26 December 2013

A Fart from the Fringes

That's basically what this feels like; a furtive break of wind. Have I much to say? Yes. Am I going to say it right now? No.

2013 has been a quite a year in many ways. I've decided to resume blogging, however pithily and fitfully the outcome might be, in 2014.

So, this is a fart. The full dump is soon to come.

I also promise that I'll never use scatological imagery in any blog ever again.

26 February 2012

Lateralist Musings - The Labor Leadership Tussle

It's both easy and tempting to describe the struggle for power between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as a selfish farce that will do little more than further damage the already sullied Labor brand. There is certainly a chance that this might happen. But there is an alternative.

Personally, I think it's high time that some of the truths about Rudd's time in the top job are made more widely known. It seems hard to argue with the notion that his leadership style was chaotic and unproductive, and that he was possessed of a particularly nasty combination of ruthlessness and arrogance that made him virtually impossible to work for. In contrast, it seems that Gillard enjoys the support and respect of the overwhelming majority of her colleagues, which, in the cut-throat world of professional politics, is no easy task. And I think it's an especially noteworthy achievement given just how deficient the Government's polling numbers have been of late.

Although the media seems happy to continue to propagate the same tired myth that Gillard "knifed" Rudd, it finally seems as though there are a few slightly more conscientious commentators who are now questioning the rather tired "wisdom" of this overly simplistic version of events. Now, in reality, a different picture emerges. Rudd was not toppled by a vicious and power-crazed woman; he was dragged down by his own incompetence and his ego. His colleagues could not work for him, because he would not work with them. And in his place, a more measured figure was given the chance to steady the ship. With the benefit of hindsight, the Government did itself no favours by using the "Government had lost its way" line. All this did was obscure Rudd's failings, and make it easy more observers to spread the blame far more evenly throughout the Labor Government than it deserved to be spread. It still has not fully recovered from the damage it did to itself by failing to overtly outline the failings of its former leader.

But unlike most, I do believe that it can recover. Ultimately, I think Gillard is going to win this ballot by some distance. Rudd may try to mount another challenge in the future, but I think that this is unlikely, as I think that every time he does, he is only going to make himself look more and more foolish. In contrast, I think Gillard is going to emerge from this debacle looking better than when she went into it. This is of Rudd's making, not hers. His pathetic belief in his own importance has finally freed those in the know to speak their minds about him. The more addled he looks in the mind of the public, the more legitimate Gillard's leadership becomes.

The only curious point is Rudd's bafflingly enduring popularity with the public. Given that those who've worked with him - that is, those who actually know what the man was like - think that he was a nutter, it is a little odd that a sizeable portion of the public seem to prefer to believe in his media image than in the pathetic reality he tried (and continues to try) so hard to obscure. I think on one level that it is easy to deduce from this a simple failing in basic common sense in the minds of public, but I think that's so simple as to be simplistic. In truth, it would be far more satisfying (and productive) if we saw the cause of this disturbing incongruity as a failing of our media to present to us the facts, but who have instead chosen to keep offering us the same lazy fallacies again and again.

So why have they done it? Well, it's hard not to come back to the whole sexism thing. So much the criticism I hear of Gillard either takes the form of misogyny, or has misogyny at its core. Yes, she has low polling numbers, but honestly, why should we care? Elections are held when elections are held. It honestly makes as much sense to call for an "ELECTION NOW" as it does to call for the moron making such a request to be charged with treason. Better to ignore the lunatic fringe, and try and discern the issues, methinks. If only the media could bring itself to adopt so reasonable a position.

Personally, I like Gillard. I think she is a pretty ordinary public politician at times, but in reality, that ought not matter. By rights, as a citizen with half a brain, I should care more about what she does, than how she looks or sounds when she does it. And in this regard, she's got it all over Rudd, and any other potential Prime Minister.

Keating is right when he talks about Labor needing a clearer and more purposeful narrative. Ironically, Rudd's petulance might actually end up providing it. Gillard is going to beat him on Monday. That will mean she has beaten him twice. Abbott will carp, as Abbott does, but deep down, he'll know that her position in the party - and in the minds of the public - is now more legitimate than it once was. Happily, he probably knows that he can only try and make so much mileage out the popular preference for Rudd, because after all, the public greatly prefers Turnbull to himself. Not that these polls matter, mind you. Given that the majority of them don't actually consider voting preference, a sizeable number of people indicating a preference wouldn't ever actually vote for that person anyway.

