Friday, June 27, 2003

September 11 and Australian theatre

With its much-shorter lead-time than film, the theatre should be a fertile place for “big picture” representations of September 11, right now. Added to twenty months of gestation time, Australian’s distance from and yet (one-way) familiarity to NYC – theatre central – makes us as good a laboratory as any for the task. And “the task”, as I see it, is both simple and elusive – it is the art of moving on.

From what I read, cultural NYC has not “moved on” an iota. This doesn’t particularly surprise me. Artists (in the loose sense of the word) have excellent powers of premonition (again in the loose sense), and September 11 hit them/us for six. In NYC, cultural centre of the world since the lean post-WW1 years in Europe, the natural reaction was to flee – underground. As with so many other terms misappropriated by the Generation of ’68, “underground art” needs a thorough cleaning to now be actually understood. Using the term “hedonistic” in lieu of “underground” may be an easier route to conveying what I actually mean – but hedonism also casually slips into meaning something merely comfortable and idle. Hence, I’ll give up the search for a single-word describer now, and turn to my last resort; a phrase straight out of my Melbourne Uni English department mid-eighties indoctrination in postmodernity: Today’s cultural NYC is ferociously self-reflexive.

There – said it (PoMo had to come in handy one day). And, in case you’re completely lost, “ferociously self-reflexive” is generally a Bad Thing in art. All the more so because it combines Fear and Productivity, which by themselves are excellent qualities for art, but which, in combination, drown each other out.

So back to Australian theatre. With its NYC cultural godparent and template looking any which way but outside or up, should Oz dramatists take on the Fear – as in, put the Fear on stage, whether or not they also live with it in their own lives?

Two recent plays*, both about the post September 11 world seen through Australian eyes, depict authoritarian dystopias from the near-future. The Fear, then, is neatly parcelled up into, and contained within, a governmental over-reaction to Islamofascist terrorism. What troubled me most about these plays was their ambiguous, randomly-timed humour; a tone which I doubt was deliberate. By sitting evasively somewhere between bourgeois escapism and serious commentary, and choosing a stock-standard format (Allegorical Dystopia 101), neither play gave me as much as a wink of insight at my September 11. And the curse and problem** of being an artist these days is that, until we see it objectified naked and luminous in front of us, we can’t ever put it behind us.

So don’t look at me – September 11 and my bottom-drawer are the same thing for me, too: overflowing and untidy-uppable; the place my dreams go to visit when I am awake.

* “Babel Towers” and “Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America”

** On September 10, it was a boon and a gift

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Hindmarsh Island, culture warriors and developers

Margaret Simons has an interesting Op Ed piece in today’s Age.

The “sneering” in the title to her piece refers to the idiom of the Right’s “culture warriors” – a rather inexact term for general usage, but one that is appropriate enough to describe the small and interlocking group who were vehement opponents of the Hindmarsh Island “secret women’s business”. The author scores her best, elegant home run with this summation of the idiom:

It is not the language of conversation. It is the language of propaganda.

In one important way, however, “it” is not the language of propaganda at all – there is no mass audience anywhere on a map of all possible culture-war positions on Hindmarsh Island. So what are/were the culture warriors fighting for? Apart from the usual suspect – the mining industry, naturally concerned in a hip-pocket sense about another pro-Indigenous precedent – there doesn’t appear to be an easily-found answer on why the Right went in so hard on Hindmarsh Island, and still continues to do so.

One possible explanation is that the peak year of the affair, 1995, was more than coincidental with the lead-up to a Liberal government being installed in March 1996. Hindmarsh Island was never a national electoral wedge issue, but it could have usefully served as a behind-the-scenes obstacle course and pecking-order setter-upperer for the incoming regime. If so, it has had surprising longevity – both in terms of keeping the government more or less steady-state over seven long years, and in the meagreness and tardiness of political favours being repaid (Ron Brunton was only recently appointed to the ABC board, despite having long ago arguably earned his Hindmarsh “stripes”).

My own preferred explanation for the Right’s near-obsessive hold to Hindmarsh is more prosaic than career jockeying and self-interest. If the Australian movie “The Castle” (1997) told the fable of a small guy successfully, and against the odds, taking on The Big End of Town, the Hindmarsh Island bridge affair was a narrative for the Right that told exactly the opposite. Somehow, a few Ngarrindjeri women were cast as “The Big End of Town” and an affluent property developer couple became the ones fighting over a line in the sand, a point ostensibly more one of principle than money.

How was this spectacular substitution achieved, without anyone seemingly noticing? Simple – much the same thing was going on in a thousand other places in Australia at the same time. Development became – and remains – a cult, a thing quite removed from financial security, wealth creation or housing need. There were, and are, still lots of sleepy fifties-beach-shack style places around the Australian coastline, but none that could as inappropriately be given the Gold Coast marina treatment as an island at the mouth of Australia’s great river. This wasn’t about property speculation, or even just untrammelled greed – Hindmarsh Island was a line in the sand to end all lines in the sand.

We all wear white shoes now.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Think-tank director (and Gen X member) has brainwave . . .

. . . Make universities more like think-tanks.

This kills several birds with one stone – think-tanks can take on paying customers/students, who will all think that they are on a golden-egg career path to becoming high-paid think-tank directors just like Tim Watts*, but of course will have to leave such a nest of illusory comfort at some stage, which can only mean that they must work in/for something even more opaque, elitist and pseudo-institutional than a think-tank c. 2003.

From such a future great career height, then, what are today’s mere aspirants will enshrine – by default alone – a post-school challenge for the next generation that is even more arcane, expensive and pointless than the one they created to give jobs to the grabbiest among themselves.

* If you need to know almost-everything about Tim Watts (other than his private school book prizes [I’m assuming], which he curiously leaves off his resume); then Google { "Tim Watts" Melbourne } and look at his resume (# 1 ranking at the time of writing). You’ll need to “View as HTML”, as the Word/DOC format is password locked.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Prejudice, the hijab, and the “e-word”

Sydney lawyer Randa Abdel-Fattah is a whinging, spoilt princess.

As far as the hijab – as with any sort of religious get-up – goes, then I (and, I assume, almost all Australians) oppose any form of discrimination against its wearers. I am proud to live in a free country, unlike, say, Turkey, where wearing the hijab is banned (so leading many hijab-preferring Turkish women from rich families to study in the hijab-friendly USA instead).

