Category: Rants

Bipartisanship on Marriage Quality Bill(s) | Tuesday 2 June 2015


Just a quick one today. Maybe if we all vote for each other’s all at once we’ll create a kinder gentler polity singularity.


Je suis Charlie | Thursday 8 January 2015

je suis

I can partially understand the backlash to the #jesuischarlie hashtag based on the fact that some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo, especially on their covers, are quite racist and seem unworthy of solidarity.

I have said (in the past, not just now) that I would not have published the Jyllands-Posten (or simply “Danish”) Mohammed cartoons, on the basis that the harm done in the broader sense (and I’m not talking about the riots, I’m talking about the potential dehumanising of a minority) didn’t really balance out the flexing of the freedom of speech muscle. The ethical scales didn’t bear it out and furthermore, some of the images just seemed in poor taste for no good reason (the Mohammed with a cartoon bomb for a turban is a shining example of this).

Some of the cartoons/covers since then I would have published (the “Love is stronger than hate” cover published after their offices were fire-bombed, the more benign portrayals of the prophet that simply poke fun, etc), some I wouldn’t (like the pregnant Boko Haram abductees as welfare leeches – something someone brought to my attention today on Twitter).

For me, #jesuischarlie wasn’t – and isn’t – about saying, “fuck yeah, publish with impunity, racism and hate speech SHOULD be published”; it was about saying that when someone believes you can be shot for your speech, we are all in the firing line.

Cartoonists and satirists in particular, but writers (and artists and *shudder* content makers) too – we can all offend. And while we should be mindful of that offence we should not be fearful of it.

Nous sommes Charlie not because we all support those cartoons and articles which maybe punch down (on the islamic minority) rather than up (at the broader institutions that perpetuate isolation of that minority), but because maybe we say the wrong thing one day in our exercise of free speech and we piss off the wrong person. There but for the grace of many gods/editors go I.

Obviously a lot of this is self-evident, and I’m mostly working through this myself to get it down and out, because I understand those who are rightly offended by the Charlie Hebdo covers.

But je suis Charlie nonetheless.



On Le Lievre and cartoon shorthand | Saturday 9 August 2014

As a working mum cartoonist, I have been paying particular interest to the twin controversies over this past fortnight of Glen Le Lievre’s cartoon in the Sydney Morning Herald and Bill Leak’s cartoon for the Australian; both on the conflict in Gaza.

Glen Le Lievre, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 2014.

The Le Lievre cartoon is the one that interests me most (and not just because of the resulting rolling outrage which eventually led to Mike Carlton’s meltdown and resignation over the supporting article) because it hinges on what I generally tend to think of as “visual shorthand”.

What I mean by “visual shorthand” is tropes (or even memes, but not in the way we tend to think of them online) that are recurring devices that we use to convey meaning in the quickest way possible for the reader.

Think of things like using an old-fashioned phone for someone making a call (better yet, the red phone if it’s the President), a wired earpiece on someone in a black suit to convey Secret Service, the White House or Parliament House in the background, someone holding the scale of justice (or that whole subset of judgemental cartoons of people on the scales of justice)… all of these things are there to do the hard work for both the reader and the cartoonist in terms of meaning.

They work (generally – it’s always a shame when they don’t) because we understand them implicitly thanks to our cultural baggage – and a good cartoon uses them as building blocks.

It doesn’t matter that most phone calls haven’t happened on rotary phones (or even home phones) for years – it tells the story in the quickest way possible for the reader (even if it may – in the case of drawing Parliament House in the background of a cartoon – be more work for the cartoonist). This is the same logic – on an even more lizard-brain level – used by icon designers for smartphones and those boffins who give us logos.

We see it perhaps more readily in the visual shorthand that builds up around politicians and other public figures as they appear more and more frequently in our newspapers. I’d be surprised if anyone’s got a snap of Tony Abbott in his red speedos since 2012, but I’ll be damned if cartoonists (myself included) don’t love drawing him in them, accompanied with his famous appendages (the ears).

Similarly, Joe Hockey made the unfortunate mistake of confirming the suggestion he was a Shrek lookalike on Kerri-Anne Kennerley’s morning show in 2007, and some seven years on, this is still one of the defining characteristics cartoonists like David Pope, Mark Knight and Broehlman use to draw him.

Mark Knight, Herald Sun, 24 July 2014.

