The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

And now for something completely different

The conversation was harmless enough. Vague pleasantries drifted back and forth across the room like dust, dancing carefree on shards of golden afternoon light. Barely noticeable at first, but ever so slowly choking the air.

“How was your weekend?” asked the faceless voice.

“Pretty good. How was yours?” came the faceless reply.

Jenny had watched a movie. Stan had watched the footy. Brad had weeded his garden. I wondered out loud if that was a euphemism, but no one seemed to hear me. Sharon hadn’t said anything yet, which was a welcome change. But Sharon always had something to say. It was only a matter of time before she crashed into the conversation with an obliviously inane anecdote designed to bore us all into oblivion. I started to wish that Sharon had a mute button.

“Is everyone here?” asked Brad.

I didn’t know. And why would I? I didn’t even know why I was there, let alone who else was or wasn’t supposed to be there. No one else seemed to know either, as Brad’s gentle riposte was variously parried with feigned ignorance and furtive glances. The normally ebullient Sharon briefly promised a response, but turned meek in the moment, merely mouthing her reply and remaining silent.

“Well I guess we can wait a few minutes for the late comers,” said Brad.

And so we waited.

I looked around the room. Why was I here? Why were any of us here? Are we being held captive? Will we ever be free? Am I the only one to harbour such doubts? These questions and many more quietly invaded my thoughts. But the longer we waited, the stronger came the invasion, and wave after wave of indignant doubt pommeled my meagre defences.

At some point, I noticed that Brad had started talking. For how long, I know not. But he was in his element now. An audience rendered captive and unable to speak. They were scorched earth, and his words were the storm. Loud. Drenching. Unavoidable. And they accepted the torrent, not only because they had to, but because they knew it would pass.

But I did not.

To me the storm was unending. Infinite. Inescapable. And the more it raged the more my mind cried out for solace, and my body cried out for shelter, and my soul reached and grasped and clawed for the light of faintest hope.

And I realised I was alone.

Completely alone.

But then a whisper reached my ear, faint and feeble, but emphatic and fierce. “You are alone,” it said. “But you are strong.”

And finally, in that moment, I knew what I had to do.

I staggered to my feet, and drifted slowly into shadow. Had anyone seen me? I glanced quickly around the room and saw that all eyes remained steadfastly on Brad. And that bloviating storm rolled on, apparently unaware of my small rebellion, or his own insignificance. But I needed to be sure.

“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” I whispered unto the storm.

But the storm answered not. And in that moment, I knew I was free.

I ran for hope. I ran for life. I ran until my heart gave out and I reached the gilded sanctuary for which I yearned.

And I found my release.

And that’s the story of the time I did a poo on a work Zoom call.

You’re welcome.

– Tim

Yet another open letter to Margaret Court

Dear Margaret,

Long time no see! In fact, I haven’t seen you since you wrote that weird letter to Qantas saying that you probably maybe possibly wouldn’t fly with them unless you really had to because they supported marriage equality and you didn’t support marriage equality but because you were good at hitting a ball back and forth 60 years ago your half hearted boycott was something an independent corporate entity needed to care about, so I attended the Margaret Court Centre for Kids Who Can’t Write Letters Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too Like Play Tennis. I’m sure you remember me there. Good times, good times.

Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that, even though I still can’t play tennis for shït, I now write letters good so your course was a success and and I’m so grateful and I’m going to draw on everything you taught me to write this letter to you.

I’m sure you saw that Mardi Gras was on recently. Disgusting, eh? So many people flagrantly flaunting their right to be themselves without hurting anyone else. It’s almost like we live in a free society where weird religious beliefs don’t override the freedoms and protections of a secular society. Unlike in Burundi, where you’ve recently been doing some good work, and being gay can get you thrown in prison, or worse.

But the main thing I wanted to talk to you about, Margaret, is your half hearted boycott of Qantas. Firstly, how’s it going? Are you able to secure flights with any openly homophobic airlines, or have you just started walking between Perth and Melbourne?

And secondly, how are you coping after boycotting all the other companies that now support LGBTIQ rights? I mean… that’s gotta be tough, given that you now also have to boycott the ABC, Absolut, Amazon, Amnesty International, ANZ, the Australian Federal Police, Autism Australia, Carlton United Breweries, the City of Sydney, Coke, the Department of Defence, Facebook, Fire and Rescue NSW, Girl Guides, Google, Guide Dogs, Hush Puppies, Instagram, Jaguar, JCDecaux, KIIS 106.5, L’Oreal, MinterEllison, Myer, NSW Ambulance, the NSW Liberal Party, NSW Nurses, the RFS, the SES, People with Disability Australia, Powerhouse Museum, R U OK?, Salesforce, SBS, Scouts, St Vincent’s Hospital, Surf Life Saving Australia, Sydney Airport, the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Swans, The Star, Transport for NSW, University of Sydney, UTS, Vodafone, Wella, and Woolworths.

Then again, you probably don’t watch the ABC or drink Absolut or drive a Jaguar or wear L’Oreal or know how to use Google or have any chance at all of getting into UTS. But on the other hand, you sure as shït wear Hush Puppies, so on balance I think this whole boycott thing has to hurt like a muffuker.

Anyways Margaret, I just wanted to say that I hope you’re OK. Intellectual and moral consistency can be tough, and given your previous pronouncements, you must be in a world of pain.

After all, Hush Puppies are apparently very comfortable.

