29 December 2010

Lateralist Cricket - An Ashes Reflection

When I first started watching cricket as a boy, Australia were terrible. It was around 1986, and the Ashes were played in Australia. England's batting line-up included tweedles Gatting and Lamb, the mercurial David Gower and the inebriated Ian Bothan. And boy, did they and their team mates give Australia a pasting.

And now, it is without question that the Australian side has come to closely resemble the side of my youth. It's about bloody time.

To enjoy and value success, failure needs to be a living memory. Cricket might be taken awfully seriously by a great many adults, but to all but the most crazed of them, the real life-blood supporters of a nation's teams are its youth. To the ten year-olds of 2010, men like Peter Siddle are their heroes, and rightly so. Just because he is not a bowler of the calibre of Glen McGrath, Dennis Lillee, Craig McDermott (or even, God forbid, Merv Hughes) is hardly the point; youth worships primarily at the culture of now, not yesterday.

The greats of the past will live forever in the hallowed halls of statistics, and that's where they belong. But it's the players of today, who will toil, and fail, and toil some more that will etch their way into the mind of the next generation of cricket supporters. I want the youth of today to see players who, in spite of their lack of ability and success, just keep trying. Siddle may not (to me) be the most exciting cricketer to watch, but for a child watching the game, I have no problem at all in him being an object of admiration. After all, winning is a virtual formality when you're better than your opponents.

In time, people might come to see the failures in Adelaide and Melbourne as less important than the glorious victory in Perth. Because on those few days at the WACA, an inferior side outplayed a superior one. That's worth remembering.

So what does the future hold for our current crop of players? It means that for some, time is up. Ponting's career is almost over, and his Captaincy is surely at an end. That there is no stand-out player to replace him is to miss the point; the failures of 2011 need to belong to a player in his prime, not one in his twilight, even if the replacement is an inferior player. Call me a cynic, but you'd be desperately unlucky to annoint an inferior tactician.

That Ponting has tried his best is not in doubt. It's just that I don't think he's come to terms with being in a second-rate side, after more than a decade of playing in (by some distance) the best side in the world. The kind of arrogance needed to be that good just looks ridiculous when transplated into a lesser side. Imagine if Viv Richards sauntered around like he did in the 1980's as leader of the current West Indian side. He'd look like an absolute twat.

Plus, Ponting's departure, (and soon, Hussey's, Katich's, and then on form, Clarke's) will make it far, far easier for older fans to hope the Australian side can rebuild itself anew. Prolonged success breds contempt. Granted, failure doesn't taste that nice, but sometimes a team, and a nation needs to take its bitter medicine, and just keep its head down for a while.

I look forward to the time when Australia is a strong cricketing nation again. After a few years in the doldrums, I know they'll deserve it. But they're going to need to shed the arrogance of the great sides of the 1990's and 2000's, and replace it with tenacity. They'll need to lose the contempt, and summon some guile; ditch the sledging, and find some gamemanship. Players of Ponting's ilk, or Warne's, McGrath's or Hayden's aren't going to come along that often. And that's ok. We need to stop looking for them. Trust me, if one appears, I doubt they'll go unnoticed.

Until then, we need young players with guts and determination. No one over the age of 25 should be debut for the Australian side in the next few years. The selectors, if they had brains and balls, would be scouring the state sides for the young kids who'd go out to bat without a helmet, or even a bat (or box) come to think of it, just for a chance to play. They're the future; not some well-padded thirty-two year old making big scores against (or for) Tasmania.

We are a second rate cricketing nation right now, and we need to accept it. When we see ourselves as the underdog once more, the spark and spirit that made the success for Border, Boon and others taste so very sweet will return.

I for one look forward to it. So, to any Pommy bastards reading this; we're coming for you. In 2017....

12 December 2010

Wikileaks Pt II - The Revision of Perception

The other day I published a short and fairly glib response to the Julian Assange/Wikileaks situation. It was, to be honest with you, ill-thought-through. If you normally access this blog via facebook, then I encourage you to detour to the actual site, and read the response posted in comment on my blog by this site's co-founder. It's a brilliant piece of writing that deserves your attention. I for one am glad he posted it, and grateful that he was as forgiving of my rather pithy ramblings as he was.

In any event, he got me thinking a bit more deeply about what Assange has done, and what his (and the actions of Wikileaks) have revealed about the state of journalism in 2010. As the co-founder of this site pointed out, it does not make for comfortable thinking. In fact, it goes some way towards explaining - if not excusing - my rather limited perception of what Assange has achieved up to this point. I made the comment that what he'd released so far amounted to little more than banal gossip. As was pointed out to me, this is patently untrue. His site has revealed considerable events of the distortion and/or suppression of information - by Governments, Government Agencies and Corporations - on a worryingly grand scale. Whether the topic be global conflict or global warming, Assange's site has revealed that, unsurprisingly, I suppose, those with power and vested interests did not present pictures that cast them in unflattering lights. And that they have gone - and continue to go - to considerable and highly immoral lengths to achieve their ends.

I didn't realise this. I should have. Why? Because I was largely basing my assessment of what Assange had released on what I was encountering in traditional media. I really ought to have spotted the flaw in the logic of my actions sooner than I did. It stands to reason that established media organisations are likely to under-reprensent (or flagrantly misrepresent) the significance of Assange's achievements, as his site has really cast their efforts in an extremely poor light. Whether it be by design, incompetence, malaise or collusion, contemporary media outlets either not had access to - or simply chosen not to report the kinds of information that Assange has posted, because they have a vested interest in not doing so. So, naturally enough, I suppose, when acting as microphones for his (Assange's) work, they have tend to focus of sensational and salacious, rather than the significant and substantial, which sadly continues to portray them - including sites I value - as treating the pubic interest that many of those same media bodies purport to represent as utterly secondary to continuing to maintain for themselves the illusion of relevance. Assange has thrown all of their actions into disrepute, if you look closely enough. I'm ashamed to say that I did not. Until now.

This not to say that I still don't have concerns about Assange and his site; I still do. I worry that if Assange is given the chance to become an even more powerful figure, he, like so many who attain power, will lose his judgement and moral compass. I worry that other sites like his will arrise, and that they will not be so discerning in what they choose to publish. I worry that individuals will go to disturbing and illegal lengths - at grave risk to themselves and others - to find or access the information they believe necessary for Wikileaks to publish. But are these worries of a size or scope significant enough for me to hope Assange and his colleagues stop doing what they are doing? They certainly are not.

All organisations which eventually reach a point whereby their size and significant sews them into the societal fabric lose the essence of whatever it is they once were. From a journalistic point of view, this is far, far more troubling than it appears, and appears to be terrible. Consider the twin examples of Kerry O'Brien and Bill O'Reilly.

Kerry's wonderful career on the 7:30 Report has just come to an end. (A more fulsome tribute will appear in the coming days.) He has, in my humble opinion, exemplified the very best of what traditional journalism has to offer. O'Brien used his position and integrity to explore topics of considerable relevance to Australians, and to conduct probing and insightful interviews with whomever he spoke. From Barack Obama to Barry Humphries, all were worth hearing. I liked the man, I admired him, and most importantly, I trusted him.

Kerry makes a great case for the journalism that can exist from within traditional media. Bill O'Reilly does not. If you've never heard the incendiary ramblings of this right-wing lunatic, consider yourself fortunate, because his self-important and prejudicial lies are more damaging to the global environment than the introduction of lead to petrol. But his bullshit is an expeditious example to cite if one's goal is to challenge the veracity of corporate or institutionalised media.

Wikileaks bypasses this machine, and presents information to people. This is not to say it is indiscriminate with its material and that it bypasses journalism itself. The site has journalists, and it has good ones. In an interview with Tony Jones on Lateline, Assange proudly defended the fact that Wikileaks has a record of one hundred percent accuracy when it comes to publishes stories of substance. There is isn't another media outlet on the planet that comes close to this. Also, some media organisations (The Guardian, The New York Times) have actively worked with Assange and Wikileaks to present information. Exactly what kind of ground this puts these organisation on remains to be seen. Is it is validation of established media? It's too early to say.

As such, it is all more infuriating that Assange is being given the treatment that he his by politicians. Initially, I thought Julia Gillard's comments about the "illegality" of his actions were just plain stupid; now I think they are systemic of a much bigger problem. It really does seem as though the old age about the corruptive influence of power is utterly, utterly indiscrimiate. No matter who or what you are, you will use your power first and foremost to preserve yourself. To be honest, this flies in face of what I've always liked to believe about people, but there it is. I've admired Barack Obama for some time, but I find his recent comments about the "deplorable" actions of Assange and Wikileaks extremely disappointing. I expected that kind of reactionary rubbish from the penguin-brained Sarah Palin, but I expected more from Obama. There is time for sage politicians to wise up to the wind of change, but not much, I don't think. At least, I hope not.

Societies have always ebbed and flowed in terms of their internal balances of power, steered by the ethics of the few; powered by the ethics of the many. Assange's site has the potential to bring about considerable global change. But it also has the potential to change very little, other than our perceptions. All organisations are flawed, more flawed perhaps that we - the normal citizens - would like to believe, in our quest to go about our daily lives. I suppose there have always been horrific global injustices to which one must need turn a blind eye if one wishes to go about life untroubled. We've become remarkably adept at ignoring the suffering of others, at least once it's been presented to us in palatable chunks on the evening news, and sandwiched between stories about fashion and vandalism. And we've long told ourselves that our politicians have lied to us. I wonder if, as the proof of this begins to mount, if we're going to let them get away it. I also wonder if, in a world so riddled with corruptive forces, that there is actually a viable alternative. It'd be a terrible shame if, in the end, all Assange manages to achieve it to remove the veneer of civility and integrity from our perception of global events.

