Friday, November 14, 2008

The New Camelot?

barack obama rides to victory on the democrat donkeyI am not an American, nor am I of African descent (am I allowed to say "not black"?), but nevertheless, I must admit to shedding a few tears during Barack Obama"s acceptance speech. The campaign had been so exciting, so filled with hope, but still there were nagging doubts at the back of one"s mind; could something go wrong? Obama"s election is a truly historic milestone, and I can only imagine the wave of emotion felt by his supporters (particularly African Americans) during the culmination of an incredible campaign. Some have described Obama"s oratory as "celestial" and I completely agree. I can only hope his presidency reaches the same heights as his speeches.

Obama"s victory represents the greatest ray of hope America and the world has witnessed in living memory. He is highly intelligent, shrewd and articulate. The challenges he faces may be huge but he gives the impression that he will relish rising to the occasion. However, despite the tsunami of hope placed in Obama as an agent of change, it would be naïve to expect him to engineer any kind of social revolution. Despite his background of working with the underprivileged he is a rich man. To govern effectively he has to have the support of the Democrats, some of whom are more conservative than moderate Republicans. The main thrust of his campaigning was directed at the middle class, the poor and homeless never rated a mention.

Nevertheless, Obama"s election is undoubtedly an incredibly significant event. Some have pointed out that other blacks have attained positions of influence; Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell etc. but they are almost always conservatives. The only aboriginal politician elected here in Australia that I can remember is Neville Bonner, who again was a conservative. It"s almost as if non white candidates need to balance their minority status with a right wing position. Barack Obama on the other hand is a left leaning liberal. Sorting out the financial crisis will take priority before any advances in social justice but it least it"s on the agenda. It"s strange to think that a 6% win in the popular vote translates into a 2-1 whitewash in the electoral college. I’m starting to understand the U.S. system but it still doesn"t completely make sense to me. I think Obama"s victory carries a great deal of symbolism which is why it has resonated so much, in the U.S. and around the world.

It remains to be seen how Obama will handle the massive challenges that face him but at the very least the U.S. political landscape will never be the same again. We can only hope, but every time I hear him speak I can"t help but whispering to myself: "damn he"s good!"

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Poor Malcolm's deprived childhood

malcolm turnbull warped

"I do not come to the leadership of the Liberal Party from a lifetime of privilege. I know what it is like to be very short of money..."

malcolm turnbull warped

"I know what it is like to live in rented flats. For a time daddy and I had to rent a dingy penthouse in Double Bay..."

malcolm turnbull warped

"Daddy even had to drive the Rolls Royce himself for a time when we couldn't get a chauffeur; good help can be hard to find..."

malcolm turnbull warped

"The other boys at Sydney Grammar laughed at me when I drove my new MG to school; they all drove Porsches and Maseratis..."

Ok, this may be bending the truth just a little and Malcolm Turnbull may well not have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is however, a very rich man; Turnbull's wealth is estimated at $120 million. Turnbull is the quintessential Eastern Suburbs silvertail. He will always struggle against the perception that he is arrogant and out of touch with the so called 'battlers'.

Turnbull's gaffe on football further underlined this perception. Asked in a radio interview to nominate which football teams he supports, Mr Turnbull said: "I have to confess I vote for, I support, in Australian Rules the Roosters, who of course aren't in the Grand Final sorry the (Sydney) Swans". (The Eastern Suburbs Roosters of course play rugby league). This might seem an inconsequential mistake, but football is religion to the average battler.

Just as the Australian electorate will never elect anyone with the title 'Doctor' (ask John Hewson or Brendan Nelson; we respect them but just don't trust them) they are just as unlikely to elect someone with arch silvertail status. At least the Liberal party in electing Turnbull as leader is leaving little doubt as to which end of town they really represent.

"Alcopops? That is the sound you get when you open a bottle of vintage Veuve Clicquot, isn't it?..."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who won the debate?

lipstick on a pigSeveral commentators have stated that Sarah Palin won the vice presidential debate simply because she exceeded expectations. While Palin may not have committed anything like the excruciating gaffes she made in the interview with CBS's Katie Couric, her performance was anything but convincing. Others have said Palin won by being more 'likeable'. While her folksy language and mannerisms might endear her to some, anyone who can muster a few thoughts would surely dismiss her posturings as nothing more than cheap populism.

Palin managed to avoid making more monumental bluders with a novel strategy; she simply avoided the issues, and the questions in favour of well rehearsed campaign rhetoric. Joe Biden came across as approachable, human and credible. His detailed answers on foreign, domestic and economic policy gave a firm impression of an experienced statesman who knows what he is talking about and knows what he is doing.

Biden has a right to feel aggrieved by analysis which awards a win in the debate to Palin just because she made few mistakes. His was a solid and credible performance. Palin's performance did little to change the perception that she has recently established: she is a political airhead.

Butterfly Award

Biotek has very kindly nominated me for this award; thanks!

