Saturday, January 31, 2004

John Cain’s Off Course

Andrew Norton predictably leapt into the fray first thing this morning, in defence of his employer, the University of Melbourne – the institution that is subject of a new book by ex-Vic premier John Cain and John Hewitt, Off Course.

Norton’s defence is mainly in the style of a catalogue of errors (of which there are many and glaring) – perhaps a fair enough mode for critiquing a book that purports to be about defending higher education from the barbarians. Nonetheless, less nitpicking and more substantive rebuttal by Norton would be welcome. (Vitiating against this happening however, is the way Norton sees his defensive armoury as circumscribed by his employment: “I . . . do not comment on its policies in public [and so] I will restrict my comments to other matters”. As to how commenting on events a decade or more old – Off Course seems to focus on the decade from 1985, judging by Norton’s critique (I haven’t read the book) – is a matter of policy and not history, is an open question.

My suggestion to Norton is that he could, almost certainly, gainfully attack the substance of Off Course by detailing Labor complicity in the undermining of the University of Melbourne, and so, Australia's uni system more generally. (Having attended Melbourne as an undergrad between 1984 and 1989, and worked (briefly) there as an academic in 1992, I am in full concurrence with what I take to be Cain and Hewitt’s basic thesis – the steady erosion of a once-great institution.) That a Labor government was in power federally until 1996, long after having set-up, with its 1987 Wran Report, the groundwork for later scorched-earth, bust-‘em up downsizers like Alan Gilbert, for me, leads to instant suspicion of John Cain on grounds of hubris and hypocrisy.

As Premier of Victoria until 1990 (and with a Labor government clinging on for another two and a bit years), John Cain’s now turning on Parkville’s sandstone eminence is more than just a bit rich. The ultimate criticism of Off Course, then, may be that it is an attempted alibi (and a ham-fisted one at that) for John Cain – a oblique piece of blame-shifting from a man who was at the very centre of important decisions that fucked-up higher education for my generation, and who now has the nerve to be writing about that time as if he were some kind of disinterested spectator, then and now.

Friday, January 30, 2004

On “no-hopers" and "slackers" – Fuck off, Mark Latham

Letting his boomer prejudices show again, the Opposition leader has engaged in a different sort of dog-whistling. This time, the message, be a "hard worker" not a "slacker", is at audible frequency for everyone – but there is the assumption that its GenX hearers will either brush it off, or won’t bother voting, anyway.

"Slacker" is an old word, long synonymous with “shirker”. In the early 1990s, it was reclaimed by GenX, particularly in America, with Richard Linklater's 1991 film of the same name being the seminal manifestation of the zeitgeist. In 1994, a book The Official Slacker Handbook, by Sarah Dunn defined it thus:

The slack sensibility is part old-fashioned bohemianism and part fin de siècle exhaustion, placed against the backdrop of a crappy recession and intolerable suburban irony.

By 1996, "slacker" had made the new words section of the Random House Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, glossed as an "educated young person who is antimaterialistic, purposeless, apathetic, and usually works in a dead-end job." (same URL)

Unlike the other time that Mark “Shanky Ho” Latham tripped-up in the importing of a piece of (mainly) American vernacular, his invocation of the slacker as daemon appears to be a cold and considered decision.

Note that “slackers” are not “dolebludgers” – while in their generally high-levels of education, there is often considerable overlap, slackers are by definition employed; albeit in what is often called a McJob. Despite undertaking such “careers” – something that educated boomers never did – GenX are actually deeply aspirational, just not in Mark Latham’s new-4WD, plasma-TV sense.

The ironic pay-off – and there has to be one – for GenX’s reclamation of the pejorative "slacker" is that they work incredible fucking hard; not only in their low-pay crap jobs, but also in their (generally) unpaid writing, music, film-making (etc) gigs. The 1996 Random House Webster descriptors "purposeless" and "apathetic" may be true quotes from their personnel files - with arsehole boomer bosses like David Brent of "The Office", how could it be any other way? - but they are not fair representations of the entireity of GenX endeavour.

In comparing "slackers" to "hard workers", then, Latham does basic objectivity an extreme disservice (one wonders what he has been reading lately – has Tony Abbott, or one of his minions, penned a “Protocols of the Youngsters of Glebe”?).

Finally, the strangest twist on the Latham’s anti-slacker speech comes courtesy of the Herald-Sun (only, as far as I can tell):

"When I was young, my mum used to tell me there were two types of people in our street – the slackers and the hard workers

In fact, the young Mark’s mum seems to have said no such thing – which perhaps should not come as any great surprise. In the 1960s and early 70s, when "slacker" meant "shirker", the latter would have been an unusual species indeed – it was, after all, a period of full employment. What Mark’s mum did, in fact, rail against circa 1970 was "no-hopers" (same URL). Such a type of person presumably was either a truly sad case on welfare (not the dole, because there was no need for it), or otherwise, a full-time worker bereft of any broader hopes and dreams.

GenX are not, and never will be "no-hopers". That’s you, and your 4WDing fuckwad of a constituency, Mark Latham.

Update 1 February 2004

“Slackers” was Simon Crean’s cut’n’replace! On one hand, this shouldn’t be a surprise; boomer Crean’s previous form on GenX stops just a bit short of proposing special Nuremberg Laws to regulate them. On the other hand, who is in charge of this party? While it is acceptable, and maybe even desirable, for a new Opposition Leader to defer to their immediate predecessor’s judgement on matters of major policy or areas of particular expertise (like IR), what the hell was Latham doing letting Crean change his mum’s words of kitchen-sink wisdom?

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The road toll and the till

From impending international conflict between two nuclear powers, to Australia’s small and incestuous media - boy, is this blog on fire this morning! Picking up a copy of “Large”, a free mini-magazine aimed at disposing most of the disposable income of inner-city 18-30 y.o.’s, I was struck by its near-reverse takeover by its centre insert – separately branded as CitySearch (a Fairfax property). Sure enough, the loss-making “Large” was published by Text Media, which in turn was recently acquired by Fairfax. Not that there’s too much exciting per se in this, apart from the joy of watching Fairfax try to squeeze some last drips of value out of the CitySearch brand – one of its expensive dotcom flops.

