28 April, 2010

An Old Joke ....newly told

A man walks up to a bar and says to the barman, "You see that glass at the far end of the bar? I'll bet you $100 I can piss into it from here."
The barman figures this will be the easiest hundred bucks he ever made and says, "You're on!"

So the man whips it out, takes aim, and completely fails to get a single drop anywhere near the glass.  He then happily pays up.

As the barman pockets his winnings, he says, "You didn't even come close.  Why would you make such a stupid bet?"

The man replies, "Well, you see that guy over in the corner, banging his head on the table?  I just bet him $1,000 that you'd let me piss all over your bar!"

And that, my friends, is the story of Goldman Sachs.

26 April, 2010

Catherine Deveny is a Mug

I’m sure that comedian/columnist Catherine Deveny fancies herself as an inconoclast, but she totally jumped the shark on Saturday with a series tweet disparaging ANZAC Day, which included,
Don't support Anzac Day. Refuse to celebrate a glorification of war that ignores the suffering and carnage of (mostly female) civilians.
Anzac Day IS a glorification of war. They didn't die for us but because they were risktaking testosterone fuelled men with a pack mentality
Anzac Day. I abhor people whose self-esteem is fuelled by nationalism approved misogyny, homophobia, racism or cruelty administered by relos
and probably the worst of a bad lot,
Anzac Day. Men only enlisted to fight for the money, for the adventure or because they were racist.
(She posted that one twice)

There have been many wonderfully written rebuttals to Deveny’s outburst.  One of the best is by Gibbot, HERE, and there’s a rather more ribald response HERE.

Fortunately, even the edgiest of leftie writers have run a mile from her.

It’s not just a case of Thou shalt not say a bad word about ANZAC Day.  The contention that commemorating the sacrifices of war can be used as a Trojan horse for nationalist group-think is a discussion worth having (although I happen to disagree with it), but not like that.  Clearly, much of Deveny’s position is based on ignorance – particularly of the fact that ANZAC Day commemorates sacrifices made in ALL wars, not just World War I.  Like Gibbot, I could tell the story of my great uncle who was killed in New Guinea fighting to defend Australia, not any British Empire interests.  However, I worry that all the eloquent and passionate responses to her, simply fall into the trap of arguing with a mug. 

The notion that all wars are the fault of white men is such a pissweak, eighties, uni bar argument that it really doesn’t deserve a response.  If the argument were being made by black or Asian people, they might cut out the gender specificity and blame it all on white people in general.  If the argument were being made by an elephant, it might blame all humans.  If the argument were being made by a dolphin, it might blame all land-dwelling mammals.  All of these arguments are technically true and make perfect sense if one chooses to ignore every other factor. 
And blaming wars on the soldiers ordered to fight them went out of fashion after the Sunbury festival, and damn good riddance to that kind of thinking!

I’ve seen a few critiques of ANZAC Day recently, by various members of the commentariat that make similar points to Deveny’s but without the career suicide factor.  Most of them make the same mistake of laying out why the Gallipoli campaign was an unmitigated balls-up.  So what?  That fact is not in question and never has been.  ANZAC Day is about remembering the sacrifices of all war veterans in all wars.  The anniversary of the Gallipoli landing was chosen as the date because it was Australia’s first military engagement as a nation.  (The Boer war straddled Federation).  The specifics of Gallipoli, while important to remember in their own right, are not the be-all and end-all of ANZAC Day.  It’s the day we remember.  Some countries choose Armistice Day, we choose ANZAC Day. 

As to the notion that ANZAC Day promotes nationalism, militarism and jingoism, there can be the slight danger of that, especially in the way some choose to observe ANZAC day, but I think most Australians are sophisticated enough to tell the difference between honouring the sacrifices made in war, and jingoism.  If there are people out there who are too simple to get the difference, either in the way they celebrate ANZAC Day or the way they criticise it, I really don’t give a shit.  We’re not going to dumb things down to the lowest common factor.  That’s cultural cringe thinking.  People who think that remembering the sacrifices of others is a glorification of war because it’s called ANZAC Day instead of Peace Day, are not my problem.  Show me one conflict of the last ninety-five years that can be directly linked to remembering past wars.  On the contrary, most can be linked to not remembering them.  Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

And now I’ve fallen into the trap too.  I’m arguing with a mug.  These people really don’t deserve the air time.  Whether it’s Catherine Deveny on the left, Andrew Bolt on the right, or Pauline Hanson on whatever her act is, they are attention whores first and foremost.  On the one day we dedicate to our returned soldiers, and the ones who didn’t return, she has to pipe up and say, “Never mind them, look at me!!!”  And we did.  So who are the mugs?

