The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

The Safe Schools Program Part 1, or, Why Anglican ministers should study stats… stat

You may have heard recently that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle about the Safe Schools Program. For those who don’t know what that is, Google defines a kerfuffle as “a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views”. Google also tells us that the Safe Schools Program is an initiative that aims to make life a little easier for LGBTIQ students in Australian schools. Or, in the words of the people who actually run the program, it seeks to provide:

a suite of free resources and support to equip staff and students with skills, practical ideas and greater confidence to lead positive change and be safe and inclusive for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.

School can be a tough place, and never more so than for those who are a little different. School kids have an extraordinary gift for spotting someone who is a little different, and an almost supernatural talent for making them feel like absolute cräp for it. One country’s different is another country’s normal, but if you’re reading this and you’re Australian, you know who I’m talking about.

Rangas.

Also, anyone who isn’t thin, white, middle-class, or good at sports. But it’s not quite that simple. Sometimes, you even get bullied for being too good at sports. Mostly if that sport is golf. And, just to make things extra confusing, the reasons people are bullied can change over time. Terrence’s Shirley Bassey impersonation went down a treat in Kindergarten… in high school, not so much.

Haha, very funny. Right?

No. Not even a little bit.

Bullying is a scourge on our collective character, and a major, if not the biggest, contributor to youth depression and suicide. And today in Australia, one of the easiest ways to find yourself on the path to depression and suicide is to have the apparent misfortune of being gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center analysed a number of studies on LGBTI suicide rates, and estimated that between 30% and 40% of LGBTIQ youth have attempted suicide. And a study by the US government found that LGBTIQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Just stop and think about that for a second. Between 30% and 40%. Four times more likely.

This stuff doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. LGBTIQ kids aren’t just mopey little whiners who need a cement pill. They’re pretty much exactly like the rest of us, except for the fact that society loves to remind them that they’re not.

Once you understand all that, the Safe Schools Program starts to make a little bit of sense.

Well, unless your name is Cory Bernardi. Or David Ould. [EDIT: David Ould is approximately 100 times better than Cory Bernardi].
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Some of you may have seen the excellent 2014 SBS series called Living With the Enemy. If you didn’t see it, it was a six part series that explored “the fault lines of social cohesion in Australia”, with each episode exploring “a different topic dividing Australian opinion by asking people to live with others whose lifestyles and beliefs directly contradict their own”.

One such fault line was marriage equality, and one such person with a contradictory lifestyle was an Anglican minister by the name of David Ould. As part of the show, David was required to not only live with, and attend the wedding of, Michael and Gregory, but to also host them in his own home (or at least, in a caravan on his driveway). I was lucky enough to know Michael, and was at his house during filming, where I met David and spoke with him for some time. We ended up keeping in touch, and he was nice enough to ask me around to his house for dinner, where I met his delightful family, and we spent some time discussing marriage equality.

My friend Michael will probably not like me saying this, but I like David. I find him interesting, and easy to talk to, and I genuinely believe that his heart is in the right place.

But that doesn’t mean he has any idea about statistics.
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David has a blog, which is almost as good as this one, and in his latest post, he addresses the Safe Schools Program, or more specifically, whether or not it is justified, based on the number of LGBTIQ students in Australian schools. The Safe Schools coalition, it seems, has been lying about how many LGBTIQ students there actually are. Their website claims 10% of students are LGBTIQ. David Ould says otherwise, via a Baptist minster named Murray Campbell. Murray is happy to admit that determining the proportion of LGBTIQ people “is near impossible”, but nevertheless feels confident enough to tells us that, while

Safe Schools want us to believe that 10% of the population have same-sex attraction, most scientific studies put the figure under 4% (and that includes bisexual people), and other research suggests even lower.

Helpfully, David provides some stats of his own, sourced from a recent commercial from Medibank Private, which you can watch for yourself below.

David did some analysis, and concludes that Medibank is trying to tell us in a “subtle way” that “30% of households with children are same-sex households”. He bases that 30% figure on a number of observations:

  1. There were, on a rough count, 10 various households with children.
  2. Single-parent families, who make up about a quarter of Australian families with children, only got one clear representative in the video.
  3. Of the ten families three were clearly same-sex.

I have to say, it looks a little damning for Medibank. Based on those observations, it really does look like they are trying to tell us that 30% of households with children are same-sex households. That’s clearly not true, so it made me wonder what else they got wrong, and I did a little analysis of my own:
Medibank stats

Based on my analysis, there were two households with children that didn’t have any parents whatsoever. I can only conclude that Medibank is trying to claim that 22% of Australian children are currently living out their dream of starring in a real life Lord of the Flies.

One of the nine families with children had four children. That’s 11%, compared to only 5% of Australian families having four or more children. Medibank is trying to convince us that there are way more four child families than there actually are. I can’t believe they would do such a thing.

That’s not the worst of it though. The worst thing I found was that 100% of the children in baths were really happy. And we all know that can’t be true.

