on, and we are getting fucking incredible ratings figures and turnstile clicks from the children”.

Oh, and for the record, Live Aid – just like everything else the baby boomers ever touched – was a complete failure on its own terms, a fact that was quietly realised soon after the event took place. Not that this abject failure has since filtered into the public consciousness, of course – even in China, Live Aid has come to quasi-officially symbolise the crowning glory of rock’s “new idealism”.

P.S. Jonathan Puckridge ends by asking “I mean, what's left for you to aspire to? Real estate investment?”. Err no actually – I rent, and probably always will. My immediate to medium-term aspirations, Jonathan, extend to flying into Sydney on the last plane from Melbourne when a southerly is blowing, so having my flight’s path take me low, low, low over Leichhardt, and therefore hopefully casting a pall, and rattle, over the inevitable dinner party conversations gloating about Sydney property values a few hundred meters beneath me.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

“Students unrepentant about protest”

Is still flashing in the “Breaking News” alert boxes of both The Age and The SMH websites, almost three days after the story ran.

Which is no more than a petty detail about a petty story, anyway. I only bring it up because a short-lived uni student “sit-in” that somehow has acquired a plutonium-like half-life, and an air of biblical brimstone to match (doesn't every use of “unrepentant” require a "smote" in close proximity?) seems like a good metaphor for my current state of mind.

Having a brain and a point of view is futile, at least in Australia in 2003. Reading Barry Jones’s belated assessment that the 80s Dawkins uni reforms were a mistake (today’s The Australian*; no URL), I wanted to scream: “I fucking TOLD you so”. But there’s no point. Although we don’t exactly have the banana republic cycle – of dictator, death squads, new broom, and finally the amnesty (for dictator & key cronies) here, Australia’s political outrages follow a quite similar trajectory.

By the time “mistakes” get openly canvassed in official discourse, those who have spent so long at the front-line of protest/awareness etc are too hoarse, too yelled-out and too broken to receive any benefit from the admission. Not that it really matters, anyway – admissions are only made when they can be made safely; that is, when those who made the mistakes have attained some kind of immunity, as though their (mistaken) actions at the time were without consequences, or vice versa.

Today’s news does get worse, however, with another report** in today’s The Australian (no URL), regarding the summary deportation of suspected sex-slaves – Asian women found to be working illegally in Australian brothels. This is such a “Blind Freddie” issue, that I CANNOT FUCKING BELIEVE the gutlessness (and so, almost certainly, corruption) of officialdom with respect to it.

The official line with respect to deporting such women is that there is no evidence of sex-slavery and/or the women themselves do not wish to make a complaint. Fine, up to a point – but how did these women get into the country in the first place? Doesn’t it rather stretch credulity that a girl or young woman from, say, the back-blocks of Thailand, could, and would, knowingly organise an Australian tourist visa, and also be able to come up with the upfront cash to finance her travelling and settling-in expenses?

“No?” – then Blind Freddie says that SOMEONE ELSE must have been involved in bringing the girl or young woman over to Australia. But where to start tracing the trail here? Well, as the report in today’s Oz makes it clear, it couldn’t possibly be anything to do with the owners of the brothels where the girls were found working illegally, nor the employers of those girls.

As a lawyer, I just can’t even speculate about what arcane legal loopholes the girls’ day-to-day employers/minders/pimps must*** be using to argue that they are not the girls’ employers at law (which of course would immediately make those employers in serious breach of immigration laws). “Independent contractors”? – sweet irony there.

Oh, and just to make my pessimism pitch perfect – the last line in the Oz story says: the government’s view is that all is apparently under control; if there are any loopholes, they will be fixed by legislation.

* Dawkins reforms to unis ‘mistake’” by Sascha Hutchinson, The Australian 10 July 2003

** “Brothel impunity over use of illegals” by Natalie O'Brien and Elisabeth Wynhausen, The Australian 10 July 2003

*** Perhaps I am being over-imaginative here. Most likely, of course, the "loopholes" are just bought for cash, or for services in kind.