What also caught my eye in the January “Large” was a rare editorial (the mag is 95%+ ads) titled “Life and Death”. A short piece on the effectiveness of shock-style government campaigns in reducing the road toll, it cites road toll stats, and ends:

The results speak for themselves . . . Clearly this mode of communication is an incredibly effective toll and while there has been a great deal of controversy over the method, graphic nature and tone of the campaigns, they have saved lives, justifying the means by which they did.

Say what? The exact same argument, of course, has been used in defence of speed cameras, only with the “graphic and controversial” bit replaced by “revenue raising is a by-product only”. More worrying, in the end, than “Large’s” whoring of its owner’s broader media interests under the guise of a worthy message to the yoof, is the double-counting of the reasons for the road toll’s lowering.

Once this double-counting is institutionalised – and it would seem that it already has been – the original nexus becomes a mere pretence. Public-minded government rationales provide flimsy cover for juicy private sector monopolies, of which the speed camera business in Victoria is a particularly mature and glaring example.


US to take action in (=on) Pakistan?

I’ll start with the disclaimer that I don’t know where this will end - Pakistan is, of course, a nominal Western ally (just like Saudi Arabia, but that’s another - if by the merest whisker - story).

That said, if these reports are true - that the US is going to ramp-up the search for Osama bin Laden, by taking the action over the Afghanistan border and into Pakistan - then it’s about time. Bin Laden has been known, for more than a year, to be in hiding along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border - a euphemism with the ridiculous pretence that this border has actual geographical thickness. Thus, Robert Gottliebsen notes in today’s Australian that “already the Taliban is regrouping on the Pakistan border” - setting-up an ambiguity which is spatially impossible, and also implying a dubious binary: Afghanistan=bad, Pakistan=good.

There is no such interzone*, and further, the poles of this false binary need to be reversed - if Bin Laden isn’t in Afghanistan (which seems almost certain), then he is in Pakistan.

* The area of Pakistan Bin Laden is thought to be in is a “tribal area”, under Pakistani sovereignty but, it is said, under day-to-day control of the locals alone. IMO, by effectively harbouring Bin Laden, Islamabad has long since forfeited sovereignty over it, and so can hardly complain of a US “invasion” of the area, should it come.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

If political pollsters are so scientifically scrupulous, why are their employees revolting?

A letter to the editor in today’s Australian from Aubrey Belford, criticizing the methodology of a recent poll he worked on, is revealing – but mainly for what it deosn’t say. As a former (it is safe to assume) call-centre worker (/contractor) for official Liberal Party pollsters Crosby Textor, Belford spills no worthwhile insider's beans at all.

Which is a shame – if Belford has done his homework on his employer, he would have soon found out that the eponymous Mark Textor is the inventor of a uber-sleazy form a marginal seat campaigning known as "push polling". Indeed, poor young (I’m assuming) Aubrey Belford is (or rather, was) so innocent of what his true job description was that he drops this line in, by way of high dudgeon:

All the survey really worked out was respondents' reaction to the language of political rhetoric, and how well the Liberals could use this at the next election.

Err, I think you’ll find that that’s what push polling is, Aubrey – only what you were working on was a dry run, which is also why doofus journo Glenn Milne got handed the non-story on a plate by his wife, who is the director of Crosby Textor's head office (a relationship that, to his credit, Milne acknowledges). As to why Milne ran with and hyped up such a yawn falls into the other category, though, of errors of judgement (if not something more serious).

In any case, the real push polling, during the actual election campaign, will not, of course, be written up (by Milne, letter-writing former Crosby Textor employees, or anyone else), and will be much, much nastier than the recent dry-run. The object of the real thing is not to note, assemble and then later use the thoughts of swinging voters (“PM promises a new 4WD for every at-home mum with 2 or more kids in private schools”), but to use the insecurities of the said swinging voter to change their vote to firm Lib on the spot. Not surprisingly, this process requires a skilled telephonist to pull it off (sorry, Aubrey). (AFAIK, Mark Textor was a one-man band in his early push-polling career, a feat only enabled by the Northern Territory’s tiny (~3,000 voters) electorate sizes).

Finally, although I risk contradicting myself, to the extent that Crosby Textor's push-polling dry-run does say anything empirical at all – its relaxed and comfortable findings of Australia’s collective current mood are directly at odds with this recent Roy Morgan poll (note: poll, not push-poll).

Monday, January 26, 2004

Give blood for the dole, MP urges

Err, because I’m gay and I have had sex, I can’t legally donate blood in Australia. Would a kidney, or other major body organ, suffice in lieu, please sir, Mr Pyne?


Matthew Reilly – stay out of politics

Airport blockbuster author Matthew Reilly has an Op Ed in today’s Australian. Its genre is the notoriously perilous “Motivational Advice to Today’s Youth”. While at 29, Reilly can at least speak with more street cred on the topic than the average C-grade celeb fogey typically allowed to star at Big Motivational Yoof Occasions, his age is the only favourable tick he gets on this occasion.

“Study hard” says Reilly. Bullshit, unless you want to be over-educated and on the dole, like me. If you go to university at all, do it as Reilly did – use the copious free time you’ve got, and the government’s living allowance* (which comes with far less stringent conditions than the dole) to do something completely unrelated to your studies, such as writing an airport blockbuster. You don’t have to do exactly the same thing; moonlighting comes in an infinite array of occupations (just ask almost any full-fee paying o/s uni student).

“Go to Canberra – stand for parliament!” says Reilly. Having something to stand for, on the other hand, isn’t necessary according to Reilly – that is, unless opposition to wearing suits and to eras of full employment (the 1950s) count as policy. Otherwise, Reilly seems equally comfortable with both major parties, citing with approval an uncle of his who ran (closely) against the incumbent in the safe Lib seat, and the inspirational figure of Malcolm Turnbull (!!!), who Reilly calls a “smart, super-successful businessmen”. How this quality, and Turnbull himself, differ from a born-to-rule, Liberal Party Ur-clone, I’ve really got no idea.