I like this style of analysis. I wonder if I can turn it around, and analyse David’s analysis?

David claimed that there were 10 households with children. I counted exactly nine. He did say it was a rough count though, so perhaps I can forgive him.

David also claimed that there was only one single parent family. There were actually three, which puts David out by 200%. Hmm.

Finally, David said that there were three same-sex families in the video. There were actually only two, which puts David’s figure out by 50%.

Based on these results, and applying David’s own analysis technique, I am free to conclude that 67% of anything David tells us is wrong. Very, very wrong.
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That’s probably not fair though, is it? I’ve based that off only one of David’s blog posts, and one is hardly ever a good sample size. In fact, pretty much the only time that a sample size of one has any kind of statistical significance is when you survey yourself to find out what you want for dinner. To get a better indication of the true state of affairs, you should probably take the largest sample size you can. Like, perhaps, every television commercial and print ad from the last 100 years.

LGBTIQ people have been living in the shadows for a long time, and have only recently started poking out their heads for some time in the sun. Unfortunately, some people in our society see a gay head poking out, and have a desperate need to smack it back down, like some giant, real-life game of wack-a-mole. Apparently, lots of people would rather pretend that LGBTIQ people don’t exist. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the YouTube comments on the Medibank video:
Medibank YouTube comments

Is it any wonder that a program like Safe Schools is needed, and 30% to 40% of LGBTIQ people attempt suicide? Given how long LGBTIQ people have had to hide in shame, is it really that hard for us to see them in a frikken health insurance commercial?

Besides, isn’t the bigger concern the high number of children who live in families with no parents at all? Shouldn’t we check how they’re paying their mortgages? Can we send someone over to make them eat their vegetables?

Or maybe, just maybe, we could stop for moment, relax, and recognise that there are people out there who want to end their lives because our society has told them that being themselves isn’t good enough. And maybe there are a few things we could do to help. Like give them a little recognition, in a single, 30 second commercial, in amongst the millions of commercials that have completely ignored their existence. Because maybe, just maybe, that will give a few people a better chance at being happy.

I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.

Russia and the USA: Competing Visions of History

Putin

When Vladimir Putin first came to power in 2000 he began to attract attention for all the wrong reasons. Various world leaders described him as ‘unsophisticated’, ‘crude’ and ‘breathtakingly ignorant’. It was noted that he had next to no understanding of history or politics and that, on some levels, he was basically a conspiracy theorist and holocaust denier. To be fair, his background as what amounts to a secret policeman probably wasn’t the best preparation for suddenly being rocketed to the leadership of one of the world’s key nations. Dragging people out of their beds at midnight in order to beat them with socks full of birdshot is an absorbing occupation, and doesn’t tend to leave much time for studying the finer points of world history or international diplomacy.

In the last decade Mr Putin has taken himself to school. References to Putin in various memoirs, interviews and Wikileaks revelations show us an arc of evolution for the Russian leader. Sure, he still believes that the Allies deliberately held back in WWII in order to sap Russian resources ahead of the coming peace, but it seems he now agrees that the holocaust took place and no longer believes that Americans are hiding aliens in Fort Knox or wherever. Let’s pause there a minute: Putin believes that the Allies, especially the USA, strategically held back on their assault of Germany so that Russia would be in a weaker position at the end of the war.

We in the West are far too quick to laugh at foreigners. We look at Chinese military parades and the blatant lies they tell through their media outlets, we see golden Kalashnikovs and Gaddafi’s Amazon bodyguard, we hear the bizarre proclamations of African leaders and see their funny costumes and we watch videos of Putin riding horses shirtless and pumping iron in the gym and our first and last reaction is to laugh and assume that they’re just crazy. They’re not.

If we were to set Russia’s history to music, the piece would be used exclusively for funerals. From its first appearance in recognisable form, Russia has been informed by its trauma. It’s aggressive imperial phase can be seen as a direct response to the horrors of Mongol invasion and extortion. Since then, their whole history can be seen as a process of squaring off against the greatest powers in the world and losing. The collapse of the USSR, its second (or third, depending on your definition) attempt at security through empire, is just the latest incident in what could be described as the longest, darkest, coldest winter in the world. For Russia, life is hard and every hand is turned against it.

So how crazy is it, then, to have a culture that worships strength of all kinds? Even to the extent of reacting positively to your shirtless Prime Minister knocking back vodka and doing chest flies? And just how crazy is it to have a foreign policy made up of equal parts of paranoia and bluster? And can we really, in light of their entire history, find it difficult to understand a historical world view that casts Russia in the light of a perpetual victim? It’s not really crazy at all. We in the West are plagued by similar historical delusions. Like the delusion that the war crimes in WWII lie exclusively in the Axis camp. Or the delusion that what the world fixates on when it watches us is our individual freedoms, rather than our power and aggression. We think of ourselves as a beacon of light, hope and freedom but, if we were to attempt to look at Western civilisation from the outside, we’d see a story of greed, exploitation and unending, savagely aggressive warfare. We have the same kind of delusions as Rome. We have winner’s delusions. Russia, for obvious reasons, does not.