Sincere religious belief is one thing; career “empowerment” and the landing of a scarce, high-paying white-collar job are quite another. If Randa really thinks that the upper echelon of the legal profession is some kind of last bastion of hijab-prejudice in Australia, then she simply hasn’t got a clue. Muslim girls and women are getting physically attacked on the streets of the working-class suburbs where most Australian Muslims live.

But don’t let that depressing thought worry you too much, Randa. Large city law firms don’t usually do criminal law; meaning that there’s little chance of you ever having to deal professionally with the victims of such crimes – or the perpetrators.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Dante’s inferno goes to new level

If this is more or less true, then only losing Ruddock’s scalp is going to be an absolute best-case scenario for the Libs.

It is hard to imagine an acceptable explanation being given on why the “extra” funds Tan donated have not so far surfaced in AEC records – thus making the donations doubly suspect, from the probity point of view.

As to how wide the blame-net will extend – all I can say is that John Howard might now well be deeply regretting his recent decision to stay on in the job, all so as to hopefully score an Elder Statesman write-up in the annals of history. Laughing stock-cum-pariah is my prediction on what Howard might be best remembered for – an all-beige shonk and Nixon-Lite.

Update 24 June 2003

Was this story – filed by AAP late yesterday morning – too hot to touch, or are the broadsheets waiting for some documentary evidence of Tan’s “extra” donations before running it? Or was the nascent story just yanked anyway by scaredy-cat lawyers? (As Ferguson’s claims were apparently made outside parliament, the media don’t have qualified privilege for reporting/republishing them). If the latter hunch is correct, it is curious that the SMH and News Ltd websites are still posting the AAP wire slug.

Supporting the “too hot to touch” theory (more in the plenary political, than the defamation-law narrow sense), is the Tan story the broadsheets did run with this morning. While undoubtedly newsworthy, it is also notably lightweight, considering its provenance as a conscious counter-attack by the Libs during yesterday’s question-time. The Nicholson cartoon on the front page of today’s The Australian says it all.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Shock new finding: Parties an excuse for everyone getting blind drunk

Okay, picking on the Salvos, just for trying to re-invent wowserism for a new generation, is a bit below the belt. But it is Sunday morning, and I still feel seriously ratshit some 30 hours after ingesting my last party-enhancing substance. And it was no ordinary party, either – not only was it mon anniversaire, it was the last such one of my dirty thirties.

All disclaimers aside, surely nothing can forgive or justify this little pearler from the president of the Psychologists Registration Board of Victoria (& clearly, non-Mills and Boon reader), Dr David List (same URL):

“Young males refused entry to a party could see it as an affront to their emerging manhood".

Quite. Hence the priapic origin of the battering ram (“gatecrasher”, geddit), I assume.

And by way of Sunday morning penance for my cheap shot at the Salvos, my frazzled neurons have just regurgitated up this gem from my past. As a hard-drinking undergrad, when beer was eighty-something cents a pot, one of the said Army was forever flogging the “War Cry” at my local. Only one of my drinking buddies ever coughed up, but his unflagging enthusiasm for the product surely alone made my local one of Melbourne’s top ten sales outlets for the “War Cry”. My mate never read the product, of course, and had fried his brains out, Syd Barrett-style (but on booze alone) by the following year.

Which fact has ever since made me suspect that the Salvos are just a boutique corner outpost of the overall Demon Drink Industry. My mate Peter paid a tithe of 10% or so of his drinking budget to the Salvos, in return for – peace of mind, in an immediate gratification sense? Or just being left alone and absolutely without limits for the other 90% that stretched out endlessly from that point?

Shine on, Peter, my first true comedian buddy. And fuck you, Salvos – why don’t you practise some satiety* in your own backyard media-and-welfare empire?

* Scroll to FICKLENESS, n.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Haiku and TAFE (and intellectual snobbery) AND "Agadoo"

The above four-phase
Freeform headline, full of “ands”
Is too obvious

A jolly bitter rant, self-conciously verging on intellectual snobbery, by D-squareddigest against the haiku, is here. (scroll to Tuesday, June 17, 2003, “Education stew. Parody of true expression; no more poetry”).

Personally, I fail to see any signs of intellectual snobbery in the argument; of which’s keystone seems to be this Gramsci-esque statement:

I blame modern society for being set up in such a way as to systematically reward the business of distracting people from what they might be capable of into formulaic and uninteresting, but socially acceptable commodified forms.

Or I am wrong, and is Gramsci in with the fusty “elite”, these days? It’s hard to tell – accusations of “witch”, once unleashed, are as contagious and irresistible as writing bad haiku. (The contagious yawn is a closely-related phenomenon, though rather more benign than naming witches or writing-bad-poetry-as-triumph).

And non-vocational TAFE courses, it seems, are the witch de jour for Education Minister Brendan Nelson. Now Blind Freddie could tell you that almost all education funding in Australia comes down to the “bums on seats” model. Meaning that there is a big incentive to teach “cheap” courses, which require little infrastructure (including libraries), or course materials/tools. Teaching wannabe chefs fruit-carving instead is a classic example.

So how Dr Nelson can turn this around, and blame the institutions for merely being economically rational*, is rather telling. Only four days ago he was calling on blue-collar workers to cultivate a rage against the university-educated, and now this clarion call (without any actual promise of $$) to redress Australia’s “chronic skills shortages in traditional blue-collar jobs” – which, of course, means an intention for lower blue-collar wages in future.

Seems anyway you can’t win. Or maybe Dr Nelson’s newfound animosity towards “the chippies and the boilermakers and the mechanics down the road in Penrith” will prove to be a fit of short-lived pique. After all, with Phil Ruddock continuing to stink up the Liberal nest the party room plumbing bills, for what’s now an almost-daily unblocking exercise, must be a fright.

* TAFE Institutions obviously aren’t in it for the credibility, or public goodwill, when they run courses on feng shui and tarot cards.

Update 22 June 2003

D-Squared's link between haiku and "Agadoo" is priceless, Good Comedy. I demand that the Oslo-grim Nobel Prize and the euro-roaming Eurovision Song Contest be swapped around, and D-Squared then be given an award under the rubric of one or the other of them.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Universitas 21 Global launched


Can we make this an ongoing triennial event? (and especially in 2006, with the Commonwealth Games coming to Melbourne, this seems to represent an unmissable tie-in opportunity)

Separately, the mind boggles what the festivities are going to be like when U 21 G's headquarters – which, at yesterday’s date “will be” in Singapore – open [and/or (ii) are built/let, (iii) have plans drawn up, (iii) have posted an envelope in the mail addressed to a cubicle partition company, requesting a quote, etc].

