The Top 10 Names I Have Falsely Claimed To Be Calling My Forthcoming Child

Dear The Internet,

You know it makes sense.

You know it makes sense.

One of the simple joys about impending fatherhood, aside from hoping that my child will be born independently wealthy, has been responding to questions from friends, family and impertinent strangers as to whether or not we’ve settled on a name.

These have been the standard answers thus far, generally made while maintaining unblinking eye contact.

  1. Smashmouth
  2. Chewbacca
  3. Optimus Steve
  4. !!!
  5. Doctor Professor
  6. Voyager 3
  7. Cthulhu
  8. [The Full Name of the Person I’m Speaking To]
  9. Gough
  10. Andrew P Street II: The Streetening

At least three of them aren’t necessarily jokes. Can you guess which ones?

Yours ever,

APS

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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

So, I’m working on a new book…

Dear the Internet,

As the Game of Thrones-level drama plays out around the teetering towers of Turnbull Manse, I’m working on book #2 – and it’s all about… um, the last 40-odd years of Australian music.

If you’ve come to me because of View from the Street and/or The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott (and if so: thank you! Welcome!) this may well come as a surprise.

This album, friends, is so much better than literally everything happening in politics.

This album, friends, is so much better than literally everything happening in politics.

That’s partially because most political commentators don’t spend the first 18-odd years of their careers as (mainly) music journalists, and partially because almost all of the work done during that era was either for street press and is now slowly-degrading 90s-era landfill, or was for sites that largely don’t exist any more (or whose old content is buried beneath several levels of web platforms thanks to the steady geology of tech…).

Anyway: the plan is to do a bit more in terms of talking about the book as we go, not least because it’s a glorious relief to obsess over favourite Australian band and much-missed venues from around the country. I’m also going to start recovering some of the lost articles and giving them a new and hopefully more permanent home somewhere in here.

And, to kick off, here’s one of the greatest pop songs by one of the greatest pop bands: the Hummingbirds. It would be wise to turn your speakers up loud before dancing goofily around your study to this. I speak from recent experience.

(oh, and if you’re desperate for ranty political stuff instead of twee indie pop: here’s today’s V from the S about how Malcolm Turnbull is doomed, even if he wins).

Yours ever,

APS

The Beer Garden Principle of Online Discussions

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Dear the Internet,

I, like most of the world, am on social media. And I, like anyone who expresses an opinion and is on social media, have people feeling the need to tell me, a complete stranger, without any prompting, just how stupid I am.

My standard response is straightforward: blockity-block-block.

And I know that part of it is because of the format of Twitter. That’s because it’s the modern equivalent of people yelling out of bus windows: it’s possible to say something meaningful, I guess, but much easier just to tell someone they suck.

And because I have a largely-public-ish Facebook page there are sometimes people who feel that they’re welcome to hove in and have their ill-spelled and/or aggressively stupid say, for reasons I can’t fathom.

And those people get blocked, obviously, because they are loud, obnoxious bullies.

“B-b-but Andrew,” you might theoretically reply, “what about the precious freedom of speech! You’re denying them their all-important right to insult complete strangers in public! Do you want Australia to be North Nazi Russia Korea, commie?”

So, in order that I might have a handy link that I can send to jerks before blocking them – and hey, thanks for reading, jerks! – allow me to outline what I’d like to call the Beer Garden Principle of Online Discussions, which is based on years of meticulous research carried out in our nation’s pubs.

And it goes like this:

If I’m sitting at a table with friends in a public beer garden and having a conversation, and someone comes over and says “excuse me, couldn’t help overhearing what you were talking about, mind if I join you?” then they will generally be welcome.

If, however, they barge in and start screaming insults into my friends’ faces, I have zero problem immediately getting the bouncers to turf them out.

I feel this is a good model for online discussions, and also for life in general – not least because hanging with friends in beer gardens is time well spent.

