Archives: June 2004

Flag-saluting is not one of my preferred ways to get my kids to show their love of country – particularly when they have to be bullied into it.

Some people, too, object to the bit in the top left hand corner, reminding us that we’re still an outpost of Empire, although I’d contend that we’re more an outpost of George’s empire than Liz’s.

Me, I can’t help but love living in a country that has a bird called the Spangled Drongo.

Spangled Drongo for national symbol!

(Thanks to Nick Possum for the image.)

25 Jun 2004, Comments (0)

The Full Treatment

Author: Helen

How will our arts and entertainment industries fare under the coming FTA? Many people are worried. This may be a bit out of date, but it’s a fine example of why we should be.
Worried, that is.

The Australian production of The Full Monty, starring Paul Mercurio (best known for his role in Strictly Ballroom), has closed after only three weeks with its producers unable to explain why the show couldn’t attract a decent audience. The Melbourne season will now end on February 29, one week earlier than scheduled. The Sydney season, scheduled to start on March 18, has also been cancelled.

“WE have produced a first class contemporary musical, assembled Broadway’s premiere creative team and have a brilliant Australian cast. But with our combined experience we are at a loss to explain why audiences have not embraced this show in the numbers it deserves or that we had expected,” said producers IMG and David Atkins Enterprises in a joint statement.

THEY’RE at a loss? Maybe it was the decision to set the musical in the United States and have the actors speaking in rather dodgy American accents, rather than sticking with the decaying British town which appealed to fans of the movie.

The sheer, head-banging stupidity of it reminds me of an interview I heard on the ABC a while ago, so I’m paraphrasing from memory, OK; but I’ll render the general sense of what I heard as well as I can.

Young Australian scriptwriter is in conference with cigar-chomping American film producer (OK, maybe I made the cigar-chomping bit up, but you get the idea). Movie Mogul is taking young Australian scriptwriter through all the things he must cut out or replace in order to be comprehensible to an international (read, US) audience.

One of the things he must cut out is “What’s up, Doc?”*

Young Aus.Scr. points out, reasonably, that this is in fact an all-American expression from a Warner Bros cartoon character, Bugs Bunnny, and therefore isn’t at all problematic for even the most insular Midwestern audience.

Movie mogul scowls at Young Aust Scr under bushy eyebrows (OK, maybe I made the eyebrows up), and says, “Mickey Mouse is better known in America.”

*I clearly remember it was a Warner Brothers character, so I may be mistaken there. It could have been Sylvester the cat and “THIX WEEKTH! I’LL THTARVE!” or something. The point of this rant isn’t affected, though.

Stasiland, by Australian writer Anna Funder, has won the Samuel Johnson prize for nonfiction (“Britain’s richest literary prize”).

Stasiland is Funder’s story of dissident East Germans living under the scrutiny of the Stasi, or German secret police. The book was also nominated for an Index Freedom of Expression Award 2004.

Why is this book important? I think it’s an approachable, readable account of what happens when we’re prepared to allow increased secret police powers and diminished protection under common law, in return for, say, “national security” or “the war on terror“.

The ASIO bill of June 2002 (Australia) and the Patriot Act (US) have been allowed to happen because of a common fallacy that many Australians share: If you haven’t done anything wrong, if you’re not a terrorist (or aiding terrorism), you would have nothing to fear from such increased powers.

Oh yeah, I have no problem with ASIO or any other government department having increased powers. Firstly I don’t intend on doing anything that would warrant a concern for these powers… (“Chris Pappas”)

If you are like the vast majority of Australians that will have no reason to attract the attention of ASIO then how does this legislation affect you. (“Voting Public”)

It’s about time! The only people with anything to fear from such legislation are exactly those this legislation aims to hinder… (“Garry Frenklah”)

–Your Say, the Age, June 2002 (in response to this article)

So obvious, so intuitive, this has to be right… Stasiland shows how wrong they are. Under the Stasi, you could be jailed and tortured for relatively minor “crimes”-it is the nature of these organisations that they get to decide what a crime is– but if there was insufficient excuse even to do that, you could simply be rendered unemployable, faceless, a non-person. Your talent wasted, your career ended before it had begun. You go for a job interview, it seems to go well. Then you get knocked back – again. Someone has had a Quiet Word with the employer. Your crime? Well, your father isn’t very popular in the Party (of which he’s a member and true believer, for crying out loud), and you used to have an Italian boyfriend. (“Julia”, chapter 9-11, Stasiland)

Under the US Patriot Act, things have already begun to go wrong. Examples like this, this, this and this show that we’re at risk from misunderstandings, from over-zealousness, from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, from having the wrong skin colour or surname. Computers and databases can compound the errors. Amnesty International is worried we are going the same way(via Jozef Imrich).

