22 August, 2010

Spits and Dummies – various post-election observations

What I love about election night is that it’s really the only night when anyone in politics tells the truth.

One such example was Maxine McKew’s assessment of what went wrong for Labor. She was spot on in her assessment that Labor’s problems “go back to last year when we never quite claimed victory over the global financial crisis.” It’s absolutely correct that Labor did a pathetic job of selling their achievements. But for her honesty, McKew was accused in the media of having a dummy-spit similar to Cheryl Kernot in 1998 when she effectively complained that she wasn’t given a safe enough seat to run in. There is obviously no analogy because McKew has said earlier in the interview that she had asked to stand in a marginal seat.

If you wanted to see a real dummy-spit, you had to tune into Insiders this morning, where Bill Shorten shot Barrie Cassidy a filthy look for suggestion that “if it does come to that sort of constitutional crisis Bill Shorten just by the way, your mother-in-law, the Governor-General, would have to make the call.”
Shorten responded with barely concealed fury, “Oh I assume that’s a bit of humour to finish the interview.”

He did go on to give the right answer, which is, “In terms of the Governor-General's role she will carry out her role I’m sure,” but added, “In terms of any other point that you may be humorously alluding to I’m not going to impugn that office.”

This is why Bill Shorten should not be allowed back near a campaign any time soon. If a similar question had been put to either Rudd or Gillard, they would have either given the straight answer or prefaced it with something like, “That’s a good question and I’m glad you asked it because it gives me the opportunity to address these concerns.” Whether Cassidy was being cheeky or not, the fact is that Quentin Bryce is now in the most uncomfortable position any Governor General has been in since John Kerr in 1975. It neither impugns the office nor questions the Governor General’s integrity to point out that having her son-in-law as a key player in the ALP can only increase that discomfort.


What will not be said by any of the paid commentators is that this election didn’t just see a rejection of both major parties, but also of the major media players. By far the best analysis was by independent writers, mostly on ’blogs.


Finally, as both parties try to form government, the Liberal party must stop talking about having the “moral right.”
It’s called enterprise bargaining, arseholes! Now you know how it feels.

20 August, 2010

So it's come to this,

After weeks of both parties backpedaling on stated principles and dodging real debate, it's come down to who can stay up the longest versus who buys the blokiest drink.

It has disappointed me to see some of those who rightfully bemoan the lack of policy discussion in this campaign, now jumping on the "Abbott bought a poofter drink," bandwagon.  I don't have much to say about Tony Abbott that's complimentary, but I will say that I don't give a flying whether he or Gillard drink tequila slammers or Shirley Temples, it's got nothing to do with their policies or abilities.

15 August, 2010

Legitimate Questions for Sarah Palin

Sarah, I read with interest your questions for the president. Now I have some for you.

You believe in the US constitution, don't you? You believe in people's freedom to worship as they see fit? If so, what's the problem?

You believe in small government, right? You believe that big government should get out of people's lives, don't you? If so, then what business does the president have in telling anyone what they should build where?

You make an interesting point that having the right to do something doesn't mean you should. Would you extend the same principle to – oh, let's say – gun control as well? Or would that be an attack on freedom and a trashing of the constitution? How can you try to have it both ways?

And you believe in the free market don't you? So if you object to the owners' plans for the site, why not just outbid them? Why not let the market decide?

In short, how can you justify a position on this issue that contradicts your positions on just about everything else?

I believe these are legitimate questions to ask.

- Bill

14 August, 2010

How Not to Jump the Queue

I have tried to keep a fairly broad point of view for the political and social commentary that I post here.  However, on the issue of boat people and so-called illegal immigration, I feel compelled to share a personal story.

My wife is American.  She is currently in the US and we are going through the visa application process.  It will take up to six months or more before we get an answer on that.  If you think it’s hard being away from each other for so long, you’re damn right.  Thank God for the internet!

