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Showing posts from May, 2005

French vote a disappointment

One need not be a francophone to understand this front page story in Le Monde:

Le vote français plonge l'Union européenne dans une période d'incertitudesThe French, the great leaders of the European cause have done the unthinkable and given the thumbs down to the EU Constitution. The EU is one of those great political phenomena which has wonderfully inoffensive objectives, but when the practical details are considered, manages to offend nearly everyone. The Constitution has been adopted by nine countries already, although rarely is this due to popular support - most countries, such as Germany most recently, have chosen to adopt it via a parliamentary vote.

Much as this latest vote might be a setback, Europe, or more rightly the EU, will survive and eventally prosper. Individually, each European nation knows that it is vulnerable economically and culturally if it seeks to stand out on its own. In an era of trade blocs and strategic alliances, each nation is in a fairly weak b…

Ari in Canberra

I'll be away in Canberra for three days from Tuesday to Thursday of this week. I'd love to meet up with Canberra friends, both new and old. If you've got a couple of hours free, get in touch, so that we can drink coffee, read the papers, and make up rumours about Barnaby Joyce. Who's with me?

Corby case - a few angles

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It was hard not to be emotionally moved by the tsunami of coverage of the Schapelle Corby judgement that was delivered on Friday. Given that there are plenty of people around the world have are victim to fargreaterinjustices than Corby, it seems a tad irrational to become so emotionally involved in this case. Perhaps it comes down to deep-seated prejudices - here was a young, attractive, Australian woman on trial - that mean we prioritise some people's suffering over others. Most likely, on a subconscious level we can all relate to Schapelle - she could be our sister, or our daughter, or in some parts of Tassie both at once. This might further explain the lack of Indonesian sympathy for her, since most Indonesians have trouble identifying with a 20-something fair-skinned boogie-boarding beauty therapy student.

A few observations about the past 48 hours:

- The Federal government has finally given formal assistance to Corby as she mounts her appeal. The question was asked, why wa…

Jews and Australian Politics Forum, Thursday night

Just returned from a very interesting forum at the Jewish Museum of Australia, based around the fiery new book Jews and Australian Politics. On the panel was co-editor Phillip Mendes (Geoffrey Brahm Levey was the other hand in this effort), along with Michael Danby and Julian Sheezel, both Jews with a long involvement in the Labor and Liberal parties respectively. All three were in good form, with Mendes offering some interesting insights into the drift toward conservatism (well, toward voting Liberal, at least) amongst Australian Jewry, whilst Danby and Sheezel launched some diplomatic but well directed attacks at their political opponents. I admit I am yet to read the book although I would quite like to, so for now I'll just offer a few interesting snippets from Thursday night's forum:

- Just what is the character of Jewish voters, and how has it changed over time? Mendes forcefully argued that whilst Jews generally come from a higher socio-economic background, they usual…

The King is dead...

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...long live the King.

Crikey on Ari on Bill

Those looking for the piece on Bill Shorten mentioned on Crikey(.com.au) can find it here.

Does the world owe farmers a living?

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Queenslander Barnaby Joyce has been in the Senate all of, well, eh, he's yet to take office, actually, but he manages to attract the sort of attention that most of the red-leather seat warmers can only dream of. Today, he made the front page of The Oz with a crackpot proposal for "zonal taxation":

Queensland Nationals senator-elect Barnaby Joyce and Queensland colleagues have suggested their own long-term solution: generous tax concessions in regional Australia to attract infrastructure investment.

The Queensland Nationals, who will play a crucial role in the Senate from July 1 after helping deliver the Coalition a majority, say flat and favourable tax rates in depressed rural areas would breathe new economic life into the bush.

Mr Joyce, who is championing the "zonal taxation" proposals, argues the tax initiative would be cost-neutral because it was the fastest way to turn welfare recipients into working taxpayers.

The proposal continues in a long tradition of …

Canadian progessive survives... just

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In Canada, the Prime Minister Paul Martin, from the (progressive) Liberal Party managed to survive a no-confidence vote only after the Speaker cast the deciding vote. Martin may have made it through this time, but the Conservatives have sniffed blood, and they're likely to continue to make life tricky.

There's plenty on the web about the issue, but here's a first-hand take on things from a Canadian friend of mine, Charles:

The Tories may win the confidence vote, but it remains to be seen whether they can win the election that will follow!

It is expected that the next campaign will last 40 days, more than the usual 30 days, a lot can happen, and the Liberals have a great organisation (the big red machine), much better oiled than that of the Tories. Besides, because the Bloc Quebecois' hard base splits the vote, the Tories will lack necessary support in the East to win a majority in the House of Commons. And probably most importantly, Canadians do not like the Tories'…

Review: PHOBIA @ North Melbourne Town Hall

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As Marion Crane gracefully steps into the bathtub to take her final wash, it's not the coquettish innocence of her face that stays in the memory, nor is it the pure whiteness of the shower curtain. Instead, it is the incessant squealing of violins, alerting everyone but Marion to the immanent danger lurking just a few feet away. Without the nerve-jangling intensity of the soundtrack, this iconic Hollywood scene would remain as just another cinematic murder. As it is, this scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is etched into the collective consciousness of generations of movie-goers, and has forever condemned both white shower curtains and violin E strings to be associated with bathtub murder.

