Posts tagged "Australia"

The media, at any rate, were out in force to watch the homecoming of Ms Gillard and Mr Mathieson. They removed their own luggage from the boot of the prime ministerial car and then wandered hand-in-hand around the blooming spring garden in an event so micro-managed one journalist asked Ms Gillard’s minder: ”How long do you reckon they’ll be walking for?” Another asked, sotto voce: ”At what speed?”

Jewel Topsfield, “It’s moving day, minus the baggage,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 27, 2010

I have little patience with a lot of the criticism the media receives, mostly because such critics usually think the media has more power than it actually does, and because, where politics are concerned, the media is a known entity, so you shouldn’t act surprised when it does things. Part of politics is knowing what to do with the media, so quit whining about its perfectly predictable actions.

But that doesn’t mean the media is perfect, and sometimes it can be as self-obsessed and inane as its detractors claim. Take the above story by Jewel Topsfield for instance, in which she considers it newsworthy to relate what other reporters were gossiping about while covering a story.

Sometimes the media’s activities are a part of the story, but here they seem beyond trivial: this sort of shop talk is suitable for the journos to share at the pub after work, not in the pages of the daily paper. (“Did you hear the funny thing Johnno said to Gillard’s staffer? Dear me, it was hilarious!”) Reading this, my immediate response was, “I guess you had to be there?”

And Topsfield was apparently surprised that the PM’s move into the Lodge was stage managed[1]? Did she expect Julia Gillard not to have realized the media would cover her arrival? Did she expect Gillard to have acted as if they were not there so Topsfield could get a more “authentic” story? Don’t anthropologists blame themselves when the communities they’re observing act differently because they’re under observation?

Adding to the impression that this was a report written for fellow journalists, and not the public, is the way the two quoted reporters are allowed to be anonymous. Let’s assume that perhaps these quotes did add to the story. In that case, why not follow the golden rule of journalism and quote your sources? Try the more informative, “‘How long do you reckon they’ll be walking for,’ asked Sally Johnson of Sky News.” After all, if its important for us to hear those quotes, its equally important for us to know who said them.

But perhaps journalists look out for each other by suppressing each others’ identities when they make offhand remarks? That’s nice of them, but doesn’t it make them look a bit hypocritical when they want people in other professions to go on the record about things?

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1. Julia Gillard does seem to have a problem with micro-managing her public perception, and that’s something legitimate to comment on. It’s certainly part of the narrative surrounding her Prime Ministership. (Though where does a real problem end and a media narrative begin?) But journalists shouldn’t report something merely because it could reinforce an existing narrative.


Angry publicans have accused City of Sydney council of declaring war by red tape with its latest moves to reduce the number of late-night drinking spots.

The council proposes changes that will increase its powers to close bars at midnight.

But bar owners and restaurateurs argue it is an attempt to ”shut down the city” at midnight and hobble their businesses through a lack of certainty over trading hours which will cost them millions.

[…]

The changes will ensure the nightspots are kept on a short leash because almost all will be on ”trial periods” and any infraction will mean their hours will be cut.

If the plan was passed, the council would have the power to order a bar to close at midnight if its management was found to be unsatisfactory.

Vanda Carson, “Push to close bars at midnight,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 29, 2010

You’re kidding me, Sydney.

Remember last week how I was bitching out country folks who want government money to support their lifestyle? The same applies to urban residents who want governments to regulate away their neighborhood’s urbanity. When you live downtown in the biggest city in the country, expect some bar noise. If you don’t like it, move to Broken Hill.


(via kwafurther)
Such a shame to see a Union Jack plastered across a big island south of South East Asia.

(via kwafurther)

Such a shame to see a Union Jack plastered across a big island south of South East Asia.


Parliament is not a creature of the executive.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard to the House of Representatives [PDF, p. 20], September 28, 2010

Imagine how much more excited I’d be if I thought for a second that she actually believed this.


In America, this shtick appeals to the same sort of Anglophiles who fasten on the British accents in Masterpiece Theatre and PBS’s other imported programming (the dowdy costume dramas, lame sitcoms, and sleuth shows about crime-solving antique dealers and spinsters) as a seal of quality. Rock Anglophilia’s constituency is a younger subset of the exact same demographic (college-educated upper middle class), and it’s based around an identical syndrome: the equating of England with a superior level of refinement and literacy.

Simon Reynolds, “What ever happened to Britpop?" Salon, December 8, 2007

RelatedAlso.


