Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Town vs gown in 2003

Pseudonymous blogger Professor Bunyip (rumoured by Tim Dunlop to be Australian editorial writer and ex-academic, Imre Saluzinsky) doesn’t know his ivory tower from his own driveway.

After depicting – accurately enough – today’s uni students as likely going on after graduation “to pursue success hawking mobile phones or making fine careers in supermarket management”, he then attacks the cushiness of working life in academia, compared to a job as labourer on the Professor’s own home renovations.

This “town vs gown” comparison is an old one, and no doubt had some validity during the Professor’s salad days on the pre-HECS taxpayer teat. As to why he clings on to it when it comes to his own backyard (literally) however, is a mystery. His perception that, in 2003, labourers are relatively badly paid is astonishing. Presumably, it only arises because the “navvies’” wages pale in comparison with the Professor’s own wealth and means.

For the record, blue collar employment is strong, and is likely to remain that way. Professional employment (outside health) on the other hand, is looking increasingly dire – hence the reference to mobile phone hawkers and supermarket managers (the Professor left out call centre workers). These classes of workers, of course, are now paid much less than labourers.

Indeed, if the Professor could but realise how much he is over-paying his “navvies”, I’d bet he could get some unemployed uni graduates in to finish the job at half the previous going rate.

Phil Ruthven UpdateGen X now to take over the reins in 2007 . . .

. . . Just as the economy turns to deep recession.

You’ve gotta love the hide of a futurologist, really. And playing a flippant game of unfortunate juxtaposition with their predictions is just a bit too easy.

But then again, I’ve always thought that there is something spookily perverse about Phil Ruthven’s predictions – particularly in their inevitable, extra dollop of inter-generational moralising.

For starters, the BIS Shrapnel prediction for a recession in 2007 was already around for a couple of weeks before Phil would have been asked to look into his crystal ball. So why, oh why, is Phil being so relentlessly upbeat about a Gen X golden age being just around the corner? Or is he? Just look at the way he veers from paternalist, clichéd twaddle:

They are technology-proficient children who don’t want a job for life, he says. They are born borderless and believe they can travel anywhere in the world to find work. They want flexibility and freedom.

to playing amateur sociologist eugenicist:

Ruthven says [Gen Xers] still want stability but don’t view work as a natural right.

Yeah right. Gen X values flexibility – aka workforce casualisation and job insecurity – so much so that we not only eat and drink it, we live in it as a home, too. Who needs regular work and, with it, regular wages? And Gen X loves getting sacked and then finding themselves unemployable in their present careers, too – it’s never poverty when it can be brightly called a "change of season". For Phil’s grotesque euphemism of “taking control”; I suggest the more technical term: “queuing at Centrelink”.

The final, and finest-mangled, semantic twist goes to psychologist Colin Beames:

Beames says the "blind loyalty" of the babyboomers has gone forever, as workers watch colleagues being retrenched and young people come and go.

Get it? Baby boomers get “retrenched”, while Gen X (as opposed to “workers”) just “go” – the assumed inference being that this is their natural wont. Phil R interjects: “Isn’t that Paul’s career “season” turning all spring-like and green?” Err, no, Phil – it’s actually the sight of me puking; a very non-seasonal thing too, believe me.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

New record set for premature Seasons Bleatings

The annual "Office Christmas party can be a legal minefield" story gets a run in September.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Conjugation, Tony Abbott-style – “I barratt; you, he and she bludge”

Minister for slush funds, Tony Abbott says:

Unemployment benefits have often become the wage people earn when they're not working

Excuse me? As opposed to what? Try as I might, I’ve only been able to come to this Jesuitical corollary to the above proposition:

Unemployment benefits should be the work people do when they're not getting paid for it.

Oh, and I note, Minister Abbott, that you still haven’t initiated suit against Terry Sharples for defamation. Whazza matter, Tones? When it comes to taking a/the stand, you only seem to believe in back-seat driving. And now Centrelink has picked up your disease too, with their money and their mouth off in two different directions.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

A Spring conundrum

Winter can cause depression

Melbourne’s spring is notoriously variable

But one swallow does not make summer

And a gag repeated enough becomes a reflex

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Earth now less crowded

Population doomsayer finally checks out, hoping to square the ledger by doing so in economical style – using a 2-for-1 coupon.

Via catallaxyfiles

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Croupier crime and punishment

Is a topic I blogged on a few months ago; and lo and behold, it’s hit the news again.

This time, the story is much more of novelty news value only – the small amount stolen, the light penalty meted out, and most of all, the altruism of the offender.

Here, I need to fess up that I worked as a croupier a few years ago, at the same establishment Karl Metza used to work at. While thoughts of crime did occasionally cross my mind during my time there, they were mostly video-gamesque scenarios of my customers being machine-gunned down in situ.

Which may strike some of you (in fact all of you, other than those who have worked in a casino) as harsh – for reasons both of demonstrably psychopathic rage, and of the rage’s actual direction not being towards the personae of the big bad casino.

Don’t get me wrong – a croupier with homocidal fantasies is not someone who would give up his proverbial kidney, nor even the time of day, for his boss; he hates their stinking, underpaying, cynical industry also. But all that’s not in your face as a croupier – or at least not as in your face as the endless parade of assholes who expect your empathy hour-after-hour as their wallets are inexorably drained. And after all, scooping up the losing chips with one’s bare hands, and returning them to the neat rows of one’s tray, is the most tactile of all a croupier’s routines. Handling wads of cash, in contrast, is perfunctory and grubby – the notes are immediately dispatched into a hole below the playing surface, appropriately enough.

Having lasted five years as a croupier, Metza was clearly made of sterner stuff than me. Accordingly, when he “snapped”, it was quite anti-climactic, like the elastic breaking in a pair of already worn-out underpants: he "simply chose not to take people's money when they lost".

The final irony – an indignity for Metza, and also a kind of vindication for me – is that the whistle was blown not by management, security or his own guilt-wracked soul, but by a punting patron. Who looked a gift horse in the mouth, and then machine-gunned it down for the heck of it. Metza, of course, should have known the odds of ths happening – odds that were, as always, stacked in the House’s favour.

Next time you gamble in front of an impassive human witness, consider this – a croupier is bound to the laws of science and mammon alone. There is no such thing as luck – only the prolongation, time-and-motion-wise, of the losing experience. And losing is an art that all habitual gamblers do exceptionally well – which is why they will inevitably turn on any croupier Stockholm-syndrome-blind enough to want to stake his own hand in their game and art-form.

Cheap whine and a free-day loaf

But what about the forgotten fourth wheel in this three-ring circus:

Sitting on the bench thinkin' lunchtime fuel Oh Yeah!
Spent the whole night readin' all the rules Oh Yeah!
Mending every minute of the day before

Watching her cleavage, watching the law
Watching them “all rise”, and thinkin' there could never be more
Never be more

Monday, September 22, 2003

The capuchin monkeys in France spin mainly on the 'lance

These three URLs purport to be about the same story:

http://www.heraldnet.com/Stories/03/9/18/17498942.cfm (Newsday)
http://www.nature.com/nsu/030915/030915-8.html (Nature)
http://dsc.discovery.com/news/afp/20030915/monkey.html (AFP)

The Newsday version appears fine. It addresses the experiment in detail, and finishes with a vox pop zinger – an economist casually wondering whether the rules of his discipline might have to be rewritten.

The AFP story (run verbatim on the ABC website) is the most egregiously misreported (so perhaps providing the growing band of Francophobes with some more handy ammunition). Not only does AFP completely omit the gender angle, their report ends with a para of editorial insinuation that goes beyond the premise of the experiment it ostensibly reports:

The pleasure of reward and anger at unfair treatment are known factors behind the [sic] human social hierarchy and cooperation. The researchers added that this evidence suggests the same may be true among non-human primates.

