The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

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.