Sunday, 22 August 2010

Not So Well Hung

I haven’t done something I normally do in the morning after an election and that is read the paper. In the wake of the ALP’s victory in 2007 I scoured through all the newspapers picked out my favourite columnists and chose quotes that I thought would accurately describe the mood I was feeling. My mood now, is one of emptiness. The reality is that we still don’t know who will be Prime Minister for the next three years and we probably won’t for at least a week.

The sense of impending doom I thought I would feel if the ALP lost hasn’t arrived. Perhaps its because the result is by no means definitive yet. I’m certainly not the most knowledgeable political scientist in the country but I like to think that I have some sort of specialised knowledge in the area of interpreting election results. We are no closer to determining the result than when the polls closed last night. In short I have no idea what will happen next.

Whatever the result and whoever forms government the Australian democracy is in complete and utter chaos. Gillard ran the most disappointing ALP campaign since 1996, and has demonstrated a lack of intellectual and tactical nous that is required to be an effective political leader. Tony Abbott, meanwhile, ran a surprisingly good campaign, but in doing so completely neutered is own personality that it has now become devoid of any distinctive leadership qualities. The lack of leadership is only magnified when it is you consider that it is ultimately up to the 5 people who will decide who forms government and they have nothing to choose from.

The last time an election result indicated similar results was in the late 1930s when Menzies was elected Prime Minister the first time. Halfway through his parliamentary term the two independents that held the balance of power shifted their allegiances to the ALP and its parliamentary leader John Curtin. When the Prime Minister is decided in the next few days, don’t be surprised if their opponent succeeds them during the course of this parliamentary term.

Do we get the democracy we vote for? Perhaps. This result more than ever is indicative of the campaign that proceeded it. Both major parties were uninspiring with leaders who lacked both conviction and purpose. So I guess its only fitting that the Australian electorate has said ‘Well fuck you both’.

Friday, 13 August 2010

'...The Story Is Old, It Goes On and On.': Why You Must Listen to The Smiths


It almost seems cliché to describe The Smiths as melodramatic. They are almost the go to band when looking for the typical teenage experience. Their songs embody the trajectory of adolescence: always tumultuous, marked by sexual repression, snide remarks, characterised by emotional hyperactivity as well as long periods of melancholy and depression. At least that is what every writer at Pitchfork would have you believe.

For me The Smiths were the band that was the soundtrack to the emotional degradation of my early 20s. I bought The Smiths Singles collection just before my 21st birthday and that CD got played into the ground as I experienced arguably the most emotionally exhausting period of my life. The Smiths are absolutely the perfect soundtrack for anyone who believes that love is a harsh mistress, which cannot be tamed. At that point in my life I was firmly in the Morrissey camp because Heaven Knows I Was Miserable… (Then)

Despite the debate over stereotypical notions in what the band represents, it is clear that The Smiths were the band of their generation, arguably the 1980s equivalent to Nirvana (As terrible and as shockingly overrated as they are) a decade later. Both tapped into a sense of dissatisfaction with the masses, both achieved huge underground and moderate mainstream success. Morrissey is Kurt Cobain without the martyrdom. For those who are unfamiliar with the work of The Smiths the All Music Guide describes them:

The Smiths were the definitive British indie rock band of the '80s, marking the end of synth-driven new wave and the beginning of the guitar rock that dominated English rock into the '90s. Sonically, the group was indebted to the British Invasion, crafting ringing, melodic three-minute pop singles, even for their album tracks. But their scope was far broader than that of a revivalist band… Morrissey and Marr also represented one of the strangest teams of collaborators in rock history. Marr was the rock traditionalist, looking like an elegant version of Keith Richards during the Smiths' heyday and meticulously layering his guitar tracks in the studio. Morrissey, on the other hand, broke from rock tradition by singing in a keening, self-absorbed croon, embracing the forlorn, romantic poetry of Oscar Wilde, publicly declaring his celibacy, performing with a pocketful of gladioli and a hearing aid, and making no secret of his disgust for most of his peers. While it eventually led to the Smiths' early demise, the friction between Morrissey and Marr resulted in a flurry of singles and albums over the course of three years that provided the blueprint for British guitar rock in the following decade.

There are two songs that define why I love The Smiths: The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore and Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me. Both are overwhelmingly dark, orchestral in nature and represent the purest types of love song.

The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore was released in 1985 on the band’s second album Meat Is Murder. It is a classic songwriting master class. It has Morrissey’s trademark homoerotic imagery: ‘It was dark when I drove home the point (his penis) home, and on cold leather seats, well, it suddenly struck me I just might die with a smile on my face, after all'. The typical interpretation of the song is that he is pining for a lost love that shall never be returned. The contentious line always seems to be ‘I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, but now its happening in mine.’ Originally I thought Morrissey meant that this represented a breakup. Recently I changed my mind and now interpret it to mean that he has fallen in love with a one night stand who he knows is not right for him, and he thinks it is ironic, hence ‘the joke’.

