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Axver

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Bringing New Zealand back on track, I: Introduction and the upper North Island [27 June 2008|02:17 am]
Axver
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[Current Music |'Mellotron Scratch' by Porcupine Tree]

I imagine this series of entries is going to be of interest to just about nobody (oh yeah, nothing like that sort of introduction to hook people!). It has evolved out of a procrastination exercise over the last couple of weeks to stop me from going absolutely insane with university work. I think it's a bit of a shame that the topic of transportation stimulates precious little interest in the public at large, as transport networks are what keep this place ticking and are pretty much central to human society. But I guess it's just a lot easier to get people really, really mad about terrorism, something that is less likely to personally affect the average Westerner than being kicked to death by a donkey, than about something that is central to their daily life. A good transport network means you can get home quickly from work and maximise your leisure time doing things you like. An inefficient transport network means you'll spend bloody ages in traffic jams or intolerably slow trains or clapped out old buses, and when you finally get home, your food and other things you like will be more expensive due to the extra freight costs hidden in the overall price. It really does matter.

This series of entries will focus on New Zealand, simply because it is the part of the world I know the best - even those areas that I largely haven't visited, I have studied historically, geographically, and socially. I would hope that by choosing to focus on New Zealand, I am avoiding talking out of my arse like I would be for most of Australia. There will be three parts: upper North Island, lower North Island, and South Island.

Put simply, it's time for an end to short-sighted transport planning. We need an integrated and efficient transport network and we need to start work on it now. We can't wait until we're at crisis point. Modes of transport should be used in complementary rather than competitive manners, e.g. bus routes feeding railways, as this will create a more efficient and sustainable network. In 1870, Julius Vogel's Great Public Works policy proposed a network of trunk routes linking New Zealand's major centres, and bringing the provincial railways under the control of the central government and standardising the system. Although Vogel's plan was to some extent hijacked by local interests (with the worst manifestation meaning Nelson today has no railway), it meant New Zealand completely avoided gauge disparities that have caused countless problems in Australia and elsewhere, and most importantly, it was absolutely pivotal to the development of New Zealand from a bunch of disparate British colonies into a cohesive nation. Before the railway linked Christchurch and Dunedin, they were a lengthy sea voyage or arduous overland journey apart - after the railway, they were an easy day's travel away. We need a Julius Vogel for today, though I’m not quite sure where we’re meant to find one. We need somebody with the long term vision and audacity to actually implement a vast, sweeping plan. It will be expensive and it will take time to bear fruit. But short term fixes are not the answer. New Zealand currently has a 19th century railway being ravaged by 20th century mentalities. Let's bring both the railway and the mentalities into the 21st century.

So, let's get down to business. What to do with the upper North Island's rail transport network.Collapse )

Tomorrow or whenever I get around to it: the lower North Island, focusing on services out of a Wellington hub. Also, assuming I don't ramble too much, some rolling stock considerations.
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In which I write shitloads about having nothing to say [5 June 2008|11:48 pm]
Axver
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[Current Music |'Summer Stone' by 3Ds]

I have blogged about this before, and a recurring theme when I open the update page and stare at the blank screen is that I have nothing to say any more. I remember a few years ago, I wrote daily updates, often on political or theological topics, and then had rather lengthy discussions in the comments with you folks. I miss those days. Part of it is my own fault due to withdrawing into my own shell over the last year or two, and I am increasingly regretting my failures in communicating with many of you. Part of it is due to an increasing cynicism, which I have already written about recently and which I would like to take in a different direction.

Fairly recently, screwtape2 and I had a debate in the postwhorehouse on Interference. The outcome of the debate was insubstantial: we ended up going around in the same circles, talked past each other a lot, and I don't think either of us really learnt much from the discussion. It would have been nice to have reached a conclusion or some kind of shared understanding, but in the end we abandoned the topic and moved on. Yet it's recurred in various forms since then, and it came to mind earlier when I was staring at a blank update screen. I don't mean for this post to be some attempt to present my side of the debate at the expense of Screwtape's perspective or anything like that. I just want to use it as a launching pad for my own reflections on why I am struggling to write.

