31 October 2005

Since when has it been illegal to take photos at Australian airports?

Yesterday I went to farewell my daughter and grandchildren, who were returning to London after an all too brief visit. The new Adelaide airport terminal allows visitors accompanying departing passengers to go beyond the security screening. As I had not divested myself of all the sharp objects in my possession I decided not to go beyond the gate but instead to take a photograph of the family.

As I pointed my camera at the grandchildren one of the officials overseeing the security screening barked at me that photographs weren't permitted. There were no signs stating this, and I was not aware that it was now forbidden in Australia. It is not uncommon overseas, but I'd like to know the nature and extent of the prohibition. Is all photography on airport land forbidden, or just near the departure gates, or what? What about the penalties? Will malefactors be subject to the forthcoming anti-terrorist laws with their attendant threats of detention without trial and isolation from friends and family?

21 October 2005

Does Mr Murdoch speak the same language?

While I'm not a paid up member of his fan club (or even a shareholder in News Corp), I have to admit to a soft spot for Rupert Murdoch, or at least some of the things he says and does. In today's Australian (p19 "Rupert netted by web's potential") he's quoted as saying "The more we think about it the more the internet fits into our whole modus vivendi" .

While using a foreign phrase (even from a dead language) violates some people's idea of correct English expression it does suggest that the great man has a deeper appreciation of the potential of language than many of his employees, for example the headline writer and whoever thought it necessary to translate the phrase. Perhaps Mr Murdoch could run a few master classes for some of his acolytes?

Cruise Ship Australia hits stormy weather: or whose Titanic conceit?

A week after it was published in the Bulletin the storm created by David Williamson's article comparing Australia to a cruise ship (see http://www.bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/site/articleIDs/19DB1992F58E0305CA25707D000CDC14 )has, after briefly abating, increased to gale force thanks to some media luminaries who seem to have belatedly found enough wind to fill their sails (and if you think this goes over the top with nautical cliches just read what others have written).

This morning Gerard Henderson gave ABC RN Breakfast listeners his exegesis of the article; and some of the other usual media suspects have weighed in (try a Google search if you want to read them). But please note that their comments are but zephyrs to the gale force of the Australian's coverage, which began with its lead editorial on Wednesday "Titanic Conceit: if artists reject ordinary people, they are the losers". With a headline like this, who needs any further explanation? Probably not the aspirationals.

Thursday produced a (predictable) rejoinder from David Williamson, while today the Letters to the Editor began with an obsequious puff for the Oz from Dr Rachel Birati, who claimed that the editorial was "a meticulous work of art".

What next? If the Oz editorials are now, in the opinion of Dr Birati (a Monash uni academic), works of art, are they now eligible to be included in HSC English syllabi (or syllabuses)? Or will they be included in Dr Birati's course on Literature of Destruction and Redemption to be offered at Monash University in Semester 2 next year?

Through a guided study of appropriate literary texts, students will be able to explore the theme by focussing separately on destruction and redemption and then viewing them both in a unified way. Students will be directed to important critical material and will be guided through a variety of audio-visual aids.
(emphasis added)

Might Williamson's piece meet Dr Birati's criteria as an exemplum of destruction? If so, surely the Oz's editorial and Gerard H & co's responses would qualify as appropriate exempla of redemption.
What happens to the student who challenges the direction and guidance of the course coordinator, whether directly or indirectly (via assessment)? Will the Australian, Gerard Henderson or Uncle Tom Cobbley and all go into print about this threat to academic freedom? Or is this the new PC (aka neo-con toeing the line)? I won't hold my breath waiting for a response.

19 October 2005

Update on underemployment and welfare reforms

The issue of unemployment and welfare reform and the links between them have been kept on the front - well middle - burner in the media today with more comments from Barnaby Joyce, the Salvation Army and the CFMEU see http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,16965175%255E2702,00.html.

The Salvos deserve special praise because their employment services arm is a major beneficiary of government largesse. Will some of the other big players now step forward and support them?

