24 November 2011

Lateralist Speakers - The New Political Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally, I can't wait.

23 November 2011

Lateralist Tweets


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

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

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

24 October 2011

Lateralist Review - Tom Waits' "Bad As Me"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 July 2011

Lateralist Politics - The Carbon Tax & Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 June 2011

Lateralist Classifications

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Piers. You tosser.

15 June 2011

A Fine Example of a Letter of Complaint

What follows is not my own work but that of a friend writing to the UK Border Agency. The basis for his complaint will become evident. I have posted it here as I think it's a wonderful piece of writing and a perfect example of the incresingly threatened species that is the complaint letter.

Application for Certificate of Approval of Marriage

Your ref: CA ----------

Case ID ---------

My complaint relates to the incompetence of the UK Border Agency staff responsible for processing my application and to the disregard by those staff of the published requirements and guidelines of the UK Border Agency.

I applied for a certificate of approval for marriage on 20 October 2010. This was acknowledged by return letter from the Border Agency dated 21 October 2010. No progress was made on my application until 22 February 2011, when I received a letter of that date from the Border Agency, stating that those applicants who were originally granted less than 6 months' leave to remain or only have 3 months of valid leave remaining must submit a statutory affidavit in support of the application. As I pointed out in my reply dated 3 March 2011, I was originally granted a three year working visa (No. ---------) which was extended and reissued until 15 October 2012.

This is the first instance of incompetence (or contempt, for if it is not incompetence it can only be contempt for the very own guidelines of the Border Agency) of which I now complain. Despite not being required to do so by the Border Agency's published requirements, I nonetheless enclosed statutory affidavits as requested in an effort to accelerate the determination of my application, which had now been outstanding for 19 weeks, well in excess of the Border Agency's published service targets.

I then waited. Despite numerous calls to the Border Agency's information line - a singularly useless service, I might add, given the complete absence of contact between the people staffing the service and the people determining the applications. You would surely be doing a greater good to the taxpayers of the United Kingdom by cancelling this information line entirely - not one of your staff had the decency to inform me of a bill before the Parliament which would cancel the certificate of approval scheme. I discovered the passage of the bill into legislation by a chance visit to your website in late April. I thus set out to wait patiently for the return of my application.

What I did not expect, and what has moved me to make this complaint, is the rank opportunism taken by the UK Border Agency to put its thumb in my eye one last time, and to remove utterly any doubt that would otherwise remain regarding the contempt with which the Border Agency holds those who apply for its permission to marry. Instead of simply returning my application for a discontinued permission, your staff have once again demonstrated their incompetence or contemptuous disregard for guidelines by stating in their letter dated 5 May 2011 that my application has been discontinued on the basis that my fiancée does not live in the United Kingdom and has not on that basis also submitted an application for a certificate of approval for marriage.

The guidelines of the Border Agency were clear. Only those settled in the United Kingdom must submit an application for a certificate of approval. Those who wished to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of marriage but not to reside thereafter need only obtain an entry visa endorsed for marriage.

I am a decent, law-abiding person. I work hard and contribute to society. I understand and respect the need for the United Kingdom to protect its borders against the abuse of the institution of marriage for the purpose of gaining entry through illegitimate relationships. However, I could never have imagined that the civil service of any civilised government would take seven months to determine an application of this nature, to fail - disingenuously in my mind - to inform an applicant of a bill then before the legislature to remove the scheme, and then, on two separate occasions, to act with contemptuous disregard for their very own published guidelines and requirements.

I look forward to the day when the cold winds of economic change finally sweep through the British civil service, whereupon a good number of its staff will find themselves thrust out of the warm comfort and protection of the taxpayers' bosom and have to find real jobs that produce and contribute to the society in which they live. I am sure that such incompetence and contempt as has been meted out to my application will not make the search for such employment an easy one.

I am available to submit copies of any documents you may need to support this complaint. I should emphasise this last point, just in case the very same individuals that processed my application with such a marked ability to see black as white are now in charge of complaints: this is indeed a complaint. It is not praise.

I wish to see my complaint acknowledged. I wish it to be acknowledged that this experience is not justifiable on any grounds, be they of public policy or otherwise. I wish the past seven months of uncertainty and expense and frustration to be acknowledged. I wish the fact that I have been callously prevented from marrying the woman whom I love because of the unaccountable incompetence or contempt of individuals in the employment of the UK Border Agency to be acknowledged. I wish to receive an apology.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Postcript; the author and his beloved were married last Friday.

14 June 2011

Lateralist Commentary - A Critique

It's been a great year thus far for supporters of the West Coast Eagles. I'm not saying we're going to win the flag, but given that we are the current holders of the wooden spoon, the fact that finals are a realistic proposition is nothing short of incredible.

If only the commentary was as good.

I'd find it so much easier to enjoy the success of the Eagles if Brian f*cking Naylor was barred from calling Eagles games. He is a colossally annoying wind bag, whose girth is in inverse proportion to his wit. If I hear him refer to the f*cling vortex pocket or call Glen Jakovich the King of the West one more time, I'm going to feel more than justified in throwing a pie at him next time I see him. And to make sure he doesn't mistake it for a gift and scoff it down as would a pelican with a chip, I'll be sure to lob it at the back of his head.

Not that there are many better options out there. Robert Walls is a joke, intoning inanely obvious details like a man who thinks reading Wittgenstein. I shit you not, last year I distinctly remember him saying - with extraordinary self satisfaction - that from a position of being ten goals down, Richmond were really going to have to lift their work rate. You think, Wallsy? I know that the AFL isn't exactly the most neuron-rich environment in which to work, but to sound like a bloke who's just cracked Fermat's Last Theorem, one honestly should feel the need to offer something a bit more insightful than that.

But Wallsy's hardly the bottom of the barrel. Take a bloke like Alastair Lynch, who, regardless of what he's actually saying, says it in a voice so torturously rasped, that he sounds like a Dalek on crack. Even Bruce McAvaney, for all of his enthusiasm, describes the players like an obsessive (and rather delicate) man professing love for each and every member of his porcelain doll collection. Mind you, he travels less than Collingwood, so it hardly matters.

Which leaves only Cometti, and he can hardly be asked to call eight games every weekend. Admittedly, Gerard Healy is quite good, but he's no Cometti. In all seriousness, it shouldn't be that hard to get people who can call the game with the following caveats:

a) They can speak English;
b) They understand the game;
c) They do not call the game from a criminally biased Victorian perspective; and
d) They can present their views from a position other than deep inside their own arse.

Brian Naylor, I'm sorry to say, is zero for four.

Still, at least we're winning. And that's something.

08 June 2011

Lateralist Livestock - The Politics of Conscience

I was going to start this posting with a reference to the debate about live animal exports that's been taking place recently. But I can't, because no such debate has taken place. Instead, there's been shocking footage, public outcry, Government action, and some grumbling. It's not been particularly inspiring.

I couldn't help but be annoyed when I got an email from GetUp proclaiming proudly just how effective they'd been in garnering over 300,000 signatures to a petition calling for live exports to be banned. I was annoyed because I don't think getting so many people to profess their outrage to such horrendous footage was much of an achievement. Truth be told, I don't think anyone - GetUp, the Meat Industry, the Government, or the public, for that matter, have very much to be proud of at all.

