Sunday, December 16, 2012

Two weeks on: the Asian Century still matters, doesn’t it?

*This post first appeared on OnLine Opinion in November 2012. 

Cultivating longevity

The federal government’s White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century received a good deal of media coverage, perhaps even longer than the average white paper. Reactions fell broadly into two categories: those of the Asian Studies professionals who might appear a little jaded by the recycling of some longstanding ideas but nonetheless welcomed the paper’s promise, as they always do; and the others who saw the White Paper as a mechanism to impose unwanted strictures on their hitherto satisfactory approach to Asian markets.

Among the latter were those who sought to quantify the inevitable hurdles—quoting US CIA tables, for example, of the many more hours it takes to ‘learn’ ideograph-based Asian languages over ‘easier’ European languages. One read of 2200 hours versus 700 hours as if that were to be the primary determinant of successful language learning. It’s not of course. Passion, desire and interest in the language, people and culture make the ‘hours’ almost negligible. When asked to estimate the hours I’ve spent learning, or the number of Chinese characters I know, I have to answer ‘I don’t know’. It is there, I wanted to know, I just did it.

How many hours does it take to learn a musical instrument? Learn to drive a car? You can line up two people who have expended the same number of hours learning a skill and still have different capabilities. I’ve probably spent more hours swimming in my lifetime than our youngest Olympic swimmers, but I’ll never be an Olympic swimmer. The quantification of hours isn’t going to discourage those who have a mindset to achieve.

There was a somewhat surprising reaction too from the business community, resisting the expectation that a certain proportion of board members should, in time, have Asian in-country experience. On that score, resistance is almost useless I expect. More people are gaining experience in Asia and so that proportion should grow naturally.
These sorts of reactions seem petty in comparison with the visionary leap that governments sometimes feel they need to undertake. But government visions have political imperatives, and white papers can fulfil that function. Is it a cynical reprise to suggest that a visionary leap might be underpinned by political imperatives? Probably not, however…

The thought came to me as the media bandwagon moved on to cover two pivotal international events: the US presidential election and the change of leadership in China. As an international relations specialist, understanding Australia’s relations with China and the US and China’s relations with the US, is part of what I do. What struck me was the way the media shifted to discussing the relationships, or the ‘transition’ as the Fairfax press described it. After a week of overly self-conscious angst about ‘how’ we should be a part of Asia, we just got on with dealing with the events as they unfolded.

There is an ambiguity here which periodic white papers are not going to solve. I think the scope and ambition of the white papers overwhelm the general public in the first instance and some of the initial reaction we have seen reflects that. In time, that settles, and our approach to Asia returns to the status quo. Out of the white paper spotlight, we actually have a rather robust degree of ‘Asia-literacy’, people in the public and private sector whose day-to-day engagement is amongst the richest in the world.

On reflection, perhaps the smart way for governments to cultivate longevity in an Asian century is not by drawing attention to it via an anxiously anticipated White Paper. It has, as we have seen, really encouraged the naysayers, the reactionaries who say the mountain is too high to climb. Governments could instead simply normalise the way we approach Asia, the ways in which we engage with the region. It is political, it is cultural, it is strategic, it is educational. It does not happen by quantifying hours or putting up barriers of inconvenience.

It might also be something as simple as recognising that Australia is but one country in a region of diverse societies and cultures which actually resist the simple ‘Asian’ nomenclature. We then might feel more comfortable with engaging with neighbours, rather than masses en bloc.  

Australia in the Asian Century White Paper: a generational reboot

*This post was first published on OnLine Opinion, 30 October 2012

Months in the making, hours in the judgement, but what of its prolonged impact?

The Gillard Government’s much-anticipated white paper on Australia’s engagement with the Asian region was released on Sunday at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. Australia’s diminishing pool of Asia specialists is simultaneously hopeful and sceptical. A few of the old hands around are silently ruminating on white papers past while others eagerly anticipate the promise of a whole-of-government response to a multi-faceted document which sketches out our future in the region to 2025. Instead of starting afresh, we would do well to view this White Paper as a statement which consolidates our past with Asia while stepping up to a more nuanced approach.