My post yesterday was more concerned about underemployment, though of course this is linked to unemployment. I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised, via a letter in today's Crikey, to see that in WA there exists an Organisation of Un(der)employed People. They don't seem to have a website but in a previous incarnation appear to have called themselves a Union - surely the union movement hasn't forced them to change their title? They, with many others (albeit hardly a representative sample of Australian society) gave evidence to a parliamentary committee in 2003 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ewrwp/paidwork/appendixd.htm.

Mary Jenkins, the Secretary of the Organisation (formerly known as the Union), gives a graphic example in her letter to Crikey:

A person on Newstart can earn $62 a week without paying extra tax. This will not cover the resent rise in the cost of living. If they earn up to $120 extra they pay 50c in the dollar tax, which means half of what they earn goes to the government. Anything over $120 they pay the Government 70c in the dollar. So these people are working for 30c if they earn more than $120 above the Newstart allowance.

18 October 2005

Unemployment fruit salad

In today's Crikey lead story (http://www.crikey.com.au: subscription required) Christian Kerr discusses how "unemployment" is defined differently around the world. He compares Australia, where a person who works for an hour a week is deemed to be employed, to Germany, where someone who works less than 15 hours a week and wants to work more is considered to be unemployed. He points out that these differences dilute the force of the claims made by Messrs Howard and Andrews about our high position on the global employment league table.

Sure, it's good to see more people in work, but what about the underemployed: those who don't qualify as unemployed ? For example, mature age people who struggle to survive in home based businesses or rural workers reliant on seasonal work. Where are the programs or funding support to help them?

In the last few years the goverment has funded many worthy programs and fostered the growth of a privatised employment services industry which has seen large for-profit organisations do very nicely thank you. The industry and the government have developed a cosy relationship where even the older, often church and community based, non profit organisations almost invariably choose to take the government's money and run its programs. By doing so they become de facto government agencies for whom self-interest engenders a reluctance to criticise any government policies (and ideologies?).

Is there any organisation which speaks in any more than a whisper on behalf of the underemployed?

13 October 2005

Who called Bob "Judas"?

This question does not refer to the recently superannuated Premier of NSW's decision to accept a reported half million pieces of gold for doing some consultancy work, so the answer is not "most Australians with a well developed moral sense".

An Adelaide giveaway paper has offered a copy of the Bob Dylan No Direction Home soundtrack CD to the first four people who can identify the irate fan who shouted out "Judas" at a 1966 concert in the UK (when Dylan reverted to electric music). A Google search has narrowed the field down to two: John Cordwell and Keith Butler. See

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/features/article314340.ece ( Cordwell's claim)

http://www.expectingrain.com/dok/who/b/butlerkeith.html. (the case for Butler with a nod in J C's direction).

I've neither the time nor the inclination to peruse the 21,100 or so links Google has thrown up and it's too late to claim a prize, but it would be interesting to know what the correct answer is.

12 October 2005

Lifeboat drill on Cruise Ship Australia

Today's Bulletin features an article by David Williamson in which he uses a recent cruise as a starting point for some trenchant criticisms of modern Australia.


It didn't take him long to see underneath the veneer of shipboard glitz:

it soon became apparent... that all wasn't to be plain sailing. The ship was stacked to the gunwales [sic] with John Howard’s beloved “aspirational Australians”.
The dinner conversation made this plain. They aspired to all manner of things: to holidays like this, to new cars, to kitchen refits, to renovations, to private education for their children, and to practically anything made of plastic, wood or steel. The one surefire topic of conversation that connected erstwhile strangers was price comparisons.

Bob Carr wasn't on board (Williamson couldn't identify any Proust readers) so the cultural deficit had to be made up by recollections of a cruise past:

A British cruise line took us from Hong Kong down through Vietnam, Cambodia and on to Singapore. Excellent lecturers from Oxford and other major universities gave talks morning and afternoon about the geography, history, culture and art of the places we were about to visit. It was like a floating university of the very best kind, and we had to arrive early and fight for seats as hordes of ageing but fit and mentally alert English jostled for front spots, many taking copious notes...In contrast to the mindless hedonism of the Australian cruise we were presented with a world of sharp and complex reality. Discussion at dinner was a lively examination of what we’d seen and its implications. The creative heights and the brutal depths of human potential resonated powerfully in our imaginations.

