Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Covering the Tony Blair speech

I caught a bit of it on live TV yesterday, and just about popped a vein when I heard this:

Left and right still matter hugely in politics, and the divergence can sometimes be sharp, as we all know. But the defining division in countries and between people is increasingly open or closed. Open to the changing world, or fearful, hunkered down, seeing the menace of it, not the possibility.

This is the age of the interconnected. We all recognise this, when it comes to economics, communication and culture, but the same applies to politics. The struggle in our world today, therefore, is not just about security, it is a struggle about values and about modernity . . .

Yep, saying that Left and Right still matter hugely in politics, coming from an all-boomer, all-spin – and for most intents, extreme-Right (= policy whores for the highest bidder) - government is surely the most blatant, egregious lie ever told by the sleazy Brit PM.

And that’s saying something. Broadsheet coverage of the Blair speech seems to have missed this howler, strangely enough. Instead, they have (i) pfaffed around pointing out the irony of UK Labour’s Blair (nominally Left) and Australia’s governments being close Iraq war chums, and (ii) otherwise run great chunks of the howler-less parts of the Blair speech.

The first is no irony, and not only because the Blair government is not substantively Left. Rather, the US/UK/Oz tripartite “coalition of the willing” is simply the world’s three largest debtor nations (per head, if not absolutely), showing their best, cheesiest “I’m good for a credit limit increase, (please?)” faces to the world’s saver nations (who, Japan aside, have stayed conspicuously out of Iraq). Without the Iraq frolic then, all three nations would look much more nakedly bankrupt. (It’s paradoxically true that when one is hopelessly in debt, spending (and so borrowing) more money is a source of creditor comfort, as long as the said spending is done with due solemnity, if not pain). Oh, and with Iraq’s (theoretical) oil wealth, it also helps to jointly bind the “coalition of the willing” that the US and Australia are, per capita, the world first and second-biggest oil consumers/pigs (not sure about the UK, but it wouldn’t be far behind).

Then there’s the boring bits of the Blair speech that the broadsheets did run. Again strangely enough, the Age and the Australian both ran with much the same edited extract. So that you, the reader, can see the two editors’ involved respective peccadilloes, I’ve meshed the two edited extracts together. Italicised is what ran in the Age, but not the Australian, while the vice versa (in the Australian, but not the Age) is bolded.


The struggle in our world today is not just about security, it is a struggle about values and about modernity - whether to be at ease with it or in rage at it. To win, we have to win the battle of values, as much as arms. We have to show these are not Western, still less American or Anglo-Saxon values but values in the common ownership of humanity, universal values that should be the right of the global citizen.

This is the challenge. Ranged against us are the people who hate us; but beyond them are many more who don't hate us but question our motives, our good faith, our even-handedness, who could support our values but believe we support them selectively. These are the people we have to persuade. They have to know this is about justice and fairness as well as security and prosperity.

And in truth there is no prosperity without security; and no security without justice. That is the consequence of a connected world. That is why we cannot say we are an open society and close our markets to the trade justice the poorest of the world demand. Why we cannot easily bring peace to the Middle East unless we resolve the question of Israel and Palestine. Why we cannot say we favour freedom but sit by while millions in Africa die and millions more are denied the very basics of life.

If we want to secure our way of life, there is no alternative but to fight for it. That means standing up for our values not just in our own country but the world over. We need to construct a global alliance for these global values; and act through it. Inactivity is just as much a policy, with its own results. It's just the wrong one.

The immediate threat is from Islamist extremism. You mourn your victims from Bali as we do ours and those from July 7 last year in London. We can add to them victims from Madrid, or September 11 in the US. But, this terrorism did not begin on the streets of New York. It simply came to our notice then. Its victims are to be found in the recent history of many lands from Russia and India, but also Algeria, Pakistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Indonesia, Kenya and countless more. And though its active cadres of terrorists are relatively small, it is exploiting a far wider sense of alienation in the Arab and Muslim world.

We will not defeat this terror until we face up to the fact that its roots are deep, and that it is not a passing spasm of anger, but a global ideology at war with us and our way of life. Their case is that democracy is a Western concept we are forcing on an unwilling culture of Islam. The problem we have is that a part of opinion in our own countries agrees with them.

We are in danger of completely misunderstanding the importance of what is happening as we speak in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops, British and Australian, are alongside each other and I know whatever our views on either conflict, we are all deeply proud of the commitment, dedication and bravery of our armed forces.

But in each case, we have nations engaged in a titanic struggle to be free of a legacy of oppression, stagnation and servitude. In each case, its people have, for the first time, been offered a choice to vote. In each case, they have seized it, despite obstacles we can scarcely imagine.

But in each case also, the forces of reaction are at work, trying through the most evil of means, terrorism - the slaughter of the innocent because they are innocent - to destroy this hope.

I know the Iraq war split this nation as it did mine. And I have never disrespected those who disagreed with me over it. But for almost three years now we have been in Iraq with full UN support. From the outset, our forces in Afghanistan have been there with UN authority. In both cases, there is the full support of democratically elected governments.

Every reactionary element is lined up to fight us. They know if they lose, a message is sent out across the Muslim world, that strikes at the heart of their ideology. So they are fighting hard.

We must not hesitate in the face of a battle utterly decisive in whether the values we believe in, triumph or fail. Here are Iraqi and Afghan Muslims saying clearly: democracy is as much our right as yours; and in embracing it, showing that they too want a society in which people of different cultures and faith can live together in peace. This struggle is our struggle.

If the going is tough - we tough it out. This is not a time to walk away. This is a time for the courage to see it through. But though it is where military action has been taken that the battle is most fierce, it will not be won by victory there alone.

Wherever people live in fear, with no prospect of advance, we should be on their side; in solidarity with them, whether in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea; and where countries, and there are many in the Middle East today, are in the process of democratic development, we should extend a helping hand.