Media coverage since its release has focussed on the economic and trade aspects as well as the need to learn some of the languages of the region, notably Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean. The languages and the economy have been inextricably linked. It is a common theme in Australia’s engagement with Asia, we tend to see the region as a market place to buy and sell our commodities and our policies follow. If we continue to approach Asia in this way, we will continue to churn out white papers which will promise much but deliver little.

This White Paper does cover more detail than the predominant commentary would suggest. There is a conscious effort to convey the depth and breadth of relationships and building stronger security options in the region. There is a reiteration of the importance of people-to-people contact. Out of the spotlight of white papers, it serves us well to acknowledge that this ‘sudden emergence’ of the Asian century has been, in fact, a century (or more) in the making.

In the immediacy of seeking economic fulfilment, it can be easy to overlook broader historical trends. This white paper announcement coincides with the 40th anniversary of normalisation of relations with mainland China. The rhetoric then argued for closer, more complex relations. In 1976, Australia and Japan signed a basic treaty of friendship and cooperation which aimed to soften the sharp edges of the predominantly economic relationship. That relationship had gained economic primacy through the 1960s and 1970s on the back of resources trade. In 1989, Professor Ross Garnaut focussed clearly on the economic potential and markets in Northeast Asia, introducing the promise of South Korea to the Australian consciousness in the way China and Japan had been introduced half a generation earlier. Prime Minister Paul Keating during his term made much of an Asian turning point and notwithstanding the scepticism surrounding the sudden conversion of the Francophile, he did energise APEC through a stronger leaders’ forum.

We can go back further in our history when we were less self-conscious about our interaction. The signing of a trade agreement between Japan and Australia in 1957 where wartime enmity was slowly giving way to a strained mateship in a largely pragmatic recognition of where Australia’s future was headed. We can go further back, to the 19th century, where Japanese intellectuals espoused the value of Australia to the region for the ‘Pacific Century’, yes—the turn of the 20th century.

The brief history lesson is not to diminish the significance of the latest white paper. Rather, as noted above, it is better to see this white paper as a consolidation of a deep foundation of Asian engagement stretching back over a century, not stepping out anew.
When introducing students to the study of the region I like to offer a couple of anecdotes. The first is that 30 years ago, as an undergraduate, we debated the proposition that ‘Australia is a part of Asia’. Naturally, as a group of Asian studies students, we figured the answer, in the affirmative, was a ‘no-brainer’. But thirty years seems a long time to keep revisiting a debate.
The second anecdote is a little more personal. I tell students that I was one of 300 or so Year 8 students introduced to Japanese language in Queensland in the mid 1970s. There were about ten schools across Queensland at the time doing the same, so roughly 3000 new students to the language started their journey. Using my school as an example, by Year 12 we had a class of six. Of those six only one went on to university to study the language, gain a few qualifications and become reasonably fluent. Once we multiply that across Queensland and the rest of the country, and add to that the fact that Japanese and other Asian languages have become a well-established element of school curricula in the intervening 35 years, we end up with quite a mind-boggling number of potential ‘Asia-literate’ people. Our reality of course is that only the pro-rata equivalent of that 1/300 go on to make a career of it. Imagine if we had capitalised on all the energy and commitment all those years ago.

Still, I always aim to be more hopeful than sceptical. I am passing into ‘old-hand’ status now and I will seek to capitalise on this momentum while I can, as I did in 1989 and as I benefited from in the 1970s. We are now actually more deeply embedded in the Asian region than perhaps even the self-conscious commentary of the past couple of days might realise. Prime Minister Gillard’s passion for education over foreign affairs is self-proclaimed. Perhaps her educational imperatives can override the economic pragmatism of previous Asian endeavours and we can build on the momentum of Asian centuries past to embrace Asian centuries of the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mirror, mirror in the chamber: a week is a long time…

In asking us to respect our political institutions, those within ought to respect them too

*   misogyny: n. hatred of women.
* misanthropy: n. hatred, dislike or distrust of mankind
*   sexist: adj. of an attitude which stereotypes a person according to gender, or sexual preference, rather than judging on individual merits.
*   context: n. the parts of a discourse or writing which precede or follow, and are directly connected with, a given passage or word.
*   adversarial: not what our politics should be…

Each time I sat down to write a post this week, so many other bloggists did the same thing: just faster and better than me. We’ve had an odd week in the political sphere, an awful one actually which does our polity no good. It revolved around those words at the top of this post, I include the simple definitions for your consideration.