We are good at reacting to things. As is our Government. When I say we (and by extension, they) are good at it, I mean it happens with dispiriting consistency. I do not mean that the reactions themselves are good; after all, reactions (as opposed to swift decisions) rarely are.

It's frustrating on two levels. On the first, it should have been well known to all in the Meat Industry that such atrocious acts of cruelty were taking place. A Four Corners Report really need not have been necessary. It seems more and more apparent just how much was known about what was going on in Indonesian abattoirs, and that it was being blithely ignored by those who could have acted to stop it. This can only have occurred for selfishly commercial reasons. So if money is lost - too bad. Money made from cruelty deserves to be lost. It's a shame that the most guilty figures probably aren't the only ones going to lose, but I'd still rather be a cattle farmer with empty pockets than a cow bound for bloody and brutal slaughter.

But it is also frustrating how little we - as a general public - choose to care about things until they are shoved under our noses. There is certainly animal cruelty in other parts of the world. We as a nation trade with other nations who impose brutal regimes on their citizens, never mind on their poor animals. We trade with nations who barely recognise women as even a sub-species of human being. But right now, we're outraged about cruel cattle slaughter, because someone showed us some nasty pictures.

I think our consciences need to be controlled by more than a drip-fed media message. We, as people, need to be active citizens of the world, who actively care about things. For this to happen , we do need an engaged, passionate culture of journalism. As the so-called Forth Estate becomes increasingly corporatised, we lose more and more of the investigative voices that we need to help us keep track on an increasingly complex and interwoven world. But even as we lose these key links in the chain of understanding, the onus will still be - as it has always been - on us, as people, to care, and to act, or not to act.

Personally, I'd be thrilled if the live export trade of animals folds completely. It's a barbaric trade, and a pathetic way to make money. But I think there are a lot of other things we need to care about, too. Focusing on the live export trade for the moment, I can understand how easy it is for people to focus on the money and the trade, rather than on the other, less pleasant things. But I could scarcely believe (okay, I could) the idiotic comments made by Opposition spokesman, Barnaby Joke, who basically argued that Indonesia is too powerful a country (and near neighbour) for us to piss off over something this insignificant. Fuck you, Barnaby. I think every wanker complaining about the detrimental economic effect this ban on the cattle industry is going to have should be stripped naked, given a nice jolt from a cattle prod - right up the arse - and hoarded onto a ship. In a box the size of a coffin, let them make their way to Indonesia. Let's see how they like it. Why? Because it's bullshit. The cows bound for export were never going to be consumed here. It will do sod all to the meat industry as a whole.

Consuming an animal need not be an act of barbarism. But there are limits to what an animal should have to suffer to provide sustenance for a human being. But in an age of Coles and Woolworths, people are losing more and more touch with the increasingly corporatised world of food production. We are eating food of lower and lower quality, and ignoring the fact that for the sake of a few dollars, we are prepared to let animals endure unbelievably cruel conditions. It's terrifying. I mean seriously, if you buy caged eggs, there's something wrong with you.

I'm all for caring about things that matter, but I refuse to be lead - like a horse to water - by a flavour-of-the-moment outrage, like a cow bound for export. Serious issues need serious attention.

And it needs to be ongoing.

29 May 2011

Lateralist Politics - An Update

Those of you who check this blog from time to time will no doubt have noticed that it's been a while since I've posted anything. Let me explain.

It wasn't that I didn't have anything to say; it was actually that I had too much to say, and too little time in which to say it. Nothing much has changed, but I'm determined to make the effort at least once a week from now on. At least, that's the theory, anyway.

It's funny, but I started this particular posting with a view to surmising my thoughts on the last few months in Australian politics, and now that I've started writing, I find that very little is actually cutting through the foggy malaise. So many sensationalised stories; so little substance one can actually remember.

It's an important point, I think; in an age of instant news, the news media has worked hard to convince the populace that the news it has to present - in a virtually unending stream - is all of substance, and thus, worthy of our time. The more I think about it, the more I realise that nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, we are getting more and more about less and less. I can't even use the pithy reproach that style has replaced substance, because there is no actual style to speak of, either. There are, from time to time, extended (and reflective) comment pieces that appear on the websites of news media sites, but they are few and far between. And when they do, they quickly become smeared with reactionary comments by folk whose primary goal seems neither to understand, or even to be understood, but simply to register their presence, and the force of their pain. It's actually pretty sad.

In the last few months of Australian politics, nothing much has happened. Abbott has attacked, and made ground in the polls, and Gillard has defended. Neither has impressed. Abbott, despite being a rallying point around which the small-minded can gather and stamp their feet, he remains - and will remain - the very essence of unelectable for around half of the Australian population. Don't get me wrong, he's an impressive politician. It's just that when you're an opposition leader whose key weapon is being able to boil down a social issue into a vague but seemingly sage phrase, it's not unlike saying he's a good thug, or a talented thief. Anyone who says they do not think Abbott's primary strategy is to play upon the fears, ignorance, greed and prejudices of the electorate is either lying, or one of his constituents. And if you're in the latter camp, then I'm sorry. For you.

Gillard, whilst often unimpressive, actually doesn't do a lot wrong, other than fail to inspire anything other than loathing, amongst those in the electorate who were never going to vote for her anyway. It's funny, but people who really hate Gillard can't understand that for the rest of us - who merely find her irritating - the extent of their hatred isn't actually a compelling argument for us to share their views. (It actually just makes us want to stand well away from them.) The fact is, the Right are always going to hate the Left in a way that the Left can never fully reciprocate? Why? Because if we could, we'd be the Right, too.

But for most people, this is all bullshit, anyway. Truth be told, a high percentage of Australian people don't have particularly strong feelings about politicians. They've allowed their passions - if ever they were strongly felt - to wind down to, at best, a simmer. Why? Because there's no point to them, really. Feeling strongly about something, no matter how strong the feeling, is a waste of time, unless it's accompanied by actions. And the majority of people actually have things to, you know, do. Politics is a spectator sport, even for those playing, never mind the rest of us.

Which is why it's probably best to stay away from it. Better to do useful things, like read about issues, rather than politics. But I have a suggestion. Rather than read thirty stories that have less depth to them than the skin of a grape, why not read one or two stories that actually reveal to us the complexities and nuances of a particular issue? It'd sure be helpful. But there's a catch.

The catch is that if we allow ourselves to know a few things quite well, we're going to have to rely on other people knowing other things - different things - better than we do, and listening to them. This has become a bit of a problem for people. The internet has brought with it boundless information, but it has also brought with it the misconception that we are capable of processing all of it. We are not. Only in an age where a search engine has replaced research and learning could an idiot like Paul Murray (West Australian "writer") actually think his opinion on climate change is worth anything more than a warm bucket of piss. But this isn't the real tragedy; the real tragedy is that some poor souls listen to him, and consider themselves more informed for having done so.

That we've created generations of people who think being able to form an opinion is the same as being able to form an informed opinion is frightening. Don't get me wrong; everyone is entitled to their opinion, but how about we give the world (and its issues and problems) its due, and acknowledge that perhaps we don't know enough to be able to contribute much to the debate, other than, at best, carefully considered questions, and the ability to accept complex, and at times, necessarily inconclusive answers.