Why should anybody care? We should care because we are currently watching the almost exact repetition of a cycle of history. It’s not hard to see our recent failure to enfold the new Russia into the international cool kids’ club as primarily a failure to understand their perspective. Our smug, superior dismissal of Putin’s ignorance and victim-philosophy can be taken as an analogue of the broader relationship. We failed because we don’t really understand the kinds of trauma they have experienced, or the kind of mentality and world view that they can create. We offended and alienated them even as we attempted to embrace them and, somewhat more egregiously, invited them to play a game with us without explaining any of the rules. We expected them to instantly start behaving like a world citizen whose security and wealth made compassion and restraint affordable. And then we had the gall to be perplexed when they did not.

So now we see a Russia that has given up on its brief experiment with global citizenship. The walls are going back up and they are once again securing their border and hinterlands as a buffer designed to desperately hold on to security in a hostile world. It’s the aftermath of Genghis Khan all over again, the cold war 2.0, the realisation of every gloomy dream of persecution the Russian polity has ever had. And while a significant portion of the blame for this rests on their own inability to see past this, a good part of it also belongs to us.

Maybe we’re happy to just let Russia wall itself off again, to search for its living in those parts of the world made up solely of countries we advise our citizens to avoid, but it’s not a good sign for the future. Our inability to understand the wounded national soul of Russia is a symptom of a broader failing which, left unaddressed, will taint our attempts to engage with Cuba, the Arab world and the bulk of East Asia. Because Russia doesn’t have a monopoly on the losing side of history, and nor is it unique in its wariness and resentment of the West.

 

 

Stop the plebiscites!

It was a crisp winter’s morning in Canberra, much like any other. A thin layer of frost was doing its best to hide the lovely brown grass, no one was visiting the Mint, there were weird, circular bus shelters everywhere, and most of the city was on their way to Fyshwick to buy some porn. But this particular morning was different, for one very special reason. Tony Abbott had an idea.

Needless to say, no one was more surprised than Tony himself. There he was, getting ready for his reasonably important job, in the same way he always did. “Stop the sleep!” he said to himself as he woke up. “Stop the shower!” he said to the shower, which never seemed to listen to him. “Stop the toast!” he said to his wife, who was thinking about the price of carbon while ironing his toast. “Stop the boats!” he said randomly because he couldn’t help it. And then, it happened.

“Margy, my brain hurts,” he said as he rubbed his head.

“Now Tony, I told you not to overdo your morning slogans. Save some energy for later.”

“I don’t think it’s that, Margy. I think… wait… OMG… Margy! I have an idea!”

Margy looked stunned, and had a sudden urge to request permission to gently remove her husband’s blue tie in an uncontrollable act of Catholic passion. “What is it, my captain? Tell me!”

Tony then started nodding his head in silence for several minutes, before his wife reminded him that he wasn’t saying anything.

“Well, ah, Margy, I, ah… I have a new, ah, slogan,” he said finally, trying to control his excitement. “We’ve stopped the boats, let’s have a vote… on marriage equality… sometime after the next election!”

“Oh that’s brilliant, Tony,” said Margy. “And so catchy. You will definitely be able to implement that idea when you’re still Prime Minister sometime after the next election.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Or, at least, it should have been. For, unbeknownst to Tony, he wasn’t the only one who had an idea that morning.
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Sadly for Tony, Malcolm’s idea was to get rid of Tony, which he did earlier this week. And sadly for Tony’s idea, Malcolm was on the record as saying that holding a plebiscite was stupid, given that the issue could “be resolved in this Parliament one way or another in a couple of weeks”.

On the plus side, however, Malcolm is a politician, and politicians are nothing if not masters at manipulating their own words to suit someone else’s agenda. Thus, a plebiscite was suddenly a perfectly fine idea, and free from the apparent intellectual burden of being Communications Minister, Malcolm could now communicate that “each approach has its advantages”:

One, I suppose, is faster and costs less. The other one gives every Australian a say and it has a cost; democracy has a price. Giving everybody a say on an important issue is surely a very legitimate and reasonable approach.

I would like to thank the honourable member for his comment, because it perfectly encapsulates why a marriage equality plebiscite is the worst idea a leader of this country has had since Harold Holt went swimming with a sore shoulder in rough surf with no lifeguards.

On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable approach to take. Countless polls have shown that the Australian public is largely in favour of marriage equality, so if our parliamentarians can’t get their Marriage Act together, why not legitimise the will of the people with an official national vote?

Well, there are a number of reasons, which Malcolm very helpfully raised while explaining his recent about-face.

1
There is, of course, the cost. The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated that holding a plebiscite after the next federal election, which was Tony’s preferred method, would cost upwards of $150 million. Let that sink in for a minute. We are so short of funds that we apparently need to charge people $7 to go the doctor, cut foreign aid to Africa by 70%, and make Bronwyn Bishop travel along the ground, but we have $150 million to spend finding out something that polling companies have already found out for free.

