Books and columns and updates-a-go-go!

Dear The Internet,

I had every intention of getting this up on Friday, but I got sidetracked doing a lot of the writing and frantically attempting to get life in some sort of order that humans so often do these days – including some last minute legals to prevent certain members of the government from flexing their litigation muscles. But I am happy – not to say incredibly relieved – to report that The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull: the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat is at least 70 per cent funnier than I remembered it. It was, after all, written in something of a panicked fugue state.

Suffice to say that said book is still on track to be in your hands – and in your hearts – in October via the good, good people of Allen & Unwin, and that there should be launches and things to announce. Honest.

And there’s some other bits and pieces coming out shortly, refreshingly not of a political nature, but in the meantime the new episode of the Double Disillusionists is up now (with Chaser co-founder Charles Firth), and here’s last week’s Views from the Street columns at the Sydney Morning Herald, listed below.

And there’ll be a new column up today… shortly… I should probably start writing it, actually…

Cheers,

APS

 

He also got very sad about this photo, so definitely don't circulate it around.

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New book in October! More writing! It’s all happening!

Dear the Internet,

So, last year I wrote a book, and now for some reason I’ve written a second one! It’s actually finished and everything.

Coming out almost a year to to the day after The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott, the world will get a second volume about Australian politics with an even more unnecessarily long and ridiculous name: The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull: the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat. (Please note – and I mean PLEASE note – the bit where it refers to the first book as “bestselling”. I’m going to be dropping that into conversation as often as possible).

Friday afternoon still life, with cat.

Friday afternoon still life, with cat.

I’m frantically proofing the final layouts at the moment, and it’ll be on shelves in October via the fine people of Allen & Unwin. I’ll put some excerpts up here between now and then, because dammit, it’s been a labour of impossibly panicked love. And it’s got some very funny bits, honest. And even more footnotes.

There’ll be a launch of some sort and an actual publication date, the details of which I will… um, advise. Soon. Honest. Once this headache subsides.

Also, the Double Disillusionists podcast took a couple of weeks off to go “…the HELL?” about the election, but now we’re back!

Also, I thoroughly recommend The Hansard Monologues at the Guardian, and here’s this week’s worth of writin’ at the Sydney Morning Herald, where m’column pops up every Mon-Wed-Fri. Think of it as a View from the Street rant-digest.

I’ll put some tantalising bits of the book up soon, once everything’s proofed and I can… well, probably start #3, if the last week has been any indication. Hooooh boy, this is going to be a colourful parliament…

Yours ever,

APbestsellingS

A boom microphone picks up the private conversation of Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton in September last ...

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Marriage Equality Plebiscite: or, how to decide to have the free vote we apparently can’t have

Presumably that's where the mouth controls are located.

Presumably that’s where the mouth controls are located.

So, the Prime Minister has just confirmed that Coalition MPs will not be bound by the result of the $160 million national plebiscite on whether or not Australia should recognise same sex marriage, and that they will enjoy a “free vote” (ie: not bound by the party’s position) on the matter.

As Malcolm Turnbull explained on Friday 24 June, once the plebiscite is done and if a majority of Australians vote yes, then… um, parliament will vote on legislation to pass marriage equality, which then may or may not happen depending on whether there’s enough support for it among the individual MPs and senators.

“The tradition in the Liberal Party is that on matters of this kind it is a free vote,” Turnbull announced, adding “I have no doubt that if the plebiscite is carried, as I believe it will be, that you will see an overwhelming majority of MPs and senators voting for it.”

In other words, rather than have the federal parliament legislate over marriage (which, as we discovered when the high court overturned the ACT’s brief attempt at legalising same sex marriage in December 2013, is the sole and exclusive preserve of the federal parliament), we’ll have a plebiscite to… um, determine whether or not marriage equality should be debated in parliament.

And that’s an interesting – some might say “nonsensical” – sort of an argument, since the entire justification of the plebiscite was that the Liberal Party could not settle the issue this via a free vote. The very existence of the plebiscite, in other words, undermines the justification for the existence of the plebiscite.

Or, to put it another way, if we can apparently have a free vote, why not just have a goddamn free vote? 

The argument is that we can’t, obviously, since legislating about the legal definition of marriage is far too important a change for the parliament to do. You know, despite having done exactly that in 2004.

When marriage equality bills were introduced into the 44th Parliament by senator David Leyonhjelm, the Greens and Labor, then-PM Tony Abbott refused to even table them on the grounds that “If our parliament were to make a big decision on a matter such as this, it ought to be owned by the parliament and not by any particular party.”

