Saturday, February 11, 2006

Say What?

Here's a little guessing game, or scavenger hunt, to help you while away a couple of weekend hours. What's the missing phrase in this quotation (first ellipsis):

The alternative to ... is reading nothing, having no interest in the amazing and the unpredictable. in the brilliance and stupidity of others ...

(Tip of the hat to Zeppo Bakunin for suggesting this post).

Update (Monday, 13 February) - here's the answer:

The alternative to the sharemarket is reading nothing, having no interest in the amazing and the unpredictable, in the brilliance and stupidity of others and never realising the opportunity to make money through the labour of others.

It is about taking an interest in the world. It's about opportunity and risk and taking both by the horns.

Marcus Padley in Saturday's Age.

A New Golden Age?

A couple of things struck me, while I was going through The Age Green Guide on Thurday to see if there was anything remotely worth watching coming up in the next week. Apart from Desperate Housewives, which would be much improved if they dropped Teri Hatcher's character Susan, and gave us more of Gloria Cross as Bree, there's not much. Scrubs has disappeared from Seven's programming schedule - last week's episode, of which more later, was screened at 1.40am Wednesday, Seven's usual dumping ground for programs that turn out to be too clever for the commercial stations' preferred demographic - people who like crap TV so much that they'll even sit still during the ad-breaks. The absence of Scrubs from the programming schedule was thing number one.

Thing number two was a review, by Jim Schembri, of a coming episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Jim writes:

For a first-class demonstration of just how far ahead of us the Americans are when it comes to post-PC comedy, you simply must check out this golden episode from season four [of this series].

If, as Jim's remark implies, we are now in an era of post-PC comedy, it obviously comes after an era of PC comedy, preceded, in its turn, by an era of pre-PC comedy (see Figure 1).

TV Comedy Timeline (Australia)
Era Major Events/Comedy Shows



10 years BP

Late Pauline Hanson's maiden speech in Parliament ends the PC era in Australian Politics.


Early The Big Gig

Late The Naked Vicar Show, Kingswood Country, The Comedy Company, The Gillies Report (proto-PC or full-on PC?)

Middle The Mavis Bramston Show

Early Dawn of television. 50 yrs BP
Figure 1.
As you can see, there's still a fair bit of work to do on the timeline. At the moment it's an open question whether we've got to the Late Post-PC era or whether in fact we're still struggling to get through the Late-Middle, or worse yet, the Middle-Early or even the Early-Early. Some might maintain that we're still in the Late-Late-PC. Wherever we are, last week's episode of Scrubs showed that there's a way to go yet.

Sure, it featured Michael J Fox, an actor with Parkinson's Disease, playing Doctor Kevin Casey, a doctor with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Which ought to get it plenty of Post-PC cred points - what could be less politically correct than casting an actor with a well-known degenerative illness as a doctor with a chronic behavioural disorder? And then playing it for laughs for most of the episode. Unfortunately Scrubs has too many PC hangovers - an ethnically diverse cast of characters, female characters with careers and so on. The most absurd of these PC inclusions is the dwarf janitor, who regularly beats his less vertically-challenged colleague in roof-top wrestling matches. And all the post-PC cred the episode picked up with the string of OCD jokes was blown away in the final scene and the preachy "philosophical" final voice over.

To finish, I'm inviting anyone who can scrape together the least skerrick of interest in the subject to nominate TV comedies and significant events that should be included in the TV Comedy Timeline.

Friday, February 10, 2006


If you live in Melbourne, you already know that BATBYGOBSTOPL is an acronym for something or other. By now you're bound to have seen that Metlink television advertisement explaining the acronym. The one that strikes you as completely humourless and witless on first viewing and doesn't grow on you - except perhaps in the sense that tinea grows on you - with repeated exposure.

Travelling to the Victoria Market today, by Metlink Tram, I had the misfortune to notice a poster featuring the BATBYGOBSTOPL acronym. To add to my troubles my mind immediately went into Now-What-Does-That-Stand-For-Again (NWDTSFA) mode. Which spoiled the first part of trip for me, until a young woman sat down a couple of seats forward of me, kindly interposing her scoop-necked T-shirt (worn over an under-sized brassiere) between me and the poster.

