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Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Macquarie PEN Australian Literature anthology

I mentioned this here. It has now been published. You may listen to the Radio National Book Show for more information. There is also an interview on Late Night Live.

 
 

Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve — and all that

Gay marriage is definitely on the agenda at the moment both here and in the USA. Here Saturday 1 August (by coincidence the official birthday of all horses in the Southern Hemisphere) is set as a National Day of Action. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is numbered among those unwilling to alter the definition of “marriage” in the Marriage Act, although most of the legal barriers in gay civil unions have been removed during his term of office. The current Marriage Act (1961) defines “marriage” as involving a man and a woman.

There are those for whom the issue is simple: this act is discriminatory. It is analogous, they would say, to a citizenship act limiting citizenship to a certain race. Therefore just as we would legitimately see such a citizenship act as racist, so the current Marriage Act is homophobic and those who defend it are thus homophobes.

I don’t think it is quite so simple. For a start I very much doubt that K Rudd is a homophobe, but he is a politician who knows that the majority of Australians may not be ready for such a transformation at the deepest legal level of the definition of marriage. I know others of that opinion who are by no stretch of the imagination homophobic, though it is quite certain that your actual homophobes would oppose changing the Act. K Rudd may also be acting out of conviction, not out of political expediency or strategy – the second if you wish to be less cynical.

It seems to me – and this is not original as I first heard it proposed some years ago by Justice Michael Kirby – that the problem is the dual function of the Marriage Act as it stands. Here you get to a position the non-religious Right (libertarians for example) may well support: that it is not the business of government to define “marriage”. It is the business of government to set parameters in terms of age and species (excluding, for example, marrying a goldfish) and incest and to set the rights and responsibilities of those entering into a civil partnership so delineated. Such boundaries are needed for all sorts of reasons such as tax, social security benefits, visitation rights in hospitals, insurance, superannuation, and so on.

The other part of the current Act, however, is rather different. It involves privileging one kind of partnership or union which has the blessings of tradition and Church and Synagogue. Excluded are gay and lesbian “marriages” and polygamous or polyandrous “marriages”.

The solution is to regard civil unions or partnerships as a legitimate area for government, but to leave religious definitions of marriage to individuals and their faith communities. In a religious ceremony one would still “sign the register” under such a Civil Unions Act, but the sacramental side would entirely be a religious affair not in itself needed to make the union legitimate. Some religious groups would limit marriage to men and women, others may not. The Metropolitan Community Church, for example, would clearly conduct religious ceremonies for gay and lesbian partnerships, the Uniting Church may do, the Catholic Church probably would not, and Muslims may be entitled to sharia on this matter.

If you look at Some light rather than heat on non-standard marriages, a post from October 2007, you will see that I am now in the camp of The Rabbit and my ex-student David Smith on this one. As David commented then:

I agree with the Rabbit. Take the state out of marriage altogether. I know a gay activist from Utah who said that he was beginning to see the possibilities of a political alliance on this issue. Legal polygamy, like legal gay marriage, would “hurt” other people because it dilutes what they see as the definition of the holy sacrament of marriage: the union of one man and one woman. I don’t see any point in trying to downplay the subjective pain that this causes to conservative religious people, nor do I think that it’s the role of the legislature to try and educate them out of their prejudices. But that pain would only be felt because the universalising laws of the state would lump the traditional man/woman sacrament, polygamy and gay marriage into the single legal category of “marriage.”

If, as The Rabbit suggests, the state doesn’t recognise any marriages, this gets rid of most of the problem. It is much easier to accept the existence of something you see as abhorrent if the state isn’t actively endorsing it. Marriage would then become the domain of churches and private agents who would be free to impose whatever strict standards they wished in order to certify it.

My proposal above is a little more radical, however, as (just to make clear) I am suggesting there should not be anything called a “Marriage Act” but rather a universal “Civil Unions Act”.

Related: Email to a Megachurch Pastor by Anthony Venn-Brown (Australia).

 

One fiction, one non-fiction

Two good reads for the last July 09 book review.

star30star30star30star30  1. Gary Bryson, Turtle, Sydney, Allen & Unwin 2008

I am not overfond of some of what passes as magic realism, but in this case the magic is really magic and the realism gritty and true. This is a wonderful first novel from Bryson, who works as a radio journalist on Radio National’s Encounter. From the title link above:

Mandy Sayer interviews Gary Bryson

Mandy Sayer was Gary Bryson’s creative writing lecturer when he was writingTurtle. She calls the book ‘one of the finest debut novels I have read in years’ and says Bryson’s storytelling is ‘quite simply, enchanting’. She spoke to Gary for Readings on the eve of Turtle’s release.