Where all of this becomes problematic, and often too reductive, is when we get to issues of foreign affairs and particularly race.

One old chestnut is China; great big ol’ fat panda China.

Karl Wimer, 2008

Glen Le Lievre, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 2014.

Bruce MacKinnon, 13 February 2012.

(Getting saucy in that last one there)

While the final cartoon there at least puts a face on the Chinese government, to my mind this kind of visual shorthand is problematic. It’s generally doesn’t bother to delineate between who is in power, it portrays the country as an unstoppable but bumbling and confused mass. And it takes away any responsibility from the ruling government by putting the blame on the concept of China rather than the decisions of real people. 

Ironically I think it is potential allegations of racism in drawing leaders like Li Keqiang that scares cartoonists into using these tropes.

Worse still is Russia, which as been a bear for over three separate centuries and three systems of government (not to mention decidedly different regimes within each of those periods). Here’s a Punch cartoon from 1911:

Leonard “Craven Hill” Raven-Hill, Punch, 13 December 1911.

 And one from 1978 by Purlitzer Prize winning cartoonist Edmund Valtman:

Edmund Valtman, The Hartford Post, 24 August 1978.

And just this year:

John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune, 4 March 2014.

Which brings me back to Le Lievre’s cartoon. It’s understandable that Le Lievre considered the Star of David as legitimate shorthand for Israel. I think that the Sydney Morning Herald apology gets this bit wrong in suggesting:

in using the Star of David and the kippah in the cartoon, the newspaper invoked an inappropriate element of religion, rather than nationhood, and made a serious error of judgment.

The flag of Israel bears the Star of David. While it is a holy symbol that was used, yes, to tag and shame the Jewish people under Nazism, it is also the fundamental element of the “brand” of Israel.


Glen Le Lievre, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 2014.

A cartoon on Israel will likely use the Star of David as shorthand in some form. I think that’s inevitable, and I think that categorically ruling out that idea is needlessly defensive. Further, Jeff Sparrow’s piece this week for Crikey points out there’s also a problem in suggesting that conflation of judaism and the nation of Israel is unfair when the country offers right of return and Netanyahu often claims to speak for the Jewish people in addressing Israel’s national concerns.

What is more problematic is the stereotypical old Jewish man on the couch. The large nose, the coke-bottle glasses, and, yes, the kippah. Using a stereotype to represent a nation or a people is hard to defend as anything but racist.

There is no bear or panda for Israel, just a century of horribly stereotypical representations of Jewish people that have more often than not been used to disenfranchise, discredit and ridicule. I don’t doubt Le Lievre’s suggestion that he made the connection between a photo of old Jewish men on the hill watching the bombing and someone watching TV and ran with it, but the visual shorthand he used for “jewish person”, beyond the Star of David and kippah were the same ones that a cartoon like this (telling Germans not to buy from Jewish shopkeepers) used in 1929:


So how do you make that same criticism of Israel Le Lievre was seeking without falling into those tropes?

The person that should have been on the top of that hill in the cartoon, leisurely changing the channel on Gaza, is a cartoon Netanyahu.

When in doubt, put a real face on the target of your criticism.

Budget cuts, Fairfax cuts and the Commission of Audit | Monday 12 May 2014

budget night

I should note in posting this: I’m a Fairfax subscriber.

I love the Age, for all its modern flaws. Most of my favourite cartoonists are Fairfax employees and I think a lot of the nation’s best journalism comes from its mastheads.

But, but, BUT: I do think they’re basically taking exactly the wrong strategy in trying to head off their woes – all successful news sites that have arisen/survived in the past 5 -10 years have retained their talent, accentuated their expertise and minimised their news aggregation.

Cutting the the things that make the paper worth buying (or the site worth visiting and paying to access) – the senior (expensive) journalists, the Walkley winning photographers, the quality control of subs which mean people trust your copy – is a surefire way to continue to ride the horse into the ground. It’s short-sighted.

With third-year journalists allegedly planned to replace senior journalists, as a Master of Journalism student I should be delighted at the space being created for my generation to enter the industry. My fear is that in making these myopic decisions (and choosing to announce them on a Thursday before the budget), management is wringing out the last few pennies from Fairfax’s share price before putting the bolt in the head… rather than riding out the hard parts of the slow move to profitability in the long term.

There will be no senior journalists at Fairfax in five years time at this rate.

