Saturday, March 27, 2010

Well would you look at that

From the ABC website:

A political party for people with disabilities is on the cusp of winning its first seat in an Australian parliament.

The Dignity for Disability Party looks set to pick up a seat in the Upper House of South Australia's Parliament after last weekend's election.

That will be a historic result and one that will bring mixed emotions for supporters because the party's lead candidate died during the campaign.

Kelly Vincent, 21, is almost certain of winning a seat in the Upper House, which would make her South Australia's youngest parliamentarian and the state's only MP in a wheelchair.

"They would have to put a ramp at Parliament House," she said.

"They would have to change the rules. There'll be no more standing votes or standing. There'll be no more standing as far as I'm concerned.

"So big changes are going to happen just purely if I get elected."

How good is that? What satisfaction there is, as a voter, in seeing your top preference below the line get across the, erm, line.

On the other hand, like my friend R said, how appalling is it that there should be a perceived need for a party called Dignity for the Disabled in the first place? Much less that so many people would see the need that they voted it all the way to the Upper House.

And is there really not a ramp at Parliament House?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Prepare for the Rapture, but if you get left behind, at least your medical bills will be smaller

And, as the US holds its breath and the ABC website updates its news,

Mr Obama clinched the votes of some of wavering Democrats this morning by agreeing to issue an order reaffirming a ban on using federal funds for abortion.

The vote, in a rare Sunday sitting of the US House of Representatives, could come within the hour.

Republicans remain united in their opposition, with one declaring that healthcare reform will lead to "Armageddon" and another saying "demons" have overrun the Congress.


To do list: ring optometrist, make appointment

One entire new blog and two whole years after the traffic sign that said


I still haven't had my eyes checked. It's just not the kind of errand that seems urgent, not when your house is full of cat-hair tumbleweeds, your winter doona is still at the dry cleaners' after being left there more than a month ago, and the feral bougainvillea is about to pull the fence down.

So, like the master of avoidance behaviour I have been for so long, I was tending this morning to my FaceBook Farm, which shows you what a plant, animal or building is called whenever you happen to hover the cursor over it. My understanding was that that golden tree is called a Flourishing Birch.

But instead, in a moment worthy of a horror novel involving computers, the text popped up on the screen saying FLOURISHING BITCH.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's only words

Tony Abbott's argument against the formal acknowledgement of traditional owners at public gatherings is that it's 'tokenistic'. (Note to Tone: the people who do it do usually actually mean it. If they didn't, they wouldn't bother to do it. QED.)

He seems to be offering this, as so many concern trolls do, as a good argument for not doing it at all. I note that, monarchist and Catholic that he is, he's not making the same argument for acknowledging any monarchs or vice-monarchs present at the beginning of a speech, or for Parliamentary prayers.

Yet surely the same argument applies. I bet there are more people in Australia working hard for the improvement of Aboriginal people's lives than there are working hard in the cause of retaining the monarchy, for a start. And I bet there are a lot more people who find the prayers and the nods to governors that they are obliged to make 'tokenistic' than people who feel the same about acknowledgement of traditional owners.

But that line isn't really worth arguing with anyway; nor do I have anything to say about Wilson Tuckey except that he and people like him are the price we pay for democracy. I'm more interested in the widely-held assumption behind Abbott's pronouncement that 'mere' words are worth nothing.

This from a politician, and one who's worked as a journalist and written several books to boot, is particularly ironic, but that's by the way as well. What floors me is that even people whose stock-in-trade is language seem to feel quite happy about trashing language as essentially worthless. It's nothing more than intellectual laziness: an acceptance of the notion that words and deeds are somehow the opposite of each other, each with a clear moral value and no prizes for guessing which is which. The lure of the false dichotomy is strong, I know -- it makes opining so much easier -- but you'd think a Rhodes Scholar would have been taught at some point in his education how to avoid its simplistic snares.

Because speech is an act, and so is thought, and so is decision-making about how you will behave. To acknowledge traditional owners at a public function is to remind everyone present of Aboriginal history and culture. It's a small reversal of erasure and a little raiser of consciousness. Recognition is an act, and so is the expression of respect.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oh God I miss him

I mean, can you think of anyone else who left school at fifteen who could make himself so vulnerable by, yet still somehow convincingly get away with, calling a Rhodes scholar and Oxford MA an 'intellectual nobody'? It's not as if Abbott's speech or behaviour of late have reflected these qualifications, or indicated much capacity even for logical or consistent -- much less for abstract, rigorous or difficult -- thought. Even his supporters say fondly that he is a bundle of contradictions, almost as though an absence of clarity were a desirable thing in a political leader.

If you read that link you'll see that Keating has also provided an admirably brisk summary of Turnbull's superiority as Opposition leader, and has coined the pungent, nay, scary phrase 'the poor man's Howard', all in one short radio conversation.

Sad waste that his shortish tenure as PM may have been, it's some consolation that these days he feels free to tell us what he really thinks whenever somebody asks him, untrammelled by the restrictions of office.

UPDATE: Oooh look, there's Footage.

You have to wonder what ABC employee chose to describe this as a 'rant', and under what sort of instructions. And you have to wince at that very very telling little Freudian slip right at the very end.

UPDATE #2 (12.43 am CST): Hullo, someone at the ABC website has changed that heading and removed the word 'rant'. Someone, clearly, who also thought it was as suss as anything.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Can't make an omelette without breaking eggs; can't knit a book review without gathering wool.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Only 8 days to the SA election, but who will save us from Lara Bingle?

