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Tue, Jan. 10th, 2012, 10:59 am
Society and technology

I posted a reply to a short promotional essay on the Tor website, and I thought, "I'm so bad at updating my livejournal, but this would've made a good lj post."

Here is the essay I was replying to:

Why The Future Never Gets The SF Right, by Michael Flynn.

And my comment/reply:

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Before I say anything, I think the idea of a high-tech society with no belief in science or progress is awesome, and will keep an eye out for your work. I just want to disagree with the particular view of history in your essay, for the sake of intellectual discussion.

I’m surprised to see Engels in the list of philosophers for whom the “endless universe is making a comeback”; Engels was a materialist, a follower of scientific progress (and debunker of mysticism), and (obviously, given his politics) a believer in humanity’s ability to continue technological progress into the future.

As a historical materialist, I think he would have disagreed with the outline you give of the history of technological development. I don’t think that it’s necessarily beliefs that hold back science in a larger sense. We need to remember that the Scientific Revolution came in an age of social revolution, where kings and queens (and the beliefs they fostered to justify themselves) were being swept aside and a more advanced economy based on markets, owners and labourers appeared.

The ancients you list aren’t just distinguished by their beliefs in a cyclical universe, but by just how extremely impoverished their societies were. The Greeks and Romans built amazing feats of architecture and engineering – but they had little in the way of large-scale industrial production, which could maintain some level of technological progress based on science. They supported miniscule populations by modern standards, and their great feats were not those of organised, modern workforces, but of slaves whose replenishment was not a sure thing. It was a society where the idea of working for a boss was obscene. It couldn’t have supported a technological revolution on the scale we’ve experienced over the past few hundred years.

Similarly, to Joseph Needham’s idea of linking scientific progress to the idea of a created universe; most of Christian history is the history of backwards, unscientific feudalism. I think Carl Sagan had a colourful way of putting it, I remember him saying something like “You would have an astronomer sort of like you might have a court jester.” It was a peasant-based economy, again, like the ancients, extremely impoverished. Simply not capable of great leaps of progress (or rather, not capable of translating that progress into ever-increasing technological change).

It’s only after the markets and merchants (that had always been around) suddenly see the monarchies around them losing their economic power, and find themselves and their commercial interests becoming stronger and stronger (in places like Holland and Venice, then England and France), to the point of a wave of revolutions, that scientific and technological progress really starts to take off. Because it suddenly becomes both economically relevant, and economically supportable by society.

Now, I think, we’ve passed the high point of capitalist advancement. Science is increasingly hamstrung by financial and commercial pressures; capitalist innovation is more and more about new kinds of smartphone and less and less about real, fundamental leaps in technology; investors are naturally unwilling to spend huge amounts of cash on high-risk, low-return scientific/technological adventures like space travel, alternative energies, etc – and governments no longer have the political will to fund such projects (to my generation, it seems like that was all really just to out-compete the USSR anyway!), and the economic crisis in Europe is even starting to drive people in some places (such as Greece) out of organised workplaces and big cities, and back toward the peasant countryside – to avoid starvation. Our capitalist world is actually running the tape backwards, in many senses.

I feel like we’re on the verge of the kind of thing you describe for your book, just on a smaller planetary scale with lower tech: a society with lots of high-tech toys, and no real ability to progress in a meaningful way. Instead of citing religious dogma, researchers in universities hear the neo-liberal, bureaucratic-capitalist catechisms, and must bow and make obeisances to the priests in accounting. Global warming is just the icing on the dystopic cake.

If we want to send people to Mars, barring some unforeseen development, I think we need to go to the next stage of society. Not to put too fine a point on it, but thats the stage envisioned by Engels – not as part of any cyclical thinking or mystical utopianism, but actually as an extremely materialist attitude, born of the Enlightenment.
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Mon, Nov. 8th, 2010, 06:22 pm
Long time no post.

Hi all.

A lot has happened in my life since the last time i posted. One of the strangest, hardest-to-comprehend things is that someone I know comitted suicide.

We weren't especially close, but we did work together, and that breeds a certain kind of closeness that you might not really understand is there until something happens. Various thoughts spring up after a thing like this. The first was, no joke, "I had no idea he felt this way - i should make an effort to talk to him about it next time i see him."

Which perhaps speaks a bit towards my inability to comprehend.

I have this hard-to-shake feeling that he has sort-of vanished, and I'm talking about it so frankly here because I don't have any of his mutual friends on my flist, and so I feel i can be frank about my personal feelings without treading on anybody elses.

He jumped from a well-known building where i work and study. Apparently, this happens often at this particular building (a friend that a paramedic spoke with said about a dozen people per year do this), but if you worked or studied here, you would never know it. It's not reported in any way, and it's not encouraged that one speak about it. He has a lot of very good friends, and a small memorial appeared to him shortly afterwards; the university administration quickly suggested that it be removed, as it makes it just "a bit too obvious" where and how it happened (and that it happened at all).

The theory is that reporting on suicide causes a rise in other suicides immediately afterward, i.e. that other people who are in that headspace will more quickly move from thinking about it to doing it. And there may be some merit in this perspective - I haven't seen or examined the data.

But it's also an "excluded middle" sort of perspective. By which i mean that the choices are not between "reporting" and "not reporting"; there are a range of possibilities inbetween these. Instead of quickly offering counselling to those affected and covering it up as far as possible for everybody else, perhaps it could be discussed in an open and meaningful manner? What effect would that have on other people who might already be feeling this way, or might head down that path at some other date?

(Perhaps the media is not capable of something like this; journalists flit from topic to topic, generally presenting a disconnected, insane, sociopath's view of the world. People die in large numbers in foreign countries on page 10, and their deaths have no causes, and no effects - they're just "incidents", with no history and no consequence. And when understanding is brought into it, it's always distorted for the benefit of somebody, somewhere, who has money. This is the context in which we beleive that "reporting on" a topic like suicide only increases the chance of somebody else doing the same - because this is what "reporting on" means, in our society: Hollow, dry, ahistorical, meaningless, contextless, useless to everyone who reads it.)

But there are student newspapers, there are unions and organisations beyond the media who can discuss it - who have an interest in discussing this sort of thing, because they are composed of people living their daily lives, not subject to editorial oversight. Maybe something could be made of that. I don't know.

All i'm trying to say is that this is a real problem, that really exists in the world. Denying it makes it seem so abstract and inconsequential, but the consequences are enormous. It's hard to reconcile when the person has simply vanished. I can't fit it in. In my head, he's still alive. Cognitive dissonance.

It probably doesn't help me that I was slightly-outside his real circle of friends, being a co-worker. It certainly doesn't help that his facebook profile vanished as well - and I mean, literally. I mean, i went back to look at a friendly comment he had made on one of my status updates in the last few months, and it wasn't there. The little memorial isn't entirely gone; somebody taped a banksia to the wall, and i find myself stopping everytime i go past the spot.

So, that's that.

Fri, Dec. 18th, 2009, 11:18 am
Why carbon trading is a waste of time.

Journalists seem to be locked into treating Penny Wong and Kevid Rudd's emissions trading ideas as if they are serious or economically sound concepts, to the extent of ridiculing the criticisms of the Western preoccupation with carbon trading coming from poorer nations. Fact is, carbon trading is not a remotely serious idea, and Westerners are wasting the world's time by supporting these politicians. Here's why.

1. Offsets are unverifiable. It is technically impossible to tell whether "carbon offsets" are true offsets, or imaginary ones (i.e. "you might never have cut down those trees anyway"; "you should have been geosequestering that stuff regardless"). In a way, carbon offsets fall under the reification fallacy - which means that in a technical and philosophical sense, some supposed offsets simply do not exist.

2. Caps are chosen to be meaningless. Caps in carbon trading systems are generally too generous, and seem to have been dictated by industry lobby groups (rather than climatologists) in Australia. This is one of the reasons carbon trading has failed to produce any progress in Europe, where it has been tried already.

3. Markets are inherently undemocratic. Even if caps were appropriate, and offsets were meaningful, carbon trading uses a market mechanism to drive energy efficiency, meaning that those who can afford carbon credits have less incentive to stop polluting, and those who can't afford it are forced into efficiency whether it makes sense for them or not. To put it another way, perhaps we would prefer that a hospital keeps it's energy-inefficient equipment running even when they can't afford the carbon credits (which their electricity provider would charge for). In a market, efficiency is placed outside of democratic control.

4. Markets are inherently innefficient. Related to this point, carbon trading provides no mechanism for actual gains in renewable energy. Solar technology, for example, currently requires research in superconducters and battery storage in order to be viable on massive scales. For this to happen, someone needs to actually roll up their sleeves and DO IT! All that carbon trading can offer is a dubious incentive for a company to one day buy some solar electricity far in the future when the technology magically works itself out.

5. Markets (unless they're 'black markets') require a great deal of legislation and bureacracy to function. Again, even if caps were appropriate (they aren't), and offsets were meaningful (a virtual impossibility), resources are wasted on the bureaucracy needed to make carbon trading 'work'.

6. Markets encourage blind displacement of economic activity. Carbon trading encourages practices that displace more important economic activities in favour of more profitable (under the trading system) ones. (For example, land that might have produced crops for food, or been left as carbon sinks, are given over to sugarcane for "green electricity" production in a gas plant.)

7. Carbon trading sucks political time and media space away from better ideas. We have just wasted ages in the news cycle and in Parliament on a bunch of children (i.e. the Liberal Party) arguing amongst themselves while the other bunch of children (ALP) have been using whatever little political will they have to push a carbon trading scheme both here and at Copenhagen, where yet more time and political willpower is being wasted on an attempt at a more global emissions trading scheme. Carbon trading is a waste of our glorious pseudo-democracy itself.

Sun, Jul. 19th, 2009, 05:43 pm
Obama and Africa

A few days ago, Barack Obama made a speech in Ghana, a West African country. It was well anticipated, as he's the first US president to actually have African ancestry - his father being Kenyan.

Speaking about the problems facing Africans, he said;

"It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants."

Every one of these statements was a lie.

The fact is, the West is largely responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, along with many other African economies, both in the recent past, and right now, as i type. The USA has benefited from proxy armies that use child soldiers, and has been responsible for wars in which children are enlisted as combatants.

The West, and the US, have actively supported dictators, genocidal maniacs, and systems such as South Africa's apartheid. And their role is not limited to the distant past, to some forgotten era of "colonialism". Colonialism exists right now, sponsored by the USA under Barack Obama just as it was under all of his predecessors.

Obama says "the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner". He invokes the idea of our attempts to dictate African progress. "Patron" hardly captures it. "Bloodthirsty murderer" might be more apt. As others are pointing out (e.g.: "Acknowledge America's Role in African Affairs", "Taking Responsibility Begins At Home", "Obama in Ghana: The Speech He Might Have Made"), Obama's language, and the pathetically inadequate grasp of African history that he endorsed in his Ghana speech amount to a whitewashing of history - and worse, a whitewashing of the present.

What Obama is really invoking is a racist myth that Africans have been the cause of their own troubles through their failures to realise their own potential. He reminds one of the black American stereotype of a welfare-dependant people blaming whites for supposedly self-inflicted failures to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps.'

In Africa, as in America, this is a racist lie. Africans have tried time and time again to improve their conditions, and every single time they get slapped down by men like Barack Obama. Sometimes they succeed, only to be confronted with relentless campaigns - from men exactly like Barack Obama - to turn their successes into Pyrrhic victories.

Obama's lies do illuminate one thing; they prove to us once again that his skin colour is the only thing that differentiates him from past US presidents, and perhaps it's the only good thing about him at all, in what it (supposedly) says about race in America. As John Pilger said in Melbourne a couple of months ago, he may be black, but he's just an American president.

Zimbabwe
"[T]he West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade"

Since Obama lied so explicitly about Zimbabwe, let's begin there.

At the moment, Zimbabweans are running a shared parliament, which includes both Robert Mugabe and his political opponent Morgan Tsvangirai. For a long time, right-wing ruler Robert Mugabe held onto power there, and in recent years we've come to know him as the brutal man that he is, responsible for the torture and persecution of political dissidents. But the West didn't make any noises about Mugabe until he began a program of nationalisation of industry and land redistribution - taking land from settler descendants and giving it to the landless black Zimbabweans who their ancestors stole it from. These programs made him immensely popular in Zimbabwe, but these are the reasons he has come to be known as a "dictator" in the West.

Nationalisation, in particular, is an economic policy that places industries into public hands, ensuring that the profit from certain industries goes directly into the countries budget. In Africa, much of the profit from industries such as mining flows into transnational corporations (like DeBeers - who still control most of the diamond trade, and are wholly responsible for more death and misery than a person can reasonably contemplate). Some countries, such as Namibia (where i'll be going in a few months!), have been able to wrest some control back from these industries -diamond mines there are part-owned by the state, part by DeBeers, but the transnationals still control the decision-making regarding such resources, and still extract profits that, by all rights, belong to Africans.

