Monday morning small talking on the avenue… Property and Cunningham v Commonwealth

On Wednesday, the High Court will deliver judgement in a rather strange case called Cunningham v the Commonwealth.  On the face of it, the case is absurd.  And when you dig into it more, it’s even more ridiculous.  It’s ridiculous turtles all the way down.

But teasing apart the case lets us discuss a few interesting legal ideas, not least: what is ‘property’?

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I bet there’s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car… On ‘no body, no parole laws’

Rita Panahi begins a recent piece with a magic trick:

This is precisely the type of common sense legislation that the state government should be backing. Why should convicted killers be eligible for parole if they refuse to reveal the location of their victim’s body?

To disagree would be to disagree with common sense… but since when is legal policy built on common sense?  Should it be founded upon public intuitions?

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In your car, in your home, you’re never on your own… Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children review

Why is Beetlejuice such a good movie?  This is the question to which I keep returning when Tim Burton keeps making flops.  Why was Beetlejuice so good, but other films that fit into the same ‘Burtoneseque’ space are steaming piles of garbage.

Tim Burton has not made a good film this decade.  It is arguable that he hasn’t made a good film since the 1990s, and even the ’90s were littered with flops.  So what gives?

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children shows that Burton can still get good actors to give solid performances and he can spray bucketloads of cash at (genuinely thrilling) special effects, but all of this is wasted in movies that have absolutely no point and diabolically awful scripts.

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Touch my neck and I’ll touch yours; You in those little high waisted shorts… Should we fund plebiscites? #auspol

There’s a caution in entering the marriage equality plebiscite debate when you’re straight, white and male.  You have no skin in the game like others and so it’s all a bit academic and theoretical.  The benefits of dispassionate, analytical approaches shouldn’t be overstated, but they also shouldn’t be rejected entirely.  There’s a role for them: giving us the language to express why we feel this way or that and letting us communicate with people who disagree with us.

I’ve long held that it’s not possible to be anti-marriage equality and not homophobic.  The only place where that position might be on shaky ground is with radicals who oppose marriage generally (rather than same-sex marriage specifically).  And I also think that a plebiscite is a waste of time but, if we are to have a plebiscite, it follows that both campaigns should receive public funding.  The problem with the public debate is that it’s bogged down in special pleading: that there’s something unique about this topic that means general principles about how to hold plebiscites get thrown out the window.

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Take your nightmares, change to dream… We were all alt-right all along

There are a few terms that don’t really mean anything, but they convey enormous rhetorical power.  ‘Neo-liberalism’, I’m sure, once meant something.  Perhaps it still does in academic political science circles.  But when it appears in the middle of an op-ed, it doesn’t actually convey any meaning.  ‘Identity politics’ acts in a similar way, but from the opposite perspective.  Perhaps ‘identity politics’ is stranger still, given that it’s so often invoked by people who are eyeballs deep in identity rhetoric: conservative white males who fear that Christians and Anglo-Australians and their way of life are under threat from migrants and lesbians and Marxists.

‘Alt-right’ has quickly jumped into this category of political labels that don’t signify anything in particular.  The New York Times ran a piece about how the alt-right was staging ‘an Occupy Trump movement‘, but never got around to explaining precisely what it meant by the term.  The BBC tried a bit harder:

The alt-right is against political correctness and feminism. It’s nationalist, tribalist and anti-establishment. Its followers are fond of internet pranks and using provocative, often grossly offensive messages to goad their enemies on both the right and the left. And many of them are huge supporters of Donald Trump. [Source]

What the hell does that even mean?  Later, it’s suggested that they might be associated with calls for ‘an independent intellectual Right, one that exists without movement establishment funding’.  Is the alt-right just everything an everything that left liberals hate? Continue reading

With every mistake we must surely be learning… Review of Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings ends with Regina Spektor doing a cover of the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  It’s a fitting end to an Anglo story written by Anglos with Asian sounds.

I am yet to find this genre of stop-motion cinema endearing.  I find it creepy.  Nothing moves right.  The light on faces is all wrong.  Everything makes me want to vomit.


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Sixteen candles there on my wall and here am I the biggest fool of them all… Reviewing Academics for Refugees

Earlier in the week, a story emerged about how more than 2,000 academics were calling for a national summit on asylum seeker policy.  A summits is the ideas you propose when you don’t have any ideas to propose.  The Gillard Government commissioned an expert panel to advise on asylum seeker strategy, but when the panel came up with solutions that the non-experts didn’t like, the non-experts rejected the quality of the panel.  So this is the death spiral we’re in: if the experts don’t come up with the answers you want, find new experts.

And so we can see the futility in a call for a summit.  If the summit comes up with solutions that the advocates don’t want, the advocates won’t change their position an inch.  So the summit must come up with the answer that the advocates want, else it’s illegitimate.

What was a bit unusual this time was the accompaniment of the call for a summit with a policy paper.  Ordinarily, a policy paper is what you produce after you’ve consulted with the experts, not simultaneously with a call to consult all the experts.  Already, comments from the policy paper are circulating amongst advocacy groups, so we should ask ourselves the extent to which we think the policy paper is a useful contribution to the public debate.

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No athletic program, no discipline, no book… Why @DavidLeyonhjelm must lose his s 18C case #auspol

David Leyonhjelm is a terrible human.  He has argued in favour of charging asylum seekers $50,000 for permanent residency (and then not providing them with welfare or support services).  He claimed that the Sydney siege wouldn’t have occurred if more citizens carried guns.  He has argued that Indigenous people are told ‘fairy tales’ in order to make them feel special, such as ‘Indigenous people are the First Australians’.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that Leyonhjelm is also claiming that he has been the victim of racial discrimination.

His argument is a dopey one.  In an – admittedly pedestrian and insipid – opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Mark Kenny (political correspondent for Fairfax) referred to Leyonhjelm and another senator as having ‘angry-white-male certitude’:

‘You see, this gormless duo has declared, with all their angry-white-male certitude, that a verbal abuser cannot cause offence or humiliation. It is all in the mind of the recipient.’ [Source]

That’s the line that’s in issue.  It is Leyonhjelm’s contention that s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is so terrible that it would allow him to bring a case against Kenny for this race-based slur.  Leyonhjelm isn’t trying to silence Kenny; he is trying to bring s 18C into disrepute.

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I’ll stand kind of pushed, kind of bent, on this heavy land… Review of Suicide Squad

Yes, the film is bad.  Not unwatchably bad.  But it’s bad.  And other people are taking great delight in describing how excruciatingly awful various parts of it are, particularly Jared Leto as the Joker.

The other way to critique Suicide Squad is to move beyond how unfathomably ‘meh’ it is, and discuss instead what we can learn from the film.  And I did this by rewatching The Dirty Dozen and rereading the introduction of Harley Quinn into the comics.

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