Indeed, with so many Universitas Global-related party-party-party opportunities shortly (I assume) presenting themselves up to the government of Singapore, why not go the whole hog, and declare 2004 the official Year of Cutting Opening Ribbons in Singapore? After all, apart from being the Year of the Monkey*, 2004 is when the much-delayed, grand new Singapore Supreme Court is expected to finally open. And this will be a sweet and fitting monument to the rule of law in Singapore, too, I’m sure.

An edifice devoted to the future of education in the new century admittedly doesn’t need to make quite the same upfront impression on the citizenry as a court – but I’m sure whatever the building housing the U 21 G web server lacks in quality can be made up in sheer quantity; of grand opening events, that is.

* Insert your own innuendo here – for hints, go to:

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Brendan Nelson, have I got a deal for you

An Open Letter to Education Minister, Brendan Nelson

Dear Dr Nelson,

After reading your repeated public comments about how Australian workers have massively subsidised the tertiary education of a fortunate minority (a situation that will continue even after your planned reforms commence), I have decided to make amends for my own subsidised tertiary education.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Law (Honours) and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne in 1990, my earlier years of university, being pre-HECS, were completely free. This now-outrageous, and completely undeserved privilege has hardened my resolve in this respect.

I therefore hereby irrevocably vow to repay the full cost of the above two degrees – less, of course, the amounts I have already repaid via HECS. I do so on one condition – in order that I might better empathise with the chippies and the boilermakers and the mechanics down the road in Penrith, (who I have so put upon over the years, and with nary a word of thanks from me), I ask that my wages be floor-aligned with average full-time weekly earnings – currently, about $43,000 annually ($859 per week), and that the debt be drawn as a 50% surcharge on my ordinary tax payable, until it is repaid in full.

I await your reply. In case you need to consult with your chippy, boilermaker and mechanic constituents about “What’s in it for them?”, I should point out that my current income, as a sessional academic, is about $10,000 a year. My own estimated cost of making full reparations for my double degree (at a time when staff-student ratios where quite low, I should add), indexed into 2003 dollars, is $75,000. The deal is an attractive, win-win one for everyone, then – Australian workers get reimbursed for the hard-earned money they put up for my education, and I get reimbursed for the time and effort I put into my education, by being accorded the same standard of living as they enjoy.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Watson

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The old “substantial Australian link” test

With Philip Ruddock now effectively cornered in the top paddock, it’s time to get out the ute and spotlight, and start the roo shootin’.

Ruddock’s explanation for his intervention in the Bedweny Hbeiche case just manages to pass muster in today’s SMH. In an interesting contrast, today’s Age leaves Ruddock hanging under much more of a cloud.

Either way, it seems that if Philip Ruddock goes, if will be via some kind of analogue of Al Capone being done for tax evasion. Labor is playing the “you said who/what/when” game, with considerable success so far.

Which I think could be – if it works – an unfortunate triumph of procedure over substance. There really is something rotten in the whole system if “substantial Australian links” are the last stop on the migration train before Deportation Central.
I’m no expert on immigration law, but I’m pretty sure that things like having close relatives living in Australia come under the ordinary old points test; an objective test presumably designed to limit subjective discretion, and the attendant dangers that go with the exercise of wide discretion, in this high-stakes area of government, law, and people’s lives.

By the time an immigration matter gets down (“up”?) to the personal discretion of Minister Ruddock, then you’d expect a bit of zing to it, then. The inflexible application of rules can sometimes result in blatant injustices; hence the very reason for setting-up a high-level individual discretionary role. But, as for “Oh, I now see that you have three Australian sisters” (which is apparently what tipped things in Bedweny Hbeiche’s favour), pull-eaze. To put it extremely charitably, it is clutching at straws.

An even grubbier case of finding a convenient “Australian” nexus is that of Dante Tan:

[NSW Liberal MP Ross] Cameron admitted this week that he intervened on Tan's behalf with the department and argued for him to be given dispensation under a regulation that says periods overseas can be counted as part of the qualifying period if they were spent conducting business that was in Australia's national interest.

Cameron said Tan had convinced him that his business trips satisfied that criterion, although it is now known that Tan spent at least some of that time in the Philippines unsuccessfully trying to bribe his way out of the corporate fraud charges.

Here the rules, and the inbuilt exception to them, are both explicit and reasonable – Feel free to go overseas while you are a probationary business migrant to Oz, but the department is going to have to be satisfied that such time relates to your Oz business credentials; i.e. was in "Australia's national interest”.

Not only did Tan get himself close to being duly deported by not having a valid Australian address for the finalisation of his Oz visa (the department won’t accept “the high-roller room, Crown Casino” as a mailing address, for some reason), Tan somehow convinced Ross Cameron to do his “Australia's national interest” arguing for him. No doubt Tan didn’t tell Cameron that, during the period in question, his chief overseas activity was actually being a bribe-meister in the Philippines. But what exactly DID Tan tell Cameron? If it was the one about establishing a business importing tyres from China to a distribution centre in Brisbane, what proof of his bona fides did Cameron require before going into bat on Tan’s behalf?

Finally, and a bit less clear-cut – assuming that Tan did tell Cameron a story along these lines, how is simply importing goods from the world’s most notorious sweatshop in “Australia's national interest”, anyway? Or am I simply being naïve and/or old fashioned?

See also:

Today’s 10-17 years olds are the happiest teens in ages


Monday, June 16, 2003

The Saffy generation

A silly perma-news* item in today’s Oz sent me off searching to find howlers in the past predictions of Australian “futurologist” Phil Ruthven.

In 1998, he said that Generation X is going to generate a new Golden Age of wealth, starting in 2006. In fairness to Phil, this could still happen – but speaking as a member of this generation, I just hope that he hasn’t bet the house on it, if you know what I mean (there’s more about Phil and houses very soon). When one’s entrepreneurial nouse is going to be relied upon, to ramp up an economy that has grown a bit too relaxed while under the stewardship of risk-averse baby boomers like Rodney Adler** I’m not sure whether I’m being groomed and flattered into a mindset that I’m a big boy too, now – or just that my future lies in the Big House. Either way, I await filling Rodney Adler’s boots in 2006 with some trepidation.

