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Showing posts from December, 2006

Los Angeles Carpark

It's stating the bleeding obvious to state that Los Angeles is a car-city, but it really is tragic to see. Large parts of the city are little more than undergirding for a network of concrete freeways that head in every concievable direction in all their loud, imposing ugliness. Urban areas are dark and unpleasant to wander around, with carparks dominating areas that in most other cities would be for shops, parks and urban space for people rather than vehicles.

The public transport system is adequate without being great, but it seems to take an almost apologetic tone, conceding early that it is a second choice and used only by those too young, old, poor, disabled, foreign or ethnic to get behind the wheel of an SUV. Apart from the superficial problem of a lack of transportation for non-drivers, its effect on the life of the city is depressing and obvious.

The almost biblical devotion to the motor car is laden with politics. To Americans, their car is their sanctuary of freedom …

Hola, Senor from California

It's kind of ironic, really, that after being parched for cheap and fast internet access in Los Angeles and San Diego, its only once I arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, that I can sit and internetify to my heart's content. So much for affluence delivering good things in abundance!

Perhaps the most noticeable thing soon after arriving in Los Angeles is the prevalence of Spanish. Southern California is a genuinely bilingual part of the world, not in a patronising 'to help out those who are learning English' kind of a way, but in a way that the two sit side by side with equal validity. In some neighbourhoods, English is the minority language, with an abundance of signs, newspapers and overheard conversations all in a lightening-fast Latin American Spanish. At first it's rather charming, and you catch yourself almost apologising for speaking English to someone who's preferred tongue is far more latin. They feel no need to reciprocate the apology.

Early on its rather…

Coming to America

I'm on the road again...

Today I'm heading off to the United States for five weeks, to see what there is to see. Initially I was keen to do a Red State tour of America, visiting the southern states which in recent generations have become a Republican stronghold. Alas, by the time I spent a decent period on the very blue east and west coasts, my time in the middle was squeezed. Kind of symbolic of the way most of us see the country.

So the itinerary? Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, St Louis, New Orleans, San Antonio.

Going to be in town? Drop me an email. You know the drill.

Normal transmittion with continue from the AOTW OB van. Stay tuned.

Undergrad Reflections: Your time is up

I'm sorry to say that like most uni students, I've left things to the last minute. This time, though, I've run out of time. I had some other observations I wanted to make about my time as a student, but haven't found the time to make them. Perhaps at some future point I'll return to this project and find voice once again.

As an aside, last Wednesday I was just a few minutes away from graduating when I was afflicted with a brutal case of kidney stones. Alas, I didn't last long enough to nod in the direction of the VC and receive my certificate, so my graduation remains elusive. Most likely I'll graduate in abstentia and receive the certificate some time early next year. My time as a student goes on just a little longer!

Undergrad Reflections: Student Politics 2003-2006

I've decided to cluster together these last four years for two reasons: firstly, I was strictly a spectator rather than a participant, and secondly, because my departure overseas is imminent, and I want to get this thing written before I head off.

The defining event of this period was the liquidation of student union. The event meant that a generation of the Labor Right wannabe student pollies were ashamed to show their face, and the task was left to more junior students on campus. As for the left, they found themselves in the rare position of being the responsible economic managers, and were quite effective in making this point.

One of the most interesting trends to watch has been the steady growth of the Liberal presence on campus. Early on, it was virtually non-existent. Perhaps mindful of the strong anti-Liberal feeling on campus, Liberal students were reluctant to wave the Liberal banner high. For a while, they aligned themselves with the Labor Right, running joint campa…

Undergrad Reflections: Student Politics 2002

This is my personal account of a few experiences I had with the Melb Uni Student Union in 2002. For a more general overview of what was going on at the time, you might be interested in the blogs of Brent Houghton or the early days of Andrew Landeryou. My encounter with the mysterious SimplySensational654 has left me wanting to find out more. The details on this one sit toward the bottom of the post.

Student political battles are usually of little consequence. Not so those battles which occurred in 2002 at Unimelb. The events of 2002 would have existential consequences for the student union, which was driven into liquidation, and would confirm the worst suspicions that cynical students have toward their self-interested representatives.

At the time only those on the inner-clique of the student union knew what was going on - most of us watching from the outside knew little. It's remarkable to think that as we were looking on, the Union entered into the deal that would ultimatel…

Undergrad Reflections: Student politics 2001

Little did I know it when I arrived on campus in 2001, but my six years there would be the most turbulent and fractured in campus politics for decades. From the very start, I was lukewarm in my interest in the shannagans of student politics: in my view at the time, I'd bypassed student politics and headed straight to the real thing. I was the Victorian President of the Young Australian Democrats, and later that year would be preselected as a candidate for the 2001 Federal Elections. Why bother learning to crawl when I could already walk?

