Tuesday, January 30, 2007

catching up with Julie

Allow me to give you the shorter Julie Bishop:

The ALP is playing catch-up with Tony Blair who is playing catch-up with the Liberals who are playing catch-up with Tony Blair who is playing catch-up with the ALP.
Look how Tony Blair copied the ALP in bringing in a form of HECS, then he copied the Liberals by trying to make unis more commercial. If Rudd thinks he can come out and try to make unis more commercial somehow, well, we got there first and so did Tony Blair.
Tony Blair owns education reform. The Liberals own education reform, too. The ALP wants it badly but can’t have it. Can’t touch it.
Can’t even look at it.

Convincing stuff.

Monday, January 29, 2007

slow pokes

Is that the best Julie Bishop can do in response to Kevin Rudd's release of the first tranche of Labor's "education revolution" plans?

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said Labor was playing "catch-up". "The Australian Government has already focused on early childhood as a priority," Ms Bishop said. "We have put the issue of early childhood on the Council of Australian Government's agenda, so Labor is playing catch-up on the early childhood issue."

How nice that after ten years the Australian Government has now put the issue of early childhood on an agenda, coincidentally as there's an election approaching.
Who's really "playing catch-up" around here? Apparently Ms Bishop has forgotten how Kevin Rudd started talking about water last week and, a couple of days later, John Howard started talking about water. Or how about how the Liberals are playing catch-up with David Hicks. Let's face it, after ten years standing around admiring the view, it's the Liberals who have got a lot of catching-up to do.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

man of irony

Imagine you have a friend who tells you they're about to embark on some impulsive and risky course of action with potentially catastrophic consequences. Do you: (a) try to talk your mate out of it, or (b) encourage them to go ahead and agree to be involved too?
John Howard chose (b). So it's ironic that he continues to justify participating in the Iraq war on the basis of the American alliance, when he would've done the alliance (and the ally) more favours if he had dared to talk back to his powerful chum and try to steer him away from a foolish course of action.

"Howard has used the week to emphasise that Australia's commitment [in Iraq] is vital to the US alliance...
(Source: SMH, 26 January, 2007: "Howard's Watershed")

We were not a good friend to America. America's real friend would have taken Bush aside and said "Listen, George, this is a really harebrained idea. And mate, I'm afraid I just can't get Australia involved in it." I think it's called "tough love".

green is the new true blue

Tim Flannery, Australian of the Year:

"There's been a decade of delay, and that's put us in quite a difficult position. Hard steps are now required [whereas] a decade ago we may have been able to take smaller and easier ones."
(Source: SMH, 26 January 2007: "Flannery berates Howard on climate")

John Howard, blithely:
"Does it embarrass me? No it doesn't," Mr Howard said. "We do live in a democracy and I'm not so thin-skinned and so desiring (of) uniformity that I want every Australian of the Year to engage in fulsome praise of the Government or of me."
(Source: The Weekend Australian, 27 January 2007: "Flannery choice not bid to embarrass PM")

I don't know if Howard gets the distinction between being embarrassed just because someone has criticised you, and being embarrassed about the substance of the criticism and the credibility of the critic. Flippantly brushing it off as 'just someone's different opinion' means Howard evidently doesn't take Flannery's opinions very seriously at all.
It should embarrass Howard that he has done nothing for the environment at all during his decade in power. It should embarrass him that he's been shown to have woeful judgment on yet another critical issue. It should embarrass him that he is only now waking up and smelling the coffee, at around five to midnight on the Doomsday clock.
Doubtless this year we'll see more of Howard hastily attempting to paint himself a lovely pale shade of green, but I think voters will be quite cynical about such born-again environmentalism-lite.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

making it big

I can't resist the opportunity to drop a name. So to add to my tally of 'I knew them when's, I now have to add Peter Templeman, who has just been nominated for an Oscar for his short film. Onya, Tempsie!
Temps was a good mate of my boyfriend Jimbo's a decade ago when I lived in Perth for a year. We'd go see his band Rude Emily almost every weekend (he's a fantastic singer) and I remember the odd post-surf session sitting around Tempsie's house, chatting to him about writing. Great to see he's been doing so well with it.
I'll have to see if I can dig up any incriminating photos for New Weekly but I have a feeling Jimbo ended up with custody of all our photo negatives. Lucky for you Tempsie!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

meta than ever

Oz blogger Antony Loewenstein had an interesting essay on blogging in Spectrum in the weekend Herald, which he reproduces here.

flag elation

I'm as Australian as the next person. That is to say, I'm an immigrant. Yet I've never felt the slightest bit inspired to brandish the flag in order to prove my Australianness to anyone. It makes me shudder to have the flag rammed down my throat purely for political purposes as has been happening lately by both parties.
It's interesting to read in news stories that sales of flags and related imagery have gone through the roof since the Cronulla riots.

