Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kerry is dead. Toyota for sale.

Packer is dead. Again. Though this time it seems more perminent. I guess it's a wake up call to all of us that no matter how wealthy, how well connected or how many servents you have who are willing to donate their vital organs, your life can end prematurely.

It's inevitable that in the first few days after his death, Packer will be deified and viewed through the rose-coloured glasses which seem to be standard issue in TV, radio and newspaper news rooms. A little down the track, though, hopefully a more truthful and sober reflection on Packer will be aired. From various accounts of those who worked for him, Packer was a thuggish boss who used his power and wealth to intimidate his staff. Whilst he had great business acumen, he seemed to lack the personal skills that make for an admired boss.

Paul Barry quite literally wrote the book on Kerry Packer (The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer), and this is one I am yet to read. One I have read, though, is Barry's book on the One.Tel disaster Rich Kids, which contains a few tales on Packer, which may or may not also appear in TRaRoKP). This one in particular is revealing:

Meetings with Kerry could be gruelling at the best of times, but this was probably one of the worse. According to Jodee (Rich) and others, Packer's habit was to invite people for 10:00am and still be going strong at lunchtime. At this point, he liked to ring the buzzer underneath his desk and order his secretary, Carol, to bring in some rare roast beef sandwiches. These were so rare that there were only enough for him. For the next ten minutes he would sit there chomping away, while his hungry audience watched in awe. Sometimes, he would ring the buzzer a second time and bark out to Carol that he wanted some more.

Even Jode, it seems wasn't game to challenge this display of raw power, but he was not alone in that. There was an unwritten rule that no one left one of Kerry's meeting until hbe said it was over, and even James dared not argue with this. One executive tells how he absolutely had to get away by 2:30pm from an audience with Kerry that started at midday. He told James this when they went in, and James said it would be fine. It got close to 2:30pm and the man gestured to James that he had to leave. James looked nervous and shook his head. Finally, the man stood up to leave, saying, 'Kerry, I really have to go now'. Kerry roared, 'What do you mean, you have to fucking go?'. By this time, James had apparently turned white.

What a bastard.

One final note. Apparently mourners at Packer's funeral have been told not to dress in the traditional black. Packer thought this was too old fashioned and wouldn't look good on TV.

Instead, mourners should come dressed like this:

Kerry's Pyjama Party

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sure beats Adelaide

I've been reading two very interesting travellogues of late, and they're both worth having a glance at.

Chris Berg is in Hong Kong, and soon Beijing, with an NGO at the World Trade Organisation conference:

There were an enormous amount of cops, armed with big roman-style shields, little hoplite-style shields, and big computer-game-style shotguns. And, apparently, pepper spray. But none of it mattered, because, apart from the intimidatory tactics by the Hong Kong police, nothing happened. The police drew a line just off the beach, about 1km from the convention centre itself, and the protest was unable to pass that line. While the media I have seen has reported a few skirmishes, it has massively overplayed the extent of the violence. Nothing happened.

DMargster (that's Daniel to you and me) is living it up in crazy, crazy Hanoi:

It's also incredibly noisy because of drivers' monotonous use of their horn. From about 6am to 9pm you cannot hear much of anything for the blare of horns. But here the horn is not used to indicate anger or impatience; it's used simply to communicate the presence of the driver. It seems contradictory that with all the noise and movement around the people can be so calm, but somehow in Hanoi they manage to pull it off.

Check em out.

UPDATE, 23/12, 3:40am: And another one, this time from Bryce (not blogging, unfortunately) who's in the northern hemisphere. All of it:

I am in Paris

hqve just spent 2 weeks in NYC; had great time.

the french totally dig ,y butchery of their language and me in general. So they should -- i have embraced their culture: unlike the terrible anglo-saxons i am currently travelling with, i do not get hang up on showering.

I just qte at a place called "Flunch" . I made a great joke to the cashier about whether they serve "Flinner". Did not get a laugh.

French keyboards do not have apostrophes.

Hope all is well in countries where people do not wear thermal underwear.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Beattie on media and the Canberra option

Is Peter Beattie Canberra-bound? Whilst many have been watching Bob Carr with interest to see if he'll "Do a Carmen", one who has slipped under the radar has been the Queensland Premier. The whisper started on Crikey yesterday, where Christian Kerr published a one line suggestion under the heading 'Wild Rumour Department':

Is the federal Labor team really looking around for a safe seat for Queensland Premier Peter Beattie? Isn't it a bit late?

Speaking at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday, the rumour was put to Beattie and the Premier given a chance to respond. Confirm?? Deny?? "I read it with quite considerable interest," the Premier said sheepishly. Even if there's no truth to the rumour, it's clear that Beattie is happy to have people whispering about a possible Federal future. After seven-and-a-half-years as Premier and age on his side, the Canberra option must surely be a tempting one.


Beattie was delivering the A.N. Smith Memorial Lecture in Journalism and quickly warmed to his topic, "Power Without Responsibility: Who Guards the Guardians?". The speech had already been condemned before it was delivered, with the Courier Mail playing the man rather than the ball.

The crux of Beattie's argument was that the media lacked accountability. The model of self-regulation has failed miserably, he argued, and the regulators were largely toothless tigers offering resolutions which amounted to 'too little, too late'. As an alterative, Beattie advocated media outlets ruthlessly scrutinising each other. He explained the status quo as a cosy oligopoly, with media outlets working to keep each other on side. Instead, Beattie called for media outlets to investigate the errors of its competitors.

More controversially, Beattie spoke out in favour of media outlets being subject to Freedom of Information laws. It's hard to know whether Beattie was serious about this one - his government has frequently used the fig-leaf of Cabinet confidentiality to prevent crucial documents from being released under FoI. Beattie's proposal basically involves media outlets needing to subject the laws, so that they can be required to provide evidence for all claims made. Therefore, media outlets will only publish information they know to be true, and aggrieved parties can force the media to cough up or fess up.

The idea is a dud, and Beattie knows it. Try any of these counter-arguments on for size: Media outlets are private organisations. Confidentiality of sources. Potential for vexatious claims. Potential for political harrasment. This idea is a non-starter, and is being used by Beattie to shift the focus away from his government's own poor record on FoI.

Less farcically, Beattie had an clever idea: Inhouse media ombudsman. Essentially, this involves each media outlet appointing an internal ombudsman whose job was to recieve and investigate complaints by consumers, and take action interally if necessary. The model cited by Beattie was the Washington Post ombudsman, who has recently found herself as the voice of journalists in a dispute with management over politically partisan content on the WP website, which strangely is a separate entity from its print namesake. Clearly, Beattie has put some thought into this one, and it seems like a goer.

One other interesting point made by the Premier was about the lack of competition in the Queensland media market. Most major cities in the state are one paper towns, with the Murdoch monolith being the proprietor. Beattie challenged Fairfax to set up a local newspaper in Brisbane, forcefully arguing that its growing population and staid media market made it an ideal location. Beattie is spot-on, particularly given his earlier observation that Queensland, like most states, had historically supported a dozen or more daily newspapers.

It's a shame that Beattie chose to bury a couple of good ideas amongst a whole lot of lame, substandard ones that seem to exist only the bait the Courier Mail. Judging by Thursday's coverage in the paper, it probably worked.

What's he so happy about?
What's he so happy about?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Scott Ritter: On the trail of WMDs

My Scott Ritter interview has made it online over at Vibewire:

On the trail of WMDs

Contributed by Ari Sharp
14 Dec 05
By the time their work ended, UN weapons inspectors in Iraq were being squeezed on one side by the CIA, and on the other by the Iraqi secret security service. Scott Ritter was in the midst of the action and recently spoke to Ari Sharp.

The story of recent Iraqi history is straightforward.

In 1991, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the rest of the world, acting through the United Nations, imposed rigorous weapons disclosure and inspection requirements on the demoralised Middle Eastern dictatorship. In 1998, the inspectors were kicked out, sparking the skirmish known as Operation Desert Fox.

In the years that followed, the lack of inspectors lead to the presumption that Iraq was rebuilding its weapons stockpile, and by 2003 the fear was so great that a coalition of nations took action to ensure once and for all that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, this take on history is superficial and na├»ve, and conspiracy theories about the ‘real’ agenda of each of the players abound, most particularly the Iraqis and the Americans. ‘The Americans wanted Saddam assassinated.’ ‘The Iraqis were hiding the weapons from the inspectors.’ Most of these conspiracies are constructed from afar, determined to malign the actions of one or other side in the conflict.

One person who has seen the hidden agendas up close is Scott Ritter. Ritter was a former weapons inspector working at the United Nations for UNSCOM, the United Nations Special Commission formed to oversee weapons inspections in Iraq – which means that Ritter is amply qualified to comment on the international politicking which marked UNSCOM’s seven-year existence.