Labor has been trying for an awfully long time to wreck itself. At least now, it's doing so with the gloves off. The fight is ugly, real and important. Hopefully, it can finally be resolved. Because if it can channel this anger and venom into fighting the real enemy - those idiots on the other side of the chamber - then I can promise you this; Abbott is actually going to have something to worry about.

24 November 2011

Lateralist Speakers - The New Political Order

There are days when I absolutely loathe Australian politics. All too often, it's an ugly, spiteful and frequently futile exercise in hypocritical and obfuscatory point-scoring. But on days like today, it's the best spectator sport in the land. And that's just brilliant.

It's been reported that the resignation of House Speaker, Harry Jenkins, was completely unexpected. I think it's fair to say that whilst that might be true for most, it certainly isn't true for all. There's been a plan hatched here, and only time will tell whether or not it's a good one.

But first, a word about Harry Jenkins. I love Harry Jenkins. I'd drink my tea from a cup with his picture on it. I'd have his hirsute visage glower at the world from the t-shirt I was wearing. If I ever start a band, Harry Jenkins will get a song. Or even an album. We could, as a band, even be the Harry Jenkins All-Stars.

I'm as fond of Harry as I am because he's been a beacon of frustrated decency in an at-times stagnant and stinking political quagmire. He's done his level best to impose a sense of order on our representative rabble, and has managed to do so with a quip and a jibe, which, given the challenges of the position, mark him as a man of rare integrity and considerable faculty. Bob Katter, who won't praise a man out of any sense of obligation, was unequivocal in naming Jenkins the best Speaker (of the many) he'd encountered in his considerable time in parliament. I think the fact that probably no other Speaker's name and deeds have entered the public consciousness as much as Harry's is testament to his general abilities and broad appeal. Even Tony Abbott, for all the shit he's made Jenkins deal with over the last couple of years, has had the rare decency not the damn the man with faint praise. Although admittedly, maybe Abbott had a hunch all along what might end up happening if Big Harry decided to vacate the Speaker's chair.

Deputy Speaker, Peter Slipper, doesn't seem to be one of the Liberal Party's favourite sons. The prospect of him ending up in the Speaker's Chair is not anyone in the Liberal Party's idea of an ideal outcome. For a start, it would mean that Labor's majority increases by one member, which is great news for them, and bad news for the Coalition. It would effectively terminate Abbott's hopes of a run at the top job before the next election. But as bad as that is for Abbott, it's potentially even worse news for Andrew Wilkie.

Wilkie's made pokies reform the One Big Thing he wants to do with his time in Office. It's both admirable and right that he try to stop people with gambling problems from being a de facto funding source for pubs and clubs across the country, and for making already rich bastards like James Packer even richer. The problem is, pissing off people with lots of money is always a risky proposition. Wilkie seems to think he has nothing to lose. The Government does not share this feeling.

As such, Wilkie may end up finding himself rather side-lined if Labor can effectively govern without his vote. I'm not unhappy about with Labor's position being stronger, but really, that strength would be far better served if it were to advance and support ideas like Wilkie's gambling reforms, rather than potentially curtailing them. Mind you, if Wilkie had avoided hassling the Government on issues like the Mining Tax, they might very well have let him be. It doesn't pay to get greedy or cocky in a business like politics. Things can change far too quickly.

But no matter what the future holds for Wilkie, Abbott's position (and the Coalition's) just got weaker. Jenkins was as fair a Speaker as one can get. Slipper might be a Liberal, but I don't think he and Abbott are close. Ironically, Abbott might now find himself on an even shorter leash than before. And speaking of leashes; Jenkins is now off his. He's a tour de force in that chamber, with a stockpile of political respect and capital that he must be just itching to start using. I can't wait to hear Jenkins first unbridled attack on the Coalition, if for no other reason than it's likely to be bristling with barbs, and almost certainly widely reported in the media.

