The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Why you should vote “Yes”, even if you don’t want to

Well, the day is finally here. The High Court challenges have been struck down, the campaigns have been run, and now here I am, walking up the street to cast my vote, in the warming sun of spring-time Sydney.

As I approach the polling place, I cannot help but smile that the vote should take place in a church. How satisfying, to imagine god looking down upon me as I vote. I must remember to look up and wink at him, right when I mark my ballot paper. Not in a sexy way, mind. That would be a little hypocritical, given why I’m here. Just in a completely platonic “Hey buddy, I got this” kind of way. But anyway… what a sweet irony, that the democratic process of this lucky, prosperous, fair-go-for-all country should call on me to vote in god’s own house. And how fortunate, that that same democratic process is giving me an opportunity to have a say in how other people live their lives.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. It’s not just a say in how they live their lives. It’s about how their lives affect me. Even they admit there aren’t many of them. What is it, like 8% at most? And yet they already affect every aspect of our lives, and, more importantly, the lives of our children. That’s what this is really about – a battle. A battle for the minds of the young. Because the future is forged in the minds of the young. And fart jokes. Fart jokes are also forged in the minds of the young. Their side has always known that. Probably not the bit about fart jokes, because they never appear to have a sense of humour. But definitely the bit about the future. And that’s what they’re trying to do here.

But even if they weren’t trying to convert our kids, I’d still vote “No”, because they’re wrong. As simple as that. They’re wrong and they want to drag the rest of us down with them. I can’t stand the thought of all the things they do and say behind those closed doors. It’s gross. And ridiculous. It’s… it’s… dammit. I was trying to combine “gross” and “ridiculous” into a word but I can’t, because I’m so angry and grodiculous.

These are the thoughts that consume me as I shuffle along in the queue, smiling at my own righteousness, and breathing in the delicious smell of sausage. In fact, all I can smell is sausage. Far out, now all I want to do is eat a sausage. Not in a sexy way, mind. That would be a little hypocritical, given why I’m here. It’s just a democracy sausage. I’m allowed to eat a democracy sausage.

Eventually I find myself completely alone in a small cardboard cubicle next to 30 other people completely alone in their own cardboard cubicles. I try and stifle the similarities with that weird night out in Hong Kong, and I look down to see a piece of paper, and a crappy pencil, and a simple question. But no sausages.

And the question is beautiful. And just what I wanted. And I will vote “No”, because that’s what I believe, and that’s what they deserve. So I grab my crappy pencil, which is way too short and digs into my palm. And as I look down at my hand, and at the pencil digging into my palm, I am struck with both the simplicity and the power of it all. There’s no fighting in the streets, no storming of the palace gates. All it takes is me, armed with a simple pencil, and answering a simple question, and the lives of many are changed forever. And I imagine the hand of a “Yes” voter poised above the same ballot, possibly right next to me, and I grin as I imagine what she must be thinking. She’s also thinking about the simple question, and the simple pencil, and about how right now millions of her fellow citizens are grinning, just like me, at being able to have their say in how she lives her life. Her hand is probably shaking… with rage, or fear, or embarrassment, that something so dear to her, something so innate and precious, is being subjected to the whims of a bunch of complete strangers.

Wait, what? Where did those thoughts come from?

This isn’t about her! It’s about me, and my children, and what’s right. Right?

My pencil hovers above the “No” box. Now it’s my hand that is shaking. What am I doing? I look once more at the question before me, the question previously so simple and beautiful:

“Should we continue to allow the public practice of Christianity?”

I read it again, and again, and again. And suddenly everything is not as simple as I thought. Their faith is misplaced, and it does affect my life, and they do try and influence our children.

But it is precious to them. And sincere. And their right.

We’re all different, but we’re all in this together. And a part of our democracy would die if we were to take it away from them.

So I vote “Yes”. Not because I agree.

But because it’s right.

North Korea – Our Favourite Disneyworld Ride

North Korea

When I woke up the other day, I thought that either hell had frozen over, or that I’d been transported to an alternate universe. The reason for this was that every major news outlet, even the two remaining reputable ones, was reporting the DPRK’s test firing of an ICBM. DPRK is, of course, our favourite comedy villain, The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, and ICBM is Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile.

I’m very tempted, at this point, to launch into some highly abstruse alphabet soup, complete with missile designators, performance graphs, finely sliced shades of definition for ‘inter-continental’ and ‘ballistic’, and a semantic disambiguation of the ICBM trope from its actual technical meaning. Thing is, there’s quite a bit of this stuff publicly available right now, and since nobody, journalists included, seems to have read or understood it, I don’t really see why I should bother. Let’s instead boil it down to simple terms suited to what I am reluctantly forced to call the ‘discourse’ on this subject.

Question: Does North Korea currently possess, in the apocalyptic sense all of us Cold War babies understand the term, any ICBMs?

Answer: Almost certainly not.

And there in the answer is what I think is the essence of the problem. For those of us who are accustomed to having their statements listened to and acted upon, and who actually care about this beyond the action of clicking on an article (I’m looking at you, journalists), a flat yes or no on this question is almost impossible to issue. This is because the study of security, international relations, and other related fields, breeds a healthy and not entirely unjustified paranoia. Certainty is a luxury of the ignorant or un-involved. There is a chance, roughly equivalent to the chance that human civilisation was initially formed by fish-shaped aliens, that the DPRK does, in fact, have a functional arsenal of ICBMs. And the existence of this miniscule chance is enough to render it impossible for most of the security and intelligence establishment to say that they definitely don’t. And it is this miniscule gap which Trump, Kim Jong Un, and the world’s media in general has taken to with a crow bar.