Whether we know it or not, or like it or not, our politicians and our media organisations are in between us and the knowledge and understandings we need. And both are utterly, utterly failing to deliver. And it doesn't matter which side of the political aisle you are on; both sides are failing us. If anyone should be held to account, and someone probably should, it's probably Rupert Murdoch. In actively politicising the media, he's made it impossible for people to access apolitical information, or to even be apolitically receptive to information. Anything from News Limited is immediately dismissed by the Left. Anything (bewilderingly) from the ABC is immediately dismissed by the Right. It's pathetic. People are left angry, suspicious, and comparably ill-informed.

So what's to be done? I honestly don't know. But I hope that one day soon, even if people are still grappling to understand the complex issues which continue to vex our society, they will at least understand that the current processes we have in place for merely comprehending the scale of these issues - never mind nutting out their solutions - are woefully inadequate. Then at least we might start asking for something better. And this last point is key; improvement must come from us. If we simply lapse into indifferent cynicism, then we've only got ourselves to blame.

02 March 2011

Lateralist Musings - Respect and Reason in Political Debate

There's an article on the ABC's website today which notes Tony Windsor's growing concern over the increasingly vitriolic tone being adopted in Australian political debates. The article quoted a particularly worrisome death threat Windsor had recently received.

I share his concerns. Increasingly in Australia, people seem unable to - to coin an old sporting adage - play the ball, rather than the man. I'm really not sure why we are doing this, but it's a very disturbing trend which does not bode well for any aspect of our society at all.

It's easy, especially for a Labor supporter, to lay the blame at the feet of Tony Abbott. Abbott does seem to revel in his version of a political scrap, and seems determined to oppose virtually every initiative raised by the current Government. If I believed for a single moment that an Abbott Government would be completely and utterly different to the Gillard one, this this approach might have at least some merit, in substance, if not style.

But I doubt anyone really believes this. We have, and have had for some time, two essentially centrist parties. So, from where does all the rhetoric spring? The bile thrown around in observation or comment on matters political has descended to the kind one might expect at a football game, where misdirected passion deliberately eschews all reason and objectivity in favour of virtually tribal bias. It's not really that healthy at the footy, but as the increasingly preferred tone for national or political debate, it's worse than useless. In fact it's much, much worse than useless; it's corrosively harmful.

I think Abbot is as much symptom as he is cause, really. There is an increasingly hostile tone creeping into Australia's general discourse. One only has to read any media website that enables comments to see just how much reason has given way to reaction. Given that many people who post comments probably wouldn't actually voice these comments to those about whom they complain, I can only deduce that the internet has offered a sufficiently anonymous location from which people feel safe to vent their spleens with relative safety. It's not debate; it's not even boxing; it's lobbing molotov cocktails through windows, and then running away.

Talkback radio has been offering a comparatively inefficient forum for such trash talk for decades. But even this basal media backwater has managed to lower its sub-terrestrial tone. I was simply appalled by how Allan Jones spoke to our Prime Minister last week. His "Ju-Liar" (I don't believe he meant Jew-Liar) insult ought not be considered acceptable. I wish to goodness Tony Abbott had taken him to task over it, as I believe our leaders - regardless of their views - are deserved of some respect. I also think that this treamment of Gillard has its roots in a deeply masked sexism; as I simply cannot believe Jones would have dared speak that way to Kevin Rudd, John Howard, or Paul Keating.

The mention of Keating might prompt a few readers to protest that my singling out of Abbott ignores Keating's reputation for political barbs. I certainly concede this point; Keating did much to lower the tone of political debate in Australia. But he also managed to raise it: it's one thing to call someone "all tip and no iceberg", but if that same person can also deliver a speech as timely, eloquent and powerful as his famed Redfern Speech of 1993, then you perhaps get a little more leeway than those who simply hector and harangue.

Politics has always been a rough and tumble game, but when the rough and tumble becomes the game, it is the electorate which loses. We are, as a nation, a dismal distance from having a rational debate about the implications for putting a price on carbon. (Or for that matter, a great many other issues.) I think the fight is going to get uglier and uglier, largely because Abbott has given Gillard little choice but to fight him toe to toe. If she doesn't take Abbott on, she'll simply be steamrolled. If she does take him on; it'll be a fight, rather than a debate. No one wins, no matter which political leader is left standing at the end of it.

For any who think that the left of politics is as bad as the right on this, think about this question. Where is the Left's equivalent of Alan Jones? Where's the left-wing lunatic who spends his (or her) days whipping up anti-fascist bile? They won't be found, because they don't exist. The right tries hard to pretend that the Greens are actually this mythical enemy, but even the most cursory glance at their policies suggests such accusations are all smoke and no fire.

For what it's worth, I believe that a carbon tax is necessary. It is also, at its core, a sound idea, both economically and environmentally. The market doesn't like changing direction, but a tax will certainly dis-incentivise pollution. If the money raised offsets pain for general consumers and also subsidises clean energy research and development, then it's doing what's needed in my book. Even climate sceptics must surely concede that reducing pollution is good, no matter what one's position on man-made global warming, and that our actions will likely make it easier for other countries to act.

But if we keep asking stupid questions, will only get irrelevant answers. Will prices go up? Yes, probably a little. But if current prices are contingent on environmental damage, you'd hardly call them right or fair, would you? A degree of long term thinking is surely required for long-term planning.

To be honest, I can't quite make my mind up about Tony Abbott. He's either prepared to use whatever tactics he can to win office, or he genuinely has extremely different views from the Government. I can't help but think that it's the former, and that this is the more dangerous of the two possibilities. I can live with someone in power whose views don't reflect mine, but I'd hope to God than in my efforts to remove them from office, I'd remember to respect myself, and my nation. I'm not sure Abbott is doing either.

Gillard is right when she notes that Abbott should really contribute constructively to the debate, or just stop blindly attacking everyone and everything that the Government is trying to do. The problem is, no one is listening. If Abbott really has managed to poison the minds of a large enough number of his supporters, then this really is going to be an ugly, ugly fight to the death, because logic just isn't going to cut it.

I hope Gillard wins, but if the cost is to our national identity, then I'm not sure it's worth it. With any luck, too much bile will turn our stomachs, and we'll crave something better. But in an age of push polls and internet comment warfare, I don't think that's going to happen. But until it does, we will continue to get the political climate we deserve.

21 February 2011

Lateralist Health Hazards: The Ore-Besity Epidemic

I couldn't help but notice, when scanning the ABC Grandstand website, a story detailing (well, surmising) how "mining magnate" Nathan "Twinkie" Tinkler is backing out of a deal to buy the Newcastle Knights. I can only assume that once he realised he was buying a sporting (rather than pie) franchise, that his interest cooled.

But it got me thinking. Has anyone else noticed that in Australia, to be called a Mining Magnate, you've basically got to be the size of Garden Island? Consider the following people: Nathan Tinkler, Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, Gina "make mine a double" Rhinehart, and best of all, Clive "don't even bother to slice it" Palmer. Let's face it; none of these folks have spent a lot of time at the salad cart. I'll be fair to Twiggy, though; compared to the others, he resembles, well, Twiggy.

Australia is clearly in the grips of an ore-besity crisis. Perhaps it's the sheer scale of the mining industry that's done this. I mean, look at the size of a Haulpak Truck. Perhaps these magnates simply assumed that these vehicles were an unwritten invitation to spread out a bit, girth-wise. It's hard to know for sure. I just hope it's not an error born of scientific and linguistic confusion. It's well known that large objects (like planets and the like) exert a significant gravitational pull. Could it be, that these poor folk have stuffed themselves senseless in misguided quests to become recognised as mining magnets? The mind boggles.

