Saturday, December 24, 2005

merry christmas from your resident pagan

Photo copyright: my dad.

Your blogger, Christmas circa mid-70s. They tell me that's chocolate. I hope that's chocolate.
Anyway, hope people are having a wonderful time with loves ones. Also can't help sparing a thought for the families of last year's tsunami victims for whom this must all still seem surreal. Yet for us, life has marched on. Can't believe another year has passed...Looking forward to getting back into a more regular blogging routine next year. Things got a bit chaotic towards the end of this year and I got a bit lazy/distracted. Would like to try and do some more original writing too, rather than just complain about what other people say or write or do all the time. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Imagine if everyone agreed on everything...ugh....
Anyway, I also bought a digital camera the other week (Kodak Easyshare, a measly 3.2 megapixles, but only ninety-eight bucks at Harvey Norman, so who's complaining?). So hope to put some more visuals to the story soon. Yes, if you can't beat Julia Baird, join her.

Monday, December 19, 2005

last action hero

Miranda Devine, writing in the Sunday paper yesterday, had roughly this to say: The fact that one Sydney preschool has decided to ban the wearing of Superhero paraphernalia because of injury fears is another shocking sign of the feminisation of education which aims to cut the balls off boys. Feminists have made learning 'girly'. Boys need Superhero outfits to become men, and if they don't get them, they'll grow up to riot in Cronulla.
It's funny though, I would've thought close to 100 per cent of the rioters had not experienced Superhero outfit deprivation at preschool, since it's such a dangerous new development by feminist educators?

update: I just read her article again, and is it just me, or does she completely nullify her own argument when, in trying to argue there is no negative effect, she quotes a psychologist as saying,

"[T]here is no scientific evidence that a superhero costume or logo on a pencil case causes any measurable change in a child's behaviour.

No measurable change means no change, whether good or bad. Ergo, wearing or not wearing the costumes is not going to affect their future manly behavior either way.

unrelated update: And yes, there does seem to be a problem with comments, which must be at Haloscan's end since I haven't touched anything. So, if you can't comment now please try again later.

let's get mystical

One of those weird coincidences happened the other day. One night, I'd been thinking about a girl, Anna M., who I hadn't seen, or thought of, in about ten years. It hadn't really been such a flattering context, actually; I'd been musing about how some people can intimidate you just by the way they look at you, and it reminded me of how she'd always made me feel small when she fixed her penetrating gaze on me.
Anyway, the next morning Harley and I set out for a beach we don't often go to, just for a change of scenery. And lo and behold! As we are leaving, up walks Anna M.
You want to believe you are psychic when these coincidences occur, but my rational mind tells me there's probably a perfectly logical explanation. Such as, I had seen her out of the corner of my eye the day before, perhaps only peripherally as she drove by, and not processed the information until I was thinking about the subject of intimidating people that night, when my mind supplied her image and name.
Anyway, I didn't find her at all intimidating this time round. Might have something to do with the smugness I always enjoy experiencing when I tell tourists that we live here...

the rat on lambs, skunk and chimps

Just when I was thinking of Howard in terms of his slippery rat-like cunning, he reverts to nerd. Allow me to give you The Shorter Sunday Telegraph Exclusive with our Prime Minister (no link avail it seems):

"I am tense and uncomfortable about three things: nativity scenes disappearing from shopping malls, cannabis and politician's low salaries."

It's the bit about religious iconography that I find especially hard to swallow.
"John Howard wants to see more nativity scenes in shopping centres to put religion back into Christmas. He says he has contempt for arguments Christianity should be downplayed at Christmas in case it offends those of other faiths or non-religious people. "You don’t demonstrate tolerance towards minorities by apologising for your own heritage. [Nativity scenes] seem to have disappeared in recent years and you have this, sort of, "Oh, we don’t want to offend anybody (attitude) [sic]. Actually, you’re offending a lot of people who think it’s a great pity they’ve disappeared. Even if they’re not especially religious themselves, they like the association. It’s part of the culture and the history and the nature of this country."

What does this mean? That it’s okay to wish to try to avoid offending people so long as they’re the majority? I mean, here Howard is himself exhibiting his despised 'oh, we don’t want to offend anybody attitude'. It’s just that the people he doesn’t want to offend are white Christian Australians, who he claims are the majority.
Why does Howard care if God isn’t found in shopping malls at Christmas-time, anyway? People wanting nativity scenes need only go as far as their local Church to view one. Why does Howard want to link commercialism to the religious aspect of his religion?
Not quite sure who Howard is mad at here, either. It’s not Muslims or Jews, as they "respect the fact that it’s a Christian day". So he must be blaming shopkeepers and/or secular society for this wanton removal of religious icons. It must be frustrating for Howard to witness the market forces of a secular society causing the diluting of the amount of Christian religious iconography being displayed in public places.
You know, we value-less atheists who do celebrate Christmas don’t do so out of hypocrisy, greed or some other immoral purpose. We celebrate it because we’ve never really had any choice not to, so we’ve made it our own. After all, what’s not to like about time off work, eating and drinking and being merry with loved ones, and shopping for gifts to celebrate each other? We just leave off the bits that don’t make sense to us, basically the religious mythology that is the traditional background to the festival.