So nationalisation is a pretty clear policy of taking Africa's wealth and channeling it toward the people, rather than continuing to let it bleed-out overseas to rich Westerners - exactly what Obama claims to advocate. Land seizures were badly handled in Zimbabwe - they were characterised by unnecessary violence and a lack of compensation for the displaced land-holders, but the fact is, they involve a redistribution of wealth to black Africans that, again, is exactly what Obama claims to call for. Exactly what he claims is missing in Africa. And exactly why so many Zimbabweans support Mugabe despite his brutality.

For the crime of nationalisation and land redistribution, the USA and Britain led the call from the West - which Obama claims "is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade" - for sanctions against Mugabe. Sanctions deliberately designed to "destroy the Zimbabwean economy" (much like the assault on Iraq's economy, ten years earlier). Mugabe went, in Western newspapers, from being a tolerable and fairly right-minded African leader to a being a hideous dictator (much like Saddam Hussein, twenty years earlier).

Coupled with a drought and the mismanagement of seized farms (although there is some disagreement on the degree to which farm mismanagement affected the problem), these sanctions had exactly the desired effect - mass starvation leading to political instability.

And now, Western comedians routinely poke fun at the ridiculous "One Hundred Trillion Dollar Notes" printed by the Zimbabwean government as their economy slid into hyper-inflation and a massive food crisis. Pretty funny!

(Further reading: "Why I Refuse To Condemn Mugabe" by Adolf Mkenda.)


Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R. Congo)
"[A] colonial map that made little sense bred conflict".

Sure, to some extent.

But for the most part, Obama, men like you knowingly bred conflict. Sorry, not just "bred" conflict, breed conflict. Present tense. Not just in some distant, dusty past, involving poorly drawn territorial maps and inappropriate tribal resettlement.

While sanctions are fine against leaders who try to redirect Africa's wealth through land redistribution and nationalisation, Western countries (and transnational companies) are perfectly happy trading with corrupt administrators who redirect wealth from their people, and funding violent militias, and systematically fuelling pre-existing ethnic conflicts, to keep the average African person from trying to seize any part of that wealth.

2008-12-12-Picture0011
(Congolese activists at Federation Square, in Melbourne)

The standard myth about the Congo is that it's an inherently unstable nation. That ethnic violence and inappropriate borders are solely responsible for 'breeding conflict'. This is a lie, as explained by Ali M. Malau in "Congo: We Should Be Africa's Brazil". Western companies extract resources from the Congo - using local proxy armies to police these operations and smack down any discontent. They then reap the mass of the profits from those resources, paying off corrupt governments to keep them on the West's side. The people of the Congo see almost none of this incredible wealth. Even the people actually carrying out the extraction - the miners - don't get much benefit from it. They work under hideous conditions, and virtually nothing is reinvested in local communities. The wealth travels overseas. To us.

This isn't "historical colonialism". This is modern transnational colonialism, and it is happening right now.

Contrary to many of Obama's public statements on Africa to date, the USA plays a key role, leading other Western nations in a systematic effort to keep the Congolese government as weak as possible, to head off attempts at nationalising the Congo's resources for the good of its people. Ken Anderson wrote in Imperial Clash on the Congo Front that Laurent Nkunda, a Rwandan army officer who had ties to the US-backed regime in Rwanda, was embarking on yet another proxy war in the east of D.R. Congo which, according to the Wall Street Journal, was leaving Congolese politicians "preoccupied by the recent fighting and humanitarian crisis ... near Congo's eastern border with Rwanda."

Since then, the Rwandan government has joined forces with the Congolese government in taking the unprecedented move of pursuing the homicidal Nkunda and placing him under arrest. This comes as a direct result of unwanted attention being paid to Rwanda's support for Nkunda, and, particularly, Britain's ongoing support for the authoritarian regime in Rwanda (see DRC: The Future Has Come And Gone by Lansana Gberie). Why? Read on...


Rwanda and Uganda
"...or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants"

The Third World Traveler website, in Rwanda's Secret War: US-backed destabilization of Central Africa, describes a history of political and military manipulations of Rwanda. The United Nations Security Council recognized in December last year (a month before Nkunda's fresh assault on D.R. Congo) that Rwanda was responsible for Nkunda's destabilization efforts in D.R. Congo - Final Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What it doesn't clarify is what many have known for a long time (see Friends of the Congo blogpost "U.S.-British Ally Fuels Conflict in Congo", and other links provided above) - Rwanda's authoritarian military regime, led by U.S. ally Paul Kagame, is backed by the United States, among other Western countries. And it is backed in its pillaging of the neighbouring Congo, under the cover of the same 'ethnic tensions' that leaders like Obama continually trot out as explanations for central Africa's conflicts. Britain's threat to withdraw support from Kagame's regime forced Kagame to go after Nkunda; this could have happened at any time in the past decade, and saved the Congolese a lot of grief. It didn't until now, because D.R. Congo's grief leads to a great deal of benefit for the West.

Another violent African ruler supported by the US is Museveni in Uganda. One of the reasons the international community pays any attention at all to child soldiers in Uganda is that they are employed by the Lords Resistance Army, an anti-government militia opposing Museveni. Similar outrage accompanies news of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka employing child soldiers - they are an official Western enemy; atrocities by the Sri Lankan government don't get the same coverage - just meek comments from the West which the genocidal Sri Lankan government knows it can safely ignore. Similarly in Africa, as soon as you look at child soldiers in non-dissident forces, leaders like Obama start to get bored.

Both Kagame's Rwanda and Museveni's Uganda have recruited child soldiers. Many of the factions in the region - some say all of them - use child soldiers. When Obama stated that the West was not responsible for child soldiers, or the "wars in which" they are used, he was outright lying. The U.S. is both responsible for fueling the conflict and creating the wars in the first place, and for funding and supporting the proxy armies that have fought on their behalf - who have used child soldiers.


Modern Colonialism
"[T]the change which can unlock African potential [...] is a responsibility which must be met by Africans. ... Africa's future is up to Africa."

Obama's entire speech was geared toward the concept of African responsibility for African problems. But no U.S. administration - not even Obama's - has ever shown any interest in Africa's future being "up to Africa".

This is perhaps one of the most offensive, degrading aspects of Obama's 'pull yourselves up by your bootstraps' speech.

Contrary to the mythology that Obama invokes, Africans are not intellectually or spiritually inferior to Westerners. Their leaders are no more inherently corrupt than Western leaders (though Western leaders can be awesomely corrupt). They are quite capable of fighting for their rights. They are quite capable of attempting to seize their own future, their own destiny. They have fought for such things over, and over, and over, and over again throughout their history. The only reason they don't control their own future right now is the massive firepower arrayed against them - often literally. Surely we all remember that the ANC - Nelson Mandela's revolutionary group in apartheid South Africa - was classified as a terrorist organisation by the USA, and treated accordingly?

Even when Western powers accepted black rulers in African countries, only a certain kind of black ruler - right-wing, capitalist, and corrupt - would do. Patrice Lumumba was a Congolese leader in the early 60s, who spoke about using his countries wealth to create social programs for Congolese. He was assassinated. The US was jubilant. D.R. Congo was quickly placed under the control of Mobutu Sese Seko, a dictator who ruled the country for three decades and oversaw mass impoverishment and the development of countless unnecessary conflicts. And I've already mentioned what happened to Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe when he tried to "unlock African potential".

Black access to democracy in South Africa was eventually tolerated by Western countries - so long as those blacks in power bought in (and sold out) to a right-wing, poverty-generating economic system. Even something as radical as land reform was incorporated into a conservative economic structure: the World Bank fought for a "willing buyer, willing seller" model of land redistribution, the effect being that more than two decades after apartheid, almost none of South Africa's land (5%) has been redistributed to black South African interests.

And there is a debt burden placed on African nations, where the debt is often one incurred by former governments that the people living there never wanted. This helps to maintain poverty in Africa no matter who is in charge. Black South Africans, for example, are expected to bear some of the burden for paying off loans incurred by the racist, apartheid South African government. Just contemplate the absurdity of this situation for a moment. Such debts are illegal. They are known as 'odious debts', and Western powers such as the USA still demand that nations pay them off, law be damned. Add to the equation the fact that most of these nations have been bleeding wealth (often via precious minerals) overseas to the West, and the entire situation becomes even more ludicrous.

Local control and sovereignty in Africa is only tolerated when African leaders do what the West tells them to do. Nowadays, an international system exists specifically to advise governments to follow right-wing policies beneficial to the West, geared towards the continued extraction of resources from Africa, and the continued denial of the proceeds from those resources to the people who live there.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a Western-backed fund that grants money to countries that need it. But those seeking loans from the IMF are forced to accept their policy prescriptions as well, by the conditions of the loan. It's not enough to pay the loans off over time, like a loan you might get from a bank: loan-seekers at the IMF have to swallow their conservative ideology too (see the article Structural Adjustment Programs at http://www.whirledbank.org). They demand strict adherence to an economic "structural adjustment program", which seeks to eliminate socialistic policies from a nation's economy. This means cutting back social programs, lowering taxes, removing protections for workers and freezing wage rises, privatising public assets, and 'opening up' a country's economy to 'globalisation' (making it easier for transnational corporations to set up sweatshops and avoid genuine investment in any country in which they operate). These are generally unpopular policies, difficult for democratic governments to enforce without some degree of conflict - and for good reason. Many have documented the fact that these economic constraints work against the interests of a country's people, especially it's poorer people (e.g.// Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein)**.

Initiatives such as the IMF's are decided on by the leaders of the wealthiest nations in the world, the G8. They meet every now and then, and dictate - without even a pretense of democracy - what should happen to the world's economy. Invariably, they decide on policies that benefit transnational corporations and their own countries economies, at the expense of everybody else. Obama attended the most recent G8 meeting, and should know as well as anyone else there that Africa's future was most certainly not "up to Africa."

And there are other ways in which international law has been dominated by un-elected Western officials who propose and then manipulate international agreements for the benefit of Western corporations (for example, see the book Where Is Uhuru? by Issa G. Shivji). Third World Countries are expected to simply fall into line with these developments, or they face "the sanction of retaliatory measures which, needless to say, only the strong can take against the weak." (Shivji)


Obama
"Yes we can!"

But he won't.

Barack Obama gave a speech in Africa that was very carefully worded, very carefully designed to spread borderline-racist myths about Africans - that they have failed to properly take control of their own destiny, that their complaints against the West are somehow outdated.

His line did not deviate from the rhetoric of George W. Bush, and, like everything that came out of that racist old bastard's mouth, Obama's comments were mostly lies. But he slipped them in there, and he presumably expected people to swallow it.

What does it mean that he feels he can lie so blatantly, so openly, so obviously about Africa? Is it simply that he is black, and expects to get away with it for that alone - expecting Americans to shy away from arguing with the son of a Kenyan about Africa?

Whatever it was that made him think he could stand up in Ghana and insult an entire continent, he's done it. The coup in Honduras, the ongoing US-supported dictatorship in Haiti, the G8 meeting decisions, the US public healthcare backflip, the war being waged against Pakistani civilians, and now the whitewashing of history and the obscuring of the present facts around Africa: this is turning out to be Obama's legacy.

Turns out "change" is just a word.




**In brief: fewer social programs and lower taxes are supposed to cut down government spending, while placing less of a 'tax burden' to discourage industrialists - but they also mean that less of the wealth harvested from working South Africans by the upper class is redistributed among lower classes. Fewer wages and work rights are supposed to make a country more attractive for businesses - but they really mean that the harvest is more effective, concentrating wealth among the already wealthy (even while that wealth is entirely generated by employees in the first place). Privatisation of assets is supposed to make them more 'efficient' - in reality, it sets up parasites on public industry to siphon money off as profit, and cuts away at services that necessarily must be run at a loss (such as public transport in Melbourne). The opening up of an economy is supposed to encourage investment - it means that money can move more easily offshore, via transnational corporations, making the wealth forever inaccessible to a government that might be inclined to redistribute it fairly. It also means that wealth-generating labour can be more easily harvested - if the unions are too strong in one country, just move your sweatshops to the next one.

Sat, Jun. 27th, 2009, 11:21 am

http://my.spill.com/profiles/blog/show?id=947994%3ABlogPost%3A355506

Mock script for "Michael Bay's The Dark Knight, directed by Michael Bay. Featuring dialogue scripted by Michael Bay."

It's a scarily dead-on parody.