Oh, and Reilly does spout off for a few paras about the plight of asylum seekers – just to prove that he’s a Real Australian Writer too. Be careful about trying this one at home or school though, kids – it’s like, so gay.**

* I’m assuming that Reilly got living allowance while at uni. In his homepage bio, he makes his parents out to be carnie-types.

** My own opinion is that our government’s treatment of asylum seekers is a disgrace. It’s also (almost certainly) an effective (99% of the time) deterrent against people smuggling and its associated evils. As to whether the latter outweighs (and so justifies) the former, I really don’t know. Maybe Reilly can write about such a world as ours, where good and evil come in many shades of grey – some day.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Foxtel, Telstra, and the dogs we pay for – but can’t afford

A factoid left unchallenged, as far as I can tell, in the rush to defend specifics of Australian life from Germaine Greer’s latest (annual?) tirade is this:

Australian wages, on the other hand, are surprisingly low . . . Australian food prices are low but just about everything else is, for many, unaffordable.

An opinion to which I add my concurrence. The annual wage for your default Gen X uni graduate job – working full-time at an inbound call centre – hasn’t moved from around $30k for at least five years. Over this same time some of life’s essentials, such as landline phone rental (over which Telstra has a pricing monopoly) have more than doubled in price.

Talking of Telstra, when it isn’t acting as a charitable lost dogs home for failed dotcoms, the Oz taxpayer-controlled telco still hangs on to some sharemarket dogs it has had and held since they were mere corporate puppies – take a bow, Foxtel, Australia’s de facto pay TV monopoly.

The fact that Foxtel’s annual losses have inexorably escalated since start-up, to reach $100m (forecast) this year, has not, apparently, in any way dented Telstra’s (Foxtel’s 50% owner) enthusiasm for pouring Australian taxpayer’s money down the drain. If you’re wondering what Telstra is doing in the showbiz industry in the first place, it’s a long story. The simplest answer is Telstra was, and is, afraid that any mass-home cabling infrastructure could threaten its lucrative landline rental monopoly.

In case I’m not being clear enough here, think of this: Telstra is charging almost $400 a year (from March 2004) for annual “rental” of a piece of copper wire that was, in most cases, installed at owner expense decades ago. Further, it is “investing” a fair bit of this windfall –obtained through gouging the pockets of you and me – in a loss-making enterprise called Foxtel.

Back to the UK-based Germs, whose country has a pay TV uptake rate of almost 50 per cent; well above Australia’s rate of “about” 25 per cent (as optimistically claimed in The Australian) (same URL). With Foxtel’s recently-announced conversion to digital, the seers are predicting that Australia’s uptake rate will reach 40 per cent (same URL) within two years, meaning a net (inclusive of churn) additional uptake of about 900,000 households.

Which is a big big ask, IMO. I’m not saying that free-to-air TV isn’t a general wasteland – it’s just that Foxtel, with a minimum monthly price of almost $50 (for which you get bugger-all) is way too expensive for most of these putative Pay TV uptakers. In the UK, the minimum monthly price is $32, but the average monthly revenue per user is $75 (you do your own math, then, on what Foxtel’s own average monthly revenue per user is, my guess is close to $100; i.e. a massive $1200 annually). And if an extra 1 million-odd Australian households have really got this kind of money just lying around, I'd be very surprised.

Friday, January 23, 2004

A farewell to articled clerks?

Yesterday’s Age carries a feature* (no URL) with a sub-heading to that effect. In fact, the guts of the article contains very little to substantiate the possible abolition of articles for wannabe lawyers – there is has been a review under way in Victoria since November 2003, apparently at the behest of Vic A-G Rob Hulls.

Hulls’ apparent keenness for the abolition of articles is curious. Despite having himself done his articles and his father’s law firm, Hulls says:

“Often the ability to get articles depends on your contacts, what school you went to, and whether you have relatives in the law.”

In my own case, my score on each of these three factors would be a zero, yet I managed to get articles at a large, prestigious law firm. How so, Rob? Believe it or not, my marks. But that’s just a small and insignificant detail, isn’t it, Rob? After all, making policy changes, so as to atone for a single person’s privileged ride (despite mediocre marks and later attainments) through life – now turned into boomer guilt? – is much sounder, no?

Just as misplaced as Hull’s crusade against lawyer’s nepotism (= himself, and presumed mid-life crisis), are some dubious comments on Gen X lawyers from a 40-something law-firm boss, Eugene Arocca, who actually fesses-up to getting crappy marks at uni. Which means that perhaps we shouldn’t be expecting too much of poor Eugene’s powers of observation. But as to where he gets this (below) from, I’m truly baffled (is there a Latin maxim to do with making shit up, when that’s the only way you have a hope in hell of sounding authoritative, or even convincing?) Here’s Eugene:

“Times have changed. When we’re looking for articled clerks we still look for a strong work ethos. But the Gen-Xers today require a little more care and understanding. The days of working 7am to 7pm are gone . . . We used to adopt the attitude of sink or swim. But the Gen-Xers . . . they have a different culture, a different mentality, a different hunger. They come in here and tell us what they want.”

* Misha Ketchell "A lawyer's lot" The Age 22 January 2004

Thursday, January 22, 2004

PM John Howard's next wedge ambit – public roads

Following quickly from his foray into claimed declining standards at public schools, PM Howard has found a new, if related target – public roads.

“When you look at the shiny new tollways built by outstanding private-sector companies like Macquarie Bank and Transfield, it is little wonder that Australian drivers are now choosing them over the public road system, and in record numbers”, the PM said.

“Public roads are anti-aspirational and too values-neutral, with traffic-lights being the root cause. Instead of building flyovers and ramps at all intersections, like private road operators do, public roads cater for the lowest common denominator with their politically correct stop/start signalling systems”, the PM continued.