Ritter is a rare breed amongst the American military establishment: he is prepared to break ranks with his government’s official line and speak his mind. It is for this reason that Ritter has become so feted by the anti-war movement, and so viciously attacked by the conservative Republican establishment. On the same day that I interview him in Melbourne, he is scheduled to speak at a peace rally, an unusual place for a patriotic American former marine to be an honoured guest. Ritter has put his experiences in UNSCOM in print, and the product is Iraq Confidential, the ‘edited highlights’ of his seven years with the body.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"We shall fight them on the beaches..."

A bunch of pissed idiots in Cronulla is probably not what Winnie had in mind.

Take a step back from the Cronulla race riots of the past 48 hours, and you'll realise they're not an isolated incident. There are plenty of similarities with the Macquarie Fields riots earlier this year. And with Redfern last year. And even with the French riots in November. All of them occur in urban areas. All of them are dominated by angry young men, often under the influence of alcohol. Most importantly, all of them involve the defence of one's own turf.

The genesis of the Cronulla riots was the mistaken idea that the beach somehow belongs to one social group or another. Even though it is notionally public space, the way it had been used was as the exclusive plaything of the locals. This was our beach, and one whose territory we need to defend, or so went the logic of the traditional beachdwellers. To the locals, the presence of visitors from other suburbs - and ethnic visitors at that - is an invasion of their space.

But of course, the invasion is a myth, in that it implies that the space was not open to all in the first place, but was the domain only of a certain group. True public space has no 'insiders' and 'outsiders': it is a place for all who wish to gather there. A born-and-bred Cronulla surfie has as much claim on a beach in the Shire as a Lebonese kid from the west does. Just as both enjoy equal entitlement to the streets of Lakemba. The idea of public space is blind to ethnicity, background, age and gender. It is a fundamental misunderstanding that has fuelled the riots, in Cronulla and elsewhere.

When people gain the mistaken impression that they have a special claim on a public space, they are bound to defend it when they see it under attack. Move away from Cronulla, and look at Redfern. Again, public space, in this case the roads and railway station, had been reinterpreted by the locals as their exclusive space. Outsiders, in the form of cops, government and non-locals were seen as having a lesser claim and hence could be treated with open hostility.

We need a long term strategy to combat these suburban riots. What needs to be fundamentally challenged is the control that various groups have over particular public areas. There are suburbs in our major cities which are so dominated by gangs, sometimes but not always with an ethnic flavour, that outsiders feel uncomfortable about 'intruding' on space that as much theirs as it is the gangs who intimidate them.

The most prominent examples here are not race-based, but are gender-based. There are large swathes of our city in which women cannot comfortably walk unaccompanied. Again, these women have just as strong a claim on public space as men do, but male control of public space has become so pervasive that it allows women no choice but to stay away: forced to be outsiders in a public space.

We need to reinforce the public nature of public space, whether it's the beach at Cronulla, the streets of Cabramatta or the lane-ways of Kings Cross.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Less talk, more action

In recent weeks I have found myself the initiator of two different consumer complaints. At first they seemed completely separate and unrelated, although the more I think them through, the more I see a common theme. In brief, here's how I've been screwed over:

During November I started recieving spam text messages on my mobile phone from 199xxxx. Paraphrasing, they read "XYZ (female, aged 21) wants to chat with you now. SMS 'chat' to chat, or 'stop' to stop. Visit" As with all spam I recieve, I refused to take the bait and respond. I had the added fear that I would be charged some absurd amount for sending a text message to the number, even if it was 'stop'. At the end of a fortnight of these lame messges, I finally SMS'ed 'stop' and sure enough, they did. A few days later my mobile phone bill arrived, and it was approximately $15 higher than usual. Sure enough, I'd been charged 50c per unit for each of these messages that I had received. (I didn't realise you could be charged for the dubious privilege of recieving an SMS. This does, of course, create an obvious incentive for the spammer to spam.) Upset at these charges, I contacted my mobile phone carrier, who told me to contact a company, 5th Finger, who apparently operate premium SMS services in Australia. I was given a contact number in Sydney for the company, and my call transferred. The call centre operator at 5th Finger in turn explained that they merely operated the service on behalf of, and that any questions would need to be directed to them., however, have no contact phone number in Australia. Instead, I would need to contact their customer service team via email. After three emails to them, I have so far recieved just one response, a template which failed to address my concerns. The struggle continues.

Okay, complaint two:

I bought a pair of shoes at a local shoe store. Without naming names, I'll offer a scandalously obvious abbreviation: The SM Shoe Store exclusively sells SM Shoes. Easy, right? After two months of wearing the shoes, the sole had become damaged (as had mine, but that's another story). I returned to the store with the shoes and the receipt, and after some time had passed, I recieved a call from the store manager. She explained I would not be offered repair, a replacement pair of shoes or my money back because the retailer explained they would not be compensated by the manufacturer, a company contracted to make shoes for SM. They don't get compensation, so I don't get compensation. This despite the fact that both the store and the manufacturer carry the same brand and for all intents and purposes are the one entity. In other words, SM exists only as a brandname - it pays someone else to make its shoes, and someone else to sell the shoes (and presumably someone else to transport it from maker to seller).

Setting aside the rights and wrongs of both claims (I think I have an extremely strong claim in both cases), these two examples demonstrate a modern conundrum.

In a world where every step in the manufacturing and retail process is outsourced to someone else, there is no one who will take responsibility when things go wrong. It becomes increadibly easy for each party to shift the buck from one to another until one of them (or more likely the consumer) just gives in. As a consumer, I shouldn't have to know the intricacies of a company's outsourcing arrangement in order to have my complaint addressed. Unfortunately, I'm left with little choice.

The problem lies in the nature of outsourcing. It's a one way flow of goods or information, and it doesn't cope well when goods or information need to flow the other way for some reason. When a company outsources a task to another, it wants that task to be done painlessly, quietly and cheaply, and so doesn't want to hear about things that go wrong. Whilst this is extemely foolish from a management perspective (no feedback loop, no room for continuous improvement) it is suicidal when it involves dealing with customers.

A practical suggestion - for companies who care about their customers, and legislators with some foresight: require your front line staff to recieve a complaint and deal with it internally before communicating the outcome with the customer. If need be, put it in the outsourcing agreement. So in my examples, the first person I spoke to at Fifth Finger should have followed up with their client rather than forcing me on a rabbit chase, and the retail staff at SM shoes should have dealt with their internal problems before relaying an answer to me. Not a big ask, surely?

(Yes, I'm aware that there are people dying of AIDS, terrorists at our borders and the real possibility that our planet won't see out the decade, but regardless, I want a decent pair of shoes and a moderate phone bill. If that makes me a narcissistic consumer, then so be it.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's William Hag... I mean David Cameron!

From the newly elected leader of the British Conservatives, David Cameron:

I said when I launched the campaign that we need to change in order to win. Now that I have won we will change. We will change the way we look. Nine out of ten Conservative MPs are white men. We need to change the scandalous under-representation of women in the Conservative party and we will do that. We need to change the way we feel. No more; grumbling about modern Britain. I live in a world as it is not how it was. Our best days lie ahead. We need to change the way we think.

Hmmm, so now we'll end up with a Tory party that's more progressive than Labour, and a Labour Party that's becoming more conservative than the Tories. Surely there's not enough room for everyone in the middle of the road. Someone might get run over. Tony?? David??
And just a quicky - the Conservatives have launched a new slogan: Ideas that will change our country. Obviously the irony-o-meter was on the blink that day. Conservatives, the advocates of change.... makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's all an illusion

Did anyone catch this one on SBS tonight?

Should we be worried about the threat from organised terrorism or is it simply a phantom menace being used to stop society from falling apart? This three-part documentary series explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion.

Of course, it's all an illusion. That terrorist business was just a bad dream. What a relief. It must give great satisfaction to the post-modern geniuses who think this stuff up to know that you can serve up any old crap and it will get an airing. We must go and tell the victims of Netanya and Bali and London and Madrid that it was all an illusion. They'd be so relieved. If they weren't dead.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Questions, please.

Next Friday Ariontheweb will be interviewing controversial former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter for publication on Vibewire. Ritter has recently published a book, Iraq Confidential, which covers his seven years up to 1998 as a weapons inspector in Iraq. Ritter is a much talked about figure in the US, particularly with his strong stance opposing US involvement in Iraq. There's some interesting material on Ritter here, here, here and here. And some other stuff that I won't be mentioning, here.

Any suggestions for questions to ask?

UPDATE, 5/12, 5:10pm: The interview and has and gone, and went extremely well. In preparing for it, it became clear there were two approaches I could take: I could either try my best to nail Ritter for his possible duplicity and inconsistency, an approach which would make me feel like Bill O'Reilly on speed but lead to Ritter closing up; or I could take a less confrontational approach, drawing out the personal as well as the political and getting beyond the hackneyed debates of the past few years. Unsurprisingly, I took the second approach, a decision that definitely felt like the right one once I met the man, particularly his rippling, marine-trained biceps.

