Friday, July 31, 2009

Stephen Conroy, the OFLC, and censoring the intertubes

Heard the latest about Stephen Conroy and his mad desire to censor the intertubes?

Apparently the OFLC has been ringing up local ISP's that have big online publishing departments - the heavy hitters at least - suggesting that they might like to get their content classified. Or else. 

Well you can understand where the OFLC is coming from. I'm told that they can charge seventy bucks a pop, so for them it's just good business. Money raising for bureaucrats, and besides they help keep the intertubes clean for children. Jeez, when you think of all the content being carried over the intertubes, it's a gig for life. Figures to make a minister chortle with glee.

What's that you say? Doesn't seem to be doing much for 14 year olds undergoing lie detector tests about their sexual activity on commercial radio? Oh but don't you know that was just a criminal investigation to see what kind of rape was involved - non consensual or statutory. Or to find out what the sweet thing was up to so we could all get excited.

Pardon me while I choke on my vomit about this government and their specious disgust about Bill Henson, and their platitudinous crap about caring for the children.

But back to the OFLC. So here you have a government body which is supposed to be advisory but acts like its a censor fresh from the good old days when to Prowse meant to take a one armed slash at anything that hinted at sex.

And of course if you're a big business, you have to play it safe, you want to stay onside with government.

But ain't it a marvel, that on the one side Conroy is building a brand new NBN to enshrine the wonders of the intertubes - you know all that brand new content delivered at lighting speed to your humble computer - while over with the other hand, any content is threatened with censorship, inspection, certification and sullen suspicion. Fuck the content, but we'll deliver it to you fast, in predigested pap form that's safe for babies.

So what's the future of UGC in this brand new Orwellian world? Well user generated content is the kind of deep dark activity that surely will attract the interest of the inspectors. After all, we all know that users of the intertubes are deep down perverts interested in doing naughty things to children.

But, but, but you ejaculate (now steady on, there's not going to be any ejaculations on this site), what about YouTube and videos on google and all the other content that's out there and carried to these humble shores by the full to overflowing intertubes? What about the billions upon billions of pages that the OFLC has yet to cast its beady eyes over at seventy bucks a pop?

Well durr, it's simple. Get a clean bill of health, or get censored.

Or is it Tweedledum and Tweedledee? There's Conroy with his intertubes filter at a grand ISP level designed to catch anything that would upset my aged aunt. And over in the other corner is the OFLC trying to make as much money as it can by checking out everything it can find to whack a label on. If they apply this to UGC, they could solve the budget deficit, and fund an expedition to Mars. 

The preposterous absurdity of Conroy's meglomaniac desire to act like a Chinese mandarin stands fully revealed when you consider the absurdity of what he proposes to do to content, and what impact it will have on the operation of the intertubes.

Now some readers in the past have thought this site is mad lefty. But can I just say that hell will freeze over before I vote for a government which contains Stephen Conroy as a minister, or chairman Rudd as its chief censor (and while I'm at it Nathan Rees can go take a hike).

Hmm, guess the only choice now is between the Greens and the Shooter's Party. Whatever, where are you Asher Moses, time to give this Conroy fresh hell.

UPDATE: at Whirlpool, they seem to think this news is a load of garbage. 

Just to clarify, I'm talking about the content arms of big ISPs  getting calls from the OFLC - the publishers that serve movies, television and games online (there are only a couple of large ones in Australia). One would think the internet was regulated through the Telecommunications Act but this is specifically about entertainment content, not telecommunications. Gamers and others should feel the fear.

Just remember you read it here first, and then wait for the denials.

(Below: MikeFitz. By the way, the first number is still the active parliamentary contact number and before the UGC content on this site gets a take down notice, here's Senator Conroy's other contact details).

David Gazard, WAGs, cricket and the end of western civilization as we know it

I remember when I played cricket, it was up at 4 am, down in coalmine to dig day's tonnage, then off thru professional gate under noon day sun to hit a ton, then after victory sing team song, then off to pub to down ton of beers, then back to mine for little overtime. By time that was done, another ton or so in shovel, it was 4 am and day started all over again. Tons of fun.

And your wife or girlfriend?

Get out of it, had nowt need of WAGs. Bloody wymn, ton of 'em around but endless useless distraction in man's world of thwack of willow on leathery balls. Though come to think of it, some lads did like thwack of leather on balls.

You will of course recall Dr. Johnson's wise words on woman preachers:

"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Now apply that to women playing cricket and you'll see the state of the game. Now imagine something even worse. The absolute horror of wives and girlfriends turning up to watch a game of cricket being played by their menfolk. WAGs they've come to be called by all and sundry, shorthand for women against games.

Oh no, I sense a gigantic earthquake, a huge rumbling, pillars collapsing, vast shrines being torn apart, huge tsunamis raging across oceans, god screaming in horror in his remote eerie. Say it ain't so, for the love of everything decent and pure and village green, tell the world it ain't happening.

But it is, and who better to tell us of this disaster, this unnatural catastrophe, than David Gazard in WAGS aren't about team happiness, but marketing.

Now as all you lads know, leaving the trouble and strife at home while going down pub wit lads is the surest way to marital happiness, and by far the best way to win at cricket is to make sure the women are in another continent.

You see, the problem with the WAGs is that, sadly, they're more interesting than the cricket or the cricketers - well at least to the media. And their presence certainly doesn't help the lads in their bid to thwack the English around:

Had they not been there, it’s quite probable we would have gone down to county side Northamptonshire because we’ve all been assured by Cricket Australia that the boys play better if the WAGs are in attendance.

Seeing as we have managed to win just one of the seven tour games so far, I tremor at the thought of what would have happened if CA hadn’t had the foresight to support the significant others/B-grade celebrities and female wannabes to stay with the cricketers for the first part of the Ashes.

Not to mention the sluts and the groupies. Bloody wymn, can't live with them, and can't play cricket without 'em and can't play cricket with 'em.

Because you see Mr. Gazard's thesis, adumbrated at great and tedious length, is that the women on tour in England with the decent Aussie lads are just there to generate press headlines (not that he has any problem with wives and girlfriends and families spending time with their partners, oh no no no, he just has problems with wives girlfriends and families turning up at the cricket).

The Australians have struggled for coverage in recent years and fielding an underwhelming side for this tour was bound to lead to the need to generate interest. At times, during the last tours to the subcontinent, you had to look hard to find match reports in the back pages of the papers.

You can almost see the smart, young marketing executive at CA telling anyone who’d listen that linking celebrity with cricket would fire up the ratings.

Cue fashionistas for instant pictures and fire up a catfight between a player’s mother and attractive girlfriend. Bingo, instant coverage.

Cue Gazard rant about Paris Hilton as a role model, stars leaking sex tapes, actors indulging in bad behavior, and men going shopping:

So it stands to reason that I’m not really going to be greatly interested in recent coverage of Michael Clarke and Shane Watson carrying the shopping bags for their girlfriends in London.

Carrying shopping bags? Oh no, say it ain't so. Metro lads in London carrying bags for girlies like a bunch of girlies. What are they? Pussy whipped? What kind of behavior is this? Could it smack of - gasp - bizarre and immoral behavior, a rough equivalent of looking at a Paris Hilton sex tape?

I recognise that boosted coverage doesn’t necessarily mean that the greater numbers of readers endorse celebrity activity; they often just enjoy looking at their bizarre and immoral behaviour or looking at the pics of the latest fashions. Put simply, reading about the freak show doesn’t mean readers are about to follow the freaks.

Oh thank the dear lord. Men have been saved from carrying shopping bags. Such bloody bizarre and immoral behavior. That's just too extreme a fate for any man, whether cricketer or commentariat columnist.