But how much have we a right to expect from our media and our journalists? I think Assange has pointed out that we have a right to expect more, but I think he's also reminded us that an active and engaged citizenry must expect more of itself. Assange has thrown down quite the challenge. I hope we have the stamina and stomach for it.

They say sunshine is the best disinfectant. I wonder. In any event, I think the world of journalism may very well be about to go supernova. That's an awful lot of disinfectant. But it's not a case of "let's see what happens next"; because we are a part of what happens next.

I for one won't be taking anything for granted.


09 December 2010

Lateralist Leaks - A Welsh Inquisition

Well, not that Welsh, although talk of leaks always stirs thoughts of Roland Rat for me. Ah, Roland, you were the most endearing of vermin.

Certainly more endearing than some of the rabid comments being tossed about in response to the actions of Julian Assange. I for one have taken some time to weigh up my thoughts about what he's done, and more importantly, its possible ramifications.

Whether or not Assange has broken any laws is for the Courts to decide. I'm not particularly interested in the rape allegations against him; not because I don't regard such allegations as serious, but because they ought to have no bearing on considering his wikileaks actions. Whether or not there is a link between the two is going to receive considerably more attention from conspiracy theorists than it is going to get from me.

Assange has certainly put a number of noses out of joint by revealing the information that he had. Red-Faced politicians and diplomats don't really concern me. And in truth, the sum total of Assange's recently published revelations amounts to little more than tabloid-level gossip. It is, of itself, really rather banal.

But the precedent he may have set could be something else entirely. It's one thing to reveal a US Diplomat's less than glowing characterisation of Kevin Rudd or Vladimir Putin. They'll get annoyed, and bluster a bit, but not much else. But it could be quite something else to reveal, for example, that the US Secretary of State has stated her belief that Kim Jong-Il is a fat pansy with Mother issues. Something like that might very well put the cat amongst the pigeons.

Up until now, Assange has either exercised some prudent restraint in what he's chosen to publish, or he's simply not had that much of substance to reveal. I think the real reason many Governments (but particularly the US Government) are so up in arms, is due to the fact that a failure to appear any less than extremely irked by what Assange has done might very well invite others to go one step further, and in the name of freedom of information, reveal all, and let the chips fall where they may.

Ironically, an unwarranted attack on Assange might such provoke the very reaction that the US would be wise to guard against; retribution. The US has a rather shameful history of trumpeting the freedom of speech, whilst exercising extremely careful (and utterly censorious) control of information. Information is power, and when a bloke like Assange publishes US Diplomatic cables, then US Diplomatic power is weakened. I honestly don't know whether this a good thing or a bad thing. I know that there are better things that an all-powerful nation that can control the affairs of other nations, but I also know that there are worse things, too. And actually, these documents have done quite an impressive job of revealing just how impotent US Diplomatic relations can be. Again, I'm not sure that this is a good thing, or a bad thing.

I do know that Assange needs to be tried if there is a case to be brought against him. I also know that he deserves the full support of the Australian Government, no matter what his fate. He is an Australian citizen, and Julia Gillard thoroughly deserves to be taken to task for her ridiculous allegations of illegality on his part. That she's back-tracked only reinforces a fairly negative - and increasingly negative - perception of her political acumen, in that when called upon to think or act without the act of an internal poll, she's about as sure of herself as an amnesiac.

Assange may very well have acted irresponsibly; many people do. But crime is a very different thing. It remains to be seen to what extent the US - and other nations - will attempt to re-draw the criminal boundaries in order to snag Assange, and deter others from following his lead.

They say sunshine is the best disinfectant. I wonder how a supernova compares. Because right now, the machinations and minutae of international diplomacy are under a very, very bright light. I'm not sure what's the worse case scenario; the revelation of something awful, or the revelation that there's nothing of substance there at all.

Either way, it remains to be seen.

07 November 2010

Lateralist Fast Food

It seems that fast food has been on the receiving end of some unwanted attention of late; at least, it's unwanted from the point of view of the corporations who manufacture and sell the noxious shite that generally passes for fast food. Namely, the hamburger.

I used to love going to Hungry Jack's. I'd order myself a double whopper with cheese meal (upgraded) almost every Saturday. Why? Because usually, I'd have a good deal of booze on Friday night. Now, I'm not exactly sure what the correlation between beer and fast food is, but I do know that for me at least, one was ideally followed swiftly by the other. And the combination was lethal. Before I knew it, I was seriously overweight, with blood pressure on the rise.

So I can certainly sympathise with anyone who has struggled to live healthily. But for the last six months, I've changed my way of eating and drinking. I no longer eat fast food, and actually quit drinking nearly four months ago. (More on that later.) By changing my diet and adding in some regular exercise, and I've lost fourteen kilograms, which is fairly close to the weight I'm supposed to be.

Losing weight isn't that hard, once you've made the decision to do so, providing you are committed to it, and providing you can understand just why you gained the weight in the first place. For me, it was for a variety of reasons, which culminated in a what was an insidiously vicious cycle: drink, eat, get sleepy, repeat. And get fat. Very fat.

Which brings us back to fast food. Those burgers I liked to eat contained, on average, 1022 calories (or 4273 kilojoules). And that's just the burger. Add the coke at the fries, and we're looking at an astonishing 1756 calories, or 7342 kilojoules. Given that the recommended daily kilojoule intake is 8700 kilojoules, you can see where we begin to have a problem. And that's not the worst of it. The worst of it can be measured in saturated fat and salt. That burger meal amounts to 202% of the recommended daily intake of saturated fats, and 86% of the recommended daily intake of sodium. Put another way, it's a heart attack in a greasy wrapper.

Now, I'm an educated and reasonably intelligent man. You'd think I'd know better than to eat rubbish like that. Sadly, I didn't. I also smoked for a number of years, too, so my track record for knowing what's good for me is pretty dismal. And I'm not alone. The experience of losing weight tends to atune one to the weight of others, and the number of seriously overweight people waddling around Perth is nothing short of frightening. But if you want an explanation of the phenomenon, simply glance at the shopping trolley of a large person next time your in a supermarket, and the answer will present itself.

I could spend time deriding overweight people for their poor diet choices and pathetic lack of willpower, but it would be both pointless and hypocritical. I was overweight, and unless I keep working at it, could easily be so again. I needed to reach a point in my life where being healthy became of paramount importance to me. I'm thankful that it has happened, but I don't think I can claim too much credit for it. Sometimes, people seem to have very little control over when precisely their moment of clarity will arise.

But when it comes to children, I'm not sure waiting for them to experience a moment of clarity for themselves is the responsible course of action. Obese parents all too often produce obese children. And once obesity sets in, it can be very, very hard to erradicate.

Which is why I was so pleased the American city of San Francisco has banned McDonalds (and other fast food chains) from giving toys away with unhealthy food. It's interesting how McDonalds is trying to spin the decision so it appears as though it's the Happy Meal (i.e. the Coronary Meal) that's been banned, when it hasn't. If McDonalds wants to give a toy to every child who purchases a nutritous breast of whole chicken, with actual salad (sans cheese) on a real,whole grain bun, I don't think there'd be a problem at all, do you?

I think society is crying out for some entrepeneur with some cash, some vision and social conscience to revolutionalise fast food in this country. Fast need not be a short cut to an early death. I can easily envision a restaurant with lots of colours and play areas for children, where the food is healthy, and the fries are replaced with fruit. And there are toys galore for the children, with every little meal they buy. It's a horrible reality in our society that "treat" has become a euphemism for "bad". Why do we treat ourselves with stuff that's actually harmful to us? It's profoundly, hazardously stupid.

And it's got to end. I'm not sure you can ban fast food, but then ethically and logistically, I'm not sure it's that different from banning smoking. The social and medical costs aren't that different. And when it comes to children, smokers are in trouble if they light up with kids in the car, so there's already some degree of commitment from authorities to protect the young from the poor choices of adults.

The debate about personal freedoms is long and tiresome, but essential. Too easily are freedoms lost to the best of intentions. But the obesity crisis in Australia (and other countries) is getting worse with every passing year. I think some seriously effective deterrents are going to need to be put in place before too long, to not only stop people from wanting to buy unhealthy fast food, but also to stop people from wanting to sell it. And the hip pocket seems as good a place as any to aim for.

But until that happens, we're only going to get fatter. Our desire for superficial gratification (or food porn) is alive and well. The only problem is, when scoffing down a Big Mac, we're barely one of these things.

06 November 2010

Northam - Lateralist Excuses

I feel for the moderate, tolerantly-minded population of Northam. It must be hell for her.

Okay, there's probably more than one, but right now, the voice of reason is being well and truly shouted down by the irrational voice of prejudice and fear. Why? God only knows.

It's not fair to simply dismiss the actions of those loudly complaining that refugees are going to be housed in their town as simply the ingorant braying of country rednecks. For a start, this presupposes a singular (and limited) mentality for all country folk. I know for a fact that this not true, for the simple reason that I have family who live outside the centre of the known universe that is the metropolis of Perth, and can confidently vouchsafe that they are possessed of intellects that would comfortably outstrip that of the entire population of, say, Rockingham.

