27 February, 2010

The time has come to say fair’s fair

I never really liked Midnight Oil when I was at school.  I grudgingly enjoyed a few of their songs but I really wanted to hate them.  This is because I was at high school when they were at the height of their popularity and where I went to school, wearing a Midnight Oil t-shirt was seen as a good enough substitute for having a social conscience.  That was despite the fact that half the people wearing them and chanting OIYOOOS!  were redneck cavemen.  The older me would smile quietly at the irony but back then, it just pissed me off. 

It wasn’t until later that I developed a liking and admiration for what they did.  Midnight Oil were a political band who did their homework.  The Diesel and Dust album came out of tours of remote communities with Warumpi Band and Gondwanaland.  Peter Garrett didn’t just express support for the Australian Conservation Foundation, he served two terms as its president.  He also ran for the Senate in 1984 as leader of the Nuclear Disarmament Party. 

In 2004, Garrett joined the Labor Party and successfully ran for the safe Labor seat of Kingsford-Smith in Sydney.  He acknowledged at the time that joining a mainstream party would necessitate modifying his views on certain issues.  Some sniffed a sell-out, but I quietly respected him for it.  No-one achieves anything in politics if they take an all-or-nothing attitude and precious few of those who criticise the government have the guts to have a go themselves, so I didn’t fault him for his pragmatic approach.  He was a strong spokesman on environmental issues in opposition.  He had effectively been a spokesman in opposition to various governments for the last twenty years, but now there were less dance moves.

He got off to a shaky start in government when Labor won in 2007.  During the campaign, Sydney talk radio host Steve Price reported that Garrett had told him, “We’ll just change all the policies once we get in.”  Garrett’s political naivety was in expecting someone like Steve Price to appreciate the joke and not use it against him.  Some suggested that this gaffe was the reason that cabinet responsibility for climate change was given to Penny Wong, despite Garrett being appointed Minister for the Environment and the Arts.  But now it looks like they knew he wasn’t quite up to the job. 

Garrett’s performance as a cabinet minister has satisfied no-one, least of all some of his biggest fans, after he approved the dredging of Port Phillip Bay, the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania and a new uranium mine.  Even then, I was loath to actually call him a sell-out.  I chose to see it as proof that he was taking a pragmatic approach in the wider national interest rather than being motivated by pure ideology.  Be that as it may, there’s no escaping the fact that the Minister for the Environment has done things that would have disgusted the singer from Midnight Oil.  His handling of the Arts portfolio hasn’t been much better, with his most notable action being to withdraw funding from Australian National Academy of Music.  You wouldn’t read about it!

So far, the government has shielded Garrett somewhat, and I can sort of see why, since he came into the role without having been a political operative since university, as so many others have been.  But after five years as an MP and two as a minister, it’s time he stood or fell on his own merits.

It was looking like he was about to do the latter early this week when Kevin Rudd did not support his minister over the insulation debacle.  When the PM doesn’t speak up in support of a minister, it’s usually an indication that the minister is dead in the water.  But then yesterday, Rudd took the extraordinary step of taking the heat for his minister – a reversal of centuries of convention.  Rudd certainly has the popularity to pull off such a mea culpa without too much damage, but it would have been utterly unnecessary if Garrett had simply offered his resignation last week.  Then Rudd could have “reluctantly” accepted it and Tony Abbott would have to find something new to yap about.  Bernard Keane from Crikey made the point that no minister can be responsible for every little knock-on effect of their decisions, and that if Peter Garrett is responsible for the four deaths of insulation installers, that would make Tony Abbott responsible for every death resulting from a hospital accident during the time he was health minister.  That’s a cute debating point but just because Garrett isn’t personally responsible for any of the deaths doesn’t stop him taking what responsibility he has.  He should resign simply because it’s the decent thing to do.

Things got even weirder today, when Garrett was demoted.  Energy Efficiency will be taken over by Penny Wong, while cleaning up the insulation mess will be the responsibility of Greg Combet.  Yet Garrett remains Minister for the Environment and a member of Cabinet.  It just doesn’t make sense.
You say times are tough
We've got the best of both worlds here
Things are rough
Why keep him there?  It’s not to get the green vote – they hate him for the reasons mentioned above.  Garrett is nothing but a liability now.  His own positive spin on the demotion is that he welcomes the opportunity to focus on key issues and passions.  I believe him.  I think that was all he was ever there for in the first place.  It was running a government department that got the better of him.  Like a football player who turns his hand to coaching and suddenly realises it’s a different skill that he doesn’t have, Garrett may be a great spokesman on issues, but he is not a minister.  While I still respect him for having a go, I now have to wonder if some people do their best work from the outside, being a critic and not a participant.  Some people work best in opposition.  The best thing Labor can do with him now, is bust him down to some kind of parliamentary secretary and let him try and get back some credibility as Labor’s chief greenie wrangler.

