The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

It’s Not the Border Force, Tony. It’s You.

Our illustrious first subject, Tony Abbott, released a statement yesterday saying that people who demean the Australian Border Force should be “a little ashamed of themselves”. Just a little. Well, it should please the PM to know that I am always a little ashamed of myself, especially after the weekend.

But back to the Australian Special Chuck Norris Medal Force, or whatever it’s called.

Mr Abbott said it wasn’t fair to ‘pillory’ the Australian Kung Fu Cobras because they’re there when we need them. “They do their job on our borders, on our airports, in the seas, to our north,” he said, proving once and for all that an inability to communicate effectively in English is contagious.

Thing is, though – it is fair. It is definitely fair to ‘pillory’ this organisation if we look at the nature of its recent failings in context,  the context being this government’s failure to communicate with the public in a meaningful, sensible or comprehensible way – a failure so consistent that it is impossible to believe that it’s anything but deliberate. When we look at the inspired zealotry of the offending press release from the Australian Shadow Eagle Fists Of Immigrant Doom, we can clearly see the stamp of Mr Abbott’s radical Messianism all over it.

If you think about it, Customs and Immigration officials are generally ordinary Australians, and I can’t see a situation where being crow-barred into a military uniform and being told to pretend you’re on Windward Post at Gitmo would be anything but deeply repugnant to an ordinary Australian. It’s just not what we do. So, just like any cultural change, Abbott’s people would have had to find and convert managers who would be willing to sell the idea of the Australian First Strike Angry Bird Apocalypse to its rank and file.

And thus, we find the genesis of the kind of idiot flunky able to think it a good idea to imply that the Australian Ballistic Harpoon Waffen would be stopping and searching dirty foreigners in the street. This is a debacle that has the fingerprints of Abbott brand radicalism all over it.

It’s not the poor bastards who suddenly have to work in the Australian Murder Death Kill Falcon Brigade who we’re angry at. They’re just doing their jobs, be it “on the airport” or “in the seas”, and we’re grateful to them, except when they throw away our foodstuffs and cause hours of crap television.

What we’re angry at, Mr Abbott, is you. It’s your insistence on using inflammatory and divisive language. Your repeated willingness to compromise  our civil liberties in order to meet shadowy and virtually non-existent threats. Your destruction of our global reputation through continual showboating on matters of national security. Your inability to attract people capable of drafting legislation that isn’t clumsy, inelegant, redundant and heavy-handed. And, more than anything, it’s the fact that all of this useless activity is undertaken at the expense of running our country – a country, I might add, that we all rather like.

So yes, Mr Prime Minister, we should be ashamed of ourselves. But what we should be ashamed of is not our criticism of the Australian Black Taipan Super Strike Force. We should be ashamed of ourselves because we chose you to lead us.

Australian Border Force. Nuff Said.

It was with an unpleasant mixture of consternation and embarrassment that I heard of the combination of Customs and Immigration into a single paramilitary unit called the ‘Australian Border Force’. I saw the press conference: a bunch of civil servants shuffling uncomfortably in faux military uniforms, wearing every medal they were able to muster and, most likely, wondering how the Customs strike was going. And that’s the thing – on the very day that the ABF was announced, one of its critical, frontline arms was on strike. For me, this kind of set the tone. I knew, from that moment, that this whole humiliating experiment in misdirected aggression was going to be a farce from day one.

My prediction, unsurprisingly, was borne out yesterday. The official version of the story is that a ‘junior staffer’ released a poorly drafted press release about OPERATION FORTITUDE that gave the impression that random visa checks were going to happen tonight on the streets of Melbourne’s CBD. At first I thought, “I can believe that – it’s a credible story and it’s been released with a speed that suggests truthfulness.” But then it occurred to me that in a newly-minted unit, there are going to be a lot of people sitting around who do not yet have very much to do. Which means that it’s unlikely that an elementary mistake like this could be made, and very likely that there would be people on hand to spin the aftermath with breathtaking speed. It also occurred to me that OP FORTITUDE was a World War II operation in which a phantom army was created with the intention of deceiving the Germans. Hmmm… creating a false army. Is someone, somewhere, trying to tell us that those within the ranks think it’s as ridiculous as we do?