Once the two of us had relaxed and got into the rythym of the discussion, it was fun and constructive, with plenty of quotably quotes and interesting perspectives coming out of it. No smoking guns or world exclusives, but plenty of good material. I'll be writing the piece over the next day or two. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 2000

Though they were immortalised in print as enemies, Mark Latham had something positive to say about Tony Abbott:

Thursday, 6 January
Maybe it's his (Abbott's) background in the Catholic Church, but he seems strongly committed to the principles of social self-help - not rampant individualism but a revival of old-style mutualism in society.
- Page 127

Latham was close mates with the late Greg Wilton, the Labor Right MP who committed suicide after his marriage fell apart in 2000. Understandably, Latham was sensitive about the issue, and was savage toward those who sought to take advantage of it:

Monday, 29 May
Met with Beazley to discuss the situation. I know politics is a tough game but I am still unnerved by the conversation. Kim was more worried about the possibility of a by-election than Greg's wellbeing - he doesn't know him that well and seemed distant from the problems Pills (Latham's rather macarbe nickname for Wilton) has to deal with.

Read the
Herald-Sun coverage in yesterday's paper. There are some real bastards around - a so-called 'MP' friend said that Greg was a loner, highly strung and in a 'depressed state'. If he was a friend, he wouldn't be saying those things and not off the record. Sounds like Conroy. - Page 135

...and then the day Wilton did the deed:

Wednesday, 14 June
How do you write this, how do you explain that someone thinks so little of his life that he decides to end it? Greg is dead. He drove out to a national park last night and ended it - an escape from the pain and loss. That's the only way to explain it. He left a message on my mobile yesterday afternoon, saying that things were going to be okay, not to worry about going to Melbourne again. I felt encouraged when I heard it, but now I know what he really meant. Things are okay because people can't hurt him any more. His pain is gone. Unbelievable grief for those he has left behind.
- Page 138

The Latham as class warrior is not always an apt characterisation of his policy direction. Take this fine understanding of education policy:

Thursday, 27 July
Today I tried to fill in some of the gaps with a speech on education policy to the Fabian Society in Melbourne. The key conceptual breakthrough is to abandon the old ideological struggle between public and private money in education. If one accepts the logic of lifelong learning - the massive task of embedding learning opportunities in all parts of society, in all parts of the lifecycle - then we need to mobilise more learning resources from all institutions, public and private.

Governments, corporations, individuals and communities need to do more. If the task is left to the scarce resources of government, then education will continue to be under-funded. If it is left solely to the private sector and funding deregulation, then low-income people will miss out.
- Page 140

...and another sad snippet on Keating:

Monday, 11 September
A long meeting with Keating at his Sydney office. Two-and-a-half hours and it felt like he had nowhere else to go. Maybe he's getting like Gough, talking the leg off a chair.
- Page 144

And to round out the year, an indication of how different recent history has been compared to the predictions on post pundits:

Thursday, 7 December
Next year will test the rule that the Australian public always gets it election results right. In truth, we don't deserve to win, we've been too opportunitic and cynical. So the Coalition would normally win next year. Howard will will then hand over to Costello, who will beat Crean in 2004. A minimum of eleven years in Opposition.
- Page 149

Looks like he got the last bit right.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thawing the republic

There are few issues that manage to bring together members from both sides (indeed all sides, really) of politics like the republic. Tuesday night was a demonstration of this as a gathering of young republicans from the left and right took the opportunity to imbibe a little too much alcohol and argue the toss with Liberal senator Mitch Fifield and Nicola Roxon, Labor shadow A-G, who constitute two-thirds of the new Parliamentarians for a Republic.

As seems common in the early stages of debate, the discussion doesn't move far beyong vague generalities. Yep, we all support a republic, and yep, we want to involve people in the process. Just what republic and how we wish to involve them is a discussion for another time. There are conflicting ideas on just when the time is right. The most optimistic plan, suggested by Roxon, would see a referendum occuring the election after next (most likely in 2010). Other suggestions saw the referendum as a goal to be achieved within ten and fifteen years. Given the recency of the previous referendum, this cautious time line is probably closer to the mark.

Many of the lessons of 1999 seem to have been learnt. The objective at this stage is on building a strong and unified body for the principle of a republic. Already there is plenty of support for this position, and as the profile of the issue rises, so will those who vocally support it. The strength of this consensus is important once the specific model of republic is decided (however it is chosen). If the bonds amongst republicans are strong, then regardless of the model, all republicans will back it. If the bonds are weak, then the fragile consensus will fracture along fault lines. Back in 1999, the republican movement was sufficiently weak for some direct electionists to break off and join the 'NO' campaign.

Which is where we get to nights like this. Though they might only include a gathering of the true believers, they are true believers with multiple republican models in mind. If they feel a commitment to the republic now, they can be expected to carry on the battle come the referendum, even if their own preferred model is not the chosen one.

Of course, there are always those who won't play along - and I'm one of them. Should a popularly elected president be a part of the republican model which makes it to the referendum, I would have to oppose it. A popularly elected president would be too fundamental a change to our existing constitutional arrangement and would risk putting the wide brown land in peril. Though at heart I support a republic, the pitfalls of a direct election model would be too great.

And here lies the nub of the problem at building a republican consensus to withstand dispute over the model. It's doable, but tough.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Rabin, Sharon, Peretz, Peres and Bibi?

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Yitzchak Rabin. The trend of late has been to trash the legacy of Rabin, arguing that he was naive to deal with Yasser Arafat and that the fledgling peace achieved in the wake of the Oslo Accords had come crashing down by 2000. All this is true, and much of the good work of Rabin was based on the false premise that at that time Israel had a viable partner for peace.

I heard an interesting counter-theory today at a memorial service for Rabin. The theory goes that the template established by Rabin was the one that Sharon has ultimately followed through on. It was Rabin that articulated the need for physical separation (later adopted by Sharon in the form of The Fence) and it was Rabin who identified some Jewish West Bank communities beyond the green line which would need to be included in Israel proper (controversially but rightly adopted by Sharon). Even the land-for-peace formula so despised by the right has been the one the has ultimately prevailed in the form of the Gaza Strip return to Palestinian control.

More recent developments in the Israeli Labour Party have been less promising. After acting in the national interest for two years as part of a unity government, a new leader has risen to the top and wishes to lurch away from government and to the left. Alarm bells should be ringing loudly about new Labour leader Amir Peretz, whose background lies in Israel's trade union movement, Histadrut. He seeks to transform the party away from the centrist party is was under Shimon Peres and make it into a dovish party of the left. Also, as the country continues to see its economy decline, tough fiscal leadership is needed, not the special interests inherent in the mix of labour and government.

For those with an interest in political history (and Ari's bumper sticker collection) would be curious to hear more about Amir Peretz's recent rise to power. In 2003 he ran against the Labour Party which he now leads, gathering his union friends and running as Am Echad, translated as 'One Nation'. The ticket was essentially a vehicle to get Peretz elected, which it duly managed to do. As can be seen from these stickers, Peretz ran a personal campaign against the major parties, lumping then-Labour leader Amram Mitzna in with Arik Sharon and Tommy Lapid (leader of the rising secular party, Shinui) in a slightly-bizarre campaign focussing on how awkward they'd look with his moustache:

Amir Peretz's 2003 campaign

Amir Peretz's 2003 campaign

Which just goes to demonstrate that no matter how high the stakes, all politics is ultimately personal.

This doesn't auger well for the Labour Party. The rumours out of Israel suggest that Sharon is likely to break away from Likud to form his own centrist party, and will leave Netanyahu (or possibly Silvan Shalom) to lead Likud. With Peretz leading the Labour Party, they will be relegated to a far-left rump, with most moderate left voters getting behind Sharon's new outfit whilst most of the right with stay with Likud. Interesting times ahead...

Friday, November 18, 2005

"...then your children will be next."

At first I thought this was satire. I'm still desperately hoping it is:

Twin girls start Nazi pop group
From: From correspondents in Los Angeles

AMERICA'S white supremacists are eagerly awaiting the release of the latest pop album by a group called Prussian Blue, whose members are a pair of blonde 13-year-old twins.

Lamb and Lynx Gaede have already released an album and a music video.
Their biggest hits include Sacrifice, a tribute to Rudolf Hess. The lyrics describe Hitler's deputy as "a man of peace who wouldn't give up".

In press photographs, the pale sisters appear in crisp white T-shirts that are decorated with yellow smiley faces sporting Hitler moustaches.

The Gaede twins are from the farming town of Bakersfield, California. They have been performing songs about white supremacy since they were nine and their band's name is a nod to their German heritage and piercing blue eyes.

"We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white," Lynx Gaede said. "We want our people to stay white ... we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."