And Midnight Oil?  Rob Hirst and Jim Moginie wrote most of the songs.

25 February, 2010

Push Me Pull You

There are a few things in life that really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who has been able to read for more than a couple of years, but still each new example manages to astound with its jaw-dropping WTF-ness.  Such things may include celebrity drug habits, executive salary excesses, and the utter shamelessness of the American right wing.

I found a prime example of the latter, which fell off the back of an email, a couple of weeks ago.  It is a begging letter and push-poll from the Republican National Committee, soliciting help for the “Second Republican Revolution.” 

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a “push poll” is a poll designed not to canvas opinion, but to plant an idea.  A particularly blatant example would go something like this:

Question:  If you learnt that Mayor Joe Quimby had an affair with an underage girl, would that make you more or less likely to vote for him?
[  ] More likely  [  ] Less Likely  [  ] Unsure

This cannot be considered slander or libel because they never actually said that Quimby had an affair with anyone.  They’re simply asking what the voter would think if such a situation happened.  I mean, they’re just asking a question man – what’s your problem?  But even though nothing was alleged, the participant still comes away thinking, “Joe Quimby had an affair with an underage girl?”

But before we get to the survey, we have the introductory letter from Michael Steele, where he says that the 2010 election is the most important for the Republicans since 1994 which sounds like a tacit admission that they took the seven Congressional elections since for granted.
(click image for a larger version)

Referring to what they called the “Republican revolution,” Steele says,
“in 1994, the Republican Party worked hand in hand with grassroots activists and concerned citizens to organize a massive rejection on Election Day of the Democrats’ wrong-headed policies.

It was this high level of organization that allowed Republicans  to take advantage of the unpopularity of Democrat (sic) policies and take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.”
To misquote Sarah Palin misquoting a t-shirt, how’d that work out for ya?

They spent the first six years of their majority doing everything they could to personally destroy Bill Clinton, a man who actually balanced the budget, and the next six years rubber-stamping the Bush administration’s outrageous spending, then the following two years trying to make bogeymen out of Nancy Pelosi and the spineless Harry Reid for not supporting some of that spending.  The Republican revolutionaries’ excuse for that was that (everyone say it with me) “nine eleven changed everything.”  Somewhere along the line though, things must have changed back, because they all woke up on January 21st last year and said, “Holy shit!  We got a deficit!”

There was another name for the Republican win in 1994.  That was the “Contract with America.”  I wonder why they’re not as keen to revive that slogan.  Could it be because it would be an open invitation for people to mention how the 1994 contract was breached?  I’m just asking the question.  And while we know that all political parties subsist on donations, is there not just a skerrick of irony in the party of hard work and free enterprise, the party of capitalism, touting for donations in this fashion?

So that brings us to the survey, such as it is.  I could write fourteen separate articles on what is wrong with each question but I will give you credit that you can see it for yourself.  Just look at Question 2:
“Do you believe the Democrats are working towards a single-payer health care system that will ration care, increase waiting times and deny treatment?”
Note how often the word “believe” is used in these questions.  Many people may believe these things but that does not make them true.  The Republican party knows it’s in their interest for people to believe these things, which is why the questions are worded so as to perpetuate misunderstandings and outright lies.  Health care in America is already rationed and treatment denied – by insurance companies.  If this questionnaire is anything to go by, the RNC doesn’t seem too bothered about that.

They talk of the “trillion dollar deficits that Obama is running,” without any mention that Bush ran trillion dollar deficits and the Republican congress said nothing about it.  Then there is “Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency,” which is exactly the same agency that has existed under every president since Nixon, but now it’s “Obama’s.”