The fact is, the DPRK’s last successful missile test was surprising for most analysts. Right up to the point where they’d had enough time to actually analyse the data and come to the conclusion that this wasn’t, in fact, a new missile, but rather a clever mashup of some old ones. And that this test represented not a re-write, but a slight adjustment in the rogue nation’s nuclear timetable. The idea that the DPRK was heading towards developing nuclear tipped missiles capable of inter-continental range is not a new one, and nor is the idea that they’re getting closer. So why the sudden hysteria? The answer can’t be technical – the simple fact is that the projections haven’t actually changed that much. Certainly not enough to justify all this extra noise in both camps. So what is, in fact, the cause?

The answer isn’t as bloodcurdling as many would like it to be, but it is depressing, if that’s any comfort. The fact of the matter is that the drastic increase in chilling DPRK disaster porn is almost certainly being driven by politics (there’s that ‘almost’ again – I can’t help myself). Idiot in Chief President Trump has made up what must by courtesy be called his ‘mind’ to ‘solve’ the diplomatic tangle surrounding the DPRK. In doing so, he has sent a clear message to Kim Jong Un that acting out like a toddler having a tantrum in a supermarket is once again a policy which will generate diplomatic returns, and to the rest of the world that he’s a goddamned idiot. What opening this dialogue does for both leaders is create opportunities to meet and negotiate, while simultaneously pumping out enough rhetoric and propaganda to satisfy their own domestic requirements.

It should be noted that Trump and Kim have key similarities. They both rely heavily on a kind of personality cult to legitimate their power. They both have a requirement to look and act like crazy people in order to satisfy their political bases. And they both have access to a voting public capable of believing they’re on the brink of war in spite of zero pre-positioning or additional mobilisation taking place. So far, so comical.

What isn’t comical, however, is the very real potential for the world to stumble over its feet into an actual armed confrontation by joining in with the hysterical fantasies of megalomaniacs and clickbait generators. There’s ample precedent for this kind of nonsense, and it’s all gut-bustingly hilarious until the coffins start coming home. So while I do understand that the North Korea ride is definitely one of the most emotionally satisfying, I’d urge everyone to please, for the love of all that’s good in the world, just click a few more times. To read more than just headlines. To treat all of Trump’s statements as seriously as we treat Kim Jong Un’s haircuts. And, most important of all, to get off this stupid ride before we all nose it off the rails with our shouty groupthink silliness. We’ve had our thrills and spills, and it’s time to stop before somebody really gets hurt.

Marriage Equality And Our Captains Courageous

Marriage Equality

I’m a bit sick of the marriage equality/same sex marriage/marry a donkey or a cat/won’t somebody think of the Christians/children/God’s apparently delicate feelings ‘debate’. One of the reasons I’m sick of it is because it’s never really been anything worthy of the name ‘debate’. Depressingly successful attempts to reduce the issue to a semantic dispute, inflate it into some sort of moral existential crisis, or otherwise obfuscate a very clear-cut issue with rank silliness, have left me deeply unwilling to participate in any way. Except for one, of course. If our Captains Courageous are successful in their bid to abrogate their moral and legal leadership and shift it back on to us, I will emphatically vote in favour of marriage equality, even if I have to use the experimental archaeology skills involved in doing this by ‘post’. Whatever that is.

Sure, there’s a few problems with this. There’s the problem of religious protections, for example. Now, religious protections are crucially important for a free society. They’re the same protections which allow me to suggest that fundamentalist Christians should be de-registered as humans because nothing with a cognitive ability that low should be given either a vote or a seat in parliament. I’m looking at you, Magic Mike Baird and the right faction of the Liberal Party. And I suppose it’s important that the poor beleaguered minority of Christian cake makers, eking out an existence in the majority religion of the nation, shouldn’t be bullied by horrible militant gays or suchlike. Actually, it probably isn’t. But the preservation of real and actual religious pluralism is definitely top priority if I’m not to lose my right to say that belief in an anthropomorphic interventionist god should be classified by the UN as a disability. Leaving aside the fact that it’s got four fifths of diddly squat to do with marriage equality, in the abstract, it’s an important principle.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of this whole postal plebiscite/survey/waste of time/display of moral cowardice/popular vote thing. If I were to display the same kind of moral rigour as a Cato the Elder, or either of the Brutii, I’d probably be required to treat this whole debacle with Olympian detachment and abstain. The grounds for this would be that voting to change back a piece of legislation which was more or less arbitrarily changed by a befuddled reactionary thirteen years ago simply isn’t my job. It’s parliament’s. And that actual equality before the law for all citizens, regardless of orientation or creed, is not a question of popular will, but of moral and legal necessity. And that this is not so much a bid to gauge the (entirely irrelevant in this case) popular will, but rather a pathetically transparent delaying tactic designed to appease the government’s conservative Catholic base. Leaving all that aside, my personal belief is that it’s incumbent on us to rise above the nonsense and gently but firmly show the government the bloody obvious, rather like a new dog owner pushing a puppy’s snout into the mess it’s just made on the carpet.