All the best,

Tim

Religious freedom for all (the religions I like)

You may recall a little kerfuffle from a few years ago regarding marriage equality. On the one side, we had a bunch of loving people wanting to enjoy the same rights and protections as everyone else, and on the other we had Tony Abbott and Lyle Shelton and Miranda Devine warning us that life as we knew it was doomed if a bunch of loving people enjoyed the same rights and protections as everyone else.

But they weren’t the only ones. For into the fray stepped Israel Folau, formerly one of the few Wallabies who was good at rugby, but currently just another of the many Wallabies good at no longer being a Wallaby. And while he started as a lowly highly paid sports star with a huge public platform who just wanted everyone on Twitter to know he didn’t like gays, he eventually discovered Instagram and the joys of telling gays they’re going to burn for all eternity. Which was amazing, because it led to his transformation into the brave-hearted hero of the greatest battle for Christian rights since the First Crusade. And the next eight Crusades. And the Spanish Inquisition, which no one expected.

Australia played only a minor role in those noble causes, as we didn’t have any Christians at the time and our Indigenous forebears just sat here looking after the environment and not killing each other over whose imaginary god was better. So it’s no exaggeration to say that our current fight for religious freedom is up there with the most difficult tests this country has ever faced. More difficult even than the Edgbaston Test in 2005, or that actuarial exam I sat in 2015 when I forgot to take my calculator.

With stakes this high, it’s no surprise that almost everyone has an opinion, and in my opinion anyone with an opinion wants to tell you their opinion and also their opinion of your opinion. And with so many opinions floating around, it can become quite hard to sift through all the rubbish opinions, and get to the actual facts at the heart of it all. Luckily for you, Good Bad Asinine is here to help. And so, without further ado, here are four case studies that will hopefully make everything clearer.

Case Study 1

The Story – The year is 2014. Barack Obama is in the White House. Tony Abbott is in the Lodge, somehow. It’s the International Year of Family Farming, which is weird because I didn’t know you could farm families. Over in England, meanwhile, all is not well. A customer of Marks & Spencer took some champagne and pork to a checkout. Unfortunately for them, the checkout was staffed by a Muslim, and while the Muslim was very apologetic, they advised that their faith prevented them from handling champagne or pork, and they requested that the customer use another checkout.

The Analysis – Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably now absolutely outraged, because pinot gris goes better with pork. But also, how dare a Muslim request that a customer walk three metres to another aisle to accommodate her deeply-held religious convictions.

The Verdict – Muslims bad.

Case Study 2

The Story – Of all the places you’d expect to stumble into a Culture Wars battlefield, a Berkshire B&B would have to be up there with the least likely. And yet that’s exactly what Michael and John did when they tried to book a room at Francis and Susanne’s apparently gay-free Christian hotel.

They were told there was no room at the inn, and promptly turned away. Of course, in true British style, all parties agreed that everything went down with the utmost politeness. Apart from the blatant homophobia, I mean.

The Analysis – Well look, Francis and Susanne were obviously very uncomfortable with being forced to imagine what two strangers were getting up to behind closed doors. Apart from pedophile priests, I mean. And that’s their right as Christians. So why shouldn’t they be allowed to live according to their deeply held religious convictions and stop two consenting adult men sleeping in a room together?

Also, if Michael and John had really wanted to stay at a Christian B&B, they would have had the sense to become lesbians instead.

The Verdict – Christians good.

Case Study 3

The Story – Cyrill Callister invents a brown yeast paste which sounds disgusting but ends up becoming an Australian breakfast staple. Many years later, Vegemite receives kosher and vegan certification to the delight of many. Everyone loses their shït, however, when it goes halal.

The Analysis – Everyone knows we’re a Christian country, and that makes Vegemite a Christian yeast spread. And just because the new halal version is absolutely identical to the old version doesn’t mean it doesn’t infringe my right to spread Christian yeast all over my toast, which would be otherwise impossible given the prohibitions against premarital sex

The Verdict – Muslims bad.

Case Study 4

The Story – Terrence works in a clothing store, but his religion teaches that almost all clothes are an abomination, and the only acceptable garments are lime green spandex mankinis. His manager, Sparkle, is a disabled virtue-signalling leftie trans lesbian social justice warrior. She lets him walk around in a lime green spandex mankini because she’s woke af and doesn’t want to discriminate against his deeply held religious beliefs and also because it saves her money on uniforms.

The Analysis – This is a pretty easy one. Since Terrence is trans, he’s actually a woman, and if she is wearing a mankini then not only could we see her nipples, but it’s also cross-dressing, and girl nipples and cross-dressing are both forbidden by my Christian faith. So there.

The Verdict – Disabled virtue-signalling leftie trans lesbian social justice warriors bad.

___

So… I hope that clears things up. Religious freedom is obviously all about protecting Christians, and demonising gays and Muslims and disabled virtue-signalling leftie trans lesbian social justice warriors. And why shouldn’t it be? In the words of good ole Bill Meuhlehelehnberg:

The truth is, not all religions are the same. One religion says ‘love your enemies’ while the other one says ‘slay your enemies wherever you find them’. Thus we are 100 per cent right to champion a real religion of peace (Christianity), while warning about a tyrannical political ideology (Islam).

Of course, the other option is for us all to stop giving undue deference to a bunch of ambiguous bronze age texts, and instead start acting with a little kindness, empathy, and common sense.

Or is that too much to ask?