But wait, there's still more rant in Mr. Gazard, and it must come out with the explosive force of a volcano finally unplugged. Because he can remember the good old days when a man was a man, and a woman stayed in the kitchen making the tea and scones, and bugger me dead, there wasn't a picture of a woman to be found anywhere, just the smooth thwacking sound as a man with willow drove a leathery ball to the boundary:

I might come across as an old codger at age 45, but I remember the good old days when we didn’t need Lara Bingle to drive an interest in the cricket. And we certainly didn’t need to stir a family fight to get the promotion on track.

I remember Steve Waugh demonstrating toughness and resilience with a double ton at Sabina Park, leading Australia to victory with its first series win in the West Indies for decades.

I remember in 1989 watching Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh bat all day at Trent Bridge, racking up 0- 301 as the Aussies destroyed the Poms 4-0 in that series.

I just enjoyed watching them do it and I didn’t need pictures of Lara Bingle sending texts to her agent about her next fashion shoot to inspire me to watch it.

Sob. Those were the days when a man was a man and the women carried the shopping bags, while the man had a quick few schooners in the pub.

But who, you might ask - as I confess I had to - is this Lara Bingle who texts and plans fashion shoots while watching the cricket -  and makes men carry shopping bags? Well it seems the sweet thing is engaged to be married to cricket vice captain Michael Clarke, he who is the designated bag carrier for the aforesaid Bingle (where' s the twelfth man or woman when you need them?)

Now you might think that it quite reasonable that Clarke and Bingle get together, and do what they like together. You know, there's no law against a man and a woman forming a relationship and having a fuck or even getting hitched if that's their desire. And while on tour Bingle seems like a fair companion even if she has the looks of a model, and I gnash my teeth while she texts her next fashion shoot.

But it outrages Gazard in a most perplexing way. Somehow it's the fault of Cricket Australia that the couple are an item and on tour together, and worse that CA authorities seem quite content that Clarke is involved with a glam item, and are quite happy to see her on tour with him. And even milk it for a bit of publicity!

Don't they know that women should be kept in a cupboard, or have their head in a paper bag, and only be brought out at night once the lights have been switched off? Otherwise we are facing the imminent collapse of western civilization into a Paris Hilton inspired orgy of loose sexual anarchy.

Cue the outrage:

Maybe Lara Bingle and Jessica Bratich might get a few extra eyeballs across the CA website, but the organisation’s willingness to attach itself to the whole celebrity saga seems to me to be an admission that the team can’t attract viewers on talent alone.

Who wins? No doubt pandering to an obsession with celebrity might generate a few extra dollars, but ultimately in this moral race to the bottom, no-one.

Jessica Bratich you ask? Well she's the hot girlfriend of flailing, failing fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, who is possibly spending too much time bowling in a wayward fashion down the leg side when he should be aiming for the bat. But now you know she's just another celebrity panderer involved in the muck heap race to the moral bottom.

Jeez, I never thought a little tits and arse would so threaten a man, but there you go. Perhaps there's room in the priesthood for Gazard? 

Bratich has even turned up in Ralph's babes section, but I'm wanting John Cleese to change his mind and do another set of Fawlty Towers

By golly, if David Gazard doesn't get the role of the harumphing major, there's no natural justice in the world.

And seeing as how it offends him so, we thought we'd run a few pictures of scorchingly hot babes Bratich and Bingle. Hey Australia's losing the cricket, so why not have fun with a bit of babe watching on a Friday.

Now lads if you feel a stirring in the loins, you have two choices. Reach for the computer and compose a Gazard style rant about how wymn are ruining cricket and the world and your mental stability, or bow your heads and recite with me this holy writ, our ever so favorite bestest poem we love to revive every so often, courtesy of Sir Henry Newbolt, entitled Vitai Lampada:

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind --
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

For the love of the lord, put down those shopping bags, you pussies, and thwack that leather. And if you don't know how, let David Gazard show you the way.

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and blinding tits,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a bikini'd girl,
Or the selfish hope of a season's sex,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and carry those shopping bags!"

(Below: we believe these are snaps of Jessica Bratich).

Tim Wilson, marriage as a contract, and supersizing heterosexual choice

While on the subject of marriage, it's great fun to read Tim Wilson's offering in The Australian on the virtue of competitive marriage.

Marriage for church and gays offers a solution to the current imbroglio by so mucking up any conventional understanding of marriage as to make it open for all.

Thank the lord for free markets and private enterprise and the understanding that beneath it all, marriage is a social and economic contract. And before Mr. Wilson's wise words, I'd thought polygamy might be the best way forward.

Best of all, that noble word "competitive" worms its way into the action.

The government can allow multiple marriage contracts. Registering a contract would require meeting minimum standards set by government, and religious bodies could set additional requirements for a marriage to conform to their faith.

For example, under competitive marriage the government could have a default contract between two people. The Catholic Church could register a marriage contract recognising it as a sacrament, including restricting it to a man and a woman and requiring that it be ordained by a Catholic priest.

Competitive marriage would replace the one-size-fits-all model. Importantly, it would address the imbalance inherent in government reserving marriage for heterosexual couples. All marriage options would have the same social, legal and political standing.

The benefits would be manifest. Religions would no longer have their institution threatened by government influenced by political activists.

Competitive marriage should also be desirable to gay activists. Same-sex couples could have their relationships legally recognised.

And if heterosexual or homosexual couples wanted to upgrade their marriage from civil to religious they would still need to conform to the tenets of that faith.

So Mr. Wilson concludes triumphantly, this all conforms to the principles of a liberal society, by ensuring that the private laws of god can discriminate but the laws of man won't. And best of all, we have competition policy at work in all areas, including marriage. Did I mention how virtuous is the word competition? 

Why soon we can look forward to competitive tenders and competitive offers and competitive pricing, and if husbands and wives don't stack up, you might be able to put out an offer for competitive partnerships or casual fucks or lifestyle support. What we already have it, and it's called adultery? Oh never mind.

This is all well and good, but is really the most desperate and circuitous way around not offending the churches while offering up gay marriage to activists (Wilson quotes the recent poll of 1100 Australians suggesting 60% of Australians support marriage for same sex couples, with support strongest amongst the young).

And the end result? Well you'd have to be a mug to enter into the Tony Abbott sanctioned kind of marriage, which for convenience of skateboarders and paintballers, we might call "extreme marriage".

Under the Xtreme marriage rules, no fault divorce is restricted, counseling is required, and the church can load the deal any which way it likes. Which if standard conservative patriarchal thinking is involved will see the rights of women again limited. Which will result - if parties feel aggrieved and want a divorce - in parties trooping off to the courts to sort out the contractual mess. Which will result in a fine flurry of floozies before the courts demanding justice, and discovering a contract is only what lawyers and judges determine it is. Along with the intruding churches. What's the bet the churches lose business? In a competitive market place.

The sad truth for the religiously inclined is that the days of 'what god put together, let no man tear asunder' are going, going, gone. Into a 40% divorce rate, for starters.

Are matters so desperate in conservative ranks that they are determined to follow Groucho Marx in insisting that whatever club would want them as members is the kind of club they would refuse to be a member of? Unless they're offered special leather chair privileges in quiet rooms away from noisy chattering folk?

Covenant marriage is effectively the secular equivalent of Catholic marriage. Abbott's argument is that if society is going to recognise gay marriage it should also "surely be capable of providing additional recognition to what might be thought of as traditional marriage".

Supersize my marriage? Make it different from the kind of marriage that gays might have? Keep theirs coarse and secular? Make sure it has no spiritual or religious overtones? Make mine absolutely, totally and comprehensively unique?

Wilson argues the Abbott line by wanting religions to be able to add bonus items and levels of difficulty available only to the most hardened game players:

But in arguing for same-sex marriage most gay activists don't appreciate the significance of marriage to religions. In response, many religious conservatives have bunkered down for the fight. They shouldn't. The solution is to establish alternative options such as Abbott's covenant marriage.