And I also know that the hysterical fear of being in close proximity to asylum seekers is not a complaint shared by folk in all country towns, for the simple reason that the town of Leonora has not only accepted asylum seekers, but actively welcomed them; noting the positive social and economic benefits their arrival has had for the town as a whole. But it's probably not a stretch to infer that the folks making the most wildly baseless claims about the relationship between boat people and armageddon don't do a lot of reading as a general rule; and as such, may not be aware just how swimmingly things are going in Leonora.

So, I can't help but wonder what the problem is in Northam. Is the gene pool just that little bit shallower? Has the disturbingly dry agricultural season lead to a bran shortage that has left the entire town constipated and irritable? The mind boggles.

I mean, I simply cannot for the life of me think of a rational reason for their complaints. The notion that local resources will be over-taxed is laughable, given that there has been repeated reassurrances from the relevant authorities outlining that the decision to house asylum-seekers mandates the need for a significant increase in the availability of medical and educational resources.

Secondly, it can hardly - in the greater scheme of things - be seen as wasteful to adapt a run-down and unused facility, when the only other option would then be to build a new facility from scratch. And as much as the folks wearing t-shirts with cannons pointed at boats filled with frightened refugees might think, there is no third option.

Which leaves the complaints about escape and murder the most viable of complaints. And that's really saying something. You'd think people would be more worried about being near a prison, but no; apparently, starved folk in the middle of nowhere, possessed of no resources, no contacts and no language are a very real threat. Honestly, it seems like the greatest threat to the dimwits of Northam is their own stupidy. These really seem to me to be the kinds of people for whom labels appear on hairdryers warning against using them in the shower.

Now, I might be slightly misrepresenting their gripes, but I'm really just following their lead. Why let the facts get in the way of a good diatribe? But I'll set aside this approach for the moment, and address the one issue I've heard mentioned with which I can summon any empathy at all; the lack of essential resources in country towns.

It's likely true for Northam - and small towns all over rural Australia - that there is a serious dearth of necessary resources. And I should imagine that drought conditions - and the resultant stress and anxiety these conditions bring - would only make the folk in these towns all the more acutely aware of the things they do not have. It's a sad reality, but folk who feel deprived are more likely to feel resentful of others than they are empathetic, and this only increases in likelihood when there is a perception - no matter how unfounded - that some have-nots are receiving preferential treatment. I cannot excuse such simplistic reductionism, but I can undertstand it.

The problem to me seems to be a misunderstanding over the roles of our various levels of Government. Whilst it is the Federal Government charged with the responsibility for border protection and the treatment and housing of asylum seekers, it is the State Government that is obliged to ensure adequate facilities exist in all areas of Western Australia. To me, it seems as though a problem in one area is being indiscriminantly transposed to another; some nameless, harmless foreigners are being used for target practice, when the people who really should be being held to account - Barney and the Rabble - get nary a mention. No wonder he (Barnett) stopped well short of calling the undeniably racist, stupid, incendiary and offensive comments from the troglodytes of Northam for what they were; no doubt he is well aware that if he calls even the slightest attention to himself, people might just realise that his hands are far from clean in this mess.

And a mess it is. It's terrible that Western Australian citizens should carry on like this. I feel sorry for the refugees who have to be housed near them. But I'm reminded of the story of the man who was seated on a plane, only to be horrified to see a black man sit down in the seat beside him. In response to his disgust, he called over a steward, and rattled through a list of non-reasons as to why he really needed to be moved to a different seat. The steward listened, nodded, and invited the black man to follow him to first class, where there would be a seat waiting for him.

So, for the good of the rest of us, I think a 5m high fence needs to be built around Northam. Folks like that are just too dangerous to be allowed to roam free. They'll shoot you as soon as look at you. They can't speak English properly, they eat horrible, horrible food, and they smell. And they're heathens, to boot! Honestly, it's scum like them that ruin things for the rest of us.

Intolerance is really just the skin of insecurity. I genuinely feel sorry for the folk in the bush who are doing it tough, and even more so for folk whose fears are the defining element of their world view. But all I've got for them is this; you're a lot better off than you think. And if you don't believe me, try talking to a refugee. It's a lot harder to deny the humanity of a person when you're eye to eye with them. Northam, it sounds like a dose of humanity is what you truly, urgently need.

But fear not; help is on the way.

04 November 2010

The Social Network - A Lateralist Review

As I've said in the past, this is not a site for reviews. But once again, I shall set that aside. Put simply, the David Fincher film, The Social Network, is simply too good, and dare I say it, too important a film to ignore.

There are films, books or songs that societies hurl into the limelight from time to time. Some, like "Mambo Number Five", are novelty nonsense. Others, like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and The Da Vinci Code have a little bit more to say. The extent to which they speak to us as cultural documents depends on how closely you look at them, I think. Kurt Cobain's diffident howl became the grunge anthem; a rallying cry for youth who were certainly disaffected, if hardly disenfranchised. The Da Vinci Code, probably defined a particular yearning even more appositely; an age determined to find meaning, but only from within the most simplistic and superficial of narratives.

The Social Network is different. It is a complex, richly layered film, propelled by the kinds of glaring and essential contradictions necessary to meaningfully explore so nuanced a social phenomenon as the birth of Facebook, and the wayward souls present at its conception. At the film's heart is Aaron Sorkin's impeccably written dialogue, whose rapid-fire pacing and pithy inflections should be immediately familiar to anyone who enjoyed his work on The West Wing. The sheer quantity of words in the film is at times almost overwhelming, but they give the film not only a richly intellectual depth, but also a surging sense frustration, a quality which seems to gnaw at almost all of the hearts of the film's numerous antagonists. (I'm not sure that anyone in this film is fully deserved of being considered a protagonist.)

In terms of its genre stylings, The Social Network is impressively hard to pin down. At times, it seems redolent of Martin Scorcese's underworld epic, Goodfellas, with its giddying rise and inevitable (of a sorts) fall; whilst at others, it feels almost like a mystery, in the sense that whilst the end of the tale is known, the journey to it remains obscured and alluring. That some critics have noted parallels with Citizen Kane isn't all that surprising, really; at its heart, this film is a meditation on the connection between the all-consuming self-doubt and an insatiable desire of greed. It's also a film which, for all of its indie, Gen-Y riffage, is epic in its thematic scope. This film is trying to do no less that to capture the soul of a generation, and both dissect and eulogise it simultaneously. That it succeeds is nothing short of astonishing.

Its narrative rotates between two court cases - which provide the film with its expository backbone - and the real-time events which those those court cases witheringly scrutinise. Consequently, the motivations behind Facebook's creation are portrayed as being hollowly financial and self-aggrandising at best, and spitefully vituperative at worst. And yet, the central figure, Mark Zuckerberg, emerges as a character who, whilst difficult to love, is even harder to dismiss. When others - particularly much older, adversarial lawyers - seek to ignore, malign or defame him, it's almost impossible love his sharply barbed replies.

Actually, as I watched the film, I couldn't help but consider the resemblance between Mark Zuckerberg, and another zeitgeist-defining geek; The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper. Both are intellectual geniuses who struggle to navigate the social world. But the key difference is telling: Sheldon's belief in his own self worth is unwavering, due in no small part to his dedicated coterie of friends who support his every move, in spite of their considerable frustrations with him. In contrast, Zuckerberg's status as an extremely gifted young man is offset by the cold reality of his being essentially an unloved loner, and it is easy to see that whilst he believes his abilities should afford him far great social respect and status, it only takes a few minutes with him to see why such rarefied validations were always going to be elusive. Kudos to Jesse Eisenberg, who plays him with so compelling a blend of intellectual arrogance and social insecurity.

In fact, all of the film's actors are deserved of praise. Of particular note is Justin Timberlake's convincing performance as Sean Parker, who is portrayed as a sage-like demigod for the star-struck Zuckerberg. It's telling that in one night-club scene, Parker's telling prediction that Facebook will be generation-defining phenomenon, that the lighting employed gives him appearance a distinctly devilish hue.

The soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is also impressive in helping to give unfolding tale a sense of excitement and anticipation that is imbued with an almost tragic blend of the sad and the sinister. And it is sinister, the extent to which a socially polarising phenomenon begins to reveal itself as not only one of the greatest cash cows in history, but also as something indicative of the hollow centre at the core of the social networking experience.

The story is actually pretty simple; lawyers pick over the bones of the lost friendship between Zuckerberg and Facebook co-founder (and initial financier) Eduardo Saverin. These two young men - who never really seem to understand each other - ultimately give the film its heart, and render it, in a sense, in keeping with the archetypal tales of lost love and friendship. Their final confrontation is vicious, human, and utterly Shakespearean in its scope and power. Think Wall Street for 2010, but without the bathos. This is film is all sinew and muscle; not fat on bone.

I know that this film is garnering almost unanimously glowing reviews. It truly deserves them. But whether or not it captures the public imagination in the same way is less certain. It's no Avatar, that's for sure. But in a way, at their hearts, each film's story is all too familiar, and all too sad. In many ways, The Social Network has captured the spirit of the age as successfully as any text has done so, at any time in history. It's not a joyous ride, but it's a riveting one, and one that will certainly have you laughing out loud on numerous occasions if you simply love language even half as much as I do. It'll also invite you to think long and hard over the nature of friendship, and the impact of social networking sites on the reality of interpersonal experiences. We shouldn't need to see characters as socially inept or as limply misogynistic as Zuckerberg to appreciate that any mechanism which depersonalises human interaction - especially in an age where instant gratification is rapidly becoming an expected right - can cause no end of problems, but in case we do, thank heavens this film exists.