This requires, across the board, an active foreign policy of engagement not isolation. It cannot be achieved without a strong alliance. This alliance does not end with, but it does begin with, America. For us in Europe and for you, this alliance is central. And I want to speak plainly here. I do not always agree with the US. Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have. But the strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in. The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved. We want them engaged.

The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us can be resolved or even contemplated without them. Our task is to ensure that with them, we do not limit the agenda to security. If our security lies in our values and our values are about justice and fairness as well as freedom from fear, then the agenda must be more than security and the alliance include more than America.

Once the Israeli election has taken place, we must redouble our efforts to find a way to the only solution that works: a secure state of Israel and a viable, independent Palestinian state. We must continue to mobilise the resources and will to turn the commitments of 2005 into action to combat the ravages of conflict, famine and disease in Africa where millions, literally millions, die every year preventably. We must focus on the threat of climate change, now made all the more acute by anxiety over energy supply.

This is a big agenda. It means action on all fronts.

There will be many insidious and persuasive voices that urge us to stay in our comfort zone, high in the stands and watch the field of play. It is tempting, and yet I don't believe our countries will ever truly prefer spectating to playing. We naturally get stuck in. It's our way. It's certainly always been yours.

In 1939, when Britain declared war on the Nazi tyranny, that same day your prime minister announced you were at war too; no ifs, no buts, just solidly with the world. How magnificent and how typical of Australia. We needed you then and we need you now. Today's struggle is of a very different nature, but it will determine our collective future. I believe it is one together that we can win.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why Left artists should just give up

As I wrote re its opening ceremony, the Commonwealth Games has been a widespread economic bonanza, just as long as you’re *not* an artist/writer/performer.

Confirming this, the other evening I was down at “The Beach”, a Games cultural hotspot that I’d been to several times during the week already. A prominent prime-time act was a mock beach patrol, cum other nautical themes, titled “Sink or Swimburne”. As Melbournians may well guess, this pageant’s performers were arts students from Swinburne University of Technology.

A friend-turned-roving-reporter, who was with me at “The Beach”, asked one of the 30-odd Swinburne students/performers (then on a break) about whether they got paid for their Games work. No – and not only that, participation was compulsory.

Looking up the “Festival Melbourne 2006” Games cultural program-guide, “Sink or Swimburne” was clearly a high-rotation act, on for ten days (out of the 11-day games; they got March 20 “off”). While the printed program doesn’t give daily times, it appears that “Sink or Swimburne” were “roving perfomers” (PDF) on for up to two-times-two-hours slots on each of these ten days. In addition, performers' median travelling time, to get to and from the CBD by public transport, would have been two hours per day.

That is, the Swinburne students/performers were conscripted to work, unpaid, up to total of 40 hours (not including 20 hours of commuting, on average) over eleven days. Fuck. That.

No doubt the Swinburne crew was told that this sort of stuff: '“Official Festival Melbourne 2006 performer” will look good on one’s CV'. I doubt that it’s gonna work like that down the track, but let’s move on, to what happens when young performers have the misfortune of getting Australia Council funding for their public-art event. (Swinburne didn't.)

OzCo funding was obtained by theatre company Red Cabbage for its “Hedge-mony”, a one-day (today) performance art event involving a 400-odd cast, that a few weeks ago caught the eye of boomer-Right columnist Andrew Bolt. As Bolt launched his attack well ahead of the actual event, it seems he simply trolled through the Games cultural program-guide looking for twinned red-flags: “Australia Council funding” and events which could be construed as Left. Tick, and tick: the program describes the hedge-event as, inter alia: “a visual spectacle that questions the notion of hierarchies and systems of power”.

Looking up OzCo funding records (PDF), the Red Cabbage principals behind “Hedge-mony” indeed received $15,000 for their event (the program-guide also lists the Melbourne Museum and “Auspicious Arts” as financial supporters).

Waste of money? Quite possibly, including judging from what I have seen of it so far today (it has three discrete segments being performed this afternoon/evening, and the first ten minutes of the first segment was an utter yawnfest). Although a street press report highlighted that the funding received went to paying for materials*, rather than the *volunteer* performers, the sum of money involved, and the verbatim claims of Tania Smith (scroll down) both suggest that a fair whack of the OzCo 15-grand went as salary to the four Red Cabbage principals: Tania Smith, Louise Morris, Anna Hamilton and Anna Grassham. My guesstimate is that the principals may have pocketed about $2,000 each for their work. Otherwise, no one has got/gets paid a cent, blue-collar and boomer-supervisory labour aside, of course.

The funny thing is that I’m sure that privately, Andrew Bolt would not at all grudge the Red Cabbage principals such a wage. They after, after all, organised 400 volunteer young performers (including recuiting through the Scouts (PDF)) is surely an admirable thing in today’s boom era of global labour/body trafficking, aka “onshoring”.

In the end, the Red Cabbages of this world can’t even fire a sound shot in, much less win this particular nasty culture war. As Bolt replied to Tania Smith (URL above), who "hedged" her bets thus ("Yes, the project does raise questions about power, society, hierarchies ... if you choose to read into it. On the whole, most of our audiences purely find it a great way to get caught up in the festival atmosphere") :

I resent that you got even a cent for your frolic. If it's so much fun, why not do it for the sheer love of it? And if you really want to "do something" for the community, come down to our junior cricket club next month and help out our working bee. You don't get to dress like a hedge but you can help some lovely boys and girls by doing a bit of concreting.

Nice one, Andrew – you’re on $200-$500k a year, and you expect impoverished culture-workers to subsidise *you* (and your family). But since Bolt does mention concrete, it strikes me that the art “installations” currently going on in the streets of Paris might be more to his taste. After all, the Paris riots are *entirely* volunteer “art” – not a taxpayer arts-cent goes to the performers or organisers. So would you prefer that – a bit of unleashed GenX and Y rage – Andrew? If so, I sure hope that Bolt’s 4WD (I’m guessing) is first car to be torched.