Bernard Herrmann, the composer who wrote this memory-scarring piece of music, was not the only one to be fascinated by the power of sound in Hitchcock’s work. As well as being the composer for Psycho, Herrmann also composed the soundtrack to Vertigo, another Hitchcock classic, and it is thi…

Indonesian Justice

Despite the billion dollar tsunami aid package pledged by Australia to the Indonesian government, relations between the two are going through a low ebb, at least according to Professor Tim Lindsey in his interesting public lecture at the Melbourne University Law School. Professor Lindsey is a legal academic, and has kept a very close eye on three important events that are shaping the bilateral relationship - the Schapelle Corby case, the Bali Nine, and the trials of the Bali bombers. In each case, the Indonesian legal system has taken a batterring, at least in the eyes of the Australian public, via the tabloid media.

Lindsey argues that the criticisms levelled at the Indo justice system are ignorant and incorrect. There has been plenty of baseless scuttlebutt circulating, including suggestions that the justice system has a presumption of guilt rather than innocence, that the judges' verdict is predetermined, and the notion that the Australian government should do more (more what

Blog's first birthday and my Top 10

It's a lazy Sunday arvo...
What better way to share my thoughts with the world than via the medium of modern telecommunications and its finest product, the internet. It's no longer just an place for nut-bag political conspiracy theorists, amateur pornographers and suicidal degenerates to feel at home - now it's for me as well.
It feels like only yesterday, but it's exactly 12 months to the day since I first put these words in that order and hit the upload button, commencing the first post on this very blog. It's been a fun twelve months of blogging, and has seen this modest medium of self-indulgent folly become an important personal project, bettered only by my attempt to cover the entire metropolitan train network in a single day in 1998. Unlike that ultimately futile project, this one has a point. For me, this is a chance to develop a 'voice', and give form to the thoughts which have floated around my brain and kept me laying awake at night.

During thi…

Murder, (Aung San Suu) Kyi Wrote?

There's a mystery playing itself out in Burma at the moment which demonstrates just how fractured the country is. Saturday a week ago, a bomb exploded at a trade fair in Rangoon, killing 11 (well, that was the official figure) and wounding over 100. Like all good mysteries, there are plenty of possible suspects and plenty of possible motives.

The appalling SPDC (State Peace and Development Council, the mob who run the place) were first off the mark and accused Burma's various different ethnic groups of plotting to undermine the state with the bombing. The consequence of this, of course, is that it gives the Burmese junta a handy justification for cracking down on these ethnic groups, as well as categorising them as terrorist with all the implications that go with that. Hmmm, a cute bit of politics, but perhaps the SPDC would have more to gain than the ethnic rebels would.

Then there is the suggestion that the pro-democracy activists were behind it, frustrated at the lack of …

Walk on Water

Go and see Walk of Water, but make sure you cover your eyes for the last three minutes before the credits roll around. Nothing grusome, graphic or erotic in that last hurrah, but instead the most ridiculous, unnecessary plot twist since she was a he in The Crying Game.

Walk on Water is a challenging, exciting film from Israeli Eytan Fox. The plot weaves together three complicated characters: a German brother and sister who's grandfather was a Nazi, and the Israeli Mossad agent who acts as their tour guide on a trip to the Holy Land. It's an intriguing tale of who knows what, and who knows who knows what, and the story is told with gripping, pacey drama.

What sets this film apart from so many others in the spy genre is that the characters are all fundamentally flawed, and extremely human. There are no good guys or bad guys, just many characters in a variety of shades of grey. That's how it should be. Just as in the real world, most believe in the rightness of their acti…

EmUrgency?

Strange psychological exercise in my Strategic Management class on Thursday. About two-thirds of the way through the lecture, a shrill, piercing sound rung out through the theatre, and the "Evacuate Now" light flashed. Rather than rushing quickly to the door, us lemming students sat waiting for guidance from our lecturer. For several agonising minutes, the lecturer urged us to remain seated, suggesting that the alarm would pass. Finally, after three passive minutes as the fire raged/anthrax spread/criminal crazed, the lecturer decided that we really should leave, and that he'd abandon the rest of the lecture. Still at a rather leisurely pace, we all packed our bags and muttered our way to the door.

This time around, it turned out to be a false alarm, and there was no harm done. But at the time, who was to know. Are we all so innately trusting of our lecturer that we would place our lives in his hands? Or are we so painfully conformist that we didn't want to br…

Market research Shortens odds

A reliable source has told me about some interesting political market research being carried out by AusPoll, a research firm with close links to the ALP.