There were a number of ways we could have gone about it.  She could have come in on a tourist visa and then gotten a bridging visa while we applied for the partner visa here.  That would have been perfectly legal, but we felt it would be dishonest for her to enter the country on a tourist visa when we both know we have every intention of her staying for good if at all possible.  So instead, we did what we felt was right by having her apply for a partner visa while in her home country.

Let me be clear on one thing: we would dearly love to cut the process short.  We wish we could just fast-forward to when it’s all been done.  But do you know one option we never considered?  We never considered having L make her way to Asia, get onto a rickety boat and risk her life bobbing along the Indian ocean for a couple of months in the hope that she might wash up on the coast of Western Australia.  Not once did we look at all the ‘queue-jumpers’ and think, “Hey, why don’t we try that?”

So to suggest that anyone would try that – with or without people-smugglers – if they weren’t desperate and had better options, really defies all logic. 

I don’t know of anyone whose life has been adversely affected by boat arrivals, but perhaps that says more about the circles I move in, so if you do, please educate me.  Obviously we can’t have a complete open-door policy or it will become an opportunity for real queue-jumpers, but the debate as it is framed right now is bullshit.

Both parties have scrambled to appeal to people’s lowest instincts and are proposing cuts in immigration.  I’ll tell you this much: if this beat-up of an issue makes things any harder than they already are for my wife and me, then I’m going to blame a few people, and I don’t mean the ones on the boats.

13 August, 2010

How I Vote - for those who wonder, and those who think they know....

In the course of some Twitter comments and discussions, more than a couple of people have suggested or implied that I am a one-eyed Labor supporter. In fairness, I can see why some might think so if they take certain comments in isolation, just as some might leap to the same conclusion from certain posts here. Allow me to address such assumptions....

I'm not going to tell you how I vote, but I'll tell you this much:
I voted for the first time in the 1990 federal election. Since then, in state and federal elections, upper and lower house, I have voted Labor, I have voted Liberal, I have voted Democrat, I have voted National and I have voted independent. I don't think I've ever voted according to the card, and I've never voted for the same party in both the House and Senate. Although I haven't moved in that time, the electoral boundaries have, so the electorates I've lived in have vacillated between marginal Labor, blue-ribbon National and marginal Liberal.

I'm a swinging voter because I'd be a damn fool not to be. Professional pundits and former prime ministers have told us that this election will be won or lost in marginal electorates. No shit, Sherlock? Next they'll be telling us it's the swinging voters in those electorates who will make the difference. Voting out of habit or tradition means parties and candidates never have to earn your vote. Privately, parties despise swinging voters. They regard them as flaky and disloyal. They don't have to impress habitual voters; all they have to do is not be the other side.

This is why I have a profound disagreement with those who say it would create a healthier democracy if we had voluntary voting. Their reasoning is that parties would then have to inspire people to get out and vote if they wanted to win. I think it would be the opposite. I think both parties would benefit from voter apathy because a party has nothing to fear from people who don't vote for them; they're only worried about people who would vote against them.

Sometimes I vote according to who I want, sometimes I vote according to who I don't want. You don't have to look for someone to vote for. No matter how uninspiring the choices are, there's always a least worst. There are plenty of times when my last preference has been chosen before my first.

That's how I choose at any election. It will be interesting to see if people still assume I'm a Labor man when the state election comes around later this year.

11 August, 2010

I don’t know much about IT, but I know who I don’t like

So, as far as I can work out, the Liberals' broadband policy goes something like this:

a) We don't really know what we're doing, but
b) Anything Labor does is bad, so
c) We'll do something else, therefore
d) Our policy is better.
e) Why is everyone laughing?
The Libs wouldn't even have a broadband policy if it wasn't for the sake of having to respond to Labor having one. There's a beautiful summary of the inanity of the debate here: http://www.geordieguy.com/?p=522

Prime-Time Flame Wars

In addition to the battle between Labor and Liberal, this election campaign also has a side-skirmish – the battle between old and new media. Many proponents of 'new' media – that is, here on the intermanet – like to scoff at 'old' media's response to the new. Broadcast and print media doesn't really know what to make of news and analysis through 'blogging and social media. Many television news services have added segments to report on what's happening online, completely missing the point that if we wanted to see what was being discussed on Facebook, we'd check Facebook. We have the internet too. I always miss the Twitter comments that are displayed on the screen during Q and A, because I'm busy watching the Twitter stream online.

