Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Sex education and Murphy's Law

The first edition of The Joy of Sex – apparently – is illustrated throughout with the same, extremely hirsute man. I can vaguely recall extreme (male) hairy-ness being briefly fashionable in the early 70s. The misfortune of The Joy of Sex to have been published during this brief window of fashion error is, I theorise, doomed to be replicated whenever well-meaning sex education is attempted.

Hence, these pictures from Victoria’s “new” sex-ed program for years 9 and 10 classes, “Catching On”. Oh lordy lord. To be fair to my scientific premise – let’s call it The Joy of Sex curse – the hilariousness of the images from “Catching On” can be at least partially explained by their having sat on the shelf for six years or more. But still, even if the images were freshly-minted, I’m convinced that the JoS curse would have resulted in something at least as bad as the Two Built Poofs Mills-and-Boon cover, or the very non M&B chicken-chested man – replete with the inevitable surfeit of hair – in the Ordinary Man and Woman photo.

Hey, I’m 40 and I’m still sniggering at the pictures as I write this. I wish the poor schoolteachers who are going to have to use them the best of luck – if they can suppress their own giggles, then they’ll be 1% of the way there.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Ruth Dunkin – would things have been different had she been male?

Certainly, Dunkin herself seems to think so. And as I’ve pointed out here last year, “Crikey” did get rather carried away on her case. (At the time of writing, “Crikey” was yet to do a Dunkin post-mortem, although the intervening election announcement could be pleaded in defence).

Based on the deplorable financial figures, though, Dunkin seems to have been actually treated lightly by the media. Only a few months after pulling a $14.9 million net operating surplus out of the hat, it was announced that RMIT’s budget was right back to its familiar situation of recent years – a deficit in the tens-of-millions of dollars.

This time, a decline in international student demand was said to be the reason. It must have indeed been some decline – coming in the middle of the academic year, and resulting in a net turnaround of about $40m (= 2,000 pax, at $20k each per annum).

Three letters to the editor in today’s Age draw some cautionary tales around the international student industry issue.

In the end, though, I suspect that this nebulous factor – relevant to almost all Australian universities – will prove only a footnote in the real story of Ruth Dunkin’s demise, akin to a gambling addict blaming a faulty ATM which, by preventing his/her umpteenth withdrawal for the night, caused a spiral of losses at the playing table and other consequent miseries . Wildly oscillating finances smell to high heaven, and the taxpaying public has a right to now demand a full investigation into what really has gone on at RMIT under Dunkin’s disastrous stewardship.

To the polls

For the first time in a long time, I’m a little bit excited about the upcoming election. I live in “safe Labor” inner-Melbourne seat, with a local member who’s a time-serving tool. I know nothing about the Liberal candidate, but I’m confident enough in my assessment of major party bipartisanship to, come October 9, be giving the Libs my second preference – with the Greens getting the first.

Unwittingly confirming my bipartisanship theory, Anne Summers writes today:

For the first time since at least 1996, there is real choice. None of the "me-tooism" that Kim Beazley offered last time. There are clear policy differences on issues such as the management of the US alliance, ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, child care and the income level at which tax cuts apply.

All four of which “issues” grip me like a used condom.

The reason for my excitement is that the Greens actually have a realistic chance of getting over the line this time. In 2001, they came within 3.6% of second place in my electorate – if they can get there this time, the distribution of preferences should do the rest.

Not that I’m especially rah-rah for the Greens, mind you. It's an irony, given that many of my fellow Greens voters (and especially affluent boomers) will be voting that way primarily because of disaffection the major parties’ handling of the refugee issue. For me, the exact opposite is true – refugee policy and Iraq are the very areas in which I have significant disagreement with Greens policies. But I’ll just grit my teeth here, when it comes to polling day. However, were I enrolled in Bennelong, there’s no way I could bring myself to vote for Andrew Wilkie – a self-important boomer idiot, cum poor-man’s version of a Peter Garrett celebrity candidate blow-in.

Geoff Honnor, being a typical Sydney-sider, dismisses the Greens chances nationally through the prism of their chances in inner Sydney. Don’t know much about Tanya Plibersek, but hell would freeze over before I voted for Anthony Albanese (his apparent enthusiasm for gay marriage notwithstanding). As Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Training, Albanese has been a complete soft-touch – making me strongly suspect that a for-the-aspirationals Latham government would have an even nastier punishing-the-unemployed (and rewarding the private “welfare” lobby to do the job) policy than the 1996-2004 Howard government.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

NewMatilda.com – a review

Just as I – among others – feared months ago, this new, supposedly diverse online mag is just another boomer-monoculture vehicle.

Despite boomer editor Natasha Cica’s efforts to spin it to the contrary – "We have a very good spread in terms of age as well, which ranges from about 24 to 70-plus" – GenX is almost invisible in the line-up of the first-issue.

The (token) “about 24” year old, is presumably the supremely vacuous, self-described generation Y-er, Marni Cordell: “As a cohort we represent the biggest buying power since the Boomers”. I’m sure you do, Marni – so why don’t do take your over-sized buying power off with you to some quiet place, and go fuck yourself with it?

In terms of the (probably) two articles written by Xers, one is by the definitely 30-something Oz male journo George Megalogenis, who has developed a specialty subject over the last year or so of how GenX women are leaving everyone else – and especially GenX men – behind in their wake. While I suspect that there may be some empirical truth here, the argument sure looks strange when it is repeatedly, and only, made by a man.

Proving my point here, the other probable Xer-written article is by “Sydney writer and lawyer” Kate Horrocks, who muses – mildly – about the excesses of a lavishly re-furbished shopping mall in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Not sure what her point is, but clearly Megalogenis could count her article as his supporting evidence exhibit # 10000001 – (token) GenX women scores the precious column bandwidth, with lack of anything to say being no apparent barrier. (In fairness to Horrocks, the airheaded-ness of her article was presumably either expected or demanded by editor Cica – we wouldn’t want Xers to be actually expressing opinions, would we?)

Correction 16 October 2004

Marni Cordell emails me that NewMatilda editor Cica is 36, and so hardly a boomer. Point taken. Marni also informs me that she was being intentionally ironic in the above quote – I’ll leave it to my readership to decide this one.

NewMatilda has also just decided to become subscription based, so copying the late Zeitgeist Gazette’s business model for doomed-to-fail webzines.

Can John Quiggin please tell Clive Hamilton to put a sock in it?

John Quiggin has repeatedly disavowed the case for special pleading on behalf of GenX; most recently in an article in the AFR Magazine*. Presumably, John’s logic also extends to GenX not being susceptible to special vilification. If so, then John surely has a duty to speak out against the increasingly strident pronouncements being made – most recently in the same AFR Magazine article – by his age-peer, and sometime fellow academic, Clive Hamilton.

Clive writes:

“In a way, Generation X is the blank space between the far more interesting baby boomers and Generation Y,” quips Hamilton. “X never really seem sure of who they really are or what they stand for.” He predicts that Y will prove trickier for employers by exacerbating trends already started by X.

. . . Hamilton also predicts that Y will fully embrace the trend started by Xers towards renting for life and moving away from family to inner-city centres. For many in Generation Y, a mortgage will be way beyond them. That will have profound implications for employers as they won’t be rooted to any one place.”

As to how can a generation simultaneously be both uninteresting “blank space” and yet selfish and socially destructive, Clive seems to have learnt a thing or two from 1930s German politics. But fascist vilification techniques 101 isn’t Clive’s only specialty – being economically irrational, and dangerously so, is right up there too.

For Generation Y and property ownership, Clive envisions a continuation of the GenX (although more so for those who went to university, and much less so for buying-in-their-20s tradespeople) status quo – high property prices will make them renters for life. Here, Clive could well be accurate – although I hope that he’s not, for the sake of the nation’s social stability. For his part, though, Clive’s only foreseen consequence of the imminent end of majority home ownership in Australia is that it will be “trickier” and “have profound implications” for employers (!), as the new labour pool will be more geographically flexible. Leaving aside the dubiousness of the assumption Clive makes – that home-renting strongly correlates with a willingness and financial ability to up-stakes – the profundity of this change, as well as it assumed negativity for employers, is simply risible in the broader scheme of things.