Sex slave update 11 July 2003

Just when you think that the whole system is useless, something finally happens – a brothel, in the heart of rock’n’dole Melbourne, gets raided.

An almost identical wire slug on incorrectly reports that the four accused are facing the “first ever” federal charges of sex slavery. Incorrect, because sex slavery charges were filed against a mother and son couple last month, albeit only as a result of the enslaved women escaping and going to police, rather than through a pro-active raid (of which last night’s WAS a first).

Reviewing last months clippings also alerted me to the fact that those two accused – Jenny Lai Chin Ong (47) and Aik Tong Tan, aka Raymond Tan (29) unemployed – were granted bail to reappear before the court on July 9 (same URL). No reports of this happening, so stay tuned over what will be the fate of these (alleged) scum. I hope that Centrelink are chasing the “unemployed” one in the meantime.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

A tale of two graduate employment markets

From the Graduate Careers Council of Australia media release, and the Herald-Sun’s adoption of the same upbeat tone, it appears that the graduate employment market in Australia is quite rosy. The fact that graduate women’s starting salaries are still slightly below that of their male counterparts still gets a run in this version – but this is one of those evergreen factlets, especially useful for annual stories, such as the release of the latest GCCA figures.

The Age’s opening line was similarly upbeat:

Starting salaries for new university graduates have reached a record high, but the gap between men and women remains.

True to the rosy version template, The Age prattled on a while about the reasons for the gap between men and women (so predictable as to be itself evergreen) and even had a separate-bylined side-story on this topic, which quoted a 23 y.o.graduate working at an accounting firm, on the difference between men’s and women’s brains. The main Age story did, however, show some signs of life (= basic factual research and an interview with the key person) towards its end:

Last year the average graduate salary was nearly 83 per cent of average weekly earnings but the year before it was 86 per cent.

A reasonably important fact – you may think – but not one mentioned in the GCCA media release.

On the other hand, the SMH’s opening line both expressed the key fact, and put it in some kind of policy context:

The power of a university degree to pull a larger starting pay packet is steadily slipping despite federal government claims that graduates have a significantly greater earning capacity, a study shows.

To its probable credit, the SMH also managed to bypass completely the tired old issue about gender differences.

Finally, the Australian Financial Review* (no URL) opened with this quite pessimistic, but impeccably-sourced assessment :

The flood of graduates entering the workforce has forced many to take clerical level jobs or enter small business, says the Graduate Careers Council of Australia.

Which does indeed make the gender gap (which has fallen back from an all-time (1998) peak of ~ 97% to ~95% last year, as the Fin duly informs us) rather academic. And it also makes The Age’s banishing of the real story on graduate career prospects, to a few lines near the end, rather curious. One possible explanation is that, as this angle must logically mean that some of the next generation of would-be Age readers are now heading straight for the lower middle class (or worse) it is best not to scare the horses … oops, I mean, the advertisers.

* “Flood of graduates squeezes out school-leavers” by Kate Marshall AFR 9 July 2003

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Sex education goes full circle

Male adolescent sexuality is a topic that Christopher Pearson has turned into a running series for his recent Saturday opinion columns in The Weekend Australian* ** (no URLs).

After positing a few weeks ago that teenage boys were much more modest in locker room matters than those of his generation (an expert opinion seemingly concluded from the field research of others, the empirics of which went undisclosed) Pearson has now turned his attentions from change-room to classroom, and the matter of in-school sex education.

Sex education would have to be one of the most fraught of all topics to write about. There are really only three possible genres, for a start: the first-person “when I was a horny teenager” flashback; the prim-and-proper scientific; and the coarsely humorous. In the institutional/educational setting, it is the scientific approach that predominates, of course. On the domestic front, sex as basic facts was also my dad’s modus operandi. In both cases, the key weakness of an objective approach to the subject is (or was, for me and my dad, anyway) the sheer level of embarrassment – an emotion so extreme as to filter out the information into a condition of near-uselessness for the recipient of the talk, and of paralysing didacticism for the information-giver.

