Monday, September 20, 2010

That's enough democracy, thank you

Apparently Winston Churchill once said "Democracy is the worst possible system of government, except for all the others." He was a persuasive chap, enough that he was able to convince most of Britain to put down their teacups and croquet mallets long enough to fight a six-year war. He couldn't pry enough people away from Facebook to do it again I suspect, but hopefully the other side will have the same problem, so we should be right.

Now that Australia finally has a government again (apparently the country was on cruise control for a while there), we can look back on the democratic free-for-all of the last few weeks and ask ourselves, "Wait, what?" Several questions pose themselves, such as how the hell the Labour mob can get 38% to the Liberals' 49%, yet still end up running the show. Or how two guys from electorates where NOT voting Liberal/National will see you taken behind the woodshed can side with Labour. And most of all, how often we seem to end up with 149 calm, rational, reasonably intelligent people in parliament and one screaming, ranting, poo-flinging nutbag with the deciding vote on everything. We should be allowed to take back our votes if we see our elected members acting like chimpanzees after they're elected. Maybe we could call it the Katter Clause.
When we vote, it's a bit like when we install stuff on our computers. There's a pretty picture, then a "Would you like to install this thingy?" message, then we click yes and we get this wall of text come at us with a "Do you agree?" message at the bottom. It's called a EULA, or End User Licence Agreement, and it tells us what we're agreeing to when we say yes (the EULA for Windows 7  gives Bill Gates ownership rights on one of your kidneys and a fairly solid claim on your soul I believe, but hey, have you seen the interface on that thing!? The colors, the patterns! Hell, I got two kidneys, sign me up!) Voting is a similar sort of thing; even though all you have to do at the ballot box is put a couple of ticks, you're agreeing to a process that's so complicated even the government had to phone the helpdesk after the last election.

Worryingly, there's nothing in that manual about what to do when we can't tell who's won. Last time it happened, everyone just sort of stood around looking at each other and glancing uncertainly at the big office in parliament. The previous prime minister still had his stuff in there, so everyone agreed to just wait a bit and see what happened, so he wouldn't have to go find a box to put it in. This time round they said they were following "unwritten constitutional conventions", which is NewSpeak for "making it up as we go along."

It's a bit odd that they haven't already covered this in the constitution (seriously, that thing is huge), especially since we've had hung state parliaments 1968, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2002 and 2008. We had a federal hung parliament in 1940, which was awesome timing; with the Japanese heading our way to get rid of all that democratic election nonsense, the government of the day didn't have time for any Oakeshotting at press conferences. They put something in place quick smart and got us back into the fight with not a moment to spare, barely getting troops to Singapore in time to join the surrender. We were (and still are) involved in a foreign war at the last election, but unless the Taliban have a half-dozen aircraft carriers in a cave near Kandahar, I'm guessing they won't be menacing Port Moresby any time soon.
Not being threatened with invasion gives us the luxury of deciding at our own pace. By which I mean the independents' pace, and you better believe our friends Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor hung on to the limelight as long as they could. Waiting for their answer was like watching some dunce on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire decide whether cupcakes were traditionally decorated with a) icing or b) rat poison. And they'd already Asked The Audience; that was what got us into this mess in the first place. They got there in the end though, and we seemed to get along just fine in the meantime, despite the apparent lack of a government.

So how the heck did we end up with a system like this? It can't happen in a lot of countries; our friends in the United States elect one person, who then gets a bunch of his mates to help him decide what to do. They don't even have to be voted for; he can choose ex-generals, academics or even former rivals. France does something similar, although their president has to pick a prime minister from the people who actually got elected. In both cases, there's a bloke at the top (and so far it's always been a bloke) who gets elected by the people, then chooses a crew to run the place. We can't really do that because (technically) we're run by the queen, and we don't get to vote for her. Might be interesting if we did; my guess is Her Majesty would be politely moved along to make way for Kylie.
So why don't we go with what the Yanks and the French do? The answers pretty simple: they had to go through a whole world of hurt to get to where they are now.

