Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sorkin's Society?

One of my favourite writers, Aaron Sorkin gave the commencement address to students at his Alma Mater, Syracuse last week. While there is no doubt that this forum provided Sorkin with the opportunity to embellish many of his stylistic cadences, which divide critics in equal measure the speech is worth commenting upon for a number of reasons.


This speech is the essence of Sorkinesque writing: a patriotic, hopeful, naive diatribe. In fact much of the speech he has used before a number of times. However, it is those qualities that provide a source of motivation to this writer. Perhaps the thing that infuriates the public most about Sorkin's writing is that he has higher expectations for society than it does for itself?

It is no coincidence that the current President of the United States is often compared to the one which Sorkin created for The West Wing. The difference is obvious though, Josiah Bartlett was never subjected to public scrutiny, for if he were he would have mostly likely been impeached during his first term of office. These days, the more progressive political operatives quote Bartlett from the passages of Sorkin’s many teleplays instead of Marx. Those brought up on episodes of The West Wing rather than pages of Robert A. Caro or David Day live in a vacuum where politics is a noble game and minds can be changed with five pages of dialogue, rather than through proper policy formulation. The end result is that politics becomes a circular exercise: people become aspirational pawns in the political process, once their desires cannot be met, they quickly figure out that there is a massive gap between the Sorkinesque view of the world and the actual one we inhabit. Rather than finding a leader who conforms to real world expectations, society says the system is broken, and then tries to find another leader of the same type. Society then begins anew destined to repeat the same mistakes.

Among Sorkin’s closing paragraphs of the commencement speech, he propagates his world view as if he were Sam Seaborn himself: 
Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt.

Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance—and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy. Don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.
Of course there is nothing wrong with this view if you are a wide eyed optimist who believes that the power of words is enough to change minds. I was such a person once. However, the more I hear Sorkin’s words, the more I believe that he is just simply a great storyteller on a quest to find a fictional utopia.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Goal

“I just want someone, who wants to hang out all the time, and thinks I’m the best person in the world, and wants to have sex with only me.” - Hannah, Girls.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Inward and Inaccurate

Last night's Fabian Society Forum on how and why the ALP lost the 2012 Queensland State Election highlighted how insular the party is in times of reflection. The forum’s three participants included ALP State Secretary and Campaign Director, Anthony Chisholm, Former Bligh Government Minster Cameron Dick and the Queensland Political Editor of The Australian, Sean Parnell.

Chisholm was in a remarkable position last night. Despite being the architect of the worst loss in the Queensland ALP's history, he still has his job. Chisholm’s contribution to the proceedings was always going to be the most intriguing of the night. Unsurprisingly, he blamed the government’s decision to privatise state owned assets for the ALP’s electoral wipe out. ‘We never recovered… he said. Everyone is connected to the railways in regional Queensland, and the ALP misjudged the electoral climate…’ was his admission when I questioned him later about whether he could have anticipated any backlash to those sales. There were no strategic measures in place to counter the negative reaction to asset sales. 'The LNP and the unions got out in front on the issue’, Chisholm opined. Consequently the ALP turned negative during the election campaign and focused their attention on Campbell Newman. According to internal party polling this strategy was working (Apparently) right up until the moment Anna Bligh said (in the last ten days of the campaign) that there was ‘no evidence…’ that Newman had participated in any illegal activity, despite claiming in Parliament that he had done so. Remarkably, the polls returned to their original state of Labor oblivion immediately after this admission (!). The moral of Chisholm’s argument: ‘When in doubt blame Bligh.’

This theme continued for much of Cameron Dick’s speech, clearly using his speech to position himself as the non-existent alternative leader of the ALP. Comparing himself to Chifley in the 1930s, (when the former PM lost his seat in Federal Parliament, and was on the wrong side of the New South Wales split) Dick took the soft, gutless option of blaming Bligh and her Deputy Andrew Fraser. Despite being a high profile member of Cabinet and being a high profile advocate of the asset sales, the former Minister chastised his former boss by constantly questioning her abilities as leader, and in particular saying the ALP lacked ‘strong and effective leadership.’ In 2039, I wonder if we will see such words in writing when the Cabinet minutes are released into the State’s archives? It is interesting that Dick attempted to portray himself as a modern day Chifley, because all he succeeded in doing was to demonstrate that solidarity, a hall mark of the Chifley era, has no place in the Modern ALP.

Parnell, on the other hand demonstrated his analytical skills with a cogent unpacking of the last four years of Queensland politics. Whilst also criticising Bligh as being decisive but lacking necessary political skill, he hit on the key point of the Bligh era: The Government over promised and under delivered. Contrasting this maxim to that of her predecessor’s Peter Beattie, Parnell highlighted the hall mark of his term as Premier by saying ‘Beattie delivered on what he promised during the election campaign and only deviated from these when responding to immediate crises’.