So, regardless of what happens in various courts, or in the morally mendacious lower house and its mentally deficient cousin, the upper, I’d say the order of priority would run as follows:

  1. Vote ‘yes’ on marriage equality
  2. Demand parliamentarians do their actual jobs
  3. Marry a cat

That last one’s basically designed to keep Corey Bernardi happy. Because when he’s not happy, he talks about stuff, which is almost as bad as having a government who actually has to ask the general public whether or not it should continue to actively deprive sections of the population of their basic statutory and human rights.

Court 1: The Margaret Court Centre for Kids Who Can’t Write Letters Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too Like Play Tennis

Say what you like about Margaret Court and her views on marriage equality, but dayum… girlfriend sure knows how to write a letter.

I know this because she wrote one and, like many of you, I read it. But unlike the rest of you Philistines, I didn’t merely recoil with horror at her tendentious mendacity, and berate her for the belligerent homophobia of her splenetic polemic. No! Because to me, her words were art. And, much like a painting by Andrew Bolt’s doodle, surely we can appreciate a great work of art, while distancing ourselves from the dïck that created it. What is to separate us from the beasts if we can’t? Oh, pants. Pants also separate us from the beasts. But you get my point – Splenetic Polemic would be a great band name. And also, Margaret Court’s letter was like a painting by Andrew Bolt’s doodle.

So that is why I waited a little while for things to settle down for Margaret, before rushing to enrol in The Margaret Court Centre for Kids Who Can’t Write Letters Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too Like Play Tennis. And boy, am I glad I did. After attending the course last week, I can now say without a word of a lie that, not only is Margaret a great tennis player – oh hang on she’s probably not that good any more. I’ll start again. Not only is Margaret a great former sports entertainment person, but she’s a great teacher, too. And for those of us lucky enough to attend the course, she great teachered the cräp out of us. I now know how to write a letter just as amazing as Margaret’s, and my forehand has improved by at least 8%.

Now, Margaret wants to keep this knowledge a secret. She said that with a great forehand comes great responsibility, or something like that. But I think this knowledge deserves to be out there. I think we should all be able to write letters like this. Especially today, when there are so many letters to write, and so many social causes to champion. So, at great personal risk, I managed to smuggle out the Margaret Court Guide to Writing Letters Good, which walks you through the real-life letter mentioned above, and shows you how you too can write a letter just as amazing.

And at the risk of being sued, here it is:

See? I told you it was amazing. But as amazing as it most certainly is, what if such brilliance is beyond me? How can I possibly know whether I am worthy of receiving such wisdom? Well, I thought about it a long time, and I decided that the only way I will ever know is to write a letter myself. And so I did – to Virgin, who are also an airline, and who also support marriage equality. My letter is below, and Margaret, if you are reading, I hope I did you proud, and you find it a fitting tribute to the elegance and luminosity of your undeniable artistic ability.
_____

Dear Mr Board Person,

I write this as an open letter to the Virgin board as someone who works with spreadsheets a lot. Seriously, I have the best spreadsheets. Just fantastic.

As you will know, I can make a really funny noise with my ear, and I once ate a whole box of Barbecue Shapes for dinner.

Now, I’m not mad, but I’m disappointed that Virgin has decided to actively promote gender equality in the workplace. I believe that it is wrong to plough with a donkey and an ox yoked together, as stated in the bible.

I feel so strongly about this that I absolutely refuse to fly with you ever again. That is how important it is to me. But, on the other hand, I don’t like trains or buses, and I can’t fly Qantas, so I might have to fly with you sometimes. But I will give you all dirty looks.

How proud I was to promote Virgins throughout the world, from the Aircar SkyChariots to the Boeing 7-Elevens. I did this as I was absolutely quite certain that Virgins were a huge promoter of gender inequality, right up until your recent public statement.

I used to be a penguin, and will be pleased to attend your family Christmas dinner at any time. But it won’t be in March.

May the kisses of a thousand racehorses grace your birthday party.

Tim, B.BBQ Shapes, Somewhere in Scandinavia
_____

There. It is done. Thank you Margaret for your guidance, and may the kisses of a thousand racehorses grace your birthday party.

The hardest words to say

No, it’s not “I was wrong”, or “I’m sorry”, or “You have something in your teeth” (which I do actually struggle with, by the way). It’s not even “I’m sorry I was wrong about you having something in your teeth”. The hardest words for me to say to you, are also the words that I find hardest to say to myself.

Before we go on, though, a warning. I rarely write about anything serious, and even when I do, I can’t help but make light of things. This is, however, a serious post, and has the potential to make some of you feel awkward. It may even be triggering. For that, I am sorry, and can only say that if the thought of me being serious is a little too weird for you, now might be a good time to stop reading.

And if you’re one of those people, that’s OK, I promise.
_____

For the rest of you, the hardest words for me to say are these.

I have depression. And also no, I’m not joking.