* “But when one of Hedge-mony’s organisers pointed out that the free event was made up of unpaid volunteers, and that funding went towards paying for materials rather than pumping up bank balances, Bolt was adamant that he’s still in the right.”
- John Bailey, “Business as usual for Bolta” Beat 22 March 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

Have big law firms stopped making equity partners?

An almost throw-way line in today’s AFR sent my head spinning:

“The attraction of being a partner at a big firm is a lot less than before”, says [University of Western Sydney professor of management John] Gray. “Now existing partners aren’t admitting extra lawyers to be equity partners. All you get is a pay increase.”*

If this is indeed the case, it has sure been kept quiet. Bringing up the drawbridge, forever, on new equity partners is of course a classic boomer move – coldly tactical, and betting the house on Xer passivity rather than Xer enragement.

For readers who don’t understand the economics of large law firms, here’s a quick lesson. Partners earn most of their drawings (typically $1m+ annually), by effectively “owning” non-partner lawyers, aka revenue-earners. Through charge-out arbitrage, it’s a relatively effortless way of making money.

So what’s in it for non-partner lawyers? Traditionally, there was always the light at the end up of the tunnel: becoming an equity partner oneself, after ten or so years of de facto slavery (i.e. receiving as salary about 10% of the revenue one earns/bills, even after overheads are taken into account).

I’d be interested to know the reactions, to this turn of events, of any non-partner lawyers out there . Talk about goalpost-shifting, mid-game. One known, and unsurprising, reaction (apart from just walking out) of non-partner lawyers caught on the wrong side the drawbridge is cited by Gray: seething resentment by lawyers against burgeoning numbers of non-revenue earners:

[Many young self-employed barristers who have left large law firms] say “I don’t want to work long hours to employ a personnel clerk.”*


In other law news, today’s Oz exhumes a stupidly-handled-at-the time story from two years ago. And it ain’t smelling any fresher today. Hint to Chris Merritt: these junkets are either kosher tax-wise, or they aren’t. As they currently seem to be indeed 100% deductible (in defiance of conventional tax law precepts, IMO), then the *real* story is why the ATO allows lawyers to get away with this. It really has nothing to do with lawyers' professional bodies, unless these are actually organising the junkets.

Finally in law news, I’ve added an update to a recent post on the gilded generation of the 1961-born, which includes plagiarising, no-hoper (but protected boomer) magistrate Jennifer Rimmer.

* Elizabeth Kazi, “There's no under-age at this bar” AFR 24 March 2006 (no URL)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The sad demise of Spinifex Press – and how once again GenX gets the doors of generational handover slammed in its face

Commentator Bernard Salt has suggested that GenX can expect to take the reins of power en masse in about three years’ time:

“There will be, there must be, a profound shift in Australian culture at the end of this decade. That shift will be defined by the easing and creaking and squelching of the baby boomer juggernaut as it slips into retirement . . . The end is particularly unpleasant as a swarm of embittered Xers swoop to claim their spoils: the prized and succulent levers of consumer and business power.

But as ruthless as this power transition will be, so it also was when the boomers assumed control in the early 1990s.”

As I remarked re a slightly earlier version of Salt’s views – which gave the same TO-boomers handover date (the early 90s), but lacked a FROM-boomers-to-Xers date – the early 90s date is objectively ludicrous. Take Condoleezza Rice, for example, born in the mid-boomer year of 1954, who was already in senior roles in her 20s, in the 1970s. Such precocity (a boomer hallmark) may well have been a generational “once-off”, but this still doesn’t account for the very different life Rice would most likely have had had she be born ten or twenty years later.

Such what-if/“Sliding Doors” scenarios aside, machinations of the clear and present day confirm that, whatever the date or circumstances of the boomer ascendancy, there simply ain’t gonna be a boomer descendancy, aka inter-generational handover. Not in 2009, not ever.

Confirming this is the Russian army-style retreat – burning everything as they fall-back into retirement – of Spinifex Press publishers/founders (and boomers, I’m, assuming) Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne.

Now I should say that I fully concur that the business of producing books is not remotely akin to to the business of producing widgets, and so when a business of the former type goes under – or in Spinifex’s case, stops new publishing and becomes an royalty-collecting shell – I think that public grief by founder-owners, even including some high-pitched blame-throwing, is a quite natural and appropriate response.

But Klein and Hawthorne’s grief at the loss of their “baby” is something else altogether: both sickeningly maudlin and gratuitously nasty, in a kick-her-when-she’s-down way.

The pair’s blame-casting has some inoffensive enough aspects – globalisation, which has negatively affected the entire small-press/independent publishing industry, right down to /independent bookstores having to close up. Generally true, of course, but they throw in a couple of strange porkies:

Independent booksellers have narrow margins and the American superstores saw a chance. Their big new stores opened close to the best independent booksellers in town, many of them feminist bookshops with a loyal clientele. The superstores had everything the independents had on their shelves at a dollar or two cheaper, plus a coffee shop to boot. The independents struggled to survive. When they needed a capital injection to get their stock computerised, the competition was leeching their customer base. Soon many of the bookstores folded and feminist publishers lost their guaranteed readership. (same URL)

AFAICT, independent bookstores deal with publishers on exactly the same terms as large-chain bookstores: generally, this means that their stock is on consignment only (i.e. they have the right to return it gratis), and mark-ups are 50 – 60% (i.e. on a $22+GST book that is actually sold, the store pays the publisher about $10). “Narrow margins”? Fuck off. And as for “many” bookstores folding, I am not aware of a single independent bookstore that has closed down in the last decade in my home patch (inner Melbourne).