I’ve often said that my worst habit on the internet is not being able to look at something really stupid without stopping to say, “Hey, that’s really stupid!”  And although others have done so far better than I have, I couldn’t help but do it again.  What we really should do, is deny them the attention they so clearly crave – or only give it to them when they merit it.

Of course, I am not saying that Deveny should be silenced.  She has every right to say whatever she wants about whatever she wants.  I could argue that soldiers have fought and died for her right, but that would be just as overly simplistic as her ill-informed assertions.  However, freedom of speech cuts both ways.  Deveny has the right to say whatever she wants, and others have the right to say she’s talking shit.

25 April, 2010

23 April, 2010

If you’re going to kill someone, choose a victim that nobody likes

That seems to be John Brumby’s advice.

The news that Carl Williams was bashed to death in jail by another inmate on Monday surprised no-one.  He was from a world where you knew that he probably wouldn’t die of natural causes.  The customary waiting period was waived as people went straight to making jokes about Channel 9 announcing Underbelly 4, and that the biggest shock was that the rather pudgy Williams had been in the exercise area. 

Reports on Monday stated that Williams had gone into cardiac arrest after the bashing, but by Wednesday, it had been revealed that he had probably been dead for over twenty minutes before anybody noticed.  In a maximum security prison.

Naturally, this has led to suspicions that the murder was allowed to happen.  There have even been calls for a Royal Commission.  I think that would be a bit much in this case, but I was disturbed by what Premier John Brumby said when brushing aside the suggestion.
“I know there’s been some calls today for a royal commission, to be honest what occurred in the prison was obviously unacceptable, but the person concerned was a serial killer.  I think it would be quite unnecessary and quite inappropriate use of taxpayers' money to have a royal commission.” Source

The fact that Williams was a gangland killer has nothing to do with it.  Murder is murder and the character of the victim is neither here nor there.  Williams was jailed in the interests of punishment, community protection and rehabilitation.  He was not supposed to be abandoned to the rough justice of prison life…. I hope!  And the widespread attitude that this was simply a case of bad guy getting his comeuppance from another bad guy, sidesteps the fact that all the people that Williams killed or had killed were gangsters themselves.  Williams got no sympathy for that, nor should he have.  Everyone should have equal protection under the law – even people like Carl Williams.

An excellent comment by John Birmingham HERE.

21 April, 2010

An Arresting Development

I don’t often quote other articles in large chunks, but a piece by Sam Leith in the London Evening Standard says it all for me on the subject of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins attempting to have the Pope arrested.

On the face of it, one can't but be gripped: one imagines Dawkins going the full Tatchell and having his face rearranged by the Swiss Guards, while Hitchens handcuffs himself to the Popemobile and bounces shouting along the street.

There's a serious point, though. Many of us take the view that Pope Benedict is a very bad hat.

His organisation, on his watch, systematically covered up child-rape on an institutional scale, and we'd like to see him answer to a rather more robust court than his own conscience. But Dawkins and Hitchens leading the charge against him muddies the waters.

They had a philosophical beef with the Pope before they had a legal one, and they will appear to many people to be acting in their roles as professional atheists with books to promote.

Full article HERE, third headline down.

I couldn’t agree more.
I know you shouldn’t question people’s motives but frankly, I question their motives. There’s no question that church hierarchy has to be held accountable not only for what was done but for what wasn’t done to stop it, but it’s interesting to see groups with other agenda lining up to put the boot in. The two foremost evangelical atheists, with no previous overt interest in child welfare, arranging to arrest one of the world’s most recognisable religious leaders? It’s all rather convenient, isn’t it?

Dawkins, as a product of the English public school system ought to know a bit about institutionalised abuse and Hitchens, as an unrepentant supporter of the Iraq war, has some gall talking about covering up human rights abuses. To give Hitchens his due, he did volunteer to be waterboarded to settle that nagging question of whether making a prisoner think he’s drowning is torture. Hitchens’ verdict is that it is. But his outrage about crimes committed in a war he supports is not on a par with that of a war he didn’t support (Vietnam) or by an institution he despises for different reasons.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the Catholic church is being victimised here. They have brought it upon themselves. I’ve heard it said, by Catholics and non-Catholics that one child being abused by one priest is one too many. I don’t think that goes far enough. That implies there’s something special about priests. One child being abused by anyone in any way is one too many.

The reaction to the Hitchens/Dawkins scheme has been interesting. From what I have seen, it’s the believers who are saying Dawkins has a fair point, while comments from atheists have been more along the lines of, ‘I like him, but he’s being a dick.’

