Saturday, November 18, 2006

I don't know how many of you have heard of OJ Simpson's upcoming book, but it's a strange one. Titled "If I Did It?", the book has been called a "confession" by its publisher, and OJ himself is apparently to detail step by step how the murders "might" have occurred had he committed them. Er...

Apparently such hypothetical ponderings are not permissable as confession in a court of law, so he can basically say whatever he likes. The truth, more or less. Aside from the rather odd (and to be honest slightly sickening) situation here, there's an ethical dilemma here.

Should the book be published, or is the final frontier that censorship should hold us all back from? I say publish and be damned. No rational person doubts that OJ did the crime. He didn't pay the time. And yes, this book will make him even richer, as the victims' relatives continue to pursue litigation against Simpson to recover money spent.

But if anything, this shouldn't end as an indictment on the freedom of press - or speech - but on the apparently incompetent courts themselves. OJ's trial was, as anyone who remembers knows, a farce. If it had have had any semblance of balance to it, this would never happen. But the law stands stonefaced in the face of all arguments, and if society is to continue onwards and upwards this must remain so. If some retrial ever occurred, then so much the better. But even if we never reach that point, the law has spoken, and its word is final.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Spinning around

Of note:

John Howard, on Sydney ABC radio yesterday, is flattered to be considered the Kylie Minogue of Australian politics:

VIRGINIA Trioli: You've been called today in The Australian not the Placido Domingo of Australian politics like your predecessor, but instead the Kylie Minogue of politics.

Howard: Oh, yeah.

Trioli: Here's the quote. "Her music is safe and predictable which is exactly what John Howard tries to be." Now how do you feel about that?

Howard: Well, if the Australian people believe that the Government I lead has given them a sense of safety and predictability, well I am not ashamed of that. I try to do that. It is part of my job to make the country safe and to give people's lives a sense of predictability. And the low unemployment, the still very low interest rates, the strong economic growth, the greater support for families, particularly middle Australian families, has made Australians lives safer and more predictable and I am proud of that.

Trioli: The Kylie Minogue comparison, though, would never have occurred to you in a million years, would it?

Howard: No, but I'm not, I mean I am certainly not offended. I am flattered. She's a far more, she's a very popular talent and entertainer. I am a, I hope, a safe, predictable, serious, committed Prime Minister.

Trioli: I am resisting the urge here to make some gag about gold hotpants. I just won't go there, Prime Minister.

Howard: No, I think that's wise.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wii-mail

Is this the stupidest eBay auction ever?

Monday, October 30, 2006

A new world: just a flick of the switch away

Climate change (aka global warming) is, in case you haven't noticed, the topic du jour. And everyone's in on it: Al Gore (duh), Mel and Kochie, even our usually reticent PM. But amidst all the "sky is falling" doom and gloom and confusion about how best to do things, the simple solutions seem to be rolled out a lot.

Turn off your lights when you leave the room. Unplug your TV when you're not watching. Keep your showers under four minutes. It all seems pretty straightforward. And as a recent report showed, it's measures like these that could save us bulkloads in the climate carbon challenge. In Britain alone, says the report, 43 billion tons could be saved (by 2010) if only those pesky Brits would turn off their bloody lights. Imagine if the whole world joined in.

But who are we to criticise? Despite these solutions being shouted far and wide, how many of us really abide by them? Or instead, how many of us glance up at the hallway light whilst tapping away on our energy-munching PCs or Macs and think, oh, I'll turn it off in a minute?

As much as I'd love to say I'm always doing the right thing, it's not always the case. When I notice my TV standby light's still on, I'll reach over and turn it off. But more often than not I won't notice at all. I keep my showers, for the most part, as short as possible, but who doesn't indulge in a nice, warm ten or fifteen-minute one every now and then? I know I do. And the lights? Well, typically the convenience of being able to see where I'm going (as opposed to stumbling blindly for a lightswitch when I want to enter another room) wins out over my conscience. I know, I know, I'm the bad guy. But I bet you are too.

I guess it's just a matter of making a little more effort. I will if you do.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Question time...

Just noticed that Hansard is now offering the opportunity to download audio recordings of Question Time.

Unfortunately, according to the page, "Audio recordings of proceedings must not be used for ... the purpose of satire or ridicule".

But if not for satire or ridicule, for what?

Just another example of The Man keeping us down, I guess.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

At least you can trust him with your daughter!

In an Opinion Journal article picked up by today's Australian, James Taranto glibly argues for, er...well, I'm not really sure.

First, he seems sure that disgraced Republican congressman Mark Foley deserves all he gets (and that the Republicans should all get shiny medals for - finally - recognising so): "...the Republicans washed their hands of Foley as soon as they figured out what was going on".

But next he gets all topsy-turvy on us, intimating that perhaps ol' Foley ain't such a bad guy after all. Remember, unlike Clinton's escapades with (the youthful?) Monica Lewinsky, "say what you will about Mark Foley, at least you can trust him with your daughter!"

Taranto sees distinct parallels between the Clinton and Foley scandals: "In both cases, sexually immature middle-aged men used their positions of responsibility to pursue younger people, who were also sexually immature, but had a right to be on account of their youth".

Which is nice, but I'll be damned if there isn't a slight difference between a guy attempting to bed a number of his 16 year-old pages, and another indulging in (uncommendable, but) entirely legal sexual relations with a perfectly consenting adult.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Blog this!

Though I agree wholeheartedly with Age journo Russell Skelton's argument (Alan Jones in "bigoted wanker" shock), does anyone else get the feeling that today's page two (!) admonishment of Jones, "Radio ranter finds some fresh prey", sounds more like an angry blog post than a valid news story?

"Alan Jones likes to fume. The more he fumes, the more his ratings jump", Skelton begins. He ends with the paragraph: "Fume, fume".

Apparently Jones has been another on another of his ugly xenophobic rants - this time about Australian citizens fleeing the Lebanese war zone. They've been given written advice from Centrelink in (shock! horror!) Arabic, and Jones doesn't like this one bit.

Yep, he's a racist.

Sure, he caters to the lowest common denominator.

But is this what should be gracing page two of a newspaper? It doesn't sound like news to me.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Non-fiction

Israeli Etgar Keret might well be a brilliant author of fiction, but when it comes to politics he should probably leave it behind - and concentrate more on the facts.

