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.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

September 11 on a Saturday

Today doesn’t particularly feel like drum roll . . . September 11 probably because it’s a Saturday. Out of all the days of the week, Saturday is the one in which Life Must Go On, for pretty obvious reasons.

Accordingly, I’m eschewing an anniversary-appropriate post this year, in favour something lite – and yet bitter.

My springboard is today’s news that Carson Kressley, of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”, will be celebrity judge for the Myer Fashion on the Fields at the Melbourne Cup in November.

As a gay man, I need to say this: I hate Carson. Meaning that I hate his fashion sense (otherwise, I don’t know him from the proverbial, but when you’re talking P2P (poof to poof), it’s quite acceptable, of course, to make binding decisions on dress-sense alone).

On this point, Ned Zeman in Vanity Fair has said it better than me:

Of all the gay fashionistas in New York, why did Queer Eye for the Straight Guy select one (the ubiquitous Carson Kressley) whose "taste" suggests Barbara Mandrell at the Sands circa 1972?

Until I read Ned’s bon mot, I had never heard of Barbara Mandrell. Looking at her 500 or so pix in Google images, I’m more than satisfied Ned was spot-on. I was unable to actually find a pic of Barbara playing the Sands, circa 1972, but this snap of her 1997 “The Last Dance” concert says it all. In other Barbara trivia, there have been rumours of her and Dolly Parton reprising the TV show “The Golden Girls”. Now, that’s more like it – and it's a role much more suited to Carson Kressley, too.

Friday, September 10, 2004

“Playing it straight”

It’s particularly mean of Seven to be running this up against “Kath & Kim” (albeit in repeat), but nonetheless last night I did my patriotic duty as an Aussie poof, and sat down to watch the premiere local episode of the American reality format.

The show previews I read generally drew attention to the cruel impact of its premise/twist on protagonist Rebecca Olds. After watching the first ep, I reckon that the show does raise some ethical concerns, but these only touch upon the person of Rebecca. For one thing, the twist is revealed almost at the start of the show (c.f. "Miriam"), meaning that Rebecca could have bailed then and there*. Rather more vulnerable, in fact, are the luckless straight guys evicted by Rebecca for being too poofy – of whom there were two last night, and no doubt more to come.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Seven is also the television home of Ian Thorpe Inc; Thorpie of course being the nation’s best-known poofy straight male (Disclaimer as to the last-mentioned adjective: that is if you take his word for it).

Anyway, last night did get me thinking about the plight of poofy straight guys more generally. It’s not like this issue is right up there with the Big Ones like terrorism, but nor is it going away. As gay becomes mainstream, poofy straight guys have got increasingly caught-up in a wedge – do they constantly, vocally protesteth their case (while trying to remember to keep their hand gestures in check as they do so) or do they just give up and settle for blissfully uncomplicated, if sexually-barren, solace in poofterdom?

The answer here, I suspect, depends on the one-stop-shop where all straight guys find their answers – it’s up to what their mates say. Here, of the two evictees last night, one appears likely to never live it down. Sam – you’re almost gayer-acting than Ian Thorpe, and it was no mistake or whim of Rebecca’s by which you were evicted. Your mates have presumably carefully shielded you – because it shields them – from seeing yourself in this way, but now you’ve gone and blown it for everyone. A float on next year’s Mardi Gras beckons, I’m afraid.

Simon, the other straight evictee, has less to fear from his mates, methinks. A Melbourne boy of the type I spent half my 20s with a hopeless crush on, what Rebecca (thought she) saw in him will be nothing new or shameful to his mates. Simon is that kind of guy who will kiss you passionately and publicly at a club, but then infuriatingly won’t go home with you because he’s not into guys – and politely and at length apologise for this fact. Simon, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the reason your mates will be giving you only the gentlest of ribbings over this one is because they all badly want to get into your pants themselves, and have ever since that time on the hike at Timbertop.