The title of this post is an acronym too. It stands for What I Wish They'd Told The Smart-Arse Advertising Agency Creative Who Came Up With This Bloody Stupid Campaign.

How to Starve a Blackbird Chick

It's a fairly typical morning in the back yard, except that the concrete is still damp from last night's rain and the sky is overcast with the promise of more showers to come. There's a female blackbird perched on the back fence, a worm clasped in her beak, still wriggling. She watches me warily as I come out the back door and light up a cigarette.

Her gaze follows me as I stroll across the yard to the gate and back again. We watch each other for a minute or two then it occurs to me to get out of her line of sight. She waits a minute more, then flies across the back yard of the neighbours behind, into the wisteria at the corner of the back porch where she has hidden her nest.

It's always the female; the male is usually perched in some high place - like a TV antenna or a vent pipe, keeping an eye out for worm-poachers and singing out the usual reminder that:

This land is my land,
This land is my land,
From that fence over there to somewhere near the dumpster in the service station at the corner,
Oh and that palm tree's mine too, so you just bugger off sport ...

It'd be a bugger for the both of them if they've been fostering one of those parasitic cuckoos, whose mother flew into the nest one day while they weren't looking and left behind her single egg and flew off again, with no more thought for her offspring than thank God that's done - bird, but it gives you a sore clacker.

Postscript: I started this piece a few days ago, at the start of my alleged hiatus. A day later a fledgling blackbird turned up perched on top of one of the bins. So it looks like that's the breeding season over for another year.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Ghost of Blogs Past

Curious, how some things come back to haunt you, isn't it? Like when Tim Blair's having a bit of a stuck-for-material day and decides to stick his head up his own blog and play Ghost Whisperer, calling up the spirits of the dead to haunt your nights of insomnia. There I am, on Tim's blog, listed as number one member of the Loser Club, with Chris Sheil, Tim Lambert, John Quiggin, Tim Dunlop, Wayne Sanderson, Gianna, Mathew Henderson-Hau, Antony Loewenstein, Margo Kingston, David Heidelberg and Anonymous Lefty. All of us with annoying little errors in our blog archives, duly noted by Tim.

My boo-boo, and it was a biggie - if you're going to stuff up there's no point doing it by halves, was verballing Andrew Bolt verballing Justice O'Loughlin of the Federal Court in Cubillo v Commonwealth. On February 22, 2004 so the two year anniversary will be coming up soon. Now there's an excuse for a piss-up.

The bugger of it is, that in a column of 28 September, 2005, Bolt cobbled together selected excerpts from sections 393, 394, 395, 511, 408, 1535, 1148, 1159, 1160, 1304 and 1305 of Justice O'Loughlin's verdict (in that order) to come up with this summary:

[Evidence] showed the primitive conditions under which the missionaries were living. It would be safe to assume that the conditions under which the Aboriginal people were living would have been no better . . . Cynical though it may be to some, the conditions at Retta Dixon Home [in Darwin, to where Cubillo was brought] were preferable . . .

I limit myself to rejecting the claim that it was a 'myth' to think of a part-Aboriginal child as an outcast in Aboriginal communities . . .

The evidence does not support a finding that there was any policy of removal of part-Aboriginal children such as that alleged . . . [Gunner and Cubillo] have failed to prove that the 'purpose' of their removals and detentions was (or included) the purpose of destroying their associations and connections with their mothers, families and cultures.

Woulda had him on toast there if it weren't for a small boy-who-cried-wolf issue.

Tim's blogging record is, of course, impeccably boo-boo free. OK, so there was that little dust-up with MediaWatch over a US Flag that turned out to be embarassingly Pentagon-debris-deficient but that was all David Marr's fault, really.

Who Are These Faceless Men*?

