The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

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.
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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.
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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.

Let’s All Panic About North Korea 

You know you want to. It’s a massive amount of fun, and distracts us from the mendacity central to our own stale, irrelevant internal politics.
It occurs to me, however, that some people, unaware of its status as a sort of national sport for the western global community, might be genuinely anxious about what’s going on ‘out there’. With this in mind, here’s a quick assessment of a situation which, quite frankly, is not so much a recipe for anxiety as it is for boredom.

North Korea’s nuclear tests and other acts of aggression serve a multitude of purposes. Sure, it’s generally agreed that it is genuinely working towards becoming a nuclear power, but questions have to be asked about why it chooses to do so so publicly. A big element of this is domestic consumption. One of the major pillars of the regime’s justification of its own legitimacy is the narrative of plucky little country beset by enemies – actions like this are presented at home as measures taken to protect its people. Sound familiar? It should.

But by far the most significant aspect has to do with the regime’s isolation. As far as I know, the only means of communication with North Korea involve using China as an intermediary, or, alternatively, employing one of a handful of shady, largely non-government back channels. This isn’t ideal, and also makes it very difficult for North Korea to get anyone’s attention except through increasingly loony behaviour designed to force western engagement. Some masterly articles have been written about the potential for this policy to fall victim to entropic returns, and the implications of such a fate, and I acknowledge that this is cause for deep and genuine concern.

The thing is, the current situation simply doesn’t argue for such an interpretation. Far from entropic return, the mere threat of a test has propelled the regime into the front and centre position on the US administration’s priority list. The NK government must be in hog heaven, not having received this much propaganda friendly attention since they sunk that South Korean patrol boat.

It’s odd to me that so much attention is being focussed on troop and naval movements. As I understand it, it’s very rare not to find US naval assets IVO the Korean peninsula. The fact of these movements being announced is almost certainly for domestic consumption on the US administration’s part, and the movement of Chinese troops to the border, if it’s actually happened, is a natural reaction to the American movement.

What we’re looking at isn’t necessarily the start of some apocalyptic showdown, but opening moves in a jaded, long familiar game, the only real spice being the heavy, mumble-mouthed hand of a new player. This isn’t to say that idiot in chief Trump definitely won’t corner himself by doing or saying something idiotic, thereby precipitating a real crisis, but right now we’re basically in the yawn a minute state known as ‘ops normal’.

Of course, all of the above lacks entertainment value, so by all means head over to the other publications I write for, and enjoy the chills and thrills of warnings of doomsday which I and others of my ilk provide in order to pay our rent.

Syria Strike And The Trump Effect

Syria Strikes

It’s been an amazing experience, watching the world’s reaction to Trump’s recent strike on the Al Shayrat airbase in Syria. Rarely before has there been an opportunity to observe so many different conspiracy theories being formed in real time, and remarkably rapid real time at that. According to the various left and right wing rags which currently seem to pass for news media, Trump has variously conducted this strike in collusion with Russia and Syria for reasons which aren’t immediately clear, in collusion with Raytheon in order to raise their share price, in collusion with his own press office in order to raise his approval ratings… and this is even before we get to the Alex Jones end of the spectrum.

What’s amazing about this is that quite a bit of this kind of idiocy is coming from the mainstream media. While it’s axiomatic that any media will always make a dog’s breakfast out of any military story, it’s rarely been done to this extent. While I understand that reality isn’t nearly as entertaining as the hysterical witterings of partisan screamsheets, I do feel it’s probably important on some level, so let’s break down both what’s happened and what’s likely to happen.

BACKGROUND OF THE STRIKE

Very few media outlets spent any time at all avoiding the incorrect assumption that this was the first major chemical strike of the Syrian civil war. As such, it became difficult to see that there was any real background to the strike, as it seems to serve the turn of  sensationalist reporting to present this action as random and bizarre. A full transcript of Tillerson and McMaster explaining the rationale behind the action can be found here. Even if you don’t believe a word they say, it makes sense that even blatant lies coming from the White House are going to bear some relation to the truth, even if that relationship is purely inverse.

For those of you who can’t be bothered reading lots of stuff in order to answer questions, I’ll provide a quick summary here. Previous chemical attacks had gone unpunished by the Obama administration (despite Obama’s efforts to get congressional approval for a near identical strike). This appears to have emboldened Assad, who stepped up his campaign of terrorising civilians in rebel held areas in order to aid his campaign. Whether this was a miscalculation, or was business as usual, this provided the Trump administration with the necessary pretext to signal their marked difference in approach. The official narrative from Trump is that he was watching television, had an attack of the feels, and called for options from the Joint Chiefs. This is worryingly plausible, given what we know about Trump, but there are some important factors to consider before we all retire to our bunkers.