Just to be clear about the implications here: Clive is merrily dreaming up an Australia that closely resembles apartheid-era South Africa, only age, not “race” is the basis for the declaration and enforcement of a permanent economic underclass. Even richer, GenX and their shiftless and trouble-making ways, are/will be held to blame for this.

Therefore, as to why Clive Hamilton is not being given the appropriate cold shoulder by the academic (and especially the Left) establishment, please explain, John Quiggin.

* Fiona Carruthers “Generation Xcluded” AFR Magazine 27 August 2004 (no URL)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

It’s a small world – meika’s “tip shop” hits the headlines

The story of meika the proud – and aren’t we all – dolebludger’s tip shop is set out here (March 6) and here.

Not sure about the “mondragon style co-op” finer details (assuming that meika’s founding managerial imprimatur remains), but I doubt that the tip shop (which has not so far commented) can be too-much blamed in the circumstances.

The scenario, I imagine, went like this. A Hobart cop made a Port Arthur compilation tape for private purposes; eight years later, he throws it in the ordinary rubbish – as he probably shouldn’t have – but hey, what are the odds?

Thanks to tip shops, though, “the odds” – of the tape’s seeing the light of day – are much higher than one might think. The tape was presumably extracted, in good faith, from the general rubbish, so it could be sold for a trifle as a de facto blank tape.

The tip shop didn’t “do” it. The careless cop who threw out the tape should, of course, carry some of the blame. But the majority of the blame should rest on the shoulders of the stupid bint who took the whole thing public. She bought a de facto blank tape for ten cents. When this tape turned out to have content that offended/concerned her, she had a number of options – not least of which was to return the tape to the tip shop for (I’m assuming) a full refund, while making the suggestion that the shop then over-tape its contents (Presumably the doing of such an act was beyond her own self – technically or otherwise).

While on the topic of dolebludgers, “Dole Diary” is a site that I’ve been following for some time. Kept by a fellow Melbourne bloke, this entry on defying death is gold (with a trace of hemlock thrown in). And RIP, too, to Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who was my pin-up hero when I was 15 (don’t ask).

Friday, August 27, 2004

Spamming for Daddy – what "the future of this country is all about"

The news is breaking on PM’s son Tim Howard and his company Net Harbour being employed to spam voters in Daddy’s seat of Bennelong.

Spamming for electoral purposes in not – unfortunately – illegal, despite recently beefed-up anti-spamming laws.

This aside, the revelations still allow plenty to play with:

"I'm very proud of the fact that my son has started a small business in his 20s and I get a real buzz out of the fact that he's prepared to have a go in small business," Mr Howard said.

The commercial marketplace in which Tim Howard’s company operates is set out here (PDF) (an AFR clipping conveniently provided on Net Harbour’s own website, in apparent breach of AFR copyright). In brief, the marketplace is solely comprised of software (more technically, ASP) “dealerships” – none of the sold product is Australian intellectual property. With most of the software/ASP multinationals also having their own, direct retail channels, it is also a highly-competitive industry.

At best, Net Harbour possesses some kind of local sub-license – the exclusive Australian license is held by Net Return (an apparently unrelated company) – to on-sell some American software (not that Tim even intimates on his own website that his company is not the developer of that which it sells).

PM Howard is thus not being an overly-gruff and pessimistic dad when he calls Tim’s company a small business. Non-exclusively selling just one product, which comes entirely from a (foreign) company many times one’s own size, is not a recipe for founding a business dynasty.

For this reason, despite spamming (unsolicited bulk email) being quite a way removed from Net Harbour’s advertised suite of software services for business**, Tim can perhaps be admired as a prototypical MBA casebook study in lateral business diversification.

As Dad says, at least he’s “[having] a go” – and, in contrast to Tim’s competitor, as well as necessary middle-man, Net Return – Tim’s company has not been on the Australian taxpayer teat, AFAIK. (Net Return has so far received $125k (PDF) from publicly-funded venture capital house ADI, and is said to be looking for more – despite its only intellectual property seemingly being the license it has purchased).

On a related note, if an October federal election is called this weekend, my sentimental preference is for it to be held on 2 October. This is the night of Sleaze Ball, which is an annual poofter party of equal size to Sydney’s better-known Mardi Gras dance party; only without the parade component. Poofs with long and vengeful memories – a grouping which surely can’t consist of just me (?) – will recall that PM Howard came into power on Mardi Gras night, in March 1996. While personally, I’m too poor and too Melbourne to be able to appreciate this possible symmetry on the ground/dance-floor (assuming that Howard will go down on the night), even its vicarious enjoyment would be enough to warm the cockles of my little (and, just like PM-as-Dad, I’m genuinely not underestimating my own organ here) heart.


* Re-reading the AFR clipping, I realise that I was incorrect to state that Net Harbour and Net Return were unrelated companies. In fact, Net Return founders Phil Kiely and Stuart McLean are co-funders (along with Brad Lancken) of Tim Howard’s Net Harbour, and Phil Kiely is also Net Harbour’s chairman.

Because of this funding link, I was also incorrect to assume that Net Harbour, and so Tim Howard, have not been on the taxpayer teat. It is a fair assumption that some of Net Return’s $125k from ADI has trickled down to Net Harbour. In any case, I emphasise my astonishment that Australian taxpayers are funding outfits whose core business is simply re-selling foreign-owned and developed intellectual property.

** At the time of writing, Net Harbour’s website has been expunged of all references to its "ePolitics" operation.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Orange Grove shopping centre

If nothing else, the present state of play in this case indicates Sydney’s third-world level of legal system and governmental probity. No that’s not a sly cheap-shot about convicts and rum, etc – whatever has happened in the past, being third-world is a simple, frank assessment of the here and now.

The facts, as I understand them, are that the Liverpool Council of the time illegally gave planning permission to Orange Grove developer (and now landlord) Gazcorp. Gazcorp was presumably aware of the irregular (or “corrupt”, if you prefer) status of its planning permission – its lobbying network at one time included political assassin Phuong Ngo. Therefore, I think that Gazcorp’s legal case based on its planning permission being rescinded after the whole thing was built (which in ordinary circumstances would be an outrage, of course) can/should be thrown out of court, without any fuss at all.

Conversely, the Orange Grove lessees, and their employees, all – unless the contrary can be shown – set up in the centre in good faith. Apparently, lessee legal action against Liverpool Council and Gazcorp is still only nascent, while similar action by centre shop employees has not even been talked about, AFAIK. As to why this is so, I’m mystified. The Orange Grove lessees and employees appear to have an extremely straightforward – and in monetary terms, massive – case, in particular against Liverpool Council.

Pre-empting this taxpayer*-funded compensation payout to the innocent victims of Orange Grove should surely be the Carr government’s current number one priority. The earlier it gets sorted out, the much lower the lawyer’s cut will be.

In addition, by realistically costing the likely total compensation payout now, an alternative might emerge – that it would be cheaper to pay out Westfield (and presumably a number of other commercial “rivals” of Orange Grove that might come out of the woodwork) for genuine losses caused by Orange Grove's trading on. That is, keeping the centre open may actually minimise the damage for taxpayers, while at the same time duly recognising that Westfield (and others?) have suffered economic loss by planning rules being flouted.

For this to be a sustainable long-term solution, Westfield’s damages claim would have to be kept on a tight, and once-and-for-all leash. Since Westfield holds a large-shopping-centre near-monopoly in many Australia cities – an arrangement which seems to have attracted surprisingly little regulatory scrutiny – a bit of the old regulator’s blowtorch on this sore spot should assist Westfield in behaving reasonably here.

Finally, if Orange Grove is allowed to re-open/trade-on, this should by no means be confused with giving Gazcorp’s principals a Get Out of Jail Free card (literally or metaphorically). Indeed, “saving” Orange Grove – in the taxpayer’s best interests, and no one else’s – would have to be done under the expectation that Gazcorp would get what’s coming to it (under a first-world legal-system), and no less. The consequent divestment (I’m assuming) of Orange Grove by Gazcorp to a Westfield competitor – and, for once, honest player – would also add an additional layer of virtue to the whole arrangement. Probably not legally, but certainly in the moral sense, ownership of this whole fiasco can be laid at Westfield’s door – its unhealthy monopoly led, tit-for-tat, to an unhealthy (and in fact, criminal) competitor.