Consider these two quotations. I’ve stripped out identifying names or nouns. Can you immediately tell which is from Stasiland and which is from one of the contemporary examples above?

…They were so rude with me, yelling at me that I had a selective memory. Then they pulled out a copy of my rental lease from ****. I could not believe they had this.
I was completely shocked. They pointed out that ***** had signed the lease as a witness. I had completely forgotten that he had signed it for me — when we moved to ***** in ****, we needed someone to witness our lease, and I phoned ***** brother, and he could not come, so he sent *****.
But they thought I was hiding this. I told them the truth. I had nothing to hide. I had never had problems ….before, and I could not believe what was happening to me.
This interrogation continued until midnight. I was very, very worried, and asked for a lawyer again and again.
They just ignored me. Then they put me in chains, on my wrists and ankles, and took me in a van to a place where many people were being held — another building by the airport. They would not tell me what was happening.
At one in the morning they put me in a room with metal benches in it. I could not sleep. I was very, very scared and disoriented. The next morning they started questioning me again.
…”She didn’t know where she was taken, but… she was interrogated from 8 AM… until the following day at 6 AM. “That was how long it lasted,” she says, passing the document across to me….[EDIT] *****remembers her interrogator clearly. He was young, portly and snide. “In the begginning I denied everything, but then I noticed that they already knew a great deal. They wanted to get information about the students who stayed with us.” At the end of her interrogation she was taken back to her cell. “I could hardly speak any more. I was finished. But they didn’t leave me there long. They came and took me in a paddy wagon to another place. Then they continued the interrogation day and night– they liked to do it when one was sleep deprived. They didn’t give me any rest.

Read Stasiland, and give it to your Dad or the next door neighbour next time they give voice to the “Innocent have nothing to fear” thing.


17 Jun 2004, Comments (0)

Proof they’re over-educated

Author: Helen


After posting about Anzacs (the biscuits), I got the urge to make some for the school’s fundraising stall, didn’t I? I was at the Dry Ingredients stage when I discovered I was out of desiccated coconut. I schlepped off to the Big, Bad New Supermarket which has recently appeared, puffball-like, on an ugly vacant block near our place. Cake-y things, flour, cornflour, arrowroot, hundreds and thousands, icing sugar…No coconut. Retrace steps. Try Health Foods section. Retrace steps through Cake things again. No coconut.
I went to the little corral where they keep staff at the front. Pawing and snorting, there was an example of the brand-new shiny supermarket manager, barely out of his 20s, and ready to take on the world.
Shaking his head, he expressed sorrow and disbelief when we found the desiccated coconut tucked away in some unlikely aisle. “You’re absolutely right,” he muttered, “It should be with the cake ingredients. There should be an intuitive flow.”


In the Other Big Bad Supermarket, Saturday morning: “Elvis, Elvis. To the checkout please, Elvis.”

12 Jun 2004, Comments (0)

You’re gonna carry that weight

Author: Helen

Now that Peter Garrett is in the news again I’m reminded of my once-only brush with the great man of Complaint Rock’n’roll.

Before I was a blogger, I was a drummer. Yes, the transition from hitting big things with wooden sticks to tiptoeing over keyboards, putting in delicately unforgiving HTML tags, is a strange one. In 1981 I was playing in my first band, a wouldbe experimental but satisfyingly loud outfit which sank without trace the year after. Beside ourselves with excitement, we were on our first overseas tour— to Tasmania University to play a support gig for Midnight Oil. This was a definite step on our quest for rock star cool.

I’d never taken my drums on a plane before, and of course their bulkiness was an issue. In those days, for some reason which is lost in the mists of time and conflicting bad advice, I didn’t have bottom skins on them. So, to transport them, I put them one inside the other in the biggest (bass drum) case, like Russian dolls. This was compact, but very heavy. I would need to half-lift, half-drag the thing in a painfully slow shuffle, with frequent rest stops.

I didn’t mind. We’d be famous one day and we’d have roadies. Until then, I was Paying my Dooes.