All I know is that perhaps it's time that the mining industry came with a health warning. Or better yet, some sort of super-corpulent tax, whereby the rate you pay is a careful calibration of girth and wealth. Who knows; with that kind of incentive hanging over him, Mr Palmer might just get the impetus he needs to say no that third serving of bison and fries.

Mining. It's bad for you.

19 February 2011

Lateralist Review: Radiohead's The King of Limbs

Radiohead have long been a band determined to plough their own particular musical furrow. That they've achieved as much success as they have in spite of their (at times) complex and challenging music gives hope to all those who hold great fears for society as a whole. (That is, if a lot of people can actually love music this good, then maybe the world isn't doomed, after all.)

The King of Limbs is Radiohead's eighth album of original material, and to these ears, their most immediately satisfying since Kid A. It is, for all its sombre notes and pulsing movements, a fluidly compelling brace of songs, which ebbs and flows beautifully, and in a contentedly life-affirming way. But make no mistake; this is not Radiohead on autopilot. In fact, they sound more engaged in their work than ever, and full to the brim with confidence in their own abilities.

A word on the release itself: Radiohead have scaled back the "pay what you like" price experimentation that accompanied the release of In Rainbows, and have instead opted for a fixed price download. Or if you like, you can also order a deluxe package which contains (as well as an mp3 version) a compact disc, two 10 inch (clear) vinyl albums, and assortment of newspaper-related paraphernalia, and possibly a papier mache arm chair. Good on them, I reckon.

Whilst Radiohead continue to try and find new and/or interesting ways to present their music to their fans, such acts would ring rather hollow if the music itself were not of commensurate value. Fortunately, it is. If we consider the album's opening track as a portent of all that follows, then I think the album's style comes into fairly sharp focus. It begins with "Bloom", which sounds like a mash up between Philip Glass and the soundtrack to Bladerunner. Thom Yorke, possibly recalling a trip to the dentist, begins with the lyric, "open your mouth wide", but follows it with, "the universal sigh", which perhaps suggests a yawn. But as the lyric turns to the power and restorative beauty of the ocean, the listeners can perhaps infer that in the midst of weary self (or societal) examination, there is something actually rather life-affirming at the core of this album. The song moves to a beautifully layered coda, which, in its own intense way, is up there with the most calmly joyous music that Radiohead has produced.

The second song, "Morning Mr Magpie" works within a familiarly twitchy sonic palate, but eschews the previously oft-generated sense of unease so favoured by the band to reveal, of all things, a song which sounds uncannily like what one might get if Radiohead were to cover a circa-Rubber Soul Beatles track in their own inimitable style. Put another way, it is the song, rather than the style, that most attracts the listener.

"Little By Little" further extends this fusion of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Its minor (and modal) chords are offset by what I can only describe as what Kraftwerk might sound like if asked to play in a Mariachi style. Quirky, but entirely of a piece with the album proper. And it's by this song, I think, that it becomes clearer that Yorke's lyrics on The King of Limbs are more straightforward and more accessible than on previous albums. They recall the simple symbolism of Roger Waters' words on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon; an album hardly lacking in angst, but also lacking neither warmth nor universal appeal. I'm not suggesting that The King of Limbs is going to be quite so popular as Floyd behemoth, but it is a surprisingly accessible album, given its sonic stylings.

"Feral", the album's fourth song, is highly percussive, with heavily treated and edited vocals. Almost wordless (if certainly not an instrumental), its rhythms are hypnotically appealing. It segues (in terms of mood) seamlessly into "Lotus Flower", which along feels like the album's highpoint. It's a genuinely soulful song, with Yorke's voice soaring effortlessly above subtly propulsive instrumentation. "Codex", with stately, Rick Wright-styled piano chords, again suggest a Pink Floyd parallel. But the song's feel is actually more redolent of the Australian artist, David Bridie, and his two remarkable solo albums, Act of Free Choice and Hotel Radio. Tonally, the song is a beautifully wistful lament, with Yorke employing what sounds like his most natural and unaffected singing in years. It ends with birdsong.

The albums final two songs (there are only eight in total) bring things to a thoughtful and gentle close. The penultimate track, "Give Up the Ghost" is a bona-fide English Pastoral. The potentially desparing lyric - in the style it is rendered - actually suggest of mood of release and relief, rather than resignation. This mood, via a shift (yet again) in style, flows into the final song, "Separator". It's probably the album's weakest track, musically, but it still has a warm sense of hopefulness and discovery.

Honestly, it's quite exhilarating to hear a band of this stature risking such aural inventiveness on their eighth album. When I first listened to the Kid A album, I was mesmerised. It was one of the very, very few times in my life where I've felt like I was listening to a musical event; a genuine shifting in the musical landscape. The King of Limbs is not quite an album of that calibre or that significance, but it is still an extraordinarily good (and important) piece of work, from a band that is still unequivocally one the most talented in the world. It's a confident, hopeful and consistently surprising celebration of an album. A quiet celebration, certainly, and, best of all, a quiet triumph, too.

Long live the King.

18 February 2011

Lateralist Bookshops

I love books, and as a general rule, I love bookshops. To be truthful, I'm especially fond of secondhand bookshops, driven as I am by the desire to snag virtually any titles in particular editions of penguin-published books. Bookshops encourage browsing and a kind of curiosity; a searching for the new or unfamiliar. Even new bookshops have a musty warmth and earthy tactility that can only be felt in rooms where the quantity of ink and paper must be measured in tonnes.

I was somewhat saddened when I heard the news that the Borders and Angus & Robertson chains had been placed into administration. But the more I thought about it, the more I've come round to the opinion that this need not be a bad thing for lovers of the bookshop.

Many media pundits have immediately begun trumpeting the notion that these chains have failed due to the rise of online bookstores. At best, this is a half-truth. I love buying books online. I've bought more books that I'd care to mention from the wonderful "book depository" site, based in the United Kingdom. But I also buy books from my local Victoria Park book shop, Crow Books, too. Why? Because I like the browsing experience. Crow books is great! It has funky shelves, leather chairs and an excellent range. Well, to my tastes at least.

Whilst Borders tried hard, it offered, at best, a perfunctory browsing experience. In contrast, the browsing experience offered by A & R (and its red twin, Dymocks) is really quite ghastly. Now, I could put up with a lousy browse if the prices were competitive with those offered online, but they are not. And why aren't they? Poor business acumen is why.

I feel confident in this assertion, because of the continued success of the JB Hifi franchise. If it were really true that online retail were the natural (and superior) enemy of store retail, then surely JB's would be struggling financially. But it is not. Instead, JB's have continued to offer their merchandise at prices which cannot be matched by online stores. And they've managed this in the age of iTunes, which has yet to have anything resembling a comparable impact on the book world, as kindles and the like start to stake their market claim. So if JB's can do it, I am certain that bookshops can do it, too.

I have no doubt that the landscape for books is changing, but I find it hard to believe that there isn't a market for the bookshop anymore. No doubt, there is going to be some thinking, some experimenting, and some failures, but there will eventually be some successes, too. I'd actually like to hope that the demise of chains will bring back the independent bookshop, where entire stores are given over to particular genres or styles of literature.