The words ‘misogyny’ and ‘sexist’ have been thrown around liberally as one side of politics has sought to out-yell the other. There have been texts which probably shouldn’t have been written, let alone made public. There’s been a prime ministerial speech delivered from the dispatch box in our National Parliament but which has reverberated around the world… There’s just been a whole lot of wha? is going on out there.

One angle I’d like to add to the blogosphere however, that I don’t believe has been covered yet, is the impact this has on those who don’t like politics, those who study it and those who want to understand it but wonder why they should. These are the students I teach, the friends I talk to and the radio audience I engage with from time to time.

I’ve worked in the heart of Australian politics as it is played out in Canberra. It is contradictory, it is many-sided, it is hypocritical, it has been nasty. It also has a lot of people who mostly want to see good things done, who want to see a better society and want to do much good. Because I’ve witnessed the good that politics can be, my despair at the last week or so is greater but so too does my determination to work from my place now in the academy to make it work better.

The question for me is ‘how can we get our politics back on track?’ Why has it derailed so badly? While our Prime Minister’s most sharply delivered line might have directed the Opposition Leader to look in a mirror, I’d propose that our politics is our mirror on this society…and I think that mirror needs a little spray and wipe.

I was entranced by Prime Minister Gillard’s speech this week. As one who analyses speeches and their delivery, and as one who has written them, a political speech can convey so much. A speech can indeed have a significance beyond its intention and it can carry beyond its moment. I think PM Gillard’s speech will do that. There was evident in her every fibre, an anger and frustration that many of us have felt to some degree or another at one time or another. She did not scream, she did not yell. She asserted herself, she was passionate about what she was saying. She garnered the empathy of many because it was heartfelt.

And yet, it was not a speech that should have needed to be made in our 21st century parliament. I am concerned that what we have seen in the last few weeks is an amplification of a tangled web of anger and sexist behaviour. It permeates our society unfortunately, and I think it is getting worse, or I’m tolerating it less. I listened in despair as some radio talkback callers aired views about the prime minister … why do people ring up the radio to publicly declare on the prime minister’s body shape, why FCS? Kudos to Rebecca Levingston (@reblev on our @612brisbane) the presenter who handled the situation so well, live to air. She had earlier set up a thoughtful dialogue between academic Dr Bronwen Levy and Andrew Bartlett. They talked about the return to civility and politeness in our political discourse. It is so much easier really, to be civil, than to be rude.

All this in the week that Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl passionate in her belief in education for girls and women and her dreams of becoming a political leader, was shot by hostile members of the Taliban. As I write, she is still on ventilator, fighting for her life. She was front and centre of one of my lectures this week. I showed a short video of Malala talking to camera and speaking to us. Here was a 14 year old who believed passionately in the value of education, who wanted to pursue her education, who spoke highly of the importance of a strong polity and her desire that in order to do good, she must become a great political leader. I hope she does. I wonder what she would have thought if she’d watched our parliamentary example this past week.

It was one of those ‘special’ moments in class I’ve spoken of previously—those unplanned moments of learning for all of us—a thoughtful pause descended on the lecture theatre. I conveyed to students that moments like this challenge us all—can my belief in the transformative power of education sit alongside my preference that our soldiers be withdrawn from these regions? Sometimes, life and circumstance do a scornful and teasing dance upon our textbooks. I am fortunate to teach students prepared to come along for that ride.