I won’t go into any great detail about the whys and wherefores. I’ve had it once before, and managed to come through (mostly) unscathed. But the last year or so has been a little hard, and over the last six weeks things have finally seemed to catch up to me. At first I told myself I was just having an off day. I’ve had off days before (who hasn’t?). Then, yeah nah, it’s been a bit of a tough week, eh. I’m just tired, I reckon, and a bit stressed at work. I need some sleep. I’ll feel better tomorrow. I can get through this. I wish I was a Windows Phone, so everyone will leave me alone, and any minute now I’ll randomly reboot and everything will be OK again. But before you know it, it’s six weeks later and you’re starting to realise that, if not outright lying to yourself, you’re at least making some pretty flimsy excuses. A black dog ate my homework, as it were. And then, one day, even you can’t believe the excuses you’re peddling, and you start to worry that maybe you’re not as strong as you think you are. For me, that point was about two weeks ago, when I lost my last, treasured place of refuge. Sleep was no longer the inevitable end of a long day, but a blessing, something to look forward to, the one place I could hide from the multitude of pressures and disquieting thoughts. But after getting six hours of sleep in three days, I could run from the truth no longer. Much like Churchill himself, his black dog can be a relentless little bugger, and he’d finally chased me down.

And so, as of about 10 days ago, I am getting the help I need, and am extremely fortunate to have a good support network. The last three days, however, have been particularly hard, and if I’m not leaning against my lounge room wall crying uncontrollably, you can find me lying in bed, hoping against all hope to find a reason to get up. So, for some reason, I’ve decided to write about it.

Unfortunately, like many things associated with depression, this presents somewhat of a contradictory challenge. Because this is simultaneously the best and the worst time for me to be writing about it.

It’s the best time, in that it’s the only time you can truly describe it. When I have previously described my first encounter with depression to friends, I tended to say things like “Yeah it wasn’t fun. But, you know, it didn’t last very long” – which is kind of like Churchill cursing a visit from the aforementioned dog, but later admitting that, hey, at least it wasn’t a cat. I don’t think this is a feature unique to depression. Time heals all wounds, it would seem, and even if it doesn’t heal, it certainly dulls the memory. Those four hours that you spent literally staring at a wall seem almost funny many years later. Staring at a wall for four hours…? Outrageous! So I think it’s important to write about it now, before the meds (hopefully) kick in.

But it’s also the worst time to write about it. Writing it down makes it real. It compels you to think about everything that’s wrong, until you realise that you’re actually not sure what’s wrong, which of course makes you feel even worse. Not only that, but writing requires a plan. Structure. A mind with ordered thoughts. And right now I feel like I have none of those things. Sure, you might read this and think, “Well your thoughts seem fine to me, that Windows Phone reference was awesome”, and I would actually like for you think that. But that’s not the truth. You haven’t seen me rewrite that previous sentence six times, and still doubt if it makes sense. You’re not here to see me stare blankly at the screen for ten minutes. You’re not aware of the tears welling even as I type this, a fact rendered all the more difficult because I am in a public bar and the Backstreet Boys’ “Bye Bye Bye” is playing on the sound system. Your assessment is based only on the thoughts making it to the keyboard, and not the million others that are all fighting each other for my very limited attention. And I’m sure that none of you know the shame of finding yourself wishing you were a Windows Phone.

None of which is your fault, of course, because it turns out that not only does no one else have a Windows Phone, but pretending to be OK can be surprisingly easy. Which is one of the reasons why telling people you’re depressed is so hard, because you know it’s almost certainly going to come as a shock. I don’t really know what people tend to think of me, but I know enough about myself to know that I probably come across as a bit of a clown, always ready with a (most likely shït) joke. I probably look like I don’t take life too seriously. I post stupid shït on Facebook. I can take the pïss out of myself. I find it easy to go out and have a good time with my family, friends and colleagues. So I fully understand that a lot of the people who know me, and who are bothering to read this, will be a little surprised by my admission.

Believe me, though, no one is more surprised than myself.

Life really isn’t that bad. Hell, life is pretty damned good. I was lucky enough to be born into a beautiful, loving family, in one of the safest, most prosperous nations on Earth. I have a shït load of awesome friends, some of whom may even like me. I have a good job at a really great, friendly, inclusive workplace. I am in otherwise good health. On any given day, I am free to indulge in a wide range of interests and hobbies, like playing sport for an absolutely amazing club, taking sometimes OK photos, or writing this cräppy blog, all of which give me great joy, even if I don’t really think I’m that good at any of them. I have never owned a pair of suede loafers, nor have I ever tied a Ralph Lauren jumper around my neck, which is awesome, right? And, best of all, I have an absolutely beautiful, kind, and thoughtful four-year-old boy, who I love so much that it aches.

And that my friends, is, for me anyway, the worst thing about it. It goes without saying that no one wants to feel like this. But even worse than the feeling itself, is knowing that you don’t have a right to it.

And yet here I am.

Here I am in a place where the simplest tasks suddenly become Sisyphean, if Sisyphus could be bothered to get out of bed in the first place. A place where concentration is in short supply, but the demand for it seems to be endless. A place where, instead of running to all those interests and hobbies that bring you such joy, you have to drag yourself to kicking and screaming, only to find that the joy isn’t there anyway. A place where you have to make yourself leave the house and see your friends, because you’re worried they’ll think less of you for not going, and because you’re desperate for any respite, no matter how temporary. A place where you feel disconnected, detached, alone, unloved and useless. A place where you tell yourself that none of that is true, but you don’t have the energy to make yourself believe it. A place where you have to force yourself to eat, but also feel guilty about having a problem that others would love to be able to solve so easily. A place where you feel like life is something you’re watching happen around you, rather than something you’re living. And, worst of all, a place where seeing your beloved son requires a monumental effort, of which you are sometimes just not capable.