Because a fake army is what this is. Mr Abbott has touted manning increases in this newly formed Stasi… I mean, Border Force, but most of these increases are putative and the modest increases that have already taken place can all be accounted for by increased manning to handle the transition. So, apart from some snazzy fascistic uniforms, and a tendency to wear dad’s medals at press conferences, our border protection capacity would not appear to have increased by one single whit. I can confidently say this even though I have absolutely no idea how much a ‘whit’ is. Because it doesn’t matter – the net increase in capability is zero.

I try to be balanced – I really do. Mr Abbott is a public servant of long standing, with a proven commitment to civic duty and a sincere personal and professional investment in our national interests. Okay, so maybe he’s incapable of coherent speech on most occasions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s stupid. Really. I just said that. Everything I know about the man points to the fact that he cannot possibly be the gigantic idiot that he is portrayed to be in the press, and I work very hard to preserve this knowledge in my own mind. But he’s not helping. Stunts like this Australian Border Force nonsense are wearing away at my self-restraint. I’m sorry, but what in the name of reason was he thinking? On what planet was this blustering, tokenistic, shambolic and utterly stupid gesture going to make our country better or safer in any way whatsoever? How in God’s name was a ten million dollar re-branding job going to help a pair of organisations that are routinely underfunded, undermanned and generally ignored by the country at large? And I say in God’s name because, with this PM, God, apparently, is never very far away.

The answer to these questions leads unavoidably to a conclusion I’m unwilling to come to. The Australian Border Force is a stupid idea, with a stupid name and, apparently, is staffed by people too stupid to understand their own powers or the English language. Which means that the minds that came up with it are equally stupid, and Mr Abbott’s was one of them.

What’s in a name? Well, usually, the conceptual vision of the creator of whatever’s being named. In this case, the name says it all. Australian Border Force. Vague, mindlessly and needlessly aggressive, writing cheques that reality cannot cash. Remind you of anyone?

Trump And The Problem With Democracy

A lot of people think that the stuff Donald Trump says is insane. They comfort themselves with the fact of this perceived looniness and the idea that his supporters will eventually find out he’s insane and fall away from his campaign.

They’re wrong.

Trump isn’t insane. He’s not even mildly crazy. The stuff that comes out of his mouth is not at all out of step with the opinions of many ordinary people. Let’s chew on that one for a second. The stuff that comes out of his mouth is not at all out of step with the opinions of many ordinary people. This is a bloody terrifying thought and one that most Liberals are keen to disprove or dismiss, but the fact remains. In just the same way that Tea Party gibberish has a widespread, broad-base appeal, so does the kind of hateful guff spewing out of Trump’s hatch.

Why? How? I mean, seriously, how? Well, it’s simple. It is a sad fact that a significant proportion of the human population suffers from a type of cognitive dysfunction commonly known as ‘stupidity’. And that an even more significant proportion labours under the impression that wilful ignorance leads to rational decision making. There is a long, long list of examples of both these conditions, far too extensive to go into here, but the general trend is that there is always, at any given time, a huge section of the population willing to believe anything that supports their inherent prejudices.

Which is fine. Really. It is, generally speaking, a matter of no importance whatsoever if an ordinary person believes that they have been abducted by aliens, texted by God, victimised by Mexicans or boat people or disadvantaged by being white. Such opinions and beliefs, while being mind-bogglingly stupid, don’t really matter for the most part, because the people who hold these opinions are generally too busy working, raising families and watching prime time TV to do anything about them. But when you combine this kind of cognitive dysfunction with an election cycle, enfranchisement and an unscrupulous cowboy willing to exploit feelings of this kind for his own personal aggrandisement, we end up with a very dangerous situation indeed. A situation that, in fact, exposes one of democracy’s greatest flaws.

In the words of the late, great Terry Pratchett, “The problem with democracy is that everyone gets a say.”

We need to wake up to the fact that a potential majority of the group ‘everyone’ believes that the world is crap because immigrants, that the best way to pursue international diplomacy is to continually bluster and make threats and that the best thing to do with the poor, the vulnerable and the funny-looking is to build a giant wall and put them on the other side of it. Because this is the general level of political sophistication of that portion of the population that is usually sneeringly dismissed as ‘ordinary people’.

