Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The queerest of the queer

Helen Razer, who is hetero AFAIK, really needs to stop trawling through the “queer” bin at her local discount cultural commentary shop. One thing poofs (= me, anyway) hate is half-arsed re-hashing of a theme.

For the record, it is a complete travesty to talk, as Razer does, of “Are You Being Served’s” queerness without mentioning Mrs Slocum. This is in part because actor John Inman kept his character, Mr Humphreys in the closet (believe it or not). But perhaps the poor sexless doll, Mr Humphreys had little choice here – living in the considerable shadow of Mrs Slocum and her omnipresent pussy, even a robustly slutty gay man would find it difficult to get a good enough line in, to make any inroads into Mrs Slocum’s imperious arsenal of entendre.

Mrs Slocum, you are the queerest of the queer; utterly shameless and the first among flaunters.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

“”: a review

This early-2001 doco/reality hybrid* finally made it on to Australian television last night. If you didn’t catch it, I’d highly recommend you rent it out on video (I’m not in the DVD league myself, but don’t you guys buy all the stuff you watch? Anyway, don’t buy this one; it’s not disposable enough – if you get what I mean – to sit on your bookshelf for years, right next to your Phil Collins Concert Collection.)

Like this reviewer I have to say that, as an ex-dotcommer myself, I may just be getting a little too enthusiastic about the show’s broader appeal.

My little dotcom was my little dotcom, BTW – Australian-based, but serving a niche in the US airline industry. In hindsight, it went belly-up on 11 September 2001. Unfortunately, I sank ten grand into it on the morning of 12 September 2001, having just heard the news, but experiencing a total disconnect between my business sense and my emotional shock. Thanks, you terrorist fuckwits.

More generally, September 11 marked the true end of the dotcom dream/fiasco (take your pick). The stock market had crashed almost eighteen months previously, but a lot of GenXers, including myself, still had hope that what they were working on would somehow lead to their (much-delayed) day in the sun. It was only the unhinged career aspirations of a different bunch of GenXers, taking precedence over all else on September 11, that forced the question and killed the hope – who is/was really behind it all?

There is now little doubt that GenXers were taken for a big ride during the dotcom years. Of course the trillion dollars of cash which was dissipated came mainly from older, and passive investors. To which I say – if you didn’t get your hands dirty (= your career and personal life fucked) in the dotcom years, you haven’t even made a loss, as far as I’m concerned.

Who to blame? Apart from the usual dodgy money-men, a small subsection of GenX can also be made to carry the can: the MBAs. A cheap shot perhaps, but being found in the September 2001 (= a few weeks pre September 11) issue of “Fast Company”, also a spookily prescient one.

Finally, the good old ABC didn’t even see fit to run an updated “Where are they now”, despite premiering such an ancient piece of non-fiction last night. If you’re interested, this is as up-to-date as I could find.

* It is not accurate to call it merely a “doco” – as with the TV show “Big Brother”, “” relied on casting for conflict, pervasive camera saturation, and a deep complicity between subject and producer (which explains why so few “Big Brother” subjects walk out, and why the two feature subjects of “” did not pull the plug when the film’s production ceased to have any possible positive PR value).


Good cop, kebab cop

The juxtapostion of these two stories in today’s SMH is just ridiculous.

If pissed idiots on Sydney’s streets are a problem, police don’t need “greater powers” to deal with them – all they need to do is subtly suggest to the stumbling drunk that there is a man handing out free kebabs on the median strip over there – yes, just across those four lanes of traffic.

And if they should survive, to not then ticket the moron for jaywalking – this is to needlessly interfere with Darwinian evolution, by inserting a survival mechanism into the drunk’s next kebab foray, when nature clearly intended that there be none.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Paul Sheehan Lite

Ah, it’s the silly season in Oz broadsheet world. The Age has gone so naff as to be almost unfit for fish’n’chip wrapping, while today’s SMH carries that quite unusual confection: Paul Sheehan Lite – free (well, almost) of bile, and of obscure stats being wielded as Damoclean nunchukkas.

Not that Sheehan’s ostensible topic – the corporatising of our universities – is an unworthy one. Indeed, it is one close to my heart, mind and bank balance. However, law school dropout Sheehan manages to turn what should have been a worthy-if-ignored sermon into a flighty two-parter about (i) his 1980s law school hijinks as a white male, and (ii) white males being more of a minority than ever in this year’s NSW Yr 12 academic excellence stakes. Maybe it’s just me, but the connection between these, at least in any sense not highly-pejorative of Sheehan, escapes me.