Our conversation was about social apathy and the role of social activism. It was based around the observation that in the 1960s, universities were often a hotbed of political discontent, social protests, student movements, and the like. Then through the 1970s and 1980s we saw groups like Greenpeace and Amnesty International gain credibility and prominence in the mainstream. But now, all around me at university, I see apathy. When people try to promote some cause, whether it's the Socialist Alternative or the Young Nationals or the Greens or whoever from whatever side of the fence, it seems most listeners just roll their eyes. "Oh, here goes the Socialist Alternative again!" Or people will personally agree with a protest, but be unwilling to attend - they don't want to look "stupid". There seems to be this attitude of "well, mate, quietly, I agree with you, but tone it down, OK? You're making us all look crazy." Nobody wants to be perceived as a fringe loony. Perhaps it is a tendency to the centre, to moderation, or if you want to look at it more negatively, to some uninspired, conformist shade of beige signifying nothing.

I think an important factor is the matter of results, and this is where my own writing comes in. Essentially, people don't want to waste their breath if there isn't a realistic chance of achieving their goals. I look at protest movements: people stand in the street and shout a bit in the hope it will influence politicians, but does it? Generally not. Politics goes where the money and influence takes it, and any clever politician can spin their actions sufficiently so that the electorate swallows it and votes them back in. On the little issues, sure, it can play a role, but on the serious stuff, hell no. When it comes to problems of structural magnitude, the people who have the power to make the changes are those at the very centre of the current structure, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, they have a vested interest in keeping that structure just how it is, thank you very much. I look at all the people on the Barack Obama "change!" bandwagon - and while I bloody well hope the guy kicks McCain's arse this November, anybody who actually believes Obama is going to initiate some kind of political paradigm shift is absolutely delusional, since anybody able to get as far as being a US presidential candidate is inextricably tied to the present political structure. (Yeah, now I've just doomed the comments to some Obama discussion, haven't I?)

To cut a long and potentially theoretical discussion short, my point is: you don't have the power to change anything. Well, maybe you do, if you happen to be somebody at an elite level of governmenr or business able to shape policy. But chances are, that's not you. It's certainly not me. I'm an undergrad uni student about to doom himself to that most scholarly but uninfluential of disciplines, history. I can sit here and tell you all about the problems with the world. I used to! I could talk until I'm blue in the face and type until I'm blue in the fingers. I could tell you all about political repression in Zimbabwe, I could rant about the callous stupidity of the junta ruling Burma, I could rail endlessly about the need to completely rethink our interaction with the natural environment, and I could put forth any number of proposals for how we could develop a more socially equitable society. But what's the point? There is none. It is pointless hot air. I would be preaching to the choir or arguing with somebody equally as uninfluential as myself. An argument about universal healthcare between a 21 year old leftie Kiwi albino and some 35 year old Republican guy who spends eight hours a day pushing paper in any one of a million bland offices in Bumfuck, USA isn't exactly going to achieve anything even if one of us convinces the other of a particular point.

We can talk all day, but to no results. I can summon all the righteous indignation I can muster about social injustices, but saying "THIS ISN'T RIGHT!" on my blog or joining some protest or printing pamphlets isn't going to do much since I don't have access to the levels at which meaningful decisions can be made. So what's the point? I don't need to keep proving I'm an idealist with nice, leftie ideas of how we can all live in harmony. If you think something needs to be changed, don't just tell me why or how; tell me how you will actually, realistically achieve this goal. Fuck talk; let's get some results. You want to solve world poverty? Right, give me your neat list of steps you can actually take and decisions you can actually make. You want to end racial discrimination? You want to put an end to homelessness? You want Robert Mugabe out of Zimbabwe? You want the Victorian government to fund public transport projects? Right, give me your neat list of steps you can actually take and decisions you can actually make. Oh yeah, you can't. You're probably just a university student or an average middle class office worker. It's enough of a challenge for you to actually, realistically take steps and make decisions that will get you that house you've always wanted, let alone change the socio-political structure of society.

You can't make a difference. You will not change anything. Talk as much as you like and solve all the world's problems in fifteen minutes; you will never be in a position to actually implement your good ideas. And if you somehow do acquire an influential role, chances are you'll be tied to the system and have a vested interest in not making changes. So you won't make a difference, even if you could. It's harsh, yes. But it's a harsh world.
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A rambling entry on cynicism and such [23 April 2008|11:39 pm]
Axver
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[Current Music |'Two Way Prong' by This Will Kill That]

I feel so cynical these days. I would like to write something meaningful on social issues, but I just stare at the update page and watch the cursor flicker on the screen. The words don't come. The issues and topics don't evoke passion from me. It's just more of the same, reinforcing my belief that the world is absolutely fucked. Partisan issues, petty self-interest, and all-too-wilfull ignorance are par for the course.

