Saturday, August 30, 2003

Welcome to Peppercornucopia – a wide brown, CPI-indexed egalitarian paradise

The history of settler Australia has had real estate as its core theme, from the earliest times. The law’s turning-a-blind-eye dispossession of the Indigenous landholders was – and still is – necessarily accompanied by a disordered, ad hoc policy for (re)allocating the fictive terra nullius.

Hence this farcical 1989 compromise – a public-minded attempt to move land policy slightly along from the squatter* days. A peppercorn was given a monetary value ($100), and then – in that uniquely Australian way – the deal’s fairness for posterity was ensured by the said peppercorn being CPI-indexed from then on.

And we said they were savages, as we took their land.

* Or more accurately, the first-generation squatter days. It takes several generations for a shockingly short-sighted policy decision to become truly capital.

Friday, August 29, 2003

The kitty is empty – inside Richard Alston’s head

Yesterday, the week so far was already the current Australian government’s worst ever three-days horribilus. Not about to be left out of the inferno, Richard Alston decided to make use of what was otherwise a pleasant day – of ribbon-cutting in the provinces* – to launch a swingeing “fuck you” at the ABC.

Those weren’t his exact words, of course. Rather, Senator Alston floated a proposal that could easily be part of a of CNNNN script, given its combination of deadpan delivery and over-the-top content.

This over-the-topness lays not so much in the view that the ABC start to think of itself as a charity – which suggestion is a product of Age editorialising, rather than what Alston said. Some may think that his actual proposal – that the ABC apply to be on the Register of Cultural Organisations, so as to be able to receive tax-deductible donations – is harmless enough. After all, when you look through the who’s who on the Register, the ABC would seem to be in some top-notch company potentially – so hardly reduced to some kind of mendicant rump.

But this is not the point. The Register was (1991) and is set up as a vehicle for private-sector arts development – a cause which generally falls outside the common-law definition of charity, and which therefore needs close statutory prescription, and, to a lesser exent so far, monitoring. Statutory/Register funds must be accounted for separately from general monies. While an arts entity on the Register may be able to, say paint the Sydney Opera House red (in the name of stunt-wise political art), if it used any statutory/Register funds in doing so, you could expect that Alston’s bureaucracy would soon de-Register it, for infringing its “principal purpose” (Starting to remind you of anything?)

In fact, tying up some of the ABC’s funds as being Register/”principal purpose” contingent would not only muzzle the ABC editorially – it would kill it outright as an independent national institution (the last three being not words I use lightly). Having a “principal purpose” devoted to amusing the upper classes (as the effective charters of most Register organisations are) means, for more than one reason, that the “principal purpose” test is mainly self-assessed at the moment. Given that a fair chunk of the ABC’s principal purpose surely involves broadcasting news and current affairs, the stage would be set for a head-on collision when it came to getting on the Register. Either the ABC could renounce being in the news and current affairs game at all, or it would be under a continual (and unsustainable, in the long term) regulatory blowtorch over the use and misuse of its Register (and therefore “non-political”) funds. And my guess is that Aunty wouldn’t exactly have to be unfurling banners on the Sydney Opera House to get up Alston’s nose, on this account.

* I’m allowed to say “provinces” because I grew up in The Rat.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

CrashBurn fizzes?

The new Channel Ten 13-parter, “CrashBurn” is not “too good to rate”. Nice try, Ross Warneke, but I don’t think that anyone would mistake you for a “snob”, either. You’re just another oblivious baby boomer, talking of the 25-to-50-year-old demographic, as if there were such a thing. As I risk sounding like a cracked record, on there being an inter-generational fault line centred (approximately) on those born before and after 1963, I won’t go on, other than simply tendering “CrashBurn’s” ratings as Exhibit Number Umpteen, M’lud.

But while I’m here, I probably should write a bit about “CrashBurn” on its merits (a term lawyers use for a judgement process that, unlike courts proper (in theory), involves human fallibility). I only watched the first ep (16 August 2003), being put-off by the demographic and temporal ambiguity of the characters and the plot.

“CrashBurn” seems to be set in a kind of eternal 1980s, as only a baby boomer could have experienced that decade. Presumably the characters are supposed to be in their mid/late 30s “now” (someone wrote of the show as “The Secret Life of Us” ten years on), but if so, the economic reality of the typical white collar worker of this (and my) age – falling real wages and precarious employment at best – has been bypassed completely in the plot. (Because of its unusual extended-flashback-and-then-filling-in-the-gaps plot structure, you get to see the “beginning” as well as the “end” in the first ep.)

Last Sunday’s “The Simpsons” ep was another example of the eternal 1980s twilight phenomenon in popular culture. As fans of the show would know, the core characters have not aged in the decade-plus the show has been running. In order to maintain flashback verisimilitude then, the era in which Marge and Homer were two young singles on a date has had to be pulled ever forward. Last Sunday it was 1989 – which means that I am now older than Marge and Homer! In other words, Ma and Pa Simpson have created a demographic palimpsest*, in which two boomers and their offspring have leapfrogged and overwritten the very-different experiences of another generation.

Final thought – there was a TV show called “thirtysomething” in the 1980s. I never watched it, but I assume that its characters were styled along “The Big Chill” (the movie) lines. Why has my generation missed its entry into middle-age being depicted in popular culture?

* Now that “Bali” means something quite different for Australians, perhaps the band Redgum could re-form and put out a new sarcastic party-hit for the times: “I’ve got a Melbourne Uni arts degree too”.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Vale, Tony Abbott

The Tony Abbott anti-One Nation fighting fund* scandal is rapidly snowballing right now. Indeed, the pace at which this is happening makes the (long-ish) entry I was going to write this morning already obsolete . . . well, that’s my excuse for now. (Like Ken Parish, I possess an unhealthy academic interest in champerty and other medieval torts, but I’ve decided to wait for things to unravel/clarify a bit more, before I go on a three day champerty-research bender.)

Anyway, it seems clear to me that this exchange today is when a controversy became a scandal proper – if you imagine the media coverage as a hump, the crest has just been reached, and everything from now on will be strictly downhill, as far as Tony Abbott’s future is concerned.

I am quite confident about making such a prediction because (i) as shown by last-night’s last-minute press-release timing, Tony Abbott is on the run and desperate**, and (ii) when faced today with Terry Sharples’s recollection of Abbott’s saying “You wouldn't believe the number of favours, Terry, we had to give away to get [the Clough donation] money", the only rational response for a politician – one who thinks he’s going to survive, that is – to make is “I’ve referred those comments to my lawyers (and I’ve got nothing else to say)”, rather than to lamely parry, as Abbott actually did.

So we’ll see what happens. If, on the outside chance, Abbott does survive this, then my consolation prize awaits – yes, my long bottled-up medieval torts research bender, for which I’ll allocate a full week.

Finally, I couple of “more reading” plugs for those following this story closely – this is a quasi-transcript of the crucial 10 August 1998 “Four Corners” ep (there is no official transcript online, as far as I’m aware). Also, I heartily endorse (as they say) Jack Strocchi’s comment here.

Update 28 August 2003

So which way is it to be, PM John Howard? Yesterday morning, you were advising cold showers all around. This morning, however, you admitted that Tony Abbott may have been just a bit too upfront – meaning – to continue your shower analogy – that it was indeed Abbott’s waving his thang in front of us that caused all the excitement. So don’t you tell me to take a shower, JWH – please just tell your Minister to put some clothes on.

Also check out Robert Corr’s excellent blow-by-blow account of Abbott’s woeful performance on last night’s “7.30 Report”. I must admit that I had previously all but written-off the show, and host Kerry O'Brien, for being forever in insipid pursuit of the inconsequential, but to see a grown man reduced to a stuttering schoolboy when under inquisition by his school principal – priceless!