Then there’s this:

The superstores often over-ordered from feminist publishers, leaving the publishers with an excess of returns, the nightmare of the publishing industry. (same URL)

Huh? Correct me if I’m missing something here, but “an excess of returns” (assuming that the books weren’t in acute demand elsewhere) is surely a (mildly) beneficial thing for a publisher. That is, the bookstore has borne some storage cost (the underlying financial risk of the book not selling, of course does not move from the publisher (and author), irregardless of who is holding/storing the book).

What Klein and Hawthorne are actually angry about then, is that “their” books simply didn’t sell because of a lack of readership appeal. And in fact they do admit as much – only this time, with no American chain bogeymen that could possibly be blamed, it’s GenX who gets to be the can that’s kicked around.

Okay, the pair aren’t actually generationally explicit here (in contrast to Robert Drewe), but what is one supposed to make of this:

Many factors contributed to the demise of feminist publishing. The first was postmodern prevarication, a confusion of positionality that meant the word feminist fell into disrepute and gender was in ascent. What political opposition could not do, postmodernism did. It created a generation of students who read books by people who were not keen on communication or on social change. Many of the ideas espoused by postmodernists had been first aired by feminists in the preceding 50 years. Confusion reigned.

. . .

The final factor is the role of universities and other educational institutions in keeping books turning over. The feminist landscape has changed and where once there were thriving, radical women's studies programs whose reading lists would include the latest feminist critiques, these have moved to the amorphous gender studies area.”
(penultimate URL)

Anyone else notice a certain similarity between the alpah and omega factors behind Spinfex’s demise? Yep, it’s universities and pomo – aka the stuff that any arts student, who so culpably mis-timed their own birth as to start university *after* the early-80s, has necessarily been schooled in. I’m not in any way defending pomo here; it’s just that trashing the intellectual paradigm that is held by almost all our 25-42 y.o. intelligentsia is a bit scary – even a little violent, dare I say.

The boomer Right has long got away with this sort of thing – postmodernism/“Theory” being a turd with Xers’ name uniquely on it, and boomers somehow being helpless to stop in of it happening, despite being on notice since the mid-80s. Now Klein and Hawthorne are taking the chance to gets in a few kicks of their own on the cowering, prone figure. Well, fuck them both.

Had they not ended up in such a toxic, blame-shifting cul-de-sac, the pair might have sat down and realised that in 2006 the Spinifexes of this world are more necessary than ever – but that equally, Spinifex's having a future depends on its having nothing to do with boomers. Yes, I’m referring to something called inter-generational handover.

But there’s nada for Xers here. So happy retirement, Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne – you must feel so proud of leaving an intellectual scorched-earth behind you, as you plan on sitting poolside drinking up the royalties from your press’s ground-breaking Cat Tales (2003).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The strange case of the unsackable train driver and his evil-incarnate passenger

A train driver with a history of being abusive to the public tells a passenger on “his” morning peak-hour train to get off. To merit this drastic action, the passenger had apparently held a door open for a stranger (running along the platform* to catch the train) for a longer time than the driver deemed reasonable. However, the passenger in question’s co-passengers mutinied at the driver’s eviction order. This mutiny then caused the driver to chuck a spazz, walking off and abandoning his train 20 km from the city, and causing several other trains behind to have to wait, as well.

For this serious inconvenience to hundreds of commuters, that arose solely through the voluntary actions of the driver (i.e. not technical malfunction, etc), I would have expected two main outcomes:

(i) the driver to be summarily dismissed
(ii) Connex (the private train operator in question) to appropriately apologise to, and financially compensate, all affected commuters – and especially the passenger at the centre of the drama.

No and no. The driver in question has merely been re-assigned to other (= non-train driving duties), while Connex maintains that the passenger who held the door open was in the wrong: End of Story.

I’m guessing that the driver is a baby boomer – I honestly can’t imagine any other reason why this piece of excreta should today have a job that is paid for by commuters’ money (as well as a big fat dollop of taxpayer subsidy, of course). Maybe Connex is unduly fearful of a union backlash if it did sack the driver, but somehow I doubt it. Connex's contempt for the passenger who held the door open (an Xer holding it open for another Xer, BTW) indicates that chucking workplace spazzes is in fact a highly-regarded attribute among Connex’s senior management.

* The precise facts here are in dispute. Connex’s version is that the woman for whom the door was being held open was still buying a ticket at a machine – i.e. holding a door open while she completed this transaction and *then* ran to catch the train was simply not on. The Connex PR department’s version (together with the demonstrably-false detail that the woman was the door-holding guy’s “mate”) is found here.

The alternative version, involving first-hand accounts of the door-holding guy and the running (not ticket-buying, she says) woman, was on last night’s TV news.

Even if the Connex version of events is accepted in toto, plainly its considered PR response (and lack of action otherwise) is a dual abomination.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

ABC, one two three hundred million dollars – how not going to university was the best career move ever for Xer Eddy Groves

For me and many other Xers, the choice of going to university has proved to be a financial disaster. Three years ago, I wrote an open letter to Brendan Nelson suggesting a “degree buy-back” by government, a la John Howard, post-Port Arthur massacre, buying back the heavy-duty guns (acquired for fuck knows what purpose) that were owned by Gympie (et al’s) white-trash.

But times (and education ministers) change, and I now see that my original degree buy-back proposal was unduly modest (a fact which no doubt explains the lack of response to date from the government, who hardly want to be accused of shafting Xers, after all).

Hence, my new proposal is simpler – a complete renunciation of all my tertiary education, in return for being restored to the financial position I would now be in had I not gone to university. Previously, I have estimated this to be in region of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but again I wonder if I wasn’t rather short-changing myself here, when the similarly-aged as me *but not university-educated* childcare czar Eddy Groves (born 1965 or 1966) is worth some $300m. (My estimate, based on Groves’ BRW Young Rich List wealth of $170 million in 2004 and $146m in 2003.)

