Stability Alone Is Not Enough

Ever since Australian voters couldn’t make up their minds about who they want to run the country, I’ve gotten a bit sick of hearing the word “stability”. The independents say they want it, both parties say they can deliver it, and the other team can’t. Everyone’s focused on making sure that whatever government forms out of the democratic no-man’s land we’ve created, it will be built to last.

Since when has that been all that matters?

There’s no point being in power if you’re not going to do anything – or worse, do bad things that damage the country. The new government will need forward-thinking policies and a plan for real progress – two things mostly lacking in the campaign. With such a small minority, it’ll be hard to get any major legislation passed, and anything visionary will be watered down to the lowest common denominator that gets approval from everyone. A government of slow, stable, mediocrity.

French intellectual and writer Joseph de Maistre once famously said “every nation gets the government it deserves”. Marieke Hardy says that’s exactly what happened, and the government we got was: “half of each plus a couple of farmers, a hippy, a whistleblower and the unclassifiably deranged Bob ‘Many times I’ve gone to bed as a cockle-doodle-doo and woke up the next morning as a feather duster’ Katter”. It’s a brilliant (and delightfully poetic) analysis. Nobody has any confidence in the leaders of either major party. The Greens, with their first ever seat in the lower house, are too new and inexperienced to lead the country. And an independent as Prime Minister makes about as much sense as a Family First member – none at all.

I can’t see a minority govenment lasting very long. The last hung parliament we had, 70 years ago, the government formed from that lasted less than a year. But maybe that’s what we need. A year of doing nothing, while the parties take a good long look at themselves. And after a bit of navel gazing, perhaps next year we can have another election. An election where each party realigns its policies with the core values of its members and supporters – not the latest poll results. An election where all parties campaign on their strengths, not the weaknesses of their opponents. An election with substance. With vision.

And hopefully, by then we’ll deserve it.

Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Graphic novels are all the rage in Hollywood. Every year since 1981, at least one comic book has been made into a feature movie. And it’s happening more and more – in 2011 there will be eight comic book adaptations hitting the theatres. Who said Hollywood’s running out of ideas?

The latest is one you may not have heard of – Scott Pilgrim. First released in 2004, there have been only six issues of the black-and-white graphic novel. It was widely well received, winning several awards, and developed a strong cult following. The film centers around 23 year old unemployed layabout Scott Pilgrim. He plays in a band called “Sex Bob-omb”, is still getting over a bad break up a year ago but finds himself dating a 17 year old high school girl, Knives Chau (“She’s Chinese!” Scott has to continually explain). But when delivery girl Ramona Flowers moves in, Pilgrim falls in love with her. Little does he know that if he wants to date her, he must battle to the death her “seven evil exes”. What follows is a fantastic Mortal Kombat style series of battles complete with level-ups, bonus lives and – of course – coins!

If you think that sounds far fetched – you’re right. Such is the nature of all comic books, I suppose. I’ve never really been into them, myself. I never collected them, I don’t think I’ve ever even bought a comic book. Except for Frank Miller’s Sin City series – and I bought them AFTER seeing the movie! But the beauty of comic books is that they force us to suspend our disbelief and immerse ourselves in a different world. They drag us through the story by our imaginations.

And on the surface, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a cookie-cutter Hollywood action-romance film. There’s the Ben Stiller-esque ‘ordinary bloke’, a love interest, a series of hurdles the hero needs to overcome, a brief crisis-of-confidence before an epiphany, an epic final battle scene and ultimate victory. There’s even a training montage at one point. But really this movie is SO MUCH more than that. There’s very cool special effects (complete with comic-book onomatopoeic sound effects like “Pow!” and “Thunk!”) and great martial arts sequences. It’s at times goofy, other times deadly serious.  I mean, it’s a LOT of fun. It’s very much in the spirit of Kick-Ass, with zany characters in danger, and you really find yourself cheering for them. But on top of all that, the dialogue is extremely tight. Funny, entertaining and very “geeky”, the language and style is very well done and rarely predictable.

But what makes Scott Pilgrim so great is that it’s a totally unashamed geek-fest. It’s packed full of video-game references, mostly the old-style arcade and console games. Even the theme tune from Zelda is recreated, and lots of the music has definite 8-bit overtones. Yahoo!Games has a summary of the video-game aspects here. Shortly after seeing this film I tweeted that it was “thousands of tiny geekgasms rolled into one giant geekgasm.” If you’re into comic books or video games, or if you were EVER into comic books or video games, you will love Scott Pilgrim.

Made for geeks, by geeks, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. Go and see it.

The Problem of Authority

When Too Much Information Is A Bad Thing

We’re inundated with information all the time, from every source imaginable – traditional media like newspapers, television and radio; new media like blogs, forums and podcasts; conventional in-person interactions and a host of other forms. That’s a fantastic thing. To think that now I can type “vaccination” into Google and get more than 15.2 million results in less than one-fifth of a second is phenomenal. Twenty years ago, we could only dream of such a huge volume of information. It was amazing back then, when a complete and searchable encyclopedia could fit on a compact disc. Now, of course, just the English version alone of Wikipedia (only 3.37 million out of a total 16 million articles for all languages) is over 230.3 gigabytes – or 337 compact discs. This, as The Wire’s Marlowe Stanfield would say, “sounds like one of them good problems”.

But the problem isn’t that there’s so much information, the problem is that the quality doesn’t match the quantity. Of those 15.2 million vaccination results, some will be from blog posts saying “today I took Billy in for his vaccination, he was very brave” while others will be useful, factual information from peer-reviewed medical journals. Sure, search engines do an incredible job of finding and sorting relevant information. That blog post isn’t going to get nearly as many links as the Wikipedia page or the website of the Australian Vaccination Network – the top two search results – so it will be buried further down in the results. And right there is the problem – that’s relevancy, not authority. Yes, those sites are more relevant to most people, but are they the most informative, authoritative sites? There’s no way for a search engine to know if the Australian Vaccination Network gives accurate, scientific information or not.

And guess what, it doesn’t.

After investigating the group, the NSW Healthcare Complaints Commission (HCCC) has released a damning report that claims “the AVN provides information that is inaccurate and misleading”. The report reveals that the group “provides information that is solely anti-vaccination” and that it “quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous”.
The story is best covered by Walkley Award winning journalist Steve Cannane on Lateline:

The problem of authority is obviously a problem not just on the internet, but in real life as well. And just as finding relevant information online was a challenge before Google came along, I think finding authoritative information is our current – and much harder – problem. But at least on the internet it’s easy to reference the sources of information and determine its accuracy. That’s perhaps what the quest for authority demonstrates – the awesome power of the link. By showing sources, by linking to the facts, a site demonstrates its authority. It’s self-regulation, and clearly not particularly effective, but for now it’s the best we can do.