* “Slush fund” makes it sound like the collection's ultimate purpose was to meet hotel mini-bar accounts, and other such emergencies – clearly it wasn’t. Also, the Right have a long use, going back at least until the mid-80s, of financing anti-worker litigation through trusts termed "fighting funds", with the National Farmers Federation usually playing the political intermediary, or cordon sanitaire role.

** While I assume that it was more due to the SMH’s slackness, than a Fairfax piece of deliberate, cynical ante-upping, the SMH’s failure to run Tony Abbott’s late-night “apology” story this morning (running this bit of relative fluff instead), when both The Age and the Oz caught it, would have had tongues in Sydney wagging this morning – and when tongues in Sydney wag, they WAG.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Flint Phalanx Flunks

David Flint is a curious beast. Writing in his intro to a new book by Flint “The Twilight of the Elites”, Tony Abbott draws attention to Flint’s “non-Anglo”-ness, so as to highlight all the more Flint’s maverick credentials (Here’s an ethnic being a Right Royal WASP – imagine that!). I had never picked up Flint’s ancestral otherness, to be honest – I always assumed that his blindingly obvious silver spoon background was the alpha and omega of his cloistered, pointy-end-of the-plane life.

But no – Flint turns out be a gamma, after all. At least that’s what I think he’s saying. Certainly he protests at length about the difficulty he had finding a mainstream publisher for “Twilight”. (Any author knows, of course, that large publishers are currently starved of book proposals, and will throw themselves at your feet to publish your work, irrespective of its saleability). With only one publisher’s door left to knock on – as the old story goes – bingo! And in another “against all odds” moment, the uber-waspish Flint’s saving-the-day publisher turns out to be an arm of the National Civic Council, a nasty, far-right, nominally Catholic outfit that many (including me, before today) might have reasonably assumed to have been long ago consigned to the dustbin of sectarian machiavellianism.

Anyway, one of the bonuses of commercially dealing with the Paranoiac Right is that their message – that Our Message is being stopped by Them from getting out There to You – is highly susceptible to premature ejaculation; i.e. the stuff is just so good that it has to be let out on the Internet, and for free, now, months before the book will be formally launched. In other words, don’t bother buying Flint’s book – the NCC-supplied internet freebie has all the good stuff, anyway. Such as:

If the elites had had their way, entry to Australia would now be substantially under the control of criminal people-smugglers based in Indonesia, the influx of their clients would now be out of control, and East Timor would still be subjugated.

See what I mean about “Paranoiac Right”? When all that stood between us and this bleak fate was John Howard and his down-to-the-wire November 2001 mandate – I say “phew”! Pass the bottle, Uncle David, and tell us, once again, how close it came! We really can’t get enough of this “the Truth they didn’t want you to know” stuff, can we?

Finally, some disclosure. I am almost certainly a member of the “elites” – I have happily used the phrase “rednecks”, usually to describe affluent Australians who explicitly denigrate knowledge and education. I now take this partially back – the epitome of a redneck, in fact, is David Flint – a far-Right loose cannon who is humorous and dangerous, in disturbingly equal parts.

There is no “elite” agenda. There is, however, a group with disproportionate cultural sway in Australia – the usual term for them is “baby boomers”, and, as Mark Davis’s “Gangland” showed, they happily inhabit both the Right and the Left (although are undoubtedly skewed towards the latter). And as my regular readers will know, this little blogger does not like the said baby boomer hegemony. But “agenda”?

I don’t believe in secret conspiracies, David Flint. If I have a problem with an argument (or sometimes, a person) I say so, loudly – nothing and no one is out there to stop me. If a person of your wealth and station has to stoop to the public illusion that he is being silenced by nefarious, near-invisible forces, then you are either deluded, in the clinical objective sense – or otherwise, you are paddling in waters of deep hatred that have sucked (or will suck) you smoothly and inexorably in, beyond the boundaries of your own mind, morality and volition.

Memo for Pru Goward

Call me a visual-centric man, but I still can’t picture what you’re talking about. Do “we” want “our” adaptive-lib men to look like this – or this?

On second-thought, now I get it. In a world where pot-bellies are apparently all earth mother-snuggly (e-e-ewww!), and Ian “pearl necklace” Thorpe is straight, there is only one place left for a gay man approaching 40 to run – into the persona of a comfortably oblivious, ever-shrill frigid harpy (“Hands off my hairy gut, you depilitated pervert!")

Now if you’ll just hand me over the baton for this – when you’re finished with it, of course – thank you very much, Ms Goward.

Mal Colston: an epitaph

In your career you flew – lower than a vulture over Lhasa

It is better to be upgraded than to arrive, or even to have a destination

You thought it time to redeem your own sky-burial

when you saw Pauline’s rorting on-the-wall

And after all, with four years worth of frequent-dier points

you'd have to be a shoe-in for seat 1A on the Styx Ferry

Monday, August 25, 2003

Funding the present at the expense of the future

is the meta-narrative of the past two decades. It has not only happened in business and government – thereby atrophying both into ever-shriller self-reduction machines (link via Crooked Timber). Capital, as well as income-earning power, has been wholesale redistributed like there is no tomorrow by the boomer generation, through asset- and job-hoarding creating artificial shortages. Public education, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels, has been so funding-starved that just about any charlatan can hang up a shingle advertising private education, and expect to do better that a bigger, better-resourced public outfit – modern consumers, it seems, trust outfits more if they have NO infrastructure at all, as opposed to decaying (but once-shining) infrastructure.

Kay is more optimistic than me, however, when it comes to market forces being able to eventually reverse the cost-cutting spiral in industries such as media, pharmaceuticals and finance. I don’t know too much about the latter two industries, but the media empires of today are, of course, actively engaged in squeezing – tighter and tighter – dollars out of existing/old content, rather than spending money on the new. Kay reckons that audiences will eventually become bored with the resultant blandness, so leaving a wide market opening for new entrants, with their exciting new content. I think that such a rosy scenario is deeply unlikely, for the simple reason that modern media combines are multi-skilled when it comes to their squeezing prowess. Not only can they supernaturally squeeze one more sequel/series etc out of stone-cold content, they can apply an even-tighter grip to squeeze-out ambitious new entrants – as aided by the firm (ahem) handshakes they are able to exchange with our elected officials.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

The snobberies of Cathy Sherry

Fellow lawyer/writer Cathy Sherry sure knows how to throw an almighty tantrum on the job front (me, I’d be happy with any vaguely appropriate work, part-time or full-time, anywhere in Australia, and many other counties besides). But that’s the difference between Cathy and me – she wants a decent part-time (only) job (and not in the outré precedents section of law firm, mind), and she wants it now.

Happily, this shocking waste of Cathy’s skills (a situation which she implies can only happen to women, and further, only to those women who chose to have children) has now been remedied. Cathy and her crew have packed up from the big smoke, and made the move to the commuting-distance hinterland. An apparent (and unexpected) lawyer shortage in her adopted town has meant that she has had no trouble finding part-time legal work locally. She doesn’t, however, specify the all-important degree of prestige of her new job; very probably this is because the lot of a typical country solicitor makes the precedents section of a big law firm (smaller firms don’t have them at all) look positively “LA Law”-ish.

Anyway, enough of Cathy’s workplace petty snobbery – and on to her visceral hatred of snobby professionals who dare to be particular about . . . the suburb they buy their first home in. Cathy is, in fact, so worked up about this issue that she has written largely the same article about the topic twice so far this year. Obviously her legal work is not the only thing she is highly particular about; as a freelance writer, she seems to turn down any job that doesn’t involve (i) the said snobby-when-it-comes-to-real-estate professionals, or (ii) her own chi-chi, new work/home balanced lifestyle.