“Roads are for getting from A to B in the fastest possible time, but on public roads we get incessant interruptions, all thanks to the traffic-lights and their militant unions.”

Meanwhile, broadcaster Alan Jones today warmed to the PM’s theme on his radio show. “I’ll tell you what’s also way too values-neutral”, thundered Jones. “Public toilets, that’s what”.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Hotelier liability for acts of hotel security staff

The apparent murder of David Hookes raises several interesting legal questions.

One is how easily his alleged assailant, Zvradco Micevic, got bail. Two is whether Micevic should have immediately been charged with murder, after Hookes’ death. Another, looking down the track at what sort of a trial Micevic might get, is this:

Victoria's Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Coghlan QC, expressed concern yesterday about the publicity and conjecture surrounding the death of Hookes.

The angle I find most intriguing, though, is the fact that hoteliers seem to be able to avoid any liability for the acts of security staff on (or adjacent to) their premises, simply by not being party to any employment contract with them. I haven’t checked the specifics of this, but this fact adds weight to the argument: Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon is pursuing damages on behalf of more than 50 clients who claim to have been assaulted by bouncers. In other words, getting hoteliers to pay up (the security firms that actually employ the bouncers are likely to be $2 companies) is being run as speculative class-action, which, judging by the large-ish number of plaintiffs, together with the lack of (reported) progress on the case, all means that the action is sitting in a bottom-drawer to nowhere.

Rather than tightening-up licensing, etc of licensed-premises security staff, it seems to me a far more effective reform would be to legislatively entrench hotelier liability for the acts of any staff based on their premises, by deeming all such staff to be under the hotelier’s effective supervision (irregardless of what the actual employment contract may say).

This is merely sane and fair, anyway – no one else can supervise those security staff, and supervision is plainly what they need. (I’m not saying that bouncers can, or should be shadowed in their every move – but if Micevic did do what he is alleged to have done, I’d bet my life that the guy had previously exhibited tendencies of this ilk while on the job, right under the hotelier’s nose (and eyes and ears)).

And as an enforcement-oomph bonus to my hotelier liability proposal, hoteliers are usually in the money. As well the pricey freehold or leasehold they own (which becomes the booty in a civil action, in addition to any insurance coverage), the liquor license in the hotelier’s name (and its withdrawal or suspension) provides the state with the regulatory means to ensure that a hotelier who doesn’t adequately supervise their premises’ staff gets well and truly (if metaphorically) walloped in the gutter – just as they should.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Review: La Fura dels Baus

With the schlocky Spaniards bringing their sex-themed "XXX" to Australia in a few weeks, it's a good time to put up an unpublished review I wrote of one of their previous shows.

Eight years on, my gut feeling is that "shocking" performance art is exactly that. If you're going to be paying money to see this, orthodox therapy would be a better investment (and is clearly what you need, as well). The big, sucky write-up the troupe get in today's Australian (someone got flown to Barcelona, I'm guessing) should serve as enough of a a warning, but if it doesn't, then there's this:
La Fura dels Baus are doing some of the arts stuff at this year's Athens Olympics festivities. Cringe, cringe.

MTM La Fura dels Baus, Wayville Showgrounds, Adelaide, March 1996.

The setting for the performance was familiar dance party terrain: an industrial looking space, large projection screens up the front, and techno music. And nothing else; for about 10 minutes. The crowd was mainly young and eagerly awaiting the show. This was an audience that expected its own active engagement and participation. Awaiting a signal, perhaps to start moshing. Then an incident suddenly occurred in the audience, when a man was pinned to the ground and stripped naked, by a group wearing beige boiler suits. The man was then passed, writhing, onto a perimeter stage made of cardboard boxes. The whole tableaux was simultaneously filmed and projected, and the process was repeated, for each member of the cast - as the relieved members of the audience gradually realised - of the show.

MTM could be said to be about consent. Looked at as traditional passive theatre, the show was about politics generally, and fascism in particular. La Fura dels Baus’ coming from Spain, and having been founded in 1979, could be assumed to intend a grand metaphor for their performance - life under Franco’s dictatorship - but the show simply doesn’t support any cohesive interpretative structures. The boundaries between audience and stage were too blurred; the audience’s space was continually being infringed upon, captured, as the cardboard boxes were moved around to form new and transient platforms for the performance. A kind of hyperreal apocalyptic resignation ruled in the audience as we got battered around by the ceaselessly moving cardboard boxes and their carriers. The local performances on the boxes were usually games of King of the Castle, complete with some very real-looking torture hardware, but these antics were framed by a larger game, that of audience passivity. We were trapped in an unmoshable pit, dammit, on a low ground beneath Damoclean cardboard boxes.

Yet we consented to this, I think. For some reason it occurred to me that the rear exit door was impossibly remote from my situation - right at the front - there was no way out. At a forum the next day, Miki from Las Fura, explained that this was part of the performance; each member of the audience makes a choice as to which zone they would be in, whether this be the frontline, or a relatively safe area, towards the back. A nice theory, except for the strange inertia that meant no one really moved, after the dramatic start, so as not to exercise this belated right of choice. In any case, my position on the frontline - sort of like B Reserve, when A Reserve is the casualty ward - gave me both a better view of, and empathy for, the playlets happening above. All the closer to ponder the murky outer boundaries of performance art: of where stylised S/M becomes gratuitous [simulated] torture, and whether it was better to watch the turbulence of the actual show as opposed to watching the more visually comforting large-screen representation of the show. The latter approach came with considerable occupational hazards, of course, as the moving show would surely relentlessly mow down a blissful screen viewer. To be or not to be; to live in tawdry relative safety or to fall down in aesthetic purity and grace?

Sunday, January 18, 2004

When feminism is a racist crock

This Op Ed would be unexceptional, were it a piece by a Miranda Devine or Janet Albrechtsen type shock-jock. That instead it is written by a purportedly liberal feminist and academic is breath-taking – and further evidence of just how far feminism has retreated in the last two decades into being a empty shibboleth of moral and economic superiority for the white, middle-classes (and above) of the West.