Also funny:

Megan Fox, upon being asked whether she gets more character development in Transformers 2: "Transformers 2 is directed by Michael Bay."

Thu, Jun. 25th, 2009, 12:08 pm
Connex dumped, Victoria's trains sold out to somebody else.

For those not in Victoria, Connex is the unpopular train operator who has had control over Melbourne's privatised train network for the last few years. Until now, Connex has enjoyed a "culture of self-defense of incompetence" with the Department of Transport in Victoria, which has, until now, simply closed ranks with Connex to shield them from criticism.

A few months ago, Dr Paul Mees (RMIT lecturer in social science & urban planning) mentioned in an interview that Connex was being dumped by the State Government as a scapegoat for the problems plaguing the public transport system. Mees has argued that the people running the Department of Transport are basically pro-privatisation nutjobs. They have an ideology that they're obsessed with sticking to, and this is just another way to deflect criticism of that ideology itself.

If you ask members of the public, the problems with Melbourne's public transport can include:

* Insufficient rail coverage - despite ancient plans to put new tracks out to places like Melbourne Airport and Monash University (which would become a stop on a Rowville line) - successive statement governments have done nothing to expand the train network,

* Long wait times between trains at Flinders Street and in the city loop (which Paul Mees has accused the government and Connex of running at 40% efficiency - i.e. they could double train services, if they wanted to expend the effort), and frequently late trains.

* Constantly rising fare prices, which rise above inflation.

* Constant extortion of public money by private operators, who can demand large payments from the government (and have cost us something like $2 billion dollars above and beyond what would have been spent on the Public Transport Corporation since privatisation).

* Roving bands of ticket inspectors with sometimes thuggish attitudes.

* A generally disdainful attitude toward the general public, exemplified in those "Ticket inspectors have the power to..." adverts, that fail to mention what passengers own legal rights are, and that, in fact, lie about ticket inspectors having "rights" to detain you after you've left a vehicle (they don't).

* Complete lack of consideration of popular calls to reduce fares to token amounts, to extend concession cards to international and post-graduate students, and even to abolish fares entirely (which The Age newspaper editorials campaigned for a while back).

None of these problems are being addressed by the change in operator. What they're basically doing is selling the problems to somebody else. And, like Connex, they're putting them on an eight-year contract, which can only discourage any political will to end privatisation.

The eight-years figure seems significant; it's the length of two terms in state government. It's two elections. This is almost symbolic of the the core problem with privatisation - there is no democratic, public control over a public asset/resource!

Do they deliberately choose 7 and 8 year contracts, to span two election campaigns, to head off any possibility of the major parties treating municipalisation (the opposite of privatisation) as a serious election issue? I wouldn't be surprised.

Sat, Jun. 13th, 2009, 04:54 pm
Transformers and pop culture

Am just reading through this: More Than Meets Few Eyes At All by Micheal Peterson.

This isn't about his column itself (i'm reading it at the moment, and it's exactly what i'm arguing for below), just a couple of things referenced within it inspired me to post. From the blurb for "The Philosophy of Transformers":

"Transformers began with toys and a cartoon series in 1984 and has since grown to include comic books, movies, and video games"

This is kind of an odd sentence, considering that the recent spate of comic books, movies, and video games are all basically marketing tools for each other, released in a deliberately co-ordinated way (the earlier Marvel comics and full-length cartoon movies have a similar pedigree, just in an earlier era). And this has implications, for the wider culture, for the fan response, and for the interpretation of these things (in some cases - e.g. the prematurely released sixth Tomb Raider game (which was notoriously un-finished, because it had to coincide with the marketing for the second movie), it has direct effects on the nature and quality of the piece of pop culture that is produced).

"X began with doodles and flim flams back in nineteen dickety-two, and has since expanded to include flobsops, bangs, and didlywonts." Usually, sentences of this format are intended to make you think, "Wow, this thing started as some piece of art, and then was so inspiring to other artistic creators, that it led to a diaspora of other interpretations!"

But this wasn't inspiring to artistic creators! It might have inspired somebody, if we abolished corporate control over copyright and intellectual property law. But we haven't. So nobody sat down and said, "Oh, wow, i am really compelled to use my video game talents to produce my own interpretation of this world!" They sat down, and said, "Oh wow, my boss just negotiated for the rights to produce something to tie-in with this movie release to push up box office sales - i'd better make-up some crap quick-smart to meet that deadline! And be sure that the characters match the toys Hasbro are producing!" The computer games weren't made by amateur fans! The comic books weren't released by slash authors! Everything was licensed, timed, and controlled by a stultifying commercial attitude to what ought to be public domain fantasy.

A guy called David Willis observes: "perhaps being a marketing gimmick is part of Transformers' longevity. It's free to reinvent itself whenever it feels like it so as to keep itself viable..."

This is another use of language you often see in reference to pop culture: "The text reinvents itself." I'm sure this one sentence doesn't completely sum up the guy's opinions, but the passive-voice language used to describe "cultural texts" nowadays has me a little bit worried. Willis is just providing a convenient example.

My problem with this phrasing is that Transformers didn't "reinvent itself". It was "reinvented"; it is not a subjective actor, it is an object, it is made by subjective actors. Texts have an author, and those authors have motives and influence over the things they create, and a role in the culture that reacts to them. In some cases, texts have authors who have been hired to produce something slick on the whim of some higher up with no particular creative talent (but a lot of monetary talent). These factors have real world effects, and they tell you something about your society, and the people around you! You've got to at least acknowledge this, to be at all capable of comprehending "pop culture." You can't just claim "death of the author" and ignore them (and i have seen/read this being done). Derrida would be spinning in his grave!

What is interesting is that these facts mean that Willis is precisely wrong - Transformers is emphatically not "free to reinvent itself" over time; it's only "reinventable" if you hire a lawyer, talk to the right people, and have the right investors with enough cash.

I'm sure there are some philosophies discernable within Transformers, and they are worth talking about. Or, in that other CRIME AGAINST ENGLISH so often committed in reference to pop culture, there are things there that are worth "engaging with" (i should add: i still tend to to commit this linguistic crime on a regular basis in casual conversation, and i'm sure i've used it in livejournal posts in the past). But you need to have some awareness of the world around "the text" to do that - and, happily, Peterson's article appears to be doing exactly that (read it!). I just don't like the context-free, "post-modern" way that "texts" tend to be advertised, introduced and spoken about; Transformers was just unlucky enough to have given me a couple of superficial examples today while i had my livejournal page open.

Sat, Jun. 13th, 2009, 12:20 pm
Race in Star Trek, Part 2

From an interview with George Takei.

These are Takei's words:

"[J.J. Abrams] asked me if I'd have breakfast with him. He told me he'd been interviewing many actors for the part. He tried as hard as he could to find an actor of Japanese ancestry, which is what I am, but he found another actor who he thought would be wonderful. So he wanted to get my reaction to that.

[...]

I asked Gene [Roddenberry] how he came up with the name of Sulu. He said he wanted the Starship Enterprise to be a metaphor for Earth. So he wanted the people to represent regions of this planet. So Uhura was African and her name was based on a Swahili word.

So he was looking for an Asian name for what would be my character. Now Asian names are very nationality specific; Tanaka is Japanese, Wong is Chinese, Kim is Korean. Now Asia also has a reputation for warfare and colonization. Roddenberry didn't want to bring that into that character. So he was looking at a map of Asia and trying to solve that dilemma. He saw there was a sea called the Sulu. It's in the South China Sea area. He thought, ‘the waters of the sea touch all shores.' So that's how he came up with the name Sulu.

So I told this story to JJ. I said it would be entirely in keeping with Gene Roddenberry's vision. I told him not to confine himself to one particular cultural group. If he felt that actor could bring that kind of talent, he should go for it. So, assured by that, he told me he was looking at John Cho."


Takei's story makes sense, and the comment he makes toward the end of that quote, "I told him not to confine himself to one particular cultural group. If he felt that actor could bring that kind of talent, he should go for it.", is exactly how things should be.

But i would point out that John Cho would never have been cast as Kirk (even though i'm sure there are people with Korean ancestry in Iowa in the 23rd century); so it seems that, rather than being an expression of an unprecedented-ly egalitarian attitude towards acting, it's more likely that there's this idea that it's okay to fudge the race of a non-Westerner (hell, historically, it's been okay to fudge the race of a Westerner who looks a little bit brown (i.e. using South Italians to portray American Indians)).

And i would highlight this line;

He told me he'd been interviewing many actors for the part. He tried as hard as he could to find an actor of Japanese ancestry, which is what I am, but he found another actor who he thought would be wonderful.

Still find that hard to believe. John Cho has a lot of pop-culture cred at the moment. Star Trek was billed as aiming for a pop-culture-y audience of 15-25 year olds. I just find it difficult to beleive, firstly, that it was SO DIFFICULT to find talented Japanese actors going for the role of Sulu (they must have been flooded with people of Japanese, Scottish, African heritages as soon as the movie was announced!), and secondly, that this had nothing to do with John Cho's status, popularity, fame relative to any Japanese actor you could name (excepting women, and men who would be too old for the part).

Which is not to discount Takei's comments, or his interpretation of the character's significance as someone who was literally always intended to be "specifically Asian, but not specifically Japanese", to paraphrase my earlier post. There you go.

That ought to be the way Cho's Korean-ness relative to Takei's Japanese-ness, if it is an issue at all, is seen. I like it. It's completely in keeping with Roddenberryism.

But you still maybe get a story about the way actors are chosen in Hollywood, and the way less well-known actors could be locked out; it's just that race happens to be the factor that highlights it. Having said that, i've never heard of Zachary Quinto or Christopher Pine before.

Discuss.


Edited to add:

This is beside the point (or IS IT?), but look at this line: "[Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto] are both talented actors. Their personalities are alike, too. You know, Leonard and I used to talk a lot about political events. I'm a political activist, and so is he. We used to talk about the headlines all the time." Need time machine and tape recorder. Oh, i have a tape recorder (from mistersteve)! Halfway there.

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2009, 10:10 pm
Race in Star Trek (part 1)

"It's difficult having to hustle for jobs. Not knowing when the next job is coming in. It's hard. There are not enough roles out there. I try not to get wrapped up in it or I'll get depressed." - John Cho, an American of Korean descent (born in Seoul), on being an Asian-American actor.

Cho plays Hikaru Sulu, a Japanese member of the Enterprise crew, in the recent "rebooted" Star Trek movie.

Race shouldn't matter. James Doohan wasn't actually Scottish. Maybe in the rebooted Trek universe, Sulu's from Japan, but has alternate-universe Korean blood. Or maybe a wizard did it. For all i know, John Cho has Japanese blood (and the question as to whether this would be a good or a bad thing for Star Trek seems inherently wrong-headed). Such a discussion is beside the point (though it does highlight the inanity of "race" as a way to classify people), and please don't mistake this for a fannish whinge at an "incorrect" race for a particular character. I want to make this abundantly clear: John Cho deserves parts; He deserves this part, specifically. I am glad he played Sulu. And if they had given him more screen time, he could have delivered an excellent performance of the character. The lack of screen time would be my main complaint about Sulu, along with other of the less central characters.

So that's not were i'm going with this. I have only love for John-Cho-as-Sulu. I'm speculating about what his choice says about the people who chose him.

This only disturbed me when i wondered about the dynamics behind the casting.

So without beating around the race bush any further, this is my problem: Was there an assumption that an average American movie-goer can't tell the difference between a Korean person and a Japanese person, and therefore, it doesn't matter who you cast - as long as they look Asian-y? It seems likely to me, and maybe this says a lot about my perception of the way white Americans think (i think it says more about the way i think American casting directors and producers think).

Or, on a less race-y topic, was there an assumption that you needed to have a "familiar" face, and there aren't any familiar, young, Japanese-American male actors to fit the part? There is a racial dimension to that, too, but the disturbingness of that possibility lies more in the cynical exploitation of familiar actors that will draw attention for fame's sake. I'm sure there are plenty of young male Japanese-American actors that could have used the career boost (and the money) from this role.

Then there's the comment John Cho made above; it seems to come from this article: http://goldsea.com/Personalities/Choj/choj2.html

Here is the fullest context for the comment i could find:

With a total of about three dozen film and TV jobs to date, John Cho has worked more than most Asian American actors. Still, he sees being an Asian American actor as a chancy life. "It's difficult having to hustle for jobs," he said. "Not knowing when the next job is coming in. It's hard. There are not enough roles out there. I try not to get wrapped up in it or I'll get depressed."

What this highlights is that Asian-American actors are chosen for "Asian" roles; it implies that the default is White, and that a character needs to be specifically Asian in order to compel a casting person to cast an Asian actor.