Cultural binge or cultural cringe?

Back on Cruise Ship Australia no one so much as mentioned the plight of the real aspirationals on board, the Indonesian and Filipino crew members who were away from their families on low-wage contracts for up to 10 months, or queried why they had one kind of lifestyle and we had another.

So the British cruise line vessel had an entirely British crew (and faculty)? We're not told.

Next Williamson shifts his focus to the environment. Australians have inherited [?] a very fragile ecosystem; probably after Iceland, the most fragile in the world .

He is pessimistic about the future but, somewhat oddly given his attitude elsewhere, endorses the economic rationalist view that farming should be shut down to buy time.

Then he concludes with a stirring rhetorical flourish

If you believe in a wider set of values than accumulating material affluence, wear it as a badge of honour next time some self-righteous journalist uses the word “elites” pejoratively against you. An obsessive focus on material acquisition, encouraged by governments who worship economic growth and little else, have locked us into a probable long-term disaster scenario for Cruise Ship Australia and for the planet as a whole.

This is all very highminded. It's difficult not to agree with many of his general points, though I'd have like to have seen him make them more subtly, and maybe even suggest how to change Cruise Ship Australia's (and perhaps Cruise Ship Earth's) course.

08 October 2005

Robert Zimmerman

I've just bought the DVD of No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's doco about Bob Dylan from his musical beginnings (not long after his birth it seems) until the mid 60s. It's long (though not too long for those acquainted with Scorsese's other docos) yet well worth viewing if you're interested in Robert Dylan Zimmerman or documentary film making or both. The backbone of the film is archival footage, much of which was unfamiliar to me, of performances and events, fleshed out with recently filmed interviews with Bob and other luminaries eg Joan Baez and Allen Ginsberg, some of whom have weathered the passage of time better than others.

It's possible to program the DVD to play the Dylan music from the movie and, by drilling down into the Special Features menu, to play a few songs without commentary voiceover or interruption.

Apart from the music there's a great scene of a concert in the UK in the mid 60s where the national anthem (God Save the Queen) was played, perhaps partly as a crowd control device, to give Bob a chance to escape from those whose who'd taken umbrage at his conversion (in fact reversion) to electric guitars etc . This stratagem did not seem to be very successful but it reminds those like me who lived in the 60s how many things have changed. Another example is the number of male musicians who performed wearing ties.

02 October 2005


Woke this morning to the news of the latest Bali bombings. Apart from reporting the casualities the media, understandably in the circumstances, is asking "who did it?".

Last night, thanks to a friend, I was able to get a ticket to Robert Fisk's Edward Said Memorial Lecture at Adelaide University. Anyone who knows anything about Fisk will be aware of his reputation as a controversial journalist, especially for his support for the Palestinian cause.

I thought the lecture was an eloquently delivered piece of moderate advocacy for the Palestinian cause. Fisk interleafed his talk with footage from a 1993 Discovery Channel program he'd made which showed the dispossession of Palestinian Arabs in stark detail. Not surprisingly, complaints from certain quarters (any guesses which?) resulted in the program being banned from further screenings.

In the lecture Fisk didn't propose any solutions, but when asked during question time he suggested that any settlement had to be based on UN Resolution 242
http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/59210ce6d04aef61852560c3005da209?OpenDocument. He did acknowledge that the resolution was a starting (or re-starting) not a finishing point but didn't elaborate in any detail.

He also didn't say much about Iraq until question time, when he stressed the importance of always asking why things happened, not just how they did and who was responsible . He quoted statements made around the end of WW1 by politicians such as Lloyd George, the then British PM, which are still chillingly relevant today.

I don't think the lecture has yet been published but it deserves to be. In the meantime to find out more about Robert Fisk and to read some of his other work see http://www.robert-fisk.com/ .

There's plenty of material about Resolution 242 : for a summary see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UN_Security_Council_Resolution_242 .