Friday, May 30, 2003

Newsflash: Melbourne Uni V-C Alan Gilbert doesn’t mention “Virginia” in keynote talk

See here, 18 May 2003.

Otherwise, Gilbert presents a passable Year 12 clear thinking exercise in defence of his cause. A special mention is hereby made of his forward-looking phrase, “once-in-a-generation opportunity”. This nicely timed (one-third of the way through) raising of the emotional stakes, before going straight back to the heard-it-all-before monotonal boilerplate, may fly under the radar of many readers. Its logical implication, of course, is that the generation who have finished higher ed within the last 15 years or so were wading through Shit Central as they did – and now “it’s time” to start afresh and save a newer generation from the same fate.

Charming. If things are/were so bad, Alan, perhaps you can give me my money back*. And could the Age website editor please fix the “FUXhead2’s” that pop up in Alan’s article. Talk about a Freudian glitch – HTML code that sounds just like a GIF of Andrew Norton, showing itself where it shouldn’t be seen.

* Paul Watson graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1990.

Update 22 July 2003

Had a squiz through this book. In it, even Stuart Macintyre and Richard Selleck note V-C Gilbert's predilection for comparing Melb Uni to (unnamed, in the book) US universities, at the drop of the words "Powerpoint presentation". Oh dear.

But V-C Gilbert isn't all Powerpoint (i.e. no power and no point). It turns out that he's NOT going to the upcoming Oz V-C's gabfest in Broome. The tell-tale, Sunday morning, politely "keynoted" but eminently missable (you do the math) topic for this year: "governance". Hah!

No word, though, on whether Gilbert aide-de-camp, Andrew Norton may be jetting off to Broome In His Masters Place (another small piece of conference customary lore I've picked up over the years). In any case, Norton's not one to shirk the small issues of the day, and in his own time, thank you very much, as this recent 3 a.m. Monday morning posting in cyberspace shows.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

For some kinds of contact, the age of consent can never be high enough

Miranda Devine thinks that men are the more vulnerable sex, and boys are less mature than girls.

If "vulnerability" means being stupid enough to read one of your rants, then I plead guilty, on this occasion only, Miranda. I vow never to repeat this mistake again. Be gone from my mind, you shrill harpy. And if Miranda has any male children, can the NSW authorities please investigate Miranda's fitness to be their guardian - I can picture her forcing the poor things to wear full-length chadors to year nine rugby training.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Oz Co and the Oz

Poor Melbourne artist Caz Guiney. She successfully goes through the funding hoops and whims of the Australia Council, only to then be accused of wasting taxpayer money:,5744,6505098%255E2702,00.html (URL valid to ~ 2 June only),5744,6503547%255E7583,00.html (URL valid 28 May only)

Well, I’m certainly no fan of the Oz Co – as far as I’m concerned, it’s just another machine run by, and for, baby boomers. But if anyone manages to break into it, good on ‘em.

And if The Australian is really suggesting that Oz Co grants be assessed by the commercial value, or R.O.I, they bring (or don’t), then the paper should shine its probing spotlight on all grant recipients, equally.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Media Watch catches comedian nicking jokes?

Well, that would seem to be a reasonable* enough log-line for this item from last night’s Media Watch.

I have previously blogged on Media Watch presenter (and lawyer and journalist) David Marr’s seemingly rudimentary grasp of copyright law.

Okay, David is usually at pains to use the term “plagiarism”, which, while basically co-extensive with the ambit of copyright law, has very different sanctions for breach. Plagiarists (in the strict sense of the word) are punishable, if at all, only by institutional disciplinary action and/or a process of public shaming. Last night, however, David, wasn’t even prepared to kick off the latter process and then let the matter run its course; instead of calling comedian Adam Richard a plagiarist, he labelled him a “thief” – so setting himself up as both chief judge (disciplinarian) and chief prosecutor (shame-starter). It did not seemingly cross David’s mind that Adam’s comedian peer-group may have its own processes for dealing with the plagiarism of comedy material.

I hesitate to make too much out of this, because in human terms, all that has happened is that David did not get even a murmur of concern in response to his direct prodding from one of Adam Richard’s bosses (and Adam’s comedian peers aren’t even on David’s radar) – so he has thrown the mother of all tantrums in response to some underlying abandonment issues. All utterly, yawningly de rigeur for a spoilt-rotten baby boomer.

Such qualms aside, I feel that there is a mark here which David has clearly over-stepped. He has picked on what he obviously considers a soft target – openly suggesting that Adam Richard be sacked from his weekly five-minute guest JJJ spot. Well, here’s a lesson for you, David – comedians don’t like being bullied. Or in other words, soft targets can bite back – and with more bile than your team of well-paid snitch brokers (sorry, “researchers”) could ever muster.

So let’s start the action with some recent examples of lite-news** thievery or indifference by Media Watch itself.


This amusing piece of Schadenfreude on Rene Rivkin picking Pan stock just before Pan went belly-up was a story broken by six days previously (and noted by me here one day after Crikey). Media Watch’s well-resourced research team managed to avoid citing – and so claim the all-important Schadenfreude as their own – by referencing the Rene Rivkin stock pick to something called “Richo & Richa” on 16 April 2003 (which, BTW, turns out to be a Sydney radio show on 2SM).

I can’t prove beyond doubt that Media Watch effectively stole Crikey’s Schadenfreude. But Crikey sure whalloped Media Watch in the race to the post, under any test. The Pan Pharmaceutical recall story broke over the afternoon of Monday 28 April, and Crikey covered it the next day, using the “previous week[’s]” (21 April, I am assuming) print Rivkin Report as its ‘that was then’ cornerstone.

Media Watch’s Monday 9:15 p.m. timeslot meant that it had only a few hours to research and break a Rivkin Schadenfreude story, if this were to run on their 28 April show. Clearly, they either couldn’t meet the deadline (even though Rene himself managed to get in an ‘I Was Wrong’ in his 28 April Rivkin Report) – or (and I think this is much more likely), no one at Media Watch was on the ball enough to go looking for a Schadenfreude angle as soon as the Pan story broke. The shoe-string budgeted Crikey nailed it the next day (good work there), so forcing Media Watch to backtrack for an alternative Rivkin citation, that they could then claim as their own.

The strongest evidence for such retrospectivity is that Media Watch have relied on an obscure, one-city 16 April radio program as their ‘that was then’ cornerstone – a source older (and therefore, in news terms, colder) than the 21 April print Rivkin Report, less national, and also less authoritative. And clearly Media Watch does have the Rivkin Report in its library – why on earth then, did it need to go back to a three weeks cold radio program (only obtainable via an expensive media monitoring service) for its 5 May ‘revelation’?


Big Brother - Big Bore

I feel a bit childish raising this one, but why hold back now?

It is beyond refutation that the fact that some episodes of “Big Brother Up Late” showed large swathes of people sleeping, and no more, was abundantly covered in the trashier sections of the media – and not to mention around office water coolers across the nation – well prior to 19 May 2003, the day Media Watch purported to break it.

Was this news-trinket therefore public domain by that time? My person opinion, and also common sense says, “yes” – but as David Marr evidently believes that all news important enough to go on his show has but one true source, and nothing else matters as long as this source attributed, then surely it is fair for David to be hoist on his own petard.

C’mon, David – admit it; you really got the ‘boringness’ gist of “Big Brother Up Late” from the two cleaners the lift at Ultimo (or from your cab-driver, etc etc). And if you and/or your researchers really are trawling all manner of late night television for nuggets suitable for setting-up later put-downs on your show, then: (i) the consequent overtime bill must be a killer, and (ii) I’m sure you could find lots of late night howlers less water-cooler passé, if you really went about this task properly.