Malcolm is right – democracy does have a cost. Breakfast has a cost, too. But it doesn’t mean you should spend $150 million on a bowl of Weet Bix.

2
At this point, same sex marriage opponents will probably say that we have to have a plebiscite, because those pesky poll results aren’t reliable. You can get a poll to say whatever you like, so the argument goes, depending how you word the question. This, apparently, is the reason that groups like the Australian Christian Lobby are actually in favour of the plebiscite idea, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they will lose.

Now let that sink in for a minute.

A group that is staunchly against marriage equality and believes poll results can be manipulated wants to hold the biggest poll possible on an issue where they are almost certain to lose.

No, not suspicious at all.

3
“I’m just giving everyone a say,” says Malcolm. Isn’t that nice? It’s what we’ve wanted all along, isn’t it?

No, it’s not.

For starters, we didn’t get a say when the government wanted to introduce the Medicare co-payment, or slash foreign-aid to Africa. We didn’t get to choose our Governor General, or our Treasurer, or the Speaker. And that’s fine, because that’s why we elect a government. So stop stalling and govern.

Secondly, I think it’s incredibly condescending and, actually, downright insulting to have the majority decide on whether a minority should have a fundamental right. Especially when that right will not affect the majority at all. Sure, if the plebiscite goes ahead, equality will probably win, but it wasn’t that long ago that a vote would have gone the other way. And I don’t think the legitimacy of a plebiscite should be based on which way the vote will go.
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There is no doubt that marriage equality is coming – it’s only a matter of when, and how. And while our elected representatives dither, it can be tempting to see a plebiscite as an acceptable middle ground. It’s not. The arguments for marriage equality are irrefutable. But “we’ll win if it goes to a really expensive non-binding public vote sometime this decade” isn’t one of them. Right is right, and it’s time our politicians acted like it.

And if you’re still not convinced, you just need to remember one thing.

It was Tony’s idea.

On well-intentioned bullshït

Once upon a time, an ugly woman learned how to sing.

Well that’s what everyone said, anyway. I didn’t find her ugly. I found that she bore a strong resemblance to a human being, deserving of the same respect as everyone else. But man, could she sing. This apparently came as a complete surprise to almost everyone on the planet, because apparently some people are ugly, and apparently ugly people can’t sing. Apparently.

The woman’s name was Susan Boyle.

Remember Susan Boyle? Remember the universal surprise at, and then admiration of, her extensive talent? It seemed the whole world was in awe of her. As it should have been.

But I wonder if you remember a few other things. Like the sarcastic wolf whistle from someone in the audience. Or the whole audience laughing when she said her age (which was 47, and not even slightly amusing). Simon Cowell’s exasperated skepticism. Audience members exchanging smirks. All before she’d sung a single note.

But then she sang a single note, and everyone was shocked. And then she sang a few more, and the shock turned to applause. A standing ovation before she’d even finished the first verse. Piers Morgan showing more emotion than he did when facing Brett Lee’s bouncers.

“Weren’t expecting that, were you!” said the gleeful host.

“Without a doubt, that was the biggest surprise I’ve had in three years on this show,” said the still emotional Piers, to more applause.

It was the feel good story of the year. Susan Boyle had won our respect. The ugly old lady, come good. And all she had to do was have the voice of an angel. Aren’t we nice?

No, we’re not. We’re a pack of superficial, judgmental jerks. And if you don’t believe me, think about how the world would feel about Susan Boyle if instead of an angel, she’d turned out to have the voice of a tone-deaf howler monkey. With tonsillitis.
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As most of you know by now, we are bearing witness to one of the biggest humanitarian crises the modern world has seen. Millions of people have been displaced, and are fleeing their homelands with not much more than their children and their lives. Millions of people. Amidst a literal and figurative sea of despair, one father endured the indescribable agony of losing not just his two sons, but their mother as well. His grief may be somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the now ubiquitous photo of his dead two-year-old boy seems to have finally triggered some semblance of compassion from First World nations, but it will be compounded exponentially by the very describable idiocy of comfy Westerners questioning his motives. Say hello, Cory Bernadi. You ignorant, amoral, wänker.

But what does all that have to do with Susan Boyle?

Well, while Abdullah Kurdi was still trying to figure out how he was supposed to endure life without his wife and two young children, a well-intentioned Westerner thought it was a good time to remind the world that Syrian refugees can sometimes come in handy. Because some of them are Steve Jobs.

A Syrian migrant's child

This image, and the sentiment behind it, was retweeted around the world, and picked up and trumpeted by the Western media. “Remember, everyone, one of these poor fückers might go on to found a profitable electronics business!”

I’m sorry, but no.

Leaving aside the fact that what Steve Jobs actually did was exploit Third World labour to make over-priced gadgets for well-fed Western fingers to swipe right on Tinder, the worth of these poor, desperate people is found in what they are, not what they might become. And what they are is people. They are people who have immense talent, some talent and no talent. Some are nice, some are mean. Some might go on to cure cancer, and some might go on to be avid readers of the Bolt Report. But each and every one of them is deserving of our help.

