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.