Sunday, August 29, 2010

Spring ...

... in three more sleeps.

Desperate for them to come again

Read this.

Here's a taste.

It is no small thing though, to be in water with such large creatures, face to face. For they are huge, muscled and dark: they are like water made solid, they are silent and full of purpose. 

Go on, off you go, just do it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Swings and roundabouts

This morning I was congratulating myself on having managed to save a bit of money over the last month or three.

This afternoon I opened the electricity bill.

Oh well.

In which we use words to mean whatever we like

Anyone following the entertaining shemozzle that Australian federal politics has recently become (usually it's a fairly boring shemozzle) will have noticed in the last few days that Tony Abbott and his henchpersons, most recently Christopher Pearson (whom I know knows better; tch) in this morning's Australian, make reference as often as they can to Julia Gillard 'clinging on' to power.

Now call me a pedant but if anyone can show me any dictionary or lexicon in which 'clinging on' is listed as a synonym for 'following due process', I will give them $10,000. And if Tony Abbott does indeed end up Prime Minister, will they tolerate anyone talking about his having 'forcibly snatched power away from the incumbent Prime Minister'? Because forcibly snatching stuff away is what you have to do, when someone is clinging on. Live by the connotation, die by the connotation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why everyone loves Antony Green

Dude knows his stuff, is why.

I was directed to this magnificently clear and thorough explanation of the current and possible future Canberra scenarios by the equally excellent Bernice, who blogs here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who's sorry now?

Tim Dunlop has a sharply pointed post this morning on the subject of Tony Abbott's sudden discovery that he's actually quite sorry the Howard Government was a bit nasty to Independent Andrew Wilkie (you know, the one almost certain to win the seat of Denison) back in the day, calling him 'unbalanced' and everything.

The fact that Abbott apparently can't see how this looks tells you everything you need to know about his judgement. A nice hot cup of STFU would have been a great deal more to the point. And the waspish comment of the spokesperson suggests that news of this particular apology was never supposed to get out, which indicates that Abbott and his bad judgement are living in Fantasyland as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How embarrassment

The Age is reporting today that only one out of two Australian women in their 20s is having a regular pap smear test for cervical cancer.

Why? Apparently, it's because it's 'embarrassing'.

So here's what I want to know. Are these the same young women who wouldn't be seen dead sporting pubic hair?

And if they are, why is it more embarrassing to have a clinical examination done by a doctor (you can always go to a female doctor if that makes you feel less embarrassed) than it is to have your short-and-curlies ripped out by some total stranger whose training, if any, you know nothing about, and at whose hands you could end up with the most godawful rashes and infections?

If you get cervical cancer (and don't forget what aspiring Prime Minister Anthony John Rabbit thinks about Gardasil, the vaccine that could prevent it), things will be done to you by doctors that will be infinitely more invasive, painful, time-consuming and, yes, embarrassing than any pap smear. They will be done to you in an attempt -- an attempt that may well not be successful -- to save your life.

I love Gen Y. But sometimes I don't understand them at all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

STOP THE BOATS! (in which we defy Godwin and his Law)

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

-- Hermann Goering

(Quoted in Gilbert, G. M., Nuremberg Diary. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Co (1947), pp 278-9.) Hi Ken! *waves*

In the words of the First Dog on the Moon ...

Australia, what have you done?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Family: the weight

Never, ever underestimate how much it takes out of a person to endure protracted emotional strain, particularly if this involves self-restraint. Example: spending an entire afternoon with your family of origin, all of whom you love, and all of whom intend to vote for the Coalition even though Tony Abbott appalls at least two of them.

Especially if it's a birthday gathering and there's a lot of pressure to play nice.

I come from a family of implacable ALP-haters who are quite happy to vote Green in the Senate and are all going to. They're all perfectly intelligent, though not what The Australian calls the 'tertiary left', and they all loathe the Shooters and Fishers and the Christian fundies and the climate flat-earthers skeptics and love Barack Obama as much as I do.

