Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another 'Town' review

From the Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin, 29 Sept 2007.
Touted for `young adults', this could have a much wider appeal. 'Town' is the story - stories - of 13 young adults. Some know each other, some don't. The stories intertwine, each revealing facets of individual character and situations that slowly merge into one story that could be that of the kids down the road.

Yep, I'll take it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A promising idea

From today's Sydney Morning Herald comes this article by Anna Patty:

More Oz lit in schools

THE [NSW] State Government will introduce more "home-grown" Australian literature into primary and high school curriculums.

The NSW Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, yesterday said he would ask the NSW Board of Studies to review the English curriculum to strengthen the study of Australian literature, with recommendations due by next year.

He said the primary school syllabus needed to become more prescriptive and he wanted a high level course to be introduced to the Higher School Certificate.

"The measures will look at how to ensure high-quality Australian texts were being studied consistently across all NSW schools," Mr Della Bosca said.

"Australian literature is important in providing students with a sense of identity, insight into our diverse culture, historical contexts and our unique place in the world.

"But, particularly in the primary school setting, the syllabus may need to be more prescriptive to make sure all students are reading Australian authors."

The Board of Studies would also be asked to consider the development of an in-depth, high level course in Australian literature to be offered as one of the existing HSC Distinction courses.

The Daily Telegraph's Bruce McDougall (in an 'exclusive') has basically the same story, including this slightly concerning line:

In high schools Peter Carey, Patrick White and David Malouf is among the required reading, while primary students study the likes of Mem Fox, May Gibbs and Colin Thiele.

It's good to see that they've sought out some truly contemporary Ozlit, isn't it? I'd have thought that the above sentence might have read better written thus:

In high schools, books by Markus Zusak, Alyssa Brugman and Margo Lanagan are among the required reading, while primary students study the likes of Morris Gleitzman, Catherine Bateson and John Heffernan.
Yeah, much better.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The great(ish) debate

Last night was the night of The Leaders' Debate. (Picky sidebar: did no one in Parliament House know where that apostrophe should go? Presumably not, since the wording on the screen behind Howard and Rudd read: THE LEADERS DEBATE.)

But I digress. It was the Leaders' Debate, and a couple of things seem starkly apparent to my novice eye.

First, it seems to me that the Worm got it right. It seemed to respond strongly to the body language of the leaders, with Mr Rudd seeming open, keen, almost jolly at times, and Mr Howard seeming petulant, cranky and frankly quite tired. Every time he opened his mouth, the Worm took a dive. When Mr Rudd spoke, it boldly charged into the stratosphere. So I can understand why Howard was keen not to have the Worm in attendance. I can also understand why the Government heavies lopped it off at the neck, if Ray Martin's accusations are true.

Second, we received a startling insight into the psyche of the Government front bench whenever we were treated to a shot of Peter Costello and Alexander Downer, sitting in the front row grinning like cocky private school letter jocks, with Costello even interjecting when Mr Rudd was speaking. Is this the future PM we want - someone so rude that he would call out over the top of a televised election debate?

Third, why is the press calling it a narrow win to Rudd? I can understand the various sides claiming victory - we expect that. But the way it was seen by the majority of regular people - the ubiquitous 'man in the street', if you will - Rudd kicked Howard's butt. He appeared fresher, more interested, more knowledgeable, and certainly less put out by the whole experience. I think we can see why Howard only agreed to one debate, and why it was held so early in the campaign. Without another big play up his sleeve, it's going to take him at least four of the next five weeks to recover from last night.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Huh? Oh, right.

A little warning to those of us who write for the public. Yesterday the online edition of the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story about a young man who tripped down some stairs at his school and ended up in ICU. The rather ambiguous headline for this story read thus:


I half expected the story to go something like this:

A Lewisham boy was very critical today after falling in the playground at his high school. "I just tripped over this bigass crack in the footpath. It hurt heaps, and no one even helped me up. I thought the teachers around here were, like, caring and that, but in the end they just looked at me and went 'You're OK'. It really sucked. It's just crap, man."

Seriously, though, I do wish the real boy all the best for a speedy recovery.

The Chaser's War on Humourless Gits

I was sitting back enjoying my usual Wednesday night date with Auntie (that's the ABC, in case you're wondering) and having a grand old giggle with those naughty boys from The Chaser's War on Everything. Then it happened - one of the funniest things I think I've ever heard. Now, I have an uncomfortable relationship with musical comedy. Basically, it has to be really good to make me enjoy it. Most musical parodies leave me very cold, and even the smallest amount of corn will turn me off.