You have an opinion that relates to a discussion and you wish to raise it respectfully in the interests of deepening a conversation? Excellent! You want to call me a fucktard, or change the subject to your own scared crackpot theories? Off you fuck, there’s a good little solider.

I encourage you to use this The Beer Garden Principle in your own lives. Free and open debate is a good thing; abuse is not. Disagreement is useful; threats are not. You don’t owe anyone your time or your attention, in beer gardens or on Twitter. Your time, your choice.

And for those reading this after stamping their angry little feet about something or other and finding themselves blocked, I made you this:

kitty fee fees

Let the healing begin!

Yours ever,

APS

How To Address The Stupid Arguments Against Marriage Equality: a cut out and keep guide

Most of these sorts of discussions end very productively.

Most of these sorts of discussions end very productively.

Dear The Internet,

One of the nice things about having a column is that I get to rant about stuff I think should be ranted about, but sometimes I just want to rant EVEN MORE. And the biggest thing that’s baffling me at the moment is the pointless and downright silly arguments against same-sex marriage being implemented in Australia.

There is a strong, sensible argument against marriage equality, and it goes like this: “I don’t like gay people and I don’t want them being happy.”

It’s intellectually honest, it cuts right to the heart of the matter, and it doesn’t mess around pretending that the speaker cares about civil rights or human happiness. Unfortunately it also makes clear how little someone’s personal ick-feelings should contribute to crafting legislation in a modern democracy.

Thus campaigners prefer to go with elaborate justifications about how they’re actually worried about protecting marriage and and preserving the sanctity of marriage, and respecting the values of tradition, because they’re largely meaningless statements that are therefore hard to argue against, and also because bigots get very sad when people call them bigots.

And then there are more practical arguments which I’m sick of slapping down regularly on Facebook, so here’s my list of responses to the current crop of stupid, stupid arguments against marriage equality. This way I can just send a link and get on with my day.

Stupid Argument The First: This is so very very important a change that we should have a Referendum, like in Ireland! You know, to see what The People think!

No, we shouldn’t. More specifically, not only do we not need to, but it would achieve literally nothing.

In Australia a Referendum can only be called in order to change something in the Constitution, and since the definition of marriage isn’t in the Constitution – it’s in the Marriage Act, a piece of Federal law – it can only be changed through federal legislation. You know, like the Howard Government did in 2004. Remember that referendum about defining marriage as being between “a man and a woman”? No you don’t, because there wasn’t one.

The other option that’s been thrown around is a plebiscite, which is like a Referendum but a) not necessarily a compulsory vote, and b) not about something in the Constitution. That’s what we had about changing the flag, for example.

The problem with that is that the Constitution prevents the Federal Parliament from limiting its own power to create laws, so a plebiscite would have to be non-binding BY DEFINITION in order to work. What’s more, it would leave any change potentially open to a High Court challenge regardless of the result.

So either way, it would require Parliament to change the law independently of any such citizen vote – exactly as it does at the moment without one.

Stupid Argument The Second: B-b-but kids deserve a mother AND a father!

Leaving aside that this is a meaningless statement – kids grow up without one or both parents all the time – this has absolutely nothing to do with the Marriage Act. Parental rights are determined by a suite of laws mainly created by the states, and if you’re worried that kids might be legally raised by same-sex couples if the definition of marriage was changed then you might want to sit down: it’s already legal.

More specifically: same sex couples can adopt in WA, the ACT, Tasmania and NSW, and a same-sex partner of a parent can legally adopt their partner’s child in WA, the ACT and NSW. In the other states a partner can apply for a Parenting Order, which is much the same thing but doesn’t remove an existing parent’s rights as per an adoption.

So if that’s the big concern then a) the Marriage Act is the wrong target and b) that battle’s already been lost.

Stupid Argument The Third: OK, let’s make all partnerships “civil unions” and define “marriage” exclusively as a church-sanctioned thing!

Well, for a start this would require altering the Marriage Act to change the definition of marriage – which is the exact thing that people are so gosh-darn worried about doing, right?