At a focus group in the inner eastern suburbs of Melbourne, participants were discussing two separate but (kinda) related issues - opposition to a Free Trade Agreement with China, and perceptions of Bill Shorten. Apparently the client for the two was one-and-the-same, presumably AWU heavyweight Shorten, who is keen to challenge incumbant Labor MP Bob Sercombe in the seat of Maribynong during Labor preselection.

As part of the research, participants were shown various news clips of Shorten and were asked to evaluate his style, manner and appearance. No doubt Shorten appeared in his famous blue AWU shirt, which seems to be permanently stitched to his back. During the China FTA research, the firm tested various messages on participants, in particular looking at China as a human rights abuser and a 'Fairwear' style campaign to c…

Weekend away

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This afternoon I returned from a very relaxing weekend away in Ballarat with my Significant Other, Linh. I won't bore you with the stories, since there's not much to tell, but I will enlighten you with a handful of 'Rat happy snaps.



As someone with an arduous beauty regimen, I couldn't bare to go through a week-end without a cleansing facial. Note the Dubya and Cheney (that's Bush and Dick during my more infantile moments) inauguration t-shirt, not necessarily a reflection of my politics, but more a reflection of my depressing wardrobe.



Linh and I spent most of the time talking, reading the paper, and stuffing our faces. Here we're doing a little of all three.



On Sunday night, we dined at Ballarat's most sophisticated and exotic restaurant featuring a gorilla. The very best in Thai, Malaysian and Chinese food, thankfully without wacky waiters.

Blair's back, but his days are numbered

Blair's back, although he took a hit that will force him to play the humble servent for a while. There were a significant number of seats that shifted from Labour to Tory, though this may well be a quirk of first-past-the-post voting: if enough voters shift from Labour to Lib-Dem then the Tories can win, even if they have no swing toward them.

The Lib-Dems were disappointing in not being able to capitalise further on the anti-Labour sentiment, capturing just 11 new seats when Labour lost 47. The Tories managed to snap up many of these, and the potential for two equally balanced oppostion parties, in the Lib-Dems and the Tories, attacking Pincer-style from the left and from the right, is not to be.

The message that can be taken from the result is that voters are gradually plucking up the courage to vote again for the tainted Conservative brand. Voters were concerned about the unrestrained power possessed by Blair in his previous term in office, and want to choke it back. Turfing …

Talking Turkmenistan

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Turkmenistan has slipped under the radar as a horrid, tyrannic place under the iron first of resident nutter Saparmurat Niyazov. Here's a first hand account in life in the former Soviet state, sent by a well travelled friend of mine:

Turkmenistan was a lot of fun, they have a massive personality cult but nobody seems to take the Turkmenbashi seriously, however I didn't hear any direct criticism. A Guide I had at one time made a few jokes about the ways they control people's movement in the country with all the checkpoints but from what I could gather the people there accept their leader as he is basically the same as in all the other Stans, just a bit more idiosyncratic, they feel that this is the leader they are supposed to have, all the stans have authoritarian dictators who are the same guy who led them in the USSR period so this seems reasonable enough. Anyway I would describe it as 50% Russia and 50% DPRK, well worth a trip if you are ever in that area!


Turkmenistan Pr…

UK poll musings

The polls in the UK are open, and not long after the sun rises in the wide brown land, the polls will close. Not too much heat or excitement in this campaign, since the result seems like a foregone conclusion, and the speculation is merely on the size of the margin.

Despite the protests of the fashionable commentariat, Blair is still reasonably popular amongst ordinary Britons. He did use up some of his political capital in his poor management of the case for war in Iraq, but regardless on the myriad of domestic issues which influence voters more than anything else, Blair is seen as doing the right thing. The Tories are still tarnished by their slash and burn approach to public services under Thatcher and Major, and much as Howard likes to present himself as a new generation of Tory, voters are not yet willing to accept it.

The wildcard in this election is the Liberal-Democrats. Those minority of voters who are pissed off at Labour over Iraq will invariably turn to the Lib-Dems, who…

And from our man in Caracas...

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Last week I received a fascinating email from a friend of mine in Venezuela, a place run by old style leader Hugo Chávez, a man who is keen on creeping towards dictatorship rather than having the gumption to make a bold move:

Greetings anew, Master Ari.

Geez...just reading about your trips, man...it's like I can almost get a whiff of Asian air. Too bad I'm sort of landlocked, you know...My wages are so ridiculously low it'll be funny only when I've lost my mind for good.

I couldn't help noticing some parallels between what you said about North Korea and what we're living here in Venezuela:

"That place is truly bizarre, (...). The poverty is bad, although on a par with typical third world poverty, but the religious obsession with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il is what sets the place apart. People there feel genuinely blessed to have two such wonderful leaders for their country, and don't realise how much the rest of the world holds the leaders up to ridicule.&…