Moreover, some white males at law school in the 1980s (= me, for starters) did manage to get our degrees (hons, thank you) and have lots of hijinks. Oh, and to protest the corporatising of higher education, which all started with Dawkins and HECS.

And at which crunch-point Sheehan, and his anecdotes, drop out – how convenient. Compounding the myopia of his boomer narrative, Sheehan throws this tidbit of consolation to today's young white males:

Although many young men do step up a notch later in life when they find a career path - while many young women step back to have children - this achievement disparity must ripple through the Australian economy and culture. (same URL)

Err, Paul: maybe this is what happened to you and your career in your 30s, but it is certainly not the case for today's 30-something men, of whom only just over 70% are employed full-time. And as one of the 30% "lost generation" here, I can assure Sheehan that the "achievement disparity" which concerns me has little to do with the comparative career success of women and non-white males among my generation. When there's an artificially-created job shortage, someone has to be the loser – and Gen X sure as hell didn't create this shortage.

I only see one "achievement disparity", in fact, and it's all to do with age, not gender or ethnicity.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Deakin University – the logical site for Melbourne’s next flood-cum-mega-dam

The holes in the agument put in this letter to the editor by Robin Shaw, a professor of marketing at Deakin University are just too manifold.

I won’t even address the science or economics of building ever-more dams. The closest analogy Shaw that gives – of ever-more power stations effectively making electricity an unlimited resource – is obviously just wrong, indeed farcically so, in the post-Enron and California (= the world’s most affluent 20m+ enclave) power-crisis era.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but Shaw is, and could only be, a baby boomer (and probably a 4WDing one at that) to be making such ludicrous arguments, all without a trace of humour or taking-the-piss, as far as I can tell.

Consistent with his use-it-all-up-now and fuck-the-planet ethics, the prof’s own research profile is a paragon of intra-boomer sustainability and thrift. All his last-year’s output is co-authored, with the prof’s name last. If you’re not familiar with academic conventions here, a senior last-named author means that this person usually did nothing in the research or writing-up of the article. In other words, Shaw waited until Boxing Day to pen his first and last public words for the year (none of his students or junior staff would be stupid enough to have “co-authored” such a shite and embarrassing letter).

“Are we too infantile to not sweep lazy, fuckwit boomers like Shaw from their senior academic sinecures?” Apparently, yes.

Update 29 December 2003

As John Quiggin’s comment points out, Robin Shaw’s stellar co-authorship performance may have a relatively innocent explanation, with his academic discipline’s convention ordering co-authors by the alphabet alone.

While such a convention may indeed apply to some disciplines (John cites economics as an example), it doesn’t seem to apply to Shaw’s. His research profile has him last irrespective of alphabetical order, apart from one case of being the penultimate author in a foursome, and – wait for it – one instance of being the lead author. However, with this sole lead-author credit being the collected “Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference 2002” – individual conference papers are counted as separate publications – the apparent exception amounts to nil, in terms of Shaw actually putting his own pen to paper.

Thinking more about the substance of Shaw’s argument, it strikes me that “unlimited” tap water is an interesting resource, in that a private individual can largely “DIY” what Shaw wants – through tanks or bores – so bypassing the public utilities that Shaw finds so meddlesome.

As to why Shaw (presumably) won’t put his money where his mouth here is another interesting question. Based on his research output record, it would seem that Shaw’s ideal would be for his neighbours to stump up the coast of tanks or bores, and (only) then would Shaw come to some kind of “sharing” arrangement, of the boomer prerogative variety (as mandated and seen in just about every Australian workplace).

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Lee Boyd Malvo - screwed, not “spared”, by the system

This boy has done horrible things for which he bears some personal responsibility, but he has done nothing compared to the crimes of John Allen Muhammad – both against Malvo and against the lives of ten innocent people.

The prosecution in this case was a disgrace, in pursuing the death penalty against the boy. When someone is only, at 17, just old enough to be tried as an adult, invoking the death penalty should be reserved for when the teenager has committed particularly heinous acts as principal. Malvo did nothing of the sort.

