Monday, June 26, 2006

Getting off at Richmond

From the New York Times today:

Women Have Seen It All on Subway, Unwillingly

It is a hidden reality of the New York City subway system, and perhaps mass transit systems everywhere since the first trolley car took to the tracks. It begins with a pinch or a shove, someone standing too close. But it can be much worse.

This week, as the Police Department announced the arrest of 13 men charged with groping and flashing women in the subways, women around the city nodded. Yes, they said, this had happened to them. Yesterday. Last month. Last fall. Twenty years ago.

"Every girl I know has at least one story," said Barbara Vencebi, 23, a studio photographer standing outside the No. 6 train station at 116th Street in East Harlem yesterday.

It is a crime abetted by the peculiar landscape of the underworld that is the subway system, by the anonymity of a crowded car where everybody is avoiding eye contact. And by the opportunity for a quick escape at the next stop, to disappear behind a pillar, into a tunnel, up an escalator.

Fortunately for me I don't think I'm considered particularly frottable nor worthy of a flash, and so I can make my way on packed trains without too much concern. I suspect that many others are not as fortunate. Presumably the experience is the same on Melbourne trains as it is on the New York subway, although thus far it's not something I've heard much about. Certainly an enthusiastic frotteur would find ample opportunities on packed suburban services, but thus far I've remained oblivious.

Enlighten me, fellow travellers.

Friday, June 23, 2006

ABC Mission Creep

A piece of mine has just gone on-line at Online Opinion (as rejected by several opinion page editors):

Top stories from June 16:

Britney says “back off”

Britney Spears' string of unfortunate encounters with the media is taking its toll on the pregnant singer. She's told US television her biggest wish is for the paparazzi to "leave her alone".

Married to the job

Hollywood actress Renee Zellweger has warned fellow Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman to call off her wedding to country music superstar Keith Urban. Renee's told a friend that Keith's too much of a workaholic.

Delta ditches mum as manager

Aussie songstress Delta Goodrem has dumped her mum Lea as her manager, to sign on with boyfriend Brian McFadden's management instead. She says the break was a mutual decision.

Want to have a guess at who put these stories top of the agenda? One of Rupert's tabloids? The UK gutter press? The National Enquirer? Nope. It was your ABC. Or more precisely, its pop culture blog, The Shallow End.

So how did we get to the point where the ABC, the national public broadcaster, has decided that it should publish celebrity gossip as a regular feature on its website? It seems to me that we need to re-examine the reason for the existence of the ABC in order to see how the current incarnation is a long way from where it should be. In short, the ABC has undergone what military planners might call “mission creep”.

Read the rest at Online Opinion.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Be a searcher

I haven't read the book yet, but Michael Duffy's excellent review of The White Man's Burden seems to suggest that both he, and the book's author William Easterley, share the sentiments that I do on the fruitlessness of aid rather than the development of markets in helping the developing world. From Duffy in the Sydney Morning Herald:

PERHAPS the most important question of our time is why the West's efforts to help the world's poorest people have been so disappointing and even counterproductive. In the past 50 years, we have spent $US2.3 trillion on foreign aid, to disturbingly little effect. An important new book suggests this has had a lot to do with the arrogance of the "big push" approach favoured by many development economists and organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations.

William Easterly is a professor of economics at New York University. He used to be a believer: for 16 years he was a research economist at the World Bank and worked extensively in Africa, Latin America and Russia. What changed his attitude was the growing amount of research showing the failures of aid, described in his book The White Man's Burden (Penguin in the US, not published in Australia).

Easterly says the $US2.3 trillion hasn't achieved what it should have. This is because much of it has been given as part of a never-ending series of internationally planned and co-ordinated "big plans". He believes the alternative would be to encourage more market-oriented activities among the poor themselves.

Those, such as Bono, Bob Geldof and the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who still advocate the traditional approach he calls Planners, while those looking for a bottom-up alternative are Searchers. According to Easterly: "In foreign aid, Planners announce good intentions but don't motivate anyone to carry them out; Searchers find things that work and get some reward. Planners raise expectations but take no responsibility for meeting them; Searchers accept responsibility for their actions … Planners at the top lack knowledge of the bottom; Searchers find out what the reality is at the bottom."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sophie's Choice

The tradition of married women taking on the surnames of the husbands is an archaic and chauvanistic one, and one that says much about the submissiveness expected of women. It's symbolic of a man's ownership of his wife and her lack of an identity independent of her husbands. Thankfully, however, the tradition is gradually on the wane as more and more women refuse to accept their status of second-class citizens within a relationship. Not, however, Sophie Panopolous.

Despite ten years in the public spotlight, the Member for Indi has decided to take on the surname of her new husband, Greg Mirabella after their marriage last weekend.