For them it's not about left and right as such: it's about teh unions and teh evil commies and teh Great Satan Whitlam and so on. Both sisters work in the health sector and have had their politics formed over decades by listening to male doctors, while my father has never forgiven the commies unions for the wartime strikes.

By the time I got home last night I could hardly walk from the exhaustion of the strain of refraining from shouting and throwing things. Fell into bed at 8.30 with my Ruth Rendell, which was as much as I could manage, lights out by nine and slept till 7.15.

The moral of this story is that the older you get, the more physically knackered you are rendered by stress. I would have been better off going for a long, long walk.

On the day of reckoning ...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The brain, she do the work for you

One has been trying in these dark pre-election days to stay a bit cheerful and upbeat and not to visualise what the phrase 'Prime Minister Tony Abbott' might mean for oneself, one's loved ones, one's fellow Australians and, of course, Australia's image in the eyes of the world, considering the damage done there during the Howard years. Or to visualise it at all, if it comes to that.

Little about the campaign has helped with attempts at cheer and upbeat-ness. Julia Gillard has come good in her personal appearances, perhaps sufficiently so to win over a big enough fraction of the population for Labor to stagger over the line, but in terms of a high standard of policy innovations and solutions, or of an even barely adequate standard of public debate either in the meeja or from the leaders, it's been pretty consistently woeful.

But I didn't realise quite how woeful I'd thought it all was, deep down in the dark crevasses where no conscious thought can penetrate, until I saw this headline this morning in Campaign Crikey -- Morning Edition:

Election Tracker: Day 32 -- Julia's trip to the west ... Abbott tours QLD ... Election hangman: _ _ R _ I _ _ L

Turns out the Hangman word was, of course, M A R G I N A L, as in 'They're scuttling around the marginals in the home stretch.' But not at that point having yet read the piece to which it referred, I looked at the Hangman thingy and my eye, with no conscious thought going on behind it, sketched out F A R C I C A L.

How sad is that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The art of the actor

If you're a Crikey reader you may have seen this already, but if not, have a look.

I love actors, I just love them to death, and most of all I love Robert Carlyle. Their job, done well, is the most seamless imaginable combination of body, mind and soul.

This commercial was shot in one take, as you can see. Watch the way Carlyle paces the walking and talking to coincide perfectly with every prop. Watch the way he keeps it up while negotiating that rocky, rutted path, telling an engaging story, and maintaining a consistent distance from the camera. He'll be 50 next April, but he still moves like a hyperactive 25-year-old.

It's not just him, either. Everything about this ad is lovely.

Presumably Jesus wants them for sunbeams instead

One of the things that occurred to me very forcefully several times during the nightmare morning I spent a few years ago in the Assemblies of God stronghold in the Adelaide suburb of (wait for it) Paradise, researching this piece [update: they seem to have put it behind a paywall, sorry!], was that many of the less, how you say, cerebral people among Christians tend to use Jesus (Assemblies of God are very very big on Jesus) as a sort of all-purpose blank screen onto which to project their desires, fantasies and fears. So while I didn't see Q and A last night [CORRECTION: it was not last Monday's but an earlier Q and A, on April 5 this year. This error has been kindly brought to my attention by Ken Lovell. Hi Ken *waves*], the telly still being borked and me still being too disorganised busy to get and set up a new one (new antenna, furniture-moving, nine-yard logistics narrative), it comes as no surprise to read this morning a particularly stupid and indeed mildly offensive remark made last night [on April 5] by Mr Rabbit in answer to a question about asylum seekers:

"Jesus didn't say yes to everyone, Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone's place to come to Australia."

Jesus wept. 

Last time Abbott said something like this (for it is his line, and he has been holding it for some years) I was silly enough to make what I would have thought was the obvious 'No room at the inn' argument to a Christian, Abbott-loving friend of mine (yes yes, I know). It made him incandescent with rage and scorn, but I'm still waiting for him to explain exactly why it's not a valid point.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

He's grounded in a what now?