Will Rebecca’s gaydar continue to fail her so that she inevitably ends up picking a poof as The One (and so missing out on the cash)? I suspect so – one clue that she’s missed out on the cash is that she’s back to working where she was pre-show**, as a barmaid at Darwin’s Vic Hotel (take it from me, it’s a dive: think a military-meets-backpackers clientele).

Update – Thorpie, if you are gay, you only need to swim in this guy’s wake

Reading this piece on how few gay/lesbian/whatever Olympians there were this year made me realise how few excuses Thorpie may have. Gay Dutch swimmer Johan Kenkhuis, who won a silver medal at the Games, came out earlier this year, seemingly with very little fuss. OTOH, looking at his photo, I find this lack of fuss somewhat disconcerting – he’s an el delirio internacional indeed, if you ask me.

* No legally-enforceable release she might have earlier signed could compel the specific performance of the contract, nor, in the circumstances, expose her to more than nominal damages if she decided to bail.

** The show was filmed in April/May.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Casino liability for receiving stolen money and being an accessory in money-laundering

Melbourne’s Crown Casino is the largest single high-roller site in the world, turning over between $18 billion and $20 billion annually.

In March 2003, Crown Casino spokesman Gary O’Neil made this admission, regarding an about-to-be-jailed former high roller client: there were no obvious signs that Frank De Stefano was gambling beyond his means during the time he spent at the casino*.

As I wrote then, such an admission seems to imply that casinos should keep some kind of lookout over its customers for signs of gambling beyond their means.

More recently though, O’Neil has been peddling a more truculent line:

"We have never, ever denied and nor could we - it would be ludicrous for us to do it - that people come here who have criminal backgrounds and who spend money that has been illegally obtained," says Crown spokesman Gary O'Neil. Nor does Crown believe it is the casino's role to identify criminals who might be gambling with stolen money.

Casino spokesman Gary O'Neill last night revealed Crown's customers were not required to submit background records before joining membership programs. "We have always said that Crown is not an investigating agency and we don't have the resources to make background checks".

If the role of identifying criminals who might be gambling with stolen money or laundering black money is not Crown’s – even partly – that leaves two other contenders: the police and AUSTRAC. Both are currently constrained by not having automatic, real-time access to the detailed spending data kept by Crown. Is Gary O'Neil suggesting that they should? More likely, of course, he simply wants the status quo kept, into which casino responsibility for receiving stolen money is negated because of a jurisdictional/data-access black hole.

To appreciate the richness of Crown's position here – that it is not itself an investigating agency, and otherwise operates with limited resources – the outsourced cost of a routine (Australian) background check, sufficient to near-conclusively show whether a person has the legitimate financial resources to be spending the sums they are, is between $100 and $200, in my estimation. Is Crown saying it simply can’t afford to spend such a sum on verifying the bona fides of its high-rollers? Of course not – Crown is really saying that it doesn’t want to know. And until it is hit with a knockout civil lawsuit, or criminal charges against it (and not merely one of its minions), Crown Casino appears certain to get away with this shameful ruse.

* Gosia Kaszubska “10 years for gambling away clients’ $8m” The Australian 14 March 2003

Bribing mature age workers

Since 2001, 57 per cent of Australia's employment growth has come from workers aged 55 and over - and 25 per cent from workers aged 60 and over.

In other words, the older boomers (and also the cohort just older than them) are doing just fine economically. Who would have thought it? Statistically, the over-55s are (i) far more likely to be home-buyers/owners than GenX, and are (ii) far less likely to be tertiary educated. The implication is plain, although inexplicable (and therefore inadmissible) by conventional economics – tertiary education and home renting both negatively correlate with employability.

My explanation? Money follows money – thus compelling government to throw taxpayer money in too, for good measure. Thus, despite the over-55 jobless being the least disadvantaged sector of the unemployed, July saw special measures, from both centre-Right parties, pandering to them.

Then today, PM Howard upped the bonanza, announcing a new annual tax rebate of $500 (maximum) available only to the over-55s:

We are committed to providing enhanced opportunities and greater choice for mature age workers.

Which translated simply means that the Liberals are committed to driving GenX further into the economic abyss; a tactic and policy identical to Labor's.