Weirdly enough, when a bill which was owned “not by any particular party” was subsequently introduced by Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch and Labor MP Terri Butler and seconded by a multi-party coalition of Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro, Labor MP Laurie Ferguson, independents Cathy McGowan and Andrew Wilkie, and the Greens’ Adam Bandt, the song abruptly changed.

No longer was it enough for the matter to be owned by the parliament: “The disposition,” the PM Tony Abbott proudly explained in August 2015, “is that it should happen through a people’s vote rather than simply through a Parliament’s vote.”

Turnbull maintained this line after taking power, partially because it was a condition that the National Party set in order to maintain the Coalition.

“When the Australian people make their decision, that decision will stick. It will be decisive. It will be respected by this government and by this parliament and this nation,” he insisted. “Let me tell you this. If you imagine that any government… would spend over $150 million consulting every Australian on an issue of this kind and then ignore their decision, then they really are not living in the real world.”

However, the problem was that many members of the government were perfectly happy to ignore the decision: Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz made clear that “Every member of parliament will make up his or her mind after the plebiscite is held,” and questions were asked about how a non-binding public vote was going to somehow oblige MPs and senators to vote in a law.

And it turns out the answer is simple: it can’t! And it won’t!

As we just learned, in the event that the majority of Australians (calculated in a way yet to be determined) vote yes on a question (which is also yet to be determined) to recognise same sex marriage, that will not actually result in a law, which will evidently be passed or defeated in the usual way – almost as though this is just like every other law, and maybe doesn’t need some huge song and dance around it.

And of course, this wildly contradictory series of obvious rule-changing and evasions would all makes sense if the plebiscite was just an expensive, time-wasting method of placating the special terror-feelings of social conservatives in the Liberal and National Parties, but that would be cynical.

No, clearly the plebiscite was a great way to settle a controversial issue by spending $160 million in order to decide… er, whether or not to have a free vote.

You know, identical to the one which is apparently not an option.

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Interview with the Double Disillusionists

So, the good folks at Telum interviewed Dom and I for their media email blast thing, and I thought it entertaining enough to reprint here in not-email form. Enjoy!

Telum Talks To… Andrew P Street and Dominic Knight, Presenters, The Double Disillusionists
What inspired you two to make this election podcast?
APS: I naturally realised that writing a daily column and two books was insufficient for me to say all I had to say on the endlessly-fascinating subject of Australian politics, and that another time-consuming regular commitment would really hit the spot. And I was genuinely excited about Dom no longer being constrained by being employed by our public broadcaster and therefore being free to express political opinions, not least since he’s erudite, articulate and hilarious.
DOM: Aw, shucks! The obvious thing to do after four years of getting paid to talk into microphones is to find a way to keep doing that for free. Mostly I’m just trying to ride APS’ coattails now that he’s the nation’s greatest political commentator (by volume).

How do you know each other and what are your roles within the podcast?
APS: Dom and I met via a mutual friend with whom I worked when I was Music Editor at Time Out Sydney, and we just kinda hit it off when he started inviting me onto 702 ABC to talk about music-related stuff on a semi-regular basis. And Dom’s very much taken on the “Producer” role because he’s got actual broadcasting experience. I’m just some jerk who rambles on about whatever’s at the front of my brain at that moment and is far, FAR better on the page than on mic.
DOM: What he said, only I didn’t really know the mutual friend either, and was basically gatecrashing a party. We’re recording it via Skype because none of us are in the same place, so I try to play the role of traffic cop and interjector with various off-topic witticisms. Also, I generally haven’t been following the campaign as closely as APS and the guest because I’m travelling, so I tend to spend most of my time listening agog.

Most memorable campaign moments either from this campaign, or campaigns gone by?
APS: Has there been a memorable moment yet? It’s the most soporific election campaign in Australian political history, it seems to me. A few mid-debate knife fights would perk things up rapidly, though.
DOM: Nothing willl ever beat Mal Meninga’s political career – but it’s a pity nobody watched the first debate, because it was a true contest of ideas, on topics that mostly mattered, between two leaders who genuinely knew their stuff and engaged with voters. So of course a cable channel during the week’s top-rating football clashes was the ideal place for it.

Dom, you’re in Europe at the moment, so how do you ‘sync’ up for Andrew to tape the podcast?
APS: I am entirely at his mercy.
DOM: Lots of emails, the first seventeen of which say “Nah, let’s do it tomorrow”. Recording across timezones like this with two busy people and one bludging holidaymaker is unnecessarily hard, but APS and I really wanted to do this, and weren’t likely to be constrained by the sheer impracticality.

