Sunday, November 30, 2003

Men are the new sex objects

A rigorously scientific survey of two 2004 calendars confirms this fact.

The Pirelli Calendar has been Bjork-ed up – some call it Pollock-esque abstraction, others call it a tasteless mess (like Bjork’s dress sense).

However, the French rugby league team’s 2004 calendar has veered sharply in the other direction – of let-it-all-hang-out locker room verite.
(link via Harley)

The hetero auto mechanics of the world are left feeling perplexed and a little cheated. Meanwhile, Victoria’s new Chief Justice faces a tough – nay, unprecedented – decision over which of the two to hang in her office. The French option's black'n'white beefcake will complement her mahogany surrounds, while the lurid and splotchy Pirelli offering will bring applause from feminist academics who may happen to drop by – for showing (as it may be interpreted) the transformation of beautiful maidens into hideous-but-contented ogres.

Friday, November 28, 2003

“Mum and dad” investors and Henry Kaye

James Button writes today:

The rise and fall of Henry Kaye says a lot about the fears of ordinary Australians worried about the future and captivated by a dream of instant wealth.

Actually, it says a lot more about the stupidity of, and herd instinct among, large swathes of baby boomers – whose only relationship to “ordinary Australians” is that the greedy dumb boomers thought they could all be landlords to the less fortunate rest of the population.

Henry Kaye was, of course, an oily, smooth-talking spiv. But journalist James Button is not far behind him is the overvaluation-of-a-crock stakes.

In August, Button had a piece in The Age hand-wringing over the plight of a couple of Henry Kaye victims, Irene and Bruno Francescutti.

Then today:

But one couple, remarkably, escaped [the Henry Kaye collapse]. Irene and Bruno Francescutti paid $25,000 for a Kaye course. A few days after signing up [in February 2003] they tried to get out, arguing they had a strong case under a "cooling-off" clause in the contract. The company rejected their case. But this week, out of the blue, a letter arrived providing them a refund.

“Out of the blue”, eh James? While I would certainly like to think that a journo (and baby boomer, of course) going in ferociously to bat for a couple of foolish victims (also boomers) does not give the latter a privileged shortcut – otherwise known in insolvency law as a “preference” – who am I kidding?

As to why James Button is being so modest about his own role in rescuing the stricken Francescuttis – well, he’d already forsaken objective journalism in his earlier story (by not canvassing the couple’s own responsibility for their actions), so why not compound the crime?

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A pitch to the ailing Channel 7 – try stealing the ABC’s audience

I’m serious. With Seven vowing yet again that next year will be belong to it and its 25-54 audience demographic, it’s time someone did them a favour and pointed out – there is no such thing. Such age range covers three very distinct cohorts, with its middle – today’s 30-somethings – having probably the lowest spending power (because of unemployment/McJobs or over-work and mega-mortgages) of any age grouping since WWII. (A home-owning old age pensioner has much more disposable income than me, for example.) Inevitably, even well-meaning programs about 30-somethings will fall or fail narratively into this socio-economic black hole (like “CrashBurn” did), unless they walk the dark side, too (like “Six Feet Under”), with even then the result being a labour of love, and not at all a sponsor wallet-opener.

The bother that Seven finds itself in is admittedly diabolical – Ten is cruising along happily as king as the kids-to-39s* while Nine skews much older, but with a “family friendly” twist; meaning that much of its product is effectively dual-purposed, being equally suitable for the declining minds of 70-somethings and the developing minds of the pre-teens. Seven is wedged firmly in the middle; and oh what a deep crevasse it is. There is no room for another, yoof-oriented competitor to Ten, while no network in its right mind would be making an overt (or even covert) pitch for the over-60 audience. (The oldies may be asset-rich, but it takes a lot more than a 30-second advertisement to get them to part with any of it.)

Meanwhile, for years ABC TV has been happily cruising along catering almost exclusively – at prime time, anyway – to the most prized demographic of them all, the baby boomers (aged 40 to 58, in 2003). On its face, this may sound paradoxical; baby boomers are the most voracious and air-headed (think of any, non-yoof-targeted car ad) mob in history since Rome was sacked, yet their television viewing is peculiarly beyond the claws of advertisers. To which I say – never underestimate the power of a free ride. The boomers had it in everything else (jobs, unis), so why shouldn’t the taxpayer-funded ABC have been conscripted as their little private domain (sometime in the late 80s)?

Of course, ABC ratings are usually not within cooee even of Seven’s, but everyone snickered at the then-third-ranked Ten when it started to demographically narrowcast. Plus the ABC doesn’t tend to, for obvious reasons, wring its scripts and flog its output as remorselessly as do the commercials. In other words, current ABC ratings would sharply underestimate the real commercial viability of Boomer TV. While radio isn’t really the subject of this piece, I note that today Wendy Harmer is tub-thumping for a Boomer FM to be established (again ignoring the fact that ABC radio has been narrowcasting to boomers for years, albeit on the AM band (And yes, I have heard of JJJ FM, but I’d bet that this makes money for the ABC, as opposed to the money-pit AM stations and networks)).

For Seven, swiping the ABC’s audience and then building it up (mmnn, think of the cross-promotional tie-in possibilities with car brands) should be a cinch. It should start by signing on all the out-of-contract ABC identities it can find. Some from-scratch programming will also be required, and conveniently, Geoffrey Atherden is currently crying out to develop a noughties version of “Mother and Son”: Why not . . . a family drama that includes a marriage bust-up over caring for geriatric parents?”, as well as a sort of “Mother and Son” junior: “Why not a television series about love in later life? Something about a 50-year-old divorcee with twentysomething stay-at-homes who longs to start dating?" (same URL). Fortunately for Seven, Geoffrey Atherden won’t be expensive when it comes a’knocking, either. With two bathetic-sounding telemovies in the pipeline (on Ten!) – “Stepfather of the Bride” and one about a reckless bloke who becomes a bushfire hero (same URL) – Geoffrey will surely be willing to churn out just about anything Seven says, particularly when the next land tax bill, for his twixt-ferry stop and ocean “leafy” piece of peninsula should come sailing in, all “little, white [and] fluffy” through Sydney Heads.

* Like “Toolies” on the Gold Coast in November, we 30-somethings are happy to go along for any ride, and the cheaper the better.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Peter Costello finds a fellow pool cleaner-boy, sorry friend, in Mark Latham

Earlier today I was killing time, by browsing the net, down at my local Job Network member. I clicked on the link to this SMH story, only to get a message that my access to the page linked-to was blocked, because it was Pornography, and that my attempt to access it had been reported.

The company responsible for such a moronic filtering system is this.

I do genuinely wonder, though, that since the words “pool cleaner-boy” – or anything on that level of suggestiveness – do NOT occur anywhere in the story (which I was able to read back home, of course), what were the dirty words that the filter trawler found?

Here’s my exhaustive list of all possibilities. Feel free to read the story yourself and add to my list, if you must, but I do like to think that I have a smuttier-than-average mind. Ipso facto, if you can’t see a hint of smut in the terms below, you either (i) vote National, or (ii) just aren’t trying.