It's a film I'm going to have to see again. And probably again. If you've got half a brain, go at see it at the movies.

It (your brain) will thank you.


03 November 2010

Lateralist Nags

I'm not a great fan of the Melbourne Cup, for the simple reason that I don't like people whipping horses, no matter how small they are.

So, I reckon that a careful count should be made over the course of any horse race of just how often a jockey uses his whip. And at the end of the race, if he used his whip a dozen times, then he gets whipped a dozen times. Or better yet, gets kicked by a horse a dozen times. Seems fair to me. I mean seriously - if no one uses a whip, where's the bother?

And it was pointed out to me last night that the Melbourne Cup offers an exception to our normal "tall poppy" syndrome, whereby we (Australians) want the best and brightest to crash and burn. Not so with horses, it seems. When the great Makybe Diva won three Cups on the trot (snigger), there wasn't a person in the country who wanted her to lose. Why? It's simple. Horses can't get uppity. Success never goes to their heads.

This lends credence to my long-held belief that our Head of State should be a marsupial, and confirms for me that, given the average American's belief in America seems to exist entirely sans context, then it's fair to deduce that the average American is intellectually on par with a horse. At best.

Lastly, I think jockeys are a bit silly. If you own a horse, you should be the one who has to ride it home. Now honestly, who wouldn't love to see Bart Cummings trying to stave off pneumonia, a bad hip and eyebrow-related wind resistance in a quest for cup number thirteen? And unless syndicate ownership is given the flick, winner of the 2011 Cup will likely be a Clydesdale.

They say it's the race that stops a nation. Perhaps it does. And for all its faults, there are worse things for us all to be doing for a few minutes. Not heaps of things, but enough to be going on with...

Lateralist Football Tattoos

The one thing tattoos have going for them is that they make idiots considerably easier to spot.

I have no idea why they're growing so alarmingly popular amongst the football fraternity, but I've started to wonder how this ink obsession might be better channelled and expressed. And I think I've found a solution.

Rather than allow players to stain their arms with garish sleeves of ink, I think it any AFL who wants a tattoo can have one tattoo only. And that tattoo must be a full size AFL jumper, which can (nay, must) be worn in place of their actual playing strip.

If tats are supposed to be about being tough, then I'd reckon the meathead brigade are gonna love such an artful fusion of the old "shirts and skins" divide. Cold night? Tough it out, pal.

And if you'd spend a good deal of time, money and blood getting, say a Western Bulldogs jumper carved into your torso, you'll probably think twice about jumping ship to Collingwood just because you're not getting enough time on the ground.

Trust me, if this system were already in place, there wouldn't be anyone at the Gold Coast over the age of 18.

Tattoos might be a scourge on our society, but if a use can be found for something so inane, then society just might have a future.

God Bless.

Leonard Cohen

Last year I saw Leonard Cohen in concert. At the time, I wrote a review of the experience. As he's coming back to Perth in less than a month, I thought I'd post it on this site. Hopefully, it'll encourage you to grab a ticket while you still can. Trust me, you won't regret it.

Leonard Cohen: Concert Review.

I’ve seen some very fine concerts in my time. In fact, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have seen some very fine concerts this past month. On January 20, I saw Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds perform at the Belvoir Amphitheatre. This was the third time I’ve seen Nick Cave, and the third time that he was excellent.
I also went to the Big Day Out to see Neil Young. This was an extraordinary experience, where the sheer depth and breadth of sound emanating (primarily) from “Old Black”, Neil’s 1953 Gibson, took my breath away. I remember spending a great deal of this concert grinning like an idiot. I’d waited nearly fifteen years to see Neil Young. He did not disappoint. Seeing songs like “Cowgirl in the Sand”, “The Needle and Damage Done” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” performed with power and passion by their creator is not an experience I’ll soon forget.

I never even dreamed of seeing Leonard Cohen. Prior to last year, Cohen hadn’t toured since 1993, and even then, toured only in Europe and North America. The notion that, at age seventy-four, he might undertake a tour of this magnitude was fanciful at best. So, the fact that he not only toured, but performed regular concerts close to three hours in length of the most magical quality seemed an intrusion into reality from the world of dreams.

For three hours on Sunday, I got to experience that dream.

Leonard Cohen is not possessed of what many would call a great singing voice. His own wonderful song from 1988, “Tower of Song” includes the dryly intoned quip that “[He] was born with the gift of a golden voice.” As ironic as that sentiment was intended to be, I can’t think of a better way to describe the sound that simply floods forth when Cohen opens his mouth. It is deep, dark, brooding, gleeful, truthful, sad and free. It is bigger and blacker than even Johnny Cash, and makes Nick Cave – possessor of another of music’s great non-voices – sound like a nine year old boy by comparison. Cohen intones his lyrics, cushioned with extremely talented backing vocalists and virtuoso musicians playing finely tuned arrangements in a style that is simply spell-binding.

There are times, certainly, when Cohen’s singing is little more than speaking. But great voices have a harmonious intent that makes for so much more than ordinary words said aloud. In the same way that the right combination of words and voice can stop one dead in one’s tracks – such as Sir Ian McKellen reciting King Lear – so too can Cohen mesmerize audiences with his rumbling ruminations. The voice here is key, but so too are the words. Good thing then that in the history of popular music, as a lyricist, Leonard Cohen is simply as good as it gets.

Although nowhere near as prolific as Bob Dylan or Neil Young, Cohen’s lyrics are breathtaking examples of wisdom carefully crafted into art. Songs such as “Bird on a Wire”, “Halleluiah” and “The Future” are as tellingly arch and pointed as anything written in the last fifty years. To see these songs performed live by their creator – a man in the twilight of his career but with his gifts fully intact – is probably going to go down as the greatest musical experience of my life.

On route to the gig, we thought there had likely been some kind of accident, given the huge build up of traffic on the road. It didn’t take long to ascertain that these were all patrons on their way to see Leonard Cohen. Once we were there the marvellous choice of the Sandalford winery as venue for the concert became apparent. Firstly, it enabled Cohen to be savoured in the context of vines, wines (sparkling) and from an inclined position on low chairs. (This was never going to be an opportunity for crowd surfing.) The expansive grounds for the concert were full of excited onlookers of all ages, some who likely had very little knowledge of Cohen and his music, along with many others who’d probably waited decades for tonight’s experience.

There were two very fine support acts. Augie March played an acoustic set (of which sadly we missed a good deal) that directed audience attention to the voice and songwriting of Glenn Richards. He doesn’t disappoint. Possessed of light but incisively phrased vocal style, he sings wonderful lyrics rich in poetic imagery that feel distinctly Australian, without ever resorting to clich├ęd words or themes. His is a band whose career will continue to be noted with great interest.

Augie March was followed by Paul Kelly, who impressed very much despite a few early audio problems, where the volume level for his voice was far too low. Kelly is one of the finest songwriters this country has produced, and songs like “To Her Door” and “Deeper Water” (both played) are master classes in the art of telling story through song. His final song – an a cappella rendering of “Meet Me in the Middle of the Air”, a song based directly on Psalm 23 was stunning. It is a risky and difficult task to adapt such established words and images into a contemporary song, but Kelly has done so with considerable poise, and without any sense of vanity. His is a slight voice, but what it lacks in range or richness of timbre, it more than assuages with its expressive sincerity. I wonder though what it must have felt like for genuinely talented songwriters like Richards and Kelly to offer support for one of the greatest of all time. An honour? Daunting? I’d love to know.

When Cohen finally took to the stage, it was to rapturous applause. Impeccably dressed in suit and hat but sans tie, he bounded across the stage with energy that belied his years. And then he sang. Any fears that time may have weakened or withered his smoky double-bass baritone quickly evaporated. His voice was as warm and wryly expressive as ever. If anything, it is better now than it was thirty years ago. It’s certainly deeper, and he when he allows his voice to climb to the top of his – at least half an octave range – a beautiful and powerful vibrato – a mark of actual singing – lifts the emotional resonance of his delivery even higher.

This was especially notable on his impassioned delivery of “Bird on a Wire” and in “Halleluiah”, a song of simply dazzling craft and imagery. That a song of this calibre has somehow become a global anthem give this citizen some hope for humanity. Not since The Beatles has such ability been so widely and publicly celebrated. (In the spirit of good will, I’m prepared to set aside the fact that too many in the UK have embraced the song its inferior cover-version form. At least Jeff Buckley got it right.)

Cohen opened with “Dance Me to the End of Love” and then proceeded through a great deal of his back catalogue, from his 1969 debut through to 2004’s Dear Heather. There are too many highlights to allow for all to be mentioned, but several still stand out.

The title track from Cohen’s 1993 album The Future was delivered brilliantly, with Cohen intoning its apocalyptic synopsis of the world with a mixture of grimness and delight. So many of his lyrics occupy that febrile middle ground between darkness and wonder, where the saddest subjects reveal in their telling, the warmth and wonder of true humanity. Plus, it’s impossible not to love a song that demands “give me Christ or give me Hiroshima.”