But then this happened. (Follow the links to 'Eulogy Song'. Warning - very coarse language.)

Short version: it's one of the funniest bits of satirical, bad-taste musical comedy I've ever heard. The basic premise is that even the most revolting characters in public life are deified after their passing. Steve Irwin, Stan Zemanek (who didn't mind kicking people when they were down himself), Peter Brock, Kerry Packer, even the Untouchable Princess Diana get a run. Unlike Don Bradman, who also earns a mention, much to our PM's outrage.

OK, the song is rude, crude, disgustingly irreverent, and (I think) very funny. But considering the stink that has broken out, you'd think that the Australian talk-back audience hadn't even so much as tittered at a bad taste joke in their entire lives.

My personal favourite is Stuart McLean's snarly and poorly disguised opinion piece in the "news"paper The Daily Telegraph. In his "article", he demonstrates either a complete misread of the video the rest of us saw, or a nasty case of factual distortion, when he claims: The comedy crew were forced to halt Hanson when he began to launch into a verse about former Home and Away star and wife of Rove McManus, Belinda Emmett who died of cancer in November last year.

No, Stuart, they weren't forced to halt Hanson. They pretended to halt Hanson, who clearly never even had a Belinda Emmett verse to sing. Perhaps we can assume that Stuart McLean wasn't in fact disgusted by the song, but was rather forced by his senior ed to pretend to be outraged.

Interestingly, all the news polls about this 'issue' tell us that 2/3 of people who cared enough to contribute to those polls actually thought we should get over ourselves. I suspect (judging by the radio talkback I've heard on the matter) that a fair proportion of the remaining 1/3 haven't even heard the song in question.

PS: I've just found another Daily Telegraph blog article where one of their 'journalists', Garth Montgomery, says: But The Chaser’s bravado crumbled as Hanson started a verse that was about to go for Belinda Emmett. This in an article where he talks about Stan Zemanek's brain 'tuma' and Kerry Packer being a kidney 'theif'.

Oh dear. Where do they find these people?

PPS: After reading my above appraisal of his article, Garth Montgomery has since 'ammended' (sic) his original post, claiming that 'tuma' and 'theif' were just typos. Theif I can believe, but tuma? Is it just me, or shouldn't at least running a spell-checker over an article be fairly standard practice for a journalist from a major paper? Yeah, I would have thought so too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Political rant II

I know I said a couple of days ago that this blog's main raison d'etre was not to be a political soapbox. And it won't be, promise.

But after John Howard and Peter Costello announced their raft of tax breaks today, I feel the need to point something out. And please, don't be scared off by all the numbers - it'll be reasonably painless.

First, take a look at the tax amendments. As per usual, the government has handed the most significant tax breaks to the big end of town. No real surprise there. What changes there are for middle-income earners are not in fact what they seem. The top end of the 15% bracket moves from $30,000 to $37,000, whereupon it goes to 30%. So there is a saving of 15% over the $7,000 difference, or $1,050.

Now look at the change in the tax-free threshold for low-income earners. The threshold goes from $6,000 to $16,000. At first glance, some might feel that they are getting a windfall of $10,000, but of course they're not. They're getting a saving of $750.

With the expected upward pressure on interest rates with the $34bn tax breaks, does anyone really expect that $1,050 for middle-earners or $750 for low-earners is going to make any kind of significant dent in the cost of housing one's family? Sadly, many will, and that is the great deceit of this government. Howard and Costello will happily allow people to celebrate their 'windfall' in advance, knowing all along that it is just a cheap vote-buying stunt.

So if you know anyone whom you even vaguely suspect might be duped by this, set them straight. Show them the maths - half a percent rise in interest rates (quite realistic over the next three years) will add $91 per month to a $250,000 mortgage. This adds up to $1,092 extra per year, which is more than the promised tax break to middle-income earners, not to mention what it will do to the rent for the low-income earner.

This is what is commonly known as a BFS - a big fat smokescreen. We can't fall for it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Political rant

I've always been keen to avoid political discussion on this blog - it is, after all, more about... well, me, to be brutally frank. And about books and writing as well. But politics? Nah, wasn't all that keen. I am very interested in the topic, and will happily put my hand up as a Howard-hater and cautious Rudd-lover. But soap-boxing isn't quite my thing.

Until this morning, when I went to the Sydney Morning Herald site and saw the article linked above, (written by Phillip Coorey) which discusses Howard's sudden interest in symbolic Aboriginal reconciliation.

