Monday, October 11, 2004

Election silver linings

Taking up Robert Corr’s theme, may I suggest a number of positive outcomes – as in the long-overdue clearing of dead and wet wood from the Left:

Meg Lees is gone, for good

The knives are out for Simon Crean

30-something Labor chief strategists Tim Gartrell and Michael Kaiser are getting hit with the blame-stick

The merits of the first two should be quite self-explanatory (if not, see here and here). As for my age-peers Gartrell and Kaiser receiving the thrown-tomato applause by uber-boomer journo Matt Price, this is also sweet and fitting because the duo masterminded a campaign that contained nothing in it for their age-peers. Hope to see you in the queue at Centrelink tomorrow, boys.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The parable of the wet firewood

If you’re bush camping in a public place, or even in your own “secret” spot, one thing you make sure of before you go is to – assuming there is a suitable under-cover spot – leave some firewood there. Some might call this replacing what you use, but I don’t see that it should make any difference whether there is any stored wood or not when you get there.

The storing-firewood-for-next-time imperative usually works fine even if you’re storing wet firewood. In this and another way it is the antithesis of just-in-time managerialism. Most importantly of all, storing firewood for the next-user (whether you or a stranger) recognises an economic truism – the “rainy day”, quite literally. You can’t buy, find, or make dry firewood in the bush when it is raining – and it is in these precise weather conditions that you are most desirous of a fire, of course.

Tomorrow, both main parties are running platforms that will see Australia’s infrastructure and human talent still further run into the ground. One day – and I hope for yours and my sake it’s soon – we’re all gonna wake up wet and cold, surrounded by wet wood for as far as the eye can see.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Yoof media ghettoes

The four young journalists employed by VibewireYouth Media Services to provide election coverage at the website are engaged in a labour of love writes Deborah Gough.

Err Deborah, if these people are not getting any wages at all, I think you should be pointing them in the direction of the MEAA (the journo’s union), rather than singing their praises as embryonic Mother Theresas.

What I suspect Gough actually means is that the four Vibewire election journalists have very modest expense accounts, compared to most other journalists. Thus, they typically stay in backpacker hostels, not hotels, when out on the road/hustings.

Obviously, neither Gough nor Vibewire journo Tim Martyn have much experience of staying in backpacker hostels. You actually need to bring your own towel, Tim! How about that – and once you absorb this information, you’ll realise that $5 “towel hire” is a quite normal example of punitive pricing, a la carpark after-hours call-out fees).

Oh, and Tim – I’ve never stayed in a backpackers place with a phone line in a bedroom. Which is rather strange, when one thinks about it. So many backpackers these days do carry their own laptops with them, I’m sure. And not just any old laptop, mind you – they’ve all got high-end ones; you know, the sort without floppy drives; meaning the sort which, if you can’t get a phone line, you have to transcribe from laptop screen to internet cafe keyboard. Ha ha, schmuck!

What a pack of spoilt princesses. “Labour of love” – pull-eaze.

Tim Blair is 39!?!?!

And for years I’ve assumed (in part because he looks it) that he was just another baby boomer (now it turns out he definitely isn’t, because he’s between 4 and 16 months younger than me). Mea culpa.

Making ageism – at least when one gets the wrong age, and/or the wrong attributes – seem crasser still is this entry on Blair as an Old Pops, by 28 year-old Mat Henderson-Hau (aka Darp Hau):

Tim Blair is 39!?!?! Shite - maybe he remembers when the original Puma Clydes and Adidas Gazelle breakdancing shoes came out in the late seventies as opposed to my first exposure to them in the early nineties when Jamiroquai hit the charts for the first time.

Can't wait to meet up for that beer so I can sus out how popular Prisoner, A Country Practice and Secret Valley were in their heyday

As a 40 year-old, I have no recollection of specialist “breakdancing shoes”. This may be explained by the fact that I lived in the ‘hood (NOT) of Ballarat until early 1984, but even when I moved to Melbourne that year, it was grey zip-up shoes (no brand that I can remember) that were shit-hot. (And yes, I breakdanced – to use the term loosely – in such shoes many a time to “Billie Jean” – cringe).

So take that, young (?) Mat! The late 70s and the entireity of the 80s were shite and embarrassing – just as shite and embarrassing as the 90s-to-current Jamiroquai and his pooncy hat collection, in fact.

As for “Prisoner”, “A Country Practice” and “Secret Valley”, I have never watched the first two, and have never even heard of the last one. In my day, young Mat, we late-teens and early-20s were too busy living to watch crap TV, or to worry about the label of our shoes.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

It's time - to end the Tasmanian gerrymander

When two-bit cretins like Federal Labor MP Dick Adams can effectively hold their party to ransom, by threatening to go independent unless they get their way on logging (a few days before the election, it's too late for the party to now dump them) , you have to wonder what is wrong with the Tasmanian electoral process. How do such nutbags get in, and (presumably) stay in?

As it turns out, the fault does not, for the most part, rest with Tasmanian voters. Under the Constitution, they are given a vote than is worth about double (for the House of Reps), and five to ten times (for the Senate) almost any other Australian's vote. The exact mechanics of this are set out in this excellent Op Ed by Judith Brett (Hallelujah, Judith - for quite a few years, I thought we'd lost you, as you seemed to have become a full-time John Howard tragic in the same way that Howard himself is a cricketing tragic).

As noted, Tasmanian voters themselves can't be too much-blamed for the disproportionate serving size of their votes, and the unhealthy consequences here for MP calibre. If you were chronically over-fed too, I bet you'd end up choosing sludge from the all-you-can-eat dessert bar, every time.

Judith Brett recommends a referendum to remove the House of Reps part of the Tasmanian gerrymander (because it is enshrined in the Constitution, it can't be changed, any other way). I agree, except I can't see the point of doing things by half measure here, and so Tasmania's senator entitlement should also be pared back to its population pro-rata only (as are the two territories, more or less).

Now that would give something for Dick Adams to whinge about - if he could find a single Australian outside Tasmania who cares, that is.