Later that night, on my drive home, I tried a little time travel. I tried to imagine a 14-year-old Julia Gillard, 36 years ago giving a speech about her aspirations, her dream of education, her wish to become a leader. Then, I projected myself 100km down the highway and 36 years into the future when a 50-year-old Malala might be standing at the dispatch box of her parliament. I hope her speeches won't be about staring down sexist and unpleasant behaviour. I hope for her and the future, that anger which pervades now will have subsided, nay, diminished. I hope her speeches will not need to be analysed and parsed in a context of misogyny and adversarial politics.

We all need to look in that mirror held up in Canberra this week and ask ourselves, really, what do we have to be so angry about? Our polity is our social contract, and it takes all of us to make it work.

And my thanks too to Rebecca Levingston and Tony Johnston on @ABCGoldCoast for inviting me along to try and make sense of the week. We’ll just keep holding up that mirror.

All definitions at the top of this post are taken from the Macquarie Dictionary, just because.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What's with the emoticons?

Today's emoticon: a psephy aside

Perhaps one of the most common queries I get about my twitter presence relates to the daily emoticon I send out each morning, well, Monday to Friday. I thought I'd take a short post to explain. 

It must be said, twitter has really loosened up how a buttoned-up, stiff-upper-lip academic type should communicate with the world. Refining a comment to 140chars is a challenge for one whose professional inclination is to take a 500 word answer and turn it into a 97,000 word thesis. But it has taught me to be more thoughtful with words and with the craft of writing. The blogs which are emerging out of this experience are also exciting ways to engage and convey ideas which might otherwise be confined to the academy. And from twitter, it's been straight to local radio commentary as well. It's been quite a year. 

Notwithstanding the sense of freedom, one aspect I didn't expect to embrace, indeed aimed to avoid for 'professional' reasons, was that damned ubiquitous emoticon on tweets, the :) or ;( or some variations I had noticed: an occasional nose job :-) or something like ;-P. To someone new to twitter, and determined to 'keep it serious', I was not going to engage in the emoticon thing >%< ...well, 'Ha!' as one of my favourite tweeps @nancycato1 might say. 

I soon learned that no matter how carefully one thought one had crafted one's 140chars, the possibility for misunderstanding or miscommunication, without the usual visual signals, was quite high. So I started to mimic others, tried a few variations :~}* and also noticed that there were some pretty amazing variations on the theme in my Japanese timelines. Emoticons like: 
confused: (_;) (´_`); 
the dancers: () () (´)┓┏(´)
drinkers: (。・・)_ ~~~_()ノ゙; 
friends: ヽ(^▽^)人(^▽^)人(^▽^)ノ...
and so on and so forth.

One day, I just started adding these variations into my tweets when I felt an expression might help. A number of simple ones are included on the Japanese keypad of my iFruit devices (quite distinct from the 'emoji' keyboard most people have discovered). But there are also several websites available where many examples have been collated. One I like to use is I liked the way the Japanese emoticons were horizontal rather than the vertical, English counterparts. They’re easier to read, rather than turn my head on its side to get your intention.

One day a few kindly tweeps remarked on some of the more adventurous ones and so ‘Today’s emoticon’ was born. It goes out on the timeline early in the morning and directly to those initiated the idea @debbie_green19 @AgnessMack and @nancycato1, and more recently @janecat60 has joined the conversation which can bounce around the twittersphere in that very twittery way.

Sometimes I’ll hint at the meaning for the day, but most times, I just set them free. The emoticons in the end, can mean really what you want them to mean, as a white rabbit might have once said. I am getting more adventurous with my variations but never stray too far from the Japanese usage.

And so, that’s all there is to the tale. It’s just a little cross-cultural twittering I partake in as I share the twittersphere with good people. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Video Ref: a call for the end to gratuitous accountability and transparency

There are times we might argue for a ‘video ref’ decision but football isn’t one of them

‘Life is not significant details, illuminated by a flash, fixed forever.
Photographs are’
Susan Sontag, American writer, 1933-2004

This weekend, we’ve witnessed a protest in Sydney which has rekindled anguish towards one group in our community. In China, thousands have taken to the streets of Beijing and other cities to protest against Japan and Japanese people, all over a group of islets, which may or may not be home to some natural resources. There is some dispute over which nation has the right to claim them.

