The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Geopolitics, Kurds, And Problems In Foreign Policy

YPG Sniper in Kobani
Photo Courtesy of The Lions of Rojava

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kobani

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

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

Mass Grave in Raqqa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

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

The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains

Photo Courtesy of The Lions of Rojava

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Some Christians Won’t Suffer The Little Greta

Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An open letter to Alan Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So keep it up, Alan. We’re with you.

Yours sincerely (sorry I mean cynically),

Tim

Religious Freedom – Scomo’s Biggest Meta-Achievement

scott-morrison

Scott Morrison can always be relied upon to fearlessly create change by legislating things which already exist. Take the food adulteration laws he so bravely championed, whereby he created a separate offence for something which already existed as an offence in the criminal code, and then whacked a sentence on it which nobody in their right minds would ever apply. Sure, it’s a double up on an extant law, and sure, its value is purely symbolic, but that’s the beauty of Scomo. He can create reform without the messiness arising from actual change. Scomo is the master of what I like to call meta-achievement. Or to put it in the words of one of my favourite poems/satirical political programs:

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

The Hollow Men, T S Eliot

It probably makes more sense if we remember that our fearless PM’s core discipline is marketing. For Scott Morrison, appearance is reality. Gesture is motion, and shape is the same as form. Or, to put that on a level more commensurate with his actual world view, looking like you’re doing stuff is, like, the same as doing stuff.

And this is why I’m pretty relaxed about Scomo’s push to introduce religious freedom legislation. By all accounts (by which I mean his), this legislation will mirror existing anti-discrimination legislation. The same legislation which, when combined with the constitution, actually provides comprehensive protections for religious freedom. Which is the exact thing he’s so keen to appear to achieve. Because in the universe particular to Scomo and the weirdly angry culture warriors who sing his praises, appearing to achieve something is the same as actually achieving something. You can tell this belief is sincere by the way he says publicly, and without irony, that he intends to introduce an anti-discrimination law which mirrors current anti-discrimination laws. He’s not even lying to us – he’s just incapable of living in a world where symbols aren’t the things in themselves. Because, and I emphasise this point in case I’ve been too subtle about it, he is essentially a hollow man.

Of course, there are functional aspects to this action. Scomo is famously and unashamedly a Pentecostal Christian, a faith position which I and every other sane observer feels to be weirdly at odds with having a Bachelor of Science. But then, B Sci grads I’ve spoken too are unanimous in their opinion that that particular undergraduate degree has about as much substance as a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, which is basically best when it’s three ply, soft and absorbent.

You see, Scomo has a rank and file of Christian soldiers in his cabinet and his backrooms, and more importantly, in his support base. He needs must create a symbol of intention in order to ensure that he’s not knifed like the bloke that he himself knifed. And seeing that they’re all happy clappy Christian types, he knows that they’ll be happy with a symbolic gesture which may or may not have actually happened. Given that this is really the stock in trade of the fundamentalist loony… sorry – I mean sincere and dedicated Pentecostal.

So perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the light show. I mean, it’s not as if anything is actually being achieved – it’s just meta-achievement in the classic Scomo vein.

“Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality.”

Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality. This one, for example, has the power to change us from a secular and sane country into a cut-down version of evangelical America. From a certain point of view, it might be considered our duty as non-crazy, non-fundamentalist citizens to make it very clear to our symbolically sensitive meta-leader that this particular meta-achievement is offensive to our existing liberties and to the idea of effective and meaningful government.

At the risk of sounding American, we should tell our MPs what we think of this. No, really. Sure, they’ll ignore one or a dozen of us, but they can’t ignore all of us. Or, if a more direct approach appeals, there’s always the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s contact form here: https://www.pmc.gov.au/contact-us

Because as Scomo himself says, he’s listening, and hearing, and if he’s listening, he’s doing.