Last week's New York Times piece had him discussing the nostalgia surrounding the good old days of Isreal's "real war[s]", fought "against a ruthless enemy who attacks our borders, a truly vicious enemy".

Which is nice.

Just... This is about as true a war as the "war on terror". Who's the enemy? Hezbollah? Sure, they might have a few seats in Lebanon's parliament and their own television station, but they are not The State.

And while Israel's busy spinning this way and that, Lebanon is being destroyed.

The Greens are occasionally loopy, but if they started bombing people would we really think it justifiable to hold the whole of Australia accountable? I sure hope not.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Omelette

Israel has never been known for its particularly proportionate responses to "terrorist" attacks (i.e. any guerilla or resistance fighting from a nation who opposes their existence), but this one's taking the cake.

But I guess you need to kill a few children to make an omelette. Or something like that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gone fishing

I haven't really gone fishing. It took me a while to realise that since I'm a vegetarian (nearly a year now, and yes, I'm anaemic), I can no longer go fishing.

Nonetheless, I haven't been updating.

I:

* moved house
* got a new job
* quit uni
* broke my computer monitor.

But I will be back soon, fish or no fish.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

One the best advertisements I've ever

I found this in The Age a week or so ago. Isn't it great?

Really smart

Not only is there a word missing, but it claims that ANU is "one [of] the top Australian universities in the world". Surely that just makes it one of the top universities in Australia though, right?

Anyway, I trust them, with ads like this.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sometimes you like the pie

Is it just me, or do the world leaders these days just not have any charisma? I don't just mean charm, but that commanding ability to walk into a room and demand its attention. Bill Clinton, though steeped in "boyish good looks", had it to a point. But lately I can barely think of anybody.

The Late Show (i.e. "Letterman") has been running an hilarious semi-regular segment entitled "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches", poking fun at Dubya. Sure, when JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" and FDR's "the only thing to fear is fear itself" speeches are followed up by Dubya mumbling "sometimes you like the pie, ya know, but you don't like, ya know, the slices in the pie!" it's pretty much shooting fish in a barrel, but it still makes a good point.

George W. Bush, Tony Blair, even our esteemed John Howard - none of them give particularly great or inspiring speeches. Even the guys we're s'posed to hate seem to command more attention - just think of the wall-rattlers that Saddam has directed at the prosecution in the last couple of months, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's angered barbs towards Israel. Of course, it's probably easier to give great speeches and inspire the already angry masses - it's well known that Hitler was one of the greatest orators - but it's no exclusive club.

JFK and FDR are two of the greatest examples, but how about Martin Luther King? Even our own Paul Keating - with the help of his wordsmith Don Watson, of course - had his day.

Do these people exist anymore? Maybe they do, but the public just don't care. Certainly the closest we've got to a leader-of-the-masses type we've got in Australia is AWU national secretary Bill Shorten, yet despite his recent media ubiquiouty (c/o Beaconsfield), he barely registered a blip on the latest ALP leadership polls.

The trend has not gone unnoticed. Joe Klein (best known as the originally-anonymous author of Primary Colors) has written a book that makes more than fleeting reference to the problem, and an excerpt has been published in Time.

Listen to Kennedy's Indianapolis speech and there is a quality of respect for the audience that simply is not present in modern American politics. It isn't merely that he quotes Aeschylus to the destitute and uneducated, although that is remarkable enough. Kennedy's respect for the crowd is not only innate and scrupulous, it is also structural, born of technological innocence: he doesn't know who they are--not scientifically, the way post-modern politicians do.


Respect. It's something barely tangible, yet everybody knows when they command it. And it's something, as Klein says, that barely seems to rate on the political radar these days. It's a shame.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Blogs are evil! Outrage!!

So Jim Schembri's an occasionally funny guy - most often when he doesn't try so hard - but lately his ranting and forced humour has been increasingly schoolyard-ish.

A couple of weeks ago he went off on an "Oh, I'm so hard done by" tangent about all the horrible horrible hate mail he gets, and how difficult the life of a film reviewer is (Jim, the reason you're the one getting paid and they're not is because you're supposed to be smarter than them, and above all that crap).

But on Friday he sank to new depths, with an hilariously "satirical" poke at the "new" craze that is blogging. With such intellectual wit as an excess of exclamation marks, Schembri's genius becomes apparent.

In reality, Schembri's puerile pretentiousness really begins to resemble, er, one of his own articles.

Now, this isn't me getting all defensive. I realise that this here blog is little more than my chance to get up on a soapbox and rant to an audience (of two or three people). But to presume that all blogging is essentially artless and without merit is extraordinarily childish and shortsighted.

It's not just that Schembri hasn't heard of (or so it seems) blogs such as Baghdad Burning (which is now an acclaimed book), but the fact that he's actively avoiding referencing the most obvious retorts to his own immature argument.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Don't tell the babysitter, mum's dead

In Florida ... a man was arrested for keeping his mother at home for months after she died so that he could keep cashing her Social Security checks.


I see a Weekend at Bernie's style movie idea here...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stand-up guy falls down hole, nobody laughs

Yes, I'm probably going to hell, but I couldn't help but laugh at this story in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

After a wet winter, the ground opened and swallowed a 27-year-old schoolteacher at 9:30 p.m. Friday. He was in the converted garage of his family's home, where he lived with his pregnant wife, authorities said.

She escaped and called for help, but it was too late. State forestry department firefighters found Jason Chellew in a 10-foot-deep sinkhole with no pulse.

Despite San Francisco's notorious history of earth-shaking events (the San Francisco Earthquake, which killed as many as 6,000 people, occurred 100 years ago just last Tuesday), the sinkhole's cause somehow remains a mystery to authorities.

But if you can't find humour in the unseemly and tragic deaths of thousands of innocent people, surely there's room in your heart for a chuckle at just one. Chellew, said a neighbour, "was a wonderful, standup guy".

Until, that is, he fell down.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Australian death in Iraq

Today's Crikey editorial has put forth a little speculation regarding the first Australian death in Iraq - Private Jacob Kovco. Citing The Sydney Morning Herald's report, which begins "Private Jacob Kovco was around guns for much of his life", the question posed is, "What could be the significance of this, other than a coded suggestion that he knew better than to accidentally shoot himself in the head while cleaning a loaded gun?"

Hmm, a conspiracy afoot?