If I see the mindless expression 'spin over substance' trotted out one more time with reference to SA Premier Mike Rann and his government, I'm going to have what my grandmother used to call A Turn.

But alas, there's only one thing journos (and apparently their readers) love more than alliteration, and that's a nice simple false dichotomy. Those who keep saying 'spin over substance' believe, or would have us believe, or both, that the relation of spin to substance is the same as the relation of black to white, good to evil, night to day, you get the picture. I don't know which is the more annoying, the woolly-mindedness or the sibilance and sussuration.

Because as any South Australian with eyes in his or her head is perfectly well aware, Rann has both spin and substance in abundance. You may not like his substance, but you cannot deny that he has it. He may have less of it in some areas (like water), but he certainly has more of it in others, like the healthy state economy, the low unemployment rate and the massive improvements in Adelaide's roads and traffic flow in half a dozen different places over the last eight years. Everything except the really intractable problems (like water) appears to have gone pretty smoothly throughout his two terms thus far, in spite of his, erm, strange team and his apparent ongoing, erm, disagreements with the legal profession.

But the brutal populist Laura Norder policies, even in their weird ideological disconnect from the Social Inclusion Unit headed by a priest appointed by fiat, are a different thing from a lack of substance. So, even, is this silly business with the former waitress, she of the 'funny, flirty friendship' (and if you believe that, then I've got a nice bridge you might like to buy -- though 'funny' is appropriate, if not in the way Rann meant it). Take down their pants and their brains fall out, as my baby sister is wont, tersely, to observe, but that doesn't indicate 'lack of substance' either, whatever else it might be a symptom of.

Unfortunately, shapely blondes are right up there with alliteration and false dichotomy when it comes to what the meeja likes most, so the non-story about the alleged long-gone affair with the waitress is the one we keep hearing over and over again, not least because said waitress keeps popping up behind microphones and in front of cameras -- not unlike that other shapely blonde whose non-story is taking up so much space not only in the sports pages but also in the news pages at the moment. The SA election is only eight sleeps away, but who knows how much longer we're all going to be subjected daily to more breathless, sleazy fluff about the hapless Lara Bingle?

Monday, March 8, 2010

More shocking revelations about Tony Abbott and fatherhood!

As though the tragicomic episode a few years back about the Boy Who Everyone Thought Was but Turned Out Not To Be Tony Abbott's Son (so very sad for him; never mind the three beautiful daughters, we all know 'every bloke wants a son') were not enough, The Punch has broken a truly startling new story about Abbott and fatherhood this morning.

Not that they seem to have noticed. They've buried the lead six feet under:
'For a man who always cautioned against hubris in office – if ultimately succumbing to it by holding onto the prime ministership for so long – John Howard is having a bit of trouble containing his excitement at the speed at which his progeny has turned Liberal fortunes around.

“I don’t think Tony has put a foot wrong,” he tells The Punch. “He’s given real heart and hope to the Liberal Party.”'

Memo to David Penberthy and/or The Punch's sub(s): I think you-all mean 'protegé'.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Adelaide Writers' Week, Day 3

On which of course I am at home, preparing for today's chairing gig, a session with Michelle de Kretser late this afternoon which I am expecting, and intending, to enjoy a lot. I have also acquired a new late-breaking 'In Conversation' gig with Robert Dessaix on Thursday.

But yesterday I got briefly to do the things you do at writers' festivals when you're there as a punter: went to a book launch and afterwards caught up with three lovely friends for an impromptu lunch of Cath Kerry's Vietnamese cold rolls (Adelaide Writers' Week does the best food you'll ever find in a tent) in the deep shade under the trees in the rose garden, where we had a fairly scandalous discussion about the SA Labor Party and its prospects for the March 20 election.

We'd just been to the launch of Peter Goldsworthy's new book of short stories, Gravel, being launched by J. M. Coetzee, who made the kind of speech that you take away with you and turn over and over in your pocket, a perfectly-judged book-launch speech in that it used the book as a starting point for more general observations about the world and lifted the occasion effortlessly above discussion of a particular thing to an abstract yet razor-sharp reflection on the way we live our lives.

Peter's stories, he said, were partly about life as a moral education, and moral education as a painful process by which we learn how to live good lives by processes of trial and error, and cause and effect, along the lines (my words now, not his) of 'Oh God look what hurt I've caused / how ashamed I feel / what a mess I've made: I'll never do that again.'

As has already happened several times this Writers' Week, I later felt a strong connection to something another of the writers was saying; talking late last night on the phone to Robert Dessaix as we discussed how his Thursday session might go and what sorts of things we might talk about, still mulling over what John Coetzee had said that afternoon, I was startled to hear Robert saying 'I'm interested in the question of what a good life is, and what we have to do to have one.' What I heard, when he used the word 'good', was a seamless meshing of meanings, both as in 'living the good life' and as in 'being a good person'. Some people might argue that these two things are mutually exclusive but not, I think, Robert. Something to ask him in the session.

One might be forgiven for imagining that the Dessaix conception of a 'good life' could be very different from the Coetzee conception of it, but maybe not, so much. They have a great deal in common: born only four years apart, happily settled in small Australian cities, much-travelled polyglot fellow-Aquarians, citizens of the world.