And you hate yourself for it.
_____

So why am I telling you all this?

Well, to be honest, I’m not really sure.

I know it’s not a cry for help. And I’m not looking for sympathy. I don’t need or expect anyone to rush to my aid, or start sending me schnitzels and whiskey. I don’t even want anyone to know that I’m depressed. In fact, I’m actually terrified of people finding out. Telling a trusted friend that you had it is one thing. Telling everyone you know that you have it is something else entirely. I’m scared that people will think I’m weak. That I don’t deserve to feel this way. People will look at me differently, or they’ll look at me the same, and I don’t know which would be worse. I don’t want anyone to treat me differently, or constantly ask if I’m OK, lest I burst into tears at an awkward moment. Like, oh I don’t know, at the urinals at work.

But maybe it’s important that people know. Maybe by hiding it I’m doing a disservice to all the other people who battle it alone, and in silence. Maybe I need to give myself permission to feel this way. Maybe I want to reach out to anyone else who feels the same, and give them permission, too. Maybe I want my son to read this one day, so he knows that there is no shame in being sad, he doesn’t have to pretend to be otherwise, and most importantly, that no matter how bad things seem, everything will be OK in the end. Or maybe I just ran out of things to write about.

That’s the thing about depression. It can be hard to get your thoughts in order, and decide how you feel, or why.

I know one thing, though. I will be able to tell you. One day. When I am well again.

And by dog, black or otherwise, I will be.

Now Is The Time To Worry About War

Donald Trump

World War III, as a concept, has descended into the realm of cliche and farce, with its imminence being used as an argument against Brexit, Trump, Clinton, intervention in Syria, non-intervention in Syria, Halal butchery, and marriage equality. If you’ve decided to stop paying attention to the screamsheets’ predictions of a major power conflict that never, ever ends up panning out, I’d say that was a sensible course. Until now, that is.

I hasten to point out that there is no cause for panic. I emphatically do not support any one of the stupid journalistic narratives of some accidental collision of forces causing an apocalyptic major power conflict – that sort of garbage is the result of far too much Hollywood and far too little actual study of the international community. We are, however, approaching a situation of some danger – a sort of near perfect storm of disturbances in the balance of power: questionable world leadership, popular unrest, and regional flashpoints.

While it may currently be trendy to identify Russia or China as future superpowers, and harp endlessly on about their supposed capabilities without reference to their deep, systemic internal problems, the fact remains that we currently live in a world that is still very much unipolar. Given this, the failure of the Trump White House to fall into any kind of rhythm is deeply concerning. To be fair, this administration has been subject to sustained attack of unprecedented savagery and disruptiveness, mostly by deeply hostile major media outlets, as well as from some elements within the government itself. I make no comment on this beyond saying that it’s a major factor in Trump’s continuing inability to put a foot right. The problem with this is that it renders previously predictable situations dangerously fluid. Add this to low-level, but intense and dirty conflicts going on all over the world, and the general instability and uncertainty surrounding the leadership of the USA’s great power supporters, and we have a potentially explosive situation.

Fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine, Central and Western Africa, and Kurdistan, tensions in the South China Sea, and the resulting humanitarian and economic effects these conflicts precipitate, all place great pressure on the current world order. Not only do they have real and significant impacts on governments and peoples, they also all  involve major powers who could conceivably be drawn into larger conflicts as a result. Weakness, confusion, or disarray in the USA can and will be seen as an opportunity for both friendly and unfriendly powers to make diplomatic and/or territorial gains on the assumption that the use or threat of force will go unpunished by a superpower preoccupied with the containment of its own Idiot in Chief. Deep divides in the UK, an unknown quantity in charge of a heavily armed and highly nervous France, a Germany whose centrality is becoming cause for fear and resentment in much of Europe, and a Japan made volatile by deeply unpopular re-militarisation, all make it possible to assume that the USA’s major allies and proxies may also be too busy to do anything about naked adventurism in any or all of the above-mentioned regions. What this can lead to is a situation where prestige politics becomes the only available option, and to judge from the few clear, concrete actions of the Trump administration, we’re practically already there.

What this can create is the kind of slow burner that eventually kicked off World War I. Leaving aside the moronically simplistic narrative taught in schools, there are remarkable similarities to the global instability which slowly manifested itself over a long period of inexorable shifts in the balance of power between 1870 and 1913. A fluid world order, such as the one which is beginning to develop now, needs adroit, courageous, and far seeing handling. It seems unlikely, given the current state of the major liberal western democracies, that we can expect such handling in the near future. I don’t for a second contend that we might wake up tomorrow to a nuclear winter, but whereas until now it’s been a matter of ‘wait and see’, I’d argue that in the past month we have edged appreciably closer to the kind of global disorder which could, if we’re not very careful, drop the first domino in a previously unthinkable chain of events.

It’s vitally important that the populations of the major and medium democratic powers remember the lessons of history, the price of nationalist or xenophobic hysteria, and send our leaders the clear message that grandstanding idiocy will not, under any circumstances, win them votes.