With all the current controversy surrounding the Howard Government and their "I know nuffink" Cole Inquiry responses, the last thing they need is for even more problems in Iraq. But sweeping something like this - if there is indeed a something would be insulting to both the Australian public and the soldier's family.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Is it in you?

Ever felt just a little strange when grasping a large, firmly shaped Gatorade bottle and quenching your cold, hard thirst? Well, there's probably a reason for it. Kids, look away now.

A giant, throbbing, glistening... Gatorade bottle

Their slogan just gained extra meaning. Ew.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

How unnecessary

Feminists make me nervous. Not because I'm some horrible woman-hating chauvanist; more because I'm worried that deep down inside of me one is trying to get out. But I'm certainly a masochist; I adore Sylvia Plath, I was glued to Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, and right now I'm progressing through Maureen Dowd's Are Men Necessary? (answer: no) at a rate of knots.

And as anybody who's read her New York Times columns would already have guessed, it's good. Real good.

It starts slow(ish), mainly because Dowd finds it difficult to snap out of that acerbicly rapid-fire wit of hers and get with the point too often (the frustration is akin to Jim Schembri's occasional brilliance), but soon enough she is on track. The jokes flow on, of course, but they're focused.

The book is good because despite all temptations Dowd resists the opportunity to talk down: there are those asides, those digs at "us crazy men" and the incomprehensible world in which even the smart ones seem to dwell, but the comments are always insightful and the surface-sheen is really only there for show; there's plenty of substance underneath.

One troubling thing: the New York Times grammar controversy continues. On page 104 Dowd refers to "alpha [as in alpha males and alpha females and "alpha moms"] SUV's". Sports Utility Vehicles. SUVs. But she says "SUV's". God dammit.

I don't understand where the laws of grammar went out the window (but it's somewhere in the middle of New York City apparently), but it makes me angry. Next angry email stop: Maureen Dowd's inbox. I never did get a response from the Times though.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's still murder

Does anybody else find the entire concept of not holding soldiers responsible for their (politically instructed) actions rather ridiculous?

I know it's not the done thing to say so - in fact, if I shouted this aloud in a street in America I'd probably be handbagged to death by otherwise sickly sweet and perfectly reasonable Democrat-voting mothers - but I think, and always have, that soldiers should be held as accountable for their actions as you and I or the prime minister or president (wait, those last two don't count, do they?).

Really, since when did soldiers become mindless automatons? (The depressing answer to that question is, incidentally: when they were "programmed" day after day to act like mindless automatons:

Many people think killing is a natural act, but Col. Grossman argues that it isn’t. He discusses how new and innovative pop up targets, video-based firearms training simulators, and Simunition®-based training are used to facilitate overcoming this innate resistance. These devices are then combined with high repetition to condition a correct response even in the face of fear.)


Because whatever their training, soldiers are still human beings; living, breathing, thinking, decision-making human beings. And in the world I've always lived in, following someone else's instructions doesn't get you off the ethical hook.

I don't particularly care if these views are controversial either, because when the only other option is shutting up and essentially condoning the deaths of innocent people, there's a line dividing silence and protest, and I know which side I'm on.

It's not as if people don't know what they're getting themselves in for when they join the army. Understandably things were different in this world five years ago, and the likelihood of being called into action would have been much lower than today, but the basic gist of the army, as I understand it: they give you guns and training and angry drill seargants, and they teach you how to kill other people in the most efficient way possible.

It's not exactly Play School.

This isn't an argument for pacifism. I'm not a pacifist. This is an argument against blind loyalty, and an argument against the lack of responsibility for one's own personal actions. If I sign up for a job where I know a potential consequence is killing others in (often somewhat shady) "defence of my country" I'm making an ethical decision then and there. If I continue this position when a war breaks out or is declared, I am making another. Finally, if I am assigned to duty in such a war, I have one final decision. The penalties may be harsh to desert at this point, but there is no such thing as a situation where you're without a choice. Even making no decision is making a decision.

So if you're telling me that this war might be bad, that the innocent deaths are unnecessary, and that there's blood on the hands of these - American, English, Australian and so on - governments, then I'm sorry, but I fail to see why the soldiers aren't just as guilty.

It doesn't matter if you put the gun in my hand and tell me to pull the trigger, once I do it, I'm the murderer.

Young innocent children being blown up: one of the great things about America

Ah, that Bush. He really does have a way with words, doesn't he. Just like last week, when he told us that war is bad because it "creates a sense of uncertainty", Bush is making profound comments again.

This week Bush has been singing democratic America's praises because of all the dead kids.

Well, I think that's what he meant.

According to the latest weekly review at Harper's Magazine, Bush said: "one of the great things about America, one of the beauties of our country, is that when we see a young, innocent child blown up by an IED, we cry".

All hail Americans and their great compassion!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fear and loathing in Victoria

The censorship issue continues. Is last week's pre-trial Victorian Supreme Court ruling that newspapers cannot reveal the names of three AFL players who tested positive to illegal drugs a blow to free speech?

Not if there's still some semblance of difference between what we consider private and public.

There's no doubt that opinions pertaining to what newspapers can and cannot publish often vary wildly, and in ninety-nine percent of cases I'll fall on the "go right ahead" side of things, but a certain line must be drawn.

When the decision is based around a situation in which private results of a medical test are revealed to the public, I think the line is clear.

Yes, drugs are illegal (at least, the ones in this instance are).

This should have little bearing, however; if the players were before a court of law then there would be no question to the public's right to knowledge. But this is not the case. Instead, an in-house procedure by the AFL has been leaked to the media, and publication of the results violates the players' rights for no reason other than tabloid gossip.

If the AFL - or the clubs themselves - had chosen to release the information, it would be a different matter. The players are contracted employees who are aware of their obligations to their clubs and the AFL, and one of those obligations is to abide by the drug code. Yet with obligations come rights, and those rights, here, are the players' rights to privacy until they, or their contracted employers, choose otherwise.

The newspapers, nor anybody else, have no more right to publish that information than to publish your personal medical records.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nobody likes George

"Nobody likes war," Bush said. "It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country."

Yep, that's why everyone hates war so much. All that damn uncertainty.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The art of banning a film

You should all go and buy the latest issue of Metro magazine, and read my censorship article in it (even though they didn't put me on the cover dammit).