I'm 21. I feel like I'm far too young to be this cynical and disenchanted by life already. I remember when I was 17 or 18 and believed it was possible for there to be meaningful progress; those of you who've been following my journal for years will probably recall my passionate political entries of the "early days". Rather crucially, I believed in things - that the system worked, that it could be used to meaningfully better life, and that people would generally behave in good faith rather than selfish interest. I know many of my contemporaries still think like I used to think. This is apparently the idealistic stage of life, with possibilities and opportunities. Ha.

I suppose I still have some of the idealism. I'm a weak pacifist - i.e. I believe violence can only be justifiably used in self-defence, as opposed to strong pacifists who do not believe violence can ever be justifiably used. I believe the rise of secular values and corresponding decline in religiosity will continue unabated. My opinions on the necessity of urgent and drastic action on climate change and other environmental matters fit comfortably with the parts of the green left written off as idealists. But these are ideological stances of what I believe is right; I have no delusions that they will be realised, besides the rise of secular values one which is based on statistical trends and applies to just about everywhere except the US, where the Enlightenment was simply something that happened to other countries.

So despite these arguably idealistic stances, my cynical side shows very strongly. I watch the news nightly, but none of the political controversies and global events seem to summon much passion in me any more. Take for example the fiasco surrounding the Zimbabwean elections. No surprises there; just what you would expect from Mugabe, and getting all heated up about it on my blog isn't going to do much. Wailings of "why do we let this happen?" add nothing of substance. I expect Mugabe to continue to destroy Zimbabwe with little more than hot air in response from the outside world. I expect Darfur to drag on for years. I expect the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to not reach any resolution. I expect governments globally to keep screwing over the least fortunate and most vulnerable. Don't forget Cambodia; after millions died at the hands of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, Vietnam was criticised for invading Cambodia and ousting the regime, and Khmer Rouge diplomats were acknowledged as Cambodia's representatives by the Western powers into the 1990s. That's just the way things go, and when this world wakes up too late to where it's going, I'll just say "well, I told you so".

Nobody's listening. Nobody wants to hear it. Climate change is a fight enough; good luck mentioning the Holocene extinction event without being considered an apocalyptic weirdo or a miserable doomsayer. We like our comfortable Western lives, after all. The prospect of even the smallest of socially positive progress seems doomed at the hands of political mechanisms that serve narrow interests, function inordinately slowly, and are caught in numerous shackles. I suppose it's fundamentally a fear of commitment and responsibility. I've known a lot of people like that; it seems fairly common. As long as we don't have to commit to anything and as long as we don't have to be responsible for anything, well, we can just keep cruising along obliviously and without worrying about the consequences. That's for someone else. And, frankly, what can you do anyway? I've accomplished nothing. Now I'm just worn down and expect nothing more than the same failure.
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(no subject) [24 February 2008|11:48 pm]
Axver
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[Current Mood |tiredtired]
[Current Music |'Glow (live)' by Blackfield]

Well, well. I am enjoying the new post-Howard reality, watching the Liberal Party implode. When the leader of your party's popularity is at only 9%, surely you can't slide much further and things will soon start to look up, but I'm going to relish this for as long as it lasts. In today's news, some of them want the old guard out. Behind the diplomatic veneer, it seems some directions are being encouraged very pointedly. I can't help but wonder what knives are out in the backrooms. You know they are. Any party this suddenly unpopular will have all kinds of shit going down behind the scenes.

I've questioned the sincerity of some former Howard ministers' intentions to quit politics in the past. I'll be glad to see Alexander Downer go (quite possibly the politician with the most appropriate last name) and I believe he will, but my expectations are not so high for others. Specifically Peter Costello. Costello is one hell of a cunning politician, and his desire to take over the reins from John Howard was hardly a secret. Then, of course, after the thumping loss, he stunned everyone and announced he wouldn't take the leadership and instead would retreat to the back bench to serve out his term and mentor younger politicians. The cynic in me believes he just did that to avoid taking a lot of shit for the loss, come out clean, and rather than "mentor" younger politicians, gather them onto his side to launch a successful leadership challenge at the right time.