When the campus elections of 2001 were approaching in early August, I was reluctant to run, knowing that there were barely a handful of fellow Democrats on campus, and the other tickets were far more experienced and slick-oiled than I could possibly be. Nonetheless after some persuading by fellow Democrat and then NUS National Environment Officer Peter Zakzrewski, I nominated. Fearing the commitment that comes with a year-long appointment, I …

Undergrad Reflections: Classroom capers

The transition from school life to uni life is tough for many people. For most students, high school is a place of intensive supervision, with a confined range of choices available and an untrusting eye constantly cast over everyone. It has to be this way, given that at that stage in our lives most of us lack the emotional maturity to make wise choices over what we study, how we study, and indeed if we study. Whilst describing the latter years of high school at many private schools as intellectual spoon-feeding is a common cliche, it is a cliche which emerged with good reason.

For me, the latter years of high school were richly rewarding, spent at a private Jewish school with a year level of high achievers and bookish conformists. There was an culture of respect for learning and a celebration of high achievement, rather than the denigration it experiences in so many other schools. It was cool to work hard and intellectualism was nothing to be ashamed of. Still, high school was s…

Citizenship Test: Canadian example

There's been a fair bit of hubbab in the past few days over the government's proposal for a simple civics and English language test prior to the granting of citizenship. On face value, such a proposal doesn't seem unreasonable if we are to accept the mantra that Australian citizenship is a privilege, not a right (although as this piece points out, the exact opposite is true for those born in Australia).

Anyhow, the Canadians have had one in place for a while - well, the civics part of it, at least. For obvious reasons, the test itself is not publicly available, although this very interesting site, thanks to Your Library, allows you to take a free sample test.

For what it's worth, my entire Canadian experience consists of accidentally spilling some gravy and cheese on my chips, but I scored 80% on a sample of five questions, enough to entitle me to citizenship.

Given that few people are likely to fail the test, but plenty are likely to learn more about their country be…

Ari joins The Age

This evening, with only a glass of cheap white wine for company, I signed a contract to transform Ari on the Web into Ari at The Age. After an arduous application process involving a folio, a trivia quiz, a writing challenge, and a faux pas involving my gross indifference toward the suffering of others, I have been selected for the Reporting Traineeship.

Though it would be nice to think of it as a case of blogger-boy making it into the big wide world of the MSM, I suspect that my blog was a minor factor at best in my selection. The work I am most proud of - and which had a priviliged place in my portfolio - is the array of work which has appeared in a variety of other outlets, both on- and off-line, and which are featured in the charmingly honest 'Ego File' toward the bottom on the right-hand side.

Perhaps the strongest work was the stuff that appeared in Vibewire, whom incidentally are in the midst of a fundraising campaign. So if you're in the mood to help out a bunch…

Undergrad Reflections: The sex and booze myth

It's undeniable that life changes once you reach a university campus. Suddenly the freedom to do things your own way becomes intoxicating. The stereotype is that an undergrad's first year is spent drinking, lazing around and fornicating with new friends. In my experience, however, this is grossly exaggerated. Perhaps in the university colleges, whose halls I never graced, hedonistic abandon is more common with the close confines of college dorms creating an unstoppable momentum. Most students, however, don't live on campus, and so are distanced from this college culture.

Sure, there are plenty of attempts by established students to woo new arrivals on campus. O-Week (later rebadged as Orientation 200X when there were not enough activities to stretch it out for the whole five days) is awash with pub crawls, where older students don stupid hats and march a group of first years who are desperate to fit in around to nearby pubs, who themselves are desperate for punters, …

Undergrad Reflections: What's it all about?

This is the second in my series on life as an undergraduate student. Bear with me during the boring bits, since the last couple of paragraphs offer some candid self-reflection on my drift to the political right.

I have quite a simple theory of education: education is the process of relaxing assumptions about the world. The further down the path of education we move, the more assumptions are relaxed, in search of the ultimate intellectual nirvana: a worldview completely devoid of assumptions, which sadly seems a theoretical impossibility. By assumptions, I refer to things that we accept as 'given' without needing explanation or justification.