The United States has a constitution, same as us. After their argument with Britain in 1776, they had to find something to replace colonial oppression as a system of government. They threw something together straight away, but apparently it wasn't much good, so they got together in 1789 to try to fix it. A month later they realised it was just a mess, so they started again from scratch and wrote a whole new constitution. Theirs is pretty nice; they've still got the original handwritten version, with "We the people" in cool curly writing at the top. It covers everything from how old you have to be to be president right down to who's allowed to make coins. France did something similar; they got so sick of the king running the show that they cut his head off, then cut his family's heads off, then the king's mates' heads, the heads of people who thought cutting off heads was a bit rough, and a few more to round out the tally to somewhere between 16,000 and 40,000. This period of enlightenment came to be called The Terror; it was followed by a wonderful time in France's history in which they got power-slammed by every other country in Europe after Napoleon tried to wheel the head-cutting-off apparatus into a few other countries around the continent.

So when Australia came to build a system of government, we had a good look at the way everyone else had done it before we put quill to parchment. Nobody was keen to fight a war with the United Kingdom, though that was mainly to stop Mel Gibson making some awful movie about it a hundred years later. We weren't keen on the whole French cutting-heads-off thing either, mainly because we didn't have 40,000 people we could do without. So after a good look round, we realised that the strongest, most stable democracy around the place was the good old United Kingdom Of Great Britain.

Handily, we spoke a similar language to them back then. We also had a few ex-pats from the old country, busily expanding their prisons to make room for the next round of immigrants. Less conveniently, there wasn't anything resembling a clear constitution. The rules for running the UK were more like a first-year English essay, with lots of crossed-out bits and notes in the margin and flip-action doodles in the corners. Still, it had survived a civil war and a couple of slightly unhinged monarchs, so people still thought it was a fairly solid model. The states threw in a couple of bits pinched from the US constitution (notably equal numbers of senators from each state, which is why the whole country sometimes ends up getting run by space cadets and boy scouts from Tasmania). Minor changes aside, we're now run under the same cobbled-together patchwork system of government that's kept the UK rattling along noisily but relatively happily for the past few hundred years.

But I suspect the real reason we chose the same system is simple: we had to ask permission.

After we came up with a plan, we had to go up to Queen Victoria and ask her nicely if we could go play outside on our own. We hadn't lopped our monarch's head off, or booted him out at gunpoint, so legally we had to ask if it was okay to be a country. It seemed to work pretty well too; Queen Victoria gave us the nod, we came up with a nice flag and a suitably dreary national anthem and we were away. There was a pretty scary episode in 1975 (note the bit about the queen not wanting to get involved), but aside from that we've done pretty well under the current system. It's clunky, it's flawed, it's got holes in it big enough to drive Kevin Rudd's ego through, but it works.

And if it means we can avoid revolutions, guillotines, wars, and presidents who pronounce 'nuclear' as 'nucular', then it'll do me just fine. Bob Katter may be a bit special, but he's just one guy, and the other 149 people in there with him should be enough to keep him from declaring war on "the poof population". We're safe, we're successful, and we're blessedly free of any radical groups who might take advantage of our dodgy back-of-an-envelope constitution to take us down a less moderate path.

Democracy as we practise it in Australia may not be perfect, but if the state of the nation is any clue, then it's perfect for us.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I freakin' LOVE cheese Twisties!

You too, right? Hydrolysed vegetable protein, salt, MSG, yellow food colouring and whey powder! What's not to like? I tells ya, there's nothing like getting home from work and kickin' back in front of the TV with a big old bowl of whey powder. And hydrolysed vegetable protein! None of than plain vegetable protein here; they HYDROLYSE that bad boy! I go to a restaurant and they bring me my vegetable protein, I'm like, "Is it hydrolysed my good man?" And the waiter's like lolwut, and I'm like d00d, take it back and hydrolyse it! You too, right?

You don't....WHADDYA MEAN YOU DON'T LIKE TWISTIES!? Not even Chicken ones? But powder, man! Whey powder!

I like Twisties. This surprises some people; I'm fairly health conscious, I stay in shape, I watch what I eat and I'm smart enough to know that if the factory it comes from used to make fertiliser or WMDs, I probably shouldn't eat it. But when it comes to Twisties (and their spicy latino cousins Burger Rings), don't care, don't care, don't care. And those little 'fun sized' bags can go to hell; gimme the big old 100 gram bags, the ones so big you get yellow stains up to your elbow.