Update 10 September 2004

Wouldn’t you know it – the would be prime beneficiaries of PM Howard’s bribe are spitting it back, thus once again proving that baby boomers are angry toddlers who never grew up. For 58 y.o. Derek White, the $10 a week would only pay for a pie and a beer. Dunno about you, Derek, but I can get a pie and a beer for $5. In any case, it’s free – so what’s your problem?

Meanwhile Trevor Moir, who runs the taxpayer-funded TECG Association for mature-age employees, joins in the whinge from the other end – what about the workers earning more than $48k who won’t be getting their pie and beer money? Here’s a hint, Trev – why don’t you spend some of your presumably abundant free time updating your group’s website, and especially its “News” section? Oh, and since you’re also presumably earning too much (or too little?) to score a free pie – go and fuck yourself, instead.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Life following comedy

Earlier this year (from memory, so don’t quote me on the details), the guys from JJJ’s “Today Today” – aka "the Chaser" team – quasi-prank called the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regarding John Farnham’s misleadingly-titled “The Last Time” tour.

Now real life has caught up, to the great surprise of no one – who ever heard of a mulleted, baby boomer English emigrant turning down an opportunity to make another few mill? (Hey, if it’s good enough for Dicko from “Australian Idol” . . . )

The twist is that someone has been prepared to “front” the rumoured legal action, this time not in the interests of comedy alone. “Farnham fan” and “legal expert in copyright and trademarks” Sam Christie is presumably this suburban Melbourne impresario, otherwise known as Savvas Christodoulou. Christie/Christodoulou appears to be engaged in a David and Goliath trademark stand-off with one or more global conglomerates, while – probably not surprisingly – engaging in actual hand-to-hand trademark combat only on a David vs Goliath’s amateur fan-site basis.

For its part, the ACCC says that it won’t be intervening, citing a lack of widespread consumer detriment caused by Farnham’s latest comeback. Naturally, I’ve got some sympathy with Christie here – if nothing else, the more nutters clogging the innards of our courts and commissions, the better the general egress in our streets. Taking a stand can undoubtedly be a lonely job – especially when the Venn intersection of “John Farnham fans” and “people who stand up for principles” is a grouping of one, at the very most. But you’re all right, Sam – “Detriment” is just another word for no more lyrics left to write.

Update 10 September 2004

News follows life follows comedy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Stopping terrorism

The driving force behind the Muslim rebels isn't desperation: it's religion, martyrdom and rewards in paradise.

No it’s not, M. Teague of Glen Waverley – it’s demographics.

Oil wealth in Saudi Arabia (and perhaps elsewhere in the Mid-East) created a baby boom among GenXers, born between the mid-60s and late 70s. These children then had the misfortune to grow up not under the idyll of stability and prosperity experienced by the baby boomers of the West, but under the forces of fundamentalism.

As I’ve repeatedly written, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism from the late 70s closely parallels that of economic fundamentalism in the West (aka Thatcherism). Therefore, it is likely that a solution to Islamofascist terrorism can only via a joint project of the West and the Islamic world – with both agreeing to simultaneously de-fundamentalise themselves (albeit this is an argument based on symmetry, gut feeling and profound powerlessness – the latter not as in my being afraid of terrorism, but in having long lived under the blank monolith of boomer inertia (aka fundamentalism’s cheer squad) in the West).

Isn’t it worth a try? After all, it’s not in area where capital-A answers are exactly prolific – Ken Parish says “Buggered if I know”, while John Quiggin sees Islamism as a combination of national grievances on the part of “average” Muslims with globally-focused acts by extremist young men (and to a lesser extent, young women) from fairly well-off backgrounds.

To the latter category, John could usefully add “unemployed” – Islamofascism is, at bottom, a sort of Work for the Dole program for uni graduates, informally sponsored by the Saudi government. With the West also having acted abysmally in finding jobs for the best-and-brightest of its own GenX (who are proportionately far less numerous, though) the current Saudi morass is hardly an unexpected singularity – which is another reason why the solution to terrorism can only come via some big changes in the West, as well.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Beslan and terrorism’s aesthetic limits

Were the perpetrators sub-human or all too human? Answer: why deal in generalisations when there are specifics aplenty?