Update 7 October 2004

Oops! As letter writer Patrick Emerton (assistant lecturer, faculty of law, Monash University) points out in today’s Age, section 128 of the Constitution contains a nasty little poison pill. No referendum which changes any state's guaranteed parliamentary representation can succeed unless and until a majority of voters in that state pass the referendum (in addition to all the other referendum hoopla).

The mortgage-belt vs the angst-belt

The objective near-irrelevance of interest rates to the outcome of the election is well-show in this story in today’s Oz. As the accompanying table (which is not online) shows, only 8 marginal seats nation-wide have 30% or more of households paying off a mortgage. Even the marginal seat with the very highest percentage here (43.5%) still had the interest-rate sensitive as a clear minority.

In contrast, the figures of voters aged 18-40 living in marginal seats would, I imagine, cut I similar, if not actually more numerous swathe. That these are not recognised as a sectional interest is well-enough known, but how to explain the contempt of Mark Latham when he says:

We want young Australians to be starting life as Generation X, not Generation Debt.

It’s a bit late for that late, you two-faced fucktard.

Likewise, PM Howard’s refusal to pre-electorally appear on “Rove Live” sends out a powerful message to the 40s-and-under: “Interest rates are a convenient decoy for the policies we are planning to fuck you over with, but are too scared to tell you about to your face”.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

HECS and international law

Charging fees in Australian universities is a violation of international law, and has been since 1989 when the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was introduced, write academics Di Otto, Mike Salvaris and Geraldine Van Beuren. (Also here)

Well, derr.

Far from “Australian governments have been hoping that no one would notice a treaty which has legally bound Australia for more than a quarter of a century”, the point was taken to the High Court in 1993, and there given short shrift.

The High Court’s reasons for refusing William Kavanagh (aka William Dudley Kavanagh and Dudley Kavanagh) leave to bring on case on HECS violating Article 13 of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights don’t appear to be online.

My guess here, based on media coverage at the time*, is that the income-contingent nature of HECS was used to invert the original meaning of “capacity” within Article 13. As Robyn McKay, then an assistant secretary in the Department of Education, Employment and Training, wrote to Kavanagh in 1993:

HECS does not restrict access to higher education as it is based on personal capacity to pay . . . The Government’s higher education policy reflects the intent of article 13 of the covenant . . . but its capacity is obviously constrained by the funding available”*.

“Capacity” originally meant academic capacity, of course – a point which Otto, Salvaris and Van Beuren are admirably quite clear about. The three authors, incidentally, also effectively demolish the “limited available public funding” argument.

Otherwise, as to how and why the High Court got it so wrong in 1993, I suggest that the post-Mabo conservative backlash against the court would have made their Honours extremely reluctant to entertain such a politically controversial matter – especially when HECS had an effective bipartisan mandate (a rare thing then, but not now).

Oh, and the nation’s opinion-making baby boomers, including Di Otto**, were sitting on their hands something fierce at the time, too. The younger half of these boomers, it should surprise no one to know, were the main beneficiaries of the introduction of free higher education in 1973 – a policy move that was made explicitly, and with a three-year margin of generosity, pursuant to Article 13***.

My, how the worm turns – from crying “free education is a human right” in 1973, to crying poor in 1989, to crying wolf, and over spilt GenX sweat in 2004.

* Bruce Montgomery “HECS violates rights treaty: law student” Australian 11 August 1993

** Victoria University academic Mike Salvaris, although invisible according to that institution's website, is almost certainly a boomer too, while Geraldine Van Beuren is UK-based. In fairness, Di Otto only became a legal academic in 1994 – a date which still gave her plenty of time, however, to be trumpeting against the very same Labor government that had illegally introduced HECS.

*** The UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) was signed by Australia on 18 December 1972, and became legally binding on 10 March 1976.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Solving the gay clergy debate – all you need is gay marriage

Anglican Church in Australia head, Peter Carnley, seems to think that monogamous gay coupledom goes hand-in-hand with sexual abstinence.

At first I thought he was simply loopy, but then I remembered the folk-wisdom about how sexual activity drastically decreases with marriage, especially with increasing years of the latter. Brilliant! Since no one (other than, I suspect, the boycott-all-gays-period Family First party) seriously objects to celibate poofters, there is a win-win solution, for pro-gay marriage activists (not me, BTW) and traditionalist Christians, anyway. Just marry the poofters off, two by two – and hell, give them all the trimmings, because it's only for a day – into benign, asexual (if not immediately, just give 'em time) “friendships”!

Friday, October 01, 2004

Yusuf Islam and the Rushdie fatwa

Islam’s denial – in today’s Age, and on his official (?) website – of supporting the Rushdie fatwa in 1989 is false. There is documentary evidence of this as fact, referred to in this SMH Letter to the Editor by Laurie Strachan, and in this Wikipedia entry.

Accordingly, while Islam’s recent refusal of entry to the US was almost certainly a matter of mistaken identity (he has been admitted to the US several times since September 11), Islam would seem spectacularly ill-advised to be considering mounting a lawsuit over his deportation.

His 1989 incitement to murder Rushdie was not, for whatever reason, taken up by British authorities at the time. If Islam now goes into an American court as plaintiff, he risks finding himself in the dock instead, Oscar Wilde style – but this time, deservedly so.

Child porn – what more can concerned parents do?

Interviewed on this morning’s Seven News, Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci was adamant that parents should be making their own individual inquiries to prospective schools, child care centres etc. In particular, Tucci said parents should approach who was in charge at the centre, and ask to the institution’s staff-screening policies in writing.

What a fuckwit, on this day of all days. With a 42 y.o. child care centre owner, but none of his staff, being charged with child pornography offences, Tucci’s advice is worse than cold comfort for parents.

A better script for Tucci might go like this. The now almost wholly-privatised child care industry is just like any other business in which there are low barriers to entry, easy money in the offing because of government subsidies, and “productivity gains” (= declining wages and conditions for staff) aplenty that can yet be made. That is, it is full of shonks, or worse.