UPDATE: I also have a cartoon up at Crikey today on the Budget and the new Australian Border Force.

Some thoughts on Satoshi Nakamoto and “doxing” | Saturday 8 March 2014

sakamoto NOPE

Whether or not Satoshi Nakamoto is the turtle-faced man that journalists have been chasing around L.A. is (now that story has broken) not a particularly interesting debate.

The namesake of the mysterious Bitcoin creator certainly has a reputation among those who know him that fits, and the right military contractor/mathematics genius background to be the person who designed the code for Bitcoin. Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto doesn’t seem likely to confirm that he actually is the Bitcoin creator any time soon.

What’s interesting is the collision between some very good traditional journalism by Leah McGrath Goodman at Newsweek – going through employment records, checking name databases, interviewing associates – and the hacker subculture term “doxing”.

As Junkee pointed out, one of the major sources for the story – Gavin Andresen – is not happy that Goodman released Nakamoto’s name and gave a solid enough background story for Nakamoto that other journalists quickly established where to find him.

The question is whether McGrath Goodman actually “doxed” Nakamoto, or was simply doing her job in revealing the name, birth year and general location – not address, not social security or banking details – and existence of the (potentially) real creator of Bitcoin – and whether that in itself is even a problem.

As the Wired piece on “doxing” covers, there’s a malice implied in the act of “doxing” that doesn’t appear to be the thrust of McGrath Goodman’s piece. She details the problems of working with a difficult subject, and then apparently gets clearance from those around him to reveal the details of their on the record conversations about his background and behaviour (used as corroborating evidence).

Is there a legitimate public interest in knowing who Satoshi Nakamoto is? If Bitcoin is to shape financial markets, and if Nakamoto has the alleged stash of over $400 million worth of Bitcoins that Newsweek suggests, then yes. There’s a valid argument to be made that it’s in the public interest to know the identity of someone who could flood the market and crash Bitcoin at the flick of a finger.

That ability also brings up legitimate questions about the legitimacy of Bitcoin as an alternative currency, which is obviously a concern given the currency’s constant fluctuations in the past 12 months.

Do the risks associated with revealing Nakamoto’s identity to the public (and, following that, a hungry media) outweigh the public interest? What are the risks?

Some at Reddit seem to think that he could now have a legitimate fear for his safety – or even life – given his alleged wealth. That seems rather inflated – the risk doesn’t seem any more founded than any other person with wealth’s name being known.

Nakamoto’s personal peace and privacy seem to be the only real things at risk. And that is a legitimate risk.

I would argue that the benefit to the public interest outweighs that small risk – which seems mostly to be the risk of other journalists chasing Nakamoto en masse through the streets of Temple City.

It’s a very different level of risk to the recent Grantland article on the “mysterious” Dr V – outed by journalist Caleb Hannan as a transwoman during the course of an article about a golf putter. The identity of Dr V as a transwoman was the key factor in the ethical problems with that article, and the revelation of Dr V’s trans-status was both unnecessary for the article and posed a potentially high immediate risk to Dr V’s personal safety – given attitudes towards trans-people in some sections of the community – and mental health.

The sore point here for those calling “dox” is that the whole purpose of a cyptocurrency is to both exclude government bodies and allow the anonymous transaction of currency – it’s why revealing the alleged identity of Nakamoto is such a big deal to some.

On this, it’s worth noting that Satoshi Nakamoto appears to have been, for all these years, semi-pseudonymous at best.

Did McGrath Goodman “dox” Satoshi Nakamoto? Based on her intent, I don’t think she did. But I also don’t think that matters.

Joel Fitzgibbon is worried about his poor $140K pa constituents | Wednesday 27 March 2013

mo moneyPoor Joel Fitzgibbon is worried that some of his constituents could be adversely affected by a potential new government tax on superannuation for high earners.

That’s fair enough, I mean, these constituents are probably doing it tough. Salt of the earth, and all that.

”In Sydney’s west you can be on a quarter of a million dollars family income a year and you’re still struggling,” Mr Fitzgibbon told Fairfax Media.

”Coal miners in my electorate earning 100, 120, 130, 140 thousand dollars a year are not wealthy.”

Oh. Oh, okay. But Joel’s not completely against the idea of taxing the “very very very high end”, but just not those “ordinary people” earning up to a quarter million dollars per year.