20 things I learned from the G20

g20leaders1) It’s short. Like, Tom-Cruise-without-platforms short. For quite a few leaders, their flying time would have exceeded their time in Australia, even including the time spent sleeping. I wasn’t expecting it this huge meeting of the world’s most powerful leaders to last about as long as a Lord of the Rings director’s cut marathon.

2) It takes place right after APEC. What this means is not only that the multiple leaders who are part of both groupings can travel in a sweet VIP jet convoy, but it means that what happens at the first can totally overshadow the second. Like, oh, I dunno, if the US and China announced a completely unexpected carbon reduction deal that got the world talking about climate change ahead of a meeting whose host wasn’t exactly keen to have the topic on his agenda.
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How to dodge your way through uni without actually cheating

IMG_7898.JPGI was shocked by the report on Wednesday that there’s a thriving business selling university essays. There have always been rumours about this kind of thing happening, so I guess I’d always assumed that some students outsourced help. But the semi-industrial scale of the operation was surprising, to say the least. MyMaster apparently raked in $160,000 last year, which is more than many university teachers make.

Was I the only person who thought the prices seemed competitive, too? After all, a 3000-word bachelor-level essay is only $585. The way university fees are going, it would cost you less to pay someone else to do the degree for you than it would to enrol in the first place.

The other thing about MyMaster that I find truly extraordinary is that they charged different amounts for different grades. We all know that essay marking is somewhat arbitrary – how on earth can they guarantee, say, a credit? I certainly didn’t know how to do that back in my undergraduate days.

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Perfectly innocent reasons why four Russian warships are heading to Australia

So, four Russian warships are heading in our direction, and pronto.  At first that may seem bad news of the “potential invasion by former superpower that’s held onto most of its weapons” variety.

But relax! There are plenty of potential reasons why the Russian Navy vessels might wants to head to Australia for a bit. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons below. Maybe several, who knows?

They did a muffin run. Russia has a bit of a PR problem at the moment, and nothing says “sorry, we goofed” like a basket of delicious muffins. They could deliver them to the G20 leaders, saying – “hey international community, we’re sorry about all the shenanigans in Ukraine – here, have a freshly-baked blueberry muffin!”

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Redfoo? Literally I can’t.

literally-i-cantI hadn’t heard of Redfoo before he was announced, with great fanfare, as a judge on a reality show I don’t watch.

Since he became a permanent fixture on tv and in our gossip columns, I’ve been unable to overcome my bafflement at his choice of moniker. Red for the hair, okay, sure – and he certainly seems proud of that unkempt mop, doesn’t he, the scamp? But “foo”? Indefensible.

Is he purporting to be some kind of associate Foo Fighter, as yet unrecognised by the undisputed leader of the Foo Army, Brigadier Dave Grohl? Is it a shout-out to the appalling 90s hip hop crew Fu Schnickens, who collaborated with Shaquille O’Neill to record a rap song whose chorus “What’s up doc, can we rock?” mandates the answer – no, you can’t, please just Fu off.

Or is he using Mr T’s preferred contraction for “fool”, a species of people that T famously pities? In that case, I guess it makes sense. If the “foo” fits…
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How to write a novel in one month

It’s often said that everyone has a novel in them, but it’s probably more accurate to say that everyone fondly imagines that they do. I’ve certainly lost count of how many times I’ve had conversations with people where they talk about how they totally want to write one, and outline some of their plans – and, in the back of their minds, are clearly already walking onto the podium to accept the Booker.

But then their ambition peters out into the same five words we always use to defer non-urgent, hard-seeming things: “If only I had time”.
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A few thoughts on Comrade Whitlam

Gough and Margaret Whitlam, by Timeshift 9 (Creative Commons)

Among the many fine tributes to E. Gough Whitlam delivered in Parliament today, on the day of his death, the Member for Watson in Whitlam’s beloved Western Sydney, Tony Burke, mentioned one thing that brought back a fond memory for me.

Burke said that in Labor circles, it had long been considered a very great honour to be the tall, younger man on whom Whitlam leant for assistance as he left one of the countless Party functions he attended.

I once served as a human walking stick for the former Prime Minister, and I also felt honoured to been able to offer this giant of Australian public life some brief assistance. Not at a Labor Party function, though; but a rather more conservative occasion – an alumni dinner for the Sydney University Law School.

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In the company of men

On Saturday night I went to my high school reunion. Which means it’s been twenty years since we all endured the HSC. Twenty years of noses at the grindstone in many cases, dramatic shifts in careers for others and for others still, escaping the rat race entirely. Twenty years of relationships, marriages, children – even divorces in some cases. And we can no longer claim to be young, even if some of us still act like it. Continue Reading →

Why I’ll never be a backpacker

I visited Australia’s most famous beach the other day, and felt like I was overseas, albeit in an odd country where diamond-shaped kangaroo warning signs and keyrings of little thongs with “Bondi” painted on them seemed to be the major currency.

While maps show it as part of Sydney, the reality is that Bondi belongs to the international community. Like Khao San Rd in Bangkok and Arambol in Goa, it’s been utterly colonised by backpackers and the businesses that sell them cheap phonecards and crappy souvenirs.

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Everybody must watch ‘Justified’. Here’s why.

Television now has an icily contemptuous greeting to match Jerry Seinfeld’s famous “Hello, Newman”, which was always delivered with more malevolence than you’d expect from a mild-mannered, sneaker-clad comedian.

The difference is that when the words “Hello Raylan” are uttered by Boyd Crowder (they all have names like that in rural Kentucky, apparently) to the man with whom he used to mine coal back in the day, there’s every chance they’ll both draw pistols – and quite possibly use them. Continue Reading →

Why I phear phablets

Samsung has copped a lot of criticism, and lawsuits, for the close resemblance that many of its phones and tablets bear to Apple designs.

And I’m not going to call them (or the Android operating system) blatant copies, because I’ve no interest in defending a lawsuit of my own. Besides, I generally enjoy the work of tribute bands.

But there is one innovation that Samsung can rightfully claim for its own: the phone so absurdly large that it makes you look almost as ridiculous holding it up to your ear as Maxwell Smart did with that shoe of his.
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