But also, this would require stripping marriage from heterosexual couples who didn’t have a religious ceremony, which is the vast majority of Australians. Removing it from a majority of straight people seems a bit at odds with arguing that it’s a precious special magical thing for man and woman to share.

Then there’s the fact that an increasing number of churches are totally fine with marriage equality, which will kinda dilute this terribly important distinction, surely?

But the main thing is that it would never get public support necessary for it to be passed. People like being married, which is why people want to be married. That’s the entire reason this discussion is happening in the first place.

But what if, on the other hand, churches want to decide that the only marriages that “count” are ones done in their own faith tradition? Well, in a lot of cases, they… um, already do.

Stupid Argument The Fourth: B-b-but the law will make religious me do gay things I don’t like!

A popular side argument to the above is “b-b-but these changes will force me, a religious minister, to marry gay people against my faith! My religious freedom will be curtailed! CURTAILED!”

Except that churches won’t be forced to marry gay people they don’t want to marry. You know why? Because they already don’t marry straight people they don’t want to marry.

Most churches at least require the couple to be part of their faith, and usually also their congregation. There are already arbitrary hoops through which people have to jump to get access to any religion’s clubhouse.

Also, let’s be realistic here: no sane person is going to decide to hold a celebration of partnership and commitment, surrounded by all the people they love most, that’s officiated by someone who openly despises them. Weddings are typically delightfully upbeat affairs, and that would kinda bring down the mood.

Stupid Argument The Fifth: But tradition! TRADITION!

Even assuming that tradition was a strong prima facie reason to not change something (which, as the replacement of the traditional practice of bloodletting with the modern alternative of antibiotics has demonstrated, it is not), which tradition are you talking about, exactly?

The first recorded marriages in history predate the major religions by a few thousand years, were in Egypt (and quite probably in other places that didn’t conveniently have a written language that was preserved in stone) and were designed as a way for families to record lineage of offspring in order to maintain family ownership of property. They were a romantic people, them ancient Egyptians.

And while there are plenty of examples of same-sex, polygamous and weird sibling-heavy arrangements in different epochs and locations, we’re perfectly cool with ignoring those traditions when they don’t suit what we like, or what our society will accept.

That’s because marriage is like so many other things that humans care about, like the unalterable word of God in religious texts, or the Star Wars prequels: people inevitably pick the bits they think are good and quietly ignore those they don’t, whether it’s prohibitions on wearing mixed-fabric clothes or the existence of Jar Jar Binks.

So inevitably it comes down to people being very selective about the traditions they want to follow, which is why we currently have the very modern idea of two people voluntarily entering into a partnership for reasons predominantly connected with love. It’s hard to see why the genitals of these people would make a fundamental difference to that broad concept.

Stupid Argument The Sixth: But changing the definition of marriage will inevitably lead to polygamy/child-marriage/dogs and cats having adorable tiny weddings!

Since those are all entirely different questions, no it won’t.

The argument behind this otherwise-silly statement presumably goes something like this: “if we alter the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act now, what’s to stop us altering the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act again later?”

And the answer is “nothing, beyond having the motivation to actually do it”.

More specifically, we can change any word of any Act at any time, provided that Parliament has the numbers to do so and can be arsed spending the time doing it. That’s literally the entire point of Parliament. They make and change and repeal laws, loads of them, all the time (for an average of 50-ish days per year, at least).

If your fear is that Parliament might alter words in a law sometime now or in the future, then perhaps representative democracy isn’t the right political system for you.

Stupid Argument The Seventh: Oh, why is this still a thing? I mean, who cares? There are more important things to worry about!

Exactly. It’s a pointless and tedious argument, and it’s going to keep going until we finally have marriage equality because more people want it than don’t. If it gets brought up in Parliament and defeated, that’s not going to make it go away (hey, it didn’t last time). It’s going to keep going and going and going and going until it happens.

You want the endless debates to finish? Pressure for same sex marriage to pass so we can all get on with our lives.

Yours ever,

APS

So, you like buying books by people named me, right?

