New article: Marriage Equality – a History of Avoidance

“This festival of dumbarsery began in 2004 when the government of John Howard decided to change the wording of the 1961 Marriage Act because it didn’t specify that the people being married could not be of the same gender. A line was added to make marriage “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. And thus was an entirely avoidable political problem created.”

Even as you tick “yes” and send your voluntary survey ballot paper in THE VERY DAY you receive it, thanks, it’s important to remember the completely unnecessary bullshit that has brought us to this ugly point in Australian cultural and political history – and, importantly, the people who lied and keep lying to you about it.

That’s my new article at Rolling Stone Australia, Marriage Equality: A History of Avoidance.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: As anyone who listens to my’n’Dom Knight’s podcast The Double Disillusionists (available at Omny, or subscribe on iTunes) would be aware, the constant barrage of homophobic No arguments does a lot to send the message to LGBTIQ folks, especially young people, that they’re not welcome and not valued.

Therefore, I’m instituting a zero tolerance policy on my social media and this site: if you have a problem with marriage equality, you’re very welcome to rant about it somewhere else because I’m just going to delete anything hateful that’s submitted.

I don’t imagine that the sort of people wanting to check out an Andrew P Street website are huge No voters, to be honest, but in any case they don’t get to use my platform to spread their weird fears.

Yours ever,


Cassini and I: a love story #GrandFinale

Dear the Internet,

Let me tell you about a somewhat one sided love story between an Australian writer and an interplanetary Flagship-class unmanned spacecraft.

I’ve written before about the way that the Cosmos series was pivotal for me and loomed large in the relationship between my father and I, how it became tangled up in my grief when he passed away in 1987, and how it ended up with Voyager-themed ink being permanently applied to my left arm.

See, by the time Cosmos was being made the Voyager spacecraft were only half way through their grand tour of the four giant planets of our solar system: they’d taken the first close up shots of Jupiter and then of Saturn, with Uranus and Neptune to come.

And those pictures of Saturn were mesmerising. Aside from being scientifically fascinating and the mission a triumph of human ingenuity, Saturn’s also just stunningly beautiful.

For me, like so many other people, Voyager 1 and 2 became symbolic of the finest human impulses. The thought of these two robotic emissaries rushing toward interstellar space, bearing a fragile message of hope (and music) seemed like the actions of an optimistic, inquisitive species to me. And, as I have previously written, there was also that resonance with my father – “a recognition that Voyager and Dad exist a long way away from where I am – one in space, the other in time – and that neither are ever coming back.”

But one spinoff was that it whet my interest in space probes more generally, and due partially because of the Saturn connection and mostly because it was a few months after the tenth anniversary of my father having lost his battle with leukemia, I poured a lot of grief-energy into learning about the Cassini-Huygens mission that was taking humanity back to Saturn.

It would take four years for Cassini to get from Earth to the ringed planet. Once there it would drop the Huygens lander on Titan (which was in itself astonishing: the one and only lander humans have successfully deployed beyond Mars) and then dedicate itself to sweeping through the Saturnian system to, among other things, take a whole bunch of photos. And god, how I wished that my father would be there to see them, which was to be something of a theme for the next few decades.

A very well-loved Voyager shot of Saturn, complete with blutack stains.

I logged every infrequent update in those early-internet times, wept at the gorgeous Van Gogh swirls of the Jupiter in the photographs it shot in 2000 during its slingshot path out of to Saturn, and rejoiced with completely indefensible joy when Cassini successfully carried out the Huygens landing and began taking the first close up pictures of Saturn’s moons and rings.

And it just didn’t stop: Cassini would finish one phase of its mission, still be completely operational, and then have its mission extended: when it got to the end of the Prime Mission in 2008, it was extended for another two years. And then another seven.

And during that period it was discovering more and more things about the marvellously dynamic Saturnian system (including seven new moons!), and thereby giving insights into how the solar system – and by extension we – might have formed out of the gas and dust surrounding the Sun five billion years ago.