Running second to AFP in the misreporting stakes is the Nature blurb – a surprising fact given that Nature magazine is the forum where the story proper was premiered. While the scientific detail is mostly okay, the story goes off on an incredible tangent as a consequence of its not setting-up the basic capuchin monkey living unit, of one male and a five female harem. As a result, we get this ridiculous vox pop (voiced by a competing primatologist, who had nothing to do with the experiment):

Only female monkeys show this pique, the researchers found. Males were much less sensitive to inequality. Their minds may have been on other things, says Janson: "Males care about sex, and females care about food. The males might not consider the food differences worth worrying about."

Sunday, September 21, 2003

“Authority sucks, but just a little”
(aka “Eeek! I’m the same age as Ruth Ostrow”)

Journalist-sexologist Ruth Ostrow (b.~1964*) turns out to have been a child prodigy when it came to backing the right pop-culture horse. In her regular Australian column yesterday (no URL), Ruth recounts the disappointment of a recent, “Walk on the Wild Side”-less Lou Reed concert in Brisbane. But never mind, it was Art Garfunkel (who has also toured Brisbane recently), who made the bigger impact on Ruth’s childhood:

While others were getting ripped and getting high, my youth looked more like a scene from The Graduate, with Scarborough Fair and Sounds of Silence playing pensively, moodily in the background.

Given that Ruth was all of about eight when “Walk on the Wild Side” (Transformer, 1972) came out, I’m not surprised that Ruth chose to retreat from the company of her acid-dropping, bong-chugging fellow Grade-3’rs, and find solace in some folksy power-ballads from her toddler years (1966-68). But nonetheless, I’m still mightily impressed, and a teensy bit jealous, at the eight year old Ruth for even having hanged-out on the fringes of this crew:

Everyone is telling stories about where they were when Walk on the Wild Side became a hit. What they were doing, who they were sleeping with.

Which leaves me feeling rather inadequate. I didn’t even hear of Lou Reed until the mid-80s. While I can’t remember my actual musical preferences at eight years old, given that within two years they were dominated by ABBA and Queen, I think it can safely be assumed that my lack of Lou Reed awareness in 1972 was NOT because he was such a parvenu – “I mean, compared to the fuckin’ Stooges, man . . .”

Alternatively, of course, Ruth may simply be lying about her age. Either way, I discovered via a poke around the internet that the Western world is awash with those who claim to be boomer “tail enders".

This guy (born 1960) bemoaned his runt-status in 1995, when it seemed that the easy money in real estate had all been already snaffled up by those greedy generations who came before the boomers:

And by the time I was finally able to shop the housing market, the sale was over. The residential gold rush of the 1970s and 1980s had tailed off--which some analysts say had to do with baby boomers reaching the home-buying stage.

For Susan Mitchell (born c.1959), there was actually a double-whammy effect:

I got screwed in the housing market. Job competition, I can assure you, was very strong throughout my life. There's no doubt there were situations where I felt I was jostled by too many elbows.

Was very strong, and “throughout my life”? (And this was written in 1997, when Susan was all of 38). Maybe things had gotten so tough for her by then, what with the “young people today . . . benefiting from a labor market so tight that they're coming out and almost naming their salary” (same URL) that Susan decided to pack it all in. Somehow, I doubt it, however.

Because, let’s face it, being at the self-described tail-end does have its privileges – one of which is that life can easily become a self-congratulatory whine-fest about how “we wuz robbed”, even of the “Gen X” moniker itself:

I was born in 1962, I am part of what Coupland originally called Generation X. Generation X originally referred to the tail end of the baby boom. It was too cool of a name for that group of losers, so the younger crowd hijacked the name and it now refers to people born between 1965 and 1980.

So can I (born 1964) join this self-described “losers” club, and start ranting against “the younger crowd”? Yes, just – according to the “1946-1964” masthead of aginghipsters.com. But this track very soon becomes circular – if I’m indeed an “ageing hipster”, it must mean I was cool once, before (i) I “sold out” and/or (ii) the wheels just fell off. Pete, the actual guy behind aginghipsters.com, is not re-assuring here:

For me, the horrible reality of actually working was my defining moment. My first corporate job was a stark contrast to the life I had been leading. Sell-out? Yeah, probably.

At 39, I’m still waiting (in the Centrelink queue) for “my first corporate job” – which of course is fine, “selling out” wise, but just a little bit uncomfortable and spooky given that the latest instalment of aginghipsters.com is all about boomers and the funeral industry. Again, I’m being shamed by prodigies – this time the Ruth Ostrows of the world are riding high on the death trip, while I’m still waiting for the show to get on the road in the first place.

So where am I to go, “tail end” wise? The approach of wealthyboomer.com, to call the end of the boom in 1958 (with Madonna as the Last Boomer) has some possibilities. But again this only brings us back to the Ruth paradox – that musically, it just doesn’t work for me, getting lumped in-wise. This guy (born 1961) comes close, with a plausible enough argument for a lost generation of those born between 1960 and 1967 (whose music = “the Bee Gees and the dawning of androgynous rock bands”), but he all but otherwise loses my enrolment form with this clanger:

Baby boomers are now successful business people and presidents and excessive campaign contributors who drive BMWs and Saabs and Volvos and are starting to put kids through college. I'm still a full tier below that. I drive a Honda and a Jeep

Yeah mate – my other 4WD is a bicycle, too – NOT.

Last, but not least, is this valiant attempt by a guy born c.1959, to construct a more detailed musicological demographic: the “punk generation”:

We came of age in the late '70s and early '80s listening to the Sex Pistols, Devo, Talking Heads, B-52s, Elvis Costello, Ramones, etc.

Hey, now you’re talking! During first year uni in the big city in 1984, I finally chucked off the legacy of my country-town childhood ABBA and Queen music taste mistakes, and discovered a whole new world – music of the now, and the recent past. It was PIL more than Sex Pistols, mind, and it took me until second year to burrow back to 1972 and Lou Reed – and that was via a dodgy T-Rex tangent – but I did it! Or did I? I’ll leave it to the punk generation’s chief theorist to sum things up:

We took from our era's music an attitude, a swagger that said "authority sucks, but just a little." (same URL)

* I haven’t been able to confirm Ruth Ostrow’s year of birth; I place it at/near 1964 because in her 21 September 2003 column “Nostalgia junkies lose out” she professes to be a "tail ender" of “the baby boomers born from 1945 to 1964”.

The global middle-class is the global missing class

The rising tide of this global progress, we are told, will lift all boats. The trouble is that some of our boats are anchored; anchored by place, tradition, identity, a sense of belonging. Anchored boats are not lifted by rising tides; they are overwhelmed, and sunk with all hands.

Dear oh dear, Paul Kingsnorth. The real “trouble” with “global progress” is not its brushed aluminium homogeneity – it is that there is no such thing.

Yes, there is a (numerically tiny) “globocracy”, which you somehow seem to be both on the 5-star inside, and the placard-brandishing outside of. And then there are quite a lot of newly rich people – and alongside them, a far, far larger number of the newly, or recently-industrialised poor. To term any of these groups a new or huge “middle class” is a travesty; the three groups are crowded at either polarity of the wealth spectrum, with nowhere else to go.

I would like to think, Paul, that your street theatre outside globocrat summits was at least on the side of, say, Chinese factory workers living and working in toxic time-bombs, and in absolute poverty to boot. But when you can’t even recognise the first world’s analogue to the Chinese factory worker – a uni graduate cum “career” casual waiter – standing in front of you, I doubt it. The “impeccably polite, bow-tied waiters” are part of the new breed of servants – an occupational class that has only recently emerged in the West, after half a century’s dormancy.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Education – three different ways

“The layers of educational value that go into [Hi-5] are really the foundation of it." Even the simple-seeming dances are "specially choreographed to link the right and left hemispheres of the brain to help with co-ordination and balance", [Hi-5 creator and executive producer, Helena Harris] says.