As to the substance of Cathy’s accusations, of course, she does have some valid points. There are plenty of suburbs where house prices are far below the sky-high median prices for Melbourne and Sydney. Suburbs usually far from the CBDs where most professionals work. But hey, what’s an extra two hours of commuting each day, when you’re only working 60-70 hours a week*, and getting paid less, per hour than your secretary? Such a suburb’s crime-ridden-by-night streets might not be the most welcoming thing to come straight home to at 11pm, after a 16 hour day – but if you’re a professional living in such a place, it’s guaranteed that there wouldn’t be any local venues where you would be comfortable, or even welcome, in having a late-night drink to unwind. Which means that if you wanted to unwind with a coupla drinks, you’d need to do it back in town. And getting the last train back to your outer suburb – well, that’s an experience that’s going to relax you, good and proper, before you get up for work again in five hours time! So you could alternatively cab it – oh how plentiful cabs are in the CBD at that time of night (and a 30 km fare is nothing, either) – or drive your (embarassingly old) car in, pay a fortune to park it during the day, have to nick out at eight to move it before that car park locks up, etc.

So, Cathy Sherry, you’re absolutely right – over-worked Gen X professionals are snobs, pure and simple. If only they could be more like you, they could live just about anywhere – it doesn’t really matter where you live, after all, when you’re always home by 5pm, ready for yet another Big Night In with the kids.

* I know this from personal experience, having worked at a large law firm, ostensibly as a solicitor, but in practise more a (cheap, as no overtime was payable) photocopying clerk.

Dress in what I say (and sell you), but then wear what I do

The south London superclub The Ministry Of Sound marketed a range of clothing while admitting that anyone who wore those clothes was unlikely to pass the dress code in the club itself.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Ululate for the Dole programs, and “Sooling the rednecks for a late 2003 election” revisited

In May I wrote this.

There is no particular current reason to revisit the election-prediction side of this; rather, my trigger was a brief story today, about (inter alia) Ray Martin botching something involving unemployed people. As to which reference any Australian reader with at least a few remaining brain-cells will of course nod: “Ah, the Paxtons”.

But first, to get rid of the current Ray Martin (very minor) controversy. In today's The Australian's “Strewth” column (no URL), the story "A bit rude for Rudy" tells of how Ray, MC-ing a dinner for Rudy Guiliani, ommitted to “explain” that the choir singing the Oz national anthem as well as a “rap-version of Star Spangled Banner” were not professionals, but clients of the charity Mission Australia. Reading between these lines, I can only assume that the said choir was not quite up to scratch – but as to whether there is in fact a “scratch” at all on rap-versions of the US national anthem (?) is a fair question indeed. Anyway, I say, good on ‘em for trying – and who really cares if Ray may have (indirectly, I assume) mocked their efforts. OTOH, I have just a sneaking suspicion that the choir might not have been strictly speaking clients of Mission Australia, the charity, but of Mission Employment, the hard-nosed contractor who “provides”, among other “services”, Work for the Dole programs. Hence, was the choir actually a “Ululate for the Dole” chain gang? Nothing would surprise me.

But back to the Paxtons, and the role of "dole bludgers" as THE wedge issue in the 1996 election, in which of course John Howard and the Libs swept in. I mentioned this in May but without elaborating. I’ve now combed through a bit of stuff, and come up with this Paxtons chronology, in support of my case. While it’s not footnoted, I can vouch that it generally comes from the record, apart from the 11 March Ray Martin interview with PM John Howard (sourced from my notes only). Oh, and one other – preparing to write this, I realised that I’d hopelessly conflated the two “A Current Affair” hosts of the time, Ray Martin and Mike Munro. Same difference to me, but if it’s not to you, then you have been warned. (However, I note that I have taken out the host’s name where I haven’t been reasonably certain.)

A Paxtons chronology

?? January 1996 Sunday Age runs article on unemployment, featuring the Paxtons

19 February 1996 First Paxtons episode airs on “A Current Affair”

It showed Shane Paxton going into his younger brother's bedroom and saying "Mark, get up, it's 12 past 12, get up."

Apart from the clichéd shots of unemployed youth sleeping-in, however, this was was no ordinary fly on the wall insight. With an election looming, Shane Paxton was goaded into disclosing that he intended to vote Labor – for the simple reason that it was the pro-dole entitlement party. The story was also intercut with the opinions of an outside rent-an-expert, Bob Gregory, who stated that smoking cigarettes (as the Paxtons did) and keeping a dog (as the Paxtons also did) seemed to be unwarranted luxuries for people living on the dole.

Nine didn't get that footage straight away. "It took us three days of shooting to get that, because one of the boys wouldn't get out of bed," said ACA's executive producer, Neil Mooney.

Nonetheless, a fiction that this was a straight fly on the wall story prevailed and persisted at Nine. “This started as a program on generational unemployment in Victoria. And Shane Paxton was the person who showed our crew around, you know, pointing out the houses where no one had a job” (Peter “I wish we had more stories like that” Meakin)

1 March 1996 Election-eve Paxtons “teaser” on ACA (?)

On a Friday, it is usual practise “A Current Affair” to publicize, via short teasers, big ACA stories that will be screening the following week. (I have no information on whether this actually occurred; if anyone can corroborate (or authoritively deny) it, please let me know)

2 March 1996 John Howard wins Federal election

4 March 1996 Second Paxtons episode airs on “A Current Affair”

In which the three Paxton kids were flown to South Molle Island, where they knocked back kitchen-hand, lawn mower, and food service jobs.

5 March 1996 Third Paxtons episode airs on “A Current Affair”

The “public outrage” starts. Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett gets a on-air vox pop. A neighbour of the Paxtons, who has a grievance against them, vents on-air.

6 March 1996 Fourth Paxtons episode airs on “A Current Affair”

7 March 1996 Fifth Paxtons episode airs on “A Current Affair”

Brief doorstop of their mother, Dawn Paxton.

11 March 1996 Ray Martin interviews new PM, John Howard

The Paxtons come up as topic

13 March 1996 Sixth Paxtons episode airs on “A Current Affair”

Host Mike Munro has on-air stoush with Les Twentyman, a youth worker who calls himself the Paxtons' defender

15 March 1996 Seventh (and final) Paxtons episode airs on “A Current Affair”

?? March 1996 Radio journalist, Paul Barber sacked

Paul Barber, a journalist at the Melbourne radio station 3AW, attacked A Current Affair's treatment of the Paxtons and urged a public boycott. He was then sacked when Channel 9 withdrew $300,000 worth of advertising.

?? March 1996 Daily Telegraph runs Paxton story on front page.


?? March 1996 Mike Munro writes article in the Herald-Sun

Munro wrote in the Herald-Sun, in a piece entitled "They aren't the victims. We are", that he didn't set out to do a hatchet job on dole bludgers. Quite the contrary. "I wasn't convinced they were lazy... they just seemed different... I wanted to portray them as a social problem, not as kids not trying hard enough."

Addendum 23 August 2003

I realised late last night that in my enthusiasm for assembling a Paxtons’ chronology, that I had missed the wood for the trees; i.e. given that most of “it” happened after the 2 March 1996 election, I had not explained how dole bludgers, as personified by the Paxtons, could have been an effective wedge issue for voters minds, a fact which obviously requires the wedge to be sunk before (but preferably just) election day. With this is mind, I’ve redone/amplified the earlier bits of the chronology.

Otherwise, I accept that the 4 March 1996 episode was far and away the most important single unit in the whole affair. Indeed, everything that happened after this was probably only echoes, as far as the “minds” of redneck electors were concerned. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the extra five Paxtons episodes on Nine all rated their socks off, or that the whole imbroglio, including the Prime Ministerial interview, gave Nine’s owner, Kerry Packer, a chance to insinuate himself even more into the new PM’s good books, and vice versa.

Australian junkie argot

I am proud to consider myself as a generalist, rather than a specialist – a skill-set which came in handy yesterday, when I was put on the spot (at my front door, no less) to translate some Australian junkie argot.

The background here is that about noon, I happened to notice a face peering over my high front-and-side fence. I went outside to investigate, and looking through the somewhat decrepit said fence, saw a man aged about 18 ringing the bell of my next-door neighbours (whom I’ve never met, and in true inner-city style “know” only by the car they drive, or more accurately, park). I watched this guy ringing the neighbour’s bell, again and again, for about a minute. It was obvious that no one was home. He then turned to me and said:

“What are you doing, mate – Why are you being such a gig?”