If parents are at all concerned then, the first thing they should be doing is demanding an end to children’s care, and care workers, being bought and sold like used cars. A practical first step here would be to force an immediate end to worker exploitation within the centres (if private owners exploit their staff – and almost all do – what precise moral qualm is going to stop them exploiting children?). Scott Thompson is so far merely alleged to have committed child pornography offences; OTOH the money he has made from child care, so as to live in blue-ribbon Kew, leaves little doubt that he is a man without scruple. As a greedy, amoral baby boomer, he is admittedly currently unremarkable among his peers – the issue thus becomes a bigger one of Changing the System; the system that lets, and indeed encourages, the scum of humanity to be running its most important and sensitive parts.


Today’s Australian Financial Review seems to have missed the story completely.
Which I guess means the Fin rates the child care industry as a “Download me Now!” impulse buy.

Further Update 4 October 2004

Scott Thompson's business past and Liberal Party links are extensively detailed here.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Ivan Molloy’s crime is?

Australia’s lazy, compliant media – and am talking about the broadsheets here – are at it again: giving a story purported legs by joining together a few pieces of trivial political dirt.

The visual elelement always speaks loudest, and so the 21 year-old photo that supposedly shows Molloy with Philippine terrorists is the undoubted lynchpin of this “story”. Assuming, against all the evidence, the worst here – that Molloy was consorting with terrorists who can be shown to have a subsequent lineage to today’s al-Qaida – at least three pertinent facts still render the “evidence” in the photo wholly and unassailably nugatory.

First and foremost, back in the 80s, the US was onside with Osama himself in Afghanistan. Oops!

Second, leaving aside the implications of what I’ve just stated, if Molloy was such a threat to the security of the West, at least c. 1983, what the fuck were/are our security agencies doing? Never mind the he’s now popped up as a parliamentary candidate: for 21 years, he’s been free to wander our streets, taking photos of airports, power stations, etc – and not to mention also lately indoctrinating the minds of our youth, as a university lecturer.

Finally, again ignoring the above, there is the more general point that serious academic research into terrorism will necessarily involve some level of consorting with terrorists. If our media and/or security agencies think that such academic research should be banned for being worthless, or worse, then they should be open about making this call – and be prepared to wear the consequences. Conversely, with the evidence not showing that Molloy has consorted with terrorists, if they had to "bite", the media could more fairly and squarely go at him for being a lightweight pretender (and its usual corollary, a job-hogging baby boomer) in his field.

Oh, and in a fact which has been barely reported, the offending photo was taken simply as a souvenir. Shock, horror – an Aussie in Asia poses for an incongruous (e.g. Lefty holding his bodyguard's gun) snap to show the folks back home. For fuck’s sake – on its own, the photo carries the same moral/aesthetic cadence as one of Pissed Ocker In Front Of "hilariously" misspelt sign in English.

In any case, a chronology of the last week shows that Ivan Molloy was being set up well before the photo emerged. On 23 September, he was already being hung-out for some Bali-blame words his wife had said, and later retracted. Foolishly (in hindsight), Molloy at the same time agreed to write an Op Ed for the Oz, to appear the next day. This Op Ed, by merely restating a well-trodden line (that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war has increased our visibility as an Islamic terrorist target) achieved nothing other than making himself a target – the media would henceforth now pounce uncritically on absolutely any piece of Molloy-related road-kill.

Hence, the crude and dumb (for the reasons outlined above) running of the photo “story” on 28 September. And just to show that fresh depths on Molloy could still be plumbed, some editions of the Australian on 28 September introduced an 80s-relic* bumper-sticker as a side-story, knowing, of course, that it would itself bloat into full-fledged, enough-for everyone, road-kill by today.

And who would have thought that, down among all this bottom-feeding pack behaviour, the singular Greg Sheridan would be clambering beneath the mob, to especially alone enjoy the morsels with his tongue?

* From memory, the "Join the army, travel to exotic distant lands, meet exciting and unusual people . . . and kill them" bumper-sticker was big in the mid-80s, hot on the heels of "No Dams". In other words, linking it to the current Iraq war is spurious, and – unless you’ve recently come from Mars – dishonest.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Family First and the politics of rallying gay-hate

The susceptibility of the “Christian” Fundamentalist Right to playing gay-hate politics is old news, a la Fred Nile. What is new in 2004 is that, because the bi(b)le-spewing fascists are now operating nationally, they necessarily present an odd mix of party almost-uniformity with a few spectacular political/personal anomalies.

Nothing illustrates this better than Family First’s decision to exempt three Liberal candidates from an otherwise comprehensive, mutual preference deal. If this decision was based on a candidate’s view being at loggerheads with his/her own party’s platform – as are Warren Entsch’s on gay marriage – then it would be borderline explicable, although still over-the-top personal (Entsch’s dissenting views on gay marriage are a matter for him, his party, his competing candidates, up to a point* and his constituency – a self-balancing structure which covers the situation very fully indeed, I would think).

With the other named**Liberal candidate to be explicitly cold-shouldered by Family First, however, the decision was made completely without reference to the candidate’s views. Instead, Liberal candidate for Brisbane, Ingrid Tall – who is on the record as opposing gay marriage, and who happens to be an out lesbian – has been singled out solely, AFAICT, because of her sexuality.

If the same decision had been made because Ms Tall was Jewish, or left-handed, I strongly suspect that the instant outcry would have forced the Liberals to immediately unwind their national preference deal with Family First. As it stands, though, the Liberals look set to semi-warmly embrace a political party whose policies, in part, and – more importantly – political tactics, in whole, come straight from Nazi Germany and modern Saudi Arabia.

See also Robert Corr, on preferences and the so-called No-GST Party, also Nazi fellow-travellers.

Update 5 October 2004

That Family First refused to preference swap with Ingrid Tall solely because she’s a lesbian is hardly new news. That it’s a fresh – and presumably again transient – issue today indicates the cowardice on the part of the media when it comes to following-up such stories.

Nonetheless, some people within Family First are realising that they do have a gay-hate image problem on their hands. On last night’s “7:30 Report” Peter Robins, FF candidate for Adelaide, said this:

They say we're bigots and homophobes, yet I've worked in the entertainment industry for over 30 years and work closely with more homosexuals than a lot of people have had hot dinners. Many of them have been and are my very good friends and close colleagues and still are.