The night didn’t disappoint. We got to play to the biggest crowd we’d ever played to and we played OK and didn’t stuff it up, so we could relax and watch the Oils. Rob Hirst was awesome. I made a mental note to practice for an extra hour a day to try to emulate that kind of awesomeness.

Came that time when everyone has gone home, and only a few people are still lugging out various black boxes and guitar cases to vehicles. I started my Quasimodo shuffle across a big, empty courtyard to our rented van. (Trolley? What? That would have been too sensible. This was the early 80s, remember.) I was halfway across the quiet, sodium lit space when I heard footsteps behind me and a low voice muttered, “Oh, I can’t stand to watch this.” A tall, bald figure whooshed past, scooping up my bass case in one easy movement, carried it to the van and tossed it in as if it was a hat box.

And before I could thank him, he had disappeared into the sodium night.

Dear Lord above, can’t you know I’m pining, tears all in my eyes
Send down that cloud with a silver lining, lift me to Paradise

Show me that river, take me across
Wash all my troubles away
Like that lucky old sun, give me nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day

Tim Dunlop asks:

Has Mark Latham given you any reasons to vote for him?
What are they?

No, he hasn’t really, but I’m very much a member of the ABH (Anyone but Howard) Party, at this stage.

Yes, I agree that substance should always take place over style, and that we shouldn’t vote for the candidates who are most telegenic, handsome, pretty, or stylish. I am suspicious of spin doctors who counsel their employers to be “warm” or “smile more”. That said, JH’s presence on the airwaves-particularly on radio, which I listen to as I drive or cook or do the dishes-is depressing me so much, I feel another three years with that voice coming out of the speakers every day will drive me to drown myself in the detergenty suds. In Howard’s case we know that the voice matches the politician.

Howard’s voice, grey, stuffy and choked back in the throat, is a sad and depressed voice. Perhaps this is natural, as he feels the increased finger-pointing over his many lies and evasions. Perhaps, with so many of his actions, it’s calculated, so that people like me will sympathise with him- an embattled little hero. If so, it isn’t working. I am counting the days until we get rid of that sad, tinny, plodding voice with its weary, over-spun utterances.

It’s not Mark Latham’s virtues that might cause me to vote Labor in the coming election. It’s definitely ABH. And as a Greens sympathiser living in the safe Labor seat of Gellibrand, I’m not likely to put Labor first on my card anyway. (I’m never under the illusion that the Greens would win, but I think it possible that a healthy and growing Green vote will gain some miniscule influence for the good on the bigger parties’ policies.) But let’s just pretend that I’m in a swinging seat and my pencil is poised over a ballot which might actually make a difference one way or another.

Nup… it’s still Anyone But Howard. I can’t bring myself to be enthusiastic or positive about Latham. Take the “Learning or Earning” youth policy he spruiked a few weeks ago. This is the kind of policy which, in the guise of a touchy-feely, youth-directed policy, eagerly embraces punitive measures dear to the heart of older conservatives.

Labor’s “learn or earn” policy is excellent news for Australia’s young people. But it could turn into “learn, earn or burn” unless someone in Labor pours cold water over Latham. The only time the Labor leader springs to life is when he can denounce unemployed people. On the ABC’s 7.30 Report, after his “learn or earn” announcement, Latham enthused about “breaching” – or financially penalising – young people on benefits who failed to “learn or earn” under Labor. “There would be no third option of people sitting around doing nothing,” he said.

Then there was Latham’s trip to the Tasmanian forests, where he soothed the CFMEU by assuring the timber industry that he wouldn’t do anything so silly as to end clearfell old-growth logging before the Tasmanian Government’s derisory deadline of 2010. How he proposes to reconcile this with his support for Peter Garrett’s candidacy as a Labor politician is beyond me.

Mark Latham is at heart a neoliberal who, but for the accident of birth and upbringing (and the political advantage of appealing to the Western Suburbs Battlers) might have felt quite at home in the Liberal party. That’s why any vote from me is just an “Anyone But Howard” vote.

Oh, and the Reading to your Children thing is getting a bit old, too. We need a comprehensive, well funded Early Childhood policy, not two books at tax time. And lay off being such a big hero because you read to your kids; we do, and we didn’t need Mem Fox to write and tell us to.

6 Jun 2004, Comments (0)

Ross, you Bewdy!