* Which is not to connote fairness – if a viewer (or now, Media Watch website reader) had paid scrupulous attention, they would have noticed that the punch line to Adam Richard’s re-telling of the Melanie G/Antonio B snippet is not alleged to have been stolen. Without Media Watch placing a positive emphasis on this fact, it is easily missed – Adam’s joke has thus been lost in the translation (quite literally). See also Adam’s own defence.

** “Lite-news” exists in a legal border-zone, on the three-way fringe of the fair dealing for purpose of reporting news exception, the fair dealing for purpose of criticism or review exception, and the idea vs expression dichotomy that lies at the heart of Western copyright law.

The first two of these, which are the entiriety of the “fair dealing” defences for commercial (i.e. non-scholarly) contexts, depend on proper attribution of the original work for their efficacy; while the idea/expression dichotomy, of course, works on a different level. Bare ideas simply cannot exist in an attributable, original form; they are uncopyrightable per se.

“Lite-news” does not fit wholly comfortably in either of the two “fair dealing” exceptions, nor is it unquestionably bare facts. It nonetheless comes close to being each of these three. If it were formally attributed – and mostly, it’s not (below) – all “lite-news” would seemingly fit within one, or the other “fair dealing” defences. But as I suggested in my previous post on Media Watch over-prosecuting alleged plagiarism the “reporting news” fair dealing defence closely ties in with the blanket uncopyrightability of bare facts and ideas. Moreover, modern news reporting has accentuated this convergence – with the explosion in distribution channels for news (and much more, besides), the “original” of any important story will be near-instantaneously re-fashioned into hundreds of freestanding clones.

In this bog-standard journey through Google News and the “Refresh” button , the clones almost always surpass the “original” – there has been value-adding, by incorporating facts from other “originals” or facts derived autocthonously, or simply by better writing/expression of the original facts. Over the passage of minutes, news stories thus go through generations. And surprise, surprise – with all bar the very first generation, attribution usually falls by the wayside.

“Lite-news” travels down a similar chain to ordinary news, with the key difference being the absence of value-adding, aggregation, and so, generations of news. “Lite-news” generally preserves the “original” across generations – but just like ordinary news, attribution effectively diminishes with repetition. Like gossip, its intrinsic value often in fact positively correlates with journalistic sourcelessness.

Sourcelessness differs from legal ownerlessness, however, it that “lite-news” does have clear economic and/or cultural value – but only at, or near, the start of its lifespan. “Lite-news” is not so much perishable as biodegradable – it naturally fractures into economic valuelessness when the chain of its repetition becomes unsustainably wide.

After this point of disintegration, “lite-news” is unamabiguously public domain. Only one more step in its journey is possible – transformative use through comedy. With the addition of a punch line to the now-skeletal frame of facts, a new creation is born, and owned.

“Footnote Update” 28 May 2003

Thinking about what I wrote last night at about 4 this morning, I realized that I had not properly closed the circle of “lite-news’s” life cycle – in particular, what on earth is Media Watch doing when it gives public domain material (such as “Big Brother Up Late’s” boringness clearly was by 19 May) its nth spin – attributed to no one and nothing bar the original program, of course – through its proprietary, spectrum-rationed lens?

The most charitable explanation I could come up with is that Media Watch sees itself as engaging is some kind of transformative use of otherwise dead-end material. If so, such use is certainly not through comedy as it would be generally recognised, and so it may, even if attributed to the hilt, be a breach of copyright, in the a very similar scenario to that that in which Federal Court found that the TV show “The Panel” had breached copyright, by using external footage only for quasi-comedic (= snobbish and vague put-downs) purposes.

But this morning, an overnight email from Adam Richards himself put a new light on Media Watch’s 19 May “breaking” of “Big Brother Up Late’s” boringness. It turn out that Adam had spoken of this on his 5 May 2003 JJJ segment, making him one of the first to – if not the first – to “break” this piece of lite-news. And guess what – Adam’s 5 May 2003 segment was one of those closely combed over by the Media Watch team, in preparing their story in his alleged purloinings (5 May was the week of the Luther Vandross story).

Like an arsonist-cum-firefighter, then, Media Watch seems to be unable to stay away from the scene of the crime that they started, then cooked their dinner on, and finally “fought”.

Monday, May 26, 2003

On Debt and Repression (“Clive Hamilton gets into bed with Fred Nile again”, 25 May 2003)

Poor Clive Hamilton – a man who can write a serious book with the title “Growth Fetish”, while running an intermittent anti-porn crusade before, during and after the book, mustn’t know quite which way to look most of the time. Look left, and it’s all too titillating. Look right, and it’s a frenzy of consumption. Look ahead, and it’s probably both. Behind you, Clive – look behind you.

I’ll give Clive credit for being half-right, though. Economic growth – just like priapism – is not a simple, no-strings-attached good. In particular, most of Australia’s supposed economic “growth” in recent years has been debt-driven, with the house-price bubble allowing the bulk of this debt to be dressed-up as something relatively benign. The artificiality of this growth, however, is where the analogy between the economy and the phallus breaks down. Debt is not akin to Viagra, or any other aide or supplement – debt is, in fact, the main game. If there is a valid sexual analogy here, then, it involves the debtor being the receptive partner.

But no matter about that, anyway, because there is a more important, much shocking-er truth – debt should be kept casual and promiscuous.

Marrying debt, more or less for life – for richer (= equity redraw for spoiling oneself) or poorer (= frantic consolidation) thus goes against the grain of human nature. Which is not to deny that long-term debt monogamy is extremely common in Oz in 2003 – but hey, so too was sexual repression once the norm. Long-term, monogamous debt is just another species of repression, then. It hardens those organs that are at their best softened, and vice versa.

Most especially, being married to debt cuts out the possibility and practice of moderation. Casual debt – like casual sex and casual pay parking – is habitually (or if not, best) kept short and sweet. Repression, on the other hand, just goes on and on – a space ever revolving, rolled on, and rolled over.

And if Sigmund Freud were alive today, he’d have no trouble seeing the physical incarnations of all this accumulated repression – 4WDs. These are cars that have been perversely de-casualised – clunky, dangerous and sexless (4WDs are the only class of car which appeal equally to both male and female buyers). They eschew moderation, coming in only two sizes: guzzler and guzzlier. They profess family values, but they bugger the planet and its children.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

The cost of being Alison Broinowski

With a subheading that goes: “The image of Australians as boors and bullies made the Bali bombing predictable”, it seem certain that Alison Broinowski is very soon going to become a household name – and not in a good sense.

Personally, I think that this will be a shame – because her views on the Bali bombing are only a side serving in her overall eight course banquet of offensiveness. Tabloidizeable in a rancorous way – badly timed – ditto; but nonetheless, essentially true, at least IMO. By this, I mean that Kuta’s Sari Club was a yobbo’s paradise. The first time I went to Bali (21 y.o.), it wasn’t there yet (but I definitely wouldn’t have been in if it was; and I’m pretty sure that I did go to Paddy’s Bar); the second time (32 y.o.), I looked in, and walked firmly past – it seemed almost a parody of everything that was wrong with Kuta (in which locale I only spend a few pre-flight home hours, anyway).

Well, that’s me, and my tastes and prejudices. I’ve aired them here only reluctantly, anything that needlessly disrespects the dead – especially during a time of high sensitivity (which is the mourning period, and sometimes more) – deserves contempt, in my book. I emphasise the “needlessly” here – I’ve pointed out the above only to be able to tackle Broinowski more honestly. So back to it.

"The dead and injured in Bali may have been the victims of Canberra's ventriloquistic mouthing of Washington's world view, or of their Western appearance and lifestyle, or of the longstanding hostility of many Indonesians towards Australia, or of all these."