Phil Ruthven did at least get some things right in 1998; like Gen X remaining in education as long as they are supported, knowing that the job market is going to be patchy. And this, as well:

Ruthven has become well known for his belief that owning a home is not as advantageous as renting. He advocates using the money not ploughed into a home loan for the life of a loan to be invested offering better returns than the property market. He believes Generation X will be the first to take considerable advantage of this option.

And indeed, I myself have taken take considerable advantage of the home-renting, rather than buying “option” – something which the stats also corroborate. Not only that, this “cunning” X’er has even managed outwitted Phil’s 1998 belief in the supreme investment virtue of the stockmarket (same URL). As someone once said, when futurologists start saying that the Australian stockmarket is undervalued because it had only returned 10.6% annually in the last five years (remember this was 1998), the it’s time to get out, as fast as you can. Okay, so my only “investment” is actually a prehistoric, pre-fare-rise 10-trip tram ticket, which, through amazing thrift, still has one journey left in it. But my penultimate point still holds – when people start regarding the fact that the yield on their parked money is only 7% above the inflation rate as something quite lacklustre, I really do run for the nearest exit – it’s to do with something called the vomit reflex.

Anyway, as we now know – Phil wuz wrong. Not only has the stockmarket been craptacular while the property market has boomed over the past two years, those members of Gen X with jobs have also had the pleasure of seeing 9% of their paypackets creamed off to be invested in the said craptacular stockmarket. Perhaps the experience of watching their superannuation shrinking before their eyes is what Phil had in mind when he spoke of the investment savvy-ness of Gen X’ers. When the government has the foresight and wisdom to cut its 15% tax off the top of a compulsory and deflating “investment”, then you’ve just gotta admire its fiscal literacy (however much it otherwise hurts).

Meanwhile, as I twiddle my thumbs waiting for 2006’s promise of rational exuberance (You can bet I’ll be whipping out my old tram-ticket to celebrate and validate, when and if this day does come!), one thing that Phil said in 1998 does seriously worry me. Okay, it’s again the journo (one Jefferson Penberthy), and not Phil who made the explicit point, but I assume that Phil concurs with this:

In popular culture, they are the generation represented in the cult TV series Absolutely Fabulous, by Saffy, the bespectacled, disapproving daughter - the tightly together little person whose patience is so sorely tested by the neurotic antics of her manic (single) mother Eddy and her friend Pats. You remember Saffy, the one without a personality? Saffy and her generation are going to save the world.

I have met*** a good few Gen X women (and, very occasionally, a man too) like Saffy – and they scare me to hell. Like cars that run on premium unleaded, “Saffies” are mysteriously made to require more money being sunk into their running costs than the average X’er. Also like premium unleaded, Saffies just didn’t even exist a few years ago – or, if they did, they were something specialised and out of the way. Now Saffies are everywhere, making the workaday and normal (like me) look . . . a bit left behind.

Of course, squandering baby boomers are 100% to blame for the invention and rise of Saffies. It’s simple, bio-Newtonian forces of inter-generational action and reaction. But that’s cold comfort to me now, especially in the lead up to 2006. And when Saffy-ness jumps the inter-generational Wallace Line and takes hold among baby boomers (either repentant or just-never-got-it), then nothing will be able to stop it. Which, alas, has happened, and as long ago as 1998:

Deep down, Rodney Adler, you see, is a Saffy, beneath all that Eddy’n’Pats facade:

At FAI Insurances, 38-year-old Rodney Adler says the risk-taking instincts in the generation of his late father Larry have been "trained out" of his peer group


# Rebecca DiGirolamo "Generation X saves itself" The Australian 16 June 2003 (no URL)

* “Perma-news” is the media’s plastic indoor plant – evergreen, and typically made from the near-indestructible combination of two-thirds recycled press release, and one third vox-pop cum happy-snap of a friend of a friend. Because having too much perma-news in the paper would make it look … well, fake, its hardiness is not to be confused with actual abundance in the news jungle. But here’s a hint – if you wing a gimmicky press release out at Sunday lunchtime, your baby will have the best possible chance of being born into the following morning’s shrinkwrap on the doormat.

** Same URL as previous; but note it was the journo, not Phil, who made Adler the poster-child for his point.

*** Hell, I’m even related to a good few (all in the non-connubial sense though, fortunately).

Friday, June 13, 2003

Why are libertarians so damn doctrinal?

That’s the impression I get as a reader/bystander, perusing this comments thread in John Quiggin’s blog.

Statements, repeated ad nauseum, such as “the only way to stop influence is to use force” are plain silly; or if not, certainly capable of being dissembled by a moderately-intelligent grade sixer. The fact that they are not, by itself suggests a strong “emperor’s new clothes” quality to libertarianism; in other words, a cult of fellow-believers. For the record, I fancy myself as a libertarian’s libertarian – I don’t actually care about their little cult, but remember that that works both ways. In other words, libertarianism = yawn.

Philosophically, I prefer the bowerbird – if not the downright seagull* – approach. In many other things I’m a purist, but when it comes to philosophy, I reckon it’s all in the application – you know, DIY, hammer’n’nails, etc . Particularly as I’m not a property owner, or – thanks to my uni education during a period of massive house-price-increase-led wealth transfer – ever likely to be, I’m a keen renovator of . . . the mind (and, as always, on a tight budget).

So here’s a good, DIY philosophy project: spam. From a quick poke around the net, BTW, it seems that libertarianism either doesn’t, or can’t, get its doctrinal head around the spam issue. A gung-ho few purport to defend it to the point of drowning in their own inboxes, but for the most part, there is just silence.

Which is a shame, because spam is easily reducible to the sort of primary school playground hypothetical that libertarians seem to love. Spam, being incapable of being declined, is the equivalent of a zealous leafleter who ignores your fob-off and inserts his/her piece of paper in your pocket. At which you – or, at least I – promptly punch the leafleter in the head (which act would seem to be a legally indemnified matter of self-defence).

Of course, this scenario can’t have an analogously happy ending in the real world of emailed spam – the online equivalent of a retaliatory punch in the head is yet to be invented. Ironically then, libertarianism’s brave words turn into nothing more than . . . luncheon-meat when the challenge is at its greatest – spam simply cannot be stopped or moderated by force (and still less, by influence).

Hence the invention of email filters, washers and wringers – admirable DIY ingenuity perhaps, but also technological atavism (I told you that I’m a purist in most respects). Is it just me, or is everything – well, garments and email, anyway – becoming “handwash only” in this age of near-zero marginal cost production?