* I’m assuming that the size of the payout is going to be well-beyond the collective means of Liverpool’s ratepayers (certainly, no conceivable insurance policy would be coming to the Council’s rescue here).

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Sally Robbins overboard and the class divide

Fact: women’s rowing in Australia is a sport for Hooray Henrys. Men’s rowing has plenty of ‘em hanging around the waterside clubhouse – by definition a real estate anomaly, and therefore something that must be frequented and defended by a certain breed – but for the most part, the blazer set are prepared to just let elite male rowers, whatever their background, row.

In contrast, the class divide in women’s rowing sticks out like a boat-shoe in a gay bar. I should note at this point that I have no special knowledge of Australian rowing, or indeed of any sport whatsoever (in fact, I believe that this might be my very-first sport related post in two and a bit years of blogging). But isn’t amateurism some kind of a good thing in sport, anyway? More seriously, the blanket media coverage of the recent Sally Robbins allows me – well, I maintain it does – to “go there” without ever, ahem, dipping my oar.

The nub is this. What no one seems to have mentioned – to my great surprise – is that Sally Robbins is a preppy-looking and sounding thing, while her team-mates, at a glance, appear to have walked off the set of “Neighbours” circa 1987. The team captain has a dyed-blond poodle perm, and the team’s outspoken “villain” is called Kyeema-something – presumably a variation on the name of the NSW coastal town caravan park where she was conceived.

I don’t mean to be cruel. Sport is, as it should be, a way for strongly-motivated people with nothing else going for them (like brains or background) to make it to the top. Male and female sport is thus full of Kyeemas, as I understand things. Hooray Henrys will sometimes make it to elite level as well, but this usually won’t disrupt the team/sport from being one big happy family. Hooray Henriettas may pose more of a problem, however.

Most likely because of ingrained sexism ands class-ism on the part of Australia’s stuffed-shirt, all-male rowing elders (after about 50 y.o., “Hooray Henrys” become Henry High-Pants’s) well-bred girls are apparently discouraged from seriously pursuing rowing as a career; i.e. past their early 20s. Don’t get me wrong – rowing at school and uni is more than fine both for a female and for their Henrys. After all, it gives all those almost-coxless High-Pantsers something to linger around at the boatshed for. But as a career for their post-uni daughters, the Henrys say “no” to them rowing – and so, Hello Kyeema.

The above is mostly speculation, of course. But one does have to wonder when one looks at the break-down of pro-Sally Robbins (and especially, anti- her team-mates) and anti-Sally Robbins letters to the editor in today’s broadsheets.

The Age and the Australian both lead with the same strongly pro-Sally letter from 1960s Olympic rower, and now judge (and so, presumed Henry High-Pants) Paul Guest. Very similar sentiments are then expressed in The Age by letters from blue-ribbon Glen Iris, and yuppie inner-city Port Melbourne, with the only Age letter unequivocally bagging Sally coming from a battling Belmont, a suburb of Geelong.

In the Australian, the pro-Sally tally includes letters from swish South Yarra, Mt Eliza and Toowong. The Henry-est High-Pants letter of all comes from Kambah (Canberra) – an anomalous city where all suburbs, apart from a few streets in Forrest, are homogenous shit-holes – and indignantly reminds all us swill of the drama of the great 1961 Oxford vs Cambridge boat race. Ah, so that explains it.

Finally, the SMH contains mostly centrist letters on the issue: i.e. “it’s only a game”, or “the real culprit is surely Australian rowing’s administration”. But reassuringly, Sydney does have a reasonable quota of Henrys – a lead letter bagging Sally’s team-mates emanates from pricey Randwick, while a fellow collapse-prone female athlete writes in sympathy, from gorgeous, harbour-side Mosman. If whoops-a-daisy! Belinda Halloran is indeed a self-sustaining “professional ironman triathlete” then my congratulations, but I strongly suspect that one or more Henrys may have the same dampening involvement in her career as in that of Sally Robbins – “C’mon Bell/Sal, you don’t seriously expect to be rowing at 30, like Typhphaniii*?”

Update 26 August 2004

Ken Parish calls me dubiously coherent, and for once, I agree with him. So I’ll try to summarise my necessarily-convoluted position (“necessarily” because I’m avoiding declaring my own class-position – very unsporting, I know, but what do you expect from a grown man who throws a tennis/cricket ball, and makes a fist, like a girl?).

To paraphrase Wilde – to collapse in a race once is unfortunate, but to do it twice is both careless and exceedingly amateur. Anyone can (blamelessly) collapse in a race, but the more dedicated one is to one’s sport, the more likely one will take realistic counsel from the fact of that event the first time.

Leaving aside freak once-offs or mass-collapses (where lots go whoops-a-daisy!), an intra-race collapse (at least when one is not leading the field) rather suggests than the person has (i) given it their all (of course), and (ii) their “all” is not good enough. That is just a fact.

Hence, if your name’s Kyeema and you collapse once – the sensible thing is to cut your losses, and quit the sport soon after. This is not (mainly) to do with teammates, but simply to do with recognising that rowing (or whatever) is not going to give you the whole purpose of your life, so there’s no time to waste in finding something else before one becomes an also-ran, washed-up scrag.

OTOH, if your name’s Sally Robbins, your life is going to have plenty of options/highlights after rowing, anyway – so you might as well keep it up for as long as you can talk/push/cajole your way into the elite team (Daddy has often tried to talk you out of it, especially after your first collapse, but Daddy’s kidding himself – who does he think he could trust the boatshed keys to; Kyeema?).

* Translation: Tiffany (a suggested baby name from “Kath & Kim”)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The private health insurance sweetener

A bribe to the elderly? (who, contrary to the “mortgage belt”/young families demographic cliché, disproportionately live in marginal seats). Of course.

But unlike most bribes, this one is basically just all envelope – with no actual cash inside. At least for the elderly and sick, anyway (the private hospital/health insurance industry is another matter).

Insurance works like this. A large pool of the lucky pays for the misfortunes of the few. Change this formula too much – e.g. the pool becomes predominately the unlucky (= actual claimants) – and it is no longer a working case of insurance at all. Premiums will be priced at the same level as average claim cost, to reflect the near-certainty of the latter event, plus a margin for administration and overheads. This sounds like an irrational system – surely people would be better off, and things simpler, by just paying for their new hips et al as they go – but when a taxpayer subsidy is injected into it, everything changes, of course. Insurance “pools” that are otherwise unviable become de riguer.

As Australian Consumers Association spokeswoman Nicola Ballenden says:

[H]ealth funds will suffer a double-whammy of more older people, and fewer younger people, which will place even greater pressure on premiums.

To which chain reaction I’d then add: an even greater pressure for still more taxpayer subsidies for elderly private health insurance holders.

The issue here is not just fiscal erroneousness, nor the consequent public subsidy of a large-scale, and only loosely accountable private industry (private schools and Job Network are co-equal offenders in this respect, BTW). As the 30-something Rowen Atkinson writes in a letter to the editor in today’s SMH:

John Howard, we had an implied contract. I would sign up for private health insurance in my 20s and pay through the nose for a service I wouldn't use until my 60s. You were going to maintain that system and keep pressure off premiums by encouraging others to sign up while young and fit, and making the elderly pay more . . . Now that you have reneged on your end of the bargain, can I have the last four years of insurance payments back?

Today’s elderly often have a strong sense of their own entitlement:

You've paid your taxes the whole of your working lifetime, you've supported the other people with their handouts - the unemployed, the sick. We're the ones that with our taxes have provided the money for it.

But you’ve really got to wonder when Australian Medical Association vice-president Mukesh Haikerwal is also chiming in to the same tune:

They've been there since day one, through the hard times, and this is a bit of payback.

If the public health system is inadequate lifetime “payback”, then fix it, by all means.

Otherwise, be careful of what you wish for, oldsters. There’s plenty of younger folk living through hard times right now – sustained hard times such as you never, ever saw in your own lives (certainly not after 1945). And insurance pools are funny things – if enough people drop out of them, an alternative means of carrying the unlucky must necessarily be found.