As well as the extraordinary highs of “Bird on a Wire” and “Halleluiah”, songs such as “Suzanne” were also fabulous to hear. Cohen’s songs can seen extremely bleak in certain contexts, but in the setting of a concert, their fraught introspection is suddenly transformed into an anthemic celebration of love and longing that unites audiences, rather than isolate the scattered individuals within. I supposed that is one of music’s enduring gifts; to empower and connect people.

Cohen played acoustic guitar very sparingly and keyboards just the once, on a wryly child-like solo in the middle of “Tower of Song”, surely one of the great homage to the craft and the muse ever written. Too see a man of his songwriting abilities carefully pick out a plinky-plonky monophonic solo on a tiny, tinny keyboard was simply glorious. The song pays great respect to Hank Williams; one of the giants of song in the first half of the twentieth century. Cohen is at the very least his equal, if not now his superior.

He was also surprisingly animate throughout, often (via the big screen) singing with fists clenched and eyes closed, even dropping to his knees at moments of great intensity. Somehow this gesture, both showy and devout seemed incredibly appropriate, given the cabaret stylings of his band, and the burning intensity to his measured orisons.

At the end of each song, Cohen would remove his hat and smile in acknowledgement of the elated response from the crowd. “Thank you, friends” was more often than not, his only response. But he did take the time to thank his extremely capable band on two distinct occasions. And worthy of thanks they were. From flute, harmonica, lap steel, bouzouki, guitars, assorted keyboards, double bass and even a gong, the sound was expertly realised and immaculately amplified. The sound quality throughout was as good as any concert I’ve heard.

Cohen also told several short anecdotes. At one point, he listed about fifteen anti-depressants that he’d tried, as well as noting that he’d experimented with immersing himself in the world’s great religions, but, try as he might, “cheerfulness kept breaking through.” It is no wonder that he had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Three hours at several encores later, it was over. The audience was on its feet for what seemed the third or fourth standing ovation of the night. And Leonard Cohen was gone. But for those precious three hours, all in attendance had the privilege of one of the great songwriters of the age giving his damndest to ensure we all had an unforgettable night. He succeeded spectacularly.

Cheers, Lennie. God Bless.

15 October 2010

The Commonwealth Games & Lateralism

In years gone by, I've scoffed at the Commonwealth Games. Why? Because next to the Olympic games, they resemble the proverbial red-headed stepchild. Every four years, Australia seems pre-destined to return home with more gold than the Spanish conquistadors of old.

But for some reason, I quite enjoyed these games. I didn't watch a lot of them, but what I saw, I enjoyed. Why? Because people were doing their best. I can't begrudge them that. The Americans may not have been there, but England was. And I never tire of beating England. And any prejudicial dismissal of the efforts an athlete in his or her quest to achieve to their full potential on the grounds that the competition is inadequate seems a little flawed. One might as well toss out the fixtures in the AFL for all but Round One, and subsequently ensure that first plays second (and so on down the line) for the next nineteen weeks. (Which is actually not a bad idea, now I think about it.)

I'm not a monarchist (although I admire the Queen very much), but have no issue with an arbitrarily formed group of nations gathering together in the name of sport. To that end, I'd like to see other international groups gather every few years. The NATO games would be well worth checking out, I reckon. Perhaps all nations that the USA has engaged militarily could gather together and settle a few old scores with javelins and the like. Could be fun, no?

And I think the Indian organisers did a pretty good job in the end. I mean, give them a break. It's a hard to build a stadium around a cow that won't keep still. Speaking of cows, I would have liked to have seen at least half a dozen of them inside the main stadium at all times. And at least one at the hockey (and other teams sports), and couple splashing around in the pool, for good measure. And competitors can dodge or collide as skill and fate decrees. I mean, if you're going to have games in India, they better damn well be Indian games.

Further to this point, nowhere near enough athletes got the runs, in my opinion. It should have been compulsory to contract a bowel-shattering dose of diarrhoea the moment you put your foot on Indian soil. Runners should have been excreting indiscriminately whilst they squelched their way around the running track. The pool should have been brown by the end of the first day of competition. That would have been an Indian experience.

And what's with the crowds? A stadium built to hold 50,000 being "filled" with about nine people? That's not right. Last time I checked, India was about as short of people as Ricky Ponting is of excuses. So really, a stadium built to hold 50,000 should be packed with about 2.5 million, in my estimation. The word is "atmosphere", people; a human tidal wave is what India has to offer. So, bring it on!

And I think that in the midst of trying to run a race, swim a race or put a shot, it would have been entirely appropriate for all concerned to have to field calls from tele-marketers determined to sign you up to an irresistible mobile phone deal. (Actually, that would have been appropriate at the Melbourne games, too, given how often it seems to happen here.)

I just don't see the point of building an endless sequence of identical, hypothermic, hermetically sealed bio-domes all around the world. The games should reflect the spirit - and conditions - of the country in which they are held.

To that end, I'm looking forward to Glasgow. Running a marathon is hard enough as it is, but in 2014, the runners are going to have to try and do it after drinking nine pints, breaking an entering and being stabbed. Tough, but great for the spectators.

The Commonwealth Games may not be everyone's definition of the apotheosis of sport, but in the end, what possibly could be? The notion that there is a mythic "best" simply reduces the status and importance of everything else. I refute that notion. Let athletes be athletes, and countries be countries. Then all we have to do as humble spectators, is sit back and enjoy the ride.

13 October 2010

Lateralist Art

I like the cut of this bloke's jib. I encourage you to have a look, and support his quest to be given money to keep doing what he's doing. He is, by any measurable standard, a Lateralist, through and through.

And to quote Darryl Kerrigan, look at the dogs. Don't they love it?

They sure do, Darryl; they sure do.

Lateralist Funerals

I couldn't help but smile when I walked past a billboard the other day, and noticed that it was promoting a company called "Chipper Funerals". At least, I'm assuming it's a moniker derived from a surname, rather than an ethos. But I hope I'm wrong.

I like the idea that there's a company out there who thinks joviality and death make a lovely couple. And I mean real joy; not the schadenfreude that is sure to bubble forth for many should it be announced that Kyle Sandilands has been hit by a bus. No, the joy a life lived, whether it be lived well or not, and regardless of notional afterlives.

Although that said, the thought occurs that perhaps the title refers to wood chippers. I'm all for sustainability, but a company that wants to feed the newly dead into a mulcher is probably going to struggle to get mourners (or joy-ers) to feel the love. I've seen Fargo: human sawdust is messy to make. (But wonderful for the roses, apparently.)

Chipper Funerals? In our youth-obsessed, increasingly superficial world, death is something we try to keep at arms length. And it's hard to be egocentric and think of death as anything other than the end of the world (especially if it's my death.) So making death seem ok surely requires a bit of a re-think of our definition of life.

Sounds a long ways off. But I hope one day we give it a try.

01 October 2010

A Third Way

Much has been made of last week's drawn AFL grand final. On On the Couch on Monday (it's an awkwardly named program, I agree; the "on-on" double-up doesn't exactly roll off the tongue) Andrew Demetriou attempted to justify the grand final re-play in the face of some rather stern resistance from both Gerard Heally and Mike Sheahan. James Hird said he liked the re-play but then he said that he wouldn't put his hand up to coach Essendon next year. Among Demetriou's admittedly flimsy arguments was that Australian rules football is a unique game. Excluding fledgling Aussie rules competitions in Canada, Western Samoa and New South Wales, that Aussie rules is unique is beyond argument, the flimsy part was the reasons Demetriou provided as to it's uniqueness; "a game played with an oval ball on an oval field"; well, rugby's union and league are played with an oval ball and I would question whether the MCG is oval or round but the most annoying part was the implication that a drawn game, final or otherwise, being replayed is unique to the AFL.

All Australian sports, whether indigenous to this country or not, have their genesis in Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Irish roots and Aussie rules and the AFL is no different. Traditionally in European football, which I'll begrudgingly call soccer from here on in, in any given season two principal competitions run in parallel; a league and a cup. A league for the uninitiated is a competition where each team plays each other team an equal number of times both at home and away, points are awarded for wins and draws and the team with the most points at the end of the season is deemed the winner. A cup, on the other hand, is a knock-out competition where if you win, you progress and if you lose, you don't. (I think Dennis Cometti said it best before the Cats v Magpies preliminary final when he said, "the preliminary final; the winners play next week, the losers play golf") Traditionally however, if a cup game was drawn, it was re-played at the other team's ground the following week/fortnight. If it was drawn there, it went back to the original ground and so on and so forth until a team could be bothered winning. I say "traditionally" but it still exists today. It's for that reason that you hear of English teams playing as many as four games a week due to fixture congestion.

Viewed through a traditional sporting framework, the AFL is a kind-of league, in that the teams don't play each other an equal amount, followed an abridged kind-of cup, abridged in that only half the teams play and kind-of in that you can lose and are not knocked out. In that respect it's not unique either but it can be yet.

At the denouement of last week's game the major talking point was whether or not a drawn grand final should be determined on the day by way of extra time or re-played the following week as is presently the case. Posed as such, however, the question is unnecessarily restricting and rigidly binary. There is a third way. In the event of a drawn grand final the CEO of the AFL should take to the dais, thank the crowd, the umpires and the ground staff and announce that no team has won the premiership because no team had what it takes to get up on the day; no team wanted it enough. If he wanted to rub it in he could outline that after 176 home-and-away games, eight preliminary (as in the definition of the word rather than the proscribed "preliminary") finals and 120-odd minutes within which, initially, any team, and on the day, either team, had at its disposal to stand taller than everyone else, none had managed to do so. He should then apologise to the crowd and tell them that he looks forward to seeing them at the MCG on the Thursday before Easter for the tradition round-one blockbuster between Carlton and Richmond aka the Ben Cousins testimonial. If that fat dickhead Demetriou wants a peg to hang the uniqueness of the game on, that'll do it.

