Wednesday, November 30, 2005

oh, my god

A close friend’s children were involved in a crash which tragically claimed four lives from another family on Monday. My friend’s kids are fine, but their mum and auntie and cousin remain in serious and critical conditions in hospital.
Liam was well enough today to come along as his dad (who was't involved in the accident) gave me me lift to daycare and back, to collect Harley. Harley's little mate was quieter than usual. He got in and out of his dad’s car gingerly, like an old man. He showed me the bruises on his belly. In the car, I pestered him. Was it scary? I asked. Isn’t he brave to be in a car again so soon? I finally decided to let the poor kid be and said, apologetically, “Well, I bet all the kids at school will be asking you a hundred questions, too,” and he nodded and smiled politely.
I think of what he must have witnessed. I address his dad.
"Just think. You could’ve been organising his funeral right now," I say.
"I would’ve been organising five funerals," he points out. My friend is strangely upbeat; cheerful, even. I caution him he might be in shock but he waves me away. I insist he should call me if he wakes with nightmares. Post-traumatic stress and all. He says he’ll be fine. He says it would’ve been far worse if his ex-partner hadn’t had the foresight to see what was happening and manage to slow down before impact.
"Did you hear that," I marvel to my son. "Liam’s mummy saved their lives. Liam’s mummy is a hero.” I have no idea how to relate to eight year olds, but I suddenly remember how it feels to have your mother in hospital. My mother was hospitalised for some time when I was a small child, and I have those ‘flash-bulb’ memories of leaving her behind in a hospital bed.
My friend recalls, "Liam remembers his mum and his aunt saying "Oh, my god!" at exactly the same time." It sends shivers down my spine, and I hold my child's hand tightly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

no noose is good noose

I continue to be utterly repulsed by this Friday's scheduled execution of Van Nguyen. Not only is capital punishment barbaric, but it's also deeply unjust. Why does Singapore have to punish Van's family and friends for his crime? Why must it ruin the life of his mother Kim Nguyen by killing her son? How is that fair? How has she deserved this pain and anguish? No, it is morally flawed.
I don't accept John Howard's piss-weak rationalisations for not continuing to fight on Van's behalf. Sure, any applications to international courts would perhaps fail. But until Van is executed, his Government should be doing all it can to try to save him, right up until the final whistle. At least for his poor mother's sake.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

what would Jesus do?

Just a little Christmas message to the Singaporean and Australian Governments.

Image stolen from Remo, where I would do all my Christmas shopping if I were solvent. (By the way, the sign's on my Christmas wishlist, if anyone's got a spare three hundred bucks.)

wringing hands and necks

How slack is this. The Australian Government gets advice from two Australian international law experts that Van has a chance with an application to the international courts. Downer's office emails it off to another expert in England, who then emails back, giving it the thumbs down. As such, the Australian Government regrets to inform us that there's no point bothering with any further action as they apparently don't have a chance.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, said the legal opinion from Dr Ward and Professor Rothwell had "seemed at least, prima facie, to be at least worth examining". But the assessment by his department and the Attorney-General's Department was "pretty negative".
"But I thought, bearing in mind that this is a question of life or death, it was worth referring these ideas one stage further to Professor James Crawford, who is a professor of international law at Cambridge University. "He has emailed back today saying that on the basis of the ideas that have been put forward there simply was no basis for going to the International Court of Justice."

Based on one guy's opinion, when two others gave hope? A life comes down to that, to a few emails? Give it a go, at least. What can that hurt?
John Howard's refusal to more credibly intervene is saddening. In fact, it makes me think he is cringing on the subject because to call Singapore barbaric is to call America barbaric by proxy, since Uncle Sam still cheerfully kills people off too.
How convincing can John Howard ever be on the matter, anyway, when he describes his efforts to reduce drug-related crime and suffering in Australia as another War? See, you can kill people off when you're at War. You're just allowed to. There's casualties, State-sanctioned crazy barbarism. That's war. And as we know (and Judith Brett explains), deep down Howard loves war. Hence the crocodile tears.
So it's trafficker-emptor [er, or should that be caveat-trafficker?-Ed]. I initially reckoned the Bali Nine had stupidly brought their fate on themselves, but very soon realised the error of my thinking. Of course our Government is morally culpable in having dobbed these young people in, to a country known to impose the death sentence for drug trafficking. I mean, if our Government is prepared to do that, then as if they're going to lift a finger to do anything to help the poor Australian fools who get their lives caught up in these terrible situations--guilty or not. Meanwhile, we're supposed to be pleased they're considering negotiating with Indonesia and Singapore on future prisoner-transfer treaties.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

the joy of atheism

I emailed Julia Baird to ask what I wasn't getting about her column about atheists and she took the time to reply, which is nice of her:

”With the atheism column I was trying to say that many atheists, by historically opposing all forms/ systems of belief, might need to shift in a time of increased religiosity - they protest people
dragging God into political debates, but forget that there are different views on what God has to say. By constantly viewing believers as either brainwashed, or conservative, important alliances are weakened. I have writtten a lot about what is wrong with the church too - I just think it is a good debate to have.”

