Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On the campain trail - Wed 11th August

Things are only getting better this week as Tony Abbott stumbled on the 7.30 Report last night over broadband. Even if he was able to articulate his policy correctly, he would probably still be ashamed - the Coalition's NBN-lite promises only a 12mbs connection for 97% of Australians, compared to 100mbs for 99% under Labor.

It is about time Labor got more mileage out of this policy, it being one of the better ones to emerge from this shambolic 3 year term. The NBN, aside from providing the joy of the internet, is also a major piece of economic infrastructure with the potential to add to this country's fledgling productivity levels.

The Coalition cannot be allowed to neutralize the issue by putting forth an alternative plan which, though vastly inferior, is accepted by the electorate because it is seen as a cheaper version of the same thing. But if this government's previous failures in selling policies to the people are anything to go by, they may not make the most of this.

One can only hope the schadenfreude we were blessed with last night continues when TA makes his appearance on Q&A on Monday night.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The craziness of the long distance runner

This time of year is such a shame-fest. Masterchef showed me just how terrible I am at cooking: watching a fellow 20 year old make a custard apple snow egg while I struggle with the difference between hard and soft boiled. Then “Dry July” proved an altogether impossible task, serving only to amplify the usual shame of Saturday night debauchery. And now they hit us with the City2Surf, with the requisite guilt of knowing you couldn’t finish it even if you wanted to.

The City2Surf is one of those weird things that always seems compelling, but never with a good reason. It’s like the running of the bulls crossed with a WWI food rationing, but set against the incongruous backdrop of the most expensive real estate in the country. It’s may be a marginally quicker way of getting to Bondi than the bus, but it’s definitely more expensive and you almost certainly won’t be looking airbrushed and effervescent on arrival.

The race creeps up on you, too late in the year to be included in New Years Resolutions but too early to be part of the pre-summer shape-up. Before you know it, overly keen friends (usually the ones stuck in Dry July) are on the phone, desperately recruiting. It’s unclear what social opportunities will unveil as we climb breathless and sweaty up “RSVP” Heartbreak Hill, and yet they insist this activity must be enjoyed together.

The City2Surf’s beauty also lies in how easy it is to ignore: like doing your tax or visiting granny, it can always wait until next year, which happily supports the human need to procrastinate indefinitely. I’m generalising my own needs here to the species at large, which Anna Freud referred to as delusional projection. But I’d say that the vast, vast majority of Sydneysiders who have wisely chosen to sleep-in and take a late brunch this Sunday suggests I’m not alone.

About 80,000 have elected to undergo this torture. It is seemingly part of the endless procession of self-improvement expected of us 21st century urbanites. Pain is achievement, indulgence is weakness. Self-discipline starts with the body, yada yada yada. The whole thing has middle-class white guilt written all over it.

As for myself, I’ll be perched in a trendy Bondi café somewhere near the finish line, in prime pointing-and-laughing position. It’s one of those glorious counter-cultural activities, like going to a German restaurant on Anzac Day, which keeps getting better as it goes along. By midday the real stragglers are finally heaving their dishevelled carcasses round the final bend, their panting and spluttering audible even over my own loud chuckles of schadenfreude. Others look like their soul might have died somewhere around Vaucluse but have been carried to Bondi by sheer inertia.

You can’t buy that sort of entertainment. Keep it up Sydney.

We have ceded control to bigotry and intolerance

[From July 6th 2010]

When Julia Gillard rolled Kevin Rudd for the Prime Ministership in a sudden and hasty coup, many bemoaned that democratic control had been ceded to faceless ALP machine men. But this political power was not ours, as the people, to cede. It has for quite some time belonged to the fickle voters of Western Sydney, and similar demographics around the country, who John Howard, Rudd, and now Gillard feel they must court in order to secure re-election.

Howard’s Battlers felt they could no longer trust their man in 2007 and flocked to Kevin07. In 2010 their support for Labor has evaporated and Gillard is betting they can be wooed back through appeasement on asylum seekers and population policy.

Battlers are inherently self-interested. Their imperative is to improve their own lot, to preface the concerns of themselves and their family above all others. That’s not unexpected and it’s not entirely unreasonable. But it does not make them well placed to advise on the issue of asylum seekers. Or to use the correct term, refugees. Which is why it is so bizarre to see such alarmism from people hardly affected by the mere handful of refugees who arrive on our shores thousands of kilometres away.

It’s even more bizarre, then, that they are managing to control the agenda. It is an indication of how woeful and cowardly this government has been in failing to use its significant political capital to change peoples’ minds on the issue. Rudd was too scared to make the arguments, too frightened to point fingers at the media, and now Gillard is capitulating entirely to the very hatred and fear-mongering she claimed not to tolerate.