At this point, I stress that I’m quite serious. Readers may well be thinking that a university education is an intangible thing compared to, say, a gun or a commercial fishing license (the latter have lately been mooted for six-figure+ taxpayer-funded buy-backs). True, but this intangibility should not be confused with lack of good faith – that is, the scenario where someone buys a gun/fishing-licence/education purely speculatively. To reward (= de-risk) such speculation with a taxpayer-funded buy-back is obviously beyond the pale.

As proof that I obtained my university education in the 80s in utmost good faith, I therefore quote the words of Eddy Groves:

“[Private childcare is] really no different to what’s happening in health, except health is mainly the responsibility of state governments”, Groves says. “Look at all the new hospitals. Where are they coming from? They’re not coming from the government, they're coming from the private sector.

. . . [If ABC] hadn’t built 300 childcare centres, who would have built them? . . . They all expect the government to write out a big cheque to build more buildings, but they're just not going to do that.”*

Quite – in 2006, anyway. However back in the mid-late 80s, when I was at university, the prospect of ordinary (= not loony-Right) governments soon *refusing* to build standard public infrastructure, for ideological (not fiscal) reasons, never crossed my mind, or any of my teacher’s minds either, AFAIC remember.

In hindsight, I was educated in a vacuum, leaving me not only ill-prepared for work in the 90s – the decade of pillaging the public commons (most obviously in the former Soviet Union, but Groves is a textbook case** of pillage-by-privatisation in Australia), but also with a six-years-behind handicap in personally joining in the looting frenzy.

All in all then, Eddy Groves has had a very handy start in adult life – one that I was denied through no objective fault of my own. So I’ll take my $300m degree buy-back compo by bank cheque, thanks.

* Andrew Fraser, “Groves is a big player for little ones” Australian 18 March 2006 (no URL)

** Forty-four per cent of ABC's revenue ($237m in 2005-06) comes directly from the taxpayer, through childcare rebates. Had governments continued to build/operate public childcare centres on the same scale as ABC, it is highly debatable that the net effective subsidy would be anything like as high (i.e. $100m+). Certainly in the case of higher-education since the 80s, government has been able to substantially reduce per-head net subsidies, while the system overall remains mostly “public”. Groves himself rebuts accusations of pillage by pointing out that the privatisation of childcare was not effected through his (Liberal) political mates: “The ALP would be more pro-active - they introduced the private sector into childcare in 1991.” (penultimate URL; emphasis added)

Backgrounder “sidebar”

Perhaps simply because of sheer size, or perhaps because it has official policies to make its workplaces as Dickensian – and casualised – as possible, ABC has quite a history of regulatory infractions. In 2003, there was this (same URL) and this. Then recently, another toddler ran away from the same Hopper Crossing (Melbourne) ABC centre.

Coincidentally, it would seem, the latest incident comes at the same time that ABC has decided to fight the first Hop Cross Toddler case (for which it was fined a measly $200 out of a possible $5000) all the way.

In something of an academic lawyer’s wet dream, ABC’s case here actually involves overturning the ancient legal principle of vicarious liability: that an employer (here ABC the company) will generally be liable for on-the-job negligent acts by its employees. As opposed to the employee/s involved being personally liable for escaping toddlers, et al.

Personal liability, especially when the employees in question are so badly paid, does seem an odd thing for even Eddy Groves to wish for. Possibly, he envisages so many future cases of escaping toddlers, that all those $200 fines adding-up could make a noticeable dint in his $300 mill. Or maybe he just wants to remind the staff that things like taking a brief toilet break (the second factor explaining why the escape went unnoticed, in addition to casual staff on the day not being familiar with the Hop Cross Toddler’s proclivities) are strictly luxuries.

After all, if childcare staff necessarily piss their pants while they watch the kids, their rostered toilet-scrubbing jobs later that day will be just a tad lighter. Ah Eddy, for a slacker-gen born Xer, you’re such a stereotype-busting, considerate gentleman.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Freedom of speech and Piers Akerman
(orginally posted 17 March, but Blogger on the blink)

Video footage shown on Thursday evening’s TV news clearly showed journalist and boomer bon vivant Piers Akerman attempting to purloin a megaphone being held (and used) by protesters at an anti-Condoleezza Rice (US Secretary Of State and rolled-gold boomer) demonstration outside the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, inside which Rice was giving a speech. Akerman’s intervention seems to have prompted protesters to then push him to the ground – a reponse quite proper and proportionate, IMO (the police, who were close by, seem to have made no effort to stop Akerman’s attempted theft and censorship).

Yesterday’s reportage however is, on the whole, rather silent on the incident. Predictably, a certain element (including supposedly Left broadsheets) have selectively reported events, in casting Akerman as a simple victim being “jostled”, but the remainder of the media seem content to tacitly suppress the facts.

Odd, but maybe that’s just “democracy”, boomer style.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bread and circuses

Last night’s Commonwealth Games opening was, as several writers point out in today’s Age, somewhere between a tad extravagant and downright obscene, given the dire poverty of most participating countries and/or the tenor of the times in the West.

Personally, I don’t mind an expensive party, but it all depends on who’s “invited”. Here, I’m, referring to who actually got the $40m* that was spent last night. The performers? Nup – all “volunteers”, AFAICT. So where did the money go? It’s the same old story: stuff the people on stage (who do it for “love”, no?); only the roadies, lighting techs and the mixing desk are doing real work, after all.

Symbolic here were the simultaneous fireworks going off from many Melbourne CBD skyscrapers. Such would have been hugely expensive to arrange access to, and then install – and since 9/11, office rooftops are hardly fit places for “volunteers” – or probably even *paid* artists. I’d therefore label last night’s office-building fireworks as “arts terrorism” – instead of crashing a plane into the side at three-quarters up, skyscraper rooftops have been commandeered for equally contentless (unless you rate the sight of burning money) performances. It’s spooky, because as long as the schmos are getting paid – and the artists aren’t – the performance’s content will always be set by default, viz as a sub-conscious echo of our Worst Nightmare.