I still believe that, too. But I don't doubt some in the backrooms would like him and his fellows in the old guard gone. Will he try to hold on, and can he? The Howard era has very quickly come to be viewed with disdain, at least in an electability sense. Costello has probably lost any chance he has of winning an election in the near future simply due to his close association with Howard. I would be absolutely delighted to see this blow up into more of a feud.

In all likelihood, things will probably resolve quietly and at least some of the old guard will retire and fade from the scene, but a split within the party would, let's be honest, provide endless entertainment and surely both solidify Labour's power and give the much more unified Greens a chance for growth. As I've noted in the past, the Greens in some electorates are either the second party or close to it. If the Liberals fall into disarray, the Greens can seize the opportunity to portray themselves as the stable opposition to Labour. Thus, despite the fact they do not have much prospect of directly picking up support from Liberal voters, the establishment of themselves in a position of opposition in place of the Liberals would be an absolute boon to them. I can keep living in hope anyway.
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(no subject) [23 February 2008|11:47 pm]
Axver
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[Current Music |'Arrival / The Intention Craft' by Pure Reason Revolution]

I really wanted to write something substantial on some of the news in the world lately, but frankly, I'm finding myself exhausted by it. Of course, there's the serious stuff. Kosovo's independence is naturally turning into a complete mess. Turkey's decided it'd be a smart idea to make an incursion into Kurdish Iraq. Great move for regional stability there, guys.

But it's not just that stuff. The US election seems to be bloody everywhere, and the worst part are the absolutely stupid, mindless "controversies" being generated. I refer specifically to Obama's supposed speech copying, which I really can't bring myself to care about whatsoever, and the ridiculous pseudo-scandal about John McCain's supposed relationship to a lobbyist, again something I can't be bothered caring about. And in a turn for the absolutely absurd, it seems everywhere now has an obligatory mention of how Obama might be assassinated. Why? It seems nobody has any kind of logical reason. He just might be. Words cannot describe how ridiculous and melodramatic this is. And come on, if George Bush hasn't been knocked off, Obama should be in the clear. They couldn't even get Cheney!

And then just to add to what's going on in the broader world community, within my own family there's some supremely pointless drama. I just can't bring myself to care about that. If people want to be stupid and petty, they can. I won't waste my energy responding to it. It's their life they're ruining, not mine.

So at the end of the day, I'm just tired and exhausted and lack coherent thoughts. Some calm and sanity would be really nice, you know? I'm very seriously thinking of just avoiding political discussions because they just end up becoming so wildly ridiculous. I always find myself drawn back, though. I'm a PolSci student, after all. Such is life.
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And you thought George Bush was unpopular? [20 February 2008|11:47 pm]
Axver
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[Current Mood |optimisticoptimistic]
[Current Music |'Under The Cover Of A Frozen Sky' by Canyons Of Static]

So, Brendan Nelson, leader of the Opposition here in Australia, has an approval rating of 9%. Nine per cent. I'm not kidding! He is the least popular Opposition leader ever, or at least since polls began in 1987. We're missing 86 years of Opposition leaders there, though I doubt many could reasonably challenge Nelson for that shocking figure. Rudd has a 61% gap opened up over him, with a soaring 70% approval rating as Prime Minister. The Liberal Party is in complete disarray. They only just elected Nelson as their new, post-Howard leader in late November last year, and I can imagine Malcolm Turnbull and his supporters are already manoeuvring in the back rooms to oust him.

I have to wonder where the Liberal Party is going to go from here. The fact that Rudd is basking in a popular perception that he is delivering on his election promises, and promptly too, is something that the Liberals are going to find extremely hard to combat. Furthermore, Rudd is almost immune from fallout on economic issues such as rising interest rates, at least for the immediate future, because that can all be pinned on the Howard legacy. Only after a couple of years in office will he really be held accountable, and there isn't much the Liberals can do until then. They can scream and shout and pin everything on Rudd as much as they like, but that's no good when the popular perception is that they're the party who created the issues in the first place! And, at the end of the day, Nelson has the charisma of a tomato. Rudd is seen as vibrant and active, willing to get things done. Nelson? Nobody fucking likes him! Even the vast majority of the 36% of Australians who'd vote Liberal right now don't like him!