All these putative Bali-bomb explanations are long-standing, textbook platitudes about Indonesian-Australian relations. In the post-September 11 world (the very existence of which Broinowski seems to refuse to acknowledge), they are all ludicrously old-hat – global Islamo-fascist terrorism may have some national variations, but being meekly subsumed into the fabric of a decades-old, backyard regional spat is a simple impossibility. Put another way – Amrozi’s recent taunts to the “infidels” neatly blows away Broinowski.

Moving on from the Bali bombings and Indonesia generally, Broinowski’s post-colonial tour of the rest of Asia makes the average Aussie backpacker look seasoned, or at least focused, in comparison. Reading her bio, her combination of breadth and shallowness makes more sense. Broinowski is not really an Asian “old hand”, which I would define as an expat who has spent a significant part of their life living and working in a third world part of Asia (i.e. anywhere except Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan). Broinowski has spent significant time in Japan, but (unsurprisingly for me) can’t wring anything more illustratively pejorative out of the Japanese view of Australia than a couple of newspaper howlers.

Necessarily then, Broinowski has gotten herself into the pickle in which the two countries that can be relied upon to reliably provide enough anti-Australian invective to prove her thesis – Malaysia and China – are those of which Broinowski has little seeming understanding. Her quotes from this article (scroll down)by Malaysian journalist, Rashid Rehman (who everyone else calls Rehman Rashid, BTW) certainly provide good copy, apart from the not-so-small qualifications that (i) he is a Muslim (I am assuming) and so has a vested interest in tangentialising Islamo-fascist terrorism (ii) he is from Malaysia, whose long-time leader has periodically baited Australia in public for purposes of domestic political gain, and (iii) Malaysia is a racist-country, whose anti-Chinese laws would not be tolerated in any Western democracy. Rather than quoting Rehman Rashid on the ugly Australian abroad, then, Broinowski could have killed two birds with one stone, by exposing Malaysian anti-Chinese prejudice alongside Australian anti-Chinese prejudice.

As for what Chinese textbooks say about Australia – a place with no history, riding on the sheep's back, and “absent, negligible and boring” – well blow me down! They don’t mention our 100-odd years of specifically anti-Chinese immigration legislation? If not, then I think that Australia has been let off very lightly by the said Chinese textbooks; far too lightly, I would say. Another outrage there, Ms Broinowski, and one which I’m sure that you could profitably spend several years living in Beijing investigating.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Women at top would prevent corporate calamity, says expert

Yes, I firmly back this conclusion of “expert” Mark Holden, but for reasons quite different to his own.

First, though, is the matter of Mr Holden’s expertise, as a self-described 45 y.o. “business development consultant”. This translates, I’m pretty sure, as an un- or marginally-employed baby boomer who has been urged and goaded to make something up (“about anything, godammit!”), and then put out a press release about it. Good on you for getting up off the couch and the rest of it, Mark, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the idea wasn’t entirely your own.

Which brings me on to the main point – having women at top could indeed prevent all manner of corporate disasters. This is because whenever there is a mediocre man wielding too much power and influence, there is invariably a strong woman behind him, holding the titles to the couple’s several properties in her name alone.

Jodee Rich’s wife Maxine is just one example – if the boys’ network had but let her play in the big cubby-house at OneTel, then it all might have ended so differently, given that the couple’s personal wealth would have then been on the line because of Maxine’s personal liability.

Yep, sometimes you’ve got to hand it to women’s superior “co-operative and teamwork skills” – by NOT being at the helm, or anywhere near it, when their husbands go down, apparently penniless. Now that’s what I call “leadership”.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Osama bin Laden has as many deputies/lieutenants/military chiefs as Steve Vizard has bookkeepers/accountants/tax advisers …

… and the comparisons don’t stop there.

- to be continued

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The Left in Australia – Snapped up in Management Buy-out

At least that’s my spin on the slightly unusual new owners of Social Change Media and – separately – former SCM subsidiary, Pluto Press.

The SCM buy-out by some of its senior staff will no doubt make an interesting MBA case study in a few years time. The company went into voluntary administration in March 2003 for a reason – its core business and clients, communications strategies for superannuation funds – was being savaged by negative fund returns. Two months later, the outlook here is hardly any brighter. More curious still is this:

Former owner, Sean Kidney, is fully supportive of the new ownership and will continue his association with SCM as a consultant specialising in communications strategy development.

So founder Sean has pulled out his money, but is happy to keep his mouth in circulation – nice work.

It is the new owners of Pluto Press, a publisher of political and social issues titles, that really take the cake for chutzpah, however. This article from the Crikey archives casts aspersions on the leftie credentials of multi-millionaires and now Pluto owners, Evan Thornley and Tracey Ellery. No!

Again though, it is former owner, Sean Kidney, who has the natty-est take on the acquisition:

Sean Kidney…welcomed the deal, saying that it would save Pluto from having to chase profits by producing mainstream books.

- David Crowe “LookSmart pair buy Pluto Press” AFR 21 May 2003 (no URL)

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Knowledge Nation” has no Knowledge Capital …

… Just a queue of pandering supplicants

In its 2002 submission to the Nelson Review, the Australian National University made a case for special status – a sort of pre-emptive piece of stake-pegging, so as to be positioned at the heart of the first-tier Oz uni league, even before the rush had officially commenced. A nice tactic (suitably shameless to match the prevailing political climate), and with page after page impeccable rhetoric making a “manifest destiny” kind of case. A first class honours submission, ANU, so go straight to …

… the doghouse. As it turns out, ANU badly misread the political winds (and/or that these winds would creak more to the right over the last year). By making an a priori case for sheer excellence (but making the pitch excellent as well, just in case), ANU
left itself with little, or no fallback position. Which is pretty standard behaviour for H1 students, of course – but on no account should such students be confused with “golden boys” and “golden girls”. The trick here is that the two were, more or less, the same thing until recently – where they diverged is that “golden children” are as politically pure as the driven wedge. Objectively excellent, then – too bad; ANU was sent straight to the back of the class as soon as Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb voiced opposition to the increase of uni fees in June 2002.

Which explains this curious, tail-between-the-legs recent Op Ed piece by Ian Chubb. I’ve read and re-read it; and I still can’t get a single semblance of actual opinion out of it. It does contain a poignant misspelling by ANU founder and Minister for Post-War Reconstruction and Defence, John Dedman – but pathos, Professor Chubb, will get you nowhere. All in all, then, the government’s subduing of a leading (if mild) critical voice has been another stunning victory. In a nutshell, it has proved that when you put academics in the doghouse, they don’t bark – they miaow.

This piece, BTW, is dedicated to Bettina Arndt. It was only her disclosure (apropos of these 740 words of howling ignorance in today’s SMH) to being on the Australian National University’s Council, that made me look up the previous opinions of VC Ian Chubb. I was intending to write a rather more prurient piece about what ANU Council meetings must be like, given the presence of the shock jock Ms Arndt in their midst. Then this line of inquiry soon became all too academic – just the same old story about the attack dog, and its (reluctant at first) pack of followers.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Lay off the "magic water", Paul Sheehan

Yep, the Hindmarsh Island bridge business has no doubt created some Indigenous victims. Dulcie Wilson may genuinely be one of these. Personally though, I would regard being shunned by the Canberra press gallery as neutral (at worst), or even a compliment. And gee, she ran up a huge phone bill as well – as someone who has also tried to be a one-person self-publicity machine outside “the system”, I can only sympathise; and yawn.