“huge amount of”

“very slow burn”

“very big bang”

“colleagues have been lining up to”

“bagging him privately”

“imagine how pleased we were to see the member”

“the conversion of the member”

“why are all their heads down at the . . . ?”

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

*^%# Stupid job ads!

After seeing one of those – very rare – job ads that just leaps off the page at you, that just already has YOU written all over it, you know what I hate? When you look it up, and it turns out to be not only not “You”, but an awesomely-sized, deliberately “anti-You” going Hah-Hah in your face; I hate that.

The job?

Project Worker (Educator/Writer) with Victoria Legal Aid – part-time and for 10 months only. [That’s all the ad said, apart from the salary]

Sounds perfect – I’ve got legal qualifications, law teaching experince, and writing qualifications and experience. And the part-time and limited term of the job would hopefully discourage all the Saffie-esque, keen-as-mustard Gen Y sycophants from bothering to apply.

But upon seeking further info at the Victoria Legal Aid website, my dream job turns out to be something else – a lot of stuff about facilitating focus testing, draft methodology etc. A pain, in other words, and not something I am particularly expert at, but not an insuperable obstacle. I mean, I’ve still got the background, haven’t I?

Delving one webpage deeper, into the Position Description (PDF), the answer turns out to be “no”. How stupid was I, thinking that a Project Worker/Educator with Victoria Legal Aid would need to know anything about the law?

Instead, we get this:


To research and design a teachers’ kit to engage young people in issues based discussion and activities about the law. Project objectives are:

• To ensure young people direct topic and content priorities.

Well the project worker knows fuck-all about the topic, so I guess this one’s a given. And everyone knows how good schoolkids are at “directing” curricula – Hell, every state got rid of its eduction department, and replaced it with regular focus group testing down at the local skate park, years ago.

• To ensure the content is relevant to diverse audiences including disabled, culturally and linguistically diverse and same-sex attracted young people.

If they’re w-a-a-y “linguistically diverse”, then think about getting some translation in. Otherwise, include a chapter on discrimination law. Like, derr.

• To ensure content ties into existing mainstream secondary school curriculum.

Ignore all other points – this job is for an existing, uber-jaded teacher, who wants a year’s bludge-cum-revenge-on-students. Make sure every focus group you do is a three-hour (minimum) marathon, and always during school hours. The kids will be begging you to get it over with, but you won’t let them go until you’ve used up every last bit of your butcher’s paper – at their “direction”.

• To ensure the kit reflects best practice design standards i.e., durable, practical, contemporary and accessible in a variety of mediums i.e., hard copy, CD-ROM, disc, web.

Again, derr.

• To develop and implement a marketing strategy to promote the kit to schools and relevant community workers.

Hah! Your contract will be conveniently over just as the crunch comes – how the fuck is VLA going to get rid of that mountain of brochures/CD-ROMS festering in the tea-room (like the pile of jumbo tins of International Roast, another “seemed like a good idea at the time” order)

• To begin to address the need identified by community legal educators for coordinated and improved resources for trainers

We love a mission that ends with the words “to begin to”. Especially when it relates to teacher training resources – you know, those things that teachers in Wodonga seem to confuse with classroom handouts. For “coordinated and improved”, read “ties into existing mainstream secondary school curriculum” (above). Translation: looks like a classroom handout – only pervy.


Big law firm Clayton Utz bills gov’t $1 million for asylum-seeker “detention infrastructure” advice . . .

. . . Won the lucrative tender with a natty boardroom demonstration pitch of what happens when a paper TPV kinetically encounters razor wire. “We’re the shred-meisters from way back”, boasts Clayton Utz rep.

Monday, November 24, 2003

David Williamson issues unwise ultimatum – “a US free trade agreement may silence Australian voices

Bring it on, says vast majority of Australian population – reasoning that if it forever shuts up the creator of "Dog's Head Bay", absolutely any price is worth paying.

Two things are not surprising about Williamson’s Op Ed harangue against the US FTA. One is that he omits his extensive TV credits-roll and filmography from his bio-blurb, which has him as a playwright only. The second is that he extensively quotes one of his fictional characters (again, from a play, Emerald City) in his case for the defence of Oz Kulcha.

Williamson’s shyness about his three decades in the screen industries may, I suspect, have something to do with the alarming number of turkeys among them. Of the minority which are not outright cringeworthy, most were made a long time ago and are set in an even longer time ago. The 60s seem to be the decade in which his creative imagination peaked – and then abruptly stopped everafter – the 60s being when The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) and Don's Party (1976) are set. While Gallipoli (1981) is of course irrefutably set in historical 1915, there is a fair sense of Williamson’s 60s swagger (or pulse – take your pick) within it. And then there is The Club (1980), his first (and last successful) attempt at trawling the contemporary zeitgeist. That The Club worked so well, in spite of its Dealing With An Issue (the curse of Williamson’s output just about ever since), can be attributed, ironically enough, to its cultural universality – or suitability as Officially-Sanctioned light entertainment for the middle-classes of a hybrid Stalinist-capitalist economy* (again, take your pick).

As to the arguments actually mounted by Williamson – confusingly mostly, but not only, through his screenwriter character “Colin” – this little nugget sums it up (I’m not sure if it matters, but these actual words come from Williamson (the "Dog's Head Bay" one), and not “Colin”:

[If the FTA goes through] our deep nature will eventually change. Personally I'd regret losing such things as the sardonic scepticism that fuels so much of our humour, but in another generation or two it could conceivably have totally disappeared.

No!! Whatever Williamson may mean by “sardonic scepticism” (presumably it was the “fuel” he drank while writing "Dog's Head Bay") I can reassure him that even if every single Oz screenwriter was to forever put away their pens tomorrow, Williamson’s oeuvre would still be around for much more than another generation or two.

Crap cultural output has the same half-life as plutonium waste. Whatever the mysterious essence may be that fuels “our” humour, I say “leave it in the ground”.

Otherwise, to be briefly constructive about Oz screen culture, I think that Guy Rundle is on the right track here. What Guy is far too polite (or self-preserving) to say out loud, but is nonetheless clearly present, is that some generational change in the funded culture industries is screamingly overdue.

Finally, I should point out "Dog's Head Bay" mediocrity is ubiquitous; indeed, so widespread as to be often near-invisible. When the crappy Japanese Story won (as I had feared) umpteen AFI awards the other night, the screenwriter, in her acceptance speech, noted how good it was to have the story of a “gutsy” Aussie woman on the big screen. If this is a criterion for getting film-funding (and I suspect that unofficially it is), then Williamson’s curse, a.k.a. Dealing With An Issue, would seem to have fatally polluted the entire arts-funding ecosystem.

BTW, I don’t agree with the Right’s assumption that national-protectionist funded art always equals mediocre art. One only need look at the screen culture of Canada (a country even more susceptible to US cultural dominance than Australia), to see top-class product emerging. Here, I’m thinking particularly of the filmography of John Greyson and also of (the albeit still-developing) Atom Egoyan. In contrast, Australia doesn’t have a single auteur – just a cast and crew of National Jokes, of which David Williamson has been the number one draft pick every year since the early 80s.