The more curious question is the role of Kevin Rudd in all of this. Apparently, he and Slipper go way back. Did Rudd engineer this? If so, why? Has he actually helped his Party, and more significantly, his Prime Minister? Or is he secretly hoping that his role in all of this will curry just a little bit more Party favour, and move that second tilt at the PM's Office from the column marked "no" to the one marked "maybe"? Again, only time will tell.

With the resignation of Harry Jenkins, the Australian people have lost a great Speaker, and a great servant of our democracy. We are a poorer nation for that. But there's one heck of an upside. Now, finally, we're actually going to hear the man speak.

Personally, I can't wait.

23 November 2011

Lateralist Tweets


Seeing I'm finding it harder and harder to find the time to post, there is now a twitter feed for The Lateralist Society. If you use twitter, simply look for The Lateralist Society, and follow it. If not, sign up. It's easy. It's called TWITter, for God's sakes..

I will still post blogs when the time permits/inspiration strikes.

And yes, I'm well aware that I've made repeatedly poked fun at twitter on this site over the years. What can I say? Hypocrisy greases the wheels of the cynicism we all enjoy.

24 October 2011

Lateralist Review - Tom Waits' "Bad As Me"

Rather than break yet another extended blogging silence with a political rant, I thought I'd offer a review of the new Tom Waits album, the cheerfully titled, Bad As Me. (The rant will follow soon enough, I expect.)

It's probably fair to say that Tom Waits' voice is an acquired taste. There are people who find Bruce Springsteen's voice a little too throaty and raspy for their tastes. Those same folks are likely to find Waits' remarkable instrument pitched somewhere between baffling and horrifying. I'm happy to say that I'm not one of those people. To these ears, Waits is blessed with one of the most incredible voices in music, and on this album, he mines its richness for all it is worth.

In fact, Bad As Me confirms something I've long suspected; namely, that Tom Waits' voice is actually many different voices - which are essentially personas - all conveyed via the same inimitable larynx. Crooner, shouter, bellower, whisper, seducer, protester; for each guise, there is a voice. But what makes this album extra special is that for each voice, there is a song worthy of it.

Bad As Me blasts its way out of the gates with the stomp-honk that is "Chicago", and whilst it keeps changing colours and styles, it never wavers in quality. For me, it couldn't help but call to mind Bob Dylan's late career masterpieces, Time Out Of Mind and "Love and Theft", as this an album where the balance between musical daring and lyrical precision is pitch perfect.

There are a lot of songs (fourteen in total) on this album, but each feels carefully honed and shaped. Throughout, the instrumentation is particularly rich; stabs of guitars, horns, swirling organ, plucked double-basss, tinkling jazz piano, and on its goes. This album richly rewards repeated listening. Each song seems to nod towards a particular style or genre, but the calibre of craft involved lifts each and everyone to something far more satisfying than mere pastiche. Waits is a real story-teller, and he (and his wife and song-writing partner, Kathleen Brennan) has used his every ounce of his skills as an artist to fashion each tale into something very satisfying indeed.

Keith Richards features on several tracks, and one song, "Satisfied" is a direct shout-out to the Stones. (Can you guess which song?) Waits himself described the track as "refuckulous", which is surely the greatest word invented by anyone so far this century. And whilst the song "New Years Eve" is garnering the most critical plaudits, for me, the standout song is "Hell Broke Luce". A bone-shakingly visceral anti-war character piece, it is an absolute sonic blast of rage and indignation. In fact for one fleeting moment, when a thundering guitar riff threatens to lift the song into the stratosphere (or possibly drag it into the earth's core), listeners get a sense of what it might sound like if Waits ever chooses to cover The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage". Which, let's face it, would be fucking epic.

Tom Waits doesn't do mediocre. His lesser efforts are at the very least, interesting. But on this album, at at age 61, he's excelled himself. It feels like the culmination of Waits' own particular vision. Lord knows where he'll head next, but I can promise you, I'll be along for the ride.

13 July 2011

Lateralist Politics - The Carbon Tax & Common Sense

Most of the time, I try to let myself think that, for the most part, we Australians are a pragmatic and fair-minded bunch, capable of listening carefully and speaking honestly. But the sheer enormity of drivel being written about the Gillard Government and the proposed carbon tax (which isn't a tax) is forcing me to question the veracity of this assumption.