When that happens, buying a book will once again become an experience which no online store can replicate. And I for one could easily be persuaded to pay a comparable price to be a part of that. Heck, if it came with a good cup of coffee, I might even pay a little more.

14 February 2011

Swimming & Running - A Lateralist Critique

I don't know if you've noticed, but when the worlds of swimming and running are held to mutual account, there are some disturbing anomalies which have gone on for far too long. I for one think it's time that whether one is traversing air or liquid, that there be some sort of consistency. Let me explain.

Take the 100m sprint, for example. People try to get to one end of the set distance to the other, as fast as they can. Simple enough, right? But compare the 100m run, (and it's always a run) to the 100m events offered in swimming. In swimming, one can use no less than four different strokes! To me, this makes no sense at all, and it's high time all bar the fastest (i.e. freestyle) are abandoned as inefficient.

Or, three new modes of movements are going to need to be created for covering the distance of 100m on land. Don't get me wrong; there are some potentially enticing options. I like the idea of the 100m hop, or, to offer an even greater connection to swimming, the 100m backwards run. (A little dangerous, perhaps, but great for spectators.) Or better yet, why not just move freestyle onto land, and see how long it takes folk to drag themselves 100m across a rubber track?

If all this seems a bit silly, I can assure you it's no more incomprehensible than the current situation. Right now, freestyle is effectively subsidising the other strokes. And Lord knows why people would want to watch people voluntarily going slower than they could.

Of course, someone is bound to come back with the point that when we turn to longer athetic distances, there is the option of walking as well as running. I hope someone points this out, because frankly, I think it only serves to further underline the validity of my argument. Walking, as an athletic event, is stupid.

Now, it must be admitted that as well as being able to run 100m, there is also the option of hurdling 110m. There is a crucial difference here; people are still electing to run, it's just that with the addition of hurdles, they are also obliged to jump. This is fine, and perfectly transferrable to the pool environment. I'd have no problem with people wanting to bung a few obstacles into the pool. A hoop or two, so swimmers can find their inner porpoise. Hell, it'd be fine if they were to drop the water to near freezing, so there's a few small 'bergs floating about for folk to dodge, or if they heated it up a whole lot. Trust me, when the water's steaming, no bastard in his right mind it going to opt for breastroke....

A little equality and efficiency, that's all I ask. The only problem is that my mind keeps picturing the backwards hurdles. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad after all.....

09 February 2011

Lateralist Happenings & The Death of Journalism

It's a strange day indeed when I feel any sympathy for Tony Abbott, but I can't help but think that the criticism of him for saying "shit happens" in the context of conversation about the inevitability of things sometimes going terribly wrong in military scenarios is a disgraceful abuse of the media, by the media itself.

If this is journalism, then no wonder there are sections of the community questioning whether or not Julian Assange is a journalist. After all, who could possibly blame the man for wanting to put as much distance as possible between his (Assange's) rather more noble (if perilous) modus operandi and irresponsible muck-racking like this?

I'm pleased that the Government has not weighed in on the attack on Abbott, but disappointed that it has not come more forcefully to his defence. Abbott might be a goose, but no one in their right mind could think he meant to cause offence, or that those to whom he was actually speaking took offence, either. And surely that counts, doesn't it? I mean, have we really reached the point where people can legitimately have context set aside in any assessment of what they've said or done? Lord, I hope not. Because if we have, then as a society we have finally and inexorably lost the plot. And if politicians can't see the necessity of defending their integrity as a whole, regardless of political allegiance, then you've got to wonder if, deep down, they really believe they possess any at all.

Leave Abbott alone. At least, leave him alone for this. There's plenty of other stuff for which he deserves a profound shellacking. Let's see if there are journalists actually prepared to call him on the deficiencies of his policies, rather than on the acceptability of his preferred turns of phrase. But then, if people are going to lay into the Prime Minister for crying when recounting one of the most tragic stories of parental loss I've ever heard, then perhaps it's time we as a society simply retired from the human race.

Let's face it, if stuff like this is news, then I'm well and truly over it.

02 February 2011

Waiting for Cyclone Yasi

It says something about the expected impact of Cyclone Yasi that even from my place in Australia - three thousand kilometres from danger - I feel a sense of fear and foreboding. The cyclone about to strike far North Queensland could very well turn out to be the worst storm to hit Australia in recorded history.

There's something uncomfortably primal in how we react to pending news of a great and terrible storm when you're close by it. I've not been in anything even close to what's about to hit Queensland, but I've felt a big storm coming. Everything in the atmosphere changes. Domestic pets whine and cower. Birds flee. The sky can almost be visibly seen to wring night from day. Our senses become more acute. We become more conscious of our blood, moving rapidly about our bodies. And we wait.

As the co-founder of this site remarked to me earlier today, for the span of our lives, Cyclone Tracy has been the (in his words) "Don Bradman" of storms. Tracy claimed 71 lives and levelled Darwin. In fact, the damage wreaked by this storm etched itself onto the Australian psyche, more so even than the bombing of Darwin, which is incredible and puzzling in equal measure.

It seems like Tracy might just be about to be superseded. Lord, I hope not. But a forecast of a severe category five cyclone (as if the "five" weren't enough) is the stuff of nightmares. The damage that wind can do when its moving at over three hundred kilometres an hour is barely comprehensible. Ocean surges of up to twelve metres simply defy belief. And yet, we wait.

I don't know what's going to happen. No one knows for sure. But if you hear anyone complaining about incorrect weather reports if, God willing, Yasi doesn't turn out to be quite as bad as expected, spit in their face. Please. Anyone who thinks that such a result is anything other than miraculous is beneath contempt in moral terms, and intellectually, surely a barely functioning primate. (Seriously; try predicting the weather. There are more variables than you can count.)

For the second time in a matter of weeks, God be with the people of Queensland.

Lateralist Review - The King's Speech

I'm not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination, but I've long admired King George VI, the man who never wanted to be King. And yet become one he did, in a time of war and public broadcasting, no less; two developments which caused considerable stress in a man with a pronounced speech impediment, suddenly saddled with being the calming and resolute voice of national unity.

In fact, to all intents and purposes, he did the job so well that it killed him. Less than a decade after the war's end, he was dead. But it wasn't until after the passing of his wife, the Queen Mother, that his (and her) story could finally be told. (She'd wanted it told, but not in her lifetime, for the fear of stirring all-too-painful memories.)

In spite of its origins in history, The King's Speech is not a documentary. This fact seems to have eluded a number of commentators and critics, who've attacked it for purported untruths. I can only hope Christopher Hitchens (one of the more vocal and misguided detractors) never watches Inglorious Basterds. The poor bugger will have an aneurism.

In reality, the King's Speech is a study of duty and friendship, and it is a masterful one. At its core is the relationship between the King (whose name was Albert or "Bertie") and his unorthodox and irreverent speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The scripting is elegant and wry, and it is expertly delivered by Messrs Firth and Rush, with outstanding support from Helena Bonham-Carter and Guy Pearce, as the King's faithful wife and feckless brother, respectively.

As the story unravels, it becomes clearer that in spite of his position of immense privilege, Albert's life is one of emasculated misery. His stutter, in this light, becomes symptom and symbol of pronounced and protracted bullying. As Lionel helps Bertie find his voice, he ultimately helps him find the man within himself. It is a touching portrait of personal redemption for a wounded soul.