But what captivated the airwaves and print media was a decision made by a video ref in a football game on Friday night. Now, let me make a clear declaration, my team won and continues through the final series. That’s nice. If the other team had got through, I’d be momentarily disappointed but look to next season. It’s football, no more, no less. I have no great stake in it other than a lifelong commitment to the maroon and white. But... #gomanly

At the same time, I’ve been spending the weekend finalising a paper on professional development in tertiary education (having taken time out to witness an excellent example of international bilateral relations in the form of a spectacular taiko concert with Japanese group Kodo and their Australian counterparts, TaikOz).

When I reached the centre of this busy intersection this evening, it occurred to me that sometimes accountability is good but gratuitous accountability disguises or runs the risk of marginalising the fallibility of human nature. We seem to want to guard against the foibles of what it might mean to be human, and that sometimes, ‘failure’ can be an important part of who we can be.

The video ref system in sport should just be done away with. This has less to do with getting a result, and more about the pressures brought to bear by those who spend so much money on the game and for whom the stakes are ridiculously high. It is time-consuming and creates more controversy rather than less. As a sports participant and spectator of some 40+ years, I’m afraid I don’t see a qualitative improvement in sport as a result. While I’m on a roll get rid of golden point as well; a draw is a fine result, there doesn’t always have to be a winner. But I digress.

‘The photographic image... is a message without a code’
‘A photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see’
Roland Barthes, French critic and thinker, 1915-1980

‘Professional development’ [PD] is tautology by and large. If one is a ‘professional’ then by definition, one proceeds to continue to update and develop one’s expertise. PD in the tertiary education sector has become a sometimes burdensome distraction from the real task at hand, educating people to think, to learn, to be curious, to be questioning. It can take up a chunk of ever-diminishing time and sometimes the outcomes are not always satisfactory.

PD emerges from a place where accountability has overtaken common sense. The tertiary sector, not unlike professional sport, has become an economics-driven marketplace where results, and excellent results, matter above all else. ‘Failure’ and understanding what that can mean, has little meaning in the learning experience. The demand for an unreasonable expectation of excellence foments pressures which play out in stresses and lead to distressing responses.

Tertiary education is not a game in the sense that football is, nor should it be. Tertiary education is important. It matters. It has the power to transform lives and, eventually, society. The ‘accountability’ for educators comes in the form of encouraging a caring and compassionate society; a society that understands that ‘ownership’ of an outcrop of rocks far from madding coasts can be shared and developed in a spirit of cooperation; a society that can tolerate and live with religious differences; a society that can put a bloody football match in its rightful place without assaulting the airwaves for days.

The stuff of this weekend might suggest we can’t do that, that my position, rather than putting the case for too much accountability is a bad thing, might in fact be arguing for more and better levels of the same.

No, what I’m suggesting is that we direct our energies in the wrong directions. Sometimes, it is human nature to be fallible and we need to learn to live with it. Sometimes, in our haste to fight and argue, we forget that it is in our weaknesses that we might find our greatest strengths too. A video ref will not always be there, and s/he won't always get it right. A video ref is considered a 'professional development'. I don't think so.

Conversely, for two and a half hours on Saturday night, two groups of committed musicians and performers—one from Australia, one from Japan—banged on drums, with gentleness and force, with passion and vigour. They demonstrated that life’s vicissitudes can be sorted.

Next time you seek to ‘call someone to account’, think about what it is you are doing and why you might be doing so. Sometimes it will matter. But I wouldn’t mind betting that sometimes it is just a matter of someone’s fallibility showing through. Just don't go belting that fallibility out of them, you could be doing more harm than good. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Desperately Seeking a Twit/Utopia…unrequited ambition?

Tweeps! We can make this work. 