It seems that the majority of Australians accept that action on climate change is necessary, because our planet is trying unsuccessfully to adapt to the impact of unnaturally high (i.e. man-made) levels of carbon in our environment. (That we don't want to pay for this is a little depressing, but understandable.) I'll briefly address the scepticism on this. I'm not a climate scientist, but thankfully, I don't have to be, because there are quite a lot of them, and the overwhelming majority of them are of one mind when it comes to the destructive impact that carbon pollution is having on our environment.

It's worth noting that I for one have never needed to understand every little aspect of the world in which I live in order to go on living in it. I mean, I've not seen it conclusively proven in the media that I should eat my vegetables, but I do. I have no idea how a car engine actually works, but this does not stop me from driving my car. I don't even know how wine is made, but I drink it. The fact is, I have sufficient confidence that there are people - the people directly involved with these things - who know what they are talking about. How on earth so many people have managed to get so off track when it comes to adopting a position on climate change is very, very disturbing. But let's just set that aside, and conclude that if you're a climate change denier - which you are if don't acknowledge the role of humanity in changing our climate - then you're an idiot. (Or at the very least, you've adopted an idiotic position.) Sorry to be snippy, but it just seems quicker. And let's face it, climate change deniers probably aren't reading this site, are they?

I can only assume that the media's desire to misrepresent information in favour of an unrepresentative conflict has made it easier for so many to adopt so unsound a position. If you took a cursory glance at the media over the last few years - and I'm not just talking about the Murdoch Press - you'll have likely encountered an alarmingly disproportionate representation of views that challenge the accepted scientific wisdom that our climate is changing, and that we are major contributors to this. This is irresponsible journalism. Lord only knows when and why a consensus opinion became un-newsworthy; because it is, after all, of sufficient rarity to score novelty value points at least. But no - conflict is what sells, so that's what we get. Conflict seems to be the junk food of the media, and for far too many, it has become an unquestioned staple in their diets. In no one's language can this be good for you.

It is from within this particular media environment that Tony Abbott has weaponised the stupidity and hostility of his electorate. Absolutely nothing that Abbott is offering in his attacks on Gillard has any credence whatsoever. If you think Gillard lied, I suppose you're entitled to your opinion, but in my humble opinion, she didn't. She had her mind changed for her by the composition of her minority government. I think it can safely be assumed that when Gillard made her election promises and Abbott made his, both were talking from the point of view of assuming that they would be able to govern in their respective rights. I think anyone who is so caught up on the notion that Gillard lied would likely never have voted for her anyway. But those who might have are in danger of privileging (hypocritical) principle over practice, which, as everyone should know, is the arse-about way of looking at things.

When science and economics are both on the side of Gillard's plan, surely to side with Abbott is to be backing the wrong horse. It's all well and good to resent the notion of having to pay for addressing the negative impacts of climate change, but it's a childish reaction, not unlike the pouting petulance one might expect from a child who's been told to tidy his or her room. A shift to a more sustainable energy future was always going to require market mechanisms to work. And pricing carbon is the only logical way to do it. Which, by the way, is why it is not a tax. If I charge you for dumping rubbish - I'm not taxing you, I'm imposing a cost on you. That Gillard conceded this rather petty debate of nomenclature was admirable, in that she's right; the name hardly matters. But it's certainly a sign of the deep resentment being directed towards her in the electorate that she's been pilloried relentlessly for a rare moment (for any politician) of common sense.

And the bile being directed towards her is staggering. Personally, I don't care for her voice that much, but I actually think she can speak very well. But that's about it. And it seems to me that the majority of vitriol aimed in her direction is personal, rather than evidential. Accusations that her Government is a disastrous failure simply don't stack up. She's lead, in spite of Abbott's pointless hectoring, a minority Government with success for more than a year. Mistakes prior to the most recent election (which are debatable in themselves) are surely past their use-by dates. (After all, that's what an election really is.)

