Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What's all that about?

It's Bracks and Her Maj.

Any takers?

Mini-golf memories

One of the most underrated forms of entertainment is the humble game of mini-golf. After many years away from the sport (and it is a sport, no correspondence will be entered into), yesterday I reaquainted myself with its pleasures at Sidetracked, an eastern suburbs establishment frequented mostly by bored schoolkids on holidays, and teenagers on a date. In my case, it was the former.

I have many mixed memories of my past as a mini-golf player. For years I was a regular patron each summer at the Top Fun, in Merimbula, which I was thrilled to see not only still exists, but has a website to extol its virtues, a feature which was absent when I last visited in 1992. My visits to Top Fun would usually begin with great enthusiasm for mini-golf, which soon became an unhealthy obsession. I was a stubborn perfectionist, which is not an ideal quality when playing mini-golf, and when things didn't go my way, I let the world know. Many was the game that would involve me kicking the water feature, or stamping defiantly on the raised bit of green, of swinging the club at the ankles of an unsuspecting stranger. Ah, happy memories.

Top fun to be had at Top Fun.
Top fun to be had at Top Fun.

More recently, I remember playing at the course on the corner of Lonsdale and Swanston Streets in the city (I think we ought remember back fondly to the days when the Melbourne CBD boasted both a mini-golf course and a skate park). The course is no longer, and in its place stands the QV retail monolith, which from all reports is struggling a little. Not enough mini-golf, I say.

Anyhow, back to my current escapades. Mini-golf at Sidetracked is no ordinary course, but instead takes place at the mysterious Castle Putt-a-lot, a medieval castle which contains its own guillotine, sword of King Arthur and alchemist's lair, as well as various other 12th Century mod-cons. The course is quick and competitive, although a little poorly maintained, if the cigarette burns on the greens are any indication. Cruelly, the green surrounding many of the holes are raised, leading to many a mini-golfer desperately trying to putt up the slope, only to find it roll straight back down the other side. No doubt many a strangers shin will be abused in anger.

Much fun to be had at Castle Putt-a-Lot.
Welcome to Castle Putt-a-Lot

Am I the only one with a hankering for mini-golf? Surely not. I would love to hear from other people about their mini-golf memories, and their favourite mini-golf course.

Comment away, fellow putters.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rethinking Australia Day

Ho hum, Australia Day is hear again, and it's met with the same utter lack of interest. Rightfully so.

The central problem with Australia Day is marks the anniversary of an event that is so fundamentally contested that it fails as a day of unity. Marking as it does the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, its meaning resonates with only a niche segment of the population. The description of British colonisation as invasion is highly debatable, but the very fact that it is debatable detracts from the unifying forces of the date. Whether or not it was invasion is a moot point - the the truth remains that the question is hotly contested.

It is wrong to suggest that the problem is a lack of Australian patriotism. Misdirected as it may have been, the events at Cronulla last month demonstrate that Australians can indeed find great pride in celebrating their nationalism. Apathy in response to Australia Day is not merely a post-modern globalised response to the slow death of the nation state. The underlying patriotism is there: the challenge is chanelling it into a healthy celebration of Australian achievement. Blatantly, January 26 is not the right day.

Okay, smartarse, then when should it be?
In the long term, the right day to celebrate Australia Day ought to be the day we vote to become a republic, logically completing our movement toward independence.

Until then, there is a dearth of appropriate dates. Perhaps most desirable is one which commemorates Australian Federation - an event which is fundamentally accepted by all rather than hotly contested - rather than Australian history of indeterminant length.

January 1, 1901 was the first day of the Australian Federation, and so theoretically seems a logical choice as "Federation Day", a substitute for Australia Day. There is, however, the practical difficulty of overlapping public holidays, essentially depriving us all of one public holiday a year, and the fact that new year's day is hardly the right time for a patriotic celebrations, unless it exists to prolong the previous night's hangover.

As a substitute, then, I offer you 9 May. On that day in 1901, the Australian Parliament met for the first time. At present, the day is completely unremarkable and the anniversary largely ignored. It is, though, a significant date in the history of the Australian Federation.

