Lazy Luddite Log

28.5.07

I Give Draft Test An F

Once more I am thwarted by the papers. This letter was sent to the Herald-Sun but was never published. I think it was rather clever but possibly it was too smartypants...

The correct answer to one of the questions in the proposed entry test for migrants is that Aborigines have lived here for over 40,000 years. This answer is supported by archaeological evidence, but Christian, and presumably Islamic, fundamentalists believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Does the Howard Government realise that this discriminates against creationists? If so, it is interesting to note how the current security scare of the 'War on Terror' is forcing Australian conservatives to adopt incrementally less and less conservative ideas.

Okay I was wanting to sew dissention among government ranks in my own tiny way. Still it is just the tip of the iceberg of what is the most sloppily written draft test ever. It so needs redrafting. I am focusing here on a technical rather than a political matter. Whether a test like the one proposed by the Howard Government should ever be a part of our processes is something I am very sceptical of. But even if I were prepared to consider such a test I would want it to be so much better than this one.

A multiple-choice test is the easiest kind of test right? Wrong. With multiple choice tests there is huge scope to confuse and misdirect. Consider some of the questions the Federal Government are considering:

- In one on the topic of which Europeans first permanently settled Australia two of the options are the English and the Irish. The 'correct' answer is the English but there definitely were Irish on the First Fleet. So in truth more than one answer is right but the test as designed does not allow for that.

- Another topic discusses the ethical basis of Australian society. The 'correct' option is 'Judeo-Christian' but I could be forgiven for selecting the 'Secular' option and getting marked down for it. Once more the answer is more complex than allowed for by the test. And another funny thing with this question is that another one of its 'wrong' options is 'Catholic' despite the fact that Catholics are a subset of 'Judeo-Christian'. If this were 1900s Australia I would understand what was happening: The Anglican powers-that-be would be giving Catholics of Irish descent short shrift once more. But this is the 2000s so I am assuming sloppy test design in this instance. Or is Costello secretly having a go at Abbott?

- On the topic of things Anglican another questions offers us the possibility that Australia is a 'Monarchy'. Well it is! We had a referendum recently that affirmed that - a result that Howard was very happy with. And yet the 'correct' answer to this one is 'Parliamentary Democracy'. Once more I say "a bit in column a and a bit in column b".

For someone who cares about an accurate and comprehensive understanding of history and politics (the kind of thing that Howard supporters say they are) this is the most pathetic mess of a test and sure to confuse and misinform many Australians who saw it in the papers. It is too messy for me to suspect that it was all cleverly written to push a particular agenda. And that is the thing that I return to from my letter: Australian conservatism is getting confused. Things in the world are puzzling them. They are having to pick and choose just what ingredients of conservatism they subscribe to. So we now have the equality of the sexes affirmed in one of the draft test questions despite what some conservatives may think behind closed doors.

Our secular or nominally religious conservatives are seeing themselves in contrast with the ultra-conservatism of religious fanatics and having a bit of a rethink of what to say and do. But that is a bit kind of me. They are also publishing this draft test to see what sort of response it gets and to help them decide exactly how to address these issues as we crawl closer to the next election.

Errata

I think I know why that letter was never published - I refer to it as an entry test rather than a citizenship test. Bugger!

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21.5.07

Thwarted on Nukes Issue

I sent this letter to the editor of The Australian last week but it seems they never published. I have in the past had a hit-rate of something like one in five so such setbacks are to be expected. Still it is frustrating particularly if it is anger that has motivated the drawing of the pen.

Uranium industry spokesperson Michael Angwin says that his lobby should "be robust in challenging myths that substitute for insight" regarding the nuclear industry. What are these myths that need debunking, and if they are myths, can we have them debunked, once and for all?

Is the massive use of water in mining uranium, or the intractable problem of nuclear waste disposal, or the projections that it will take decades for nuclear energy to come on-line in Australia (making its status as a timely solution to climate change questionable) all objections without foundation? Or does the industry simply hope that shouting 'myth' loud and long will bring debate to an end?

Maybe The Australian should publish, in tabulated form, point-by-point, the objections of critics, and the responses of industry representatives, so that we can focus on facts rather than put blind faith in a questionable technology.


I think the content is pretty self-explanatory. In part my frustration is with The Oz itself which seems to be taking a pretty pro-nuclear line despite its own concerns for open and rational debate. Possibly that is why the letter was rejected. Well there is always next time.

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14.5.07

Eurovision: Global Relations Model

In what is becoming something of a tradition I watched the Eurovision Song Contest finale with housemates last night. As always it was lots of fun with (inadvertently) amusing songs and (intentionally) amazing costumes and this time with a bit more musical quality and variety.