Even some of those from the press gallery who have embraced the immediacy of online networks are finding it difficult to adjust to. Every report of Mark Latham's stunts over the weekend had him "posing" as a journalist. This is not technically true. To say he was posing implies that he was there under false pretences. The truth is, he had accreditation, obtained for him by Channel 9 as a reporter for 60 Minutes. It is fair to say that Latham is only there to insert himself into the story. However, if using the campaign for career advancement and self-aggrandisement makes one a poser, then there are a few actual journalists who, through their use of social media, have revealed themselves to be posing just as much as Latham is.

The interesting twist today, is that television adopted an aspect of 'new media' that traditional outlets usually use as evidence of the internet's deficiencies. They started a flame-war. On Sunday evening, Laurie Oakes said it didn't speak well of 60 Minutes or Channel 9 that they would hire Latham and allow him to behave as he did. Latham used a live spot on Sky News to hit back at Oakes, implying he was a coward. Then on 9 News tonight, Oakes was given a free kick back at Latham. If they were on a forum, they would probably both have their accounts suspended for a week.

That much doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is how people have praised Laurie Oakes for seeming to bite the hand that feeds. He has done nothing of the sort. Oh yes, it looks good to see Laurie criticising his own network - so good, that everyone watched it. Ker-ching! Oakes can take the high moral ground and call for Latham's sacking all he likes, but he wouldn't be able to talk about it if Nine hadn't hired Latham in the first place, and so long as Oakes keeps talking about Latham and bagging his bosses, we'll keep tuning in. Nine can't lose. The Laurie vs Latham spot was introduced on National Nine News with the headline that Latham continues to be a distraction to the campaign. And who gave him the power to be a distraction? Channel 9! And who is saying how bad it is? Channel 9! And where does Oakes deliver his rebuttals? Channel 9! Just wait for some other pundit to come out and call it great television. No matter what Laurie says, so long as he's talking about the Latham controversy and not boring policy stuff, he's vindicating Nine's decision to employ Latham.

Whether any of Latham's 'reports' ever go to air, Nine has won. If they sacked him right now, it would still mean they get the story and the ratings. If you're disgusted by this whole process, the only way to protest is to not watch Channel 9, regardless of what happens next. If and when they sack Mark Latham, they should be given all the praise that would befit someone who has finally decided to stop kicking puppies.

10 August, 2010

Apples to Apples

In seemingly tragic news for Beatles fans - or those just wondering what all the fuss over these 'Beatles' things is all about - the release of the Beatles' catalogue on iTunes has been delayed yet again.  Yoko Ono has said that there is an element of negotiations with Apple computers that they are not happy with, adding, "Don't hold your breath."
Such news may make iPod owners despair of ever being able to listen to some of the most influential music ever made on their fashionable digital devices.  So far, the only way to buy compressed digital versions of the Beatles' music is to spend a fortune on the Beatles USB drive which contains all the albums in MP3 and FLAC formats.  So what's a music lover to do?

Well, fear not!  I'm here to help.  Believe it or not, I have all the Beatles' albums on my iPod - mono and stereo - and I'm going to show you how you too can have the world's most popular music on the world's most popular music player.

First, buy a Beatles CD.  Yes, I know you want it on your iPod, not your CD player, but keep reading.  If you're not sure how to buy a CD, there are a couple of different ways.  You could order it from an online retailer such as Amazon.com or alternatively, you could explore your local shopping mall or main street to see if there is a record shop there.  Record shops sell CDs to the public face to face.  Be aware that this method does involve leaving the house and is therefore not recommended for agoraphobics except under strict supervision.  

The method we are going to use will work on both the old CDs and the newly remastered ones.  It will even work on the mono versions so there's no need to worry about whether you bought the right one.