And I very much appreciated the fact that when it took the heart-burstingly beautiful photograph of Earth through the rings – known as “the day the Earth smiled” – it just so happened to be my 41st birthday. You know, just in case I wasn’t already emotionally invested enough in this damn mission.

Yep. Annotated. ANNOTATED.

And this September Cassini ends almost 20 year odyssey by plunging into the atmosphere of Saturn to be vaporized, lest it collide with one of Saturn’s moons that might potentially harbour some form of life and really not need any Earthly contamination. And because of the way that the Earth is aligned, the mighty dish at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex will be picking up the final radio signals it ever sends*.

In other words, this mission I’ve been following since the beginning officially ends within driving distance of where I’m living.

So: it would mean a ridiculous amount to me to be there at the end to say goodbye to a friend that’s brought me so much joy and fascination for so very, very long.

And if you want to see me get overly emotional on Twitter live from the CDSCC, then here’s hoping I convince the good people there that I should be one of the invitees to cover the #GrandFinale live. And this is my case for inclusion.

Yours in Cassini-related hope,


*Well, technically that final radio signal will arrive about one hour and ten minutes after Cassini’s been silenced, since Saturn will be about 8.5 AU away from Earth at the time. But you know what I mean.

Supermoons aren’t that special – but the Moon absolutely is

Dear The Internet,

Want to know a secret about supermoons? They’re not that rare, not that special, and not obviously different to normal moons unless you’re really familiar with what they look like normally.

But here’s a secret about the Moon: it’s FREAKIN’ AWESOME and any excuse to make people go outside and look at it is a good one.

"There's a moon in the sky / It's called the Moon". You nailed it, B-52s.

“There’s a moon in the sky / It’s called the Moon”. You nailed it, the B-52s.

The Moon is unique because it’s made out of a bit of Earth that was blasted off and congealed in orbit. No other moon in our solar system appears to have been created that way.

Generally moons are made of bits of detritus from the formation of the solar system that clumped into vaguely spherical bodies around bigger planets (which is how most of them were probably formed), or captured asteroids (Mars’ tiny moons Phobos and Deimos, which will eventually crash to the surface) or cometary bodies that got trapped by gravity (everything orbiting around Pluto, and Neptune’s moon Triton orbits in the opposite direction to  the planet’s many other moons because it was an interloper that passed too close, which is incredibly weird and great).

Our Moon was created in a catastrophic collision between the newly-formed Earth and (we now think) a small protoplanet that was moving very, very fast about four and half billion years ago while the solar system was still forming.

What’s even more awesome is that it’s basically the reason you exist.

Earth has nice predictable seasons because the Moon’s gravity stops Earth wobbling wildly on its axis the way that, say, Mars does, meaning that life had a chance to get going without the entire place becoming encased in ice as a hemisphere turned away from the sun or burned to a crisp from millennia of direct sunlight.

That might be the reason there doesn’t seem to be life teeming all over the universe: maybe those first replicating chemical processes develop easily enough, but most planets don’t have stable temperatures that would let complex molecules develop long enough to establish that early foothold for life. After all, life started on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago but didn’t get more complex than bacteria for around three billion years. So life would appear to have needed things to be stable for a good long while in order to get its act together down here. And the Moon provided that.

Also, those dark bits that make it look like a face: that’s ancient lava flow. The Moon used to be geologically active. That’s goddamn amazing.

Oh, and by pure coincidence you’re fortunate enough to live in the only period in history where the Sun and the Moon are the same size as seen from Earth: the Moon used to be much closer and is slowly moving away from us (an echo of that collision that created it), but right now it’s the perfect size to completely block out the Sun during a solar eclipse. Seeing a total solar eclipse might be one of the rarest experiences in the universe, and Earth gets to do it every year or so.

The Moon: it’s incredibly fascinating and crucial to the existence of every species, including us. Our ancient civilisations weren’t crazy to worship it.

So it’s definitely worth a glance now and again.

Yours ever,


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,


A longish rant about the changes to the Senate Ballot, because WHAT COULD BE MORE EXCITING???