A most unfair question, in more than one way. Indeed, I couldn’t squarely answer it, and the guy soon left, leaving me to wonder about what exactly a “gig” was.

Then it hit me – for reasons to do mainly with growing up in Ballarat, I have a pretty good grasp on Australian goldfields history. “Gig” was surely a contraction of “fizgig” [also fizzgig, fizz-gig, fisgig and phizzgig], meaning – but only in Australia – a police informer. And not just any sort of casual snitch or dobber, either; this definition makes the 1850s goldfields origin of the word – and therefore its contemptibility – very clear:

A fizgig is a police informer, often in the employ of a single policeman – either paid for each piece of information separately, or they are kept on a weekly wage*

Ouch! You surely can’t get any lower in the Australian social strata that to be a paid, trusted police informer. And the term is no idle archaism, either, I was called it only yesterday, and by a burglarising junkie to boot! And just for the record, I distrust the cops as much as the next Irish-Australian – but to be lectured to by a burglarising junkie – What the?

* The specific URL is this:
(which in turn attributes However, I found the former to be readable as HTML only, and the latter to be a paid-subscription site. Definitely *free* to browse, though is the Macquarie Dictionary’s slang site – oh what schoolboy joy this must be! This site seems an immensely-rich trove of both rude words and editorial anomalies – e.g. “fag hag” is duly noted to be a derogatory term, but not so “fag” or “faggot”, with the latter receiving a bizarre (in such a context) note that it was “originally a term of abuse applied to a woman”. If so, isn’t it about time that the Sisterhood of Faggots (in the archaic sense) reclaimed “fag hag” as a loud’n’proud term for a female, platonic best-friend of a woman?

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Islamofascism and the United Nations

There is little point gloating – re the UN Baghdad bomb – that the terrorists have finally showed their true stripes, thus either meaning (i) these terrorists are the first to have absolutely no concept of legitimate targets; or (ii) they are just too dumb* to understand the huge gulf between the USA and the UN, including, but limited to, the fact that the USA invaded Iraq this year in the face of strenuous UN opposition.

Indeed, the irony is that the divergence in paths between the USA and the UN, although long ago set in motion, has accelerated since September 11. The psychological basis for this is not as paradoxical as it might first appear (i.e. don’t those UN-types get how close they were – and perhaps still are – to getting a passenger jet landing in their Manhattan executive office in-trays, during working hours?).

Using basic primary school playground personality-type analysis (sorry, it’s the age at which my social skills got stuck, up to this day), I can see the USA and UN are currently engaged in a quite ferocious competition called “I am the good guy!” The game is simple: both sides argue to be on the side of goodness and rightness when it comes to dealing with their claimed bailiwicks. Again, this competition is not new – the big change that September 11 wrought was that the American bailiwick suddenly expanded to the whole school playground (which domain had previously only ever been the concern of the UN).

To continue, and fill-in the school playground metaphor, the US had long been essentially happy with being the benevolent rulers of the jocks’ and popular kids’ sections (albeit with some occasional bullying forays into other areas). The nerds, ethnics and the many and various other categories of losers, meanwhile, were benevolently “ruled” (to use the term loosely) by the UN.

The trouble with occupying the high ground is that it is in short supply. Persons occupying it are thus often mistakenly called bullies, when in fact they are no more than high-ground incumbents defending themselves from competition from interlopers. Which, in a nutshell, is why Islamofascists hate the USA. And which also is why the UN has limped along as a lame duck for at least the last two decades – it has verily found a way to print title deeds for unlimited allocations of high ground, at least over areas within its bailiwick.

With the UN Baghdad atrocity, this high-ground generosity must surely now cease. The nerds (etc) have revolted – and not in a good, or even bad-80s-movie way. Under direct terrorist attack themselves, the UN must move to accept, what is for me, the most redeeming feature (and there aren’t many) of the USA’s foreign policy – that the high ground is scarce, and will always be subject to fierce competition.

Which may mean that the UN can and will suddenly become relevant, impress the hell out of everyone, and take over the USA’s current charge as watcher of the whole world – God knows that the USA (or at least its better side) would happily relinquish this role, as soon as any capable contender came along. But I think that this is a long way off, and before the UN gets any stripes, it is going to have to fight some important fires on the home front. Expelling terror-sponsoring states from its membership – with Saudi Arabia being first cab off the rank – would be a good start. And unlike George W Bush, the UN would not seem to owe Saudi Arabia any favours, large or small.

* My personal opinion is that the rumoured East Timor connection is a red-herring. Other members of Iraq's Governing Council have actually pointed to Saddam loyalists. One thing’s for sure here – there’s at least one suitable replacement for “Comical Ali” is there among the new caliphs of Iraq.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Asian immigration

No hotter button can be pressed in Australian politics than the two words “Asian immigration”. And raising the temperature still further here is the (almost never voiced) reality that the phrase itself is a euphemism, of the swept-under-the-rug variety. “Asian immigration” presumably arrived in Australia from the 1960s UK, where the phrase – understood as referring predominantly to Indian and Pakistani immigrants – clearly served a useful purpose as a neutral bridging term. In the context of Australian immigration since the mid 80s however, the omnibus phrase is redundant – most so-called “Asian” immigrants to Australia have been Chinese, either from Greater China itself, or from Chinese-identifying ethnically-discrete communities elsewhere (particularly Indonesia and Malaysia).

The only possible reason I can see for the continuing use of the euphemism, in lieu of “Chinese immigration”, is that the latter phrase may fan dormant flames of racism from decades ago, or even the last-plus-one century. There is no doubt that “Chinese” was widely used as a term and criteria of racial exclusion in the second half of the 19th century, and into the early part of the 20th. While this history of the use of the phrase is deeply shameful, surely it is now time to cut loose and cast off any vestigial demons here, and so rehabilitate use of the word “Chinese” into its ordinary meaning.

My thoughts today have been prompted by this Op Ed by Ross Gittins in today’s Age (SMH also). Gittins puts forward a plausible, although inadequately followed-through, argument that PM John Howard is playing both sides of the Asian/Chinese immigration hot-button. The stats bare this out, too – in absolute numbers, immigration is booming, and Chinese immigrants (Greater China, Indonesia and Malaysia) are 50% of the total. To which, the logical answer is “so what?” – a sentiment with which I largely concur. To talk about race and percentages in actual immigration stats is a matter of genuine public interest; to talk about the same in regard to immigration policy – future immigration intakes – is simple racist claptrap. I note in passing though, that the very-recently front-page newsworthy again Pauline Hanson campaigned against “Asian immigration” (as far as I am aware, she never used the phrase “Chinese immigration”) for the 1998 election, arguing that levels of 40% were too high.

Tonight, Pauline Hanson is more finished as a political force than ever. The Coalition has without doubt inherited her former voting constituency. Of course, this doesn’t in itself mean that John Howard is some kind of invisible, secret racist. My theory, apropos of Gittins’s article, as to how PM Howard manages to appease former One Nation types is this: he doesn’t actually talk about Asian immigration in a positive sense (nor, of course, in a negative sense). What PM Howard does judiciously talk about is “Australians of Asian (or “Chinese”) descent”. Perhaps I am reading too much into the distinction here, but I see a careful pattern emerging of PM Howard only talking about Asian/Chinese immigration as a fait accompli – as opposed to taking (future) immigration policy by the horns, and aggressively shaking it until nothing remotely racist could still be alive within it.


“Australians of Asian descent”:

“Australians of Chinese descent”:

(this last link is also interesting for another reason – it is a snapshot of the respective minds of Washington DC and PM John Howard on the evening of 10 September 2001)

Update 21 August 2003

The “Is John Howard anti-Asian?” question was a subject of some blogging action and reaction last November.

I also recommend (while only having skimmed through it) this academic article on the topic.