Emmanuel Macron – Why We Should Keep Worrying

Emmanuel Macron

I find myself in the curious (and somewhat repugnant) position of being in agreement with Andrew Bolt. As per usual, the Boltmeister is flinging partisan mud under the guise of ‘free speech’, but he makes a valid point when he expresses concern over the new French president’s domestic arrangements. I feel a little backgrounding and explaining is required here.

The collective sigh of relief as the people of France turned decisively away from Le Pen was audible around the world. This was partly due to the concern that over sixty years of patiently building of a liberal world order was being thrown away by know-nothing millenials and churlishly selfish baby boomers, which seems to be the fake issue du jour in middlebrow circles. But it was mostly, I think, to do with Trump, Russia, and the toxic, racist, fear-mongering of Le Pen, whose modus and support network were so eerily reminiscent of the US Idiot in Chief. Hacked emails, character assassinations, and a terror incident all conspired to make us wonder if the lessons of WWII were finally to be forgotten, and if France would elect a candidate who, while probably not strictly speaking a fascist, looks and sounds remarkably like one*.

When Macron was elected in what the leftist press termed ‘a landslide’ and the right wing papers ‘a solid majority’, the love poured forth. Major newspapers, left and right, are basically in favour of the establishment, especially if it doesn’t look like the establishment – a role Macron fills to perfection. Any serious analysis of his background, politics, credentials, or intentions (I’d recommend this) has been drowned out by the usual rank idiocy surrounding popular figures. Articles pondering the important questions like, “Who’s Hotter? Macron or Trudeau?” have crept up the search rankings, accompanied by pictures of Marine Le Pen looking sad or angry or otherwise gurning. But beyond the stupidity, there is a real sense of disaster averted which is probably justified – whatever else he is, Macron is from the centre and is probably a safe pair of hands. At least, much, much safer than the alternative. But as Bolt accidentally points out, there are still a few things to worry about.

Bolt wonders very loudly about the nature of Macron’s relationship with his wife. He harps on the fact that their relationship began when Macron was underage (15) and Brigitte was in her forties. He then leaves the reservation entirely, as is his wont, and begins comparing the French president to Milo Yiannopoulos. You can read the article here if you can bothered, but I’d not recommend it. He does, however, raise a couple of valid points. It’s possible, or even probable, that their initial relationship would legally be defined as abusive. He also points out that forensic media scrutiny is next to nil. And here we get to what I feel we have to worry about.

I hold the somewhat unpopular opinion that the personal lives of politicians only matter when they represent a conflict with their sworn duties. I’m aware, however, that this isn’t the case, and the positive spin being placed on the story of Macron’s love life is a function of the fact that most people are unable or unwilling to divorce private character from public function. So what happens, then, when disillusion kicks in? I use the word ‘when’ advisedly. Macron is a financier, an establishment figure and a member of the liberal elite. He believes in the balancing of interests for the greater national good, the judicious use of force, the preservation of essential but ultimately abstract freedoms – whatever his packaging, and whatever his vision for change, he knows the system and will play it, as he definitely understands that politics is the art of the possible. Which means that the love affair is definitely going to be of finite duration. Think Obama in his third year of office. And when love dies, the potential time bomb of his relationship may very well go off, dealing a potentially crippling blow to the forces of moderation in one of the lynch pins of Europe.

And not only this – there’s parliamentary elections still to come. There is a yawning gap of time between now and then during which the populace can grow into the realisation that their current idol has feet of clay, in that like all intelligent operators he is much more a servant of the constituted system than a weathercock for the loudest complaints. Any diminution of his current popularity (and it’s hard to see how it can go in any other direction) leaves the door open for revanchist and fascist forces to snap up parliamentary seats and leave Macron a lame duck president. Which is why I’d suggest it is far too early to celebrate. Macron’s victory is not the end of the war against pointy-headed populism in France – it’s just the securing of the beach head.

 

*Okay, she is a fascist, but her far right disguise is good enough to make saying that a matter of opinion rather than fact.

For the love of god, just be honest

And so, it would seem, the Safe Schools program has ended in NSW. For while our Victorian counterparts vowed to fund the program themselves after Federal funding ended, here in NSW the government is apparently Fred up with it, and has sent it sailing down the Nile.

But fear not! According to Education Minister Rob Stokes, it will be replaced with another program with a broader focus:

Bullying will never be tolerated in NSW public schools — whether it be because someone is overweight, gay, based on the colour of their skin or for any other reason.

Well that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? School can be a horrendous experience for people who are a little different, and we should do whatever we can to eliminate the bullying elicited by such differences. And not just for LGBTIQ students, obviously. As the good minister says, children who are overweight or not white enough or who like golf are bullied, too. And if we’re serious about eliminating bullying from schools, we need to cover all these differences, right?

Well, yes, of course. But there’s a problem. Why is it that the loudest voices advocating for change are also the biggest bullies when it comes to the LGBTIQ community?
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You may have noticed lately that there are a few ostensibly contentious issues floating around. Now, I say ostensibly contentious because, really, they aren’t contentious at all. They are rendered contentious, however, by a typically small, but always influential, minority. The most contentious issue of recent times has been, to my mind anyway, the debate around Marriage Equality. But there are, and have been, a multitude of others. The debate around abortion rights, for example, never seems to go away, not to mention the sporadic agitations for euthanasia. Then there is the teaching of scripture in public schools, vaccinations, same-sex adoption and surrogacy, the gender pay gap, climate change, changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, corporate tax cuts, gun control, treatment of refugees, the decision to axe Renegade – and that’s just off the top of my head. The list, it seems lately, is endless.