– Tim

I really don’t get people

As of right now, a very large proportion of our very large population has access to almost every bit of information our species has ever discovered. At the push of a button, you can, if you choose, learn almost everything there is to know. From the advance to heliocentrism, to why we no longer suffer from smallpox or polio, to the many and varied ways we know that the Earth is around 4.5 billion years old, and that mankind evolved from apes. It’s even possible to find out why Kim Kardashian is famous, although I admit to that knowledge being currently beyond my grasp.

And yet…

We also live in an age where an increasing number of people believe that the Earth is a flat disk, with the North Pole as its centre and a giant wall of Antarctic ice as its circumference. Yes, seriously. Lots of people also believe that vaccines cause autism, or that man was created 5,400 years ago out of a ball of mud, or that the recent bushfires were lit by the Greens, or that 5G technology is going to destroy us all. Oh, and a large number of us apparently also believe that anthropomorphic climate change is a worldwide scientific hoax designed to either turn climate scientists into billionaires (somehow), or create a gay trans commie green socialist utopia where you’ll suffer the indignity of universal healthcare and free education and fewer catastrophic weather events. Which would be awful, obviously.

Like I said, sometimes I really don’t get people.

___

I first discovered that flat-earthers (still) exist when my brother recommended I watch the Netflix documentary Behind the Curve. The two-part series follows a few of the movement’s leading lights as they attempt to free the rest of us from the debilitating burden of curvature. It is best summarised by the opening scene, in which a man named Mark Sargent looks out across a bay towards Seattle and says, “See? It looks flat”.

No, I am not joking.

How is it that in the year 2020, some 2,600 years after Pythagoras discovered that the Earth is a sphere, and 2,200 years after Eratosthenes calculated its circumference, do we have a large number of ostensibly intelligent people with access to almost limitless information concluding that we live on a flat disk? It is almost completely unfathomable, except that we can see with our very own eyes that Mark Sargent and his fellow flat earthers have somehow managed to fathom the crap out of it.

If you listen to Mark himself, he will tell you you’re a sucker. But he will also tell you that he read a few books and thought about it for a while and worked out that there is a huge worldwide conspiracy to trick us all into believing we live on an oblate spheroid. The first thing to note is that “oblate spheroid” is a great term, and we should all use it more often. The second things to note are that:

  1. As far as conspiracies go, the oblate spheroid hoax would have to be up there with the worst ever, being neither clever, funny, nor financially exploitable; and
  2. Despite humans exploring this flat disk for tens of thousands of years, no one has ever managed to find the edge.

There are, of course, a multitude of other reasons why Mark is comically incorrect. And yet, like most people, I have never personally investigated the matter for myself. I haven’t looked into how Pythagoras managed to work out that we live on a sphere, or how Eratosthenes calculated its circumference. In fact, besides being mildly surprised that Pythagoras hadn’t concluded we live on a right-angled triangle, I hadn’t even heard of Eratosthenes when I started writing this blog, and I’m guessing you hadn’t either. Can any of us really be said to know that the Earth is spherical, if we haven’t actually investigated and concluded the matter for ourselves?

Thankfully, there is a simple answer to that question, and it begins and ends with a huge “Hell yes”.

___

As I mentioned above, this phenomenon isn’t just limited to the nuffies running around in the flat earth movement. Almost everything humans have ever done or discovered is buffeted by a raging sea of disbelief, from the space cadets who believe the moon landing was faked, to the outright wänkers who have similar beliefs about the Holocaust. Of course, if you don’t know enough facts to deny any, you can always just make shït up, which is why we have Mormons.

The really scary thing, however, is that this phenomenon seems to be getting worse. What on flat earth is going on?

To be honest, I really don’t know. But in true actuarial fashion, I can still throw out three different possibilities without making a definitive conclusion.

Hypothesis 1 – People are stupid

Stupid people have been around since people were invented. It’s likely that they’ll be around forever, too, because you have to be a little bit smart to open a condom. It’s possible, then, that we have the same number of stupid people we’ve always had, but we just hear about them more now because they’ve somehow learned to use the internet.

But here’s the thing. Mark Sargent gives the strong impression of not being stupid. Renowned Holocaust-denier David Irving apparently went to school and seems to be an OK speller. Tony Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar. I know a very intelligent Young Earth Creationist who believes the earth is 5,400 years old and Noah’s Ark was a real thing. Andrew Wakefield, the amazing young man that pretended the MMR vaccine causes autism, was a medical doctor until the General Medical Council kicked him out for pretending the MMR vaccine causes autism. And speaking of vaccines, apparently most anti-vaxers are “college-educated white women making decent money”.

So stupidity doesn’t seem to be the problem.

Hypothesis 2 – It’s all the Internet’s fault

As I said at the beginning, we now have access to more knowledge than in the entire history of mankind, which is an amazing thing. Unfortunately, the same can be said for our access to an unlimited supply of boneheaded, asinine nuffery.

Have a slight inkling that a moon landing would have been quite difficult in 1960? Have a google and be amazed to discover that people with absolutely no idea what they’re talking about think it was faked. Think white people are superior in every way? Say hello to The Bell Curve, and be sure to not read any opposing views. Slightly worried that anthropomorphic climate change is real and potentially disastrous? Andrew Bolt will make you feel better. Have any kind of undeniably stupid opinion that you haven’t thought about and aren’t even remotely qualified to offer? Help is on its way!

At first glance, I thought this hypothesis had some merit. But when I thought about it, I realised that moon landing and holocaust deniers, white supremacists, and climate change sceptics all existed long before the internet.