Sydney tattoo shops have expeienced a surge in requests for patriotic designs since the Cronulla riots in December 2005...[Quotes a tattooist:] "Ever since the Cronulla riots, we are just doing heaps."...

The pollies are certain there is no dark jingoistic element to all this newfound flag-loving?
Another interesting thing to note is the importance of symbolism here. Voters might remember how the Liberals managed to weasel their way out of dealing with Aboriginal reconciliation over the past decade with Howard claiming he is not interested in symbolism. But then, when it comes to the Australian flag, the Liberals are utterly obsessed with it. I mean, what is a flag but pure unadulterated symbolism?
Today, Peter Debnam has issued me with the following warning:
"I want to send a strong message to those few individuals that have not embraced the flag that the rest of Australia does."

Ok, ok, I'll embrace the flag already! Pass it here and let me make love to it, lest I be considered unAustralian.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

sheik, stirring

There has been some sniggering in the papers about the Mufti's threat to take on Premier Iemma in seats like Lakemba, but maybe Iemma shouldn't be too blase about it? What if Australia's Muslims are feeling increasingly disenfranchised from "mainstream Australia" and are propelled to cling the more determinedly to their imported culture? Muslims may well jump at the chance to embrace Muslim candidates in government, outrageous Mufti or no outrageous Mufti. Even Muslim moderates frequently appear to humour Sheik al-Hilaly. And why wouldn't they? Being outrageous is nothing but a great way to get attention. And the more extreme the Sheik appears, the more moderate the moderates will appear. It'll be interesting to see what unfolds on this front.

the perfect woman is...made-up

This morning as I glanced at a perfectly groomed anchorwoman on telly, I was suddenly come over by a feeling of cold dread. What if, I suddenly thought to myself, the man I love turns out to be attracted to high-maintenance women? Maybe the majority of men are? What if the man I end up with turns out to be secretly (or openly) more attracted to the well-varnished woman than to a low-maintenance chick like me?
I think back to a moment a few weeks ago, as I sat with my sixty-year-old neighbor K. at a local playground and we watched my son scamper around. Having lunch at a nearby picnic table was a woman in a black business suit with the physique of an athlete. I nodded towards her.
"She looks like a triathlete or something," I said, looking at her well-defined calf muscles. K. whistled.
"You know, it’s the sexiest thing in the world, high heels," he remarked. Mildly irked, gaving down at my stumpish feet in their Havvies, I complained about how men find stilettos attractive when they cause women such pain, confinement and even disfigurement. He shrugged, and I was left to contemplate the fact that there is nothing one can do: Men are just attracted to women in high heels and that's final.
I have sometimes wondered if my lack of interest in heels stems from my dislike of the shape of my own legs. Perhaps if I had legs up to here with ballerina ankles, I’d be more keen to show them off. I don’t know if my stance on stilettos is mere jealousy. If sisters just wanna wear heels, who am I to judge, really? Still, I can never relate to women who are enraptured by their shoe collections. I own two pairs of thongs. I know that fact in itself makes me something of a freak.
I know I only make a half-hearted effort to conform to what is considered ‘feminine’ in our culture. Basically, I’m too lazy or too preoccupied with what I consider to be more important things to care all that much. Sure, I grow my hair long, but I reckon that’s probably more about having something to hide behind than trying to be ‘girlish’. I do shave my legs: I have been well-conditioned to hate my mohair stockings. I think underarm hair is ugly too, mainly because it looks like caterpillars escaping your armpit. I recognise this prejudice is social conditioning at work, but I’m happy to play along because there’s only minimal effort involved. As for make-up, I pretty much abandoned that entirely after I quit my office job and made my seachange. When we lived at the beach, I used to walk eight kilometres to drop Harley off at daycare, and on the way home I’d take a dip at two beaches. If I was wearing eye makeup I’d get home with panda eyes. Of course, there’s waterproof mascara but you practically need industrial solvent to get that off and I’ve got sensitive eyes. I still walk everywhere and makeup still sweats right off, so I don’t bother.
It once occurred to me that drag queens do women a favour because they lampoon the grotesque extremes of feminity and highlight the enormous degree of maintenance involved for serious players. Femininity really is a drag.
But I am not militantly against makeup the way my mother was and no doubt still is. I appreciate the theatre aspect of it and think there’s nothing wrong with humans enjoying playing dressups and being visually transformed. It’s fun. I’m sure if I ever have occasion again to doll myself up, I will probably enjoy it. I think my objection is more to the rigid strictures that dictate that women must wear makeup on a daily basis to "hide their flaws", to deny their age, to somehow compete with younger women in a culture that is obsessed with youth and beauty. Or that they must want to totter down the street in ridiculous shoes. Or must cut themselves open and insert foreign matter under their skin in order to appeal to men. Or have cosmetic labiaplasty. I also know that I think the costs involved in looking "feminine" amount to a kind of economic oppression. But I acknowledge that women have only themselves to blame for participating in the beauty economy. Personally, I don’t think I could’ve survived 2006 on the sole parent pension if I’d had to shell out for makeup or spent money on other "essentials" of womanhood. (The funniest product I ever saw advertised was a lotion designed specifically and exclusively to make the backs of your knees shine. Yes, really.)
I sometimes question whether maybe I am just too lazy, whether maybe there is some kind of implicit duty involved, a duty to maximise one’s femininity or something. Maybe dressing like a tomboy because it’s comfortable is just being slack. Maybe I just don’t put in enough effort. Without wanting to sound as if I have tickets on myself, the truth is I’ve never really suffered a lack of male attention, so clearly there are guys out there who aren’t looking for a high maintenance girl.
Then it occurred to me. The man I’m going to love--who I have to admit I haven’t actually met yet--isn’t going to care that I don’t wear makeup. He’ll like me for me, naturally.
But the small heavy dread remains even as I type this, particularly as I now recall an incident some weeks ago when I blow-dried my hair straight for a laugh (something I haven't done in years). On seeing me, Harley gazed at me with astonishment and said, "Wow, mum, you look really lovely today," and I thought, damn, how is it that even a three-year-old boy thinks women look better with straight hair than curly?