P.S. As for the measly “extra 50 cents a week”, David – I think you’ll find that that would be the ABC’s budget. Or at least it was, back in the good old “Eight cents a day” days, when, as it happens, they were throwing away money on the likes of "Dog's Head Bay". Since you obviously must think that the ABC paid peanuts and got monkeys on that occasion, perhaps you could sling Aunty a refund cheque for the measly scale rates you were presumably paid at.

* Catherine Armitage "Power struggle in Beijing" The Australian 10 October 2003 (no URL), telling of an 18 month season of The Club in China, by the Beijing People’s Experimental Theatre, of which Williamson was unaware, and for which he received no royalties.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Happy Fortieth Birthday today to the last of the last baby boomers

Of course, I don’t really mean “happy”, but since you’re 40 today anyway, you probably already know that no one saying it really means it.

I’ve picked today to be the auspicious watershed date between boomers and Xers because (i) I’ve long had a gut feeling about 1963 being the year, and (ii) it is, of course, JFK carking-it’s 40th anniversary, and so the day for a roll-out, yet again, of all those “Where were you when . . .?” anecdotes.

Personally, I was a three-week old foetus on the day that JFK died, meaning that my whole in-utero development was poisoned by vicariosity – I knew that there was something going on outside, but I was unable to publicly communicate my yawning indifference to the older generation’s faux-Momentous Event. Which has been the story of my life* ever since – playing eternal catch-up, only to realise, again and again, that their game was stupid and not worth playing, anyway.

Additionally, as for why 22 November 1963 should be the inter-generational watershed date, it conveniently – and just – allows all boomers to have had Sex In The 70s, by being at least 16. (Yes, I know about different ages of consent and that gay sex was blanket illegal most places back then, rah rah rah. I’m a foetus, I’m a foetus.)

My point is that Sex In The 80s was a crock – it was always overlaid with the weight of boomer values (carefree sluttiness as tasty and overcooked as mum’s Brussels sprouts) and, in the case of AIDS, boomer diseases. If you didn’t get a fuck in the 70s, then, getting fucked by fear was all you were ever gonna get.

Meanwhile, boomers naturally did still have sex in the 80s, but this evolved into an interstitial activity; something they did between snorting lines of coke backstage at Live Aid. Every boomer is still psychically stuck in 1985, with the words “We are the world” scrolling endlessly through their cortexes (cortices?), like a mutant, runaway karaoke prompt.

* Life starting at minus nine months, in the full Catholic Church sense, thank you very much.


Addicted to porn?

The argument in favour of pornography is simple – the “anti” argument is the (pool-cleaner boy) pot calling the kettle (well-hung and) black. This prolix rant amply demonstrates my argument; it is repetitive, prurient, and ultimately degrading to its audience.

Otherwise, the whole “addiction to porn” concept is completely naff. Like swearing (but unlike gambling or alcohol), everyone, bar a tiny percentage of dysfunctionals, knows that porn only works when rationed, a.k.a. in moderation. If porn (or swearing) is used “full-time”, this is not a textbook study of addiction, but a deliberate, or at least reckless, overdose.

Oh, and the funniest thing I’ve read in ages is this:

Si Jones, a 39-year-old north London vicar who regularly counsels men trying to "come off" pornography, admits that, for him, too, it was his introduction to sex. "As a teenager, I watched porn films with my friends at the weekend. It was just what you did. It was cool, naughty and everyone was doing it." Set against today's habit of solitary internet masturbation, Jones's collegiate introduction to porn seems peculiarly sociable. (same URL)

Is it just me, or is the image of a teenage vicar-in-waiting, wanking-off in the parental loungeroom with a group of his mates – all presumably hetero – just wrong, spelt W-R-O-N-G?

If Good Porn Experiences involve playing soggy Sao with “peculiarly sociable” vicars, then what I had thought were the darkest depravities of poofterdom henceforth ever pale in comparison.

Friday, November 21, 2003

What are "work habits"?

With the latest revelations about Work for the Dole programs actually doing more harm than good at getting participants into jobs – aka the Howard Government’s “truth overboard” porky # 1001 – it’s time to ask: What exactly is WfD [good] for?

The answer here is pretty simple: “work habits”. Not habits that lead to actual jobs, mind, but habits nonetheless. Or as today’s Australian editorial puts it:

[T]he Government's own commissioned research shows that work-for-the-dole is not getting people back to paid work fast enough. But surely it is helping to re-establish the rhythm and discipline of work in their lives.

Now perhaps it’s just me, but when the relatively nondescript (or small-p Presbyterian, if you like) phrase “work habits” is unpacked and dressed up into “the rhythm and discipline of work”, I can feel a Dickensian workhouse coming on.

As far as I’m aware, outside third-world sweatshops, “work” does not have some sui generis “rhythm and discipline”. If it appears that way (and I accept that it often does, especially in low-paid jobs), this is not because all those humans are little robots, but because they are all doing much the same thing at the same time for money. Yes, I know that that is a well-understood fact, but it is worth re-stating – the appearance of “rhythm and discipline” shows nothing other than a big-picture view of a group of people doing what they need to do to individually earn money. It is not a moral thing; nor anything good (or bad) in itself.

Conversely, when work – or its mysterious “rhythm and discipline” essence – is not associated with the earning of money, but for its own sake, surely something is wrong?

The Victorian workhouse/poorhouse – which combined poverty and hard labour, while WfD combines poverty with (usually) only “soft” labour – was widely condemned in theory, even in its time. That it persisted so long can be attributed to the industry it built up. Such “industry” does not mean, of course, the collective labours of its inmates – in order for the workhouse/poorhouse to function as a last resort “stick”, its productivity as an industrial unit was beside the point (a feature shared by modern WfD programs).

Instead, the workhouse/poorhouse was a self-sufficient industry based on spending as little as possible of the program’s funding (supplied by outside charities) on the inmates, and re-allocating the saved money into program administration. Which is really only human nature, I guess – the old doing-it-for-the-money thing coming up again. (If the inmates were stuck in a hellhole anyway, working for no rhyme or reason, why shouldn’t the administrators at least be able to better themselves?)

Such thinking no doubt explains why, with WfD now exposed as a fraud, both on its participants and on the Australian taxpayer, nothing is going to change. As long as someone’s making money out of it, it must be a good thing.

And sure enough, Victorian morality – under which poverty alone came to be regarded as making an individual morally suspect – is now making a resurgence, with this idea to link eligibility for welfare benefits with “acceptable social behaviour”. Like WfD was originally, such an idea is “sold” as a panacea for behaviour-change in young people. Yeah, sure – the minute that someone starts making money from “policing” (nothing to do with the criminal law, note) morality, a.k.a. “acceptable social behaviour”, the shutters, of Joe Public giving a fig over whoever gets caught in the resultant dragnet, go up.

P.S. As usual, Opposition Leader Simon Crean kicks an own goal. In response to yesterday’s news about WfD programs being frauds, he said while he supported the principle of mutual obligation, it had to be a two-way street.

Yeah, so long and thanks for the tautology, Simon. If you weren’t already such a hardened dumb-fuck – ever since you sooled the shockjocks and cops on to innocent uni students – I’d suggest you go back to school.