Dear the Internet,

Because I don’t want to spend an entire View from the Street column delving into the minutia of the Senate ballot, I thought I’d put the thing here where reading it was rather more optional. And thank you, incidentally: I know you upper-house obsessives like to party!

Pictured: what talking about the Senate is like.

Pictured: what talking about the Senate is like.

In case you can’t remember the process that occurred between you queuing up and hitting the sausage sizzle last election day, here’s how the Senate ballot has traditionally worked: either one vote for the party of your choice (voting “above the line’), or numbering every single candidate in order (“below the line”).

Unsurprisingly, most people vote above the line – 95 per cent, specifically, according to ABC statistical machine and stone-cold genius Antony Green – partially because it’s a lot quicker, partially because the majority of people vote for either the Coalition or Labor and therefore don’t need to worry about if their vote will be assigned elsewhere on preferences, and mainly because the only real motivation to number literally hundreds of boxes is to make a point of putting the most overtly bigoted parties last on the balllot.

(As those waiting for me to get out of the damn booth can attest, it really does take a while: the NSW state election was similarly arduous, but commitment to putting Fred Nile last requires certain sacrifices.)

It’s also worth pointing out that in a normal election half of the 12 senators per state are on the ballot (Senate terms are six years, as opposed to the House of Representatives which is three – NT and ACT have two senators each, who also sit three year terms, incidentally), and thus in order to win they have to get 16.67 per cent of the vote.

Remember that number – it gets significant shortly.

If you’re first or second on the Coalition/Labor ticket, you’re all but guaranteed to keep your job (Eric Abetz is #1 on the Liberal senate ticket in Tasmania and Cory Bernardi is the same in SA, so job performance is evidently not a huge deciding factor in who gets pole position). In South Australia Nick Xenophon are also safe, and most states will also vote in a Green every election or so.

The interesting things happen at the bottom, for those parties that don’t get that 16.67 per cent vote in their own right.

Those parties allocate their preferences to other parties, and while it’s portrayed as a secretive and sinister process of “preference harvesting” it’s a) fairly predictable since for the most part the left-leaning parties preference to the left and the right leaning ones to the right, and b) that group ticket is registered with the Australian Electoral Commission, who do the counting. However, voting for one microparty makes it fairly likely that your vote will go somewhere else.

That process is affected by the number of microparties – the more there are, the harder it is to predict the outcome – and it reached its apogee (or nadir, depending on your political outlook) at the 2013 election when the Motoring Enthusiast Party’s candidate Ricky Muir won a Victorian senate seat despite only gaining 0.51 per cent of the primary vote.

The new system that’s being proposed allows above-the-line preferencing (in other words, instead of only voting 1, voters can rank the parties in order), thus ending the back room preference harvesting in favour of direct democracy, right?

Well… here’s the thing.

The new system will make it all but impossible for any new parties to emerge in the future – so you can see why it appeals to the existing ones – and with the exception of the popular Nick Xenophon in SA pretty much guarantees that the only candidates that will get into the upper house are professional politicians.

Of course, these laws wouldn’t be getting passed if it was just a good thing for Australian democracy. They’re being passed because they’re to the advantage of those passing them.

For the Coalition it’s a slam dunk: a quick glance at the cross bench will confirm that most of the independents are right-leaning and therefore easy pick-ups under the new system (which, again, shows how that both whatever else the Abbott and Turnbull governments are, they’re lousy negotiators – how can they have passed so little legislation past a bunch of people with whom they largely agree?)

Labor too are hypothesised to benefit under the new ballot – not as much as the Coalition, hence their reticence to pass the laws – and since Nick Xenophon easily romps in his SA ballot in his own right, a preferencing system would do his new party a lot of good.
It gets more interesting with the Greens, who would probably lose seats – but, crucially, in a Senate with fewer independents the Greens would be very, very likely to hold the balance of power.