“Knowledge is [the get-rich-through-real estate seminar promoters’] catch word. They call themselves ‘educators’ to slyly avoid the jurisdiction that covers financial advisers.”*

The disruption caused by the recent Australian teachers’ strike is reported only as a function of the agency of working parents of school students. Here, the “e”-word is downplayed or dismissed entirely – teachers are instead primarily conceptualised as babysitters. And when viewed as babysitters, the subordination of the modern schoolteacher to the expectations of the aspirational voter hegemon becomes clear.

If a teacher’s actual supervisory, in-class hours only (6 hrs x 205 days, with everything else being “voluntary”) are counted for salary purposes, then the average teacher is paid $42 per hour**. While I’m not au fait with childcare supervisory staff number rules, I think that its highly unlikely that the requisite supervisors for 30 primary school students could be had for less than, or equal to, $42 per hour. Even if the supervision task was let out to a collective of (say) six “grey-market” teenage babysitters, it has to be asked whether the job of solo-supervising five unrelated primary school-age kids for $7 per hour would attract suitable candidates.

* Neil Jenman “There’s one born every slick spiel”, The Australian Wealth Supplement 17/09/03 (no URL)

** Frank Hainsworth, Letter to the Editor, The Australian 17/09/03 (no URL)

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Academic sterility and Windschuttling hysteria

History-postgrad turned journalist Julia Baird has an interesting take on the “lost generation(s)” of academics in this SMH Op Ed piece.

Rather than just straight-out playing the GenX card (as I am wont to do, of course), Julia ups the ante, by bringing the History Wars into the game. While I can understand the acute temptation to bolster one’s legitimate, long-running grievance (the paucity of jobs in academics for GenX) by grafting it onto the issue de jour (aka the History Wars), I think that Julia has been rash and naïve in saying this:

Windschuttle and Geoffrey Blainey are right to fight what they see as a taboo on debate on university campuses - sometimes there is a stultifying climate of consensus, which can be frustrating for students who hanker for fiery debate, while observing the continued dominance of their elders.

Indeed her logic here is uncomfortably close to the economics and career structure of Islamofascist suicide bombing – viz, a virtual corporation comprising a couple of bilious and elderly figureheads, an elite behind the scenes middle-aged managerial caste, and then the legions of GenX actual workers, who are endlessly reminded how lucky they are to have the opportunity to become martyrs.

Leaving Blainey aside for now (like Malcolm Fraser, his main failing IMO is actually in not knowing when, and how, to retire*) Windschuttle is a strange, strange ally for the GenX cause. For starters, he rode into academic sinecurity on the coattails of the 1970s higher ed boom. While it is true that he has at least since vacated his post, his subsequent demagoguery and Chomsky-ist hair-splitting has done for academia what the Red Army did for western Russia as it retreated from the Nazi advance c.1940-41 – “fiery debate” and passionate positioning, indeed. A scorched-earth history (etc) department doesn’t, it is true, leave un – or otherwise- employed GenX academics from that discipline any worse off in the short term. It does, however, throw everything they stood for (and still stand for?) into the fire, too. One thing (far) worse than a history department full of ageing lefties is its replacement by Speakers Corner – where Survival of The Shrillest (= the Deepest Pockets, in reality) is the rule.

If you think my painting Windschuttle as just another semi-respectable Hansonist – on a boutique, anti-higher ed mission – is unwarranted, look at this conspiratorial posturing (published without comment as a letter to the editor in The Australian on 16/09/03 (no URL)):

They are out to get Windschuttle for blowing the whistle on 30 years of deceiving the public, by fair means or foul. They knew it, and it’s time we taxpayers who fund their universities knew it too.

Yep – so now we ALL know. Hysterical assertion is the new normal on the Op Ed pages, and retired academics living high on the hog in Australia’s most affluent enclave are the new victims, cum-torchbearers-for-the-Righteous. Whose side are you on, Julia?

* Perhaps this is a trait of the Melbourne WASP Establishment generally?

Higher Ed update

In late July, I wrote about the fighting (that is, if you call kicking students when they’re down “fighting”) words of Neville Gruzman, adjunct professor of architecture at the University of NSW.

It turns out that Neville has now parted employment with the uni, although his letter-writing inner fire has not diminished. Perhaps he’s been recently inspired by fellow Sydney eastern suburbs resident Keith Windschuttle, and is now only early on in a career of fashioning self-victimhood out of affluent retirement.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

National Trust has bright idea for St Kilda pier kiosk

Replacing it with a contemporary structure "that spoke of architectural thinking today".

That'd be a tilt-slab apartment block, I reckon.


Upon reflection, the National Trust's faith in modern "architectural thinking' (viz photocopying the plans from the tilt-slab next door) is actually quite clever. They are streamlining the future heritage processing of early 21st C architecture - by making it all (i) the same and (ii) shit, their sweeping conscientiously in to "save" a suitable example of it, in thirty or fifty years time, is going to be a doddle.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Student Financial Supplement Scheme – Why Labor’s Higher Ed Policy is bankrupt

It has an effective interest rate of 16% and comes with appropriately little lender disclosure to match. Introduced by the Keating Labor government in1993, the Student Financial Supplement Scheme has lately emerged as an actuarial time-bomb.

“Assisting” students with up to $3,500 of extra allowance annually, but with a long-term debt kicker of double this amount (meaning that up to $7,000 of debt could be accrued annually) may have seemed financially expedient for the government, and (just) palatable for students ten years ago. Interest rates were much higher then – but more importantly, a degree (probably any degree) could legitimately be seen as an investment against future earnings.

How times change. What was a cynical piece of government student assistance cheap-skating has now become a out-and-out financial black hole. Naively playing lender of last resort, the government gambled on the poorest cohort of Australian graduates – those who would actually take up the loan – hitting American-style salary payola after graduation. Of course, this wasn’t to eventuate; a typical 1990s graduate working full- time in a call centre would be struggling to make $30k a year. Not that the glossy uni brochures suggest such a mediocre employment outcome for their graduates, of course – in this sense, the degree mills are deeply complicit with the loan sharks.

Abolishing the Student Financial Supplement Scheme (SFSS) from next year, as the Howard government is currently attempting should be the beginning of a much broader reality check for Australian higher ed. Over the last decade, the problem of declining resources and higher course costs has in part caused, and in part been overtaken by, a bigger issue – higher ed’s leading to negative lifetime financial returns for graduates (compared to their earnings had they wholly bypassed higher ed).

That the GCCA stats do not reflect this can in part be explained by demographic contractions at system intake. With the “cream” (the rich and thick) being increasingly well-represented on campuses, current stats showing higher lifetime returns for graduates simply reflect back the pictures of the already privileged – they say nothing about the value of educational attainment simpliciter. Labor may wish it were otherwise in the lifetime future earnings stakes, but sadly, the only good bets, when it comes to backing university students in 2003, are the already privileged.

Properly resourcing the public uni system, as the National Union of Students advocates (along with abolishing the SFSS) may yet turn this bleak situation around. Labor’s alternative – to keep the SFSS, in the expectation of its providing a modest future cross-subsidy for equally modest increases in student assistance, www.alp.org.au/media/0903/20005660.html is hypocritical nonsense. A fully-laden, four-year SFSS debt-burden ($28,000) easily outstrips the HECS fee debt of most courses. Even more so, the prospect of incurring large course fees debts – even on an income-contingent basis – acts as rationality maximiser at the course selection stage. In contrast, a hefty SFSS debt-burden can (an human psychology suggests, often will) be taken out mid-course – possibly by students who have glimpsed their call centre future, and so have decided to have an easy year or two before joining the proletariat, knowing that it’s unlikely they’ll ever have to repay the loan shark.