If these dynamics were at play here, does that imply that Sulu is "specifically Asian" in the casting director's eyes - but not specifically enough to be Japanese?

So what does this mean?

Discuss.

(Edited to add: But see this later post)

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2009, 08:28 pm
The Chaser's War On Everything

From Lateline: "ABC management has pulled the comedy program The Chaser's War on Everything off the air for two weeks over a skit which satirised a well-known charity for dying children. [The Make-A-Wish Foundation] [...] The Prime Minister joined public criticism of this week's program which carried the controversial 'Make a Realistic Wish Foundation' sketch."

- http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2008/s2591144.htm

* First of all, from memory, the skit doesn't actually "satirise" The Make-A-Wish Foundation; a satire involves something "in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule", "that has the effect of making some person or thing ridiculous." - Oxford English Dictionary.

Now, i think the Make-A-Wish Foundation is a dubious organisation, completely open to some decent satire. (I worked for one of their call centres; their organisation's description of operations raises questions that i never found satifactory answers for; like, if almost half of your donation goes to the outsourced call centre (DTS), how is it "non-profit"? And, what happens if they're low on cash and they're asked to do something for a kid with ultra-rich parents, seeing as they don't distinguish based on income?). But they weren't making the Make-A-Wish Foundation seem "ridiculous" - they were satirising a culture of thriftyness and 'economic rationalism' - look at the title of the segment: it's the "Make-A-Realistic-Wish Foundation".

So the premise of this "outrage" (assuming any actually exists) is illogical in the first place.

* Secondly, pulled it off the air for two weeks? Wtf is that meant to achieve?

* Thirdly, whose complaint, exactly? I find it difficult to believe that it was viewers of The Chaser's War On EVERYTHING who made any sort of complaint; i wouldn't be surprised if this had more to do with the complaints of a few morons somehow associated with ABC management. I suspect there is no public outrage at all - or if there is, it doesn't involve much of the public.

* Fourthly, our idiot prime minister apparently made a comment about it. Exsqueeze me? Didn't we just get rid of a dickhead prime minister who thought his job description somehow involved making commentary on television shows? (I hate Big Brother as much as the next person, but i don't need to know John Howard's stupid opinion about it.)

Julian Morrow is quoted saying: "We don't agree with the decision, but we do want to apologise anyway. The sketch was a very dark sketch - clearly too dark - and we acknowledge the pain and the hurt that it's caused to a lot of people and we're really sorry for that."

* It was a little dark, and i can see how somebody who actually was dying, or had a kid dying, might have been disturbed - not by the nonexistent satirisation of Make-A-Wish, but just by the flippant references being made to the kid's deaths. I'd say this was a staple of "black humour" though, and something that people are normally happy to take-in-stride.

I don't expect everyone to be a Taoist when they have (or know someone who has) a terminal disease, but i don't think it's an unreasonable joke (nor do i think "laughing at death" is an unreasonable attitude to promote).

Still, it's interesting to read this from Julian Morrow; most of the time, Morrow is unapologetic for 'making the fun'. He described the APEC conference skit - in which the Chaser team were accused of breaking an idiotic anti-protestor law by entering the "green zone" surrounding the APEC conference - as "The stunt that went horribly right."

If this does show where the limits of his humour might lie, i'm glad he sees 'potentially upsetting sick people' as being more regrettable thing than breaking an evil law.

* What i was shocked about was that the Make-A-Realistic-Wish sketch attracted outrage (or, we are told that it attracted outrage, anyway), but on the same program, the sketch about the impoverished community in Africa being asked to donate to a Sydney private school's rowing club didn't.

I didn't think that should have been outrageous either - i'm sure they didn't actually take the African's money, i'm sure it was staged. But you would think that if ABC management had any moral fortitude (and IIRC it's headed by Keith Windschuttle - a right-wing historian who denies the extent of the Aboriginal genocide - so they quite possibly don't have any moral fortitude), that would be the skit they'd be investigating for possible ethical breaches!

* What's most disturbing is that they apparently clipped the "offending" sketch out of the podcast. They didn't put up a warning, or a disclaimer, they actually censored it, in the most physical way. THAT is pretty offensive.

Fri, May. 29th, 2009, 12:37 pm
"Send your name to Mars"

http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate/sendyourname/

What if your name is "function Rover.DriveTo(co-ordinates for the deepest canyon in Noctis Labrynthis)"?

Fri, May. 29th, 2009, 12:05 pm

I know people who seem oddly affronted when i don't go to seminars about their field of research.

It's not that i don't think people should do this (we shouldn't restrict ourselves to one field), but there are a lot of seminars. You have to be picky. I mean, give me a break - I went to the history of cosmology seminar, and didn't see you there.

And its unlikely you'll get something out of a very technical dissertation on a subject where you don't even have the basic knowledge to understand why the dissertation's relevant.

Magmatic intrusions have very little to do with palaeontology. They're kind of the opposite of paleontology. Really.

Wed, May. 27th, 2009, 03:50 pm
On power-serving cowardice.

Found two brilliant essays online by a Canadian guy named Mike Cowie. I won't quote every quotable, as, honestly, pretty much every paragraph is perfectly and succinctly argued, but here are some of the bits that resonated with me most strongly:

Freedom Denied: The Crushing of Sri Lanka's Tamils

"So, with the war in Sri Lanka now over and the Tamils having been crushed and brought to their knees, I'd like to ask just one question: Are we happy now? With the Tamils' decades-long struggle for self-determination quashed and their dreams of an independent homeland shattered, are we fully satisfied? Should we give ourselves a pat on the back?"
...
"The truth is that by the beginning of this decade the Tamils had, in fact, already won a homeland for themselves in the north and east of the island. The two sides had fought to a stalemate, signed a ceasefire and entered into peace talks. But one very significant event on the other side of the world changed all of this—an event that had absolutely nothing to do with Sri Lanka. I'm talking about 9/11."
...
"[T]he armies of the nations we in the West have decided to support are often guilty of committing much worse atrocities than the rebel groups we've arbitrarily decided to label as "terrorists". It is government forces that carpet bomb rebel-held areas. It is government forces that often wage scorched-earth policies, killing thousands—or tens of thousands—of innocents. But for some strange reason, we're totally fixated upon any and all rebel bombings."

The Blame The Victims Rant: Up With The Strong, Down With The Weak

"The Tamil Tigers sure as hell aren't innocent, but the idea that they're terrorists and the government isn't is completely, totally and utterly asinine."
...
"Aside from the Darfur conflict in Sudan, it seems we've taken sides AGAINST the weak, the oppressed, the downtrodden and the victimized in just about every conflict and struggle around the globe in recent years; AGAINST people who are only fighting for that which we all take for granted and accept as our inherent rights. So, seriously, what the hell's wrong with us? That's what I want to know."

I would point out that the opposition to the Darfur conflict has been more a cause of Western peoples than Western governments. Ditto Tibet, aside from a few pussy-footing comments here and there. So the story remains consistent. Our leaders (including KRudd) support the strong, and hate the weak. And when i say "support", i mean, provide with weapons and money. And when i say "hate", i mean, hate to the point of physical murder.

Hence the title of this post.

Sat, May. 23rd, 2009, 12:08 pm
The most powerful man in the world.

"US President Barack Obama is trying to kick-start talks to reach an negotiated agreement creating a state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not signed up to the idea." - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8063435.stm

Wow. Am pretty sure that if US President Barack Obama wanted peace, he could bring Netanyahu to the negotiating table within a week, end the Iseali military forays, and cause a massive shift away from apartheid policy.

All he has to do is call up Netanyahu, and say, "We're looking at this Divestment & Sanctions campaign."

It would all be over, right then and there. It would become an abstraction, fought by lobbyists. The thousands of dead bodies would be replaced by damaged political careers.

Sat, May. 23rd, 2009, 10:41 am
Sims 3?

Am looking up "Sims 3" to see what it will be like.

I skipped the second one, because it looked like more restrictive gameplay (with more emphasis on ageing and 'advancing', whereas the things i enjoy about Sims are building the world and having characters interact), and harder modding. And, the customization and freedom of gameplay were what made The Sims worth playing.

I've since been told that modding in Sims 2 is actually possible, and that the emphasis on 'advancing'-style gameplay was optional, which really wasn't what i'd heard initially. And when i say "modding", i mean, building your own objects and animations - i knew it was possible to modify outfits.

But looking it up now, it looks like objects in Sims 2 are actually fully three-dimensional, which would make it way, way harder to create your objects (unless you're just skinning them). (In Sims 1, objects looks three-dimensional, but because there are only four perspectives in the game, they're actually just sets of four flat images (one from each angle) at the different levels of zoom; the only tricky bit IIRC is figuring out transperancy). I said in a previous post, "You don't have to know ANYTHING in order to mod it. You could throw a cat at the screen, and once the cat has picked itself up and wandered off, you'll find a perfectly good set of customised objects and skins loaded into your game." But 3d objects would imply that you need to make a mesh if you're doing anything more than skinning an existing object. (And I am TERRIBLE at 3D modelling!)

I'm googling Sims 2 animations at the moment, and mostly i'm getting forum posts from 2005 saying it wasn't possible to create custom animations yet, though i've been assured people have been able to do it.

Anyway, i was looking up Sims 3, and i came across references to Sim Points, which are a fake currency you use to "buy" (actually, you have to buy the fake currency, so it's not "buy", it's just, buy) extras at the EA site. Kind of puts a seedy air over it, when you consider that the Sims 1 extras are all basically free downloads.

Anyways. It all seems less aimed at a community of modders, and more just, flashier graphics and WoW-esque marketing techniques... i don't like the way it looks! I don't like the perceived attitude of the people making/selling the game!

Games are expensive to someone with my finances... i'm a bit iffy about getting something that's not as good as a game that came out, what, like, almost a decade ago now? I recently got burned on Dawn of War II, which cost a $100, and is a pretty sucky game, with virtually no replay value at all. It's all just about the graphics and the marketing.

Fri, May. 22nd, 2009, 05:25 pm
The "Australian" School

From "Dickinsonia from Ediacara: A new look at morphology and body construction", by Brasier & Antcliffe (2008), published in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, Volume 270, Pages 311–323.

"In this ‘Australian School’ of thought, Ediacaran fossils have generally been defined in terms of their differences from each other, while their biological affinities have been argued by means of analogous reasoning with respect to the similarities with extant invertebrate groups"
[...]
"Such an odd situation is inherently unstable, and an alternative view therefore began to emerge within what we shall here call the ‘European School’ of thought, so-called herein because these views originated from scientists working in Europe. We do not mean to imply agreement amongst the ‘European School’ as to the placing of the Ediacara biota within the modern phyla. Instead, we draw attention to the tendency of this school of thought towards thinking that the Ediacara biota may be more closely related to each other than to any modern groups."

Ha!

What can i say? Brasier's identified two fairly real strains of thought in palaeontology. I don't credit him with any originality there. You often come across a brief note at the beginning of papers in this field, highlighting the differing interpretations of the Ediacaran fossils in a similar way. In fact, Stephen Jay Gould wrote a whole book about it, though he was talking about a different set of fossils. Usually it's presented like this: we used to think these fossils were all related to modern forms, lately people have been questioning that.

All Brasier's brought into it is a geographical division. The "we used to" is the 'Australian School', the "lately" is the (more refined?) 'European School'. Other researchers might talk about "lumpers" v "splitters", or the practise of "shoehorning" extinct animals into recognisable modern forms v. a more imaginitive paradigm of treating them as potentially new phyla - but Brasier's given us the 'Australians' v 'Europeans'!

The philosophical division is real, but the choice of labels is a bit off (and could easily be taken the wrong way... i wonder if they're being deliberately provocative?). Although, re-reading Gehling's (Australian) chapter in "The Rise of Animals", he does explicitly identify an "Adelaide" school, exemplified by himself, Wade, Jenkins and Glaessner. But he also emphasises that Wade & Glaessner were "fully aware that many Ediacara forms were not related to any of the living animal phyla".

And the early work by Gurich and Richter certainly represented attempts to classify Ediacarans as members of modern groups. And they were writing from Germany, about Namibia. Hardly 'Australian'. And hardly what Brasier and Antcliffe identify as the 'European' school. You could probably trace the entire 'European School' to two particular people, Pflug (who placed certain Ediacarans in the new phyla Petalonamae) and Seilacher (who placed them in the Vendobionta).

As for identifying Ediacarans by their similarities to each other (Brasier & Antcliffe's 'European School') rather than their similarities to modern groups (us ignorant 'Australians' ;) ), aside from the initial peices by Pflug and Seilacher, there hasn't been a great deal of work from any 'School' advancing this perspective in as much depth as it deserves. I suspect this division has more to do with the early Ediacaran reports coming from Australia simply because the Ediacarans were first identified as a unique fauna in Australia, and later reports (more open to novel interpretations by virtue of coming later) mainly appeared after the identification of Namibian (German), Canadian, and Russian sites as being Ediacaran, when a new set of researchers became interested.