The problems with implementing the laws now and then calling a snap Double Dissolution are many – aside from the fact that DD is a huge Constitutional event designed to short-circuit a major parliamentary crisis rather than being used as a petulant excuse to hold an early election before a leader’s popularity slips.

One is that it leaves the Australian Electoral Commission very little time to change the systems, although they’ve supposedly been quietly preparing for this likely eventuality for a while, if my journalistic contacts within the public service can be trusted.

Secondly, there’s the fact that it leaves very little time to educate voters about how the Senate ballot has changed after 30 years, but again: a slew of informal votes, while bad for democracy, would be unlikely to hurt the government. Exactly which votes will count is a far bigger deal than it might immediately appear, incidentally, and Green explains it with great clarity at his blog.

A third problem is rather more tricky for Turnbull, which is that DD is a full Senate election – and with all twelve senators per state, the quotas are therefore halved to 8.3 per cent.

That’s a much, much lower bar – and there’s a solid chance that high profile cross benchers like David Leyonjhelm, Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus would clear it. How does Turnbull fancy a Senate where legislation is dependent on a cross bench fuming over how the government attempted to destroy their careers?

The alternative of course would be to go full term – or at least follow-through on the already-expressed plan to hold an election around September – which would give the AEC time to get software up to scratch and educate the public about this fairly important change to the method by which they vote.

But strategically – and let’s be honest, that’s why the change is being made – it would be better for Malcolm if he choses the dramatic and expensive option to go early before the government’s popularity slips any further amid disappearing ministers, children being sent back to Nauru, moves to privatise Medicare and the growing concerns over Australian property and share prices that seem to presage an economic slump.

Also, a snap DD would give the independent senators less time to remind their electorates that they exist – although who could be unaware of the sheer animal charisma of rock star senators like Family First’s Bob Day in SA and PUP’s Zhenya “Dio” Wang in WA?

And more importantly, if Leyonhjelm and Lambie carry out their threat to vote down any piece of government legislation if the new ballot becomes law, it would give the government a legitimate crisis for which a DD would be the only obvious solution.

In other words: if the changes pass – and they will – an election will not be far behind.

So don’t expect the government to rule out a GST hike, or privatising Medicare, or anything else that might be risky to take to an election: Turnbull will hanging on to them now in order to claim that he had a mandate to implement them later.

After all, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a manipulated Australian voter!

Yours ever,


The Only Sane Way To Watch The Star Wars Films Before The Force Awakens

Dear The Internet,

So, you’re correctly excited about the forthcoming Episode 7 and you want to rewatch the old films, or get your child/niece/nephew up to speed before they see their first ever SW film in the cinema. However, there’s a problem.

Do you watch the films in release order – the original trilogy followed by the prequel trilogy – or do you watch them in George Lucas’ suggested order of one-through-six?

What, so "thumbs up" is a thing in a galaxy far, far away?

What, so “thumbs up” is a thing in a galaxy far, far away?

Or, to put it another way: do you waste seven hours watching rubbish films before or after the good ones?

The natural response is to ignore the prequels altogether, but that’s impossible now thanks to George Lucas’ meddling with the Saga that’s currently available: most notably because of the digital replacement of Sebastian Shaw with a glowering Hayden Christensen as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi.

However, there is a solution. It was first outlined in 2011 by US fan Rob Hilton, who explained it on his blog Absolutely No Machete Juggling, and it remains the definitive way to watch the Star Wars saga.

Machete Order goes like this: A New Hope (episode IV, aka “Star Wars”), The Empire Strikes Back (episode V), Attack of the Clones (episode II), Revenge of the Sith (episode III), Return of the Jedi (episode VI).

In other words: the original trilogy with a two-film flashback after Luke discovers the truth about his father, and no Phantom Menace at all. At all.

And it works for so, so many reasons. For example:

  1. All the stuff you hate is gone.

Without The Phantom Menace there’s no more Galactic Senate discussions about taxation of trade routes; no nonsense about the Force coming from midichlorians; less of the cartoonish racism of the various foreign-accented alien species; and no Jake Lloyd as tow-headed, “Yipee!”-shouting child-Anakin, much less the bit about his being a virgin birth. You also lose Darth Maul, admittedly, but he’s little more than an interesting looking prop.

