Saturday, March 11, 2006

Objectively Pro-Chardonnay

Here's something you'll have missed this week if, like me, you're one of those people who's in denial about their Tim Blair habit. In his most recent post in his blog annex at The Bully, Tim's taken the stick to John Howard no less. And to mainstream Australian opinion as well:

And why might Howard have wanted to do this? [change gun laws] “I did not want Australia to go down the American path. There are some things about America I admire, there are some things I don’t, and one of the things I don’t admire about America is an almost drooling, slavish love of guns. I think they’re evil.”

Two things. Firstly, Howard again here demonstrates his uncanny ability to reflect mainstream Australian opinion; most Australians, across the political spectrum, share Howard’s loathing of guns and think the US more than a little weird for so embracing them. Secondly, Howard is entirely wrong.

Why entirely wrong? Because law-abiding citizens like Tim need guns to protect themselves from the criminal element in society, specifically, the members of "the Lakemba Mosque & Pistol Association". These guys can't be trusted to abide by the accepted standards well known to non-Muslim criminal elements - such as the members of Melbourne's criminal underground - who can generally be relied on to restrict themselves to shooting members of rival gangs, rather than members of the police force and the general public. Give or take the occasional understandable lapse.

In a recent post reminding readers of his Bloggetin column, Tim expresses his gratitude to readers for all the positive mail he has received - with a link to The Bully's feedback page. Not much point your readers telling you you're wonderful if they're not telling your editors as well. But no way am I going to suggest that anyone visit that page to argue the Pro-Gourd position. That might give The Bully's editors the idea that Tim is good at stirring up controversy which in many ways is just as bad as letting them get the idea that he has a wide and supportive Australian readership.

Vale John Profumo

John Profumo, a major figure in the history of the British Labour Party, died peacefully yesterday after suffering a stroke. He is survived by relatives and the Conservative establishment.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 8

Is here. Episode 7 with links to previous episodes here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ten Years of Crap Public Dentistry

The best Weaselversary piece I've read so far is this letter from ysesterday's Age:

AMID all the banner-waving and hand-wringing at 10 year's of John Howard's Australia I have one small thing to add: I want my tooth back, John.

I challenge anyone in the Howard Government to live on a casual wage around $300 a week and try to get their teeth fixed. Have a spin on a 39-month waiting list for public dental care in Melbourne.

My late tooth just needed a regular filling, but it had to wait, until after more than two years I finally qualified for emergency care because the pain was affecting my sleep. By then it was too late to save, so it's sadly departed.

I have another two teeth that need fillings, but they can't be treated in emergency care, so they have to wait. I wish I could afford to take them to a dentist; I wish I lived in a society where health care for all citizens was still a priority. I know that it's just one tooth, but it's a minor symptom of the Australia Howard has built. And I bet his teeth are perfect...

I wish I lived in a kinder place, Like Australia used to be when we were younger.
Nick Larkin, Brunswick West

I could go all "cardboard box in the middle of the road" on Nick Larkin, but as a survivor of dentistry myself, I know where he's coming from. I'm not sure though, that Nick is completely right about Oz being a kinder place when he was younger. Looking back to my first big contract as a free-lance IT consultant - that is a highly paid casual employee with a suit and tickets on himself - I remember a little casual conversation I had with a middle manager at the Melbourne office of a large multinational corporation. I can't remember exactly how the subject of "work for the dole" came up - it might have been that the Sixty Minutes report that kicked the idea into Australian political debate was that day's Water Cooler topic. What I do remember, is that I remarked that I didn't think much of the idea - most of the people sitting at desks on the techo half of the floor tended to be left of centre - but I do remember his venomous response. "Why shouldn't they work for the money. I have to work hard for mine. I pay taxes ..." and so on.

Oh yes, he was working hard for the money. On nearly the highest floor of one of Melbourne's most prestigious CBD buildings, in air-conditioned comfort, with spectacular views to stare out at when his brain got weary from the pen-pushing and he needed to relax his eyes. With weekend paint-ball or evening go-kart races available at company expense as "team-building exercises". Onthe other side ofthe floor us techies were working hard for the money too - actually being paid for something we enjoyed doing and spending enough money to clothe an entire third-world family on snappy suits, shirts and D & G ties. I still have those souvenirs of more affluent times.

One thing I learnt from that little incident, was to be bloody careful about airing my political opinions around middle-managers. You never could tell which of them would turn out to be a venomous, self-satisfied little git and start spitting out bile and occasionally, your actual saliva. Those people have always been with us - even in the kinder times that we fondly look back on - and it's to satisfy them that we have work for the dole and continuing reform of our welfare system to make it ever more targetted - that is, ever more niggardly. There are people in the Australian middle class who actually do need to look down on someone poorer to complete their happiness with their lives. They're called Howard voters. There's another section of the middle class - a broader one I hope - who don't. They used to be called traditional Liberal voters - but these days they're dismissed under the rubric Doctor's Wives.

I haven't checked today's letters in The Age yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find one telling Nick Larkin that the loss of his tooth was all his own fault - he should have taken it easy on the chocolate, lollies and fizzy drinks. Well, maybe not the chocolate so much - according to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking (p 658), chocolate and cocoa actually inhibit bacteria that cause tooth decay. The McGee was purchased with a Christmas gift voucher by the way - there's no way I could afford a seventy dollar book on my budget. Which, when I sat down to redraw it this afternoon was looking like complete crap. Too many essentials to leave anything for discretionary spending.

Our (at this stage hypothetical) letter writer will no doubt express sympathy for Nick's position before going on to point out the Howard government's splendid achievement in funding public dental care for people who really need it while reducing the costs to the taxpayer and increasing the annual budget surplus. And the situation was, of course, much worse during the Hawke/Keating years. Particularly the Keating part. The letter will have been written by a Howard voter.