It's Sophie!
Sophie Mirabella, MP

That someone of Panopolous's standing would chose to sacrifice something as fundamental as her own name for the sake of her husband makes it clear that the feminist project still has a long way to go. It also says plenty about Panopolous's own brand of white-picket-fence conservatism. Note the constrast with Anna Burkeand Natasha Stott Despoja, both of whom married whilst in office and kept their own surnames.

For what it's worth, were I ever to wed (not likely, as those close to me can attest) I most certainly would not want my partner to change their surname. I would like to see a practice whereby both partners keep their own surnames and their children take on the surname of their same-gendered parent (girls take on their mother's names, whilst boy's take on that of their father). The symbolism seems far more appropriate for modern marriage than does the overwrought symbolism of ownership and submission.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reporters trump bloggers

New York Times flame-thrower Maureen Dowd had an interesting column on the relationship between blogs and 'old media' which was republished in The Age on Thursday (insert rant about Times-Select and information hoarding here). One quote that really grabbed me was not from Dowd, but from Markos Moulitsas, of Daily Kos fame:

Moulitsas assured me he didn't see himself as a journalist, only a Democract activist. "I don't plan on doing any original reporting - screw that. I need people like you," he said, agreeing that since he still often had to pivot off the reporting of the inadequate mainstram media to form his inflammatory opinions, our relationship was, by necessity, "symbiotic".

He's spot on, and ironically confirms my suspicions on why blogs are a far-from-perfect substitute for real news and real reporting. Us bloggers are a bunch of armchair experts, mouthing off at whomever and whatever we like from a safe distance. By its nature, bloggers lack the resources or the coordination to go out and get the story, even if the occasional story comes the way of the big blogging fish. 'Symbiotic' is probably a generous description: 'parasitic' seems more accurate.

In many ways bloggers remind me of indulgent Op-Ed columnists (Bolt, Ackerman, MacGuinness) who wouldn't be caught dead with the commoners in the newsroom actually chasing a story. We think we're too good for that.

When I started this modest blog two years ago, one of my plans was to cover the stories that generally slip below the mainstream media radar: public events, rallies, protests, community events. As it's transpired, I've covered only a handful of these events, largely due to the labour involved and the general lack of interest.

Still, I think it's a worthwhile project if only to add to the sum total of knowledge floating around the blogosphere rather than being just another voice in the echo-chamber.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Prahran: A Letter from Clem

Although politics in Australia is becoming increasingly presidential, with a centralised campaign focusing on a strong leader, there are come candidates who are rediscovering their own backyard.

This has been the strategy of Liberal candidate Clem Newton-Brown. Though he's a candidate for state office, he has no problem in getting involved in very local issues. So local, in fact, that they are issues that are not the responsibility of state government at all, but are instead in the hands of the bunnies in Town Hall. Perhaps it's a throwback to his days on Melbourne City Council.

The first issue for Newton-Brown was the life-or-death issue of the opening hours of the local pool. With a high quality postcard delivered in the midst of summer heat a few weeks back, NB identified it as (quite literally) a hot-button issue. With the cute kids on the front and the simple but effective argument on the back, it was hard not to sympathise with the cause.

Prahran pool postcard

Prahran pool postcard (back)

Saturday 6pm... 38 Degrees... Prahran Pool Closed!
The Prahran Pool is the most significant community asset we have. It provides a meeting point for locals, a play centre for families with young kids and affordable access to regular exercise for lap swimmers. It is also one of the few places for people to escape the heat of summer in the inner city.

So why close the pool at 6pm on weekend and 7.30pm midweek?

If you would like to see pool hours extended to 8pm daily, please SMS your support to 0411 255 179 or drop into my office at 151 High St Prahran and sign my petition.

Best wishes, Clem Newton-Brown

Leter, just a few weeks ago, Newton-Brown picked up on another issue likely to win hearts and minds: parking. In a well coordinated campaign, Newton-Brown argued strongly against the introduction of parking meters in local commercial shopping areas. Throughout May shopfronts along Chapel Street and Toorak Road were plastered in A4 posters promoting the campaign, posters which emphasise the issue ahead of the personality, but still managing to find room for Clem's smiling face.

Clem and the cars
Say "No" to Parking Meters

As I've argued previously, free-marketers should in fact embrace the responsible application of charges for motor vehicle use. In the spirit of user pays, and the need to ration the use of a scarce public resource (ie parking spaces), parking meters are a fine idea. Policy makers of all persuasions who approach the issue based on sound public policy rather than popular politics are likely to see the merits of parking meters, but alas this debate occurs in the midst of a heated election campaign.