Karen Green’s killer line:

But I have also become clearer on why I disagree with my sister, and why I believe that Islam, as it is now practised, is not compatible with feminism.

You don’t say? A social movement, whose only net affect on Australian society since the early 80s has been the addition of dangerous and tasteless projectiles into the polity – from shoulder pads to 4WDing the kids to school – declares a 1300 year old, major world religion to be “incompatible” with it. Well, if it isn’t the old fatwa! Watcha gonna do, rich white feminist? If killing the offending infidels is not quite (yet, anyway) your style, I’ve got a good suggestion here. Green writes:

Women who operate freely in society, conversing with men on a daily basis, are, in the end, forced to form a just assessment of their desirability.

Hey, I’d never thought of it that way – and I bet many other men and women hadn’t, either. Just to bring we slow-coaches up to speed with the Feminist Project (as well as to effectively ostracize Muslim women all the more), why don’t we all get made to wear “Looks Scorecard” mini-sandwich boards on our persons, compulsory at all times while out in public? After all, some of us (and I’m sure I’m a major offender here) are still trangressing feminism’s efforts to this day, by walking around in public wholly oblivious to our “desirability”, much less having made and filed away a permanent, legally-binding and final “just assessment” of it.

Update 20 January 2004

My ever-delicate comments box is being recalcitrant this morning, so I’m posting this on the page instead.

Gentlemen (in the comments box), please! The intent of my post was not a general mud-sling against feminism (nor, still less, a plenary defence of Islam). Hence, to clarify a couple of things:

Feminism has been an “ism” without a clear charter since the early 80s. After the outrageous anomalies (such as lower pay for doing the same job) were corrected, feminism might be presumed to have continued with its left-wing progressivist project, such as by fighting increasing (during the 90s and now) income inequality, and therefore absolute poverty, for growing numbers of women at the bottom. However, as everyone now knows, it didn’t. Personally, I mostly blame the broader boomer (M+F) 1980s sell-out for feminism’s abject de-politicisation.

There are plenty of things across the globe that passionate feminists could and should be fighting for. Women in Saudi Arabia being unable to drive cars, for instance.

In other words, never mind the headscarf debate (especially when to prove the superiority of Western feminism, as Karen Green tries to, ludicrous arguments must be mounted). There are enough simple, searing inequalities out there, demanding action right now. Apart from campaigning for formal legal equality for women in Saudi Arabia, Australian feminists also have a worthy issue on their door-step: the outrageously low pay awarded to their servants (sorry, *sisters*) in the child-care industry.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Kath, Kim and Kylie

I know I’m falling hook-line for a publicist’s bait of longshot likelihood by re-messaging this, but the perfect circularity of Kylie Minogue doing a cameo in the world’s current best sitcom (by a long shot), “Kath and Kim” is just irresistible.

“Kath and Kim” owes much to “Neighbours”. I have never been able to watch the latter, because of its remorseless deadpanning of Oz’s suburban awfulness. As to why pre-pubescent English schoolgirls (the show’s primary target audience) find it highly-attractive completely escapes me (now Robbie Williams, on the other hand . . . ). “Kath and Kim” plays with the deadpanning formula of suburban microdrama, and does so with a rigorous precision. Aesthetically, the result is called “camp” – the knowingness that pretends not to know. This pretence, of course, has to be pitched at exactly the right wavelength (= humour) for the audience to “get” (= be complicit in) it.

Sorry to be droning on here like a comedy buff (= tragic), but I can’t sign off without mentioning “Kath and Kim’s” best bit (Like the Kabbalah, good comedy is comprised of an infinite vortex of wheels within wheels). For me, you can’t go past a snappy Kim one-liner. As to which, it is rather spooky that Kylie said this in 1987:

"And, I don't like my voice, but I don't want to have lessons to speak prop-er-lay. It wouldn' t be me."

Friday, January 16, 2004

Partying like it’s 1989

The Age’s reportage of the latest unemployment figures tries so hard to find an angle – here, gender winners and losers – that it ignores the big picture. “Building and construction” employment uptake is expected to fall over the next year, while “services and retail” is expected to grow. In other words, if you’re an unemployed graduate (male or female), there’s absolutely still no light at the end of the tunnel.

If my case on behalf of unemployed graduates, and specifically 30-something men, as the ground zero of unemployment in Australia sounds too much like special pleading, consider this:

The extraordinary thing about Australia's economy in recent years is the total disconnection between our dismal trade performance and the party atmosphere of the domestic economy.

When an economy banishes its most gifted minds, in their prime of life, overseas, or onto the dole queues, its lack of export productivity is hardly a surprise. This human cost, and not abstract balance of trade figures, is the real “disconnect” in our economy.

Baby boomers of Australia – you can party like it’s 1989, on and on. You can even conga-line your way through the dole queues, and mock the poor, impassive people as you do. One thing you can’t ever, ever do, however, is to outsource your hangover.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

David Tweed, ?buyer beware? and profiteering pensioners

Melbourne millionaire share-trader David Tweed has been called a ?bottom feeder?, a ?lousy share scavenger? and probably many other things, besides. Undoubtedly he sails close to the wind, in terms of his business tactics, and on occasion he has even crossed the line.

Convincing (usually affluent) pensioners to sell Tweed shares for far less than their market value ordinarily belongs in the realm of sharp practice alone ? it is not (and should not be) illegal, or otherwise subject to civil penalty. Apart from the standard remedies to do with misleading and deceptive conduct, the only further (in Tweed?s case) exception would be equitable relief on the grounds of unconscionable conduct. Some of Tweed?s victims may indeed have been so infirm as to justify being excused from the normal consequences of their contractual bargain.

