Friday, December 14, 2007

The wonder lives yet

As Chrissy Hinde Oscar Wilde said, we are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

For those of the latter ilk, this week has delivered at least a couple of treats.

Meteor shower to brighten night skies

Stargazers have the chance to spot a meteor shower in the skies tonight.

If the clouds hold off, the annual Geminids meteor shower will be visible to the naked eye from about midnight until dawn.

And it isn’t even Meteorite Monday (remember that?).

Also, Phillip Adams on Late Night Live interviews the esteemed Ann Druyan, co-author with (and widow of) the esteemed Carl Sagan. You can download and hear the podcast from here.

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McKew not a Howard-hater

Almost three weeks after the federal election, Maxine McKew has finally claimed victory in Bennelong over the vanquished John Howard.

Refreshingly, McKew chose not to run a negative campaign for the seat:

McKew was anxious from the start not to align herself with “Howard haters”.

She politely declined the assistance of the “Not Happy, John” squad, for instance.

“‘Not happy, John’ did not begin to sum up my views of the neglect of the Howard government. It was negative. It was also a protest campaign,” she says.

“I wanted to be very careful that I was dealing with people who weren’t driven simply by a kind of vicious animus towards Mr Howard; I find that quite destructive, to tell you the truth.” Instead, she developed a pitch of her own.

“I went after Liberal voters. I knew I could only win them over if I could present them with a better set of arguments. I knew I had to present a positive case.”

Yep, McKew is arguably no Howard-hater. But she’s quite possibly a Kevin-cuddler:

“I could not have done what I’ve done in Bennelong without the clarity of the leadership that Kevin’s provided.”

Meanwhile this blogger is still adjusting to our country’s brave new federal politics scene. Every time I see a headline referring to “the PM”, I still think it’s referring to Mr Howard. Pinch me...

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Oh, this is rich

In an unfolding scandal over hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions to the campaign of Argentina’s new president Cristina Kirchner, the US Government claims that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez “uses his country’s oil wealth to illegally meddle in the politics” of other countries.

* cough * splutter *

It is, of course, unheard of in the USA that a government would throw its own resources into meddling in the politics of other countries.

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Orientation flagged

I read in an article this week that Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez “ordered the horse on the national flag to face left instead of right to reflect his socialist orientation.”

I hadn’t heard this one before (a quick google yields nothing beyond the article cited above), so I don’t know whether this is true or just a beat-up.

The flag represented in my Encarta 2005 edition looks like this:

While the current Wikipedia entry for Venezuela shows the following:

There’s an extra star there too!

All very strange. Has Mr Chavez ordered every flag in every state institution, every school, etc., to be replaced with the new logo?

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Goat Friday

click to enlarge  —  image source

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Historic day for Bogans and fishwives

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has in some quarters been dismissed — somewhat unfairly, in my view — as “the Bogan Fishwife”.

Well, they said she’d never make it...

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard may be making political history today, but the first woman to lead the country since federation says it will be “business as usual”.

Ms Gillard will assume prime ministerial duties over the next two days while Prime Minister Kevin Rudd attends the climate change conference in Bali.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Back to the Garden

I have a long-standing attitude of ambivalence, at best, with regard to the pursuit of, and prospects for, human colonisation of outer space. This has occasionally put me at odds with those of my g-g-generation who, like me, grew up in the ‘wonder years’ of the Apollo moon program.

I take a similarly jaundiced view about another great sacred cow of my generation, namely the Woodstock ‘Love Nation’ Festival of 1969. Happily I can claim some distance from the event, having only just turned twelve at the time; however, we baby-boomers are supposed to regard this event with great reverence, and even to think of it as having some real, seminal cultural significance.

Perhaps it does, although in an unintended way. Probably the best take I have read on the Woodstock phenomenon was by Julie Burchill in her essay “The Method Rhythm”, an extract of which follows. One may agree and disagree with many things Burchill writes, but here she has nailed the Hippies and the Woodstock ‘vibe’ perfectly.

The delusions of self-sufficiency harboured by the Hippies persisted beyond the point in their history when it became clear that the very existence of the Hippies was totally dependent on hand-outs from the straight world — Woodstock.

Although popular myth has long perceived Woodstock as the ultimate fulfilment of Hippie ideals and Altamont as the death of the dream, in reality it was Woodstock that most perfectly spotlighted the hypocrisies, helplessness and hapless lethargy of the Hippies.

Car-owning Hippies clogged up the highway to Woodstock in an eight-mile traffic jam, while a thunderstorm falling out of the August sky turned the site into a muddy bog. The police declared Woodstock “a disaster area”, and they were not wrong. ... In their rush to the promised swampland it had never occurred to the Hippies that their stomachs would not be kept as full as the family freezer. There was nothing to drink and no food in the land of plenty. Counterculture capitalists twenty-four-year-old investment broker John Roberts and twenty-five-year-old entrepreneur Mike Lang, the big daddies behind Woodstock, had been too busy rushing in the cameras and recording equipment to set up a single hot dog stand.

Soon the half a million jolly campers of Woodstock were starving — but help was at hand for the ravenous ravers. The local Women’s Group of the Jewish Community Centre spoonfed the frontiersmen of Utopia 30,000 sandwiches. Woodstock’s owner, middle-aged dairy farmer Mr Max Yasgur, donated huge quantities of milk and cheese to prevent the gurgling inmates of his farm from wasting away. Even the originally outraged residents of Woodstock warmed to the plight of the helpless Hippie nation when the prospect of turning a fast buck out of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius beckoned.

But most of all the Hippies had President Nixon’s Armed Forces to thank for helping them to stave off the pangs of hunger. Instead of saying “Let them eat love beads,” as might have been expected after all those charred draft cards, the Air Force was sent in with a small mountain of edible treats. Despite all the protests about the bombs, napalm and Agent Orange that the same Air Force was dropping on the Vietnamese, the peanut butter sure tasted swell. Manna from heaven, courtesy of President Richard M. Nixon.

When the playpen was dismantled at the end of the three-day fling — on the other side of the country, Sharon Tate had been dead for seven days, murdered by some longhairs from way back — the head of Monticello’s constabulary was full of praise: “Notwithstanding their personality, their dress and their ideas, they are the most courteous, considerate and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my twenty-four years of police work.”

The praise of the police for the Hippies was echoed by the Hippies’ praise of the Hippies — Woodstock was perceived by them as the stuff that the Birth Of A Nation is made of.

Any movement that celebrated an event like Woodstock as some kind of moral triumph made an event like Altamont inevitable.

  • Julie Burchill, Damaged Gods.
    Arrow Books, London, 1987. Pp. 42-7.