Robins’s official bio is here. When you Google for the name of the “entertainment/hospitality industry” organisation he actually works for, though – the Adelaide Convention Centre – you do wonder whether he might be slightly overstating his gay-friendly cred.

Writes Robins in a recent trade mag:

We at the Adelaide Convention Centre obviously service the corporate theatre / industrials area in South Australia. Our focus is two-fold, 1: create excellent solutions for our clients; and 2: remain mindful of cost issues, maximising the ‘bang-for-buck’.

Without once using the word “fabulous” or anything remotely close to it in the above para, I think that Robins’s claim to gay-cred is blown out of the water, quite frankly.

* Note here that the pooncier-than-Ian-Thorpe (going by his name, anyway) National candidate for Brisbane, Major Withycombe has defied coalition protocol by publicly dissing Ingrid Tall because of her sexuality. Go and get a real name – and a real job – you little bunkhouse faggot.

** The third pariah Liberal candidate has not been named yet. With Warren Entsch being, AFAIK, the only candidate to publicly dissent on the gay marriage issue, and Ingrid Tall being the only “out” Liberal candidate (again, AFAIK), my guess is that Family First is poised to name-and-shame – involuntarily, if need be – a second gay/lesbian Liberal candidate.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Spending like you stole something

Unpacking just two of PM Howard’s campaign spending promises announced yesterday makes the “drunken sailors” metaphor look a bit soft. Such wastrels traditionally could be put in the longboat until they were sober – in the present case, though, the hangover will last decades, not hours.

First, there is the comparatively cheap – at a cost only of cost "hundreds of millions of dollars" – plan to build a national network of 24 specialist technical colleges for senior secondary students. Leaving aside how, constitutionally, there could be no role for state governments, and how, under international human rights law, unions “or any of that malarky” could be permanently forbidden from such worksites, there is the plain mismatch between the diagnosed ailment, and this supposed cure:

Mr Howard said he believed the neglect of trade education and the promotion of the idea that "the only education worth having is a university education" was one of the reasons why 15 per cent of Australian men in the prime working age group of 25 to 54 were not working, one of the highest rates in the developed world. (same URL)

Err, it is gratifying at long last for the PM to admit, albeit indirectly, that graduate unemployment is a big problem in this country, and one that is seriously understated in most stats (the official unemployment rate for Australian men age 25 to 54 is presumably around 5%, not 15%). As to how churning out a few thousand more chippies and sparkies from c. 2010 is going to do about this pressing problem, however, I’m mystified. Perhaps making boomers’ beach-house renovations cheaper as from 2010 is the limit of the PM’s economic foresight?

More expensive, and more likely to spectacularly implode, if I understand it correctly, is the $1.3 billion package giving small businesses (as defined by annual turnovers of up to $50,000) 25 per cent discount on their income tax liability. If this isn’t just a pea-and-thimble trick, as Labor finance spokesman Bob McMullan suggests (businesses, whether incorporated or not, effectively pay tax on their profits, not on their gross turnover), then I’d speculate that the arbitrage it sets up between middle-earning PAYE taxpayers and middle-earning businesses/“businesses” would instantly create the biggest mass tax rort since the 1970s. With no legal formalities required to become an unincorporated “business” other than obtaining an ABN, a powerful incentive would be created for many employees to exit the PAYE system by simply establishing sham “businesses”. The revenue and other social costs of such a mass migration would be huge.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Jack of all performances; Masters of none

While some courses would be dropped, others could be broadened to attract more students, [University of Western Sydney vice-chancellor Janice Reid] said.

One such course was the masters in sports psychology, which Professor Reid said had only about nine full-time students . . . That program could be broadened into a masters of performance psychology aimed at the executive and theatrical arenas, as well as the sporting field, Professor Reid said.

I’m torn between whether this news is sad or funny – the thought of meathead footy coach wannabes sharing the curriculum with prancing drama majors, plus some business motivational airheads thrown in for good measure. Here’s how a typical class might go:

STUDENT 1: “Kick it to me, boys!”

STUDENT 2: “But you’ve really, really got to want the ball first”

LECTURER: “That’s good; very helpful. As for you, Tristan – this time are we clear about the difference between catching the ball and playing a dying swan?


STUDENT 3: “Did I win? I shat it in!”

Thursday, September 23, 2004

How much of a problem for democracy is Fox News?

A segment on last night’s SBS “Dateline” program, showing a crown of mainly-young Leftoids protesting outside New York City’s Fox News HQ – aiming to close it down – got me thinking.

At the outset, let me say that I’m not at all opposed to the protesters’ ultimate goal – closing down Fox News, or at least having it operate honestly for what it is*: a propaganda channel for the US Republican Party. “Honestly” here means two things: it must openly acknowledge its political allegiances (never underestimate the susceptibility of the American public to fall for a straight-from-Orwell perversity like “Fair and Balanced”), and it must make its finances and favour-banks transparent (that the Republican Party doesn’t AFAIK fund Fox News with hard-cash makes the situation infinitely murkier: no media proprietor, and least of all Rupert Murdoch, runs a permanent unpaid ad without expecting something in return).

But surely, there’s gotta be a better way to achieve this than by having Yet Another Demo out the front of Yet Another Evil Corporate HQ.

Let’s isolate the actual beast. Fox News is an American pay/cable TV channel, and so operates in a highly-competitive, hundreds-of-channels environment, where broadcast bandwidth is available to just about anyone (regrettably, thanks to Telstra and the vested interests behind it, Australia is very different in this respect). Also, Fox News rates quite well – and this time in contradistinction to Orwell, it is just like any other television channel; i.e. supremely turn off-able.

In the classic Defence of Free Speech argument, then, the Left should be instead focusing its energies on neutering Fox News by providing more speech, and in particular, More Better-Than-Fox-News Speech. And preferably, rather than doing this via one cinematic big-bang (the movie Outfoxed), it would do so on and through Fox’s home turf – regular TV.