In its own way, the film challenges the virtues of the monarchy as much as it endorses them, because its not unreasonable to deduce that the King's life would have been far, far easier if he'd not been burdened with the obligations of his position. But then I suppose that the film also suggests that whether a man is King or commoner, all have their part to play in times of crisis, and that each man's journey is his own.

I hope Colin Firth wins an Oscar for his performance. He deserves to. His portrayal of a damaged yet ultimately proud man is at times profoundly moving. Rush is also excellent, particularly for not allowing acting excesses to undermine the nuanced eccentricities of his character.

The King delivers his final speech (in the film, not the war) to the sounds of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. It's an inspired choice for an inspired film. And no matter whether you'd prefer a King or a Koala as our Head of State, go see it whilse you still can.

27 January 2011

Lateralist Flags - Vexing Vexillology

For those of you who don't know, vexillology is the study of flags. When asked to name my hobbies, I am want to cite it, if for no other reason than it tends to invite a frown in response.

It seems that some prominent Australians (and when I say prominent in this context, I mean neglected and/or forgotten) are lobbying for a new flag for our great nation. I've longed for this particular debate to return to prominence, as I've got some thoughts.

I've long thought a sheet of corrugated iron would make for a marvellous flag. For a start, it is wind-defiant, rather than being meekly wind-dependent, and thus always flies proudly. Secondly, it's added weight will make it harder for bogans to fly them from their car aerials. And thirdly, its metallic and rusted qualities will hopefully mean that boat-shoo(t)ing rednecks who feel the need to wear it on Australia Day may have a very real chance of contracting the tetanus they so richly deserve.

That's going to be hard to top, but there are some other options worth mentioning. I've always been partial to the idea of a beach-ball as our flag. Why? Well, I've always been a bit jealous of countries who have shunned the rectangular norm and embraced more interesting shapes for their flag. (Nepal's flag is a wonder to behold.) But rather than simply find an innovative shape, why not add a whole new dimension? We'd be the envy of all nations when, during Olympic medal ceremonies the flat bedsheets of lesser nations limply dangle down, whilst our ballsy sphere smugly glints in the light from every direction. Also, we're a beach-going nation, so a beach-ball works for me. And it makes the flag useful on Australia day, in that you can waive the thing patriotically, then kick it around, also patriotically.

If that's too radical for you, then I guess this next idea's probably not for you, either. We keep the shape, but we rent it out to the highest bidder. After all, we're a practical and pragmatic nation, are we not? And if we can't find a symbol we all like, then why not make a little money? Given the recent talk about the need for flood-relief revenue, give some thought to how much a McFlag sponsorship deal would bring in. And you know, I'm not displeased at the notion that empty nationalism might lose some of its bite if we as a nation have to display our ideals through our actions, rather than through the waiving of empty symbols. After all, I've always liked to believe that those who most love our country do so because of what it stands for, rather than the items which we use to represent those those things for which we stand.

I don't dislike out flag; but I do think it's time we had one that represents all Australians in a way that speaks to an equitable future, rather than our all too inequitable past. And if that's too much for you, then I've one last idea. Let's bung a koala on a stick, and combine flag and emblem into one. Heck, make it a kookaburra, and we can get the anthem out of the way as well....

You've got to be prepared to make sacrifices these days. I'm prepared to cut the British. Because I care.

Lateralist Levies - Pain & Politics

The typically (sub)standard political rumblings over the Government's proposed levy are, as usual, depressingly inane.

Naturally enough, our Prime Minister delivered a mind-numblingly soporific speech to announce her plans. The plans, in my humble opinion, were fine; in that a one-off levy to pay for the barely comprehensible damage to Queensland seems fair enough. I don't like many of the environmental cuts she's proposed, but given the choice, I'd rather have a carbon tax in the long term, so I can live with them, assuming she can get one through parliament. (I'm trusting the Government to vigorously pursue one, which is as much on me as it is on them.) Put another way, I'm a pragmatist, and don't believe in a world where the end result of a natural disaster is one where everyone gets to feel happy about things. I just wish she could convey her policies and decisions in a language that doesn't make me want to drink paint.

Whilst many Australians have been exceedingly generous in their donations, I'm a bit tired of hearing how much the everyone has contributed, for the simple reason that I know it's bollocks. Many people have contributed nothing at all. Sad, but true.

And whether people have donated or not, the simple fact remains that to date, not enough has been donated to cover the costs. So what's the alternative to a levy? Tax only those who've not yet donated? I suppose you could do that, if you don't mind the irony of creating a levy by default, but I rather do mind such stupid ideas being bandied about. Donations are brilliant, and too much of the good work done in our society already depends on them in order to continue, but to retain their ideological merit they simply must be seen as adjacent to other revenue. And if you donated (by definition) voluntarily as a pre-emptive strike against an involuntary contribution, then, you're a generous soul, but also a generous fool.

So we're left with the need to raise money through a levy and the cutting of spending. Of course, Abbott's had a cry about there being more fat (govt spending) to cut, and has clasped the chance to sink the boot into the NBN with both feet. (Which will perhaps take more balance and poise than he's got.) I don't blame him for taking this tack; after all, he's in Opposition, he's a blunt instrument, and as yet, the Government have shown no ability to counter this approach. I mean honestly, how hard can it be to corner him into naming the further cuts he'd make and then put them (the cuts) on a human face? It's not hard, and still the Government doesn't do it. If they're going to get better at Governing, they're going to have to get better at politics. I mean, should we sell Parliament House to rebuilt an Ipswitch suburb? No, probably not. Logically, it's a matter of degrees, with a movable line. The Government simply must get better at fighting for where it wants the line to be.

I mean, when Abbott speaks of "fat", how hard is it to get him to clarify his point?And the same goes with the NBN; no disaster, short of nuclear war, is big enough to shut down all other projects and infrastructure. And given the independents want it, does he really think that Gillard will shelve it and doom her own Government? I hardly think so. So he's either stupid, or he thinks Gillard is stupid, or he thinks the electorate is stupid. Either way, it's probably time for a new theme.

Although it might have seemed sound politics for Gillard to promise a quick return to a budgetary surplus, it plays as hollow when the only reasons offered for doing so seem poll-driven, rather than fiscally sound. And the tragedy is that a quick return to budget surplus is fiscally sound, as is pressing on with the NBN, but once again, the Government has done a lousy job of selling its policies.

I don't know why I'm annoyed. I should be used to this by now. I can only be grateful that, incredibly, Colin Barnett has come out in favour of the levy, which will take some of the wind out of Abbott's sails. And it's interesting that some of the independents are lobbying for permanent levy for an emergency relief fund. On first glance, it's not a bad idea. People are encouraged to budget for emergencies, so why shouldn't a country?

And perhaps it's for the best that she's likely got a fight on her hands to get this through Parliament. After all, tough decisions deserve that title for a reason.

22 January 2011

Lateralist Reputation

I'm quite a fan of Dame Helen Mirren. At least, I was until I saw her trying to flog Wii Fit merchandise. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

It's not that Mirren is unqualified to do so; she's sixty-five years old, and certainly entitled to try and sell whatever she likes. It just that I now find I can't take her seriously anymore, which is depressing, given that she's one of the premier actresses of her generation.