Another excellent comment I read recently was that what Dawkins rails against is his own definition of faith, which is not necessarily something that any spiritual person would recognise. Again, I agree. Since it’s fashionable to quote Sinéad O’Connor at the moment, this is something she wrote before the infamous Saturday Night Live appearance:

“You’re a fool to attack me, for an image that you built yourself.”

My thanks to Twitterers Mike Scott and Kate Anderson for some of the links and ideas behind this post.

18 April, 2010

A Memorial to Martin Luther King

Last week, I received an email informing me about a project to build a memorial to Martin Luther King in Washington DC, and asking me if I might spread the word by writing about it here. I was intrigued, but due to a busy week, promptly forgot about it. After all, when you make an email address available on a public website, you never know who is going to write. Then this week, I received a follow-up message to check that I had received the first message and to remind me of what a worthy cause it is. This told me the people behind it were real and taking a genuine interest. I was flattered that they considered my support worth having and sharing with my veritable dozen or so readers, but I still had misgivings.

Although I will talk long and loud about American politics, and have explained why, I try hard never to be prescriptive. It’s really no skin off my nose if America wants to keep a health system that is less equitable than that of many developing nations. But since the discussion is being had, I’ve had national public health cover all my life and if I lived in a communist nightmare, or if my family had been butchered by substandard treatment, or if I were crippled by taxes, I think I might have noticed.

Whatever I’m writing about, I’m only ever writing about what I think, not what anyone else necessarily should think, so I’m uncomfortable about explicitly promoting anything. Since I’m not a US citizen, I have no right to promote such an idea. I certainly have nothing against the plan, but it's not my place to say any more.

Obviously, Martin Luther King was a great man. He is surely the most respected and admired American never to have held either a political office or military rank. He is one of only three people to have a federal holiday in his honour, the others being George Washington and Christopher Columbus. It’s right that he should be memorialised and commemorated, especially now that people are beginning to lose historical perspective and some are co-opting King’s words as a fig-leaf to disguise their own latent racism. But it’s not for me to say how he should be remembered. There is a tendency to memorialise people ad infinitum with statues, coins, stamps, airports, parks, bridges, sporting grounds.... to the point where the person’s legacy ends up being almost trivialised rather than honoured. It’s a terribly unworthy analogy, but as far as I can tell, everything in Footscray is named after Ted Whitten and he was just a football player.

These are the misgivings I was going to mention to my correspondent as my reasons for respectfully declining his invitation. But then I thought, what harm can it do? Everything I was going to mention to him, I can mention to you too, as I have. So while I'm not qualified to explicitly promote the idea, here, for your consideration, are the websites for the memorial if you would like more information:

16 April, 2010

My Job Application

To Whom it may Concern,

My name is Jason. I am a surly 23yo with blue/black hair, tattoos, lip piercing and I'm unsuccessfully trying to grow a beard.

I have poor communication skills and am not what you might call a people person. I tend to express myself by scowling. I have however, perfected the art of looking far too busy to concern myself with what it is that I am actually busy doing.

I have a fashionable interest in obscure punk and maintain an aloof disinterest in all other forms of music. If you want to know about anything else, don't ask me.  I do, however, have a collection of Kiss and Guns'n'Roses t-shirts that may or may not be intended to be ironic.

I hope you will look favourably upon my application for the position of sales assistant in the music department of JB Hifi.

11 April, 2010


It's very tempting for Lennon fans to see him as something of a political victim, since he virtually invented rock star activism.  Although this documentary is predictably sympathetic to John & Yoko's cause, it doesn't protect them from charges of naivety and perhaps just a little gall in expecting to be allowed to stay in the country at the same time as they were criticising that country's policies at every opportunity – however valid that criticism might have been.  It also quietly acknowledges that the US  was within its rights to cancel their visa, however petty and paranoid such an act may have been.  You have to know which arses to kick and which ones to kiss. 

In fact, the first two thirds of The US vs John Lennon is taken up with a history of his political activism between 1968 and 1972, and he comes across as a remarkably moderate voice between competing world views.  But this was the height of the paranoid Nixon years and the administration saw him as a threat, which of course, he was to the establishment, even though he was also telling radical elements to be cool and that violence wasn't going to help anyone.  Major players from all sides are interviewed, including John Sinclair, Angela Davis (both subjects of Lennon songs), G Gordon Liddy, Geraldo Rivera, George McGovern, and Walter Cronkite, among others.

John's music is used to excellent effect throughout, especially Scared.  The audio is listed as 5.1 but don't go expecting great surround mixes. 

Highlight: John telling the crowd at the John Sinclair concert, “Apathy isn't it. So flower power didn't work, so what? We start again.”
Feature: * * * *
Extras: None
Audio: Dolby 5.1, Dolby Stereo

08 April, 2010


Nearly three weeks after the Tasmanian state election was held, there is finally a result.  Sort of.