Thinking about all these issues, and how we debate and decide on things as a society, I was struck by three thoughts:

  1. In most cases, the resistance appears to be geared towards maintaining the status quo;
  2. There is normally a single, core belief at the root of such resistance, which, paradoxically, is never mentioned;
  3. The decision to axe Renegade was the worst decision in the history of mankind. (You should all take a moment to watch the link before proceeding. You will thank me later.)

Thought #1 is not new, and has been observed by countless observers who observe things worthy of observation. Humans are nothing if not creatures of habit, and old habits die hard, with a vengeance, sometimes. Thought #3 is also fairly obvious. I mean come on, he was a cop and good at his job. Why would anyone axe a show like that? Thought #2, however, deserves some attention, if you can spare it.

Let’s look, for a moment, at Marriage Equality. While a large number of nations have embraced it with open arms, and have not yet descended into debaucherous anarchy, in Australia the resistance to change has been as fierce as it has been needlessly prolonged. Countless polls show public support has hovered around 70% for almost a decade, and yet still the opponents of change drone on and on with the same old tired arguments that were debunked on day one. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman, you see. So we can’t possibility change it now. And it’s all about the children. Don’t forget the children.

There’s a problem, however – these arguments fall apart at the smallest nudge with a logic stick. For starters, when you’re in a debate about changing the legal definition of something, you can’t just appeal to the current definition and pretend it’s an argument. Oh, and if you are going to stubbornly point to the legal definition, you can’t claim that marriage is all about children when your cherished definition doesn’t mention children at all. Silly, right? And yet here we are, in 2017, and same-sex couples still cannot marry.

The truth is that there is not a single, logical reason to deny marriage equality. Not one. And yet still people oppose it. Why is that? Why are people still opposed to euthanasia and abortion? Why do people still deny climate change, when there is such overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
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In the case of marriage equality, the reason should be obvious – the overwhelming majority of opponents are religious. A survey of some 40,000 Americans conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that, while around 55% of Americans were in favour of marriage equality, 91% of the people who oppose it identify as religious. This can’t be a coincidence. And if it’s not a coincidence, it means that the reason they are opposed to marriage equality is not because of some disingenuous claim like children do best with their biological mother and father. It’s because they view the existence of gay, interesex and trans* people as anything from slightly distasteful to morally reprehensible, depending on affiliation.

This is not, however, a slight on the religious in general. How could it be, when the same survey found that, for every four people who support marriage equality, three of them belong to a church of some kind. Clearly there are a lot of people who are able to either reconcile their decision with their faith, or set it aside for the sake of their LGBTIQ brothers and sisters (and everyone inbetween).

Likewise, this is not an attack on the right of people of faith to oppose marriage equality because of that faith. I don’t agree with it, but if that is their choice according to their conscience, then so be it.

What I do take issue with, however, is deception – if you’re going to deny LGBTIQ couples the right to marry, at least be honest about why.
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So how does all this relate to Safe Schools? Well, why don’t we have a look at what some of our favourite people have to say about it, shall we?

“Good that NSW is scrapping so called Safe Schools, a social engineering programme dressed up as anti-bullying,” said Tony Abbott.

Apparently Tony doesn’t like social engineering presented as something else. Which is interesting, given the $250m his government set aside to put trained chaplains counsellors in government schools.

The Australian Christian Lobby can always be relied upon to fulfill Jesus’ central mission of making life miserable for gay people 1, so let’s see what they have to say:

Make our schools safe for all students
The federally funded ‘Safe Schools’ initiative is supposed to be an anti-bullying program. [But] this radical program is being used to introduce children from primary school age up to sexual concepts that are not age appropriate.

Well they sound like legitimate concerns, don’t they? We must teach children that all bullying is wrong, and the material should be age appropriate. I wonder if Lyle Shelton, the head of the ACL, would change his mind about the program’s LGBTIQ content, if those concerns were addressed? What say you, Lyle?

Despite the rainbow carpet being rolled out in schools, gender theory is highly contested with leading feminists such as Germaine Greer scathing. Women and girls should feel safe in their toilets and change rooms from male-to-female transgender people who have not undergone a sex change, they rightly say. And there is no scientific evidence that anyone is “born gay” or that little boys and girls have been born in the wrong body and that surgery, hormones, tucking or binding are the solution.

Needless to say, your intellectual rigour is on shaky ground, if you’re resorting to “leading feminists such as Germaine Greer”. In any event, we’re getting closer to the crux of the matter – it seems like Lyle is not so much concerned with the program’s specificity or age-appropriateness, as he is with the existence of gay and transgender people themselves.

Even people like Fred Nile can’t seem to just come out and say what’s really on their mind:

Naturally, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of such programs which are ideologically driven with the aim of recruiting children.

To nobody’s surprise, he is happy to follow Tony’s lead, and merrily support the ideological teaching of Scripture in NSW public schools with the aim of recruiting children. But that’s for another time.