For a start, she professes to find her pixilated trainer, "Steve" sexy. This is disturbing, given that "Steve" resembles a blurred lego figure, but without the facial detail. So, she's either participating in a very shabby snow job, or the poor woman's vision is going. I know she has a reputation as a sensuous and sultry woman, but I'm not sure that this reputation need be extended to the point of distortion whereby viewers are compelled to see to her portraying herself as being turned on by a animated crash test dummy. It just seems weird to me.

It's also weird, and a little embarrassing to watch an four-time Oscar-nominated actress gyrate slowly (and awkwardly) within an invisible hula-hoop, and then to state with measured (read limited) enthusiasm that her Wii Fit age is now 37. Her Wii Fit I.Q., perhaps, but her age? Please. She seems positively dementia-ridden, which is terrible, because I know she's not. A promotion designed to promote youth has aged this vital and virile woman by at least three decades. It's just appalling to watch.

There are times when celebrities or folk of a certain ilk lend a mundane or even dubious product an air of credibility. And unfortunately, there are times when good celebs are brought down by the very product they are trying to sell. This is one of those times.

I sure hope they paid her a lot of money, because she looks like a bloody goose. I just wish Wii had gotten hold Betty White to sell their crap; at least she's nearly ninety. Or the legendary octogenarian, Clint Eastwood, perhaps. I'm not saying he'd not look foolish; he would, but at least in his case I'd be too scared to say anything. And when Clint tells you to buy something, you buy it. (Clint's the guy you use to sell tampons to men.)

Advertisements are funny things. Dame Helen, please find something else to sell, while your reputation still allows. Wii Fit or not, Dame Judi Dench, who's eleven years your senior, looks like she could beat the shit out of you. And if you keep demeaning yourself like this, for the good of actresses and Dames everywhere, she might very well have to....

21 January 2011

Lateralist Favourites - Cricket & Advertising

If you're tired of me banging on about cricket or advertising of late, then this post isn't for you.

There's a cricket advertisement from KFC which once more reveals just how stupid the advertising world really is. In the advertisement, Doug "thatched roof" Bollinger is steaming in to bowl when he is interrupted by a distinctly American-sounding organ riff being played.

Understandably, he curtails his run-up, and looks around for the source of the noise. The camera cuts from person to person, before settling on the familiar faces of Bill Lawry and Tony Grieg, who, after a few seconds, look behind them to see a fat klansman (i.e. Colonel Sanders) fingering his tiny organ. It is at this point that we hear the slogan, "it's just not cricket without colonel".

Let's examine this pitch. You'd think that if cricket and KFC had some kind of established relationship, the whole advertisement probably shouldn't have been built around the notion of KFC and its American-themed "culture" being so utterly incongruous with one another, that the game can't proceed when the KFC-themed music kicks in. I mean, if they they were joined at the hip, would Doug-the-Rug really have aborted his run-up and thrown his arms in the air in a "what-the-f*ck-is-going-on" way? Probably not.

To be fair, I don't blame Bill and Tony for being somewhat bemused that a corpulent redneck playing a kid's keyboard has gatecrashed the commentary box. That said, given that it took these veteran campaigners so long to twig that he was there, is perhaps a sign that retirement beckons for them both. It certainly explains why Tony's commentary in particular only meshes with what's happening on the ground in unconvincing fits and starts; it seems the poor bugger can neither see nor hear anymore.

Despite the best efforts over the years from the likes of Warnie, Boonie, Big Merv and the sadly neglected Greg "Fat Cat" Ritchie, Australian Cricket and KFC have never really had all that much to do with one another. I'm not saying that's good or bad; I'm just saying that's how it is.

But I think if sports are going to continue to forge sponsorship alliances with fast food, alcohol franchises and the like, then I think they should go all the way. I'd like to see the Australian team be obliged to consume a family bucket of the Colonel's finest every day. Each. Then we'll really see how well cricket and KFC can really get on.

Whilst I'm genuinely committed to this idea, I'm prepared to hold off on demanding its immediate implementation if Shaun Marsh is given an apology and a spot in Australia's World Cup squad. And the Test Squad, while we're at it.

Of course, that may mean that there will be a lot of a surplus KFC lying around. Not to worry; I have a solution. Andrew Hilditch can eat it. Given his clearly fact-adjacent ability to deduce from Australia's shellacking in the Ashes that he and his fellow selectors had "done a good job", I'm sure he'll be able to convince himself that he's eating healthily, even as he visibly gains weight in real time.

As for the maligned Michael Clarke, he should have listened to that kid's coaching advice. His footwork is about as classy as a KFC snack box. Hang on; maybe cricket and KFC have something in common after all....

20 January 2011

Laterally Stupid - Crocodile Tennis

I've seen some stupid advertisements in my time, and I've even written about a few of them on this site, but the recent Optus/Tennis Australia where two crocodiles play tennis by belting a sugar-glider (or possum) back and forth with their tails is probably the stupidest thing I've ever seen. And I've seen John Howard try to bowl.

I can't for the life of me imagine how on earth such an idea was ever allowed out of the surely drunken (or possibly stoned) mind in which it was first formed. It defies literal and symbolic interpretation. I know I'm possibly being a tad high-minded when I say this, but I don't think any animal would relish being a substitute for a ball, so I can't for the life of me see what there is to be gained by creating such imagery. Are we being urged to sympathise with the ball? Or are we being given the green light to find a decent-sized lizard and try to belt a willy-wagtail around with it? I just don't know.

I know you'd have to be pretty stupid to take an advertisement like this in so literal a fashion, but given its astonishing inanity, it's either going to be taken wrongly, or avoided like a bloke sniffing paint on a train.

I'm all for surreal advertisements, but this one has got me stumped. In no context whatsoever does animal cruelty work for me, even if the animated marsupial seems to be enjoying itself. So next time, I'd like to see an animation of two crocodiles smacking Paul McNamee back and forth for a few sets. And then eating him. Sound harsh? Ok, perhaps it is. Well, if not McNamee, how about an Optus phone that has failed to last as long as the contract to which it was affixed? At least in that particular case, there'd be no danger of running out of balls...

Lateralist Coaching

Whilst I don't want to make a habit of talking about Michael Clarke on this site, I couldn't help but smile as I watched him graciously receive some unexpected coaching tips from a teenager who'd invited himself to one of Clarke's press conference.

Clarke handled the situation very well; he smiled, listened, and promised to try out the young man's tip in the nets. If it had been Ponting, there would have been tears. (Alan Border simply would have shot him.) But it now simply remains to be seen whether or not he actually takes the advice out into the middle. The way I see it, his batting is currently about as interesting as his haircut. In fact, I see so reason at all not to immediately replace incumbent coach, Tim Nielsen, with the as-yet unidentified young man.

Actually, why stop there? Why not give him the spot on the selection panel as well? I mean, when you've got a mob whose selections seem about as scientific as nominating a suitcase on Deal Or No Deal, it seems unlikely that he could do a worse job. Right now, nevermind finding the right players, I don't think Andrew Hildtich could find mud in Queensland....

But if that seems too much like hard work, then there is a simple short-cut; just give the kid Clarke's job and be done with it. Given how things have been going for him, I'm not sure he'd be dead set against handing over the reigns, anyway.

For now, I'm going to set myself to lobbying the Australian Cricket Board to get Ricky Gervais to host the Alan Border Medal. Short of getting David Boon and Bob Hawke to compete in a drinking competition, I can't think of anything more likely to entice me to watch.