I've tried eating half a bag of Twisties. I swear, I've tried. But you get there and you think, "there's heaps left, just a few more". Then you stop again and roll the bag up and you realise there's more bag than Twisties there, so you think "bugger it", upend the bag and pour the last few straight down, possibly stopping to chew. On particularly hungry days I'll go so far as to lick the bag for that last big salty hit. Hey, don't judge me.

Apparently there are reasons we eat them this way. It goes something like this...

Food is supposed to satisfy hunger. You eat, it fills you up, you get back to whatever the heck you were doing. But with junk food it's different. The things that make us like them are the salt and fat (and sometimes a fair hit of sugar). Salt and fat are good, but they're usually minor ingredients in something that's mostly protein and carbohydrates and fibre. You get a steak, you splash a bit of sauce on it, you're good to go. Or fruit: when you eat a peach, it is ALL about the peach. Nature nailed it with those things; nothing you can do to make them better, short of having them lovingly sliced and fed to you by a dusky Polynesian beauty. But that says more about me than it does about peaches.
What was I...right, salt and fat. They make food taste better. Theoretically they satisfy cravings too, but this is where it gets tricky. You know when food has too much salt; it tastes awful. Too much fat? Makes it sickly and overly rich. Both of these can be countered; back off the salt a bit and rather than satisfying a craving, it actually makes you want more of the stuff. In the case of fat, you can make it more palatable by thinning it out with the latest enemy of the diet fraternity, carbohydrates. And what are most of our favourite snack foods based on? Potatoes and wheat, the carbohydratetest sources of carbs. Besides dusky Polynesian beauties.

So when you grab yourself a handful of potato chips, you get enough salt for your body to say "Hey, that's pretty nice! More please," a hit of fat mixed with just enough carbs to make it taste really good, and bugger all else. Processing takes out all those annoying vitamins and such, leaving you to savour the delicate texture of really well-hydrolysed vegetable protein. The end result, and curiously the point of the whole exercise is that no, you can't stop at one. A hundred grams of salty, fatty goodness later, you're thirsty, your fingers are yellow and you've poured a good six hundred calories down your neck, but the odds are you're just as hungry. And given that you probably just bought your bag of Cheetos at a train station vending machine, you're suddenly in front of the thing again, trying to decide between more Cheetos, an out-of-date Mars Bar and Baked-Not-Fried low fat pretzels (yeah, like that's gonna happen). Junk food industry: 1, self-restraint: 0.
It gets worse too. Apparently junk food can be as addictive as heroin. It's like cigarettes apparently: you get desensitised to the feel-good chemicals it gives you, so you need more to get the same rush. Eventually you're so desensitised that nothing short of a whole Polynesian tribe serving you crates of Cheezels on gold platters can shake your tail feathers.

Don't care, don't care, don't care. Did I mention that I freakin' LOVE cheese Twisties? Next time I'm waiting at the train station and those little yellow bags are calling me from behind the glass, well, it'd be rude not to go say hello. And I'm totally cool with having to run fifty km and eat nothing but peaches for the rest of the week to make up for bingeing on fifty grams of yellow-dyed MSG.

You too, right...?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Avatar Sucks

"Have you seen Avatar yet?"

Not "have you seen Avatar." Not "Are you going to see Avatar." But "have you seen it Yet." My movie buddy talked as if seeing it had all the inevitability of another Rocky sequel. He's a chap who thinks Adam Sandler's 'Click' is a thought-provoking insight into the human condition though, so I guess I shouldn't put too much weight on that.

Avatar had a huge weight of expectation on it. Most expensive movie in history, most CGI, most blue characters since the Smurf movie; these things raise anticipation to levels not seen since Paris Hilton burst onto the movie scene. But Avatar delivered. The queues stretched past the pimply usher texting on his iPhone, engulfed the people buying fairly-priced popcorn and healthy beverages at the candy bar, swamped the knot of three people waiting to see Jack Black's Year One and generally made everyone else feel like less of a person if they hadn't seen it yet. AVATAR! You gotta see this thing man, the dude is, like, eight foot tall! And he's blue! And it cost, like, five hundred million bucks so it must be awesooome!

It sucked.

You probably gleaned my stance from the title, but I need to say it again: Avatar sucks. You can paint the characters any colour, you can put them in a luminescent forest, you can show dragons duelling helicopters in an alien sky, but unless you can make people care about the outcome of the battle, then your movie is just a demonstration of your CGI skill.