see also more discussion on this at Road to Surfdom.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

surf 'n' turf

Well, it is a sad day when our State Premier has to warn families to stay away from their local beaches lest they ‘interfere with a police operation’. Crikey. All because of a couple of hundred thugs.
Is it a sign of underlying racism and failure of multiculturalism? Probably not; as others have noted, every country has racists; we do too. They're hardly a representative group.
Is it related to John Howard's policies? Possibly. Howard’s position on race-related issues is discussed in the correspondence to the Brett essay that I talked about below. One correspondent, David Corlett, was writing before the South Sydney riots but his words make sense in their context. They also articulate my vague suspicions that the Howard years have created a climate where people are more righteously territorial and more suspicious of Others. And so the extreme element of that is expressed by ignorant yobbos of all colors. Corlett wrote,

“The Howard Government legitimised, at the centre of political power in this country, a sort of racism that is not based on biology but on culture.”

Judith Brett does not agree that racism has ‘entered the heart of the state’, but rather that Australians are particularly concerned with territory; with policing their fences, with turf, with borders, with being a castle with a moat. In a reply, Don Aitken writes that ‘Our politicians, from both sides, cater to [the] large group [mainstream voters who chiefly care about family and security] by lowering the bar, reducing appeals to idealism and reaassuring, placating, and soothing…” To which I’d add, the Liberals have become adept at instilling fear and paranoia in citizens. When people point out we are more likely to be killed by a bee than a terrorist, they are shouted down as unpatriotic.
All the drama and controversy of the new terror laws--a controversy that was surely designed to take the heat off IR debate--helps to nurture fears of the Enemy Within, the Other In Our Midst, now On Our Beaches, and soon, probably, Under Our Beds...

tense and uncomfortable

It’s not clear whether David Kemp is the only Liberal who responded to Judith Brett’s recent Quarterly Essay on Howard, but in any case, his is the Liberal voice published in reply in the latest edition*. He has, as he puts it, just ‘niggles’; you know, why doesn’t Brett credit Howard & Co. with the prosperity that has accompanied his governance, etc. He does approve of Brett placing Howard in the mainstream of Liberal tradition. My guess is that Liberals are eager to welcome her reading (continuity over rupture) because otherwise Howard could be seen as being just as much of a radical, loose cannon as Labor's Latham was, if a much more successful one. This statement of Kemp’s, though, is completely lacking credibility:

“It may be a Liberal defect to look closely at the impact of policies on individuals, and to be less enamoured of collective symbolism, but I don’t think so.”

So I guess Anzac Day, the diggers, Gallipoli have nothing to do with collective symbolism. Kemp need only read Brett’s response to the correspondence, where she reminds us how good Howard is at using symbolism:
“[He] evoked the widely shared symbols fo the Australian legend, the symbols of mateship, easygoing informality and the fair go, to present himself as the protector of national culture against the social engineering of the lftwing elites who had got their hands on state power. And as prime minister he has most identified himself with that most potent bearer of a nation’s past -- its military history.”

Kemp also insists that Howard “has great interest in the role of [the] ‘elites’. Indeed, he has time and again emphasised the imortance of the ‘battle of ideas’ in politics…” To me, this is a tacit admission that the Howard governments believe that politics doesn’t belong to the punter, that it is an elite sport, that the mob needn’t worry it’s pretty little head too much about little ole politics. That’s the flavor of the Howard years—paternalistic condesencion. (Incidentally, on the subject of voter disengagement with politics, when another correspondent, Don Aitken mentions that political party membership is down in ‘all Western developed countries save Japan’, I want to know why not Japan? What’s special about them? Is it the particular charisma of their young and attractive PM? Did ‘generational change’ work for them?)
The Labor voice in reply to Brett is offered by former Labor heavy, Graham Richardson. He attributes Howard’s success to external factors--“very, very good luck”--but it’s obvious that alot also depends on how you play the hand you’re dealt, and as we’ve all seen, Howard is a skilful poker player. Richo does acknowledge the skill but places more emphasis on luck. He also doesn't miss the opportunity to put the boot into Latham by mocking his ‘ladders of opportunity’, though to me, that was actually one of Latham’s ideas that did seem to fall under the rubric of the large economic theme.
Richo’s mystified as to why Howard’s gone from being ‘all at sea when it came to working a crowd’ and ‘awkward to the nth degree’ to moving around at photo opportunities ‘with consummate ease’. Didn’t Richo watch Australian Princess? Isn’t he aware of what even 12 weeks of deportment, eyebrow grooming and etiquette lessons can do for an average schmuck? And he’s had twenty years of it. Me, I’m not at all surprised he’s been transformed from nerd to Australian King.
To what extent is current prosperity a consequence of Howard’s governance and Liberal policies? Both parties lay claim to it. Don Aitken hands it to Hawke. Kemp, of course, wishes to claim it for Howard.
And is the the answer for Labor to focus on economics like the Liberals do, because the punter just wants to be able to pay his mortgage? Then it’s open to complaints about political convergence on economic issues.
Richo writes, “Australians see economic policy as the core, and social policy as what can be afforded after the real work is done.” I see it slightly differently. I think if Australians see economic policy as the core, it’s because social policy depends on its success. It’s not some kind of extracurricular activity, as Richo’s comment implies.
Whether or not Howard can take the credit for current economic propserity, ultimately as Brett points out it wasn’t so much an election won on Liberal economic management as lost on Latham’s lack of leadership credentials. The “Learner Latham” ad campaign was cunning, and devastating for Labor.
To wrap this up for now (I think I’ll have a few more comments to come), I think it’s an interesting discussion between Brett and her correspondents as to whether Howard shows more continuity and adherence to Liberal traditions than rupture and radicalism. My guess is that he chops and changes from both when it suits him, according to current conditions. I see Howard as a shapeshifter—notice how he always gets that worried frown which hangs around until he has had a good sniff of the voter mood and formulated an appropriate (safe) position. I see him as a huge opportunist. And to me this, coupled with tthe fact that it was Latham who lost the last election, just shows the huge, if quixotic, influence of the personality of individual political leaders.
Brett’s conclusion is the same (optimistic) one I came to after reading her essay.
“Now Howard’s speaking with the voice of the economic elites, Labor is back on its home ground.”
Anyway, as I said, hopefully more soon.