And incidentally, if they did have a booze-off, even with him being in his 80's, and after more than thirty years on the wagon, my money would still be on Hawke....

18 January 2011

This Sporting Lateralist

I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for Michael Clarke when I read that he's currently being taken to task for allegedly having a few (or even a few more than a few) ales with Philip Hughes (and assorted strangers) on the night prior to Australia losing the final Test against England.

It seems poor Clarkey just can't pick the line of the ball. A few years back, Simon Katich nearly strangled him when he (Clarke) had the temerity to request that Australia's celebratory song be brought forward in the schedule so that he might be able to attend a family-related function. Very un-Australian of him, apparently. And now, when he does probably the most Australian thing he's ever done, he gets crucified once more. He must be wondering what on earth it takes to be an Australian cricket captain these days. Indeed, it's a question worth asking.

In the 70's and 80's, Australia played some of its best cricket, and some of its very worst. And throughout most of it, players were getting on the sauce. Doug Walters' drinking prowess was legendary. He once made 254 following a bender that lasted virtually the entire night. David Boon averaged in the sixties after almost drinking his average in cans on the flight from Sydney to Heathrow. There was, at any given time, more residual alcohol in Rod Marsh's moustache than there was in a can of Swan Gold. In fact, according to Richie Benaud, the great Australian all-rounder of the 1950's, Alan "Davo" Davidson was quite partial to having a snifter of port on chilly afternoons during the final session of certain test matches. So, it seems there's no clear relationship between player success and player drinking.

So what's Clarke done wrong? Was it unprofessional for him to drink prior to losing a test in a series already lost? I'm not sure how. He could have strapped a couple of cans to his baggy green and sucked them down for the duration of that final day's play, and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference to the final result, because Australia was batting, Clarke had already batted, and unless the English were going to re-write laws of the game, Australia were not going to be taking the field again for any other reason that to shake hands with the victors.

I think that some folks have criticised Clarke for his drinking because it signified his belief that the game was a lost cause. No, the scorecard did that. He just endured it. If he'd not been firmly convinced that the game was a lost cause, then I should think he should have been tested for hallucinogenic drugs, rather than alcohol.

But if he can be criticised for anything, it should be for using the (pending) result as an excuse to drink. Some folks (like Dean Jones - that clarion voice of reason) have suggested that Clarke (and the current crop of players) aren't good enough to drink whist playing. I think this misses the point entirely. Off-field actions should not be determined by on-field performance, because it is simply too dangerous to create an atmosphere where successful players can operate under the belief that they can do whatever they like in their own time, as long as they keep winning. One only need look at Tiger Woods, Ben Cousins and Rugby League for evidence of this.

So, it's much safer for all concerned if Clarke begins to drink constantly from now on. Personally, I think Clarke should be dropped until he finds some form, but he wants to recover it in a bar, and fill his bat with whiskey once he finds it, then I reckon that should be his call. And to be honest, given that the next few years are basically going to be a living hell for all involved in Australian cricket, he might as well experience them in a foggy haze of booze. And if we start winning, he should bloody well keep drinking. You know, for good luck.

Australian cricket needs a bit of a kick in the head. A big night on the sauce will certainly give it that. And let's face it, if Clarke can one day back up a bender with with a ton, people might finally leave him alone. Unless of course he's on the white wine, in which case he's only got himself to blame.

Lateralist Musings - Politics and Leadership

It seems that very few people have offered anything other than unreserved praise for Anna Bligh's management of the Queensland flood crises. For what it's worth, I agree with the general consensus; she's seemed calm, measured, compassionate and utterly in command of the situation. That some commentators have suggested that her handling of the situation thus far might yet reverse the flagging fortunes of her Government and win it another term is neither here nor there, really; in that I very much doubt that such concerns have been in her mind. Indeed, when your husband has to evacuate your mother, and you spend the better part of a week sleeping in your office, you've probably got more pressing concerns on your mind.

But whilst the praise for Bligh has been virtually unanimous, the same cannot be said for Julia Gillard. Whilst it's certainly true that Gillard has seemed less assured and less in command than Bligh, I'm not sure she's deserved the criticism that she's received. After all, she is not in charge of managing the crisis; Bligh is. She (Gillard) was always going to appear somewhat superfluous to requirements. And yet, if she'd stayed away, she'd have been pilloried with in an inch of her political career. I can't help but feel sorry for someone who can't seem to win either way, and yet who has done nothing wrong.

Gillard's role and Prime Minister in what is effectively - in spite of its geographical size - a localised crisis is to ensure that the appropriate Federal resources are mobilised. This she has done. Beyond that, she really needs to simply appear like she cares, and then not get in the way. This too she has done. She also needs to ensure that the country does not devolve to being a single-issue concern, and again, I think this has occurred.

So what's to be concluded? There are two things, I think. Firstly, I think the reason that Bligh's performance has been so widely praised is due to the fact that she's been in a position to avoid politics entirely, and simply focus on leadership. It's a sad reality, but it seems that the two concepts are virtually mutually exclusive. But whereas Bligh was in a position to do this, I don't think the same can be said for Gillard. Her position as a national figure doesn't really afford her the luxury of setting aside national concerns, even for a local issue as profoundly affecting and tragic as the Queensland floods.

That said, I think Gillard is certainly yet to find her feet when it comes to engaging with the media as Prime Minister. As Deputy, she was comparatively assured. But as Prime Minister, especially one who leads a minority Government, her role is starkly different, and under constant (and considerable) scrutiny. I'm not surprised that there are many who think she's done a pretty ordinary job so far. But to those holding such views, I would suggest that they reconsider the scope of the political job at hand.

Gillard's primary role is to convince the electorate that her Government can hold. To do this, she has to blunt Abbott's almost ceaseless attacks for as long as she can, in order that his questioning of her Government's stability becomes weaker with every passing week. In another six months, she'll have done this. She'll also have made it to the point where majority control of the Senate passes to the Greens. Whilst will hardly give her boundless control (given the make-up of her Government), it'll certainly put her in a strong enough position to actually implement policy than she is in right now.

She's also needed to allow time to pass for the hyperactivity of Rudd's Government to be replaced with a style of leadership which is more moderately paced. Why? Because Rudd's style, in spite of how in initially appeared, was haphazard, unsustainable, and in its haste to act, prone to error. To change this, Gillard needs to be seen to divest power back to Ministers and Departments, rather than blindly hog it in the manner that Rudd was so determined to do. The best Australian governments have functioned this way. Again, I think she's done this.

Is this enough? Of course not. At some point, there needs to be a genuine sense of proactive leadership, even if one's business is politics. But by rights, leadership is as much about responding to the needs of the day as it is about implementing ideologically derived policy. Gillard's measured approach to things gives her as good a chance as any to get this balance right, especially if she's prepared to work with the Cabinet, rather than in spite of it.

But she's still going to need to get better at being herself. As anyone who's been in any kind of leadership position can attest, this is not easy, and should one fail to make a seamless adjustment to the demands of a new position instantly, that this does not mean that the leader in question is not up to the job. I still think Gillard has the ability to do the job, simply because none of the reasons I've heard that suggest otherwise hold sufficient water for me to change (or close) my mind. That day may come, but it certainly hasn't yet.