Good TV Stuff

Scrubs turned up on Seven last night at 11.30pm. The Age Green Guide program listings, which seem to be a bit up the pole this week, had Arrested Development listed in that slot.

Totally unremarked by the Green Guide's reviewers, as they continue their tedious in-house competition to produce the most sarcastically dismissive review of the worst program or film they can find on any given night is Push, Nevada on Seven at midnight tonight. Allegedly. It began a few weeks ago, with Internal Revenue Service Field Agent Jim Prufrock (first name Alfred), travelling to the town of Push, Nevada (sorry, I've temporarily forgotten the correct usage of eponymous) to investigate a possible case of tax fraud. From there it got weird. It's a lot like Twin Peaks with hotter weather. Diverting enough to be worth rescheduling with the assistance of a VCR. Assuming that you can trust Seven to stick to the program guide.

The Wrap Up

They came, they saw, they got their arses kicked. GMB is still posting abusive comments, which I'm deleting. JC seems to have got the message - I've heard nothing from him so far. Incidentally, Jason Soon tells me that GMB is already something of an internet legend so I guess in his case the legend just grew a little.

One unforeseen consequence was an extensive rant from RH - also deleted, which I now regret - on The Currency Lad's deficiencies of character. It would have made a good entry for a new series I'm considering - Matelot of the Month - where I publish the most flagrantly obscene, abusive comment I've seen while moderating the blog. While I think this has good "name, shame and discredit" value, there's the slight problem that the bloggers abused by these raving head th' balls generally don't like being called c*nts etc. Let me know what you think and we might find a way to handle it.

For now, it's time to listen to some Puccini highlights time while I read the info kit I've just received from the State Library of Victoria on their Argus indexing project. I want to get my head around it pretty quickly. With luck, I might find out what eventually happened about that dead baby in Toorak while I'm reading through musty old volumes and writing up index cards for all the articles. My little contribution to Australian history - but I'm told it's a valuable one.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Unwanted Reminders of Things Past (Defi)

An autumn morning in the arse end of Manchester sometime near the arse end of the Industrial Revolution - the early 1960s. Young Gummo Trotsky is walking to school along an unpaved street of black earth and gravel. Three storeys of cotton mill to the left, a patch of waste ground - a play ground for the kids of the neighbourhood, by courtesy of the Luftwaffe's urban renewal program of the early 1940s - to his right. He sees a couple of other kids approaching and quickens his step. Too little, too late.

"Where you going."


"Don't like your hair. Don't like redheads."

That's pretty much how it started, the little game the three of us played over the following months. Two boys whose friendship was incomplete without someone to really hate, found that person in me. On that day they showed a great inventiveness when it came to finding faults - besides the colour of my hair, there was the size of my freckles (too small to be proper freckles) and the fact that I went to the recently built "posh" school with all mod cons instead of the crumbling Victorian heap they'd been sentenced to. So the vicious little buggers made it their personal crusade to rid their part of Manchester of the scourge of red-headed kids with inadequate freckles who went to posh schools and were therefore snobs.

My part in the game was to force them to find me - I found about five different routes to and from school. Sooner or later, they would always work out which route I was using and confront me. Then they'd play their part; spit out some choice taunts and insults, with the implied threat of violence always present until they were in the right mood to face the school day. It was all done in private, a humiliating little secret for me, a satisfying one for them. Foggy days in November were a mixed blessing. It might have been hard for them to spot me on my way to school when you could hardly see from the front door to the edge of the pavement but there was also the risk that I might blunder into them unawares.

The game ended after they decided to pick me in front of my friends - as a private humiliation, the game was tolerable. It had to be. I'd received the traditional parental advice about standing up to bullies because they were all cowards at heart, but it didn't seem too useful when they made damn sure that they got me on my own, when there were just me, the two of them and no-one else - especially no adults - around. But doing it when I was walking home with a couple of friends along my latest "safe" route was taking things too far. I went for one of them - not the one who was always two steps back, providing the colour commentary, the other one. I had him on the pavement pretty damn quickly. A stranger, a woman, ran out of the greengrocer's across the road and started shouting "Stop it! Stop it!" That broke up the fight. A disappointment for me, because I was on top - but it was probably a good thing that the fight got stopped before it occurred to me to start bouncing the kid's head off the pavement. I went home feeling pretty pleased with myself

The next day they caught me on my own and gave me the hiding they'd been holding over my head for weeks. Lesson two in the practical, real life art of dealing with bullies - they're vengeful bastards and they don't give up. After they left, I stood there for a minute or two, struggling with the realisation that all yesterday's triumph had got me was deeper in shit. I might have stayed there all night if another good samaritan - a woman again - hadn't come by and asked me if there was "ought up, lad", or words to that effect. She gave me a handkerchief for the tears her simple question evoked and took me to the nearby house of one of my aunts. Finally, the adult world was forced to stop ignoring the situation - as mere kid's stuff - and do something about. The bullying stopped - from my point of view, quite inexplicably.

Late summer, 2006. Two nominal adults, actually children from the neck up, take it into their heads that the pseudonym "Gummo Trotsky" is as much an affront to decency and good taste as having the wrong hair colour and undersized freckles. The result is a blogospheric shit-fight which rampages across Larvatus Prodeo, Catallaxy and The Road To Surfdom. The one blog they conspicuously avoid bringing their confected outrage to, is this one. It's time to change that.

You guys want to play for egos? Fine, we'll play for egos. Here. And if the end result is that I run away from the internet with my tail tucked between my legs for a few months, so be it.

Pick your window.

Warning: the comments on this post are rated IB - suitable for immature boys only. They contain high level coarse language, frequent macho posturing, homophobic insults and references to violence.