MAFS, parasailing, and a single baked bean served in a used pair of undies

OK, I’ll admit it. As embarrassing as it is, I am a huge fan of Married at First Sight. Yes, yes, I know. It’s so low-brow it’s basically a moustache, and it’s probably making us all dumberer, and it’s about as genuine as a Praba handbag. But that, my friends, is exactly what makes it so damn good. For as much as we normal people are prone to doubting our own intelligence, both general and emotional, watching shows like MAFS is a glorious adventure in self-affirmation. That is to say, whatever we may be, we can at least find comfort in not being a fame hungry, emotionally unstable, botox obsessed, entitled sack of narcissistic underachievement. And that’s just the men.

But as much as the show makes me feel good about myself, this most recent season was a little different. Because in amongst all the affirmations of my apparently amazing intelligence and emotional maturity, there was a landmark event in the history of white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class Australian men.

I felt triggered.

Now, I am the first to admit that I can be a little facetious. Yes, I will probably send a look-a-like stripper to my own burial (you’ve been warned), but don’t let that fool you into thinking I can’t appreciate the… graveness… of a situation. So even though I just made a joke about being triggered (and stripping by proxy at my burial), it did indeed actually happen, and it really wasn’t fun. One minute, I was watching a bunch of morons embarrass themselves on national television, and basking in a joyous uplift of self-worth. Nek minute, I was suddenly wondering whether I was one of those morons.

You see, shortly after the fake-marriage of ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson, each had started to doubt that the commercial TV producers obsessed with drama and ratings had taken a genuine interest in delivering them into the arms of their one true love. Before that realisation could completely run its course, however, they were put on a bus to Terrigal for their honeymoon, and were promptly sent parasailing. Once there, it quickly became apparent that ex-stripper Bronson was very keen for parasailing… and ex-human Ines was not.

As I watched ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson discuss their respective views on parasailing, I suddenly felt a very strange sense of deja vu. This was followed by noticing a slight sheen of nervous sweat on my forehead, and a growing sense of queasiness. Being completely unexpected, these feelings were a little unsettling. But not as unsettling as the slow realisation that my queasiness had nothing to do with the three-day-old pizza I’d been eating, or remembering that the slight sheen of sweat had been there for the last 40 years (goddammit). No, what was unsettling was the fact that what was unfolding on screen was just a little too familiar.

Ex-human Ines, as I said, did not want to go parasailing. Which was fine, since people like different things. What wasn’t particularly fine was how she expressed her reluctance. It was difficult to tell with the amount of dialogue beeped out, but it was fairly obvious she wasn’t saying “Oh my darling Bronson, do you mind if I give this a miss?”. Instead, I got the distinct impression she was just telling ex-stripper Bronson to “SHUT THE FÜCK UP” a bunch of times, probably because that’s exactly what she was doing. And therein lay the trigger.

I knew what it felt like to be Bronson.

Apart from the whole ex-stripper thing, I mean. And the muscles and tattoos. And being fake-married on TV. But other than that, I had been in that exact situation. Apart from the parasailing.

The point is that I knew what Bronson was feeling in that moment, as I had been there. And the longer I watched and the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how many times I had been there. There are far too many examples to share, but there is one particular story that is unique in its utter ridiculousness, and may, therefore, prove instructive.

This story is, I admit, a little different to the one above. For starters, I and my partner at the time (let’s call her Doris) hadn’t been through the horrifyingly arduous spectacle of being fake-married by fake-experts to a complete stranger on national television. We had instead had the luxury of meeting and choosing to be together in real life. And we weren’t about to experience the stress of having a bogan tow us through the air in a boat. We were just having my friend over for dinner, whose name is also Tim, and who is so laid back that he would have been happy if we’d served up a single baked bean in a pair of used undies. It was, in short, about as benign a situation as you could get.

Which of course makes it all the more perplexing why the reaction from ex-girlfriend Doris made ex-human Ines look like ex-Mother Theresa. Like that moment when I walked into the kitchen to ask if she needed any help, and was met with a fairly high-volume “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF”.