Not so, however, the Pymble couple who appeared on ?A Current Affair?* (no URL) last night. Both in their late 80s, they appeared to have their full quota of wits about them. Oh, and these ostensible ?victims? still lived independently, in a house on a large allotment in Sydney?s leafy northern suburbs ? estimated land-only value, $1 million. Almost certainly, the couple acquired this property long ago, for a modest sum. If they want Australia?s legal system to become a communitarian one ? so dispensing with ?buyer beware? ? I?m most amenable to this change. Under such a system, untaxed windfall profits, like those the millionaire pensioner couple have made on their home, would revert to the common weal.

Update 17 January 2004

The tale of the Pymble couple was written up by David Elias in The Age on 15 Jan: "Share scavenger takes court action against blind, deaf woman, 88" (no URL). Despite the screaming and emotive headline, the action in question is effectively against the woman?s husband, who signed the contract on her behalf, but who is now using the fact that he lacked any formal authority to do so as a proxy defence to Tweed?s action against the wife.

One other thing ? ?buyer beware? doesn?t literally apply to capitalists being induced to part with some of their investments, of course. The deal-is-a-deal philosophy under-pinning the maxim, though, should apply with as much, if not more, force to such contracts ? again (I stress), with the appropriate equitable safeguards being in place to protect the truly vulnerable.

* Possibly it was ?Today Tonight?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

“These people are very difficult to market. We need to keep their feet on the ground”.

Recently said* Peter Richards, business manager with Management Recruiters Australia (MRA), apropos of burnt-out gen X professionals looking for a change of job/career, in order to strike a better work-life balance.

Nothing new here, of course – just some sweet Schadenfreude. MRA is a subsidiary of Adecco, the global recruitment/outsourcing company embroiled in an emerging financial scandal**.

With corporate financial scandal now so commonplace, a clear pattern has emerged as to the culprits. Since Enron in late 2001, the chief perpetrators and ringleaders have invariably been baby boomers (although in Adecco’s case, it’s still too early to tell).

Which all leaves gen Xers feeling exquisitely, if hollowly vindicated. In case the implications of MRA’s Peter Richards aren’t clear enough (viz, that gen Xers should stick with the working-to-the-bone job/career they’ve got, coz employers will think they’re shirkers, otherwise), here’s Margaret Locke, general manager with MRA:

Staff hit their prime in their 30s when they are skilled, experienced, and can really contribute to a company’s bottom line. This is when management earmarks individuals to become future leaders and executives. Ironically, it is at this point that employers lose their talented staff, often through lack of planning*.

No, Margaret – gen X are not “lost”; they walk, with or without their “feet on the ground”. That gen X is walking away, just when the rewards of seniority are supposedly about to heaped upon them, doesn’t reflect a lack of employer “planning” (nor, of course, a generation-turning-hippy). Rather, it is to do with the belated realisation that boomers have kicked the ladders out from underneath. There is simply no employer “planning”, in this sense, just boomers pillaging for as long as they can get away with it.

And now this boomer (I’m assuming) rampage has caught up with your very own employer, Mr Richards and Ms Locke. A just reward for keeping your feet on the ground and playing by the(ir) rules, eh?

* Paul McIntyre "High Xpectations sends a generation packing" The Age “My Career” 10 January 2004 (no URL)

** Vanda Carson “Fears grow for Adecco” The Australian 14 January 2004 (no URL)

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"Son of Star Wars", Son of Carlyle Group

My first thoughts about Defence Minister Robert Hill’s plans were that the government is simply losing its marbles, by holding Saudi Royal style meetings with defence bauble carpet-baggers. Then it struck me: in the lead-up to an election, and with things not looking particularly promising for the Libs at the moment, Robert Hill is a rational man after all.

While the Saudi Royals simply buy billion-dollar, over-priced, lucky-if-it-works (but not that you’ll ever need it, anyway) weaponry because it sure beats the chore of actually running a country, Robert Hill is covering his bases in an admirably forward-looking way.

By breaking bread and reaching heads of agreement with the shonkiest pimps of the global arms trade now, Hill will be well-placed to get a juicy consultancy with a second-tier Carlyle Group type outfit, should the Libs get booted out later this year.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Throw away your crutches, says bureaucrat

Again in the “If you can’t push it through Parliament, do it by administrative fiat” department is this plan to “encourage” those on disability support pensions to sign up to the Job Network.

The cynicism of the exercise makes the baby-dangling antics of Steve Irwin look restrained by comparison. Where to begin? The fact that the idea apparently emanates from the deepest bowels of the bureaucracy, in the person of DEWR deputy secretary Bob Correll (thus giving Howard’s inner circle the perfect alibi if the plan goes pear-shaped, as it most-assuredly will)?

Or is it the handing-over of taxpayer money by the fistful to the Job Bludgers (sorry, Network) which is really the scheme’s coup de grace – with a/the specialised disabled-worker placement agency having recently gone belly-up (surprise, surprise, such workers are hard to place), the generalist agencies that are now going to be queuing to do the same job, only on a much wider scale, are obviously not going to have too many performance hurdles written into their contracts? (Perish the thought – no payment without placing real disabled people into real jobs would smack of mutual obligation!)

My personal favourite aspect for how much the scheme sucks, however, is its voluntariness. With Steve Irwin quite possibly no longer available to do a $200k, one-day’s filming television ad for the selling of the plan to the at-home masses, Australia is facing an acute shortage of dumb-as-dogshit celebrities who have the pulling power to do a virtual Lazarus on the hundreds of thousands of NESB 50-somethings with bad backs, Anglo 40-something malingerers with substance abuse problems, and Anglo 30-something hard cases who, asked to fill in one Centrelink form too many, took the rubber room line of least resistance instead.

Oh, and the jobs that the motley lot of sad sacks are expected to be placed into? Retail and hospitality, or course. Apropos of placing the skill-challenged into these low-waged, but physically-demanding sectors, the fitting last words belong to Bob Correll:

Employers would face skill shortages if they did not look to disabled people as potential workers.