Meanwhile, Paris is again teetering between circuses, bread – and cake. Regular fashion writer and Aussie expat Emma-Kate Symons has been face-first into the riots, and has lived to tell the tale with credible acuity (OK, boomer-bashing):

"But that was the affluent late 1960s. Few young people worried then about their chances of finding a good job after graduation. France's baby boomers grew up to enjoy some of Europe's most generous social and retirement benefits.

Young people in France, whether jobless and living in the poor suburbs, or middle class and attending elite inner-city universities and high schools, seem united in their sense of outrage against a state that can't or won't give them hope for the future and refuses to tackle the culture of entitlement among France's baby boomers and retirees."

Burn, baby boomer, burn.

* The combined Opening and Closing ceremonies cost has been reported as $50m, with the riverside “Opening” element an additional $7m.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Central Queensland University in Central Melbourne is a Capital Fuck-up

As I’ve recently suggested, one of the Xercidal prongs of the mid-late 80s higher education deforms in Australia was the upgrading of, at the stroke of a pen, twenty-odd colleges of advanced education (CAEs) and institutes of technology into fully-fledged universities. While I’m not particularly fussed about the actual u-word (it has, in more recent years, become debased by internet degree mills, in any event), a one-size-fits-half-the-(young adult)-population model of higher education is surely as self-evidently stupid as half the young adult population having places in “elite” sporting academies. That is, whatever they’re called, higher ed institutions need to be qualitatively differentiated.

The instant upgrading of former CAEs (et al) did not merely give boomer academics a windfall career boost, at the same time as instantly diluting the value of Xer’s freshly-obtained degrees from pre-1989 universities. The real damage was done through the gradual, but inexorable de-funding of all universities from that date. For former CAEs in particular, the “university” moniker soon became a gilded cage – thanks to Wran and Dawkins, they were heavily overhead-burdened with tenured (= unsackable) hack-ademics and new multi-levels of management flunkeys, all the while as incoming revenue was going backwards.

Enter the overseas student industry, in a nick of time (early-mid 90s). The most common way of fiscally characterising this industry has been as an effective net subsidiser of local students – i.e. as an unarguably good thing. In practice though, it is far from clear that such a subsidy does meaningfully trickle down to local students, as opposed to getting subsumed by increased overheads, capital works, etc.

Indeed, here the universities seem to have taken inspiration from the profit-making model used by large law/accounting firms; aka charge-out arbitrage. Under this model, a junior lawyer is paid, say, $15 an hour (once unpaid overtime is taken into account), while his/her services are billed to the client at, say, $300 an hour. Obviously, there are overheads – office rent, admin staff, and salary on-costs, primarily – to account for some of the difference between these rates, but the bulk of it is pure profit from trafficking in human labour.

It is no accident then, that there are very high rates of sessional/casual (= paid by the hour) academics working in the overseas student industry. Under charge-out arbitrage, a university business faculty with a 90% full-fee paying base will gross about $2,000 per contact hour, while paying a casual academic between $40-120 per hour to conduct this class (here, some overheads of law firms – especially office space and salary on-costs – are minimal or non-existent for universities, while teaching spaces are as hardly ritzy as law firm space (Teaching at Deakin University (in the late 80s, known as Victoria College) in 2004-5, about a third of my classes were in a 1960s-built wing that was neither heated nor air-conditioned)).

In a nutshell, charge-out arbitrage explains the squirming that (the Melbourne campus of) Central Queensland University - (16/03/06) formerly Capricornia** Institute of Advanced Education - heavies have lately been engaging in. The background here is simple enough, and hardly novel – overseas business students have failed a law subject en masse, and now demand a remedy. For whatever reason, the usual remedy in this situation – a *quiet* re-marking/up-grading – has not been possible, apparently. My guess as to why this might have been so is the presence of some intransigent (which is to say moral) sessional academics.

Anyway, throw in a student “hunger-strike” and CQU has quite a PR crisis on its hands. Fortunately though, in the person of Australian higher ed journo Lisa Macnamara, they do have a handy ally/patsy:

“[D]ean Gus Geursen confirmed that five of the eight people casually employed by CQU to mark the exam were accounting graduates who had not completed their masters qualification.

It is unusual for people with only an undergraduate degree to mark the work of postgraduate students.

Professor Geursen told the HES that the markers were practising accountants but that their role was an error that would not be repeated.

‘[The failed papers] will be re-marked by independent people from outside the university because if we take them from outside, they are neutral,’ he said.”*

Macnamara’s take on “people with only an undergraduate degree mark[ing] the work of postgraduate students” is bollocks. An undergraduate accounting degree obtained by a local student will almost certainly be of a more rigorous standard than a “postgraduate” accounting degree from CQU. (This may sound perverse to an outsider, but it is an open secret within higher ed that most overseas-student heavy “postgraduate” degrees, are deliberately mis-labelled as such to smooth admission, and then (possibly) later, the immigration process.)

In any case, Macnamara misses the glaring contradiction within Gus Geursen’s spin: the re-marking is to be done by “independent people from outside the university”, as opposed to practising accountants who are also casual employees of CQU.

Is Geursen therefore suggesting that the re-markers will not therefore – by definition – be paid for their labour, because even a paltry hourly rate would compromise their “independence”? Mmnn, (presumably) compliant re-markers, doing it all for nix, it would seem. I love the smell of boomer (I’m guessing) fraud and hypocrisy in the morning.

* Lisa Macnamara, “Failures offered a repeat for free” Australian 15 March 2006 (no URL)

** (16/03/2006) One wonders whether the namers of this regional Qld institution had in mind Xavier Herbert’s 1938 novel, set in a racist northern Australia, of the same name. Presumably not, but it now seems apt for CQU to consider re-naming itself after Herbert’s other literary masterpiece – Poor Fellow My Country University.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pakula NOT in charge of dud branch, it turns out

I covered the lead-up to this fairly extensively a few weeks ago. The score to date – of late 30s Xers challenging useless boomer MPs in safe Labor seats – is so far 2-1. And that’s advantage Xers (Shorten and Marles in, Pakula out).