Which will lead to a “free rider” problem and all that – as in problem for you, that is: you’re paying for a commodity that GenX is going to have to be eventually given for free, unless something changes drastically, and soon.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Hell hath no fury like a poofter one-upped in the sainthood stakes

Gay men make bad winners – put us in a competition (and Australian reality TV is a classic example), and watch us alienate the rest of the field, well before any approaching-the-finishing-line nerves could possibly be claimed in mitigation.

Winning – as in being the best performer over the whole race – is strictly for wusses and plodding straights; gay men time their peak at about a third of the way in, and then simply expect to hold-by-right pole position from then on. We’re good, and we know it; so fuck off, straights – you really don’t want to see my high dudgeon hit the stratosphere, do you? DO YOU? . . . See, I told you not to stereotype my behaviour as a poofter’s hissy-fit – look who’s crying now, eh?

This general point was well-made in a recent article by Troy Gurr in one of Melbourne’s gay rags*:

It’s becoming painfully apparent that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to renovate on television. Actually, maybe they just shouldn’t be allowed to compete in renovation television, since none of this carry-on occurs on “DIY Rescue”. There it’s all pastels and good teeth. When we’re involved, it’s gaudy faucets and a hostile work environment.

I blame gay rights. It’s led to a snotty little entitlement thing, and we’re walking around saying things like “Don’t try and oppress me with that wallpaper. My relationship is valid and floral prints are just part of your heterosexual hierarchy.” We won’t be trifled with anymore. We’re competitive, which is ugly on us. We’re there to be role models (heaven forbid we were just there to make money and be on TV), and we tend to lose our cool when there are other couples who are prettier than us. We’ve been on the outer too often, and it’s someone else’s turn. And well find a way to do it.

We think we’re so smart, that’s our problem. Too savvy for the media who are trying to catch us out, trying to paint us as villains. Constantly worried about how we’ll be portrayed, we behave badly to pre-empt it, become the villains we’re expected to be. It’s almost like a type of defense mechanism. We’re so used to the fight.

Gurr was writing particularly about three gay couples on reality TV: Richard & Steven on “The Block 2”, Gav & Waz on “The Block 1”, and Brett & Jeff on “The Hothouse”. Since I only caught a few minutes in total of the former two shows, and a couple of hours of the latter, I can’t really corroborate the factual specifics behind his arguments. I’m tempted to say that maybe it’s only a gay couple thing – but then there’s the example of Johnnie Cass from “Big Brother 1”.

In any case, this piece in today’s Age adds reams of hard evidence. What on earth is Phil Quin trying to say? That he handled telling his wife that he was gay better than New Jersey Governor, James McGreevey did recently? Whoo-hoo for you, Phil. And all done without the benefit of skilled speechwriters – gee, that alone deserves a gold medal pour tu, tout de suite.

As for precisely what McGreevey's cynical “political gain” was, I’m puzzled. Putting the extremely worst spin on the story – yes, it’s possible that McGreevey resorted to using his ole dick-o-meter when making a key staff appointment. And?

I’m sure that this factor made the situation so-o-o much worse for McGreevey’s wife – her husband not only being a closet poof, but a sleazy one, to boot. Heavens, the latter detail must have caused Mrs McGreevey all the extra trauma of, say, her great broken nail fiasco at the 1978 school science fair.

What is the act of a callous bastard is Phil Quin’s article – when shorn from its embarrassing political naïveté, it is just drama-princess pettiness incarnate. I hope you feel better for shooting your wad at this point, Phil – the rest of us were kind of hoping that you’d at least make it to the starting blocks first. Oh, and as you stand up there on the podium of I Am So-o-o Right gay sainthood, just make sure that you squash the fingers of the clambering pretenders to the dais, good’n’proper. Under my calculations, only about 99% of world poofterdom have equal, if not better right to your premature and self-awarded medal.

* Troy Gurr “Making a mountain out of a molehill: or Why Can’t You Play Nicely With the Other Kids?” MCV 30 July 2004 (no URL)

Telstra sick of restrictive price caps

Telstra believes it's time for restrictive price caps imposed on its services in 1989 to be scrapped.

But before you laugh yourself to death, note the fine print on this one. In a typical piece of Labor government short-sightedness (boomer-bounty HECS was introduced in the same year) and post-1996 Lieberal inertia, the restrictive price capping of Telstra was done as a bundled arrangement. Line rentals – then and now, not subject to any competition – were allowed to increase annually by telephone number percentages, as long as call costs (assuming you could afford to make any) were proportionately reduced, so that the whole shebang was within coo-ee of the CPI increase. Meanwhile, the market for call costs has become highly competitive anyway since 1989.

Geddit? Telstra is actually objecting to a subsidy, under which over the years it has gouged billions from yours and mine pockets. This would be funny, of course, except for the fact that Telstra presumably want the current arrangements to be replaced with an even sweeter subsidy for it.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

More on Clive Hamilton

Ken Parish is giving the guy some kudos, so it’s time to turn the knife once more . . .

Clive’s recent tenth anniversary of the Australia Institute speech (PDF) contains a few choice nuggets. One is that the think-tank’s funding – described on its website as deriving from “grants from philanthropic trusts, memberships and commissioned research” – is not nearly as fiscally diverse (and so “independent”) as might be imagined.

After waxing lyrical about the Institute’s early days, Clive writes:

But it was a struggle. After three or so years it become clear that then even [sic] fumes from the oily rag were drying up and I wrote to the Board saying we were in trouble. It was then out of the blue and with perfect timing that the Poola Foundation came to the rescue.

It is as a result of the philanthropy of the Poola and associated foundations that the Australia Institute has thrived and had the impact it has. Mark [Wootton] and Eve [Kantor] and the other Kantors are truly unique amongst Australian philanthropists.

While it’s no secret that I’ve got it in for Clive, and so also the Australia Institute, anyway, surely a think-tank’s being so reliant on funding from just one source severely undermines the claimed independence of its output?* Conversely, the “unique[ness]” of the Kantors amongst Australian philanthropists is not in the measure of their wealth – at $300 m or so, it is middle-of-the-road, as far as these things go – but in the exceptionalism of its funding the Australia Institute, a plenary (non-specialist) issue think-tank: only environmental and human-rights causes (admittedly including the Australian Conservation Foundation, an entity now infamous as a career sabbatical for right-wing boomers) appear to otherwise show up on the Kantor foundations’ cheque-butts.

With the Kantor family money coming years ago straight from sibling Rupert Murdoch, there may or may not be good reasons why the Kantors should now disburse chunks of it in tacit support of Clive’s anti-porn crusade. Less ambiguous, though, is Mark Wootton’s status as that rare (or so you might think) combination, a “green” property developer. Clive’s grand plan for everyone to do the downshift/sea-change thing is thus revealed for what it presumably is – a soft-sell property play, serving the eco/“green”-development industry.

Also scoring a fond, if passing, mention in Clive's speech is HECS architect Bruce Chapman – a boomer economist who has never satisfactorily explained why boomers should not also have been required to pay up for their tertiary education. (Translation: a hypocritical, GenX-hating fucktard).

* Adele Horin suggested – without making anything of it – that Poola was the Australia Institute’s only financier two years ago.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Now this is discrimination worth kicking up a song and dance about

Unlike this.

The strangest thing about the Virgin Blue discrimination allegations is that they have taken so long to be made – any Blind (or at least Deaf) Freddie who has flown Virgin a few times could have surmised that the company has a deliberate policy of hiring (i) female, (ii) young, and (iii) attractive flight stewards.

Perhaps even weirder though – as far as the revealing the priorities of the sisterhood goes – is that the Virgin Blue discrimination story did get a fair media airing on “Crikey” last year, but mainly from the angle that “Those young slappers ignored me because I was a female executive!”.

So it seems that feminism has reached its ne plus ultra. Workplace discrimination against women is something that only happens at executive level – either as in female executives being discriminated against by male peers/managers, or equally as bad (it would seem), in female executives not being given the full blondes-chasing-Benny-Hill treatment as customers that men are given by certain businesses. In either case, never mind actual female working stiffs.

For its part, Virgin Blue is acting equally brazenly. Head of strategy and communications David Huttner all but cheerfully concedes the fact of ageist and sexist (and very likely also racist) discrimination in hiring cabin crew by this statement:

But I can tell you that we have people not just in the office but also on the front line, like cabin crew and check-in staff, of a wide variety of ages and background.