The realism of doing this depends on, of course, there being a roughly level playing field in the cable TV broadcast media. Which brings me to my crux: there is no such thing, but this has nothing to do with barriers-to-entry, which are minimal (as has already been noted), and have been that way since the early 70s.

Rather, the competitive advantage that the Right has been able to assert so well through the Fox News vehicle is one of labour. According to former Fox News producer, Clara Frenk:

I saw three distinct types of people who were on the air at Fox. The first group was the true believers - these were people who not only believed the message, but who honestly and truly believed that they were serving a vital public interest because the rest of the media were hopelessly corrupted by liberalism. The second group were the opportunists - these were people who just wanted to be on the air, who just wanted a pay check. And then the third group were people who actually wanted to produce real news, and who were actually deceived into believing that they were working for a real news organisation. And these were the people who were the most frustrated. They were definitely in the minority and these were also the people who almost all ended up quitting. (same URL; transcript)

What the Opportunists and the Deceived both had/have in common, at a guess, is their being born after 1963, and therefore, the distinct lack of job openings for them in the rest of the media. Here, whether the media generally is hopelessly corrupted by liberalism/Left-ism is an amusing-if-it wasn’t-so-rancorous side-issue – what the media at large is hopelessly corrupted by is baby boomers, specifically a stick-together mass of older, less-capable journalists, who aren’t going anywhere (in all senses of the phrase other than the financial).

Fox News, being the new kid on the block, thus offers GenX something no other media organisation ever has – jobs, and lots of ‘em. Note here that while shock-jocks-on-news-TV is hardly a conceptually revolutionary concept, it is a very differently-resourced operation from radio, in terms of its labour intensiveness. Fox News doesn’t, and couldn’t work by just broadcasting back-to-back Opinionated Old Men Behind Desks: to rate, it needs its on-the-street reporters as much as any other news channel.

In summary, Fox News beagn by seeing a pool of surplus skilled labour, and went about exploiting it. Its ratings success has presumably been magnified by the higher proportion of young faces on its programming than on just about any other. The great tragedy is that the Left could so easily have prevented this happening – if the rest of the media, who have barely put on anyone since the 80s, had simply decided to run their workplaces by merit, there would have been a jobs bonanza for GenX, and Fox News would have been treated as a pariah channel by talented, job-hunting journalists, so nipping it in the bud. Conversely, the inflow of better, hungrier journalists into the rest of the media would have finished the job down the track, by making brash newcomer Fox News look like shoddy propaganda in comparison (aka the Defence of Free Speech argument above, but this time with legs) .

All in all then, the protesting GenXers have got the right tactic, but the wrong target. There urgently needs to be a level playing field for media jobs, and Rupert Murdoch is hardly the obstacle to this.

* in the long term, these are the same thing, anyway

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

When S&M excites more than it delivers

S&M imagery and activity don’t do much for me. I’ve only experienced the latter once, when I stumbled on an S&M room in full flight, within an otherwise not-much-happening gay club I was at. At first, I was quite happy (and who would have thought?) to hit this guy – at his request – with a mini-whip thing, but I assumed that this act was foreplay and that after a while, we’d get down to it. Lesson learned that day: in S&M, there’s never any getting down to it. Well, maybe there is eventually; it’s just that for me, the delay is not so much appreciable as exquisite torture as downright boring and repetitive. With my last-ditch attempts to peel off the shirtless guy’s latex pants firmly rebuffed, I hung up my/his whip in disgust and walked out. (A gesture which, however insouciant it may read in print now, left me feeling like I’d been whipped at the time).

As for me finding the aesthetics of S&M frankly banal, I may be in a minority, certainly if this news story about a beer advertisement is anything to go by. A fairly typical photograph by the late Helmut Newton, bowdlerised with a green stubby has been labelled “provocative”, “outrageous”, “inappropriate”, and “of a man pulling down a woman's top”.

Err, call me twice-shy from past experience, but my take on the steely look in the depicted woman’s eyes is that the guy ostensibly on the fast track to sexual conquest will end up pulling just one thing on the night in which the photo is set – himself.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Run For Your Life – last night’s “Four Corners”

This Canadian Broadcasting Corporation doco – re-narrated, for whatever reason, by ABC journo Chris Masters – was a spectacular piece of film.

The program transcript is not yet online, but because this was no ordinary, talking-heads style current affairs program, I doubt that its words will convey the absolute polarities in humanity that the screen product depicted so well. The (illegal) kindness shown to the train-hoppers by those dirt-poor folk in Veracruz sums up something truly amazing in the human spirit – a quality, alas, shamefully lacking in the first world generally, with me personally being no exception.

As for the other end of the spectrum of humanity – we need to talk, for starters.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Telstra’s continuing media ownership debacle

Tilting at taking over Fairfax may the biggest loopy thing that Telstra has ever done, but it’s certainly not the only one. Case in point: the DVD delivery/rental market.

Currently, Telstra is losing about $500,000 (of which 250,001 are taxpayer dollars) each month on its DVD delivery/rental business Fetchmemovies. As Robert Gottliebsen dryly observes, “Posting out DVDs is not a Telstra core business”.

So what is Telstra doing in the biz? In the longer term, delivering movies down the phone line (or other cable) will become a reality – so an argument might exist that Telstra needs to build up its customer base for such an eventuality now. The problem here, though, is that Telstra already has a near-monopoly on the home cable business. In other words, Telstra is spending (and losing) money now in a highly-competitive marketplace, as a preliminary to new-generation technology which will see it holding all the cards. Go figure. More particularly, why isn’t Telstra rolling out the unbeatable-against-it new technology now?

Well, it is – kind of. The trouble with monopolies over killer apps is the extreme visibility of their extreme profitability. Hence, just as with Foxtel, Telstra is prepared to cut its own throat when it comes to broadband pricing – pitching it too high for the mass market, and then using the consequent consumer indifference as a shield against regulatory intervention, as well as an excuse to stint on building infrastructure for the actual roll-out. (That Telstra loves spending/wasting Australian taxpayer dollars should by no means be confused with the inference that Telstra believes in creating jobs for Australians – on the contrary, it appears pathologically averse to this).