Malvo’s defence also seems to have been all over the shop. Instead of bringing-up a stretched-definition “insanity” defence, Malvo’s counsel could have much more profitably gone for the jugular on some of the many obscene comments prosecutor (and, I’d bet my life, fellow baby boomer kin of Muhammad) Robert Horan* made during the trial. These comments, just made by Horan, are typical:

Malvo was "very lucky that he looks a lot younger than he is . . . ," Horan told reporters when commenting on the jury's decision.

"We used to have a theory when I was a very young prosecutor that whatever you do, don't try one on Christmas week."

You are a piece of work, Horan - a sweet and fitting testament to everything that’s so fucked-up about your generation.

And just to be generationally even-handed when handing out the Christmas cheer; it is approriate today to remember the fine work of GenX career-climber and work-slut Jayson Blair in stitching-up the hapless Malvo. The SMH website still carries Blair's works of fiction, without any disclaimers:

See also: where Tim Dunlop happily latches on to Blair's fictions.

* aka Robert F Horan Jr

Monday, December 22, 2003

Baby boomers - the next instalment

On this topic, I feel somewhat trapped in an emerging inter-generational arms race with John Quiggin. John's latest Weapon of Mild Rapprochement is here. I would agree with most of it, except that I totally disagree with its premise (which occurs only at the end); viz, that all generations are on a wealth-upwards escalator in the long-term. This probably has been true of every generation in history to date (plagues etc, aside) - but it is emphatically untrue of GenX.

I'm really only blogging about this topic now though, coz of this quite good Age feature on the topic. It points out, better than I have been able to, the salient fact that GenX is not ever going to get its share of the Good Times - there is every probability that boomer wealth and job opportunity is going to leapfrog straight into the worldly mitts of Gen Y (the Boomer's children).

Also, this is a quite sobering quote from The Age article, by demographer Bob Birrell:

"At the moment there are startlingly low rates of full-time work among men in their 30s - only 71.5 per cent are employed full-time". Meanwhile, the 12-13 per cent in this group with part-time work, and the 16-17 per cent who are either unemployed or "not in the labour force" frequently feel they can't afford to marry and have children. As a result, he says, "We have gross wastage of many working people's skills and potentials."

"Gross wastage" is dead right. I can't think of any more important policy issue facing Australia today. Which only makes more obscene the continuing furphy that Mark Latham is a Xer appealing to other Xers. At least in John Howard, today's 30-somethings have someone about their parent's age. Latham is a parasite from outer space, for all I can relate to him.

As for Bernard Salt's anticipating the first round of good anti-baby-boomer jokes sometime between now and 2015, I should point out that I wrote a ms, "101 baby-boomer jokes" in 1998 (immediately post Mark Davis's Gangland, a time when some of us [naively] thought that there might be a velvet revolution of sorts). Here's a sample:

Q. Why did the baby boomer cross the road?
A. To step on it before it crossed her.

Although I've gotta admit I didn't really hawk the ms around too much at the time, there seemed, and seems, little point hoping it would ever get published. Those who would "get" the jokes couldn't afford the book - even more so in 2003 than 1998 - and, as David Caesar reminded us in the Weekend Oz magazine on Saturday, "his generation, the one that grew up with Toranas and pub rock in the 1970s, is now running the media."*

Finally, there's this intriguing article on the strong overlap between boomers and nerds. It gets one thing very wrong, however, when it posits "The Simpsons" character, Comic Book Guy, as an archetype of the GenX man. In fact, of course, Comic Book Guy, a succesful small businessman, is a boomer par excellence.

Which reminds me of something I've been meaning to blog on for a while: Why do so many popular TV shows, like "The Simpsons", "Home and Away", and "Neighbours" have NO 30-something aged characters? Does this mean that GenX has already been written out of history's page, as a sort of demographic aberration best locked up in the attic for the terms of its natural life, and never mentioned in polite society?

* Stephen Lacey, "Bogan's re-run" (no URL)

Friday, December 19, 2003

Christmas message

Okay, this is corny as (not to mention a bit early). But someone requested a "Christmas" post and I'm pressed for time at the moment (the irony being that the 'other half' has to have its hols before Christmas - the "top paddock" is actually Wilson's Prom, where I'm off again tomorrow for a couple of days. Beaches and granite tors - as good as it gets, in my book.

Anyway, here's the message:

On debt and forgiveness

There is one thing worse than the "moral hazard" involved in "forgiving" a debt.
That is the mindset of never being able to forget (nor hence, to forgive) a "doubtful" debt.