So there must be something else.

Hypothesis 3 – Arrogance

Suppose you were a world-renowned heart surgeon, and you diagnosed a patient with acute aortic stenosis. What would you call it if they told you they had googled their symptoms in the waiting room and had decided it was gas?

Idiocy? False confidence? Hubris? Idiocy? Arrogance? Idiocy?

I don’t know because I’m not world-renowned a heart surgeon, but I’m sure you’d call them something. Karen, perhaps.

Anyway, the point is that this patient apparently thinks that their pretend research overrides the actual research and collective knowledge of the thousands of anatomists, scientists, doctors and heart surgeons whose combined knowledge has led to the conclusion that the acute aortic stenosis is definitely not just gas.

Yeah, I’d call that arrogance.

___

So there you have it folks. For some reason unknown to most of us, certain people think that their limited understanding of a multitude of subjects overrides the collective knowledge of thousands of people past and present who have studied those things for a living.

And if that’s you, you really need to stop.

Or get your oblate spheroid examined.

That time I gave Rupert Murdoch a dollar

Rupert Murdoch is many things. Former Australian. Hacker of celebrity phones. Probable lizard-person. He’s also a billionaire. So why would I give him a dollar?

Well, last week I saw that NewsCorp journalist Andrew Bolt had a column up claiming to have tricked a bunch of lefty climate journalists into getting outraged about something or other. I suspected the column in question was the one where he claimed that warming was good for us, so I went to have a look, only to be confounded by the Herald Sun’s paywall. Being an enterprising sort of fellow, though, I thought “Stuff it”, and paid a single dollar for 28 days of access, with the plan to cancel at the end of that period.

After reading a few of his columns, including his hot take on the recent High Court decision about deporting Aborigines, I started to feel a little sick. Not just because this man is given a platform to spew his specious garbage to my fellow Australians, but also because he would get some of my dollar. So after being a Herald Sun subscriber for around 15 minutes, I decided to just cancel then and there. And that’s where the fun started.

I first went into my online account, thinking I could cancel from there, but, alas, that was not an option. Instead there was only a single line advising that if I wanted to find out about cancellation requirements, I should refer to the terms and conditions. So I did. The conditions run to 2,400 words, and cancellation is helpfully the very last condition, and it was there I discovered the joyous news that I would have to call 1300 MY NEWS to cancel. Now, I normally avoid calling call centres at all costs. But I was apparently out of options. So I called.

After navigating through to the cancellation section, I was then greeted with a rather odd recorded message.

“If you are calling due to our editorial content on climate change, please press 1.”

“Oooh that sounds like fun,” I thought. So I pressed 1. I thought I’d get to talk to Rupert or Lachlan or something, but I instead got another recorded message.

“Our commitment is to report the stories that matter to you and your community. That has never changed.

“Contrary to what some critics have argued, NewsCorp does not deny climate change or the gravity of its threat. However, we do report a variety of views and opinions on this and many other issues that are important to the public debate. If you would still like to talk to one of our operators, please stay on the line.”

I gotta say, it was kind of nice to subscribe to a NewsCorp publication for the sole purpose of reading about how warming is good for us, and to then ring up to cancel and be told via recorded message that NewsCorp does not deny climate change or the gravity of its threat. Pure gold.

Anyway, I still wanted to cancel, so I had to stay on the line. After 15 minutes on hold, I finally got through.

Me: Oh hi there, I’d like to cancel my subscription.

Operator: Oh I’m sorry to hear that. May I have your subscriber number?

Me: 265529035.

Operator: Thanks for that, I’m just bringing up your account. While I’m doing that, may I ask the reason for your cancellation?

Me: Andrew Bolt.

Operator: Oh… OK. What is it about Andrew don’t you like?

Me: Everything.

Operator: Well, he’s not actually one of our main opinion writers. We have many other journalists that provide a range of views.

Me: Yeah nah him being there really ruins it for me.

Operator: OK. I’m sorry to hear that. [pause] Oh, I see here that you just subscribed today?

Me: That’s right.

Operator: Did you want to at least keep your subscription for a few more weeks to see some more of our content? We have so many great articles.

Me: Nah that’s OK.

Operator: [pause] Fine. [hangs up]

And thus ended my NewsCorp subscription.

So, Rupert, you may have my dollar. But as long as you continue to give a voice to racist peddlers of climate dishonesty, you will never have my respect. And that’s worth a lot more than a dollar.

$1.50, at least.

The best reason for moving Australia Day

Remember when women weren’t allowed to vote and then they asked if they could vote and everyone kicked up a huge stink and said women were ridiculous for wanting to vote because women shouldn’t be allowed to vote so we all fought tooth and nail to not let women vote? But they kept on asking and after many years of struggle we finally let them vote and even though we said that letting women vote would be the worst thing ever after a couple of weeks we all forgot about it and since then no one has ever suggested that women shouldn’t vote? Remember?

Remember when black people in America didn’t want to be slaves anymore and so they asked if they could not be slaves anymore and the people with slaves said “Yeah nah we like you being slaves” and so they kept them as slaves? But black people kept on asking not to be slaves and then eventually the entire USA went to war about it and after 600,000 people had died it was decided that black people shouldn’t be slaves and even though the slave-owners said it would be the worst thing ever if black people weren’t slaves no one has ever suggested that black people should be slaves again? Remember?