Last month, HSBC MD Bill Dalton said that the offshoring of 4,000 jobs from Britain was:

the best, indeed, the only way, of ensuring job security for our staff worldwide

Boom, boom.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

How baby boomers have soiled the profession of journalism

No, this isn’t another of my omnibus rants against baby boomers; just a convenient banner for filing two loosely-related pieces under.


The simple answer to this is: “Why not?” God knows that there are enough professionals out there with qualifications, skills and experience in both departments. (Kick it to me!!!!). When reporting your average criminal trial, legal nous will usually have to take a back seat to journalistic nous, but this doesn’t validate the position taken by court reporter, Peter Gregory here. Face it, Peter – the career ground floor which you so presciently got on on in the early 80s is now just a tired excuse for the de-professionalisation of your profession. You – quite rightly – fear the hordes who could do your job much better than you. Where you go too far is in throwing the whole shebang out, just in the protection of your own self-interest – the classic (and only) baby boomer game plan.

Also misguided is Justice Michael Kirby’s apparent view that the courts have a responsibility to reach out to and educate journalists about the law (same URL). If journalists can’t maintain and evolve their own professional standards, “reaching out” to them is like giving junkies money for a fix.

Straight-out bizarro is this recent piece of inspiration from journalism academic John Henningham, apropos of High Court reporting (which is of course a very different game from trial reporting):

Judges are reluctant to engage with the media, and will never discuss their decisions . . . To us non-lawyers, this is puzzling. I can see nothing but a fuller understanding of High Court judges’ decisions if they were to unfold a summary of their reasoning before the media, and respond to questions . . . (If at a loss for words on a particular point, the chosen spokesperson could perhaps be permitted to call on one of his brother judges, or ‘phone a friend’)*

Two points, John. A summary of a case’s reasoning, targeted at a broadsheet’s readership is your job. Do it, or get the fuck out of the business. And your off-the-wacko-meter suggestion for judges to be interviewable like B-list celebrities breaks one of comedy’s golden rules – don’t shit on your hosts/MC, even under the guise of a “joke”.**

* John Henningham “At odds with the court of public opinion” The Australian Media Supplement 20 November 2003 (no URL)

** Henningham’s views were originally expressed as a paper at a High Court centenary conference in October 2003.


Government decision-makers are subject to a cacophony of opinions--from paid lobbyists, think-tank scholars, academics, newspaper editorials, consumer groups, and letters from ordinary citizens. And in the past decade, corporate lobbying has evolved to influence--and, where possible, control--the arguments emanating from each of these sources . . . It's how firms like DCI have flourished by orchestrating pseudo-grassroots movements to simulate or amplify constituent opinion on behalf of corporate clients
(via Crooked Timber)

These “pseudo-grassroots movements” are to journalism like cancer is to flesh. One example: an American PR firm (DCI, of which website Tech Central Station is a subsidiary) organised letters-to-the-editor opposing a break-up of the Microsoft monopoly, as well as launched a group called “Americans for Technology Leadership” – funded by Microsoft.

Such unsavoury “idea laundering” practices are not entirely new – indeed, PR, as I alluded yesterday, has always had at-least equal claim on the “world oldest profession” tag. Something that throws the murky idea practice of idea laundering into sharper relief, though, is the baby boomer grubby fingerprints it has all over it.

Take Tech Central Station (and “journo-lobbying”) founder, James Glassman. A onetime (sixties, of course) student radical, he pioneered the “urban alternative weekly” concept in the seventies; a media-form never harmful to boomers, but one which was later to have devastating repercussions for many Gen Xrs (including me).

In the late 70s, Glassman moved on from mung-bean sponsored journalism, and into Washington D.C. – just in time for the twin fundamentalist revolutions of Thatcher/Reagan and Khomeini. Gerontocratic figureheads aside, the baby boomers were now in charge, sweeping out all before them – and kicking out the ladders for any who tried to come after. As for the deleterious effects of the 70s "alternative" media on the likes of me – we bought into this in the 80s and 90s, working on student newspapers, maintaining the rage and all that. In return we got zilch – just unemployment and unaffordable housing.

The rest of the Glassman story is of near-textbook predictability – he got steadily richer during the 80s and 90s, and was an aggressive stock proponent during the dotcom bubble years, while not, of course, losing any of his own wealth, nor having to face the criminal law music himself (or perhaps, at least not yet). In October 2000, Glassman opined:

We are on the verge of a tremendous wealth explosion, the likes of which has never been seen

A few months earlier, right at the height of the dotcom stock bubble, Glassman had launched his journo-lobbying website, Tech Central Station, of which he said:

I think in a sense we kind of invented a new sort of institution . . . a kind of watchdog in an area in which few people seem to be doing long-term principled thinking on public policy (same URL)

Sorry, I’ve gotta stop writing now. It’s just that a baby boomer (leaving aside the tawdry details on Glassman) using the words “long-term”, “principled” and “watchdog” has got my lunch involuntarily being snorted upwards and outwards.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

How long before white-collar offshoring hits PR?

Personally, I can’t wait for the day, especially given this – the Indian IT industry paying-off the PR whores of Washington in true Saudi Royals style, throwing its cash around at both the big end of town, and to the man who used to gild the unfairly-maligned reputations of Saddam Hussein and Nicolae Ceausescu.

In Australia, the offshoring of Telstra’s main ad account to China – that well-known powerhouse of creative originality (hence the recent kindly priest ads) – seems to suggest that very few white-collar jobs are safe from the inexorable overhead-cutting and cost-centre-shifting mindset that drives offshoring in the professions.

If you’ve got a degree and a white-collar job, and are eligible for an Oz passport only, then I suggest it’s high time that you did some serious career networking. Like talking to some bricklayers, about whether they can take you on when your job walks permanently north, sometime in the next few years.


The New Idea editor who was bailed-up at LAX

A few months ago, the lowbrow Aussie mag found itself briefly infamous in the US.

Lo and behold, an editor of the said magazine, Sue Smethurst, recently gets the full Midnight Express treatment when she tries to enter the US for work purposes, but on a tourist visa (something that she had apparently done eight times previously without problem). Coincidence?

The plot further thickens, with this reply from US Customs, just out.

Who to believe? If Sue really did throw the Mother of all Tantrums at LAX, then she’s either got delusions of grandeur, or the death wish to be screaming headline fodder, plastered all over her equally-trashy mag rivals.

One thing is clear – the theory of “lazy journalism blowback” can now be considered proved. Run some decent stories in future, Sue, and you may, just may, avoid becoming a Frankensteinian piece of shit that comes to life from the tawdry 2D pages of your own mag.


Crime, the dole, and punishment

The DJ Ace website music piracy case has thrown up some interesting conundrums.

I’ll start with the disclosure that, while I’m no fan of industrial oligopolies (as the global music industry is) and their consequently overall crap-quality mechandise (ditto), the Napster/free-for-all mentality only ultimately plays into the hands of Big Music. Piracy of mass-market product makes it even more mass-market, thereby “drowning out” genuine creativity and innovation. Therefore, pirates who say they are being “creative” – and that “appropriation” is something that all artists do – make me puke. I am a content creator, and I don’t “appropriate”, thank you very much. There’s simply no grey area between creation and theft (outside scholarly review and discourse, a.k.a “fair use”).