  1. Barely any Jar Jar Binks

Without TPM the worst Star Wars character ever is just part of Amidala’s senatorial staff. You don’t need to know that he had a stupid adventure with Obi-Wan and Anakin any more than you need to know that Obi-Wan had daddy issues with his mentor, that Anakin built C-3PO, or that the Clone Wars were started by a tax dispute. All the bits that actually affect the story are re-established in Episode II.

  1. Anakin makes more sense

With TPM, we meet the future Darth Vader is an adorable tyke. Without it, the first time you see Anakin he’s creeping out his old friend Amidala with his weird, entitled intensity when he’s supposed to be acting as her bodyguard (“She covered that camera,” he whines to Obi-Wan, “I don’t think she liked me watching her”). The idea that this hot-tempered, sexually-confused magical space wizard would be a danger to everyone around him seems less an tragedy of circumstance and more an obvious consequence of bad parenting. Speaking of which…

  1. Obi-Wan makes more sense

There’s a throwaway line in The Empire Strikes Back where Kenobi says of Anakin “I thought that I could train him as well as Yoda. I was wrong.” But again, without TPM the first thing we see of Obi-Wan is failing to reprimand his apprentice for throwing a tantrum, showing Obi-Wan less as a noble Jedi Knight and more like David Brent in The Office, blithely failing at being either friend or boss. “Wrong” becomes a mighty understatement.

  1. The plot points are preserved

You know how there’s a fairly large twist in The Empire Strikes Back that’s somewhat undermined if you’ve just watched three films establishing that Vader is Luke’s father? Machete Order preserves it.

  1. It ups the stakes for Return of the Jedi

By taking a little side-journey before going into the final instalment, we see that badly-trained Jedi become dangerous monsters, and that Yoda was defeated by the Emperor. So when we meet Luke in Vader-shaped silhouette at Jabba’s palace, casually force-choking his guards, it raises the genuine possibility that he’s started down the dark path Yoda warned him about. Similarly, the final battle against the Empire changes from matched space armies led by sorcerers to a scrappy militia of flawed characters versus an established government led by an evil tactical genius with endless resources. That’s a victory definitely worthy of an Ewok dance party.

Machete Order, friends: it’s the only sane way to rewatch the Star Wars Saga.

Unless it turns out that Jar Jar really is the main villain in The Force Awakens, of course…

Why Marriage Is Nice

Dear the Internet,

I don’t want to go on and on about marriage equality – after all, it’s going to be passed eventually in Australia, bring people nothing but security and happiness and make exactly zero difference to anyone else.

However, there’s an argument that gets used a fair bit – heck, Mark Latham used it on The Verdict only last night as a way of telling gay people to stop annoying him about the issue, which is what reminded me of it – which is that you don’t need a piece of paper to validate your partnership.

And that’s absolutely correct, just to be clear. You can support marriage equality as the removal of a pointless piece of discrimination without feeling that you need to enter into it yourself, or necessarily support the institution. I know plenty of people that don’t see the need to do it themselves, and it makes no difference to the strength of their relationship – and neither does it mean they can see any reason to deny others the option simply because they don’t need it themselves.

However, I’d like to explain why I am a fan of marriage. It definitely changed things – just not between, y’know, the two people that got married. We were pretty damn into one another before we got hitched, and we remain so today.

Seriously, best day. How goddamn good to we look? Amazing. Photo by Anna Kucera

Seriously, best day. How goddamn good do we look? Amazing. Photo by Anna Kucera


That’s because weddings aren’t just about the people that wed, as I learned in 1989, the year my mother and stepfather got married.

Both were sole parent to three children apiece, families they’d created with their late spouses.