Once you have obtained your Beatles CD, remove it from the cover, and insert it into your computer's CD/DVD drive.  Then, start iTunes.

Now, here comes the clever bit:  Don't go to the iTunes store.  Instead, have a look just below the Store link, and you should see the CD listed there.  If you're lucky, iTunes will have downloaded the CD title and track-list information already.  Then, all you have to do is click Import CD at the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window.

You will not be asked for confirmation that you want to purchase these tracks because you actually already have!  iTunes will then magically convert the music on the CD to the same format that you would purchase from the iTunes store.  This will happen a lot quicker than downloading the songs because there's nothing to download.  It's all done on the computer and in a few short minutes, you'll have an entire Beatles album in your iTunes library.

What's more, you don't even have to back up your purchases because you already have a backup copy in the form on the CD.  The disc can be played on your stereo, in your car, or just safely stored away until your hard drive crashes or your iPod gets lost.

Now comes the tricky bit:  you have imported the music into your iTunes library, but how to get it onto your iPod?  Because I am something of an advanced user, I have turned the automatic sync off.  So what I would do would be to browse my iTunes library for the Beatles album I have just imported, and drag it onto my iPod on the left.  However, you probably have auto-sync turned on, and if so, all you have to do is plug your iPod in, and within minutes, you will have the Beatles on your iPod!  Amazing, huh?

You might have noticed that we used Abbey Road for this example, but you can use the same process for any Beatles album.  The only thing to be careful of is that if you buy the White Album, it comes on two discs.  You will need to make sure you follow the above process for both discs, or otherwise, you will only have half the album on your iPod.  The same applies to Live at the BBC, Anthology 1, 2 and 3, and the Red and Blue albums.  You might like to wait until you've have a bit of practice before you have a go at those ones.  

At this point, you might be thinking, "Wow! It's so easy to get Beatles songs on my iPod, it's amazing that other artists haven't thought of this!"  Well, guess what?  All kinds of artists distribute their music this way, from download sceptics like Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Radiohead to darlings of the download age like Arctic Monkeys and Lady Gaga.  

Remember, you don't have to like artists on the cutting edge of technology to do this.  Got a soft spot for Buddy Holly?  Love a bit of Louis Armstrong?  Can't get enough Karajan?  You can get them all without ever having to worry about exceeding your bandwidth.  You can even do it with non-musical recordings such as comedy performances, audio books or Justin Bieber.  

So now you never have to worry about iTunes not carrying an artist again.  Happy listening!

09 August, 2010

Answers on a postcard,

....or in the comments box.

Grog's Gamut and Annabel Crabb have written excellent pieces on what a bunch of non-policies Tony Abbott announced yesterday. 

Here are a couple of additional questions though:
What on Earth is a "Green Army," what will they do, and when did the Liberal party start making a virtue out of hiring 15,000 more public servants?

If you have any ideas, I'd love to know.

08 August, 2010

Memo to Labor: Own the Debate

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that a lot of Labor’s problems, ever since 1996, is that they accept the Liberal narrative instead of setting their own.  Events this weekend only reinforce how much Labor needs to take control of the agenda.  The Liberals are determining the story because they have gall and no-one is calling them out on it.

We’ve had Tony Abbott saying that Bronwyn Bishop is very popular among seniors.  If any politicians or media had a memory longer than a pot-smoking goldfish with Alzheimer’s, then one of them might say,
Oh really?  Bronwyn ‘kerosene baths in nursing homes’ Bishop is popular with seniors?  The woman who was demoted to the back bench long before the Libs lost government?  She’s their big asset this year?

Then today, in the Liberal campaign launch, Abbott proudly proclaimed that fifteen members of his front bench had previous ministerial experience in the Howard government.  He said it like it’s a good thing that they were all part of the team that was rejected three years ago.  Most oppositions need to wait for the smell of the previous government to wear off them.  Abbott is trying to turn it to his advantage. 