Don't appreciate the significance of marriage to religions? Dumb activists. They probably don't appreciate the significance of birth or death either, let alone communion as a way of avoiding a lifetime in hell. But there in the heart of it is revealed the standard prejudice about gays and their desire for discrimination to end. Somehow they're foreign, alien, they don't understand heterosexual ways, they're different, they're other, and thank the lord they're not Tony Abbott.

But if the upshot is to ensure that god can discriminate, it's not a solution at all. Perhaps a simpler solution would just be to allow gay marriage, and if anyone can persuade a priest to turn up to give the marriage a spiritual component, then good luck to all concerned.

What's that you say? Too simple, too straightforward, and lacking the free market competitive spirit? And without bonus add on heterosexual elitism and smug differentiated contracting that will bring fault back into a system that the world, or at least Australia, has shown it can live without? 

Only in a Catholic dreaming.

Ah well, back to injecting as much FUD into the debate by introducing complications, difficulties and a sense that gay people simply don't understand the significance of marriage. A civil contract will be good enough for them, along with the bulk of secular and atheist souls who really shouldn't get married at all, when the de facto state caters to their coarse desire to couple.

So can someone explain to me why some gay people want to get married because of its emotional and personal significance? And for some its religious and spiritual significance? Go figure.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tom Kenyon, a burst of illogical reasoning and keeping the Christian vote in the Labor party

Who the fuck is Tom Kenyon and why should you care?

Well it seems he's the latest in The Punch - the dumbest conversation in Australia - offering, in what might be called an exercise in balance, a view on gay marriage, and this time it's all about its unseemliness - perhaps because recently both tabloid sensation David Penberthy and Rob Mills both wrote pieces in favor of gay marriage.

The recipe. Take a yokel from Adelaide, a hix from the stix, and make sure that he's from the Labor party so that he can't be seen as a demented Bill Heffernan type, and then let him loose on a computer keyboard.

Well there's no logical reason to publish or read Tom Kenyon's thoughts, but there you go. Let's have at it anyway.

It is fair to say that in some ways the purpose of marriage has changed over the years and yet, maybe surprisingly, the nature of it has not. For thousands of years, certainly well before the time of Christ, marriage has been the name given to the partnering of a man and a woman mostly until “death do them part”.

Well unless it happens to be until "court do them part", as it so happens for some forty per cent of the couples in Australia that currently seek to end the ecstatic state of holy union known as heterosexual marriage, when the flames sputter out and a new 'marriage unto death' partner appears on the horizon.

But never mind, let's get down to the nitty gritty. 

What exactly is the purpose of marriage and how can we tell aspirational poofters to fuck off? Let's not worry about definitions involving expectations of a lifetime arrangement or people sharing their lives together or making sacrifices to help their spouse. Unfortunately poofters can lay claim to all that romantic malarkey. No, let's play the kids card:

... marriage is still more than that. Most people go into marriage expecting to have children at some point, especially those entering their first marriage. It’s true that some don’t but our definition of marriage needs to reflect the broader understanding and expectations about marriage within our society.

The simple fact is that while some marriages do not produce children, no gay relationships can produce children. Children may be involved but they haven’t been produced as a result of the sexual relationship between the couple.

Oops. What can we say about Julia Gillard then? You know the one Bill Heffernan labelled as deliberately barren? Oh well, I guess that's why she's just living in sin and can't see any reason to get married. And I guess that takes care of Maxine McKew and her very Catholic desire not to marry that divorced Bob Hogg.

But I guess as a general rule infertile couples shouldn't get married either, since the buggers can't bear kids, except through elaborate technology which offends either the all seeing eye of god or the Catholic church, or both. What's worse, even some fertile couples get hitched and then don't carry through on the kids thing. Perhaps we should punish them with automatic dissolution after ten years if they don't get on with the fecundity thing?

And while we're at it, why not go back to the good old days when the law prevented miscegenation for fear we'd all go coffee colored?

Because you see our fearless Tom is very worried about the historical definition of marriage, so no doubt he'd be very anxious about a black man with a big cock marrying a blonde white woman. But I keed, I keed, you see gays getting married is just such an ahistorical idea, except maybe on the island of Lesbos or in the land of the Amazons:

Gay relationships do not meet our historical/cultural understanding of marriage (essentially revolving around gender) and they are not the same in terms of the production of children.

This is not to say that gay relationships are better or worse but that they are significantly different.

Historical Tom is keen to remind us what everybody from the Egyptians through the Persians to the Greeks and Romans have got up to in relation to marriage.

Well yes, and it's lucky that Caligula didn't try to marry his horse Incitatus, but according to cheap Roman gossip only wanted to make the beast a consul and a priest. That kind of relativism is just too shocking for words. 

So when he married his sister Drusilla, we were all relieved to come to a better understanding of Roman marriage, that long standing tradition which also involved killing partners you'd lost interest in. As perfected by Henry VIII.

There’s nothing wrong with defining a form of relationship that is distinct and unique to the exclusion of other relationships. We already do this within straight relationships, making a distinction between “de facto” relationships and marriage.

The refusal to include gay relationships in the definition of marriage is not discrimination. I am a married father. If I were to apply for a single mothers pension I would not receive it, and rightly so. I would not have been discriminated against, I just didn’t meet the definition.

But what about being called a wanker? Do you happen to meet that definition? I don't say this to discriminate - after all there are so many wankers in the world - and as a result I understand there's nothing particularly unique or distinct in being a wanker. But I always thought that wankers lacked the capacity for logical argument, instead seeking refuge in historical precedents and nonsensical emotional rhetoric.

Because it wasn't so long ago that the same historical arguments were being used to persecute homosexuals, stop them coming out and metaphorically (or physically) stoning them to death because their very existence was an act of perversity and decadence, an aberration and abhorrent in the eyes of any number of gods. Courtesy the assorted religions and their definitions. 

Suddenly it's okay to be gay, but not to be a married gay? Well how did this historical relativism happen?

Okay, forget the wanker angle. How about a little condescension from a great height?

As I said earlier, there are many long-standing, committed and loving gay relationships and I have no objection to some form of recognition by the state for those that seek it but I do not think that marriage and a gay relationship are the same thing. A gay relationship needs to be called something else.

Well yes how about poofters in chains? Instead of getting hitched to the trouble and strife?

Instead of evoking the ball and chain, why not the ball and ball? Hmm, I'm thinking pink triangles on coats would be a good way for the state to provide some kind of recognition of gay folk. Fetching. Yellow for other difficult folk.

Our definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is part of our cultural heritage as well as recognition of the uniqueness of the relationship. There’s no reason to change that.

Well yes it's so a loved institution. Why when I went to the Urban Dictionary I turned up this for a married man:

A guy that is pussy whipped, hen-pecked, has no life, has no friends, and can't make any decisions without asking his bitches permission first.

Talk about a rich cultural heritage.

Now don't get me wrong. I can't see why gays want to be part of an army which gives them permission to go off and die for a country which tends to diss them. In much the same way as I can never understand why gays would want to be part of a church following a remote god, which regularly tells them how fucked up they are and how certain it is that hell awaits them. 

And I guess you'd have to be pretty perverse to want to get involved in a marriage with all its emotional and cultural chains (thank the lord for divorce). Why on earth do these people think that they're human and somehow like heterosexuals?

But if they want to, where's the harm? 

Except from the frowning disapproval of Pecksniffian loons still thinking that the world somehow revolves around Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden? You know, back when incest seemed the best way to get things going and maintain the family line after mom and dad got thrown out of paradise.

But let's not get too hung up on maintaining the proud tradition of biblically approved incest. 

There's not one coherent argument, outside of petty traditional prejudice, as to why gays shouldn't get married, at least as presented by Tom in his rant. Compounded by the use of bizarre words "logical reason" in the header. When what he meant to say is that it's his personal prejudice, buffered by an appeal to similarly prejudiced people throughout history. 