Apart from an accident of birth (Australia, instead of Saudi Arabia), I would undoubtedly be an Islamofascist terrorist, by virtue of being able to tick all of the following boxes: male, GenX, highly-educated, unemployed, prone to nihilism/self-loathing, and a sexual wallflower.

Which combination, needless to say, does not make empathy my strong point – even towards those in whom I can see a fair bit of myself. I could be accused of taking the hypocritical high-ground here – engaging in brinkmanship to out-autistify emotionally-challenged GenX Saudis – but at least I feel that my position is sustainable.

While the Saudi position, post-Beslan, is plainly not. The aesthetics – which is to say, motivations – of high-production value terrorism run closely parallel to those of pornography. At the extremes of both – acts targeting children – lies a convergence of the act of production with that of consumption. This convergence, paradoxically at first, results in an aesthetic (or “moral”, if you prefer) diminution – the experience becomes self-defeatingly vicarious. Put more simply, over-consumption of porn – at which’s outer limits, sex and death are interchangeable, as are production and consumption – must lead to a turning point being reached. The elastic in the underpants of satiety therefore ceases to perform any kind of role whatsoever, even without usually actually snapping.

Suffice to say, I think that Beslan marks such a turning point. For an orgy of mass death, it comes across (if I may here insert myself into the perpetrators' POV) as coldly vicarious – even with the added quasi-sexual degradation of children denied water drinking their own urine. If you want to bring that old spark back then, Islamofascists, the only way forward is a return to the personal. Kill yourselves, kill each other – even kill me, if you must – just do it with feeling.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Nice one – again – Saudi cunts

Valery Andreyev, head of the local branch of the FSB intelligence service, said 10 of the dead hostage-takers were from Arab countries, after Russian troops stormed the school earlier Friday.


The consistently-excellent (and cooler-headed than me) Daniel Davies poses where to go from here.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Calling the police mean names

At 31, North Queenslander Pat Coleman is a little young to be a fully-fledged Nutter Waving a Placard in a Prominent Public Place. Indeed, looking at his photo, I’d swear that he was in his mid-40s. Nonetheless, I’ll reluctantly give him the benefit of the doubt here, by taking his, and a slim High Court majority’s, side of the argument ove rthe right to call police "slimy lying bastards" (same URL).

I emphasise “reluctantly” because ordinarily, Placard-Waving Nutters are a main bane of my existence – right up there with telemarketers, windscreen washers at intersections, buskers and the Job Network. The common theme here, in case you don’t get it, is abuse of public trust/space/money for private gain. Plus, can’t placard-waving Pat just get a blog to broadcast his conspiracy theories – to anyone who cares, that is? (Hey, if it’s good enough for me . . .)

Legally-speaking, I haven’t bothered to read the 4-3 High Court judgement, so I won’t be writing here a high-minded exegesis on freedom of speech, and of political speech in particular. I don’t think I really need to, anyway – even the name of the legislation at issue – the Vagrants Act* 1931 – and a perusal of its list of sections give away how badly dated the law in this area is (the sections Pat Coleman were charged under have been amended in the mean time, but not (AFAICT) so as to prevent similar cases being newly prosecuted – until the recent High Court judgement, that is). “Protection to wives of habitual drunkards” – pshaw! (There but for a lack of legally-sanctioned gay marriage went I in my last relationship; and no thanks to our legislators for not thinking of me. As it happens though (and who would have thunk?), I managed to extricate myself by my own bootstraps – without needing to have the cops threaten my pisshead boyfriend with the $40 (!) penalty the section imposes on said habitual drunkards).

Alongside the outdated concept of “vagrants” (from my experience and observations, modern destructive alcoholics typically have full-time jobs and secure housing) is the (IMO) equally quaint/tired notion that our police forces deserve respect, above and beyond the respect any normal citizen deserves – otherwise known as the “What about the uniform? Surely it demands respect” argument.