And if you doubt that, then, like Susan Boyle, you only need to ask yourself what you would think of Syrian refugees if Steve Jobs had gone on to invent Windows 8.

Which, much like the sentiment behind the photo above, is complete and utter bullshït.

Stop the Boats: The World Tour

David Pope Cartoon – The Canberra Times

Australia, my favourite country on the entire planet, has long been an example to the world. The miracle of our meteoric rise to prosperity, our egalitarian ethos, standard of living, progressive and enlightened social policies and our commitment to diversity have long been the envy of countries around the world. And now, so I’m told, we have become a world leader and exemplar on the issues of border protection and immigration control.

It has been pointed out by our esteemed Prime Minister that the recent tragic death of Syrian child Aylan Kurdi is a sad but telling endorsement of our government’s policies designed to ‘stop the boats’. Apparently, if European powers were to emulate our magnificent maritime border control strategies, children like Aylan Kurdi would now be happy, safe and content somewhere else. It’s uncertain where “somewhere else” is, but who really cares? The essence of the policy is that whatever happens to these people, it doesn’t happen anywhere where we can see it.

Sure, some fringe radical publications like The New York Times might take exception to our actions, calling them inhumane, draconian and questionably legal, but there’s no accounting for the odd loony yelling at the world in isolation, is there? I mean, really – it’s not like anyone even reads it, right? It’s not a respectable media outlet. No, when it comes to journalistic respectability, Ray Hadley and Alan Jones beat The New York Times hands down.

Clearly, the best way to save the lives of refugees is to ensure that they are unable to leave the war zones that their homes have become by any means that might be considered illegal. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all, because that clause in the UN Refugee Convention about not penalising people for paperless travel, or for the means they choose to travel by when seeking asylum clearly doesn’t apply to us. I’m not exactly sure why it doesn’t apply, but the architects and administrators of our border protection policies assure me that refoulement, mandatory detention, de-facto punitive deportation and internment and all the other delightfully kind and generous things that we do for asylum seekers are perfectly legal. And I’m happy to take their word for it because nobody likes a queue-jumper. Especially when they’re jumping a queue that doesn’t exist. The cheek of it!

So now it’s time to take our dog and pony show on the road and really show these backward, primitive countries with their foolish ideas about “humanity” and “obeying international law” what can really be achieved when we all get behind the simple and elegant idea that if we can’t see it, it didn’t happen. Tony Abbott, with a breathtaking show of class, logic and appropriateness, has co-opted the death of a toddler in order to better plug our unique brand of humanitarian, life-saving, tow-them-somewhere-else-to-die brand of absolute compliance with our international obligations.

Yes, Australia, this is a proud day for all of us. History will remember this as the time when Australia showed the world exactly how we deal with human suffering, desperate pleas for help and all that other left-wing, bleeding-heart garbage. So let’s rise to our feet, people, and be upstanding for the long, slow clap that our fearless political leaders so richly deserve.

Cecil the Lion

About four days ago, a story broke on RT, Reuters and AP about a well-loved lion having been hunted and killed. The vast majority of the world, including me, ignored it. Two days later, a dentist and bow-hunter from the US called Walter Palmer stepped forward to air his concerns that he ‘might’ have been the killer of this animal. Clearly, Dr Palmer (do you call dentists ‘Dr’? Everyone else is just calling him ‘bastard’) was not at all familiar with the internet and was therefore unaware that hunting creates a larger and more sustained reaction than child murder, one punch kills and mass shootings combined.

A great many posts wished for Palmer’s dentistry business to go bust and for Palmer himself to be immolated, driven to suicide, hunted by lions or killed by PETA activists. His clinic’s Yelp profile, FB page, address and telephone numbers, both business and personal, were released. Netizens all over the world bewailed the death of Cecil the Lion and condemned Walter Palmer for cowardice, malice and general evilness. His practice was shut down and he was inundated with angry calls and death threats. When a FB page called ‘Cecil the Lion’ put up a post asking for people to direct their outrage not at Palmer but at the law that continues to allow hunting, it drew about 667 responses, very much along the lines of these below.

“Regrets killing him,more like he is cacking himself of what will happen to him,now it’s world wide,hope someone shoots him”

Worthless piece of shit, hope you get hunted outside your practice u fucking c*nt!!!!!!!

HERE IS THE BUSINESS ADDRESS OF THIS WANKER. PLEASE REPOST AND RUIN HIS LIVELIHOOD

Which seems to be a fair summation of the world’s opinion of game hunting in general and Palmer in particular. Apart from the Zimbabwean government, of course. They seem to think big game hunting is an essential funding source for the upkeep of Hwange National Park. But there’s always a few loonies out there to ruin it for everyone.