In such a confused environment, crossed wires abound. Today, Telstra is reported to be aggressively going down the broadband content path, while only two months ago Fetchmemovies spokesman Craig Middleton was saying:

We're ramping up the business at the moment and soon you'll start to see us being more visible.

What can be safely assumed right now is that, whatever Telstra may actually choose to do in the broadband content area, it will turn out to be an expensive flop – just like every media asset Telstra, the new-Nauru, ever touches. As in the case of Foxtel, there is some, albeit third-party-benefiting, method in its madness – Telstra’s underwriting the pay-TV loss maker is of undoubted assistance to the profitability of the free-to-air TV industry (and so one K Packer, coincidentally a Foxtel junior partner), while the new broadband content venture has More Microsoft Price-Gouging written all over its set-top boxes.

On a less financially-catastrophic – for Australian taxpayers, anyway – note, I was amused to see the following position-vacant ad for a journalist last week:

Regular contributors sought for monthly lifestyle magazine targeting affluent 45-60 age group on wide range of specialist and generalist topics including finance, IT, health and well-being, beauty and grooming, entertainment, food, profiles, etc.

Applications to [Telstra-subsidiary] Sensis.

A lifestyle magazine for rich baby boomers, eh? Gee, I’m sure no one’s thought of that before. And while publishing such a magazine may also not be exactly a Telstra core business, nor a currently unfilled niche, it will at least have the advantage of being a useful cross-marketing tool. Rich (and stupid) enough to pay $80-$100/month for Foxtel? Take a bow, baby boomers.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The coming backlash?

Research from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra showed that by 2003, those aged 40 to 54 held an estimated 38 per cent of total household wealth, up from 33 per cent in 1986. In contrast, the share of total wealth held by 25 to 39 year olds declined from 27 to 19 per cent over the same period. The centre's data also reveals that between 1986 and 2001, the over-40 group almost doubled its wealth.

The above quote is from today’s Age – try and guess, dear reader, what the broader article might be about.

Perhaps the future implications of a whole generation of highly-educated Australians fast approaching middle-age, with no job or a McJob at best, and no assets or McAssets at best (as in some McSuperannation: at 40, my lifetime accumulated balance is a few hundred dollars)?

Not a chance. The generation of losers in the above stats gets no further mention, other than in this euphemistic dismissal:

Generations X (aged 23 to 29 [sic]) and Y (aged 22 and younger) struggled to maintain their share.

Actually, Leon Gettler, if you bothered to read what you had just written, you would find that there is not the slightest evidence of GenX* either (i) struggling, or (ii) maintaining its share. If only.

But it gets better:

[A] study from British research group Demos suggests there's trouble ahead for politicians. They risk a backlash if they fail to meet the demands of . . .

Try and guess the end of this sentence, dear reader. Okay, it’s a pretty lopsided challenge, because you already know that the said backlash couldn’t possibly come from GenX. Nonetheless, you’d expect it to be about something serious, like poverty or health care?

Again, not a chance – the cited much-feared backlash instead is expected to come from baby boomers “planning to grow old disgracefully and in a different way from their predecessors”.

Welcome to our future-free future, where politics is reduced to a bidding-war over increasing the consumption choices available to the old and rich.

* As far as Generation Y goes, it is still early days.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Private school funding and the election

If Labor's policy is so fair, show me where it has a transparent method of calculating what amount schools ought to receive, says Graham Young at “Troppo”.

Here’s a solution, Graham (and Mark Latham): zero public funding for private schools – now that’s transparent.

I’ve blogged pre-electorally and quite fully on this topic, and accordingly wasn’t going to touch it this time around, but I just couldn’t stop myself when I saw the venom being spewed out at the prospect of Labor’s milder-than-mild funding cuts.

As for a zero public funding for private schools policy, I’m quite serious, with two qualifications. One is to allow for state-funded religious schools, as happens in Canada. While I’m not up to speed on the current Canadian system, in the 80s Catholic schools at least were resourced identically to secular public schools, and so were tuition-free. Obviously, especially today, all religions should be able to avail themselves of such a model, should they wish – and there is of course a price to pay, in terms of extensive state regulation, and probably also critical mass, in terms of being able to justify and run a skeletal, dispersed system-within-the-system.

My second qualification admits the drastic nature of what I’m proposing (especially if my above qualification/compromise would not get off the ground, which is a fair chance in today’s socially atomised Australia). Accordingly, it should be implemented as a strictly temporary move – that is, the tap to private schools should only be turned completely off for as long as it takes for Australia’s public universities to be properly resourced (say, back to mid-80s levels).

Again, this latter condition may be a simple case of “never” – but at least the ball is then firmly in the court of the Nation’s Choosing to Cut its Own Throat if it Wishes.

Two of today’s SMH letters to the editor nicely show up the dilemma-cum-paradox that is merrily splashing money around on private schools, while starving public universities. (I should note here that this “Good Education, Bad Education” game was started by Labor in 1987, and further, that while Labor’s current campaign promises for tertiary education are miles better than the status quo, they are a band-aid on a suppurating wound that is at least 50% of Labor’s creation.)

Catherine Matterson of St Ives writes:

Until yesterday, I was a swinging voter. Then upon reading Mr Latham's proposal to cut funding to certain private schools, when there is clearly so much money in the government coffers to fund all schools (government and private), I made another choice. (emphasis added)

If there was indeed so much money to fund education generally, you stupid rich bitch, then no one would be squabbling over the last hot chip, viz whether students from a top private school get $1500 or $3000 per head per annum.

In the other corner, Barry Henson of Cronulla says:

My boys go to a public school. They sit in portable classrooms that have no heating or air-conditioning.

At my most-recent employer, a Melbourne (public) university, I largely taught in such conditions – while not actually portable classrooms, a whole building wing lacked any heating or air-conditioning. And lacking even access to a shared office, I used my car for this purpose, and had to pay handsomely for this (the car-parking), too.

Such, then is my point – in a severely resource-constrained environment, giving taxpayer money to private schools (and private universities) is a plain obscenity. I’m not envious; I’m just numb.