How did it suck? Let me count the ways...

-Unobtanium. Yeah, don't even bother coming up with a clever/credible MacGuffin, just call that spade a spade so you can spend more time on the effects

Stupid coincidences. An entire planet to mine, and the only viable deposit of unobtanium is right underneath the aliens' Magic Faraway Tree. Spare me.

-Hey! It's just Dances With Wolves In Space! We all know it. Cameron admitted it himself. And there's nothing wrong with that. Sure, there are only seven basic plots in all storytelling (which is Avatar?), but so long as you tell your story in an interesting way, it's still a worthwhile exercise. Unfortunately in this case, well...

-The climactic fist-fight. EVERY big budget action movie seems to end this way: villain and hero duking it out in a microcosm of the film's main conflict. This was one of the most contrived fights yet: the evil general climbing into a combat walker, surviving a hundreds-of-metres plummet from a burning ship and crashing to the ground a few metres from both the avatar hero and his unconscious human body. See 'Stupid coincidences'.

-Forgettable dialogue. Some movie quotes are so deep in our culture that a lot of people don't even know where they came from anymore. Case in point: the only line I can remember from Avatar is the evil general bellowing "You are not in Kansas anymore!" And Wizard of Oz is two hundred and six years old in the time Avatar is set. The lead character's dialogue rarely stretches beyond "Hey!," Whua?", "Whoa!" and "How you doin'?". Oh, and the mawkish "I see you." As if you could fail to see someone in a forest where the fricken' ground lights up when you step on it (bet that makes hunting at night tricky). The heroes are so busy being tall, blue and self-righteous that they had no time for anything more than twentieth-century urban patois and mawkish conservationist platitudes ("This world is alive!")

Painfully contrived action scenes. There are plenty of these, but the deal-breaker is the final confrontation between man and alien. When they decide to blow up the alien spirit-tree or whatever that thing was, why does the SPACEGOING shuttle craft approach the site in atmosphere at a nice, slow dragon-vulnerable speed? Why not nuke it from orbit, lob missiles, use artillery; in short, do anything other than take on the aliens at their own game? Regardless of how cool the resultant battle might have looked, there was no reason whatsoever for the humans to fight it.

Unoriginal characters. They're not necessarily bad things. They let us codify secondary characters and focus on the main play. But when EVERY character is a straight rip from other movies, you have issues. The Na'vi tribal leader was played by Wes Studi, Hollywood's go-to guy for dignified native american roles (oh look, he was in 'Dances'). The strapping warrior Na'vi seemed to fall between two posts: his accent and manner fluctuated between Kunta Kinte and Wind-in-his-hair. The young Na'vi who first meets the hero just had to be the daughter of the chief and the priestess: she's feisty, attractive (handy that the aliens were good and breasty, to really nail that 15-24 male geek demographic) and makes it clear that he'll have to work hard to win her over. The corporation's representative was basically Carter Burke from Aliens, with all the interesting self-serving connivery cut out. All of them plod tiredly through the same old noble-natives-versus-corporate-greed routine we've seen so many times before, simply filling the empty space between CGI battles. The only character I cared about even briefly was the helicopter pilot who chose to fight with the good guys. She was the only one not on railroad tracks, who made her own decisions according to her conscience. Tragically, she was Vasquez from Aliens, right down to the sweaty man-singlet.

Transparent plot hooks. The moment the chief's daughter tells the hero that the giant scary dragon-thing is nigh-impossible to ride, and that the last person to do it "brought the clans together in a time of great sorrow," there is NO question as to whether the hero will ride it. His entrance on the beast loses all dramatic impact because you know it's going to happen (thank you, go away, hurry up and get to the climactic fist-fight with the evil general please). And using a paraplegic as the main character? From the moment he first runs in the avatar body ("This is great!") you know there's no chance that the closing scene would see him back in his human body because hey, this is America, and cripples can't be heroes, right? And just in case there might have been any doubt, they dispel it by trying and failing to move Sigourney Weaver's "soul" into her alien body. Hurray, there's hope for the hero yet!

