Saturday, 5 November 2011

Post#181 Why Hurley Can't Improve Star Wars

Hugo (Hurley) Reyes tries to put  time travel to a useful purpose in the later part of the LOST saga by...if you don't already know could you guess?

Hugo is caught scribbling in a notebook while asking off-beat questions like, "How do you spell 'bounty hunter' ?" His exasperated companion grabs the book and begins reading a synopsis of the plotline of Star Wars. Hugo explains that he is going to take advantage of  his journey back to the 1970's by sending George Lucas suggestions on improving the plot. This, if I remember rightly, provokes a response of the style "Are you crazy??"  This is what makes Hugo such a loveable guy; he's not interested in acquiring power; he just wants to improve Star Wars. This is unfortunate because his altruism is doomed. There are two flaws in trying to improve Lucas' work:

1. If it happened, a separate timeline would split off and Hugo wouldn't know about it because his history and memory of it would be stuck in his timeline. Otherwise, he couldn't remember Star Wars with the deficiencies.

2. Star Wars is beyond saving.

It is the most heinous piece of trite, plagiarised space in this galaxy or any other. The special effects were enough to boost it in 1977 when the series first appeared. That was then. Once the novelty wore off it was obviously a fraud upon the science-fiction fan base. I have suspected for a long time that Lucas actually despises the SF community and is deliberately offering dross in the same manner as a couple of mythical tailors once made a king clothes from moonbeams.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Post#180 Stephen Smith Isn't The Messiah, Either.

The latest rumour from the insiders is that the seekers after a leader for the Labor Party are looking to advance Steve Smith as a foil to Kevin Rudd. I've been casting my vote for Steve in federal elections since 1993 and, although I haven't always given him first preference I have never seriously considered putting him last.

That's not going to be the pattern forever and it will change around about the time of the next election. Two things have led to this; exasperation with the Greens and a recognition that Steve and I have developed some irreconcilable differences.

The Greens have proven, to my disgust, that the Coalition had them correctly pegged as ill-judged wreckers. Bob Brown has shown that, when given real power, he can't deal with the tough questions and obligations that come with it. His attacks on News Ltd are perfect proof of this. He has ample opportunity to expose flaws in their arguments, if there are flaws. Resorting to polemical slogans is not proving anything. Failing to answer practical questions from journalists who are prepared to give him a fair hearing is a final proof that he's out of his depth. One example: Why can't he explain his position on the coal industry? Efforts to obtain an explanation as to how the industry is to be wound down without catastrophe to the Australian economy meet with relentless evasion. Bob seems to be taking refuge in Micawberism, believing that something will turn up, even if he can't remotely guess what it might be. That doesn't give cause for faith in the Greens' pet project, the carbon tax. I never have believed in it and nothing coming from Bob's crew is likely to change that. Green preferences got Steve Smith over the line in the last election and they'll be the second-last on my list of preferences. A vote for the Greens is a vote for Steve. More importantly, a vote for Steve (or any Labor candidate) is a vote for the Greens.

Steve hasn't lost my support by personally doing anything too unconventional. In fact it's his adherence to the conventional that has done it; loyalty to Cabinet decisions (no matter how foolish), keeping up the tradition of sycophancy to Israel, persisting with the folly of Australian-built submarines when it's obvious that we can't design or build them worth a damn. His defence of Carmen Lawrence doesn't recommend him to me either. I think he's had a very fair go - eighteen years worth. He hasn't demonstrated any great initiative, courage or insight in that time and is definitely a follower, not a leader. He probably won't mind losing my vote and I wouldn't enjoy seeing a Liberal take his place, but enough is enough.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Post#179 Malaysia's No Solution




I'm pleased to announce that I have developed a solution to the asylum seeker challenge facing the Commonwealth of Australia: The Government of the Pacific Kingdom of Kamaria has agreed to receive as many asylum seekers* as Australia can send them, to cover all costs involved and to indemnify Australia with respect to all obligations under international law. The agreement is to persist in perpetuity. I shall be visiting Kamaria on Tuesday, 27 September 2011, to sign the agreement as Australia's special ambassador plenipotentiary for migration matters. The agreement will take immediate effect upon signing.