The strike itself was perfect and copybook arms-length intervention. Not only was an attempt made to pre-establish a legal justification (Trump’s statements heavily hinted at collective self defence being the element in question), the strike itself was strictly, fussily in line with principles of proportionality, limitation, and targeting. Many outlets rightly pointed out that this strike looked to have been prepared months or even years in advance. This makes sense – an action like this would have been on the books as an option since the beginning of the conflict, with only the GPS co-ordinates wanting for completion.

EXECUTION OF THE STRIKE

Going further on the legal theme, much hay has been made of the fact that Syrian and Russian troops were informed of the impending action. This has been used as ‘evidence’ of collusion with Russia, Syria, China, the inhabitants of Planet X, and so on. Which is, needless to say, pretty damn silly. Notification of the strike is in line not only with certain elements of the international law of armed conflict, it’s also in line with numerous precedents. Like German U-Boat command in WWI. And WWII. And British submarine command. And the USAF. And so on, and so forth. Sure, it could mean that the Trump administration are colluding with their lizard overlords to create a New World Order, but it’s probably more reasonable to link this behaviour to the past behaviour exhibited during countless military actions conducted by countless administrations the world over.

The purpose of the strike was clearly to target relevant materiel. Or at least, as much materiel as could be targeted with a mere 59000 pounds of high explosive. For anyone who actually understands these matters, this always looked like a slap on the wrist – a largely symbolic act. It’s rather in the same category as a fine – the infliction of expense via the destruction of some very costly equipment. Casualty and damage reporting after the fact would indicate that people died, but it’s important to remember that these figures come from the Syrian regime and other less than credible sources. Regardless of this, the fact remains that this is about as distant and as minor as it’s possible to get while still being able to claim direct action.

REACTION TO THE STRIKE

War with Russia isn’t really on the cards unless the US is hell bent on making it happen. This is owing to the simple fact that Russia is neither ready nor able to win even a dirty little local war with the USA. So Russia’s reaction to the strike has largely been to open a war of words. Let’s focus, then, on the element that isn’t purely verbal.

Russia has intimated that any future strike will be met with “force”. This statement, initially worrying, should provoke some examination to try and figure out exactly what they mean. A quick scan of Sputnik, RT, and other Russian propaganda disseminators, allows us to discern that what Russia is heavily telegraphing is their intention to use BUK and S500 air defence systems (already deployed for over a year) in defence of any Syrian air installations to come under similar attack. While this will make things a bit tense, it’s important to note that exactly this level of hostility was repeatedly operative in the recent Balkan conflict, with the net result of the world failing to burst untimely into WWIII.

As for the likelihood of deep US intervention in Syria, I’d say that’s anyone’s guess. Will Trump be persuaded that his only option moving forward will be to establish regional hegemony a la Dubya? Or will his base force him to maintain the arms-length policy he inherited from Obama? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, no matter how well they conspiracy.

LEGALITY OF THE STRIKE

Much has been said about whether or not the strike was legal, largely by partisan and entirely unqualified sources. There’s a good break down here, but I’ll once again summarise. The short answer to the question, “Was the strike legal?” is: yes and no. Or maybe, and probably not. The thing about international law is that it’s complicated and, like any law, it is by definition arguable. Is this aggression against a sovereign nation for no reason? How ‘legitimately sovereign’ is the Assad regime? Can the collective self defence argument be used? Who knows? This stuff needs testing in courts, most of which the US doesn’t recognise, so the point is largely moot (in the American sense of the word). What we do know, is that the US government is required to make its arguments to congress regarding the legality of the strikes some time within the next day or two, so it’s up to us to wait for that and either analyse those arguments ourselves, or wait for some media outlet to spin them into more entertaining hysteria.

The Appearance of Government

While everyone’s been watching Trump burn his own face with the arse-gas which he uses for speech, our own government has been quietly stabbing itself in the eye with the stupid stick. Things have got so bad that I’m hearing Peter Dutton, horse-faced mental defective and general bad news bear, being spoken of as ‘leader in waiting’. Actually, I’m pretty certain that Mr Dutton is a fundamentally decent man, if only because he lacks the intelligence for genuine evil, and there’s also the fact that, unlike the current PM, he’s not a mealy-mouthed, spineless coward. But seriously, these basic pre-requisites for membership of the human race do not necessarily translate into qualifications for national leadership.

This government’s record has not been exactly stellar. After sneering at Labor’s inability to retain the same leader for more than seven minutes, they proceeded to roll their own, before limping back into government on the slimmest of possible mandates, and then steadfastly refusing to recognise that their position in power was based purely on sufferance. And now, deep into a lame duck second term, their only clear achievement has been to repeatedly waste our time and money. A startling lack of policy direction, moral leadership, economic management, or even the ability to control the simplest of narratives has marked this as an epoch of some of the most despicable, ineffectual leadership this country has ever endured. And a quick look at our history will reveal that that’s really saying something.