Later, John Howard was interviewed and asked about what he thought of Tony Abbott’s chances with the electorate – as if the man who didn’t just lose the last election, but his own seat as well, has any credibility on the subject of the electorate’s mood.  And yes, the comeback to that is that Kevin Rudd was dumped by his own party in his first term, but regardless of who wins government in two weeks, it’s pretty likely that both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard will still be in Parliament. 

Finally, there are all the Liberal crocodile tears over Rudd’s removal as PM.  While it was indeed, a desperate, knee-jerk reaction, if the Liberal party had had a single metaphorical intestine between them in 2006, they would have done the same thing to Howard when he offered them the chance, and they might have had a better chance in the 2007 election.  Such was their obedience to Howard, they would rather have lost the election than the leader.

If Julia Gillard were Jon Lovitz being Michael Dukakis, she might say, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”  But she is, because the Liberals have the gall and Labor needs to get some.  The “real” Julia has shown no discernable different to last week’s Julia.  She and Labor need to start setting the agenda instead of following it.

By the way, for some brilliant election coverage and commentary, Grog’s Gamut cannot be recommended highly enough.  If Grog doesn’t come out of this election with a gig on a major publication or a parliamentary staff, then there’s no justice.  Then again, I sometimes suspect there’s no justice.

There’s Something About Mark

Let me say this much first:
I always thought Mark Latham got a raw deal, from pretty much everyone.  I always liked him as an opposition leader.  I thought he was the breath of fresh air that the Labor party, and Australian politics in general, needed after the blandness of Howard and the small-target strategy of Beazley.  I saw nothing wrong with the now infamous handshake with Howard.  Yes, it was intimidating, but if John “man of steel” Howard couldn’t stand up to a handshake from his opponent, then we should all wonder about his “ticker.”  It was simply the body-language equivalent of, as Julia Gillard said to Tony Abbott over a handshake, “Game on!”  I have to admit that I was surprised the electorate didn’t respond to Latham in the same way as they have to other loose cannons with iffy pasts like Wilson Tuckey or Bob Hawke.

I also think it was disgraceful the way Latham was treated by his own party after he left politics.  They dismiss the man – “the Latham experiment” – as the Liberal party might dismiss Fightback or Incentivation.  And I never had a problem with his book.  For all the bile that The Latham Diaries contained, it was the kick up the arse that Labor needed.  They needed to re-evaluate themselves and they did.  I’m not drawing a line between the book and Labor’s comeback but obviously it didn’t damage the party.

I say this to indicate that it really wasn’t until this week that I thought, “What the hell is Latham thinking?”

As a commentator for Sky News, he categorically asserted that it was Kevin Rudd who did the leaking to Laurie Oakes.  It was a statement that had Kevin Rudd talking legal action but even then, I was willing to put it down to Latham being Latham – shooting his mouth off to get noticed, which he did.

But I now have to say that he has well and truly abandoned all claims to principle by going to work for Channel 9 and 60 Minutes.  Those with memories that stretch back longer than the last twitter hashtag game, might remember what 60 Minutes did to Latham in the 2004 election.  The Sunday after the election was called, 60 Minutes had an interview with each leader.  I can’t find any of it on YouTube, but the interviews went something like this:

Charles Wooley:  Thank you for your time Prime Minister.  Have a free kick.
John Howard:  Stump speech.
Charles Wooley:  Thank you for the answer Prime Minister.  Have another free kick.


Liz Hayes:  Mr Latham, we don’t know who you are.
Mark Latham:  Well,  I’m...
Liz Hayes:  But we don’t know who you are. But we don’t know who you are.

Okay, I am exaggerating the level of bias a little bit, but seriously, every time Liz Hayes opened her mouth in that interview, she said, “But we don’t know who you are!”

Now these are the people you want to work for Mark?  Since you clearly have a lot of bitterness left, can’t you spare some for 60 Minutes instead of being the gift that keeps on giving for the Liberal party?  If you’re going to tell Julia who she should be complaining about, have a look at your employer.

Latham’s stunt confronting Gillard yesterday is indefensible.  He immediately tried to make the story all about himself, made another baseless accusation, complained that he needed to make a living, and later took questions from the rest of the press pack, talking about what a farce it all was. 