Finally, yesterday I unsuccessfully searched for a John Howard quote that I’d read in Judith Brett’s new book on the Liberal party. It turns out that Google is suprisingly selective (/shy?) when it comes to trawling Hansard. Today I did find the quote I wanted, using the APH’s online database. Anyway, particulary in its context – part of a statement on racial tolerance that was presumably itself in response to a “What about Hanson?” gauntlet laid a few weeks previously – PM Howard is positively gushing, but in a cringing, crescendo-of-stereotypes way:

People of the Asian communities have contributed very greatly to the enrichment of our life. They have brought their values of the extended family, they have brought their values of hard work, they have brought their values of commitment to small business and entrepreneurial flair and their infectious vigour in so many other areas to our shores.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The blatherings of Captain Obvious, Edward de Bono

Following the diminishing-circle cosmic pattern of a Village People tour c.2003, ideas-guru Edward de Bono seems to have last week stormed the pokie palaces of suburban Australia – or maybe not even that, The Age’s vox pop (same URL) with de Bono doesn’t plug even a single live appearance.

It’s a moot point then, which de Bono might be more embarrassed about: the quality of the venue (and audience?) if he did go on stage with his usual guru-shpiel, or the quality of his own ideas. My guess is the latter – the crap that de Bono is currently spouting forth is surely incapable of being believed by anyone, including the man himself.

Take this:

Australia, he said, was ideally placed as the headquarters for an international centre of ideas, in much the same way that the United Nations was set up in New York to help governments worldwide.

Yeah, right. But then again, with one million professionals having voted with their feet and left Oz for good, the ~200 member United Nations model just might work. Allow (strictly) one idea per sentient Australian, and all 200 of them can then be summonsed to a grand building specially constructed (in Canberra, of course), wherein they can then endlessly “exchange” “their” ideas, meaning haggle and horsetrade while making strenuously sure nothing ever gets implemented.

But wait – de Bono can, and does, get dumber still:

You have China on your doorstep with wages of $100 a month.

You don’t say! Who would have ever guessed that wages in China are a pittance? With hot insider information like that, Mr de Bono, you should in fact be more careful in future, so you don’t do your own good self out of a job. See, the thing is that there are about 100m Chinese middle class, all saying how dirt-cheaply their country’s workers can be bought for – and, get this – saying so for free!!

How dare they undercut you, Mr de Bono – don’t worry, though; I’m on your side! I won’t tell anyone that the global par price for your worthy advice is absolutely, sweet fuckin zilch! Not a single soul, I promise!

Office culture and officiousness

The culture of the Western office has been entirely remade in the last ten years or so, at least in terms of popular culture referents. As to whether “office culture”, as that term might be anthropologically understood, has indeed shifted, who knows? – I doubt that there is too much serious research going on in this area, so if there is a lost tribe somewhere out there, still using telexes and pools of typistes in 2003, the chances are we’ll never know.

Apart from absorbing popular culture, though, I have had a few forays myself into actual office work over the last decade – so I can assure any readers out there, anxious about an imminent possible descent into a Cultural Studies Wank, that you need not fear. This blog always has been, and always will be a “Buffy”-free zone, and while you can be a fan of this show without being a Cultural Studies player, the converse has, I believe, been scientifically proved as impossible.

Here goes reeling off some keynote referents of the pop-culture office – Dilbert, open-planning (also oxymoronically known as cubicle culture), slack workers and nightmare bosses (the latter two memorably portrayed in the British TV show “The Office”)*. From my limited working experience in offices, the above pop-culture mosaic is pretty close to the actual mark, but with one exception. Call centres, despite being physically almost identical to pop-culture’s idea of the office, culturally resemble factories. This is hardly an original observation, yet its is one that the broader public still stubbornly refuses to accept, so let me spell it out – You get “service” from call centres just like you get “quality merchandise” from the factories of China; i.e. you get what you pay (them) for, and semble, when was this ever not so?.

But back to the office ordinaire. The thought that got me writing this was an experience I had this morning, at an office tres ordinaire. It was at my Work for the Dole provider (another oxymoronic term, as it is my unpaid “work” that provides paid work, of the dig-a-hole-and-then-fill-it-back-in variety, for all of them). This morning, I presented myself at my WfD provider, as I am required to do, but was soon informed that my supervisor was sick, therefore (to paraphrase) the proceedings of the day were cancelled. Fair enough – one could hardly expect any of the six of so able-bodied people in their office today to be able to take over the highly-technical task of babysitting a few uni graduates for eight hours. And I’m sure outside locums for such tasks are in equally short supply. And maybe the regular supervisor only called in sick a few minutes before I got in, thus accounting for the provider’s otherwise lack of courtesy or common sense, in not ringing me earlier to say “Don’t come in”.

All fair enough, as I’ve said – that is, until the WfD provider’s receptionist, in bidding me off, said that I “could make it up next week”. By which I assumed that she meant I would be under some kind of obligation to submit myself for extra WfD babysitting next week. As to which my silent (of course) answer was (of course): “Like fuck!”.

I bring up the receptionist’s comment here because it strikes me as being worlds away from the modern pop-culture office. She spoke spookily from the office of another time, using the jargon of pure officiousness – that little extra dollop of mild malice, mixed with the gratuitous striving of someone ill-educated-and-trying-to-hide-it.

* Alas, despite my being on notice for having a bee in my beanie about baby boomers, I can’t help but note here, Ken Parish, that the arsehole boss in “The Office”, played by Ricky Gervais, is a boomer presiding over a wretched gang of mainly Gen X subordinates.

Update 2 September 2003

Thanks to Yobbo for his comments reminder re "Office Space". It seems that this movie has had a neatly inverse career path to the typical US white collar worker - going from underperforming box office fodder in 1999, to being a watch-and-watch again daytime "cult" hit, courtesy of 2003's couch-dwelling, unemployed ex-dotcommer legions.

Monday, August 18, 2003

North American power outage traced to dim bulb in White House

It aint a subtle article, but nor are 30-hour blackouts, affecting tens of millions of people, a light-hearted matter, particularly for a city living on a war footing. Anyone else notice that this was the first mass blackout to be conspicuously free of the "Baby bonanza due in nine months time" sort of reportage?

The next Labor PM in Australia will be a female baby boomer (Jana Wendt?)

I have absolutely no insider knowledge of politics generally, much less Jana Wendt’s career aspirations or political affiliations. I mention her name because it springs to my mind as the best-known of the “type” I have a hunch about – apart from being a female and a baby boomer, Australia’s next (or next +1) PM will have had a strong media background.

My hunch is based on drawing together two observations, one historical and one recent. The former is that the last two new-broom Labor PM’s (Whitlam and Hawke) have been “messiahs”. Whitlam, but not Hawke, rose up through the parliamentary ranks – but this seems an anachronism in the age of spin. Loudmouth policy-itinerants such as Mark Latham and Lindsay Tanner may think that their time-serving alone is going to pay off, but alas, it won’t (except – and here it’s alas for the taxpayer – in their superannuation). The next Labor PM, then is almost certainly not a current MP, but will be sat in a safe Labor seat in due course.

The other, quite recent Labor political phenomenon is that of Claire Martin, head honcho of the Northern Territory. Although it is unwise to draw too much from an election whose voter enrolment is smaller than some city councils, Martin’s August 2001 victory is striking for the paradox of its messianic tones – coming after 26 years of Country Liberal Party rule – and yet the ultra low-key figure of Ms Martin herself. Once her media background is known, however, this apparent paradox becomes much less so.

Extrapolating this – there must be a national equivalent to Claire Martin, waiting in the wings* somewhere . And if my hunch is to come true, the ultimate triumph of “PM Claire Martin II” will be to follow in the footsteps of the NT’s Claire Martin – she use her messianic mandate to change almost nothing of importance that her much more conservative predecessor had implemented. Like Tony Blair’s UK government then (and also the NT under Claire Martin), this will be a regime of pure spin and tabloid-pandering.