Short of someone inventing a retaliatory boxing glove that can forcefully and suddenly emerge from inside a spammer’s computer CRT, the clearest line of attack so far is catching and then prosecution of the spammers for ordinary consumer fraud. Which is okay – but leaves me with a niggling worry, about how many trillions of emails a spam-gang needs to send, so as to make $US74 million in profit (surely the “penis enlargement” response rates are one in ten thousand, if that?).

Somehow, this excess alone needs to be capable of prosecution and/or retaliation. When the tables are turned, in a many-to-one email attack, this is (rightly) considered a form of cyber stalking or harassment. Why one-to-many email attacks are not similarly proscribed per se is, to end on a “bang”-ing generalisation, the achilles heel of capitalism.

See also:

* That is, as in seagulls squabbling over hot chips, NOT as in the baby boomer’s 1972 aspira-pomorphic panegyric, Jonathan Livingstone Protoype-4WD-ad.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

That’s rich: Gaming industry hubris over ATMs

Gotta love a group of folk that, when the chips are looking slightly down, go into reckless overdrive. And that’s today’s poker machine industry in Victoria (whose actual customers, meanwhile, often don’t need any prompting at all to go into reckless overdrive – but that’s a whole other topic).

What’s got the pokie kings spitting their gold-plated dummies is this. A bank, heeding a Productivity Commission finding that ATMs were heavily used by problem gamblers, decides to disassociate itself from a front line role, dispensing cash in venue foyers.

Hardly a seismic event, you may think, even in the particularly prim and spacious file category of “banking morality”. While the other three big banks have said they won’t be taking up the slack on this front, predictably a smaller player has said that it will relish the opportunity to expand. Plus, even if ATMs were banned from poker machine venue foyers, there is always going to be Eftpos, right?

Stunned”, “a disgrace and a direct attack”, and “insult[ing]” were some of the poker machine industry’s responses, quoted in today’s Herald Sun. (URL valid to ~ 7 June 2003 only) One wonders what words they may have left in reserve, should a real threat to their super-profitable livelihoods ever be made – you know, Boy Who Cried Wolf, and all that.

Perhaps the industry is much more like its customers than it thinks it is, after all – it doesn’t not need to have anything in reserve, because luck will always step in at the eleventh hour. But the corollary of believing in luck, of course, is rampant superstition. Indeed, the venues are, at some level far below the rational and fiscal, spooked by the exit of a big brand from their foyers. Hence these soothing, mantra-like industry refrains, paradoxically* interspersed among the venues' statements of outrage: “there are so many financial institutions around that will step in to fill the hole” and “[the] withdrawal [will] have a negligible effect”.

Ah yes – there’s a bank born every minute too, these days. Which is actually sort of true, if you’re Melbourne pokie king, and sometime Chairman of mysterious “investment bank” Sino Securities, Bruce Mathieson. Sino Securities is probably best known for being behind a pre-float share-issue scandal involving former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett. Mathieson, meanwhile is on the other side of the counting cage at Sino, being a long-term (and so long-suffering) shareholder. But don’t write off Bruce as a loser too easily – back in the eighties, he was in a three-way business partnership that owned more than 200 NSW hotels in NSW – his co-partners were the since-convicted and jailed criminals, Alan Bond and Brian Yuill.

* this is no paradox, however, if you know, or have ever dealt with, a sociopathic (or (“problem”) gambler.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Risk transfers and middle-aged Scotts of the Antarctic

A great post here from D-squared, my favourite amateur economist.

In typical British style, you need to skim quickly through the first third of the read (which is a contrarian, but ordinaire, defence of big pay-ments/outs – and face it, it’s hard to tell the difference these days – to corporate exec failures). The real argument gets going with this line:

[T]he crusade against failure has to be seen in the context of a wider project that has been going on since the Thatcher-Reagan years; the attempt to load risks on to the working class which have historically been borne by the owner class.

Living in a country where my decision to go to university at 19, after having worked in a blue-collar job for a year after school, has so far cost me several hundred thousand dollars of financial security (compared to what would have actuarially happened had I kept that job and so been able to buy a house in the early eighties, etc etc) – I am normally most wary of invoking the term “working class” in any sympathetic context. Which I know is churlish of me, and all that – but perhaps the bible needs updating accordingly: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s $800-a-week job” (or pre-CGT investment property, etc etc).

In any case, “working poor” is – although not the term Mr Squared uses – much more accurate to describe the phenomenon of today’s highly-casualised workforce, and the risk transfers thereto. Also, “working poor” also has much wider resonance in modern Australia than “working class”. And, as a bonus, while I am not currently a member of working poor, I can semi-optimistically aspire to re-joining these ranks at some stage in the future, when my sessional* academic career may resume. In contrast, I once had my chance to join the tenured working class – and I stupidly blew it.

So back to D-squared:

[T]he effect of [workforce casualisation] is to transfer volatility from profits to wages. Previously, owners of companies had effectively provided income insurance against the business cycle to workers as part of the wage bargain; starting 1980, this insurance was gradually withdrawn, and it is difficult to see from the national income statistics that there was any compensation for this loss of benefit in terms of higher wages. The move to defined-contribution pensions rather than defined benefit is analysable in similar terms as a shift of the risks of the stock market.

Good stuff – and commentator “Nabakov” then takes over the baton thus:

But "transfer volatility from profits to wages" is, I agree, one of the nastiest developments of the past few decades.

What really pisses me off is how the people who have driven this push are the one who have all benefited form the unspoken social contracts of the post-war to late seventies years - which provided subsided to free education and healthcare and a respectable commitment to social infrastructure in exchange for the demobbed masses and their immediate offspring not getting any funny ideas (ie; a General Strike).

Starting to sound familiar? Yep, it’s How Baby Boomers Have Fucked Up the World 101, only told generationally non-specifically (and, in D-squared’s case, without trace of either anger or gloating – possible, I think, because Mr Squared appears to possess the rare combination of a baby boomer’s job and income, all in a Gen X frame and mind).

