Mar 01

Yes with a but…

probably unanswerable question: does mandatory voting cause people who would be otherwise disinterested to engage with political issues?

Not altogether unanswerable, I don’t think; I’m aware, for instance, of a PhD candidate whose research suggests Australian swing voters (swing voters tending to be the least engaged with politics) know more about issues than one would expect. I do believe that mandatory voting does encourage a low level of political engagement from citizens who would usually have none. I think, though, that this is counterbalanced by a much lower rate of deep engagement in politics. By my read, Australia is more likely than many other polities to have citizens with a superficial knowledge of politics, but I think it also has a much smaller proportion of its population deeply engaged. This is a problem because deeply engaged people are the ones that actually exert power and come up with new ideas, and while it is a good thing for a political system to make it easier for the average citizen to be marginally involved, there are huge problems with one that discourages deeper engagement.

My argument is an institutional one, but I acknowledge that the causes are also cultural. I maintain that if Australia abandoned mandatory voting our turnout rates would not fall by that much because we’ve established voting as a cultural norm. Also, as I’ve written elsewhere, Australians strongly associate democracy with the act of periodically voting for representatives. I’m not saying we’re wrong about that, but it does mean we give short shrift to other important aspects of democracy, such as party membership or citizen engagement with policy formulation between elections. 

By contrast, Abbott is a classic example of hegemonic masculinity — he may not be the aspirational model that many men or even women aspire to, but most people recognise his version of masculinity as being the mode that is meant to be in charge. As a result, it’s hard to avoid the idea that the “adults” who were sweeping to power were in some way a gendered response to Gillard as well as Rudd. The presence of a mere one woman on the front bench only serves to reinforce this.

And all of this — because it’s the 21st century, and because tabloids are involved — is being filtered through the Bruckheimerisation of masculinity that has been underway for some time. Manliness is no longer necessarily stoic and stolid, it must also be virile and athletic, preferably with explosions.

Ed Butler, “Manly men v wimps: what’s behind the macho language in Australian politics,” The Guardian, February 27, 2014

This is an excellent article, and it’s a trend I’ve noticed. As Butler explains later, “A world where ‘man’ equals ‘good’ tends to imply that ‘woman’ is, well, not” and it’s strange to see how wholeheartedly the new government has embraced this worldview. Conservative Australia has developed a creepy fascination with hegemonic masculinity of late, and although conservatism and masculinity have always been related, this isn’t like it was even during the Howard years. What was once silent and simplistically patriarchal has become vocal and militant.

But there’s also the Madisonian version of this, which would stress that these majorities are almost always illusions. Returning to abortion: it’s true that pollsters can obtain answers from most people about the topic, but the truth is that many people (most people?) don’t actually care very much about abortion at all. That’s sometimes hard for those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about politics to understand, because we’re likely to care about plenty of issues as a function of caring about politics at all. But plenty of people only care about a handful of issues, or just one, or even none. They’ll vote (at least in most major elections), and pay some attention when elections get near, but they just aren’t engaged with “the issues” the way that those who really care about politics are. Among other things, that’s one of the reasons why changing polling questions in subtle ways can produce very different answers: Most respondents don’t have deep-seated opinions, and therefore will respond differently to slightly different versions of a question. You aren’t going to get a true pro-life or pro-choice believer to give the “wrong” answer by stacking a question, but you’ll get the people who don’t care much about the issue to flip, because for them there is no “right” answer that reveals what they “really” think. They don’t really think about it. (They might in the future if something happens to get them involved. That’s not their current position, however).

In this way of thinking about things, there’s really no “majority” on most issues. There are only pluralities (and multiple pluralities) of those who have real positions, and then lots of people who don’t care very much. As for Fiorina’s argument, the more attentive people are, the more likely they are to adhere to the party’s (relatively extreme) positions, which makes it even less likely that his “majority” of the middle is any more legitimate than the “majorities” created by either side.

Jonathan Bernstein, “In Politics, ‘Majority Is a Complicated Idea,” Bloomberg View, February 25, 2014

And here’s the problem with the quirk in the Australian electoral system that is mandatory voting: it puts decisive electoral questions in the hands of these voters who have few real opinions.

