Lazy Luddite Log

24.8.07

Metamorphosis

There has been way too much politics on this blog lately. So here is something a bit nerdy for a change...

I have seen and enjoyed the live-action Transformers a number of times now. There are things I would change but I find that one only bothers thinking these things if a movie is worthwhile to begin with. Its positives definitely overcome its negatives. This involvement in the retelling of the Transformers story has got me looking at the toys (both old and new) and at the history of this consumer and pop-culture phenomenon. I have been pondering both its origins and its longevity.

The original Transformers were a re-branding for an American audience of a number of separate and pre-existing lines of Japanese toys (particularly from the Diaclone and Microman ranges). Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Anime or Manga will know that the Japanese have a fascination with robots including robots that convert into other kinds of machines. In the case of transforming toys specifically I have a hunch as to why they became so popular...

You are a parent in the crowded and booming Japan of the 1970s. You have a growing but limited household budget. You have very limited storage space to put a growing number of modern conveniences into. Your child wants both a toy robot and a toy gun for his birthday. What do you do? Well Takara Co have just started selling toys that are both robot and gun in one!

So with a Transformer you have two or sometimes three toys in one product. But it is the transforming process itself that gives the toys much of their fascination. Some of the best-loved Transformers are those with interesting and elegant transformations. Many fans will never look at instruction booklets and insist on deciphering the process of a new toy themselves. In this sense the robot and car is also a puzzle of sorts.

A Transformer exists to be transformed and I look on the practice of keeping toys pristine-in-box with derision. Transforming the toy is stimulating but I also find can be relaxing. For some time now we have had Transformers designed specifically for adult collectors (e.g. 'classic' re-imaginings of original characters) so I think the next development could be 'Transformers: Executive' toys to supplant stress balls and other executive toys in offices.

Another aspect of the attraction of the Transformers was the characters which correspond to the toys. Originally the characters were based on toys but since then sometimes toys are based on characters (as with several from the animated Transformers The Movie of 1986). And there have been many re-imaginings of the characters and story since the original cartoon of 1984-87.


One mistake of critics is in assuming the characters are just robots. In function they are comic-book characters and have human characteristics (even those associated with gender).

They are of alien origin and yet look and act a lot like us? Why? If I had anything to do with backstory development I would love to suggest that it was in fact humans who had been genetically engineered (possibly by the Quintessons) in the image of the Autobots and Decepticons!

Except humans cannot transform. Or can we? We do things to alter how we look and feel all the time. We tell tales of those with the power to seem different or truly be different: Mutants, Polymorphs, Animaguses. The gods and goddesses of old would take all kinds of forms from swans to showers-of-gold (ahem). We are in love with notions of exceeding the limitations of who and what we are and these fictions are simply a blatant and fantastic way of expressing such desires. Other more mundane expressions of it take the form of spy movies (in which characters assume alternate personae) or rags-to-riches adventures (in which characters transform the circumstances in which they live).

Change fascinates us whether we love it or fear it. The Transformers is just one modern form of our fascination with change. Once our protagonists could turn into lions or eagles. Now they can transform into sports cars and jet fighters. How much of a change is that?

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17.8.07

Australian Democrats Turn Thirty

I recently attended the thirtieth anniversary dinner of the Australian Democrats. It was a night to remember in many ways and one thing it did was to remind me of how quickly time passes - during our twenty fifth anniversary dinner it had been my duty to make seating arrangements (a skill all its own) and suddenly now five years have passed.

It was a night of dining with colleagues and getting regalled on some of the past successes of the party, such as our instrumental role in developing the Senate as a house-of-review, our pivotal legislative action to save the Franklin River wilderness, and our getting into superannuation law of recognition of the rights of same sex couples.

I had fun hanging with old friends and meeting some of the newer members who are committed to the party even in its most dire of times. Current Leader and Deputy Leader Lyn Allison and Andrew Bartlett gave moving and informative speeches. It was fantastic to meet once more some of the inspiring figures from our past such as Karin Sowada (who preceeded Natasha Stott Despoja in holding the record of youngest woman in Federal Parliament) and Aden Ridgeway (one of only two Indigenous Australians to be Federal Parliamentarians and the only to hold a leadership position in a Parliamentary party).

A booklet documenting our thirty years was launched that evening and includes interviews with all living current and former ADs parliamentarians (even those who abandoned the party at one time or another). I have since read the booklet, but on the night I let the photos in it tell the story. There were lots of posed group photos and mug shots which are all a bit clinical and contrived...



And then I saw this amazing photo. It jumped off the page at me. It depicts then Senators Janine Haines and Don Chipp at some party and they are so silly-looking. It reminds me that there is life and fun in politics.
Our original Federal Parliamentary Leader was Don Chipp and Janine Haines was his Deputy. Haines became Leader following the retirement of Chipp in 1986 and she was a brilliant leader till her retirement from Parliament following the 1990 Federal Election. It was in that election that I started my association with the party and Haines was an inspirational public figure. It is a pity she lost her bid for the House of Representatives (rather than stay safe in the Senate) and a tragedy that she lost her life in 2004 to a degenerative neurological condition. We never met yet I still kinda miss her...