Where Sheehan goes too far is in setting up journo Chris Kenny as a victim-in-diptych, alongside Dulcie Wilson. Only one reporter turned up to Chris’s book launch at the Canberra press gallery? Diddums! Either this meant that the two of them had the hardship of consuming all the launch booze between them, or the occasion was booze-less – which could well be the real reason for the “shunning”, anyway.

And talking of waters magical, Paul Sheehan – people who live in brittle placebos really shouldn’t be throwing words like “crapulous saga” around.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

University of Melbourne in such parlous financial situation that it keeps re-dipping a teabag-sized factlette

The crisis in higher education funding is no better illustrated by tracing the repeated re-used comparison of the University of Virginia’s funding per student to that of the University of Melbourne.

We have it in today’s Age – in a seemingly timely, post-Budget plea to the Senate’s erstwhile majority. At first I thought that it was strange that Alan Gilbert’s piece was in the “News”, not the “Opinion” section (at least of the online version), but then I remembered that there is probably stricter requirements for novelty of content in the latter than in the former, so Alan’s well-trodden words had to get kicked upstairs, as they say.

In case you need some proof of Alan’s thrift (at least when it comed to making impassioned pleas for things that matter); here is the University of Virginia being wheeled out by him in May 2002, and by his titular boss in February 2003.

The otherwise obscure University of Virginia, BTW, owes its seeming permanent residence in Alan’s frontal lobe due to its being precisely one-half of the American partners of Universitas Global, a troubled joint venture online varsity in which the University of Melbourne is the key financal stakeholder. My guess that the particular reason Alan eats, dream and sweats the University of Virginia, is that it had the economy (/prudence, /foresight; call it what you want) to pledge only $A2 million to the embryonic joint venture, while his own institution, obviously confident that it held a winning royal flush in its hands, staked a huge $20 million.

So my guess is that there’s plenty more times that the University of Virginia teabag is good for wringing, yet. Even after it has been so much-dipped that it fails to so much as colour the water, those who drinketh of the resulting brew will surely be made happier, at least, by the spectacle of Alan’s thrift. (Meanwhile, in staff tea rooms on the other side of the world at the University of Virginia, the academics throw two (!) fresh teabags into their mugs every time – but such abhorrent waste is the price you pay for trying to keep up with the Joneses; eh Alan?)

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Germaine Greer says no to Golf Coast hell

Presumably, yet another bane of Surfers Paradise for the good Germaine is the horde of drunk and randy 17 y.o. boys who descend on the strip every November for Schoolies Week.

For many ageing, single women, a fling with one of dem boys would be an invigorating tonic, but for poor ole Germs, judging by some earlier comments of hers, at 17, the male moiety is already well past its collective optimal ripe-for-the-pluckingness.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Newsflash – Baby Boomer has bad case of work ethic, misses out on free uni education

Reminiscent of those stories of Japanese soldiers emerging form the Philippine jungle in the 1980s, thinking that World War II was still on, is this piece of shite from today’s Age (scroll down to letter from David Arelett). The guy claims to have “paid upfront in cash”* for his first degree even as Whitlam abolished uni fees (1973) and for the following year (1974), as well. One wonders if the “fees” he paid came as part of a package that included freehold title to the Sydney harbour Bridge. Alternatively, were they paid to the same kid-turned-grown-up who used to steal David’s play-lunch money at primary school?

In any case, the poor wretch had even worse luck after missing out on the Whitlam-era gravy train. He did another three degrees, but had the bad-timing to wait until 1989 (or later) to start even the first of these, thus ensuring he had to pay for each of these (although probably not “upfront in cash”). My heart bleeds for his run of bad luck.

Seriously, though I hope against hope that the whingeing fucker applied his “upfront in cash” mantra to buying a house in leafy Yarrambat. If he was a few dollars short of the $40,000 this would have cost in the early 1980s, so letting things go for a bit longer, he would still be sweating in May 2003, after two decades of renting, this time having to whack $500,000 (and counting) on the table for the same house. Hah! (and welcome to the real world). But judging by the guy’s smug tone, I accept that there’s zero chance of this having happened in reality – however dulce et decorum it may be.

More baby boomer shite in today’s Age is this piece of drivel by Bettina Arndt. Now normally, I would regard Betts as just too soft a target – I would much prefer to attack her feminist nemeses, not because I take Betts’s side (like hell!), but as a matter of sporting ethics. Challenging Betts is like running over road-kill once again – you’ll get a squish, sure, but you’d have to be sad to want to do it.

So she thinks it is a Solomon’s dilemma of house or children:

It's a worrying thought that many couples may end up with an empty nest after struggling so hard to provide it.

Betts, I have no doubt that there is a fair bit of truth in this dilemma. But guess what – there is someone who can 100% be blamed for this, and it has nothing to do with working mothers, or anything like that. Have you possibly noticed that this dilemma has really only come to a crux in the last decade or so, and wondered why? “No?”, well let me tell you why – IT’S BECAUSE GREEDY BABY BOOMER SCUM – JUST LIKE YOU – HAVE TAKEN A WINDFALL THAT MUST BE PAID FOR BY SOMEONE ELSE.

There you go, Betts – it’s all actually quite simple, with nothing being that much different from when you were young, other than today’s <40 adults having a class of oppressive parasites to feed before they can feed their own offspring. The only thing I’d add, Betts, is that the dilemma it not just house or children; throw in “or higher education”, and stir the slurry around with the big wooden spoon of unemployment and your sad little vignette of the all-paid-off-but-empty “nest” could more accurately be painted as a rental bedsit – more dogbox than nest, methinks.

* Note that his five degrees haven’t cured him of double-strength tautology-itis – of course he paid “upfront” at course commencement, and there were no plenary-accepted credit card payment alternatives to cash in 1970.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Sooling the rednecks for a late 2003 election

I don’t often agree with Ken Parish’s views – but I think that he’s close to being on the money on this one (albeit, it is a more of a prediction than an opinion). Where we differ – and here I’m referring specifically to one of Ken’s “Comments” in the above URL – is that I see the 2003 Budget’s higher education changes as a deliberately, carefully manufactured “wedge issue” (i.e. an issue of emotive appeal to rednecks, when a considered analysis would probably show that their fiscal and/or long-term interests would be better served by the opposite vote). Here, government’s post-Budget selling of its higher education changes – full of naked, illogical* appeals to resent those with a university education – was the writing on the wall for me.

Both the 1996 and 1998 elections were probably only won because of the presence of a pre- election “wedge issue”. In 1996, it was the ruthless set-up and faux-expose of the Paxton family by TV shock jock Ray Martin – followed, of course, by a post-election barrage of legislation cracking down on so-called dolebludgers.

An almost identical pattern was followed in the 1998 election, again using shock jocks at its sharp end. This time, the “wedge issue” was four-wheel drive vehicles (aka SUVs and “Toorak tractors"), with John Howard skilfully managing to set Labor up as elitists, merely for suggesting that the tax on four-wheel drives should be increased to a level on par with ordinary passenger vehicles.

The post-election “echo” was this time, of course, just keeping the status quo, but this detail wasn’t going to stop the shock jocks and John Howard from having an intra-redneck tete-a-tete all over again.

The 2001 election notoriously had the Tampa issue, but I would play this down as a crafted “wedge”. Not only was it largely fortuitous, but the intervening horror of September 11 effectively trumped everything that had gone before before, and subsequently kept domestic politics off the front burner until well into 2002.

Short of another global catastrophe then, Howard is poised to sool the rednecks once again.

* It is illogical because, in the era of mass higher education, its premise (even if swallowed whole) applies to less than half of young taxpayers. The majority, on the other hand, are expected to pay for their education twice, both privately and then again as ordinary taxpayers.