This week I finished reading Twitter’s book of the moment, Greg Jericho’s The Rise of the Fifth Estate. Kudos to Jericho for taking on a subject whose permanence is but a timeline scroll away and whose 140-character limit can be as pithy or as devastating as any more substantial tome.

The peoples of the earth have thus entered in varying degrees into a universal community, and it has developed to the point where a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere. The idea of cosmopolitan right is therefore not fantastic and overstrained; it is a necessary complement to the unwritten code of political and international right, transforming it into a universal right of humanity. Only under this condition can we flatter ourselves that we are continually advancing towards a perpetual peace.
Kant, (1795) ‘Third Definitive Article on a Perpetual Peace’ from Perpetual Peace

Jericho and Kant and the Twitter promise
Jericho (aka @GrogsGamut) has done a remarkable job in penning an early account of the Twitterverse in Australia and it will be a text I shall recommend for future students of politics and media. Jericho himself was famously ‘outed’ as a tweepster and blogger (see Ch. 6 ‘How to become a hashtag’). It was nonetheless a little unsettling to finish the book as the Charlotte Dawson episode was unfolding and twitter chatter turned to trolling. On the upside, as I write this, Jane Caro (@JaneCaro) is setting the timeline alight with a campaign for women to #destroythejoint following the (oh no, not again) misogyny displayed by Alan Jones.

The Twitterverse for me is a fascinating proto-community. Regular readers will know I am something of a Kantian idealist and this week in class we happened to explore a little more of Kant’s ‘Perpetual Peace’ and its hope for a better world. My primary research is about establishing a security community in East Asia where trust is the foundation of pursuing better relations and diminishing the likelihood of war. So naturally these elements come together as the subject of this post. How? Get on board my roller coaster…

The beauty of Jericho’s book was that it offers great context to what I have spent the last little while casting my Kantian aspirations towards. It is true, I follow just a very narrowcast version of the Twitterverse, one which allows engagement with other Australian politics tweeps (not, though, #auspol), friends and colleagues throughout the tertiary education sector, students—past and present, journalists, news sources and a wonderful group of @612brisbane ABC Radio tweepsters (more on them later…I think we’ve almost attained Kantian perfection there…). I also reside in the Japanese twitterverse. (Oh, and some people like my emoticons, also inspired by Japanese social media… (00)(o~o)(**)

I ‘was joined’ to the Twitterverse back in 2010 by guest lecturer Todd Winther, @toddocracy, in the course Politics and Media which I was teaching at the time. A graduate of my university and now PhD candidate in polsci at another, I’d asked Todd along to share his knowledge of Australian political parties and their use of social media in campaigning. Twitter was still new-ish, and I was not a particular fan of social media at the time. It was a terrific lecture, the students were engaged and in the end Todd, supported by the students, insisted I demonstrate the ease of joining. So there and then, I became a live experiment in my own lecture theatre…howzat for a student-centred approach…even my handle @psephy is a student-coined name—after my (apparent…who knew?) obsession with convincing them all to become psephologists.

I was unsure and tentative; kept the account locked for quite some time and used an avatar that, like the dentists, wouldn’t reveal my identity. After about two months or so just dropped off. I just didn’t seem to get it. 

I rejoined in October 2011. Something I’d read in that weekend’s paper about QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce’s bold grounding of the planes in his stoush with unions made me curious again about Twitter. I flicked the switch on my iDevice and I’ve been back ever since. (And after a few experimental avatars, I've finally revealed the 'real' me.)

From Twitter, I’ve branched out into the blogosphere as well. Indeed, my experience here reflects the path of others that Jericho writes about—really, I was finding that I wanted to explore some of the twitter discussions in more depth (see the sidebar to your right). It also gave me the impetus to do something I’d been toying with for a while. As an academic, we are under pressure to publish regularly which can be quite a challenge with a high teaching load and other demands. I thought the blog might also be a way to ‘draft’ ideas, tease them out before formalising their publication. More recently, I’m exploring the idea of using the blog as an extra teaching ‘space’ to work with my students, to follow up lecture points or additional material. Mostly, I am just enjoying the comparative freedom that writing a blog allows, compared with the stiff and overripe formality of academic prose. I’ve no expectation of becoming a journalist, nor do I expect to ever earn an income from this form of expression. I am an academic, I do have the privilege of being published and that is fine for me, for now.