What are you working on apart from this podcast?
APS: I’m writing a sequel to my book about the Abbott government [The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott] at the moment – like, literally should be doing that right now instead of this – and writing my “View from the Street” column for Fairfax five days a week, while also doing the odd bit of other writing in all that spare time I have. And occasionally getting abdominal surgery, although hopefully that was more of a one-off.
DOM: I’m trying not to work as much as possible, and editing a podcast feels like a massive failure. I’m also writing a bit for The Drum, Daily Lifeand whoever else will pay me to sling a few words about. I’m also currently pitching a book called The Long and Excruciatingly Prolific Writing Of Admiral P Street, but as yet have no takers.

The ability to download radio programmes is nothing new, so why do you think podcasting is seeing such a surge in popularity?
APS: Is it actually popular? I just figure that podcasts are sort of like official websites were in the early 00s: they’re not especially valuable within themselves, but if you’re any sort of public figure you need to have one in order to appear that you take your career the least bit seriously.
DOM: They are a bit like what the Fauves said about three-pieces – everyone’s getting one together. But coming from broadcast radio, I really like the ability to make audio that people can listen to when it suits them, rather than the other way around. And the freedom involved is really delightful – both in terms of content and the invigorating freedom from getting paid.

Most memorable story / media moment you’ve been involved with?
APS: Zia McCabe of the Dandy Warhols once stripped me down to my underwear and put me in a cow costume. It was backstage at the Big Day Out and it was in order that I might therefore dance on stage with the dozens of other similarly-costumed folks during the Flaming Lips’ set, but I feel that the first bit of the story sounds slightly more exciting without the second bit.
DOM: Probably gatecrashing the stage of John Howard’s election victory in 2004. Instead of pulling a Chaser prank, I definitely should have given him a heartfelt thanks for saving us from Prime Minister Mark Latham.

Coffee, lunch or drinks?
APS: That sounds like the correct order to me.
DOM: Espresso martinis for lunch?

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
APS: I don’t care for the implication that I don’t already possess superpowers. I’m not necessarily wearing underpants outside my trousers simply because I don’t get how pants work, you know.
DOM: I would like to be able to be able to devour an entire primary school’s worth of sausages and lamingtons without getting a heart attack, because nothing tastes as sweet as democracy.

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The stupid myth of “picking winners”

Dear the Internet,

This has been on my mind for a little bit, and then became a bit of a Facebook rant, and is now a blog post on the prestigious Internet – which I think these days is pretty much the entire writing process in a nutshell. And speaking of which…

Before finally accepting that putting words on pages in some sort of order was the main – or, to put it another way, only – skill for which anyone would ever pay me money, I tried my hand at a few other doomed career alternatives including such can’t-miss wealth creators as “indie rock bassist” and “inner-city stand up comedian”. And much as I failed at them – and failed hard, let’s be clear – they did teach me some valuable lessons about the process of doing stuff.

Just check out that exquisite COMMAND OF THE STAGE!, circa 2013

Just check out that exquisite COMMAND OF THE STAGE!, circa 2013

That method is incredibly straightforward, regardless of the medium, and boils down to this: try things and see what happens.

That’s because, much as we’d like to rely on our own unerring judgement and genius insight, discovering what works isn’t a process that one discovers by any other method than simply trying stuff out.

No band ever consciously sets out to suck, and no stand up ever aspires to be humiliated on stage. The only reliable way to test hypotheses like “this joke is hilarious!” or “this chorus totally rocks!” is to put them in front of an audience and assess the subsequent reactions.

Now, this all seems like an uncontroversial sort of an idea – but perhaps it’s not as widely understood as I’d assumed.

One of the ideas underpinning the continued funding of the CSIRO is that the body tasked with Australia’s most basic scientific research should “pick winners” – that is, concentrate on areas of research that will prove commercially lucrative – rather than dick about doing wasteful, naval gazing “basic research” like mapping genomes or trying to puzzle out dark energy.

The problem is that this idea of picking winners is complete and utter bullshit – and you don’t even need to be a vaccine chemist, crop geneticist or supernova astrophysicist to understand why.

As one particularly awful date once asked to me at the time, “why do you have jokes in your set that no-one laughs at? Why don’t you just have great jokes all the time, one after the other?”

And the answer was obvious: fake an emergency phone call and leave early. But the reason my set was part-killer-mostly-filler was partially because I was pretty lousy at stand up but mainly because there’s absolutely no way to know what jokes work until you tell ‘em.

The thing that seems like a knock-down universal truth in your own head may, in fact, be complete arse – as evidenced by the grim silence that followed quips like “Newtown is Sydney’s most misleadingly named suburb – I’ve lived there for over a year now and haven’t seen a single newt.”

Want more evidence? Ponder for a moment the songs that have been huge, worldwide hits and you’ll realise that most of the biggest sellers over time aren’t the mighty multiple-writer workshopped pop hits. A significant majority of global smashes have one thing in common: they’re generally really, really odd.