With a date like this, Australian achievement can be celebrated in a unified spirit, without the gnawing of the conscience which greets many of us in celebrating Australia Day. True, an approach like this does paper over the cracks of honestly appraising Australian history. That debate ought to run its course, but the debate should be independent of the celebration of national identity that Australia Day should represent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The McGauran defection

Senator Julian McGauran has defected from the Nats to the Libs, and in doing so has put the future of the Nationals in the spotlight. The Nats are in the spotlight in the same way that many wallabies are in the spotlight immediately before confronting a bullbar and a future in a shallow roadside grave, quite possibly on a highway that runs through a National Party electorate.

The Senate seat

Before dealing with the substantive issue that McGauran's defection raises, it's worth looking at the question of his Senate seat. Ownership of a Senate seat is a tricky question, since there's no by-election option to decide the matter, and most Senators are elected on the basis of their party allegiance and above-the-line votes rather than a personal vote.

McGauran was elected in 2004 for a six year term on a joint Liberal-National Party ticket in Victoria. For me, this is the key fact that means that McGauran is absolutely right in holding onto his seat since he remains true to the ticket. The previous time a Senate defection occured was in 2002, when Meg Lees, elected as a Democrat, chose to sit as an independent and later as a member of the Australian Progressive Alliance (what ever happened to...). In that situation, Lees had absolutely no claim on the seat since she was elected as a Democrat on a Democrat ticket. In McGauran's case, however, he is simply voting from one entity on the ticket (the Nats) to another entity (the Libs), but still remaining within the group on the ticket. Were he to defect, for example, to Family First, he would have no such claim.

Senator McGauran shares his thoughts with The Nationals.
Senator McGauran shares his thoughts with The Nationals.

The future of the Nationals

Regardless of the personality politics involved, McGauran is spot on in claiming that the Nationals have no future in Victoria. I would widen the analysis and condemn it to a wallaby-like grave nationwide. The problem that the Nationals face is demographics. The movement of population from farms and rural towns into the cities has reduced the number of rural electorates and increased the number of urban ones.

To make things worse, there are some who are taking the seachange option and going the other way. These voters are moving from their urban electorate out to the country and are most unlikely to vote for the Nationals - they're most likely to lean to the left, or at a pinch vote for the Libs.

These two trends combined mean that there are fewer and fewer country seats available, and in those seats voters are less inclined then ever to consider the Nationals. It's no surprise that over the past few elections the Liberals have increasingly taken over electorates previously held by the Nationals.

Ironically given it's name, the National Party is a spent force in all states except for New South Wales and Queensland. In other states, the party has either ceased to exist, or exists as a shadow of its former self in much the same way that the DLP does, still managing to put up a slate of Senate candidates each election. There is no future for the party in most party of the country.

The strategy of late has been for the Nationals to differentiate themselves from the Liberals within the bounds of the coalition agreement. At best, this has helped slow the decline (in 2004 no seat went from the Nationals to the Liberals), but done little better.

Perhaps the Nationals need to start thinking seriously about a merger with the Libs, or more likely a takeover by the Libs. It could ensure a future for sitting Nationals, boost the influence of country electorates, but most of all give the party some relevance. Given the unity of policy between the two parties it's definitely worth investigating. Without it, the Liberals will happily watch the Nationals wither away to nothing. With it, the rump of the Nationals will give themselves a future.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The politics of prostitution

Britain's New Statesman have got some light holiday reading for you:

Why British men are rapists

In the world of stag-night excess, lad mags and lap dancing, paying for sex is losing its stigma and more and more men do it. These "clients" are responsible for a grotesque crime, yet they get away scot-free. By Joan Smith

A patriotic pants man
A patriotic pants man.

I first starting thinking seriously about the politics of prostitution last year when I was in a uni tute with a room full of radical feminists, and off-handedly mentioned that I didn't see anything wrong with prostitution if that was the occupation that someone chose for themselves. Little did I realise that my remark was such a controversial one. The looks of disgust in my direction were harsh and severe and made me feel like a butcher at a vegan's convention. Clearly not a popular position.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that I have an ultra-liberal position on prostitution. To me it is a perfectly legitimate choice of occupation, and one that should carry no stigma. Prostitution is ultimately no different from any other occupation - it is the selling of one's skills for the betterment of another in exchange for money. Whether you're laying bricks (no puns, please), answering phones or healing the sick, you're selling the skills that you have acquired (muscle, personality or intellect). The fact that prostitution involves the selling of an intimate and very personal skill does not differentiate itself from other occupations.