All this aside, I’m nowhere close to tossing my next vote at Howard as an act of despairing resignation, as Jack Strocchi seems to advocate.

* The only weak point in my theory here is that Claire Martin can be regarded as a Labor time-server herself, albeit at the lower end of the scale – she entered the NT parliament six years prior to becoming Chief Minister, by winning the seat of Fannie Bay at a by-election in June 1995.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

What my blogspot ad thinks of you, my readers

A source of mild amusement and diversion for me is the ever-changing content of my blogspot banner ad. With Blogspot now being run by Google, one would expect their ads to be “smartly” targeted, and indeed most of them are generally in the right ballpark.

Even on those occasions when Good Smart-ads Turn Bad, it doesn’t really stress me; I thus don’t have a "My TIVO thinks I'm gay" angsty moment about it all.

One of today’s offerings was just so left-field, however, I was motivated to click through (a first). It turns out that usury now has a franchise – YOU can be part of this exciting, high-growth industry, which lends money at interest rates of up to 9% a day – i.e. more than 3000% annually.

So I’ll be interested to see what my blogspot banner ad does in response to *this* post. Will I be cast as having a readership composed mainly of Shylock-ian wannabes, even more so?

John Howard's "transformation of Australia"

Today’s Age has a feature spread on the property bubble, with a particular focus on the operations of the get-rich-quick seminar promoters. While there’s not really anything new that is said (or indeed, that could be said) on the topic, there are some (unconsciously) insightful vox pops, such as these:

But now "[my dad is] on the pension, always looking for the pensioner discounts. Me, I'd like to further myself."

Mike [surname de-Googled] says he would rather his daughter did a Kaye course than go to university.

“There's no other way forward than making money."

Presumably I am a member of a small-ish minority, in finding these comments not just depressing, but scary. “Scary” because they speak a language of achievement and ambition that explicitly denigrates knowledge. Mike may well be right in thinking a university education for his children would be a poor investment (in my case, this has been spectacularly so*), but this is not really the nub of the knowledge-denigration that I’m getting at. I’m talking about a language where dumbness becomes a virtuous circle – where working-class people pay tens of thousands of dollars to hear, and believe, that Australia is (or soon will be) a new country, of landlords or losers.

This is dumb because, as emphatically one of these “losers” (late-30’s, renting, no job), I don’t see anything to fear. After five years (almost to the day) of watching the disintegration of Australian society since John Howard said (28 August 1998):

I mean, we are all about people being encouraged to get ahead (by buying four wheel drives)

I’m now resigned to my fate. Perhaps there won’t be a pension by the time I’m 65, and perhaps there won’t be a dole to see me through until then, either. So? Surely it’s not (only) my ten or so years of university education that reassures me here, that with increasing income inequality, horrifically high crime rates (and less, certainly, social revolution) will follow. And while in the third-world, small and obscenely-rich minorities have been able to effectively barricade themselves in their gilded houses, cars and workplaces, Australia’s social chasm is looking like being about a 50/50 one, numerically. Which means, quite simply, there won’t, because there can’t be any real barricades.

In summary then, to all of John Howard’s fear-mongered aspirationals – there’s no point owning even one house, much less ten, when some day you are going to get your throat slit, just for the loose change in your pocket. Think about it.

* Scroll to “Risk transfers and middle-aged Scotts of the Antarctic” Sunday, June 08, 2003, or try this link.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The gay marriage debate – strange bedfellows, indeed

There are many good and bad arguments out there in favour of – and against – recognising gay marriage through legislation. Personally, I think that most of the really bad arguments are the “anti” ones, but two wrongs (which equals, in my book, one really, really BIG wrong) still do not make a right. And it is the absence of a single compelling reason (in legal terms, the “balance of convenience”), for why gay marriage needs to be recognised in an all-or nothing sense, that makes me a fence-sitter on this one.

The gay movement has a saying that goes something like “It takes two straights to make a poof”. Correct and touché – why then, should two poofs want to, or have to, wedge themselves into the confines of an ancient straight institution, as hitherto always occupied by two straights? (Marriage wasn’t created by legislative fiat, remember). If a camel is a horse drafted by Parliament (= designed by committee), then God help us if Parliament is expected to design a gay horse. Gay horses, of course, make their own best designers; just as nature sometimes giveth – and sometimes just draweth the line. A chronic sequin shortage; restaurant cutlery always being set for right-handers – life will always bring slights, great and small, to the otherwise chosen few.

John Howard and Manildra

The two letters, from David Straface and G. McQuinn, in today’s Age sum up my ambivalence on this issue. Straface is right, particularly apropos of the “children overboard" issue – a comedy of errors (not at all in the “funny” sense, of course) and therefore not a particularly good peg to hang the hat of Daemon John Howard on.

On the other hand, McQuinn is right to allude to the difference between last week’s higher education reports scandal, in which the Howard government probably (but just) gets off being directly implicated in, and PM Howard’s out-and-out lie about meeting Manildra’s boss.

See also today’s Troppo Armadillo take on the affair - commentator James Dudek is spot-on when he notes that, however crap the Howard government is, the Crean opposition has been even lamer, in the face of what would be a paddock full of gift horses for any vaguely competent opposition.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Graeme Samuel = Jonathan Shier?

Michael West, a business journo with The Australian, does a nice bit of ante-upping today. As I am so-o-o not a business-pages buff, I’ll also take this opportunity to alert fellow business-pages novices that Michael West is NOT to be confused with Mark Westfield, also a business journo with The Australian.

Apart West’s being from being a miles-better writer (IMO) than Westfield, the latter – unlike West – is rather litigation-happy on his own account , as well as being something of a defamation magnet for his employer.

I mention the latter because it seems to show that Rupert & Co can be quite forgiving as an employer – showing a quality of mercy that Michael West may soon have to throw his own self at the feet of.

You can read West’s short, sweet and self-contained piece of ante-upping here. I don’t need to add that much myself – Graeme Samuel’s (presumably accidental) punchline is priceless; even better than that apocryphal (?) quote from the IBM CEO of a few decades ago, about there only being a world market for five-or-so computers, ever.

Graeme Samuel’s unwitting comic brilliance aside, his controversial appointment otherwise is already becoming depressing similar to that of Jonathan Shier at the ABC. By bloody-mindedly appointing “its” man in both cases, the Howard government has now guaranteed between six and 24 months of instability at the ACCC, during which time the media will, quite rightly, unremittingly mock Samuel. For his part, Samuel's only joy will be the chance to take a few minnows out before he, the big whale, is inevitably beached.

I only hope that West, as an obvious pioneer of the Mocking of Samuel, doesn’t get taken out as such a minnow. Not that I’m saying that he’s a minnow in the journalistic sense . . . but, you get what I mean. As to West’s journalistic prowess, here’s another example. This piss-funny column also provides the answer to what Paul Watson is doing furtively trawling the business pages, anyway. It’s not that I’m some kind of a perv getting off on the latest oil futures indices, or otherwise loitering with prurient gaze, I swear – I’m actually browsing there with completely wholesome intent.

Update 14 August 2003

Today’s Australian editorial manages to stand by its man, while still making some conciliatory gestures towards Graeme Samuel*. I’ve also fixed the previous misspelling/pluralisation of Samuel’s and Shier’s names. (I don’t know what came over me yesterday – I must have a latent fixation on ess-apostrophe-ess constructions)

* URL valid for 14 August 2003 only.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Amrozi and the death penalty

This issue has been white hot in the opinion pages and on blogs for a few days now. Over which time I’ve become increasingly surprised that my own POV on the topic seems to be held by no one else. Oh well, here goes, anyway . . .