Update 18 September 2004

Today, a new twist on the “finite amount of taxpayer money available for education” argument – why not charge fees to public school students? The rationale here is apparently that because many students today have mobile phones, therefore their families must be quite wealthy (which argument, of course, is a Clive Hamilton original).

Believe it or not, the case for public school fees is being put forward by a current teacher in the public school system: Susan Leembruggen, of the Ashtonfield/Branxton area. In 2001, Susan was a distressed chook farmer asking for a government bail-out, while in the late 90s, she was pricking Margo Kingston’s conscience, so as to install within it an embryonic empathy with the regional battlers personified by the rise of One Nation.

All up then, Susan can hardly be accused of inconsistency. OTOH, that such a piece of white trash* sees fit to now display her white trashness in a prominent public forum does give one pause to wonder – do public schools actually have a policy of employing their own worst enemies?

* and baby boomer also, I would hazard a guess, based on her sense of “me” entitlement, and fuck everyone else

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

How Dame Edna got her mojo

The conventional wisdom behind the late-50s origin, and early development, of the Barry Humphries character Dame Edna Everage has never quite satisfied me. AFAIK, the fullest account here is in John Lahr’s Dame Edna Everage and the rise of Western civilisation, Uni Calif Press 1992 (pp 52, 58-59, 66, 80-84). In executive-summary style, Dame Edna was Humphries’s reaction to the stifling suburban conformity of Melbourne at the time, and more particularly, among a certain (middle) strata of its women-folk.

Such an explanation belies the brazen gaucherie that has been the core of Edna’s character since at least the 1970s – prim and proper she ain’t. Lahr depicts Edna’s transition here – from an unmade-up Humphries dressed as a dowdy matron, to an over-the-top superstar – as essentially seamless. In contrast, I suspect that these two Ednas are actually two quite separate characters; sharing the same name, but not at all the same origin.

What, then is the origin of the brazen Dame Edna? (that is to say, the Dame Edna, unless: (i) you’re interested in what the character was 40 or more years ago, or (ii) like me, you want a more plausible account of where she comes from, and so who she ultimately is).

In an exhibition currently showing in Melbourne*, there is a photograph that provides startling evidence of what I’ll term Dame Edna's “missing link”. The photo, taken by Christopher Humphries, is of Barry Humphries striking a pose in some rather spectacular drag. It was taken on-set at the 1958 television recording of “The Bunyip and the Satellite”, a children’s program that was presumably a close copy of the children’s play of the same name which premiered in Melbourne in December 1957, and toured to Sydney in May 1958.

As you may or may not have guessed, the Barry Humphries-in-drag character was none other than the Bunyip itself (for non-Australian readers, a Bunyip is a figure from Indigenous mythology, of the monster-invented-for-scaring-(and delighting)-children sort). So Dame Edna is a Bunyip!

Supporting evidence for my revolutionary Edna-is-a-Bunyip theory comes from the title card to the above-mentioned photograph. It reads, in part:

Taking the title role in a 1957 children’s musical called “The Bunyip and the Satellite”, the young satirist [Barry Humphries] came on as a “prancing bird-like clown with a falsetto”. Co-writer Peter O’Shaughnessy later said “Barry’s performance was the finest and most touching he has ever given in the theatre”.

Even leaving aside the evidence of the photograph, then, it is plain that the “prancing bird-like clown with a falsetto” Humphries character of 1958 contributes far more to the make-up of the modern Dame Edna than her actual, prim namesake of the day.

Why does this matter now (apart from that sense of a jigsaw puzzle solved, that is)? It matters, I think, because it throws some doubt over Humphries’s sole ownership of the intellectual property in the Edna character.

For what ever reason, Peter O’Shaughnessy in not credited as a co-writer of “The Bunyip and the Satellite” in the index of play paraphernalia in the NLA’s collection (same URL). For the record, the play program (Sydney season) front cover currently on display in Melbourne lists the credits thus:

by Peter O’Shaughnessy and Jeffrey Underhill
with the assistance of Barry Humphries

under the direction of Doris Fitton

O’Shaughnessy’s role in Humphries’s early career is mentioned briefly by Lahr at p. 96 – the pair worked together on a number of revues in the three years to 1959, culminating in a “Testmonial Performance” in February 1959, which also doubled as Humphries’s send-off the England (where he was to remain for the entire 1960s).

I think that the Edna-as-Bunyip lineage also matters because of the Indigenous link with her comic grotesqueness. There has always been something magisterial and yet elemental about her – and now we know why. Edna has very little to do with scorning the suburbs of Melbourne; she comes from a much older artistic tradition. And one day, I hope that this might be properly acknowledged.

* "Making a Song and Dance: The Quest for an Australian Musical"

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

University of Newcastle's plagiarism scandal

Like the cases of Jarndyce v Jarndyce and the two co-creators of a reality TV format hit at loggerheads, the current ICAC investigation into the University of Newcastle's unsatisfactory handling of proven plagiarism by some of its students looks set to continue ad infinitum, or until the money runs out, anyway.

There is nothing new, or complex in the story. More than a year ago, Ian Firn, the whistleblowing academic at the centre of the story, said this: "Incredulity is the initial response of every academic to whom I tell this story. Derisive laughter is evoked when I tell them what the inquiry found."

At this stage, it is really not that important which inquiry – for there have been several – found what. The plain fact is that there has been a cover-up to the highest levels; the only worthwhile question remaining is what to do about it.

Not acknowledged at all in recent media reports in the highly salient (or so I would have thought) fact that current vice-chancellor Roger Holmes is leaving his seat in a few weeks' time, presumably for a cushy retirement.

Thus, all Roger the Dodger* needs to do right now is to hope that the ICAC investigation limps along until he sails off with his payout, and his reputation more-or-less intact. And with limping along being the operative word at the moment, Roger’s best-case script looks set to be the final draft.