They appeared because an artist had an idea and just knocked it out, and then circumstance, timing and decent marketing did the rest. The sales job happened after the work was created, because no record company executive on the planet would ever start a meeting with “You know what would definitely sell millions of records worldwide for decades? A multi-section six minute operatic ballad with no chorus about a nihilistic murderer which vamps on figures from classical Italian commedia dell’arte and Arabic mythology!” And yet chances are you’re humming Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ even as you read this.

People with an idea about the market – one might call them “marketers” – are successful if they are able to see new developments or products and go “hey, this could be popular!” Starting from the premise “here’s a thing people like that they’d like again!” doesn’t get you the iPhone; that’s how you get the Zune (remember them?).

Indeed, the invention for which the CSIRO are most often praised – wifi – didn’t come about because the organisation realised there’d be a global market for wireless communication.

It was a weird byproduct of an ultimately unsuccessful experiment to detect the theorised explosions of mini-black holes, for which the organisation needed to develop a way of unscrambling the radiowaves that such explosions would hypothetically create. In so doing, they inadvertently created a method of “unsmearing” messy data transmissions which – after about a decade of development – turned into a commercial goldmine.

Starting point: explosions of black holes. End point: a worldwide patent.

Trying stuff out can be expensive and messy – you know, like life is in literally all other ways – but it’s also the only way to actually discover things. And if the government’s going to keep making noises about how Australia needs to be innovative and agile, the idea that Australia’s key public research body should sacrifice research in favour of marketing seems an odd one.

Of course, maybe these CSIRO cuts are the equivalent of trying out a joke about amphibians of the inner west and seeing the response.

If so, federal government, learn the lesson I did: if people stand there with their arms folded staring at you with blind, barely-contained hatred, perhaps you need to try something else.

Yours ever,

APS

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Election time – and some book/podcast news!

Dear the Internet,

Sure, this page’s less-then-stellar update schedule makes things look like they’ve been quieter than they’ve been. But there’s some stuff to talk about! Honest! No, really!

Podcasts! They're the future (of talking things).

Podcasts! They’re the future (of talking things).

To start with: if you’ve been thinking “I could really do with hearing APS rant straight into my ears” then be advised that m’self and Chaser/ABC radio alumnus Dom Knight have just begun The Double Disillusionists, a weekly election podcast that’s better than all those other weekly election podcasts from less caffeinated people.*

It’s at Soundcloud right now, at PocketCast, and will be up at iTunes shortly!

Also, that Australian music book that got mentioned a little while ago has been gently put aside for a little while in order to focus on a completely new book. Oh, Australian politics: I keep trying to get out, and you just keep sucking me back in.

Yes, there’s going to be a sequel to The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott, focussing on the Turnbull epoch and taking us up to the election, because I am a sucker for punishment.

And while that’s being written at a rate of knots, View from the Street is still happening five days a week at the Sydney Morning Herald, of course.

It’s going to be a busy election campaign, basically, and I’m going to spend it neck deep in federal politics. What the hell have I signed up for?

Yours ever,

APS

*Probably.

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That playlist I mentioned in that Spotify piece…

Dear The Internet,

So, earlier this week I wrote a story about how the machines are going to destroy us all, or more specifically about how my special precious musical knowledge is now comprehensively outclassed by Spotify’s algorithms.

Not a dud track, frankly.

Not a dud track, frankly.

Anyway, a few people asked about the mighty wandering-around playlist I mentioned in the Spotify piece, and so if you were curious, that 2000+ song thing is here – and if you’re a regular View to the Street reader, you’ll suddenly realise just how often I secretly reference Guided by Voices in the column.

Also out this week in my weird writesmanship was a piece testing if I could become a wine expert in 24 hours, and a very silly thing about daylight savings. Oh, and a Daily Life piece about what men should think about before they start blithely calling themselves a feminist.

Incidentally, I’m gradually hunting down old, largely no-longer-on-the-web pieces that I liked and jamming them in the categories at the top of this page. For example, in the politics-bit there’s a resurrected piece from September 2013 about why a Tony Abbott government will be a good thing, which proves that I AM THE CASSANDRA OF AUSTRALIAN POLITICS.

In related news, I’m still neck-deep in my book on Australian music which involved watching the amazing and impossibly heartbreaking documentary 15 Minutes to Rock, a film about the not-overnight non-success of one of my all-time most beloved Australian bands, the Fauves.

And while watching them not find the audience which they are inarguably owed was agonising, it seemed like a fair excuse to play a song that, if we lived in a just universe, would be a global number one: ‘Self Abuser’.

I love the drop tuning, I love the cheeky Beatles dick-reference (“I got what I got and it’s mine”), and… look, it’s a perfect song. Turn it up and enjoy.

Yours ever,

APS

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