This is the height of foolishness. We cannot continue to pretend that racist, sexist, intolerant and xenophobic belief sets are ‘fringe’. They’re mainstream. Just because the upper middle class and the intelligentsia can no longer bring themselves to criticise foreigners under any circumstances, this doesn’t mean that racism, bigotry and general pig-ignorant stupidity have been vanquished from the world. This swing to Trumpism exposes one of the most dangerous vulnerabilities of the progressive society – the fact that we have left a huge portion of the population behind. We say and do liberal, progressive things in our little political echo chambers, but the reality is that most people simply haven’t got it yet. Most people, as we can see, exist somewhere on the Trump spectrum, because the smug, self-congratulatory narrative of progressivism never even bothered to try to explain itself to ‘ordinary people’. We have a lamentable habit of assuming that propositions relating to humanity, tolerance and equality are axiomatic. They’re not.

And at some time in the near future, assuming they can read, those ‘ordinary people’ are going to vote.

 

Let’s Bomb ISIS! (Some More)

A little while ago, a committee head that nobody but particularly hard-up spy-watchers has ever heard of floated the vague notion of initiating military action in Syria. At around the same time, PM Tony Abbott appears to have stumbled across a Boy’s Own Military Jargon Book and began flitting around the country in order to overuse the words ‘Detect’ and ‘Degrade’. In the meantime, analysts all over the country and the world started looking at the problem of how to attack ISIS in Syria, which is important for all sorts of reasons that I won’t go into here.

But let’s just hold on a moment. What, in actual fact, is going on? It sounds to me like a declaration of a significant upshift in a military conflict in which we are already deeply involved. Now, call me a traditionalist, but that sort of thing used to come with public announcements and discussion and other key words that float around the concept of democratic process. What I appear to be seeing here is a kind of crowd-sourced, incremental introduction of an idea that is far from being clearly defined. Now, of course, with a formal request from the USA for a change to our already heavy (relative to other nations) commitment in Iraq, the penny drops.

Waters were being tested. Some nobody MP floats the idea to the public, lets the media sensationalise, analyse or puzzle over it according to ownership and inclination, and then the government sits back and watches how the public takes it. There’s a name for this kind of thing where I come from. Cowardice.

We are in a situation now where our PM has taken so many beatings from the public, the media, the Senate, and his own cabinet, that he feels he can’t make a decision relating to the fundamental function of government without first taking the public’s temperature. This suggests certain things about the government’s current effectiveness. Certain things that are shaped suspiciously like zeros. And clown faces.

Do I think we should attack ISIS in its Syrian refuges, arguing ‘collective defence’ as a counter to Syria’s sovereignty? Do I think that Syria has crumbled to the point where talking about their ‘sovereignty’ should always be done while laughing like a braying horse? Do I think that our participation in an aborted attempt at US hegemony in the Middle East should obligate us to participate in fixing some of the problems we helped to cause?

Yes, yes and yes.

But that’s completely irrelevant at the moment. Because what I think most of all is that if you are about to send more Australian service people into harms way, or significantly alter their ROE to the point that it changes the nature and terms of their mission to the point of creating a new mission, there’s a key thing that needs to happen first.

What we need is a clear statement of intent, terms for success and failure, and an exact outline of the long term strategy and its goals. Basically, we need the PM and the relevant ministers to stop talking meaningless gibberish interspersed with faux military terminology in order to look clever and tell us what they actually intend to do.

And then, if it’s sensible, we can and should get behind it.

This Time, It Was About A Monk, A Hacker And A Ferret

Last Friday night I had a transformative experience. I watched Sydney play Collingwood and suddenly discovered that AFL is not only a complex and rewarding spectator sport, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a big crowd with my pants on. As controversial as this realisation might be, it’s not what this post is about. The point is that after the post game drinks, it’s impossible to get back to your own bed, even alone, any earlier than 0100 hrs. Factor in the nightcap, the person who you’d promised a bed for the night and forgotten all about and an insomniac flatmate, and a 0530 wakeup becomes feasible only if the idea of sleep is surrendered altogether.