Indeed, in a free society, people ought have the right to trade with each other. Though it's not something that I think I'll ever be interested in buying (or, indeed, selling), I don't believe that the state has the right to intervene. With the usual caveats applying - that all participants are of age, that participation is voluntary - there is nothing wrong with people chosing to be, or to use, a prostitute. Far from prostitution being a human rights abuse, as some feminists argue, the restriction of freedom of choice is itself a violation of rights.

The fact that many prostitutes live and work in dangerous conditions is not an argument against legal prostitution - in fact, it's an argument in favour of it. If we accept that prostitution will always be with us (and it will) then if prostitution can be practiced legally and safely, with proper regulation, just like all sorts of other industries operate, then it would be an ideal outcome. Realistically, street prostitution can never be completely safe, so it's rightfully outlawed. As for registered and regulated brothels, leave them be. The present mix in Victoria - the regulation of brothels and the criminilisation of street prositution - seems about right.

The problem, and this is mentioned in the article, is that enforcement of regulation is slack. The fact that human trafficking and sexual slavery can occur is an indictment both on those who carry it out, and those who are expected to police it. Defending the right to prostitute does not entail defending the right to traffick or enslave. It is the enslavement and manipulation of trafficked women that constitutes the crime, both moral and legal, not the act of prostitution. The right solution is not to try to ban prostitution, but is to rigourously police and prosecute people traffickers.

Am I a sexist male? Perhaps. But part of living in a liberal society is giving people the freedom to make their own choices without the paternalism of the state constantly protecting them. If people of their own free choice decide to sell access to their bodies, then it's their choice to make. However, for those who traffick women, and those who exploit them, they themselves have breached a fundamental tenant of liberalism and their acts deserve nothing but undying scorn. There is nothing inconsistant in condemning trafficking and defending prostitution, and liberal values should support them both.

Update, 26/1, 12:45am: It was great to see a post from a new contributer, R Berman. RB, if you could send me your email or a phone number, I'd love to get in touch. Email addy is absharp@hotmail.com. Thanks.

It's not just because they linked to me

Not to sure who Tim or Jon are, but they're the authors of a damn funny blog, Sterne. Get it? I don't. Anyhow, check out this teaser, and then gorge yourself on the real thing:

Ringo Starr Publishes Pro-Capitalism, Pro-Ringo Children's Book

Hard on the heals of Paul McCartney's anti-capitalist kid's book, High in the Clouds, McCartney's former band-mate Ringo Starr has published his own children's book.

Starr says his book, titled Give Uncle Ringo Your Money, Now! came to him in a dream.

"I dreamed I was sitting at me desk writing some rubbish kiddie book, and all this money started falling from the sky. When I woke up, I immediately began writing. I expect the money at any moment now. That's why I brought me umbrella."

Give Uncle Ringo Your Money, Now! tells the heartwarming story of Bingo, the runt of a litter of four puppies who, while lacking the talent of his brothers, succeeds in winning the heart of his owner, Uncle Ringo, by performing unbecoming tricks for money.

According to Starr, the book is "a parable for the age - or at least for my old age. It's got puppies, tricks, and somebody called Ringo getting a shitload of money for doing bugger all. The only problem is, now I have to think of a new title for my forthcoming autobiography."

Check it out.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Beautiful Burma

A friend of a friend has recently spent some time in Myanmar/Burma, and has uploaded some photos of the trip. Myanmar is a beautiful place, and these photos are exceptional. Check em out. (You might need to log in to view, but it's worth it).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kadima after Sharon

How simple things were a fortnight ago. Arik Sharon was riding high, he'd made the boldest move of his political career, and the rapid advance toward peace from the past twelve months was set to continue. Then he had to go and do something stupid, like have himself a heart attack, and then a stroke. Bad time to drop dead, in an election year and all that.