There you have it - the far right have their new posted kiddies: Prussian Blue

According to this week's Jewish News (sadly, the article is not online) this duo of abused children are gearing up for an Australian tour. Understandably, there are already calls for them to be denied visas, but my hunch is that the case for free speech, particularly for two people with no known criminal record, is going to be too strong. My personal feeling is that the kids should be let in, but their clearly deranged and disturbed parents should be treated much more harshly.

For what it's worth, the two are clearly more attractive then your average neo-Nazi. For starters, they have all their teeth and their eyes don't seem at all crooked.

The cutest neo-Nazis you'll ever meet
The cutest neo-Nazis you'll ever meet.

For a sample of the girls' work, here are the lyrics to Aryan Man Awake, written by Lamb, with a little help from her brainwashing mother April. Sing along if you know the words:

Aryan Man Awake
(by Lamb and April)

When the man who plows the fields is driven from his lands.
When the carpenter must give away what he's built with his own hands.
When a mother's only children belong to her no more.
And black masked men with guns come bashing down the doors.

Where freedom exists for only those with darker skin.
Where lies and propaganda will never let you win.
Where symbols of your heritage are held with such contempt,
and benefits of country 'cept tax are you exempt.

Aryan man awake, How much more will you take,
Turn that fear to hate, Aryan man awake.

Can you see how they lie to warp your daughter's minds?
Can you let your sons be trodden down or held behind?
Can you apologize for things you did not do,
and leave this battle that we fight to the proud and the few?

What will it take for you to waken to the truth?
What will it take for you to remember your own youth?
What will you give up to help this worthy Cause,
and strike with force and fury, without a single pause?

What will it take for you to remember your own folk?
What will it take for you to break that heavy yoke?
Why do you still cast your eyes downward to the ground?
Worry lest what you say have prejudicial sound.

Who will stand beside us when the war begins?
Who will run and hide their heads and wait to see who wins?
Who will face the end and watch a Valkyrie ride forth
To join the gods and fallen stormtroopers of the North?

"This summer I went swimming..."

Birds are chirping, flowers are blossoming, sandy beaches are doing their best to hide their syringes... it is indeed a wonderful world. As of 4:17 on Thursday afternoon, I finished my exams, and hence my studies, for yet another year. This has left me with a chasmically long gap over summer which I have been eagerly awaiting. Amongst my many projects of summer fun are:

- Getting this blog happening regularly again. Perhaps I need an electronic dose of Metamucil to get back in the habit. One of my first blogging projects will be the continuation of my brief, copyright-breaching synopsis of The Latham Diaries, which I hilariously titled "The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries". Eager readers would be aware that I got kind of bored with the project and stopped in 1999, but never fear, since the next six years of synopsising is about to commence.

- Reading. For pleasure. Another habit I wish to restart, and I have a backlog of interesting books on my shelf to keep me amused. First up is Don Watson's 'Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language', which will be followed in no particular order by Hugh Lunn's 'Working for Rupert', Michael Fullilove's 'Men and Women of Australia!' (admittedly, this will be breaching my policy of never reading a book with an exclamation mark in the title, but I'll blame that on the publisher) and Glenn A Baker's 'On the road to Damascus'.

- Watching. Woody Allen, David Cronenberg and Christopher Nolan. The directorial stars in my cinematic night sky. People whose work I really ought to become reacquainted with.

- Talking. Many friends have been put on indefinite hold, and for that I am sorry. I'll be making contact in the next little while and rekindling many a near-domant friendship.

- Eating. This summer, I'm going to learn to cook. So far my repertoire in the kitchen doesn't extend far beyond stir fry, pasta, pizza, omelette and the occasional slice of burnt toast. I want to learn how to get the most out of my wok, cook with rise, and make sweet things that rise rather than flop.

No doubt more projects will come to mind, but for now these are the things keeping me busy. Excitement like this is hard to contain.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Exams etc

Apologies for the lack of posts of late. Exams have been keeping me busy, and this will continue until they finish on 17 November.

In the meantime, check out the ridiculous looking model who was staring out at me from the cover of Vogue Australia in the check-out queue at Coles this afternoon (so that's why they call it a check out):

It's Miss Neptune

This odd looking thing bears a striking resemblence to a space alien, whatever they happen to look like. Perhaps this is Neptune's entrant in the Miss Universe contest.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hamish Malcolm

I was devastated to learn this morning that a friend of mine has passed away. Hamish Malcolm died of cardiac arrest a week short of his 26th birthday. I came to know Hamish this year as a friend, and occasionally rival, within the Political Interest Society. Hamish was a passionate lefty who believed strongly in justice and tolerance, but always managed to keep a sense of humour, often richly sarcastic. Having spent most of his life in Britain, that was where his heart lied, although he was rapidly becoming an honourary Australian after settling in Melbourne to continue studying.

Hamish had a significant on-line presence. You can read his blog Omission of Mercy as well as his lively blogger profile.

Here is the email recieved from the Melbourne University Debating Society explaining of Hamish's death and the events to celebrate his life:

Dear VCs Cuppers,

MUDS has recently received some very sad news regarding one of our members, Hamish Malcolm, who you may have met, chatted to and debated with or against during the VCs cup. He passed away on Wednesday, following a cardiac arrest, aged 25. Hamish was extremely friendly and always keen to be involved with MUDS and he will be sorely missed.

Hamish's funeral will be held this Monday, Oct. 31st 1:00 pm (please arrive early) at Lilydale Cemetery & Memorial Park 126-128 Victoria Rd.

His family has requested that the dress for the funeral be very casual (ie: jeans, cargos, etc.) and that no flowers be brought as the family is providing one floral tribute.

The following night Hamish's good friend Ali Lemer has organised to celebrate Hamish's 26th Birthday which would have been that day. So on Tuesday, Nov. 1st 7:30 pm at 6/48 Leicester Street (between Victoria and Queensberry, opposite Queen Vic Market) Carlton please join us to remember the good times. If any of you have photos of Hamish, Ali was making a slideshow for Tueday and would greatly appreciate any help in this regard. If you can help or need to contact Ali his phone number is 04xx xxx xxx and email

If any of you would like more information regarding either of these events please contact us.

We hope you are all well,
and best of luck with assessment period,


Rest in Peace, Hamish.

Hamish Malcolm
Hamish Malcolm, 1979-2005

UPDATE, 1/11, 10:25am: Though I only knew Hamish for a few months, I can't help but think of him frequently. So young to be taken from us. I'll be going this evening to the tribute night for Hamish. Apologies to Ali, Hamish's girlfriend, for repeating the MUDS mistake of calling she a he, and also for publishing a mobile number. Sorry, Ali, and my heart goes out to you for the loss that you've suffered.

UPDATE, 13/11, 9:13am: It's been wonderful to see the comments and emails from some of Hamish's friends in the UK. A touching tribute to Hamish has been published in a local newspaper. A memorial service has been planned at Hamish's old university in the UK, Nottingham Uni. It's taking place on 20 November at 2:30pm in the Portland Building. Details in the article. Any reports back from this service would be most welcome.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Unimelb election wrapup

As election week 2005 at Melbourne University comes to an end today, it's worth reflecting on one of the more peaceful campaigns in recent years. Having seen the skullduggery of the 2003 election in the State of the Union (the official website even refers to it with the adjective 'skullduggerous' - nice work, lads), one expects all sorts of silliness to be going on. To the casual observer, though, there was little smoke nor heat.

The most visable presence on campus was the Left Union ticket, who were out in force last week and again during the election. Combining the considerable resources (oh, the irony) of Socialist Alternative and the left wing of the Labor Party, Left Union were the well organised voice of the left. In what was a real trademark of the entire election, there were few issues of substance raised by the Left Union folks. Apparently, they're really truely absolutely positively opposing VSU. And the war in Iraq. Still, these guys in their suave red t-shirts are an electoral force to be reckoned with.

The rival on the left were Activate, replete in Green. These guys are the non-aligned left, without a formal politial affiliation but their hearts in the right place (shit that sounded patronising). These guys were running on many of the same issues as Left Union, although with slightly less Stalinist zeal, which is most definitely a good thing. Given the connection with Students for Change, a worthwhile group trying to inject some integrity and transperancy into a union which desperately needs it, these guys were focused on life on campus as well as off it. For a fence-stradling centrist student like AOTW, Activate was the lefty ticket I could vote for with confidence.

Surprisingly disorganised this time around was the right wing (yeah yeah 'a broad cross-section of students' and whatever other spin they might want to try) coalition of Labor Right, Liberals and AUJS, under the banner of Fusion. Completely unsighted on campus until election week, they were later hard to miss in their camp bright pink t-shirts. Fusion were pushing a rather populist message during the campaign, promoting its completely unviable 'free gym membership' policy. Yawn. Still, the last thing that the union needs are a bunch of mad lefties wasting money and breaking stuff, so there's some merit in getting some Fusion folks elected.