Look, I get it. Everyone is different, and what is basically benign to me can be massively malignant to someone else. So although Doris never explained her apparently significant apprehensions, I can see how it could be stressful to have two Tims at dinner. I mean, every request for “Tim” to pass the salt would be met by mass confusion and possibly even twice as much salt as you wanted. Unless your name was actually Tim, of course, in which case you would get just as much salt as you wanted, since there was only one other Tim. Except if your name was Tim and you passed the salt to yourself, in which case there was no need to ask for salt in the first place. Anyway, the point is that I can see that under such emotionally fraught conditions, two hours of verbal abuse can be a perfectly reasonable response to having a laid back dinner with a friend called Tim.

But this is the thing. As difficult as it was to be treated that way by someone I cared about, I actually do understand that people handle situations differently, and being flawed, emotional beings, all of us are prone to a little over-reaction on occasion. By which I mean to say, the problem wasn’t so much the actual behaviour, as bad as that was. It was what followed.

___

When we first met fake-husband Mike, he seemed like the unlucky-in-love, good looking larrikin with not much hair but plenty of heart. Happily for him, his fake-wife Heidi also seemed like a winner. She was basically like Mike, but smarter and funnier and nicer and more successful and better looking and with a better personality and with more hair. They hit it off immediately, and each seemed very happy with the ability of the fake-experts to pick fake-spouses for a fake-TV-show. Life was good.

That was until one day later, when Heidi opened up about her difficult childhood, and Mike responded by telling her he wanted to go for a swim.

And this is where the gaslighting comes in.

For those that don’t know, gaslighting is shït. It’s also the deliberate and calculated manipulation of someone into doubting their own reality. To wit, even though everyone watching could see that Mike was being a massive jerk, by the Power of Gas Light Mike was able to make Heidi feel like a crazy person for talking about her childhood when he wanted to go for a swim. “I’m not your therapist,” he explained tersely. “This isn’t therapy.”

Sadly, the most unbelievable thing about this story is not that Mike was a massive jerk. People are massive jerks all the time. No, the really unbelievable thing is that this shït actually works. Watching along in our lounge rooms with friends, it’s easy to imagine ourselves telling Mike to go fluff himself. But that’s the thing about gaslighting. It is invariably deployed in private, by narcissists, against those that are maybe a little self-doubting, and a little vulnerable. And that’s what makes it so effective. Mike’s confidence in his position, together with the lack of emotional support from friends, results in a normally strong woman like Heidi issuing Mike an embarrassed apology, instead of a swift kick to the jelly beans.

___

In my case, delivering Doris a swift kick to the jelly beans wasn’t really an option. Not only because I’ve never committed violence against anyone (let alone a woman), but Doris doesn’t even have jelly beans. Oh, and also because Doris didn’t do anything wrong, and it was apparently me that was the crazy person.

“I was just expressing how I feel,” Doris later explained. “Am I not allowed to express how I feel?”

“Of course you are, Doris” I replied. “Of course you are.”

And so, I came to learn that it’s actually perfectly reasonable for someone to respond with “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF” when their partner asks if they need help because a very laid back friend called Tim is coming over for dinner to eat a single baked bean served in a pair of used undies. A valuable lesson that I will treasure always.

Like I said. Gaslighting is shït.

– Tim

Keeping them honest hasn’t worked. Let’s kick the bastards out.

Once upon a time, there was an Australian political party called the Australian Democrats. They were formed in 1977 via the merger of two existing parties – one with the geographically-accurate name of the Australia Party, and the other the somewhat optimistically named New Liberal Party. Following the merger, they stepped forward with the noble purpose of disrupting the exhaustingly monotonous Liberal-Labor political dichotomy. Or in the words of their founder, Don Chipp, they wanted to “keep the bastards honest”.

The bastards, of course, were whichever major party happened to be in government, and keeping them honest basically meant having enough people in the Senate to stop the damn bastards from doing whatever they liked. And keep them honest they did, at least for a while. At one stage they held nine of the 76 Senate seats, so if the bastards wanted to do bastard stuff, like, say, implement the GST, they were forced to play nice. It all turned a bit cräp for them at the 2004 election, however, and the last Democrat Senator left office in 2008. They were then de-registered in 2016 for not having the required 500 members. Which is all a bit sad.