Accordingly, I propose a new expression for clinging-on way too tightly:

"He clung on like a mafia bank to a bad debt".

And a Merry Christmas to all of ye, especially Japan's banks.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Good news re Saddam.

I'm off to the top paddock for a few days; will be posting again by week's end.

Friday, December 12, 2003

National Museum of Australia – bring on the dinosaur bones

This rant by David Barnett (whose claims to fame include being a biographer of PM John Howard) is the funniest thing I’ve read all week. Similar, but this time not inadvertent, is the joke that the Fairfax broadsheets are having at Barnett’s expense.

Hardy ha ha. Someone has ignored a staple Sir Humphrey-ism – never order a review, even if you already know its outcome, if you don’t know what you are actually going to DO with it all – and so the NMA now finds itself backed into a white picket fence corner.

Earlier this year, anyone could have told the stacked-to-the hilt Review team that they were headed for trouble, with an early report of their findings headlined:

Museum 'populist and ideological'*


That’s the trouble with witch-hunts, of course – they cram exhibits side-by-side, without rational consideration. The resultant jumble cannot even claim to be a contextualising of any sort; like a pile of books that is not ever a “library”, a collection which is ideologically-scarified is a collection surely only assembled for the act of burning or burying it.

Or, to put it more simply – here’s the NMA’s official brief from the time of its construction; what the Review, and subsequent governmental actions, seek to do is to now rewrite it. If this means trashing the institution from the ground up, then apparently so be it.

It will be interesting to see, therefore, what concrete changes result from the NMA’s putative de-ideologising. Yesterday’s appointment of only an acting head, one year after Dawn Casey was given notice, suggests that the new broom will be wielded by a faceless, unaccountable committee for the time being.

As for David Barnett’s own suggested way forth, it is clear the poor man – so prepossessed with micro-denigration of the museum building and its courtyard – doesn’t even comprehend that the main, absolute limitation is material, not ideological. The NMA’s collection only started in 1980, and here are its self-proclaimed highlights:

The National Museum of Australia's collection includes the largest collection of bark paintings in the world, rare convict clothing including a jacket from a hard labour camp, Phar Lap's heart, sporting items such as Victor Trumper's bat and items documenting journeys to Australia over the last two centuries. (same URL)

Other than Indigenous material, then its highlights are some smelly jockstraps and a piece of equine offal. If David Barnett wants to turns such nuggets into something other than “a collection . . . of trivia” he is my most welcome guest.

Perhaps the museum’s new guard will somehow find the money for a set of dinosaur bones or two (Barnett cites palaeontology as one of five academic areas the NMA should start to concentrate on).

Alternatively, with so few Stuffed Things in its current collection, the museum could, with a rash of new orders, make taxidermy into the nation’s number one growth profession. Stuffed ex-PM’s would make a very good start on this front, I suggest (no “anti-heroes" here, David!) – as preferably completed by the addition of the said piece of equine offal where his heart would have been (if he had one), and the posing figure proudly dressed in a jockstrap worn long ago by a famous cricketer.

* Georgina Safe “Museum 'populist and ideological'”
The Australian July 11, 2003 (no URL)

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Ricky Gervais terms reality TV wannabes "bordering on the mentally ill

His implication – Working in an office for an arsehole baby boomer boss (like his alter ego) would be much healthier.

Personally, I agree that the miles of GenXers queueing up for reality TV fame are, on the whole, a sad bunch who mistakenly conflate Being a Dickhead in Public with sparkling and daring originality.

In short, they are the same people for whom personalised number plates were once the nadir of lifetime achievement. Sadly, with all almost the good phrases taken, plus massive price hikes for the actual plates, reality TV is the last place left for them to make their immortal mark: RU4A69.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Virgin Blue chief lays down gauntlet to new low-cost Qantas subsidiary

"I honestly don't believe it will get to our cost base unless it's going to be the cheapest, nastiest airline ever to fly the skies," Mr Godfrey said.

They’re already got the second of these adjectival requisites down to a fine art, sez recent Qantas customer.

Oh, and Mr Godfrey: be careful of what you boast of. Being the mere runner-up in the “cheapest and nastiest ever” stakes may well be a uniquely-Australian, perverse badge of pride. However, in a no-holds-barred Race to The Bottom, gravity can easily take over – your velocity will increase until you involuntarily go from second, into first place.