Rounding out the Melbourne (Uni) Cup field were the Liberals, who made a sad sight prostituting the party brand name to act as a preference funnel for the Fusion ticket, where the Liberals had scored themselves some juicy positions. Old hack candidates, no real message beyond the oh-so-hilarious "You know we're Right" slogan... the only thing going their way was the superslick full colour leaflet thrust into my hand. Obviously the campaign was not quite as anorexic as it could have been.

Honourable mentions of course must go to the chilly-loving Kung Fu Banditos, Ken Courtis, the committee-loving, afro-wearing Josh Cusack, and of course the wonderfully dedicated Farragon of Virtue Farrago ticket. But the question must be asked, where was everybody's favourite nutter, Menachem Gunzberg? His absense was disappointing.

Predictions. For those whose memories extend back far enough, a left wing dominance of Union House is business as usual. Without a strong incentive to vote, turn-out is slack, usually dangling in single-figure percentages. Those who do vote are the highly motivated, politically aware students, and overwhelmingly these are on the left. Headstrong socialists are much more likely to cast a vote than lazy conservative engineering students, if only because they have no shame being caught within range of the ballot box. Incentive voting distorted the balance for a couple of years, bringing otherwise apathetic students out to vote if only for the promise of an $8 food voucher. Without this, we're likely to see a big swing back to the left.

Most likely, the Left Union guys will sweep the pool when it comes to Office Bearer positions. With resources, their roughest edges smoothed, and a hard core of lefty arts students, it's hard to see LU falling short of union dominance. Committees will be a little more finely balanced, with the 7 positions on each likely to be around about a 4-2-1 split (Left Union-Fusion-Activate), although there are enough minor parties and indies to upset the balance. In the battle for Farrago, Farragon are in with a chance although will be hampered by the momentum other candidates will recieve through running a full slate of candidates. As for turnout, the look of complete and utter boredom on the face of the four polling booth staff sighted on Wednesday, as well as the absense of a queue, suggests that the campaign has failed to ignite the imagination of most students. Look for a turnout between 5 and 10 per cent. Sad but true.

Disclosure, disclosure: I got links to just about everyone, so I suspect I'm biased in all directions. I'm a member of AUJS, scrutineering for Lib member Ken Courtis, wrote an article for the left-wing Farragon guys, am mates with one of the ALP guys. So get over it.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Facing death in Singapore

Normally I'm not a fan of popular attempts to influence justice systems, but the presence of the death penalty, particularly in a country as enlightened as Singapore, is appalling enough for me to take action. Though I doubt it will have much effect, I think we owe it to a fellow human being to do all we can:


NGUYEN TUONG VAN - Please don't hang this man

He now faces execution, possibly within 10 days.

Nguyen's mother fled Vietnam alone in a boat in 1980 and had her twin sons in a transit camp in Malaysia before being accepted into Australia four months later.

Nguyen's Australian lawyers described the decision as "devastating for him, his family and friends".

Lex Lasry QC said Nguyen had always admitted his guilt and given constructive help to authorities including the Australian Federal Police.

"The decision appears to pay no heed to the provisions of the Singapore Constitution that make specific reference and provide for clemency to those who assist the authorities with information which can be used to prosecute others," he said.

Mr Lasry called on the Singapore Government to reverse its decision.

Nguyen was sentenced to death last year after being found guilty by a Singapore court of smuggling almost 400 grams of heroin from Cambodia via Singapore.

Nguyen said he had the drugs because he was trying to raise money to clear debts incurred by his twin brother.

Please write to the President of Singapore Mr S R Nathan and plead clemency for Nguyen Tuong Van. email:

Please address the President as Your Excellency and end the letter with Yours respectfully.

As an interesting local footnote to this case, the 'debts incurred by his twin brother' referred to in the third last paragraph are in fact the legal debts of his brother who was recently convicted of murder in relation to the Salt nightclub killings just a few minutes north of my humble abode. (After playing around with Google for a while, I realised that this information was not on the public record, but I have been told of its truth by a reliable source. So there.) Regardless of Nguyen Tuong Van's brother's folly, he - and the rest of humanity - absolutely deserve to be spared the death penalty. So let's get those emails flying Singapore-bound.

UPDATE, 1/11, 11:30am: I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong. Having reviewed the evidence, I believe that I was wrong in my claim that the brother of Nguyen Truong Van had a link to the Salt nightclub murder. Having read this piece in The Sunday Age, which refers to Nguyen's twin brother Khao as living in Western Australia, and comparing this with the names associated with the Salt killing (and the fact that they were convicted and incarcerated), I believe that there was no connection between Khao and the killings. A relied on a single source for this information, one that I believed was reliable, but they have proven not to be so. No doubt the Nguyen family have got much much more important things to worry about than my scuttlebutt, but I'm deeply sorry for publishing the misinformation.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Another take on IR reform

I was impressed by this take on the government's IR reforms, published on (in?) Crikey today and written by an old friend of a friend of mine. After starting from a fairly neutral perspective, I'm becoming swayed by the merits of the IR reforms and am growing tired of union sob-stories. Plenty more to come, though, I'm sure:

12. The IR ads the government should be running

Crikey's occasional corporate law correspondent Adam Schwab writes:

Much has been said about the fact that the Government is spending around $100 million advertising its planned changes to the Workplace Relations Act. But not much has been said about the pathetic advertisements that have so far been produced. The Government would be better off sacking their grossly overpaid advertising agency and media buyers and running ads like this:

Advertisement One: Cameras focuses on an employee rifling through the handbag of a fellow employee and removing money from her purse. Midway through the act the thieving employee is caught by a manager and summonsed to the manager's office. The manager tells the employee he can no longer trust him and that he will need to find another job, and offers the employee a generous one month payout. The employee swears at his manager and says he's going to call the union.

The next scene is a hearing at the Industrial Relations Commission in which the Commissioner announces that the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable and that the manager must re-employ the thief in his previous position as he was not given a proper warning before being dismissed. The Commissioner also announces that the thief is to receive pay in lieu for the time he was away from work. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads:“The New Workplace Laws – Allowing thieves to be sacked."

Advertisement Two: The owner of a small firm (which has around 10 employees) gathers his staff around and tells them that due to a flood of Chinese imports the only way the business can survive is to lay off four staff members. The ad then flips to a scene in the Industrial Relations Commission, in which the four sacked staff members are awarded six months' pay because the redundancy was not deemed to be fair by a commissioner who also happened to be a former union boss.

The next scene shows the business owner shutting the gates to his business and apologising to the six hard-working staff members who lost their positions when the business went bankrupt. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads: “The New Workplace Laws – Saving Australian jobs."

Advertisement Three: Three CFMEU members in workers attire are standing around a building site. One of the builders looks at his watch – it is 11.30am. Another builder says he has had enough work for the day and that they should head across to the pub. Four hours later, their supervisor strolls into the pub and notices the three builders in a drunken state. He asks them why they have been in the pub for so long. One of the builders replies: “safety concerns." The supervisor asks what exactly were the safety issues, to which the builder replies: “can't remember."

The next scene shows Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, announcing that the Spencer Street Rail Development, like Federation Square, will be completed two years after its scheduled completion date and won't be ready in time for the Commonwealth Games. The last scene is of a Japanese businessman who announces that his company will no longer be building a new factory which was to employ more than 1,000 people in Melbourne, due to industrial relations concerns, but instead will build the factory in New Zealand. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads: “The New Workplace Laws – Creating Jobs for honest Australians."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1999

After a two week hiatus, I'm finally back on board with my blow-by-blow, catclaw-by-catclaw account of the best bits of The Latham Diaries, which I notice is already being discounted by some retailers. Yesterday's epic is tomorrow nestling against the Complete Works of Max Walker. Sigh.

Friday, 29 January

In New York I met with Clinton's campaign adviser, Dick Morris, who has an amazing instinct and feel for politics. I explained my sutation is Australia and he got it straight away. He reckons that 'This period of ostracisation is essential to your success'. We also talked about the Third Way and the triangulation of policy. He sees it as a spin-off from Hegel's dialectic interpretation of history - out of two conflicting positions a synthesis emerges. - Page 96/97

...and this was Morris' recall of this same conversation, on the ABC in 2003:

JOHN SHOVELAN: Dick Morris first met the Opposition leader when Mark Latham sought him out on a visit to the US four or five years ago.

DICK MORRIS: I think he wanted to learn as much as he could about President Clinton's third way in triangulation and how that worked in the United States. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of history and of politics. He's brilliant and I really feel that he just has a wonderfully penetrating, inventive mind and I was thrilled that he now is going to be the leader of the Australian Labor Party. It really marks a decision by them that they'd rather not lose the next election too.

I'm a Morris fan, but I think on this occasion he was blinded by the Latham charm into seeing a visionary when instead all he had was a charlatan.