Remember when gay people wanted to get married but we didn’t want them to get married so we said they couldn’t get married? And then after years of struggle we spent $120m on a national vote to decide on the private lives of complete strangers and we ended up allowing gay people to marry and even though the people against marriage equality said it would be the worst thing ever now that gay people are getting married there’s no one out there in the streets campaigning for gay people to stop getting married? Remember?

Remember when someone suggested moving to the decimal system and everyone complained but we did it anyway and now no one cares? Remember when Facebook changed the format of your news feed and everyone complained and now no one cares? Remember when Coles and Woollies decided to ban single use plastic bags and everyone had a fit and now no one cares? Remember when countless other changes happened and everyone freaked out because people love freaking out about things before realising they don’t really care? Remember?

Remember when Indigenous Australians asked really nicely if we could celebrate our great nation on a day that didn’t also happen to be the anniversary of the day we invaded? And then everyone had a hissy fit and we said no but they kept on asking and after having the same argument 20 years in a row we eventually just moved it and now no one freaking cares? Remember?

Me either. Because it hasn’t happened yet. But it will.

So why don’t we just save ourselves some time and money and Sky News diatribes and just move the damn day. The people who want it moved will be grateful. And the people who don’t… well… pretty soon they just won’t care.

Which isn’t surprising. Because they never really did.

Geopolitics, Kurds, And Problems In Foreign Policy

YPG Sniper in Kobani
Photo Courtesy of The Lions of Rojava

Longtime readers of this blog are understandably confused as to why articles about international relations and security keep popping up here. I understand this, as they’re not funny or satirical or to do with religion or, in short, related in any way to the kind of content that makes this excellent blog excellent.

So I figure I owe you all an explanation. What generally happens is that Tim has a question. It’s usually a bit of the news that he hasn’t had either the time or the expertise to parse for himself, and with a breathless disregard for clicks, popularity, or branding, he asks me to do a long and dull explainer because, for him, it doesn’t matter how many people get the information, so long as some people get it. And not to be forgotten is the fact that he wants to be one of those people.

I wrote an angry piece about the Kurds yesterday with reference to how their consistent abandonment reveals the rotten worm of selfish hypocrisy at the heart of the western project. That’s largely because Tim asked me about them, and I’m absolutely furious about the way we continually break our promises to ourselves and the world, and in doing so cause millions of deaths every year. Deaths that we don’t care about because the corpses are far away and brown. Or just far away – it’s not race that matters here, it’s difference. We don’t care about these people because the media market is biased towards ‘relatability’ or, to put that another way, if they’re not like us we don’t care.

At a time when friends of mine were trying to explain to northern Iraqi villagers, through interpreters, that the rotting arm bone they just dug up out of a mass grave belonged to a child under the age of six, was not a pelvis, and even if it were it belonged to someone pre-pubescent and therefore could not provide sufficient information to determine whether or not it was their child, the great Australian public was entirely consumed by an argument about franking credits, whatever the hell they are.

Today, if I haven’t bounced you away from this page by waggling my finger accusatorily, I would like to balance my anger with some facts.

Historical context is important, but perhaps not primary in this case. Suffice it to say that the victors of WWI promised the Kurdish peoples a state and then reneged on that promise because oil, Wahhabism, and the Cold War. The Kurds then proceeded to carve out their own state by taking the territory of countries not known for their patience or humanitarianism. Fortunately for them, Turkey was too busy ethnically cleansing their immediate neighbours at the time. And Syria and Iraq were focused on trying to create the Holocaust 2.0 by attempting to wipe Israel off the map, and being embarrassingly defeated in the attempt. Basically, the Kurds still exist because everyone looked away.

Kobani

Now, however, we’re looking right at them. Thing is, we’ve been looking at them for longer than most people realise. Every time you’ve seen female fighters in the Syrian intervention, they’ve been Kurds. Every time you’ve heard about the fall of Raqqa, the consolidation of territory in NE Syria, every time you’ve scrolled past a report about yet another shelling of a civilian area, you’ve been looking at the products of Kurdish action in alliance with western forces. I know I shared this statistic in yesterday’s article, but I feel it bears sharing again. 11,000 Kurds have died in operations and civilian massacres directly arising from our intervention. Eleven thousand. 11000. Eleven battalions. But not battalions necessarily – 11,000 including old men, women, children, boys, dogs, cats, more children, male and female combatants, ten year old combatants, sixty year old combatants, and ditto non-combatants. All bulldozed into mass graves or shot in the back of the head behind their houses and in front of their children prior to their sale into slavery. Look at the woman in the picture at the top of this article, and then imagine the worst and darkest thing you can possibly imagine happening to anyone. There is now a one in four chance that a much worse and darker thing will happen to her, and then she’ll be killed. All in support of our mission in Syria. I’m labouring the point because it’s worth labouring.

I also labour the point because it usually has little to no bearing on any foreign policy calculation. In the 2016 election, fewer than 12% of Americans put foreign policy/international relations in their top three political concerns. Let that sink in. In the most imperially extended country in the world, less than 12% of the voting age population gives the slightest crap about what their country is doing abroad.

Mass Grave in Raqqa

And it’s not just the Americans. At a time when friends of mine were trying to explain to northern Iraqi villagers, through interpreters, that the rotting arm bone they just dug up out of a mass grave belonged to a child under the age of six, was not a pelvis, and even if it were it belonged to someone pre-pubescent, and therefore could not provide sufficient information to determine whether or not it was their child, the great Australian public was entirely consumed by an argument about franking credits, whatever the hell they are.