Geddit? – Virgin allows middle-aged women, uglies of any age, men and wogs to even work as check-in staff. Gee, how enlightened!

As for the stats cited, it is clear that the apparent age neutrality in rejection rates for cabin crew is a worthless measure. Evidently almost no over-35s bother even applying. The fact that speaks loudest is that only four (including one 53 y.o.) of Virgin’s 803 flight attendants are aged 35 or over – that’s 0.25%.

More generally, Virgin Blue is not the only employer to openly flout anti-discrimination law in this way. It is not, as I understand it, absolutely prohibited for an employer to exclusively (or almost so) hire attractive young females (or males, for that matter) – it all depends on the reasonable requirements of the job; hence strip clubs and seedy bars catering for especially for straight/gay men/women would seem to have inbuilt license to be appropriately looks/age-ist and sexist in their hiring policies.

But no one could seriously argue that working as a flight attendant is anything like such a niche role. Nor, as far as I can tell, is working as a waiter – yet in the US, “Hooters” and locally, its Melbourne equivalent happily practise nakedly-discriminatory hiring policies, without feminism batting an eyelid, AFAIK.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Baby boomers and the “New Class”

When it comes to having prejudices – Blaming the Other – it is better, I think, to always go wide rather than narrow when in doubt.

Thus I find myself in the unusual situation of generally agreeing (once again) with fellow oddball Jack Strocchi here (comment on August 18, 2004 at 5:27 PM), yet blanching at his terminology, and especially its implications.

Where Jack writes “New Class”, I would happily substitute “baby boomers” – although with the qualification/acknowledgement that many of the lead actors, especially in the economic revolution that started in the late 70s, were much older (a la Reagan and Thatcher). This fact doesn’t undermine boomer "ownership" of this revolution because, to the extent that boomers weren’t the prime beneficiary of it (a point John Quiggin has repeatedly emphasised, although I think the jury is still out on it), it clearly couldn’t have happened without the earlier (“1968”) cultural revolution having softened up institutional society.

At this point, Jack and I diverge. In terms of apportioning blame, I’m only interested in it for constructive, remedial reasons: i.e. “You [boomers] broke it [liberal society], so you fix it”. In contrast, Jack’s fixation on the “New Class” – a group necessarily much narrower and yet murkier than boomers at large – seems to be simply an open-ended process of identification and denunciation of the Other.

From there, is it a short trip to what seems to be Jack’s ideological home ground – websites like Steve Sailer and Gene Expression. The latter especially creeps me out for its casual racism and humourlessness (Sailer, in contrast seems to often have his tongue planted in cheek, as here). FWIW and to my surprise, there appears to be an (unnamed) author shared between Catallaxy Files and Gene Expression, judging by the latter’s blogroll.

Even more off the scale is re-making the “New Class”/boomers as "The Aquarian Conspiracy” (link via FX Holden). I very much doubt that Jack Strocchi would be a fellow traveller to this extreme, but I guess the point I’m trying to make is that intellectual unorthodoxy is more of a journey than a destination.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Clive Hamilton does the money shot, again

[READER ADVISORY WARNING: more double entendres that a 70s’ British sitcom]

Yay! My favourite object of derision (think of an inflatable sex-doll, only this one is abused for strictly cerebral purposes) is back in the news – and boy, do I have a load ready to blow on him.

The longer I’ve watched him, the more I’ve realised that Clive is actually not that complex a creature. Like a binary switch, he has but two modes – ranting against yoof and GenX, and ranting against pornography.

Quoth Clive yesterday:

No man who regularly uses pornography can have a healthy sexual relationship with a woman.

Quoth me:

(Waving my butchest wave) I’m over here, guys! Now that porn’s corrupted you, poofterdom is more than ready to offer you a healthy sexual relationship!

But I’m only dreaming, of course. Apart from Clive’s nasty – if by omission – homophobia, we know that he doesn’t really mean what he seems to be saying; in particular, the qualifier “regularly” is there to make sure that porn is okay for a (straight) man to use, providing that he feels suitably guilty on each and every occasion. Never mind pleasure in moderation, then.

While Jason Soon and Andrew Norton muse over Clive’s taxonometric place in the political pantheon, I’m happy to call him just a baby boomer fucktard (thanks to Ken Parish for passing on this choice noun). I assume that Clive’s got children of his own and that he’s concerned (as I would be) over their accessing pornography on the Internet. Clive’s solution (as Jason Soon unpacks it) is for zero parental responsibility, with (inept) filtering software to (attempt to) do the job instead.

A typical boomer solution, in other words. Instead of confronting the real issue – that it is (i) his own parenting and (ii) ongoing soixante huitard hegemony that are the joint problem – Clive looks anywhere but his own affluent doorstep. The very idea that Clive’s generation’s sexual (and later, economic) revolution might now be experiencing some blowback is anathema.

One simple illustration of Clive’s cretin-ness is in the actual accessibility of Internet porn to children (or at least minors without access to a credit card). Admittedly, there is a lot of free porn, which undermines credit card payment as a proxy gateway for ensuring that site viewers are adults. But who’s to blame for this market-irrational deluge (if one looks for it) of free porn? It’s hardly the porn industry that’s systemically destroying its own lifeblood; rather it’s a sign of yet another labour surplus – the video/pictorial equivalent of the thousands of uni graduate CVs that land on city desks each year, many pleading for the chance just to give their labour away.

The latter situation has plainly been created by economic fundamentalism – an issue on which Clive offers no answers, or even comfort. Much better to retreat into a research niche of solitary masturbation, eh Clive?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Cardinal George Pell – and the art of using paedophiles as a career springboard

With this news, it seems an inescapable conclusion that powers from high up within the Catholic Church are pulling strings at the Victorian OPP office. Gerald Ridsdale, sentenced in 1994 at age 60 to 18 years’ jail (with a minimum of 15 years) looks likely to become a free man in 2009, at age 75:

A spokesman for the OPP said that even if Ridsdale was found guilty of the new allegations, he would be unlikely to receive an increased sentence.

The Court of Appeal in 1995 described Ridsdale's sentence as a "virtual life sentence . . . unusually long". At such a late stage of his life it was "harsh punishment and a severe burden". The court said he would not be eligible for parole until he was 75.

The OPP spokesman said: "Our view is he would not get a substantial increase to his sentence, if any. We are prosecuting all of these cases in the context of limited resources in the criminal justice system. The question becomes 'what's to be gained for the public?'

"While we understand the concern of the individual victims, and we are concerned for the victims, it's a question of balancing all of the considerations."

By way of comparison, Robert "Dolly" Dunn – who shared Gerald Ridsdale’s especially heinous preference for pre-pubescent boys (typically, 10-12 yo’s), and the only man to share with Ridsdale the Google honours of "Australia's most notorious pedophile" – got a 30 year sentence (with no prospect of parole), at the age of 61*.

FWIW, the 35 yo “latest complainant” referred to could have been no older than 10 at the time (Ridsdale left Edenhope in Spring 1979).

The question 'What's to be gained for the public?' is anything but rhetorical. Even accepting that Ridsdale would be unlikely to re-offend at 75 (which personally I doubt), there is no logical reason why fresh charges would not result in an additional sentence, to bring Ridsdale’s overall jail term in line with Dunn’s. In other words – and let’s not beat around the bush – to make sure that Ridsdale dies in jail, as will Dunn. The severity of Dunn’s sentence presumably took into account that the prisoner had offended in multiple jurisdictions, although was being tried only for offences in one – similarly, it is to be noted that Ridsdale remains wanted in NSW, where he has not yet faced trial.

Further, at least one of the two Ridsdale co-offenders (both Christian Brothers) mentioned, upon whom the OPP is also sitting on its hands, is long-since a free man. Robert Best received a nine-month suspended sentence in 1996, while Edward Dowlan was sentenced in July 1996 to nine years and eight months' jail, with a minimum of six years. (The lightness of these sentences can be partially explained by the estimated $400,000 that the Christian Brothers order spent in Dowlan’s and Best’s defence.)

Still further, as for the OPP’s purported “understand[ing] the concern of the individual victims” – how does a trial resulting in an objectively meaningless “second” life sentence (like the first ,with no parole) for a convicted murderer meet this criterion, but a trial relating to the concerns of living victims of child rape doesn’t?