Royalty’s such an anachronism for Americans, we don’t understand it or understand why it might be important to understand it. With the modern presidency, men choose it, or choose to contest for it, at least. And it’s a prize that makes sense. For eight years, at most, you’re the most powerful person in the country, and though it’s exhausting, controversial, and rough on your family, when you retire, you do so to inevitable riches, prestige, protection and a lifetime of privilege. With royalty in England, what you have to offer them most is the sum total of your person, and you have to do it forever.

Alyssa Rosenberg, “Listen to Me,” September 30, 2010

Royalty is an anachronism, period. It is wrong to try to understand royalty, other than to understand how to dismantle it. Comparing a democratically elected institution such as the American presidency with the anti-egalitarian institution that is the monarchy is — I’m struggling to be kind here — poorly thought through at best. 

Let’s make this clear: There is no down side to being a monarch, so long as your conscious can allow you to do it. Kings and Queens are born being told they are better than every single other member of their country, and they live their entire lives as if that were the case, with the law backing them up. They do not have to offer anything, but they receive everything. Their entire existence consists of feeding parasitically on the people they call subjects. Claims that the opulent pomp of royalty is some kind of public service are sickening. 

It disappoints me terribly when Americans forget their triumph on July 4, 1776, when they made the choice to be self-governing, and asserted that the equality of all men is a truth self-evident. That was not just a quarrel over tea taxes; it was an affirmation that republicanism is a superior system of government, and that affirmation endures today.


Objectivity is a keystone of journalism that extends to institutions like Wikipedia; the idea that we can somehow remove our selves from the things we think about and the contexts we exist is a bizarre USian fantasy akin to the classist racist American dream.

Rachel McCarthy James, “Objectivity and Neutrality,” Feministe, September 30, 2010

Usually when I post excerpts of blog posts, it’s because I intend the portion to function as a representation of the whole. I’m not doing that here, and what I’m talking about shouldn’t be considered a reaction to the original post; rather I want to talk about a tricky little bit of language used in the quoted sentence.[1]

That bit of language is James’ idea of objectivity as a “bizarre [American] fantasy.”

You see, because I’m not American, I understand James to be speaking about America as distinct from other countries. Which makes the sentence just plain odd, or even ignorant. Does James really believe that elevating objectivity in the fashion she speaks is peculiarly American, and rare in places outside the United States? My initial reaction on reading this was to puzzle over what differences there might be between the way America regards objectivity in comparison to Australia. (And America may indeed value objectivity more, but that’s not the kind of claim that should be dropped into a sentence as common knowledge.)

But in all likelihood, James is doing something I often see Americans doing: using the adjective “American,” when they really mean something like “the society around me.” In this understanding, she’s not saying anything about America in particular, she’s just commenting on her experience of life, which happens to be in America. This formulation posits the American experience as normative to the extent that it doesn’t have anything to say about the worth of non-American perspectives; it just treats them as if they do not exist.

I think that’s a bizarre concept for a non-American to understand. In the rest of the world, we tend to be reminded fairly regularly that our country is doing things differently to other countries, and so if we refer to a quality as being of our society, we are usually saying that quality distinguishes us somewhat from other societies.

Americans use that formulation as well; think of the affirmation that “America is a land of immigrants.” That’s not saying that no other country is “a land of immigrants,” but it does rely on the fact that there are countries that are not lands of immigrants. But Americans are able to slip between the two understandings — America as an exception, and America as a norm — so easily as to make the distinction almost unnoticeable. If someone complains about the quality of American schooling, for instance, are they thinking of comparisons of test scores among OECD countries, or are they thinking of the lousy experience they had going to Rutherford B. Hayes High School?[2]

When, a long while ago, I first realized that Americans sometimes used “America” as a normative adjective in this way, I struggled to work out the thought process behind this. It’s part of the insularity that America is well-known for, something equally mystifying to a non-American. (But if you think “insularity” explains much in terms of America, you’re being overly simplistic. Yes, America is an insular place, but foreign characterizations of this quality are more often instances of kneejerk anti-Americanism uninterested in understanding the society responsible for it.)

One way to try to understand the way Americanness is universal for Americans is to remember that non-Americans aren’t as globally aware as we like to think. As an Australian, I know a moderate bit about Anglophone Commonwealth countries, and a little bit about South East Asia and Europe, but beyond that, there’s much about foreign cultures that I have no idea about. But the best way I intuitively understand the all-encompassing, immersive quality of American society is to think of being in the all-encompassing, immersive Anglosphere.