From long before the election, it was always looking like the result would be a hung parliament with the Greens holding the balance of power between Labor and Liberal.  What made Tasmania interesting this time is that there is no love lost between the Greens and either of the major parties and they each refused to negotiate with the Greens both before and after the election.  Instead, they negotiated between themselves, agreeing that if they each got the same number of seats, then whichever party polled the highest popular vote, would form a minority government.  It was a remarkably mature act on both sides, but the Greens did not sign up that deal.

Eventually it became clear that they had indeed come to a tie, with Labor and Liberal each winning ten seats and the Greens taking five, with the Liberals polling higher than Labor in the statewide popular vote (which is technically a moot point).  And Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett did try to relinquish power to the Liberal Party.  But then, Greens leader Nick McKim announced that the Greens would be supporting Labor, for the rather weak reason that there’s no point in changing government just for the sake of it. 

Since it appeared that Labor would have the majority support in parliament, the Tasmanian Governor, Peter Underwood has invited David Bartlett to form a government and test his numbers in the Parliament.  Bartlett and Labor have accepted the offer.  Liberal leader Will Hodgman is accusing Bartlett of breaking his promise, but it appears that the pre-election deal has been gazumped by the Greens’ announcement that they will support Labor.

However, Bartlett is playing it clever here.  On the face of it, it looks like he’s done all he can to honour the pre-election deal, but there’s one other thing he could have done.  He could have given the governor his assurance that Labor will support a Liberal minority government on money bills and confidence motions.  Such an assurance should lead the governor to invite Will Hodgman to form a government, but Bartlett chose not to do that.  The one last thing that Labor can do, would be to vote against themselves in the no-confidence motion that the Liberals will inevitably bring when Parliament first sits.

As someone said last week, in a hung parliament, every party has the balance of power.

07 April, 2010

Interest Rates

The Reserve Bank raised official interest rates by 25 basis points yesterday, which translates into official rates going up from 4% to 4.25%, and all the banks have passed the rise on to customers.
If I only cared about myself, my reaction would be, Cool!  I don’t have a mortgage.  I have investments.  Higher interest rates are a good thing for me.  There’s no right wing self-congratulation in that statement.  I know that I am very, very lucky to be in the modest but comfortable financial position I’m in.

News reports last night helped put things in a bit of perspective for me.  They said the rate hike would add about $47 to monthly repayments on a $300,000 mortgage and it brings the repayment increase to over $200 per month since interest rates started going up last year.  That’s not such a good thing.  I have friends with mortgages and they don’t deserve that.

However, while I feel for all those struggling to meet repayments, I have to wonder to what extent they have brought it on themselves, and how much they were duped by a government that encouraged them to plunge themselves into debt when times were better.  When I was in Year 12 at high school, in 1989, I took out a term deposit.  I put away the smallest possible amount ($1,000) for the shortest possible term (three months), and it paid 18%pa.  Obviously, rates were insanely high at the time, but we all survived.  So to my simple mind, if a rate increase of one quarter of a percentage point is going to cause people to struggle, it seems to me that they borrowed too much.

John Howard played ‘aspirational’ voters like a fiddle between 2001 and 2007.  First he offered the new home buyers bonus, which was almost doubled if they were building rather than buying an existing dwelling.  Of the people who qualified for over $10,000 in subsidies, how many used it to borrow $10,000 less, and how many used it to spend $10,000 more?  Then, in the 2004 election campaign, Howard put the fear of interest rate rises into everyone who he had spent the last four years encouraging to take out 30-year mortgages.  I know there are people hurting because of interest rate rises, but I find it just a little bit hard to feel sorry for people who borrowed as much as they feasibly could when interest rates were 3%, thinking that they would never go up.

Back when interest rates were stupidly high in the late 80s and early 90s, some banks started offering home loans with interest rates capped at, say, 14% for five years.  So the poor buggers who took that deal would have still been paying 14% after official rates dropped back below 10% in 1991.  Again, it’s hard to feel sorry for people who didn’t take the longer view.

So the rise is good news for me.  It might mean that I get a slightly better rate when my investment matures, but I don’t like to profit from anyone’s misfortune so I'm torn.  Am I being too harsh here?  I’d like to know.  Let me know in the comments.

06 April, 2010

The Rules: Parking

Putting one's shopping in the car is not offering you the parking spot.  The occupant is not offering you the spot until you see their backing lights go on.  Until then, move along and quit holding up traffic.

If I see anyone doing this to me, I'll deliberately close the door and walk around the block just to teach them a lesson.