To lift a couple of quotes from the piece:
Mr Howard, who has driven conservative opposition against symbolism for more than a decade, has admitted he erred throughout his prime ministership by trying to achieve reconciliation through practical measures while shunning symbolic gestures.

Right. And? Anything we didn't know?

Well, Howard is also quoted as saying this, on the matter of an apology to the Stolen Generation:
"To typify this as just whether you say sorry or don't say sorry is to misunderstand what's involved and to trivialise the issue."

OK, I really feel the need to say something here. First, there are a lot of indigenous Australians who find the idea of an apology far from trivial. Most of those indigenous Australians also understand that it is only a tiny part of what needs addressing, but to them it is an important part. But according to what Howard's said above, it's just a word, and the issue is much bigger than just a word. So Mr Howard, if it's such a triviality, why are you so fearful of it?

Here's why: he's concerned about the possibility of wide-ranging legal accountability. Therefore he refuses to apologise, for fear of self-incrimination. Which, by inference, means it's not a triviality at all. You can't in fact have it both ways.

He's tried this bet-hedging caper before, of course. Three years ago he told us that interest rates historically went up under Labor, so by projection, the same would happen again, should Mark Latham get in. He and his treasurer were responsible for record low rates. But then, when rates went up under Howard, it wasn't because of the government; 'Oh no, the Reserve Bank controls those, you silly sods.'

You can't have it both ways.

Then there's Kevin Andrews, who (bless him) is probably only doing his leader's bidding. When Dr Haneef was turfed out of our country for having once owned a mobile phone, Andrews asked Kevin Rudd what he might have done differently. Buying time to get some facts, Rudd replied, 'On the face of it, and judging by the info we have, nothing.'

Andrews and the rest of the members on my right howled with derision. 'You can't just agree with me! What would you have done differently? Come on! Tell us!' In other words, we want bipartisan support for our actions, but we want to debate you (read 'grandstand') until we get it, so we can show you how clever we are, and explore our deepest prejudices in a public forum.

You can't have it both ways.

Howard has, for the last decade, shown through his actions that he is deeply conservative and profoundly heartless. He's also shrewd - we should acknowledge that. But has he lost his shrewd edge, and simply become too obvious? Now, on the brink of calling the election that many of us hope will be his last, he's chosen to wrest real, physical, human rights away from indigenous Australians with one hand, but offer symbolic rights with the other.

Sorry, Mr Howard, but you can't have it both ways.

humongous phallus forest

Yes, that's right. A spam email that landed in my Inbox this morning from a person rejoicing in the name Lupe Worley had the following subject line: have a humongous phallus Forest. Erm... no thanks.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Educational Lending Rights to continue!

Ongoing funding to support the publication of educational books (official press release)

The Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator George Brandis, announced today that the Educational Lending Right programme will now receive ongoing funding.

The programme, which makes payments to authors and publishers whose books are held in educational libraries, and whose funding was due to lapse in 2008, is now secure.

“I am delighted that this popular programme, widely supported by Australian authors, is now ongoing,” Senator Brandis said today.

“The Educational Lending Right programme is an important contributor to the livelihood of many Australian authors and publishers and the Australian Government is pleased to continue this support for high-quality educational publishing in Australia.

“The programme is helping to enrich Australian culture. It supports the development of Australian writing and it is unique to Australia, as no other schemes aimed at educational publishing operate anywhere else in the world.”

The Educational Lending Right programme provides payments to eligible Australian creators and publishers, on the basis that they are missing out on potential royalty payments when their books are borrowed from educational libraries, rather than purchased. The Government’s Public Lending Right programme provides the same support for works held in public libraries.

The Educational Lending Right programme was established in 2000–01 as an element of the Book Industry Assistance Plan. It received funding of $35 million for the period 2000–01 to 2003–04. Following a review of the programme in 2003, $44 million was provided in the 2004–05 Budget to continue the scheme for the next four years.

In 2006–07 Educational Lending Right payments of $10.4 million were made to over 10 000 authors and publishers—9887 of the claimants were creators and 374 were publishers.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Personal inventory

  • State of desk: prohibitively cluttered
  • State of mind: mildly positive
  • Number of writing projects currently under way: 4
  • Writing mindframe: head vs wall
  • Number of Facebook friends: 67
  • Number of spam emails waiting to be junked: 54
  • Number of gigs remaining this year: 3
  • Faith in human nature: wavering
  • Number of words written so far today (not counting blog): 0