However did we manage to end slavery? Also biblically approved (not to mention the virtues of rape).

Remarkably poor Tom copped a bucketing from most of The Punch readers who could be bothered to reply. Let's hope he stays in his seat of Newland and doesn't stray too far out in the big world where things moving at a frightening pace and change is in the air.

Lordy, even Spain and South Africa are getting on board. But in the meantime feel free to join with John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull in sticking your finger in the dyke, holding back the tide King Canute like and continuing to persecute a minority with personal condescencion and public intolerance. 

Because that's all you've got and it ain't enough to keep things the way they were, unless a theocratic Islamic society is your ideal as a way of moving forward ...

(Below: I've used this cartoon before, but heck I like it. It's just so perversely relativist and has no sense of history whatsoever).

Greg Sheridan, mad monk Tony Abbott, usable bomber Beazley and flip flop Latham

(Above: Tony Abbott).

Just when you thought Tony Abbott was a naughty boy, it turns out he's the messiah.

Don't trust me, trust Greg Sheridan. By golly, I can almost hear Rolf Harris strumming the lid on a can of paint. Trust Greg Sheridan, sure can.

Manifesto of a 'usable' leader is the header for his tract, and he doesn't leave you in any doubt as to where he stands right from the get go:

If Turnbull fails at the next election, Abbott should be the next alternative prime minister.

All this is based on Abbott's job application and intellectual CV calling card, his new book Battlelines, which as evoked by Sheridan seems singularly short on new ideas.

The USA will be around in 2020 as a force in the world? Well hornswoggle me and corral me with Nostradamus. A Liberal would defend the US-led operation in Iraq? Well hook my suspenders up to a battery and shock me with the insight.

Apart from the predictable banality of these ideas, Sheridan conjures up a strange "usability" test which somehow sees Kim Beazley as a usable leader.

Whenever John Howard or Andrew Peacock was opposition leader, the electorate felt it had a usable alternative, whatever damage the conflict between them did. That automatically made the Liberals a threat to Labor. Peacock did well in 1984, Howard came close in 1987, Peacock actually won the popular vote in 1990 and Howard won office in 1996. John Hewson was not usable as a leader, and the Liberals went backwards in 1993. Mark Latham was Labor's Hewson equivalent. Kim Beazley, on the other hand, was always a leader the electorate could have used. Beazley nearly won in 1998 and would have won without Tampa and September 11 in 2001. Rudd's achievement was to become usable by 2007.

What a pity nobody - especially the Australian electorate - wanted to buy a second hand B52 from Bomber Beazley, let alone hand over the keys to government. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. If that's Sheridan's idea of usability, I've got a second hand bicycle out in the back shed he can have for a knockdown price. Once he's knocked the rust off it, he can join Abbott in mad bouts of vegetarian cycling (I keed, I keed, it was Miranda the Devine who said Abbott looked like a vegetarian).

As for the other ideas in Abbott's book, Sheridan tells us that the book itself is good, and full of worthwhile ideas, and then proceeds to demolish the ideas that he mentions.

First there's East Timor:

Abbott understandably tries to make a myth out of Australia liberating East Timor. I say this is understandable because Labor makes a million myths, often wholly counter-factual, out of distorted history. But Abbott's argument about East Timor is built on a false premise. If he reads Howard's letter to then Indonesian president B.J. Habibie he will see that Canberra's policy was to favour East Timor's remaining part of Indonesia. Similarly, Howard would never have sent a peace-keeping mission to East Timor without Jakarta's permission.

And then after noting that Abbott prefers the USA over China - as if we'd prefer to live in a country where the intertubes are censored by the Communist party or their lick spittle lackey Stephen Conroy - he knocks over another Abbott conceit:

But Abbott's odd passages on what he calls the anglosphere are silly and sterile and lead nowhere in policy terms. He claims it's the cultural similarity of the anglosphere nations -- the US, Britain and Australia -- that bound them together in Iraq. This ignores the half of the anglosphere -- Canada, New Zealand and Ireland -- which opposed the Iraq action. Moreover, it automatically diminishes and somewhat insults non-anglosphere democratic allies such as Poland, who joined the combat in Iraq, and Japan and South Korea, who sent forces later.

Trying to stretch the anglosphere by including India is silly. No Indian would accept the term anglosphere as the primary geo-strategic locator of their country.

Well  it's dumb, but not so dumb as Abbott's idea of bringing fault back into divorce proceedings, a subject on which the commentariat has gone strangely quiet. But back to foreign policy:

This leads to a broader weakness in Abbott's foreign policy positions. His instincts are good. On the things he's thought about seriously, he is sure-footed. But there is a lack of a more systematic appreciation of Australia's strategic position. Most politicians don't really need this. But all our prime ministers since World WarII have come to office with a good deal of foreign policy experience. It's a great pity that Howard didn't make Abbott defence minister. But after Turnbull, and after the next election, Abbott remains the Liberals' only realistic alternative.

Well I guess that anybody who thinks Bomber Beazley was 'usable' - despite a series of losses - might well turn to the mad monk as a realistic alternative. But even using Sheridan's benumbing terminology, it becomes clear that Abbott is actually the Mark Latham of the Liberal party.

Remember when Mark Latham was publishing books and articles to establish himself as a forward thinking policy wonk? Until the heat in the kitchen got to him and the wok fractured in the heat?

Remember his erratic behavior and his destructive antics, which undermined himself and Beazley? 

How about Abbott publishing a book on all sorts of policy areas outside his shadow ministry at a time when Turnbull is down and almost out, and badly needs a united team? How about proposing the book is a handy reference point and calling card for his ambitions as leader once Turnbull's been thrashed at the next election? Wow, there's a happy, healthy knockdown optimism about big Mal's chances.

How about Abbott's sulk for the last eighteen months as he got over being beaten, and being demoted to what he sees as a minor set of portfolios?

Gee, come to think of it, you might even argue that Latham was a model of decorum and balance in comparison.

And now Greg Sheridan says he should be the next leader? Suddenly it feels like I should be buying a used car from Joe Hockey. It might be a lemon, it might not run, but at least I'd get the lack of service with a smile ...

(Below: Dr. Abbott tends Malcolm Turnbull's popularity figures. Oops).

Greg Melleuish, League Tables and the way forward for drop kicks and losers

(Above: a new template for the school league rating system. Can you see your team, sorry school, on the table. Ain't it marvellous, ain't it wonderful, how educational complexity can be reduced to a single line. By the way, anyone below the top eight are losers. Treat them accordingly).

I often wonder about the sheltered world in which academics reside. I used to think that academics ended up in university as a way of avoiding the challenge of real teaching.

I've done a bit of both, but my first introduction to school teaching was the usual catalogue of challenges. You know, going out into the playground as a prac teacher while the real teachers had a staff meeting, and then with another prac teacher dealing with a riotous fight bunged on by some testosterone laden young men who knew they could get away with it.

Funnily enough, it was the school at which I'd been a student, and the boys were always in the business of giving prac teachers a merciless introduction to their craft - a fractiousness handed down over the years in which sob I'd once been a participant. Sic transit irony.

If you go to a really big school - at that time there were fifteen hundred kids in the secondary school, over a hundred in the final year - you quickly learn about the laws of the jungle, and bullying and rampant prejudice insolently on display and ways to survive, especially if you're a nerd or a girl or an ethnic or emotionally alienated (you know, liking black as a form of dress).

Nor - if you look at the public education sector - does it take long to work out which schools are better than others to attend. In country towns of course you rarely have a choice, and if you do have a choice, it's often pretty academic (though in my home town fortunately the choice between almost any other school and Farrer agricultural college still remains a viable one).