I still feel a little bit sorry for Mark Latham.  I hope he doesn’t need the work this badly, and I hope he’s trying to be a showman rather than really being this bitter.  Mark, last week, you said of the leaks which you accuse Kevin Rudd of, “I think it's unmanly and beneath a decent Aussie bloke to act this way.”  So is what you did, Mark.  I know you’ve copped a lot of unfair flak and I know you have a fondness for hyperbole, but you’re better than this.  Surely you don’t have to be so undignified.  Let it go.

07 August, 2010

Of Leaders and Deputies

Both major parties officially brought out their most recent prime ministers on the campaign this week.  One of them won the last election; one of them lost it.  Draw your own conclusions.  It may say something about the standard of leadership in both parties at the moment, because Abbott and Gillard are very effective deputy leaders who have not yet grown into their new roles.

The unspoken role of a deputy leader, in addition to being the heir apparent, is to be the headkicker, the shitstirrer, the one who lets rip at the other side, free of any semblance of the statesmanship that is expected of the actual leader. 

Although Tony Abbott had never been deputy leader, he pretty much had the job by default.  I think Julie Bishop is there for her looks, just as Jenny Macklin was for the ALP from 2001 to 2006.  Macklin served unchallenged as deputy to Simon Crean, Mark Latham and Kim Beazley, but she was invisible in the job.  Even during the times she was acting leader, policy statements would be given by either Mark Latham, Wayne Swan or Kevin Rudd.  It wasn’t until Julia Gillard became deputy in the spill that elected Kevin Rudd, that Labor had a deputy leader who looked like one. 

It’s the same situation with Julie Bishop and the Liberal party.  She has been immune from the turmoil that saw them dump both Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull (both by the narrowest of margins) but despite being deputy, she was never considered for the leadership.  She has made several appearances on Q and A, and been a good sport on The Chaser, but matters of substance have always fallen to Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey, depending on who was leader at the time.

As such, Tony Abbott has been a deputy leader for most of the time between the 2007 election and his successful stand for the leadership.  He was the one who could be relied upon to come out with some outlandish hyperbole so that, when asked about it, the leader could say with plausible deniability, something along the lines of, “Tony’s opinion is his own, but he does raise an important point....”

When the deputy (or de facto deputy) makes the transition to leader, a certain amount of recalibration occurs.  As an opposition frontbencher, Mark Latham used some colourful language to express criticism of the Bush administration and John Howard’s unquestioning support of it.  As opposition leader, one of Latham’s first acts was to call a press conference to declare his admiration for the United States and his dedication to the American alliance.  Did somebody say ‘arse licker’?

Now Tony Abbott is in a similar situation to the one Latham found himself in, being forced to recant some of the more extreme ideas he has expressed and struggling to make people believe it.  There are several examples, but the most obvious one is WorkChoices.  It’s almost universally accepted that WorkChoices brought down the Liberal government in 2007.  Abbott says the people have spoken and that the policy is “dead, buried and cremated.”  Yet, he was still defending the policy in his book Battlelines, which was published just over a year ago.  What changed?  If you believe Abbott, the difference is that now he is a party leader and alternative national leader and has to represent broader views.  It’s a cute story, but does anyone believe it for a second?  Does anyone believe that “dead, buried and cremated,” will not become Tony Abbott’s “never ever,” moment, should the Liberals win?  He has already given himself an out, saying that they will not change industrial relations laws in their first term – after which, presumably, all bets are off.  As late as last week, Abbott has defended Howards “never ever” statement as being defined as the space of one parliamentary term.  And let’s not forget that the Liberals never took WorkChoices to the people in the first place.  What happened was that they found themselves with control of the senate in 2004 and realised this was their chance to enact a policy that had been on their wish-list since 1996, but never dared to try.  So having resurrected the GST in 1998, and having sat patiently on the policy that was to become WorkChoices for eight years, does anyone seriously expect us to believe that they have heard the people and will never try it again?  Does anyone think they would be foolish enough to tell people first?