(* Clarification: This should not be understood to mean Australians seeking asylum.)

This marks a new phase in Australia's relations with Kamaria and both governments have expressed the hope that this generous act by Kamaria will lead to a permanent supersedence of the occasional hostilities which have characterised past dealings between the nations. The -

What's your objection? "Kamaria's a fictional place" ? ... Okay, it is... Alright, smart-alec; there's no agreement either. Obviously.

However, I offer the following apologia: The foregoing non-solution is no less effective than any policy pursued to date by the current government of Australia. In fact, it's superior to the East Timor non-solution, the Papua-New Guinea non-solution and the Malaysia non-solution in that the announcement above won't offend the government of any real nation through being presumptive upon their sovereignty. So there.

Why do I list Malaysia among the sites of non-solutions? It's nothing to do with the most obvious flaws, such as the limited number involved or the spanner put in the works by the High Court.  The text of the Malaysia Agreement  is recommended reading for the purposes of this post. It's quite brief and clear as inter-governmental agreements go. If you can't be bothered, you can take my word for the following: The essence of the agreement is that the Malaysian government has agreed to receive 800 asylum seekers over four years from Australia in return for sending four thousand to Australia from their ample reservoir. Here's the catch which I've spotted and which Julia and Co. haven't: Once. The Malaysians have agreed to receive them once. Not twice, thrice, fource, fivece or any other 'ce. Just lonely little once. I don't mean that the agreement is a one-off limited to 800. That could be supplemented by further agreements to take more. I mean that each person transferred to Malaysia is being offered certain protections, by Malaysia, once. Malaysia agrees to not coercively deport them to a place where they will be in danger and to consult Australia about the disposition of any person subject to the agreement who becomes intolerable to Malaysia for reasons such as security threat or criminality. What is missing from the agreement is a permit to Australia to treat them as repatriatable deportees with respect to Malaysia.

This isn't a peripheral quibble. The 4000 coming Australia's way are not remotely likely to attempt to abscond to Malaysia. They can be assumed to want to be transferred. By Julia's own definition, the 800 going the other way are being used for aversion therapy. They are being sent where they don't want to go. This is meant to deter others from following in their wake to Christmas Island. Malaysia doesn't want them to go to Malaysia either. They are only taking them in order to rid themselves of the 4000. It is a major omission in logic to not consider what the Forbidden 800 will do in Malaysia. It is highly probable that they won't abandon their desire to travel to Australia and, although Malaysia may have agreed to not deport them, they haven't agreed to detain them against their will either. It should be a lot cheaper to arrange a voyage to Australia from Malaysia, via Indonesia, than to travel from Arabia, Central Asia or even Sri Lanka. As they will be legally residing in Malaysia they will be able to openly transact business, such as receiving funds by wire from associates in Australia or elsewhere. If permitted to work they will have another way of funding the journey.

If they succeed in scraping together the money and return to Australian waters, they will probably be identifiable by fingerprints or some other means as members of the transferred group. Then the Australian government will say: "You are part of the Forbidden 800! Back to Malaysia you go!" The wheels will fall off this idea when the Malaysian government interjects, "Oh, if they don't wish to accept the hospitality of the Malaysian people, we can't force it upon them. That would be an abuse of their human rights." The Australian stipulation, "You agreed to take them" will, naturally, provoke the response, "We agreed and we did take them. We didn't agree to imprison them. In fact you insisted that we should treat them leniently. We'll be reasonable. We'll take back any of them that wish to return." Ha, ha, ha.

I was very impressed by a letter to The Australian in which the author recounted being told by a Malaysian businessman, "I love to do business with Australians!" When asked why, he explained, "Because they are so gullible."

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Post#178 Vive le Carbone!!! And Death to the Carbon Tax!!!