14 September 2010

A Lateralist Approach to Government Ministries

When Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn created their classic satire, Yes, Minister and its equally impressive sequel series, Yes, Prime Minister, one of their many masterstrokes included the decision to focus on the Ministry of Administrative Affairs; or put more plainly, the Ministry of Bureaucracy.

The eventual re-emergence of a Gillard Government and its rather protracted gestation period stirred in me thoughts of that wonderful Civil Servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby. For Sir Humprhey, all Governments would have been, if he'd had his way, care-taker Governments. Or even just eternally hung parliaments. As was recently postulated by this site's co-founder, a government which cannot pass a single act of legislation (save for supply) is logically anything but an unstable Government; it is in fact, the absolute apotheosis of its opposite. Given his (Humphrey's) belief in the virtue of "masterly inactivity", I think Humphrey would have liked how things have panned out for the Colonies. He'd love all the fussing, finagling and finessing. He'd consider it "activity", which as any good Civil Servant knows, is, for politicians, their "substitute for achievement".

Gillard seems to have had a few teething problems in getting her new Ministry up and running. Appearing to neglect Indigenous Health and abolishing Education have not won her any friends. Of course, simply by not having ministries which include these precise words in their names is hardly the same as abolishing the concepts or the intention to address their associated problems, but in an age of spun symbols, it seems appearances matter.

To that end, I'd like to see the creation of a number of other Ministries, which, if given the change to operate, could really get this country moving in the right direction.

To that end, I think we'd best start with a Ministry for Cartography and Navigation, lest we get this country moving forward in what turns out to be the wrong direction.

I think we really need a Minister in charge of Symbolism. In this day and age, we'd best get our emblems (fossil or otherwise) licked into shape. They can also finally appoint our official national dish. (I vote for Spag Bog.) They can get "Up There Cazaly" or "It's A Long Way to the Top (if You Want to Rock and Roll)" sworn in as our National Anthem. And I mean really; without Ministerial attention, how else are we finally going to get a sheet of corrugated iron, a beach ball or a stuffed Koala nominated as our new flag?

Actually, flags are a serious issue. To that end, I think we're going to need a Minister for Vexillology, so this issue gets the attention it deserves.

Given the importance of sport in Australia, I think it's high time that the major codes got a Minister apiece. A Minister for Football and a Minister for Australian Rules Football should do it. I mean, the AFL clearly needs someone other than Dimwitriou in charge, and Football needs the full support of the Federal Government if we're ever going to get a World Cup hosted down under. (If you were wondering about the other sports; Cricket and Rugby can get stuffed, and Tennis and Golf are actually hobbies.)

I think the Minister for Health can stay, but needs to be re-named the Minister for Anti-Fat. Cutting to the chase really focuses the attentions of the voters. To that end, the Minister for De-Hooning Our Roads and the Minsister for the Forced Deportation of Racist Morons should also come in very useful.

If you look around, I think it's clear that a great deal of damage over the years has been done by there not being a Minister for Suits and Tailoring in this country. (For the record, this person will simply be known as the Bespoke Minister.) I also think that a Minister for Language is definitely needed, lest our language continue to devolve to the point where we are as illiterate as America. Or Britain.

The possibilities are endless. I think every single person elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate should have a Ministerial Portfolio. I welcome input into this matter, people.

But don't forget the Minister for Lateralism. They are the glue, the paper, the ink, and the inspiration. Without Lateralism, this country is stuffed.

13 September 2010

Freedom & Respect - Lateralist Musings

The United States just can't seem to get past the pain of September 11, 2001. I'm not surprised, but I fervently wish that for their sake, it were not so.

I can understand the pain felt by some Americans over the plans to build a Mosque in close proximity to what has come to be known (a little disturbingly) as Ground Zero, but I certainly don't think it's justifiable, any more than it was (or is) justifiable for people involved in World War II or the Vietnam War to hate Germans or Asians. The pain is certainly real, but the expression of it is really no better than, after being made to feel foolish by Person A, walking down the street and socking Person B on the nose.

Possibly the greatest thing the Americans could do is build a multilayered or singular non-denominational "Church" right on top of where the World Trade Centre once stood. Or a park; you know, the universal church. People from many different faiths and nations died on that day, including innocent Muslims. If that site of such terrible, terrible waste became a place for active healing as well as for remembrance, then I reckon that really would be something.

But instead, the squabbles over rights drags ever onwards. And just to give things a local flavour, some goose over East decides to test to the smoking suitability of the Koran and a Bible. I mean, honestly. I can't fathom being stupid enough to do something that pointless, never mind being dumb enough to film myself doing it and then to post it online. The guy was obviously looking for attention, and really has no one to blame but himself if he loses his job. I'm not sure if what he's done should really be considered a sackable offence, but if he worked for me, I'd probably be looking for an excuse to show him the door.

Our world - like all worlds - is defined by a shared sense of values. Without them, we're just going about our individual business in close proximity to a lot of other people, with whom we have nothing in common. I'm not saying that's a bad way to live, but you can't call it a society. So if we want one, we're going to have to learn to play nice. And playing nice actually means deciding not to exercise certain rights.

I've never much cared for the shenanigans of The Chaser crew. It's not that I dislike all - or even most - of what they do. It's more that because they seem keen to take pot-shots at everything, their own rather limited values come into sharp focus. All they seem to value is what they see as their right to lambast, critique, ridicule and undermine all that they see. I think that's a bit too shallow for my taste. I mean, I could make fun of everything I saw, too, but I'm not a depressed fifteen year old, so I'm not going to waste my time. Creating beats lampooning any day of the week, for mind.

What's the link between these things? It's not tolerance; because tolerance isn't enough. It's about respect. In my mind, the building of a Mosque isn't disrespectful, and to think it so is to draw a direct line between the sins of some Muslims with a punishment for all Muslims. I cannot do that. But I can find the actions of our book-smoking buffoon disrespectful, because the actions seem to be calibrated to achieve little more than revealing - via questionable means - that some people care deeply about religion. I mean, he can hardly claim that it's about revealing that some Religious folk are hypocrites. Surely that's not a secret, is it? Will some of these religious people react in ways ill-considered and over the top? Of course they will, and they in their turn ought to be held to account, or simply ignored.

It's also why I can take issue with the actions of those in the US who are protesting so very loudly over the building of a mosque. These protests logically must have at their core a associative link between terrorism and Islam, which is to mind, the very definition of prejudice at work.

It's okay to care about things in this world. But the only way I can meaningfully care about things that matter to me is to try and care about the things that matter to other people. This is actually far harder than it should be, but the alternative to pluralism is totalitarianism, and I know which of the two I'd prefer.

I don't envy the US their pain and struggle; but there's a noble path ahead for them, if they've the courage to follow it. If not, then I think the dark times presently being experienced are going to linger for a while yet.

And that's a shame.

02 September 2010

Lateralist Advertising

On route to dinner with some mates last night, I noticed a new advertisement for a "toasted sandwich" that was being promoted by a well-known pizza chain.

Setting aside that I wouldn't call what they were promoting a sandwich (I don't put meatballs in a sandwich all that often), and that I woudn't eat one under threat of gastric distress, I had to concede that they'd obviously spent some time on getting the pictures for their promotion looking just right.

If only they'd spent a bit longer on the wording.

I noted with amusement, that their sign proclaimed proudly that these sandwiches were baked in their ovens at 260 degrees.

Hmm. Now, surely you're grasping somewhat to find anything worthwhile to say about your product if you've got to boast about how hot your stove is. I mean, come on!

But if they're going to go down that path, who am I to complain?

In fact, he's a few product perks they can add any time they like:

  • Rectangular for easy transportation!
  • Made from real ingredients!
  • Eventually digestible!
  • Baked in Smeg Ovens!
  • High in value!
  • Low in fatty nutrients!
  • Individually assembled!
  • Cheesy!
  • Almost tasty!
If I'm honest, I applaud their honesty. They had bugger-all of value to say about their product, so they opted for something banal, but true.

There should be more advertising like it. Assuming of course, that we cannot do away with products of no real value. And let's face it. That's still a way's off....

Lateralist Smoking

I detest smoking. I try not to detest smokers, but I don't try that hard. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that I was once a smoker. Yes, I know. My head is hanging in shame, and that hung head is filled with questions along the lines of, what was I thinking. I don't know why I thought it a good idea to start, but I am very, very pleased that about four years ago, I made the decision to stop.

I got this idea the other day, when, to my chagrin, I found myself alongside a car at a set of traffic lights. The car was to the right of me, and the passenger in the front of the car was smoking. My window was down, and so was his.

Stinky.

I wound my window up with a grumble. But as I did so, I thought, why am I winding up my window? He should be winding up HIS window!

And like so many of the universe's eternal mysteries, another wonderful idea miraculously began to form.

In its embryonic stage, I felt myself leaning towards the decree that all smokers in cars must do so with windows wound up. I mean, if the smokers themselves can't put up with the smoke and the stink, why should the rest of us?