Additional reading: Hansard (House of Reps) 11 September 2003; pp 19212-19231.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Get your forms – and marriage proposals – in quick

With next Friday being the final day for applications for the Mature Age Allowance and Partner Allowance, it’s going to be a busy week at Centrelink. While the former allowance is only available to a fairly narrow, pre-pension-age range, the latter is a cradle-snatcher’s charter, at least for those born on/before 1 July 1955. All that you single, 48 y.o. + boomers who are seeking both early retirement and a pert bed-thang need to do to get almost no-questions-asked welfare is to hitch up with a current, not too rich welfare recipient of at least 21 years old. But hurry!

And yes, I myself am currently single and otherwise eligible – in fact with no assets and no super – so if you’ve got a million dollar+ house (assets test exempt) and at least a few hundred grand in super (also assets test exempt), I am happy – pathetically so, in fact – to entertain your immediate offer. I can’t promise that I’ll give you too much under-the-doona action, but the good news is that you should be able to afford to buy it once-weekly at a decent brothel, what with the extra $350 a fortnight that partnering me simpliciter will bring into your cheque account.

I’m dreamin’, of course. It not that mid-fifties baby boomers aren’t callous, greedy fucks who would do almost anything to squeeze the last remaining drops out of a social security system based on a social contract – aka actually tiding people through economic hardship*. Nor that, in my late thirties, I am not a “good” actuarial risk for remaining unemployed for a solid few years – long enough for my erstwhile partner’s age pension to kick in, so making the partnership then redundant for them, in a dollars-and-cents sense. Rather, it is unlikely that any boomer who took up my proposal could actually live with themselves in the aftermath – true, they were getting something for nothing, but I would be getting to live rent-free in their swanky pad. Like I owned it or something! And we can’t have Gen Xrs with (even temporary) illusions of financial (or job) security, can we?

* A system that provides rorts for the old and affluent, and punishment for the rest, is self-evidently designed to crash, so taking down all idea of the social contract with it.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Anti-Catholicism and clerical paedophilia

Last month I wrote this re the recently discovered 1962 Vatican policy on keeping clerical sexual abuse hidden at all costs. Although this story got another quick run through the global news wringer two weeks later, it has since seemingly disappeared without trace.

As to why, I’m actually not too bothered. The Catholic Church would appear to be pari passu with the Saudi royals when it comes to believing in the almighty salvation power of pricey public relations advice. But what does genuinely creep me out is this kind of paedophile-apologist spin:

The soundest study of priestly sexual misconduct--involving 2,252 priests over forty years--indicates that 1.7 percent behaved badly, such behavior ranging from inappropriate speech to rape, and in only one case involving a true pedophile: i.e., an adult sexually interested in prepubescent children . . . [M]ost targets of unwanted priestly attention are girls and women.

It is just too easy to debunk the “soundness” credentials of this (1992) study. You can read a bit more of its background here, but I have a useful, and more reliable, statistic to the contrary, in any case. One hundred percent (100%) of the male teaching staff at my Catholic primary school in 1971 were cleric-pedophiles*. And primary school kids, in case it’s not absolutely obvious, are prepubescent children.

Statistical windschuttling can soon become a tiresome game, though, so let’s go back to unpacking the non-numerical spin in the above quote. Of course there’s a difference between an adult having sex with 5-year-olds, compared to sex with pubescents, but how has this point managed to become a faith article owned by the fundamentalist Right? It’s nothing to do with religion – the difference has long been abundantly spelled-out in the gradations of criminal law sexual offences, and in blanket and tiered ages of consent.

Of course, denying mundane reality soon becomes a slippery-slide, going to ever stranger and stranger places. The “most targets of unwanted priestly attention are girls and women” sentence from the above quote fits seamlessly in after the ellipsis (I reckon, anyway) but would you believe that it's actually by reviewer Joann Wypijewski, criticizing the supposed Gays-Under-his-Bonnet attentions of author and academic Philip Jenkins, from whose book the earlier part of the above quote comes (and about which "1.7 percent - TICK" Wypijewski seems to have no issues with whatsoever).

Still with me? If so, “good”. Now, you may have already explained Wypijewski’s rhetorical acrobatics as due to a simple case of Trish Bolton-itis; definable as the conviction (without a shred of evidence) that childhood sexual abuse (i) only happens to women, and (ii) only happened to baby boomer (and older) women. Actually, though, Wypijewski is making a much more daring move – for martyrdom, at least of the symbolic kind. After having observed that Philip Jenkins’ views of the culpability difference between the abuse of children vs pubescent teenagers had seen him attacked from both sides (liberals pushing for an end to celibacy and the ordination of women, and conservatives seeking to purge gay priests), Wypijewski has carved for herself an even-more contrived, tortured niche – “What about the girls?” – a singular, floodlit grotto, all of her own making.

As for “anti-Catholicism” then, spare me the self-inflicted stigmata. And save yourselves the bother, too – the more that denying the damage done by clerical paedophilia is aligned with supposed anti-Catholicism, the faster the Church will shrink into, and under, its contradictions.

* The Age story linked to cites “a disturbing number”. The Herald Sun 5 April 1997 (no URL) cites “the entire male teaching staff”.

Shiny happy people holding smiles

Cheese-ing all the way from Melbourne’s Monash Uni to NYC’s Gay Life Expo, this trio is taking Monash’s international focus at face value!

But with the November 2003 Expo coinciding with exam time at Clayton, might the kids’ perma-smiles soon start to wear slightly thin, one wonders?

(via melb.general newsgroup)

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The aetiology of suicide bombing

Occasional moments of job-market despair aside, and despite my fitting their usual demographic (young, male, educated and middle-class) almost perfectly, I have zero sympathy for suicide bombers. Quite simply, if they think they’re fucked-up, they’re dreamin’. Anger is a surplus emotion – a luxury rather than a necessity. So if you’ve got it in bucketloads, you are most definitely NOT more fucked-up than anyone else; you are just hoarding something away, in telltale middle-class style. Most pathetic of all is the suicide bombers’ conceit that anger can be channelled into producing a payoff – murder, glory, martyrdom, being on the next night’s news – it’s all the same old yawn. There’s never One Big Payoff when everyone’s a seller – think about it. I’ve got bucketloads of it too, if you must know.

Googling “I don't have much to live for” does not – as you may think – lead to Suicide Bomber Central. The phrase, in fact, stuck in my mind because it was used recently by an “I’m fucked-up enough to be a suicide bomber, so watch out!” type, but the speaker was (like me) a fifth generation Australian. Otherwise, the online ranks of those self-proclaimers of little to live for are the First World’s more conventionally depressed and/or suicidal.

I suspect that it’s an understatement to say that mental health facilities in the Palestinian territories could be improved. But in the end, suicide bombing is as much, or more, a medical problem as an economic or ideological one. Maybe I’m being wildly optimistic in saying this, but couldn’t the entire psychic economy of commoditised murder-suicides be pricked to nought by a bit of spending the anger?

And I’m not proposing the dreaded c-word (“constructive”) here. If you want to live the rest of your life as a goth passively malingering on the edge of the abyss, go for it. Alternatively, go shake shit up and go in hard. Just don’t confuse the two – when it comes to surplus anger, no one’s buying it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Blogging, employment and anonymity

Not having been in gainful employment* since November 2002, I haven’t really had to face this curly question – what if my (non- academic) employer and/or my co-workers are reading this? My topical impetus here is the recent travails of big city law firm employee and blogger, “Gianna”.

But first, the theoretical stuff – here’s the leading article. Academic bloggers seem to be in a class of their own, because their freedom to comment publicly on any matter (except curiously enough, the policies of their own employer) is – so far – unassailable.

Otherwise, most employed bloggers face two unrelated (or so you would think) issues: (i) blogging during work time, and (ii) blogging about work (and so, needless to say, not always sticking to the PR departmental ideal of corporate hagiography).