What excites, or excited, me about the idea of the ‘Fifth Estate’ as explored by Jericho was that I saw it as a dynamic engaged community where those who have a public conscience or public role could interact in a kind of cyber-village square. Previously, academics in universities, journalists in newsrooms, politicians in their parliaments, diplomats in embassies and people in shopping centres might have accidentally bumped into each other but Twitter allowed those boundaries to be circumvented. I find myself involved in the most interesting exchanges ranging from my narrowcast speciality of Japanese security to the merits of football codes to coffee. Of course, politics figures prominently and I have ‘met’ a lot of wonderful tweeps along the way. There is, for the most part, a sense of what Kant perhaps regarded as the foedus pacificum, a pacific federation, a place where we might seek to end all wars for good.

Alas, as we’ve seen, the Twitterverse is not immune from bullying practices. It makes us pause to reflect what is it about human nature that drives some to do this. Hobbes and Kant and others pondered this human fallibility centuries ago, I guess it is folly of me to think we might be emerging from this confining cocoon. The ‘trolling’ issue of the past week has discoloured the mostly good that we should believe Twitter can be. I remain a Kantian optimist. As another of my favourite tweeps @Drag0nista blogged recently, this is just as much about what we want from Twitter as well as standing up to the unpleasantness and say ‘it’s out of line’.

There is a Twitterverse micro-community however that seems to be getting it right. Informally known as the #612tweepsters, it includes presenters, producers, regular guests and avid listeners of 612ABC (@612brisbane), which has a following of some 22, 770. It usually starts in the pre-dawn with Breakfast presenter Spencer Howson (@SpencerHowson), continues through to Afternoons’ Kelly Higgins-Devine (@kellyhd), Drive’s Tim Cox (@timcoxtalks) and Evenings with @reblev (Rebecca Levingston). They do a brilliant job of engaging their audience on air through Twitter and always in positive and enriching ways. Through the #612tweepsters I’ve met @EvanontheGC, @Kin__ , @JCBOONAH, @SalPiracha, @armac152, @theJenHansen and @RealBrettHansen, @snoozen, @Rastas000, @EmuHandyman and many others. They form the core of a group of people I’ve come to appreciate as using the Twitterverse for good. We would do well to replicate it throughout. It has also surprised me that I have embraced social media in this way.

Greg Jericho’s book reminds us of the potential that a Twitter-led ‘fifth estate’ might promise. It’s achieved much in a relatively short period of time. We can engage, we can communicate, we can do better. William Lane had to take his Utopian ideals to Paraguay; we can all do it from the comfort of our own homes, in front of our various devices.

Many years ago, I opted out of formal political parties because I got tired of the pettiness, the standover tactics, the unfulfilled promise. That disengagement, I fear, has perhaps contributed in part to the lacklustre politics of today. I shan’t retreat from Twitter in the same way. I’ve learnt that to be a part of a community you have to contribute to making it the community you want it to be. I’ve learnt to practice the politics I teach…

For anyone who wants to understand Twitter and politics, read Grog’s book; anyone who wants to dip a tentative toe in the Twitter waters, the join the tweepsters at 612ABC.

(Disclaimer [to the extent it is required]: I have been a guest commentator on 612ABC and ABC Gold Coast as a direct result of my Twitter engagement; I’d have still written those good things about the #612tweepsters even if that hadn’t happened)

Monday, August 20, 2012

The ABC of the LNPQLD, or QED?