He’d moved interstate to be with mum, which wasn’t an easy thing for his family, and was living next door to our house so things were still very separate. The plan was that we’d all live in the one house after the marriage – and I, as the eldest, had already kinda figured that I’d be there for a couple of years at the absolute most so had the least to lose from the arrangement.

It was a volatile time for all eight of us, with the marriage bringing up a lot of fairly predictable grief for the six kids aged between seven and seventeen who had lost parents and could see their lives once again changing dramatically.

Even so, we six kids did get along pretty well among ourselves, even if there were differing levels of enthusiasm about blending our families, and a few excitingly dramatic screaming matches (But there was also Press Gang and Degrassi Jr High – yes, ABC’s Afternoon Show with James Valentine/Michael Tunn, you were the scaffolding upon which our family’s fragile bond was constructed.)

The wedding was very nice – lots of family and friends and people saying lovely things – but much to my surprise, something fundamental changed in the wake of it.

I didn’t think my relationship with Lance would change all that much at the time, since I really liked the guy and was glad he was marrying my mother. But my relationship with my stepfather’s family changed dramatically – his sister was now my auntie, his parents were now my grandparents, and most importantly his children were now my siblings. These people were now going to be part of my life for the foreseeable future. And something just… clicked.

I’m not going to pretend it was all smooth Brady Bunch sailing from then on in, but the struggles that followed were those of a family. And not to put too fine a point on it, the six of we sibs are still stupidly close. It helps that my brother and sisters are all amazing human beings, admittedly, as are the growing number of in-laws and children that have joined the tribe since.

I felt the same thing in May when I married my wife: there was a shift in my relationship with her brothers, her parents and (especially) her nieces. That’s because when you’re a kid there’s a fundamental difference between a chap being some-guy-that’s-seeing-your-Auntie, and being Your Uncle – not least because it makes clear that this person will be sticking around, and is another adult that can be relied upon.

And of course the other way for kids to know that someone’s there for a long time and can be relied upon is, you know, for them to be around for a long time and be consistently reliable. Again, the paper doesn’t change things – but we’re a species that responds well to symbolism and ritual. I still melt a little bit inside whenever my nieces call me Uncle Andrew, even if it usually means I’m about to run around the park with one or more of them on my back.

Also, as I made clear at the time, outside of weddings how many opportunities do you have in life to stand up in front of all the people that you adore most in the world and say “seriously, how good is love?” Not nearly enough, if you ask me. And it’s something well worth celebrating.

So: can we get this stupid niggling civil injustice sorted out, Australian Parliament? That’d be great.

Yours ever,


Hello. Sorry this place has been a bit quiet. But there’s a book coming.

Dear the Internet,

I’ve been horribly neglectful of this site of late. To be fair, I’ve been horribly neglectful of most things in my life for the last few months because I’ve been writing a book. And now it’s actually finished and is going to the magical book-making machine which I like to imagine is sort of like a whimsical Dr Suess illustration rather than what I assume is a large series of printing presses in an industrial warehouse in China or something.

The book has a name and a cover and a release date. The name is The Inexplicably Long and Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott. The cover is by my friend and former Time Out Sydney colleague Robert Polmear and looks like this:

The release date is December 2015, making it both the perfect Xmas gift for any progressive type that you love, or the conservative that you are obliged to buy for but really want to annoy.

If you’ve read my regular View from the Street column around the Fairfax sites – and to be honest, I can’t imagine why you’d be here if you didn’t – then you’re probably correctly imagining what’s in the book: snarky rants about how relentlessly silly the last two years of Australian politics has been.

It’s an incomplete overview of many of the most frustratingly ridiculous things said (“I’m a fixer!”, “Poor people don’t drive cars!”, “People have a right to be a bigot!”, “I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin!”), done (the onions! The helicopters! The submarines! Sir Prince Philip!) and legislated, from offshore detention to Direct Action and all the stupid points in between.

And while it’s relentlessly snarky about Abbott and his merry band of largely terrible frontbenchers, there’s a larger philosophical point in there: we’re better off if we work together and look after one another, and that we can do so, so much better.