Thus it was that I found myself contemplating the task of writing a book in 12 hours with a bunch of very nice people and absolutely no sleep. We pulled up outside a menacing looking compound in Warriewood, which I believe to be a remote valley somewhere near Afghanistan, and contemplated the enormous task ahead of us by complaining about the cold and, in my case, chainsmoking in preparation for 12 hours in a non-smoking site.

The compound, which looked remarkably like the love child of a maximum security prison and a US military warehouse, belonged to one of our employers, who kindly donated office space and bandwidth and whose staff gave us a significant portion of our sponsorship.

The 2015 WABIAD Team

The 2015 WABIAD Team

At 0800 precisely (give or take a few minutes) we opened the document outlining our parameters and discovered that our novel had to be about a jailbreak and must involve two human characters (a ‘monk’ and a ‘computer nerd’) and a ferret. One of the settings had to be a ‘skateboard playground’, which we decided probably referred to a skatepark rather than a facility built for the amusement of wheeled timber conveyances. There was also a list of keywords which had to be included in the text and which I promptly forgot existed. Zena Shapter, our award winning leader and extremely stressed person for the day has a fuller and more factual description, being what we like to call a ‘serious writer’.

And so it kicked off. Our illustrators, Mijmark and Liz Michell settled down to work, visualising and actualising the appearance of the weird collection of misfits that we had included in our ongoing work both by compulsion and inclination. The authors tapped away with extreme efficiency, except for me, who blurted out 2000 words of hate-filled crap before storming around the room looking for stuff to punch as nicotine withdrawal began to set in. By the end of the day, we had written an edgy, high-tech tale of intrigue involving terrorists, hackers and military drones loaded with explosives and, weirdly, none of these ideas can be directly attributed to me. The book we came up with is called “Rider and the Hummingbird” and we’re all immensely proud of it.

A big thank you goes out to the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, for being awesome, and especially to all our sponsors, without whom all of this would have been completely pointless. If you’d like to join the cadre of secret superheroes who helped to make this happen, you can help us raise money for the Kid’s Cancer Project at this link:

https://www.writeabookinaday.com/findteams1.php?school=607

Sponsorship closes at the end of the month.

Here is the blurb for our book, shamelessly stolen from Zena Shapter’s blog as I can’t find my copy.

“Fourteen-year-old Lan is a computer genius… and a prisoner. After poking around in exactly the wrong websites, Lan’s interest in drones has landed him in the High Country Youth Correctional Facility.

Not a good start.

Lan is resigned to his fate until he discovers that the mysterious hacktivist who framed him is part of a plot to kill thousands of people, including his mum and dad. With the help of Monk and his ferret, Lan breaks out of jail, and races to prevent a disaster that could change the face of Australia forever.”

 

Fear of Isolation – The Anti-Gay Anxiety

People who don’t like gays are becoming increasingly worried that nobody is going to like them any more. My first reaction to this very public concern is to worry that I do not possess a violin tiny enough to provide appropriate musical accompaniment. My second reaction is to laugh uproariously.

My third reaction, however, is to think about it. You see, I’m serious in my belief in an inclusive society. I really don’t care if you believe in flying pasta gods, more traditional gods, libertarianism, alien lizard folk or the efficacy of Tony Abbott. I couldn’t care less if your world view is Old Testament, New Testament, Pastafarian or Liberal Democrat. I really couldn’t. No matter how crazy your beliefs may be, I believe that you still have a place in society and that you should not be disadvantaged by your mental incapacity. So I find myself asking the question – should I be concerned about the increasing ostracism of those elements of society that disapprove of gays, gay marriage and gay culture? I mean, if I really am as serious as I think I am about inclusion, I really should care about the fact that a statistically significant portion of society is likely to be in the same position as the fat, unco kid waiting to be picked for a touch footy team.

And it is a fact that the religious right, despite its volume, posturing and snug housing under Tony’s wing, is becoming an increasingly beleaguered minority. They don’t seem to be able to say or do anything without instantly being screamed down as ‘homophobes’, ‘racists’, ‘sexists’ or ‘dinosaurs’. So when I see right wingers and conservatives bleating about the fact that they are a forgotten faction, that their views are not being given proper consideration and that they are the victims of a ‘left wing media conspiracy’ to silence them, I can actually detect a disturbing grain of truth in their piteous maunderings.