My views are this: there’s a WAR on, people. Even in wartime, there are, of course, lots of nice-sounding, supposed international “laws” saying what can and can’t be done. These were almost all drafted in the aftermath of WWII – an optimal time indeed, for coming up with high-minded statements of principle. Further, by making war so abstract and … well, reasonable, printing up hefty tomes of international laws may well have served a valuable innoculatory function, inasmuch as no one dared to (effectively) declare war on the West for almost six decades after the end of WWII. You know – “War? Isn’t that that dreary business we learnt about in between Organisational Effectiveness and Change Management?”

As a matter of nut’s’bolts, then, I reckon that the Amrozi argument is not even currently on the right spectrum (think AM vs FM). “The death penalty – ooh aah!” I always thought that the whole fucking point of war was to kill people – or be killed. I could kinda understand if the Amrozi argument was about torture – in addition, of course, to death. Torture is, I’m pretty sure, against The Rules – and probably quite correctly so. Nonetheless, I would be most happy to lend my hand, quite literally, to Amrozi’s torture should the opportunity arise – and I wouldn’t have a qualm in the world about doing so.

In case I’m shocking anyone here, I should add that there is absolutely no way that I would have said, or thought, anything like this before September 11. The greatest tragedy of all of that day, IMO, is that it would have “only” resulted in about 300 deaths, if the passengers on the first three planes that were hijacked had not been so reasonable about their plights. In other words, islamofascist terrorism can (and must) be beaten – but only once it is realised that there are no Rules whatsoever (their call, of course). It’s a fight to the death – and that’s it.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Australia to invade Indonesia?

I don’t think so, but if I were an Indonesian who saw the map accompanying this story in today’s Oz, I’d be mightily miffed. The map (hardcopy only) could either be termed laughably (perhaps in the Amrozi “funny ha ha (NOT)” sense) incompetent, or else diplomatically reckless.

It shows the Indonesian island of Roti, correctly to scale, a short distance from the provincial capital of Kupang, West Timor. However, the map also shows Roti as bisected by the current (agreed in 1972) Indonesian/Australian border. And not even quite bisected, either: it is actually more like the southern two-thirds (which are the best bits, I can attest) of Roti that have apparently been ceded to, or grabbed by Australia.

Women Who Want Their Radios to be Male-Only

If I was a man, in 2003, listening as part of a sizeable gendered majority to a 100 year-old medium that had always been dominated by female presenters, a fact that had hardly changed in 30+ years of equal opportunity law (that’s L-A-W), I would *not* “investigate” this. And absolutely, especially not when the main reason for the road-block towards a 50/50 male/female presenter ratio was the attitudes of other *men*

I would just switch off – it couldn’t be simpler. Or more effective.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Memo to those on the dole – what a typical Centrelink employee really thinks of you

Because The Age on Sundays (aka The Sunday Age) still persists with the curious fiction of its being a standalone masthead, correspondence on previous Sunday stories can only get a run on a Sunday. Which means a lengthy, one-week wait, to follow-up (rare) “hot” stories, such as last week’s dole survival story.

But, oh how it was worth the wait – this time. Look at this marvellously poisonous missive (scroll down) from one Dee Candlish. Now although she doesn’t directly admit as much, it seems fairly clear to me that Ms Candlish is a Centrelink employee, and as such, has taken some of “Jean’s” points very personally.

Behind Ms Candlish’s dripping sarcasm (itself, of course, another tell-sign of her being a Centrelink employee) is the Truth That Dare Not Speak its Name – even “Jean” only hints at it. This unspeakable Truth is, quite simply, that if meritocracy in employment outcomes worked in even the most perfunctory way, then the tables would have to be turned on so many Centrelink (and Job Network etc) officer/customer interactions.

In other words, yeah, I know that working for Centrelink (/Job Network etc) would often be stressful, and that it is not particularly well-paid. But Ms Candlish, if you ever think that a goodly chunk of you customer base is not immediately capable of going behind your little laminated counter, and doing your job just as well as, or better than you, then you are sadly deluded.

And Ms Candlish, if you think that a Labor government would change a thing here, then it is high time that you took a holiday, and a long one at that. Actually, why not make it permanent?

Friday, August 08, 2003

Contracting out – When the shit spun by corporate vultures comes back to haunt them

Tenix Solutions is a little-known, new (founded 1997) company whose specialty is “the provision of end-to-end traffic enforcement and parking management services”. The former means that they run Victoria’s (among elsewhere, it would seem) lucrative traffic camera operations. The latter – as you may have guessed – has nothing to do with providing commercial “parking services”, as that term would be generally understood. Rather, it means that Tenix Solutions provide parking fine “services” for local councils.

It sure beats me why the average local council would need the services of (a subsidiary of) “Australia's largest defence and technology contractor” to slap a few pink tickets on a few windscreens – I mean, it’s not rocket science, nor even anything as hi-tech and hi-finance (Not!) as raising revenue by photographing car numberplates. Be that as it may, at least one Melbourne council – Stonnington, centred on the ritzy suburb of Toorak – has bought the Tenix sales pitch:

Tenix Solutions has an impressive record of successfully partnering with the Public [sic] sector to identify and solve complex social problems and public policy issues.

Oh yeah? So when it comes to that case-in-a-thousand, when slapping of a pink ticket actual DOES involve a “problem” and/or “issue”, what does the collective genius of Tenix do?

Either leaves a man to die, or tickets a dead man, that’s what.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

FOUND: the Vatican’s “smoking gun” on clerical paedophilia

Clerical paedophilia, particularly in the Catholic Church, has been a significant public scandal, more or less continually, since the early 1980s. It is reasonable to suppose that the actual incidence of this crime has also significantly decreased since about the early 1980s (although I say this with a caveat – the long lead time, akin to mesothelioma’s incubation period, for many of the current batch of claims, may be a sui generis aspect to the reporting of the crime, rather than a year-of-crime-irrespective reportage “clustering” phenomenon).

The importance of charting a peak in the incidence of clerical paedophilia is double-sided. More obviously and understandably, it contains the crime (“contains” here in an innocent sense) – by the acts being mostly in the past, the present can be more effectively devoted to making reparations (aka “Towards Healing”), while not, of course, admitting that the passage of time has dulled the affect of the crime on its victims. A high level of present suspicion, in contrast, would be incredibly toxic – for the conduct of the “healing” process, and much more importantly, for the very survival of the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world.

An early 1980s peak can alternatively be invoked to deflect the crime of clerical paedophilia, by blaming it on the supposed exceptionalism of social mores between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. Even accepting the existence as fact of social liberalism as an infectious, noxious agent in the post-Vatican II weakened Church, I (and I would assume, many others) cannot rationally comprehend how such a force could have undermined ordinary individual standards of moral autonomy. Still less could I (until I read this today) understand how the institutional Catholic Church could even broach such an ostensible link.

In case it is not clear what such a link means at the morality coalface, I'll spell it out now – paedophiles are as much victims of the liberal society as much as anyone else. A pretty sick argument, indeed – but a point nonetheless made by Archbishop George Pell, albeit in an oblique way, I should note. For a direct, bulls-eye invocation of the same argument by a senior political figure, see this.

With today’s revelations that a 1962 Vatican policy – apparently in force until quite recently – instructed total secrecy in cases of sex abuse by priests, the “out there” arguments of the Pells of this world now make considerably more sense. Clerical paedophilia was not long hidden/deflected because it was thought trivial, nor (probably) because it went to the Church’s highest levels, so giving blackmailers’ general immunity to its foot-soldier practitioners. Rather, Church paedophilia was caught in a loop of anachronistic secrecy.

The 1962 policy did not start out as a licence for paedophile clerics – although clearly, by the 1970s, it had become one. As a product of its time, the 1962 policy was mostly unexceptional – the prejudice that blanket secrecy would impose on victims of abuse is shocking by today’s standards, but not completely out of whack with mid-20th century haute paternalism. Presumably, the policy’s secrecy, even as to its existence, was also justified by the anticipated rarity of its invocation – like the rite of exorcism, some things clerical may well be best left as medieval-esque last resorts for the otherwise inexplicable (and unforgivable).