That awful, awful romantic subplot. It's not a blockbuster without the lead male falling for the feisty yet vulnerable (and inevitably hot) female support character. And sure, love conquers all, but why, WHY does she fall for the guy she knows is an alien in a vat-grown body? ("You see? It is a demon in a false body!") The instant she bounds onto the screen, all flowing hair and jiggling furry boobs, there's no question that the hero will end up, um, completing his primary mission with her. At least in Titanic, Cameron was good enough to kill off DiCaprio afterwards.

Comparisons with Star Wars. Okay, if you even momentarily thought this was as ground-breaking as George Lucas' 1977 space epic, you hand in your nerd card, right now. Sure, Star Wars looks cliche now, but that's because so many films have followed where it led. Galactica, Buck Rogers, Battle Beyond the Stars, Star Crash (for the most blatant example, try The Hoff With Lightsabre!): all of them cashed in on Star Wars' success. Yes, a big part of that was the special effects (which blew the budget out to a whopping ELEVEN MILLION BUCKS), and yes, the plot was almost a straight rip of Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (watch the opening scene: you'll see where Lucas got his Star Destroyer entrance from). But the characters were real people, even when they weren't; you cared what happened to them. And thirty years later, despite three godawful prequel films, Star Wars is still held dear by millions. Even Ewoks couldn't change that. And what has Avatar brought to our culture?

Avatar porn.

That's pretty much it. There won't be a sequel, there won't be a sendup, there won't be re-enactment societies or cartoons or anything else, because if you take away the big cinema screen, there's nothing left of Avatar but a vague memory of a ten-foot-tall blue chick.
Look, if you liked it, that's great. But let's not pretend it was anything more than a CGI demonstration. Sure, wow us with colours and effects and awesome battles, but make us think, make us care, and please, PLEASE make us wonder how this thing is going to turn out.
It's our own fault of course. Every time I criticise Avatar, people tell me I should just turn my brain off and enjoy it. Huh? I LIKE listening to my brain. It tells me cool stuff like "Don't go out yet, you need pants," and "Kerosene may LOOK like Kool-Aid, buuut..." That's the issue here: If we keep paying to see films that don't engage us intellectually and emotionally, we'll just get more of the same. But if we save our hard-earned for the Hurt Lockers, the Inceptions, the countless other stories that are more memorable than the taste of the popcorn we ate watching them, then we'll get better films, we'll get films that fire our imaginations and inspire us long after the credits roll. I walked out of Star Wars wanting to be an X-Wing pilot. I walked out of Avatar wanting to punch James Cameron in the nose. An emotional reaction, sure, but probably not the one he intended. He had a chance to wrap the incredible technology and stunning effects around a believable, engaging story. Cameron could have followed up on his remarkable effort with Terminator and Aliens (no, not Titanic: even a giant boat can't make yet another Uptown Girl romance tale interesting). Instead, he went with the blandest, most cookie-cutter plot he could devise, to ensure nobody was distracted from the pretty colours. In this he was entirely successful.
If you don't believe me, try this: how many characters can you name from the movie? Do you remember the hero's name? The villainous general? Any of the Na'vi? Tragically, the only thing that stays with us from this movie is the hype, and a pair of ugly 3D glasses.

Of course, it's not the first time special effects were put before plot. Remember Independence Day?

Nah, neither do I.

UPDATE: Avatar sequel!
As if there wouldn't be a follow-up to a (financial) triumph like Avatar. A failure on my part to think otherwise, or to spend five minutes Googling . Apparently they're taking it underwater; maybe next an Ice Planet? Or possibly just the latest instalment in Cameron's numerous watery sojourns.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I heart Julia Gillard

So we have a female prime minister. And, with the exception of her hair colour, apparently that's the most significant thing about her. Nobody seems to mention her career as an IR lawyer, her place in the last guy's inner circle, her ability to stimulate the economy by building hundred thousand dollar schoolrooms for eight million bucks apiece. Nope, it's all about the boobs.
Seriously, what? We're asking whether she can run the country, not whether she can get away with wearing pearls and tan calf-high boots in a photo shoot (I dunno, is that cool?) Questions about kids, marriage, how she'd decorate the lodge: this is stuff for reality TV airheads, not the leader of the world's fourteenth largest economy. You can't advertise a job with "Men only need apply": why is the most important thing about our new PM something that you're not even allowed to mention in the employment pages?