Whatever the interpretation there is no doubt that the partnership between Morrissey and Marr reached its apex with this song. Marr’s unforgettable guitar line matches Morrissey’s feelings of regret line for line. My highlight in the song’s production is the fade out just before the coda at 3:49 when Morrissey repeats that famous line ‘I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, but now its happening in mine’ almost as if both the song and the music will never let him forget that moment for as long as he lives.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me is more direct and perhaps more powerful. The last single to be released on their last album, 1987’s Strangeways, Here We Come this is quite simply the best song about heartbreak ever recorded. All Music Guide again explains why:

The two-minute opening consists of only piano notes and samples of a raging mob, before the band kicks into a maelstrom of sweeping strings, weary guitars, and processed effects. The bombast and aggression of Johnny Marr's guitar seems a bit out of character, and Morrissey's vocals seem more emotionally distant and more produced than usual. With Marr, Andy Rourke, and Mike Joyce all providing a backdrop of tension, it's up to Morrissey to bring the song back to earth, but he sounds more and more disinterested as the song reaches its conclusion. His vocals dissolve into higher and higher octaves until his breath runs out. Bombastic, but also energy-draining, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is a beautiful, sad song that sees The Smiths pulling away from each other at odd angles. One can imagine that its recording may have added at least a small helping of weariness and unease to the deteriorating relationship of Morrissey and Marr. It would seem more than reasonable to suggest that the song is symbolic of Morrissey's views toward his friend and musical muse Marr at the time

There’s such remarkable pain in the lyrics and in Morrissey’s voice that anyone who has lost a lover can understand. ‘Last night I felt real arms around me: no hope, no harm, just another false alarm… the story is old, I know but it goes on, it goes on, and on.’ The lyrics in Morrissey’s sweet anguished tones make me get a lump in my throat every time I hear them. It is so simple, yet so devastatingly effective. The song has unparalleled amounts of sorrow and perhaps that’s why I identify with it so much.

The Smiths only lasted seven years and released four studio albums. To anyone who is reading about The Smiths for the first time through this blog I cannot recommend them highly enough. If you want lyrics that you can think about for days on end, if you are into the great works of art, if you have ever pined for someone, felt bitter, or been treated as an outcast then you must listen to The Smiths. You will never look at love the same way again.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Ignorance Demonstrates Peacock's own Deffiencies

Being a political academic, a member of a political party and a person with a disability I feel it would be remiss of me not to write about the words of former Liberal leader Andrew Peacock yesterday. Returning to campaign in his old seat of Kooyong (also once held by Robert Menzies) on behalf of his party Peacock made an inappropriate statement during the course of his media statement. He said:

You'd need to be pretty handicapped not to appreciate that this [Labor] government is dissolving before your eyes daily...

Now unlike some others I’ve come across I don’t find this comment particularly offensive. I am disappointed more than angry. His words were even more stupefying given the ALP’s candidate for Kooyong has a vision impairment. Make no mistake Peacock knew what he was saying, this was carefully targeted in an effort to score cheap political points. No apology will get him out of this.

I’ve previously written about the disadvantage that my disability would have on a potential political career. This is exactly the kind of comment I fear. Peacock’s attempts to juxtapose a ‘handicap’ with incompetence and mismanagement demonstrate how ignorant he is about people with disabilities and the issues that confront us. Putting the aside that the term ‘handicapped’ became outmoded several years ago, it is clear that Peacock has had little exposure to people with disabilities in his life, otherwise he would know that his comments would put him at a greater disadvantage than anyone who is diagnosed with a physical disability, intellectual impairment or mental illness. Attack one Mr Peacock and you attack us all.

This is not a party political issue. This is an issue about respect and human decency. My initial reaction to his comments was to make it personal and want to challenge him on an intellectual level. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that I am wasting my time. Peacock was a politician who struggled with credibility in his heyday and his comments represent attitudes of the past generations and he is relic of his era. What little credibility he had now is gone. For all his faults his arch political foe John Howard would have never made such a disgraceful comment. He has honour, Peacock clearly has none.