The craic is that the Australian Labor Party is gone for all money at the next Australian Federal Election. The carbon tax is the main drag anchor on the ALP's chances and is the most obvious of the self-inflicted wounds they're carrying. The decision to call an early election in 2010 and the various follies of their first term had already reduced the ALP to reliance upon a trio of independent members. Messrs Oakeshott, Wilkie and Windsor have been able to wring some results from the ALP for their personal causes but it seems implausible that any of them would die in a ditch for the carbon tax. Like the Greens, they really have nowhere else to go. Their bridges are all now thoroughly burnt with the Coalition. That's what puzzles me most about the course of this government. It's obvious that the kudos of global warming as a matter of public importance has slipped. Whatever the truth of the matter, it's blown out as a political motivator.

Any community has a limited capacity to stay fired up about anything and the height of public hysteria about an issue is the immediate prelude to a cooling-off. This would probably differ if the issue was an enormous asteroid on a course to imminent collision with the Earth, but when it's a slow-burner in the background, people adjust to live with it. The importance of an issue is not in contention, it's simply that anything other than an adrenalin-provoking terror loses its force. AIDS is a good example of this. It's just as lethal as it always was but has faded into the background. You could scan quite a lot of media without ever noticing its existence. Global warming is now also a mature crisis and has had its glory days. Anyone attempting to persuade people to take pain to deal with it is going to have to make a damn good case. The ALP has done nothing of the kind. The decision to adopt the carbon tax has been made without the legwork necessary to demonstrate any merit.

There's a simple test for this policy which I've proposed before:

First: Demonstrate that it's possible to disconnect ourselves from the carbon  fuels that we rely upon and how.

Second: Work out a fair time to allow for conversion to the new energy source/s.

Finally, ask why we need a tax to achieve it. The answer will always be that if the first two can be done, the answer to this question is that we don't.

If the answer to the first question is that it isn't technologically feasible, no amount of taxing will make it happen.

I recently wrote "Return to Sender" on the government's carbon tax propaganda pamphlet and posted it back to them. Apparently many others are doing the same. Someone else applied a traditional recycling technique as shown in the photograph below:

 The ALP deserves the odium they've incurred. They'll deserve the kick when they get it.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Post#176 Excerpt from "Nattitude!" a blog I follow, by Natalie Black: "Today I wish"

Here's an excerpt from Nattitude a blog I follow, by Natalie Black. It's a real delight. (Except Nat didn't pass the written exam for the US Foreign Service.)

Today I wish

I wish I would hurry and hear back from the foreign service about whether or not I'm invited to take the oral assessment

I wish I could go to lunch with my old work friends Mark and Jake

I wish I could love my job

I wish my job was to read books for pleasure

I wish Mao Zedong had never been born

I wish I could go to an island somewhere for six months and do nothing but drink virgin pina coladas and blog (okay, as long as I'm they have to be virgin?)

I wish I had no debt, a nice car, central air, new furniture and a remodeled kitchen

I wish my boss had approved my expense reports two weeks ago so I'd have more than one dollar left in my bank account

I wish it wasn't so hard to do the little things, for example my before-bed routine like floss my teeth and say my prayers

I wish the lady at the nail salon hadn't butchered my nails back in February, and I wish they'd grow out faster

I wish this damn wart on my middle finger would go away, I wish liquid nitrogen didn't burn so bad, I wish once was enough

I wish I could be skinny and still eat as much sugar and caffeine as I wanted

I wish I didn't have to buy three new pairs of size-12 pants when I have about 15 pairs of size-8 pants sitting in my closet gathering dust

I wish Marie was coming this weekend instead of next

I wish it would be warm and sunny every day

I wish there was no such thing as a slumdog, or I wish they could all win "Who Wants to Be a Mill-un-aire" and live happily ever after in love

I wish I didn't still wish...

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Post#175 Uncivil Obedience - The Sycophant in the Ointment


A person who behaves obsequiously in order to gain advantage.