Now, I think it's a fine thing that we've got a woman as a PM. But for one reason, and one reason only. Reasons that are NOT important are as follows:

1) We should let a girl have a turn

Bollocks. We should let the smartest, most capable, most visionary person have a go. If it's about being fair, then (in no particular order) we should vote for a fat guy (check it out: we haven't yet), a thin woman, someone with glasses, someone with a limp, a one-armed Albanian, a dyslexic albino and whatever other excluded group we can find. Maybe even a Tasmanian, though I don't think we're quite ready for that yet. Giving people a go because it's "their turn" is a beautiful thing, if we're talking about the junior school gym team. Letting the unco kid flail about on the trampoline until he hurts himself is great for his self-esteem and makes us all a bit teary at our own generosity. But I'm guessing Julia's pretty much right for self-esteem. And if not I don't really give a bugger; we're all giving her money and a nice house in return for running the country, so hopefully that'll make up for her being picked last for soccer in grade five.
To make it a little more personal, try this: if you went to hospital to have your appendix out, what would you say if the surgeon was a veteran of some thousand appendectomies? "Oh no, bring me the new guy with the thick glasses and the trembling hands. Let him have a turn." I wouldn't do it to my appendix, and I certainly wouldn't do it to my country.

2) She understands women's issues

Which issues are those? Defence? Given that most of the people we sent overseas to get shot at in our various wars were blokes, I don't know that women can get a much better deal. It's probably not parenting either, since Prime Minister Gillard has chosen career over family. I heartily applaud this choice, not because I oppose families (marvelous things; I belonged to one once), but because I support her right to choose. Women I speak to are as passionate about the political issues of the day as any man, but few of them show any signs of gender divisiveness. The issues women complain about that men don't are things like the difficulty of finding clothes that fit or a mechanic they feel they can trust. I don't think we have a Federal Ministry of Sizes, nor a Register Of Trustworthy Mechanics, so I'm not sure they're affecting voting patterns too strongly. Angela Merckl, the German chancellor (like a PM, but with a nicer car) isn't worrying about gender issues so much as she's dealing with economic security, health care and not getting her country pummelled in another war. Iceland's PM, Johanna Siguradottir (try saying that after a brace of Absolut shots), the first openly gay head of state of the modern era, is too busy building volcano fences and trying to stay warm to think about equal pay for women. And our Julia actually opposed the whole paid parental leave before she got the top job.

Like everyone else, I cringed a little each time I saw Tony Abbott on TV, surrounded by every female figure he could scrape up, plus Bronwyn Bishop. It was transparent, it was embarrassing and it shouldn't have been necessary, but he had to show some girl-cred to claw back a few votes from Julia's growing band of sistahs yo. Personally I think any bloke who's raised three daughters has about as much understanding as a man can have of women's issues without surgery but nonetheless, at the close of polls, he had one penis too many for some voters.

3) Women are better leaders because they are less confrontational
Two words: Margaret Thatcher. She crushed the unions, gave Argentina a damn good thrashing and did everything short of mooning the Soviet Union when the Cold War was at its peak. Yet she was the longest-serving British PM for a couple of hundred years. Her gender had nothing to do with it; invasions, cold wars and recessions are pretty horrible whether or not you stand up to pee, and she dealt with them as well as any man in the job since Churchill toddled off. She was confrontational from start to finish; it might have made her seem less feminine but, regardless of your opinion of her actions, she certainly got stuff done. Bob Hawke might have seemed confrontational, but he tried to be everyone's friend, and behind the scenes he worked towards consensus as hard as he could. All it got him was a recession we had to have and Paul Keating's letter-opener stuck in his back when the lights went out.
Having said that, I'm hoping Julia won't be flipping off the Russians or getting us into another war. But, should we get into a spot of bother, then if she's any good as a PM (and she just might be if we give her a chance) she'll be acting in Australia's interests, not just Australian women's interests.

So why, after all of that, is it a good thing to have a woman in the job?

Someone had to be the first.