I also nominate:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kevin'07: Obama'08?

rudd, obama, howard, mccain, morphing comparison Can any parallels be drawn between the Australian elections of 2007, (the Kevin’07 campaign) and the current U.S. presidential elections? There are some similarities and some obvious differences. For a start, America is a super power and its political trends have far reaching global implications while Australia is by comparison an inconsequential backwater (the arse end of the earth to use the phrase coined by ex prime minister Paul Keating). Australia’s political system is fundamentally different to the American system and is based on the British Westminster system. Despite the fact that in Australia and Britain votes are cast for one party or another rather than the leader as head of state, both have moved closer to presidential style campaigns in recent years. The personality of leaders is ever more important and campaigns are carefully planned in response to polls and demographic analysis.

In both the 2007 Australian election and the 2008 American election, long serving conservative governments faced off against an opposition claiming to represent the winds of change. Despite McCain’s efforts to distance himself from the Bush administration and present himself as a ‘maverick’, years of alignment with Bush’s policies will make any distancing difficult. Howard described himself as a ‘climate change skeptic’ and refused to sign the Kyoto protocol. McCain is also seen as weak on the environment.

Both Howard and McCain are older men and both struggle to represent themselves as men of the future. Both Rudd and Obama are younger men and have found it much easier to present themselves as a breath of fresh air, despite lacking any truly revolutionary policies.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between the Australian campaign and the U.S. campaign is the advent of the internet as a potent political force. Howard was slow to employ the web to his advantage and his use of it showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium. Howard’s YouTube videos were stiff and conventional, much a like a party political broadcast on tried and true TV. Howard’s YouTube received numerous negative comments and users were outraged when their comments were promptly deleted. It also quickly became a spam magnet. Rudd primarily used MySpace and his tone was much more casual and relaxed. The majority of comments were positive but negative comments remained on the site. Rudd’s savvy use of the web medium made it easier for him to be portrayed as future friendly and helped his campaign resonate with younger voters.

John McCain claims not to know how to even use email and has all but admitted he is technology illiterate. Obama’s campaign seems to be using the web much more effectively. The reasons for this are quite simple; the Obama camp spends way much more on advertising. Obama’s web site is much more popular McCain’s site; it is visited monthly by 4 times as many people as McCain’s one (2.2 million vs. 583 thousand). Obama is also much more popular with various social media sites as well.

comparison of Obama and McCain web traffic
Comparison of Obama/McCain internet traffic source

Sarah Palin's use of her personal email account to conduct public affairs in Alasksa, which allowed a hacker to gain access to her account does little to negate the perception that the Republican camp is technologically challenged. McCain may have chosen Palin as running mate partly because of her youth. Despite getting a temporary boost after the convention, Palin's inexperience now seems to be doing little more than making McCain look old.

Effective use of online media may not be the deciding factor in this campaign, nor was it in the Australian election, however, it is undeniable that the political importance of the web is now much greater. This is also a particularly telling factor when candidates attempt to promote themselves as agents for change and leaders for the future.

McCain is looking more and more like yesterday's man, as did John Howard.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Panther sightings: urban myth or smokescreen?

Nathan Rees and the Penrith PantherNew NSW Premier Nathan Rees has told the press that sightings of a large, panther-like cat in Sydney's western suburbs might be credible. "I don't think it's necessarily an urban myth, there are too many people reporting sightings." Mr Rees told reporters. Sighting of big cats - dubbed either the Penrith Panther or Lithgow Panther - have been part of local folklore in Sydney's west and the Blue Mountains for decades. Rumours persist the big cats escaped from private zoos or a circus in the area years ago, and even the local football club is called the Penrith Panthers.

As recently as last month Mr Rees dismissed panther sightings as just another urban myth, so why the sudden turn around? The answer is likely to be quite simple. Any story which deflects attention from the woeful state of affairs that exists in NSW is welcome to the government. The poor financial state of affairs, crumbling infrustructure, inadequate public hospitals, unreliable public transport, the electricity privatisation debacle and the general public perception of mismanagement have made the Labor government highly unpopular. If we all start worrying about ravenous mystery panthers perhaps the other problems will just go away.

Of course, big cat sightings are not confined to Sydney's west. Numerous sightings of large, panther like cats have been reported in the UK and in the USA among other places. Although paw prints have been photographed and cast in plaster, no one has actually produced hard evidence of such a feline. Perhaps goverments in those parts also wanted to deflect attention from their management records.

Reporting a recent sighting of the Penrith panther, a western Sydney woman described the animal as a large black cat, about the size of an Alsatian. Panthers and jaguars are usually quite a bit larger than Alsatians. The cats sighted are much more likely to be large feral cats that have grown a dark Winter coat. It is quite conceivable that over several generations feral animals have grown a good deal larger than domestic moggys.

Nathan Rees has made a good impression in his early days as premier (with me any way). He has a direct and straightforward manner and actually answers questions instead of skirting around them as so many politicians do. He has had the courage to admit to his government's past problems and to accept responsibility for them. I believe he deserves a fair go as new leader but only time will tell if he can turn around public opinion before the next election.

Whatever the case, it will take more than a few panther sightings to save the NSW government from political oblivion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I love your blog too

iWalk has nominated me for this award, for which I am very honoured. I encourage you to read her blog; it is a fascinating record of her travels around the world and includes her wonderful photographs of memorable sights.

I nominate:

The award comes with easy rules:

  1. Link to at least 7 other blogs you love.
  2. Link to the person who gave you the award.
  3. Let the 7 bloggers know that you have tagged them.