Derivation: Mid 16th century (denoting an informer): from French sycophante, or via Latin from Greek sukophantÄ“s 'informer', from sukon 'fig' + phainein 'to show', perhaps with reference to making the insulting gesture of the ‘fig’ (sticking the thumb between two fingers) to informers.

There's a trend I see in every part of life where groups are organised: It's the growth of a system of patronage and the fawning that goes with it. Destructive obsequiousness is lurking in every moment and every place. Here's one example: A while back the West Australian published in its Inside Cover section the story of a missing EPIRB from an Australian naval vessel. It had fallen from a ship's boat and provoked a major search in the waters off Perth. Although the search was high-profile, the revelation that it was all a false alarm due to some negligence by a naval rating was suppressed until a civilian who'd heard about it on marine radio asked Inside Cover why the outcome hadn't been published. IS published the "secret" without revealing the source. This provoked a witch-hunt in the Navy and Defence Department as various catchfarts tried frantically to appease their bosses by finding what they believed was a leaker. More and more time and effort was wasted until a real whistleblower called IS and begged them to take the heat off. IS published the obvious fact that the operation and its outcome had been broadcast on open frequency at the time and no leaking was necessary. They also asked why, if the public was allowed to know of the search, they weren't allowed to know the true cause. This is indicative of a typical quality of the crawler: stupidity.

It's not as though power hasn't done everything it can to discourage those who want to tell it the truth. The story of the sailor hanged for warning the Admiral of impending doom may be apocryphal, but the pattern is present in history. Not for nothing was the phrase "killing the messenger" added to the list of classic cliches. In the Soviet Union of blessed memory the intelligence agencies were obliged to provide Brezhnev with reports which conformed to his expectation of Western conspiracies. Failing to do so would have been seen as suspect. The realistic assessor would risk condemnation as an appeaser or traitor.

Here's a couple of anecdotes from my own observation and experience:

Once, in an organisation where I was conducting an audit, I discovered a serious misprint in a contract form which, through a simple transposition of words nullified the effect of the document as a protection of the organisation's interests. I was finally able to convince the person in charge of  publications of the obvious, but met a final obstacle. Although convinced of the error, this character wouldn't alter the printing template, insisting that an instruction had to come from the responsible area. I responded by asking whether the proper authorisation to make a cock-up had been received. When I was finally able to nail that point home I asked the simple question: If you made the mistake without permission, why do you need permission to fix it? To no avail; the habit of refraining from use of common sense or guts was too deeply ingrained. I gave up in disgust and left the fools to their devices. I didn't have the energy to pursue it with some mug who would have simply referred the matter endlessly upwards until the CEO referred me back to publications. Another characteristic of the crawler: they prevent the correction of mistakes.

A person of my acqaintance who had been employed as an administrative assistant in a local government district was instructed by the supervisor in the manners of the office. One of the rules was to not make eye contact with the councillors if they happened to be wandering the building and walked past. This was to avoid the disrepect involved in engaging them in acknowledging the staff with a nod or a "G'day". The crawler creates neurosis and paranoia.

In a Federal law enforcement agency, I once had to organise the taking of minutes of a meeting where some senior managers were in attendance. A major obstacle arose when the minute-takers couldn't figure how many "r's" were in one man's surname. I resolved the protracted argument by approaching the guy and asking him. This was considered highly unconventional and bold and added to my mana as a lateral thinker. This sort of reckless use of common sense led to my horrifying another gang of  fleas by asking a senior manager at another meeting for his name for the minutes. On this occasion I was visiting another city and the fleas nearly fell off their chairs at my temerity. I asked them why they would expect a person from out of town to guess the name of a complete stranger. Utter bafflement. Apparently some enormously obscure operation carried out by subterfuge was the proper practice to find out such things. The crawler wastes everybody else's time and effort.