Imperfect as it is – and was – this scientific sex education shibboleth at least had the advantage of only being a supplement, or last resort, in practice. My real sex education came from my peers; in the proverbial school playground (for me it was actually the school corridor; talking dirty being best accomplished – for whatever reason – when there was a fair chance of being overheard by an adult).

My late-70s-early-80s adolescence was the last tribe to have gone through the full school playground initiation ritual, however. From the mid-80s, the mass uptake of the VCR, combined with the onslaught of teen sex romp movies starting with Porkies (1981), meant that sex education would henceforth be available on screen, delivered in a non-threatening environment in the company of one’s peers, with the prospect of crippling mutual embarrassment being ruled out by the absence of adults. Other than as on-screen caricatures, of course – humour was the final, and most radical new ingredient, of what came to replace old-style “school playground” sex education.

Now there’s the Internet, and the teen sex romp film genre has been refined to an almost all-ages art form (the pioneering Porkies was R-rated, but American Pie (1999), in which seminal fluid came out from under the footy sock, as it were, was MA).

Otherwise, though, not that much has changed. Modern fathers may now use the first-person “when I was a horny teenager” flashback mode when instructing their sons (as in American Pie), but that can be explained by the indexation effect on the embarrass-ometer – if, as appears likely, the father/son scientific sex talk is now redundant (“I already know that stuff, Dad”), then it is surely an iron law that fathers must then up the ante, embarrassment-wise. As with currency inflation, no one really wins here; it is rather a matter of not getting left behind in the dust.

So back to Pearson. Although the scientific sex education is approach is now redundant on the home front, one presumes (and hopes, for the sake of the poor kids) that the first person lurid anecdote mode has not made it into the school classroom. The humour option would also seem to be ruled out for blackboard use – it is a truism that comedy, unlike drama, must be perfectly executed if it is to work at all. Given the high comedic standards set by modern teen sex romp films, and, I assume, their manifest lack of direct curricular suitability, quality “DIY” humour-based sex education would indeed be tricky to pull off. By default then, plain vanilla sex education is all schools can hope to do. Which fact makes Pearson’s criticism of a supposedly “controversial sex education pilot program” just baffling.

His litany of particular grievances with the Adelaide program – including criticising the “claim” that condoms are effective against AIDS – has a very familiar ring to it; sounding just like a relaxed dinner chat between George Pell and Fred Nile, circa 1988. The resultant irony, then, is which is the greater anachronism – Pearson’s dot-point tut-tutting at “the sexual equivalent of a drugs harm minimisation program”, or the claimed, supposed novelty of such a program.

If deeming that “homosexual relationships are … as valid as heterosexual ones” is indeed some dramatic new step, then (public) school-based sex education in the last decade or two must have been a strange thing to behold (“Yes, you’re right my boy – gay sex is legal throughout Australia, but we’re actually teaching the Saudi Arabian curriculum in this subject; you know . . . on the off chance, and all that”.)

Perhaps it’s all simply a zero sum game in the end: Pearson chasing after bureaucrats chasing after project development funding chasing after hapless teachers chasing after boys chasing after . . .

. . . Christopher Pearson? I’m actually not sure how, and with whom, this particular daisy chain is supposed to end. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that Pearson’s old-fashioned prudery (in his day, we apparently learnt it from watching our pets – and, on that note, why isn’t chastity being taught more prominently) co-exists with a curious laissez-faire, the-Floodgates-have-Opened attitude to (some) children’s sexuality:

But there are few less attractive features in children under 12 than the knowingness – often bordering on lubricity – which is increasingly commonplace.**

I must say, I haven’t noticed these newfound libido-dashing, yet lubricious powers emanating from the under-12s myself. But if Pearson’s premise is correct, and young children are hyper-sexualised as subjects (as objects, it goes without saying), then surely the fact that Pearson finds it such a turn-off is a triumph, and not a negative? And, as Pearson reminded us last year, the ideal of chastity is not equally worthy of all children, with boy prostitutes, apparently, being beneath it.

It’s a puzzling world these days, all right – kids flouncing and flirting about like little Shirley Temples (and who even know what the girls get up to!), while adults prowl change-rooms dressed in only their nostalgia – erwwww!.