Author: Helen

I never thought I’d say this, but I’d like to grab Ross Gittins by the furry face and give him a big, smacking kiss.

Why!? Because of this sentence:

Issues of Public policy don’t come much more important than this.

I’m not a total, hundred percent fan of Gittins. His comment that HECS is no burden to the young because it’s equivalent to the payments on a loan for a new car made me think his name should be shortened to its first three letters. (Hands up all of you who took out a loan for a brand new car in your early twenties?)

But this article is pure gold to me (the bastards at Fairfax will make you register now to read it), because a bloke with a grey beard and a moderate-to-conservative column which focuses on The Economy has come out and said it. Work-and-family and childcare issues are mainstream issues. Not women’s business, to be relegated to somewhere on page 4 of the newspaper or the Lifestyle supplements.

The title is interesting too. “How Men Stuff up Womens’ Lives”? What firebreathing, radical feminist would write something like that? Germs? Anne Summers? No, it’s Ross Gittins. It’s not so easy for antifeminists or rightwingers to come out with the usual “feminazi” or “man-hating” dismissals. After all, he’s a bloke.

All you weary old feminists, read this:

If this budget is about anything more than blatant vote-buying, it’s about helping parents juggle work and family commitments and hoping this will do something to improve fertility.
Issues of public policy don’t come much more important than this. If our fertility rate continues falling – leading eventually to a declining population, with radical implications for our growth-addicted economy – expect a lot more wailing and gnashing of teeth about how few young couples are doing their patriotic duty.

He goes on to explain how “family friendly” work is not some fantasy dreamt up by the fairies at the bottom of the garden, but completely consistent with a healthy economy.

…But the bad deal we’re giving mothers (and fathers who should be doing more of the housework) is denying business full access to women’s skilled labour, limiting the spending power of its customers and setting us up for a contracting domestic market.
This is businesspeople pursuing their self-interest? This is economic rationalists being rational?
I don’t think so.

Whoo-hoo! One small step on the road away from the current madness of humans crushed under the wheel of “the economy” – and towards making “the economy” work for humans.

Pucker up, Bearded one…

4 Jun 2004, Comments (0)

Is this Personal Political?

Author: Helen

OK. So this is just a small event taking place in an obscure venue. The point is, does the POTUS’ (Prez of the US) minor lapse in etiquette provide a valuable piece of body language which indicates his contempt for the Common People?

Or are they reading too much into this? Are people over reacting?

I’m inclining towards the former, if he didn’t ask her first. (Via Body and Soul).

2 Jun 2004, Comments (0)


Author: Helen

Ken Parish has been following the Lindy ChamberlainJoanne Lees story, with regard to how the media is handling it (or failing to).

There is nothing more dangerous than the wrath of the media scorned. So now itís revenge! Joanne Lees will be hunted down like Osama bin Laden and ëNickí subjected to torture by media. Why? Because Ms Lees refused to play the media game ñ a game by the way where all goal posts are placed by the media.
[Edit]….Whatís worse, she didnít take a media handling course before she was catapaulted into this extraordinary nightmare.
Whatís worse still, she committed some additional crimes (that only 90 per cent of todayís youth would identify with): she took recreational drugs and had an affair that has sent the tabloids into a self-righteous frenzy ñ as if we all lived in monasteries.

Joanne Lees, like Lindy, is an unlikeable character. She was lying to, and two-timing, her partner (presumably for convenience, so she wouldn’t lose the use of the Kombi for that stage of the trip.) However much I might dislike her, though, that does not constitute a criminal offence. It does not make it remotely likely that she had anything to do with his disappearance, either. What? Gen-Y relationships are so difficult to get out of you’d have to bump your boyfriend off and fake his disappearance to get away from him? Geddoutahere.

No, what she’s going through is lindification. This word popped up recently on the net, and I have forgotten where I first saw it. I had a look at WordSpy (“devoted to lexpionage”), which is a great reference for neologisms. Not there.

Google brought up one reference for “Lindification” and two references for “Lindyfication”. So it’s not a real word yet. As the Word Spy people say, it’s a sniglet.

The first “Lindyfication” link describes the word as being coined by Paul Toohey, an Australian [Northern] Territory correspondent. This article is dated January 23,2002, before the “Secret Lover Eccy shock Horror” revelations. I haven’t been able to find the word in any of Toohey’s Bulletin articles, but it must be out there somewhere.