Or is it?

Maybe the Democrats aren’t needed any more. Maybe politicians have reformed. Maybe they’ve returned to the once precious ideals which underpin our noble democratic institutions. Maybe they stride purposefully into the halls of parliament, fully cognisant of the magnitude of their office, and intent on fulfilling the wishes of their constituents.

Maybe.

Let’s have a look.
___

1 – It’s OK to be white

I’m going to mention this first, because it’s the one thing that I absolutely cannot wrap my head around.

The facts are these:

  1. Pauline Hanson proposed a motion in the Senate stating, among other rocks of wisdom, that it’s OK to be white.
  2. “It’s OK to be white” is a well-known white-supremacist slogan.
  3. When the motion was put to a vote, 23 members of the Coalition voted in favour, including a number of ministers. As a result, the motion was only narrowly defeated 31-28.
  4. In response to the inevitable backlash against this infantile ridiculousness, the government’s Senate leader blamed support for the motion on an “administrative error”. It’s not clear how administrative errors cause people to raise their hands, but, to his credit, the Prime Minister called it “regrettable”.
  5. Despite this, several prominent Senators later tweeted their support for the motion, including the ironically named Christian Porter, who said that the vote obviously proved that “the Government deplores racism of any kind”. At this stage, it is unknown whether it was an administrative error or Jesus that led a Christian to tweet in favour of a racist Senate motion, but we’ll keep you posted.

Honestly, if there is one event that sums up the complete lack of respect the government has for our intelligence, their position as our elected representatives, Australia’s parliamentary processes, or the vaulted ideals of democracy itself, it’s this.

2 – The leadership merry-go-round

Nelson vs Turnbull. Nelson vs Turnbull (again). Turnbull vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Abbott vs no one. Abbott vs Rudd. Gillard vs Rudd. Rudd vs Gillard. Gillard vs no one. Rudd vs Gillard. Abbott vs Gillard. Abbott vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Dutton vs Turnbull. Bishop vs Dutton vs Morrison vs Turnbull.

Thirteen leadership challenges in twelve years, leading to six different Prime Ministers, and the most boring Game of Thrones season in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. The most recent circus, initiated by the Liberals in 2018, saw two challenges in four days, and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Whatever your political leanings, it’s pretty clear that our elected officials aren’t really that interested in serving the country, but love wasting everyone’s time playing leadership musical chairs.

3 – Expensive human rights polls

Speaking of wasting everyone’s time, how about that Marriage Equality plebiscite? Originally forecast to cost $122m, the eventual cost of $81m was still $81m more than the cost of the countless readily-available polls that showed that a large majority of Australians were in favour of this minor legislative change that adversely affected no one.

One year later, it’s pretty clear that life has moved on, no one really cares, and we wasted $81m to find out something we knew already.

4 – Adani #1

Speaking of things we knew already, it should come as no surprise that even if the proposed Adani mine was the very last place in Australia to dig up coal, and even if climate change is a huge world-wide hoax, it’s still utter madness to give billions of dollars to a foreign company to open up a coal mine right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

But it’s not the last place in Australia to dig up coal. And Climate Change isn’t some world-wide hoax. So going through with it isn’t just utter madness, it’s outright lunacy.

5 – Adani #2

Speaking of outright lunacy, you may have heard that the Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, recently signed off on Adani’s groundwater management plans, after the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia found that the plans complied with all environmental and scientific standards. Following this clearance, the only obstacle remaining is the approval of the Queensland Government. Hooray!

The only problem is that the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia said no such thing, advising instead that the modelling “does not ensure the outcomes sought by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act are met”. They further said that Adani’s approach is “not sufficiently robust to monitor and minimise impacts to protected environments”.

According to the ABC, which received a copy of the actual advice tendered by the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, “Adani had underestimated the toll on bore water that farmers in the region rely on, which would be drained more severely and more quickly than predicted. And the mine could drain an ecologically sensitive and ancient natural springs complex, exceeding strict limits on draw-down of the springs’ waters.”