Yes, I've been a little un-blogged of late
I’ve had a short break from the blog, not through writer’s block or a similar procrastinative affliction, but rather a surfeit of thoughts, views and observations. There is so much going on in my various fields of interests at the moment that I feel the need to appropriate one of my favourite expressions,

「言いたいことありすぎて」 丸木俊

There are too many things I want to say’, the title of a book by artist and author Maruki Toshi who with her husband and through their art, became leading advocates for victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

So over the next few days, I’m going to try to put together some views on the Newman Government (of course, because I must); territorial disputes in Northeast Asia; political dissent in Japan and some questions about security and political culture of nation states.


For now, it’s Mr Newman.
It’s almost too easy to reach for Machiavelli when it comes to trying to capture 21st century politics in the amber of times past. But, right now, Niccolo is our philosopher of the moment north of the Tweed. There are a couple of missives which have stood out over the last little while. One is:

He will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful.
Machiavelli, The Prince, Ch. XXV

Machiavelli is advising his prince here on what fortune can effect in human affairs and perhaps a naïve ‘prince’ will read this as an affirmation of his actions; perhaps a prince who wandered around the Ekka for seven hours this week and had just one person come up and offer a dissenting voice to the slash and burn. It was pleasing I suppose to see the Premier curb his hubris from the week before when on radio he claimed ‘no-one’ had complained to him about the government’s actions.

I prefer to offer the above quote however more from the perspective of an academic, that is, not of the ‘moment’ but with a balance of hindsight and future, for only a foolish politician would govern ‘for now’. Heed the consequences of your cuts now Mr Newman before it is too late.

But when you disarm them, you at once offend them by showing that you distrust them, either for cowardice or for want of loyalty, and either of these opinions breeds hatreds against you.
Machiavelli, The Prince, Ch. XXV

And here, Machiavelli was discoursing on the advantage or otherwise of ‘fortresses’. Now I choose this to offer more of an allegory than a real fortress, and to disarm in the sense of to neutralise. There is also an element of a ‘disarming’ disposition that placates a good number of his supporters but again the hubris needs to be kept in check.

Thus it was in this spirit that a colleague and I on a drive home from work last week decided to collate the alphabet of Newman reforms. It’s a work-in-progress but in the space of the 45-minute drive from Maroochydore to Carseldine we came up with an almost complete listing of cuts and actions. Let’s have a look:

A is for Adoption and surrogacy laws, amended so quickly
B is for Breastscreen Qld and the poorly explained restructuring
C is for Civil unions, gone the way of pet registrations
D is for Disrespect, of those the government believes are not their constituency
E is for Electricity charges, up and up
F is for Frontline, if you’re not ‘frontline’, then you are out (or a flea-ridden dog)
G is for the Gold Coast Turf Club because government funding to facilitate more comfortable gambling is important
H is for Health Services, facing a full frontal disarming
I is for Indoor plants, which along with withdrawing tea and coffee, will help the bottom line
J is for Joh, either for Mark II or ghosts of Johs past
K is for KPIs mattering more than anything else
L is for the Literary Awards, because in Newmanworld we don’t need to read
M is for Mates, Music Programs and Media bans in parliament, just because your ‘mandate’ lets you
N is for Nepotism because the other side did it so a new government can do too
O is for Opposition, just for recording purposes to prove it once existed but may be hard to find; there was also something about an ‘offender’s levy’; a what?
P is for Public Service, see O above
Q is for QBuild because efficiencies can be made there too; and QAHC well because, well, we know why…
R is for Reform, because that’s what this is all about really
S is for Sisters Inside because supporting rehabilitation is not a particularly helpful way to use public monies
T is for the Tenants Union because again, that’s a pesky group of social justice advocate-types too
U is for the Underclass which will be exacerbated in these times
V is for Vanquishing the past, with no thought to the future
W is for Wild Rivers because we don’t need that legislation
X is for…
Y is for…
Z is for…

Now we are keen to complete the sequence and we know that there are, sadly, many more examples which could nestle in with existing letters. But in less than five months the Queensland Government has just about exhausted many of us who care about the importance of governing fairly and equitably and making our society a better place. I’d like to supplement this list with a sister list of positives. I’d like to start on it soon…please Mr Newman. QED.