Question 7 asked whether holding the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammad in a New York civilian court strengthens or weakens American security against terrorist attacks.  Anyone with a clue about national security would say it makes no difference either way.  The RNC is not interested in hearing from anyone with a clue because, unlike all the other questions, there isn’t an “unsure” option.  If they were really interested in ways to secure against terrorism, they should have asked how keeping KSM in Guantanamo would have saved the people in the Echelon building in Austin.  That would do for Question 9 as well.

Questions 10 and 11 would actually be fair questions if they had been asked straight instead of leading the participant with descriptions.  Would they not oppose conservative nominees, or is any Obama nominee, ipso facto liberal?  Is drilling in Alaska (and thereby prolonging dependence on a resource that we know for certain is going to run out one day) the only way to increase America’s energy independence?  Or do they just want you to think it is?

No, the only answers they are really interested in are the last three.  They want to know if people are voting, how much crossover there is between average Republicans and the teabag brigade, and how best to reach them.  That’s the “hard numerical data,” they want and the rest is just a bunch of scaremongering about a “dangerous left-wing agenda.” 

The fact that they have no interest in what party members actually think about the issues is proven over the page on the donations form.  It’s not enough to contribute just because one is a Republican, or believes that a strong, loyal opposition is vital to a robust democracy.  No, in order to donate, one has to sign one’s name to a fawning letter addressed to Michael Steele that talks of Democrats “forcing their socialist agenda on America.” 

If I were a Republican, I would be disgusted and insulted by this.

And before anyone tries to tell me that that’s because I’m a hippy, Aussie, pinko, lefty who just doesn’t get it, let me just point out that this letter was forwarded to me by a Republican who was disgusted and insulted by it.  Furthermore, it’s a Republican who has absolutely NO time for Obama.

I am not claiming a representative sample size but common sense tells us that the more the Republicans pitch themselves at the paranoid fringes of the party, the more they are going to lose the conservative centre that helped Obama win in 2008.

This may already be happening, because another survey and pre-written love letter arrived a couple of weeks later.

Note the careful wording in Question 2, which allows the participant to bemoan the Obama bail-out without having to equally criticise the Bush bail-outs.
Whether this second letter came as a result of my correspondent not replying to the first one, cannot be known.  So I’ll just ask the question:

How’s that secondy revolutiony stuff workin’ out for ya?

Is anyone surprised about THIS?

23 February, 2010

The Rules: Getting a life

Anyone who says someone “really needs to get a life,” just because they have different interests, really needs to get a life.

08 February, 2010

Maybe I’m just stupid

Okay, here’s what I don’t get:

The “Tea Party,” (which sounds like some kind of joke from The Goodies) claims to be standing against overspending, overtaxing and giving benefits to those who don’t contribute, right?

So how does that square with charging members $550 per head so they can pay $100,000 for a woman who quit her job to come and speak to them, and all she gives them is repetition of slogans that were on t-shirts as long ago as last March?

How can these poor, downtrodden, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types, who are so crippled by taxes, possibly afford such a junket?  Who, in good conscience, could take their money?

Could someone please explain why anyone should take these nuts seriously?
What am I missing here?

04 February, 2010

The Rules: Copyright Infringement

If you're the copyright owner of a song, and a couple of bars of the melody of that song get quoted in another song that is played all over the world, and you didn't notice until a game show pointed the fact out 27 years later, you are NOT entitled to 60% of the royalties.


Colin Hay's response.

I support almost everything he says, but I have to say that I don't buy his assertion that it was an unconscious reference. It was not written into the song, that's for sure, but I find it difficult to believe that flautist Greg Ham was not aware of what he was doing, even if his bandmates weren't.

As Hay points out, Ham was not one of the songwriters. And this brings up a more important issue about what constitutes composition and songwriting. Creating contemporary music is not like it was in the 1920s where the composer or bandleader told the musicians what to do and that was it. In most modern music, the songwriter brings the structure of the song and often lets the players create their own parts. Even if those parts become a signature of the song, like Greg Ham's flute part, it doesn't necessarily mean they get a composition credit. For example, think of Clare Torrey's soaring, improvised vocal on Pink Floyd's The Great Gig in the Sky. It's a highlight of the album and for that, she was paid a £40 session fee and that was it. Herbie Flowers' harmonised double-bass line that characterises Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side? He only suggested it because he would be paid double if he played two parts. Elliot Randall's instantly recognisable guitar solo on Reelin' in the Years by Steely Dan? No credits, just another day at the office.