And should you win this race – The Bottom, when you hit it, is rock.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Student Financial Supplement Scheme Update

In mid-Sep, I blogged about the upcoming possible abolition of this cynical and usurious loan scheme. It now looks like it will happen, but “administratively” – i.e. not through legislation.

Being on the side of abolition, I don’t care too much about such a curious process on this occasion – although I note that it would seem to set an unfortunate precedent. Perhaps a couple of the attack dog pack against judicial activism – like Janet Albrechtsen and PP McGuinness – could take up the cudgels on this account: a case of parliament subordinating its authority to mere administrative edict.

In any event, with last week’s passing of the Nelson shake-up of the higher education system, a new, turbo-charged usurious loans scheme is about to commence operation.

No one yet seems to be predicting the likely bad debt ramifications of this one. Based on the total bad debt (i.e. debtor dies before full repayment) write-off for the current HECS scheme being anticipated at 20%*, my guess is that the much-higher loan amounts under Nelson will result in a loan-lifetime write-off rate well above 50%.

* Chelsey Martin “HECS doubtful debts balloon to $2bn”
AFR 3 Nov 2003 (no URL)

Update 10 December 2003

It occurred to me that “usurious” is not a technically accurate term for the Nelson ramping-up of student fees (although copious bad debt write-offs do often go hand-in-hand with high interest rates, of course).

“Two-tier arbitrage” would be a more accurate term for many of the 35% quota, fee-paying undergrad course places that will now start sprouting like mushrooms. With the debt-package involved likely to sound like – to the average 18 y.o. enrolling student – the “supersize combo” option at their local fast-food outlet, this will not be a difficult selling proposition for any smooth-talking university rep.

One wonders whether another species of the Great Australian Middleman will soon emerge here, to play a role similar to the offshore commission agents who bundle planeloads of fee-paying overseas students to our shores each year. After all, there’s a million-plus Gen Y’s out there, who all now have a virtual credit card, with a $50k limit. All they need is for someone to convince them to break it out, and to never mind about reading the fine print, viz that they’re paying double or triple the going rate.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Generational clichés

Today John Quiggin is having another go at putting out the fires of resentment against baby boomers. No dice, John, although I largely agree with this concluding para of the AFR article you link back to:

A combination of circumstances in the late 1950s and the 1960s created a generational moment for those who were young in that blissful false dawn. For that brief moment, the distinction between the young and the old seemed fundamentally important. Generational cliches took root and have become part of our culture, but they have outlived their usefulness. The winners and losers in a world of globalisation, attacks on the welfare state and resurgent market forces cannot be neatly parcelled into age groups, however often commentators on both sides of the debate attempt it.

GenX resentment is only starting to hit its straps – and this time, it’s not about the young vs the old – it’s going to be a case the Middle (well, today’s 30-somethings and their children) vs the Rest. The kids of boomers are perhaps still an unknown quality in the doing-it-tough stakes, but I suspect that the looming inter-generational wealth shakedown will see a lot of money funnelled straight into their multitudinous cargo pockets, before any of those kiddies have to otherwise face up to being broke and on the dole at 40.

Talking of false dawns, and with John Quiggin’s article being laden with popular music references, it occurs to me that the day that Kurt Cobain died (5 April 1994) would be a good day to mark the end of GenX as a generation (kids born after that are unambiguously the children of Gen X). Also, The Day That JFK died theoretical start of GenX surely resonates here in the “Where were you when?" stakes (‘cept of course that they took three days to find Kurt’s stinking corpse). Further, these thirty-odd years can be fairly neatly split with another kind of death – the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979, as spelling the true start of the “me” in “Me Generation”, and so a fitting last day for a GenXer to be born.

I was driving on a country road outside Canberra when I heard the Kurt Cobain news on JJJ. Immediately and for the rest of the day, the station was turned into a sort of giant, on-the-run suicide counselling room. Whatever the death of JFK may have symbolised about the death of the postwar dream, Kurt’s death was of at least comparable meaning and magnitude. In particular, Kurt’s death marked the end of the GenX “alternative” project, in which by sticking to its ideals – in the face of the ever-growing encroachment of economic fundamentalism (/yuppie-dom, call it what you like) – we thought that we would eventually prevail. In this respect, 5 April 1994 marks the end of the whole Enlightenment project of cultural melioration, and the start of a grab-it-while-you-can Dark Age.