But i'll read through the references, and give them a hearing. With a smirk on my face, i'm sure.

Thu, May. 21st, 2009, 06:44 pm
My day at the University strike rally.

One of the highlights of my day was seeing the statue of Redmond Barry - the statue that stands outside Victoria's State Library, holding up a union banner.

Redmond Barry was very much an aristocrat. He was a notorious hanging judge (he's the guy who sentenced Ned Kelly), as well as a bit of a buffoon. Whether you agree with Ned Kelly's sometimes dubious ethics or not, it's acknowledged in historical circles that the guy didn't get a fair trial in Redmond Barry's court. Barry presided over similarly farcical trials in regards to the Eureka rebellion (only public pressure prevented him from hanging everyone involved - no Melbournian jury would convict!). And he was a man who took an inordinate amount of joy from sending poor people off to do hard labour (or to their deaths).

If you see a statue of a person around Melbourne, you can be pretty sure that you're looking at a fairly hideous human being. We don't make statues of decent people. (The most humane statues you'll see are the mythical scene of St George slaying the Dragon, and Joan of Arc - much as i appreciate Jeanne's revolutionary nature, i don't think she's there for her anti-British politics.) The Eight-Hour-Day Monument doesn't have a statue attached to it, because statues are built by those who can afford them. Barry's statue cost ₤1000, a lot of money at the end of the 19th Century. We generally have our statues put up by wealthy institutions such as the Melbourne Club, and these sorts of clubs have a pretty sordid list of "heroes". Redmond Barry is one of these aristocratic heroes.

So there was something funny about seeing the old cretin holding up an NTEU flag.



Why was Mr Barry holding up a banner? Today the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) held a strike. The immediate subject of the strike was the negotiation of a new contract for University employees. Basically, lecturers and tutors and other academic staff at universities are ripped off whenever possible by Australia's universities (Monash, Uni of Melbourne, Deakin, RMIT, LaTrobe, Victoria Uni, Swinburne - there are no 'good' university managements). They are often on casual contracts, which gives them poor job security even though they may have been working somewhere for many years. I know of academics who spend maybe 10-12 hours a day keeping their departments running and keeping their academic discipline alive, but who are paid part-time.

Reasons Behind The Strike

They also work under poor conditions. For the past thirty years or so, Australian universities have been badly mismanaged. There has been the development of a culture of managerial bullying within some institutions. Researchers are expected to spend much of their time looking for grant money; numbers of publications and values of grants have been used as indicators of performance. In many cases, these are very poor performance indicators. Staff at universities have also been censored. Paul Mees, for example, was sold out by his colleagues for making disparaging remarks about our woeful Department of Transport. He was explicitly given a pay cut for saying things that were contrary to the government's interest - they made no secret out of the reason he was punished. Obviously, this is a dangerous precedent.

Large swathes of staff have been fired at the major Melbournian universities in recent years. When Howard came into power, Monash lost most of it's archaeology department. Class sizes have risen, partly as a result of this: university managements have obsessed over maximising student intakes while minimising the staff needed to serve them.

The people who run universities have a dispicable attitude toward students, often describing them as "customers", working against their interests by raising HECS fees and by embracing "full-fee" placements. Its all about making money. And this focus on the bottom line has also resulted in poor conditions for students, with university "administrative" fees and fines, with universities demanding students pay for material that should apparently, under the current law (not that our lawmakers are any friends of students), be provided free.

Basically, Australian universities are badly mismanaged at all of the major institutions, and the tertiary education system is being slowly killed off by government policies (and yes, that includes the supposedly "left"-wing ALP government; in fact, i believe it was ALP governments that brought in the "Dawkins reforms" during the 1980s: these are the reforms that have caused much of the damage i'm describing).

So today there was a strike, to shut down the major universities as an act of protest to force University managements to actually pay attention to the demands of their staff. Picket lines were set up on some campuses, to ask people not to enter on account of the strike (though plenty entered anyway). I went to both Melbourne Uni and RMIT to see the pickets and help out.

The Rally

The strike was to be marked by a rally at 1pm at the State Library, and there were people from RMIT and Melbourne (both of which are just up the road from the rally), Deakin, Swinburne, LaTrobe, Vic U and VCA there as well. VCA is an interesting case - according to people i spoke to at the rally, they're being absorbed by Melbourne University, and their student union is about to be abolished completely. Melbourne Uni is apparently denying them funds, despite having taken "ownership" of the campus. Perhaps they're just eliminating a competitor?

It turned out some of our obstacles tend to be Union management. The student union at Monash University, i know from direct experience, is fairly right-wing. The dominant party will make claims to being left-wing, they'll sing "Solidarity Forever" when they win an election, they'll campaign for better student conditions (though not too strongly), but they basically come down on the right-hand side of many issues (and they explicitly oppose student unions campaigning on any issue not directly related to students on campus (e.g. voting down a simple motion to make a mere statement on the recent massacres in Gaza)), and watching them in a Student Council session is like watching a group of young children playing at Bureacracy - it's terrifying to imagine that these people are the politicians of tomorrow. They did very little to inform people about the strike, and apparently there were similar attitudes coming from student unions at other universities.

And the NTEU union leadership is fairly toned-down. Their membership is far more radical than their leadership. I and some other demonstrators had a discussion about this today. There was a large number of dedicated staff at the rally, and if the guy with the microphone had established an "Open Mike" - a Speakout - we could have been there for hours! We almost definitely would have been there for hours. These people gave up their paychecks for the day - they had something to say! They deserved to have something positive to do, to make themselves literally heard.

But the rally was called off at about 2-ish. The interesting thing: everyone kind of stuck around anyway. There was a general air of surprise that we were finishing so early.

The guy who called it off early (and who controlled who did and didn't speak) made a comment about how crazy it was that University staff expect less fair pay conditions than the people who stock shelves at the supermarket.

This comment met with a general embarrassed silence from the crowd, some of whom (myself included) have probably had such jobs before. In fact, there was an MUA (Maritime Union) representative there, and i wonder what he made of that comment, seeing as the MUA represents "lower class" jobs as well. I certainly didn't see why shelf-stockers should be less well-treated than anyone else. There were other comments this guy made that caused me and my friends to wonder whether he really got it.

Interestingly, this same dude who called things off early was also the moderator at a meeting about six months ago of NTEU members, which i attended. They were voting on a resolution. When it got to the part of the meeting where you ask people to comment on the resolution, HEAPS of people had something to add to it, but he just kind of shot them down! And they were all trying to make the resolution much more radical than it actually was! It didn't happen, no modification of the resolution was permitted. Once again, these people wanted to do something bigger. (It wasn't just the people who stood up and tried to add something, either - i heard similar comments from the people sitting around me. These people weren't young uppity students like myself - they were academics.) I should really get this guy's name. And this is not an unfamiliar story - union leaderships in the past have always been notoriously unreliable, and are almost always much more right-wing than the unionists they supposedly represent. It's like a microcosm of society. There may be a lesson to be drawn from this.

The Picket Lines

I convinced a few people not to cross the picket line at RMIT today, and it felt good being able to connect with people one-on-one. A few kind words can go a long way. And i definitely had an impression that many people supported what was happening, most simply didn't know about it in advance.

Some awkwardly crossed the picket line, mumbling something about having presentations today - and this is something that some University staff members actually forced them into. (I heard from others that there were very 'conveniently' scheduled mandatory classes of various kinds.) Mostly i didn't think less of them, i know what those pressures are like. After speaking to others at my place of work (which is on-campus), we decided to close down for the day rather than cross a picket line. But i don't know what i would've done if my co-workers hadn't been so sympathetic; i would've felt some obligation to turn up regardless (though thats partly because i actually care about my particular workplace (and it's not at all aligned with University management) - i'm lucky in that respect).

Then there were the ratbags; the people who yelled abuse, who tried to tear down some of our signs, who made motions towards physical violence. They were in the minority, and largely reminded me of the pathetic group of Young Liberal students who turned up to the anti-VSU rallies - imagine a crowd of 5,000 students protesting against the Howard government, meeting about ten Young Liberals holding up their adoring photographs of John Howard and Peter Costello. That was the image that popped into my head whenever i saw a virulently anti-union person, so it was hard to be angry at them in that context (i.e. when they're so clearly powerless).

All in all, an interesting day, but much too brief.

Tue, May. 19th, 2009, 09:38 pm

According to a Monash Uni e-mail:

"You may be aware the NTEU has called for a 24 hour strike on Thursday, 21 May 2009 at all Victorian campuses of the University.

Employers (including Monash University) are prohibited from making a payment to an employee engaging in industrial action (section 507 of the Workplace Relations Act).
"

Very matter-of-fact, fairly depressing comment on this country's lawmakers.

The Melbourne Uni e-mails are, predictably (for Melbourne Uni), fairly slimy; with students being told by the University administration how much it deeply regrets what these heartless unionists are doing in compromising their education by taking strike action. I'm paraphrasing, as i don't have the e-mail handy.

There is no mention of the issues relating to the strike, in either e-mail (but see below*), and no mention by the respective University admins of what they will be doing to support the strikers demands. Presumably, they'll be doing nothing.

After all, they are part of the problem.



Edited to add:

*A seperate e-mail sent out by Monash University's Peter Marshall (listed as "Vice-President (Administration)") did cover the main reason for the strike:

The strike action has been called by the NTEU in support of a new
enterprise bargaining agreement for academic and general staff of the
University. The strike is protected industrial action under the
provisions of the Workplace Relations Act 1996, and is a legitimate form
of industrial action available to the NTEU in support of its enterprise
bargaining claims.


This e-mail wasn't sent out to post-grads as far as i can ascertain (i didn't recieve it), but was sent out to undergrads. It's heartening that Mr Marshall saw fit to point out the legal legitimacy to the strike.

When you start talking about legal legitimacy, though, you have to get past ones befuddlement at the concept of a "legal" versus an "illegal" strike action. I know that in some circumstances (possibly all, but i havent done the research to back that up), it's actually only considered "legal" to strike in relation to an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. Which would explain the NTEU's leadership being out of step with the membership - they're concerned with "legal" strike subjects, whereas the membership are concerned with many more issues related to the running of a university.

Tue, May. 19th, 2009, 01:23 pm
Awesome quote of the week.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcx9BJRadfw

“There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

- Mario Savio, spokesmen of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, advocating civil disobedience in 1964.

Eerily similar to a speech made at one stage by the character 'Tyrol' in the recent Battlestar Galactica series. I had no idea the writers were deliberately quoting someone real. That makes me happy.

Mon, May. 18th, 2009, 05:30 pm
Stupid quote of the week.

"In one of the Australian film industry's most hotly-contested marketing campaigns, Queensland fought fierce interstate and international competition for this coveted project and is now in final discussions to become the enchanted world of Narnia." - Anna Bligh

HOW VERY ENCHANTING!

Do i need to add anything? Lack of arts funding and lack of support for local creativity? Lack of interest in creative endeavours that don't waste an obscene amount of money? Economic models that foster cut-throat competition and wasteful 'marketing campaigns' for the sake of MAGICAL PIXIE LANDS?

I guess i added it anyway. How unlike me.

Sun, May. 17th, 2009, 09:47 am
Linksies

Found after searching for "evolutionary psychology" in Twitter (and being amazed at how on-the-nose people can be in 140 characters of criticism...); it's not actually got anything to do with evolutionary psychology btw:

The Radical Notion on "Body Hair in Commercials"

Which reminded me of this, found via shehasathree a month or so ago (posting at a similar time):

mawaridi on a similar topic in Not MY Bloody Hero

They both have some v. interesting more recent posts on feminist topics as well, if you're interested.

And finally, found while searching for "Alan Moore" interviews:

Criticial Response to President Barack Obama - a selection of essays about the American left's favourite right-wing monarch...

Sat, May. 16th, 2009, 07:59 pm

Am watching Twilight, and am actually kind of amazed at how much i'm enjoying it. (I reserve the right to make fun of it still!)

My favourite character is the guy in the restaurant who was thinking "Cat".

He may well be my favourite character of any movie.

My least favourite character is Edward's hair.

Sat, May. 16th, 2009, 06:18 pm

"[W]hen you mention the idea of anarchy to most people they will tell you what a bad idea it is because the biggest gang would just take over. Which is pretty much how I see contemporary society." - Alan Moore

Have had this thought many, many times. (In Australia's case, the "biggest gang" are just the richest. We have a rich prime minister heading a government of representatives who - whether they are "Labor" or "Liberal" (it makes little difference) - are overwhelmingly from wealthy professions, who have overwhelmingly bought in to power-serving economic philosophies like 'neo-liberalism' or 'economic rationalist' economics, who run pro-business policy mostly just for the sake of the other people in the same monetary league as they are; that is, mostly, the ultimate owners of businesses. It's "might makes right".)