I remain unconvinced. Atheists have always opposed all forms/systems of belief—the ones that involve a deity--because that’s what atheism, by definition, means. Our belief system is fundamentally incompatible with those of believers. Regardless of the different brand of deity or the different interpretations of what that deity might think. Atheists happily tolerate the belief systems of others, just not where they start to influence outcomes that affect non-believers as well. Politics is for all of us, remember? That’s why God shouldn’t be dragged into political debates. (Quite apart from the fact that He might not appreciate being dragged somewhere.)

honey, we shrunk the babe

Oops, was it something I said? This week, Julia Baird is only half the woman she used to be. At this rate, within a few weeks she'll be a leprechaun. I was only teasing, Fairfax, bring back the full-page Baird spread. She's hot!
While looking for a link to one of Baird’s stories I found this item in the rival Australian:

FOLLOWING our piece on the ever-changing wardrobe of Good Weekend writer Julia Baird, who may be the first hack to have a large full-length pic byline, comes news The Australian's new glossy, Wish, is getting in on the act. In the second issue, out tomorrow, columnists Anna Fenech and Nick Baylis are also featured in a full-length picture bylines, but in both cases they are wearing exactly the same clothes as last month. We understand Baird and her editor, Judith Whelan, will put a stop to the fashion show as soon as they can, without making it look like a reaction to the criticism.

Ah, so that’s why Baird’s shrinking. It’s funny though; sex really must still sell. I didn’t know the newspapers so desperately needed sexing-up but clearly they do. I guess there’s no real reason why a print journalist can't trade on her looks when TV reporters always have. Still, it makes me feel a bit sorry for Fairfax's less-gorgeous but equally talented scribes who aren’t getting the same kind of profile.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

party of hope

I reckon Judith Brett’s Quarterly Essay is optimistic for Labor because it highlights, to me, how little substance there actually is to either party and therefore how easily Labor might reinvent itself. The parties have changed their images many times. In recent times, as an example, Howard has stolen ‘reform’ from Labor, the original ‘party of hope and reform’. Of course, he had to tweak it a little: the Liberals are now the party of fear and reform.
Recently Alan Ramsey wrote about how adman John Singleton has been complaining about the lack of difference between the major parties. I get the impression people assume this is Labor’s fault, but as Brett demonstrates, it’s actually Howard who has been busily blurring the boundaries since he took office; if Keating pushed the Liberals to the right, Howard has surely been pushing leftwards from his base camp in the middle. He has attempted to appear more progressive on a number of issues, for example indigenous issues and multiculturalism.
Howard's recent stance on multiculturalism is interesting. John Howard’s original dismissal of it always came across to me as a fear of difference. As a Whitlam-era import to Australia, I grew up innocently thinking multiculturalism itself was an important shared value in a young country made up of settlers, migrants and indigenous people. So I hada rude awakening when I found out that Howard couldn't comprehend that difference could be a central value, actually a critical part of the Australian identity, as much as being "laconic" or "self-reliant" or "unpretentious", or whatever.
Anyway, no wonder it’s hard for us to perceive a difference between the parties when so much depends on a given party leader. For example, Brett writes:

"It seems to me that it is not obvious, except in hindsight, that the new social movements should have attached themselves to the Labor Party. A Liberal Party led by Don Chipp would have offered them a congenial home."