Here's a portion (totally out of context, but you get the idea):

It isn’t just the OFLC who can exercise control over what adult Australians can see or do in the privacy of their own homes though; state boards have these powers too. Earlier this year the film 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004) to mild acclaim for its honest appraisal of a romance between two twenty-somethings. The film featured graphic, non-simulated sex, yet it sought not to be pornography but a romance. It met with controversy and complaints during its cinema run, and didn’t last long, although it retained its R18+ rating. On 11 August however, the South Australian Classification Council deemed the film worthy of an X18+ rating. Of course, this doesn’t sound too bad until you realize – sneakily – that it is illegal to show or sell X-rated films in South Australia. What is more disturbing than any of the pointless bureaucratic wrangling surrounding the film’s rating though, is how it actually came about. There were no protests against the film, no outraged advocacy groups, no arguments against excessive, violent, or prejudiced content. No, just two complaints. According to the press release, the complaints came from – one, an individual, and two, the ‘Festival of Light’ . This is not a decision based on community outrage or democratic wisdom; rather, pointless pandering to the baseless complaints of an individual and a zealous group of fundamentalists.

Also in August, film director Gregg Araki found himself dealing with seemingly the never-ceasing wrath of Australia’s pro-censorship lobbies, when his film Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004) met heavy criticism from the Australian Family Association’s spokesman Richard Egan, and calls from Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock to have the film banned. The film’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, couldn’t understand the furore. ‘My impression of Australia, from the Australians I’ve met,’ he said, ‘is that people are open-minded and cool. I was surprised that Australia, of all places, was the country that tried to ban Mysterious Skin’ .

Mysterious Skin is anything but gratuitous. Margaret Pomeranz described it as a ‘film [with] the potential to inform, heal and possibly transform’ , and L.A. Times critic Kevin Thomas wrote that ‘it’s hard to imagine a more serious or persuasive indictment of the horrors inflicted on children by sexual abuse’ . Araki argues that the film helps ‘break the silence on child abuse’ , but disgracefully it is the very people who purport to act as advocates of such causes – like the Australian Family Association – who are seeking to have the film silenced.

Surely the longest-running and most infamous of all Australian cases of cinematic censorship is that of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final – and most divisive – film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1976). Based on the Marquis de Sade’s disturbing book The 120 Days of Sodom, Salò was completed just prior to Pasolini’s murder in 1976. Posthumously, the controversy was to continue.

That year, Salò was banned in Australia, and despite several requests for classification being made over the following years, the ban remained. Until, that is, 1993, when the old debates raging around it had apparently been forgotten, and it was unbanned. This was short-lived, however, and in 1996 – following an amendment to Australia’s laws – it came under review. In 1998 its classification was again withdrawn . Though the OFLC seemed to come half way – admitting that the film was intended to be a serious work of art, and a damning metaphorical critique of fascism, ultimately ‘the majority of the Review Board considered that this metaphor was not clearly established’ . Like so many that would come after it, Salò seems to have been banned without once considering the members of a democratic society’s right to exercise their own free will, discretion, and liberty. Metaphorical fascism? Well, who needed metaphor?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Tinsel town

Could this be the worst analogy ever? - "Like tinsel at a family Christmas party, it looks pretty but it does not alter underlying social dynamics."

Which is nice, 'cause last year I set up the Christmas tree and was totally pissed off when the tinsel stubbornly refused to alter my lounge room's underlying social dynamics even one bit.

Turns out I'd set my expectations a touch high though, as Christian Reus-Smit (page 350, The Globalization of World Politics) has now explained.

Tinsel just ain't as tough as it used to be I guess.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Guantanamo gulags?

Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja is normally right on the ball, but today's press release was just a touch on the dramatic side.

David Hicks' incarceration in Guantanamo Bay is a shameful display of the hegemonic power and arrogance that the United States wields over the rest of the world, and our own government's lack of action on the matter is just as disgusting. But to compare the prison - admittedly second rate and probably even a haven for torture - to the Soviet gulags is not only inaccurate, but insulting to anybody who had to endure their horror.

In Stalin's gulags it is estimated that a quarter of the approximately twenty-five million prisoners (some estimates put the figure as high as fifty million - most of them innocent, jailed only due to the fact that Stalin, with his feeble understanding of how to run a country properly, needed their labour, or persecuted for their religious beliefs) died, and the conditions were almost impossibly grim.

I'm the first to criticise America and their policies, but hyperbole and exaggeration won't get the cause anywhere - Stott Despoja normally knows this better than anyone.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The New York Time's?

At first I just thought I was going insane. (And it's always important, at such moments, to take stock and really have a good long think before proceeding.) Turns out I wasn't though - rather, The New York Times, that great bastion of Western journalism, just can't punctuate their own articles.

For perhaps the third time in the last couple of weeks or so, I've come across an article with a reference to a decade (like this example - "First came an economic opening in the 1980's under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet") which has an apostrophe incorrectly added to the unfortunate word, as if somehow "the 1980" was in ownership of something called the "under the dictatorship...". Which, clearly, doesn't make sense.

It's not like the world's going to fall apart at the seams at this news, and I'm sure I make plenty of errors here, but come on, it's the New York-bloody-Times!

Strunk & White must be turning in their respective graves, and I can only imagine what Lynn Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and all round punctuation Nazi, would make of it all. And if you're struggling yourself, there's a good rundown of some of the hard and fast rules here, incidentally entitled "The apostrophe is the modern day Shibboleth" (cute).

This New York Times thing is no isolated incident. Are the proofreaders purposefully passing this over, under some misguided assumption that they can re(n)educate the world to the wicked ways of the extra apostrophe?

Or do they simply just not realise that they've totally buggered it up? Maybe this is a question I should be asking of the Times themselves... Watch this space.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

These boots are made for hookers

Have you seen Jessica Simpson's latest video clip? For those unfamiliar with the ways and wonders of the leggy young blonde (and multi-talented too! – she’s a singer and dancer and actress), it's as follows: a cover of These Boots Are Made For Walkin', with mostly puzzling demonstrations of how to dance like a country girl (yee-haw) from a scantily clad Simpson, who spends most of the time attempting to service the men she finds scattered around an oddly furnished barn.

Today is International Women's Day. Somebody should probably tell ol' Jess, before she starts into another of her booty shaking frenzies - normally, go right ahead, but today it's perhaps a touch inappropriate. Do we think that'll stop Simpson and her army of gyrating minions though? Unlikely.