Anyway, one issue the case raises is what role the making of non-financial “profits” should take in criminal law sentencing and culpability. It is reasonable to assume that the three men convicted did not act out of sheer altruism. If nothing else, they obtained valuable kudos, a.k.a. street-cred, which can count for quite a lot in the capacity-glutted, Australian DJ and bedroom-music-remix industry. While I haven’t followed the case closely, it would seem likely that the making of such “profits” was inadequately pursued. The denial of MIPI (a peak record industry group) to be heard on the trio’s sentencing also obliquely hints at the lukewarm-ness of the prosecution’s overall efforts in this case.

Another, quite different conundrum is the apparent monetary value given to one hour of community service – an issue I find intriguing, having personally just finished six months (370 hours) of a (compulsory) Work for the Dole activity, in which I painted metaphorical rocks. According to a report in today’s Australian ("Music watchdog angered as pirates avoid jail" no URL), one of the convicted trio was medically unfit to do community service (of which the other two got 200 hours each), and so was given a $5,000 fine, plus a three-year good behaviour bond, instead.

Leaving aside the bond, it thus appears that one hour of community service can be monetised – as a detriment to the doer – at $25 per hour. While not all Work for the Dole projects have the quasi-penal quality that community service does (I assume) – it is clear that some, like cleaning in nursing homes, do.

I find such a high exchange rate for my WfD “services” rather disturbing. To the extent that Work for the Dole is primarily a punitive program (a fact which I became increasingly convinced of during my time in it), the social message being conveyed seems to be that being honestly, and without personal fault, unemployed is a crime of considerable gravity, deserving of a fine of about $9,000* every year, or else six months community service in lieu.

* Of course this amount (370 hours at $25 per hour) is also the approximate total benefit an unemployed person receives over one year.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The things you find when vanity Googling

Googling {"my name" blog} has long since made me aware of the online existence of other Paul Watsons - with whom I have been engaged in an endless undeclared competition to get the Number One search result. Just when you think that you've finally made it, you lose it . . .

Anyway, I'm not *that* vain as to be blogging just about such bumf. Sometimes you find little gems, like this. And at times like this, the American (i'm assuming) mix of "can-do"ness and naivete just troolly roolly scares me.

Being a renter, I've moved house a lot in my life. Also being a renter, I've long since committed to memory every address I've lived at since the year dot (necessary for rental applications, in case you don't get it). Hence, I'm staggered at someone who needs Google to find their old addresses.


Intergenerational conflict – brought to you by AMP

The last week has seen a blizzard of news stories involving intergenerational conflict, thanks to the release of two separate NATSEM reports, and some comments that RBA Governor Ian Macfarlane made at a speech.

As regular readers here will know, this topic is a perennial favourite at these parts. Hence, so as to preserve my truly contrarian independence, I don’t have much to add at the moment.

One curiosity which I can’t resist, however, is today’s media gloss on the latest NATSEM report, to the effect that HECS debts reduce fertility. Much as I oppose the privatisation of higher education in any form (and HECS is one of many privatisation moves initiated by and for baby boomers since 1987) for its social regressiveness, I don’t think that the (admittedly alarming) drop off in fertility among educated GenX women has that much to do with HECS debts. A much stronger cause would be the paucity of educated and affluent GenX men – as these employment stats show, there is now almost a perfectly inverse correlation between the two attributes. In other words, if an educated GenX women wants to marry a bloke her age with money, it’s a choice between the bricklayer and his sidekick.

The other curiosity is to do with the NATSEM report released today being sponsored by AMP. Maybe it’s to do with AMP’s share price having so severely tanked in recent years, that being associated with gloom’n’doom news is now a fresh and savvy marketing angle for the beleaguered corporate. If so, I don’t think that the AMP’s journeymen copywriters have quite gotten the concept; with this phrase rounding-off the bottom of today’s media release:

Find out how an AMP Financial Planner can help you build wealth

Unless AMP financial planners are now in the business of (i) actively sending the housing market crashing, or (ii) telling smart Year 12 finishers not to go to uni, but to become highly-paid bricklayers instead, then I can’t see how the fuck putting a few bucks a week into life insurance or whatever is going to change a thing for GenX.

Oh, and AMP might like to know that NATSEM, being a good little fee-raiser for a public uni (Canberra), has well-mastered the art of obtaining maximum mileage and traction from the private sponsorship dollars it does manage to wrangle. The overview* of today’s gloom’n’doom NATSEM report makes it sound like it was based on much the same figures and research as a NATSEM report released last year, this time commissioned by the Financial Planning Association of Australia.

Intergenerational conflict – now made from 100% recycled news!

* My computer’s PDF reader is stuffed (I think because Adobe’s latest versions don’t support Win 98).

Friday, November 14, 2003

What has happened to the X-Generation café society?

Queensland property developer Martin H Edwards is thought by QUT to be noteworthy enough to give a public lecture under its auspices. (I suggest any just-finished Year 12 kiddies out there may wish to seriously consider re-visiting the place they put QUT on their preferences, in this light.)

Edwards, a self-confessed baby boomer, writes:

What has happened to the X-Generation café society, the Rayban-wearing, black on black, latté-drinking layabouts of the 90’s? They’re all up at Mitre 10 buying power tools and talking paint colours or scanning the auction columns for the ultimate bargain.

Either you've been watching too much reality TV, or you're projecting, Martin, you deluded fuckwit. What has really happened to GenX café society is that it has no longer got the readdies to even buy a three-buck cup of coffee. In turn, this is because they are stuck at the back of the same cafés, often getting paid sweet zippo, or else only in happy pills.


Hoist by one's own apostrophe

The first point is that too many Australian's are leaving school without a strong foundation in the basics of reading, writing and numeracy. These skills determine whether someone is able to enter the workforce and stay there over the long haul [and, inter alia, write editorials]. But Australia's school retention rates have flattened out after a period of growth in the 1980s, and we rank a shoddy 21st out of 30 OECD countries for upper secondary qualifications among 25-34 year olds. Not good enough.


Thursday, November 13, 2003

Token and Roving Enterprises – the first Australian showbiz conglomerate?

Token is a Melbourne-based artists agency and management company, specialising in comedians. In the American entertainment industry, there is a watertight distinction between agents and managers – in particular, agents are precluded from undertaking producer roles, formally or informally. Such a rule – imposed and enforced by the entertainment industry itself – does seem justified when one considers the sheer market power of the handful of top US talent agencies.

Even working within their confines, the American mega-agencies have perfected the art of packaging talent. The shpeil goes something like this: “You can have Nicole for “Citizen Kane – the Sequel”, but only if you agree to make “Lethal Boredom IV” (a script by one of our, ahem, new clients). Oh, and if we’re giving you Nicole, when we have all but already promised her to the producers of “Godzilla 2003” for next Fall, then we insist on getting Gary Coleman on our books before he inks that new reality TV series, “Teenage Crack Whore” with your cable subsidiary”.