Friday, January 09, 2004

“The Howard Government has made some real progress on welfare reform”

So sayeth the CEO of Mission Australia here, without providing a shred of supporting evidence. Patrick McClure does, however, manage to rant about the multi-facetedness of poverty; facets which apparently include a person’s lack of involvement in social life, and the lack of affordable childcare for the unemployed. Go figure the latter – apart from for the occasional job interview, I would have thought that unemployment at least neatly solved the childcare problem. As for poverty/unemployment causing a (detrimental) withdrawal from social life, this is conceded, in part. What is left unspoken by McClure is the extent to which his very own organisation is part of the problem – in particular, by trafficking humans through pointless six-month assignments, otherwise known as Work for the Dole programs.

Not that anyone from Mission Australia, or Mission Employment would want to be seen praising such lucrative programs too obsequiously – this might risk killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Instead, McClure’s strategy is to cling tenaciously on to 1970s and 80s demographics of unemployment – when it affected mainly youth and over-50s – as the areas where most “reform” is needed. A glance inside any of his organisation’s hundreds of Work for the Dole operations would immediately prove the opposite: overwhelmingly, WfD participants are men from their mid 20s to late 30s, and with a disproportionately high number of uni graduates among them.

Acknowledging this much as being the ground zero of poverty and unemployment in Australia would be a small step towards making real progress. I can’t see the Howard Government doing so (which would be to “own” what is arguably its biggest shame, in domestic policy terms) any time prior to its being booted out of office. Meanwhile, babysitting uni graduates – aka institutionalising them, away from normal social intercourse – is far too profitable for Mission Employment for boss Patrick McClure to even acknowledge the reality of his own operations, much less the immense national repercussions, current and future, of the broader problem.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The National Trust for Higher Property Values

The National Trust of Australia, like so many other once good-doing NGOs, is an organisation adrift in a sea of economic ruthless-ism. Heritage protection has been almost entirely devolved to local councils, and with this devolution has come a rough-and-ready, if not one-size-fits-all approach.

Heritage by bureaucracy has also resulted anything but a democratisation of heritage values. Home renovation TV shows regularly show giant machines destroying sound and intact pre WWII houses, with no attempt made to salvage anything from the structure. The tasteless (architect-less, I’m guessing) identikit townhouses that have sprouted all over inner Melbourne in recent years bleakly attest to the corollary proposition: the cheap, shiny and new rules, okay.

Inevitably, the National Trust has decided to meet the barbarians halfway; hence this letter from Elsa Atkin. Elsa, honey: if era-“sympathetic” home restorations really add that much value to a property, there’s hardly any need for your mob to point out the exact location of the carcass to the prowling jackals. Of course, we all know that you don’t really mean what say you mean – heritage protection is ultimately a matter of altruism (or duress, which is where local councils come into their own). But for the National Trust to actually be invoking altruism – heavens, that’s a dirty word in 2004, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Steve Irwin tackles the media monster

Like most Australians, I suspect, I have never “got” croc-hunter Steve Irwin. I only encountered the persona after Russell Coight’s similar character had been on TV. When I first came across Irwin’s TV show, I assumed that it was similar and derivative; i.e. taking the piss on bad 80s TV/screen-product, in particular, the Leyland Brothers (in Coight’s case) and Crocodile Dundee (in Irwin’s).

Of course, I’ve since found out that Irwin’s persona predates the Russell Coight satire, with the reason for its relative obscurity in Australia for several years being that Irwin first hit it big in the US, and was only years later re-exported back to Australia, fully-formed, as it were. How this came to pass would seem to have everything to do with Irwin’s American wife, Terri. One Australian journo calls her “long-suffering”. In view of the croc-hunter's "Kick me, I'm a Yankee Tool" career trajectory, Irwin's current state of being paddle-less in the upper reaches of Shit Creek, and Terri's conspicuous absence from Irwin’s public side at the moment, I would have thought “pushy bitch” and “ruthless empire builder” are better descriptors for her.

Maybe it was at Steve Irwin’s own insistence that wife Terri was left out of last night’s disastrous (and exclusive) “A Current Affair” interview (no URL). Either way, it is clear that Irwin can’t, at this time, effectively handle alone the media prince-turned-frog which Terri has supervised from its beginning.

What should Irwin do (/have done)? For starters, he should admit that teaching croc-sense to a two year old (as he has previously been filmed doing with his daughter) is categorically different from doing it to a newborn. Also, Irwin needs to understand the media subtext. While it is true that the footage of Michael Jackson’s baby-dangling episode has helped to “convict” Irwin in the Court of Media Montage and Memory, the public outrage at work is quite different. Michael Jackson was already heavily-damaged goods in the media at the time of his incident; what Irwin did is closer to journo Gina Wilkinson’s posing of Baghdad children on and around live missiles, so as to get a better pictorial story.

Steve Irwin’s baby boy was used to very similar effect – the (very low) objective danger that the child faced wasn’t the point. Rather, as in Baghdad, it is the simple and shocking cynicism of the act that has fuelled the public’s disgust.

Monday, January 05, 2004

From J-curve to U-shape

As a key behind-the-scenes player, since the late 80s, in the dismantling of and its replacement by (= for a lucky few, like Rebecca Cooper, Robin Cooper and son,, Michael Roux has worn a lot of hats. None of which, however, has ever been quite as ill-fitting as today’s one – of economic forecaster.

What on earth is “a U-shaped inflation outlook”? Everyone’s heard of bell curves, and their inversions, and tout le monde is also familiar with the concept of the peaks-and-roughs economic cycle; the graphical depiction of which consists of a series of waves. Most Australians would also remember 80s Treasurer Paul Keating’s famous “J-curve” – the road to improvement that starts by things getting temporarily worse. The trouble with U-shapes in this context is simple: they can only begin from the very top, a point from which the drop is precipitous indeed. What Roux seems to be predicting, then, is that Australia’s inflation rate is going to fall rapidly in 2004. If so, a sudden onset of deflation would be completely at odds with Roux’s roseate raft of other predicted indicators.