That GenX never really ranted against those over 30 when we were under 30 is now an ironic tribute to our patience, and to our trust that the 80s would one day be shown up as just a bad dream. It’s taken another ten years to slowly realize how totally and utterly we were wrong, and how much we have been betrayed in the process.

Memo to everyone under 30 – ask for it first, but if you don’t get it, steal it. You aint ever gonna get it any other way.


These job stats underscore the dire plight of today's 30-somethings. Among men aged 25 to 44, the proportion with a job has decreased in recent years, to 86%, while among men aged 45 to 54, the proportion with a job has increased to 84%.

When these figures soon overtake each other (as appears likely), perhaps Australia's leaders will finally turn their attention to the problem. The social injustice here is compounded by an unemployed/NILF 30-something being far less-likely to be a home-owner than an unemployed/NILF person aged 45+. The difference is that the latter merely lives in poverty and on the social "scrapheap" of premature retirement, while the former lives in something far worse.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Avoiding intergenerational conflict

Fellow Gen Xers Simon Castles and Peter Chen have recently written to this effect.

Personally, I am less optimistic that anything could, or should, be done. If the housing market collapses – and I’m praying for main course Schadenfreude on this front (John Quiggin’s predicted 30-40% price fall is only entrée-sized, in my book) – the fallout from this may snowball into other long-overdue policy changes, like mass job creation schemes (particularly for tertiary-educated GenX men), but I’m not holding my breath.

Some grounds for optimism over my generation’s plight do exist, however. Unlike a fair few of the educated-but-drifting GenX men of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, we have resisted that most fucked-up – and baby-boomer-invented – career option of all: becoming cheap suicide robots (“cheap” for obvious reasons, and “robots” because the agent is largely denied volition, and therefore dignity, in terms of the time and place of their suicide).

In Germany, the educated GenX male labour surplus has also seemingly taken a gruesome turn – of young men wanting to get killed and eaten. While the current trial of Armin Meiwes involves a boomer sautéing another boomer – all fine and dandy, if you ask me – another detail from the trial suggests the classic Osama organisational set-up: an engineered shortage of places at the top, and a perverse surplus at the bottom:

In Germany about 200 people on the internet were offering to be slaughtered, 30 ready to do the slaughtering and 10 to 15 wanting to watch.

In case you don’t get it, such hierarchical labour-market pyramids are perverse because they commodify death – and “commodify” here in the strict sense. Al-Qaida and the German cannibal sub-culture do not operate as whole-of-life cults/brainwashers; instead, they offer nothing more – or less – than a career path in a theoretically competitive, but utterly-denuded marketplace.

In Australia, as I said, we don’t have these things – although perhaps it is only a matter of time. If indeed death does become a career path for numbers of Australian GenX men, it will be interesting to see whether it will function as a surplus for boomers' private delectation (as, at base, 9/11 was for bin Laden, a man of unsophisticated tastes), or as something that comes to overwhelm its offerors with the magnitude of its surplusage.

On either front, as the degree of economic inequality between GenX and boomers inexorably increases, the taste of material success can only be refined – should it not, in the meantime, runaway – to the point of toxicity.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Happy 700th birthday, Mickey Mouse

While the Austrians are pissing in the wind, legally speaking, on this one, the much- publicized, recent 75th birthday of capitalism’s Ur-mascot makes revisiting Mickey’s origins a timely affair.

This is an ultra-sanitised version:

Mickey was conceived on a train in early 1928, as the 26-year-old Walt Disney and his wife Lillian travelled from New York to Los Angeles after the animator lost a drawing of his original cartoon character, a rabbit.

"I had this mouse at the back of my head ... because a mouse is kind of a sympathetic character in spite of the fact that everybody's frightened of a mouse ... including myself," Disney recalled later.

The animator wanted to christen the mouse clad in red velvet shorts Mortimer, but Lillian told him the name was too pompous. By the time the train arrived in Los Angeles a new star had been born.

The above is totally incorrect in just about every key fact, as this Wikipedia entry demonstrates. It does the [unnamed] “animator” – Ubbe Iwerks, who was actually co-director and head animator of “Steamboat Willie” – a gross disservice.

Peculiarly, one does not have to dig deep to find out this much; a news story from a coupe of days after the above one tells the story of Mickey’s origins this way:

Company lore says Mickey was conceived by Walt Disney in 1928 on a train trip, basing the character on a little mouse that would root through his papers late at night when he was a child. In reality, the appearance of the mouse was invented by his partner, Ubbe Iwerks. Disney did not even come up with the name, wanting to call him Mortimer until his wife, Lillian, said it was too "sissy", and suggested Mickey.