What are the chances of finding a turtle in Scotland?

You might find one in the zoo, but otherwise the turtle steers well clear of Scotland. A country where you have to wear two pairs of socks most of the year is no place for our flippery friends.

So how did a turtle that speaks with a Glasgow accent come about?

When Donald (the story’s narrator) has to imagine his escape from his mother’s curse, it’s a turtle that he latches on to, as an exotic creature that’s seemingly about as far from Glasgow as you can get. But Donald’s imagination is shaped by his culture and his upbringing, so the turtle he conjures up as his saviour is a distinctly Glasgow one. The Turtle in the book is a sketch of a particular kind of Glasgow character, all front and no-nonsense, whose relations with everyone are enacted through a kind of genial, foul-mouthed banter which sometimes spills over into vindictiveness, but also expresses a kind of love. It’s not so far-fetched, really. On the face of it a turtle is about the most un-Glaswegian creature you could imagine, but on the other hand, it hides itself behind this big, tough shell. That’s its survival tactic and it’s one that’s worked well for both turtles and Glaswegians…

star30star30star30star30 2. Umberto Eco, Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003

Sounds dry, doesn’t it? But is really is a most interesting book. As the reviewer in the title link says:

This is a real gem of a book – especially if you’re a translator. Eco does a great job of exploring the complexities of the translation process and the problems faced by literary translators in particular. Translation is not just "typing in a foreign language"; translators are forced to continually analyze, interpret, evaluate and – as Eco puts it – negotiate with a text in order to craft a translation that conveys not just the "meaning" but the intent of the original. As both a translator and a "translatee", Eco has a unique insight into translation, and he provides numerous intriguing anecdotes relating to how the trickier passages in his own books and the books of others have been dealt with successfully – and sometimes less successfully – by translators. Being a translator myself, I couldn’t help but nod and smile in agreement all through this book…

The Guardian reviewer exaggerates the book’s difficulty, though there are indeed some knotty passages. On the other hand very many of the anecdotes and examples are highly amusing as well as instructive, such as the passing of the opening of Genesis through several languages in a computer translator by which the Spirit turns into alcohol…

 

More on Indonesian terrorist bombing

See also Not again!

1. From Tikno in Kalimantan: Fatwa against terrorist

Dear readers, I create this post because I heard many terrorism issues that tend to be associated with Islam as religion. But through this post I want to say that it is NOT TRUE. If you say that it is personal responsibility, then I’ll say yes. I know some of you may be asking within the heart "Why you say that?"

Well, here is my explanation:

1) I’m strongly believe that there are still a lot of good Muslim, even far more than you imagine. I live in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, and I have many Muslim friends here. They (my Muslim friends) are also condemns terrorism action…

2. From Rob Bainton in Sydney: Noordin M Top claims recent Jakarta bombings

Rob was a long-term Indonesian resident until just a few months ago.

… The sooner anti-terrorism forces catch this man the better. Otherwise, Indonesians can be assured of one thing; he will continue to build bombs designed to kill as many people as he can for as long as he can. He, and his group, might be targeting foreigners, but history shows he is not adverse to killing Indonesians as acceptable collateral damage in the pursuit of his goals.

Violence is not the answer. It will never resolve our differences and it will never allow us to move forward to a place where we all live in peace and harmony with one another. People of all faiths must denounce violence as a legitimate means to an end; violence is not legitimate and it never ends.

What distinguishes these two posts from anything I might say is that they are based on deep experience of the context and people concerned. What distinguishes the hope and counsel they offer from the usual punditry or over-generalisation is that same authority and authenticity.

 

Chrome without the resource load — SWR Iron

I am trying a new browser which looks and acts just like Chrome. I first read about it on Gizmo’s Freeware, a trustworthy site.

For all of its positive reviews, Chrome does have its critics.  Their major complaint is that Chrome creates a unique ID through which a user can be theoretically identified.  If this is your concern, then SWR Iron may very well be an option for you.  SWR Iron looks and acts almost exactly like Google Chrome, but without sending any information back to Google’s servers.  This means that there is no possibility of any browsing history or personal information being sent back to Google, yet you still get all the benefits of a lean and powerful browser.

Can you spot the difference?

iron* Linked screen shot.