One final thought for you, Christopher, if you’re out there. Nature has handed a good many adolescents the gift of chastity, but done so in such a way as even the bawdiest teen sex comedies haven’t yet been able to really face it, head on. Acne – as long as there are zits, there will always be innocence. And I defy any teacher or filmmaker to come up with a program that sexualises pus-faces, humorously or otherwise. If somehow, you have managed to crack the code here, Christopher, I beg of you to please share it with the world – a persecuted teenage minority (?) will be freed from their sexual shackles, while the rest of us, who have had it too good for too long, will be abject slaves to their pent-up satisfaction (and pus-dripping); or, if not, cowering beneath a chaste burka somewhere in Saudi Arabia. Now that’s what I call a dilemma.

* “Rise of the shy young thing” The Weekend Australian 14 June 2003.
** “Sex trial arouses passions” The Weekend Australian 5 July 2003.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Newsflash: Boys perform better at single-sex schools

And, as we’ve long known, girls also perform better at single-sex schools, with co-ed schools being merely tolerated by the feminist establishment – we’ll let the boys in (and do note that it’s for their own good) as long as you let us run the show generally.

Gender politics is a tricky area to write about – one is apt to be easily misunderstood by those who feel they’re on the receiving end. Worse, one is liable to find friends in and from places they are neither expected nor wanted (the men’s movement has had aspects to it calculatingly worse than any of feminism’s excesses).

When something as fundamental as the (public) education system has been set up to be a lose-lose proposition, however, it’s time for a short sharp shock. I don’t believe that feminine bossiness – or “wiles”, as it used to be called, before it was a thing grafted on to workplace culture – is the main cause of the current deplorable state of public education. Nor is the admitted gross under-funding of government schools (Australian universities have suffered more harshly in this respect, without – yet – allowing themselves to disintegrate en masse into places of toxic mediocrity).

No – the blame is really quite easy to apportion; once and if you accept that demographics run deeper than gender. Running the education system as a Benthamite exercise in low-level, pointless tyranny – sounds straight out of the “The First and Only Habit of Highly Effective Baby Boomers” chap book, if you ask me. And such head-weak careering has not been a solely female preserve, by any means. Look at the trajectory of Michael Duffy, a self-described long-term manual worker, starting upon finishing university (presumably at 21). Proving the virus-like mutability of baby boomers (or possibly that they just have no real conception of time), Duffy had nonetheless made it to the very un-menial top of the NSW public service by age 31.

My strong guess is that it wasn’t Duffy’s work in factories and warehouses that blooded him for such a good job, so young. As usual, the devil is in the nondescript middle bit – which happened to be Duffy’s stint in the government department now known as Centrelink. Which, if you don’t know from your own experience, is government school for grown-ups – a place resplendently gender-neutral from queue to shining breach.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Outsourcing and people smuggling

With Australian parliaments apparently now so bereft of leadership abilities as to require the external assistance of a multinational consultancy, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock is sure swimming against the outsourcing tide when it comes to his suppositions about Wednesday’s boatload of Vietnamese refugees:

Mr Ruddock said he believed the boat was not part of a major smuggling enterprise, but rather a small group of economic opportunists.

"Our experience with Vietnamese up until now . . . has been we're dealing with people who are looking for economic outcomes," he said.

Here’s me thinking that vulgar Marxism – and with it, categories like “petite bourgeois” – was dead! Vietnamese refugees apparently notably differ from, say, Afghani refugees in being DIY home handypersons when it comes to travelling thousands of kilometers on a wooden fishing boat.

Rather than use travel agents, especially those of the, ahem, unaccredited – even though most-definitely multinational – variety (such as those lazy Afghans use), thrifty Vietnamese refugees simply scour their neighbourhood garage sales for sextants et al, buy a pre-loved boat on eBay, and then set sail for Australia, in full-spinakerred, entrepreneurial self-righteousness.