Undoubtedly, the women's movement as a whole has come a long way: suffrage, enough waves of feminism to almost sink the boat of male-dominated prejudices, and actual recognisable rights advances.

But lately a variety of academics and cultural critics have been focusing on the worrying trend that is known as "raunch culture". What is it exactly? Well, the "empowered" Jessica Simpson prancing around in a bikini and giving virtual blowjobs to men young and old (er, Willie Nelson, what are you doing?) is as good a place as any to start looking.

The two main advocates of this critique have been author Ariel Levy (who actually authored a book entitled Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture) and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, whose book Are Men Necessary? covers occasionally similar ground.

Says Levy, “it is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go."

The video clip itself, all soaped-up dancing and nubile bosoms, is quite distracting for any hot-blooded heterosexual male. But it's much worse for anyone who considers themselves an even vague proponent of equality - and for an almost endless array of reasons. The clip, originally written by Lee Hazlewood and sung by the inimitable Nancy Sinatra, was initially an ode to the ability of the young female to reject a man's advances.

"These boots are made for walkin'", sang Nancy, "[and] one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you". There's little doubt as to who that "you" is, and with the final pitch of the song, men everywhere had began to have second thoughts on their next drunken and probably misogynistic thrusts towards the women around them.

Simpson however, has taken a slightly different slant on it. Despite claims that the song works just fine when taken in the context of the movie it provides the soundtrack to (the Dukes of Hazzard remake), the video itself puts to rest any serious claims to credibility.

Simpson drapes herself provocatively over cars, and kneels down subserviently (yeah, take charge Jess! You go girl!) to, well, every man in sight. Since it's all a bit worrying to me, a guy with only moderate feminist leanings, I can't imagine the effect this is having on women who see their sex as having progressed in the last 50 years. Worse still, Jessica Simpson is an actual role model (just ask my nine year-old sister, it's true), and that's the truly disturbing thing to consider.

I hate to get on my popular-culture-is-evil-and-it'll-be-the-death-of-our-kids soapbox again (hey, I'm not far off being one of those kids myself), but for the moment it's true. It hasn't always been though. Back in the 1980s and '90s Madonna, pop star extraordinaire, was known as much for her sexual provocations as her music - but at least she had some artistic pretences when she was taking her clothes off. Simpson, when all's said and done, is just a hooker, selling her body for cash and (hollow) admiration.

Perhaps it's not my place to judge – and if that's what she wants, that's all fine. Well, it would be, of course, if her fan base wasn't almost exclusively prepubescent girls looking for people to model themselves on. Hope you're sitting pretty on International Women's Day, Jessica. Actually, no, I hope you get hit by a car.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I know when Bush is lying - his lips move

Recently, I was able to secure an interview with the world-renowned human rights activist, filmmaker and journalist John Pilger. (Choice Pilger quote: “I know when [George W.] Bush is lying. His lips move.”)

Originally, the interview was to appear in the magazine that I spent 2005 editing, La Trobe University's Rabelais, but for a variety of reasons, the final issue never eventuated.

The interview was timed to coincide with the release of Stealing A Nation, his latest film, but that's now passed us by. Nonetheless, it's probably available from your latest video store, and is well worth checking out.

Instead of letting what is a fairly interesting interview go to waste though, I thought I'd put this, the unedited interview, up here. So enjoy.



Panda Obscura: How did you originally get involved in this project (Stealing a Nation)?

John Pilger: The extraordinary story of the expulsion of the Chagos Islanders has been at the back of my mind for some years. In 2002, I had an opportunity to see the declassified official documents, and making Stealing a Nation became a priority. The film is about a single epic injustice, but it's also a metaphor for the way great power imposes itself on small countries: indeed, on the world today. Not only were the people of the Chagos expelled by the British, but their main island, Diego Garcia, was handed over to the Americans, who have turned it into a vast base -- from which they have attacked Afghanistan and Iraq.

PO: What do you think an 'independent' journalist actually is, do you consider yourself one, and if so how do you remain independent?

JP: Yes, I consider myself an independent journalist. 'Independence' is a noble term; it says you can have your own views, but the journalism you pursue is not beholden to any vested interest: that you are not a member of anyone's entourage.

PO: Is the recent Federal Court ruling against Freedom of Information for journalists - and in favour of the rather murky concept of 'National Interest' - a blow to the democratic integrity of Australia (and the world), especially considering the role that uncovering official documentation (albeit from London's Public Record Office Washington's National Archives) played in your expose of the crimes against Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands?

JP: Yes, it is a blow. But you know, the most worrying threat to press freedom -- or media freedom – in Australia is not so much the government's draconian restrictions, it is the will of journalists to circumvent them. And the strength or weakness of this will is directly related to the restrictions that already apply in Australia and about which journalists rarely protest. I refer to the corporatism that dominates the Australian media, infamously the ownership of 70 per cent of the capital city press by Rupert Murdoch, an ideologue with extreme views. Only
when journalists stand up to this corporatism – and this is true of Fairfax and the ABC -- will there be an end to the widespread censorship by omission in
Australia.

PO: How worrying are England and Australia's 'little America' roles in the world today, particularly when one considers the parallels between the American and English Governments' apparent belief that any lie can be solved by denial and/or spin-doctoring (Diego Garcia, WMDs etc.) and our own Government's proclivities (the denial of oil to East Timor; recent refugee crises; SIEV-X) toward such trends?

JP: Well, we ought not be surprised. The same ideology that dominates and distorts political life in the United States is in Britain and Australia. In Australia, the erosion of real democracy is especially worrying -- there is no effective opposition and real dissent is kept out of the media. It's more worrying because our democratic traditions are more fragile than elsewhere. Freedom of speech, for example, only really puts down roots when the autocratic Governor
Darling was recalled from New South Wales in the 19th century after he had failed to silence criticism of him in the press. We no longer have a critical press like, say, the fearless Sydney Monitor of that period. We have a supine, trivial and deeply politicised press, and, with honourable exceptions, academics who remain silent. If this is to be changed, voices must be
raised; and I would suggest the voices of students are urgently needed.

PO: How can today's public play a role in preventing the subjugation of minorities such as the people of Diego Garcia, Australians in captivity like David Hicks, and refugees held in custody?