Be that as it may, there are several other senior and/or key players in the cover-up who appear set to remain at the University of Newcastle. IMO, a prima facie case appears to exist for the summary dismissal, on the grounds of academic misconduct, of the following individuals:

Brian English, deputy vice-chancellor

Ronald MacDonald, deputy vice-chancellor of research and internationalisation**

Paul Ryder, the then head of the Newcastle Graduate School of Business, now keeping a low profile at the Central Coast School of Business

Rachid Zeffane, academic

Meanwhile another key player, Robert Rugimbana, the then deputy director of the Newcastle Graduate School of Business seems to have joined his former boss Paul Ryder in the slinking-off game – this time to Brisbane’s Griffith University.

For more reading, I recommend these previous posts (not on Newcastle specifically), and fellow blogger Tim Lambert, who has been following the scandal closely. I’m with Tim in assessing the best line to have come out of the scandal so far being that of (the once unfortunately-, but now aptly named) Ronald MacDonald, who said that it was beyond his capacity to judge plagiarism by business students because “I’m a physicist.” So there you go, science geeks: the case for anti-matter has just been conclusively proved to exist – inside the skull of Newcastle Uni’s Ronald MacDonald.

Running a close second, though, is the hilarious thought of "remedial training sessions" in plagiarism policy, which one of the previous inquiries recommended for several of the above academics. As an answer, apparently.

* Roger Holmes was once vice-chancellor of one of my previous employers, before packing it in after a few weeks, apparently because he didn't like the climate.

** Which is to say, Chalk and Cheese.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Somersault and gay-bashing

If Somersault (wr/dir Cate Shortland) is one of Australia’s most outstanding films of recent years then the Australian election has been clearly overtaken in The Most Depressing Thing Around at the Moment stakes.

[Warning: Plot spoiler alert from now on!]

I saw it last night, not knowing anything about it other than (i) it was filmed in Jindabyne, (ii) with a beautiful young female protagonist and yet arthouse/Cannes cred, it was almost certainly going to be a chick flick, and (iii) the story was based on a real-life murder of a gay man.

The last of the snippets of information had come from my ex, via an interview with Cate Shortland on “The Movie Show”, apparently. I’m not sure of its exact veracity (so typical of my ex!) because elsewhere (PDF), Shortland has said her inspiration came from the trial that followed the brutal bashing (but not murder, I assume) of a gay friend of hers by a young man met at a beat. Specifically, Shortland’s fascination was with the supportive-in-court young girlfriend of the young male accused – a woman who was the nucleus for Somersault protagonist Heidi.

Now, Females who Cling to Homophobic Arseholes doesn’t strike me as a particularly promising inspiration for a film’s central character. It might be perfect fodder for a depressing documentary or its told-as-fiction equivalent (Monster), but here in Australia, we seem to like our protagonists sunny-side up, i.e. mostly sympathetic. Cate Shortland’s curious – and probably cavalier – triumph has been to nonetheless craft the requisite sympathy in and for the character of Heidi.

As for her character’s relationship with a homophobic arsehole, Heidi’s clinginess – to the character of Joe, and all else – can’t be faulted. Personally, I can’t stand such women (as they invariably are) in real life, but I accept that such types – Fucked-up Woman Takes Small Step Forward at end of movie – are a staple of chick flicks.

Inevitably, the fact that Heidi is all-round clingier than McDonalds on one’s pancreas dilutes the actual homophobic venom in (equally fucked-up) boyfriend Joe. The gay bashing/murder scene is depicted so lightly that it is ambiguous as to whether it really even takes place. Such ambiguity may be well and good for Heidi’s character journey – she gets the best of both worlds, by having been a tourist in Hell-Lite, and getting to grow (!) by the experience – but it sure leaves Sam hanging, and with him, the whole topic of male homophobic hate-crimes.

Because of this, Somersault is a seriously-flawed film. Irrespective of her real-life inspirations for it, Shortland had a duty to either cover male homophobic violence properly, or leave it well alone. (Hint to future would-be filmmakers on this subject: if you think that the topic makes a perfect fit with a Female Protagonist Finds Herself story, then you’re wrong.)

Finally, a disclosure (which possibly explain this whole post as just a personal over-reaction to a few seconds of Shortland’s film). The film, although mostly set in Jindabyne, is intertwined with the locale and characters of white-trash Canberra and its surrounds – a fact I didn’t know until the movie was unspooling. I lived in and near Canberra for two years in the mid-90s, during which time my friendly local (and gay) GP was Dr Peter Rowland. Dr Rowland was murdered by three local young men in 1996 (same URL) in what was almost-certainly a hate crime. At the time of the murder, he was living in a farmhouse outside Canberra – a setting very similar (I imagine) to the farmhouse where the Older Gay Man in Somersault lives, and is murdered/bashed/or-is-it-a-dream by Heidi’s boyfriend Joe.

Whether Cate Shortland consciously used Peter Rowland’s murder as her inspiration I don’t know – I accept that the similarities could just be a coincidence. But even if so, Somersault is a woeful and exploitative film, for its use of the nastiest recesses of the male psyche as a transient plot device to achieve a Lassie-comes-home closing moment.

Update 14 September 2004

Just to clarify a couple of things about the relationship of Cate Shortland’s film to gay-bashing and to Peter Rowland’s murder.

Peter Rowland was murdered by a gang of three men, who (AFAIK) had (i) heard he was gay and (ii) went to his house to kill him because of that fact. Homophobic young men who go – invariably (i) alone and (ii) for no explicable reason – to notorious beats or to pay a social home visit to The Town Poof, and then bash and/or kill, are in a slightly different category.

Not, I stress, a lesser category of moral or legal culpability – rather, they have a different psychological make-up, and in particular, one in which their confused sexual identity would be plain for most to see, and especially plain to their girlfriends.

Joe’s character in Somersault shows zero credible signs of confused sexual identity. In other words Shortland has, by default, depicted Joe as a gang-of-one of the sort that killed Peter Rowland. But she had to draw this character manqué for narrative reasons – keeping Joe both one-dimensional and relatively psychologically stable allows Heidi to safely reach, and then cleanly leave rock-bottom. For the real girlfriends of Peter Rowland’s murderers, the situation would be quite different, at a guess, especially in terms of collusion in the crime.

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