The crawler prospers because those who should know better and should resist the corrosion of their domain by fawners encourage them. The love of obedience and deference by the "leaders" is at least as much to blame as the inclinations to servility by their followers. The essence of it is that the sycophant is no-one's friend. Their sole focus is on their own interest. That's hard for the powerful to remember, but it's vital; the person who relentlessly agrees is not loyal to you or your cause. They're willing to let you run on the rocks rather than risk the cost of correcting your course.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Post#174 Vandalia Dianella - Land of the Wreckers

At the Dianella Plaza bus stop on Alexander Drive there has been an epic struggle fought between the diligent destroyers of public amenities and the agents and servants of the Stirling City Council and SignAds. It may be concluded that the vandals have won a partial victory. The Council have replaced the multiply-smashed glass panels along the length of the bus shelter with a metal grill with small apertures. This can be understood as a process of natural selection whereby the stimulating entities (vandals) have persuaded the authorities to evolve their amenity in the direction of higher durability. The glass-encased illuminated advertising at one end of the shelter and the plain glass panel at the opposite end remain. The advertising panel currently bears the display shown in the photographs below:

I took them from various angles to get a good view of the whole image. I reckon the chance of this sign making any difference to the behaviour of the wreckers is nil. It does have some merit as an artistic concept. It now only remains to see whether the vandals will smash the glass covering it to make a piece of  the combination performance/installation type.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Post#173 The Death of bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

In his World War II alternate history series, The Axis of Time, John Birmingham refers to  a fictional work of art hanging on the bulkhead wall in a naval vessel of the future which has travelled in time to the 1940's. It is called 'The Death of bin Laden'. Now that work is capable of being realised. Life has imitated art in a manner most pleasing to those of us in what, inexplicably is called 'The West'.

George Bush and John Howard have been dusted off and invited to crow over the carcass and, such was my good humour, I couldn't cavil at a word that either of them said.

Here is the (revised) list:

1. bin Laden

2. Zawahiri

3. Mullah Omar

We're getting there. May he lick his left hand in hell forever.

Post#172 Wolf Hall - The Time-Travelling Imagination

Today I read the last page of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and thought, "It certainly improved as it proceeded" and "That finale only works if it's used in a case where one has to think about it." In the last sentence of the book, Thomas Cromwell schedules a visit for Henry VIII to the seat of the Seymour family, Wolf Hall, which will be the beginning of his own undoing. First will come the King's love affair with Jane Seymour, then the execution of Anne Boleyn and, following the death of Jane, the failed marriage to Anne of Cleves and Cromwell's death. It's a crafty conceit in the context of the somewhat unfamiliar, but it would be pretty lame if you tried it with a story ending: "All is proceeding well; our troubles seem behind us now. Tomorrow we shall sail for New York. We have been fortunate enough to secure berths on the new vessel, RMS Titanic."

Apart from that quibble, Wolf Hall is a very engaging yarn. The best type of historical fiction is that in which one begins to lose track of the fact that it is told in a voice which, although it may be buttressed by diligent research, is a figment. Critics have said that Mantel has provided a more sympathetic view of Cromwell than the familiar histories. I think this is because the part of his life which is treated of is not as difficult to come to terms with as that which follows. The persecutions and executions ramp up after the Boleyn marriage.

There is a scope in the further reaches of the past to mould the personality of the imagined historical figure into a form pleasing to the author. Is there a harm in this? Yes, if evildoers are presented as virtuous and the virtuous as evil. But we'll never know will we?

Monday, 18 April 2011

Post#171 Women Astronauts

Crater 308 viewed from orbit
 Now, imagine this:
July 20, 1969

The Lunar Excursion Module Eagle is approaching the intended first landing site in the Sea of Tranquility.

The lander is off course due to a computer guidance error. Unless the pilot can manually correct course they'll hit a large boulder in a crater near the intended landing site.

At the controls of the LEM are, of course, two astronauts. But wait! These aren't Neil and Buzz! This is amazing!! Two women are crewing the lander.  Will they succeed in averting disaster or dissolve into wreckage on the lunar surface?