Doing anything other than “work” during work time – which description clearly applies to on-the-job blogging by almost everyone (again, except academics) – is likely to be a plain “no no”, as far as the contract of employment is concerned. Nonetheless, internet use at work generally is a contractual breach that is famously now honoured more in the breach, in white collar workplaces. The only exception to this – where there is concerted employer attention to web and email use – is pornography. That the internet is almost certainly NOT a employment productivity-improvement tool – except, ironically, for bloggers – doesn’t seem to unduly concern most employers. (And this fact is my business, if only because the label “bludger” seems far more apposite to millions of Australia’s white-collar workers who do fuck-all for $30k-$50k a year, rather than to Australia’s 700,000 paying-for-their own-internet unemployed).

As to how I can so confidently condemn large swathes of Australia’s white-collar workforce, I plead self-incrimination, M’lud. It was a long time ago, but Paul Watson once worked in a big city law firm – quite possibly, the same one that Gianna currently works for. Either way, I was in the same predicament that Gianna now seems to be in – serving out my last few months, with too little work to do. In those were pre-internet days, I didn’t have quite as ready-made a 9-5 time-filler as the employees of today, but I somehow made do via a combination of: researching my Masters (long before I’d enrolled in it); longhandedly writing poetry and other musings (a cliché, I know, but equally a phase which few bookish twenty-something men seem able to avoid); and, last but not least, clicking-through endless hours of the Reuters news feed, an ultra-expensive (apparently), plain-text online thingy which was a heaven-sent addiction for the bored and deskbound – a never-ending stream of soberly-worded reports, ranging from novelty items to the start of Gulf War 1.

Were I similarly stuck in a job in the internet age, I would have faced the “To blog or not to blog” question. Although in view of what I have just written, this may sound hypocritical, my answer to the “on-the-job blogging” issue is a firm “no” – unless I was using my own, privately-wired laptop. Even if the content of my blog was purely the proverbial, pure "catblog", I simply would not want my employer scrutinizing its content (or the web surfing done in assembling it). I don’t regard this as a matter of stealing the employer’s time (which, I’ll stress again, is a hopelessly rubbery thing when it comes to the enforcement), but as a simple matter of privacy – my blog is separate from my work, but if I use work hardware or networks to do it, I necessarily forfeit my rights to such privacy.

Otherwise, there is the blogging about (while not at) work issue. My main observation here is that blogging anonymity just doesn’t work – and here, I’ll use myself and Gianna as the compare and contrast case study.

I blog under my real name, largely because I’ve always been cynical about the benefits and protections of anonymity. Using one’s real name has its drawbacks (mainly of the “what if X reads this . . .” stressful-thought variety), but it also can be liberating. By putting my name to everything I write, I choose to stay, if only ever so slightly, inside the boundaries of polite discourse – an awful phrase I know, but I can’t think of a better term to describe writing for an audience that is simultaneously “boutique” (my regular or occasional readership) and yet also context-ignorantly invasive, prurient and potentially hostile (click-throughs from a search engine). The first one can fairly be assumed to be the primary audience, but a blogger would be foolish to not always bear their secondary readership in mind.

Which brings me back to the no-surname and no work-firm name “Gianna”. Despite her well-intentioned attempts at anonymity, and her blog being far from a snitch-about-the-day-job kind of one, it seems that it has somehow caught the attentions of her employers. Which in some circumstances could be quite flattering, but certainly not in the “Thank God I’m out of this job soon” situation.

For reasons to do with the hopelessness of anonymity, I choose not to blog about my love-life (not that there’s been much to say here as of late, I should stress, but if people think that a flippant, after-hours online remark against the boss can be a minefield . . .).

Most importantly, I try not to blog anything I would not want anyone, within reason, to read. If attempting or assuming anonymity is unwise, a better policy is some circumspection in content, coupled with a realistic “degrees of separation” thing. As a Melbourne resident, I try to “de-Google” (not to searchably name) Melbournians who I write of in unflattering contexts, while having no such qualms, for example, about sledging Bangalore fuck-knuckle Vivek Kulkarni. There’s no legal reason, such as defamation (which I try and avoid, period) for doing so – only the simple reality that I, just like all bloggers, have a flesh-and-blood real life somewhere, a life that, at least for me, has quite enough complications already. This blog (comments box included) is ultimately an outlet, not an inlet.

* I briefly held a part-time job in June-July this year, which I'll blog about sometime. Teaser for now - I got sacked from it, and the official reason included this phrase: "two ABBA songs".

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The globalisation buck stops at Bangalore

Or more accurately, falls down a pothole in the middle of the road.

Pro-globalisation proponents’ favourite retort to their opponents is that we are stopping third-world workers from bettering themselves. No doubt they are correct in such a view, at least as a matter of strict economic rationalism. Whatever – I’m no economist.

What I do know – or at least intuit – however, is that capital’s supposed free mobility to find optimal (= ever-cheaper) sources of labour is fatally without baggage. That is, the “race to the bottom” can only work when it brings its own infrastructure – which of course, it generally doesn’t, because it can’t (or can’t efficiently):

Though most companies have their own generators to keep operating during power outages, buying and fueling them eat into profits.

Bangalore’s most telling irony is that the 21st century’s much-vaunted frictionless flows of capital are not only disappearing into a black hole because global capital's "hand luggage only" policy left no room for the commons. The supercilious, self-serving, and shirking all else bureaucrat surely should have been “first against the wall” when the globalisation revolution began in the late 1970s. Instead, these “me first, and everyone else can get fucked” human-potholes have proved amazingly resilient:

“You have pockets of excellence where infrastructure is very good," said Vivek Kulkarni, a senior bureaucrat in Karnataka's Information Technology Department. "When prosperity increases, these facilities will expand." As for electricity reliability, Kulkarni said: "Power problems affect the common people. Technology companies make their own arrangements, so their business is not affected."

You heard it, globalisers – you make your own arrangements. And now it’s official.


They still call Australia home?

“Lure”, “tantalising”, “new challenges”, “attractive” – get real, Peter Huck. When your sledgehammer-subtle spin is removed from the story, LA is just a place where talented young Australians can actually make a living – something denied to them (and me) in their (my) land of birth. It’s probably time I joined them – imagine living and working in a land where “ageism” is understood as discrimination against the old, rather than the young!

Naturally, most first generation emigrants don’t see themselves as that, but as life-long expats. The giveaway word in Huck’s story is “wistfully” – Australia, like Ireland, is susceptible to a mawkish collective nostalgia that may take several generations to be bred out. Going hand in hand with this sentimentality is what is other otherwise a surprisingly generous latitude among emigrants about their reasons for leaving Australia:

Almost everyone I spoke with mentioned that at some point their careers had hit a ceiling in Australia.

Very few people whose careers “hit a ceiling” – meaning a plateau in promotion and/or pay rise – would make a drastic decision to emigrate into the wild blue yonder. To motivate such a move, a better metaphor is that the ceiling caved in on them in Australia.

Bob Birrell, like the 1980s Redgum song, believes that the brain drain will “be all right in the long run”.

Yeah, Bobby boy, I hear the pipes, the pipes a’calling too, from dole queue to queue, and down the third world slide.

Monday, September 08, 2003

The Iraq “flypaper” argument

Like Jack Strocchi, my earlier support for the war on/in Iraq has waned considerably. In a nutshell, the US just hasn’t got the mass of locals onside, and I can’t see this changing anytime soon.

Judging by his speech on Iraq today, George Bush is floundering around too. While he wasn’t foolish enough to overtly invoke the flypaper argument, he didn’t offer any convincing-sounding alternative(s).

The Islamofascists have also said “phooey”, in their own way, to any attempt at geographically containing terrorism:

Our highest aim is to fight the Americans and kill them everywhere on earth and drive them out of Palestine, the Arabian peninsula and Iraq (emphasis added)

Ooh aah! But at least you’re not going to kill the Americans DEAD.