Tony Abbott is right to criticise Julia Gillard’s lack of leadership over her laughable “citizens’ assembly” proposal to respond to climate change and her Hawke-like desire for consensus.  But it’s a criticism that rings hollow when he is claiming to have taken up a position of, “I am their leader, I must follow them.” 

It highlights a paradox in Australian politics.  We like a strong leader, but not too strong.  We don’t respect someone who consults too much with polls and focus groups to find out what people want, but we can’t stand a know-it-all who decides they know best without consulting.  Our democracy demands both leadership and representation, and the two aren’t always compatible.  Both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard assumed their positions because their predecessors were perceived to be out of touch with the rest of the party, and leading them in a direction the party wasn’t comfortable with.  Both new leaders then announced policies with barely any party consultation.  With Gillard, it was the renegotiated mining tax, with Abbott, it was the paid parental leave policy, which his colleagues learnt about from television along with the rest of us.

Aside from that, both leaders are struggling to reinvent themselves.  This was most evident in the leaders’ debate, where two people who have a long record of entertaining intellectual biffo with each other were trying so hard to soften their headkicking images that the whole thing came off as scripted and boring.  It shows that neither has really found their feet as a leader.

Bernard Keane wrote an excellent piece on Crikey yesterday about Labor’s tendency to panic.  He makes the point that John Howard’s numbers in 1998 were far worse than Rudd’s were this year, but Howard managed to pull through.  This is because Howard responded to criticism by hardening his resolve.  This pissed a lot of people off but his base respected him for it, and so did those who respond to strong leadership, if not good leadership.  Kevin Rudd could have done that, but the party blinked.  Labor’s problem since 1996 – and it continues to this day – is that they keep accepting the Liberal party narrative rather than shooting it down and creating their own.  That’s what gave us everything from Kim Beazley’s “That’s what I stand for,” ads, all the way through to, “Kevin Rudd: economic conservative.”  At the moment, Labor seems to be using the same strategy that lost them the 1998, 2001 and 2004 elections.  If they did more to vindicate those who voted for them in 2007 instead of trying to impress those who didn’t and probably never would, then they would probably be in a better position.

05 August, 2010

The Rules: Exaggeration

I’ve told you several times not to exaggerate.*

For a man who has been stabbed in the back, assassinated and executed, it’s pretty remarkable that Kevin Rudd has come through it all losing only his job and his gall bladder.

We all know that politicians love to lay on the hyperbole, and the shocking, sudden replacement of Kevin Rudd did lend itself to it – for a while.  But to still be hearing pundits and politicians alike, casually referring to a leadership spill as an “assassination,” and those behind it as “death squads,” is frankly offensive to real victims of real death squads. 

Also, while there were people on all sides of politics who were disgusted in how it happened, does anyone believe the Coalition’s phoney outrage over Rudd’s “execution”?  They wanted him out too – they only thing they disagreed on, was the replacement.  It can only lead one to wonder what else they overstate for dramatic effect.

In the election campaign, Kevin Rudd is not the man who won’t go away; he’s the man who no-one will shut up about.  I suspect he would be the first to tell all those screeching about “death squads,” to get some perspective.

*Actually, this is the first time – but I’m prepared to do it again.

01 August, 2010

On Political Correctness

Julia Gillard wants to have a free and open debate about refugees and asylum seekers free of political correctness.  Many have taken that as code for “we won’t judge you if you say you’re scared of foreigners.”  Whether it is or not, the inference is that somehow, big bad political correctness has stifled free and open discussion of the issue.

Let’s cut the crap about political correctness.  The idea of political correctness was a very brief fad in the early 90s and the idea seemed to be that things should always be expressed in a positive, non-judgemental way that did not portray people as inferior in anyway.  So “blind” became “visually impaired,” “disabled” became “challenged,” and so on.  It wasn’t long before people were sending it all up - “short” became “vertically impaired,” “bald” became “follically challenged,” and much mirth was had for quite a few minutes.  Beyond that, political correctness has been a complete non-issue since 1993 at the latest, except among those who love to decry it. The dumbest thing proponents of political correctness did was to give a new name to something we used to call good manners.