Perhaps Micheal Roux should henceforth stick to what he does best, like playing Mr “Welcome to Fantasy Island” at last year’s Australian Leadership Retreat on Hayman Island, a Davos-style Masters of the Universe gathering. In my 1 September wrap-up of that occasion (same URL), I missed this piece, a rare depiction of some open conflict within the room.

Roux emerges quite well from this story, thus enabling it to be re-spun – with or without the connivance of journo George Megalogenis – from a cringe-inducing tale of Australian worthies shooting the US messenger (even though he was on their side, under any test), to an irresistible-sounding apparent consensus, that “Australia needs to have a conversation about America".

Four-and-a-bit-months on, there are few, if any, signs of such a candid conversation being had. The Iraq economic quagmire, and the (related) structural weakness of the US economy (the key concerns that Clyde Prestowitz raised at Hayman Island) remain pressing issues – although Roux today is an uninhibited optimist on the latter, and doesn’t rate the former as even necessary to mention.

As a salesman of blue-sky optimism, then, Roux today has not done very well today. Fortunately, Roux’s can-do philosophy is that, by compounding one wrong (= “reform”) upon another, you will get an unstoppable juggernaut (“cultural change”), a force presumably powerful enough to go up, or down, the steepest of U-curves:

If you want to get change you don't do it by concentrating on one area of the organisation.

If you only reform in one area you actually create fear and trepidation in the other parts and you allow for sniping and opposition to grow against that change.

If the Kennett government wanted to do electricity they also had to do gas and ports, so this was a cultural change required for Victoria, not just privatisation of electricity.

And so on, back to the starting point – which is the other trouble with bell and U-curves: they end where they began.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Retirement incomes: if you don’t fancy living on the pension, then have I got a deal for you

The stats here seem quite contradictory. On one hand, the oldest boomers (b. 1946 – 1951 (?)) currently have quite modest means as they commence, or count down towards retirement – $56,000 in superannuation, additional private savings of $58,000 and average equity in the family home of $126,000. On the other hand, when the goalposts are shifted to all those born pre-1949, we get this Aladdin's Cave:

The over-55s are just 20 per cent of the population but account for 25 per cent of all disposable income, own around 40 per cent of the nation's assets, and more than half of its financial assets. (same URL)

That the average oldest boomer does not have enough superannuation to wholly, or even meaningfully part-privately fund their retirement was always going to be the case. Much more alarming is the surprisingly small ($126,000) average equity in the family home, given that the oldest boomers have had virtually the same dream run on the property accumulation ladder as the 1930-1945 born generation.

Equity withdrawing – using capital gains to fund consumption – is the likely explanation for this discrepancy. If so, and if property prices do fall substantially, many boomers are going to be facing nasty debt hangovers, having forgotten or ignored the old-fashioned concept of using capital to produce income.

The lack of sympathy for such cases, at least from my generation, will be deafening, I predict. Being born in 1964, I’ve somehow become an honorary boomer here, with the stats covering those born 1946-1965. But my cohort's financial form does ring roughly true with these figures:

The poorest 25 per cent [of those born 1946-1965] have only $21,000 in superannuation and an additional $3000 in savings. (same URL)

In my own case, the actual figures here are “nil” and “nil”, but you get the picture. The boomers’ retirement income crisis is all relative – if they’re all mostly going to end up on the pension, then the taxpayers of Australia ain’t see nothing yet, compared to when my generation hits 65, and still with a big fat “nil” in all categories (including family-home equity).

As usual though, short-term-ism frames and clouds the debate. An about-to-turn-60 female (so eligible for the age pension at 63, in Feb 2007) – but who is still keen to work – is vox-popped about age discrimination in the workplace, rah rah rah. Brenda Scully, I feel for you, but even as your quoted words suggest, it is downhill for almost everyone over 30 these days.

The difference between me and the Brendas of this world is this. She (I’m sure) sees the standard of living of a home-owning pension-dependant retiree (even with a trickle of extra private income) as unbearably frugal. For me, it’s something to aspire to, a zone of middle-class comfort, below which there are many much worse off.*

So assuming that Brenda’s job-hunting luck doesn’t change in the next three years, it seems that the younger generations are soon to be faced with an interesting spectacle, of Brenda and her ilk crying out about being expected to live on “only” the pension.

Believe me if this happens, Brenda, I’ll be among the first to sit up straight and take action. Here, the logical course will be to immediately cut-off the retiree’s dignity-offending source of taxpayer funds, and to replace it with a compulsory private annuity (or “reverse mortgage”), drawn against the value of their house (assuming they own one).

“And what will happen next, when and if this annuity runs out?” I hear Brenda asking. Honestly, I don’t exactly know. What I do know, however, is that millions of GenXers, who never got a real chance at a career or home ownership, will be taking a very active interest in the answer. However indigent an eighty-something Brenda may be (should my private annuity plan have been taken up, and Brenda have exhausted her home's equity), I can promise her that, in twenty years’ time, she won’t be any poorer than the mass of GenX as we go into retirement.

* The current fortnightly base rate for the single dole (Newstart) is $385.00. The current base rate for the full old age single pension (including pharmaceutical allowance and telephone allowance is 20% higher, at $461.60 fortnightly.

Update 12 January 2004

The CIS's Peter Saunders drops this clanger today:

The minimum welfare income for a single person is $12,500.

Err, that would be the minimum pensioner income, Peter. On the dole, it's an even, exact $10k.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Out, damn trend spot!

Trend spotting, or “trend forecasting”, is a form of cultural necrophilia. It is more invasive than even the anthropology of the pith-helmet era because the trend spotter’s blind-spot is the trend spotter. Himself. His “upbeat”, baby boomer self (“Think greyish blue, feel red, and act pale yellow. The breeze of free spirit, born in the 1960s is back with a second wind”).

Happy new year, everyone. To hell with predictions and “acting” like a swatch of baby poo yellow – let’s all talk to each other (as in, to people from outside your normal comfort zone), instead. Which is something I’ve been doing lots of in the last three days.

If the kids are indeed all right, let's leave them there, wherever. And the only thing worth spotting is yourself.

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