And if, perchance, the flypaperists are correct, shouldn’t Bush stop playing this game on its current, little league scale? Going to war against Saudi Arabia – for which, of course, there is ample moral and military justification – would far more dramatically Bring It On.

So what should Bush do? My “Plan B” for the US is simple – withdraw from Iraq, and radically cut US oil consumption. I said “simple”, not easy.


Whither Australian film comedies

There’s been a lather of print lately over the recent run of underperforming Oz comedy films. Taking the “Film critic in most urgent need of a humour transplant” cake, though, is Lawrie Zion.

I haven’t yet seen the film “Take Away” – but the slate is clean here, because Zion isn’t purporting to review it, either. Instead, he sermonises like a MBA textbook on the lead characters’ lack of managerial nous:

A pair of rival fish-and-chip shop owners . . . suddenly find themselves facing competition from a big bad American burger chain, and respond by deploying a range of desperate and destructive tactics to ensure their enemy isn't allowed to gain a foothold. On a perverse, if entirely unintentional level, it is a strangely radical film. For where else would you expect to find "heroes" whose moral justification for waging war on the competition is that the new kid on the block just might make their already ailing inefficient businesses even less viable?

Yeah, having a pair of cold’n’clammy economic rationalists in the lead would have made the film much funnier, I’m sure.

Talking of unintentional comedy and textbook management failure, the Ruth Dunkin saga continues to roll on. Take a look at Crikey’s latest instalment; it had me in stitches.

I’m sure one day someone will make a film about it, a la the anti-Thatcherism masterpiece “Britannia Hospital” (1982). In the meantime, Ruth’s own box office takings – for “Change Management”, the movie – will surely inspire Australia’s put-upon film-makers to persevere. Nothing has ever tanked (or probably ever will) as totally as Ruth’s big budget horror flick.

Hint to Ruth: think of RMIT as a fish-and-chip shop. You know all about change, so it's puzzling, from a customer service POV, that when you "change" the oil in the deep fryer, you merely top up the old oil with a bit of new stuff - a technique you no doubt learnt in a MBA textbook.

(Update) So here's the bottom-line rub for Ruth: Those who implement today's MBA case studies will most assuredly be tomorrow's textbook failures.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Tunnel Vision – Can someone please drug-test the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund grant-givers?

Dr Katherine Papafotiou studied of the effects of cannabis use on driving for her PhD. Her research concluded that . . . non-regular users were more impaired than regular users.

Well, stone the crows – who would have thought that? But then again, picking at unmeritorious PHD theses is not exactly rocket science, so I stress that I am only raising the good doctor’s PhD apropos of what came next: a $400,000 National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund grant to look into:

whether non-regular users are more impaired when driving than regular users.

No, you’re not seeing double. If you carefully read the whole story, you will see that there is a new angle/element in her latter, “Who wants to smoke up a Sydney house price” study – alcohol.

And as the latest project doesn’t discriminate between regular and non-regular drinkers, happily, there is every chance that Dr Papafotiou will be able to keep her pricey little franchise going for at least one more toke of the taxpayer spliff after this one.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Priority One, 18 years on

Being a football atheist when it comes to barracking, I may have missed the subtext to this story.

I couldn’t help but be moved, then, by this plea for bail from the mouth of Collingwood Football Club merchandise head honcho, Sherryn Osborne, 28:

"We're in the finals. Being a manager of my department, I've got loads on. My job's my No. 1".

We’ve gotta moo-ove those scarves and beanies
Custom coffee-mug deliv-ver-ies

Friday, September 05, 2003

He’s a cleric?

Today’s headlines get it all wrong.

Okay, maybe The Age (etc) was merely following the nomenclature lead set in my blog, but I now wish to correct my error of yesterday – the Melbourne Sheik-guy was emphatically not called a “cleric” in the 7.30 Report, but rather a “spiritual leader” who “preaches” at a “roughly furnished warehouse in inner Melbourne”.

And the difference?

A “cleric” does not self-credential. While the finer points of this proposition could be debated into eternity, a convenient way of gounding and testing it is that the more times the putative-cleric is euphemised as a “leader” and especially as a “[INSERT GLOWING ADJECTIVE HERE] leader”, then the less the “cleric” is likely to be a real one. In the case of the Melbourne Sheik, he runs the full gamut from “spiritual leader” to “community leader”.

Oh, and he’s a baby boomer, too.

Putting all this together, and remembering my ever-handy – and now newly-expanded – maxim that demographics run deeper than blood, gender or religion, the Melbourne Sheik is self-evidently just another Lindsay Tanner, a time-server justifying his existence by selling verbiage-activated shit sandwiches to a young, educated but restless* constituency.

* Lindsay Tanner's electorate of Melbourne has Australia's second-highest percentage (51%) of adults with post-secondary qualification, but also the highest unemployment rate (9%) out of all 75 higher-than-median-income electorates ("Australia's hip pocket", The Australian 13 December 2002; no URL).


I went for a job interview on Wednesday, and all I got was this lousy empathy for suicide bombers

Unlike Polly Toynbee and Barbara Ehrenreich, I’m no minimum-wage-job tourist.

Which explains why, when I went for an airport baggage handler job “group interview” on Wednesday, I wasn’t expecting to see and hear rock-bottom – I had genuinely thought (based on a perception that baggage handlers were highly unionised and relatively well-paid) that the job could have some monetary upside. In the end, it was three and a half hours of time, and about eight dollars worth of precious petrol wasted. “Wasted” that is, unless you count this blog posting.

First, to set the scene for my enthusiasm. The job multi-vacancy (“20 positions”) only went live on the Job Network system on Tuesday; with the group interview (choice of 12 noon or 3 pm) the very next day – a breakneck recruitment pace which I assumed would have put the odds on my side. It would not only pretty much exclude the currently-employed, it would also presumably sort the sheep from the goats among the unemployed.

Otherwise, in the fashion of Job Network (and private job agencies generally), the info for the job gave little away, other than the expected hours – usual start 5 am. Another “tick” in my favour, I thought – hardly a dream hour to be starting at (and therefore enough to put-off the ambivalent from even bothering to apply), but also an hour that should attract some kind of fiscal bonus for working at.

At my 3 pm group interview, there were about 50 men – not a single woman. The men’s age range had a heavy cluster in the late teens to mid 20s, then a less-strong, but evenly-spaced cohort from the late 20s across to the late 30s, after which it dropped-off almost totally. Of the remainder, there were two guys who looked mid 40s and one who looked late 50s. Of the former, there was one “Big Brother” alumnus (who I’ll allow the dignity of not being named).

We were told that out of 120 interviewees across the two sessions, there were ten job vacancies. Oops – it’s always great for the odds to be doubled from under your feet, as you run. The name of the company was revealed – Aero-Care Pty Ltd – whose chief thing, apparently, is doing the baggage handling for Virgin Blue (an airline half-owned by scab-meisters Patrick Corp). Double oops – this meant that the pay and conditions were likely to be rock bottom. But, but, but . . . surely, given the bargaining power of baggage handlers (viz if they go on strike, then yada-yada) “rock bottom” couldn’t mean rock bottom?

Well, you my readers, can decide. At $16.30 per hour (casual) with no shift loadings, this translates (using the 20% casual-to-permanent discount conversion rate) to $13 per hour (permanent). Which, sure enough, on a 38 hour week basis, is the current entry-level weekly wage of $494.60 under the Airline Operations (Transport Workers') Award, and a whole $46.20 a week above the current, absolute minimum wage floor. When you factor in the mandatory cost of car ownership (no public transport is available) and pay-parking in the airport backblocks (i.e. minibus to actual work) at $2/day, it seems clear that the effective living wage is well below a nominal minimum wage job which is serviced by public transport.

Oh, and in case you didn’t guess it already, the company is proud to note that none of its employees has ever taken industrial action – all said with a “One big happy family” spin, of course.