Authors on Anarchism: An Interview With Alan Moore

Thu, May. 14th, 2009, 06:52 pm
Yet more Star Trek.

Wow.

Julius Sykes went to an amazing effort with this: Brave New World: The Government, Culture and Starfleet of the United Federation of Planets.

Also, "The existing evidence establishes the United Federation as a Marxist communist society." - hehe, told you so ;)

Interestingly, he suggests that the moneyless aspect of the Federation evolved in the late 23rd century - that is, in-between the original-cast movie series and the Next Generation series, with the movie-era being the transitional period. I tend to suspect it's always "supposed" to be moneyless, and the appearance of a change is more just an artifact of inconsistent writing (Roddenberry seemed to guide Next Gen much more strongly in the first couple of years, i think he actually described it as fixing up the things he always wanted to do with the first series), but it's a fun exercise.

Anyway, from the perspective of this genre of essay, calling something the result of inconsistent writing (or low budgets, or a need for drama, or bad special effects) is like cheating.

He also has another one called Senatus Populusque Romulanus: The Government and Culture of the Romulan Star Empire, which i haven't got around to reading yet, and a range of similar articles set in the Star Wars universe.

Fun-times, if you're an absolute nerd with an interest in politics and exhaustive detail...

Mon, May. 11th, 2009, 08:11 pm
post-"Star Trek"-seeing thoughts.

Have seen Star Trek, have very mixed opinions. I actually think there was a lot of awesome about it, though also a lot of atrociousness.

Thoughts under text, to avoid possible spoilage.Collapse )

Thu, May. 7th, 2009, 04:52 pm
Clutching at straws? Or clutching at AWESOME?

I don't want to be spoiled for the new Star Trek movie, but a friend pointed me to a review that mentioned that the scriptwriters are Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. I mentioned Orci and Kurtzman once before in reference to Star Trek and utopian fiction, but somehow didn't twig, at the time, that they are the writers of the Transformers movie...

Transformers, even though i've seen it three or four times, did suck. It could probably have been good, if Micheal Bay hadn't directed it. And seriously, tell me how awesome that movie would've been if they had, for example, cut out all of the human-characters dialogue? I mean, none of the characters expressed any emotions, or performed any actions, that couldn't have been replaced with mime. (If you mime something that's superficial and cliche, it magically turns into art. Try it. At the very least, it takes less time and you're not sitting through it, squirming and wincing, for as long.)

This is a YouTube project for somebody with way more time and skill than me.

BUT: all of the things that sucked about Transformers where also things that suck about all Micheal Bay movies - the man has never made a good film. So, possibly, the scriptwriters have far less influence than you would assume. I mean, extract the Micheal Bayness from Transformers (i.e. the elements that Transformers has in common with other Micheal Bay movies), and you get a decent movie. Add more talented writing and care, and it could've been brilliant.

Now, Micheal Bay has never made a good film, but Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtman, despite their association with him, have worked on good TV shows. They were involved in Hercules, Xena, and Alias. Sure, these shows, while among my sentimental favourites, can also be pretty bad when they want to be. But Star Trek is admittedly in the same league, so that tells you nothing anyway.

So... it could be good. It could mean nothing. If you could extract and distill the J.J. Abrams-ness from all his movies and TV shows, i think you actually get something pretty decent - sometimes sloppy, but unlikely to be boring.

Now imagine you could liquify Transformers and boil away all the Micheal Bayness to purify it, and then soak it in J.J. Abrams. Abrams is like, exactly the sort of director who might well think of reducing all the human dialogue to mime and letting the eerie giant-robot-ness take over. Maybe? Well, he'd be more likely to do something cool than... again... you-know-who.

Wed, May. 6th, 2009, 02:12 pm

Something about recovering from being sick makes me feel better than i did beforehand.

It's like, i take health for granted normally, and then getting over a flu (not that flu) forces you to realise just how nice it is to simply breathe clearly. Anyway, i still have a cough, but even with that i swear i feel better than i did on Thursday, before i was sick. Maybe my brain is releasing happy drugs.

Anyway, on unrelated things, i like what Chaia Heller says about critical films/essays/etc... lacking a "second half" - the half where you say "now what do we do?". It's quite pervasive. In fact i remember seeing the green tips at the end of An Inconvenient Truth and thinking it was slightly anticlimactic, "Are these handy hints really the solution to the problem you've just built up for us?" Not that they don't matter, just that, now that you've got this wonderfully popular platform, and you've established this argument about what's going wrong with the world, there must be bigger directions to take it in.

U2 cover All Along The Watchtower, a song about impending revolution, and in their version they say "All i've got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth... the rest is up to you", and i feel a bit dirty when it gets to that bit, because U2 actually have an awful lot more than that, and they use it to raise funds for organisations like Amnesty International (which is EXCELLENT), but they also tend to use it to grant "youth-cred" to politicians like Tony Blair, when they could be mounting a critique of these kinds of phony people. They're anti-poverty campaigners, yes, but you can't call for an end to poverty without finding alternatives to the systematic... systems that create poverty. It'd be fairly awesome if they realised how much more they had, and went further with it.

Maybe they feel as constrained as the rest of us. The "rest is up to you" aesthetic of "everyone get involved" is not controversial (nothing vaguely democratic or revolutionary can function without it), it's the "all i've got" bit that makes me squint, i think.

A little stream of consciousness.

Tue, May. 5th, 2009, 03:47 pm
New heights.

http://community.livejournal.com/melbournemaniac/2938121.html

The people on that community absolutely amaze me. It all became too much for me sometime ages ago, and i made my opinion of melbourne_maniac pretty clear in an internet-crash-and-burn sort of way. I stay on the group, just because not everyone there is like this, and most posts are fairly innoffensive (if only because there's not much room to be offensive in a post like "where do you buy spare bike chains?").

Anyway, check the post above out. With the possible exception of a couple of comments that are definitely meant as a joke (malky's, i'm sure), not a single person found something wrong with the constant stream of bile directed at the anonymous woman photographed in the entry.

eugenedrowning says "Once she spat on someone cause they told her to get a job... charming" ... "she has the worst voice too"

ryoflame says "I just don't get how you can just... DO that and not feel like a complete loser!"

science_of_life says "Beached as..."

And then someone posts a fake Pokemon card, taking the joke to it's natural place.

The responses, about a dozen losers with nothing to add themselves, replying with "A++", "LOL X a million", "made of win"...

HAHA! SHe's FAT! SHE ASKS PEOPLE FOR MONEY!! OMG WHAT A LOSER!!! HAHA - MAYBE SHES RETARDEDZ!??!? FTW!!!!!

You fucking win, internet.

Mon, May. 4th, 2009, 07:41 pm
Arguing with Zionists vs. Arguing with creationists.

E-mail from a friend at Students for Palestine on a student union by-election: "Zionists and right-wing people in the student union are collaborating to run a ticket called “Reform”, which explicitly wants to stop the union wasting time “condemning entire countries” and campaigning around "political issues"."

Ugh. So much Orwell. They are, of course, only referring to one specific country when they say "condemning entire countries". And, a political group which doesn't want students to be vocal about "political issues"?

There's a whole argument that staying silent while some atrocity is being committed is a political act. But even without that, it's kind of comical. And scary. Its hard to get into the heads of these people. On one level, a lot of zionists seem to have just been raised that way; and i get that. I've encountered it before within other ideologies that i generally find dubious. It's not uncommon, and it's not dishonest. (Often, they just think that all the awful things done by the Isreali government are justified by the existence of terrorism. You can argue with these people honestly, it just becomes an argument about politico-military tactics and human rights.)

But there are others with whom you might argue face-to-face, and they'll perform these amazing rhetorical gymnastics that no honest coherent person could really believe in, and you wonder, 'what is really going on in there?' The only experience that seems directly comparable is having internet arguments with creatonists, where there's a web of self-contradiction, of blatant and unapologetic warping of language (bait-and-switch is common), and it makes you wonder what is going on in that person's head. Surely you can't use those tactics without being aware that you're using a tactic, at least some of the time?

Hardcore fundamentalist Christians will sometimes say "It's okay to use dishonest tactics to convert someone to the cause; we know we're right because of our faith, so we're just doing them a favour. Ends justify the means."

I wonder if there is a similar philosophy with Zionism - something like "I actually do believe that the Jews have a right to establish a racist state and dispossess anyone who isn't Jewish in the process. But i know this person i'm arguing with would never accept that, because they're indoctrinated into 'Western liberalism' or whatever, and they might even accuse me of racism, so i have to pretend i don't believe that to get them to be sympathetic toward me as a supporter of Isreal. If i succeed, then the trickery used to get there doesn't matter."

The Reform ticket is sponsored by people opposed to the activities of groups like Students for Palestine; but instead of saying this, they say they're opposed to student union members campaigning around "political issues". Afaik they dont have a problem with the campaign for higher Austudy payments, or lower costs for degrees, or better public transport to uni, etc etc. So why don't they just say "We want them to shut up about Palestine"? Just be honest, for god's sake.

Sun, May. 3rd, 2009, 10:36 am
humans, hope, fear.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, you’ve just hit eighty. We just have a few minutes to go. And how does it feel?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I have a few years to go. I don’t think about it much.

AMY GOODMAN: But as you reflect, talking about these huge social movements, cataclysmic times in the world, your life experience, what gives you hope?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there’s both hope and fear. I mean, I’m old enough to have grown up in the Depression. And some of my memories—I didn’t understand that much at the time—childhood memories, are listening to Hitler’s speeches. I didn’t understand them, but I could sense the reaction of my parents, you know, and had a feeling of fear, you know, a tremendous fear. In fact, the first article I wrote was in 1939, when I was in fourth grade, and it was about the expansion of fascism over Europe, a kind of a dark cloud that may envelop everything. And as I mentioned before, I have some of those same concerns now.

[...]

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, our condolences on the loss of Carol.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: Your life partner, someone you knew—well, you’re eighty—what, for seventy-seven years?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, actually. Not easy to face.

AMY GOODMAN: What gives you the strength to go on after Carol?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the kind of thing you do, for example. That makes a difference.

Sat, May. 2nd, 2009, 08:12 pm

Am listening to Noam Chomsky talk about the economy on Democracy Now! - http://www.democracynow.org/2009/4/13/noam_chomsky_on_the_global_economic

His books can sometimes be written in a dense, convoluted sort of way, but his interviews are very different.

He always sums things up so succinctly, without dumbing it down. And he delivers everything with such a strange, dispassioned sort of air. He's not alarmist, and he's not boring, he's just having a conversation. And he cuts to the heart of things, but doesn't come off as pedantic in the process. And you can tell that he's seen all of this stuff so many times before that no injustice particularly surprises him. There's a sadness in that.

Like he figured out how the world works long ago, and spent his life watching it prove him right in ever more unfair and horrible ways. It seems to come through in interviews more strongly than in his writing.

Maybe just because you can see him as this human being, sitting there, never hedging, never dodging a question, always cutting to the meaning of something rather than obsessing over the terminology or the "letter of the law".

Watch his interviews. Compare them to any interview ever with, say, any politician, any member of Cabinet or prime minister. Compare it to Stephen Conroy's pissweak interviews about his bullshit censorship proposal. Heck, compare to anyone else who's written a book and is being interviewed to help sell it.

Listening to Chomsky is like watching smoke finally clear.

Fri, May. 1st, 2009, 11:36 pm
I'm starting to wonder if Monty Python was actually the BBC's most objective "hard news" program.

Just heard on Channel Nine news break (and badly paraphrased):

'As Australia prepares for the swine flu, [some person] says families should start stocking up on food and water...

[images of a lady putting big containers of water and muesli bars into her cupboard]

But [So-and-So] says, "It's too
early to start hoarding!"'

Holy mother of f**k!

I have never had much respect for the media, but they just crossed the line from general incompetence splashed with hints of evil derived from a systematic inability to critique themselves or properly approach any matters of bias whatsoever, to INSANE CARTOONISH NONSENSE-HUMOUR ZANINESS!



Kent Brockman: Hordes of panicky people seem to be evacuating the town for some unknown reason. Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it's time for our viewers to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside?

Professor: Yes I would, Kent.

