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.

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 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.

Trump, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and Beyond…

Trump Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran Nuclear Deal, or, to give it its proper name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been described by President Trump as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, and likely to cause a “nuclear holocaust”. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump made repeated references to the JCPOA, telling anyone who would listen that the deal was a “joke”, and that he intended to re-negotiate, revising key provisions, lengthening time limits and generally changing the current plan into a kind of extended penance. As always with President Trump, there is some doubt as to how much, if any, of what he’s said is meant to be taken seriously, but let’s do our best.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that the JCPOA contains no provisions for checking Potential Military Applications (PMA), no safeguards to prevent Iranian weapons development now or into the future, and that it virtually guarantees a nuclear armed Iran within fifteen years, followed shortly by a nuclear holocaust. Unsurprisingly, none of these claims is true.

Let’s first look at the provisions of the plan. PMAs were a sticking point during negotiations, and it became apparent to even the casual observer that the Iranians, beyond a natural unwillingness to share their secrets, were also unclear as to the exact extent of their secret research programs. In the UNCLAS version, very little is said about PMA, but it is nevertheless apparent from various textual clues that the issue was dealt with. Similarly, the provisions with regard to intrusive inspection, the closure of various pathways to weaponisation (enrichment and plutonium), and various other strictures, all point to an agreement which is perfectly competent to achieve its stated aim: a temporary freeze of Iran’s progress towards nuclear weaponry. President Trump, however, does not see it that way. In President Trump’s view, Iran is a “bad” and “terrorist” state, needing to be kept at all times under the mailed fist of US hard power. It’s difficult to see, given this view, how any deal could have struck him as satisfactory.

Hassan Rouhani Iran Nuclear Deal

Hassan Rouhani, unique amongst Iranian presidents for being more stable than his US counterpart

Now for the safeguards designed to prevent Iranian weaponisation of its nuclear program which, according to Trump, do not exist. Firstly, there’s provisions for inspection, facilities re-purposing from high level enrichment and Plutonium manufacture to power generation, technology, replacement programs for cycling out 20% enriched uranium, the list goes on… And Iran has been pathetically eager to comply. Completion of each action plan has been tagged to the lifting of sanctions and, more importantly, the release of the associated funds. The deal, from Iran’s point of view, is easy to understand. In exchange for restored oil wealth, access to global markets, normalisation of trade and other relations, and a place at the negotiating table, they take a fifteen year halt in a nuclear weapons program which took twenty years to produce next to nothing, and which isolated them so badly that one of their key trading partners was North Korea. President Trump’s belligerent paranoia aside, it’s difficult to see a situation where Iran voluntarily breaks the deal. There’s too much to gain, and at such little cost. And while it is true that Iran could restart weaponisation post agreement, there’s little reason to expect this. A large part of the agreement is clearly designed to end Iran’s isolation – a key factor in their clandestine rush for the bomb.

Trump Iran Nuclear Deal

Trump labelled Iran a ‘terrorist state’ when addressing AIPAC

It’s axiomatic, though, that Christian conservatives cannot see any future in the Middle East without Israel, heavily force-multiplied by the US, maintaining military superiority. A rehabilitated Iran would necessarily change the dynamic. Iran is a natural hegemon – it has ample resources, an educated and numerous populace, access to the sea and a position of key strategic importance. All it really lacks is money. The deal itself, being a UN deal brokered by P5+1, is not US property. Energy hungry P5+1 members Russia and China have a strong interest in its success, as does the UK, who hopes to profit from expanding G/O exploration.

Now that Trump has finished appeasing the GOP’s Zionist donors, the time is ripe for one of his trademark backflips. It’s far from clear whether he can kill the deal (I’d say he can’t), but he is easily capable of killing relations with Iran. Given the likely interventionism of a Trump administration, this would be a critical mistake. Iran has a long (albeit covert) history of co-operation with the USA, and has been a key collaborator in US campaigns in the Middle East. Iranian support, or at least non-aggression, is vital to any operation in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Additionally, Iran has reach and effectiveness far out of proportion with its military power, thanks to decades of investment in power projection by paramilitary and covert proxies. If President Trump really intends to establish safe zones in Syria, escalate the campaign against IS, and generally re-establish US hegemony in the Middle East, all this will be much easier with Iran’s cooperation and assistance. This is a problem for the near future, of course. In the meantime, President Trump should work on gaining better control of his public utterances before the laws of consequence come into proper effect.