Taken as a package, these aspects to Newton-Brown's campaign seem rather disingenuous. The issues of the local pool and parking meters are both clearly in the domain of local government. Are the voters of Prahran really expected to be so ignorant of where responsibilities lie that they will turn to a state candidate to address a local issue? Rather than actually seeking to address the issues identified, the campaign is instead about Newton-Brown establishing his local credentials.

Voters concerned about either local pools or parking meters will rightly address their concerns to the folks at the City of Stonnington, the governmental body actually responsible for these things. Voters who want to achieve nothing but feel like their middle-class grievances have been heard will no doubt vote Liberal.

Next up we look forward to Newton-Brown's model for industrial relations reform, gay marriage and peace in the Middle East, all of which are issues that Newton-Brown has equally little influence over.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Review: Mannix

Although we might be acutely aware of it now, religious conflict is nothing new to Australian shores. In the days before the waves of immigration that shaped Australian society in the second half of the twentieth century, the major source of ethnic and religious tension was sectarian. Animosity between Catholics and Protestants has deep roots, and in Australia the conflict was shaped by tensions between the Catholic Irish and Protestant British. One of the most vocal participants in this sectarian debate was Archbishop Dr Daniel Mannix, a fiery Irish minister who came to Australia soon after Federation and spent the next six decades as either an amoral irritant or the voice of the oppressed, depending on one's perspective.

The life and times of Mannix is the subject of a new one-man (or, more accurately, one-Archbishop) play by the same name. The play is the product of an unlikely creative marriage: the writer is veteran Rod Quantock, a man whose extensive biography includes plenty of comedy but, thus far, little drama, whilst the performer is Terence Donovan, himself a legend of stage and screen. Clearly the duo are great admirers of the Archbishop, and do their best to share their enthusiasm for the old warhorse.

Quantock, Mannix and Donovan
Quantock, Mannix and Donovan

The play makes excellent use of multimedia. At the back of a stage is a projection screen which serves multiple purposes, initially in conveying the bustling excitement of turn-of-the-century Melbourne, then later in a bittersweet portrayal of cantankerous Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Some of the archival footage is fascinating to Melbourne-o-philes and helps to turn the history of one remarkable individual into a social history of the city.

The central problem to the play, however, is one of dramatic structure. Rather than the traditional story arc which builds toward a dramatic climax, the play consists of a series of small story arcs, each telling an anecdote from Mannix's life. Some are endearing, some are sad and a few are funny, but the lack of continuity from one to the other means the play struggles to develop any dramatic tension. When it reaches its end, it's only the curtain call (admittedly well deserved) that signifies that the play is over.

According to all reports, Daniel Mannix was an imposing figure who always spoke his mind. It takes a performer of great experience and subtlety to portray the character with gritty authenticity rather than sinking into the caricature which can often afflict portrayals of historic figures. Terence Donovan handles the task with great aplomb, his furrowed brow and reflective disposition looking every bit like that of the Archbishop a century earlier. For anyone with an interest in the history of this nation, and the unusual characters who made it what it is, this play is a captivating experience. For the rest, the story falls a little too flat to capture the imagination.

Mannix is playing at Melbourne’s Trades Hall until 25 June.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Prahran: Two Dapper Gents

The battle is on. It's smart suits and well-gelled haircuts at 50 paces. Election day might be six months away, but the candidates are out in force to win the hearts, minds and wallets of the denizens of Prahran.

Lining up in the red corner is Tony "Talk to Me" Lupton, the sitting Labor MP. Lupton has earnt the epithet through his frequent appeals through the mail for constituents to, er, talk to him. Fair enough, too. Lupton was elected in 2002 and has done plenty to get on the good side of voters. He's smooth talking, decent to look at, and seems to be well-respected as part of a new generation of Labor MPs wh connect with capital as well as it does with labour. His bio reveals a nice 'by the bootstraps' success story, which saw him commencing a motor mechanics apprenticeship in Albury before leaving school, only to later return to Melbourne, study law and become a barrister.

Tony Lupton Clem Newton-Brown
"Talk to Me" Tony and CNB

The challenger in this intriguing battle is Clem Newton-Brown, a local lawyer with plenty of political experience. Newton-Brown was Deputy Lord Mayor of the city of Melbourne during 2000 and 2001, a period immediately preceeding the dissolving of the council by the state government due to factional infighting. The experience should prepare Newton-Brown well for life in the Victorian Liberals. According to his official bio, CNB lives locally, works as a lawyer and moonlights as a water-taxi operator on the Yarra. A Liberal without the silvertail?

As for the minor parties, there haven't been any announcements yet, but the area is likely to net rich rewards for the Greens, whilst the fledgling People Power should be attracted to the seat demographically, although the large amounts of money being spent by both major parties might crowd them out.