In any case, I’m disgusted, appalled and ashamed at this disgusting episode. I’m also a bit sad about Cecil, and confused as to why killing for trophies is still done in this day and age, but mostly I’m disgusted, appalled and ashamed of the baying lynch mob that has gathered around Walter Palmer.

Firstly, I’m willing to bet that more than 99 percent of these keyboard warriors had never even heard of Cecil a week ago. I certainly hadn’t. Another thing that most of these people would never have heard of is Palmer’s 2 children. I wonder what kind of time they’re having now, and whether the netizens of the world believe that they deserve it, having committed the dread crime of being the offspring of such an egregious criminal? Some netizens have even suggested that a fit punishment would be to hunt and kill these vile offspring to show Palmer ‘how it feels’. There’s also the fact that Palmer runs a sizeable dental practice – do his partners and employees also deserve to suffer from the taint of his association? Probably, but we’ll never know because the mob decided before any of these questions could be examined.

Okay, internet – I get it. Hunting is wrong. Fine. But how on Earth did I miss the memo that said applying sanctions to a man by the means of mob rule was okay? And why are people not more outraged about other stuff? Like Dylann Roof? Or the man who was in the news yesterday for organising the commission of at least 500 sex offences against his own daughter? I suspect it’s because hunting is a ‘safe’ one. Whether you are genuinely outraged or not, if you get on television and cry about the death of a lion and rail against the cowardly practice of hunting dangerous animals at night, you will get a surge in popularity because practically everybody out there is loudly feeling the same way via Twitter. This is something we can all join in on – an outrage that doesn’t raise uncomfortable questions of race, gender or sexuality, that doesn’t seem to target any significant cultural group – it’s a good, old fashioned pecking party directed at one man. And splashing all over every innocent individual that man knows. But we wont worry about that – can’t think, pecking.

If we were really serious about stopping hunting, rather than having a hatestravaganza on someone who can’t kick back, our rage would be focussed on the people who routinely issue permits to kill big game animals for sport. We would be trying to put enough pressure on them to change their ways and find some other means of funding their wildlife reserves. But we’re not. Which means that it can’t possibly be big-game hunting that we’re actually concerned with. What we seem most concerned with, in this instance, is finding safe and popular targets for frenzied outpourings of hate. Which, if you think about it,  is a kind of hunting in itself.

Daesh. No, Daiersh. Daaaeeiioorshe. Ahhh, F*ck it – ISIS.

When a horrifically violent terror organisation takes by storm a territory about the size of Tasmania and uses it as a base for the re-introduction of slavery, the rape of minors and the radicalisation and recruitment of tens of thousands of people from around the world, obviously one of the first priorities of any government is to make long and tedious announcements about what the name of that organisation is. It’s a self-evident fact that slipping up in the all important area of language would be a fatal mistake in the fight against global terror. Our government is so serious about this that they have abandoned any attempt to communicate clearly on any other issue and, with almost spooky foresight, instituted this policy well before ISIS even emerged.

Now, the name that our government has settled on is ‘Daesh’, being a loose acronym for Al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. The justifications for this range from the ludicrous to the ignorant to the sensible, which would make it business as usual for the foot-in-mouth gang we inexplicably voted in at the last election. First and foremost is the refusal to use names that identify the group as Islamic or a ‘state’. This falls in the ludicrous (and possibly ignorant) category, as they are using an Arabic acronym that does both these things, just not in English. If just avoiding the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘State’ is sufficient, then the English equivalent of this acronym, ‘ISIS’, does the job equally well and means pretty well exactly the same thing. The other reason for using ‘Daesh’ is that it’s the name favoured by the group’s enemies as it is phonetically similar to words for ‘oppressor’ and suchlike in Arabic.

So, the name was chosen on the grounds that it doesn’t identify the group as an Islamic State, even though it does, but in Arabic, which nobody understands. Also, it is a derogatory pun, which is good, even though it’s in Arabic, which nobody understands. I think this kind of thinking is exactly what the word ‘loopy’ was invented to describe.

Apart from the serious cognitive dissonance and triviality involved in spending any time whatsoever on such a decision, it’s generally been a positive thing. It hasn’t caught on at all, with pretty well everyone calling the group ISIS, IS, ISIL or Islamic State, but it has provided literally hours of amusing television in which various government officials find themselves unequal to the task of pronouncing or mispronouncing the word in any consistent manner. I, for one, think that Julie Bishop suddenly looking rabbit-in-headlights as she realises she’s going to have to say ‘Daesh’, and then making three or four failed attempts at it, is comedy gold. Especially from a Foreign Minister.

But it does make me wonder – how much can our government (or anyone, for that matter), actually understand about this phenomenon if they’re still grappling with what the bloody thing is called? It’s a serious threat to our interests and allies, as well as to the global balance of power and what, for want of a better term, I’ll call the current world order. On top of all this it’s causing untold suffering and committing atrocities and war-crimes on a daily basis. So it’s definitely worth talking about and taking action against, but so far, our action and our talk have been equally misguided, ineffective and just plain old, garden variety stupid. Almost equal portions of time are spent mangling an Arabic dipthong and announcing draconian measures that are a gold-plated, red-ribbon gift to the online recruiters and ideologues of ISIS. If Abbott and the Islamophobes he unwittingly incites want to know why Australia has the highest per capita incidence of jihadist recruitment, all they need to do is find a mirror and take a good, hard look at themselves, preferably just after somebody has tattooed on their foreheads:

ALIENATION CAUSES RADICALISATION. YOU STUPID, STUPID BASTARDS.