Update 16 May 2003

Andrew Norton, a pretty good proxy barometer for reading the increasing redneck/HE-blowback pressure levels, starts his Op Ed in today's SMH with this:

During a budget night interview, The 7.30 Report's presenter, Kerry O'Brien, asked the Treasurer, Peter Costello, how he could justify letting universities charge their students up to 30 per cent more. The Treasurer's reply was that as things stood the many people who never went to university ending up paying most of the costs of those who did.

This is utter crap, as I've pointed out just above. It is also a nonsense for another reason, as a letter writer to today's Oz (Dr Michael Leach) pointed out – if the much vaunted $500k or so "lifetime earnings premium" for graduates is (still) true, then the increased income tax returns from graduates over their lifetimes more than covers the costs of their education.

To be fair to Andrew Norton, he devotes most of his article to lobbying more narrowly for a particular hobby horse – of his, and also of his semi-secret paymaster's (see below, Monday, May 05, 2003). This cause – giving unis more control over their revenue (from HECS students, over which they current have none) – may sound benign enough. If this were all it was, indeed, I wouldn’t care at all. But it’s not – more funding autonomy is simply a clever, backdoor way of privatising (the best) universities. If you think that this is an extreme statement, consider how much the Budget changes will blur the full-fee and so-called “taxpayer subsidised” categories – at least until the secondary school-inspired, two-tier (private=good, public=crap) system emerges, c. 2008. See also:

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Baby boomers, squeal thyselves

If Michael Duffy is just having a go at the corpulent, sinecured wankers of his age group, his argument seems to be considerably compromised by that old maxim about throwing stones in glass houses.

Of course, Duffy’s real intended target is quite different – anyone under the age of 40 with (i) a brain (in working order) and (ii) a job. Predictably, then, he is blithe to the fact that these are often mutually exclusive. But hey, why not kick all the 40 semi- or un-employed arts (etc) graduates while they’re down. Even Duffy’s maligned peers can laugh at the “joke” that way.

Myself – I have to admit being an arts graduate. I certainly can’t complain about the high tax rates I pay as a result of this unfortunate condition – my weekly existence costs Australian taxpayers at least $400 (I’m estimating; I know the first $220 for sure) in direct net transfers. Presumably Duffy and his ilk are too busy whipping up the “irritation” into a stick-everywhere froth to care that much about anything real.

I can claim one saving grace, though, re my accursed arts degree. I was due to do arts honours (4th year) in 1989; this wasn’t something I’d planned at the start; it was just that I’d done rather well with my marks, without even trying. In the meantime, of course, HECS had came in, leaving me with the choice of taking out a basic arts degree (for free), or incurring a hefty debt to get something more distinguished on paper, but probably otherwise worthless.

As you may guess, my actual choice was to anticipate, by a decade and a half, Duffy’s “joking” call for a Pol Pot-style program for arts degree holders. I could see the writing on the wall, even back then. There wasn’t a single scholarship available to reduce my do arts honours year fees by a single cent – I had been top of my state in Year 12 English (and all without going to one of those schools), but under the new regime, this meant absolutely nothing – or worse.

Oh, and as for Duffy’s throwaway call, re the Labor leadership: “A passionate party would take a risk with a young, new leader”. Err, actually the Democrats tried that, with the lose-lose outcome that a fuckwitted baby boomer thought that her slightly-trod on toes were worth more than the viability of her party, not to mention her principles. Michael Duffy, meet your new post- and past-irritation soulmate. And for Meg Lees - at last, someone who understands!

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Saudi Arabia – America: it’s time to drop everything, and just get out, NOW!

The recent Iraq war has almostly certainly cured America’s long-standing military-quagmire-phobia – a potent negative force since the early 70s, and irrevocably seared into global memory in 1975, as the last chopper was filmed leaving ‘Nam. It was much more than simply a borderline military withdrawal/defeat, it was a messy and humiliating exit. If Vietnam were a house fire, America had verily ran for its life, wearing only its undies. And not a fire brigade or blanket-giving charity within coo-ee, either – you see, America was both these things, too (and more).

Well, shame happens, and its not just to do with military quagmires – economic ones can sometimes occur, too. With the Saudi withdrawal the stakes are higher, and the game much clearer than in the case of Vietnam. Oil wise, America has long since strategically weaned itself off Saudi petro-dependence (currently only taking 8% of its needs from Riyadh), and so it could cope with a withdrawal tomorrow, on this front. That is not to say that an already weak US economy would not take a devastating hit from a complete and total Saudi pull-out. But I don’t see that it has any other choice. The only variable, in fact, is whether it is an orderly withdrawal (as the Americans, not to mention the Saudi royals, would certainly prefer), or a chaotic scramble to get on the last chopper out of Riyadh.

The troubles with the “orderly withdrawal” approach are many. When looked at closely, in fact, orderly (but complete) withdrawal as a tactic becomes hopelessly confused with wishy-washy partial pull-out.


Paris-based defence analyst Francois Gere said [in late April 2003] Saudi Arabia was also entering a complex reorganisation of its leadership. "There is less need both for Saudi territory and Saudi oil, but one should not exaggerate. I think the second message is 'we Americans are going to withdraw a bit from Saudi Arabia and let these people sort out their domestic problems'," he said.


The Washington Post last month [Jan 2002] quoted a senior Saudi official as saying his government might ask the United States to stop using the air base on a regular basis once the war in Afghanistan is over. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. confirmed in an interview with CNN that the Saudis want a reduction of U.S. forces, and said the United States is interested in "reducing the [American] footprint" in Saudi Arabia. Card predicted that "it will happen over time."

Maybe it’s just because I have been in a long-term, bad co-dependent relationship myself, that I see the slow withdrawal strategy as a refusal to face basic facts (unless, at the conspiracy end of things, it is all artfully planted misinformation to cover a third option – a surprise, blitzkrieg withdrawal). So, assuming that I’m ahead of you, Mr Bush, let me tell you something for free – bad, co-dependent relationships never get better. So just let Saudi go down the toilet, and get out now – your own country may or may not soon follow them down the same channel, but, as we habitually say in Australia; “such is life”.


The Washington Post ran an excellent series on the post-September 11 Saudi/American relationship in Feb 2002:

Part I
Part II
Part III

Monday, May 12, 2003

American comedy lame-perialism

No aspect of American imperialism – at least of the cultural, rather than military variety – irks me as much as the export-dumping of American comedy, and the secondary merchandise thereto. This Age/SMH article is a case in point:

So the Iraq war had the effect of gagging American stand-up comics (so much so that cyber-laughing is even better than the real thing, at least for the time being). Really?

Well, the Iraq war has had no gagging effect whatsoever on Australian stand-ups (nor non-Oz comics visiting for the recent Melbourne Comedy Festival), as far as I can tell. And if Iraq really did cut a swathe through the comedy clubs of America, dare I suggest that this shows that the regular talent of these clubs were, and are spineless gits unworthy of the title “comedian”.

This is not (just) a plug for Australia’s fearless stand-ups, whose average individual talent – I think, anyway – has to be the world’s highest. Further, this standard has been achieved almost entirely in an industry more “American” than America’s itself.
As I’ve pointed out here previously (20 March 2003) a considered Oz response to American cultural imperialism is complicated by the dual facts of the US showbiz industry (albeit not club comedy) being highly unionised, and Australian showbiz operating under a grace and favour system of state and corporate patronage. Well, Australian stand-ups have the benefit of none of these; they are dogged entrepreneurs, pure’n’simple.