In Australia, a recent example of one such “unspoken social contract” being further, conspicuously, and hypocritically trashed is the latest planned upping of university fees. The point here was well-nailed by these letter-writers:

Why doesn't Peter Costello, his colleagues of all political hues, the vice-chancellors and their academic staff, and indeed all the other baby boomers who have enjoyed the benefit of free tertiary education, have also benefited from the economic and property booms (making many of them property millionaires) and are in well paid employment, repay the fees for their tertiary education now they can afford it?
By contrast, the established baby boomers could easily pay their retrospective fees by selling a portion of their investment portfolios, using the many draw-down and other finance facilities offered by all financial institutions – or via some other clever scheme every man and his dog seems to develop when there is a buck to be made by working the system.

-William Maudlin, Bondi, NSW
Letters to Ed, The Australian 15 May 2003 (no URL)

William Maudlin's point (Letters, 15/5) is valid – a generation provided with free tertiary education by their parents now seeks to withdraw that privilege from the next. A generation made wealthy by the sacrifice of their parents maintaining that wealth by sacrificing the next deserves harsh judgment.

Now atop the ladder, rather than extending a hand down, it seems ministers Costello and Nelson are kicking out the rungs beneath them.


- Tony Miscamble, Wooloowin, Qld
Letters to Ed, The Australian 19 May 2003 (no URL)

Since it is the topic of insurance what seems to be at the locus of much of D-squared’s thoughts, it is presumably only right to end this post with another example of how another implied social contract has been broken along generational lines – this time to do with insurance specifically.

Here, I’m referring to an annual (or thereabouts) Australian media event. One or more adventurers gets stuck in a spot of bother, often in the high seas, far off Australia but not conveniently close to anywhere else. A rescue, usually involving several governmental agencies, is arranged – costing a bomb, of course – and then, almost as soon as the television feed of the bedraggled figure(s)being winched into the chopper goes to air, the backlash begins: how dare this reckless adventurer rely on “our” taxpayer largesse, etc.
And at this, the rescuee usually mumbles into the mike an appropriate combination of deep gratitude and fiscal remorse, sometimes alongside a vague promise to make partial financial restitution. That’s then the end the story – but for one otherwise-minor detail: the age of these hapless adventurers seems to keep going up (these days, most are at least in their forties).

Now, applying D-squared and Nabakov’s model of the broken, post-1980 social poly-contract to the rescuing of adventurers from the public purse, it is clear that we have an anomaly here. If there were ever a case in which a modern government should not step in as insurer, this would seem to be it. In other words, today’s wannabe Magellans-in-a-rowboat or "unsupported" Scotts of the Antarctic should have to make an irrevocable decision at the outset: they (privately) insure themselves – or they accept their deaths, in the alternative. Yet this plainly does not happen, in practice.

This anomaly can be relatively simply explained – private insurance is not economically viable, and so the government must step in, as an insurer of last resort. By “must”, of course, I don’t mean that TINA**, but that the alternative – of leaving uninsured adventurers to die, despite their rescue being physically possible – is either morally unpalatable and/or overly discouraging of the production of erstwhile national heroes.

Interesting stuff. Finally, and to draw things together, I suggest that the reason for this cohort of informally (i.e. governmentally) insured adventurers ageing is directly connected with this social-contract being – unofficially, of course – only available to baby boomers and older. Now this is a big, and hugely contestable claim. Not only I am generalising re the typical adventurer’s ageing, and even if I did have empirical evidence for this, it would not actually prove the point (i.e. Gen X may desist from spectacular feats of adventurer for all sorts of reasons other than the tacit withdrawal of governmental insurance. Being less inclined than baby boomers to seek national heroism is just one such possibility; and being less able to raise the considerable capital costs needed to mount an adventure – even an informally insured one – is another.

So I can’t offer proof. Instead, I’ll leave you with these governmental thoughts on a Gen X adventure into the Antarctic gone wrong. (scroll to “Rescued Adventurer Speaks Publicly for First Time”). Call me an embittered nitpicker, but I just don’t see that this weird combination of admonishing bureaucratic prose, with the vicissitudes of life and death – and money, would have ever been written up, had it been a baby boomers’ rescue.

* The US term for sessional academic is (I think), an “adjunct”. By contrast, in Australia, an adjunct academic is a rather exalted creature, whose high-pay, but medium-prestige day job is thought ideally matched to a medium-pay, but high-prestige part-time position in academia.

** There Is No Alternative (US military acronym)

Friday, June 06, 2003

German academic has Final Solution for Great Aussie Salute
(Scroll to Friday June 6, 2003)

Now this one sounds too good to be true. Maybe it’s just that I’m congenitally un-German – but what is a person from the milder climes doing solving this ancient human curse, anyway? And aren’t 10,000-volts just possibly a wee bit of overkill (even for a nation that 60 years ago perfected the production line approach to mass-murder)?

Such misgivings aside – IF this thing is real, there is just one more specification it needs to be able to meet so as to become the Best Invention Ever – can the contraption fit into the lid of an Esky?

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Joe Gutnick, Gimme a break

Today’s reports of an Al Qaeda-auspiced plot, in 2000, to assassinate Joseph Gutnick – a Melbourne man of many talents and roles – were a curious blend of both extravagance and also economy with the facts.

For starters, the banner-headline stories of today’s print Age and Australian* (no URL, which is itself rather unusual for a lead story) appear to have been both cut from an eerily similar cloth. I’m not interested in performing a Media Watch-style plagiarism expose here – all the more so because I’m sure that such a line of investigation would go much deeper that the clichéd lazy hack (or comedian) that David Marr so rejoices in cornering.

Instead, it’s the redundant (or at least, highly dubious) information – almost identically expressed in both stories – that interests me in its own right.

The Age gave the specifics of the Al Qaeda link as this:

The plot had been approved by senior al-Qaeda figures, including former military commander Abu Hafs, now believed dead, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is in US custody, and Saif al-Adel, believed to be in Iranian custody for his role in the recent Riyadh attacks.

In some contrast, The Australian’s coverage gave each of the above “three lieutenants” a brief bio in their own right, as well as quoting Mr Gutnick’s own words on the link: the Jemaah Islamiah-member accused (presumably an Indonesian Muslim) “had the stamp of al-Qa’ida” and “an OK from al-Qa’ida” for the mission.

Now, I don’t want to make light of plots to murder, but I think that Mr Gutnick is almost certainly over-estimating Al Qaeda’s bureaucratic processes and zeal (did the stamp go on the “JI copy only” request form, the second of the triplicate, also?). More seriously, some kind of Al Qaeda “OK” could most probably be attached to any plan to kill any Jewish Australian(s) high-profile, or otherwise. Al Qaeda’s antipathies are notorious, as are their intensity, and their lack of scruples or proportionality in achieving an outcome.