Such dealmaking is a long way from Australia’s sleepy entertainment industry. Almost every big actor and writer has an agent, but the agencies are not fiercely competitive among themselves. As long as bulk of their client rolls are in work, the agents are happy (reeling in their ten percents), and, for producers, it has always been a bit of a buyers’ market – there are very few, if any, “must-have” marquee-name actors based in Australia; most are quite generic, in the sense that, if Sigrid from Agency A is not available (or is too expensive), then Kerry from Agency B will do just fine instead.

Enter Token. Until a few years ago, Token was a booking agency shopfront for the live shows of a few Melbourne stand-up comedians, who had all hit the (comparative) big time in the mid 90s. Then, in the late 90s came Rove, a TV (and now also radio) juggernaut whose eponymous host and three co-presenters were all taken on as Token clients, resulting in its talent roll almost doubling overnight.

Because of the (relatively unusual, particularly for someone in his 20s) fact of Rove having always been, and still remaining, his own producer, Roving Enterprises is a small, tightly-managed ship. “Managed” it is, nonetheless, by Kevin Whyte, Token’s founder and principal. Unusually for a TV or radio network, when buying output from Roving Enterprises, the deal is fully self-contained; there is no middle-man production company that has had to start by going agency-knocking to cast its “Sigrid” or “Kerry”.

Not surprisingly then, with Token and Roving Enterprises working as commercial “islands” they have naturally become quite resourceful in packaging their existing talent. Indeed, there has been an multi-channel explosion of the Token-repped in the last few months:

- Merrick & Rosso – Sydney NOVA FM radio, and now Channel 9 celebrity figureheads

- Skithouse - Channel 10 (produced by Roving Enterprises and written by/starring by persons including the Token-repped Peter Helliar, Michael Chamberlin and “Tripod”).

- the 2Day FM breakfast show – to soon be helmed by the Token-repped Judith Lucy, Kaz Cooke, and Peter Helliar; a change which has resulted in the early departure of the (non Token-repped) Wendy Harmer.

These recent succeses are in addition to older, but continuing, broadcasting “feathers” in the Token cap, including:

- The Glasshouse – ABC TV (starring the Token-repped Dave Hughes, Corinne Grant and Wil Anderson)

- ABC JJJ breakfast show – co-anchored by the Token-repped Wil Anderson

- Melbourne NOVA FM breakfast show – co-anchored by the Token-repped Dave Hughes

In this light – and particularly with “Merrick & Rosso Unplanned” and “Skithouse” being pronounced immediate duds by critics, yet remaining on air depite this – a recent, rare retreat by Token talent is noteworthy: Token-repped Charlie Pickering, co-anchor of the ABC JJJ afternoon drivetime show, has been replaced with some crew from the non Token-repped “Chaser” team.

In summary, through a combination of agent and manager roles, Token has achieved remarkable results for its talent. Indeed, with the exception of the “Chaser” and “Kath and Kim” teams, it has a near-monopoly on the provision of comedy talent to Australia’s top two TV networks, and to the two most important young listener radio networks nationally. Working in an industry where airtime is precious and limited, Token has been prepared to play hard-ball against those not in its stable, as evidenced by the recent resignation of Wendy Harmer. Token’s success has also been in its deals not being merely inked, tried, and then quickly dropped; the adhesion of almost all its deals has allowed financial security for those on its talent roll, as well as an ever-building stream of ten-percents back to Token itself.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Real estate agent truth-telling shock

"It is just an old house" is what agent John Michael Talia seems to have said to the buyers of a Melbourne property whose vendors he was acting for.

Not surprisingly, the buyers ended up getting a bit of a bargain, with the house selling for at least $16,000 under true market value.

Talia denies, however, that the fact that the buyer bought the house as part of a secret trust in which his wife was a beneficiary had anything to do with it.

It is here that Talia’s attitude towards truth-at-all-costs becomes contradictory. With the couple’s actual profit being $175,000, and fined a paltry $5000 (along with his agent's licence being suspended for 4 1/2 months), Talia retorts:

"This is just over the top."

Ya reckon? You know what, Mr Talia – I think your arse would be a nice little “renovators delight” in the shower block of a maximum-security prison, where you and it most assuredly belong.

And that would only just be meeting the reserve price. I'm sure the boys could run a competitive bidding system, to get the action really spiralling upwards. Eh, Mr Talia?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Private schools as queue jumping

“Marking Time” an ABC mini-series that finished last night, was not much chop. It suffered from a weakness shared by the grossly over-praised Japanese Story – too many totemic externals (cultural difference, 9/11 and Tampa in the former; cultural difference and the outback in the latter) and not enough character arc and nuance.

The dad character in “Marking Time” especially gave me the shits. Played by the same guy who was the Machiavellian mayor in “Grass Roots”, his unflappable small-l liberalism in “Marking Time” was an empty caricature – you could just tell that the dad was possessed of an almighty wheeler-dealer inner-bastard, champing at the bit to get out and about.

Anyway, I raise “Marking Time” because its bleeding-heart dad did at least manage to get one good line in – calling private school kids, with their artificially-enhanced employment prospects, as Australia’s real queue jumpers.

Here, the facts prove the well-known “old school tie” anecdotes (PDF). A (non-Catholic) private school education is a much better predictor – and so guarantor – of full-time employment at the age of 25 than either higher education or academic ability/sheer intelligence. In a recently-published study, “Dynamics of the Australian Youth Labour Market” (same URL), the second-bottom and second-top “Achievement” quartiles were close to, and sometimes overtook the top quartile in avoiding unemployment (Table 15, p 30). Although the authors of the study don’t spell out as much, the reason for this counter-intuitive result is almost certainly connected with another finding, that secondary school type significantly affects the probability of unemployment: “By age 25, unemployment among those who had attended [private (non-Catholic)] schools was close to zero” (p 31).

The ramifications of this are obvious; or so you might think. Dumb people are being bought jobs by their parents. The only twist in it is that the job-purchase money is paid many years in advance, and not as security for a specific job. Without such refinements, of course, private school fees would be unquestionably seen for what they are – a weaselly bribe which destroys the level-playing field, lifelong, for the honest and/or poor.

Arguments to the contrary, in favour of private schools, invariably trot out two things: “choice” and parental sacrifice. “Choice” is a canard – while I am philosophically against compulsion, few private schools offer anything actually alternative to the status quo; the usual point of difference being simply that they are Better Than The Public System. If this is a fair “marketplace” for educational services, then Stalin (via his two-tier communism) was a tireless merchant and shopkeeper. Then again, Stalinist free-marketeers appear to be alive and well in Burnside, SA (same URL).

The “parental sacrifice” argument is even more ridiculous. Of course it’s a financial sacrifice – bribes, as with other contracts of dubious legality, always are. Think of the hours a sex slave is supposed to work to pay off her debt – an arbitrary sum, of course, which can be unilaterally adjusted during the life of the contract, as the need arises. Similarly with fees paid to people smugglers; in both cases, there is a strong public policy force (at least in Australia) for condemning, preventing and refusing to enforce such contracts. Private school fees should arguably be thought of in the same terms; as money paid to buy what should not be buyable, under any terms.