Now that we've got it out of the way, people won't look at the next female candidate as "the first". It'll be less about Women's Weekly photo shoots and awkward questions about her committed life partner, and more about whether she supports the mining tax, paid parental leave or whether Peter Garrett should open Parliament by leading the front bench in an a cappella rendition of Beds are Burning. And we'll vote based on whether we like their stance on unions, on the emissions trading scheme and on promises to send Bob Katter back to his home planet as soon as possible.
By treating candidates on their merits rather than their gender, we've instantly doubled the prime ministerial talent pool. And given some of the choices we've been offered over the last few decades (cough) Keating (cough) that has to be A Very Good Thing.

Mind the Africans...

"Hi, thanks for coming," said the agent. "There's a large African family living here, so...uh..."
Give or take a pause or two, that was roughly how the home open began. Actually, it began with my partner eyeing the house the way she eyes the cats' litter tray when they're feeling a bit squitty. She retreated to the safety of the car, leaving me to chat with the rather harried looking agent myself.
He wasn't kidding. Most of Mozambique appeared to be occupying the lounge. They seemed largely oblivious to the (tiny) handful of people who turned up, and it added something of a festive air to proceedings. Which was nice, because I like to think about the biggest investment of my life while listening to Yossou N'Dour at ninety decibels and weaving my way through a crowd of garishly dressed strangers. Not everyone ignored me though; on opening the door to one bedroom, I was confronted by a young lad holding a battered-looking acoustic guitar, standing beside another lad holding an equally battered-looking machete. Not sure if it was acoustic. Still, seen one machete-filled bedroom, seen 'em all, so I didn't feel the need to inspect the BIRs.
The third bedroom was less confrontationally occupied; the girl therein managed a smile as I entered. Would have introduced myself ("Hi, I'm Mick, I'll be evicting you 30 days after settlement,") but she was chatting on an iPhone worth more than the house. I'd seen more than enough by then, so I grabbed a brochure, took a quick look at the kitchen (mostly out of morbid curiosity) and got the hell out of there.

Buying a house, I've decided, is a Pain In The Arse. I want pants? I go to a pants shop. Shoes? Ditto. What I do NOT do is wait around until someone's selling a pair of shoes in a place I want to buy them, in a size that'll fit me, and at a price that'll let me sell the shoes to someone else when I outgrow them. Maybe after I've rented them out for a while, or extended them, with council permission.
I started looking October 2009, so it's been close to a year now. Have to take off a month or so at the start when I thought I was misreading the prices (seriously, how the hell can a house get MORE valuable the longer you live in it? Am I paying for your dust bunny collection, the half-hundredweight of leaves in the gutters?), then another month or so while I got used to real estate agent jargon which, I quickly discovered, is a language unto itself. For the uninitiated, here are a few of the trickier terms I had to learn in short order:

"Lived-in": thrashed
"Needs some TLC": completely thrashed
"Renovator's dream": anyone else's nightmare
"Sure to hold its value": overpriced
"Investor's delight": you wouldn't live here yourself
"Loads of potential": not redecorated since the 70s.

It was almost a relief to see the House Of Many Africans. The agent made no secret of the fact it needed knocking down, and the sooner the better. Although by the look of some of the walls I could have done it myself with a huff and a puff, If I had the slightest inclination to deal with the twin hells of real estate agents and builders, I might have thought about it too.
I've reached the point now where, after inspecting close to a hundred houses, I've decided there's something wrong with every house out there. EVERY house. If it's cheap, it's damp and dark. If it's in a good street, it's too small. If it's big and airy and well-located and comes with a spa, sauna and nine hole golf course, I'll need to sell both kidneys just to scratch up a deposit.
And that's just fine. When you buy a house, I think you need to decide what flaw you're willing to tolerate. That's how people end up buying on busy main roads: they find the right place and decide they can learn to love the sound of road train exhaust brakes at 2am. And that's why we end up in shoebox-sized townhouses on 'estates' with fifty other glassy-eyed broken-spirited homebuyers whose Australian Dream has been reduced to 150 square metres and a concrete balcony overlooking the car park.

Or, we can keep looking. Sure, the place I'm looking at now is on a main road, but there's a park beyond it. And yes, the grease on the kitchen cupboards is thick enough to support my weight, but mops are cheap, and my time is free. I'm lucky enough to have somewhere to live, and nobody relying on me to put a roof over their heads. My own Australian Dream is alive and well and just one more home open away.
A warning though: when you come round for the housewarming, there may be a large African family living there, so...uh...