But back to the diaries, here's a pearler from Paul:

Tuesday, 30 March

Keating calls, very greatful for the intervention. He gives me some of the history of his run-ins with Kerry Packer. Before the 1993 election, Graham Richardson (now working for Packer) said to Keating, 'At least we still have Packer on side'. But Paul reckons, 'That was bullshit. Anyway, what was he going to do, get Laurie Oakes to fart twice instead of once on TV every night?' Classic stuff. - Page 101

If you say so, Mark. And here's another one from Keating:

Friday, 16 April

A corker of a day - a briefing and then lunch with Keating at his Sydney office. The man is a comic genius. Best to record his observations in his own words.

On the restoration of the heritage building in which his office is located: 'The National Trust sent around an adviser, a bloke in a turban, telling me what to do. I said to him, "Listen, mate, I first visited this building when I was seventeen years of age. You would ahve been selling pappadams in Bombay back then"'.
- Page 103

Surely Keating's comment is on a par with John Brogden's mail-order-bride comment about Helena Carr, yet no one has raised a storm over JPK's comments. Double standards? Or have we just conceded that Keating is a tired and cranky old man of whom we stopped expecting high standards long ago.

And now Ari uses a new word on his blog:

Thursday, 2 September

But they are not all bad. Give me (Senator) Rosemary Crowley any day of the week. Years ago, Joel's dad and predecessor in Hunter, Eric Fitzgibbon, told me the story of Rose visiting a colleague's electorate and getting into a discussion with some of the locals about their cars. She floored them by pointing out, 'Listen, you blokes, I have had more rubber up my cunt than you've got on those tyres'. Rose for PM. - Page 113

Time to get out of the gutter...

Tuesday 28 December

Parliamentary poltiics is not longer a viable instrument of social reform. The big issues are social - the breakdown in trust and compassion between people. But the state has no compass or toolkit with which to handle these issues. It relies on the exercise of centralised, hierarchical power; law-making and bureaucratic control over people. It is institutionally incapable of dealing with the big social policy questions: mutualism, devolution and civil society. - Page 124

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Brown on Latham

I wrote this on Tueday, when it was mildly newsworthy. It's now Friday night, and it's ancient history. Here it is, anyhow:

Senator Bob Brown has remained quiet on the Latham-front, but stood up to be counted last night at Melbourne University. I've always had mixed feelings about Brown - whilst I reject his misanthropic ideology, I think he's an exceptionally talented and perceptive politician. Far from being a voice from outside the political establishment, Brown is capable of the sort of brutal tactical approach that would make even the most seasoned Labor numbers-men proud.

His talk last night was on the topic of "Ten reasons why a young person should get involved in politics", a very direct contradiction of Mark Latham's speech at the same venue last week. Brown stuck loosely to his theme, although meandered through all sorts of themes. By the end, though, it seemed that Brown's attitude was not far from Latham's: the Labor Party is not an appropriate vehicle for social change, parliamentary democracy in Australia is highly flawed, popular public movements are more likely to achieve action than voices in parliament.

Brown is remarkably positive and upbeat about the prospects for the Greens. Given that the coalition have secured the balance of power in the Senate, the voting power of the Greens Senators have been severely diminished. Rather than being despondant at this parliamentary impotence, Brown seems to relish the task. Perhaps this offers some insight into the way the Greens like to play politics - rather than get involved in the pesky business of making decisions which actually affect political outcomes, and the compromise that inevitably comes with it, they prefer to be shrill and absolute. Ironic as it is, but fact that the Greens votes count for so little mean that Brown and his party have avoided some difficult dilemmas.

Brown made a frank admission. When asked about the future prospects for the Greens, he acknowledged that "the trajectory of human history" suggested that once the Greens become an established part of the political scene that they would become as compromised as the Liberal and Labor Parties. It was a bold admission, and a truthful one as well.

A couple of quick snippets from Brown's speech:

- Brown admitted he attempted to join the Liberal Party when he was 21 and by his own description, "young and confused". According to Brown, the fact that his local Liberal office was closed at the time he approached it. Strange.

- The Senator threw himself behind a rather juvenile campaign being run under the banner "Out education shouldn't cost the Earth", a campaign encouraging students to bombard the Australian Vice Chancellor's Committee switchboard with calls encouraging 'greener' campuses.

- Brown spoke at length about the principle of "One person, one vote, one value" without even the slightest hint of irony. Someone ought to tell the Senator that as a Tasmanian he was elected with just a tiny fraction of the votes that a NSW Senator is elected with. Hardly 'one value'.

What about Bob?
What about Bob?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bali carnage

Yet again, violent thuggery has proved itself to be a blunt instrument. We should not forget that Indonesia is a democracy (albeit a fledgling one) and those who turn to violence for their cause are those that cannot win in the battle for hearts and minds. For Indonesia's sake, JI should finally be criminalised by the archapelago, and authorities ought to ruthlessly crack down on those involved. Spare us the 'root causes of terrorism' argument, please.

The Australian media have been squeamish about naming the victims, but not so the Indonesian media. I don't speak Indonesian, but I have a fair idea of the fate of those who appear on this list in the Bali Post.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Where's it buried?

A ripper yarn by Sly of the Underworld in today's Age, putting together the missing peices (nope, not a type) on Victor Peirce (told you) and the horrific Walsh Street slaying in 1988. I was very interested to read this paragraph:

Allen was a prolific drug dealer in the early 1980s. "I saw Victor with cash, sometimes $50,000, sometimes $100,000. I saw Dennis with $500,000." Allen had many bank accounts but also liked to bury cash so it could never be traced. Much of it was never recovered when he died of natural causes in 1987. "When he got sick he couldn't remember anything. It must all still be buried around Richmond."


He speaks! Latham hits Melbourne University

During the week Mark Latham made his one (and so far, only) public appearance to promote his book, at the University of Melbourne. Latham spoke in the sterile and lifeless Copland theatre, buried deep within the Economic and Commerce faculty in a way that leads one to conclude that it doubles as a bomb shelter. Latham's speech, on the topic "10 reasons why young idealistic people should forget about organised politics" (which leads to the conclusion that there are plenty of reasons why young narcisstic opportunistic people should enter politics). Anyhow, Latham's speech attracted a fair bit of attention, particularly in The Age. Michael Gordon wrote about it, whilst the Op-Ed page published an extract of the speech itself.

The Age website also published the full text in a Word document on its website, obviously straight from the source, given that one "Janine Lacy" is listed as the author (head to File, then Properties, the Summary). Even more intriguingly, the title listed in this section is "27 December 2004", suggesting that it has been a while in the making.

As has been his want over the past fortnight, Latham was throwing plenty of punches during the speech. Whilst the stated theme of the lecture was a discourse on organised politics, Latham savaged the media for its treatment of him, and seemed to have as much contempt for the press as he has for his former Labor colleagues.

A few snippets of interest that haven't had a run in the mainstream media:

- Latham descibing his successor as Member for Werriwa, Chris Hayes, as "handpicked by the Sussex Street machine", SS being the headquarters of the NSW Labor Party.

- Latham said he had received numerous letters of support from various MPs (presumably they weren't all from Julia Gillard, perhaps with a different coloured pen?). One Labor frontbencher apparently wrote to Latham saying 'Congratulations on the book. It's mold compared to what really goes on.'

- Marky Mark described SMH journo Brad Norrington as a "Sussex Street Press Secretary" and insinuated a relationship between journalists Matt Price (The Oz) and Annabel Crabb (The Age), explaining that "No two friends are closer in Canberra".

- Latham was surrounded by security guards, and left before signing my copy of his book. Bastard.

For what it's worth, my take on the speech itself: Latham seems to miss the point the change can be achieved through both top-down and bottom-up methods, and that there is no need to disregard one in order to achieve the other. He frequently encourages young people to get involved in community and local programs rather than looking to organised politics as a means of achieving change. He does make the point effectively, though, that politics as it is currently practiced is a disfunctional process, and that there is a need for structural changes. His passionate dislike for both the media and the Labor machine is well-founded, though his 'bat, ball, go home' solution is a disappointment. Fundamentally, the problem with Latham's case is that it is so obviously fuelled by his own personal resentment at the rejection he suffered rather than a dispassionate analysis. Whilst there were plenty there to listen, most found Latham registering highly on their bullshit-meter.