Monday, November 10, 2003

We'll all be NAIRUned, said Hanrahan

Treasurer Peter Costello’s statement yesterday that nearly every Australian who wants a job can get one, and so "full employment" is in sight, produces two kinds of response in me.

One is mocking incredulity. Yeah, the national unemployment rate may have recently fallen to its equal-lowest rate in 22 years (although I note that the rate actually rose in my home state of Victoria). Anyway, whatever the stats are, the reality on the ground is that there are still multiple qualified (often over- so) applicants for every vacancy. As I wrote here in September, a baggage-handler job I went for had 12 applicants for every vacancy. That is not a multiple of applicants “on paper”; that is the number of people who fronted up in person, to an outer-suburban location unreachable by public transport, during weekday daytime, and with all applicants having had a maximum of 24 hours notice of the interview. And no, it wasn’t a reality TV kind of thing – fabulous perks and all that – the job’s wages were just above the absolute minimum wage floor, at $13 per hour (permanent equivalent), and its hours were casual-only, harsh-starting and few. There was one “Big Brother” connection, admittedly – one of that show’s alumnus was among the queue of desperate applicants.

My other response is to do with Treasurer Costello’s implicit smirking comfort with an unemployment rate (forecast) of 5%, with any lower rate being highly likely to “lead to damaging wage rises and inflation”. This is the dreaded NAIRU, or more accurately, NIARU ("non-inflation-accelerating rate of unemployment”), which The Economist charmingly defines as the Natural Rate of Unemployment.

To be fair (to it, at least) The Economist does immediately alert its readers to the many controversies over the NAIRU; Treasurer Costello, in contrast, has no such qualms.

Personally, I can’t see how an unemployment rate that has, say, only an average of eight, instead of 12, applicants for every vacancy might lead to an inflationary spiral. The ordinary workers of Australia (and elsewhere) would appear to be well-cowed by decades of job insecurity. The Economist indeed admits this in another fashion, when it suggests that the NAIRU, or “natural” unemployment rate has gone down in recent decades because of job-hogging by baby boomers:

Older people have lower unemployment rates than younger ones. In the 1970s, when large numbers of young people and women entered the workforce, the NAIRU rose. In the 1990s, as the workforce has aged, it has fallen.

In other words, only baby boomers (and their slightly more demographically spread partners-in-greed, senior executives and politicians) have, and have had, the leverage to get inflation-threatening wage rises. For the rest, the NAIRU serves as a mythological beast, aka economic anxiety, a creature who is a bogeyman in most grown-up’s subconscious.

For the unemployed, this bogeyman is one step more real – the hallucination of being an unnatural part of a “natural” rate; of being forced to play in “a cruel game of musical chairs”.


I accept the concept of the NAIRU in some form; that labour shortages can exist, so causing inflation. Whatever such a “natural” rate may be, I’d suggest that it certainly would NOT be above 2% (which was thought to be a concerning level of unemployment 60 years ago). A better test, in any case, is probably the ratio of applicants to job vacancies. Even allowing for the residual truly “unemployable”, I can’t see why this ratio should ever have to be above 2:1 for the job market to be in stable equilibrium.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Is depression (like cancer) an organic condition?


One diagnostic test is clear, though. Depression is the absence of much-derided “managerial language” – words such as “delegated” and “initiated” – from one’s CV, and so, one’s life.

There is not much room to be “under budget” when you’re unemployed, or in perilous casual employment.

Depressives can be good for business – if you really want a plain language workplace, hire one today.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Don't lump me with Paul Sheehan

Writing a predictably shallow'n'callow review of Paul Sheehan's new book in today's SMH, Max Suich is showing distinct signs of being next week's "Australian Story" guest, a la the dementia-struck Hazel Hawke:

Like many other journalists of his and younger generations, Sheehan is pessimistic about the future of the quality press - it has, he says, lost the battle with the spin doctors, the websites and the management cost squeezes. As mass information becomes cheaper, the relative cost of quality becomes higher. When an older generation looks at the resources available for colour supplements and advertising features, the opportunity to assign reporters to tell the reader what's going on rather than what they ought to think still seems available.

I don't know which is worse - the self-proclaimed "older generation" (which I would have thought included Sheehan, b ~ 1950, under any test) lumping anyone pre-Alzheimers into the same "You young' uns don't realise how good you've got it" basket, or Suich's laughable inference that colour supplements (admittedly an innovation since his heyday) have paved the way for more serious investigative journalism.

Time for your kero bath, Max Suich.

Friday, November 07, 2003

The aetiology of road rage

Tug Dumbly is spot on when he derides the sloppy phrase that is “today's busy world”. Yet a related pervasive myth successfully attributes the main cause of road rage to increased traffic, tighter work deadlines, and so-such. Bullshit.

Road rage incidence has exponentially increased in the last decade or so, without a similarly-scaled shift in the basic ecology of car-opolis. There may be more cars on the road, but there are also more toll-highways (what used to be called “freeways”) in the big cities. The Great Fencing-Off of the inner suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, which closed many streets to through traffic, has long since stalled, so stopping further wholesale enclosures.

What has changed is income (and property) inequality, and so with that, everyday social relations. This anecdote about a Formula One driver recently “falling prey to a road-rage attack” illustrates my point. Australian-born, but European-based Mark Webber seems genuinely stunned that his (and/or his taxi-driver’s) decision to double-park in a Melbourne CBD street – rather than to pull-up kerbside a bit up the road – provoked the reaction it did.

The “10 seconds” time that the consequent delay caused (to probably a dozen or so cars) is not the point. Everyone knows about how long it takes to get out of a taxi and pay the driver, so Webber was just exacerbating the situation, in vocalising the obvious. Webber’s unconscious sarcasm (“he drove up the road like his life depended on it”) is also telling. Yes, it is unlikely that any lives were directly imperilled by the delay caused, but that is not the point, either.

You were being an arsehole, Mr Webber. Roads are public space, an ever-diminishing category of land-usage in Australia. Why can’t Melbourne drivers be more like the Europeans? whines the unctuous Webber. I’ll tell him why – in Europe (I’d bet), drivers only double-park because they need to, although such need is also much more common than in Australia. Only in Australia has the unnecessary disruption of traffic, such as by double-parking, been somehow recently given some kind of privileged status, such that to object to it is called “road rage”.

No, it’s not life and death, Mr Webber. It’s about something just as important in today’s age – respect for the rights of others. I’m talking a respect which is gratuitous and unconditional; which can’t be calibrated or discounted by units of time (which really means money, anyway).

Mr Webber, what you’re really saying is: why should anyone get concerned over a trifle, with this “trifle” being your lazy reluctance walking an extra 10 or 20 metres? We don’t “need more education and more patience" – we need fuckwits like you to value the uncommoditised rights of others as highly as their own imperious, squillionaire personages.