One Nation’s False ‘Liberalisation’

Shan Ju Lin One Nation

Shan Ju Lin, One Nation’s Asian candidate for some seat in Queensland I don’t care about and have never heard of, has been something of a propaganda double-whammy for Ms Hanson’s erratic populist juggernaut. Not only did the visible fact of her ‘non-whiteness’ seemingly put to bed the idea of the party’s racism, her subsequent sacking for making ‘anti-gay’ comments must surely be used by the pointy-headed side of politics as ‘proof’ that One Nation is also free of other forms of bigotry. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s tackle the racism first. Pauline recently embarked on a dictionary-fuelled rant on the meaning of the word ‘racist’, helpfully providing us with a disingenuously monolithic definition, possibly as an exercise in clever sophistry, but more probably as a function of her incompetence with the English language. The fact of the matter is that there are many shades of meaning involved in racism which cannot necessarily be found in a dictionary. Anyone looking for a full appreciation of the term need only perform a few more clicks in Google to discover that ‘racism’ also covers Hanson’s obvious and clearly stated positions of forced assimilation in pursuit of some mythical Australian monoculture. One Nation is racist not because it disdains skin colour or point of origin, but because of its much more insidious and dangerous bigotry directed at other ways of thinking and being – in essence, its intolerance of the existence or even influence of other cultures. In many ways, this is more purely hateful than a simple aversion to black and yellow people, in that it’s more deeply considered, and therefore more disgustingly ungenerous and narrow-minded. So really, the fact of Shan Ju Lin’s heritage is irrelevant – her deep seated and militant intolerance towards immigrants of every kind, and her insistence on dividing them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps on grounds which are frankly insane, reaffirm rather than contradict the bigotry which lies at the heart of the party.

And then there’s the curious case for dismissal of homophobia. This should emphatically not be seen as evidence that Pauline Hanson is in favour of gay rights. Shan Ju Lin herself stated that she issued the Tweets because One Nation had “no policy” with regard to marriage equality or LGBTI rights beyond a vague declaration of support for a plebiscite on marriage equality. No, what we’re seeing here is nothing more than a beleaguered chief of staff trying desperately to hold on to control of the party’s narrative. The recent farcical goings on with Rod Culleton, the persistent insanity of Malcolm Roberts and Pauline’s own unfortunate delusional belief in her ability to speak comprehensibly have seriously eroded any capacity for positive messaging. This is clearly a party engaged in frantic damage control in order to maintain whatever vestiges of credibility which remain to them before they field another bunch of whackos, this time for the House of Reps.

And, in true One Nation style, they are going about this by weeding out crazies, oblivious to the starkly obvious fact that a One Nation shorn of lunatics will be a party without a single, solitary member.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Delusions of Adequacy

Australian Christian Lobby

This is the ACL’s idea of an ‘argument’. Note the complete absence of logic of any kind.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is a frustrating organisation, not least because of its militant parochialism and refusal to accept that positions based on a combination of Christian revanchism and bigotry are, in fact, revanchist and bigoted. Its tendency to bleat out an utterly fabricated narrative of persecution, its insistence on blaming some amorphous ‘left wing media conspiracy’ for reverses generally caused by its own media incompetence, and its startling inability to pursue or even to form any kind of logically coherent argument are all extremely annoying. And Lyle Shelton, their managing director, is the kind of attention-seeking, self-pitying, incompetently grandiloquent noisemaker who makes the fists of all right-thinking folk become seriously itchy.

So, given just how annoying they are, it’s not hard to understand why someone blowing up a van in their carpark could immediately be put down to a targeted attack. I myself thought it highly probable, given how I feel every time Shelton opens his stupid gob or mashes ineffectually at his keyboard. And I wasn’t alone in this. There are huge sections of the voting public who apparently take ghoulish glee in attributing any and every act of non-domestic violence to Muslim terrorism or Muslim immigration or Muslims in general, possibly because a narrative as inherently irrational as Islamophobia requires quite a lot of fodder to sustain. Within twenty minutes of the first run of the the story, thousands of comments claiming that this was definitely the work of Islamic State and that the leftard libtard media was deliberately suppressing any mention of this, had engulfed certain pointy-headed and ill-spelled corners of the internet. Incontrovertible, iron-clad arguments like: “It was a quiet area, so it must have been a terrorist attack” were helpfully formulated, presumably to assist the police in their investigation, and not to muddy the waters with irrational reactionism. Quite a valuable contribution given that the poor, helpless counter-terrorism and  security experts of the world tend to be stuck with the idea that mass casualty attacks are generally conducted in busy areas at busy times of day. In order to cause mass casualties. Such narrow, blinkered thinking was obviously much enriched by the public’s insightful contributions.