Now, despite being a gay man, I have been totally bypassed by that leather’n’uniform-liking thang that infects a proportion of my brotherhood. Therefore I am left cold, if a little bemused, by Merv Bartlett of Inala, Queensland’s assertion that police uniforms demand respect. Merv, dunno about you, but the only piece of clothing I’d ever consider of as demanding respect is Speedos – and only then on the right body, and only then temporarily (i.e. “If you want my respect for breakfast, it’s time to drop ‘em, Danno”).

Nor is Merv alone on today’s S(&)MH letters page in his strange submissiveness. Other writers take the opportunity to play Good Slave/Bad Slave with our court system, by accusing the High Court judges of double-standards when it comes to being called mean names. Now apart from the fact that not a whiff of corruption, AFAIK, attaches to any of the seven current High Court judges (while my guesstimate of police corruption is that it ebbs, long-term, around a one-third of the force minimum), the simple fact is that judges generally do show considerable forbearance when it comes to such things – because they have to. Exhibit one: Michael Kirby. Exhibit two is the more colourful (albeit not involving a High Court judge) take-it-on-the-chin attitude of Victorian magistrate Lisa Hannon, who was recently called a "fucking dog" by an accused during a video link-up. After which outburst Ms Hannon turned off the video link, but took no other action.

Possibly, the only-mildly flappable Ms Hannon has worked at a call centre, where being called a "fucking dog", or something similar, is all part of the daily routine. The point is that Australia in 2004 is verily brimming with angry, dumb white trash, and if the cops can’t see this – and simply move on – then they’re the ones having a reality disconnect – lay down your guns, officers, and pick up your placards (the guy with the shopping jeep outside the GPO has plenty spare, I’m sure).

* Technically, the Vagrants, Gaming and Other Offences Act 1931

Thursday, September 02, 2004

GenX, housing affordability and immigration

With housing non-affordability for GenX getting some welcome blog air-time elsewhere, I thought that it’s a good time to broach the rather fraught topic of housing affordability (and so inevitably, GenX) and immigration.

"Immigration and . . ." is, of course, about as fraught a topic as you can get in contemporary Oz cultural discourse. As well as “race”/ethnicity, immigration-and-anything involves generous dollops of class, environmental concerns, and last-but-not-least, the festering hole found in the middle of that doughnut called Australian national identity.

At least one of these can be fairly easily dealt with, though. My gut feeling on the environmental arguments against immigration is that they are naïve at best, and almost-transparently racist at worst. I fully accept that our large cities have load limits – “desirable” ones in the case of cities-of-the-sweeping-plains such as Melbourne, and rather firmer ones in the case of cities with absolute geographical boundaries like Sydney – but this is simply a case for changing the current (mildly) disproportionate migration flow into large-urban areas (especially Sydney) towards rural/regional areas. I say “simply” well aware that my suggestion (i) is hardly novel, and (ii) has already been the subject of “enforcement”-type proposals. All I can say here is that if “carrot” efforts towards encouraging rural/regional migration don’t work, then “stick” methods are ludicrous and demeaning – it would be far better to rethink Australian immigration policy from the ground up, with a focus not, of course, on absolute numbers but on net environmental sustainability.

Accepting this – and also bearing in mind our legions of dying country towns and international crises like Darfur – I believe that our current immigration intake can, and should, be considerably increased. The “more the merrier (more or less)” attitude to immigration has incalculably enriched the make-up of the USA – although I stress that environmental costs must always be born in mind (on which facet the US is hardly a model country).

From another direction, though, my strongly, if conditionally pro-immigration stance clashes head-on with what I might term the PM Howard-lovin’ Self-Congratulation brigade – a sample of whose thoughts can be seen over at John Quiggin’s blog, where a debate has been raging over, inter alia, the point that "Only Howard could have restored Asian immigration to high levels".