I’ve often asked myself why this is. I think the answer is actually quite simple. Foreign policy is not human. It’s not adaptable to a moral narrative, and therefore cannot provide the necessary level of feels to keep us interested. Any moral narrative about foreign policy is necessarily false. To illustrate this, I like to use the coming of age model.

Your personal morality has to take a back seat because suddenly you’re an adult with other people to consider. And now multiply that moral attenuation by 22,000,000 – that’s what a foreign policy calculation looks like.

Let’s say you’re in your early twenties and straight out of uni. Let’s say you’ve done law or environmental science or geology or arts or anything, really, because what you want to do is to make a difference in the world. Let’s say you’re idealistic and willing to be poor, to sacrifice your wellbeing and your personal interests in the service of a moral mission. And then let’s say you hit thirty and have a couple of kids. All of a sudden, you start considering working for Philip Morris or Telstra or any company that will take you, because it’s no longer just you. You have responsibilities. You can’t decide to starve your children in the pursuit of some abstract ideal. Your personal morality has to take a back seat because suddenly you’re an adult with other people to consider. And now multiply that moral attenuation by 22,000,000 – that’s what a foreign policy calculation looks like.

And now let’s look at the USA. The USA spends ten times more on the military than the next ten countries combined, and each one of those ten countries has a military that could potentially end the world. The US military has a natural three to one capability and strike power superiority over all of their allies combined. They have more than one hundred allies. The USA has the most sophisticated and largest economy not just in the world, but in all of human history. Even with their current president, the USA is a country which could potentially fight the entire world and win.

Whenever the USA decides, for moral or ideological reasons to intervene beyond its own borders, it’s only a matter of time before large swathes of their voting population starts asking, “Why the hell are we bothering?”

And that’s the problem. They have no existential threats – none. I don’t care how much you enjoy screaming about China and Russia, it is a simple, uncontestable fact that the USA has no existential threats outside its own borders. So there’s no incentive to actually complete any foreign mission. Whenever the USA decides, for moral or ideological reasons to intervene beyond its own borders, it’s only a matter of time before large swathes of their voting population starts asking, “Why the hell are we bothering?” So they pull out. They lose winnable wars. They make a massive mess and then wander off back home to argue about the bible or brown people or whether or not it’s right to cyber-bully a sixteen year old girl.

What the foreign policy establishment and the Kurds both understand all too well is that Kurdish survival just does not matter. Like all the people who have lived in the liminal zones of empires, they know that their survival rests on occasionally aligning with the goals of great powers. If it weren’t for the urgent need to discredit Donald Trump at every turn, our abandonment of the Kurds would be a non-story just like the other three times we’ve done it in the past thirty years. In fact, the only person in all of this who’s taking a moral stance is Lindsay Graham. Let that sink in – foreign policy is so goddamned weird that the beacon of morality in this instance is Senator Lindsay ‘I’ll sell my entire nation and its constitution to back Trump’ Graham.

Anyway…

If you’re still reading by this point, I’d like to offer you my sincere congratulations. You’re one of the few people who is actually eager to think in abstract terms about things that are not of individual, but of national and global importance. I’d recommend that you treat this attribute like the opposite of a sexually transmitted disease and make it the work of your leisure hours to spread it around. Because foreign policy is weird and alien and unappealing, but it’s also a very small market. And like all small markets, it can be influenced by an astonishingly small number of people. I’d urge you to be one of those people, so that you can say in all truth that you did a small but significant thing in order to prevent yet another massacre of people who are far away, foreign, largely invisible, and hugely important for the simple fact that they are people.

The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains

Photo Courtesy of The Lions of Rojava

Right now, there is no shortage of information on who the Kurds are, where they come from, and why we should support them/not support them, all garnished with either ineffectual bleeding hearts or rock-jawed, chicken-livered foreign policy ‘realism’, and that most disgusting of contemporary products, hyper-partisan and politicised history.

Let’s start with the history. The Kurds are a group of peoples who have occupied a region that saddles Syria, Iraq, and Turkey for a very long time. More of a culturo-linguistic complex than what we might term a uniform ethnicity, scattered, militant, fiercely proud of their turbulent history and their profound impact on the more easterly parts of Europe, the Middle East, and the Levant, they pop up in the historical record as movers, shakers, and warriors from about the Bronze Age onwards. In the wake of WWII, for various reasons ranging from compelling to necessary to foolish, the western powers basically screwed them in favour of peoples who had been closer allies against the Axis. Donald Trump’s ‘they didn’t help us in Normandy’ is probably a garbled version of advice he may have received to this effect.

The Kurds are, however, known within foreign policy circles as the USA’s most effective Middle Eastern ally for a span of at least four decades. It was the Kurds who were abandoned after Desert Storm, who shored up territory and supply lines in Inherent Resolve, and who performed very much the same role in the global war on terror, or whatever we’re calling our Middle East intervention this week. On their side, the calculus has been largely mercenary. Every time we need them we tend to arm and fund them, and strategically-minded Kurdish militants see these episodes as stepping stones to their eventual goals. They know we’re going to screw them – they knew this every time. The tragedy is that the next time we want them they’ll step up, sacrificing their safety and the safety of the vast majority of Kurds who are NOT combatants (I feel this isn’t emphasised enough) in exchange for some crates of weaponry and some shrink-wrapped US dollars. Not because they’re evil terrorists or thrill-seeking soldiers of fortune, but because it’s the only feasible way they have a chance of surviving as a people. And it’s largely their only option because as inconsistent as western foreign policy tends to be, it has been consistent in screwing over the Kurds.