JP: They can play a part by taking direct action on behalf of the minorities, on behalf of David Hicks. Direct action resulted in the closure of Woomera detention camps, with all its horrors. It's very simple. Make yourself aware: don't be "surprised" by what rapacious governments do, then act, as true democrats and true radicals have acted for a very long time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Millions of Iraqis marking their liberty





No, really. According to Dubya, there's cause for optimism in Iraq. Sure, tens of thousands are dead, there's daily rioting, unrest and suicide bombings, but the thing to remember is that "millions of Iraqis [have marked] their liberty with purple ink," and of course it wouldn't be at all possible if it weren't for those lovely, inspiring murderers of the United States Military.

An Iraqi prisoner bows down, thanking the nice American soldier for his newfound liberty

And so Saddam Hussein was given a choice. He chose war. And so we moved and he was removed from power. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind, America is safer for it, and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.


- said Bush...

And there's something you don't want to forget either. This is Saddam's war. (Against terror? No, wait, he was for terror, wasn't he? All those weapons of mass destruction and the like. So tough to remember the details these days - though I guess that's never stopped Bush.)

Anyway, it turns out that Iraq is at a "moment of choosing" this week, which sure is generous of good old George, since he's been so big on Iraqi rights so far. Luckily though, Bush is optimistic, informing us that his optimism is based on solid grounds, and that "the Iraqi people have spoken".

Forgive me, but I guess I've just been having trouble hearing them speak over all that bombing - and of course the rhetoric that spills forth daily from Bush's own mouth.

But I'll have to take his word for it, I guess. This is liberation, right?

Er... Freedom?



GWB - 'America is safer for it'

GWB - 'The world is better off without Saddam Hussein'



Friday, February 24, 2006

Media's watching

So Media Watch has now been back for two weeks, and things are, er, different. The unfairly maligned Liz Jackson is gone (back to Four Corners after only one year at the post), and the newly appointed Monica Attard is now staring down viewers.

Last week they led with a fairly weak story investigating the validity of those "message in a bottle" stories that seem to turn up far more often than is likely. Turns out, surprise, they're mostly fakes. A CSIRO oceanographer was brought in to decredit claims of enormous distances travelled, which bodes well for the programme's closer focus on research, but a slight feeling of dismay remains - bottles in the ocean? Is this really the kind of stuff Media Watch is here to look into?

The final story was, of course, those cartoons. Unfortunately, it amounted to little - a quick mention of Tim Blair, a deflection from ABC Managing Director Russell Balding, and an underhanded jab at "Western ideologues who insist we must see the cartoons" (I guess that's me).

Attard herself was serviceable, but one must wonder where the show is going when the leading story amounts to little more than page three trash (that's Herald Sun-style, not English tabloid), and the biggest story is tucked up the back with barely anything to add to the debate.

Week two, and things didn't improve much. Again the leading story was little more than news fodder - this time a story about how Launceston's Kim and Dave SEA FM radio show had one over, it seems, the rest of the nation (well, those who cared, anyway), when they made a prank call about the possibility of a Ricky Ponting statue being erected in the local area.

Well, sorry Monica, but this is about the time that we needed a nice, icy stare from ol' Liz, and a frank "who cares?"

Because I certainly didn't.

Things improved from there, with a small expose on a Channel 9 cricket interview with Betfair founder Edward Wray - a conflict of interest, when one consider that Betfair is fifty percent owned by Packer's PBL.

All in all though, Media Watch seems to have lost a little of its shine. Hopefully it will get better, but if not, perhaps Attard should just go back to watching her hair.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Parentheses madness!

It's a fair question being asked by a fair(ly reputable) blogger:

"Addiction to oil? What a joke! Here’s the real question: Is the United States “addicted to pandas”?"


Well, what can you say?

Go Dick!

Thank you Boing Boing!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

RIP J Dilla

Big news just isn't the same in Australia, apparently.

According to the muted reports emanating from the United States (like the one at the Detroit Free Press, respected and hugely talented hip-hop producer J Dilla, or Jay Dee as he is also known, died yesterday of kidney failure, aged only 32.

The artist had recently released another album to add to his prolific back catalogue. Though not necessarily well known in Australia, the album - ostensibly a mix-tape of his beats and blues-infused instrumentals - received at least one positive review in these parts.

All searches through the Saturday and Sunday newspapers looking for news of the seemingly tragic death were met with nought however - unless my brain was only in first-gear (which at five a.m. is quite often the case). Still, I shouldn't be too surprised at the muted response - even the murder of hip-hop pioneer Jam Master Jay a couple of years ago barely raised an eyebrow in Australian presses.

Nonetheless, the death of another young star of the American hip-hop scene shouldn't be forgotten before it's even been acknowledged, and Dilla was truly a talent of the scene. If there's one positive to be taken from his death, perhaps it's the fact that at least it wasn't gang related.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Smile

Today I had a body part removed. It wasn't a "major" operation though, as everybody kept telling me. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but feel slightly backed into a corner.

Apparently part of a filling on my back molar came off "some time ago" (hey, if portions of me are falling out already, maybe this really wasn't such a big deal) and after that my tooth became infected. The nerve - or, to use the correct terminology, the "pulp" - was dying and thus I had a choice between an extraction (it sounds so harmless) or a root canal (which sounds like something nice to visit in Venice). So those were my options.

But that's just the thing - there were no real options at all. Despite a course of antibiotics and a fairly liberal smattering of painkillers, this one little tooth was causing me fairly regular bouts of agony. As soon as possible was the main thing on my mind.

That in itself got rid of one supposed "option" - the root canal - available only to those people with a lot more money than myself, or private health insurance. (Incidentally, if I actually had health insurance, I suspect any situation wherein I had a lot of money would be quickly resolved by said health insurance's bills.)

So why is this the case? Well, as newspaper reports have stated, Victoria's public health system has been on a downward slide for some time now, and as today's Age editorial argues, the quick fix of off-setting some of those patients on the public waiting list by paying their way into private hospitals "won't cure [the] unhealthy system".

According to the editorial, some 40,000 people are on the waiting list for "non-urgent" surgery, with another 20,000 on a secondary list just to see a specialist.

Of course, some of these surgeries really are non-urgent, and the waiting time understandable - but some are not. Because of the incompetencies of the system, I was today forced to choose between ongoing pain for the next year or so - at least - and having my tooth removed. I'm 22 years old - a little young to be losing my teeth, I would have hoped.