Monday, January 22, 2007

births and rebirths

A big congratulations to both Zoe and the Armaniac on the birth of their new babies! Fantastic news for them and I wish them all the best.
Me, I've got a new baby of sorts too. Out of the blue recently, I received some money owing to me that I'd written off. So I've bought myself a new computer. And I can't explain to you the exhilarating feeling of being in sheer technological heaven. I'm still getting it all up and running (and having to use my old computer while waiting for Telstra to provision my phone for broadband, which seems to take about a century or so). But it means that I'm back in the game, or will be very soon. Meanwhile, thanks for checking in now and then.

house of cards

I enjoy reading Christopher Pearson's column in the Weekend Australian because it shows the floundering desperation of the Right when it comes to trying to justify a Howard re-election. This time round, Pearson is clutching at straws under the headline "Defeat will do Labor good". He's trying to reassure middle-of-the-road Conservatives that it's the Liberals who most qualify for underdog status and therefore deserve re-election. He argues that if you cut and run from the Federal Liberals, they will implode, so if you're a swinger because you believe in healthy opposition, you must vote Liberal. He says voters don't have to worry about Labor imploding, describing it as "far from finished and well-placed for an overdue reconfiguration of its relationship with the union movement". Demonstrating the extent to which John Howard has shaped the Liberal Party into the John Howard Party, even a Conservative like Pearson cannot imagine the post-Howard Liberal Party being similarly able to remould itself in Opposition. Weak as!
On the subject of industrial relations, Pearson declares that unions merely persuade workers they "can't negotitate in their own best interests" but then admits that "there are still plenty of employment categories...where the possible exploitation of young, low-skilled or casual staff means they'll always be highly unionised". So it seems Pearson is dimly aware of the utility of union representation after all. Maybe unions aren't that evil after all, eh? (Or perhaps they are just evil-lite?)
But Pearson's piece de resistance is a quote from Beazley: "Both Kevin [Rudd] and Howard, in personal demeanour and presentation, stick to the centre. Neither of them [is] histrionic when it comes to making a political argument".
Pearson manages to shoehorn this quote into the argument that Beazley has thereby painted Howard as "a man of the centre"". I had to laugh at Pearson's long bow here. Which part of "personal demeanour and presentation" doesn't he understand? Saying someone is nerdish in presentation has nothing to do with their policy style, which might still be extreme in content. Anyway, I'm looking forward to what Pearson will come up with next week.