In other words – sorry Joe, but you really are just small fry in the scale of things. Al Qaeda don’t auspice, or otherwise function as a terrorist organisation with specific political aims, such as the IRA. I’m not sure whether this bit of lexi-trivia is paradoxical, ironic, or neither – but despite the origins of the word “assassin”, Al Qaeda’s modus operandi couldn’t be further from an assassin’s collective (assassination = murder of high-profile persons, usually for political ends). And as for this morning, bringing in your Melbourne Football Club connections and the Israeli embassy and consulate into the equation, I mean, really – and why stop there, anyway?

For your information then, Joe, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of people or groups with some claim on animosity towards you:

· your sister, Pnina Feldman, and her allies in your family and the broader Jewish community;

· Australian journos, media organizations etc, concerned about the chilling effects of your thoughtless (IMO) and ill-understood tilt at cross-border defamation law;

· Eddie McGuire and the rest of the Collingwood-barracking tragics (actually, I’m making this one up; not really following AFL, past the extent of hating Collingwood, I really don’t know what specific grievances may flow out of your Melbourne Footy Club tenure – but you get my point); and

· (for no good reason other than they feel lonely being left out) the 23 Australians not covered in any of the above.

On the other side of the coin, yes, you’re not the only target, Joe. But instead of including only prestigious co-targets (viz Israel’s diplomatic presences in Australia), why not give the rest of us Joe Schmo’s a break, too? More or less co-equal with you, on the Al Qaeda hit-list, are:

· every one of Australia’s 100,000 odd Jewish community (as I suggested above); and

· any or all of Australia’s other 19.9 million residents – if Al Qaeda can’t think of a specific-enough reason to hate and kill any or all of them/us, then they owe it to themselves to issue a public statement of regret over at least some of the 9/11 deaths.

I did think about including a third category here – me! – but, having two ferocious sisters out there and possibly reading this, I thought it best not to get too cocky, y’know Joe.

* Colleen Egan, “Terror plot to kill Gutnick” 5 June 2003

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

“Disinterested in the old-fashioned sense of the word” – a new-fashioned Fitzroy yarn

“The [City of Yarra] bureaucrats started operating as though they were a business … There needed to be a sounding board or some organisation that could speak out from a non-commercial point of view - disinterested in the old-fashioned sense of the word.”

So said president of the Fitzroy Residents' Association, Geoff Barbour, recently recounting the founding of the current incarnation of the FRA in the mid-90’s. Apart from being, quite naturally, a Fitzroy resident, Geoff Barbour describes himself as a consultant focusing on workplace issues, who has previously worked in broadcasting and social policy research. Indeed, with a bio like that, he could well deserve being made an honorary Life Fitzroy Resident, wherever he may choose to actually dwell.

Residents' Associations are fairly common creatures in Australia’s older suburbs. Particularly in the oldest suburbs their main brief has long been understood as restricting development. “Development”, in this context, connotes something quite different from its dictionary meaning – in an older suburb, “development” almost always means replacement of the existing old with: (i) something less aesthetic, and/or (ii) of substantially higher density.

It is rather a curious feature of the current Fitzroy Residents' Association then, that “development” concerns seem to be hardly on their radar – given that the backstreets of Fitzroy have been groaning and grinding with new building activity over the last five years. Confirming this, in the same interview, above, in which he discussed the founding of the FRA, Geoff Barbour highlighted its origins in terms of perceived problems with the granting of “large numbers of later and later trading licensed premises (in Fitzroy)”.

In contrast, on the development front (which the interview was directly about), the FRA was said to “act as a resource base for people who are immediately affected by a planning application”. The latter is, I think, consultant-speak, for fobbing-off those kinds of grievances. But perhaps this is just merely being realistic; challenging planning applications can undoubtedly be an expensive and draining process. All in all, then, a simple case of grass-roots lobbying organizations like so much else) not being as good as they used to be?

Actually, the answer is “no”. The FRA, or at least Geoff Barbour, has been a highly-effective lobbying force as of late. And the issue – noise coming from bands playing at licensed premises in Fitzroy.

This issue should be one able to be simply and amicably resolved, IMO. It’s just the classic old “buying a house under the flight path” scenario, only played out in miniature – in other words, the only grounds giving standing for a resident to complain about a noisy venue should be that they were there first. For whatever reason, though, Geoff Barbour and the FRA do not see things this way. Criticising the “Fair Go 4 Live Music” campaign, he says:

“The campaign focused too much on new developments when noise levels were also a problem for residents of older buildings … The solution could be as simple as turning the music down”.*

Aah, the “simple” word again – but this time, it leads to quite a different solution. In Geoff Barbour’s view, every Fitzroy resident has the inalienable right to complain, and the onus will then always be on the venue to take appropriate remedial action, even in the case of the most blatant “under the flight path” development.

The placements of such onuses can end in mass murder (even as the original complainants-cum-bargain-buyers wash their hands and snuggle up for a good and silent night's sleep). But then again, surely, Geoff Barbour – a workplace issues consultant, with a social policy background – would have realised, and so refused to countenance, such a one-sided outcome?

Well, no. It turns out that Geoff Barbour’s FRA (“speak[ing] out from a non-commercial point of view - disinterested in the old-fashioned sense of the word”) is not to be confused with his consultancy activities. In terms of the latter, he has been made chief advisor to Richmond MLA Dick Wynne, who has been charged with the responsibility of preparing a report on an issue of current debate**. That issue, of course, is the ongoing dispute between “under the flight path” developers, and live music venues.

* Fiona O’Doherty, “Live bands fight for life”, Yarra Leader 2 June 2003
** “Art of delegation” and “Man on a mission” The Melbourne Times 4 June 2003

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

That’s Better, Keith Windschuttle,5744,6532467%255E7583,00.html
[URL valid to ~ June 9 only]

[fuller version: ]

Keith Windschuttle’s recent taking-on of Noam Chomsky has all the hallmarks of one of those “Aussie soap starlette makes it big in Hollywood” stories. At severe risk of becoming typecast as a single issue nitpicker on his Australian home turf, he has found an open range of archive-foraging opportunities in the US. And having landed in this new world of limitless possibilities, Keith has found his feet almost immediately. Gone is the old nitpicking Keith, in is the reinvented, suave … nitpicker.