In Europe, "they've got bigger fish to fry”, says Webber. Well, good on ‘em. In Australia, there are millions of small fish, whose entire day is spent trying not to get eaten by much-bigger fish.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Janet Albrechtsen – if this was “media pack rape”, I’m now joining the queue

Columnist Albrechtsen has so far escaped mention in these pages, mainly by benefit of her predictable, plodding mediocrity. She has long been a one-issue wonder; presiding over an “issue” (judicial activism) which can and has been efficiently disposed of by a capable law student, and yet which refuses to entirely die because of the mileage and mischief the Right get out of ritually flogging its carcass.

When she briefly got off her hobby-horse last year, to wade into the Sydney gang rape debate last year, Albrechtsen was caught out of her depth, and shown up as a Hansonite shit-stirrer. After which she returned dutifully – and one presumes, slightly chastened – to her judicial activism box, and that seemed to be the end of that story. Even yesterday, she was busy pinning the “Naughty Activist Lawyer” tag on Professor Hilary Charlesworth; one of my law school lecturers in the 80s. Professor Charlesworth was (and I assume, still is) a pillar of legal establishment rectitude, and as such, is far from a friend or ally of mine. That Albrechtsen attacks her so casually shows up Albrechtsen’s (and her backers’) campaign for what it is – a witch-hunt in which the cry can be levelled against almost anyone, with the only guaranteed prophylactic against suspicion being to join in the cry itself.

That was yesterday; today Albrechtsen is the passive centrepiece of another story, with Oz editor Michael Stutchbury coming out swingeing, in a bizarre and belated defence of Albrechtsen’s gang rape opinions from 2002. “Bizarre” because Stutchbury’s ratio decidendi depends on accepting Paul Sheehan’s gloss that two Danish academics “appear [not] to dispute” the equation {Immigrants=Muslims}, at least when referring to gang rapes in Denmark. While the belatedness of Stutchbury’s defence has an obvious cause – his article relies heavily on a chapter of a book by Paul Sheehan which has just been published – such a trigger also raises a host of other, meatier questions. If Stutchbury – Albrechtsen’s editor – felt that his columnist was being so unfairly vilified, why did he wait for a year after the last anti-Albrechtsen shot was fired, before weighing in? And why did Stutchbury feel it necessary to lend his name and title to a superficial paraphrase of Sheehan’s book chapter? (an exercise any journo could do, and which was presumably only necessary because Sheehan, or his Fairfax employers, would not give the Oz permission to run it as a straight extract).

Finally, there is the matter of the composition of the “pack” which supposedly so callously went in on Albrechtsen. The complete pack comprises:

- David Marr and other “Media watch” staff

- A Fairfax columnist (Robert Manne)

- Alan Kennedy, “federal president of the Australian Journalists' Association”

- A Federal shadow-minister, Mark Latham

- A current affairs website, Crikey

- Amir Butler, of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee

Some “pack”, eh? Mark Latham is a complete tool and cynical loudmouth; while Robert Manne’s flaw is that he’s had a decency overdose ever since the mid 90s. Whoever Alan Kennedy may be, the union he is supposedly president of has not existed under that name for years. “Media Watch” does what it did to Albrechtsen to dozens of other (usually deserving) journos each year. The “Crikey” website is not averse to the odd muck-rake – a fact which seems to have passed Stutchbury’s attention. And the Amir Butler/Muslim-conspiracy-theory thing is old news – amply raked over in Australian blogworld at the time. Perhaps Stutchbury hasn’t heard of Google, either.

All in all, I suggest that a few weeks of media “pack rape” by the above lot is vastly preferable to consensual (one assumes) media-sex with the likes of Michael Stutchbury and Paul Sheehan. Apart from taking more than a year to simultaneously shoot their wads, one gets the distinct impression that they were really fantasising about someone, or something else when the time finally came to let it go.

Judicial activism Update 20 November 2003

Justice Michael Kirby terms Albrechtsen and her ilk "bully boys" in a recent speech.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Jihad – the world’s number one brand

Organised religion is primarily a vehicle for preserving the status quo; Islamofascism, then, has only a loose, portfolio connection with Islam itself. Modern Jihad may be stepped in the Koran, but is clearly not of it – in its transnational, streetwise success, it is much closer to Nike. The similarities are many – the “cool”-ness, the inane posturing and slogans (“just do it”) – but Jihad has gone one step further, to become the first brand that ate its master.

Jihad is like an audition for a reality TV program that just got bigger and bigger – the audition, that is. The audition becomes the program, and the brand becomes perfected through its own provisionality.

In the non-Muslim West, the closest thing to the practice of Jihad is backpacking. Both are sheltered, faux-ascetic travel rituals, whose usual economic substance is that linguistic abomination: the “working holiday”. As backpacking has not (yet) been branded, its practitioners retain some moral autonomy. In Jihad, all moral precepts are dilutory and subordinate, because of the brand’s endless multiplicity.


Tenants 1, Landlords 0

Today’s interest rate rise is a small step in the right direction. The sad truth, for all those aspirational baby boomers who have recently bought a first (or a second or third) investment property is that they’re dead right – having some spare property is going to be the only thing that may allow them a semi-comfortable retirement.

By so many Gen X’rs being kept on a McJob (at best) short leash into middle-age, and so not having ever entered the property market themselves, the last thing ageing Gen X’rs are going to want to do is to empty the commodes of whining, bedsore-infested boomers. Wages will go up, naturally, but it will be too little, too late. Boomers will be dying en masse in unstaffed nursing homes, desperately drawing their own kero baths, only to then drown in them. Adios, “me generation”!

The only bargaining chip (some) boomers will have is the “roof over the head” factor. If they own surplus property, they should be able to barter accommodation for personal care labour. But there will be mysterious deaths and dodgy last-minute will-changes aplenty – so don’t any of you boomers get too cocky about this scenario. It won’t be Anna Nicole Smith-types giving you a bit of pleasure in your last years, but callous, greedy Gen X’rs double-crossing you when you’re at your most vulnerable. All arts which they learned from you, of course, but had to wait so long before they could actually practise any of them.

So bend over for your second-home suppositories, boomers. They’re big and they’re square, but they’re going to have to last you a long, long time.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Day of the Dead

It’s about 3am yesterday; the Day of the Dead. I wandering alone through empty factory after empty factory. It’s cold, but at least the rain has stopped for now. They’re all neat and clean buildings, 60s era. Between buildings, the stars are out. All would be completely quiet in the industrial estate, about 10km from Melbourne CBD, but for the dance music coming from the only occupied factory. Some enterprising squatters (oxymoron?) have brought in a generator and sound system, and spread the word about a party.

But the word did not spread particularly widely, it seems. There’s a few dozen people there at its partying-est peak. Most comers prefer to congregate where the party set-up is – one end of one disused factory that could hold 10,000 trolley-heads. I’m there with friends, but can’t stop wandering periodically off, to explore the ghost-world hinterland. There is too much space, too much emptiness, and it’s all too monumentally neat.

The space has got me beat. I retreat to the dance-floor area, but can’t stop my mind from running along with the music – dissipating, leaking and creeping through acres of empty floorspace nearby.

Following the silent hedges
Needing some other kind of madness

Pure sensation
The beautiful down grade
Going to hell again

* “Silent hedges” – Bauhaus, The Sky’s Gone Out (1982)

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