Ps. The news bulletins keep telling us that Howard's finally reshuffling today, but unfortunately for the Liberal Party, it doesn't matter how you shuffle a pack of jokers, you're still going to end up with a pack of jokers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

some fathers do 'ave 'em

The problem with having Papa Howard go in to bat for little Pete is that it infantilises Debnam, making him look pitifully weak: the implication is that Debnam can't do it on his own. Conversely, it makes Howard look strong because it denies that Howard has Federal troubles, which he does. (I've noticed that one thing Howard often does well is appear to have the strength of his convictions. It's just that his convictions frequently turn out to be hopelessly wrong.)
Still, the people who are marketing Peter Debnam have been doing well to turn his image around lately, with most of his press showing him as a smiling Mr Nice Guy. Labor can counter this by giving us plenty of reminder footage of "attack dog Debnam"'s ridiculous behavior in Parliament last year.
Anyway, no matter how bad State Labor's position might look, there's just something about Iemma that Debnam can't fake and Howard can't implant for him. Credibility or leadership quality or something.

Friday, January 12, 2007

women scorned

Is Howard losing his grip? Have even the Liberals had enough of Howard’s style of governing? He’s often told us that he’ll stay leader of the Liberals as long as the party wants him. Is it possible they no longer want him, even though they’re stuck with him now, just like they’re stuck with Debnam in NSW?
Latest evidence of Liberal discontent with Howard comes from Sunday's The Daily Telegraph which ran a story headlined "Bishop blasts PM" and reporting that Bishop, angry at rejection of her nanny scheme, "has accused John Howard of treating women like ‘fools’". Well, we don't need Bronwyn Bishop to tell us the PM's out of touch, but it's nice. I’m just stunned she dares to speak outside the Liberal cone of silence.

conservative heavy

Christopher Pearson had a story in The Weekend Australian headlined: "Rudd needs to learn real Christians are cultural conservatives". This will no doubt be news to all the Christian liberals out there.

"Rudd has long understood the electoral benefit Howard has accumulated by virtue of his attachment to Christian values, low-key and reticent although he is about his beliefs".

Wait a minute--Howard is "low-key and reticent"? We’re talking about the same prime minister who just announced he’s writing cheques for religious salesmen to come spruik in schools? Pearson takes issue with Rudd’s claim that "the starting point with Christianity is a theology of social justice":
"He will have lost himself a lot of votes with that claim. The orthodox position is that Christianity begins with the incarnation, God in human flesh, culminates historically in the redemption and anticipates the general resurrection and the end of time. In the meantime there is the transfigured life believers find inside the church, Christ’s mystical body and bride."

I guess by "starting point" they both mean something like it’s original or fundamental basis, but it’s hard to see how Pearson’s interpretation of the religion’s "starting point" is useful. He says Rudd "wildly overstates the importance" of social justice in Christianity and invokes both the Old and New Testaments as providing proof that homosexuality is justifiably "deplored". After all, if a prejudice is thousands of years old, it must be okay. So, "real Christians" hate gays.
If Rudd is "conservative-lite", does that mean Howard is "conservative-full strength"? If he is, does he stand for the values that Pearson argues "real Christians" do? Or is Howard, too, merely "conservative-lite"?
"Rudd is trying to impose his party’s agenda on the churches and re-badge God as a social democrat, precisely the strategy that he and Wallis accuse the Right of adopting."

It’s also precisely the strategy Pearson is adopting in his attempt to rebrand God as a cultural conservative again.

art ache

There was quite a haunting interview on The 7:30 Report last week with Howard Arkley’s mother Gwen, and with Arkley's widow Alison Burton and her brother-in-law, John Gregory. There is a tense moment in the interview with Burton and Gregory when the reporter gently probes about the contestability of Arkley’s will (it had been signed and witnessed only by Burton, her sister and her brother-in-law):
GREG HOY: Can you, perhaps if you could just explain the situation, though, because you must have been there, were you, when the will was made?
The brother-in-law and Burton appear uncomfortable. There is a strained pause, then Gregory says, kind of nervously,
JOHN GREGORY: Well, look, actually, I really do have to go. Sorry, I'm not able to keep..."
When the going gets tough, the tough shut down interviews. We’re just left with a sense of deep sorrow for Arkley’s mum.