The Liberal Party probably don't know what to do with themselves. They've been in power for eleven years, led by Australia's second longest serving Prime Minister. Suddenly, they're being drowned by a wave of unpopularity that they probably didn't even expect and that confuses and bewilders them. John Howard wanted to leave a legacy, but I doubt this is quite what he had in mind. It would have been better for the Liberals had they lost in 2004. Now where? They're doing nothing to help themselves by cultivating a perception of backflipping. They can't seem to find a stable position on workplace laws, and Nelson's pathetic speech at the national apology tried to be everything to everybody but in the end was absolutely nothing; it didn't go nearly far enough for the urban middle and upper classes who supported the move, while any agreement whatsoever with the apology was far too much for the social conservatives and rural constituency who wanted nothing to do with an apology. Just look at the behaviour of Wilson Tuckey, who made a scene in his refusal to acknowledge the apology.

It makes you wonder what will come of the Coalition. Prior to the election, there was talk of the Liberals simply absorbing the Nationals, but since the election disaster, the differences and disagreements have come out. Now, I don't expect the Coalition will collapse, but I can't help thinking about it. It would gift Labour a lengthy time in power, as the Nationals' declining support base is causing them to sink into irrelevance while the Liberals would struggle to pull together the numbers to form government in the lower house, while in the upper house they would be completely screwed without the support of the Nationals, especially as the Greens are on the rise and likely to hold the balance of power anyway.

Though I remember when I lived up in Queensland; the state-level coalition between the Liberals and Nationals collapsed, and Labour won the 2006 election not by popularity but by default. I suppose there's something to be said for having a very competitive political system that keeps everyone on their toes. I can only desire that Australia may one day shift to the two dominant parties being the Greens and Labour. Hell, in some Labour-held seats, the Greens are already outpolling the Liberals and constitute the second party. I'd like that to spread. I'd like it a lot. I could really believe in a Greens-vs-Labour two party system as one that has competition without the risk of fucking over the least fortunate, those towards whom the government has a duty of care. It's a pipe dream, I know, but it's one I enjoy.
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Thoughts on Kosovo, statehood, and geography [18 February 2008|11:41 pm]
Axver
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[Current Music |'The Gospel According To The IEM' by Incredible Expanding Mindfuck]

I feel like I should have more concrete, firm thoughts on Kosovo's independence than I do. I even stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, waiting for the official announcement. I think this is on balance a good thing; the majority population clearly has absolutely no desire to remain a part of Serbia and derive no gain from remaining a part of it, and Kosovo is going to be under such rigorous international scrutiny that it will have to follow through on its positive talk about full respect and equality for the Serb minority. It is disappointing that international recognition of Kosovo at the United Nations level is going to turn into a pathetic squabble with Russia staunchly opposing Kosovo's independence. I've never been particularly impressed by the fact that just one country of the elite group of five permanent members of the Security Council can veto anything it likes. It seems to me that a much better idea would be to allow a two-thirds or even four-fifths majority of the Security Council to over-ride a veto.

It will be interesting to see if Kosovo's independence empowers any other secessionist movements. Frankly, I hope it does in some cases. I have never really grasped why some de facto independent states lack de jure independence. I am especially thinking of Somaliland, which is doing a hell of a lot better for itself than the rest of Somalia in that it actually has a functioning government and maintains peace, but lacks international recognition. Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova are three other very good examples. For all of my political science studies, I am still at a loss to really comprehend why states keep clinging to territories they have so obviously lost. They lack any kind of de facto control over the territory, the will of the people is for independence, and a functioning government is ready to take the reins. Why keep burning money in stubborn refusal to acknowledge the obvious? You aren't gaining any real advantage out of the territory's resources and people, and you're threatening the internal peace of your country, not to mention posing a potential threat to regional stability too. Let it go. It's gone. Work to create a peaceful transition; odds are you'll probably get more of your interests fulfilled that way anyway, through bargains and compromises over resource access and minority questions.