This was the real problem facing Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin. The seasoned test-pilot, Armstrong, met the challenge and landed the LEM safely about six and a half kilometres from the crater. Could a female team have succeeded? This was the crucial question in the debate about admitting women to the astronaut training programme. NASA insisted that its first crews must be qualified as test-pilots and possess the sort of credentials in the field which could only be obtained through the military. There were, of course, no female military test-pilots in the late 1950s when the US space programme began. The debate itself was provoked by an accidental circumstance that had no official intention behind it. Dr William Randolph Lovelace II was the director of the clinic which had provided medical testing services to NASA and had supervised the assessment of the Mercury astronauts. His scientific curiosity led him to investigate the performance of women in the same testing regime.

This prompted a few of them to believe that there was a serious chance of them joining the programme. Geraldyn ("Jerrie") Cobb was the most active and engaged in a public campaign to press NASA to accept her and others of the group for training. This led to a sad and futile struggle as NASA and the USAF disowned the idea. A Congressional hearing affirmed NASA's policy but Cobb never gave up the idea, even into old age. This article gives the essence of the story.

The myth persists that a team of female atronauts had been "good to go" and were shafted by the androcracy. This pops up in various conspiracy-theory communities and among less-informed feminist commentators. There are some very detailed texts available on the subject and I recommend:


Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race
by Stephanie Nolen
Published by Penguin  2002

The Mercury 13

by Martha Ackmann
Published by Random House

Here's a comment by a son of one of the test subjects from the Wired Science site:

My Mom, Gene Nora Jessen (nee Stumbough) is probably delighted that this meme won’t die, but yes, this story has become encrusted with a lot of myth. When people send her fan letters in Idaho extolling her for taking part in a “secret astronaut training program” she writes back to correct them, nicely but firmly, and signs her letter “Yours for accurate history”.

Yes, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she quit her job as a flight instructor to go take the tests (they wouldn’t let her take time off!), but she never had any illusions about what she was getting into. This was just a research program, not a ticket into space. The whole group by no means agrees on this point. Ask a different woman and you’ll get a different answer.

Incidentally the sobriquet “Mercury 13” was created by a documentarian named James Cross, a goofy guy with a feminist bent and an abiding interest in aeronautics who dug up this story in the 1990s and called Mom out of the blue to see if it was really her. Yes, the phrase “Mercury 13” is your basic Hollywood Lie, but it’s catchy and we have Jim to thank for resuscitating this story and giving it a catchy name. When he arranged for all the surviving members to meet at the 99s [international women pilots org] museum in Oklahoma City in Spring 1994 to sit for interviews, it was the first time they’d all met each other. When they originally took the tests in the 1960s, Lovelace sequestered them in pairs in a local motel – which didn’t encourage them to form much of a group identity, but did at least give them all someone sympathetic to talk to at the end of a hard day of getting yet another goddamn enema.

If anyone wants to contact Gene Nora (which by the way is pronounced as one word with the accent in the middle: jaNOra), I’m sure she’d be happy to hear from you. I won’t include her email here - if you’re motivated you can probably Google it in under a minute. But before you make contact, it’d be best to do your homework. At least four books have been written on the subject (Right Stuff Wrong Sex by Weitekamp, The Mercury 13 by Ackmann/Sherr, Promised the Moon by Nolen, and Amelia Earhart’s Daughters by Haynsworth/Toomey) and they’re all generally pretty sober and comprehensive affairs, which is handy, because this story really is insanely stupidly gobsmackingly complicated.

Taylor Jessen
The impetus to believe in the stymied project is, I believe, a product of a kind of sexual romanticism. It can be found in the fictional realm in the person of characters such as Lara Croft, Brenda Starr, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other such figures of fancy. At least, that's what appeals to the male imagination. The attraction for women who desire to see female pioneering is a natural-enough desire to wipe away the remnants of the suffocating and often idiotic restraints to which women were subjected in the past.

Sally Ride and the other US women astronauts who followed her may have benefited from the stirring of the pot which the Mercury 13 agitators produced. Their challenge to what John Glenn described as the "social order" may have broken the sled runners free of the ice. One of the byproducts of the situation was the inspiration of Jane Hart and others to become active in feminist politics and to contribute to the founding of the National Organisation for Women.