But fear not. The inherent rightness of Kadima, and its urgent necessity on the Israeli political landscape, exists beyond the enormous shadow cast by Ariel Sharon. Sure, it took someone of Sharon's stature to make the bold move, but the party lives on regardless. Kadima was not just borne out of Sharon's desire to be re-elected: it was a reflection of the political facts that (a) Likud was always going to be lukewarm on disengagement, and (b) that there was definate common ground shared by realists inside both Likud and Labour.

Commentators are waxing lyrical about the implications of Sharon's untimely exit from the political scene, describing the election the way that most people describe Melbourne Cup fields. To these commentators, with Sharon's death comes the death of Kadima, stillborn, really, since it never made it out of the womb.

These commentators misread Kadima, and the political forces which led to its creation. The last twelve months has brought hope and optimism to the Middle East. For sure, part of it was due to the death of the stupidly intransigent Yasser Arafat, but part of it was also due to the political courage of Ariel Sharon. Sharon was prepared to back his judgement, take on the settler movement head on, and expose himself to the wrath of his own party. And the world ought be eterally thankful that he did.

Far from tiring of this progress and reform, Israelis are desperate for more. They don't want to return to the fruitless nationalism of the hardcore Likudniks, but nor to they want to head for the blind optimism of Labour. To Israelis, the Sharon of the past twelve months represents an 'enlightened hawk' - a figure who is acutely aware of national security but embraces the opportunity for peace that history has provided. This is the essence of Kadima - how else could old foes Sharon and Shimon Peres march under a single banner?

Whoever leads Kadima after Sharon, there is an emphatic need for the party to go on. The party represents all the reasons for hope for the future, and the spirit of realism which is the only way forward for a secure lasting settlement. Sharon's death is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

UPDATE, 11/1, 3:45pm: The mysterious 'Aunty' has very correctly pointed to a disgraceful cartoon which appeared in The Age today:

Leunig on Sharon

Michael Leunig has made a reputation for himself in the past few years as someone who is rabidly anti-western, anti-Israel and seemingly sympathetic to the worst elements of humanity. This effort today upholds that shameful tradition. Lame, juvenile and grossly offensive cartoons like this don't belong on the pages of a previously great newspaper like The Age. Surely there's an opening somewhere at the Green Left Weekly or The Guardian where Leunig can slowly dribble onto the page so he doesn't have to annoy the rest of us.

Sex and Cricket

Twenty20 is to cricket what pornography is to sex. It's a mere extraction of the whole and utterly fails to do justice to the real thing. Like porn, Twenty20 satisfies the most immediate carnal urges of its participants and spectators in a way that is rewarding in the thrawl of the moment, but it retrospect leaves a feeling of deep unsatifaction. At best, Twenty20 can mimic cricket, in the same way that porn mimics sex, but in the end it just leaves you longing for something meaningful.

Whilst Twenty20 contains the most exciting parts of the test and one-day game - there are plenty of spectacular wickets taken and sixes scored - it is devoid of the rythym and reward for perseverence that makes the sport so special. Instead, it falls victim to the need for instant gratification.

It's a shame, really, since the commercial appeal of this form of the game is likely to trump the merits of longer forms. Twenty20 is artless, soulless, and at the end of three hours the whole things feels rather silly and juvenile. Sounds perfect for TV.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Summer reading fun

It's 40 degrees outside, the cricket's on TV and there are icypoles in the freezer, so why on earth would you head outside? Instead, sit back, relax and have a read:

Rob has hit the road and is now in the subcontinent. Follow his adventures through India and place bets on precisely which day he'll get Delhi Belly. This way to Planet Rob.

Before there was Big Brother, before there was Gladiators, and even before there was Man O Man (Rob Guest, where is he now??) there was It's A Knockout. IAK was the ultimate goofy game show, with a huge set, big props, bright colours and grown men and women regularly humiliating themselves. To learn all there is to learn about IAK, and plenty more, visit Andrew Grey's wonderful tribute site. Appropriately enough for such a proudly daggy show, the site is hosted by Geocities. Enjoy!

We're all familar with Wikipedia, the hip and cool great grandchild to Old Grandpa Britannica, but few are familiar with Uncyclopedia, the deranged and highly inappropriate cousin. Uncyclopedia is everything that Brittanica and Wikipedia isn't - it's highly speculative, grossly biased, juveline and mostly fiction. You'll love it.

Anyone else care to recommend some online summer reading?