The three speakers each encapsulated the current malaise of Labor, not just in Queensland, but also around the country: strategic incompetence, policy objectives taking a backseat to internal Machiavellian supremacy, and a tin ear when assessing the public’s expectations. All three speakers highlighted the asset sales as the turning point towards the death of Bligh Labor. And yet none of them were able to answer the most basic question of the night. Why sell the assets at all? I still doubt whether Chisholm, Bligh, or her team of incompetent advisors know the answer to that.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Linkage, Volume I, 2012

I work, I eat, I shower, that’s it. Occasionally I take a dump, just as a sort of treat. I mean that really is my treat. I sit there and I think—no, I'm not gonna read the New Statesman, this time is just for me. This is quality time just for me.
Hugh Abbott: The Thick of It

For much of the last two months I have been working on the PhD thesis from hell on a constant basis. I did 12 drafts of the second chapter and it took a year to it get right. So now that I am as healthy as I’m going to get I have either been focusing on my work, or trying to get out and explore new things. This hasn’t left much time for substantive blogging (In short, I really hate the NDIS, and I really need to get laid). So with that in mind, here are some things that have got my wheelchair motors running over the past six weeks.
  1. This amazing performance of It’s a Man’s, Man’s World by American Idol contestant Joshua Ledet
  2. The new HBO series Girls created and written by the wonderfully talented Lena Dunham. I want her to be my next girlfriend, I would also like this to be arranged post haste, please.
  3. This except of the third volume of Robert A. Caro’s biography of former US President Lyndon Johnson which chronicles the events before, during and immediately after the 1963 Kennedy assassination.
  4. An old but great clip of Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert singing Rebecca Black’s Friday with an array of special guests
  5. To close, here's my favourite song this week

Friday, 11 May 2012

Credibility?

What happens when you have little credibility?

My very vocal detractors may argue cogently that I have absolutely none to begin with. To them I’m just an upstart with a loud obnoixious voice trying to get attention and noterity. Especially those who claimed they have won after the piss weak announcement in this week’s budget. Let’s look at the facts, with thanks to Vern Hughes from the Physical Disability Australia Facebook Group
The federal budget committed $1 billion to the NDIS over the next four years: 
Beginning with $84 million in 2012-13 
Rising to $363 million in 2015-16.

Only one third of this is for care and support for people with disabilities. 


  • $53 million is to set up the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

  • $155 million is to employ local co-ordinators for the NDIA.

  • $250 million is to build an IT system for the NDIA "to measure the performance of the new arrangements"
  • $123 million is "to prepare the disability sector to deliver services in new ways."

  • $17 million is for "research and development"
  • $59 million is for assessments of people with a disability to determine their eligibility. 


This breakdown of spending, and the prioritisation of management functions over care and support, is absolutely predictable. It fits perfectly the priorities of the industry representatives who form the NDIS Implementation Task Forces.

  • $0 for education and training of people with disabilities and their families in self-direction.

  • $0 for an IT system for people with disabilities and their families to use and to manage their supports and services.

  • $0 for research and development for innovations for people with disabilities  and their families.

  • $0 for development of a retail market for people with disabilities and their families to access and to choose the services they want based on transparent price and quality data.
And instead the public are exposed to this ill-informed piece of crap by Wendy Harmer who thinks people with disabilities should be ‘happy’ and we should ‘cheer’ for this miserable excuse of a policy. This comes from a woman who will not have her fate determined by the effects of this policy for the rest of her life.

I realise that I am in the very severe minority here, but I feel like I am one of the few who can see the absolute obvious here. Why can’t more people see it? I cannot tell you how much it frustrates me.  Every time I voice my objections, I’m the one who gets painted as having no credibility because the majority has group think.

So what will it take to get some credibility? Finishing my PhD? Becoming a celebrity and pimping myself out? Becoming one of the useless people who get put on these pointless advisory groups?

And then I think ‘Fuck it, I’m done with this disability policy shit, I want to have fun, try to form a decent relationship with someone I love and develop my academic career.' And then it hits me like a punch in the guts.

If I give up on the policy shit, the person who loses out the most is me.

And then I remember why I hate being a cripple.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Indoctrination At A Young Age

I have just finished re-watching The Last Days of Disco. This underrated movie contains a favourite exchange of mine, that is worth reposting.


CHARLOTTE: Saturday, I took my niece, who’s seven, to see the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. She loved it! It was so cute. I’m beginning to fall in love with the whole idea of having kids.

ALICE: I hate that movie.

CHARLOTTE: What?

ALICE: It’s so tacky. Not to mention depressing.