The word Political has the same derivation as the word Polite.  So to be ‘politically correct’ literally means to be polite.  Who’s going to argue against being polite?  For instance, if you’re in a situation where you’re not sure whether you should call someone by their title or their first name, then the polite thing to do is to address the person as Mr Bloggs.  If he doesn’t care for formality, he’ll soon say, “Hey, call me Joe.”  No-one ever takes offence at being called by their title but they might consider it a liberty to be called by their first name - so the sensible and civilised thing to do is to address them by their title until invited to do otherwise.  Is this political correctness gone mad, or simply good manners?  Likewise, there are many disabled people who are completely cool and casual about their disability, while there are others who are more sensitive about it.  For a long time, to call someone a cripple was seen as more than just a statement of fact, there was an inference that they were lesser people.  Therefore, the polite thing to do would be to refer to them as impaired.  There are many who would simply reply, “Mate, I’m a cripple. Deal with it.”  But it should be their call.  Of course, there are hypocrisies on all sides.  I have noticed that both supporters and critics of neutral terminology will happily fling the word ‘bastard’ around with gay abandon, never considering how offensive and hurtful the word is to those who remember when society was less progressive about children born out of wedlock.

Some offensive expressions have been reclaimed.  Nick Giannopoulis and his cohorts have done such a good job of reclaiming the word ‘wog,’ that it’s pretty much ruined their act.  There’s no shock value in putting ‘wog,’ in the title now.  He’s a wog-boy - fine, whatever, move on.  However, this does not give everyone licence to use racial epithets whenever they feel like it - not even ‘wog.’

The argument I am making is the kind that always gets misinterpreted as an attack on free speech.  It is nothing of the sort.  Everyone should have the right to say whatever they want.  But as I have written several times before, the right to free speech does not include protection from the consequences of exercising that right.  You have the right to say anything you like, and others have the right to say, “No, that’s stupid and here’s why.”

While everyone has an equal right to their opinion and the expression of that opinion, not all opinions are equal.  An opinion is only as valid as the information it’s based upon.  If the information doesn’t add up, then neither does the opinion.

If Julia Gillard really wants a frank and open discussion of concerns, free of political correctness, then let’s try a test case.  As we are constantly being reminded Julia Gillard is Australia’s first female prime minister.  A fact that has been lost among all the back-slapping about a woman’s rise to the top job, is that women operate differently to men.  If we are to hear all concerns with an open mind, then isn’t it time someone asked if we can trust the decisions made by the prime minister when she is premenstrual? 

If you think that’s an abhorrent suggestion (and you should!), then maybe I should counter that by accusing you of being politically correct and trying to silence genuine concerns, however misinformed those concerns may be.  And who are you elitists to call me misinformed anyway, you patronising latte sippers!

This is what political correctness is really used for.  It is a straw-man argument employed by people who have no other backup.  And if all they can do to justify their position is to accuse their opponents of political correctness, then the response should be, “Maybe I’m not being politically correct - maybe you’re being a bigot.”

To her credit, Gillard has responded with good grace to comments that as almost as bad as the one I suggested.  From Bill Heffernan’s comment that she is “deliberately barren,” through jibes about her hair colour, to the recent media obsession with her marital status, she would be within her rights to say, “How dare you suggest such a thing!” but she has accepted that it’s all part of politics. However, the mere fact that she has attracted such comments already, shows what a dangerous game she is playing by trying to appeal to the “I’m misinformed (at best) and I vote” demographic.  How far does the revoking of political correctness go?  Are we ready for the ranga-on-the-rag debate?

I hope we never are.  Or if we are, I hope we also have the courage to stop paying lip service to misinformed points of view and say, “No, that’s stupid!”  The form of political correctness we have to move away from, is the political correctness that tells us we have to hear and respect all points of view without challenge or rebuttal.