In any case, during the initial phase of this story, the ACL actually had my sympathies. It doesn’t matter how mendacious, petty, bigoted or deluded one’s beliefs are – no law abiding organisation deserves to be the target of political violence. Shelton’s initial Twitterings were mostly generous and politic, though his comment, “hard to believe this could happen in Australia” sounded an ominous warning of the stupidity to come. And my word did he deliver. It appears that in the wake of the explosion, his first and admirable priority was to see to the welfare of his staff, which meant cutting short his holiday and returning to Canberra. In view of the fact that the building was empty at the time, and that none of his staff were injured or killed or, presumably, present at the time, this seemed a little odd. But then, if someone blows up the front of your building, it makes sense that you should repair immediately to the scene. It appears, however, that upon his return he did little other than stand in front of cameras and say stupid things stupidly to the media.

Australian Christian Lobby

Lyle Shelton, proclaiming his organisation’s suspect martyrdom.

By the end of the day, the ground was laid out as follows. The Canberra police had interviewed the suspect, who was unknown to police, and therefore presumably to domestic intelligence, and who said that his sole aim was to “blow myself up”. This, and the host of other factors militating against the interpretation of this event as an attempted mass casualty attack led the police to conclude that there was “no ideological or political motive” behind the explosion. Shelton, of course, wasn’t at all happy about this, and by evening he had proclaimed that the police had been too quick to jump to conclusions, jumped himself to the conclusion that the ACL was the victim of a terror attack and blamed the Greens and other parliamentarians for inciting anti-Christian terrorism by using the word ‘bigot’ to describe his bigoted views.

And then, of course, the story faded from view. This is partly because the only sources of credible information are a tight-lipped police command and a man with burns to 75% of his body, but mostly because the ACL is basically not all that important. Sure, it’s loud in its claims to represent the Christian community, but there isn’t any real evidence that it does. Its base, purportedly largely made up of Pentecostal and non-conformist churches, does not in fact support its views on marriage equality. Its measurable impact on elections is negligible to non-existent. To an informed observer, the ACL’s principle role is to be trotted out in front of the cameras whenever journalists want to provide the appearance of balance by padding out a panel with a talking head from the lunatic Christian right. And this represents, for me, the single most frustrating thing about the ACL – their persistent and unfounded delusions of adequacy. On no level do they actually contribute in any meaningful way to the debate on any issue, but their notoriety and fatuous self importance means that they have a profile which is all out of proportion to their relevance.

So, in the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who actually is planning an attack on the ACL, I would urge you to reconsider. Not only would such an action be illegal, immoral and inhuman, it would also be of material assistance in backing their delusional narrative of persecution. They’re just not important enough to attack. In fact, I’m convinced that they’re not even important enough to respond to. Like every other screaming toddler, I firmly believe that the best tactic by far is to simply ignore them.

Peter Dutton: Wave Crest and Iceberg Tip

dutton

It’s hard to imagine Peter Dutton being at the top of anything, except perhaps a list of the mentally defective, or the podium at a suicidal horse lookalike contest. Such, however, is the nature of hackneyed metaphor that we now need to imagine Peter Dutton at the top of a wave, iceberg, or some other mobile maritime feature, in order to see clearly what it is that he’s about – something, incidentally, which he seems utterly incapable of doing himself.

Mr Dutton’s recent remarks on Lebanese immigrants were, from a certain point of view, ill-advised, idiotic and frankly appalling. From another point of view, however, they were immensely enlightening. Various analysts are (correctly, I think) putting down his recent rhetoric to the emboldening Trump effect combined with the ongoing war between the right faction of the LNP and everyone else. This is all very interesting, and I think a valid way of interpreting and understanding events, but I don’t think it goes far enough. It is both satisfying and enjoyable to be outraged by his troglodytic bumbling about free speech, ‘honest conversations’ and ‘realistic assessments’, but it’s important to remember that he has a point.

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, he just happens to be right about the urgent need for Australia, as a country, to have a serious conversation. We need to talk about how it can be that after a snappy two hundred years we can still believe that xenophobic politics is anything other than a smokescreen designed to whip up popular frenzy and votes. We need to talk about our inherent tendency to racism, and our simultaneous compulsion to furiously deny that it’s any such thing. We urgently need to talk about how we’ve ended up with an electorate which consistently spews up pond-life like Dutton, Hanson, Roberts, Nile, etc. as political leaders. And the whole world needs to have a long and serious conversation about allowing the hysterical catharsis facilitated by internet anonymity to colour debate on serious, life-affecting issues.

What we probably don’t need to talk about so much is what names we should call each other, or whether Dutton should be sacked on the grounds of gross incompetence and utter incapability. His job as Minister for Immigration is simply irrelevant next to his real role as hard right political mouthpiece, and that is probably one of the most important topics for ‘honest conversation’. How can we be okay with paying people to serve the public good while they prioritise factional contests above the needs and safety of the people they purport to represent?