Personally, I’m baffled as to why this (accepting it at face value) might be considered an achievement – surely successfully running a “colour-blind” immigration program (and the implication is that John Howard has NOT) is/would be a much worthier accolade/goal. But perhaps I’m over-analysing here – more straightforwardly, PM Howard probably does deserve some kudos to the extent that he has banished (for now) crass, One Nation-style anti-Asian/Chinese immigration politics from the mainstream agenda.

As to how PM Howard so successfully defeated the late 90s One Nation clamour on Asian immigration is not dwelt upon by the above-mentioned Howard-lovers. If pressed, I suspect that they would say something about the strong economy. More specifically, I’d suggest, is that house price inflation has hugely eased the 50+ white “battler” (i.e. the core One Nation constituency) anger of the late 90s. What may not be fully understood here is that the house price inflation of recent years has also, via “white flight” extended strongly into the sunbelt regions (One Nation’s heartland) – although not, of course, into otherwise-dying country towns wholesale (a few lucky, mainly coastal ones aside).

Fact: even One Nation voters are not completely stupid. They know that the house price inflation windfall of recent years has to come from someone’s pockets – and they see, with some justification, recent immigrants as the Cargo Cult Captains on this one. The Housing Industry Association – aggressive lobbyists for higher immigration but, unlike me, with a strongly pro-large city preference, AFAICT) – have repeatedly drawn such a connection. In other words, PM Howard has effectively bought the mass of One Nation voters off – and moreover, they understand this to perfection.

Which is still capable of being a Good Thing, I hasten to add, except for the elephant in the room that no one thinks it polite to talk about. House price inflation is not just an everyone’s-a-winner, never-ending dance between Aussie-battlers and cashed-up immigrants – there are, in fact some capital-L Losers; to whit, GenX.

Because One Nation voters are quite stupid, it’s no surprise that they aren’t currently kicking up a fuss about their destined-to-be-renters-for-life GenX offspring. What is a surprise, though, is that the otherwise-intelligent also take so much comfort in John Howard’s crude bribe.

Joining the dots, then – high immigration into Australia’s large cities has been an economic disaster for GenX, who have become silent, inadvertent victims largely because of the lack of strong lobbies* on their behalf. Although the case for Australian immigration policy to be reconceived as an emphatically de-urban one is a strong (and in Sydney’s case, compelling) one environmentally, there appears to be zero political will for such a move. Hampering it most particularly is the powerful influence of the Housing Industry Association. More subtly, previously One Nation-aligned battlers have been conscripted to the HIA line, through having seen-the-value (quite literally) of high urban immigration policies.

Also stymieing GenX – and here the Housing Industry Association’s consummate lobbying skills can most readily be seen – is the HIA’s having publicly positioned itself as a Friend of GenX, by making frequent, hand-wringing comments about the housing affordability crisis. The HIA’s stock “answer” here is for a reduction in property taxes. A real answer, though, lies in fundamentally reconceiving Australian immigration policy.

In the mean time, an appropriate short-term measure, I suggest, would be to ease the current acutely-inflationary shortage in the building trades by immediately opening up the immigration gates much wider (I assume that, again due to HIA pressure, building tradespeople and labourers do not score high immigration points despite the manifest skills-shortage in this respect). With the HIA guild then engaged – for a change – in just defending its home turf, real and wider policy reform may then be able to occur. An incidental bonus here would be, at least for Australia’s white-collar workers, to see their blue-collar cousins in the building industry struggle against the wage-deflationary pressures that globalisation brings –forces that the HIA has so far artificially protected Australia’s building industry from, by insisting that “skills”, in the immigration context, mean white-collar ones only.

Update 3 September 2004

A couple more thoughts on the correlation link between high urban immigration and housing affordability – could the Housing Industry Association (for whatever reason) be blowing the wrong trumpet here? Robert Corr attributes housing non-affordability to the $7,000/$14 000 (for new homes, for a while) first home-buyers' grant and the capital gains tax discount for property investors. While I'm sure the former had some impact (in retrospect, its application to established homes, given its policy basis as compensation for the GST on new homes, was a disaster waiting to happen), I doubt that it would be nearly as significant as the raw supply/demand imbalance wrought by high urban immigration.