You’re right, Philip: true “economic opportunists” are scarce indeed. The rest of us mostly float along on pre-packaged tours, usually following someone else’s itinerary. DIY trancontinental travel is for the experts – and for deluded Oz backpackers carrying Lonely Planet guides. The latter somehow always seem to end up in the same bars, singing Khe Sanh. Eh tu, Philip?

Ken Parking Meter - EXPIRED

I used to be opposed to petty and arbitrary censorship – because those two adjectives say it all.

Today, however, there’s an even better reason to oppose acts of silly censorship. Instead of causing a fog of opaque silence, censorship in the Internet* Age results in a rabble of audio-visuals and text – a plethora of (juxta)positions both predictable and boringly similar, and yet invariably couched in terms of “I was there!” breathless subjectivity.

As Plato may well have injuncted today’s media-hogging rabble: “Girlfriend, get out of my light!”

* and mail order DVD, for those who own a player (after getting my first VCR in the mid 90s; I’m now on track to upgrade to DVD c.2015; finances permitting)

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Ruth Dunkin’s PhD

Back in early February I blogged on what I thought was a scoop, apropos of an article that had then just appeared on This story was never picked up by the mainstream media – so leaving me holding a rather premature baby, as it were.

Crikey have now had another go at the Ruth Dunkin PhD story. A fair bit of it is (literally) recycled from the February article, but there is enough new information to justify a re-run cum update. The gist - Ruth Dunkin’s supervisor, Professor Amanda Sinclair resigned from supervision before her charge’s thesis was submitted, apparently regarding the thesis to not to be of Melbourne University PhD standard.

Which in another day and age would undoubtedly be, by itself, a significant aspersion. In the modern Australian university, however, Professor Sinclair’s petulance is a just-as-feasible alternative explanation of the bare facts we know. I don’t necessarily mean to discredit the Crikey interpretation (nor certainly to discredit Professor Sinclair) in saying this – the point I’m making is that today’s universities are just rolling stones; the only ethics they practise are those that fit within their short-term institutional exigencies.

The above is a statement that Dr Ruth Dunkin – a PhD in “change management”, no less – could well agree with, although in its general application only, mind you. This irony underscores just what tricky ground Crikey are on with their Dunkin allegations.

To their credit, Crikey try to unpick the formal research bona fides of the Dunkin PhD – “credit” because such is the safest angle from which to attack. Personally however, I have qualms about such an angle, as (I’m guessing) scores of PhDs minted in the last decade or so, particularly in the humanities, would be equally deserving of being blowtorched for inadequate research methodology. The crux of the problem for Crikey, is that, by writing on “change management”, Dr Dunkin is delving into a field more esoteric (or, in common parlance, “wanky”) than any possible humanities doctorate topic (not that its practitioners would agree here, I dare say).

“Change management” should long ago have gone the way of “ideologically sound” – that is, being consciously parodied by its proponents into insignificance, and then (optionally) resurrected under a slightly-different wording, but wholly-pejorative new meaning (as the left’s “ideologically sound” became the right’s “politically correct” in the late 80s). As things stand, “change management” has somehow kept itself, and its 80s relic-ness* under the radar; so resisting re-invention, cultural appropriation, and (most importantly for Crikey) robust external challenge.

Dr Dunkin’s epistemological genius then, was to specialise in a topic that auto-released an oil slick on to the road of all who followed in her path – or who simply sought to get up close and find out what it/she was all about. Not that I myself have an antidote for this oil slick, either – but, when dealt a weak hand in things journalistic, it is usually better to “pass” than to go for a knee-jerk bid of misere.

Crikey’s sillier secondary evidence includes: that Dunkin occupied “various middle management positions at RMIT since 1989 (she was Deputy Vice Chancellor (Resources) from this date, apparently until taking on the top job in 2000); and that “Dunkin's never been an academic, taught or researched” (sort of true, but her Harvard University MPA (1986, during which time Dunkin was a public servant) surely deserves mentioning in this context.) Most dubious of all, though, is this line from Crikey:

Interestingly, there was no denial from RMIT of Crikey's earlier revelations about the Dunkin thesis.