Unfortunately, we need to stoop to Bill Muehlenberg to find out what all of the above people are thinking, but are too afraid to say (some LGBTIQ people may want to skip this one):

The war against reality, against biology, against who we are as human beings is getting out of hand. For those of a religious persuasion, it is a direct assault on our Creator and the way we were created. In the beginning God made us male and female. He did not make us with gender fluidity or with a smorgasbord of sexual expression and choices.

And there you have it. Thought #2 in a nutshell. People like Tony Abbott, Lyle Shelton, and Fred Nile exert an extraordinary amount of energy opposing social change. They have thrown up all manner of arguments against marriage equality, euthanasia, abortion and “Safe Schools”. But no matter how many of their concerns you assuage, no matter how many of their arguments you prove misplaced or wrong, their opposition will never waver. For neither Tony Abbott, nor Lyle Shelton, nor Captain Christian himself, Fred Nile, seem to ever mention the one thing – the only thing – on which their opposition is founded.

Their god 2.

Which, when you think about it, is simultaneously a little weird, and perfectly understandable. But also really annoying.

So, to Tony, Lyle, and Nile… I, for one, wish you would talk about your god. Don’t tell us it’s all about someone’s child, unless that child is Baby Jebus. For not only are you denying your own faith, much like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, and not only would it save us all a helluva lotta debate time, but it’s downright cowardly.

Bill Muehlenberg may be an ignorant buffoon, at least he’s honest.

– Tim
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Footnotes
1. I don’t think this was Jesus’ central mission, but the ACL seems to, judging by the focus of their media releases.
2. Or rather, their own personal interpretation of their god.

The Real Malcolm Stands Up

When I look at the state of the world today, with Trump being Trump, low-level, nasty little wars burning all over the Middle East and North Africa, crazy fluctuations in global resource and commodity prices, various crises playing out in Europe, the US, and even here in quiet little Australia, the first thing which occurs to me, obviously, is that something urgently needs to be done about the way we administrate foreign workers and citizenship.

How fortunate, then, that we have a government and a Prime Minister so well versed in the arcane business of government. Weaker minds might think that our most urgent priorities might be the future-proofing of our economy, defence, and foreign policy in the face of a rapidly changing world, but this would obviously be foolish and reactionary. What’s really needed, here, is for the government to embark on six weeks of consultation about what constitutes ‘Australian values’, having first declared to the nation what they are.

Truly, we are blessed to have leaders who so intimately understand the true nature of government. Who maintain such a tight grip on what’s actually important and relevant. And it’s not just our federal pollies who display such sagacity. Even at state level, we see the same fearless integrity at work, with a government so focussed on essentials that in the face of spiralling gun and drug crime, and record voter disaffection, they have bravely chosen to spend their time dropping the Safe Schools program.

Do you remember those heady days when Tony Abbott was rolled, countries like Taiwan (Taiwan!) were in a position to find our politics laughable, and myriad Australians were calling for the “real Malcolm Turnbull” to stand up? Well, as it turns out, he was planted foursquare on his tap dancing little footsies even then. His true stature as a leader has been apparent from the very beginning, and we should be pleased and grateful for his perspicacity and foresight. Because the real Malcolm Turnbull has now proven himself to be intimately familiar with what is important in Australian politics. Some idiots might think that the real business of government is the balancing of national, public, and commercial interests as part of a process of… well, of governing the country. But no, Malcolm and his right wing puppeteers know the score. They know that the essence of government in this country is to wall oneself off from the real issues of the day and play out petty factional fights in the great forum of the nation, whilst simultaneously leaning loudly in whichever direction one thinks the wind is blowing by making nakedly populist announcements about nothing very much at all.

I, for one, am overjoyed that this government has so nobly stuck to its guns and decided to continue the age-old Australian tradition of picking on immigrants in order to gain political brownie points. It shows a real respect for core Australian political values, and reveals, unequivocally, the intelligent, informed, and generally just wonderful state of our public discourse. Tony Abbott in a Malcolm suit is exactly the hero our country needs.

Let’s All Play Trump’s MOAB Propaganda Game

And the hits just keep on coming. I woke up this morning to a string of news articles about the use of the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ (MOAB) in Afghanistan. I suppose that’s newsworthy. What isn’t, however, is the assertion made by the Trump administration that this represents a message to the world about uptick in operational tempo. It doesn’t.

Basically, the use of this ordnance is governed by target type. The actual signal of operational uptick in this theatre would be (slightly) increased troop deployments, executive requests for UOF options and the thickening atmosphere of bull faeces gathering around White House press briefings (if that’s even possible). All of which have been wildly misreported and co-opted into various conspiracy theories over the past few weeks, proving definitively that the world’s public continues to get steadily worse at the fairly simple process of extrapolating real events from hard and obvious indicators.

What we’re looking at isn’t a sign of some firming of inherent resolve, or whatever tragic name it’s been given this week, but rather the usual political exploitation of a fait accomplis. The metamorphosis of necessity into virtue. The making of hay in conditions of solar disambiguity. A cheap, political organ grinder trick, in short.

But yes, by all means, let us jump on our various bandwagons and basically do the Trump administration’s work for them, in the name of resisting it. I like a bit of irony sauce with my Good Friday steak and chips.