No doubt there will be plenty of skullduggery during the course of the campaign (this blog certainly hopes so, anyhow). It's not inconcievable that the ALP will do its best to dig out some skeletons from CNB's days on Melbourne City Council. It was a dark period for the council, and as number two on council surely some of the blame must go to him.

As for the Lib's campaign against Lupton, perhaps a starting point might be to portray Lupton as one of Bracks' lackeys, endlessly talking to anyone who will listen without actually achieving anything of substance. Describing Lupton this way is a little unfair, given that he is one of the more vigourous backbenchers, but the Libs campaign HQ may well roll out a replica campaign in a number of seats with sitting Labor backbenchers.

For now at least, the campaign has been squeaky clean, focussing with depressing earnestness on the issues. Wonder how long that'll last.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Prahran: Poofs and Millionaires?

This post is the first in an occasional series following the battle for Prahran in the 2006 Victorian State Election. I have no affiliation with any party, and am simply a concerned local citizen and slightly bored blogger. Follow the progress of the series on the right-hand side of the blog (no political bias intended).

It's good to feel wanted. For all of my adult live, I've lived in the bluest of blue-ribbon electorates, both state and federal. My neighbours and I were considered the sort of rusted on supporters who required only the most minimal of electoral campaigning to remain loyal and unwavering, kind of like a dependable chihuahua whose owner knows will never stray too far from home. My Federal electorate was Kooyong, a seat which has boasted such luminaries as Sir Robert Menzies and Andrew Peacock as its occupants, and which generally elects Liberals on primary votes alone. Ditto the state seat of Hawthorn, with its sitting member Sir Ted Baillieu.

Nowadays, things are a little different for me. In 2005 I moved to South Yarra, a suburb which fits into the state electorate of Prahran. Prahran is an electorate with an exciting recent history and one that is likely to get plenty of attention this time around.

First, the demographics. As the official VEC overview describes Prahran:

Suburbs: Prahran, South Yarra and Windsor.Parts of Melbourne, St Kilda, St Kilda East and Toorak.

Features: Prahran District is the smallest District in Victoria (12km sq.). It includes residential and well developed commercial areas, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Government House, Como Park and the Prahran campus of Swinburne University of Technology.

Prahran District Map

Prahran contains a lively and unusual mix of people: in the Toorak part of the electorate are some of Melbourne's wealthiest addresses and inside reside the kooks and millionaires that would be expected in such plush surrounds; whilst in the Prahran part of the electorate lives the heart of gay Melbourne, with a proliferation of DINKs couples. This divide is reflected in the voting patterns of different parts of the electorate. (Apologies for the gross generalisations in this section: without having access to better data, generalisations will have to do.) Take these two-party-preferred figures from the 2002 poll:

Labor - 54.3%
Liberal - 45.7%

GLBTI suburbs:
Labor - 66.6%
Liberal - 33.4%

St Kilda East
Labor - 71.1%
Liberal - 28.1%

$$$$$ suburbs:
Toorak Central
Labor - 36.3%
Liberal - 63.7%

Toorak West
Labor - 28.0%
Liberal - 72.0%

In 2002 the electorate changed hands. After 17 years of sending Liberals to Spring Street, the seat was caught up in the swing to Labor which swept through metropolitan Melbourne. Sitting member Leonie Burke was dethroned, and smooth Labor operator Tony Lupton was elected. At the time Lupton was commended for the years of hard work he put into campaigning for the seat, and his success was rightfully seen as a just reward for effort. Such was the hostility of the anti-Liberal feeling in 2002 that the millionaires of Toorak found themselves with a local member from the Labor Party. (As an aside, it was the outer-surburban seats with plenty of conservative aspirational-class voters who stuck with the Liberals when plenty of others did not.)

So with this as the background, it's clear why this electorate is such hot property for both parties. For the ALP, there is a desire to continue the career of a talented MP and to reinforce the strength of the ALP beyond its working class base. For the Liberals, losing Prahran is a source of shame and winning it back would be a clear sign that the party is heading in the right direction to return to its former glory.

Stay tuned for more.

UPDATE 7/12, 2:35am: To make it easier to find all the The Battle for Prahran posts, I've grouped the links together here, in chronological order:

  • Poofs and Millionaires?

  • Two Dapper Gents

  • A Letter from Clem

  • Newton-Brown. Listens. Sacks

  • Clem blogs!

  • Lib's Sustainable Planet Forum

  • Green Games

  • Vote Clem... the Movie

  • Tram it, Dammit

  • A late starter joins the race

  • Cutting through

  • Gay, green and kinda obscene

  • Upper House dilemma

  • The Clem Show continues

  • Rules are rules

  • Final thoughts

  • Election night results

  • It don't mean a thing...