I mention this because all this economic turmoil and political division isn’t a tough but unavoidable necessity: it’s a choice that we’re making, and we we can make different ones.

A society is not the same thing as an economy, and pretending that the former is magically sorted out by fixing the latter is straight-up incorrect (not helped by the fact that this government is also failing at that, mind). But I won’t go on about that now: hell, I spent 320 pages going on about it in this thing you can read for yourself in a couple of months.

And I do very much hope you like it. I’ve read it several times during the proofing process and still laughed at jokes I’d forgotten, which means that either there are some really good lines in there and/or I have early onset dementia. Time will doubtlessly tell.

And now that I’m slightly less frantic, I might actually do more stuff on here. Let’s see how that pans out, eh?



Pluto’s not a planet, and that’s honestly OK

It’s no reflection on the awesomeness of Pluto to say it’s a different thing, honest. 



As New Horizons proves once again that humans are freakin’ amazing and brilliant when we work together and use our mighty brains to solve interesting problems (and as we all pore over the photos that have been released and get excited about the ones yet to come – what are those impact crater-looking things? Is that a volcanic mare, or a mighty series of dunes? Why is it a different colour to its main moon Charon? EVERYTHING IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING!), the debate over whether Pluto should or shouldn’t be a “planet” has threatened to flare up again.

You might recall that in 2006 it was determined that Pluto was no longer considered to be a planet on par with the now-limited-to-eight main bodies in the solar system.

The reason for this was that bodies had been discovered further out in the Kuiper Belt (the region of icy rubble beyond the orbit of Neptune) and it was thought likely by the International Astronomical Union that as our technology improved we’d be discovering more and more of these things – which turned out to be correct.

So we had a choice: either redefine planet to mean the eight things that we currently define them as – thereby eliminating Pluto – or adding dozens of new planets to the list every year. Thanks to technological advances like the Hubble telescope and better computer algorithms for automatically recognising odd orbits in data, there are almost 400 candidate planet-like objects out in the Kuiper Belt. That’s a lot of things for eight year olds to memorise.

Thus in 2006 the IAU settled on a definition for planet that had three main tenets: if you’re big enough to be round, you’re going around the sun and there’s no other significantly-sized body in your orbit, then guess what? You’re a planet.

Pluto ticks most of the boxes, but the definitions are a little bit arbitrary.

The first two seem OK. A planet has to be orbiting the Sun so moons and satellites, which orbit planets that orbit the Sun, therefore don’t count.

That might seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering that almost all of the moons around the planets are a) basically spheres and b) in two cases, larger than one of the planets (the Jupiter moon Ganymede and the Saturnian moon Titan are both larger than Mercury – although they’re not as dense and therefore don’t have as much mass. See? It’s complicated).

Second, the thing has to be big enough to undergo “hydrostatic equilibrium” under it’s own mass. Thus lumpy little asteroids don’t count (and technically the planets aren’t actually spherical – they’re slightly flattened at the poles and wider at the equator because of their rotation, making them “oblate spheroids”, but that’s nit-picking).

Thirdly – and this where Pluto fell down – they have to have “cleared their orbit” of other bodies. This is the most arbitrary distinction of all, but the argument goes like this: you need to be big enough that your gravity has either thrown everything else out of your orbit or it’s been attracted to you and collected it.

Pluto doesn’t count for two reasons. One, that there are other things in its wide orbit (“plutininos”) that its gravity is not powerful enough to disturb. It also, technically, crosses the orbit of Neptune although the two are in what’s called an orbital resonance, so they’re never in the same place at the same time – otherwise the utterly enormous Neptune would easily slingshot Pluto out of the Solar System entirely.

It’s been pointed out that most of the planets absolutely have significant things in their orbits – aside from Neptune, which hasn’t cleared Pluto from its orbit, the Earth, Mars and Jupiter all have bodies of asteroids scattered in our orbits and no-one appears to be arguing we’re not planets as a result. But this was a definition invented mainly to find a way to exclude Pluto and get things to a manageable system.