After the group interview, we were sent into the foyer to form two queues, for the purposes of having quick one-on-one interviews. The atmosphere is the foyer was quite tense – 120 men, almost all under 40, going for one of ten jobs. Never mind that they were badly-paid, bad-hours, casual roles – this was somehow an opportunity, a challenge. I add that I was swept up in at the time, too.

As you would have guessed by now, I didn’t get the call the next day.

Oh, and not once during the group interview was the topic of security clearance/vetting mentioned. I’m sure that there is such a process, but clearly it’s not a front-end one. After all, once a sizeable pool of the rock-bottom-wage ready’n’willing has been established, there’s plenty of time to sift out any bad eggs, and replace them from within the pool. It’s better that way – planting and reinforcing the idea in their heads that they are infinitely more cheap and disposable than the luggage they handle. And a sound basis for recruiting Workers Who can be Trusted Not to be Terrorists* is, of course, to trawl, obligation-free, among the young and the desperate.

* Bilal Khazal was a Qantas baggage handler, whose ranks appear to be strongly unionised, and as a result are paid vastly better rates (not necessarily nominally, but certainly when it comes to overtime and allowances, neither of which apply to casuals) than Virgin Blue’s outsourced equivalents. This is currently changing, however, with Qantas now joining in the race to the murky bottom.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

What’s with female academics these days?

If they’re not happily (and consensually, one assumes) giving vox-pops in support of the downtrodden male gender, they’re prepared to coldly fuck up their husband’s and their children’s (and, ultimately, their own) lives in order to get a bigger slice of the property settlement upon divorce.

My suggestion is that the first group of female academics’ time might be more profitably spent studying the antics of the second group. Which “group” may turn out to just be an isolated case – but hey, that’s “men”, c. 2003, anyway. There’s no “group” of us, honey – just a mostly unrelated collection of isolated cases.

Oh, and I wonder which group Melbourne academic and semi-regular Age Op Ed writer, Trish Bolton belongs to. In recent months, Trish has managed to combine an opaque, but still-harrowing personal account of childhood abuse with the apparent fact that such abuse only happened to women older than 40 (i.e. baby boomers), and so presumably barely happens now at all. As a survivor myself, I’d ordinarily feel deeply sorry for her – but her pathetic, serially misplaced anger just makes me feel sorry for her ex-husband specifically, and men in general, instead. Despite Trish’s seeing misogynous men's movements under every bed, and (in a separate Op Ed) her having telegraphed to the world in April that she was a stickler for equal opportunity in orgasm – grrrowl! – Trish has somehow now managed to meet a new male partner who is up to, and down for, the task. I sincerely wish him well in his new posting.


An “unsuspecting” security guard? Never!

What have “ethics” go to do with this? A security guard was hired to do a job, and apparently didn’t do it very well. Diddums.

But I am being a bit disingenuous here, I know. Reading between the lines, the real story’s text goes something like this: “Someone from GenX has pushed the boundaries, just a bit. And how dare one of them assert such agency – this sort of clever manipulation is reserved for baby boomer reality TV producers, for whom GenX is exclusively their on-tap subject fodder.


Blaming the . . . – Islamofascists and moral agency

Notoriously, Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir blames “the Jews” for the Bali terrorist bombing. In some formulations, Bashir appears to jointly blame “the Jews” and the USA, but, as he makes plain here, the latter is merely longhand for the former, as far as he’s concerned.

Fair enough perhaps, Bashir is simply a man of the cloth, and perversion – in thought and/or deed – among Australian and other Western Christian/Catholic men of the cloth has been distressingly common in recent decades. However, where other clerics get off (when it comes to their sexual appetites, their faith, and sometimes too, the judicial process), Bashir straps himself into his faith and denies almost everything – and that which he can’t point-blank deny, he outsources the blame for. Claiming a kind of indemnity from personal moral agency is a curious position for a cleric to be taking, if you ask me.

Closer to home, last night’s 7.30 Report interviewed a Melbourne Muslim cleric, who – disturbingly – played an almost identical game to Bashir: denying almost all, up to or beyond the point of plausibility, and then spicing up the mix with outsourced blame. I found this all the more disturbing because the Melbourne cleric wasn’t being accused of anything criminal. Nonetheless, when asked about his friendship with an alleged terrorist currently held awaiting trial in the UK, the cleric couldn’t help but point out that, given this person had received a visa to enter Australia some years ago, the Australian government was to blame.

Blame for what, you well may ask. When “blame” is thrown around so loosely and liberally as to lose any rational nexus with the original act, the blame-thrower is psychopathic – and axiomatically so.

To return to what I just said , but from a different direction, consider the neat match between Islamic clerical morality-shirking and the ir-responsibility of Islamofascist terrorism in contrast to “traditional” political terrorism, as best typified by the IRA’s responsibility-claiming “codes”.

Of course, clerics in general should not be expected to live 24/7 on some kind of spot-lit moral pedestal, above the rest of humanity. However, given that no one – lesser than Osama Bin Laden, but greater than a rep from the plethora of GenX suicide squads* – has ever (as far as I’m aware) taken responsibility for an act of Islamofascist terrorism, the moral vacuum in the middle is hard not to notice. And as for “spiritual leaders” like Bashir –the “spiritual” aspect is almost beside the point; a much more compelling indictment against Bashir is that he is a leader manqué at best; an individual whose idea of moral agency is looking to the mob for inspiration – or if not, absolution.

* In this context, “splinter group” now has a macabre secondary meaning

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Ripping off your honour students’ work “common practice” . . .

. . . when it comes to preparing research grant applications, says Oz academic Professor Stephen Easton. Or this is how I read his weaselly words, anyway.

More charitably (perhaps), Professor Easton could be said to merely be invoking, in defence to a plagiarism accusation, every eight year old’s favourite response to a sledge from their peers – “I know you are, but what am I?”

Monday, September 01, 2003

Generation of 1968 – did someone say there was an upside?

Okay, here we go again – another rant against baby boomers. But when it comes to new “old” ground, I just can’t help it – they keep spinning their shit out, this one’s fresh today. Plus it doesn’t hurt my motivation that (i) Lindsay Tanner is almost my local MP (although he came close to being knocked off by the Greens in 2001), and (ii) is a clueless, serial under-performer (if he was a stock you would have cut your losses and sold him long ago)

As to the above headline, I admit I being glib. The 1968 “revolution” did have some upside. Let’s go through Lindsay Tanner’s victory talismans, then, one by one:

- individual freedom (too vague to tell)

- feminism (meaning first-world, middle-class and above women). Rapid improvement between late 60s and mid 80s. Unfortunately for the vast majority of the world’s women NOT covered by this “revolution”, the situation has long-since stabilised.

- environmentalism (ditto first-world only). Really only started rolling in Australia with mid-70s urban “green bans”. Forest conservation awareness was a product of the 80s, more than any other decade.

- racial equality. Race Discrimination Act passed in 1975 (whatever happened to “We want it now”?). When a racist political party emerged in 1998, the callow actions of the government, in response to Hansonism, suggested that racism was still a potent force in many (almost all older) voters’ minds.

- sexual and gay liberation. Heterosexual liberation definitely peaked during or soon after 1968. Indeed, no anthropologist has been able to provide convincing footage of a “key party” since 1975. As for gay liberation, once again, it was the kids of the eighties (take a bow, me) who did most of the hard work – in an era when, because of AIDS, being gay had never before (or since) been the subject of such hysterical attack.

- opposition to war and nuclear weapons. Yes, back in 1968, you had your own Vietnam-draft skins to save. You broke out the “War is over!” champers in 1975, just as the carnage in Cambodia began. The major anti-nukes campaigns were in the 1980s – driven by a need to oppose the uber-hawk policies of Reagan et al (Reagan and Thatcher also being the first governments to calculatedly shaft the economic interests of the young, in order to enrich the 1968ers all the more).