I don’t know that getting Peter Dutton sacked is going to help. The fact is, they’ll just replace him with someone better at this kind of rhetoric, as it’s hard to imagine anyone who could very well be worse at it. The real rot exists within the base of the movement atop which he is perched, and although I hate to say it, that base is at least partially formed by a significant portion of our population. I don’t know if talking’s going to fix anything, but I’m damn sure that name-calling and meme generation isn’t. Shall we attempt a dialogue now? After all, we’ve tried everything else…

An Open Letter To Trump Supporters

white_dove-white

I’ve been seeing a lot of right wing and libertarian triumphalism on the internet these days, and fair enough too. We of the liberal elite, of which I am apparently a member despite living several rungs below the poverty line, have richly deserved our comeuppance. We have been calling you names and sneeringly accusing you of idiocy and stupidity for quite a while now, and I think you all definitely deserve your moment in the sun. You showed us. Okay, not particularly emphatically, but it doesn’t matter if it’s an inch or a mile, a win’s a win. And no, I’m not being patronising by quoting “Fast and Furious” instead of a more highbrow source – I sincerely mean it.

The thing that worries me, though, is that you seem to think that you’ve won something. I’m sorry, but the truth is that you just haven’t. If the measure of victory was the removal of smug, self-serving elites from the corridors of power, what’s been achieved here is not so much a victory as a swap. Trump himself belongs to an elite – I would have thought that was staringly obvious – and it’s one that’s significantly nastier and more grasping than the one which was rejected at the polls. He’s a part of the business elite, a group which will say anything to get what they want and then, unsurprisingly, do anything to achieve same without any real reference to any connection between the two. What you’ve chosen is definitely not someone who thinks of himself as a tribune of the plebs – what you’ve chosen is a charismatic CEO. Think about that for a second.

Add to this the man’s manifest incompetence. His bumbling unfamiliarity with political systems and processes may have been endearing in campaign mode, but it’s going to be a flat-out nightmare in office. And then there’s his belief in an America from the past. I’m not going to say that this will definitely fail, but I will say that it’s a massive, reckless gamble. It’s not just that the market forces which the right so worship have already rejected the industries that Trump seeks to revive, it’s also the fact that he’ll be trying to push these changes against the prevailing currents of the entire world. This could be seen as brave and radical, or, from my side of the fence, retrograde and stupid, but no matter where we sit on the political spectrum we can all agree that it’s going to be very, very risky. And it’s not his own money and future he’ll be gambling with. It’s yours. Assuming, of course, that the revivification of the urban manufacturing base wasn’t just another part of his sales pitch, like the vast majority of the things he’s said during the campaign.

My point is that there’s pain coming. And for me, a member of the liberal elite, it’s mainly going to be emotional pain. The world we’ve painstakingly been trying to build has taken a massive leap backwards. Okay, so we’re all sick of internet feminists and the perception that every prize and benefit should go only to one-legged Cambodian lesbians, but there’s a tragic irony in all of this. Yes, there was a loud and often juvenile focus on minorities, but the point of liberalism is to build a world in which everyone can safely live and prosper. And everyone necessarily includes you. But enough of my problems, really, because it’s not me and my kind who are going to do the most hurting. If this new experiment in populism goes the way I think it’s going to go, then the big losers are going to be the same people they always are. The working poor. The uneducated. Middle America. It doesn’t matter if the powers that be are left, right, in, out or shake it all about – when things go bad, it’s always the same people taking the shafting. Remember that, please, as we move on to my next point.

We have received a loud and clear message about connection. Smart-arses like myself allowed ourselves to drift so far from the reality of plurality that we stopped listening to huge blocs of people because we were too busy shouting about inclusiveness. I see the irony, and I take the point. But a Trump in the White House is not a win against that kind of thing, it’s a wildcard. Things are very unlikely to get any better in the long term, or possibly even in the medium or short term. Because the real war in politics is not between left and right, it’s between the powerful and the powerless. I agree – the political establishment no longer serves the needs of the people. But neither does the corporate or business establishment. In fact, they’ve been screwing we the people for longer, and with much more thoroughness, for the majority of this era. The thing to remember is that division is the easiest path to power for the unscrupulous. Right wing populists climb fissures in the electorate to achieve high office. If we truly want a system and establishment which serves our needs, we can’t allow that to happen – we must, must, must create a situation in which we actually choose our leaders from amongst the best candidates, instead of whatever the hell just happened at the last election.

So, for the hundredth time – can everyone please just stop with the childish shouting and start listening to each other?