It’s hard to get across just how mercurial and impermanent we look next to a group of peoples like the Kurds. There are fighters in the militia today who have been dealing with western powers since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Their reality is guerrilla warfare, an unacknowledged and tottering, but somehow largely stable state, poverty, and death. All that really changes for them is the stamps on the crates of weapons they’re given. Given this, it’s not really important what anyone says, thinks, or fabricates about their history, their current circumstances, or their mission. The fact is that there is no possibility of constructing a clean narrative of good vs evil in their region without telling some absolutely whopping lies. Some might suggest that this is also true of all the rest of the world too, and that we’d all be a lot better off if we could remember this.

No, what makes the Kurds important in foreign policy terms is what they reveal about us. We have, by their count, used up the lives of 11,000 of their fighters in our anti-ISIS intervention. I believe them. According to them, we owe what territorial stability we have been able to achieve largely to their efforts. I believe them on this too. And now that the USA has a cowardly idiot for a president, they say we’re screwing them yet again. Which doesn’t require belief – it’s a verifiable fact. And when I say ‘we’, I do not just mean the USA. I mean all of us in those countries which have earned the right to dictate global morality by means of possessing most of the weapons and nearly all of the money in the world. The US is not the only ally of the Kurds. Why then, do we not see any European countries stepping in to help? Why is it, then, that other non-NATO countries do not put a ring of steel and fire around their territories, instead of just weeping about it on social media?

It’s because we don’t care. Fundamentally, in places which don’t tend to be explored whilst having brunch in hipster wank-bars, we acknowledge that a big part of the western project is underpinned by people far away suffering and dying in order to guarantee our safety. So while Donald Trump might have done what he did in a stupid, incoherent, and fatuous way, the actual thing that he’s done is consistent with our morals and values as participants in the free and prosperous western world. Our tears are crocodile tears, and our outrage mere self indulgence. What this incident has revealed is not the idiocy of POTUS – that was never a secret. What it reveals is the current moral bankruptcy of the west.

Is this perhaps an offensive or cynical position? It doesn’t stop it from being true. Disagree? I suppose I could prove you wrong, but I don’t want to. Because the thing that occurs to me is that if we all really cared, we’d already know who the Kurds are and what they’ve done for us. we’d already know that Kurdish militia are always hiring, that they bank in all the same tax havens as our rich parents and relatives and are accepting donations. That foreign policy is one of the most susceptible and simultaneously least regarded branches of government. That there is, in fact, quite a bit that ordinary people can do to help, to sway policy makers, or to further the discussion. But the simple fact is that beyond sharing or clicking partisan hit-pieces on social media, we don’t actually care about these people. If we did, we wouldn’t be clicking on articles like this in order to find out who the hell our most consistent and effective allies in the Middle East actually are.

https://www.facebook.com/TheLionsOfRojavaOfficial/?ref=nf

https://www.bellingcat.com/?s=kurdish

https://www.csis.org/analysis/settling-kurdish-self-determination-northeast-syria

Why Some Christians Won’t Suffer The Little Greta

Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a religion that has so much to do with children would be pleased to find that Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is making waves on the international stage. Actually, children is probably a bit of a sore point for various churches right now, but what I’m actually talking about is images like this:

And famous quotes like “suffer the little children”, which even people who’ve never read the bible (and we know for a fact that most Pentecostals and Evangelicals haven’t) will be able to trot out on command and more or less understand.

So why is it, then, that Pentecostals like Scomo and Trump’s Evangelical base have been so toxic in their vilification of someone who, regardless of what you think of her means and methods, is essentially on a mission to save the world? Why are we watching conservative Christians pile in on her looks, her voice, her age, her figure, or her parents in what can only be called cyber bullying? The answer, as you might have guessed, is slightly complicated.

I know quite a few members of what I and many others consider to be churches at the insanity end of the spectrum. For the most part, they’re lovely people. Always up for a chat, heavily involved in volunteer and community work, and the picture of sanity and reason when you, say, can’t help but point out the insanity of Christian fundamentalism at a dinner party in a house you’re absolutely certain you will now never be invited to again. For the most part, these people are not just model citizens, they’re model people. So why is it, then, that these same people so frequently and so vehemently plop themselves down on the wrong side of debates such as marriage equality, LGBTQI rights, and climate change?

“So why is it, then, that these same people so frequently and so vehemently plop themselves down on the wrong side of debates such as marriage equality, LGBTQI rights, and climate change?”

The cheap and easy answer is ‘religious dogma’. The narrative which I most frequently see in both the media and in discourse between private citizens is that these people, having elected to believe in a ‘Bronze Age Fairy Tale’, are simply incapable of rational thought so what the hell are you surprised about?

This doesn’t work. It’s probably going to be controversial for me to say this here, but the simple fact is that cognitive dissonance is not the especial reserve of the faithful. We’re all more or less as stupid and irrational as each other – it’s just a question of what flavour of idiocy we prefer. Which means that a belief in God doesn’t actually warrant an assumption of mental and moral incapacity – if it did, we would most of us have to discount any and all beliefs held by our pre-atheist selves. All of them.