So, this has to be thought through. Are we, in fact, in danger of violating these people’s rights and does this actually matter?

I answer this by using my favourite logical technique – the reductio ad absurdum. I ask myself, does my inclusive philosophy extend to, let’s say, Neo-Nazis? Of course it doesn’t. And this is not because of their beliefs, hateful as they are. It is because these people actively attempt to exclude me (I’m ethnic). So I can’t actually be inclusive towards them as they themselves make this impossible.

The same applies in this case. The position of all anti-gay thinkers is the same, regardless of its basis, in that it actively seeks to exclude or disadvantage a section of society. This is logically where the line has to be drawn. You cannot include or tolerate a belief set that excludes or fails to tolerate other belief sets. Put simply, their ostracism is their own stupid fault. There simply isn’t any moral or ethical requirement to tolerate the intolerant. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the next necessary step is to attack them, Antifa-style, but it does mean that our collective conscience needn’t feel any more of a twinge at their exclusion than it does at the marginalisation of the Klu Klux Klan.

So, now that’s settled, all that’s left to do is to rummage around for the tiniest violin I can possibly find.

 

We No Longer Deserve Democracy

I know some people with right wing views. Obviously, they’re all bigots, homophobes, racists and Nazis. But that’s alright, because apparently, as a leftie, I’m a bleeding heart, elitist, Islam loving atheist. And a Nazi. As far as I can make out, both the left and right wings of Australian politics are made up exclusively of people who wish to push insidious foreign agendas in order to bring about the destruction of our great nation whilst simultaneously stamping on the faces of the poor. So we’re screwed, basically.

This presents a very big problem. On the one hand there is a bunch of power and money worshipping fascists who wish to abolish education, social security and, to judge from their online presence, spelling. And on the other side of the fence are people who wish to flood our country with foreign criminals arriving by boat and spend every cent of public money on people who refuse to work. Especially if they’re foreign. It’s very difficult to see a way forward, unless, of course we place our faith in the basic decency of human nature.

But even this is problematic. If I’m to believe what I read, nobody in the entire world is well-intentioned. Either they want to destroy our heritage and kill God, or they want to funnel all the world’s money into the hands of the world’s plutocrats. And they always have such dastardly reasons for wanting these things. Either they’re evil extremists, foreign agents, war-crazed capitalists or ultra-fascist monsters. Or, in a lot of cases, it would seem that they are mentally defective lunatics.

Give me a fucking break.

The only mentally defective lunatic in this particular situation is the one who thinks that this is how the world really works. Liberal, Labor, Greens (to a certain extent) – all these parties have one thing in common. They are run by people who entered politics because they wanted to help – to contribute to the running of the country and, in some cases, to correct perceived wrongs occurring in that process. I can hear the chorus of tinpot cynics now rambling on about corruption, gravy-trains and trotters in troughs, but that kind of rhetoric is just cheap. In any group of people we can and must accept a certain amount of deviance, and the amazing thing about our politicians as a group is not their corruption, but their astonishing general probity given the opportunities for malfeasance and embezzlement with which they are presented on a daily basis. Compare our pollies with the ‘governments’ of Tanzania, Libya, Sierra Leone, the local governments of Indonesia or the absolute bloody shambles that pose as the governments of Italy and Greece, and you’ll see that we’re actually pretty well off for principled, hard-working politicians and civil servants.

But no, we’re all on the brink of ruin because everybody is either a ‘leftard’ or a ‘teabilly’ and must be seen and judged by those terms and those terms alone.

Let’s please, if at all possible, just try to grow up a little bit. Our system of government, the way in which we attempt to find the balance by which optimal government can be achieved, is basically adversarial. This means that people of differing opinions, beliefs and ideologies, through opposition and compromise, work out a way forward. There is no room in this kind of system for zealotry, absolutism or hate speech. We need to remember that the people on both sides of politics are people. And that it’s impossible to persuade any person of anything by insulting and berating them. If we forget this, we play into the hands of real despotism. The more we carry on the way we are, the easier it is going to become for some clever dick to point at the electorate and say: “That’s not a polity, that’s just a screaming mob. We should remove all power from this dangerously stupid group as quickly as possible.”

Because democracy can only be effective when we, the people, are worthy of it.