If you live or work in the western suburbs of most cities, choice is also limited, unless you have parents rich enough to be able to transport you by car, bus or train away from the school with the deadhead reputation. It's different for the well off, or the aspirational determined to spend their last schekel to deliver a good education, since private school fees open up many doors, and then the decision as to which is the best school does evoke Choice like studies of which plasma screen will deliver the best picture for your bucks.

That's why rich folk love school tables. Hey, when you've got the money to choose, why not subscribe to "Best Schools For Rich Folks", now with improved tables and ratings and individual assessments of the quirks of all teachers.

But the western suburbs schools in which I landed were tough - the girls, if they had any ambitions, thought becoming a check out chick was a major career aspiration - and while I couldn't say they were like the schools in series four in The Wire, the damning insights that program offered into conventional notions of education still resonate with me. Especially the bit about making kids jump through hoops that in the end mean nothing to their actual education or their lives.

There was one teacher who cared - she shifted the chairs out, taught the girls movement and theatre and English - and they loved her, loved to learn with her, and had their world view shifted in ways the other teachers, who drove in from far away, found threatening. She was of course terminated by the bitch of a headmistress. So it goes. There's only so many Mr. Chips and Dead Poets' Societies to be found in the world.

Americans of course are fixated on choice, and think nothing of busing students endless miles either in the quest for choice or opening up alternate paths, such is their view of the power of positive thinking. 

But if you come from an under nourished area of society, it doesn't take much insight to realize that the schools in that area are also likely to be disadvantaged, populated by students who are also disadvantaged, and staffed by idealists who think they can make a difference, or more predictably, by teachers who are just grateful for a job and go with the flow.

Which is why there's been an endless and inordinate amount of blather talked about the way the way to transform schools is to publish tables in which poorly performing schools will be labeled as the home of failures and ne'er do wells - as a way of reforming them and leading them into educational nirvana.

And who better to add to that blather than the worthy Greg Melleuish, associate professor of history at the University of Wollongong, NSW? 

Melleuish, in Publish school results, makes some bizarre remarks in his opening ploy:

Forty to 50 years ago in NSW the Education Department used to administer IQ tests to primary school students. The results of those tests were never revealed to the students. However, teachers were provided with the numbers and, in secondary school, it was not difficult to take advantage of a teacher's absence from the room to look them up.

Well I don't know where he was fifty years ago - or even forty - but he must have been in a one teacher school because in larger schools the results were locked up in a room, often in the hands of whoever was doing vocational guidance, as it was called way back when. And the results were frequently, if informally, revealed to students, at least the bright ones, as a way of reinforcing their self-perception as being bright. (No one cared too much about the dummies, it was understood that they'd be out doing the fencing later in life).

But enough of memory sparring. Melleuish is confused as to why in the old days we could see how we might have been assessed as having achieved first class honors or As or Bs or Fs, without knowing actual scores while sitting the HSC, but these days while you can learn the actual scores, you don't get to see the individual results published in the press in a long list like the finishers in the City to the Surf jogathon.

The answer of course is educational faddism, usually in response to some passing scandal - such as when the Daily Telegraph was forced to publish an apology to the 1996 HSC class at Mount Druitt after publishing a front page article headed Class we failed, along with a photo of the 28 students sitting final exams. The Supreme Court found they'd been defamed, and damages were settled out of court.

The apology, published November 13 (2000), states in part: "In that story The Daily Telegraph suggested, among other things, that the students in the class of 1996 failed their HSC.

"This is wrong and The Daily Telegraph withdraws any such suggestion. The Daily Telegraph also withdraws any suggestion that those students acted without discipline or commitment in their HSC studies.

"The students in the HSC class of 1996 successfully completed their HSC and contrary to the suggestions in the original article many of those students performed very well scoring high marks in the HSC.

"The Daily Telegraph apologises to each student in the class of 1996 at Mt Druitt. It also apologises to their parents and friends for all the hurt, harm and suffering it has caused them." (

Of course the Telegraph still resents the outcome, and thought they were doing great things for the students and the educational system by labelling them as a bunch of failures, because of course it was the system that had failed them, and it was the system that made sure they could be construed as a bunch of failures. Oh look, and there's a flying pig selling ethical tabloid newspapers.

But that was 1996 and thirteen years is long enough for educational faddism to veer through another 360 degrees, in much the same way as when doing my dip.ed I had to suffer through teachers preaching the virtues of an exam free educational system, only to sit through the exams they then designed to explore my knowledge of the virtues of an exam free education.

But back to Melleuish, who of course sees the current system as a power based conspiracy:

It always has struck me that state educational bureaucracies are more concerned with maintaining their power through control of knowledge than with assisting the students under their care.

Well so what? Bureaucrats are not teachers, and what does the functioning of bureaucracies have to do with teaching where the pedal hits the metal, the rubber hits the tar? In classrooms.

Well everything it seems and the way to fix all this is to make sure that the same obsessive concern for failure that infects students is transmitted to teachers and to bureaucrats. As if they don't get enough of it already.

Melleuish, in the usual way, allows himself a little tremor of anxiety about the fixation on rankings:

What has changed has been the amount of competition in the scramble for educational success. We are fixated with league tables in education. Universities, for example, gear themselves to improve their positions on the various world and national rankings. An excessive preoccupation with rankings is not very healthy, nor is any attempt to reduce a judgment regarding quality to a number. But rankings are a reality that will not go away.

Oh that's okay then, it mightn't be healthy, and numbers might not mean that much, but what the heck, let's get on with the business of labeling the losers and failures as dropkicks. Let's really help them in their self-esteem. And whatever we do, let's not pretend it's got anything to do with socio economic or cultural disadvantage. Why I'm sure there are ever so many schools in the eastern suburbs that suffer the same disadvantages as the ones in Granville and Wentie (oops, sorry, we know you're not like Mt. Druitt, we loves ya. Oops sorry we loves ya Mt Druitt).

Melluish is hot to trot on publishing rankings, and presumably he wouldn't mind the odd league table being published either, because he can't see any arguments against such a system:

Such arguments as do exist seem to revolve around the stigma that would attach for a student who had attended a poorly performing school. Apparently if it is known that an individual attended such a school, they will be scarred for life and turned into some sort of pariah.

The problem with such an argument is that it reduces an individual to being a member of a group to be judged in collectivist terms.

There are plenty of individuals who have attended poor-quality schools but have managed, through their own efforts, to make considerable achievements. In any case, a few years out of school, who cares what school an individual has attended? It is what they do after school that matters.

The problem for an individual is if they imbibe a culture of failure from the school that they attended.

Ah so it'll be the school that'll be labelled the failure, and not the dropkicks who attended it. Phew, that's a relief. Because it doesn't matter what they do in school anyhow, since once they've dropped out they can turn into a pizza eating Bill Gates. Or maybe leave school at 12 like Dick Smith, and then make us all suffer for it.

Meantime, it seems Greg Melleuish is in a fog of unknowing, and doesn't have a clue about which schools are failing, and what might be done about it, in much the same way as students can't pick a bad teacher a mile off (and tell their parents), colleagues can't pick a bad teacher a mile off, school administrators can't spot a bad teacher a mile off, and all those bureaucrats who invent fancy titled programs to deal with 'disadvantaged schools' don't have a clue as to who might get the funds (but they did know which of the 74 most socially disadvantaged public schools could be put on notice that the Priority Action Schools Program they were in would be axed - see Book may close on disadvantaged school funding).

Why in that story about the PAS, the principal of the Airds High School Chris Presland said that the number of his year 7 students scoring in the high band of the English and Literacy assessment had doubled since he'd been able to hire three more teachers with an additional $242,000 a year, and teacher turnover had dropped from 20% to zero between 1991 and 2000.

Well bugger me with a bandicoot, if you'll excuse my literary metaphor, a little cash can help what ails ya, and even get results. Not that this would impress Melleuish. Ya see educational tables will see everything fixed:

The objective must be to discover those schools that are failing their students and to do something about it.