CHARLOTTE: This sweet movie about cute cartoon dogs you found depressing?

JOSH: There is something depressing about it, and it’s not really about dogs. Except for some superficial bow-wow stuff at the start, the dogs all represent human types, which is where it gets into real trouble. Lady, the ostensible protagonist, is a fluffy blonde cocker spaniel with absolutely nothing on her mind. She’s great looking but, let’s be honest, incredibly insipid. Tramp, the love interest, is a smarmy braggart of the most obnoxious kind. An oily jailbird, out for a piece of tail, or whatever he can get.

CHARLOTTE: Oh, c’mon.

JOSH: No, he’s a self-confessed chicken thief—an all around sleaze ball. What’s the function of a film of this kind? Essentially it’s a primer on love and marriage directed at very young people; imprinting on their little psyches the idea that smooth talking delinquents, recently escaped from the local pound, are a good match for nice girls from sheltered homes. When in ten years, the icky human version of Tramp shows up around the house, their hormones will be racing, and no one will understand why. Films like this program woman to adore jerks.

DES: God, you’re nuts!

JOSH: The only sympathetic character, the little Scotty who’s so loyal and concerned about Lady, is mocked as old-fashioned and irrelevant, and shunted off to the side.
 

DES: Isn’t the whole point that Tramp changes? OK, maybe in the past he stole chickens, ran around without a license, and wasn’t always sincere with members of the opposite sex. But through his love for Lady, and beneficent influences of Fatherhood and Matrimony, he changes and becomes a valued member of that rather idealic household.

JOSH: I don’t think people really change that way. We can change our context, but we can’t change ourselves.

ALICE: I agree with Josh. Scotty is the only admirable character. It would have been a much better movie if Lady ended up with him.

DES: I’m really surprised. I think Tramp really changed.

JOSH: Maybe he wanted to change, or tried to change, but there is not a lot of integrity there. First he’d be hanging around the house, drinking, watching ball games, maybe knocking Lady around a little bit. But pretty soon, he’d be back at the town dump chasing tail.

DES: Oh give me a break! Are you taking your medication? Because what you’re saying is completely nuts!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Fat Cat and the 'Slippery' Slope

In 1999 I moved to the Sunshine Coast. At that time I moved into the Federal Electorate of Fisher. Given my interest in politics I asked around about my local member. His name was Peter Slipper I was told, a fairly unremarkable man, entrenched local member and was likely to remain that way unless the political apocalypse came and turned the arch conservative Sunshine Coast into a communist paradise.

Most of that initial characterization proved accurate. I’ve often joked that Fat Cat could run for the Liberals in Fisher and still win the seat. If you talked to the locals, most would agree. Consider that proposition for a moment: what does this opinion suggest about Australian democracy?

The year after I moved to the Coast, I was assigned to do one week’s work experience. I desperately wanted to work in an ALP political office, but did not have the means or logistical ability to travel the hour south to Brisbane. Fortunately a history teacher at my high school (and future conservative Sunshine Coast Counsellor) had an in with Slipper’s office. I could work in his office, if I remained somewhat muted about my political philosophies. I agreed.

I still have fantastic memories of working in Slipper’s office, for it was the first time I experienced working at the coal face. I was mainly charged with constituent correspondence, although I did get to sit in on some meetings and such. I had little, but meaningful contact with him, but was always available to answer any questions that I had.

Even at this point rumours swelled around the Sunshine Coast about travel rorts and other activities. The question in my mind kept coming up. If any one of these 20 plus unique rumours proved to be true, why wasn’t he facing the consequences of the Liberal Party and the electorate?

After my brief encounter with Slipper he continued his unremarkable career. I would run into him occasionally where he would claim I …had changed sides.’ As the years went by and I became more involved with the ALP, the rumours continued to compile, and it was clear that he was a second rate local member.

Yet it was only since he was elevated to the Speakership in November of last year that the National media and the Federal politicians even began to give a damn about the people of Fisher, and more importantly the conduct of its local member. The local community was well aware of the claims made in 2001, but nothing was done either to clear Slipper, or to sanction him. And thus the perception was created that nobody in Federal politics gave a damn about the people of the Fisher electorate with both major parties and their organizational wings happy to plod along with the status quo. With Fat Cat in office.

So the few people who care about Sunshine Coast political climate are left to ponder what is next in this catastrophe. My friend Luke Day posed an interesting set of questions the other night.
After defending him for so long, why are the voters of Fisher now so keen to attack him? Is it because it may be revealed that he is a dirty, sinful homosexual who offends their happy-clapper sensibilities? Is it because he no longer carries their much-cherished party brand? Is it because removing him may bring down a government they have hated from the start? The nation wants to know, Fisher. The whole nation wants to know.

I want to know, too.