Add to that:

On the other hand, make it too easy for the parties to enact those constructed majorities and too many people and groups can no longer be “heard effectively.” Especially if the parties themselves aren’t sufficiently permeable. If those majorities were real, that wouldn’t be a problem, because as long as one of the parties faithfully represented that majority, then the parties would be doing their job. But since the majorities don’t precede the political system, it’s important that everyone have an opportunity to construct them. Even if, in the event, few do.

So not only do we ask people who have little interest to cast the deciding vote in choosing a government, we then create a government from parties that are composed exactly as Bernstein warns they should not be: impermeable, and acting upon policies a select group of insiders have decided represent majority opinion.


The notion of masculinity is funny, especially the notion between macho dudes that if you’re not all the way masculine, you’re all the way feminine. I’m beginning to realize the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in life thus far is nobody’s all the way anything.

yes. and also maybe how these are meant to be qualities that can’t exist in tandem: that more feminine must mean less masculine: that masculinity and femininity can’t interact without one eroding the other.

Feb 27

In New York, where thousands of bearded hipsters scamper around Williamsburg or Brooklyn reading Kerouac and drinking whisky, a new trend in facial hair has emerged.

Rachel Clun, “’Beard transplants’ are now a thing,” The Sydney Morning Herald, February 26, 2014

So, yeah, “Williamsburg or Brooklyn” is what happens when you start thinking of real places as trendpiece shorthand.

Ironically, although Victoria was the last Australian State both to enable women to vote in parliamentary elections and to allow them to be Members of Parliament, it had actually empowered women to vote just seven years after the opening of the first Parliament of Victoria.

In a piece of faulty legislative drafting, the Electoral Act of 1863 enfranchised all ratepayers listed on local municipal rolls. By some oversight the Parliament overlooked earlier local government legislation that had permitted women to be added to the municipal rolls for local government elections. Those women therefore now had the vote and proceeded to use it in the general election of 1864.

Shocked at such effrontery, and embarrassed by their oversight, Members of the Legislative Assembly hastily amended the offending clause early in 1865 by restricting the vote for parliamentary elections strictly to male ratepayers.

Parliament of Victoria: Women in Parliament

Those 1860s Victorian parliamentarians, whatta buncha jerks.

From the air, flying over Phoenix, you notice the nothingness first of all. It resembles a tan- and cocoa-colored moon, except that there are vast splotches of green-golf courses and the other pampered land where irrigation systems have been installed. From my Geology course, I knew that everything below me had once been a shallow ocean; and at dusk, when I flew into Phoenix, the shadows on the rocks were a tropical-sea purple, and the tumbleweeds were aquamarine — so that I could actually imagine the ocean that once was there. In truth, Phoenix still resembled a shallow sea, marred by the fake greens and blues of swimming pools. Some ten or twenty miles in the distance, a jagged ridge of reddish, tea-colored mountains were here and there capped with waxy deposits of limestone — to a New Englander, they looked like dirty snow. But it was far too hot for snow.

Although, at dusk, the sun had lost its intensity, the dry heat shimmered above the tarmac; despite a breeze, the heat persisted with furnacelike generation. After the heat, I noticed the palm trees — all the beautiful, towering palm trees.
John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)



"My Nokia 5150 didn’t have Flappy Bird but, by gum, that was a cell phone with heart…"

Jonathan Bradley: “Where the traditionalist takes the objects of his desire for granted, the conservative cannot. He seeks to enjoy them precisely as they are being — or have been — taken away,” Corey Robin wrote. “But as soon as those objects enter the medium of political speech, they cease to be items of lived experience and become incidents of an ideology.” I’m tempted to end my blurb there: return fire in a culture war against a singer who, if you’ve convinced yourself that all her words are polemic, prefers women to end marriages through murder rather than divorce. But though ideology and culture are intertwined, they’re not equivalent, and, truthfully, most Americans are simply not political. Lines on “Automatic” like “We drove all the way to Dallas just to buy an Easter dress/We’d take along a Rand McNally, stand in line to pay for gas” are about memory and the hazy process of constructing personal narrative, not literal Luddism. There are more moments in “Automatic” like this, but there are also list items, which are not particularly interesting, especially not over a guitar arrangement that remembers what it was like to wait for hours until that OneRepublic download had completed. “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation,” Tony Soprano once sniped, and even if he’s right, it’s one in which we are nonetheless all too likely to engage. That propensity crosses party lines.