My example isn't the worst of it though - one has only to think of elderly patients in need of hip replacements, ligament surgery and the like. The pain for them must be unbearable.

It's enough to make a me sigh through my newly toothless grin.

Edit: As you probably know, the American health system is even worse than ours - by far, in fact. It seems that Michael Moore, that great raconteur of the downtrodden masses, has gotten sick of it all, and has decided to make his next film about the US public health system.

This is surely a positive sign for the Americans, but I doubt it will help us much - in fact, Bracks and his cronies will probably use it to focus on just how much better our system is than our American pals' - if he's smart, that is. I wonder what happened to all the great promises Bracks made after he kicked the similarly inept Kennett out of office?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sedition yet?

Well, apparently Tim Blair already beat me to it, but below are the cartoons that have caused such controversy over the last few days.

And why? As so many people have already pointed out, it's not as if extremist proponents of Islam aren't occasionally critical of us godless infidels. By all means, defend your right to freedom of choice, freedom of religion, but to do so by stifling free speech is hypocrisy in the highest regard.

Even though the resultant agitation is going to be messy, I think these cartoons should be published in these times of anger. Similarly, I agreed with Melbourne Underground Film Festival Director Richard Richard Wolstencroft when he attempted to show Holocaust denier David Irving's films a few years back - only to be shut down after protests from Melbourne's Jewish community.

Protestations against actions of this kind miss the point. Publishing the cartoons - or showing Irving's films - does not mean that one necessarily agrees with their content. (For the record, I think Irving is an utter, racist, tosser, and though I agree, essentially, with the thesis of the cartoons, they're crass and unsubtle.) However, it is possible to make a statement about free speech by standing up against those who wish to stifle it.

Is this sedition? I hope so.

The offending cartoons

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Snap, crackle and neck

According to a report by Angus Kidman in this month's Australian Personal Computer magazine, an American man has been convicted of murder after police obtained his Google search history. Previous searches included "snap," "neck," and "body decomposition," leaving prosecutors in little doubt as to where Robert Petrick's extracurricular interests lay.

Whilst the news is positive enough in that particular case - the evidence went some way towards Petrick's guilty conviction for murdering his wife in November 2005 - there's no doubt that it also raises more than a few worrying issues for those of us who, say, murder less but google plenty.

Personally, I've got nothing to hide from anybody on a legal level (aside from my small investment in whale trading and penchant for child porn, obviously) but that doesn't mean I want people poking through my search history (and, perhaps, even my Gmail advertisers' preferences?) just because they can.

According to the report, "it's not just murderers who are worried, [but] people who've googled for pirated software, porn, ways to minimise tax obligations, or information about terrorism".
And they mightn't be the only ones who need be concerned. When SMS, telephone call or fax keywords like "World Trade Center" and "monarchist" (?) already trigger the spooks into action through a government surveillance program known as Echelon, and with news recently circulating of police apprehending mobile phones from Sydney bus passengers in order to check for unsavoury text messages (a new power given to police in times of "lock down," like the recent Cronulla riots), there's cause for everyone to worry. Conditions that seem like something out of a scary science-fiction novel are becoming disturbingly commonplace.

In the meantime, I'd prefer to keep my private life, well, private. But I guess there's not much chance of that anymore.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I want to be like Kobe, like Kobe!

If you're a sports fan and you haven't heard the news, read on. If you're not a sports fan, this is probably worth reading anyway - at the very least to marvel at the spectacular skill levels of professional athletes at the height of their prowess.

Today, Kobe Bryant - coming off the back of a month where he scored over 45 points four times in a row, and a career high of 62 points in three quarters of the Los Angeles Lakers' defeat of Dallas - scored 82 points, as the Lakers beat the Raptors into submission, 122-104.

When you consider that the league leader in points averages around 30 points in the modern game (though since his scoring outbursts of late Kobe has boosted his average to around the 35 mark), it is an extraordinary figure.

But it is extraordinary for so many more reasons: because, after the crises surrounding Bryant and a rape lawsuit that he fought and overcame through 2004, many said he would be past his peak; because, after petty arguments made team conditions unbearable, and star coach Phil Jackson quit and Shaquille O'Neal demanded a trade, everybody said Kobe was incapable of bearing the weight of the team's leadership; because it's better than Michael ever did; just because.

This season, after talks-a-plenty with Kobe, Phil Jackson returned to coach the Lakers. Just this week, after advice from NBA Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell, Shaquille O'Neal patched things up with Bryant on court before the Heat, O'Neal's new team, played the Lakers. Perhaps these were the two things Bryant needed resolved, because today's performance is an astonishing feat.

Bryant's total beats nearly all records - only Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point total, set some 44 years ago, betters it. He becomes only the fifth player to record over 70 points in a game, and if his form continues, he might even do it again.

Regardless of what you think of the man, the team, or even the sport, Kobe Bryant's performance today is a remarkable display of human athleticism and talent.

Check out the boxscore here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Look Ma, I got me some more bombs

Apparently not content with simply bombing the shit out of civilians in countries they're occupying, America has again branched out and bombed the shit out of civilians in a country that they heard might have, somewhere, possibly maybe had something to do with a bunch of terrorists they thought could have done some really bad stuff at some point in time.

As Carlotta Gall's report in the New York Times details, the bombing of a village in Damadola, Pakistan, was ostensibly targeting Al Qaeda number two man Ayman al-Zawahiri. Instead the strike resulted in at least 18 civilian deaths, including six children.

But the report continues:

[A] Pakistani official who spoke of Mr. Zawahiri suggested that the death toll was higher, and he said that at least 11 militants had been killed in the attack. Seven of the dead were Arab fighters, and another four were Pakistani militants from Punjab Province, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the news media.


News that America is doing what it does best - bombing targets indiscriminately and with information so shady it makes Don Quixote look reliable - is not surprising in itself. News that they're doing so in densely populated regions of countries they're supposedly on good terms with though, is something else entirely.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Soon you'll be reading this on a computer screen. Oh, wait

According to a report in Saturday’s A2 section of The Age, it won't be too long until books start disappearing off the shelves - and not in flurry of sales.

Of course, to readers of perpetually obsessed techno-lovers Wired or Slashdot, this news isn't really news at all. Electronic books - or "e-Books" - have been available to download for years now, and "tablets" - the portable devices with which to read them - have been the subject of the techno savvy's dreams for just as long.