Myths arising so as to launder the origins of big-ticket corporate intellectual property are probably inevitable. A moment of creativity rarely, if ever, coincides with the germ of a killer sales shpiel. What needs to be stressed, in the case of Mickey’s origins, is their extreme modesty. Mickey was road-tested first – he didn’t debut in “Steamboat Willie” – and his career-making role in the 1928 short film was conservatively premised: “Steamboat Willie” was an obvious parody of Buster Keaton’s film released a few months earlier, “Steamboat Bill”.

This fact doesn’t mean, as Lawrence Lessig has provocatively suggested, that Disney Inc stole from Keaton. Rather, it is a testament to one of the miracles, or paradoxes, of capitalism – how creative mediocrity thrives like nothing else. Everyone knows the case of Microsoft in this respect, but here’s some food for thought: billionaire J K Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, came up with the boy-wizard idea on a – you guessed it – train also.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Mark Latham’s great big policy unknown

New Opposition Leader Mark Latham has had many a word on all things "aspirational" – except the big daddy of them all: four wheel drives.

Even today, he was giving nothing away on this front:

"I believe in an upwardly mobile society where people can climb the rungs of opportunity, climbing the ladder of opportunity to a better life for themselves and their family" [Mr Latham said], nominating healthcare, education and early childhood development as priority areas.

While Latham has at least drawn an explicit connection between people bettering themselves and higher education – while PM John Howard has repeatedly implied the opposite – Latham is going to have to declare his hand regarding four wheel drive policy sooner or later.

My gut feeling is that Latham will be unwilling or unable to do the obvious right thing – to tax the Weapons-Grade Volvos off the road, and off the off-road, too (currently, of course, they actually receive concessional tax treatment).

The four wheel drive issue certainly correlates with the existence of an inner-city/outer-suburbs divide. Just as importantly, though, is its coincidence with THE generational border* – “me first”, taxpayer-subsidised four wheel drives are both a symbolic boomer shibboleth, as well as a handy real-world perk around town.

Some commentators have described Latham’s step-up as the coming of Generation X. Born in 1961, Latham certainly doesn’t qualify under my calculations. If he wimps out on four wheel drive policy, I hope that Labor will get its consequent just desserts at the next poll – electoral carnage in the inner-city, forgotten heartland.

* Letter from Michael Albrecht

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Bill Farrow's Excellent Adventure

Bill Farrow is probably the only Great Big Shonk of the 1980s to get away with it – his only punishment to date has been having a ten volume Victorian parliamentary report and inquiry into his late 80s business activities “ordered to lie on the Table” on 10 December 1996.

Presumbly wanting to encourage the contents of the said ten volumes to ever-after remain on the legislature’s Table, unread and gathering dust, Farrow has kept a low profile in recent years. And what better way to keep a low profile than to found a television production company – I kid you not. In 1998, World Wide Entertainment Production & Sales Pty Ltd was established.

With its grandly-titled, export-oriented name, and five years of operation now under its belt, one could be forgiven for thinking that Farrow TV must lately be the manna-from-heaven answer to David Williamson et al’s fears and prayers over the looming decimation of local screen culture. In Farrow TV is surely a proudly Australian production company, taking on the world (and especially, the US screen oligarchy) at their own game.

Err, not quite. Searching the net, I couldn’t find a single reference to any produced piece of World Wide Entertainment output. Which means that David Williamson should hang on to his sackcloth for a while yet. Moreover, the paucity of WWE’s output to date squarely raises the dilemna well-known by every struggling producer – how to keep the wolf from the door while chasing the big markets.

Fortunately, Farrow TV has been able to tap into taxpayer dollars to tide it over its lean first few years. Not, as you might expect, in the form of media production subsidies (apart from some paltry dollars available for script development, most screen grant dollars are effectively tied to getting celluloid-in-the-can; something that WWE has seemingly not yet managed). Rather, Farrow TV has gone to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and got itself two sizeable “export development” grants – $42,109 in 2001 (same URL), and more recently, about $90,000.

And also luckily for Farrow TV, the operation of these Commonwealth grants seems to resemble that of the Habersberger Inquiry report, in being ordered to lie moribund on a table somewhere. There is apparently no requirement (or follow-up) for actual output (= exportable product), with the grants being simply to help a company promote its business abroad.