The only possible explanation for Miranda Devine's latest shamefully dishonest naive rave (Rooty Hill was not in any way scripted or rigged? Yes, and I am Scarlett Johansson) is that some sub at the website has been at the Laphroiag, for how, otherwise, could this manifestly nonsensical sentence have made it online?
His wife Margaret's amused disdain for his baby-holding abilities in the campaign gives another clue to Abbott's groundedness.
Got that? The facts that (a) by Devine's own account, his wife is disdainful of him and (b) he doesn't know how to hold a baby (which would seem to indicate that he rarely held his own when they were small), taken together, are a 'clue' to Abbott's 'groundedness.'

Remember that raspberry thing Paul Keating did in Parliament that time with his index finger and his bottom lip? Consider it done.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quote of the day

This is an election where slogans are really wearing thin. Abbott today tried to start talk about Labor’s “Great Big New Filter”, after which most of the listeners went out and had a great big new chunder.

-- From Grog's Gamut.

Friday, August 13, 2010

When testosterone attacks

Everyone already knows that the judgement of former Labor leader Mark Latham isn't super flash (though it's better than that of the Labor blokes who put him in charge), but even Latham sank to new lows of error in choosing to confront Tony Abbott yesterday -- thereby hijacking a function for old soldiers; stay classy, Mark -- and ask him more stupid, irrelevant questions in his "job" as a "journalist" for the ever-reliably-scummy (speaking of sinking to new lows) Channel Nine, who seem to be doing an excellent job of keeping themselves in their own news. As you would, having had that amount of practice.

Because Latham may be a big hulking boofy bloke who can break cab drivers' arms and try to yank little old deaf dudes in glasses off their feet and rip their arms off while pretending to shake their hands, and he may be four years younger than Abbott,  but Abbott is a zillion degrees fitter, and he's a trained boxer with just as much, though far better controlled, natural aggression. And he would have known that had he lost his temper and beaten the bejesus out of Latham, at least three-quarters of the population would have cheered. And probably voted him in. Don't even think about it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

'An astonishing number of prayer groups'

If anyone reading this happens to be teaching creative writing or running workshops or whatever, here's an article you might find useful. Certainly I plan to save it, so it's to hand should I ever find myself teaching anyone the difference between sentimentality and the real thing.

I've been a fan of Christopher Hitchens, even all through his contrarian views on Iraq, ever since the positively Damascene moment in a friend's sunny apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour on Easter Saturday 1994, where I read him for the first time. The moment of revelation was specifically this paragraph from a review in the TLS, first published 1988, which gave me a major new view, as of suddenly opened curtains on a window that turns out to be much larger than one imagined, of what it was possible for a writer to do:
If one takes the normal American ambition to be the pursuit of happiness, and charts the ways in which that pursuit is so cruelly thwarted, sooner or later one strikes across the wound profiles of Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963. In those 'six point nine seconds of heat and light' or those 'seven seconds that broke the back of the American century', some little hinge gave way in the national psyche. The post-Kennedy period is often written up as a 'loss of innocence', a judgement which admittedly depends for its effect on how innocent you thought America had been until a quarter of a century ago. ... With Kennedy's murder, the Republic doomed itself to the repetitive contemplation of a tormenting mystery. Here is a country where information technology operates at a historically unsurpassed level; where anything knowable can in principle be known and publicised; where the bias is always in favour of disclosure rather than concealment; where the measure of attainment even in small-change discourse is the moon-shot. And nobody is satisfied that they know for certain what happened in the banal streets of Dealey Plaza.
And now here he is in the current Vanity Fair, almost another quarter of a century later, on what it's like to be diagnosed with cancer at 61.

Check out, in particular, the final paragraph, where one of the world's most famously strident and adamantine atheists and actively anti-Christian crusaders observes, briefly and neutrally, knowing that the irony does not need to be pointed out and will not escape his readers (one of the reasons I love him is his unfailing respect for his readers' intelligence), that he is getting supportive messages from 'an astonishing number of prayer groups'.