Furthermore, this here article is only getting to you through the wonderful magic of the internet.

Still, as much as I - and, presumably, you the reader - have embraced the world wide web and all its marvellous peculiarities, there's something romantic about the tangible beauty of clutching a book, a real book with pages and scuffmarks and dog-ears - not just a computer screen.

I imagine the backlash will be widespread. Like the vinyl fanaticism that resurrected itself after the introduction of compact discs (and the supposed demise of records) one suspects that real books won't die out quickly.

In fact they're unlikely to die at all. Perhaps it's an obvious point, but so many great institutions - libraries, parliaments, universities and schools - have such great collections of literature that a truly bookless world is a virtual impossibility.

Nonetheless it would be reticent of us to laugh in the face of the encroaching technology too haughtily. The obvious advantages hold sound arguments: the chance, as Bill Gates recently pointed out, to spend $400 on a tablet for access to a lifetime of books instead of the endless costs of perpetuating a "real" library; the masses of space that would be saved by these portable devices; the mind-boggling potential for research and referencing for academics - not to mention the rest of us.

But there are sure to be more arguments not yet considered. How long will it be before pragmatic environmentalists realise the advantages of a non-paper based medium and embrace it with militant fervour? How soon will books become just another haven for entrepreneurial advertising companies, selling off strips of our viewing space catered to our personalities and reading habits?

So far, the issues being debated focus solely on the ethical considerations of copyright and ownership. But soon all this and more will come to the fore, and the e-Books debate will be suddenly complex.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Indonesia we love you

It appears that John Howard is about to sign away any last chance that Schapelle Corby, Australia's true blue and much loved convicted drug smuggler, might have had at a final reprieve - however slim that chance might have been.

As reported in today's Age (and here and here too), the Prime Minister John Howard is set to sign a security treaty with Indonesia after lengthy discussion between Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda.

Corby herself - equal parts stuck up "model" and western suburbs bogan - doesn't concern me too much at all. But where the US's insistence on "liberating" Iraq by any means necessary is taking the idea of forced equality and democracy to disturbing extremes, this bowing down to Indonesia - who have yet to prove any real commitment to human rights beyond a few cursory gestures to their western counterparts - is the other extreme, and frankly just as worrying.

My rather liberal, to say the least, views on drug laws aside, it is now universally agreed among tolerant, progressive nations that a fifteen year sentence for posession of four kilograms of marijuana is punishment far in excess of the crime.

This is but one example however, brought to our attention only because of Ms Corby's photogenic nature and frenzied family (not to mention their slightly insane lawyer; it was all a little bit soap opera-ish, really).

Further examples abound though: human rights abuses by security forces and the Indonesia/Australia/East Timor oil debacle to cite just a couple. East Timor's subjugation at the hands of the Indonesian army (with, unsurprisingly, the backing of the US and muted support from Australia) has long been an issue, but succesfully avoided the Australian media for some twenty-five years. Now things are - at least slightly - on the mend, and even as the actualities of day-by-day events call for objectivity in an arena filled with moral posturing, it's difficult to forget the atrocities that Indonesia have committed in years past.

Certainly, smoothing relations with Indonesia, one of our closest and largest neighbours, is a fine and necessary goal, but when it comes - as this seems to - at the extent of human rights, the issue is much more complex. The fact that the rights at risk here are not those of Australians necessarily is not the point at all: taking a stance and standing up for the rights of people the world over is something that would do Australia, and the Howard Government, an enormous amount of credit. Moreover, it would be a moral stance that few other states have been willing to make, but much overdue and extremely worthy of praise.

Alas, we seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A disincentive for democracy

I mustn't be a very good lefty.

Well, sort of. I guess I am in that I'm all with the embracing the pinkos and hugging the trees (and I'm even a vegetarian).

But when it comes to waxing lovely about this wonderful representative system that we all call democracy, I'm a bit of a dismal failure. And not just because I adore communism or socialism (I don't, really). I really just think democracy's a bit rooted, to be totally honest.

We're an apathetic bunch, us Aussies. I hate to keep going back to Mark Latham as my starting point, but there's been little better analysis than his in recent times. In the Diaries he talks about politics today as rotten to the core with artificiality, "temporary, shallow and vacuous". The problem is that nobody really seems to give a stuff.

The public noticed the problem, raised a few complaints, then went back to watching Big Brother as the pollies all sat around on their arses laughing at the stupid voters and cashing in their governmental allowances.

People have been talking about the slow decline of social democracy, participatory democracy, for years now. The problem is that there seems no saviour, nobody who really wants to get down and dirty to do something about it. The politicians, as Latham so astutely and depressively announced time and time again, don't give a stuff. And the people don't either; that's the problem.

The general public seems to expect democracy to only take hold at election time. Vote in the people who'll suit you best and then switch off the telly (and the brain) for another three years. Everybody wants the chance to see in the government that they want, but nobody wants the continued responsibility once things start going wrong. And that's just the first problem.

There are further, deep, structural problems with democracy. At its core is a defence of selfishness rather than selflessness, despite everybody shouting otherwise. The flaws show up from the beginning, and when you couple democracy with capitalism, who can be surprised when the result is the most exploitatively selfish system imaginable? Democracy rewards those who vote to look after themselves and those closest to them; is it any wonder that the Liberal party keeps getting voted in?

Democracy is a hierarchal system of minute representation, where each constituent is given a tiny slice of the cake and told to hang on as tight as they can. It's no surprise then that those getting their hands on inordinately large portions all want to wolf it down as quickly as possible. In return, the rich get richer and the poor just keep on getting poorer.

And what about that tricky notion that we actually know what's best for ourselves anyway? Is it not an inherent contradiction? Sure, I know what's best for me, so I'll just vote in this group of bureaucrats to ensure that I'm told exactly what it is that I need to do.

I must have missed something, but it just seems a bit ballsed-up to me.

Of course, the whole thing raises quite a few ethical dilemmas: I know for a fact that I don't always make the best decisions for myself, but I'll defend my right to make those (sometimes misguided) decisions to my last breath. And I guess that's what democracy is really for: our chance to make the decisions that basically just fuck ourselves over.

But what about the others being fucked by our decisions? Those who can't stand up for themselves, or just don't know how?

When the system's skewed so far towards helping those who help themselves, what becomes of the helpless?