Latham: too much hot air
Latham: too much hot air

Friday, September 30, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1998

It's an even numbered year, it's the Labor Party, it's January... welcome to Hobart!:
Friday, 23 January
One black mark, however. The Conference dinner was held downriver from Hobart and delegates piled into boats to get there. On arrival, we were ordered to stay on board while Princess Cheryl (Kernot) and her two fawning courtiers, Kim and Gareth, disembarked first. The Labor Royal Family. I hate it when we mimic the hierarchy and snobbery of high society. In Australia, socialism has always been a social habit, much more than a political program. We are all equal in our mateship group. Now, unhappily in the ALP at least, some are more equal than others. - Page 71

This idea is almost as scary as Mark Latham, PM:

Tuesday, 24 March
An interesting conversation with Leo McLeay, who reckons that Martin Ferguson will be the next Labor MP: 'Kim will lose twice and then Ferguson will take over - he's got the working-class credentials and the support of the unions, just like Hawke'. I don't see it myself. Marn (that's Martin in Ferguson-speak) has the public appeal of a wet sandshoe and often talks like one. - Page 73

And now the juicy sex and Gough scandal comes into the picture:

Thursday, 9 July
What sort of Party is this? I was the guest speaker at Robert McClelland's fundraiser at Brighton-le-Sands (in the seat of Barton) at lunchtime today and Gough Whitlam took me aside for a word. And the conversation went like this (my recollection from a couple of hours ago):

Whitlam: Comrade, there's something I need to raise with you. Gary Gray called on me and asked me to pass on his concerns that you are coming on too strongly with the women in Canberra. He seems to think there is a sexual harassment claim against you. Now, it sounds unlikely to me, comrade. I've seen you in action and you are quite prolific. If anything, the women come strongly after you. So, as I say, it sounds like bullshit but he asked me to raise it with you and now I have.

Latham: Well, it's bullship. I don't know what to say. I've known you a long time and I can assure you it's rubbish. I've never laid a hand on a women, never. It's true. I haven't been a monk since my marriage broke up, but nothing like this has happened. Sexual harassment? They've got to be kidding.
- Page 77

More on Beazley's supposed six-year vilification campaign:

Sunday, 19 July
Earlier in the week I had a good tip-off from a senior Fairfax journalist (who said I could never use his name anywhere) that Beazley's office was tipping dirt on me around the press gallery. And, right on cue, a snippet appeared in the Sunday papers today. First Gray and now this: the arseholes are really coming after me. I can't help but compare this treatment with the way Bob Hawke supported Beazley when his first marriage broke down circa 1989. - Page 79

Whilst many others on the left are doing their best ostrich impression on the issue of globalisation, Latham shows that he gets it:

Saturday, 1 August
Unfortunately Labor has contributed to the Hansonite surge with its populism on tariffs. We should never have let the protectionist genie out of its bottle. Economic isolationism is the flipside of social racism, encouraging people to think the worst of other nations and people. It also has a domino effect - just look at the special pleading groups that have jumped out of the ground in recent times. - Page 80

Latham on the VCs:

Sunday, 18 October
Politics aside, one of the biggest problems Australia faces is a lack of talent at the top of its institutions. I was generally optimistic about Australia's future until I met its Vice-Chancellors. What a drab lot. I expected a group of dynamic heavy-hitters to lead the nation's universities but the standard is very poor. For all the debate about reseources, 30 top individuals would actually make a bigger difference. - Page 89

Latham... Lachlan... Kettle... Black:

Tuesday, 15 December
I gave a decent speech about future trends in Australian politics and got to meet Lachlan Murdoch for the first time (who doesn't seem like the sharpest tool in the shed, but then again, I'm always hard on inheritance boys). That was yesterday. Today, The Australian's editorial is advising Beazley to put a sock in my mouth. Guest speaker one day, deadshit the next. That's media consistency for you. - Page 93

Call centre blog

Interesting. A blog for those of us in the call centre industry.

Waiting On Hold.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Better than average Bush joke

A decent joke has landed in my inbox, a thankfully it's marginally better than the 'insert hated politician's name here' jokes:

President Bush and Don Rumsfeld are sitting in a bar.

A guy walks in and asks the barman, “Isn’t that Bush and Rumsfeld sitting over there?”

The barman says, “Yep, that’s them.”

So the guy walks over and says, “Wow, this is a real honor! What are you guys doing in here?”

Bush says, “We’re planning WW III.”

And the guy says, “Really? What’s going to happen?”

Bush says, “Well, this time we’re going to kill 140 million Muslims and one blonde with big tits.”

The guy exclaimed, “A blonde with big tits? Why kill a blonde with big tits?”

Bush turns to Rumsfeld and says, “See, I told you no one would care about the 140 million Muslims”.

Not bad.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1997

Gee, that's unusual for Ross Cameron:

Friday, 14 February
Ross Cameron, the brilliant but creepy Liberal Member for Parramatta, has talked me into participating in his youth leadership forum in Canberra. I rather suspect it's a front for mobilising young Christian soldiers, plus some quality box for Ross. Thank goodness I wasn't the only one sucked in. Howard and Beazley addressed the opening session yesterday and gave some interesting insights into their background. - Page 57

And Howard the stinker:

Friday, 14 March
A great day's cricket, playing for the Parliamentary XI against the Crusaders at Albert Mark in Melbourne. Our side was reinforced by (former Australian fast bowler) Merv Hughes and the middle-order batting wizardry of John Howard. Actually, he's hopeless. A real rabbit with the bat and The Man From Unco with the ball, the sort of player who was an automatic selection as scorer in schoolboy teams. I walked away from the ground thinking, there goes John Howard, a man of few obvious talents.

He's also a smelly little bastard. The rest of the boys tubbed up with a group shower after the match, but not the PM. He was last seen heading off for his plane in his full cricket kit. He must have thought Big Merv was a soap catcher.
- Page 60

One thing that comes up as a recurring theme in the diaries is Latham's place on the free-market end of economic thinking. Repeatedly he rejects the interventionist approach of government, and argues against protecting failing industries:

Monday, 2 June
Beazley is the first Labor Leader to take our thinking backwards. A reform party must always look to the future, not the retro-economics of tariff and industry subsidies. Blind Freddy can see that these are no longer effective policy tools in the modern economy. International competitiveness is being determined by workforce skills and the quality of a nation's education system, not the size of its tariff walls. - Page 62

Friday, September 23, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1996

Was Gareth really a no-hoper in his short time as Shadow Treasurer? Latham reckons he was:

Thursday, 18 April
Earlier today, the mighty Gareth told me that 'I want to go back to Foreign Affairs'. He's trying to rote-learn the economy and it's not working. He knows nothing about National Competition Policy and Hilmer. It's really quire scary, shattering the image I had of super-competent Hawke and Keating ministers. The more I see of the frontbench, the more sceptical I become.
- Page 47

The first Howard/Costello budget was delivered in August, and for those who remember it was a grusome slash and burn budget as the incoming administration sought to turn around the massive deficit of Keating/Beazley/Willis (everyone remember the "$8 billion Beazley black-hole", a phrase in the rhetorical spirit of the Beazley flip-flop?). Anyhow, with health, education and just about every other government service having the guts ripped out of it, here's how Latham recalls the Labor response on the day:

Tuesday, 20 August
The first Budget of the Howard Government and they have slashed everything.... Talking of storming the citadel, it was a different topic of conversation at today's meeting of the NSW Right. THe main agenda item was the Government's move to reclaim frequent flyer points from MPs. The complaints went on forever, as if the world were ending. I chipped in facetiously, 'Gee, this must be a bad government'. But the rotten rorters agreed, they thought I was being serious! - Page 50

Was Keating serious?:

Monday, 28 October
Earlier in the day, Duncan (Kerr) told me that during the truck blockade of Parliament House in early 1995, Keating wanted to call in the army to clear them out of the place. Sounds pretty radical. Mind you, it would have fixed up the protestors, watching their logging trucks being blown away by tank-fire! - Page 52

...and later that same day an excellent critique of the role of Parliament:

The House is a chamber of assertion, not explanation. Even with a weak argument, a confident, assertive speech can carry the day. Question Time requires a cool, analytical approach, with the ability to anticipate various scenarios and not to be deterred by the Government's bullshit and bravado. - Page 53

Latham pisstake

Kerry and Mark? Nope, it's John and Bryan:

INTERVIEWER: Gee, you've cut quite a swathe this week.

MARK LATHAM: I don't know about a swathe, Bryan, but I certainly cut a bit of a swathe during the week.

INTERVIEWER: It's a tough business, isn't it, politics?

MARK LATHAM: I don't know about tough, Bryan, but I'll tell you something about this business, it's pretty tough.

INTERVIEWER: Didn't you know it was going to be tough when you went into it, though?

MARK LATHAM: Yeah, yeah. You don't go into a business like this, Bryan, without knowing it's going to be tough. I knew it would be tough. I knew it would be tough. I knew it would be tough.

INTERVIEWER: Did anything surprise you about it, though?

MARK LATHAM: Only the toughness, Bryan, only the toughness.

INTERVIEWER: But you would have expected that, wouldn't you?


A community service announcement...

For those American Northkoreaphiles comes this interesting snippet of news, courtesy of NKzone:

NK Opens to US tourists (briefly!)
by Simon Cockerell

I've just heard from Pyongyang that US passport holders will be welcomed to North Korea as tourists until the end of the Arirang Mass Games festival; recently extended to run until October 17th.