Imagine the struggle to process and reconcile this -- to do so at all, much less weakened, as he clearly is and including intellectually (though there's not much evidence of that in the writing) by the brutal treatments that all past and present cancer patients know far too much about.

Yes, we know

As readers of this blog may have noticed, I'm quite a fan of Crikey reporter Bernard Keane and am enjoying his weekday reports in Crikey's special extra early-morning campaign newsletter. And I am an even bigger fan of George Megalogenis, one of the few grown-up journalists this country seems to have left.


Here's Keane is this morning:
The impact of the Latham “intervention” on the weekend is yet to be played out, but I suspect George Megalogenis was right in suggesting yesterday [Keane doesn't say where] that there appears to be a pattern of men trying to undermine our first female prime minister.
Keane says this as though it were a new thought: as though Megalogenis had made some startling new discovery.

Female journalists and bloggers have been saying it ever since the day Gillard became Prime Minister. We have offered all sorts of evidence in support of the observation. And for the most part we have been ignored, if not squashed, mocked and derided, by blokes in online conversations about it (not all blokes, but enough of them to stifle conversation on the topic), whenever we so much as stuck our heads above the parapet and hinted that there might be a bit of it going about.

But I suppose that for some people, nothing's really real until a bloke says it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Code red

From the increasingly indispensable Grog's Gamut:
At the Liberal Party campaign launch, the big policy announcement was the plan to introduce mandatory prison sentencing for people who harbour asylum seekers. The policy Abbott was most proud of was announcing the return of the Pacific Solution.
In 2007 the voters were pretty much of a mind that Pacific Solution was the type of policy only a backward looking, racist and morally bereft nation would employ. Now it is Abbott’s set piece.
Just so you know.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sorry, Annabel, not good enough

The ABC's Annabel Crabb published a long, informative, entertaining piece at The Drum the other day, characteristically witty and meaty, in defence of journalists and their current behaviour and reportage on the campaign trail.

Much of what she is says is fair enough. But nothing she says can possibly excuse what I've just heard on the radio.

I got into the car and turned on the radio and there was Julia Gillard in Queensland, mid-speech, announcing the Government's seniors policy, after what I imagine was a somewhat stressful morning meeting Kevin Rudd for the first time since she became Prime Minister. The seniors stuff sounded pretty good, mainly the improvements to the pension situation but also several other things. Jenny Macklin followed up. And then it was time for questions.

I listened for a total of just over half an hour, apart from the four and a half minutes it took me to duck into Dan Murphy on the way home, and I heard one, and only one, question, right at the end, about the policy announcement. Every single other question, asked mostly in an aggressive, smartarse, gotcha tone of voice by what sounded like a bunch of extremely young journalists (with the exception of -- wait for it -- Mark Latham, who was "working as a guest reporter for a commercial network"; is there no scrap of venomous fuckwittery of which the man is not capable?) was about her meeting with Kevin Rudd, except for the ones about the presence of Mark Latham.

Wah wah wah shrouded in secrecy (actually, said Gillard, there was a TV camera and sound gear in the room) wah gotcha wah wah why didn't you make eye contact (actually, said Gillard, just because you didn't see something doesn't mean it didn't happen) wah wah gotcha blah are there really two leaders wah wah wah knifed blah blah assassinated wah wah doesn't Mark Latham upset you blah not helping wah wah aren't YOU having a hard time wah wah gotcha blah Kevin Rudd Kevin Rudd Kevin Rudd.

Gillard answered every single one of these aggressive, repetitive inanities with humour, patience and grace.

As someone with an 83-year old father and an older sister recently turned 60, I would have quite liked to hear some questions about the seniors policy. I didn't think it was too much to ask. Perhaps the baby journalists thought Julia had spoken about it so clearly and in such detail that there were no questions left unanswered. But it seems more likely that they didn't hear a word she said and were filling in time tweeting and texting till her mouth stopped moving and they could start yelling But we need to talk about Kevin!