Now I’m not above a bit of winging-it-and-waiting investigative journalism myself (on a research budget of nil, there is often no middle-ground between killing the story totally and winging-it on high), but here Crikey have committed the unforgivable sin – using “interestingly” when the deafening official silence from RMIT and Dunkin is, and was utterly predictable. Maddening so, yes – but still, utterly predictable.

* Google the phrase if you don’t believe me – from a quick squiz, it appears that Enron etc have never happened.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Jesuits see the point

Key quote (“money shot”, in Hollywood patois):

the assets are not as important as the people we seek to serve


The investment property bubble

John Quiggin has a good post today, deconstructing who might be to blame, if and when the investment property bubble bursts.

If this time does indeed come, I’ll be personally far too preoccupied with gleefully rubbing my every conceivable body part – over the demise of so many greedy baby boomer fucks – to be able to blog about the subject in any rational or timely way. Hence, I thought I’d get in early with a few thoughts.

As you may have guessed, I don’t think anyone or anything should be held too much to blame, apart from the investors themselves. I am usually right up at the front of the queue when it comes to a good bank-bashing opportunity, but the banks were really just second-string players in the whole business. Apart from the vast volume of non-bank mortgage lending nowadays, banks also are not involved in the deposit bond industry. The latter has sprung up out of nowhere, with the express mission of taking the savings-building “hurt” out of borrower eligibility for a mortgage loan. In other words, deposit bond purveyors are a sub-species of the collection of commercial practices that I’d term “modern usury”.

To continue with this tangent just briefly, I think that it is important to point out that a usurious loan is a contract to be abhorred because is unfair on both the borrower (for obvious reasons) and the lender (for reasons of excessive risk). Usury is seldom a matter of interest rate percentile alone – for example, I would define spot-lending money to a gambler, so enabling them to gamble on credit, as usury per se.

Anyway, back to bust’n’blame. The CGT concession? Who knows? One curious bit of government tax policy – though rarely, if ever mentioned in this context – seems to blow right out of the water polite discussion of CGT rates: depreciation, at least as far as new investment properties are concerned.

Until today, about all I knew about this topic were the “Generous depreciation allowances” dot-point announcements on the “For Sale” signs – information that I’d always dismissed as typical real estate hyperbole; my reasonably in-depth knowledge of tax law tells me that, when it comes to depreciation rates, you just have to take what you’re given.

But no, it now turns out that I was wrong, and that a canny investor can in effect shop-around for tax-optimal depreciation, not in terms of rate, but in terms of starting amount. In today’s Australian, investment adviser, and also hands-on investor Hans Jakobi boasts, in reference to some Beenleigh (QLD) investment properties:

I also had a quantity survey report done on them to maximise my tax deductions. So, in one case, I paid $58,000 for the property and the QS report said I could depreciate $55,275 till June 2033 – so almost all of my purchase price is tax-deductible.

Good on you, Hans. If we could only now get your quantity surveyor mate to assess the rest of the nation's infrastructure. My prediction - in 2033, it will all be a slummy shithole, worth about $54.13 tops, as a job lot. But tomorrow's slums mean fatter deductions for today, eh?


Anna Fenech "Get real about your estates"
The Australian 2 July 2003
“Wealth” supplement

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Turning the unemployed into breadwinners – new Job Creation project starts today

Today brings in Australia’s Job Network Mach III – a new round, and also new level of farce. That the system is now 100% in the hands of private operators should be a small mercy for the unemployed. In my several years of being compulsorily on the books of one Job Network provider (admittedly while being intermittently employed), I received not a single phone call, letter etc from them – nothing.

By now limiting the unemployed to one Job Network provider only, the providers, newly confident that their efforts won’t be in duplicatory vain, may actually feel inclined to provide a service (albeit ultra-automated) in return for the billions of dollars** they receive. Cynical economists, though, may observe that the new system merely sweetens the former quasi-monopoly into an absolute one – the unemployed are compelled to choose one provider (in a one-size-fits-all-market, unless you’re non-English-speaking or disabled), and the provider is, of course, acutely aware of its “customers” total captivity.