Many people have recently been outraged by proposed changes to 18c, which is possibly the only piece of legislation the greater public knows the name of, but I simply don’t care. A proposition to swap three vague words for two, with as much chance of passing the senate as Pauline Hanson has of passing a grade six English exam, simply doesn’t strike me as worth paying any attention to. And then there’s the ‘omnibus bill’, which represents three solid years of attempting to pass budget measures which have repeatedly been flagged as both unnecessary and unwanted – the clearest example yet that changing the label on a steaming turd only works if Apple are involved. The marriage equality debate, which probably shouldn’t be happening at all, isn’t really happening unless you define a debate as meaningless posturing followed by extreme inaction – all of this is apparently evidence of our tax dollars at work.

What is the current government’s agenda? Nobody knows. What is their vision for the future of Australia? It depends which cartoonish cabinet member you ask. What is our position with regard to the seismic strategic and economic threats a deeply stupid White House presents us with? Nobody has the slightest clue. What, in actual fact, is this government actually for? Apart, that is, from saturating the airwaves with nonsensical nation-building rhetoric, and the parliament with bills they know will be rejected? Why, as Australians, do we put up with such piss-poor leadership? I guess it’s because the only viable alternative government is likely to be just as stupid, in different ways. And as for the minor parties, apart from the current de-facto PM, Nick Xenophon, they’re pretty well all as dangerous as they’re comical.

Beneath all this, however, lies a central uncomfortable truth. We knew, when we voted, that we were unenthusiastically defaulting to party lines without any real expectation of proper government. The voting public is not as stupid as we make ourselves out to be – we had no reason to suspect that any of our available choices would actually achieve anything worthwhile. So what confuses me, is why we weren’t screaming in the streets about a situation where our elected leaders no longer even pretend to serve us, and where even the appearance of government has been sacrificed in favour of narrow factional fights that have absolutely nothing to do with the needs of the people or the state. On the principle that democracy tends to produce the government we deserve, I’d strongly recommend we lift our game or, at the very least, our expectations.

Fred Nile’s Insidious Theocracy

Fred Nile

A lot of people find Fred Nile faintly amusing. I understand this, as a casual glance at God’s own MP can leave a mistaken impression of some harmless old throwback shouting into a secular and unresponsive darkness. The truth, however, is far more disturbing.

The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), of which Nile is president, is a small, but potent force in Australian politics. Sure, they’ve hardly any seats in parliament and, like most personality cult parties, the CDP has lost about as many seats as it’s held through endorsed members splintering off to do their own even whackier stuff. But bums on legislative seats is not the whole story by a long shot. The CDP fields multiple candidates in multiple states every election and by-election, not because they expect to win, but because their profile makes them reasonably certain to attract enough votes to receive Electoral Commission funding. You can click the link and do the maths, if you like, but the long and short of it is that parties can draw close to $1.5 million dollars in funding and ‘reimbursements’ by winning a single seat. Add to this the odd few thousand, up to a cap of about $12,000, which candidates receive if they garner at least 4% of the vote, and it becomes apparent that the CDP is a proper moneymaker.

This is not, of course, a rort in any sense of the word. The funding exists for sensible and admirable reasons, but the sad reality is that seasoned political operators will invariably ‘game’ this and any other system around. So what begins as a democratic initiative to encourage worthy candidates to stand again, evolves into a fundraising arm of what I can only describe as one of the most bigoted, non-violent extremist groups I have ever encountered. Fred Nile’s harmless old coot persona does not survive more than a few seconds of scrutiny. His ideas aren’t so much old fashioned as they are Mediaeval. Homosexuality, in his world, is a ‘mental disorder and lifestyle choice’, ‘adoption unnatural’, and any and all forms of fertility or sexual treatment/therapy a gratuitous misuse of God’s procreative design features. And as if this weren’t enough, Nile is said to have resigned from the Uniting Church because it “officially decided to part with a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Bible“.

What I wonder is why this party isn’t given the same treatment as Neo-Nazis or Islamist Jihadis. Sure, they’re not beating up minorities in the street or beheading people on the internet, but their beliefs are at least as regressive and hateful. And how much harm – how many suicides, breakdowns, and so on – are brought about by the airing of their hateful ideas? If the limit of free speech is generally agreed to be the incitement of hate and harm, why do Fred Nile and his Christian Jihadis get not only a pass, but a bunch of our money? It must boil down to the double standard which is operative when we’re dealing with Christian extremists – a result of the fact that, in some ways, our country is still very Christian. Sure, church attendance is dropping, and secularism is a rising force, but as a whole we are still biased towards the notion that familiar evils, like Nile’s, are somehow less dangerous or harmful than exotic ones.