Oh, and Lindsay – you left out “drugs”. Or was that what you meant by “individual freedom”? Either way – the modern, mass use of drugs, legal and illegal, is certainly the 1968ers clearest and most enduring achievement to date. And I’m not taking the piss (or the urine-test, but that’s another story) here. Recreational and/or self-medication is indeed a potent force for good – they can make a highly-educated GenX Australian living on $200 a week feel “affluent”, at least for a few hours. This is actually far from dangerous escapism, because Lindsay sees that we’re all much more affluent now. And scarily, I don’t think that he’s even on drugs when he supposedly sees and tells us this.


A little champerty is – like playing with fire – a dangerous thing

A funded court case – funded because of a political agenda – is to a normal court case as a politician’s arson of his (/her) own parliament is to a “normal” ( = third party, non-political) arson of the same parliament. Ditto for a disgruntled schoolteacher burning down his (/her) own school (although the psychopathology of teacher-arsonists suggests that there is one very effective deterrent for the act – if matches are not on the regular order form for school perquisites, the typical would-be teacher/arsonist will be most reluctant to dip into their own pocket for the cost of the matches).

In the parliament arson case, the physical damage – between “insider” and “outsider” (non-political) arson is clearly identical. However, the intangible damage to democracy, when a politician deliberately sets fire to his (/her) own parliament in pursuit of a (necessarily below-board) political agenda, is incalculable. Or at least I think that’s what history says.


Some facts (including a few educated guesses) about the Australian Leadership Retreat

Closed door “think-ins” are, quite understandably, susceptible to conspiracy theories being formulated by those on the outside. The forums’ invariable policy of limited, or nil, on-the-ground media coverage also (if unwittingly) aids the spread of such theories. Prompted by something that Robert Gottliebsen wrote in today’s The Australian (of which more about soon), I’ve combed through everything I could find on the recent (22-24 August) Australian Leadership Retreat, and digested it.

Who went:

There were about 150 invitees and their partners, making about 300 attendees in total. It may be inferred, then, that there is a strong social aspect to the gathering – i.e. that “Leadership Retreat” is an utter misnomer. (Perhaps it is used simply for the purposes of “ticking the right boxes” to ensure the event’s tax-deductibility)

With the event’s being co-staged by the Business Council of Australia, a cross-section of Oz (with a sprinkling of US) business heavyweights was the mainstay – but with senior Oz politicians, as ever, running a close second to the biz-meisters in the overall game. Here, both the Coalition and Labor got a good snout (sorry, look) in. The only pollie outside the cosy duopoly who apparently scored an invite was Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway.

The other, main category of attendees is described as “Community leaders”. This included a handful of arts and NGO worthies – Simon Longstaff (St James Ethics Centre), Richard Evans and Steven Heathcote (Australian Ballet), and John Bell (Bell Shakespeare). More surprisingly, academia also falls under the “Community leaders” heading – but which turns out to be less of a slight than you might think, as only ONE academic is reported as attending – Ruth Dunkin (RMIT University) – and some would say even affixing this description within Ruth’s laminate-on-the-lanyard is an over-statement.

Finally, there are the miscellaneous attendees. Reputedly, there were economists in abundance, presumably of the private consultant (non-academic) variety. Given the need for such consultancies to be closer-than-conjugally-close to government in order to get (and give) business, such attendances – but no names please! – is not at all surprising. They, being ever eager to please, would also no doubt have proved useful in making up the numbers for rounds of bridge, etc – and despite not actually being “leaders” could obviously be relied upon to be pillars of discretion. A closely-related, and also heavily-anonymous group of attendees would have been right-wing thinktank boffins – only Clyde Prestowitz, of the Economic Strategic Institute in Washington was named. Making up the rest of the odds’n’sods were self-described Davos “newbie”-AND-also-ten-year veteran, Lance Knobel*, billionaire Frank Lowy (plugging his new thinktank), and quasi-journalist Robert Gottliebsen.

Who didn’t go (but pretended they did):

Fairfax journalists Stephen Dabkowski and Allesandra Fabro, that’s who. I stress that this is my educated guess only. The clearest sign that they didn’t go is the high level of generality in their reports, which read mostly like recycled PR-guff. Another clue is that one of Stephen Dabkowski stories has an accompanying picture credited to Michael Roux (who, when he’s not taking quite flattering – if I may say so – snaps of lone academic Ruth Dunkin, is Mr “Welcome to Fantasy Island”, aka the event’s big boss)

In contrast is the unquestionably on-the-ground event reportage by Robert Gottliebsen, who I termed a “quasi-journalist”, above. I used this term because Gottliebsen’s coverage abysmally fails to the test measure of journalistic prurience one would expect, especially given that he was the ONLY journalist there. By this, I don’t mean that I expect Gottliebsen to have filed a “Who slept with who” style of report, but his bland, overview style of reportage clearly indicates that he was not invited as a journalist – rather (as I inferred above), as a sub-leader level, “pillar of discretion”.

What Robert Gottliebsen wrote today

Apart from a disingenuous reference** to last week’s NAB raid on AMP being the first sign of what he was talking about generally, Gottliebsen spewed grandly forth on some specific facets of the young professionals’ brain drain and the related ageing population (aka shortage of taxpayers) looming problem. There’s nothing of any real interest, other than this:

Australia's biggest source of skilled migrants is overseas students. Our universities have a key role in shaping the skills population. At Hayman, the tertiary education community said education was being straitjacketed by Canberra public servants.

Let me unpack this paragraph. The brain drain of Australian-born-and-educated professionals is a fait accompli (Gottliebsen earlier says this is due to high income tax rates). But it’s not all doom here, as there are currently large inflows of “skilled” migrants (who, for whatever bizarre reason, don’t seem to mind Australia’s said high tax rates, one little bit). This is especially bizarre as most of these “migrants” already have a long-term(ish) nexus with Australia, having lived (and usually worked, part-time) here as overseas students.

But don’t mind the parodox of Gottliebsen’s high-taxes = skilled-worker-deterrence argument too much – it gets worse. The said overseas-students-cum-immigrants are not just blissfully ignorant (according to Gottliebsen’s logic) of the unconscionable Australian-tax slug they will be hit with for the rest of their working lives, they are also getting only a “straitjacketed” (= inadequate) education for their big bucks. The poor things! Well, almost – Gottliebsen may be relieved to hear of a relieving balm called “market forces”, which applies to set the fees for overseas students at Australian universities. There are no price caps on these fees for even the twitchiest, straitjacketing-phile “Canberra public servant” – None! Or is Gottliebsen referring to the pesky fact that overseas students at Australian universities are (officially) assessed under the same standards as Australian ones? If so, I don’t think he’s got too much to worry about here.

My final bit of unpacking refers to the “tertiary education community” that Gottliebsen is acting as lightning-rod for. A “community” of one (and then only just)? If so, this would only be a minor fudge, in the scheme of things. I can confirm, though, that despite this paragraph sounding rather Andrew Norton-esque, that Norton himself didn’t score a guernsey for the big do – not unless he (i) has kept incredibly mum ever since, and (ii) was up at 8.45 am on the last day (a Sunday) for a sublime laptop-by-the-poolside blog about inconsequential fluff***.

* This guy reminds me of those geeky persons who hang around uni for far too many years – all for (as cynics might see it) the annual, unfailing pleasure of escorting wide-eyed, comely 18 year olds around the traps during O-week.

** Oh really, Robert? Since it is public record that NAB’s boss was on the island (with you) the week before the raid, perhaps you shouldn’t be big-noting your predictive prowess in quite this way – not unless you want ASIC sniffing around yours and your family’s recent share-dealings, that is.

*** Of course the Melbourne Writers' Festival is a bore (and a seriously over-priced one at that). Four words more than adequately explain why, however: Morag Fraser - Festival Chair

Australian Leadership Retreat 2003 References:






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