Those offended by Peacock’s comments need not get angry. People with disabilities have already been elected to Federal Parliament and will continue to be. Who knows a ‘handicapped’ person might achieve the office of Prime Minister, the one office Peacock craved so much. That would be delicious irony.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Campaign Tidbits: Adult Contemporary Music Style

There is two weeks to go in the 2010 Federal Election Campaign: the polls are neck and neck, so here’s a quick rundown of the important points so far:

  • Increasingly my attitude towards the current ALP campaign resembles that of Meat Loaf. The campaign lacks substance, any sense of direction or coherent message. Julia’s had a terrible campaign, with the NSW Right faction to blame for installing Gillard in the first place, and even worse rushing to an election so quickly when she has nothing to sell, no record to market, and demonstrates few discernible leadership qualities. The fact that Abbott is on even terms is not a reflection on him, but evidence that Gillard is tanking.
  • Kevin Rudd’s return to the campaign has served as a reminder of his superior campaigning skills. It seems to be doing no harm that he is taking my advice. How about a job Kevin?
  • The Opposition's campaign launch was yesterday and it demonstrated why an Abbott Government would be an equivalent to an Australian political apocalypse. It was all very 1985: Back to the Future was very popular, John Howard was Liberal leader pushing almost identical policies and Simply Red released Tony Abbott’s new campaign theme song.
  • God bless Mark Latham. He may be a dickhead, but gosh he is the only thing exciting about the campaign. It’d be an absolute catastrophe but I wish he would return to politics. Or better yet he could be a political reporter for a current affairs show that is famous for its lowest common denominator political coverage and flirt pieces with politicians. Hang on…
  • We all know why Labor isn’t pushing its tremendous record of economic stability, it’s Kevin’s, not Julia’s. But Karl Bitar should craft an ad out of this article from a Nobel Prize winning economist. If crafted in the right way, the campaign is over.

Right now there’s a strong possibility I might be playing Skyhooks on election night as Red Kerry and Antony Green count the numbers on the ABC. It will only be the beginning of three years in which Australia is trapped in a bygone era.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The National Disability Strategy: The Hard Work Has Only Just Begun

You wouldn’t know it given all the talk about leadership struggles and blandness in the current election campaign but last week the ALP returned to its roots and announced the most groundbreaking social policy in two decades. Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled the National Disability Strategy, a set of aspirational goals for the Government’s disability policy for the next decade. Yes, I said ‘aspirational’, but its important to realise that the National Disability Strategy is the first document of its kind ever attempted by any Federal Government.

Like the higher profile areas of transport and health, disability policy has always been a victim of Australia’s Federal system of government. The Federal Government is responsible for allocating the funds to the State Governments so they can implement necessary services to various disability organisations, advocacy groups and charities. The problems here are numerous. The State Governments blame the Federal Governments for not allocating them enough money and the Federal Government blames the States for ineffective service delivery. History has demonstrated that both levels of governments no matter their partisan persuasions have been equally culpable.

Yet nothing has been done about it despite the fact that nearly 10% of the Australian population are eligible for a Disability Support Pension. Why? It doesn’t change votes purely and simply. Unless you are a disabled person or a carer, very few understand (including many disability sector organisations) how a couple of small but vitally important steps can change thousands of lives.

That’s why I applaud the announcement of a National Disability Strategy. It symbolises the start of something that should have begun decades ago. The real test will come after the election when real and tough policy decisions will have to be made. However the Strategy represents the first time that policy bureaucrats have truly understood the issues that face people with a disability on a daily basis. Here’s why:

The shared vision is for an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens.

Simple words, but this represents a seismic shift in the way that Governments have viewed disability policy. Previously they have relied on ‘the medical model’ where people with disabilities are characterised by what they cannot do rather than what they can contribute to the community. Accordingly the National Disability Strategy focuses on six key but interrelated policy areas:

1. Inclusive and accessible communities
2. Rights protection, justice and legislation
3. Economic security
4. Personal and community support
5. Learning and skills
6. Health and wellbeing

Of course the main focus of the media has been on the 'Learning and Skills' paradigm which focuses on early intervention and support for special education in schools. As a young adult with a severe disability I am acutely aware of how important such measures were on fostering my own development, when such policies were barely in the gestation period. I would not be the university educated professional academic I am today if I did not receive specialised educational support and I welcome the Gillard Government’s promise to increase funding in these areas.

Despite this, I feel that everything else needs the media’s attention too. Everyone loves a cute disabled kid who smiles at the camera (Hell I WAS that kid in the 1980s and early 1990s) but what happens when the cute kid turns 18 and the current system essentially fails them at every opportunity. At 17 years, 364 days old organisations will provide all the support a person with a disability requires, the next day they are left to fend for themselves. Any policy for adults with disabilities must address these questions:

How do you help a young adult find a job?
What if they want to move out of home?
How do you help them have some semblance of a social life?

The answers to these questions are the ones that will truly test the mettle of the strategy’s aspirational targets. It is one thing to talk in flowery bureaucratic language, quite another to deal with advocacy groups, carers and the actual person with a disability: the person who often gets neglected the most in the policy process. It might seem obvious to readers out there, but this in my opinion is what makes the National Disability Strategy so compelling. It’s clear that people with disabilities were actually consulted and not people ‘who think they know what’s best’ for them. This is the strongest indication that the strategy is heading in the right direction. My life and millions of others depend on it.