In terms what Pell’s role might be, in explaining the OPP’s intransigence, in the face of manifest disparity between Ridsdale’s, Best’s and Dowlan’s sentences compared to Robert "Dolly" Dunn’s – I can only speculate, of course.

I will, however, take this opportunity to rebut something I wrote here more than two years ago:
What I'm saying, then, is let's not have a false witch-hunt. I'm reasonably sure that if George Pell had much of an inkling about what was going on at St Alipius school in 1971 (the year that he (and I) moved to Ballarat, but two years before he actually shared digs at St Alipius for a year, 1973), far more serious accusations would have since been made against him.

Whatever he, or anyone else, has done wrong in handling the matter should be judged by what they did or didn't do at the time, and not by now going for the tallest target, who has - by coincidence - grown into a position of real power decades after the event. My guess is that George Pell does have a lot more to say about what happened at St Alipius in 1971 - but it's not at all his own skin that he's protecting in so far maintaining his silence.

What’s changed? Firstly, the unproductive “witch-hunt” I feared did come to pass, albeit in a minor way. Pell was himself "charged" – not by police, and heard by a closed-door "independent inquiry" – with child sex offences in 2002, and "cleared". Then and now, I’m convinced that Pell personally was/is not a paedophile, most especially not any time from 1971 on.

Where I was wrong was in underestimating – grievously so – the motivating effect of that other destructive aphrodisiac: lust for power. Two years ago, I thought that, given Pell personally not being a paedophile, there was little reason for him to cover anything up (i.e. to not become a belated whistle-blower) – unless he was still protecting persons more powerful than himself. Now having a much better understanding of Pell’s career trajectory and its key dates**, I can see that my earlier view was rather simplistic.

Even in the early 70s, Pell was by no means a quivering junior priest on the periphery of a child sex scandal only know about by a handful of top Ballarat clerics. Rather, Pell used the scandal as leverage to advance himself within the Ballarat diocese. From 1973, he strove to make himself a “cleanskin”, with an artificial, dual career path. One track kept him mostly well away from children (and so from working alongside, under or above known clerical paedophiles), while the other minimally kept his iron in the fire – in terms of saying mass etc, and also in terms of playing an all-important (if ill-defined) hand in diocesan politics.

In 2004 then, it is safe to say that Pell is a cold, practised and self-serving liar.

My primary argument in support of this assertion is that it is impossible to accept Pell’s claim that the first time he even heard rumours about Ridsdale’s paedophilia was when Ridsdale returned from four years’ treatment in the USA – in 1990, long after the two were both priests resident and working in the same diocese.

Even giving Pell the benefit of the doubt, in not having a clue about Ridsdale’s behaviour when it was occurring inches away from him – the two of them, along with other priests were living under one roof at St Alipius’ presbytery in 1973 – the latest possible date for Pell to have been generally aware of suspicions about Ridsdale would be 1975, the year in which then-Bishop Ronald Mulkearns has admitted that he first became aware of Ridsdale's “problem” (same URL).

Pell has said of his time living at St Alipius’ presbytery:

"I lived there with [Ridsdale] and there was not even a whisper. It was a different age, it was never mentioned."

“Different age” or not, the lack of even a whisper could only have been because there was a shout. Although Mulkearns – b. 1931 and still alive – has never been charged, a three-month police investigation (“Operation Arcadia”) concluded that Mulkearns had knowledge of crimes committed by Ridsdale much earlier than he has admitted to (same URL).

In fact, it is clear that Mulkearns inherited the Ridsdale problem when he took over as Bishop of Ballarat on 1 May 1971, a few days before Pell returned to Ballarat diocese from Oxford University, and a few months after Ridsdale had been shunted from Warrnambool to Ballarat (town hundreds of kilometres apart, but still within the same diocese). Mulkearns’s predecessor (and Pell mentor) Bishop James O'Collins recommended a psychological report on Ridsdale in 1966, and Mulkearns apparently did the same thing soon after becoming Bishop in 1971.

Reading between the lines of these known facts, it appears that Bishop O'Collins knowingly sent the paedophile Ridsdale to serve at St Alipius (including as primary school chaplain) from the start of 1971. This seems an almost-inexplicable act – O'Collins shunted a paedophile priest from a remote outpost of the diocese to its very centre, right under the Bishop’s own nose – except for the fact that O'Collins already had an exit strategy for himself in place. Moreover, O'Collins also had “insurance” – that he chose to step-down at exactly the moment the-then Oxford whizz-kid Pell returned to Ballarat speaks volumes. Pell’s initial job, then, was to cover O'Collins’s back.

Such a task necessitated Mulkearns getting thrown in at the deep end –which helps explain the curiously distant relationship between Pell and Mulkearns. O'Collins (and Pell, of course) kept up the pretext of knowing nothing, thus making Mulkearns’s supervisorial job that much harder – getting up to speed with a paedophile network headed by one’s same-age peer would genuinely take some time, and a lot of digging (in contrast, O'Collins had the luxury and power of having been Bishop of Ballarat since Ridsdale was a boy in the diocese).

While there is no single “smoking gun” to implicate Pell as a protector of paedophiles including Ridsdale, there is an observable pattern of denial on Pell’s part that sticks out like a polygraph thumb. After landing on his feet in 1973, at 32, as director of Aquinas College, Institute of Catholic Education (now Australian Catholic University), Pell was at least the Ballarat diocese’s second-most powerful figure for 11 years, until he moved to Melbourne in 1985 to head Corpus Christi College, the seminary in which he first studied.

The move/promotion, from what was essentially a secular role at a teacher-training institute, to being at the very crucible of the priesthood in charge of Victoria’s only seminary, came a year after James O'Collins’s death at 91.

During the intervening 11 year lacuna, Pell can be observed to have scrupulously avoided any formal role with the Ballarat diocesan hierarchy:

"I was never chaplain to St Alipius Boys School or worked there".

Disingenuously, Pell invariably omits to mention that he was officially assistant priest at Ballarat East (St Alipius) parish from 1973 to 1983. This was a role manqué for Pell – lowly enough to offer the immunity of plausible ignorance should questions ever arise, but sufficient for Pell to discharge his priestly duties while (i) he bided his time for a suitable place in the Church hierarchy, and (ii) he oversaw that nothing untoward happened to the in-it-up-to-his-neck, paedophile-protecting O'Collins before the retired Bishop's death.

Ridsdale, meanwhile, was finally decisively dealt with by Mulkearns – at least in the sense of his being removed from (i) the diocese and (ii) easy access to young children – in 1980, when he was sent to “study” at the National Pastoral Institute in Melbourne. Typically, Pell saw "nothing unusual" in this move.

If there is a stand-out piece in this pattern of denial, then this piece of retrospective justification is surely it:

"Before 1996, Ballarat had a committee to deal with this problem of accusations of sexual abuse. I was never a member of such a committee and no allegations or reports on any of the men mentioned were made to me." (same URL)

Yep, sure George – a committee did it. A faceless committee, comprised of unnamed persons, but presumably including your old sparring-mate Ronald Mulkearns, systemically covered up decades of child sexual abuse. Meanwhile, the one-person Committee for the Career and Advancement of George Pell was able to motor-on untouched and unimpeded – a career built on the suffering of hundreds of sexual abuse victims, that all started from the relatively innocent premise of covering one man’s back.

Update 18 August 2004

* Robert "Dolly" Dunn is appealing his 30 year sentence.

** After November 1983, the only person Pell could have been protecting was himself.

Update 19 August 2004

The Victorian OPP have been mysteriously swayed into keeping the Ridsdale files open, after all, "mysteriously" because the official explanation is that they thought that the "new victims" would have been heard at the original, 1994 trial. Go figure.

Anyway, it's good news, I think. Keep an eye out for whether Mulkearns gets called as a witness, and if he does, whether he's finally going to decide to spill the beans (and therefore go down himself). If so, my guess is that Pell won't be able to stop taking the stand – and then the dock – himself.

The Pell Files – a selected bibliography:

Monday, June 03, 2002
Now for something completely different

Thursday, August 22, 2002
Where to begin with the latest George Pell story?

Monday, December 02, 2002
How many mentors should a person have?