It was the 1962 policy’s secrecy, however, that was to quickly overwhelm its original intents. Never mind the admittedly changing social mores on the outside of the clerical ramparts; the licence had come from within. All that the sexual revolution et al did was to postpone the Church’s day of reckoning. Like a Bill passed in the last hours of a government about to lose office, the 1962 policy was soon to reek of Bad Law. Not that the Catholic Church had planned as much, at least in a precise, Machiavellian way. More likely, it was something simply overlooked, amid all the Vatican II optimism and momentum. It was thus left to the mealiest of senior Church mouths, like Archbishop George Pell, to take their revenge on Church modernisation by clinging on to a policy that had long since become evil (in any ordinary use of the word) – and then even to slyly half-confess their complicity, by the tried-and-true technique of blaming the Other.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Crikey outs Hillary Bray

Well, very nearly almost. Stephen Mayne & Co have let this drop:

“In fact the audience is here," [Tim Blair] joked, failing to mention the banning of Crikey who was a loyal if somewhat embarrassed listener given that our Hillary Bray was involved in the ["The Continuing Crisis"] show [on ABC Radio National in 2001].

Proving that even Google does have its limits, the involvement of a prime suspect – the left-leaning producer of "The Continuing Crisis"* is easily corroborated, via Tim Blair himself – only without any cyber-trace of the actual producer’s name.

If I had any ABC contacts, finding out this name would be two phone calls away, at most. As things stand though, I’ve got no choice but to serve my scoop up slightly prematurely – and so necessarily wonder whether the identity of Hillary Bray may not have all along been a private school boys’ secret society/in-joke type of thing. Certainly, Blair’s coyness about naming his producer, back in May, dovetails seamlessly with Crikey’s recent shameless coquetry, in its Hillary Bray showing the ordinary punters a peek (but no more) under her skirts.

* a double-act-plus-guests show featuring Tim Blair and Imre Salusinszky.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Don’t just muzzle charities – put ‘em down

Is last week’s proposal to muzzle charities and church “groups” (but not churches per se) from engaging in political debate a craven piece of looking-down-the-barrel-of-the gun style politicking?

Yes, of course. But do I care? Nup.

This isn’t because I don’t believe that Treasurer Costello’s moves don’t set a dangerous – and new – precedent. Rather, my last year of (many-on-one) personal experiences with the “not for profit” sector has convinced me that most of them operate in shocking accountability vacuums. In such a sense, Costello’s proposals don’t go far enough – but naturally enough, there is no hint of a threat coming from Costello, towards the various degradations upon humanity coldly practised by charities and church groups in active complicity with government policies.

I wasn’t going to blog on this topic until a few developments on the weekend: this dole survival story; a job ad to fill a senior Salvation Army Employment Plus position, and reading this blog posting (link via Ken Parish). And of these three triggers, I must admit that it was really the Slavos (sorry, Salvos) job ad that got me firing).

Unfortunately, the ad, for "State Marketing Co-ordinator" (The Age 2 August 2003) doesn’t seem to be online, so I can only reproduce here my (subjective) view of its highlights. These are (and remember that Salvation Army Employment Plus presumably regards itself as well within the not for profit sector (not that the ad mentions this)):

“[We are] committed to building a challenging & rewarding work environment and a competitive salary package will be offered”


“You will need . . . demonstrated ability to produce effective, creative brand and retail work on tight budgets”

How charming. If you’re interested in the job, incidentally, you’ll need to go through this agency, which – funnily enough – seems to mainly specialise in executive “outplacement”.

A topic which neatly segues into the dole survival story I mentioned above. You can read it for yourself, but if you’re only interested in the money shot, here it is: the pseudonymous diarist – a 54 y.o. PhD and ex-academic/business executive – when trying to get volunteer “work”* gets told this, and by Which Charity themselves:

She said the Salvos would give me 32 hours of volunteer work a fortnight [but only] if I wanted to work in a sheltered workshop sorting clothes or in a call centre asking for donations.

Again, how utterly charming – and reason enough, I would suggest, for anyone to NEVER give the Salvation Army a cent when they next come asking.

Finally, the blog I mentioned above goes into the legal nitty-gritty of what Costello is really up to. The only aspect that this blogger overlooks is that, as I alluded to at the start, nothing that Costello is planning will affect the “advancement of religion” leg of what constitutes a charity (one of four such legs, the other three being for the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, or for other public benefit purposes). As the 1983 High Court case recognising Scientology as a bona fide religion, and therefore a charity, found (or established?), as long as you're advancing something, the particular brand of religion being promulgated in a tax-free way can be as cynical and twisted as you like - as cunning and ruthless as Costello, and the Slavos.

* For over-50’s unemployed, such unpaid “work” can satisfy the activity test, in lieu of actually looking for paid work.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Why won’t the RBA put up interest rates next week?

It sure beats me. The last couple of days have seen a rush of quasi-bad news headlines on interest rates vis a vis the Reserve Bank’s next meeting. This “bad” news is that interest rates are unlikely to go down! For whom is this a bad thing, then?

For starters, it’s certainly not bad news for me, nor for the other 28% of Australians who are renters. Like many renters, I would like to own my own place, but I have Buckley’s in the current price bubble environment. I would also equally have Buckley’s chance if mortgage lending rates were 17%, as they were in 1989. Out of these two evils (albeit they aren’t, of course, mutually exclusive), I strongly lean towards a pinpointed pricking of the bubble – which in turn should be achievable by raising rates by a relatively modest net amount.

Although Gen Xrs locked out of the property market have from time to time received sympathetic plight-pointing-out in the nation’s opinion pages, almost no one (the main exception is here, in Ken Parish’s blog) has bluntly advocated the most feasible and effective remedy for this situation – the stepped raising of interest rates by (I’m guessing) a total increment of three to five per cent.

Electoral backlash to such a rate rise is certain, but here’s the statistical rub – the 28% of Australians who rent are basically dead level with the 29% of Australians with mortgages (2001 census). The remaining 42%, who own their homes outright, would presumably not barrack with the renters when it comes to pricking the price bubble, but they are equally far from being in the same boat as those with mortgages – when (and if) the rate rise comes, home owners’ wallets won’t feel a thing.

So why is this 29% minority being so indulged? One possible answer is fairly obvious – the very term “mortgage belt” is synonymous with swinging electorates. Renters, in contrast, not only generally live in safe seats; they mostly (I would guess) live in safe seats of one party colour only – Labor.

Which fact – rather than supposed Gen X apathy – probably best explains PM Howard’s aggressive courting of the mortgage belt, despite their untaxed windfall profits being at the direct expense of Gen Xrs such as myself. Electorally, we have been subtly gerrymandered to the point of invisibility – and thus fucked over by both major parties.

Political pressures on him aside, Reserve Bank Governor Ian Macfarlane seems to be on the side of Gen Xrs. As he put it in an April 2003 speech:

rising [house] prices "make those next in the queue poorer . . . A significant rise in the real price of housing . . . makes some people better off at the expense of their children".

The dearth of current headlines flagging a rate rise, then (even in contrast to May 2003) marks a new high-water mark of obliviousness to this inter-generational fault-line. Nor, as Macfarlane’s comments could be interpreted, is this fault-line an intra-family one, capable of being resolved through voluntary wealth transfer, inter vivos or by inheritance. Given that baby boomers, already “the richest population in history” are probably yet to reach their inheritance bonanza peak, some other form of massive wealth shakedown – voluntary or otherwise – is going to have to take place long before the boomers get sent off in their pink catafalques, or otherwise fritter it all away in the meantime.

Update 4 August 2003

When the Reserve Bank board meets tomorrow, they won't be able to pretend that they missed this implicit threat today from PM John Howard - to not raise interest rates, however much economic prudence would warrant such a move. While ostensibly Howard was referring to the Productivity (sic) Commission inquiry, his RBA meeting-eve timing, and his oxymoronic reference to "valuable" tinkering at the margins leaves no doubt that the RBA's hands are tied.

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