It’s not all that relevant to my argument – I just found this uplifting and thought you might too

No. Where the answer lies is in the far more worrying intersection of religion/culture/politics. And especially identity politics. The relevant narrative here is one of victimhood. Many conservative Christians of all denominations see themselves as heroically holding the line on a kind of cultural Alamo. The loss of practising or church-directed Christianity’s grip on our culture and norms is something churches, established and fringe alike, naturally find deeply worrying. And the 101 playbook for churches for millennia has been to mobilise the base when under threat.

Many conservative Christians of all denominations see themselves as heroically holding the line on a kind of cultural Alamo.

So this is how we arrive at a situation where a biblical literalist like Scomo, who supposedly must believe that stewardship of the planet is a sacred duty handed down to him by Yahweh, can deny climate science, promote coal, and attack a sixteen year old girl for speaking her mind. And what’s worse, for capturing the attention and imaginations of the untold masses in a way that he could never dream of achieving.

For a Christian of Scomo’s ilk, ‘globalists’ (which is now a blanket term of abuse for anyone who attempts to be an intellectual and believes in the international system) are godless technocrats who want to dissolve all national and moral borders and create a kind of Huxley-esque Brave New World. What makes this vision of the world so compelling for so many is that it’s half right. ‘Globalists’ do see the second order effect of hard sovereignty and nationalism as catastrophic war, so they want to erode it a little. They do want to create a set of universal norms that are emphatically free of any single religious ideology. I mean, that’d actually be the definition of ‘universal norm’. And ‘globalists’ do definitely want to destroy the Christendom that so many Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, etc. created over millennia of hatred, bloodshed, exploitation, and forced conversion.

The reason they want to do this is because they understand that as miraculous as the west’s achievements have been, they have been intermixed with shameful atrocities to a morally unacceptable level. That the only way forward is to create a world which is like the one where the west was the best, only with room for ‘the rest’. To move past the old gods and old ways which helped to get us here, in the same way that most societies tend to prefer their veterans and their past leaders to live quietly on a farm somewhere instead of remaining obnoxiously visible.

Church leaders have sold this narrative of secular attack so successfully that not only have their faithful bought it, but so have secular progressives.

So of course the Christians cannot suffer Greta Thunberg. She is the figurehead of a movement that they see as aggressively and deliberately sidelining them. The tragedy of it all is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no actual corollary between climate activism and disdain for the religious, in the same way that there is no necessary contradiction between religiously-based social activism and inclusion of secular ethicism. It’s just another case of The Establishment vs The People. Church leaders have sold this narrative of secular attack so successfully that not only have their faithful bought it, but so have secular progressives. We’re now in a situation where both sides of this argument think the other beyond redemption/reason.

Which is a kind of genius, really, as it’s the only way I can think of for nervous power elites to create a situation in which we all fragment to the point of ineffectuality, thus helping them to maintain the particular status quo in which they remain on top.

An open letter to Alan Jones

Dear Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan!

Well mate, you’ve done it again. You gathered up all the facts, cut through all the bullshït, and told it like it is. And what do you get in return? A bloody crap-storm, that’s what. All because you got a few words wrong. And it’s not fair, Alan. It’s just not fair.

I get words wrong all the time. Just the other day I told one of my colleagues to go fück themselves, when obviously I meant to say “Let me know when you’ve finished with the printer, Sharon”. And yeah OK she was a little upset at first, but after explaining to HR what I meant to say it was all fine. But it wouldn’t have been a problem at all if Sharon wasn’t so sensitive.

That’s the problem with people these days, Alan. You can’t even make slightly veiled threats against people without them getting their panties in a bunch. Whether it’s throwing them into the sea in a bag, or shoving a sock down their throat, there’s no denying that people are just way too sensitive these days. But chin up, Alan. Things may be a little tough at the moment, but remember – all’s well that ends your career. Oh sorry, I meant all’s well that ends well.

Dammit, I did it again. Words really are hard, Alan. And I don’t even use words for a living. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for someone like you, who’s had to use words for their job for 40 years. You just want to say what the rest of us are thinking, but everyone else wants to beat you off around the bushes (sorry I mean beat around the bush). And I don’t know about you, but I find it really tiring, and it makes me want to hit your sack (sorry I mean hit the sack).

You’re not even the only person who does it. Lots of other people do it, too. And as Muhammad said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone at an uppity woman (sorry I mean Jesus, and cast the first stone at whoever happens to be a sinner and not necessarily a woman). Speaking of uppity women, that Jacinda Adern is a piece of work, eh? She seems curious to learn about climate change, which is admirable I suppose, but you know what they say, curiosity killed the New Zealand Prime Minister (sorry I mean cat). But curiosity doesn’t stop you from being wrong, and when you criticised her I think you really hit a nail on her head (sorry I mean nail on the head). She won’t listen of course, so there’s no point telling her again. That would be like flogging a dead woman (sorry I mean horse). But hopefully you can can make her eat a bullet (sorry I mean bite the bullet) and admit she was wrong. If she doesn’t though, you have enough support to ensure we make sure her comments cost her both arms and a head (sorry I mean an arm and a leg).

But are we being too harsh? If women don’t want to tell the truth, should we just let sleeping bitches lie? (sorry I mean sleeping dogs lie)

The answer is no, Alan, we shouldn’t.We’re all proud of you, and you should keep fighting the good fight. After all, just because you can’t master basic English and human decency doesn’t mean you can’t kill two birds with one stone (sorry I mean two women with lots of stones).

So keep it up, Alan. We’re with you.

Yours sincerely (sorry I mean cynically),

Tim