(*Looking forward to reading this edition's essay by John Birmingham, "A Time for War". He also has a blog, apparently.)

I also wrote about the Brett essay here and here, if interested.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

baby, you're so vicious

Tim Blair’s smarting that an artist won a recent ‘best blogger contest’. Blair doesn’t know much about art but he knows what he doesn’t like, and that is bridges that sing.
I can understand Blair’s pain at being robbed of the ten big ones. I, too, had already written my acceptance speech. I had described how none of it couldn’ve been possible without the generous support of my friendly blogging community. I had remarked on how heavy the statuette was. I had even thanked God, despite being an atheist. (OK, I’m cheap.)
I had lain in bed at night and fantasised about what I would do with dem ten thousand bucks. Rather generously, I had decided I would allocate half to donate to other bloggers who, I was going to graciously announce, were equally if not far more deserving than I of the prize. As I lay in bed stroking my ego about my enormous win and good fortune, I was now also able to admire myself for my generosity and altruism.
Meanwhile, I also fretted about winning. I was pretty sure I couldn’t hack the pressure to perform, once I’d won. I imagined strangers turning up at my site for a quick gawk, leaving a few disgruntled comments about my lack of worthiness, and then pissing off again. I felt very depressed about it all.
When I woke up, I thought, phew, I’m glad I’m not Jodi Rose.
Although I agree with Blair that inclusion of a Saab fansite in the 'top 11' is most peculiar, I still think it pretty churlish of Blair not to be a good sport and congratulate Jodi Rose on her win. My feeling, swallowing sour grapes and all, is that Fairfax was probably courting controversy, and blog inches, in choosing a postmodern coneptual/performance artist. But never mind. Jodi Rose, whether or not we understand or appreciate her art, is definitely using the blog medium as a tool for her art, combining sound, visuals and writing, in a way that does highlight the incredibly flexible nature of the medium. In that sense she is representative of what the form can achieve; the content is almost irrelevant.
I had really hoped someone like Margo Kingston or John Quiggin or Tim Dunlop would win. Something about ‘the sane blogger as antidote to the insane mainstream media’. But I mean...okay, as if! This was being judged by Fairfax, after all.
Still, it’s impossible for anyone to be judged ‘Australia’s best blogger’ just as it would be impossible to speak of “Australia’s best author”. There’s just too many genres, too many idiosyncratic geniuses out there.
But more power to Jodi Rose. Yes, it is art.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

economic rat

It just doesn't make sense to me:

Mr Howard hopes small to medium firms will have a new incentive to hire labour after removing the right of employees to claim unfair dismissal in businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

It's not logical. Either you agree with this right and you think it is fair for all employees to have a right to claim unfair dismissal, or you don't. How can an employee have any less access to this right just because their employer employs less than 100 people? You have the right to be treated fairly. How can that be variable across employers?
Either 'the right of employees to claim unfair dismissal' is universal, or you're taking it away from some Australians in order to privilege a section, a part, an interest group, namely 'small business owners'. Or?

Friday, December 02, 2005

say all the things that people say

And in happier news...I'm chuffed to report that my 21 month old son, for those who have been following his progress here since he were a twinkle in me eye, has just started making his first three and four word sentences. His first four word one was the very practical, "Cat cans all gone!". But Mum's keeping her ears peeled for "I wuv you, Mum"....can't be far off now....stay tuned....

the error of their ways

This morning, I realised that the only good thing that can come out of Van's execution is for the Singaporean people to have witnessed, as we all did, the enormous suffering of his equally condemned family. Maybe this will give them pause for thought. I guess if their Government is to change their laws, it won't be because outsiders call them barbaric. It will only occur if their society goes through a similar process of change as ours did before our laws were changed in 1973. Unfortunately, this is hard to imagine occurring in a 'benevolent dictatorship' like Singapore, and in 2006 instead of the socially progressive 1970s. God help them.