The normal serving of schmaltzy ballads, tacky dance numbers, and 'ethnic-lite' muzak had been challenged last year by the full frontal sensory assault of the Finnish metal act Lordi who took the competition by surprise with crunching guitars and monstrous costumes (the singer even had articulated bat wings emerging from his back) and won the contest with sheer play-acting chutzpah.

This year the winning nation hosted the event in its capital Helsinki and the lesson of Lordi was observed by many contestants. And that lesson was to be differently different rather than similarly different. So rather than get a lot of Lordi imitators what we got was everything from swing-era jazz to celtic folk to action-movie incidental music and all sorts of stuff in between (I wish there had been something a bit funky but that is just me).

Eurovision is about vision as much as it is about music and we got a lot of that too. Glam theatrics were in and with it came some of the most open expressions of queer identity (always an undercurrent at Eurovision) yet seen. Among the performers there were any number of camp poses and expressions. More importantly however openly gender-bending acts were seen and did well. The runner-up entry (Ukraine) was a glitter-encrusted man in a dress while the winner Marja Serifovic (Serbia) was a woman with rather short hair and a very masculine suit and tie. Eurovision is one of many fronts on which acceptance (admittedly sometimes in very frivolous ways) of non-heterosexual identity is making progress. But there is more to Eurovision than that.

Looking at which national electorates vote for which acts can be surprising. Terry Wogan (tired old UK commentator whose droll comments are part of the package SBS transmits) always puts it down to voting bloc of nations sharing borders but there is more to it than that. It is one thing for Norwegians to vote for Swedes. It is another thing altogether for Croatians to vote for Serbians.

Consider the recent history of war in the Balkans and the much longer history of animosity on which hostility was based. Serbs are Orthodox and Croats are Catholic and this difference has motivated them over time to fabricate a national distinction that conveniently overlooks a world of cultural and ethnic commonality. They even pretend that they speak different languages! And yet now they can vote for one another in Eurovision...

Is it because a silly music contest is so trivial that they can temporarily set aside long-held prejudices for it? Surely if the difference between one national group and another were so important as to justify violence then it is of sufficient importance to affect voting even in that silly music contest. Conversely if one can stand to form an alliance over a silly music contest then maybe one can set aside differences in all other spheres of life...

The Balkan matter is only part of what makes Eurovision interesting. We have Christian nations entering cross-dressing acts laced with innuendo. We have Islamic nations (e.g. Turkey) entering acts showing off a lot of flesh and some very suggestive dance moves. And over it all we have a golden haze of alcohol-assisted partying and fellow-feeling at the many Eurovision celebrations on finale night.

The prudes and bigots are banished on Eurovision night and everyone has a damned good time. If only the European Union was more like this (for a start the EU needs to open its doors to Turkey). If only international relations were conducted more in the spirit of Eurovision in which music and friendship matter more than religion and ethnicity. Pass me my tiara and champagne glass somebody.

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6.5.07

Darebin Creek

Last week I went by public transport to visit the Darebin Creek parkland beyond Northcote in the northern suburbs. I spent several sunny afternoons of my childhood there as it was a shortish walk from the home of Nana (my maternal grandmother). It was a nice day and I had been in a mood to return there for a proper explore of those bits of the parkland I had never got to as a kid.

In particular I wanted to find the Silurian sedimentary deposits I knew were there but had never seen. I never encountered any Silurians but seeing those diagonal sedimentary formations and knowing that once they were horizontal was a quietly humbling experience. It is amazing what the passage of geological time can do.

Otherwise I went on a good old wander. Part of my path took me along something the local government calls a 'Healing Walk'. My instant response was to think of this as a wanky appropriation of indigenous traditions but then I remembered how recuperative I personally find walking to be and just decided to go with it. Along the way I observed lots of skinks moving like slinky shadows in the undergrowth (in my mispent childhood we captured skinks at school so I am well attuned to recognising these things). I also saw some tiny fishes in a billabong-like extrusion of the creek. I even had a staring contest with a kookaburra (the bird won).

I had by now swung back from the northern portion of the park to the more familiar southern part and came across a footbridge that took me back with disturbing clarity to hazy days spent wading in that wide shallow part of the creek with cousins playing whatever imaginative games we had devised at the time. Some things had changed (they have reduced wild undergrowth a lot) but other things were exactly as I remembered (or rather generally as I remembered and exactly as I had forgotten). The texture of the stone promintory on which one end of the concrete arch was set was seemingly as it had been then (I am sure I must have grazed limbs on it way back then).

If anyone is looking for a realm of contemplation or adventure consisting of a mix of different kinds of natural surrounds then the Darebin Creek parkland is an excellent site to visit.

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