There have been two themes to Gillard’s rhetoric; that she understands Australians who fear boat arrivals, and that desiring strong border protection isn’t racist or intolerant. These have also been the resonant themes of her comments on population and the so-called “Big Australia”, which were explicitly pitched at Western Sydney voters.

I accept that there can be intellectual, economic arguments against higher immigration. I also accept that there is a case to be prosecuted against people smuggling, and that vulnerable people crossing the high seas in old boats is sub-optimal. But let’s call a spade a spade – those are not the arguments being made.

Julia Gillard must know that it is xenophobia which informs the views of those she is desperately trying to impress. There is a palpable fear of black faces arriving on boats, a fear which David Marr notes has been present since community polling on the issue began over 30 years ago. Make no mistake, it is racism. Those who pretend otherwise are either liars, or trying to get elected.

Gillard said she wanted a debate based around the facts – the most notable of which is that just 3500 people, many women and children, have arrived at our border seeking refuge this year. It is negligible, compared with the number of migrants accepted by plane each year and compared with our population as a whole. An examination of the facts leaves only one conclusion –the popular hysteria arises purely from fear and ignorance, and not at all from measured consideration.

Why won’t the government point out the facts? Why won’t it attack the media for whacking asylum articles on Page 1, and using the pejorative “boat people”? Given how distrusted the mainstream media is, that shouldn’t be a difficult argument to level. Yet the hyperbole continues.

There are so many mystifying questions in this embarrassing and unnecessary ‘debate’. Most of them can be answered fairly simply: there are just too many racists out there. Gillard isn’t, but her new approach is morally problematic in two major ways.

Firstly, she has publically excused and legitimized racism by declaring that those who want to turn away or sink the boats merely desire strong, clear policy. This is a technique straight out of Howard’s “relaxed and comfortable” routine. It is particularly infuriating to see the real xenophobes now re-energised and reassured by the comments of the PM.

Secondly, by signalling that these policy shifts are borne of her sympathy for voters in Western Sydney and the like, Gillard is typecasting these electorates as anti-population, anti-immigration and anti-refugee. I don’t think that’s a helpful characterisation, and I know many who are appalled and offended at being lumped in to this small-town stereotype.

The question of refugees is such a powerful test of leadership that, on this alone, Gillard is undeserving of the prime ministership. Unfortunately, the man seeking to replace her is a marginally worse alternative.

As for those of us with understanding, compassion, and a respect for international law, we increasingly find ourselves unrepresented by the major political parties. It is a terrible loss for those with progressive and humanitarian views. But the biggest losers, of course, are the refugees.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Save some space for the mere mortals amongst us

I’m an elitist. I frequently enjoy lattes, chardonnay, Surry Hills and leftism. These are all good things and should be partaken in with a great degree of hubris. However, I object to this new wave of ‘parking elitism’ sweeping the city.

In Chatswood last week, a suburban hub excelling in mediocrity, I noticed that Westfield had reserved a number of parking spaces for ‘hybrid vehicles only’. What is this?! They weren’t just any odd parking spaces either; they were practically inside the entrance, paved in an elitist green hue, and naturally, empty.

Meanwhile, the commoners were left to circle the six stories of hell that make up this complex, fighting for the one or two spaces not already sequestered by an enormous North Shore Land Cruiser.

I’m willing to concede the disabled spaces might have some merit, although they always seem to be oversupplied. The ‘parents with prams’ spots have always irked me, as they must surely infuriate everyone bar gratuitous new mums with an overblown sense of entitlement. Never mind the baby bonus – get a kid just for the parking perks.

Priority parking should provide assistance to the disadvantage. But what legitimate handicap can hybrid car owners possibly claim? Constant derision and judgment by the rest of society, perhaps, but surely they foresaw that when they bought the thing. There’s the possibility the engine might not cope with climbing the ramp to Level 2, but again, you get what you give.

The theory behind it all has got to be motivation, but you are never going to incentivise the soccer mums of the Shore to buy a hybrid car. Even if Armageddon struck tomorrow and the beloved Nissan Patrol was taken off the market, possible fallback options could include Jeeps, Trucks, and decommissioned Sydney Buses. Anything with room for the hockey sticks, plasmas and egos.

This development also sets a dangerous precedent for future avenues of segregation. Parking for ‘Premium Unleaded’ users only? Spaces for those with more than 6 points left on their licence? A row reserved for those who work in the not-for-profit sector? Bad-hair-day parking? Whatever happened to the time-honoured tradition of attaining superior treatment by paying for it?!

After all, hybrid car owners already enjoy the lavish benefits of cheap running costs and extreme snootiness. It’s only fair they be forced to park three suburbs away and walk like the rest of us. That’s much better for the environment too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The police state we live in

Sydney Festival First Night was an immensely fun night: the city was heaving, Al Green was spectacular in his brief set, and there was a lot of other stuff happening which I comprehensively ignored but I was glad it was happening nonetheless. The night was marred only, as usual, by the extreme presence of police which seems to accompany any Sydney event in the 21st century.