And not only is it about the vagaries of personality and style of individual leaders, the parties are also always being repositioned in relation to each other and to the social context and the ‘changing electorate’. For instance, an anxious global climate perfectly suits Howards’ style of leadership. Brett is at pains to emphasise the continuity and traditional roots of John Howard’s behavior in the job, but in the end, you can’t help feeling that politics just boils down to who has the better marketing skills.
I wonder what Howard offers us that he regards as uniquely Liberal. Howard’s philosophy kind of boils down to something like, ‘You, your home, and your country’. So Howard wants to force Labor into its traditional negative position on those things, when there’s no reason Labor can’t equally own them. The real point of difference between the parties is in the Liberals’ denial of social contexts and the existence of groups or classes.
Howard sells the Liberals as being about the free individual. But none of us is really free; our lives are embedded in contexts. Brett explains how Howard’s view is that being Australian requires affiliation only to family and nation, nothing else. On the other hand, Labor accepts the existence of "large historical forces shaping national destiny" and the resulting "circumstances that limit the individual". The Liberals just seem to be in denial about this.
Class is an established point of difference between the parties. Historically the worker's party, Labor is damned by the Liberals as being the party of the part, the section, the group, the collective, the union. In contrast the Liberals reckon they govern for all of us. But the Libs have their class and eat it too, as Brett shows (I love the bit about Menzies’ second eye). It’s good to be reminded that the Liberal Party traditionally regarded the Labor Party as made up of "workers [who] were not fit to govern" because of their lack of education.
There are other differences between the parties that can be made salient again. As I said the other day I think Howard’s Industrial Relations reform is a boon to Labor. Suddenly we know what Labor stands for again. Post-Latham, running with Beazley, Labor's probably still up shit creek, but a least now they’ve got a paddle.
Incidentally, it seemed a limitation of Brett’s essay (though maybe she expands on it in her books, which I'd like to read one day) that the qualitatitve research included at the end didn't juxtapose four Liberal voters with four Labor voters. Maybe something could be learnt from hearing why people vote Labor, too. I can’t help thinking that the popularity of John Howard is blown out of proportion in the mainstream media. The difference between winning and losing government doesn’t come down to many votes. We don’t all love the guy.
I also would've liked to know more from Brett about why people vote differently at State and Federal level. There’s got to be lessons in that for Labor marketing.
Well, I’ll come back to Brett another time as I do have some other comments but the baby has just woken. The essay certainly gave me a lot of food for thought.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

and so to baird

Julia Baird is certainly spunky enough to warrant being the Good Weekend’s new page three (or so) girl. Is it my imagination or is there a new photo of her every week, looking cute with that button nose, in her sexy designer jeans with those legs that go up to here? It’s making me wonder if sanctuary shouldn’t have a brand-new photo of its columnist every week. Maybe it’d make my writing more interesting too. OK, I’m just jealous of those legs. (Where she might be described as a filly, I might be described as a Clydesdale.) What it does show though is she’s clearly happy to participate in raunch culture. Well, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, I guess.
To drag myself to the subject of her writing, though. I’ve agreed with her in the past, but last weekend I found myself getting quite cranky about her latest column, "Beyond Disbelief"*.
It’s not atheists with the problem. It’s not atheists who need to "rethink the value of religion" in these apparently increasingly religious times. Baird suggests we need a "pluralistic atheism, allowing for different sorts of belief." Where has she been? My atheism has always been pluralistic; it has to be, because we’ve got no choice but to accommodate the fact that other people believe in some pretty incredible stuff. Some of our best friends have imaginary friends; we don’t mind at all. Most believers are very harmless and most central tenets of religion are positive and well-intentioned. So whatever floats your boat is fine for most atheists. I feel like I’ve spent my life being expected to deeply respect other people’s freedom to believe in whatever, but there hasn’t been that kind of respect extended to atheists. And now we’re intolerant? Please. It’s not atheists who have a problem with tolerance. We put up with a lot. It is difficult to get away from religion in our culture. Every day, our lives are influenced by the various belief systems of others, from terrorism to the Fair Pay Commissioner’s need to consult with his God about his work. Politicians love to come out and accuse atheists of lacking values; our Treasurer likes to talk up Western-branded religion when given an opportunity, but piously tells other religions to remember that Australia is a secular place. It’s we atheists who are hemmed in from all sides, by other people’s belief systems.
Baird finishes her column with this:

"As Muslim extremists continue to plot ways to bomb and maul the innocent, and Bush claims the war on Iraq has the imprimatur of God, surely it’s a good time for a robust debate about pluralism. Openly articulated tension between belief and non belief can only be a healthy thing. Let the air in."