Probably not surprisingly, no one else seems to have picked up on the generational angle to this – other than to casually throw in the “youth” cliché, re the Xer challengers. But worse than being a cliché, calling someone in their late 30s “young”, as I have stressed, is a cold and calculated lie.

This Orwellian disregard for history is exemplified by the views of the buffoonish NSW ex-pollie Rodney Cavalier. Rodders was a relatively short-lived education minister in the haute-corruption, haute-80s Wran and Unsworth NSW Labor governments (Wran’s gift of posterity for Xers was laying the foundations for HECS, in a post-Premier consultancy). These days Rodders, when he’s not swanning around the chi-chi Southern Highlands calling himself “a Labor Party historian and commentator”, is a capital-Yetch establishment figure: SCG Trust Chairman, a director of Sydney Ferries, and Chair of the Committee for the Sesqui Centenary of Responsible [sic] Government in NSW.

With such a David Flint-like public profile (Labor connections aside), it seems all the more odd that Cavalier’s chief beef with Labor’s preselection system is that it is all but closed to rough-trade; sorry, blue-collar workers. Instead, something called the “political class” (union leaders, ministerial advisers etc) has an effective monopoly on preselection.

At a glance, this looks like an old and unremarkable statement of fact. But when unpicked, it soon becomes apparent that Cavalier’s “political class” is simply a snide, below-the-belt synonym for GenX Labor aspirants. So how does he perform such a sleight of hand?

First: mash-up the decades

“The assault against Crean represents a behavioural sink for this party. Until now the Labor Party revered its past leaders.” (same URL)

Now, you may have raised an eyebrow here (viz, what about Latham, or even Keating, if you want to narrow the reverence-for-leader precedent to past-PMs only?), but you need to understand that by “now”, Cavalier doesn’t mean now. If you read on, you’ll see that by “now” he actually means 1977, the year in which Gough Whitlam was given a dignified departure. But hey, what’s three decades?

Then there’s the two generations of the political class: the “first generation” (tertiary-educated union leaders in the 1970s) and “the second generation” (tertiary-educated union leaders of the present) (same URL) . That the latter are evil incarnate, but the former are/were relatively benign, is a contradiction that Cavalier doesn’t even attempt to resolve. In turn, this is possible because in the three-decade gap between the rise of these two generations – over much of which time Labor was in power federally – there was, for whatever reason, a lengthy holiday from “political class” overlordship:

Out of the embers of 1975 Labor emerged with a critical mass of seriously able men who were there for the long haul — Bill Hayden, Lionel Bowen, John Button, Ralph Willis, Peter Morris, Peter Walsh, Mick Young, not to forget a very young, bloodthirsty Paul Keating. Where is anyone of that quality now? Other than those who were there already, pre-1996? Labor stood still in 1977 in terms of seats, it was otherwise with the infusion of quality representation — Brian Howe, John Dawkins (returning after defeat), Barry Jones, Gareth Evans, John Brown, Neal Blewett. John Kerin followed in a by-election.

With the possible exception of Brian Howe and Barry Jones, every name on Cavalier’s “quality” and "seriously able" (and all-male) list is a right-wing fuck-knuckle, corrupt, or both. With several of them having backgrounds as lawyers, you may suspect that Cavalier doesn’t (for whatever strange reason) regard lawyers as members of the “political class” – a fact confirmed in his Oz Op Ed.

A final date twist concerns the supposed “niceties that once characterised [Labor]” (same URL). Cavalier admittedly doesn’t put a date range on the “once”. But boy, I’d sure like to know what era he has in mind.

Second: for no logical reason, single out boomers for lauding

Supposedly, 29 of the 30 of the shadow ministry in the federal parliament [in January 2005] are people who have worked for a union or for ministerial staff, or in some way related to the ALP wage structure. A damning – and difficult to believe – statistic (that sounds rather “Xers under the beds”), and one that is in any case immediately contradicted by “some significant and very worthwhile exceptions like Peter Garrett” (same URL). Huh? – either Peter Garrett is the lone non-political class member of the shadow ministry, or he’s not.

Oh, that’s right, Garrett’s a boomer, and so the usual laws (of math and all else) don’t apply. Similarly, “only Mark Dreyfuss [sic] QC in the Victorian seats adds anything new” – yep, 49 year-old QCs are (just like boomer ex-rock singer millionaires) total salt-of-the-earth types, especially when compared to late-30s union leaders.

In conclusion, the current crop of Xer MPs, and wannabe MPs, may well turn out to be as talentless hacks as their boomer predecessors and incumbents. But the more that the Rodney Cavaliers and Simon Creans of Labor protest against middle-aged Xers even being given a chance, the clearer the Xer mission becomes: Destroy, destroy, destroy.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tropfest controversy

Sometimes I don’t know why I bother – the typical Australian journo is so useless that s/he can write a story whose subject carries undoubted interest for any newspaper’s younger-than-boomer demographic, but entirely stuff it up in the execution. And I’m not talking rocket-science here – a few clicks on a mouse, and a real story on Tropfest controversy just about writes itself.

The first story manqué, SMH by journo Alexa Moses, is here.

This is craptacular journalism for two main reasons. Firstly, John Inglis’s protestations about being a film/TV amateur are incorporated verbatim and unchallenged. Plainly, Ms Moses hasn’t got a clue about a common profession of past Tropfest winners#: (you guessed it) film/TV professionals. Nor is such particularly striking or esoteric knowledge – a quick perusal of Tropfest’s rules of entry (PDF) indeed confirms that film/TV amateurs and professionals are equally welcome to enter.