These are not the sort of people who are going to catch Osama bin Laden should be rock up with ten tonnes of C4. These are run of the mill, gun-toting officers who mull around the city streets and parks, intimidating and purveyors of gloom. People who have repeatedly proven themselves to be unreasonably trigger-happy in some of the most non-threatening situations a police officer could expect to face. It is a travesty that they can parade about the city's premier cultural event with guns proudly on display.

You've got to hate people, surely, to become a cop. You've at least got to enjoy hurting people. If you like people and you want to perform some sort of public service, you become an ambo or a fireman or something. Only an obsession with weaponry and violence lead to the force.

And this sort of anti-social bitterness was demonstrated perfectly when a gang of police officers interrupted a young busker outside David Jones and disbanded his crowd of listeners, who were excitedly singing along to 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. It was an utterly harmless performance, and I was quietly disappointed nobody king-hit the arsehole who broke it up.

If police are going to be present, and armed, at such events, they should do actual policing and keep us safe, rather than just throw their egos around spoil the party.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Battle of Caesar

Whinging is an excellent past time. Sometimes, these whinges are of a high enough calibre to be broadcast to society at large in the Sydney Morning Herald. This piece of my own self-indulgent vitriol was published in the SMH on 28.12.2009. This is the unedited original:


Some things are sacred, untouchable. The Egyptian Pyramids, perhaps. Maybe even Stonehenge. Definitely Caesar Salad. Time-honoured, beloved, and delicious, it is omnipresent and deservedly so. The flipside of this is that some heretics have begun experimenting with the very definition of a Caesar Salad, taking it to places unwarranted, insulting, and criminally tasteless.

Such was my experience at a recent Pitt St café. Let us be upfront from the start; my dining establishment of choice was not a recipient of any Michelin stars. It probably wouldn’t even be on the Food Authority’s safe list. Which makes it all the more incredulous for the chef to be taking liberties with an established recipe.

Now I’m not unequivocally averse to interpretation, as long as the basic structure is there. This offending item, however, lacked that rather customary ingredient of Caesar Salad: Caesar dressing. Instead, the scantily supplied liquid resembled some sort of hideous blend between honey mustard and tzatziki.

The best Caesars avoid such dressing pitfalls altogether by using egg mayonnaise. This is in fact the only contribution my mother, otherwise a Microwave Matriarch, has ever made to the world of cuisine. The creators of the Pitt St disaster would have been better off ducking down to Woolies for a jar of Praise than attempting whatever concoction this was supposed to represent.

If only that were the worst of it. Unless one is five and the dish is Fruit Loops, plates of food should generally not feature all the colours of the rainbow. One of the many joys of Caesar Salad is that it is almost wholly green and white, containing much lettuce, some croutons, egg (perhaps a little yellow) and possibly chicken or even bacon. The resulting colour scheme is one of tranquillity and healthiness.

Thus I was shocked, and also appalled, at the veritable patchwork quilt which arrived masquerading as Caesar. This alien version contained cucumber (so far still green), tomato (hmmm) and carrots. There I was wearing fluro-orange shoes and I still managed to be out-coloured by a Caesar Salad.

A short while ago I sampled the offerings available at an iconic Crows Nest café. This abhorrent variation contained salmon. Ah yes, fish. In a Caesar Salad. It should be illegal. And yet there it was, being publically advertised and commercially traded. When I’m dictator, there will be severe and ironic punishments for those who deviate from the respected Caesar norm; perhaps death by avocado stoning or being glassed with a shrimp cocktail.

How does this sort of heresy happen? For starters, we have an obsession with reinvention. This works well for politics and Madonna, but not for classic salads. So let’s make a collective pact to leave the seafood and the strawberries out and stick with the Caesar staples.



Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Good day, Bonjour, Guten Tag and Aloha - welcome to Koziol's Kultural Kringe. That intro probably overestimated the diverse international readership this blog will one day enjoy, but you have to foresee these things.

This blog will be a repository for much witty repartee and reflection on politics, media, marketing, music, and general esoteric culture. One hopes this collection will come to command respect and devotion akin to the columns of the great Annabel Crabb or Ross Gittins, though, as ever, no expectations = no disappointment.

A word about the blog's origins: the Koziol's Kultural Kringe was the name of a column I occasionally wrote in the high school student magazine I helped create in 2004. It was an offensive and juvenile title then, and it remains an offensive and juvenile title now - but one that at least ties this blog to the magic and innocence of youth and will hopefully keep it was fresh and exciting as those heady days of yore.

With glasses raised in optimism,