[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

What was I just saying b/w the footnote here b/w stop thinking like a campaign consultant. With bonus track: look, if Miranda Lambert’s obviously not interested in maintaining ideological consistency across her work, why should I go looking for it?

Maybe also check Soto on Eric Church.


Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - “Yume no Hajimarinrinrin” (2014)

Plenty of misconceptions exist about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu outside of Japan…J-pop Lady Gaga topping the power ranking…but the one that’s gobbled up by folks who don’t know her AND are fans of the performer is that she’s somehow different than the rest of the country’s pop stars. Nope. She’s as plugged into the system as it gets - she holds handshake events where you drop the equivalent of thirty bucks to shake her hand, she’s prickly when it comes to media and she appears in dozens of ads the same way the members of SMAP do.

Trick is, she makes it really convincing that she isn’t engaging in these typical practices. Yeah, she does meet-‘n’-greets…but she doesn’t attract the sweaty nerd-o’s typically associated with most idols, but rather a demographic-spanning crowd that looks like people you’d actually meet on the streets. Sure, her management does all it can to hide stuff like her real name…but she also has the third-most-popular Twitter where she actually expresses herself (gaffes and all). Sure, she appears in dozens of ads…but geez, her fashion, who cares.

“Yume no Hajimarinrin” is the latest example of how she makes it looks like she’s above the typical J-pop field. It is a “sakura song,” or a track released right before the cherry blossoms bloom across Japan. That’s the time when students graduate from school and workers move onto new jobs, too, so it’s a good time to cash in on some memories. A lot of these songs suck, warmed-up mono no aware delivered in joyless ballad form. Bands like Ikimonogakari peddle this stuff, and are massive snoozefests.

Kyary’s latest hits all the same themes…the chorus starts, in English, “goodbye teacher, my friends,” and the Japanese words are not breaking stride…but manages to be better/more interesting than the typical seasonal fare. It helps a lot that the song skips along, complete with zippy guitar lines and some nice synchopated beats. Sure, this will probably still pop up in some high school’s graduation Power Point, but at least you could bounce around to this while feeling sad.

Yet it also shines because of how easily it slides into the image of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu presented to listeners. Really, this should have been the first single to come out after last year’s Nanda Collection, an album where she spends a substantial amount of time trying to figure out who she is and trying to decide how scary becoming an adult really is. That full-length ended with a song devoted to the question, with her realizing she doesn’t have to sacrifice one entirely for the other (translation).

"Yume" might be a song about moving on from daily routes and teachers…and, save for a self-aware line about cramming all this into a song, isn’t far from the lyrics of those boring ballads popping up on shelves this time of year (even the central phone imagery is off)…but it works because of what Kyary is all about. Ever since she let her hyperactive-kid image slide a bit on “Drinker,” she’s been at her best when she’s trying to navigate the transition from youth to adulthood. Unlike the overly saccharine ballads that capitalize on time, “Yume” works because Kyary’s whole theme revolves around the struggles of growing up, and graduation really is a great continuation of that. This song is not special from other “sakura songs” nor is Kyary a J-pop aberration, but it shows how she manages to rise above.

(Also, it helps that the video isn’t, like, set in a high school, and only makes passing reference to actual graduation. Also helps that it has a polar bear rocking the fuck out.) 

The video is the most overtly attention-grabbing thing here, what with its sad polar bear and retrospective career-of-Kyary concept, but I really like this song too! Then again, I actually like, for instance, AKB48’s “So Long!" — an opinion decidedly not universal — so perhaps sakura songs just really do it for me.

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