I certainly notice the much lower CPU usage and disk load!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 29, 2009 in computers, web stuff

 

“post-modernistic bogans” – an interesting thought

This is a weird post, but is a reflection on the changing population of Australia. It was also inspired by a vent on Thomas’s blog which he has thought fit to withdraw since. It would appear Thomas had an unpleasant olfactory and visual experience recently…

038 Funny in a way, as I had a run-in with the Rabbit a few years back on this very subject: More of the same; on bogans present and past. I cited the famous Hogarth picture on the right as evidence of the source of the bogan culture in Australia. 😉 Moralising rather too much I noted:

Yes, I see bogans every day; they move through Surry Hills and Waterloo day in and day out. They haven’t all moved out to the south-west. Over time I have learned to discern that there are gradations and subtleties here as much as anywhere, and that sweeping generalisations are really out of place. I also grew up among bogans; back in the 50s Sutherland Primary was probably bogan central, before the estates in the south-west were built. Vermont Street was wall to wall bogans… Except we didn’t have the word then. Maybe we were lucky.

Maybe “there but for the grace of God go I” is not such a bad position; it doesn’t have to be patronising. We could try being a bit less judgmental about situations we do not really understand. And we could lend support to all those amazing people, probably mostly not politicians and journalists, who actually do something about it all.

The House of Bogan, manufacturer of T-shirts and hoodies, supports my views on the bogans’ ancient lineage.

Whilst the actual word “bogan” has only been in mainstream circulation for around 20 years, historic evidence points to the existence of bogans for many centuries past.  It is widely believed that the majority of the members in the first fleet to land in Australia were actually bogan prisoners from the United Kingdom.  Therefore, it appears that Australia was actually established by criminally insane bogans who enjoyed drinking, fighting and shooting.

he evolution of the bogan to that of what we know in the present day is largely believed to have commenced in the late 1970’s.  The children of ‘generation x’ form much of the current populous, whilst their offspring continue in the same mould as post-modernistic bogans.  The adoption of key elements such as the ‘mullet’, the flannelette shirt and the ‘trackie-daks’ are also indicators that the contemporary bogan gains inspiration from fashions of the 1980’s in the era of the ‘bogan renaissance’.

Unlike the populace at large, the average bogan is most likely born in Australia.

That brings me to the other strand here, Australia’s changing population. ABC reports:

A report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that more than a quarter of people living in Australia were born overseas.

The report examined migration data for the financial year ending in mid 2008, and includes people who stay in the country for more than 12 months. Neil Scott from the ABS says it is the highest proportion of migrants in the population since the late 19th Century. He says the number of European-born migrants is declining, while the proportion born in Asia is rising.

"Traditionally the United Kingdom, which has remained the largest group, with 1.2 million calling Australia home," he said. "But it’s been declining over the years, so even though it’s the largest, it’s not as large as it used to be in terms of proportion. It’s closely followed by New Zealand, which have about half a million people living in Australia and then followed by China, which have about 314,000."

It was the third consecutive year that overseas migration contributed more to Australia’s population growth than natural increase…

You can find the details in the ABS Report. I found it fascinating reading. Here’s just one item for you to think about:

migration

Sally considered this too in her photoblog yesterday:

Did you know that 2% of Sydney-siders are Aboriginal, and 32% were born overseas? According to the 2006 census, United Kingdom, China and New Zealand are the countries of origin of most immigrants, followed by Vietnam, Lebanon, India, Italy and the Philippines.Most Sydneysiders are native speakers of English; many have a second language, the most common being Arabic (predominately Lebanese), Chinese languages (mostly Mandarin, Shanghainese or Cantonese), and Italian. Sydney has the seventh largest percentage of a foreign born population in the world,ahead of cities such as London and Paris but lower than Toronto and Miami.

An amusing visual rendition of the faces of Australia can be found on Faces of Sydney – we’re all bogans! In 2006 there was an exhibition of Faces of Sydney:

If you pop down to Custom’s House in Circular Quay, you’ll see quite excitingly this Faces of Sydney Exhibit. It’s that thing you may have read about where they digitally imposed the faces of some massive sample of Sydney-siders into each other…

Then they separate them into suburbs like Haymarket and Redfern…

Aussie City Life (link at the start of this paragraph) mocked up some faces from other parts of Australia. Quite funny really.

 

Racism is not the main story: Four Corners last night

Last night Four Corners ran an expose on the scams run by certain private vocational training colleges and some immigration and education agents. I emphasise some because there are very many such agents who are totally ethical, and ditto for the better established private colleges. In fact one of the principal whistle blowers is himself an immigration and education agent.