On a less serious note, I must admit I find the independence of any new country to be very exciting. When I was little, maps were a considerable source of fascination and I have been a geography nerd my entire life. I remember that when I was three, I got it into my head that the borders marked in my atlas were actually flight paths for airlines, since roads, railways, and major ferry routes were already listed! Those disputed borders marked with dotted lines had to be air routes operated only seasonally, or perhaps temporarily abandoned due to war! As I got older, I liked to plot out my own countries. I divided up New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific, the US, Canada, China, and elsewhere, all according to my own peculiar logic. Secession movements have thus fascinated me and I must admit to occasionally letting my guard down and allowing the instincts of my childhood to make me biased towards these movements in the absence of proper analysis of the issues. Though as it turns out, I have a hard time thinking of serious secession movements I would oppose anyway.
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On sweltering weather and vast wastage of money [5 January 2008|09:07 pm]
Axver
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[Current Mood |hothot]
[Current Music |'Epidemic' by Blackfield]

Well, Melbourne sure has been sweltering this past week. New Year's Eve struck 41 - and was still over 34 at midnight! - followed by 40 on New Year's Day, almost 36 yesterday, and today crept just past the 37 mark. Apparently it's going to be 24 tomorrow though, so make sense of that. For those of you still living in the Dark Ages in the US, 37 is 100 Fahrenheit, and I believe 41 is around 106-odd. Thank goodness this is just a dry heat; it's damn warm but you don't feel like dying, thanks to the absence of the sticky and mightily uncomfortable humidity that typifies Queensland summers. So, Victoria gets points there.

It seems that even in this part of the world, news about the Iowa caucus is rather inescapable. As much as I wish Kucinich were a viable candidate, I am delighted to see Obama emerge victorious and hopefully that will give him the boost he needs to take New Hampshire in a few days. What, however, strikes someone such as myself as truly extraordinary is that this is the first week of January, and yet we won't have a final outcome until early November, and even this time next year, the Dear Shrubbery will still be in power! From afar, the election process to gain the US Presidency is frankly a bit of a curiosity, something peculiar to stare at for a bit and shake your head in wonder. I live in a part of the world where the date of the election is not even announced until six weeks beforehand, and thus the formal campaigning is rather limited in duration. Now, since the date of the election must fall on a Saturday during a particular period roughly three years since the last election, there's naturally some moves being made as the announcement of the date becomes progressively more imminent, but it's more subtle and the floodgates don't open until six weeks prior. What's more, there's none of this jockeying for candidacy as the Prime Minister is simply the head minister of the party that achieves a majority in the House of Representatives. Given all of the campaigning that had already taken place last year, it feels to someone such as myself that the Iowa caucus should have been the US election itself and you almost start wondering why Obama hasn't been sworn in yet.

One other thing absolutely blows my mind, and even more than how drawn out the process is - namely, just how much money is funnelled into this, even into the marginal candidates who don't have a snowball's chance in hell of even competing with the lead candidates, let alone actually gaining the nomination. Once everything's said and done, I'd love to see a comparison of how much Labour's successful Australian election campaign last year cost compared to how much each Democrat and Republican nominee spent simply in campaigning for the primaries. I don't doubt that the latter will cost more than the former. It makes me sad really, that there are people out there with so much money to burn yet so little clue what to do with it. You could probably fund a year's worth of food for an entire small African country! And the wonders this money would do if it were pumped into health or education ...! Instead, all that money is going to waste on campaigning - and barely 15% of the people eligible to vote actually turn up. What a waste. Though given how the US seems to be in a permanent state of somebody campaigning for something, voter burnout would hardly surprise me.
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Victoria gets a Human Rights Charter, but not without nonsense from a pack of whingers [2 January 2008|09:57 pm]
Axver
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[Current Music |'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here' by Porcupine Tree]

I am starting to become convinced that the political right wing is perfecting the art of stupidity, and I am disappointed that the Aussie right is importing some language from the US. Australia lacks anything resembling a bill of rights, but today, Victoria became the first state to introduce a human rights charter. You can read it here. Now, I thought that both sides of politics had managed to agree that human rights are a good idea. Sure, there are some people (mainly fringe academics with anti-West axes to grind such as idiots like Adamantia Pollis) who would disagree, and we've already seen the right (especially Bush and the neocons) happy to debate what rights are in fact rights and to deny them to people they don't like. But on the whole, especially in mainstream politics, I thought we'd managed to come to a bit of an agreement: human rights are important and should be protected. So I thought this human rights charter would be a nice, happy moment of cross-floor hand-holding and mutual support. Clearly the state Opposition and the right wing in general did not get the memo.