Ms Moses second sin of journalism is graver, in any case. In discussing John Inglis’s actual offence against the rules – self-plagiarism – she ignores an easily-accessible (= to the extent Google may be expected to have, in the minds of its Sydney users, a Sydney-centric, China-style firewall, the following even happened in Sydney, too!) and recent precedent.

Plagiarism controversy, re 2004 Tropfest winner. Surely you could have at least mentioned this, Alexa? And while you’re at it, why not mention the fact that Tropfest entrants using aliases – thus allowing for gender- and ethnicity-bending – is NOT against the rules. Indeed, in the not-so-ancient-past (1997), Tropfest winner Paul Fenech held onto his prize despite his deliberate gender- and ethnicity-bending.

Even without any of the above knowledge, Moses’ “Helen Demidenko” comparison is ridiculous. Helen Darville assumed a fictional ethnic identity which was essential to the marketing of her novel. John Inglis’s film, in contrast, does not depend on its creator’s ethnic alterity (or not).

Also belonging in the journalistic dog-house is Moses’ fellow SMH journo, Garry Maddox. Maddox compounds the erroneous “Helen Demidenko” comparison, and also repeats by implication the “no aliases” supposed entry-rule, this time under the umbrella of a winner’s personal vent against John Inglis. Here’s a hint, Garry: please leave toxic bitching to the professionals; i.e. women, and gay men (amateur male bitching is best left to Cronullans seeking pretexts to provoke pogroms).

In summary, Tropfest may well be a Sydney-centric wank that has achieved, certainly in recent years*, little more than giving TV commercial directors either a leg up, or another trophy in the cabinet. But lest I be thought a bit harsh here, I will admit that Tropfest has had a concrete, broader outcome – each year it takes place, the collective IQ of Sydney goes down a couple of palpable and irrevocable notches.


* Tropfest's brag-board is here (click on 29.11.2005 SONY TROPFEST HISTORY). The only post-1997 main-prize winners who crack a mention – Emma Freeman (Lamb, 2002) and Tim Bullock (Buried, 2003) – have since had bright careers making (unspecified) TV commercials and bad (named) TV dramas.

# Complete list of Tropfest past winners

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Howard’s ten-year anniversary

Funnily enough, a few potted asides from recent media coverage of Howard’s Decade, has given me some succinct, non-trivial insights.

Fact one: John Winston Howard and I worked at the same law firm (Stephen Jacques and Stephen, a Sydney firm which merged with a Melbourne firm in the 1980s to become Mallesons Stephen Jacques)

Not at the same time, of course. But in law firm culture, change happens at glacial pace. Evidently, young Johnnie didn’t stay long at SJS – though I assume that he did at least complete his one year articles there. While my own stint at MSJ also wasn’t long - one year articles, plus one year as junior solicitor – I’m guessing that I actually outlasted Howard in this respect. So take that, Johnnie – you flighty, job-hopping little GenYer, way ahead of your time.

On a related note, Mike Steketee notes that Howard was thus far from being a mere suburban solicitor – “aspiring to being a law partner while still in his mid-20s was more the mark of a high flyer” (same URL). Hah! Note that by his mid-20s, Howard was already on to his third, law-firm employer – this being a small firm that posterity seems to think is best left unnamed. If this was “high-flying”, in comparison, my own legal career as a 20-something was stratospheric: at 29 (a year after leaving MSJ), I was a Level B lecturer (on $70k, in current dollars), who designed and taught four subjects from scratch for a brand-new LLB program.

Oh, and for Steketee’s benefit, any junior lawyer who doesn’t aspire to becoming a partner (although admittedly this is more true of large firms) is either naïve or clinically insane. This (which BTW is the reason I happily left MSJ, i.e. I had no ambition to become partner) is because junior lawyers are the lowest-paid workers (notional hourly wage once unpaid overtime is taken into account) in the whole building, period. Therefore, the fact that Johnnie stepped from partner-track (but short of actual partnership) to the relative easy-street of a parliamentary safe seat at 33 years of age, speaks volumes: feeling exploited as a fairly long-term junior lawyer (partnership typically takes 7-12 ceaseless years of 80 hour-weeks), Howard decided that someone owed him something, and so Hello, preselection for Bennelong.

Fact two: John Howard’s parents’ business involved what would now (at least) be considered the rorting of a public asset

Cue the violin strings: as a boy, Johnnie used to pump petrol for no pay, weekends included, at his “father’s” (sic: I’d bet there was a family trust involved) Dulwich Hill servo in Sydney’s inner west*. As a photo, presumably from the time of Howard’s boyhood, makes clear, the bowsers for this servo were right on the kerb, meaning that cars filling up with petrol would necessarily do so from the taxpayer-funded public road. Now, I accept that such an arrangement was probably common at the time (you still see it in remote country towns), but by modern standards, the Howard family business was a variant on those pesky intersection windscreen-washers. Admirable entrepreneurialism, yes – BUT GET THE FUCK OFF THE ROAD, AND BUY/RENT YOUR OWN LAND IF YOU’RE RUNNING A BUSINESS, NOT A SCAM.

Fact three: John Howard’s reflex pro-Americanism (and pro-cartelism) was embedded early, but remained long-dormant (mostly)

Australia’s petrol industry since at least WWII has been a notorious dual hotbed of multinationals and oligarchy. Accordingly, the Howard family’s servo was inevitably aligned with a multinational oil company: the USA’s Mobil, as it happens (same photo, above). As a boy, Johnnie presumably saw Mobil as a generous, paternalistic sort of company – an uber-Dad. His choppy legal career, above, confirms that even well into adulthood, John Howard had something of an authority-void in his life, when without a Big-as-Texas protector of/over him. Fortuitously for the psychic well-being and stamina of the much older Howard-as-PM, 2000’s election of Dubya brought his boyhood comfort feeling of Being Protected full-circle, and home.

* Brad Norington, “My path from bowser boy to IR reform” Australian 25 February 2006 (no URL)

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