Thursday, October 02, 2003
George Pell – one Cardinal Sin retires as another is inaugurated at 62

Tuesday, May 04, 2004
Get Thee Down the Aisle, George Pell

Thursday, August 07, 2003
FOUND: the Vatican’s “smoking gun” on clerical paedophilia

[de-archived, reprinted post]

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.

Paul Watson 4:37 PM

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Networking in academia

Yesterday’s Oz Higher Ed ran an article by legal academic (and ex-teacher of mine) John Gava. Unfortunately, it’s not online*. The gist of Gava’s case in that networking in academia is essential to success, especially in obtaining external research funding – but that such networking comes at a high price, including the necessary jettisoning, on the way, of the pursuit of truth.

This is an ambitious argument, and one which involves drawing some dubious distinctions – notably, that obtaining external research funding is vital to academic success in the sciences and some social sciences, but that humanities and legal academic research is “essentially solitary”, and so (presumably) less dependent on external funding.

Research funding-wise and otherwise, I think that is it quite clear that the post-Dawkins university system has placed a premium on networking, irrespective of the discipline. The enforced collapse of the (official) binary system has, however, particularly affected the research cultures of legal (and also, I’m guessing, humanities) academics at the “sandstone” universities. Not only were there suddenly many more players jostling for scarce external funds, the rules of the game were also being redefined, on the fly.

For newly-minted universities, many of whom soon after began offering new, low entry-score law degrees, access to external research funding had disproportionate value to the school/faculty. Like Western Sydney’s aspirationals with their triple-garaged McMansions, the new universities worked hard to build, buy and barter themselves facades (often called “Centres” of some-such).

The outcome, of course, has been all-round mediocrity; or as Gava puts it: “perhaps the most insidious aspect of networking is that it makes for boring academics”. For externally-funded researchers, acting as “breadwinners” for post-1988 universities, such sentiments are water off a duck’s back – never mind the quality, feel the width. Meanwhile, academics at the older universities are indeed in a quandary: how hungry do they have to get before their long-held competitive adavantage of quality teaching and disinterested/scholarly research erodes into nothing – as a sandstone facade eventually must?

Networking is undoubtedly intellectual cowardice – but for aspirational academics with big research grants that are the analogue of the 4WDs they probably drive to work, cowardice plus ostentation equals success.

* John Gava "Networks hinder the pursuit of truth" The Australian 11 August 2004

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Richard Butler's resignation and media hubris

Spare me the outrage and fury, pull-eaze.

If, as appears to be the case, the 60-something Butler was not entitled to any payout/pension upon resignation from “a secure five-year term”, then this reflects poorly upon his lawyers. Or more likely, a would-be viceroy is simply not expected to haggle their way through a draft employment contract, clause by clause. I’m hardly a Butler supporter, but I’m still less a Paul Lennon fan, which is why I think that the outrage and fury over Butler is quite misdirected.

Butler did not appoint himself; nor did he (i) change his stripes after getting the job, or (ii) come with seedy hidden baggage, a la Hollingworth. If there is a central villain in this piece, then, it must be the late Premier Jim Bacon, as ably assisted by his Iago-esque then-deputy Lennon. To put it mildy, Bacon had even more delusions of grandeur than Richard “I want an upgrade!” Butler:

Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon described the appointment as "symbolic of the new Tasmania". "Richard Butler is a pre-eminent figure in international relations," Mr Bacon said. "He will be an ambassador for the state and play a major role in bringing the world to Tasmania."

Bacon’s being dead makes it a bit hard to demand accountability of him now. For a moment, I thought that it might be fair for Butler’s payout to come out of Bacon’s estate (i.e. presumably from the pockets of his widow Honey), but upon reflection this seemed a bit cruel. Honey Bacon could well-use every cent of that $650k, and more, towards getting a decent hair stylist.

Which leaves, IMO, the next-best candidate/s for carrying the can of Butler’s payout as the beneficiaries and/or underwriters of Bacon’s much-vaunted “new Tasmania”. Fortunately, these beneficiaries are not that hard to find. Most of the major ones, I suspect, are named in this article by Richard Flanagan. Combing the press for smaller-fry Flanagan detractors and Bacon defenders should fill up the rest of the donations hat quite nicely, so sparing the taxpayers of (the same old) Tasmania from the consequences of Bacon’s quasi-fascist mania.

And Harry Quick (a federal Labor member) and State Opposition Leader Rene Hidding could even dig into their own pockets, if need be. "For an ordinary Tasmanian worker a $650,000 payout would be like getting six numbers in Tattslotto" quoth Quick. Eh tu, Harry? And if Butler’s payout was, as Hidding suggests, “obscene moonlight robbery” then I’d hazard a guess that Hidding’s sooner-or-later upcoming parliamentary pension is daylight robbery.

Update 12 August 2004

Perhaps Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon and his people are readers of this humble blog; having apparently taken up my idea that detractors of Richard Butler's payout could kick-in some of their own money. Upon closer inspection, this is not quite the case, however.

To clarify my thoughts – the whole Richard Butler controversy is not worth one single extant Tasmanian tree. Paul Lennon needs to go, not because of Butler, but because of Tasmania Inc. The Butler melee is serving as a media clear-fell, so setting-up an ongoing dream run for Tasmania Inc’s under-the-radar modus operandi.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Database abuse by politicians

The Australian electoral roll is presumably the country’s most comprehensive – and, one would hope, accurate – database of its adult population. Presence on this database is, of course, compulsory and the only privacy-protecting measure available is registration as a “silent” voter; meaning that only one’s name, and not also one’s address appears on the roll. “Silent” voter status would appear to be strongly discouraged by the AEC; apparently nothing short of a credible threat of death would suffice.

Preventing rampant commercial abuse of this database is the fact that it generally cannot be electronically accessed. Anyone is free to inspect the paper version of the roll at an AEC office, but electronic access is restricted to the AEC, law enforcement, health authorities – and politicians (both serving members and political parties).

This is the AEC’s official reason for plenary access to the hard-copy roll:

The availability to view the roll is integral to the conduct of free and fair elections, enabling participants to verify the openness and accountability of the electoral process.

So be it – individual privacy is traded-off against public openness/accountability; nothing too new there. Less satisfactory, however, is the presumed explanation for politicians to be given privileged, electronic access to the roll – so that they can conveniently contact their constituents. This is a nonsense: “To the resident” letters can be easily delivered to each and every household in any given electorate, without the need (and wasteful extra expense) of such letters being personalised.

As it transpires, politicians’ access to the AEC database has indeed worked against the openness and accountability of the electoral process*. Particularly in marginal seats, likely swinging voters are identified and then courted, via methods that presumably include via the borderline brain-washing technique of push-polling. Such activity is rendered a cinch by the reverse-searchability (I’m assuming) of the digital roll being easily matchable to any listed phone number (the White Pages are not (legally) reverse-searchable, other than for law enforcement). In other words, politicians have so much more than an A-Z mail-out list – they have a street-by-street, house-by-house (with phone numbers attached) “map”, for door-knocking and telephone solicitation purposes.

Which is bad enough, IMO. But when the ability to electronically cross-match electoral roll data with other publicly-available information is factored-in, the case for effective democracy indeed looks bleak. Instead of the two major parties’ policies being compared in an open marketplace, unofficial bipartisanship is the go. Actual policy differentiation only happens in private, via specially-trained salespeople giving high-pressure, personalised-to-the-nth-degree shpiels to a few thousand identified swinging voters in marginal seats.

Welcome to the Roll.

* Michelle Wiese Bockmann "Database warning: pollies are watching you” The Australian 10 August 2004 (no URL)

Monday, August 09, 2004

Casual employment – the missing ingredient

The rather erratic Ross Gittins got it mostly right recently, in noting that the explosion in casual employment was not because it was cheap for employers – at least not in a direct sense.

Missing from Gittins’ analysis though, was a convincing explanation of just how employers can so assuredly rely on an ever-ready pool of casual employees – particularly in these times of supposed low unemployment and generous social security. It’s what I call the “shop full of melting ice cream” effect: casual employment can only suit employers’ interests if the ranks of just-in-time employees are (i) oblivious to their own bargaining power, and/or (ii) have more to lose than the employer, should they withhold their labour. A third possibility, in some industries at least, is that there simply no analogy with melting ice cream – the employer’s business is thin or imperishable enough to ride out any employee tactical bluff.