Apparently this Human Rights Charter is a bad thing! The state Opposition have tried to make their case sound reasonable; as reported in the ABC article linked above, it believes that the Charter will clog the courts and create an additional administrative burden. The administrative burden part may be true, as all government bodies now have to ensure their action is in compliance with the law, but I'd say that's worth it for something as fundamentally important as human rights. The former part, about the courts being clogged, is simply complete rot as there is no allowance for new legal action to be taken under the charter; there has to be an existing right to action. Furthermore, a spokesman claims that "Victoria's got a well established set of laws already that respect human rights". So? The recognition is implicit; this makes it clear and explicit. It does not create the confusion the Opposition claims; it offers clarity. You'd think the Opposition would be able to come to the table and agree on as positive a development as this. Perhaps they're supported by interests who would operate easier without an explicit Charter though - after all, it's the Liberal Party and it's no secret they represent big business.

What really irritated me, though, was an editorial in the Herald Sun (surprise surprise) by Peter Faris. Some poor sods are going to buy this. It's not his poisoning of the well ("so-called human rights") or red herrings ("right to life (but not for embryos)") that annoy me. It's his actual language. I feel like I am reading an article from the US, not from Australia. He puts forth some absolute drivel about "activist" judges and conceptualises the Charter as a tool granting judges some huge measure of power to legislate their own personal views. Somehow, I don't think a judicial decision that a piece of legislation is incompatible with the Human Rights Charter constitutes "activism". This sort of language has destroyed enough nuances and reasonable debates in the US already; we don't need it here. His argument is also rather inconsistent. He begins his article by saying that he believes the current laws already protect human rights, so the Charter's purpose is already being served - i.e. it unnecessarily duplicates what we already have. Then he goes on to claim that the charter is "revolutionary" and shifts power from the parliament to the courts. Which is it, Faris? You can't have it both ways. Either the Charter is unnecessary because the political and legal systems already do what it aims to do, or it is revolutionising said systems and their relationship to one another. After this, it seems the article just descends into distorted facts and "the taxpayer will suffer!" sensationalism that is not worth comment. Diane Sisely provides a more levelheaded commentary in The Age.

Personally? I don't think the Charter is perfect, or even ideal, but for completely different reasons. My criticisms are based on the language of the Charter and concerns that it does not go far enough; I expected these, not the above drivel, to be the main points of contention. Section 7(2) allows for limitations to be placed on human rights in exceptional circumstances - if you ask me, claiming that human rights can be limited in certain circumstances defeats the purpose entirely, as they are meant to be universally applicable. Section 31 adds on to this; it allows parliament to pass Acts that override the Charter as long as a statement of justification is made of the exceptional circumstances that, in the opinion of the member introducing a Bill, require such action. I don't like human right being placed at the whims of whatever the parliament feels is politically expedient. Elsewhere, 15(3) is of deep concern to me, as it places "special duties and restrictions" on fredom of speech. Now, I agree with people such as J. S. Mill who argue that freedom of speech requires safeguards against forms of speech that constitute direct incitement of violence, but I'm bothered that freedom of speech may be restricted for the protection of "public morality". As morality is so individually subjective, culturally dependent, and changeable over time, what exactly does "public morality" mean? Is this just bullshit to appease Fundies First voters? Because I sure as hell don't like it.

Nonetheless, this Charter is a fantastic step in the right direction. It has its flaws, but it's a positive sign and hopefully part of a process towards a federal equivalent. I'm proud to live in Victoria today. I just wish certain figures on the right wing would shut up and stop blathering nonsense.
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Looking back on a year that sorely failed to live up to expectations [31 December 2007|08:45 pm]
Axver
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[Current Music |'To The Drowned, All Seas Are Calm' by Belegost]

So, it's the last day of 2007. Thank goodness for that. I went into this year with considerable excitement and optimism, as reflected in this entry. To be perfectly honest, this year turned into the worst year of my life. 1998 was the previous worst; I had just moved to Australia from New Zealand, the couple of acquiantances I made in the dying months of 1997 didn't seem to want to know me and I spent the year in solitude as the token Kiwi, the class whipping boy. This year has blown 1998 out of the water. Optimism is worthless, people.

My 'Worst of 2007' lists and commentary: events, sport, music, and more.Collapse )

But let's be cheerful too. Here's some of the best of 2007.Collapse )

Happy New Year, folks. I hope you all have a good one. Enjoy your 2008.
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