So basically, it would appear that the Minister’s advice was the exact opposite of what the government-appointed scientists had said, and the whole thing stinks. What on earth could be going on? Incompetence? Stupidity? An inability to read?

Whatever it is, it seems clear that scientific advice is no great barrier to destroying reefs, and everyone has their Melissa Price.

6 – The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Speaking of the Great Barrier Reef, who could forget that time the Government gave nearly $450m in one year to a tiny foundation that only asked for $5m over five years?

Now, I know I’m only a partially qualified actuary, but according to my hastily concocted but beautifully formatted spreadsheet, that’s 450 times what the Great Barrier Reef Foundation actually asked for. If that happened to me I’d now have 902 arms, 540,000 bottles of whisky, 225m of hair in a man-bun, and 450 tropical islands.

Add to that the fact that the foundation had only six employees, was assisted by the government when preparing their submission, and approval was granted in three days with no proper tender process, and the whole thing not so much stinks but results in the complete destruction of all olfactory senses.

7 – Opaque government tenders? That’s a Paladin

Speaking of big fat stinks, there is the curious case of Paladin, a company with no previous security experience, registered to a shack on Kangaroo Island, that was awarded $423m in a closed tender to run security at the Manus Island detention centre, despite one of the company’s directors being banned from entering Papua New Guinea (where Manus Island is located), and another charged in Papua New Guinea with money laundering and fraud. Or in the words of Labor Senator Murray Watt, “I think the very biggest question to be answered is — how on earth did this tiny unknown company with no track record ever get $423 million in contracts from the Australian taxpayer?”

Good question, Murray.

___

Speaking of good questions, I have another one. Are you still wondering if politicians are bastards?

If your answer is “yes”, you need to give yourself an uppercut, and then look up the definition of “bastard”. Because if the above seven stories show anything, it’s that our elected officials are not just bastards, they are well and truly taking the pïss.

This goes beyond Labor and Liberal, progressive and conservative, left and right. This is about whoever is governing the country having a massive laugh at our expense, and not even trying to hide it. And with no well-meaning, relatively sensible third-party alternative to check their worse impulses, there’s really only one option.

We need to kick the damn bastards out. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

Hillsong’s Not So Happy Clappy Underbelly

I’m currently working on a story about Hillsong. Given that I only occasionally pretend to be a journalist, this work is going quite slowly, but it is going nonetheless. The working thesis of this story is that Hillsong is in fact a dangerous cult, on a par with Scientology, and even the casual and peripatetic inquiries I’ve made so far have given me enough material to put together this preview.

We like to think of Hillsong as a sort of eccentrically fervent church, a weird and anomalous phenomenon, with beliefs on the insanity end of the stupid spectrum, sure, but just another happy clappy congregation at the end of the day. This just isn’t true. Quite a few people, I’m sure, are aware of the fact that Hillsong is not a church but a for-profit enterprise. This has been made pretty obvious in the past, with their past ownership of Gloria Jeans and their previous Australian head actually saying on Sixty Minutes that they operate for profit. But there are many indications that Hillsong operates on another and far more sinister level as well.

Let’s take the idea that Hillsong is anomalous – a strange but harmless blip on society. It isn’t. It’s the whale amongst a network of Pentecostal churches who share money, lobbying power, and insane beliefs, and a member of one of these churches is our current Prime Minister. What this means is that there is an entire mechanism or network of people surrounding and supporting him in our nation’s corridors of power who are similarly deranged. Okay, maybe ‘deranged’ is a bit subjective, so let’s go with ‘compromised’ instead. We need only look at the tender treatment of these churches in the media, the glad-handing and soft-soaping that both political parties undertake every single election cycle with these congregations, to see that this disturbingly regressive and reason-immune cluster of churches is burrowed tick-like into the highest levels of the Australian establishment. This makes them both mainstream and deeply unacceptable.