Now, I'm not saying that Colin Hay and Ron Strykert are heels for not giving Greg Ham a songwriting credit. That's just the way bands work. But it does raise the question of whether Hay and Strykert should have to answer for a part that was created by Greg Ham. Should they now sue Ham for dropping them in this, however inadvertently?

In a way, the court had to make the ruling it did because the song, as released, does copy a couple of bars of Kookaburra (although "copy" is an awfully strong word for what is really quoting or a variation on a theme, which is a a practice as old as music itself). The question now is one of compensation for those who bought the rights to Kookaburra in 1990 having absolutely no idea what they had. The publishers have stated that they want as much as they can get, which tells you exactly how much they care about Marion Sinclair's legacy.

I say, give her a co-writing credit, give the publishers fifty bucks and a slab, then make them pay costs.

In the meantime, I'm urging everyone to go to iTunes, or their download store of choice, and buy a Men at Work song to compensate. It worked for keeping Idol of the Number 1 spot in Britain, so it can work again. Who Can it Be Now? or Overkill would be good choices.

Excellent further analysis HERE.

03 February, 2010

South Australia Speakeasy

In an unbelievable move, the South Australian government, with support from the opposition, has passed a law requiring anyone who comments on an election in any published or broadcast form, to publish their name and address as well.

116—Published material to identify person responsible for political content
(1) A person must not, during an election period, publish material consisting of, or containing a commentary on, any candidate or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors, in written form, in a journal published in electronic form on the Internet or by radio or television or broadcast on the Internet, unless the material or the programme in which the material is presented contains a statement of the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material.

On the face of it, this doesn't seem like such a bad thing.  You have always had to supply name and address to have a letter to the editor printed.  But this would apply the same rules to passing comment online as apply to political advertising with all those writtenspokenandauthorisedby statements.  And while none of us have to look very far to find libelous or abusive comments from some gutless wonder acting safe in the knowledge that no-one can jump through his screen and punch him in the mouth, often the veil of anonymity is necessary for fearless comment.  There is a reason I don't publish my full name or exact location on this site.  I don't want to be found by creeps.  And I'm not saying my readers are creeps, but come on, you've seen what the internet is like.  There are a lot of freaks out there.  Why should they have my address if I don't have theirs?  It's not that I don't have the courage of my convictions, it's just that I'm not stupid.

As such, the law is a form of censorship by forcing people to reveal their personal details just to have the right of comment.  The expression, "We know where you live," is most commonly used as a threat.

Naturally, newspapers and all commercial websites are going to have to comply but I don't know how they're going to enforce it when it comes to Facebook, Twitter and 'blogs without mechanisms that would make the Chinese government salivate.  I'm not sure the SA government has the resources to do it and even if it did, if that would really be the most appropriate use for them.

I think this calls for some civil disobedience.  Feel free to post comments here on the South Australian state election, with or without your real name and address.  Do keep it decent - not because I'm telling you what to say but because otherwise, you'll just look like a dick and cheapen your argument.  Other than that, go for it!  Extra points will be awarded to anyone who can come up with the best joke about throwing the book at Mike Rann.

The SA government has backed down.
However, this is not the end of the matter, as SA Attorney General Michael Atkinson would no doubt like it to be.  Although he says he will move to repeal the act, this cannot be done until after the election.  Therefore, such a repeal assumes a Labor win.  He is acting on the advice of his opposition counterpart Vickie Chapman, but we don't yet know if the Liberals are making the same pledge.  The legislation was passed with opposition support so both parties are tainted by it.

Furthermore, he can't credibly say that the laws will not be enforced during the campaign.  For a start, they would be impossible to adequately enforce anyway.  Secondly, after an election writ is issued, the government officially enters caretaker mode which means they can only do as much as is needed to keep the state functioning. They cannot enact policy.  Beyond that, the idea that the government can pick and choose which laws are enforced and which are not, is perhaps even more disturbing than the initial legislation.

02 February, 2010

Quote of the Week*

‘Ordinary people’ - a condescending phrase used by lawyers to describe people who are not lawyers.

 – Geoffrey Robertson

* Not necessarily an ongoing series.

01 February, 2010

Tag and release

If I said you had a beautiful ’blog, would you hold it against me?
(Thank you, I’ll be here all week, try the risotto)

Kellyansapansa has very kindly tagged me as a beautiful ’blogger.  I don’t know if that means I write a beautiful ’blog, or that I’m beautiful and I ’blog.  Each seems equally unlikely, but I’m flattered all the same.