 

 

How We Stopped The Boats

Remember the good old days? That long lost time when kids could be kids, the West was top dog in the Middle East and the most important thing on the agenda was a pathetically small trickle of refugee boats? Where did those days go? How did so many months pass so quickly?

It’s a different world now. The pretend crisis of the boats has given way to the pretend crisis of Islamisation and anxiety over a war that is being fought thousands of miles away over territory that wouldn’t have anything to do with us if we hadn’t helped invade it. And let’s not forget the terrifying phenomenon of a tiny number of people flying off to places we’ve never heard of to die in this war that’s got nothing to do with us. So terrifying, in fact, that it seems we had to rush through legislation to outlaw some activities that were already illegal.

But what happened to the boats? Did we stop them? And if so, how? Of course, we don’t ask the question ‘why’ because that sort of thing is for limp-wristed intellectuals who live in ivory towers.

Well, basically, we’ve stopped the boats… from being an issue. In classic parlour magician style, our fearless leaders kept the boats issue in their left hand whilst frantically waving the right at a series of imaginary problems until, basically, we forgot about the boats altogether. In some ways this is good, seeing that the whole thing was a non-issue to begin with. But the fact that our collective xenophobia and ‘not-in-my-backyard-ism’ was stoked to such a fever pitch in order to win an election has created the ironic situation where the boats have become, in fact, a serious issue. The measures that were taken by both parties in the leadup to the last election have created a situation where we, as a nation, are routinely guilty of practices that are questionably legal and unequivocally cruel.

The Manus Island ‘solution’ is a nightmare. People are living in tents, in baking heat of up to 50 degrees in the daytime, with limited access to basic sanitation. And a good proportion of these people are children. Some of whom are being sexually abused. Self harm and suicide appear to be either daily or weekly events and, most horribly of all, the internees of Manus have been assured that the means of their arrival guarantees that their processing will take longer than the 5-7 years that is already the typical waiting time. All this suffering and death because we were gullible enough to believe that a tiny trickle of desperate families represented some kind of threat to our way of life.

I began this post with the intention of being funny and ironic, but I find now that I just don’t have it in me. This situation is disgusting. We, the people, have behaved disgustingly. We ‘stopped’ the boats by voting for a policy of treating people so cruelly that they would not wish to come to us for help in their most desperate hour. And then, when it didn’t work, we allowed our elected malefactors to distract us from the fact that the upshot of these policies is a daily perpetration of what can only be described as crimes against humanity. And for once it’s not the Abbott government that’s to blame – both sides of politics were behind this horrendous situation, which means that it must represent the will of the people, which means that the fault lies squarely with us.

We cannot let this lie. Whether you feel that you’ve been tricked into endorsing the effective torture of men, women and children, or if, like me, you’ve been screaming and railing against it from the start, make your feelings known. I don’t want to sound like a ’60s throwback, but write your MP. Take the 11 or 12 seconds to sign some slacktivist’s petition. Organise a protest. Talk endlessly about it to whoever is unable to escape. Let this government know that we do not accept this shameful stain on our national honour. That we deserve to live in a country whose actions we can be proud of. Like we have for most of the last 114 years.

Whatever it is you can think of, just do it. And if I get to know about it, I’ll try to help. Not because I’m a bleeding heart liberal or a red socialist, but because I’m an Australian Citizen, with all the privileges that go with being one and, more importantly, the responsibilities too.

So, you agree with a fückwit…

A curious thing happened to me a few years ago. I found myself agreeing with a bunch of fückwits. Well perhaps that’s unfair. It was more like they were agreeing with me… but they were still definitely fückwits.

It was 2010, and a big year for Australia. Not only did we have our first female prime minister, we also had our first dead Catholic wizard. Meanwhile, over in nice, friendly Belgium, they already had 66 dead Catholic wizards, but they also had something that we didn’t – a nationwide ban on the burqa.

It was, at the time, an issue I hadn’t really thought about much before. I mean, like all good atheists, I had read The God Delusion, God is not Great, and The End of Faith, so obviously I was really smart and more than capable of thinking about it and coming to a sensible opinion. So I thought about it for a bit, and my opinion was that maybe, just maybe, banning the burqa could be a good thing.

My reasons were noble. Burqas are, after all, disgusting tools of misogynistic oppression, and perpetuate the idea that women are evil temptresses and men are slobbering sex-crazed idiots. They also can get pretty hot in summer, and don’t have enough pockets. And, I thought, maybe banning the burqa would send a message that those kinds of ideas are not OK. I was on their side, you see. It was for their own good.