Similarly, while the CGT discount provisions undoubtedly brought forth/forward many baby boomer property investors, such investors were reacting to and riding on, rather than conspiring to cause, the GenX "renter for life" syndrome – i.e. immigration-caused inflated property prices nicely facilitated the Nice Lazy Earner for boomer retirement phenomenon, while at the same time this investor activity added some secondary fuel to the inflationary fire.

* Letter from Nigel Fitzpatrick

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Get an education, Merlin Luck

I don’t know if it’s just Pick On 24 Years-Olds Week for me or what, but Generation Y has been giving me particular dyspepsia of late. (Checking my archives, I see that this could also simply be a case of a seasonal/Spring malady).

In terms of Merlin Luck’s outpourings today, I’m not really het up either way about the underlying issues – it’s just Merlin’s god-awful understanding of recent (yes, even in his school-age lifetime) history that so irks me:

Politics used to be cool. From what I've heard there was actually a time where it was fashionable to be concerned with human rights issues - back in the days of the anti-Vietnam movement, back when the Live Aid concerts raised millions of dollars for Ethiopia and forced governments to re-evaluate their aid policies.

Human (and other species, too) rights issues – like the Australian* environment, an accessible and quality higher education sector, and jobs – have been more aggressively fought for considering the economic circumstances** by GenX since the mid-80s, than by any other generation at any other time. So I’m the protest generation, Merlin – and yet we don’t even get a mention in your let’s-just-skip-a-whole-generation world view.

While I’ll leave it to Jack Strocchi (same URL) to do the forensic post-mortem on the anti-Vietnam movement, I can tell you, Merlin, that Live Aid was a fucked-up debacle, an all-sizzle-no-steak production now only seen as success by misty-eyed but We-Rule-the-World boomers, their equally myopic “alternatively”-educated offspring like yourself, and – oddly enough – totalitarian China.

* "Think global, act local."

** especially the comment by me on August 31, 2004 at 03:40 PM

Melbourne schoolboy pulls the wool over the entire Channel 7 legal department?

Channel 7’s decision to broadcast the identity of a 16 year old (15 at the time) victim of child sexual abuse – admittedly with the boy’s consent – is frankly bizarre. I am not aware just how many promotions for “Today Tonight” showing the boy’s face aired, but there was definitely one during the Melbourne news ad-break of about 6.15 pm – I remember the time because my jaw dropped while watching it.

When the boy’s face turned out after all to be pixellated on the actual show a few minutes later, my sense of a big boo-boo (to use the technical legal term) on the part of Channel 7 solidified.

Seven’s error has little, if anything, to do with the sub judice aspects of the case. There have been plenty of precedents for no-holds-barred media coverage of matters to do with post-verdict, but pre-sentence, court cases.

Rather, the error lies in identifying a child sexual abuse victim. At 16, I don’t see how the boy could give a legally effective waiver of his normal legal rights here (unlike, say, an adult rape victim).

I accept that the boy freely and sincerely wanted to be identified on the show. But that’s simply his palpably-naïve way of coping with what happened to him – that is to say, part of a pattern of emotional regression (he is currently estranged from his family) that often flows from child sexual abuse.

While certainly on the basis of age, the Melbourne boy has to be considered as less damaged a victim than Vili Fualaau (12 years old at the time), I’m troubled by the similarities between the two cases. Prurient media interest has immensely complicated Vili Fualaau’s transition into sane adulthood. For Channel 7 to now exploit a boy’s fighting, but inwardly hollow, emotional bravado is gutter-scraping for ratings.

“In years to come I'll probably have a laugh at it" quoth the boy last night. Apart from what the law says, it was Channel 7’s responsibility, as in loco parentis (/big-brotheris?), to have had a psychologist to sit down with the boy after the interview and say what needed to be said: “We’d be happy to interview you – this time, for broadcast – when such a year does come; in the mean time, good luck with becoming a well-adjusted young man – on which point trust us, the temporary buzz you would have got from being known as that cool teacher-shagging kid would inevitably turn into a millstone of Gary Coleman proportions”.

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