Koryo Tours of course and probably others will be running trips to the event for US citizens, during that time.

If you've got $2000 and a week spare, treat yourself to a mindblowing experience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1995

Did Keating know this early that his number was up?:

Wednesday, 8 February
Keating hosts a Caucus BBQ at the Lodge. He is very frank in his remarks, maybe half-tanked at the time: 'I've been here too long, that's the truth of it; 26 years is a long time.' For a moment or two, I thought he was going to pull the pin and resign as PM. Not a bad time to do it, in fact. Twenty-six years is a long time indeed. He's won an unwinnable election for us and become a Labor legend. Why not go out on top? But Paul hates the Tories too much to ever leave them alone. It's the obsession of a lifetime.
- Page 31

Latham nails Graeme Campbell, the then Labor Member for Kalgoolie and a Pauline before there was Pauline, in a way that makes you realise that Latham wasn't the only nutter wandering around Capital Hill:

Wednesday, 10 May
I attend the launch of Graeme Campbell's book by Peter Walsh in one of the committee rooms at Parliament House. It is a sad occasion, with no real purpose, just a small puzzled audience tring to work out why Campbell bothers with his isolationist ideas. His views reflect his own isolated geography within the nation. Knocking around the back blocks of WA would convince anyone that the rest of the world is against us. Campbell is the last remnant of White Australia inside the Federal ALP.
- Page 34

Still, Latham's take on globalisation is right on the money, and it's reassuring to hear it from someone on the left of politics:

Wednesday, 10 May
I see no evidence that internationalism is inconsistent with equity. What is wrong with a world of free trade and investment, a world were people exchnge products, ideas and information on a regular basis? - Page 34

Make of this what you will:

Tuesday, 22 August
Gough once told me the story of an ALP National Executive meeting in the early 1970s when, as they waited for someone to turn up, the conversation at this all-male gathering inevitably turned to dick sizes. As they went around the room, some blokes claimed to be long, others claimed to be thick. Until they got to Hawke, who yelled out 'long and thick'. Whenever Gough was unhappy with the Hawke Government he would say, 'Comrade, neither long nor thick.'
- Page 39

And another Gough story. It sounds like a lively place, the Whitlam household:

Saturday, 11 November
Twenty years since the coup d'etat and a commemorative dinner in the Old Parliament House dining room says it all about the ALP. June and John Kerin arguing that Labor has to lose the next election in order to properly renew itself. Neville Wran going beserk and banging the table in delight at the mention of Lionel Murphy's name. Margaret Whitlam calling out 'This is all crap' as Gough gives an 80-minute speech about everything. That's one of the things everyone likes about her, her honesty about Gough.
- Page 40

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: 1994

Here's a story the media missed, then and now:

Thursday, 24 March
Graham Richardson's private secretary Marion assures me he was all set to swap places with Bob Carr - Carr for Senate, Richo for the NSW Labor leadership. Something change Richardson's mind the weekend before his resignation from Parliament. A nice little mystery, ass everyone smiles and gives Richo and happy send-off.
- Page 25

If these any truth at all to this story, it's quite incredible. Given the success that Carr went on to enjoy for a decade, this would have had a remarkable effect of contemporary Australian politics. Has anyone done any digging on this story?

Wednesday, 4 May
It also dragged all the major journalists into Canberra, who then kicked on to the pub in Manuka. Ran into an old mate of minte (now working as a researcher in ABC current affairs) who said that his boss (a prominent TV presenter) was keen for everyone to piss on back at his place in Kingston. Sounded great until we jumped into the boss man's van and he started driving the wrong way down Canberra Avenue, blind as a bat. What a madman, a real nut. In a rare display of good sense, I jumped out and caught a cab home.

I'm told the party ended with one of the ABC journalists collapsed in the middle of the floor, her knickers dangling around her ankles. What a great woman. That, I am told, is the cream of Australia's current affairs media.
- Page 26

Not Kerry and Maxine, surely?

And a sign that Keating (and by extention) Latham had the right idea about the merits of governments staying away from corporate welfare:

Monday, 5 December
Keating reckons he was never able to centrally plan five ALP brances in his electorate in Bankstown, let alone complex industries. He describes industry protection as a mug's game: 'We were the bunnies defending the tariff walls but come elction time the industrialists supported the other mob'.
- Page 29

The 'The Latham Diaries' Diaries: Introduction

As promised in an earier post, here are some interesting snippets from TLD.

There has been much criticism about Latham's inability to take responsibility for his own failings, and his role in his party's failure in the 2004 election. Whilst this perception is largely true, it is worth noting that Latham does accept some responsibility for his actions (though it does include the significant caveat 'by the conventional performance measures'):

My aim is not to rewrite my place in Australian political history. This is not possible. I never became a minister in a Labor Government. Under my leadership, the ALP lost seats at the 2004 Federal election. This disappointed many of my supporters, dashing their expectations of what I could achieve in public life. I failed in my mission to advance the cause of Labor, to make Australia a social democracy. By the conventional performance measures of Australian politics, my parliamentary career was unsuccessful. - Page 4

The introduction does serve as an interesting political essay with genuine merit. Latham focuses on the disconnection between ordinary people and their elected representatives, and the seeming inverse relationship between wealth and strong communities:

Escapism is the new religion of middle Australia. This is the sorry state of advanced capitalism: the ruling culture encourages people to reach for four-wheel drives, double-storey homes, reality television and gossip magazines to find meaning and satisfaction in their lives. All of which offer false hope. Marx was wrong in prediction the alientation of labour from the economy as the catalyst of social discontent. It is the alienation of the individual from community life that is the cause of so many social problems. - Page 16

And just who was the Liberal front bencher who was playing nice with Latham earlier this year (my hunch is Brendon Nelson, or perhaps Gary Hargraves... no evidence on my part, but they seem like the kind of ministers with a softer side):

And the last word on my time in politics? I am happy to leave it to my Liberal opponents. One of the nice rituals of Australian politics is that, after you retire, the other side starts telling the truth about you. In February I received the following note form a senior minister in the Howard Governement:

Whilst there will always be some things you and I wil disagree on, I admire the contribution that you have made the public life. At Liverpool Council you changed the Old Guard and put in place a dynamic infrastructure. In Federal Parliament you took risks that gave you opportunities to change the nation from Opposition. I admire that.

Now is the time for you and your family. I genuinely wish you a good life ahead. Enjoy the time you have with family. In a number of ways you have made Australia better.
- Page 21

Kim Jong Il: "Did somebody say Six Party?"

The past 48 hours there was some success in the six party talks aimed at disarming North Korea. Like most, I'm cynical until I see some action, but it does seem like a positive development, and from what I've seen a real shock to most Korea-watchers. I got the feeling that most though that the six party talks were all but dead after a failed round two month back, so this agreement has come out of the blue.

Back at the last talks in July, here was my suggestion for a workable solution:

For what it's worth, here's my solution to the North Korea tensions (you listing George, Hu, Kim?): at the next round of Six Nation talks next week in Beijing, the other five states should do a deal with Kim Jong Il. Give him an absolute assurance that the world will not seek his removal (STEP 1), if - and only if - the DPRK shut down its nuclear plants and give open access to IAEA inspectors (STEP 2). To be sure that he'll do the deal, the quiet threat needs to be made by the Chinese that if Kim doesn't play ball, then the energy pipeline that keeps the fledgling North Korean economy functioning will be progressively shut down. (STEP 3)

And here's the text of the agreement that was reached, which follow my plan (above) remarkably closely:


The DPRK and the United States undertook to respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies.


The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) and to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards.


China, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia and the U.S. stated their willingness to provide energy assistance to the DPRK. The ROK reaffirmed its proposal of July 12, 2005, concerning the provision of 2 million kilowatts of electric power to the DPRK.

There is, though, still a major stumbling block:

The DPRK stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The other parties expressed their respect and agreed to discuss at an appropriate time the subject of the provision of light-water reactor to the DPRK.

This sounds remarkably similar to the agreement Clinton reached with North Korea in 1994, an agreement which now stands almost-universally condemned as one that allowed the North Koreans to increase its nuclear capacity.

For more on North Korea, and indeed the entire region, check out a fine blog I've recently discovered, The Asianist.

Vale: Simon Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal: "The Conscience of the Holocaust, Dies in Vienna" at 96

Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi Hunter has died in Vienna at the age of 96, the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced today (September 20th).

"Simon Wiesenthal was the conscience of the Holocaust," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the International Human Rights NGO named in Mr. Wiesenthal’s honor, adding, "When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of the history’s greatest crime to justice. There was no press conference and no president or Prime Minister or world leader announced his appointment. He just took the job. It was a job no one else wanted.
Read more here.

Simon Wiesenthal