But to be honest, “planets” is a problematic term in any case.

It’s derived from the the Greek term for “wanderer” and were so-called because the the five close enough to be visible to humans before the invention of the telescope (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) were points of light that moved through the skies when viewed from Earth, unlike the apparently fixed stars.

The fact we invented the word to describe little points of light in the sky is why we have the same name for “little solid lumps of rock”, like Venus, as we do for “massively giant seething balls of gas”, like Jupiter.

You could make a very solid argument to call those types of things by different, less Earth-centric names, the way we do for other non-planet things in our solar system like asteroids and comets, but we’re kinda stuck with it.

So I rather like that we have a different name for the amazing objects out beyond the orbit of the last of the gas (well ice) giants.

Out past Neptune is Pluto and the other “trans-Neptunian” objects, including a load of amazing dwarf planets: in orbits wider than Pluto’s, there are Eris, Makemake, Haumea, Sedna, Orcus, Salacia and others that haven’t officially been given names yet.

They’re all smaller than our Moon and they’re – probably, we think – made of ice, mainly water and methane. In fact, they appear to be more like giant comets than they are like the four inner planets.

And that’s why, dumb as the term might be, I like that there’s a different word for them. “Dwarf planet” is a stupid name (and it’s not what astronomers use, incidentally: they call them “planetoids’) but it at least acknowledges that they’re different things*, an exciting group of different bodies about which we barely know anything and which we’re the first generation to be able to discover.

And if the fact that you’ve heard of Pluto means that you might be interested to learn more about Eris or Makemake, that’s a great thing in itself (their orbits are nuts, by the way). And hell, it makes more sense to celebrate Pluto as Amazing Gateway to the Glories of the Kuiper Belt rather than The Shitty Last Planet After The Proper Ones.

And in any case, New Horizons has made the distinction kinda moot. Look at that photo at the top of the page again: Pluto is now a place.

It’s a real, tangible world ten years and billions of kilometres away, with its own characteristics and mysteries and beauty. However we define it, we’re the first humans in history to see its face – and that’s the thing that fills me with hope and joy for our species.

Dammit, we’re an amazing species when we want to be.



* Of course, then you have the question of why tumbling balls of frozen methane are labelled the same as a solid sphere of rock in a diffuse belt of other rocks, since the major asteroid Ceres has also been deemed a dwarf planet, but that’s a different rant. Dammit, what’s wrong with just declaring Ceres The Mighty King Of The Asteroid Belt rather than confusing the issue by making people think it’s like Pluto, only closer?

Reactivating the (other) zombie blog

It’s hard to believe, but I have a blog that I update even less often than this one: Songs You Should Rediscover Today Because They Are Awesome. And for the first time in months – a bit over seven of them, in fact – I actually wrote something there about ABC’s ‘(How To Be A) Millionaire’, for reasons that may not immediately be obvious.

Those reasons are as follows:

Mmmm, 80s graphic design…

Mmmm, 80s graphic design…

First up, a deeply annoying bout of insomnia. It’s 6.30am right now, I started writing the piece an hour ago and I’m sure I’m going to crash at my desk before midday. I’m confident that coffee will, as ever, fix things.

Another was that when I write my nationally-tolerated View from the Street column (here’s yesterday’s one about Eddie McGuire, incidentally) I generally pull out an LP to play while I’m plonking the text into the Fairfax system and yesterday’s choice was the song’s frustratingly patchy parent album, which subsequently became my aforementioned insomnia’s maddening soundtrack at about 4.30am.

And thirdly, because I’m neck-deep in writing m’first book at the moment (what? Stressed? Moi? Oh heavens no!) and my brain is desperately looking for things to distract it from, for example, the grim recent history of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Spoiler: turns out it’s not great.

So let’s assume there’ll probably be some others going up there in the next few weeks, while deadlines loom and I start obsessively going back over my record collection in a desperate attempt at preserving my own sanity.

Hope you’re doing good. You’re looking well. That hairstyle really suits you.

Yours ever,