Thu, Apr. 30th, 2009, 02:47 pm
Same-sex marriage

http://www.samesame.com.au/news/local/3958/Rudd_Government_Says_No_To_Civil_Unions

Thought i'd write about this because i seem to be taking a minority position on the gay marriage issue. I don't "believe in" gay marriage, because i don't "believe in" marriage. I tacitly support gay marriage only because straight marriage exists, but i don't believe that either institution should be mentioned in the law (or treated as an "institution", as opposed to a "personal ceremonial thingy-doodle").

The article linked above brings up a couple of points that are worth raising;

1) The 2020 summit was a sham, in that the ALP never intended to do anything but what they intended to do all along (and plenty of people said so at the time). The only ideas getting out of the summit alive will be ideas they don't really care about one way or another, or ideas they were going to implement anyway. When your excuse for not considering an idea from the summit is "our policy is this, but you're saying that", it's pretty clear that that never stood a chance. Hence, "sham."

2) Marriage is, in my opinion, also a bit of a sham. In the words of the above article, "the Government said that their “policy on marriage reflects the widely held view in the community that marriage is between a man and a woman”" (apologies for quoting a quote).

I would add to that that the word marriage carries a range of connotations that not all people agree with. For example, "marriage" is almost always used to mean monogamy, frequently means a commitment to have children, often (still!) means certain gender roles are to be assigned to the couples involved, and, of course, frequently means "a man and a woman". It's (still) almost always "a major event in a person's life", and a major single event in a persons life (people will give you odd looks if you reveal you've been married multiple times to the same person, with no divorces in-between), and generally blown up into a big stupid thing that you're meant to spend your childhood planning for and your adulthood commemorating (on a strict annual basis). It also carries monetary presumptions - the ATO and Centrelink see you differently if you're married (in fact, Centrelink officers are notorious for being complete shitholes when it comes to males and females who merely live together, even if they're not married). And the process of divorce is deliberately made arduous and bureaucratic partly for these reasons (when my parents went through it, they had to separate and physically live in different houses, not because that made any financial sense for them - it actually caused some hardship, but because it affected the way the law treated them).

None of these things mean anything to me, but they are the central ideas in the way marriage is defined (and treated).

On gay marriage:

The Government's position on this is homophobic. The "widely held view in the community that marriage is between a man and a woman" is, flat-out, homophobic. It's bigoted, and i guess that just adds to the list of my ongoing relationship problems with K'Rudd. The reason i use the word bigoted is twofold;
1) The ALP's decision means that one type of person has certain legal characteristics that another type of person does not (whether you think these characteristics are an advantage or not) - and note that they have rejected the proposal of gay civil unions - not just "marriage itself" (!),
2) The ALP's decision functions as a symbolic insult to people who might consider themselves inclined toward marrying somebody of the same gender as them (imo this is the bigger problem for most people in most circumstances).

My position, as i've said, is that the country is caught up in the wrong argument. I don't think we should be fighting to extend a web of outdated presumptions and dubious legalities to include gay couples, we should be removing both the presumptions and the legalities from everyone.

Marriage shouldn't have any more legal reality than a prayer, or a lifelong friendship. There are some situations where marriage has an impact upon people's lives or wellbeing. The most obvious one that comes to mind is marriage as an economic strategy - two people combine their incomes to reduce the burden on them both. There is targeted welfare that benefits married couples (but, quite frankly, welfare can be better-handled whether marriage is an issue or not), but this situation is also hampered by having marriage be legally recognised, as it can also exclude you from welfare (e.g.// Centrelink tries to use it as an excuse to exclude people with opposite-sex flatmates from welfare; and taxes can take married partners into account).

The other situation is where a partner has certain rights/responsibilities (e.g. access to joint insurance, ability to drop in on their lover while they're in hospital, expectations regarding the care of children) as a result of being married. None of these cannot be acounted for in a marriage-free legal system. Regarding children, we already have laws regulating parental responsibilities irrespective of marriage. Regarding insurance or hospital drop-in rights, it would also be ridiculously easy to come up with a much better alternative than to go by state marriage records. For example, how about a system where every person is allowed to nominate one other (why not two other?) person to be their "medical confidante", or their "insurance buddy"...? I doubt this poses any sort of legislative challenge that isn't already posed (in a more presumptuous and unneccesarily bureaucratic manner) by marriage.

The only losers from a marriageless system would be geneologists (and don't you already wonder how much historical information they miss completely, being limited to marriage/birth/death records?). The winners would be everyone, with a more flexible way to spread benefits around a community, and protect oneself from state/economy-imposed sanctions.

Now.

What concerns me is that i haven't seen much sign of tolerance for this viewpoint from the gay-marriage-activist community. For example, i've had one person say to me that we should support gay marriage simply because otherwise, "the other side will win." The implication being that this is a two-sided issue (when clearly i've just positioned myself as occupying a third side).

You might ask, well, why shouldn't we? I'd answer that i think a person should advocate what they feel is right, not simply what they feel is politically expedient. (Look at how much headway Peter Garett has made into his 'real' politics by selling out... virtually none. They only let you do what they want to let you do.)

There's also a concern that by going for gay marriage without any radical critique, you may well be "helping the other side". At a recent gay-marriage-symposium-conference-y-thingy-doodle, a couple of audience members raised concerns about what the struggle for gay marriage actually represents. Some pointed to the ease with which gay culture can be co-opted by a right-wing, money-centred approach to life (in contrast to the "Socialist Alternative" party-line, that capitalism is "inherently homophobic", a claim i find very dubious), and, in this context, seemed concerned that some otherwise fairly-radical activists were concentrating on removing the insult from the lack of gay marriage, without attacking the root presumptions that power the insult - such as the fact that marriage is a legal institution in the first place.

That isn't to say that the insult shouldn't be confronted. Kevin Rudd's policy is homophobic - there's not really much argument on that score. But why does that imply that gay marriage is the solution? Why can't you say "Kevin Rudd, your policy is homophobic - get rid of the bureaucratisation of human relationships that made this insult possible in the first place!"

A cynical person might also suggest that parts of the gay marriage movement actually are interested in a fairly limited view of what constitutes a valid human lifestyle. Certainly parts of gay culture are like this; this is pretty much undisputable. Left-wing politics has no monopoly on gay people. It begs the question: why concentrate on the insult, the exclusion of gays from "normality", rather than atacking the injustice that makes the insult possible - and that has a more tangible relevance to a hypothetical somebody in a more troubling legal or economic situation? I think a normalising sort of attitude helps power a push for gay marriage at the exclusion of a critique of marriage (and of the legal/economic web it exists within), and if that's the case, then it's a push that leaves people out. It actively crafts its own insult for a minority within the minority (and another minority back within the majority, i might add). But, of course, that's as bad as saying that someone who questions the push for gay marriage is "helping out the Other Side", and i believe that it doesn't apply to too many actual gay-rights activists.

So what does this all add up to? Do you support gay marriage? I wonder if this is a bit like asking, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?", in that it implies the fallacy of the 'excluded middle.'

Do I support gay marriage? I don't want to answer 'yes' or 'no', because i reject the premise of the question.



...adding, "Kevin Rudd's a homophobe."

Wed, Apr. 29th, 2009, 05:57 pm
Some Pratt dies rich, media suggests "Order of Australia?"...

A prominent member of Australia's upper class, Richard Pratt, is dead. The media are referring to him as the "second-richest" man in Australia, he was actually the third-richest* according to Who Gets What: Analysing Economic Inequality in Australia, by Frank Stilwill and Kirrily Jordan, but let's not get hung up on the details...

So, in summary: Huge media story. Plenty of comments about his "philanthropy", how he struggled up from nothing; little mention of his actual business practises, aside from his involvement in a price-fixing scandal. Isn't it useful to have a whole country's media essentially run by your mates?

Pratt ran Visy.

Visy is known for taking advantage of the WorkChoices laws to sack an injured worker.

In 2001 they became known for running a plant that was apparently rife with safety hazards, after a worker was killed by electrocution. (Nobody suggested that this anonymous dude get the Order of Australia, in case you were wondering. I know, it seems that they're using some other criteria, aside from "being dead". Go Figure!) By the way, April 28th is apparently the International Day of Mourning for workers killed on-site, according to Slack Bastard. Pratt chose a convenient time to f**k off.

In 1999 Pratt's company reputedly flew scabs in over a picket line using helicopters. During that dispute, they sacked workers who participated in union activity. (Those evil unionists! How dare they assert some form of control over their own workplaces and conditions!) They paid poor wages to people who relied on those wages as full-time employment, they ran dodgy shifts (up to 13 hours "straight" counted as one shift according to one employee), and worked to erode employees conditions.

And Richard Pratt died a multi-billionaire.

Hilariously, one of Pratts underlings, John Murphy, has called for a minutes silence from the workers that Pratt lorded over. Just to make sure everyone gets the joke, Murphy's memo apparently reads: "In keeping with what Richard would most surely want, please ensure that production continues unabated during this time." Comedy gold!

Another member of our ruling class, worthless** thug Lindsay Fox (a dickhead in his own right), referred to the ACCC (a consumer watchdog organisation) chief as "betraying" Pratt by daring to investigate him for illegal price-fixing. One wonders what sort of "betrayal" he means. Class betrayal, perhaps? Looks like Fox is making sure that the well-to-do know where they ought to put their allegiance. Not that they seem to need much reminding, as indicated by the glowing media reports, filed by news editors already lining up to suckle on Pratt's cold dead toes.

If you're still wondering why i'm so disgusted by such a darling philanthropist, allow me one last paragraph. Like most business leaders, Richard Pratt skimmed his billions from the wealth generated by the people working under him, at the same time as working against their interests and denying them the basic right to control the places where they worked. And, like many business leaders, he then laundered small portions of that wealth through charity to lessen the insult. He willingly and knowingly impoverished (physically and metaphorically) the lives of other human beings, because he wanted something from them (their work). Putting some of the ill-gotten wealth to charity doesn't make that okay. I'm sure some philanthropists really believe they're doing the right thing - maybe not Pratt, but some, somewhere; i'm also sure that what they accomplish is bullshit compared to what could be accomplished with a fairer tax system and a government that spent on social welfare; or with a fairer distribution of profits to begin with, or with a fairer economic system based on co-operatives/communes/democratized workplaces/unionized workplaces/whatever you want to call them. Philanthropy is but a sad apology for the relative absence of these sorts of things from our society.



Footnotes:

*Journalists find it difficult to get these statistics correct because one of the people who owns them happens to be the richest: Rupert Murdoch, the man who left the country to get American citizenship, to take advantage of our dodgy (lack of) media ownership laws. I think Murdoch still ought to go on the list, because he takes money produced by Australians - just because he funnels our money out of Australia doesn't mean he's somehow no longer the richest leech in our system.

**Of course, i mean "worthless" in moral, not monetary, terms. The two often seem to be inversely correlated.

Various sources/further reading:
1) AAP article - the standard media cut-and-paste report that you probably read six or seven times before lunch today: http://www.tweednews.com.au/story/2009/04/29/tributes-flow-in-for-richard-pratt/

2) A July 1999 "world socialist website" article on some of the industrial disputes involving Visy: http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/jul1999/visy-j20.shtml

3) "Socialist Party" obituary: http://www.socialistpartyaustralia.org/archives/1803

4) "Minutes silence" cut-and-paste AAP story can be seen at http://www.thewest.com.au/aapstory.aspx?StoryName=569190

5) Who Gets What: Analysing Economic Inequality In Australia - ISBN is 978-0-52170-032-0 Australian Online Bookshop link

Mon, Apr. 27th, 2009, 10:24 pm

I just found out that Bea Arthur died. Nobody told me. (Except just then, when somebody did.)

:(

I feel this deep emotional need to rewatch that Futurama episode that was made extra awesome by her.

http://catandgirl.com/?p=1133
http://catandgirl.com/?p=1108

Death is stupid.

(http://catandgirl.com/?p=1606)

Sun, Apr. 26th, 2009, 11:13 am
environmentalism - a little too good at speaking the language of its' enemy?

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/233

Quoting Curtis White at some point past midnight last night led me to see if he has any other essays online, there's one at the link given above which contains some gems.

"Capitalism — especially in its corporate incarnation — has a logos, a way of reasoning. Capitalism is in the position of the notorious scorpion who persuades the fox to ferry him across a river, arguing that he won’t sting the fox because it wouldn’t be in his interest to do so, since he’d drown along with the fox. But when in spite of this logic he stings the fox anyway, all he can offer in explanation is “I did it because it is in my nature.” In the same way, it’s not as if businessmen perversely seek to destroy their own world. They have vacation homes in the Rockies or New England and enjoy walks in the forest, too. They simply have other priorities which are to them a duty."

The fox and the scorpion make an amazingly good description.