Economics aside, the stinking, useless nature of the Job Network system is succinctly- enough shown by factoring in the above lack of contact with my status* as an “easy case” for job matching. I may be wrong about my “easy case” classification, of course (as indeed the passage of my time spent unemployed seems to suggest). But, if so, I doubt that I fit within the generic profile of a long-term unemployed person – so logically making me a hard case, and therefore presumably a prime candidate for a placement bounty, a specialist JN provider, or some other type of exceptionalism.

But I digress - too far in terms of making one man into an island. Most other long-term unemployed in my situation have since emigrated, or taken the PhD scholarship option. While the latter pays double the dole-rate, and has much less onerous “mutual obligation” requirements – thus fulfilling the two main criteria for an attractive “bludge” – I have too many personal scruples to do this, particularly to do with finishing what I start, and basic intellectual honesty.

In ethical contrast, so-called dolebludging is now an oxymoron, at least when applied to the actual unemployed. Whatever scruples we unemployed may lack, we can at least rest with the knowledge that the direct cash transfers** devoted to work-for the-dole supervision, Job Network provision etc, surely now outpace Commonwealth disbursements to our own pockets. I am thus now privileged to be that morally sacrosanct thing – a breadwinner; at least for the monkey(s) on my back.

Which is not intended as a boast, but rather as a segue. Weekend news reports about the introduction of Job Network Mach III highlighted the surprisingly high-incidence of “no-shows” during the recent changeover, which required all unemployed to personally attend an interview with their (generally new) Job Network provider. Of the 372,000 unemployed so far given appointments (the interview process has seemingly gotten bogged down, and now continues until September), 147,000 or almost 40% (according to the AFR; the Sunday Telegraph put the figure at 84,000) have been “no-shows”. The disparity in the figures reported by these two newspapers is surprising, as is the fact that the Murdoch tabloid gives the much lower, less controversial one.

Less surprising, perhaps, is this spin by the Sunday Telegraph:

Cutting the benefit to all 84,000 would save the Government about $1 billion a year. Employment Services Minister Mal Brough said the review would save taxpayers hundreds of millions and force tens of thousands off benefits. "This will shake the tree like it has never been shaken before," he said.

But nothing in this new world of dolebludgers-turned-job creators is ever quite what it seems. The AFR not only didn’t report a fiscal upside of no-shows; it quoted Mal Brough as considering making extra funds available to Job Network providers, so they could then make reminder calls to clients about their interviews. No “shaking the tree” here, no sirree – not when JN provider’s livelihoods are on the line. Or, as Mal Brough puts it, money really is no object when the unemployed are threatening to resign from their posts: “We are determined to improve the attendance rate”.


“Thousands to lose welfare” (URL valid to ~ 3 July 2003 only)
By Simon Kearney
The Sunday Telegraph June 29, 2003

“Plan to chase no-show job seekers” (no URL)
By Cherelle Murphy
The Australian Financial Review June 28-29, 2003


* I have two Bachelors degrees (one with Honours) from the university that opened so many doors for Tim Watts, a coursework Masters (with first-class Honours), two TAFE diplomas, and a raft of experience in many job sectors, skilled and unskilled

** By “direct cash transfers” I exclude the (government’s) costs of providing unemployment benefits as a form of welfare, including the costs of verifying unemployment and job-seeking bona fides. The latest round of JN contracts are worth $2.5 bn over three years; that is, an average of $1,100 per job-seeker per annum (or $20 per capita per week). While figures for the global, per capita cost of work-for the-dole supervision are not available, I would estimate them at seven-to-ten times the $20 per week cost of JN “service” provision.

Update 2 July 2003:

Today's Age has Mal Brough's Jekyll'n'Hyde-ness in one. On the subject of Mal, until I saw his sleek, sneering carcass on last night’s 7.30 Report, I’d always pictured him as something quite porcine, a mental picture probably unconsciously influenced by the past depictions of pariah ex-pollie, Mal Colston.

P.S. There are a few comments on this post (thanks, guys), despite the Comments counter showing zero. I'll let this go for a bit, to see if it fixes itself (thanks, meika).

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