So my polite suggestion to America: next time your stand-ups start sagging, why don’t you try importing some quality ones? (Hint: Australia has most of the world’s supply here). Writing a “Wow – Here are some wacky websites (instead)!” article is not only so-o-o-o 1995, it is a misguided vote of longer-term confidence in cringing, cowardly “comedy”. We just don’t even do this – much less write home about it.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Geoffrey Bardon – “Shepherd of the Aboriginal art industry” or “still a white man”?

I thought that Geoffrey Bardon’s recent death was a good time to revisit something I wrote eight years ago on the founding of the Aboriginal art industry, and in particular, Papunya Tula in 1971-72. Since what appears to be the definitive obit (URL above) is rather misleading by not mentioning the conflict (coming from at least two directions) that Bardon faced at the time, I’ve pasted my article, below, as an item of correction. In no sense do I intend to rain on Geoffrey’s catafalque (if you’ll forgive my mixed metaphor); rather this is a respectful squaring of the ledger; a necessary doing of 'business' in the sense connoted by the lucid Indigenous term “sorry business”.

If you’re only slightly interested in this topic, the probable highlights for the general reader are:

- the almost-unbelievable, Orwellian-pervasive presence of the (Native) Welfare Department on the ground at the time (from which the “still a white man” quote comes). This is not ancient history stuff – the wife of former “Protector”, Harry Giese, is alive and still working, as Chancellor of Northern Territory University.

- there is another, lesser-known, Bardon who lives on – James/Jim (Geoffrey’s brother). “Revolution by Night” by James Bardon (Sydney, Local Consumption, 1991) is a sui generis account of the 1970s Papunya polyverse, as it might have been lived and witnessed by a camp dog (who is secretly Caucasian underneath his mange). Searing stuff – thick with equal parts of insight and madness. Highly recommended reading; particularly if you currently think that Keith Windschuttle has anything worthwhile to say whatsoever. “Revolution by Night” is an eye-opener; Windschuttle is a Woollahra dinner-party wonder. Here's a sample of RBN:

1. The Approach to the Night-Continent

In a century born allegedly in shining robes it was strange how there was no fit to what was seen. There was a randomness, a horror, an awful savagery in our given designs, and our visual language no longer spoke what we thought we saw.

NOTE: the article below has so far not been published, if anyone is interested in the hardcopy rights, please contact me.


Papunya Tula: the Keys to the Painting Room – Unpublished mss Paul Watson, 1995

Australian Western Desert art has generally been historicized in terms of a very definite time and place of origin: 1971 and Papunya. Further to this foundation mythology is the central establishing role played by one man, Geoffrey Bardon. The text components of books on Western Desert art will either have been written by Bardon himself, or feature a dramatic biopic of Bardon’s time at Papunya in 1971-72. While Bardon’s role, played out against a mainly racist white sub-community, was admittedly courageous and mercurial, its very centrality - if not hegemony - detracts from the telling of stories, or “dreamings”, other than Bardon’s own, particularly those of the Papunya Aboriginal artists. Specifically, by being responsible for adding European meaning - and value - to the paintings 1 Bardon sets himself up to hold a sort of master-key 2 narrative over Western Desert law and culture.

Ostensibly, it is market demand that drives the need for paintings by Aboriginal artists to come with attached descriptions and diagrammatic “keys” 3. Bardon’s central role here adds legitimacy and closure to the foundation myth, but this myth is made problematic by its tacit acceptance of the dichotomy between “traditional” and “compromised” 4 Aborigines. Bardon’s framework is the initial comfortable acceptance of this dichotomy, but then the quickly moving on to defuse it by setting up a neutral field of origin, a “year zero”.

The foundation myth thus misses the visceral historical impact of the 1960’s collisions of law and culture in central Australia: the incarceration of the then-sovereign Pintupi in 1962 and the illegal dispossession of traditional owners from their lands by pastoral lessees after 1967. Although Bardon is not insensitive to, or shy of, addressing generally the horrific history of white colonisation (as it happened before his own eyes), his mythologised role is problematic because it seems to re-invent a formal white framework over Aboriginal cultural practices; and so to arguably re-institutionalise 5.

A more benign assessment of the Papunya Tula foundation mythology would emphasise Bardon’s own personal plight, particularly in the years 1971-1972, in that he did not then “hold the key” even over his own life, much less over the Papunya Aborigines. Bardon was always under the close scrutiny of the Welfare Department - formerly the Native Welfare Department, which had simply re-invented itself, Orwellian style, under the leadership of Protector and art-thief 6 Harry Giese 7.

In this sense, he was held in a form of captivity, akin in type - but vastly different in degree - to the incarceration of Papunya’s Aborigines. The quasi-fascist Welfare Department pointedly reminded Bardon that he was “still a white man” 8 following Bardon’s success in setting up the Papunya Tula co-operative artists’ company, run separately from the hitherto all-pervasive operations of the Welfare Department. Perhaps even more defining in ensuring Welfare’s animosity to Bardon was the Aboriginal custodianship - literally holding the key - of the “painting room” 9; later ransacked by whites 10. A major riot occurred at Papunya during Bardon’s brief time there , so perhaps justifying Bardon’s sense of Wagnerian grandeur when recollecting the moment, two decades on:

I would like it to seem that the painting movement’s beginnings were a marvellous dream of the time . . . [Later, in] 1980 I sometimes thought that, among those new fires and shattered expectations an older Australia was passing away forever, that our own symmetries had been set aside and made helpless, and that a new visualization and idea of a continent had come forth, quite literally, out of that burning or freezing red sand. It is hard to be clear about an entire continent wondrously re-perceived by the brutally rejected, and sick and poor. Yet this is what occurred. This was the gift that time gave, and I know this, in my heart, for I was there. 12

Whatever the broader consequences of the “movement” Bardon seems to have started at Papunya in 1971, problematics raised at the local level - of the “School” - cannot be avoided. Bardon does not critically analyse his own admitted aesthetic intervention either in terms of general issues of style 13 or - particularly glaringly - in terms of the actual painting medium: ochre or acrylic. The quite differing perceptions and recollections over whether early Papunya art was painted mainly from ochre, as opposed to acrylic 14 seem collusive in avoiding the now unpalette-able and largely unadmitted: that the early paintings were done in acrylics but on a deliberately restricted, ochre-ish muted palette. The issue here is much more than an aesthetic one here. Use of the acrylic medium was directly propelled by Bardon, in his role as a materials (include paint) broker to the artists 15, a role later taken over by the town store 16. The effect of this was, seemingly unintentionally, to remove the production of Papunya paintings from the larger intra-Aboriginal national economy, of which ochre trading was an important component. That Bardon’s apparent naivety could possibly be more negatively characterised, as paternalistic racism, is demonstrated by his remonstrations toward the Pintupi’s over-confiding of their secret-sacred material 17 and his hierarchy of Aboriginal groups, based on the level of European “contact” the group had had: Pintupi art thus had a “pleasing . . . lack of sophistication” 18.

Since the modern foundation of Aboriginal art at Papunya in 1971, the popular perception has been that such art has become a juggernaut that has long since eclipsed its humble, and recent origin. Indeed, contemporary assessment of the Papunya-inspired art scene is likely to paint it as moribund, or “dotted-out” 19. It is perhaps a corollary of having a spectacular, mythologised rise that the end should be abrupt too. However, it is also deeply ironic that over-dotting is literally a feature of much Aboriginal art, in part because it is a way of concealing secret images 20.

Rather than modern Aboriginal art being seen in terms of a binary divide between the pure, or good, old days as opposed to the kitsch and debased present-day, its production and distribution need to be seen as part of a continually re-negotiated continuum; a balance between history and neology. Jennifer Biddle has reminded us of the dubiousness of freezing Aboriginal culture into permanence 21. It could cynically be observed that European collectors of “early” Papunya art, Bardon included, have a strong vested interest in maintaining the false myth of an authentic, frozen past.