But seriously, this is progress, because in taking on Chomsky – who as Windschuttle himself mentions, is a mean source [un]picker in his own right – the audience now has a internationally-flavoured soap in which to watch Keith do his stuff. No more endless talks at dingy suburban town halls (only to be ungraciously confronted by Indigenous basket-fabricators and their fellow travellers), no sirree – Keith is now on the top-tier A-list of global nitpickers.

So go for it, Keith. Noam probably needs some fresh meat, pulsating with live footnotes, to attack and slowly wear down through a death of a thousand quibbles. And my wild-guessing is that Noam may not have to dig far to pick at you, Keith, in places where you haven’t so far been picked. You’re an old Lefty, who jumped ship in the mid-eighties, conveniently following the Aussie dollar, and so much else, as it floated Rightwards.

Which all adds up to: Where were you in 1975?. I was at primary school, but I’ve since heard that ‘75 was not a good year for Lefties – as soon as the last US chopper left ‘Nam, so giving you an awesome victory, the Khmer Rouge decided, to put it mildly, to poop the party. Sometimes streamers, balloons, hope and dope are better camouflage nets over unpalatable facts than fatigued military intelligence.

Otherwise, I’m not taking sides in this forthcoming prize fight – it’s just going to be too good to sit back and watch the two of them slug it out in the King of the World (Nitpicker Division) title. No ten rounds here – mark my words, with both men getting on a bit, this will be a fight to the death. Roll up, roll up!

Monday, June 02, 2003

WMD’s and the 700 billion US dollar question

I don’t know which side irritates me more – the “We were lied to!” bleatings of the Left (try today’s Letters to the Ed in The Australian for an example), or the “I had my fingers crossed behind my back, so it doesn’t count” type defence laboriously argued by Right spokesperson Andrew Sullivan, also in today’s Australian.

If you want my own view, I’m happy to let Jack Strocchi (and/or the kava, apparently) do the talking. The only think that I’d add to Jack’s excellent as usual take on the ostensible WMD’s is to rhetorically ask the Left: would they have preferred for the US to have bypassed the United Nations completely? Invading-Iraq-to-take-out-the-WMD’s started out as a benign-enough rallying cry – a starting point on the butcher’s paper – for UN debate and then action. As the weapons inspection process dragged out over the months of late 2002 and early 2003, it became increasingly clear that the UN just wasn’t going to play along with the game. Up to a point, this is fine – that’s their right and prerogative. Query, though, whether it is also the UN’s (main) role.

Next time, the UN may wish to consider the Realpolitik – in 2002-03, America asked nicely first (re the WMD’s), and only after exhausting all other avenues, went into Iraq anyway. Given the disproportionate backlash that its failed, Left-appeasing attempt to co-opt the UN, now being voiced among the same elements who opposed any invasion of Iraq in just about any circumstances – the US may well decide, in future, that there’s simply no point asking nicely. Which I think would be a helluva shame, BTW.

Coming to the other side of the main issue – how totally to now ditch the Saudis, and especially their $US 700 billion in the kitty. Jack Strocchi sees both micro-politics (Bush/Saudi Royals cronyism) and macro-economics (the survival of the US hegemon) as necessitating a softly-softly approach, with Iraq needing to be built-up over time before the Saudi Royals (and presumably also, their tainted money and their tainted cronies) can be metaphorically bulldozed into the Red Sea and the Potomac.

On the other hand, as I’ve blogged here, I think that the US not only has very little time now in which to (relatively) cleanly ditch the Saudis, it is also hard to see how (even if everything else works out) that the US’s longer-term colonial presence in Iraq won’t lead the reluctant host country into becoming a virulent new Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Ruddock “good for migrants”

With his persistent lack of action over sex slavery in Australia (not to mention any number of other human rights faux pas), Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock may be reasonably assumed to be subject to the odd crisis of personal conscience and/or spiritual belief.

Which perhaps explains the mutual enthusiasm between himself and the Buddhist religion. I’m no expert on the latter, but from what I gather, it seems to be a religion that rather handsomely trumps fundamentalist Islam’s insistence on the non-negotiable absence of a separation between church and state. Buddhism achieves this glory, it seems, by having an utter lack of separation between church – or matters spiritual – and money.

While I have no problem, per se, with a religion that is co-terminant with hyper-capitalism (if only because millions of middle-class Australian women already practice such a faith, otherwise known as “shopping”), I do find it hard to reconcile monks, monasteries, and the ascetic rest of it with the habit of throwing money around like you’re at a casino’s high roller room.

Granted, some Christian monasteries on the Continent long ago made themselves into model capitalist corporations, dealing in alcoholic substances that some believe should be purely the domain of mammon, if at all. But all this pales beside the Buddhist monastery that topped the donations league table for the NSW Libs in 2000-01.

Monasteries may generally be forgiven for the sometimes crude and worldly businesses they run, all so as to sustain a life of simple purity on the inside. However, selling Philip Ruddock some peace of mind and/or temporal (= electoral) comfort – and perhaps worse, giving him an obsequious complement on his government’s immigration policy and practices – is unfit for contemplation; quiet and quite.

Phillip Ruddock Update 3 June 2003

Dear, oh dear, Mr Ruddock.

While the ongoing awkward questions being asked in Canberra about alleged links between Buddhist monk donations and Buddhist monk visa preferment are probably just part of the ordinary rough and tumble of life inside the parliamentary bubble, this set of allegations in today’s SMH seems to be a wholly new, and already more serious bushfire:

On the ‘Paul Watson PR-Bushfire Scale’, this one achieves an instant “red-hot” rating, because of its rare quality of being divisible by half, and yet losing none of its heat. In other words, the Philippines stuff can be left out completely.

After all, Mr Ruddock’s well-known roseate views on matters international – such as certain mid-eastern countries being immediately suitable for the forced return of asylum seekers – should here be allowed their full, boomeranging karma. In other words, if Mr Ruddock says “Philippines – NFI, mate!”, I am quite prepared to believe him.

But, as I said, even without the colour of Liberal party-donor Dante Tan’s alleged Philippines exploits, there is quite enough shade, and then more shade, in Mr Tan’s Australian activities, residence, and citizenship. Dante Tan is a millionaire Australian citizen, businessman and gambler who apparently lives at Crown Casino Melbourne. With high-rolling friends like these, who needs humble Buddhist monks cracking open their temple’s poor box to help get Mr Ruddock over the line on election day?

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