But there’s even darker stuff to be found. One of the frustrating things about journalism is that quite a bit of the evidentiary basis for a story is ultimately going to be anecdotal. The idea is to collect enough of these anecdotes – verifiable ones, for preference – to start the sort of evidence avalanche which can properly be termed as data. I’d like to share some of the anecdotes I’ve collected so far. To protect sources and keep my promises, I’m going to have to use alpha-numerics instead of names.

A1 came from a Hillsong family. He was brought up in a high powered Pentecostal community – the kind and level which owned Gloria Jeans. He has a fairly typical story to tell, with the usual catalogue of psychological damage one can expect from an organisation which thinks of shame as a beneficial child-rearing tool. His sexuality was constantly under the microscope, and he was driven from church to church, pastor to pastor, in order to have his most intimate thoughts and actions parsed and examined for orthodoxy. So far, so typical, as far as religion goes. But he also describes the extreme pressure put on him by the church to cut himself off from all secular forms of counselling, instruction, or support. It got to the point where he was being advised not to have any friends outside the church, and not to speak to family members who had yet to accept the church’s embrace. This was my first sniff of cultish practice, and it’s absolutely classic of its kind.

G3 was a working girl and meth addict. She was accepted into the church on the back of a ‘chance encounter’ at what can only be termed a crack house in Terrey Hills. Initially, all was wonderful. She received great support in addiction recovery and in other aspects of re-building her life. Things took a turn for the dark when she suddenly found herself steered towards a volunteer program made up of people like herself, formed specifically to target drug addicts, sexual abuse victims, and other vulnerable people for recruitment. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem. It’s very easy to see this as an ordinary outreach program, but there are a few key aspects of it which ring serious alarm bells. Like the fact that this outreach sent recovering addicts back into drug dens and haunts to trawl for more members. Like the fact that even when she relapsed (which she of course did multiple times owing to being sent back into crack houses on a regular basis) and began prostituting herself again, the church was still more than happy to accept their twenty percent tithe – insisted on it, in fact. Like the fact that when her parents attempted to move in to support her, strong pressure was placed on them to route money to the church so that they could ‘take charge’ of her recovery. Ultimately, G3 died of an overdose, miserable and conflicted about her faith, on the dirty carpet of a heroin dealer’s living room.

So the next time you see a Hillsong lovie with the cheerful t-shirt and the Christian rock, or a family member or friend considering going along ‘just to see what it’s all about’, please do keep these two stories – two amongst a great many more, some of which involve actual kidnapping and coercion but which I do not currently have permission to share – in mind.

Don’t Take (non-excisable) Drugs

When white middle class kids start dying, we can generally be pretty confident that there will be calls for change.

One disadvantage of this excellent system, however, is that the initial conversation tends to be made up of people who have decided to weigh in on an issue after decades of failing to take any active interest in it. Issues of pill testing, and the looming elephant in the room – prohibition – are no exception. A lot of genuine and laudable emotion is being aired and expended on both sides of what we must laughingly term ‘the debate’, but there is a big – a bloody enormous – gap in all of this. And this comes with the failure to ask a single simple question: “Is there a good reason for the prohibition of narcotic substances?”

Despite the fact that almost everybody assumes that there is, it’s actually far from being uncontested. The origins of prohibition trace back to surprisingly stupid roots. Global substance control has its origins in the US Temperance Movement, a movement which, by today’s standards, is actually quite extremist. It was arguably pretty whacky in its own day too. There’s lots of history on the subject, and it’s actually unusually unanimous when it comes to how and why prohibition came about. Put simply, the discovery of the process for extracting vegetable alkaloids was a major revolution in humanity’s unceasing quest to find ways to both enhance and inebriate consciousness. There followed a period generally known as ‘The Great Binge’, in which cocaine and heroin were found in pharmaceutical, beauty, and fad products, and seemingly everyone in the western world was off their trolley all the time. In the wake of the big world wars, necessary re-definitions of the contract between citizen and state impacted the types of laws being proposed and accepted by most western nations. It’s in these periods we find stuff we’re still very much in step with today. Laws about workers’ rights and safety, grand social security mechanisms, our current attitudes to education rights and suffrage, and also the attempted prohibition of alcohol, and the successful prohibition of most of what we today classify as narcotics. It’s generally agreed that the substances which came under most fire fell into the following categories:

  • Popular with ethnic minorities and the poor
  • Not one of the USA’s biggest exports (tobacco)
  • Largely imported from non-western countries

It’s the first point which needs to be stressed. The prevailing belief at the time was that the poor and ill-educated were helpless children, incapable of stewarding their own lives, and that they also needed their souls saved from the damnation inherent in self-indulgence. So they could get to Christian heaven. It’s arguable, but it’s probably reasonable to assume that a combination of organisational inertia, mission creep, and the kind of amnesia pretty well unique to western cultures is what has resulted in these motives not only remaining unquestioned, but being actually forgotten.

Drugs kill people, certainly. I’d be willing to bet that the chilling statistics around overdose deaths and whatnot are actually true. Pretty well as true as those same (and much larger) numbers that we associate with alcohol and tobacco. But whereas with alcohol it was recognised that its prohibition had resulted in the sudden creation of a murderous and obscenely wealthy new criminal class without causing any appreciable drop in its consumption or its harms to individuals and society, no such thought process has occurred with relation to narcotics. But the facts speak for themselves. Taking only a single case – the Mexican and Colombian cartels – drug prohibition has created a situation in which addiction and usage rates have dropped 0% (and this is using the lowball figures we get from activities that are illegal), and criminal organisations large enough to represent existential threats to actual modern states are running global, multi-billion dollar businesses, with side enterprises in sex trafficking and contract murder. No matter how much we might deplore big pharma’s practices, it’s unlikely that legalisation would lead to, say, Pink Pharmaceutical running hookers from Guatemala, for example. Or killing thousands of people in gang firefights before stringing the dismembered corpses up on telegraph poles.

Put very simply, our current global drug policy is three things:

  • Utterly ineffective
  • Deeply irrational
  • Actively harmful

And you don’t have to take my word for any of that: https://www.unodc.org/wdr2018/prelaunch/WDR18_Booklet_1_EXSUM.pdf

But it’s interesting – very interesting – to note that despite a multi-volume report outlining the manifold failures of prohibition, there is little to no mention of legalisation. It’s all coded into the US friendly phrase ‘harm reduction’. Which is ludicrous.

All this brings me back to our fearless Premier as a case in point. She is, in fact, representative of the people in this case, in that she has a knee jerk, deontological response predicated by personal morality, and an ingrained refusal to think about its actual origins. The thing is, personal morality really doesn’t trump half a million deaths per year world wide. It doesn’t automatically negate the need to think in broad policy terms for a person who’s ultimately responsible for the welfare and safety of a whole state. And, in my opinion (and this is the only actual personal opinion contained in this piece), is like all other personal beliefs, opinions and prejudices, in that it’s a citizen duty to think past and beyond them when discussing matters of state and national import.

A picture tells a thousand words… and lots of them are racist

It’s now been a little over a month since Mark Knight published his cartoon depicting Serena Williams at the US Open. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Jeez, Tim, that was ages ago, and we’ve all moved on to needles in strawberries, Billy Slater, needles in bananas, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s mushroom pee-pee, horse racing on Opera Houses, kicking gay kids out of schools, the TPP, wondering whether it’s OK to be white, administrative errors, moving our Israeli embassy, journalists being murdered in the Saudi embassy, and needles in cucumbers. And you are of course right. We have indeed moved on.

Or have we?

Sure, we’ve all found new things to be outraged about. In fact, the only thing more outraging than being outraged at things, is not having enough outrage to be outraged about the sheer number of things we have to be outraged about, which is, quite frankly, outrageous. But there is another, more important sense, in which we haven’t moved on at all. To wit, we all seem to be very good at forming a quick opinion on something, but we don’t seem to be very good at revising that opinion, when presented with new information. Or, put another way, people are fond of basing outrage on gut reactions, and are also fond of hunkering down and doggedly ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

For the Mark Knight cartoon, I, like most people, had an initial gut reaction when I first saw it. I hadn’t watched the women’s final, and hadn’t seen Serena’s dispute with the umpire, but I had heard enough about it to get the “joke”. Mark Knight thought that Serena had thrown a huge, unnecessary hissy fit, and there she was, jumping up and down, with a spat out dummy on the ground. So, apart from lacking cleverness, and not being at all funny, I didn’t really see much wrong with it. Here it is again, in case you’ve forgotten.