1. Bardon G, Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert (1991) 34-35.
2. However, even with his clear controlling role in respect of the “keys”, Bardon shows his senility by noting the ceremonial and participatory aspects of the story-telling behind the “keys”: Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert (1991) 35.
3. The use of “keys” - in catalogues, and as accompanying paintings sold through commercial galleries - is mostly market-driven, although the enquiry needed to obtain the information seems anthropological: Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 25, 34-35 cf 38; Bardon G, Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert (1979) 15 . The theory seems to be that without the additional “key” the art buyer would be suspicious that their putative acquisition was merely tourist art, or kitsch. The use of “keys” has been strongly criticised by Eric Michaels (“Postmodernism, Appropriation and Western Desert Acrylics” pp 28-29); and in his Afterword to Kuruwarri: Yuendemu Doors (1987) [in Bad Aboriginal Art (1994) 50-51], despite “keys” being used in the body of the book itself. Jennifer Biddle (“Dot, circle, difference: Translating Central Desert Paintings” in Diprose R and Ferrell R, ed’s, Cartographies: poststructuralism and the mapping of bodies and spaces (1991) 34) criticizes Michaels’ disclaimer; however it is likely that Michaels’ wishes were simply overridden when it came to the communal production of the Doors book. Bruce Chatwin has also vigorously attacked the use of “keys”, calling them “just so stories”, (in Johnston V, “Rite and Wronglines” Binocular: Focusing Writing Vision (1991) 105), but guardedly defended by Vivien Johnson, who asserted it is “Orientalist” to deny the fact that paintings tell important stories [which, in turn presumably, can only be fully told by accompanying “keys”], but cf 110. See also: Hodge B “Aboriginal Truth and White Media: Eric Michaels meets the Spirit of Aboriginalism” (1990) 3:2 Continuum 201, 214-17; Loveday P and Cooke P, Aboriginal Arts and Crafts in the Market 39, and Rowse T, After Mabo 91, quoting Gabrielle Pizzi.
4. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 23. See also notes 17 and 18.
5. Note the quasi-feudal arrangements involved in the painters being given “permission” by the Welfare Department to paint “for” Bardon: Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 28. The early outlet/market for Papunya paintings was also largely an institutional one, with “a museum collection” of paintings being purchased for the Papunya School: ibid 34. [Contrast the Yuendemu cultural museum, established in the late 1960’s, antecedent to a painting “movement” in that town].
6. Bardon tells of a certain painting being sent to “Harry Giese’s government collection in Darwin” in 1972, implicitly having been expropriated by the Welfare Department: Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 31. For other instances of such theft, and dubious accounting practices see ibid 43, 138.
7. This happened in 1953: Welfare Ordinance (NT) 1953; see (1996) 78 Aboriginal Law Bulletin 11,12, discussing Namatjira v Rabe (1959) 100 CLR 664. The Welfare Department was suspicious about B’s motives from the beginning: Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert xiii, and - amazingly - actually forbade Bardon to leave Papunya on weekdays without Departmental permission: ibid 42.
8. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 36.
9. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 31.
10. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 38.
11. Either in April or May 1971: Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 14, 43.
12. Ryan J, Mythscapes: Aboriginal Art of the Desert (1989) 10, 16. The “new visualisation” theme was later taken up by Bardon’s brother James in Revolution by Night (1991).
13. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 35, Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert 15, Mythscapes: Aboriginal Art of the Desert 25.
14. Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert 14, Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 25-26; Mythscapes: Aboriginal Art of the Desert 25.
15. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 22-24.
16. Mythscapes: Aboriginal Art of the Desert 27.
17. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 24, 34-35.
18. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 25.
19. Susan McCulloch, “Art From the Heart” Weekend Australian 20-21 May 1995. In Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert 25, Bardon refers to the “recent development” of paintings telling only “trite or commonplace stories”. See also Mythscapes: Aboriginal Art of the Desert 28, where 1975 is used as the cut-off date, after which the use of dots was primarly as a “mechanical filling-in device”.
20. Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert x, 127. In Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert 14, the over-painting process is seen as the reaching of community consensus. 21. Biddle J, “Dot, circle, difference: Translating Central Desert Paintings” in Diprose R and Ferrell R, ed’s, Cartographies: poststructuralism and the mapping of bodies and spaces (1991) 30, 35.

Friday, May 09, 2003

And on the third day ....

I’m back online after a few days off with a mysterious bung phone line. I have no idea how Salam Pax managed to blog from Baghdad, well-into the war – although I note that he is now back online only via an amanuensis. Never mind giving Dubya’s gang the Iraqi oil monopoly (what privatisation in Australia hasn’t been accompanied by at least of whiff of scandal?), what would utterly and permanently fuck-up the post-war reconstruction would be to give Telstra a stake in it.

Because Telstra has a monopoly on the copper-wire infrastructure (as well as a near- monopoly on the parallel, pay TV cable network) it is deeply branded into every Australian’s sub-conscious, right down there alongside death and taxes.

In fact, I can see a good reason for the merger of Telstra with the Australian Taxation Office, on both non-duplication and productivity grounds. From my experience with the ATO, I think that they can fairly be described as a soft-touch (yes, I know it’s a tough job etc – but employing lightweights adds nothing but extra chips on the ATO’s already-overburdened shoulder). Here, the ATO could profit from a bit of the no-nonsense “customer service” culture at Telstra. For its part, Telstra would be relieved from having to pretend to care about anything except its revenue – which would come from a Medicare-style levy on all taxpayers. Service would continue on as before – that is to say, through sporadic transmissions on random frequencies.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Who invented "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"?

On Monday’s “Today Tonight” (Seven) (no URL), a Melbourne-based scriptwriter claimed to have invented the original TV format for the program now known as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". His on-air story had some plausibility, although it lacked a crucial link – how the ostensible format owner, UK company Celador, had learned of the original format (the scriptwriter had only ever hawked his idea around Australia).

I decided to do some research – starting from the other end, with Celador’s story of how they either (i) invented “Millionaire" themselves, or (ii) bought the format from a third party. Sure enough, Celador is cagey about the specifics here; they definitely assert that the “Millionaire" format was developed in-house, but without ever saying exactly by whom.

In contrast is the Greek-epic, poly-heroed story of the development of the “Survivor” format:

- to be continued, but here's a jucy teaser from the above URL:

"It's a bit like the old days of the British empire," said Paul Smith, managing director of the British production company Celador, which came up with the game show. "We've got a map of the world in the office colored in pink where we've placed the show. Most of the world is pink."

Monday, May 05, 2003

How third-world are Australia’s universities?

I’ll start by leaving the money/funding issue aside. Something I read the other day said that Oz was now on par with Slovenia on this front – and still slipping. It’s not that I doubt this (nor that I wouldn’t want to simultaneously gloat and fret about it) – rather, I think that little, human-size facts (let’s call them “factlets”) sometimes say more.

Factlet number 1 (which I only just found out)

Andrew Norton, who I already knew of as a shock-jock-for-hire style commentator on university “reform”, apparently holds down two part-time jobs – one at the Centre for Independent Studies (a right-wing thinktank) and another, more mysterious role, on the staff of the University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Alan Gilbert.