sticking to their guns

It's frustrating to see that Bush and Howard still refuse to acknowledge that invading Iraq was a mistake. Today in the Herald, Howard again stubbornly insists "We were right to go into Iraq." And he's recently led us to believe that even if he did have private regrets about a war, he’d "have the grace to keep such thoughts to himself". In the face of even the Conservative media referring to it as his "Iraq blunder" and calling on the Australian people to hold him to account, what credibility does our Prime Minister possibly have left on the issue? What I'd love to see squeezed out of him is answers to questions like--does he still endorse the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike? The idea of exporting democracy by force? Giving him the benefit of hindsight, if he knew then what he does now, would he still go into Iraq? At any cost, for any length of time?
To date Howard has been mostly mute on the subject of Iraq, choked by Bush’s bear hug. Everyone knows Howard never had a plan for Iraq beyond "whatever George wants, George gets", so he's hamstrung in any decision-making on the issue. Every time he is cornered on the question, he drags out his stock phrases, which always include something like, "if we leave now, America will look bad". Nowhere do you hear him admit that if America looks bad over Iraq, it only has itself to blame. Nowhere do you find humility and wisdom, any sense he has learned from this colossal mistake. So, we continue to wait for him to concede that the whole idea of invading Iraq was extremely foolish, that if he had his time again, he’d certainly think twice about blindly supporting America’s foreign policy decisions. Instead, all we get is two blokes digging in their heels, unable to find a way to save face, and trapped into continuing their tough guy charade.
Looking at the continuing fallout of their foolish war, Howard and Bush now appear in danger of splitting their own parties on the issue. The Herald carries a story arguing that "once-united Republicans now face an unpleasant choice: stand behind a deeply unpopular troop build-up or take on the head of their party."
Boy, I bet Howard's regretting not quitting while he was ahead.

i was made for loving youtube, baby

I haven’t been able to indulge in the pleasures of YouTube just yet, as my current computer can’t hack it. However, once I get my new system up and running, I reckon I’ll be fully into it. That’s the thing with all these emergent technologies. Reality TV may have democratised celebrity, but YouTube has democratised reality TV.

Interesting story in The Australian the other day, headed "Model film down Tube". It discussed how courts in Brazil are trying to get Google Inc. to permanently remove footage from YouTube for reasons of privacy. I would’ve thought digital video files were all that different to digital music files, so if courts could block music filesharing, surely they can block video sharing too?

all talk, no action

Well, that was quite a triumphant return to blogging, wasn't it? They say a bad workman blames his tools (George Bush being the perfect example) and it's true that my technology has been causing me more grief than usual these past weeks. But the good news is I'm only a few days away from a massive computer upgrade, which should get me nicely back into the swing of things. Meantime here's a few rough posts while I have the opportunity. See ya!

Monday, January 01, 2007

PM has fertile imagination: feminist

Feminism dead: PM announces the giant banner headline in the news section of the Sunday tabloid. It is accompanied by a large photo of a smiling young mother and a subhead that reads Praise for younger mothers. The story, by Howard-friendly journalist Piers Akerman, reveals that John Howard believes younger women are abandoning careers they were once peer-pressured into pursuing, in favour of having children. But here's the funny part. While the PM is keen to attribute the rise in the birth rate to younger, ‘post-feminist’ women, Akerman goes on to contradict him completely by quoting statistics that demonstrate "the continuing trend of delaying motherhood" and the fact that "women aged 30 to 34 continue to have the highest fertility rate of all women". Um...
What irks me though, more than his distortion of the facts, is Howard’s contention that women have only pursued careers out of a sense of keeping up with the Ms. Joneses. He claims, "They thought: 'I’ll be letting the sisterhood down if I don’t stay in the workforce until I’m a certain age'". Not only is he a mind-reader, but he also conceives of women as pretty pathetic, gormless creatures. It does not occur to him that women might be motivated to work for much the same reasons men are--for intellectual stimulation, to use their skills, education and talents to be productive members of society, for obtaining financial benefit, for reasons of self-esteem, power or status, or whatever.
In rhetorical desperation, Howard brandishes the biological clock in our faces. He says young women have "a greater awareness now of the disadvantage of postponing having children too long." Well, this is probably true of all women these days. We are very much aware of the difficulty in reconciling a desire to work with a desire to parent, particularly in a patriarchal society where men are never criticised for wanting to 'have it all'. This does not mean women are ready to throw in the towel, though. Sorry, John. In the end, Howard’s arguments amount to nothing more than wishful thinking from an old-fashioned social conservative with a penchant for nostalgia about the male-as-sole-breadwinner model.

elsewhere @ larvatus prodeo

onwards and blogwards

Happy New Year, bloggers! I've missed you guys. Three months was a long time to be offline and there's loads of things I want to comment on, but I'm getting bogged down trying to catch up. So I think I'll just start again from now, and hopefully come back to some of the important debates of 2006 that aren’t going away in any case. Thanks again for the kind thoughts some of you have sent (yeah, it wasn't the best year I've ever had) and thanks for still reading my blog. So...let's warm up with my favorite subject: the Rodent...