The idea is to copy the above picture, write seven interesting things about oneself, then invite seven other ’bloggers to do the same, linking to everyone involved.  I’m never sure what to write when things are so open-ended like that.  There is a fine line between the ridiculously trivial and  Eeew, TMI!
But here’s what came to mind....

=  =  =

I was born in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem Hospital, Caulfield.  [boom, tish!]

=  =  =

I voted No in the republican referendum in 1999, not because I support the monarchy, but because I wanted something better than the half-arsed alternative they were offering.  Johnny really played that one well, not that Keating did anything substantial other than to use it as a distraction issue.

=  =  =

I have long nails on my right hand and short nails on my left hand.  See if you can work out why.

=  =  =

I arrange my record collection in chronological order.  If I want to play Abbey Road, I go to 1969.  Goodbye Jumbo is in the mid 1990 section and Eternal Nightcap is in the fourth quarter of 1997.  This makes perfect sense to me.  Anything else wouldn’t feel right.  In the case of reissues, the copy is filed under the original date of release except when I also have an original copy, in which case the original copy is filed under the original release date and the reissue is filed under the date of re-release.  Again, this makes perfect sense.
I haven’t arranged my DVDs but when I do, it will be the same, but I will possibly separate music and movies.

=  =  =

I own twenty ties and counting.
For years, I hated the very idea of ties.  I thought they were completely useless, which, of course, they are.  But I have been somewhat converted by my dearest after she gave me a guitar-covered tie and I decided to wear it when I was playing in the orchestra of a local theatre group production.  After learning a few knots, I found a satisfaction in it and these days, I enjoy the opportunity to wear one.  Ties are a way that men can express their personality and individuality without freaking the whole office out.  I have a theory that the ties men choose are the kinds of shirts they would wear if they thought they could get away with it.  It has made me look at people a different way, and now I can’t help but notice how people tie their ties.  I think you can tell from the knot who is wearing a tie because they choose to, and who is wearing one because they have too.  John Howard’s knots are so perfect they look like they have come out of a mould. (And that’s probably the nicest thing I’ll ever say about him).  By contrast, Tony Abbott does horrible things to ties. 

=  =  =

My middle name is William

=  =  =

I’m on all the major social disease networking sites.  My MySpace is HERE, but I hardly ever check it.  I actually preferred MySpace to Facebook until they started copying Facebook, so I figured if I was going to have Facebook, it might as well be Facebook.
My Facebook page, which I refuse to take seriously, is not easily visible.  I prefer to keep it to people I actually know rather than people on fishing trips.  If you’d like me to add you, leave a comment with instructions on how to find you.
My favourite though, is Twitter.  Yes, I know it seems so lame and I’m not going to argue with anyone who thinks it is.  But it’s quick, it’s fun, it’s undemanding and I’ve actually met more interesting people and learnt more from Twitter than all the others combined.  It’s great for breaking news too.  Why wait for CNN to tell you what’s on Twitter?
Follow me HERE.
And you can ask me all kinds of inappropriate questions HERE.

=  =  =

So now I have to nominate seven others to do this too.  I’m a little unsure of who to suggest.  When I started this ’blog a bit over a year ago, it was simply so I could have complete control and ownership of my writing, instead of it getting lost in a sea of bullshit on MySpace or Facebook.  The social aspect of it has been an unexpected knock-on effect.

There are a couple of ’blogs that I would love to pick, but I know they write mainly for friends and family and aren’t particularly looking for a wider audience.  They know who they are, and if they don’t, I’ll tell them later.  There are another couple who are always and excellent read, but have made it clear in the past that they’re not into the tagging thing, so I’ll respect that.  Then there are several others I follow whose’blogs are on quite specific topics and don’t get into personal posts.  They're all there on my profile anyway, so why not have a look and see if you can tell which is which?

With that said, should they choose to accept, I nominate,

Michelle at OBS:

Anything Fits a Naked Man, who I just discovered today via the aforementioned Kelly

Frisky Librarian from Gleeful and who also runs the excellent photo’blog Girl In Melbourne

Mrs P at A Study in Contradictions

Dan at Journey Through Dark Heat

Von at Vonerable

and for encouragement, Judy at The Queen Speaks