Like find out which schools would benefit from a PAS type scheme, and then when it proves expensive, wheel in the politicians to cut it? Well surely you don't expect my taxes to pay for educating dropkick losers, or worse flinging even more money at them?

Um, okay, what's left? How about a rant instead?

The thing about secretive bureaucracies is that one of their primary strengths lies in covering up their failures. Or, put another way, the only way to expose the hidden mistakes of a bureaucratic entity is for the public to know exactly how well or poorly it is performing. So, far from exposing students to stigma and shame, the consequence of public exposure of poorly performing schools will be to shame the educational authorities into improving their performance. In this way individual students will benefit.

Secretive failed bureaucrats. Well let's name and shame them. Let's expose them to stigma and shame so the students won't have to know about their stigma and shame. Well that's logical ain't it? Somebody has to be named and shamed and blamed. It's the liberal way. Why it's better than a Catholic priest telling you how you get hairs on your palm from wanking. I know that really helped the lads in school develop a healthy attitude to sex.

Here's hoping the rant made Melleuish feel better, because really the notion that labeling schools as failures will somehow improve them educationally is so myopic as truly to be astonishing, especially coming as it does from an academic. Especially as it's being dressed up as parental right to know, and freedom of choice.

"James, prepare my carriage, I wish to take the young one from his school in Mt. Druitt to Hogwarts, which I believe offers the finest in eastern suburbs educational opportunities."

Melleuish concludes by taking a sideswipe at Barry O'Farrell for mouthing collectivist tosh about pariahs, which I suppose is a reasonable balance from someone mouthing individualist tosh and pious hopes about improving schools by publishing tables.

Hey, I know the Roosters are bottom of the table, a pack of eastern suburbs losers. Will that be helping their performance next weekend? What about a PAS scheme with some new players and a healthy injection of cash?

Ah well, fads come and go, and here's betting that in ten years time, the wheel will have turned yet again, and as the notion of publishing league tables gets a little problematic, there will have been some fresh scandal that changes the way things are done. And bugger all will have been done to help disadvantaged schools and students, because when it comes to the pointy end that involves cash and training and prioritization of funding.

And of course at that point community minded liberals start whining about the way their already too high taxes are supporting lefties in the teaching system, and anyhoo, thanks to the federal government, everybody's already too busy making sure cult schools get their full cash top up, whether teaching on scientological principles or on the basis of an exclusive brethren view of the world. 

But there's a couple of upsides. Bureaucrats will have tremendous fun working out ways of comparing like with like, and even unlike with like (subject to many modifying parameters) and a great deal of blather will be talked about the revelations produced by a one line rating of a complex organism of hundreds of people, staff and students. Why just devising all the equivocations and clarifications will need a hundred more bureaucrats working away at being fair devising a sensible, proper rating system. Which will of course require endless tinkering and adjustments.

And perhaps the influx of chaplains, courtesy of the Howard government, can help the children deal with the emotional turmoil of being labeled dropkicks and losers in schools that are epic failures.

So it goes, and so it never changes. 

By the way, if you want a better overview of the issues involved at broadsheet level, featuring the Mt Druitt class of 1996, go to Jessica Turner's The tables are turned, which has a refreshing lack of zealotry.

Miranda Devine, Tony Abbott, Battlelines and the Liberal party's resident intellectual

(Above: whipping up a little fairy floss, candy floss to any passing American who doesn't understand anything about Australia).

If Miranda the Devine's return to the commentariat columnist ranks is any guide, the makeover of mad monk Tony Abbott still has a long way to go before it's consummated.

The remaking of the Mad Monk is so soft core it makes the average marshmallow look like it has a spine of steel. Your average doughnut would have the taste of stainless steel.

The occasion is the launch of Tony Abbott's book Battlelines at the Wharf restaurant. It's a fine place to go if you want to show international guests a harbor view with an arty backdrop and a rugged wooden pier redolent of the old wool export game, and that's about the level of Devine's response to the mad monk's policy exegesis.

We learn that the book is a crisp 182 pages long, and that bizarrely Louise Adler considers Abbott the Liberal Party's resident intellectual. Which coming from a socialist inclined protectionist is a bit like Gerard Henderson giving praise to a Chairman Rudd essay for the depth and breadth of its thinking.

But as for the contents of the book, you'll search in vain for any indication of Abbott's deep thinking from the Devine. Perhaps she hadn't read it at the time of writing.

Instead you get a gossip columnist's view of the event:

So on Tuesday it was New Tony on the podium, not the Mad Monk, Captain Catholic or Howard’s head-kicker, and his choice to launch the book, Sarah Murdoch, model, TV presenter and wife of media scion Lachlan Murdoch, said it all.

And along with the talk of the rehabilitation of Abbott and the way the book is his first crack at remaking himself as a contender for the Liberal leadership, there's an equally bizarre attempt to establish Abbott's cuddle credentials:

This was no pugilist Tony, snarling at Nicola Roxon, discombobulated by Julia Gillard’s flirtatious steel. It was a softer, gentler version, praised and loved by women, with his devoted wife, Margie, and three willowy daughters further evidence of his female-friendly persona – a must in any election, since opinion polls show the Coalition is faring worse with female voters than with male.

Well good luck to that makeover - but can someone pin back the flapping ears and soften off the smug sense of righteousness that still oozes from the man. Oh wait, they're also working on Abbott's body:

Even physically Abbott has changed. Once a burly, thick-necked rugby prop, he has leaned down into an ascetic surfing/cycling type you could almost suspect as a vegetarian.

WTF? A vegetarian. Next I could suspect him of being a greenie?

Of course to his family, which includes three sisters, and friends, he has never been the sexist bovver-boy zealot of his media caricature. But his plain-speaking boyishness and old-fashioned lack of artifice made him an unusual target in politics.

Well thank the lord it had nothing to do with him regularly putting on his steel capped shoes and going out to battle like a soldier of the lord, snarling like a pitt bull at anyone who dared say anything against his master Howard. It takes a long time to forget that kind of surly barking hound dog routine. But really deep down it seems he's a feminist:

Murdoch, who Abbott befriended two years ago when she was the co-host of Channel Nine’s Today program when he had a Friday morning guest spot with Gillard, was effusive too. In front of 200 guests she praised Abbott’s "humour", "self-deprecation", "subtleness" and "courage". She commended him on his "road to Damascus" conversion to paid maternity leave – which he advocates in the book, citing Jackie Kelly and other female colleagues as his inspiration.

Abbott said he had almost been moved to tears by Murdoch’s praise, and described the statuesque blonde as "a remarkable combination of beauty, grace and character and I am exalted by the association".

Oh the sweet boy is willing to cry. How touching. He's just like Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town, getting fully in touch with his emotional life. Moved and touched and exalted. Well most of the time:

Later, at lunch at Lucio’s restaurant in Paddington, Abbott’s new feminist credentials slipped a little when he again thanked Murdoch and then thanked Lachlan for "allowing" his wife to launch his book, a comment which caused wheezes around the table and a rueful grin from Mrs Murdoch.

Oh well, boys will be boys, and you can take the rugger thug out of rugby, but you've got to expect a little acid flashback to the thuggee every now and then. Amongst the sweetness and light and the sugar hit:

It wasn’t all fairy floss at the launch, however. Abbott also told Murdoch he could be "a potential finalist in one of your coming programs, Australia’s next top politician", which was probably not the subtlest way of hosing down speculation about his leadership ambitions.

Well it might not have been fairy floss at the launch, but it's fairy floss in the Devine's column, in an unnerving way that suggests she got hired of one of those fairy floss machines you see at the show (and available for your child's birthday party so you can ruin their teeth and sicken their stomachs).