Eileen Collins - First woman to command a US spacecraft

And, when the struggle was won...

The first woman to command a US spacecraft, Eileen Collins, said that a spaceflight was a wonderful experience but that she wouldn't want anyone to despair for lack of it.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Post#170 Advance Australia Fair

I read an interview recently with Thomas Keneally in one of my history periodicals. The author of the Booker Prize-winning Schindler’s Ark, the basis for Stephen Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List, last year he published Australians: Origins to Eureka, volume one of a history of his native land. I’ve not read this –yet – so I can’t comment, though I was beguiled and intrigued by some of the points he made in the discussion.

A lot of people in England have silly preconceptions about Australia and its history. If they think of it at all it’s really just as a dumping ground for convicts, undesirables of all sorts! But as Keneally quite rightly says, many of those sentenced to transportation were condemned simply for embracing radical causes, not welcomed in an England dominated by a reactionary aristocratic clique. It was their sense of social justice, their sense of determination that allowed Australia, conceived as a penal colony, to become something much greater;

One of the reasons why Australia survives was that there were many social protestors among the convicts. These were people who did not consider themselves criminals. They were people like poachers who acted in protest against the enclosure of estates. Then there were the Luddites, Swing rioters, Irish Ribbonmen and Jacobite martyrs. You had these fairly robust, stroppy people alongside the professional thieves and prostitutes.

These people were later joined by others simply looking for a better life, those who, for one reason or another, were unable to establish themselves in the Old Country. Here for me Charles Dickens’ Wilkins Micawber springs to mind, the genial and impecunious rogue in David Copperfield, always waiting for something to turn up. Well, it did – Australia turned up! It was there that he finally made a go of things after a lifetime of failure. What I did not know is that Dickens actually sent two of his sons there, despairing of their prospects at home. Anthony Trollope sent a son there as well.

So, the land was settled by people with a sense of grievance, people for whom England offered little or nothing. This seems to me, perhaps looking at things through rosy spectacles, to account for a quality I’ve always admired in Australians – a mood of egalitarianism and an almost complete lack of the finer forms of English snobbery.

All of the elements of a new consciousness were there; it only needed one spark to allow them to coalesce. This came in 1854 with the rising at the Eureka goldfield at Ballerat by a group of miners disgruntled by prohibitive fees levied by the authorities. In itself it was nothing, a revolution quickly squashed, an episode of seemingly transitory importance. But, as Keneally argues, it had an extraordinary impact in the long-term, beginning a process that helped turn an old penal colony into a modern democracy, the final harvesting of the progressive tradition.

So far a very positive story, but the writer finishes on a note of caution;

As a settler society Australia 1788-1860 was prodigiously successful. I don’t say this with a jingoistic glow in my cheeks because I don’t think I can say the same about the past 50 years, and ultimately I’m going to have to write about that period as well.

Alas, nowhere is perfect; not even Australia. :-)

Monday, 7 February 2011

Post#169 Faggots

On September 8th, 2010, this was broadcast on Channel 10 television, Australia:

The background to this was that Stephanie Rice had Tweeted the message: "Suck on that you faggots!" (directed to the South African rugby team after an Australian victory). She was leaped upon with ferocity by the PC Brigade and a sponsorship by Jaguar Motors was withdrawn.

A couple of days ago I read of the attack by Ruby Thomas and two companions on a 62-year old man in Trafalgar square.

Ruby Thomas (Image from
 Here's a quote from the article at the Guardian site:

"Thomas had been acting in a "lairy, mouthy way" and flirting with passersby before she turned on Baynham and his friend Philip Brown and screamed "fucking faggots" at them as they crossed the square.

She also smiled as she "put the boot into" an unconscious Baynham after Alexander [male co-offender] had knocked him to the ground and caused a severe brain injury.

Baynham died 18 days later at the Royal London hospital without recovering consciousness. Police found his blood on Thomas's handbag and the ballet pumps she had been wearing."