To see this theory in action, a simple example close to my heart: the study of politics (or as those of us who wish to make the subjective appear objective might call it, political science). Without exerting much intellectual energy, you can apply the same framework to things as diverse as language, creative arts, engineering, medicine…

Undergrad Reflections: Introduction

Barring disaster when my results are released this Friday, my days as an undergraduate students are now complete. After six years of study (well, five of study, and one swanning around Europe and the Middle East) I will be a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne. Or to use my newfound postnominals, I will be Ari Sharp, BCom/BA (Melb). Whilst the university will be acknowledging my graduation in the usual way, by making me wear a silly cap and cloak whilst they ask me for money, it seems appropriate to honour it in a more personal and meaningful way.

Therefore, I will be embarking on a frothy and indulgent reminisce on my time as a student at one of Australia's eminent educational institutions. In this endeavour I am inspired by Alice Garner's recently released The Student Chronicles, which maps out the author's path to undergraduate glory at Unimelb. Though I haven't read it yet, I'm also curious about Ross Gregory Dout…

Deadly sins in Iraq

As the world waits for the Iraq Study Group to deliver its findings on how the hell we get out of this mess, Kenneth M Pollack at MERIA (The Middle East Review of International Affairs, dummy) has delivered his own critique, The Seven Deadly Sins of Failure in Iraq:

If Iraq does slide into all-out civil war, the Bush Administration will have only itself to blame. It disregarded the advice of experts on Iraq, on nation-building, and on military operations. It staged both the invasion and the reconstruction on the cheap. It never learned from its mistakes and never committed adequate resources to accomplish either its original lofty aspirations or even its later, more modest goals. It refused to believe intelligence that contradicted its own views and doggedly insisted that reality conform to its wishes. In its breathtaking hubris, the Administration engineered a Greek tragedy in Iraq, the outcome of which may plague us for decades.

One of the interesting things to note is the suggestion …

Sadness turns to lameness

Tragically, Big Kim's brother David died today.

Rove McManus sent his condolences to Simon Beasley.

Footnote to Israel-Lebanon report

In August, BBC reporter Orla Guerin filed a report from the town of Bint Jbeil in the midst of the Israel-Lebanon conflict. The report was one of the more blatant examples of BBC bias on the Middle East conflict, and blogger Drinking From Home exposed the numerous factual errors in the report.

In Australia, SBS aired the same report on 15 August.

Nearly four months on, and with one feisty librarian on the case, SBS issued an apology clarification for airing the error-riddled report:

World News Australia (15/8/2006)
On August 15, 2006, World News Australia carried a report on destruction in the town of Bint Jbeil in Southern Lebanon during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. The report stated that "this town has really been wiped out."

The centre of the town did suffer extensive damage and could be said to have been "wiped out" but some areas of the town suffered less damage.

A subsequent bulletin of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states…

It's Time for a change

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We can count down the hours until Kevin Rudd takes over the Labor leadership and the party gives itself a chance of winning the next election. The Sunday papers were already hinting heavily that Rudd was the likely winner, and the desperate desire for a clear result means that some of the wavering Beazley backers will come to support Rudd. Look for a win of at least 10 votes.

Its worth remembering that even when he was elected Labor leader (again) in January 2005, Beazley was there primarily to steady things after the instability of the Latham era, and not to contest the next election. There was a good reason for him stepping down after the 2001 election - he was tired, people were bored with him, and he had two electoral losses to his name - and these things all held true in 2005.

The plan at the time was for Beazley to settle things down and then allow one of Latham's generation to assume the leadership close to the next election. Ideally, this would have happened earlier, p…

Melb Press Club: Dr Phil "Amigo #2" Burgess

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The past twenty-four hours has seen some almighty stoushes enter the public domain. Last night it was a drunken Glenn Milne taking his hatred of Stephen Mayne to new levels. Then this morning the pimple that is the leadership speculation in the Labor Party reached popping point, and a Rudd vs Beazley ballot was announced for next Monday. And Telstra and the ACCC's mutual loathing of one another rolled on.

This final conflict was fanned at the Melbourne Press Club's luncheon, with Telstra's Public Policy & Communications man Dr Phil Burgess the guest speaker. Burgess was breathing fire, continuing his vigourous assault on the ACCC, and its head Graeme Samuel, over what Telstra perceives as the unfair regulatory burden imposed on Telstra. No doubt the fine detail of the speech will be reported and dissected by the assembled media (and besides, Phil promised it would soon be online for the world to see at Now We Are Talking), but there are a few observations that stru…