I disagree with part of his thesis, that the "corporate world" are in part just bogeymen obscuring the real problem. They may be legally obliged to "protect the shareholders" in many places, but they also do have discretion (as do the shareholders), they are human beings. And they often choose not to use that discretion, en masse. And they do throw their weight behind political campaigns, and public relations campaigns, and legal battles. And they do set up "think tanks" to run these campaigns. And they do tangibly obstruct the creation of better social ethics; they're not merely convenient scapegoats, even if a lot of the rhetoric against them is badly dumbed down in the bits of lefty culture that make it onto TV. Money does equal power.

But despite disagreeing on some points, there is something valuable in this essay. He is a genuinely good writer. Vivid, worth reading just for the way he puts things.

He argues against trends in the environmental movement:

"My concern is with the wisdom of using as our primary weapon the rhetoric and logic of the very entities we suspect of causing our problems in the first place. [...] It is because we have accepted this rationalist logos as the only legitimate means of debate that we are willing to think that what we need is a balance between the requirements of human economies and the “needs” of the natural world. It’s as if we were negotiating a trade agreement with the animals and trees unlucky enough to have to share space with us. What do you need? we ask them. What are your minimum requirements? We need to know the minimum because we’re not likely to leave you more than that. We’re going to consume any “excess.” And then it occurs to us to add, unless of course you taste good. There is always room for an animal that tastes good."

I've been around a lot of scientists, and they often actually do share the kind of ethic that White would agree with (most of the ones i've met, anyway). But there is a frustrating sense that you need to moderate and censor this in public, simply because the "public sphere" - delineated by journalists, politicians, and corporate lobbyists - only allows certain kinds of things to be said. The scientist that White pictures as coldly advocating 'just the bare minimum amount of CO2 reduction', quantified and placed in a legal framework, actually doesn't think or talk in this way when you meet them. It's just that only certain of their comments - only the most pseudo-quantitative sounding comments - escape the media filters and get through into the public arena. (Perhaps some of them learn to just speak in this way from the outset, because they know that's all that will make it through.) But i don't blame White for thinking otherwise. And people, especially scientists, especially in regards to global warming, ought to be more willing to "reject the premise of the question" - to paraphrase the character Annabeth in The West Wing.

Anyway. Read it.

Sun, Apr. 26th, 2009, 12:20 am

Oh god. I just watched "Hard Candy." Two hours of torture porn, where the instigator of the torture, the plucky kid with all the hackneyed cliches that the director probably thought were so clever is revealed, at the end, to be some heroic version of Red Riding Hood (after all, she was punishing a paedophile).

It's like a Passion Play where a hook-nosed devil-worshipping Jew gets strung up and tortured in various ways by a lynch mob.

And if you say, "Well, it's torture porn, but he was a paedophile", then please, let me point out that the hook-nosed Jew in my hypothetical Passion Play is a devil-worshipper, and - why not - let's say he's a child murderer too. Have him reveal it just before he dies and we cheer. What, do you support murder? No? Then stop dissing Passion Plays!

I refuse to accept the premise i was offered with. Movies are put together as a result of choices by the director, not the characters. The only message i could draw out of this movie was "'round up the boys and grab a length of rope."

I wish i could just erase it from my memory. Lucky we have livejournal!

These thoughts remind me of something Curtis White wrote, about the movie 'Saving Private Ryan':

"I have been surprised that my friends — intelligent, sophisticated people on the whole — had no idea what I was talking about when I elaborated my understanding of the film’s "lesson." At one level, Private Ryan is about a command not to kill a German prisoner who then goes on to kill several members of an American platoon. Thus the movie's frightening lesson (one that I've come to think of as archetypically North American) is: Always choose death, for if you do not, death will come anyway, later, multiplied.

When I called my friends' attention to the fact that Spielberg had chosen to have the initial decision not to kill made by a multi-lingual intellectual (and coward!), their response was usually along the lines of "what’s Spielberg got to do with the fact that he was a coward"; "I didn’t like that guy"; "he was a coward." What I finally had to conclude was that while I was treating the character of the intellectual Upham as a part of Spielberg's artifice, as an important element in an artistic structure, which structure once in place could be asked to reveal its meaning (and perhaps Spielberg's ideological baggage), my friends saw these characters as . . . real people.
"

- available online at Saving Private Ryan: Don't try to do no thinkin'!, and reproduced as a chapter in the book The Middle Mind by Curtis White.

Sat, Apr. 25th, 2009, 09:01 am
Lay it all down.

To all Australians and New Zealanders, happy "Human-Beings-Are-But-Fodder-For-The-Nightmare-Machine" Day.

Let's use the chance to remember the callousness, racism and incompetence of public figures like Winston Churchill and Billy Hughes, who threw us into the invasion of Turkish land that was Gallipoli (the date that ANZAC Day commemorates).

Let's use the chance to remember the peace protestors who get vilified every year for desecrating shrines, a far worse crime, in our world, than using shrines to desecrate human beings.

Let us remember the Australian "heroes" such as General Thomas Blamey whose statue stands near the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, who organised fascist paramilitary squads for the purpose of killing unionists, socialists, anarchists and communists in case they became too rowdy over the injustices they lived under.

Let us remember that our "social betters", men like Prime Minister Robert Menzies, admired Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, until they had a falling out over the limits of German territorial rights (also known as World War II), later imaginitively ret-conned into a humanitarian fight for the lives of the Jews, communists, gays and other social agitators that people like Menzies hated so much.

Let us remember the 10 women and 56 men who sailed from Australia - with absolutely no government approval or support of any kind - to fight back against the soon-to-be-dictator Franco's brutal crushing of the leftist Spanish Revolution, only to find themselves sold out by hardline Stalinists and attacked and executed by murderous Fascists (it's the story of the 20th century...).

Let us remember the RSL's attempts to set up groups of strikebreakers during the Whitlam era. Let us recall how, every single year, we get quotes from stupid, cowardly, decrepit old men boasting about how if they had their old rifle with them, they'd gladly maim or kill those rambunctious youngsters, and the Herald-Sun and the RSL cheer them on, revelling in the fantasy slaughter of their fellow citizens.

Let's use the chance to root out the strands of patriotism that creep into our souls, corrupting and debasing our ability to reason in the face of powerful psychopaths who - unchecked - would not think twice about sending us all overseas to sate their endless bloodlust with our deaths.

Above all, let's ignore our leaders. Let's turn our backs on Kevin Rudd. Let's turn our faces from Bruce Ruxton. Let's not forget the nightmares that rich men like these support in countries like Bolivia, East Timor, Nicaragua, and other third-world nations crawling with Western-backed fascist paramilitaries. Let's not forget the silence they keep when it comes to real injustices all over the world, unless it's suddenly in their favour to speak. Let's not take advice from another disgusting bigoted criminal again.




Music For ANZAC Day!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZdDxFsopVs - Candles In The Rain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XWjTXQutf4 - Forgotten Years

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ced8o50G9kg - Blowin' In The Wind

Thu, Apr. 23rd, 2009, 06:23 pm
Misty Water-Coloured Memories!

Seeing as i'm not expecting any cash from the guy any time soon, i don't feel bad about recapping the strains that have developed in my relationship with Kevin Rudd over the last two years.

So let us jump aboard the Time Machine of Self-Indulgent Livejournal Rants and take a trip down memory lane!

This may be cathartic.

For me. :)

'[U]tterley gutless. [...] Kevin Rudd has completely folded. ' (June 2007, on the NT Intervention)...

'Kevin Rudd's Labor Party floods us with it's own idiotic decisions' (April 2008, on Gillard's Education policy)...

'Rudd opposed him for formally denouncing the brutal military occupation in East Timor [...] I wonder if he feels it was worth it' & 'Partly due to Rudd [...] there also followed 8 more years of the Howard government' (June 2008, on East Timorese massacres)...

'attempting to prevent torture cases from being pursued [is] entirely consistent with the stance of people like Kevin Rudd' (September 2008, on Falun Gong)...

'Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are not going to do anything at all. It's against their basic corporatizing philosophy' (October 2008, on [a lack of] proper university funding)...

'We may as well not have had an election at all. I have a feeling Rudd & Gillard & Co. are actually going to give the Liberal Party a run for it's money' (October 2008, on internet censorship)...

'Kevin Rudd is as much of a right-wing shit as he ever was' (October, 2008, on [a lack of] Progressive Taxation)...

'[Won't Get Fooled Again] should have been the Kevin '07 campaign theme' (March 2009, on The Who)...

'[S]nivelling coward' (Yesterday, on boycotting a U.N. racism conference)...

'Just because someone wears glasses, doesn't mean they're not an idiot.' (Five minutes ago, on me not getting my fricking Rudd-money ... i mean, uh, on neoliberal distortions of accepted Keynesian economic policy)...

And, probably my personal favourite so far (but we have three more years to go!) -

*drumroll*

'Bespectacled. Goon.' (March 2009, on terrorism.)

Thu, Apr. 23rd, 2009, 05:04 pm
You are not eligible for the tax bonus.

Kevin Rudd reads my livejournal, and he's not giving me my Rudd-money.

Actually, he thinks i make too little money ($9,000 a year) to need any extra money. (So, goodbye car insurance for the next year...) Someone on $99,000 a year will get the payment, but probably no-one under $10,000 a year, to my understanding. (I guess you could call it "regressive welfare", a'la regressive taxes... the bonus drops as you approach $100,000, but only near the end - like a microcosm of Australia's idea of progressive tax in general)

The reason is that it's a tax bonus, not a welfare payment. As explained by the Australian Government tax bonus eligibility calculator that i just did. (I should have twigged when it became common knowledge that the ATO would be distributing it... i think i just assumed that this was the most convenient way to give pocket money to everyone in the country, when actually it's more like a second tax return.)

And this kind of makes sense, if you consider Rudd's pseudo-Keynesian neo-liberal ideology, and the reasoning behind the payments (i.e. "GO SHOPPING!").

John Maynard Keynes said that Recessions happen when money goes out of circulation because people are hoarding rather than spending. I called Rudd a "pseudo-Keynesian" because, unlike Rudd, Keynes was kind of an intelligent person. He thought that governments should "spend their way out of recessions", by spending on public works - building roads, bridges, hospitals, housing projects, etc. The idea is you employ builders who are unemployed (Keynes was pre-Welfare State, so being "unemployed" back then meant "YOU THINK ABOUT DYING NOW"), distributing money to them via wages, and they become more likely to spend their wages in their local communities (Keynes was also arguably pre-"Globalisation"), which flows into other peoples wages, and so on and so forth. The wealth created in the process is also capable of permanently benefiting the community, because the things you build don't just disappear next financial year (and there's some room in every budget for this sort of thing; generally not enough).

Unlike the stimulus package payments.

...

So, it literally is just a "stimulus"; a one-time booster shot that may not have any long-term effects (at least in terms of public works). The money'll be out of most people's system by July 2010. (I'm itching to make some insulting comment about Rudd's economic plan being similar to somebody pissing drug metabolites out in their urine, but i can't get the wording right...)

Which only sounds mildly inane, except when you consider the logic of the "GO SHOPPING!" plan in more depth. It ain't exactly the 'Invasion of Normandy' (to paraphrase Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

A Keynesian "stimulus" package involves direct spending on local labour; brick-layers, concreters, glaziers, architects, public servants, etc. So the money goes straight into the population you're trying to save from recession. But Rudd's plan - one more time, "GO SHOPPING!" - is about spending pocket money at the mall. Possibly it's derived from his neoliberal ideology - one of the basic tenets of neoliberalism is "the average person would spend their tax money better than the government ever could" (because, naturally, the average person is always getting together with her neighbours and pooling their extra income to set up homeless shelters; *rolleyes*). A warped neoliberal bastardisation of a Keynesian 'stimulus' might look exactly like this: Government essentially returning a portion of people's tax money to them, and then telling them to... deep breath... "GO SHOPPING!"

One of the effects of this is that, while, sure, you MIGHT hire somebody to rewire your house and boost the local economy by giving your electrician some money, it seems that Rudd expects us to splash out on things like big-screen TVs, miniature laptops (thats what i was going to think about getting with the money left over from my car insurance payment...), Buffy DVDs, clothing, etc. And one of the differences between Keynes's era and our own era, is that governments like Kevin Rudd's have sold out Australian producers in a wide range of areas - we are no longer capable of making a lot of our own stuff, because people like Rudd allow companies to hire overseas labour, who are expected to work for lower wages in shittier conditions. It's a way of bypassing those pesky worker's-rights advocates.

Which means, while Target and Big W might make a bit more money off the top, the main beneficiaries of the stimulus package will be the proprieters of South-East Asian sweatshops (especially if you buy Bonds underwear).

Not exactly what Keynes was getting at.

So, it just goes to show.

Just because someone wears glasses, doesn't mean they're not an idiot.

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