Can anyone tell me what this appalling crap is all about? Has journalism become a matter of goading someone until they lose their temper or burst into tears? Exactly when did loss of control or bodily containment become the stuff that "news" is made of? Did any of them even realise that there were policy announcements being made? Is this the kind of scrum that produces the kind of rubbish we're getting in the papers and on  the news? Do journalists really think that public life is a soap opera in which the only thing that matters is emotion, personalities and gossip? How much of this is being driven by the Rupert Murdochs of the world? Can you really blame the obviously extreme youth and inexperience of some of these journalists when Kerry O'Brien is doing more or less the same thing every night on The 7.30 Report? Now that journalism is something you need a university degree for, what on earth are they spending those four years teaching them? And is the Australian public really only getting the media it deserves?

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, I am bloody glad I'm not a journalist. I would be hanging my head in shame, mortification and sorrow at the untrained flea circus this once noble profession has become.

Friday, August 6, 2010

'One tends to get the type of person who is terribly thrusting and ambitious...'

'Thrusting', eh? I notice Abbott's world view as reflected by his vocabulary hasn't significantly changed in 30 years. Here for your listening pleasure (because it will confirm all your worst fears, and there's always something lushly satisfactory about that) is Tony Abbott, student politician, interviewed at UNE in 1979. Via Larry Buttrose on Facebook.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rodents to the right of us, rodents to the ... Oooh, shiny!

The ever-quotable Bernard Keane in this morning's Crikey Campaign Special:

Despite Kevin Rudd’s – by his recent standards – extravagant endorsement of the Gillard Government last night, his reappearance should be sufficient to ensure another day is spent by the Press Gallery interrogating the Rudd issue. Perhaps the Prime Minister can just start her press conferences by tossing a shiny thing into the midst of the hacks. It would have pretty much the same effect.

I've only read the transcript of the Rudd/Adams interview, I didn't actually hear it. One commentator has said Rudd sounds 'gutted', which is probably because that's what he has, surgically, ever so slightly been: now minus what had become a troublesome and more or less expendable bit of gut.

But given that it was clearly not a wholly trouble-free operation -- the last personal acquaintance of mine to have keyhole surgery for gall bladder removal was in hospital for less than 48 hours and fully recovered by the end of the week -- and given that he is still clearly well below par, and given the rage and hatred that steamed out of Phillip Adams' columns and radio time after Rudd was deposed, and Adams' well-publicised departure from the Labor Party after decades of loyal belonging, what I want to know is this: Why did they do it?

I know that loyal Queenslanders have never recovered and probably never will recover from the rolling of their boy Kev and therefore, you know, them.  But everyone, not just Queenslanders, seems to be taking not just the content of this interview, but the fact of its being set up at all, at face value. Surely I'm not the only non-Queenslander to the left of Kevin Rudd and Phillip Adams who thinks she can smell a rat.

Monday, August 2, 2010

In which we ask ourselves what has happened to the profession of journalism in this country

Bernard Keane in today's Crikey Campaign bulletin:

Only in this bizarrely [sic] – and bizarrely uninteresting – campaign can Labor’s distribution of Tony Abbott’s comments on a variety of subjects be described by serious journalists as a “smear campaign” -- a term they so far haven’t used about the remorseless focus on Gillard’s marital and parental status.

The only bit of that I disagree with is the part about the campaign being boring, which as Mark suggested yesterday at Larvatus Prodeo is in itself a bizarre thing to say, what with roller-coaster polls every two minutes and superannuated pollies coming out of the woodwork to throw in their two cents' worth.

Still. While it is indeed ludicrous to call it a smear campaign, and I can imagine that seeking and finding words of Tony Abbott's to use against him must be a walk in the park, in the sense of being both easy and fun, I think they should stop it. It's a tiny bit grubby, but more to the point it makes Labor look desperate. I mean, they are desperate, but as almost every woman knows, advertising that fact only increases it threefold.