In reflecting on our three decades, the thing that strikes me most is that we have existed at all. Australian political history is dominated by the hegemony of two-party competition. A whole host of factors, from hereditary voting habits, to media laziness, to electoral laws, to vested interests, serve to keep Labor and the Liberal-Nationals big while keeping any third party small (particularly if that party is constructive rather than controversy-seeking). That we have done as well as we have surprises the political historian in me. For a minor party we hold the record for longest parliamentary representation and the record for largest number of senators. In all that time there has been a fine balance of competing factors serving to both keep us alive yet also keep us small. Any shift in that fine balance can spell disaster for a minor party like ours.

If we falter at the coming election then the wider electorate will miss us only once we are gone. However I feel that politics is full of surprises and that in the few months till the election we may see the Dems defy the vibe of doom that has been cast over us.

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8.8.07

NT Intervention

Yesterday I was angry so I sent a letter to the paper. Today I am happy because that letter was published. If anyone wants to comment on the letter they can do so here and they can also do so (if they are quick) on The Australian website itself. I am happy with the content of my letter as published.

The full text of my letter follows:

YOUR editorial ('Indigenous support' 7/8) advocates bipartisan support for the Government’s Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill, despite its "catch-all nature".

But this catch-all nature, along with the speed with which the Government wishes to have the bill passed, will sound warning bells for the many Australians already suspicious of the effectiveness of the plan.

The Government’s proposals are a mixed bag. Improvements in law-enforcement, health and education services for remote communities are worth supporting, even if costly, but we are yet to be told how scrapping the permit system, an act of relinquishing public control of private movements, will make combating child abuse and alcoholism any less difficult for those stretched community services.

The introduction of laws as far-reaching as the Northern Territory intervention legislation warrants scrutiny and debate, not so that its objective of saving indigenous children from abuse can be frustrated but so that those objectives can have some chance of working, both in the short and long term.


I also got a letter on a related topic published a few weeks back but was far from happy with it compared with the latest one. It left itself open to all sorts of criticism. Here is its text:

YOUR editorial ('Beyond handouts' 4/7) criticises the federal Government for wanting to apply its welfare reform proposals for remote Aboriginal communities to all parents rather than just those shown to be neglecting their children, saying it is "insulting to good Aboriginal parents to suggest they cannot manage their funds ... (and) denies them the opportunity to be positive role models for others". I agree with this sentiment and would add that, in relation to this debate and all discussion of welfare reform, the ability to make decisions for one’s self, even at the risk of making some mistakes, is preferable to intrusive policies such as food stamps.

The Left says "paternalistic" while the Right says "nanny state" but these concepts amount to pretty much the same thing and both need to be regarded with suspicion.


That last line is a bit too much me pushing my barrow of challenging political classifications and a bit off topic.

For now I feel I got something off my chest with the letter published today. I am still angry however at our arrogant and power-crazed Federal government desperately seeking to show us who is boss.

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2.8.07

Hiroshima Day Peace Rally

I posted a notice here publicising the Hiroshima Day Peace Rally in Melbourne on Sunday 5 August. I missed the march but hope it was a well-attended and inclusive event. The event commemorates the deaths resulting from the atomic bomb exploded over the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of World War II. However it also serves as an opportunity for those participating to express opposition to the continuing existence of nuclear arms and this makes it relevant to this very day.

Opposition to the nuclear arsenal of all nuclear powers is strong among the public of all nations. It is something that unites those of many different political persuasions. It is nothing particularly radical to say that the original Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) is too dangerous a thing for even the most democratic and peace-loving nation to hold.

During the Cold War there was an argument for both rival superpowers to maintain a nuclear arsenal which went by the name of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). This doctrine told us that the sheer mind-blowing danger of nuclear escalation was such that nobody would dare ever press the button. As much as I hate to say it I cannot deny that MAD may in fact have saved the world during the 4o-something years of the Cold War. But that crazy world has been replaced by another crazy world and as a result the old crazy logic is now obsolete. Back then the rivals were very much focused on worldly objectives and wanted to survive with populations and infrastructure intact. Now however we have terrorists motivated by the promise of eternal reward in a supernatural afterlife who can operate within a complex and shifting array of clandestine cells and who can carry WMDs the size of a briefcase. Try firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at that!

My attitude towards nuclear arms was forged in the nervous tension of the latter part of the Cold War. In the 80s public awareness of and revulsion towards nukes was honed by movies such as War Games and The Day After. I was too young to be involved at the time but the peace movement was much bigger then than it is now. Many seem to have decided that nuclear proliferation is a problem of yesterday. And yet we still have a massive global stockpile and it is growing with smaller nuclear powers like India and Pakistan engaging in a mini cold war. Now if all the nukes were targeted at comets that come creeping into our planetary personal space then I may look on them more kindly. As it is in this post Berlin Wall era they are less than useless and still the most horrifying thing humans have ever invented.

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