I learned a few foreign languages in high school, so I can string together a couple non-English sentences, but I have no idea what it is to be a non-native English speaker, and no matter how much I try to imagine myself in a Chinese or Portuguese speakers shoes, I will never intuitively be able to grasp being not naturally fluent in the dominant global language.

And as an Anglophone, I use the adjective “English” in exactly the same way as James used “USian” above. When I comment on a feature of the English language, I’m almost never talking about a quality that distinguishes it from other languages. I’m just talking about the only language I’ve ever known.

And so, I should be clear. Just because I think the American conflation of the distinctive with the normative is abrasive doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, when I’m in the States, I find the country’s isolationist quality oddly seductive. It’s strangely liberating when the entire world exists in the destiny manifested from sea to shining sea. It’s not so much an embrace of ignorance as it is entering a world where different knowledge is necessary to function.

But, if you ever needed telling, I’m not an expert. I’m trying to feel out some odd parts of American culture that are hard to characterize, let alone reliably explain. If you think I’m way off-base, tell me. Even my best thought through ideas are sometimes nuts.

——

1. There are also some other ideas in this sentence that I’m not interested in exploring at the moment, most specifically the “classist racist” bit.

2. This is not meant to be an aspersion on any real life Rutherford B. Hayes high schools, which for all I know may be universally excellent.

(Cross-posted at the USSC.)


I’m not going to say it. I’m just going to let this sit here, and for those of you who know, you know.

I’m not going to say it. I’m just going to let this sit here, and for those of you who know, you know.


Walking cocky out the courtroom (DIDDY BOPPIN!): Beating abortion charges is pretty baller anyway, but coordinating your wardrobe with your partner(-in-crime) — and with bright pink, too! —  is straight up awesome. Sergie Brennan and Tegan Leach, congratulations.
As to how they actually escaped conviction, I have no idea. As The Australian explains:

The couple were charged after police found empty blister packets of abortion drugs RU486 and Misoprostol during a search of their home on an unrelated matter in February last year.
Under[the century-old] Queensland law, abortion is illegal except to protect the mother’s life or her physical or mental wellbeing.

And yet:

Judge Everson said if the jurors were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the drugs supplied by Mr Brennan and taken by Ms Leach were “noxious”, both defendants should be acquitted.

Abortion is illegal, but if the drugs used are not noxious, it’s OK? Dontgetit.
Anyway, great news, but I fear this will result in Queensland succumbing to that oh-so-Australian habit of thinking that once a problem has disappeared that it’s been solved. We too often take the stance “she’ll be right, mate,” when what’s needed is actual substantitve change. And though this couple will not go to prison over an act that should have been the decision of no one but Tegan Leach, who knows what will happen to the next woman to run afoul of this legislation, or similar ones in other states? It’s a great shame Queensland didn’t convince its government to remove the law from its books while the injustice of this case was still uppermost in Australian minds.

Walking cocky out the courtroom (DIDDY BOPPIN!): Beating abortion charges is pretty baller anyway, but coordinating your wardrobe with your partner(-in-crime) — and with bright pink, too! —  is straight up awesome. Sergie Brennan and Tegan Leach, congratulations.

As to how they actually escaped conviction, I have no idea. As The Australian explains:

The couple were charged after police found empty blister packets of abortion drugs RU486 and Misoprostol during a search of their home on an unrelated matter in February last year.

Under[the century-old] Queensland law, abortion is illegal except to protect the mother’s life or her physical or mental wellbeing.

And yet:

Judge Everson said if the jurors were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the drugs supplied by Mr Brennan and taken by Ms Leach were “noxious”, both defendants should be acquitted.

Abortion is illegal, but if the drugs used are not noxious, it’s OK? Dontgetit.

Anyway, great news, but I fear this will result in Queensland succumbing to that oh-so-Australian habit of thinking that once a problem has disappeared that it’s been solved. We too often take the stance “she’ll be right, mate,” when what’s needed is actual substantitve change. And though this couple will not go to prison over an act that should have been the decision of no one but Tegan Leach, who knows what will happen to the next woman to run afoul of this legislation, or similar ones in other states? It’s a great shame Queensland didn’t convince its government to remove the law from its books while the injustice of this case was still uppermost in Australian minds.


Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire Rumored for Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby


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