One observation that can be made with some certainty is that Australia’s abundant supply of casual employees proves subsistence-level (at best) “workfare” is well-entrenched in this country. Punitive effective marginal tax rates (up to 87 cents in the dollar for those on the dole*) clearly do not discourage the formation of a healthy-sized (for employers) pool of just-in-time workers whose net income will never much exceed the social security “floor” amount. Little Aussie battlers with a ferocious aversion to being termed dolebludgers? Possibly – but more likely just plain folk too busy treading water to ever see the nearby shallow end. The phrase “working poor” covers too wide a variety of circumstances to have much current use; a clearer statistic is that St Vincent de Paul Society welfare aid to those in work (full-time, part-time or casual, but presumably mostly the latter two) has expanded approximately ten-fold since the late 1990s.

A corollary observation is that the interface between casual employment and unemployment is poorly understood. I say this as a near-total outsider to the area, but I take the Right’s (including Labor’s) regular tub-thumping on the issue of “welfare reform” as irrefutable evidence of ground-up ignorance on the topic. This ill-understood interface matters in both directions – true unemployment is consequently grievously underestimated, and a rapidly-growing permafringe-dweller class is left to its own devices, as far as policy-making goes (if a person from this class is not on the dole or other “full-time” welfare payment, then they are not statistically anything – poverty, even if absolute and life-long, is not sui generis as a matter of policy concern).

My personal suggested explanation for the widespread pliability and keenness of the impoverished casual-worker army is the recrudescence of servility, after a century’s dormancy. Especially for GenX, the incentive to believe in one’s own relative inferiority is powerfully mandated. With falling home-ownership rates, the long-term (private) renter’s mindset seems to have cross-pollinated into a sense of career fatalism – any old job will do, because it has to.

Whether I’m right or wrong here, the last decade’s explosion in casual employment appears certain to continue – and when it finally stops, a second Industrial Revolution will have been wrought. Ironically for GenX, the modern use of Luddite (= technophobe) couldn’t be further from useful avail.

Casualisation, the second great wave of workplace de-humanisation, is profoundly machinery-friendly. Indeed, the most technologically-skilled generation ever has been uniquely able (and required) to bring to the factory (/call-centre, /kitchen, /tutorial room, etc) floor not brooding alienation, but genuine, zero-bargaining-power servility.

* The 87 cents in the dollar effective rate kicks in at a very modest (and non-indexed) employment income of $142 per fortnight, or more. It comprises an allowance reduction of 70 cents in the dollar, plus tax (assuming a total income between $6,001 – $21,600).

Friday, August 06, 2004

Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau – could the media please now drop the bone?

Not for Letourneau’s sake, mind. Having served her time doesn’t appear to have cured her of the virulent self-destructive streak that saw her hitch up with a 12 y.o. boy. It’s time that this 42 y.o. grew up – “You can’t always get what you want” (as I believe some 60s' fossils sing).

I do feel a good deal of sympathy for Fualaau. I have no idea how his name – as a minor and as a victim of (deemed) sexual abuse – became public years ago, but it’s obviously now much too late to undo the consequent damage. As a young man now, Fualaau just has to deal with the situation as best he can. Staying away from Letourneau’s contagious downer-ism would help, but in no sense would it be a complete cure. Part of his current wretchedness is just plain bad luck – specifically, his being an early-puberty prodigy, fathering a child at 12. Without this kid (the second one was really just the icing on the cake), it all would have been so much simpler for him to move on.

But it’s these kids who are now the missing, doughnut hole at the centre of this story. When the story first broke, the media – quite rightly – framed the main angle as the child protection one. Well, the only children needing protection now are Letourneau and Fualaau’s five and seven year old girls. I’m sure that they’ve already had enough dysfunction in their young lives that they don’t need now to grow up under the media spotlight of both their parents being an on-again, off-again freak show. Their dad sure as hell didn’t bring this on himself, and while their mum is indeed fair game, the welfare of these two children must come first – the media can’t have it both ways.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Graduate skills testing: Go on, AVCC – call their bluff

From the general – that in 2004, Australia’s cultural topsoil is Weimar Republic-thin – to the specific: Australian universities are, once again, getting rubbished.

As usual, the debate is couched as a crowd-pleaser. In one corner is the Ivory Tower, with its suspicious resistance to a government-proposed, $251 million Learning and Teaching Performance fund. This fund would require universities to meet goals/milestones on a range of bases, including drop-out rates, student progress in passing or failing courses, the number of graduates who secure employment and student surveys on teaching. Overlapping with the issue of such a tied fund (which the AVCC rejects as a “blunt instrument”) is the particular hot-button – and government-darling – of mass-uptake by universities of the ACER Graduate Skills Test.

As for the merits of the tied-find, I’m mystified as to why this free-market obsessed government shouldn’t just leave things as they are. The drop-out rates, et al, of particular institutions are easily available (as they should be) to would-be consumers of higher-education. As are also graduate employment figures; although these statistical veracity of these is dubious, if you ask me. Results of student surveys on teaching, OTOH, are never published (AFAIK), but such surveys have little, if any methodological probity – certainly as a basis for choosing a tens-of-thousand-dollars investment. All in all, then, the AVCC is clearly right. However, it has no need to be so defensive (“blunt instrument”) in its reasons here: all that surely it needs to say is that there is already a transparent market for university performance against all such goals/milestones as can be objectively measured.

Bunfights over nothing, then – so far, so relatively benign, and certainly par for the course in Australian public discourse. In a more sinister category, however, is the debate over a mass-use (= compulsory) Graduate Skills Test by universities.

Here, even the knowledge-challenged journo Samantha Maiden risks having her book-burning-esque zeal put to shame by her quoted sources:

"Basically, the standard of literacy and numeracy is really serious and that's why we're trying to lift the game," Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Steve Balzary said.

Basically then, Balzary is an ill-educated embarrassment, who should be getting laughed at all the way back to his own remedial English class.

Unfortunately though, it gets worse. In yesterday’s Oz, Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin was puppeting the AVCC line, calling the Howard Government's proposals a "blunt instrument". Today though, it's the polar-opposite “uni of life” message (although thankfully in fluent English), with Macklin saying that the skills test should be more widespread, because "We want to make sure that university graduates are, of course, able to go into the workforce and provide their skills where they're much needed" (same URL). Quite – but more about that soon.

But what’s a good lynching without a mob? Ever-eager to tub-thump the anti-intellectual drum, today’s Oz thus can’t help but editorially chime in:

If that's how the vice-chancellors communicate, no wonder the students themselves can't write.

These words were presumably written by former academic Imre Salusinszky. If Salusinszky’s former students left his tutelage in such a deplorably illiterate state – as logically he is admitting – then this says much more about the man than anything more general about Australia’s woefully under-funded public university system. Good riddance from academia, Imre – and I hope you enjoy the scintillating life of the mind to be found and enjoyed with people like Steve Balzary. Oh, and since you evidently got nothing, or less, out of it, could you please refund the taxpayers of Australia for your free (I’m assuming by your age) tertiary education.

It’s time that the AVCC stopped pussy-footing around on this issue (in any case, Jenny Macklin’s the clear master of that art). They should call the bluff of Salusinszky and Balzary. The latter says:

"Employers want graduates who can communicate, work as a team (and) solve problems, and we call on universities to get right behind this test. What we're looking for is that ability to think outside the square and, while the current test isn't perfect, we would like to work with universities to improve the test and even apply it to TAFE and Year 12 students."

I would have thought that universities want – and get – almost exactly the same thing out of their students as Balzary (echoing Macklin, above) asserts "employers want". But no matter such subtleties, they only confuse poor Balzary, I'm sure. In his call to extend the Graduate Skills Test (or presumably, a modification of it) to TAFE and Year 12, Balzary shows a crude indifference to any role for higher education other than as job training.

So be it, I say: This is What You Want, This is What You Get. Specifically, the AVCC should up the ante, and propose re-engineering Australia’s public university system into a dedicated network of cramming colleges for the ACER Graduate Skills Test. As well as shutting-up the cheap demagogue Salusinszky, the resultant farce would be a sweet tribute to Balzary’s concerns that the current standard of literacy and numeracy in Australia “is really serious”. It indeed wouldn’t be serious any more, Steve. And that’s irony (look it up).

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