Far from it falling unto me to utter the words “conflict of interest”. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re on the staff of a right-wing thinktank, spreading your talents around to other, sympathetic organisations is positively welcomed and expected. Unlike most career moonlighting, such employer promiscuity is presumably known about and encouraged by both organizations. The CIS gets, at the very least, the happy knowledge that, by Andrew’s Parkville lemonade stand or whatever it is, their employee practises what he preaches, never letting himself get too comfortable with the CIS’s pay-packet alone. I’m not sure what the University of Melbourne indirectly gets, for its part – but I’m sure it’s something very valuable. So valuable, in fact, that it has to be kept quite secret – other than the above link, there is virtually nothing (official Melbourne Uni, official CIS, or otherwise) that acknowledges Andrew’s dual existence.

Ironically, then, it was Andrew himself who recently blew his own cover. The context for this happening was understandable – if you’re the sort of person who automatically brownnoses to his olders and/or betters when the minutest opportunity to arise does so. Andrew is, or at least must be (I don’t actually know him), that type of person; hence this sweet, and yet a bit schoolboy-cheeky blog posting of his:

Sunday, April 27, 2003
By Andrew Norton, 5:02 PM

Medals for all

I am pleased that among the 15,464 Centenary Medals space was found for everyone I have worked under since 1991: my PhD supervisor Chandran Kukathas, Greg Lindsay of the CIS, David Kemp, now Minister for the Environment, and Alan Gilbert, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. In future job interviews when I am asked if I have any questions for them I will say ‘Do you have a Centenary Medal?’

Now, the casual reader may think that I’m just being a bit tall-poppyish here. I do admit that I did not get a Centenary Medal personally. But I also get the sense that Andrew is going way over the top on this topic. It’s almost one of those minor-novelty tabloid stories, you know: “Three generations of the Janelle family have all given birth on May 2”. Andrew’s subtext confirms this – he is not, as I read it, angling for kudos generally, much less indirectly pointing out his own lack of a well-deserved Centenary Medal gong, specifically. No, Andrew is truly and absolutely genuine in his self-modesty.

It is possible though, to err on the other extreme, with a self-effacing-ness that becomes akin to a birch rod. For a senior higher education commentator, Andrew is strangely reluctant to claim the PhD (whose obscure supervisor he speaks of so glowingly above), either before or after his name. Equally, despite recently noting in his 1 May blog entry (same URL as previous) the fact that he started something at Monash Uni in 1984, there is no hint in his official CIS biog of what this might have been. A job (but with whom was he working “under”?). An undergraduate course? (but in what?)

Factlet number 2

The answer is not to “un–” the university:

A university unconstrained by formal assessment is an unaccredited university. If this sounds like just hollow institution-speak, let me put it another way: a university unconstrained by formal assessment is a pub with no beer – literally and metaphorically.

Factlet number 3

It is currently only the goodwill of academics that is keeping the university system together.

The above statement is true of almost all at-least-passable-quality universities in third-world countries. The main (and probably only) exception to this is private universities- not that these especially proliferate in the third world, of course.

I am not trying to draw a logical syllogism, about Australia being a third-world country, here. Still less am I trying to make an indirect case for wage rises for academics. On the contrary, I have no doubt that salaries for academics could be halved across the board, and there would be no problem filling the positions with capable, qualified applicants. This, you see, is part of the problem, too.

Academics’ collective goodwill is too much taken for granted – including by (most) academics themselves. In the last decade and a half, our universities have been systemically, slowly looted (I reject “starved of funds”, as insufficient to describe the craven opportunism and the pervasive, debasing senselessness that has been behind the whole operation, the whole way). Almost everything that could be taken away has been, by now. Ironically perhaps, the only remaining, presumed-immoveable fixtures are the human capital.

It has been a serious tactical mistake for academics to, by and large, have remained passive spectators throughout this process. Sure, there have been grumblings all along, loud enough to be heard by those that matter. But like the frog added to lukewarm water, which is then slowly brought to the boil, the grumblings have never had a breaking-point, at which “enough is enough” is declared. Academics are poorly unionised – the entrenchment of a two-tier wage system (casuals are paid at approximately one quarter of the real pro rata of permanents, meaning that a “full-time casual” academic will earn 10k – 15k per year) has driven a wedge between young and old. The latter are highly unionised, but without the membership – or even the goodwill – of the former, the union has had all the effectiveness of a ramshackle guild. No other profession would have tolerated the looting of all that it stood for, let alone go about “business as usual” throughout the fifteen years this has taken.

Even in the worst third-world dictatorships, universities survive. Many would attribute this to the goodwill and resilience of the local academics. Certainly, they may be both dedicated and poorly paid, by any measure. But I do not think that this is enough to be called “goodwill”. Goodwill is only that if it can be withdrawn – and I doubt that the staff of such universities would or could withdraw anything. Their teaching and assessment is probably already slapdash, their attitudes to bribes-for-marks flexible, and – naturally – their views on local politics totally non-descript.

Don’t confuse academic goodwill with academic resilience, then. Universities may survive, but only in the sense that travesties repeat themselves. In an academic’s letter to The Australian HE supplement* recently, it was noted how, due to a form being three days late, the academic at fault (who was in charge of a subject) would have to personally invigilate the July exam, and pay for printing costs out of his own pocket. In isolation, this is no more than parking fine scale, something that comes with stinging shock and going with a fatalistic shrug. What if, however, that academic decided (as is his sole prerogative, within reason) to recoup his losses, by watering-down what he put into that subject?

Almost certainly, this will not happen. Academic professionalism runs deep. And thin.

* "Seriously nutty" by Scott Poynting, 30 April 2003

Friday, May 02, 2003

HP caught birdwatching in Finland

HP is the multinational company created by the May 2002 merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer Corporation.

For whatever reason, HP has been recently lavishing advertising money at the print media, or at least on the broadsheet national paper. The Australian has lately been running a series of three, full-colour, full-page ads for HP. Presumably, you would think that HP had something new to launch (or something important to say, a la the TGA) in order to justify such a sustained, large scale, campaign. Err, no. A glance at the pic-heavy ads reveals them to be of the “status quo boast” ilk; a.k.a. “We’re good, and we’re taking this opportunity to remind you of this fact”. One full-page of the ad triptych extolled HP in terms of’s fulfilment system, another extolled HP in terms of Fed Ex’s parcel tracking system, while the third had something to do with Finland and birdwatchers.

Apart from the ads’ sheer cost and mundanity of message, their lack of local relevance left me wondering. is well-enough known in Australia, but it is not an everyday consumer destination or otherwise an icon. Fed Ex isn’t even a major player in the Australian freight scene, as far as I am aware. And in any case, HP’s Australian Press Releases section online has seen nothing fit to announce – even on the virtually cost-free platform that the Internet allows – since 19 March 2003.

It was all a bit of a mystery, then – until I saw a small story in the business section of today’s Australian*(no URL). The story’s gist is that HP is outsourcing some of its Australian operations to India – so affecting 128 jobs according to HP itself, or 240 jobs according to The Australian’s source.

Hmmn. Am I (i) being naïve, or (ii) bristling with innuendo, by suggesting that HP could surely have better spent the small fortune so recently lavished on the print media for more productive purposes, given the dire cost-cutting actions it is now undertaking? All those pretty ads surely couldn’t distract media attention away from the real story?

* “HP ‘final solution’ transports jobs to India”, by Ron Hicks and James Riley.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Happy Mayday everyone

This year's Mayday march in Melbourne was much bigger than I thought it would be. In previous years, the official union march has been on the Sunday following Mayday, while the march on the actual day was left to anarchist die-hards, et al (Nostalgia alert! On the 1987 Mayday-on-May-1 march, there were about 15 pax in total - but we still took over the roads to walk on, of course). Anyway, it is probably a sign of the times that about 95% of today's 2,000-3,000 Mayday-on-May-1 marchers were building workers, taking time off (presumably at their own expense) from the crane-topped, tilt-slab mesa of inner-city Melbourne in 2003.

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