Even the Devine's reporting of the arrival of Turnbull has the caramelised vanilla flavoring of the insipid sycophantic gossip:

Turnbull didn’t seem threatened by Abbott, arriving full of bonhomie, as promised, at Lucio’s about 3pm. He just looked worn down by relentlessly bad opinion polls, even after a week spent on his farm at Scone, decompressing after the ravages of the so-called utegate affair.

By then the champagne-fuelled party was in full swing, as Abbott ushered Turnbull around the horseshoe-shaped table of 20 gossiping journalists, politicians, a priest, the Murdochs and John Howard.

Quite different in style, the two men are remarkably similar in outlook – both Catholic and intellectually able, they are driven by the idea of duty and politics as a vocation, and their competition serves the country well.

But at least one thing becomes clear in the sub-text. Despite everything, Miranda the Devine has poked and prodded at the Abbott upholstery, taken a look at the mileage, kicked the tyres, but isn't buying, at least not for the moment:

But the underdog often has the upper hand in civilised contests. And Turnbull may be better equipped for the nuts and bolts leadership that would have made him the best premier of NSW, as Senator Bill Heffernan tried to urge him to be.

And just to emphasise the point, this celebration of the mad monk's book launch ends with the two real contenders gazing at each other across the glittering harbour in the emerald city, the slate grey blue waters a fitting locale for a valiant knight jousting against the evil resident despotic overlord as he tries to rescue the maidens and the free market economy:

After Turnbull and Abbott left the restaurant, those who stayed behind to drink dessert wine theorised that Turnbull’s demeanour showed he is not as ‘‘resilient’’ as Abbott and Howard, not as able to withstand the bouts of unpopularity that are an inevitable part of politics.

That may be wishful thinking, and perhaps the polls underestimate Turnbull’s rattling effect on the Prime Minister. Rudd has been known to gaze out from the veranda of Kirribilli House across the glittering harbour to Turnbull’s waterfront mansion in Point Piper, and wonder aloud if Turnbull is gazing back at him.

Yep, it's the kind of squelch you know and expect when dealing with the intricacies of the eastern suburbs and their born to rule world. So far, for all his crisp 182 pages and his feminist vegetarian makeover, Miranda the Devine's heart remains with hapless Malcolm in the middle and his record low popularity rating.

All well and good, but has MasterChef - which converted the Devine to the pleasures of niceness - now ensured her column will be written with a treacly sugary hundreds and thousands sponginess that makes it as indigestible as American pastry?

Whatever, don't take it hard Tony, it's nothing to do with the book and the policies, and the deep intellectual thinking, because we learn nothing about them. Perhaps it is the ears after all?

(Below: and don't forget the toffee apples).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Punch, Kyle Sandilands, and an irresistibly resistible tabloid moment

You can take the blog out of the tabloid, but you can't take the tabloid out of the blog.

The Punch, Australia's most benumbing conversation, has found a godsend in the shape of Kyle Sandilands, and his interview with a 14 year old girl on radio.

Not only did Paul Colgan score 338 comments at time of writing for his piece Radio rape scandal: Is it time for Kyle to be sacked?, but then The Punch followed it up with the old one two by getting Kyle himself to scribble an unapologetic piece under the header Kyle Sandilands: Girl's rape revelation stunned me, which had offered up a further 150 comments by time of writing.

There's something profoundly distasteful about a shock jock who thinks setting up a 14 year old girl to be asked about her sexual life live on air is somehow a reasonable thing to do. That it was done under the guise of a lie detector test compounds the problem, and the way that she then claimed she'd been raped at the age of 12 ups the ante to reprehensible felony.

Sandilands is such a dim wit that he could only manage this craven act of defiance in his scrawl for The Punch:

As far an apology goes, the only person I feel sorry for is the girl. That what should have been dealt with as her private situation ended up being one of the biggest news stories of the day.

As for what I said, it wasn’t intended to hurt. If people have found it appalling or offensive I’m sorry for them that feel that way, but I would ask people to put themselves into the situation where someone says to you during a live radio show that they have been raped.

Actually derr brain, you put yourself in that situation, and there's nothing more to be said.

But if this is the best Sandilands can do for The Punch, is this the best The Punch can do for its readers? Is it really just confirming that it's now an outpost of the Daily Telegraph, and its heart and soul, and its regular beat, will now be the wastelands of commercial television and radio culture?

Will they be able to - will they want to - avoid the tawdry and the sensational and the two inch shocking headlines? Underneath the attempt at a respectable looking format will there beat the heart of a rag willing to trawl through the gutter so long as the hits keep coming?

Well I guess I read the two pieces, but why is it that these days I come away from The Punch feeling bemused or soiled, and thinking I should lift  my reading habits by taking in a good solid dose of sensitive Daily Terror reporting? 

Perhaps it's the company they keep, and the willingness to hand guests an open page so they can ramp up any passing scandal, hopeful and optimistic that the flies will come a buzzing ...

Guess there's scoops and then there's poop scoopers ...

Like asking the question should Kyle Sandilands be sacked ... or should he be a guest columnist in The Punch? Well we know the answer to that question ...

(More First Dog on the Moon here).

Sarah Palin, William Shatner, and a very good year for loons

By now, you've probably already seen William Shatner return to his beatnik phase by doing over Sarah Palin's farewell speech. But hey, here it is just in case you missed it.

But it made me think back fondly to the days when Shatner was the only way to get stoned in style. I must be one of the few people with an actual copy of The Transformed Man - no you can't have it - in which he does over Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Mr. Tambourine Man.

You can find Shatnerized versions of these masterpieces on YouTube, and once seen they are indelible in the mind, never forgotten, brain cells wasted on nothing, overloading and ruining the hard drive, and immediately explain how we came up with the verb "to shatner". 

As in: was it a good performance? He shatnerized the song in a way beyond belief, he shatnered all over it. 

Shatner even achieved the distinction of having his version of the Beatles voted the worst cover of all time.

I blame trekkies most of all for this desecration of all that's holey, but worshippers at the shameless temple of triple smoked ham mugging in Boston Legal should also take a share of latter day blame.

I thought Palin might be able to come back from her mid-term resignation, but when you've been shatnered on from a great height by the master, it's going to be a long hard road back. I mean take a look at what Billy Shatner did to a tune which referred to a very good year or two. 

Watching Shatner do music seems very much like the end of western civilization as we know it.

Still it makes a change from listening to the dirges of Tony Abbott and Peter Costello, not to mention the collective shatnering of life offered up by commentariat columnists. But why does Captain Kirk remind me of Abbott and Costello? Is it the smirk?

Peter Costello, the human rights industry, and the right of cults to get cash in the paw while hiring whomever they like to teach kids

(Above: hmm, you'd almost suspect the public school at Gol Gol of making a political point if they only knew how to spell Labor).

It was one of the larger disgraces of the Howard Costello years that the Exclusive Brethren could somehow contrive federal funding for their cult schools.

Even the scientology school around the corner - the Athena - has managed to dip its paw in the taxpayer trough - and is quite happy to admit that the teachers have completed six months training in L. Ron Hubbard teaching techniques rather than holding formal qualifications (and back in 2003, this would cost you $1500 the term).

The principal, Clare Holbrook, says that no religion, including Scientology, is taught. But the school does base its teachings on Hubbard's philosophy of education, centred around the theory that children, like adults, need to "learn how to learn".

Values are inculcated through a Scientologist booklet, The Way to Happiness, whose principles would not look out of place alongside the commandments of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions. (
Scientology class suits shy Hindu).

Oh well that makes it okay. Scientology is just another variant on Judeo-Christian Islamic religions. Give them more cash in the paw at once.
If you're interested in how many different kinds of private schools get taxpayer funding, from conventional mainstream expensive private schools through Seventh Day Adventist schools to the Catholic system, go here. It's amazing how much money is pouring into the private sector, and what odd and eccentric schools are now picking up a slice of the action, and in the chart, it's all laid out for the years 2003-08, along with other handy data.