But then, I had a flashback to my time in places like Thailand, China and Vietnam, where it's decidedly de rigueur to see people smoking whilst astride their moving scooters. And then it dawned on me; all smokers must smoke from within the confines of a motorcycle helmet at all times.

Not only is this a boon for those of us who've decided not to make the poisoning of oneself into an all-consuming habit, but it's actually good news for smokers themselves. Once again, smokers can smoke virtually anywhere they like!

With the possible exception of banks (for security reasons, of course), smokers will he able to suck away of their toxins with nary an influence on the outside world. And I'd reckon that when encased within about eight cubic centimetres of air space, even the ultra-mild brands are going to pack some punch. Heck, if you try to smoke the double-barrelled red-label raw diesel varieties that only those working on cray boats would even contemplate using, you'd have a face like black minstrel after just one dart...

Obviously, the helmet would need some modifications. Some kind of air filtering system, and possibly a small generator. But I think that's a small price to pay. Given that even the wildlife smoke in most parts of Asia, the reduction in atmospheric pollution would be pretty darn impressive, I'd wager.

So there it is. There's no zealot like a reformed smoker, and I've been waiting for a moment of inspiration like this to strike.

But until I can get my helmet design through the arduous patent stage, I'm going to elevate PLAN B off the bench. Whenever someone lights up in my vicinity, I'm going to set fire to the car tyre (stuffed with human hair) that I just happen to have with me.

If they can blow smoke, so can I. And smokers, beware; I'll be packin' more than a Winnie Blue.

30 August 2010

Lateralist Cricket - Time to pack it in, Stan

When I was a boy, I loved cricket with a passion. To this day, my recall of inane cricketing trivia is embarrassingly extensive. I mean really; is there any reason I should be able to list every Ausralian cricketer who's taken more than 200 wickets or made more than 5000 runs? No, there isn't. But I can.

Over the years, this love has waned. The main reason - as best I can tell - is the now longstanding inability of the Australian team to be gracious winners. I had no problem with their winning virtually every game they played. After all, they possessed for a time, some of the statistically greatest players to ever don whites. (I refuse to acknowledge the baggy green, as it is an utterly, utterly stupid form of millinery for a game played under hot sun.) And yet somehow, they managed to make their winning (or losing) something about which I no longer cared.

It seems that a team is more than the sum of its parts, but the nuances of the parts themselves never cease to matter. As Kerry "Skull O'Keefe sagely noted, with the retirement of Jason Gillespie, there was no longer a single player left in the Australian side with whom he'd be happy to share a beer. And as anyone who's followed the game via the wireless will attest, there is no saner, calmer, measured voice of cricketing reason in the world than the inestimable, Mr O'Keefe.

The Australian side is efficient and hardworking, with players who do not lack for talent. However, these epithets could also be applied to a band like Kiss, or Bon Jovi, where successful is unarguable, but intrinsic value is doubtful at best. I can see a lot of parallels with Kiss, actually; so much arrogance, but an arrogance derived from success, rather than quality. It's weird, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that many of the current crop, including their offensive captain, possessed a peculiarly malignant blend of arrogance and insecurity. I'm honestly not sure what the problem is, but if nothing else, I am certain that I no longer care whether Australia wins or loses. And this a shame.

But my distaste for the game extends well beyond the Australian side. The game itself has become ghastly to watch. Cricket was once a game of style and substance, and now, it has very little of either. Who cared what David Gower's batting average was? He was great, because to watch him make a hundred on a good day was like watching a master perform Tai Chi. Effortless and beautiful. And he once flew a plane over his own side when they were playing, after being dropped for disciplinary reasons. The man had class and cheek. To say that there is no one world quite like him any more is somewhat of an understatement. All I can say is thank Heavens for Gavin Swann and his trapped feline. Without him, it terms of class and aesthetic value, English cricket would be on a par with the cricket of Inner Mongolia. And in Inner Mongolia, for bats, balls and wickets, (and, in a pinch, players) they use yaks.

The introduction of 20-20 cricket was a bad idea, because it made the two other forms of the game seem questionable, whilst adding nothing to anything except the Indian economy. 20-20 cricket is a forced highlight reel, or worse, a highlight reel comprised of slap and tickle nonsense that could only satiate a drunken buffoon's idea of what the best of cricket looks like. But introduce it they did, and now one-day cricket looks pathetically slow, and tests look endless. To be honest, I'd scrap both one-dayers and 20-20, not simply because they are a waste of time, but because there is a law of diminishing returns. I can care about cricket (in theory) a few months of the year, but not all the time. If the footy season never ended, I'd logically have to care less about it, as I've only got so much time and enthusiasm to go round.

And yet, from here, things only get worse. The problems in Australian cricket pale to those in other parts of the world. The West Indies are a feeble excuse for a cricketing nation, which is horrible, given their illustrious past. England is effectively a representative side for the majority of the Commonwealth, and is played by people almost as distasteful as those here in Australia. India is trying to become the Collingwood of cricket, which is one step short of desiring to force cricket upon Poland, and Pakistan are the most offensive of all.

The door needs to be shut on Pakistan. A side whose players can be bought by betting syndicates, who cannot play a match without the taint of corruption, and who cannot even hold a match on home soil for fear of terrorist attack are not a viable franchise. They are certainly less viable than Zimbabwe, and they were given the boot without any in opposing teams actually being shot at. (Which, under Mugabe, is quite surprising.)

To be honest, it's probably time for the whole game to take a year or so off, and regroup. Tradition be damned - cricket is an international joke right now. I think that perhaps in the much the same way that Australia could (and should) call stumps on the monarchy when the Queen's wicket falls, cricket should come to an end with the retirement of Richie Benaud. At least for a while. And in its much-needed hiatus, it can figure out how to be a viable international sport.

To do this, it will need to reduce itself to one code. I vote for tests. It also needs to devise a system of competition and roster of games that works. And it needs to ban corrupt sides immediately and indefinitely.

Australia has some work to do, too. For a start, it needs to abolish all Cricket Academies, in the hope that less prattish folk will decide to play the game. It needs to get rid of the Allan Border Medal - an award that makes being issued with a parking ticket seem an honour by comparison. And above all else, it needs to learn how to play with a spirit and a desire that aspires to more than winning.

I've never really stopped watching cricket. It's in my blood, like some kind of virus. But I've stopped caring about it. And that's a shame.

I like to think things can get better, but I think it's going to take time, and come at a cost. Reducing the number of viable international sides down to about six teams might seem drastic, but expansion is not the mother of all success. So, it's time for the Pakistanis to get the arse. It's sad to do this to them when their country is underwater, but then I think their players should have thought harder about the long term value in being paid to, in every sense of the phrase, over-step the mark.

Or I could just start watching hockey. It's just an anarchic form of cricket anyway....

27 August 2010

Shopping - A Lateralist Encounter

Just because I detest supermarkets doesn't mean I manage to completely avoid them. I had an experience in one some time ago that really surprised me.

I was in the checkout queue, when a woman with a full basket came up behind me. I was in the process of putting my items on the conveyor belt. She was a woman who looked to be in her sixties. And she asked me, if I'd mind whether or not if she went in front of me, as she only had a few items.

Now, this in itself is a forthright if not unreasonable request. I've often waived people with one or two items to go ahead of me, and I've once asked if I could go through ahead of someone else, when I had only one item, and was in a terrible rush. (My request was granted.)

But I turned this woman down. I explained that whilst it was true that, in the grand scheme of things that she didn't have all that much, she still had almost twice as many items as I did. But in spite of what I thought were my very reasonable grounds for refusal, she looked put out. I tried to look empathetic. But I didn't try too hard.

It amazes me just how much front some people have. What's to be done? Not much, really. Perhaps the best approach, is to keep trying to do the decent thing. Many people are grateful for courtesy when it is extended to them, and others aren't likely to notice much about their surroundings one way or the other.

You know what I really wish for? I wish they could make a conveyor that can move (and stop moving) at a pace that doesn't make bottles of soda water fall over. I mean, really; how hard is that?

And one day, I'm going to finally get a t-shirt (or hat, or badge) that says, "No, I do not have fly-bys etc", and point to it when asked.

Or better yet, one that says "I dislike certain questions". That's less confrontational, and useable (at my discretion) in more circumstances. I mean, I could have pointed to it when that woman asked to go in front of me. Or when people come knocking at my door wanting to sell me a place in Heaven. Or enquire about my phone service. Or ask if I've taken the bin out...

Yes, I really should get onto that...




25 August 2010

Katter - Lateral musings on (and from) the fringes...

As a Lateralist, I am overjoyed that finally, the time has come for a man like Bob Katter to take centre stage in the epic saga that is The Election That Never Ends.

I've been trying to work out why, after detesting Wilson Tuckey with such fervour, I find myself regarding Bob Katter with such warmth. I mean, the man's track record is spotty to say the least. He once asserted that there were no homosexuals in his district, and is on record advocating for the building of a giant statue of Jesus somewhere in Queensland.

Now, Bob's an old bloke from the country who probably doesn't realise just how many gay people he's met (and liked) in his life. And let's face it, a big statue of Jesus in Queensland would hardly blight the landscape. (It's Queensland for goodness sake - a nuclear strike would improve it.) I just think that as long as a few statues of Buddha, Mohammed, Vishnu, Thor and Yoda are erected, then it's fine. Oh, and that the few mountains left without a statue need a plaque that identifies them as Atheist sites.