Anyone who read yesterday's Senate Hansard, could be forgiven for thinking that the government of this country is slipping into the hands of a cabal of anonymous, unaccountable "experts", rather than a Cabinet of well-known, unaccountable Ministers. Well, that seems to be what a few of the opponents of the THERAPEUTIC GOODS AMENDMENT (REPEAL OF MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR APPROVAL OF RU486) BILL 2005 obviously believe:

Senator FIELDING (Victoria—Leader of the Family First Party) (5.34 p.m.) - Everyone has an opinion about abortion. It is one of those controversial issues that sparks great community debate. We have seen that in the last few weeks in relation to the abortion drug RU486. This debate has been prompted by a private member’s bill introduced by a National Party senator, Fiona Nash. The Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005 is designed to shift responsibility for approving the drug from the health minister to the Therapeutic Goods Administration - that is, the TGA - a body which examines the safety of drugs. Put simply, the question is: who decides on RU486? Do we want our elected leaders deciding whether this drug should be approved in Australia or do we want to give that decision-making power to unelected bureaucrats?

Family First believes that this is a unique drug which raises major social policy and ethical issues as well as medical and safety issues. We cannot consider the social policy issues without taking into account community attitudes ...

Family First strongly believes that policy decisions should never be made by unelected bureaucrats; their job is to advise on policy and implement policy decisions.

Senator BARNETT (Tasmania) (5.47 p.m.) - I stand here today to oppose the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005 and its repeal of ministerial responsibility for drugs, including abortion drugs, in the category of restricted goods ...

How can this cocktail of abortion drugs, together with the controversial drug RU486, which is currently under intense scrutiny around the world, be the sole province of a team of unelected officials who would have ultimate arbitrary powers? RU486 can be used in the early to mid stages of pregnancy, up to 20 weeks. What is stopping another drug being designed in the months or years ahead to kill an unborn baby late term? Nothing at all. It would be up to an unelected team of bureaucrats, no matter how expert, in the TGA. What a cop-out for federal members of parliament.

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (6.20 p.m.)
- I rise to speak on the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005...

The competence of the TGA is restricted to assessing medicines on medical grounds. Leaving out the cruel human rights considerations raised by RU486, the faceless public servants of the TGA should not make the decision. RU486 is not comparable with any other drug that may be considered by the TGA ...

Senator JOYCE (Queensland) (8.34 p.m.) - This is a very historic time in our parliament. There are very few times that one has the opportunity to have a responsibility for making a decision about a defining social issue that will permeate through the annals of our nation. It will be acknowledged as a personal position of commitment by the senators in this chamber. As with many other historical debates in other parliaments throughout the world, your position on this shall be written down in history and your role judged by history accordingly. As it is a conscience vote, it does the unusual thing of definitively stating who you are and the ethical issues that drive you.

This is a debate about the role of government and on the question of its determination in the lives of others and on the question of life itself ...

There is one thing that has definitely been portrayed during this debate, and that is that this is a highly contentious issue by reason of the closely held views of the citizens of Australia. The proponents of this bill believe that this ethos of political representation should not be respected. They believe a direct political remedy, reflected in the ministerial authority, should be subordinate to an unelected bureaucrat. By removing the path of authority on an issue, we allow the progression of unelected bureaucrats to attain the mantle that we believe, and the community believes, we have been elected for. The minister should be responsible for reflecting a hands-on role on contentious issues.
[my emphasis in all cases]

So who are these bureaucrats and experts who will usurp the authority of the Parliament, if this Bill passes? The bureaucrats are the public servants who work for the Therapeutic Goods Administration of the Department of Health and Aging. Apparently, they are not accountable to the Minister for Health - which would hardly surprise anyone, given the new conventions the Howard Government has adopted on Ministerial and Departmental accountability. And the experts are the members of the Australian Drug Education Evaluation Committee:

Role of ADEC

The ADEC is appointed by the Minister for Health and Ageing and provides advice to the Minister and the Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing through the Therapeutic Goods Administration, on:
  • the quality, risk-benefit, effectiveness and access within a reasonable time of any drug referred to it for evaluation;
  • medical and scientific evaluations of applications for registration of prescription drugs (e.g. new chemical entities, new forms of previously registered drugs and therapeutic variations to registered drugs).
The Committee also provides services to other Government departments, committees and community-based organisations on a wide variety of regulatory matters related to prescription medicines.

But, once again, under the current understanding of the Westminster system, they're not accountable either. If we went back to holding public servants and Ministerial appointees accountable to Ministers, we might have to go back to holding Ministers accountable to Parliament. And we can't have that now, can we?

* - and women of course.