I am unsure what she means with this. That atheists need to engage in more futile debate with believers? How can we ever really defend against religious fanatics who want to kill us for being infidels? And when we do engage in debate with religious moderates within our own culture, we are accused of not respecting their beliefs. If we say Intelligent Design can't be taught in Science class because it is not scientific, we are told we are intolerant of alternative views. See the Herald's blog today, where The Contrarian writes:
"Intelligent Design deliberately contests conventional wisdom -- in this case Darwin's theory of evolution.
As Allen Orr wrote recently in The New Yorker, intelligent design also accommodates much of Darwin's evolutionary theories.”

So it contests the theory of evolution while also accommodating much of the theories? Sounds like a complete god’s breakfast to me.

(*Sorry, no link available. What’s the story with your endless missing columnists, Fairfax?)

union city blues

Whether he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder from having had parents who were small-business people or whether it's John Howard's intellectual vanity that motivates a desire to take down something so central to Labor’s historical roots, either way IR might well be Howard’s big mistake As Judith Brett argues* in the current Quarterly Essay, reform can’t just be bold, it also has to reassure people. And frankly I just don’t think John Howard’s succeeding in that department. No amount of cheery yellow ads showing bosses hugging workers will convince us that there’s no power differential between the two. Still, at least the Howard reforms have given Labor a way to clearly differentiate the parties. Be curious to see how the rallies go today.
(*Some more thoughts on Brett when I get the chance. Found it quite optimistic for Labor supporters.)

Monday, November 14, 2005


"Cock," he announces proudly in the general store. I look up and find the clock on the wall. "Oh, yeah, Harley. There is a clock up there." I glance at the staff. "Gotta be careful how you say that one, buddy," I joke.
What's worse is he’s been saying "fuck", with intent, for months. The first time he said it—"faahhck...?"--it sounded so plaintive and adorable that I made the mistake of laughing while at the same time being genuinely aghast. Now where did he pick that up! I'm sure I've only sworn occasionally, like after stubbing my toe for the nineteenth time.
"No, no," I smiled in horror. "Don't say fuck!". This made it worse. He offered again, a little more assertively, "fuck!".
After he’d said it about a thousand times, I decided maybe I’d better intervene. I told him that even though Mummy didn’t mind if he said "fuck", Daddy mightn’t like it. And I'm pretty sure SuperNanny wouldn't like it.
I find it hard to be too outraged at the word though. And I don’t really mind if the child gets to know that words have different weights, that some words are special, like "fuck". Better still, "love". I guess one day he'll surprise me by telling me he loves me, too. I hope!

Monday, November 07, 2005

royals, flushed

Australian Princess is surely the best ad for a republic since It’s a Royal Knockout. You wonder how on earth Joe Public could ever be charged with sedition for rubbishing the monarchy when the royals and their hangers-on do such a fine job of rubbishing themselves. I’m finding it fascinating to watch these celebrity royals and affiliated society types in action on this reality show. It’s not often we get them up on stage.
I can't decide whether they take themselves seriously or not. They must be hamming it up, but then at times you appreciate their snobbery is genuine, such as when Jane Ferguson contemptuously inquires of the contestants who they think they are. Early on, when even a photo of the Queen Mother drew a series of blanks from the Aussie contestants, the royals appeared to react with genuine shock and horror.
It's a little embarrassing how the girls have to suck-up so they don't get booted from the show. On the other hand, maybe they're artfully playing the game. Keeping their eye on the prize, which includes diamonds, free overseas travel and a date with a prince of uncertain nationality (maybe Molvania?).
What strikes you is the excruciating triviality and banality of the royal world. Talk about sweating the small, anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive stuff. Last week the former royal butler Paul Burrell, who seems to style himself on Basil Fawlty, was hopping about in yet another fury over yet another sin of etiquette. The issue? "The spoons are above the forks!". These people are loony.
The thing is, royalty and their hangers-on don’t just expect deference and reverence from the contestants on some half-baked reality TV show; they expect it from all of us. And I still don't get how a class-based system of a monarchy can be compatible with John Howard's desire for a classless nation (more on the Rat soon).
Anyway, can’t wait for Wednesday’s episode of Princess. You might have seen the promos, which feature a contestant bitching about some royal: ‘Mate, you are the biggest dickhead I’ve met in my life." Ah, you go, republican princesses.

( the bit about Burrell.)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

rocking around the clock

I'm starting to have a lot of sympathy for the nannas who complain about their curtains fading faster on account of daylight savings. Ever since we so arbitrarily changed the clocks last weekend, my little boy has decided he can continue to wake at dawn, but then stay up til ten and get by with about four hours sleep for the night. Wonderful. Just when I wanted to finish a bunch of new posts, too. Hope to get them up here soon.