Of course in recent times, it seems to have occurred to Christians that, using the argument that what's fair to the goose is good for the gander, there's been a flurry of Islamic schools which have been putting out their hand for a slice of that cash in the paw.

Well if you can fund schools based on cults, why not schools based on any religion? Come on down schools of the flying spaghetti monster.

So why am I not surprised to read the insufferable Costello yet again stumping up to defend Christian schools, and typically starting off with this bloated piece of complacency in The legal threat to Christian schools:

What happens when equal rights between men and women are so widely accepted mainstream Australia hardly thinks about it? Surely it is time to acknowledge that anti-discrimination statutes have done their job?

Only a man could write that. But wait there's more:

Not according to the Victorian Government. It harbours the view that discrimination has got sophisticated – so hard to find under current law – that we must widen the law to catch more of it.

Its Attorney-General has his sights set on men-only clubs (apparently it is OK to have female-only clubs and it is OK for men-only rules at gay venues). The Government has also put religion on notice it will come under closer scrutiny.

Well actually Peter, how about we get rid of men only clubs and female only clubs, and men only rules at gay venues, instead of rabbiting on about how crime in the streets is the indiscriminate behavior of real concern:

I am actually more worried about indiscriminate behaviour: things like the indiscriminate bashing of innocent people on city streets. Putting an end to that would be a real advance for their human rights. But it’s also hard, so let’s get back to some easier targets.

Yeah, I guess like letting the hounds loose on unionists is an easier target too. But I keed, I keed, that's all just a warm up for an impassioned plea for religious schools:

At present, discrimination statutes don’t apply to religious bodies and their schools on the grounds of freedom of religion. So a parliamentary committee has recommended options to extend the power of the state over the province of religion. One proposed change is to restrict the freedom of religious schools to choose their employees on the basis of their religious faith.

Yep, so Scientology schools can go on employing scientologists, Catholic schools hiring Catholic teachers (getting harder to find these days), the Exclusive Brethren making sure their believers carry on teaching the cult, Islamics teaching the Islamic faith and so on and on.

The churches want to continue current practice. But a host of community organisations want to change it. The Federation of Community Legal Services told the parliamentary review the current law should change, saying: "To allow religious organisations a broad exemption for conscience encourages prejudice."

Think about the moral vanity of that statement. According to these lawyers, a religious conscience leads to prejudice. How did the church arouse public conscience over slavery? How did Florence become a haven for the arts and letters to flourish? How did civilisation develop over the past couple of millennia without the Community Legal Services to guide it?

Think of the incredible stupidity of that statement. How on earth did the Commonwealth government end up funding schools celebrating the cult of scientology? And does Costello really think that a religious conscience doesn't lead to prejudice? The kind of prejudice that sees abortion law reform in Victoria as the real cause of last summer's horrendous bushfires?

A leading discrimination law expert, Professor Margaret Thornton, wants to narrow the exemption for religious freedom of schools on the grounds that: "If private schools receive money from the state they should be subject to the law of the land." Of course they should be.

The question is whether the law should require them to employ people who are indifferent or hostile to their religion in their schools. At present it doesn’t. Changing that law will affect not only the schools who employ the staff.

Parents who send their children to a Christian school have a reasonable expectation this means the child will get a Christian education. How could the school fulfil its obligation to the parents if it is required by law to employ non-Christian or anti-Christian teachers to provide it? If the law demands this, you might as well close down the concept of a Christian school – which may be what some of the critics intend.

Well no, I don't mind if Christians or Islamics or scientologists get on with their own schooling, however stupid I might think it is. But if they dip their paw into Commonwealth funding, then to hell with their privileges. Let them not discriminate, let them be forced to conform to secular values. 

Of course Costello likes to pretend that nobody cares and nobody much minds what's been going on for the last thirty years, a trend that intensified under the Howard Costello regime. Instead , in a way that is remarkably predictable he takes a baseball bat to the human rights industry:

The provisions applying to religion have been operating for more 30 years with no great community outrage. So why is a parliamentary committee reviewing them now? Because, we are told, they have to be assessed for compliance against the 2006 Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. This charter was introduced with the promise it would amplify rights and freedoms.

There is something so predictable about this. The human rights industry begins with grand promises and ends up intervening in non-problems. We are led to believe that the purpose of such charters is to stop arbitrary arrests, guarantee a free press and guard against dictatorship. In practice, what does it do? It complicates the life of religious schools and open lawsuits against the churches.

Of course if you ask joe public about Islamic schools, you're likely to get the confected outrage that surrounded the building of a new school on the outskirts of Sydney. Because somehow four legs are good and two legs are baad, when they all sound like sheep to me.

But back to Costello bleating about the churches and the lawyer and the human rights industry:

The churches and Christian schools will be in the firing line. As the community legal services make clear – their view is that religious conscience encourages prejudice. Once the churches and religious conscience are out of the way, lawyers will have a clear run. Lawsuits will be used to decide the great moral questions of the age.

You can see what’s in it for the lawyers. But don’t think it is a step forward for liberty.

Oh yes, a step forward for liberty, teaching scientology and creationism and Islamic fundamentalism on the taxpayers' dollar.

Fortunately there is an alternative vision of the world to the myopic, Christian dog whistling Costello, and you'll find it here, oddly enough in the tabloid Daily Terror, by Marilyn Parker in Don't take Public Schools for granted.

In South Australia public education is no longer free, there is a compulsory materials and service fee of up to $259 per year for every public school student. In Queensland public education is no longer secular. Christian prayers are said at school assemblies, there are federally funded Christian chaplains in over 80 per cent of QLD public schools and fundamentalist Christians influence the school curriculum.

Thank you John Howard and Peter Costello. Such a spiffing idea to put a chaplain in every school. Along with a flag.

The first public school opened in Kempsey in 1848 against much opposition from church leaders. And for decades the vast majority of public schools were little one-teacher schools in rural areas because the churches bitterly fought the setting up of public schools in cities and large towns.

Pulpits rang with condemnation of the Godlessness of public schools.

In the 1860s Catholic authorities at the time accused public schools of being `seed plots of future immorality, infidelity, and lawlessness’.

Such vitriolic criticism of public education led to a huge backlash and the catch-cry for free, secular and compulsory education in NSW. This resulted in the Public Instruction Act of 1880 and the withdrawal of state aid to all church schools. Churches were restricted in where they could build new schools.

Well huzzah for the Victorians (no, not those Victorians, the nineteenth century Victorians). These days, as Parker notes, church schools now get up to eighty per cent of their funding from the Commonwealth government.

After much modern lobbying from churches, policies established under the Howard government allowed churches and religious communities to return to being able to build schools wherever they wanted.

Even right next door to a public school. As is happening with huge new Islamic school about to be built on land sold off from Bass Hill high school grounds by the NSW state government last year...

... government policies have seen us return to religious bickering about who has the right to establish schools in NSW towns as happened recently at Camden when Christian churches jointly opposed the establishment of an Islamic school.

The players may be different but the game is the same.

Australian public schools and NSW public schools in particular are the melting pots where being Australian is more important than being Catholic or Islamic or any other faith. Public schools teach those wonderful public school values of acceptance of difference and tolerance of religious and cultural beliefs.

No I do not want a return to no funding for church schools. That would be an impossible political goal.

Sadly, it is an impossible goal. But it's part of the inherent stupidity in Costello's position that as he spruiks for Christians - including cult and fundmentalist Christians - so he's also spruiking for fundamentalist Islamics, scientologists and any other religious loon who can persuade the Federal Government to tickle the till their way. He might think this is all grand and right and sensible, but frankly I hope the Thetans can make him see a bit of sense.

I thought we'd got rid of this sanctimonious, smug politician, but lordy, each week he struts his stuff in the Fairfax rags. Can't Kevin Rudd find him a job, like handing out the lolly to his Christian mates?