According to ABC this morning the Indian press has reacted by invoking racism: ‘It’s racism’: Indian media seizes on student scam report.

Another storm of controversy has broken out in India over revelations that Indian students are being ripped off by unscrupulous operators in Australia.

Last night’s Four Corners program on ABC1 detailed how students had paid tens of thousands of dollars for services they claim they never received, and how allegations were made to the relevant government authorities but their complaints were ignored.

An Indian journalist, working undercover for the program, was also attacked after investigating alleged corruption by immigration agents.

The latest incident has seen the Indian media slip into tabloid high gear.

I am not for a moment denying there are racist elements in the story but would still say Australia is no more racist than anywhere else. I have addressed that before: More on “Racism? Yes and no” and here and here. It is true that the Flying School singled out in the Four Corners story is alleged to have behaved in a racist manner, but the other examples were of Indians here and in India exploiting both the system in Australia and their Indian clients.

Reporter Wendy Carlisle reveals how dodgy business practices are being used to rip off foreign students seeking legitimate qualifications in Australia. At the same time she also shows how vocational training for foreign students has become an immigration scam allowing thousands of foreigners to come to, and then remain in, Australia under false pretences.

For ten years now Australia’s foreign student education sector has been on a massive growth spurt. First it was foreign students seeking university degrees. More recently it’s the vocational education sector that’s been expanding.

Last year more than 70,000 Indian students came here to buy an education. Egged on by immigration and education agents, many were told if they enrolled in cooking, hairdressing and accounting courses they would not only get a diploma but they could also qualify for permanent residency in Australia.

Now a major Four Corners investigation reveals that foreign students in this country have been targeted by unscrupulous businessmen, who have set up training schools that supply qualifications that sometimes aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

"It is a fraud because we were shown so many rosy pictures about the school and it is not what it was really… it was just a scam." – Parent of Indian student

"We all know that they have sardine type cooking classes where there’s sixteen students to a frypan." (Corruption investigator)

Bogus courses though are not the only scam going on. If a student wants to apply for permanent residency they must pass an English language test. Four Corners has found clear evidence that unscrupulous immigration and education agents are offering English language tests for a price. In some cases the exam paper is worth up to $5,000…

In this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald we read that “Students have been dealt a major blow after a Sydney college went into administration on Monday night.”

More than 500 students have had their courses halted and face the loss of thousands of dollars in fees. All 35 college staff have been sacked.

"Late on Monday afternoon Dr Dharmappa Hagare, the sole director of Sterling College Pty Ltd, which operates the group’s Sydney training facilities, made a decision to appoint Quentin Olde and Matt Adams of Corporate Recovery Specialists, Taylor Woodings, as voluntary administrators," the administrator said in a statement.

Taylor Woodings said the college’s Brisbane campuses, part-owned by Dr Hagare, would remain open for the time being.

The Sydney campuses specialised in teaching IT, language and hospitality courses.

"Students have unfortunately been severely impacted by the failure of Sterling College and have had not only their education process suddenly halted, they also face the prospect of a financial loss as most of their tuition fees have been paid in advance," Taylor Woodings said…

So the story is primarily one about corruption, greed, exploitation, and government inaction. The cash cow was devised (unwittingly perhaps) by the Howard government, but the Rudd government has also sat on its hands rather too much, to the great detriment of Australia’s reputation in what is in fact one of its greatest export earners, greater than wool and wheat combined in fact. As Four Corners noted:

For some time now the Federal Government has boasted about the growth in the foreign education sector. But some experts now believe the time has come for the government to stop the corruption. The question is: does it have the will?

"Well basically they’ve been bedazzled by the dollars …they could proudly say this is a $15 billion industry, more than wheat, wool and meat put together, there’s perhaps an understandable reluctance to look at the foundation of the industry." – Bob Birrell, from the Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research

If the government refuses to clean up the scams and the corruption many believe it could destroy the $15 billion industry. As one young student told the program why would you pay for a service that is not provided?

"Obviously I am very angry. I’ve like taken a loan. It’s a big loan and I paid the money to the school. I came here for a purpose… I haven’t got anything." – Indian student.

One of the Australian Indian figures exposed on Four Corners has now become the object of Federal Police attention, we were informed in a note at the end of Four Corners.

Certainly this industry needs to have the cleaners put through it.

 

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