Which means, in total, that maybe things are looking up for David Williamson, after all. Stop moping about in your local, David – get on a plane and promote, promote, promote – and best of all, the taxpayers will pick up half the tab.

The Yanks may not like "Dog's Head Bay", either. But sipping pina coladas poolside at a Beverly Hills hotel will lessen the pain of it all, I'm sure.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Schoolies week as a rite of passage

Gold Coast blogger Jonas, at 24 years of age, has been observing the Schoolies festivities from a slight distance – hopefully far enough away to not be seen to be leering over the balcony at 17 y.o. girls as they relax in a spa in their bikinis. I had always thought that this high-rise leerer/leeree relationship was the only thing the Gold Coast had going for it, but it now turns out that such behaviour (well, the leerer side of it) is “sick and disgusting" – and serious enough to get Dad on the phone to the powers that be.

Anyway, the above is just an oblique introduction to another piece of Dad-wisdom on Schoolies week – that the under-agers’ Bacchanalia is a Good Thing, in marking a rite of passage into adulthood. Here, I’m only guessing that Gold Coast academic and psychologist Dr Phil Harker is a father of teenage children. As to his being a baby boomer, I’m quite confident to nail him on this evidence:

Dr Phil suggested parents should organise their own schoolies equivalent. ‘When a young person makes it clear that they want to be an [independent] adult, parents should throw themselves a big party.’ (same URL)

I have no idea as to what Party Central postcode, if any, the nation’s baby boomers may be currently checked-in at. But I’m pretty sure that if I found myself staying (or living) there by mistake, the words of one of those 17 y.o. girls in the spa (above) would ring true:

"It was just yuck. They asked us what room we were staying in but we gave them a fake number because they were so suss and creepy.”

Jonas also points out that, in his day, they didn’t have Schoolies. Even at the distinct risk of starting a “sheer looxury” arms race with the written equivalent of Yorkshire accents, I can’t help but point out, in my day, we didn’t have anything even remotely festive – other than going down to Centrelink (or DSS, as it was then known), the day after one’s last exam, to sign on for the dole (true story).

With the unemployment rate for teenagers and young adults now being not much lower than that of my 1982* salad days, one has to wonder about the paradox of the modern Schoolies phenomenon – parents giving their kids bucketloads of cash, to go interstate and drink and fuck until they . . . grow up?

On the other hand, it is possible to see the twisted baby boomer logic in the equation here. When Dr Phil spoke of the importance of having a rite of passage for late teens, he wasn’t just massaging acute parental guilt – Maybe we should have bought two cases of Jim Bean & Cola for young Daniel after all; what are his peers going to think when they see him drinking Woodstock? – nor inventing the lamest, bogus-est piece of pop-psych ever: why boomers should now shout themselves a piss-up (and don’t spare the credit card, Jeeves). No, it turns out Dr Phil’s real message is to nail it good’n’hard into the carcasses of we GenXers, who didn’t get a thousand bucks and a few cases at the end of Year 12:

Denying young people such rituals . . . could result in "25-, 26-, even 30-year-old children still relying on their parents for guidance", he said. These sorry adult-babies were "frightened of the world and don't know how to grow up".

So you heard it here, Mum and Dad – you fucked up my life by not sending me away, all-expenses-paid, after Year 12. Never mind that you didn’t have the money (and that I didn’t ask for it), how could have have denied me? Denied me that literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Finally, it remains to get over the hurdle, re how the girls in the spa/Dad on the phone scenario fits into Dr Phil’s rite of passage thesis. By definition, the girls can’t be “sorry adult-babies” – Mum and Dad’s thousand bucks has bought them unequivocal emancipation, on this front. But freedom from what?

Ah – now I get it: the alleged leerer was 38 years old, young enough to be still “frightened of the world” (having never had a proper passage into adulthood) and not old (nor rich) enough to do it all vicariously, through one’s teenage children. Such uniniatiated people are dangerous – their leering is never just a look, but an attempt to get for free what they couldn’t afford now, and which their parents couldn’t or wouldn’t get them back then, either.

* The national unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds was 10% at the start of 1982. Michelle Turner Stuck Penguin Books (1983) p 13. The unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds (in NSW) was 9.4% in March 2003 and 8.5% in September 2003.

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