So what's the difference between these two old buggers from the country? It's pretty clear, when it comes down to it. Wilson's nickname was "Ironbar", and that's basically all the Liberal Party used him for. He was a blunt instrument with which to beat opponents with relative impunity, and the consistent delight he took in lowering the standard of intellectual debate and parliamentary process in Australia is but one of the many reasons why anyone with half a brain (no matter what their political persuasion) should take delight in his demise. It's also why I'm deeply, deeply sceptical of any overtures made by the Liberal Party towards their "belief" in the virtues of a less confrontational Parliament. They are, it must be said, the most adversarial of Parties, and the temerity they have displayed in blaming Labor for the battles of the past three years when they have been - in every sense - the party of opposition, is cheek of the highest order.

Bob stands apart from the Coalition. He is a true independent, and more than any other politician in the House of Representatives, seeks to represent the interests of his electorate. Is he divisive? Of course. But if anything in Parliament looks coherent, it's probably not democratic. Is he wilfully obstructive? I don't believe so. But I think he'll use the leverage he's been given to advance the much maligned sector that is rural Australia. I only hope he does so for areas outside his electorate. As I'm sure Bob knows, there's an awful lot of rural Australia, and most of it is in dire need of help.

As I watched him on the 7:30 Report the other night, swaying from foot to foot with arms folded, hat shading him (and the ten square metres around him), with nostrils flaring like the spinnakers of two yachts racing, I thought to myself, this is a restless spirit; a proud, driven, ethical man with a fierce sense that his role as a politician is actually one of vocation in service of rural Australia. He will do his utmost to help those in need in his area. Is he mad? Of course he his. But he's the right kind of mad. I genuinely believe he will listen to reason on most issues. On some, he'll take some convincing, but he will listen.

I think that both Labor and especially the Coalition are about to get put through the wringer. (Jeez, it must suck being Barnaby "Fool" Joyce right now.) And it's about bloody time. These two political heavyweights have slugged it out to the detriment of not only any progress being made toward redressing numerous societal wrongs, but to their own detriment as well. In the ranks of both parties, decent people - with measured, reasonable sentiments to express - sit silent. When speaking in his Party role, Joe Hockey is a belligerent half-wit whose intellectual acumen is in inverse proportion to his girth. But when he speaks as a human being - as he's done on issues of faith (amongst others) from time to time - he's very impressive. The party machine is killing our leaders. And it needs to stop.

Bob's a spike in the spokes of that machine. Good luck, mate. You're a crazy old bastard of 70, and I'm on your side.

22 August 2010

The Election - Lateralist Musings

From the perspective of someone who has historically aligned himself with Labor and the Left, the "result" from Saturday's election looks like an absolute disaster. It is in one sense, but that's not the only way to process what has occurred. In fact, what has occurred could turn out to be anything but disastrous. But this remains to be seen.

It is staggering, if hardly surprising, that Labor managed to turn their triumphant victory of 2007 to the farcical virtual-defeat of 2010, given the number of breathtakingly poor decisions made prior to and during the election campaign. It's worth revisiting those decisions in the context of the result.

One of the most costly mistakes was the decision to take the Emissions Trading Scheme off the table. Environmental concerns formed the basis for many voters to oust the Howard Goverment, and Rudd and co made a huge tactical blunder by appearing to sideline the issue. The swing of votes to the Greens - which almost triples the swing to the Coalition - seems to bear this out. Had Rudd kept hammering away at this issue, he'd have been in the position to take the issue to the election, and attack the Opposition for its obstruction of this necessary legislation. And it would likely have been Rudd, rather than Gillard, leading the Party if this had occurred.

The Roof Insulation Scheme, The Schools Building Project and the Mining Tax are worth addressing jointly, as they are all failures of implementation and marketing, rather than with policy.

The Roof Insulation Scheme failed not because of administrative error, but because of the haste with which it was implemented, and due to the greed of those who sought to exploit the opportunity for a quick buck it presented to the unscrupulous. Labor ought to have presented it as such, and if needs be, sacrificed Peter Garrett. But Rudd stupidly elected to shoulder the blame, which was the first real smear of tarnish on his otherwise smear-resistant shining armor. It would have been considerably smarter for Labor to attack those who tried to profit from exploiting the scheme, but they did not do so with anywhere near enough conviction.

The Schools Project, in spite of Abbott's consistent protestations of waste, was independently found to have been wasteful in only 2.7% of all projects around the country. Not once did I hear Labor point this out; instead, it was left to Kerry O'Brien. So rather than press Abbott to pledge to run a Government that operated at no less that 97.3% efficiency at all time, they dropped the ball.

The Mining Tax - a tax that really ought to have been able to sell itself, was a sales bungle of the highest order. When you had Gina Rhinehart waddling to the front of a picket line to rattle her jewellery in protest, it ought to have been like stealing candy from a baby to sell the thing to the Australian public. But no, they cocked it up.

These factors created the impression that the Government had, to coin a horrible phrase, "lost its way". The decision to depose Rudd was abominably short-sighted, and a powerful signal of no-confidence from within the Party itself. How on earth could it now campaign with conviction on its record - of Health Reform, of Recession-avoidance - if the very same party responsible for that record was claiming to have lost its way? Put simply, it could not.

And during the campaign itself, Julia Gillard could not have erred more egregiously if she had tried. In stating her intention to be herself, all she did was underline for many the sense that she was a fraudulent, factionally-controlled stooge. And in calling the election so close to her rise to power, she ought hardly be surprised that issues pertaining to Rudd dogged her campaign to the extent that they did. The deposition of a Prime Minster might have occurred from within the Party, but for the public, it was never, ever going to be seen as just an internal party matter.

Tony Abbott ran a campaign of considerable energy and discipline. He channelled the petty, racist, self-serving divisiveness of John Howard, and shoved it into a pair of budgie smugglers. The perfect combination of youthful verve and fearful, baby-boomer sneer and jeer. Labor needed to attack him for being a fear-mongering throwback, but in deposing Rudd, it lost the platform from which it could do so with any authority. Those who lead that particular charge, by the way, should be removed from the party immediately, and all who voted for it should hang their heads in shame. Because this is its cost.

But Rudd is not without blame. He made his own position seem untenable. It wasn't untenable, but he made it seem so, as by failing to continue to vigorously promote the need for environmental action, he gave the moral high ground to the Greens. And they took it. The Greens were, in the political long term, absolutely right not to support Rudd's ETS, because they now have the balance of power in the Senate to show for it, and that's a power that is not dependant whatsoever on the make up of the House of Representatives, and they are going to cause a Coalition Government (should one form) no end of pain. But if Labor can scrounge a Government, then ironically, they'll be in a better position than before. It'll be interesting to see just how much these notions play on the minds of the Independent Members. A vote for the Coalition from the likes of Bob Katter is by no means a certainty. On broadband policy alone, he and the Coalition are poles apart.

And as such, another election is distinctly possible. Which is a shame, because just once, I'd like to see both Parties try and make a bipartisan Government that actually works. A Prime Minister from one Party, and a Deputy from the other. Ministers from both sides of the aisle. Why not let a Greens Senator be the Minister for the Environment? Why not let Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous Member of the House of Representatives, be Minister for Indigenous Affairs? Is there anyone in Government who could make a better Foreign Minister than Kevin Rudd? I doubt it. But this is why this won't happen.

Right now, politics has become about spin; about the war of words that emanates around issues, rather than about meaningfully addressing them. A unified approach would mean that our elected officials would actually have to work at solving issues, rather than harassing each other as to why one or the other can't, or worse, won't. (I say worse, because often, neither even needs to broach the issue in hand.)

But if they could actually put the bullshit aside, then local members would be voted in on their local representations of issues, and Ministers would keep their jobs based on whether or not they did them effectively, which if voted uopn by 149 other people, would likely be a considerably more objective verdict than the binary blancmange of blind faith and character assassination that takes place right now.

This election verdict is as much a vote of no-confidence in our system of government as it is the Government of the day. It's significant and shameful that in some electorates, up to five percent of votes cast were informal. It's a pathetic form of protest, but I don't blame many in the community for not seeing many other options. The Coalition can carp on about being back in business all they like, but neither major party has a mortgage on public sentiment this time around. And to be honest, the only way I think they're ever likely to get it, it if they work together. Which of course, is never going to happen.

They say people get the Government which they deserve. I'm not quite sure what this result says about us, but I'll hazard a guess and say it's this; we are dissatisfied with what we have, but don't know what we want it its place.

I know what I want. I want a Government I can trust, where genuine sentiments supplant spin. Where our leaders aren't afraid to agree and disagree in good faith. Where all leaders at all times are obliged to vote their conscience. And where our most pressing issues - such as health, education and the environment are given the diligent attention they deserve.

If I thought that could happen, I wouldn't care who became Prime Minister. In fact, they could rotate it every second month, if they so chose.

But seeing that those in the political business are too entrenched in the Machiavellian machinations that have come to irreparably blight the Federal landscape, then on balance, the best result is a minority Labor Government, because the Greens will (rightly) strangle a Coalition one. Failing that, it's back to the polls.

And if it turns out that we are obliged to vote again, it really would be something if this all happened again. Maybe the pollies would finally get it; we want more from them than politics.

And for those who still think this whole election has been a farce, I'd like to point out that Wilson Tuckey is going to lose his seat. Thank you, Lord.

See? There's an upside to everything.