She was penalised with seven years in prison.

This incident occurred in september of 2009 and predates Rice's Tweet by a year. I thought the response to Rice was cretinous and typical of the manufactured scandals that attend and imperil celebrity. After reading about the use of the term in the context of kicking a man to death I revised my opinion somewhat. I'm sure Stephanie spoke without true malice, but if this word is taken by some as encouragement to commit murder by endorsing bigotry, I can live without it.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Post#168 Death to Television

Here are some comments from a post by Anastasia on Ana the Imp about censorship. I was prompted to suggest that the entire concept of broadcast television should have been deleted:

/// Retarius said... bad does something have to be before it's a genuine threat? And how relentlessly insightful do you need to be to recognise it?

In the 1950's there was actually a debate in Australia about whether television broadcasting should be allowed. I think, on balance, that we'd be better off if the opposers had won. That's something I wouldn't have expected to write in earnest 30 years ago. Now it seems the most natural and sensible conclusion to come to.

15 December 20:10 01:15

Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont said...

Retarius, all television? That seems a bit drastic. Mind you the idea of being spared Simon Cowal and Gordon Ramsay has a certain appeal. :-)

15 december 2010 15:24

Retarius said...

Yes, all. An interesting indicator of the state of affairs in a home is to locate the television/s and see how the rest of the furniture is arranged with respect to it/them. There's something pathetic in a room where the TV is the focus of the seating, like an altar in a temple.

I drove the false god out of my home about twelve years ago by deciding to not replace the last of its avatars which had infested my space. I still see some of it occasionally in other places but I've never regretted being rid of it. It has two serious evils; it is non-interactive and acts as an anchor to the viewer who is trapped by it.

16 December 2010 03:28 ///

Television means "far-seeing", a compound of Greek and Latin which provoked some controversy among philologists when first coined, because of its mixed lineage. This academic quibble is the least cause to complain of it. Here's something I wrote way back in Post#8 to this blog:

I once read an article about television in a very old bound volume of Meanjin, a venerable magazine which many Australians will know of. The edition was from the early 1950's and the article dealt with the issue of whether television should be allowed to be established as a service in Australia. I was amazed at the time of reading that anybody could have thought of stopping it. I now wonder what would have happened if a transmission of the typical fare of today could have been sent back to 1950 for the edification of the citizens. The cynical, unashamed stuff that really is broadcast. Not the placatory promises about the cultural and educational benefits of the service which accompanied its introduction; the real everynight thing. I am sure they would have been utterly repulsed and would have damned the thing to Hell. Even though I still watch some of it, I wouldn't mind if it didn't exist. The cost/benefit analysis is in. Television is a net loss.

I wouldn't change a letter of that. The television device itself is not the menace. The video screen component is adapted for use in surveillance, computer displays and video players. The essential difference is that these are devices used at the discretion of the viewer. The free-to-air broadcast which was the original and worst use of television is not free in the least. It imposes a loss of choice; requiring that the viewer make themselves available at the convenience of the broadcaster. It also contains potential for obnoxious ambushes in which something one wouldn't choose to see is snuck in during a commercial break or in the course of a programme which, while initially tolerable may take a nasty turn.  If there's a child in the room these incidents can really annoy a would-be responsible adult. Yes, the home video recorder can spare this, if you're willing to engage in the manouvres required to make it work and to cope with the unreliable schedules of the networks.

The most vile effect of the contraption is the brainwashing of children into Pavlovian consumerism. In the hey-day of the Mutant Ninja Turtles in the mid-1990's I  saw a woman pushing a trolley through a supermarket with a child of three or four years riding in it.  He caught sight of a pizza box in a freezer with one of the critters pictured on the cover and began frantically screaming, "I want the turtle! I WANT THE TURTLE!!"
She pushed him away into the distance with his screams echoing and a dispirited expression on her face. The proper response to this was to take a sledgehammer to the television, but I imagine it didn't occur to her.

An American commentator said it in one line: "The television is the open end of a sewer which deposits its contents in your living-room."