I have to give the ABC credit when and where it's due. This morning, Radio National AM gave considerable coverage to a news item not calculated to win any new friends for the ALP. It concerns the leaking of an ACTU manual describing a program to target union members in marginal seats and none-too-subtly pressure them in case they are in any doubt about how to vote. The money quote is a perfect distillation of the bitterness, paranoia and self-righteousness of the professional unionist. Cold-callers who find that their subject might actually have the temerity to prefer the Coalition are advised thusly:
"It may be despicable to you that the member may agree with some of the Federal Government's policies. But avoid getting into heated arguments; such debates are likely to make the member dig their heels in."
Good advice, that. Avoid abusing someone you've just rung up at their own home, without invitation, probably while they were getting dinner or putting the kids to bed. Maybe they save that for the doorknock with baseball bats later on. Almost as sinister is the advice:
"Callers are asked to pay particular attention to the language members use, and to find out about their ambitions and if they have a family or a mortgage."
Perhaps there's also something in the manual about making knuckle-cracking noises at appropriate moments, or soft warnings about how "accidents" can happen, tsk, tsk, tsk.
As I may have said already, watching the ALP/commentariat in the last few federal elections has been like watching a sleepwalker who gets up in the middle of the night, walks over to the window, falls out of it, and wakes up in the garden below, picking twigs out of his hair and wondering how he got there - and the next night does the same thing all over again.
This sleepwalking is a matter of picking issues dear to themselves, but to which the larger electorate are indifferent or even hostile, and deciding that these are the key election issues. Today's example: the Age runs a front page article informing us that evil big business is scheming to neutralise what would otherwise be - and I quote - a "major federal election issue". Any guesses? It's the advertising of 'junk' food to children. If I needed a sign that Howard is going to romp it in in November, this would be it.
I'm almost sorry that the David Hicks issue has so completely and suddenly disappeared. I was really counting on this being yet another tripwire for the sleepwalkers. (Julian! Are you there? Feel free to stop by!)
Just want to lay this one down good and early: John Howard will romp it in this November. Why? The question is really, rather, why won't he lose? Simple: the two issues which the commentariat and their political wing, the ALP, have decided are the key issues - climate change (pffft!) and industrial relations.
Climate change is the ultimate 'doctor's wives' issue, and has no significant electoral traction. As for IR, did I miss something? The laws came in, the sky didn't fall in, the economy ignited its second-stage boosters and went into orbit. Then when the election appeared over the horizon, we're suddenly in the ALP's off-Broadway tryout of Les Miserables. ALP pollster Rod Cameron summed it up, saying that the unions who will supposedly win it for Rudd are: "very unpopular and they are not part of most people's lives - The majority of voters are anti-union and they don't want the unions back in their lives."
I see where President Bush is having trouble with his bill to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants in America. Whatever happens to the bill, it has at least been useful to me. On two occasions recently, when trapped in an argument with some raving moonbat (something I will normally do anything to avoid, short of jumping from a moving car or a second-storey window), I have managed to short-circuit them by raising Bush's bill. When I tell them that Satan Bush is actually pushing a bill to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, it literally stuns them into silence, because (1) they have never heard of this bill, and (2) they simply cannot process it into their narrative of the Bush hegemon. It works a treat: give it a try.
Fortunately I wasn't drinking a cup of hot tea this morning, during the interview with Amnesty International chief Irene Khan. She described Australia's human rights record as "appalling": if you have to crank up the dial to 'appalling' for Australia, what's left for Cuba, North Korea, Iran, China or practically any Arab or African country? What's 'eleven' on Irene's dial? But I was particularly glad I didn't have a mouthful of tea when the interviewer asked Irene if she had any tips for Australian voters in the coming election. She recoiled like a Victorian maiden having received an obscene suggestion:
"Amnesty International is not a political organization".
Watching the mainstream anti-Howard media at the moment, I get the uncomfortable feeling you might get from watching a sleepwalker marching towards the edge of a precipice. If you could wake them, wouldn't it be almost as dangerous?
I confess to being disconcerted by the degree to which the media have wrapped themselves up in the story spun from the ludicrous polling being delivered at the moment. The 'story' of Howard's imminent annihilation is, as of about 48 hours ago, now the new gold standard in reporting on this subject, and everything is framed against this assumption.
I'm not discounting the possibility that Howard might lose, though personally I think it unlikely. My real question is, what will all these people, who are now so convinced that Howard is finished, do if he wins? I've noted before the need of the Howard-haters to invent myths to explain his repeated election victories, when everything in their worldview tells them that such a thing should be impossible. The emotional investment at this point, however, seems so great that no myth could explain it. Still, I probably underestimate the capacity of the Howard-haters for mythic rationalizations. If you can persuade yourself that vast numbers of people who normally vote for Howard are now enraged by his IR laws, you can surely believe six other impossible things before breakfast.
The ABC were wetting themselves with excitement yesterday over the first official recognition by Gordon Brown of the continent of Australia. ABC correspondent Rafael Epstein was at a press conference; he piped up, identifying himself as an Australian, and posed a question on - what else? - climate change. Brown flustered for a moment and then came out with "you led the way on the long-life electric bulb". Somehow it just doesn't have that Churchillian ring to it.
One of the intellectual heroes of this blog is the sci-fi visionary Philip K. Dick. He had a habit of clipping weird headlines from the newspapers which mirrored the skewed fantasies of his writing: one of his favourites was "Scientists say that mice cannot be made to look like human beings".
Dick is dead, but the crazy headlines go on. One of the best I ever saw was about a plan to use virtual-reality helmets to subject people suffering from various manias and psychoses to simulated experiences of their fantasies, as a form of therapy. That would be one of the best stories he never wrote. (Though you could argue he did, in a story like "I hope I shall arrive soon".)
One of the few things about our crazy modern world which Dick didn't predict was the 'Second life' phenomenon: people acting out fantasy lives via real-time networked computer animations. Today's Dickian headline concerns the legal question as to whether people who perform actions in their second life, whose images are proscribed by law (I won't spell these out or link to the article, for good reasons), are guilty of a crime.
The legal question is not my main concern: despite the surface craziness of the question, the answer actually seems fairly straightforward, at least to this layman. What really intrigues me is the story that Dick could have made out of this. Surely he would have enjoyed writing a novel in which the Police create a second life squad, who enter the world of the avatars and bust the perps online. There must be at least a dozen scripts on this idea doing the rounds of Hollywood at the moment: 'Joe Avatar, SLPD'.
Stop me if you've heard this one. Local guy in an Islamic country - Morocco, as it happens - invades a tourist resort and attacks western tourists with a machete. The Melbourne Age is absolutely baffled as to what motive could possibly lie behind such a deed. (The link keeps getting updated, and the version as of this posting is even more careful to hose down suggestions of links to a particular cultural group. It emphasises a quote by one of the tourists that the attack was "random" and the work of "just an angry man".)