So from where does all this bile come? Is the Right really so petty and self-involved that it has confused the political orientation implied in its name with its subjective worth? The opposite of the Right is the Left, not the Wrong; no matter how big your ego, or your sense of self-importance. If I thought that the Gillard Government really was stuffing things up, I'd say so; I'm not a blind, dyed-in-the-wool Leftie who will not call a fault when I see it. And so far, all the so-called faults that are being bandied about are little more than fear-based beat-ups. The asylum-seeker debate was a crock of shit, which it tends to be each and every time it's get raised (by the Right) in this country. And virtually every other bill - and there's been more than one hundred - passed by this Government since the '10 election has been passed with support (or at least, no objection) from the Opposition. Hardly a sign of overwhelming failure or dysfunction.

Thus, I can only assume that a sizeable portion of Australia has come to favour a cult of personality - or at the very worst, of character assassination. Has the media stoked this fire? Absolutely. But no one has stoked it more than Tony Abbott, who was always going to have to rely on a triumph of style over substance to convince anyone at all that he's an electable proposition.

Put another way, if you don't like Gillard personally, that's fine; but if that's your sole reason for not voting for her, then you're a bloody idiot. Because when it comes down to it, politicians should be judged on what they do, rather than what they say, or how they say it. I mean, the Right-wing reactionaries are carping at Gillard for lying, whilst simultaneously regurgitating Abbott's "great big new tax" bullshit spin. Irony, much? Not one of the claims made against Gillard that I've read contains anything more than personal vitriol. She's trying to govern, and if her sole ambition was to stay in power beyond 2013, then surely there are easier ways to do it than the path she's chosen.

I mean, the accusation of wealth redistribution are bit heavy-handed, aren't they? A stupid woman on the ABC's website the other day was complaining that a senior on $30k a year was going to receive nearly a thousand dollars in compensation, despite only incurring an increase in yearly costs of around two hundred dollars. And because of this, she was going to vote Liberal. I think when you're more worried about the compensation than the notion of a senior living on $30k a year, you were always going to vote liberal. The fact is, this system is designed to make it more expensive to pollute. In the short term, polluters are likely to want to pass these costs on. But as alternatives are found, it becomes financially unwise to continue to offer goods and services at uncompetitive prices. It really is the kind of stuff Year 11 Economics students could get their head around.

Politicians, whether we like them or not, deserve a chance to do their jobs. If they fuck up, we get to vote them out. Every three years - not when we feel like it. The very notion of poll-driven policy is absolutely abhorrent to me, because it is surely the antithesis of the kind of long-term thinking necessary for governance. But that's the climate we're currently creating for our politicians. No wonder Abbott's doing well. He never utters (or thinks) a thought that can't fit into a tweet. That's not leadership, it's playing with matches. And if the populace ever falls for his shtick at an election, then we deserve all we get.

Gillard's got my support. I don't like everything she says or does, but no one in their right mind should use an individual and idealised version of his or her perfect politician as the sole yardstick for determining the success or failure of a leader. It is binarily facile to do so. And whether people like it or not, she'll be leading the government at the time of the next election. I hope she wins. If she does, it'll be a triumph for her, which, given the pasting she's going to cop between now and then, will be thoroughly deserved.

19 June 2011

Lateralist Classifications

Every now and then, even the those whose views you already find contemptuous make it easy for you.

According right-wing gas-bag, Piers Ackerman, renowned centenarian Dame Elizabeth Murdoch is too old to voice an opinion on climate change. The fact that her opinion is contrary to his own probably has nothing to do with it.

I wonder what Piers thinks she ought to be doing saying. Something about impending death? A few banal cliches about the link between hard work, the odd snifter of port and longevity? A few long-concealed revelations that she withheld affection from poor Rupert, and that she regrets what it did to him? The mind boggles.

But perhaps Piers is onto something. Maybe the members of our good citizenry should have to fulfil a few basic criteria before voicing their opinion on anything. That'd certainly cut a swathe through the recycled sewerage that many espouse.

Sadly for Piers, though, he'd be one of the first to get the chop. Unfortunately, under the new regulations inspired by his attempt to censure Dame Murdoch, Piers is now banned from opening his blubbery mouth ever again. Why? He's too fat, too ugly, too stupid, too prejudiced, too ill-informed, too stupidly named (a misspelt jetty? please.), and lastly, too f*cking intolerant of those who disagree with him.

Thanks, Piers. You tosser.