Haha, boy that Serena sure is grumpy! Point made, fair and square. Right?

Well, not quite. Call me old fashioned, or a (partially qualified!) actuary, but I happen to think that it’s always a good idea to check your assumptions. In a spreadsheet, ideally. And so despite my assumption that Mark’s cartoon was merely a bit cräp, the fact that so many people thought it had transcended cräp and jumped feet first into full on racism gave me pause. So I did what every reasonable person would do and just ignored them to make myself feel better. Oh wait, no I didn’t. I actually went and read about why people were upset about it. Interestingly, it had absolutely nothing to do with the point Mark Knight was trying to make. No one seemed to be upset about his claim that Serena had thrown a massive hissy fit, or that she seems to be playing with a wooden racquet that is smaller than her head, or that he’d coloured the whole court blue when the perimeter is clearly green, or that professional athletes very rarely use a dummy due the risk of choking. What was clear, however, was that many, many people were objecting to the way he had drawn Serena, and, perhaps even more so, the way he had drawn the other player in the cartoon, Naomi Osaka.

Serena was hard to miss. Not only is she the subject of the cartoon, but Mark had depicted her as a ridiculously large woman, with huge arms, huge hair, huge face, huge mouth, and huuuuuuge bum. I mean, the size of her bum is something to behold, assuming you could even find enough hands to hold it. It looks to be six times as wide as her racquet, which would make it around four and a half metres across, and happens to be the same length as my car. Haha… Serena big!

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “But, but… it’s a caricature! And she is a large woman!”. Let’s park that for a second.

There is a second player in the cartoon, being Serena’s opponent, Naomi Osaka. In contrast to Serena, Naomi is depicted as a small, svelte, white woman with a blonde ponytail. This must obviously be a caricature, because that’s what Mark did to Serena, so in real life I guess Naomi must be less skinny, less blonde, and have fewer ponytails. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that Naomi is actually of Haitian-Japanese descent, has dark skin, dark hair, is 5cm taller than Serena, and weighs only 1kg less. And has exactly one ponytail. Interesting.

But back to Serena. Why was everyone upset about his depiction of Serena? Two seconds on Google was all I needed. He had basically drawn her in the same way as 19th and 20th century cartoonists who openly admitted they were racist.

At that point one might have hoped that either Mark or his publisher would take all the feedback on board and issue some kind of explanation. Something along the lines of “Look, I didn’t realise at the time, but I can see now that my cartoon is offensive to people of colour”. But no, of course what we had as a doubling-down on the next day’s front page, with cries of political correctness, and dire warnings of the demise of free speech. Which, when added together and yelled by the same person, invariably means they just want the right to be a massive ärsehole.

So far, so predictable.

But it shouldn’t be. And to make things easier for people like Mark Knight, I’ve prepared this handy guide, The Official Good Bad Asinine Guide to What to Do When You’ve Drawn a Cräp Cartoon That Lacks Cleverness and Isn’t At All Funny and Lots of People Get Upset Because It’s Pretty Racist. Enjoy.

The Official Good Bad Asinine Guide to What to Do When You’ve Drawn a Cräp Cartoon That Lacks Cleverness and Isn’t At All Funny and Lots of People Get Upset Because It’s Pretty Racist

1
If you want to make a point about someone having a hissy fit, and you’re able to make the point without drawing them with a 4.5m butt, then you should do that.

2
The people with the most insight into whether something is offensive are generally not the people doing the offending.

3
If someone explains to you why something you did was racist, complaining about political correctness just makes you more racist.

4
There’s no shame in admitting you’re wrong. But there is plenty of shame in being racist.

Hope that helps!