Dear The Internet,

Since I’m now holding the contract in my trembling hands, I can now officially announce that I HAVE A CONTRACT FOR MY FIRST BOOK. Yes, I know: I also think I should have written one by now.

I’ll be frantically putting words together to make something for Allen & Unwin to publish later this year, on the happy subject of the Abbott Epoch of Australian governance. And it’s great of the Coalition to give me so much material to choose from too, especially the last couple of months.

Look, I'm as surprised as you are.

Look, I’m as surprised as you are.

I’m overjoyed, excited as hell, and absolutely terrified.

If you are wondering “but APS, what sort of timbre will your book most likely take?”, then here’s the last week or so of View from the Street, lovingly ranted for you at the Sydney Morning Herald and the rest of the Fairfax Digital family.

This does mean that I’ll be winding back a lot of my writing for the next little while, aside from VftS, but rest assured I’ll still be word-jockeying with desperate haste.

And now, back to frantic note-compiling and Scrivener tutorials.

Yours ever,

APS

“Politics isn’t a popularity contest”

Some statements are uttered so often that you no longer realise what utter bullshit they are

Fun fact: this is the exact note that Andrew Peacock used in his unsuccessful spill motion against PM Malcolm Fraser in 1981

Fun fact: this is the exact note that Andrew Peacock used in his unsuccessful spill motion against PM Malcolm Fraser in 1981

It’s a cliché that politicians lie, but one of the most hilarious things that is said by pollies from all sides of the political spectrum (though most often when they’re in power) is one that is taken as some sort of noble truth when it is in fact, if you take a second to think about it, utter steaming nonsense.

And it is this: “politics isn’t a popularity contest”.

Usually it’s said to a reporter by a beleaguered politician trying to enact a programme or policy that is getting hammered with criticism in the public sphere – selling off public land or closing a hospital or some such thing – and is meant to evoke their high-minded commitment to principle over the ill-informed howls of the unwashed rabble.

“This is good policy,” this politician will declare, before sighing to indicate the terrible weight of responsibility under which they ceaselessly labour and adding “and politics isn’t a popularity contest. We have to do what’s right.”

And oh, what a condescending load of arse that statement is.

Why? Because government is completely and utterly a popularity contest.

That’s not to say that public opinion is sometimes important or electorally valuable: all politics is 100% a popularity contest all of the time. It is literally the entire job – and those who forget this fact are rewarded by not being in power for very long.

It doesn’t even matter what kind of government we’re talking about. Unpopular leaders get replaced by their parties. Unpopular parties get voted out in democratic elections. Unpopular dictators get overthrown in coups, most often by someone more popular with the military. Unpopular monarchs get assassinated by their scheming uncles and ambitious advisors.

It’s even true in popular science fiction: the Sith allegedly spent millennia carefully plotting and scheming to get Emperor Palpatine in control of the galaxy, and he blew it in a couple of decades by being enough of a jerk to make a decent size slab of the population violently oppose him. If he’d built more space hospitals and fewer Death Stars then the Rebel Alliance would never have been motivated enough to start painting up their X-Wings in matching livery.

(And seriously: Death Star? Did the Empire not even consider test marketing that name? You need to call it something people can get behind – after all, that’s why Australia’s anti-asylum seeker programme “Operation Sovereign Borders” isn’t called “Hunt Down And Scare Off The Boats Filled With Brown People”.)

Popularity is the entire job of being a successful politician. “Popular” comes from the same Latin root as “population”: popularis, meaning “by, of, or for the people”. To govern the populace, you must be of the populace: in other words, popular.

That’s not to say that governments don’t have to do things that people don’t like in the best long-term interests of the nation. In those cases they either have to convincingly argue the case so that people understand what’s at stake, or they have to plough through, take their punches and hope that they have enough goodwill in reserve to get them over the rough patch.

But any politician that says “it’s not a popularity contest” isn’t showing they’re above the fray: they’re telling you to shut up.

And that’s a great way to make yourself unpopular.