Then I stumbled across a Facebook page, called “Ban the Burka in Australia“. And what I saw there kind of horrified me. Did you know, for example, that a burqa could be hiding Alan Jones?

Ban the Burka 1

Or that sometimes burqas walk around with no one in them at all?

Ban the Burka 2

Or that Australia is the last place on earth that allows them?

Ban the Burka 3

Or that soldiers died under our anthem to protect Christmas at school assemblies or something?

Ban the Burka 4

Then I started reading some of the comments. Comments from ordinary Australians, like me, who had genuine, ostensibly noble reasons for thinking that banning the burqa might be a good idea. Like these guys:

Ban the Burka 5

Cause “their” stupid. That says it all, really. Well, almost. Say hello, Andrew Moose:

Ban the Burka 6

Needless to say, views such as Andrew’s are repellent, and bring to mind the wise words of Ricky Gervais – ignorance may be bliss for the ignorant, but for the rest of us it’s a right fucking pain in the arse. The more comments I read, the angrier I became. How could people think this way? But then something started to slowly dawn on me, something almost as repellent as Andrew Moose – “I kind of think this way.” Sure, I didn’t want to ban the burqa because I wanted to wave my uncircumcised penis on the streets of Islamabad, but there was no escaping the fact that Andrew Moose and I were both in favour of banning the burqa. We may have been reading from a different book, but we had somehow found ourselves on the same page. And that wasn’t a nice feeling at all.

So I started thinking about it again. And I realised a few things that, in my initial haste to strike a blow against religious oppression, I hadn’t really considered before. Like people are able to make their own decisions, for example. And further ostracising an already repressed minority by locking them in their own homes perhaps isn’t the nicest thing we could do. And there are better ways to try and educate people about religious oppression. I very quickly moved from cautious, in-theory endorsement, to full-blown rejection – banning the burqa would be a colossally stupid idea. It would be like banning girls from school because you don’t want the boys to pick on them. Oh, and you’re worried that they’re bank-robbing terrorists.

In the few years since, I’ve occasionally found myself in a similar situation. For example, I used to think we should be able to burn Korans or flush consecrated Communion wafers down the toilet if we wanted to. I’ve crapped on enough already (not literally), so I won’t go into the details – suffice to say I had high-minded reasons at the time, but I no longer think we should do either of those things. Most recently, I learned that the Victorian Labor party was going to repeal a certain section of the Crimes Act that criminalised the deliberate transmission of a serious disease. That sounded to me like a reasonable thing to criminalise, so repealing it sounded like a rather silly thing to do. Then I read Bill Meuhlenberg. He also thought it was a silly thing to do, because… well… because gays. This worried me. But a little help from a friend led me to Michael Kirby’s thoughts on the matter. Guess who had the better insights on the issue – the bigoted, hypocritical, fundamentalist Christian, or the respected former High Court judge?

So what did I learn from all of this? Well, for starters, I learned that good intentions are lovely, but they don’t always compensate for shitty opinions. And that sometimes people’s feelings are more important than my noble ideals. The one thing that really struck home, however, was this.

Agreeing with a fückwit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong, but it should at least make you think.

Because chances are, the fückwit hasn’t.

Shorty Wanna be a Thug

Let’s say my name is Abder Mohammed Moussa. Let’s say that I was born in this country, in the fine city of Sydney, some time in the late seventies. Let’s say that my parents were refugees from Iran – my dad was an atheist and my mum a civil rights activist: two categories that guaranteed death in the homeland and refugee status in this land, the country of my birth. Let’s say that the government at the time persuaded my parents that a Moslem services hub existed in Lakemba, and that this was therefore the very best place for us to stay.

Let’s say that I went to school in my local neighbourhood, surrounded by local boys and girls, laughing, brassing, making a nuisance of myself in fast food outlets and shopping malls, all in the great Australian tradition of larrikinism.

So years pass by. I marry someone, have some children and start working on becoming a pillar of the community. I go to RSL raffles. I join Rotary and the Lion’s Club. My wheel alignment business becomes one of the major employment options in my neighbourhood. I spend about as much time as the average Christian does actually thinking about God – which is practically none at all.

Then all hell breaks loose.

9/11. Gulf 2. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq. Bali, 7/7 and Boston. All of a sudden, my name produces difficult questions. The young lads I hung out with are inevitably contacts of interest from ASIO’s point of view. My faith – never something I thought all that much about – becomes a major concern. It seems that every hand is turned against me. People who I’ve known for years are suddenly forensically interested in every detail of my faith and upbringing. They ask me questions I’ve never actually known the answers to. The news is full of not-so-veiled inferences about crazy Moslems and people look at me suspiciously on public transport. Especially if I’m carrying a bag. The only people who seem to have anything nice to say to me are on Youtube wearing balaclavas and holding RPG launchers. Then, to cap it all off, one very early morning my front door gets kicked in and a bunch of officers who refuse to identify themselves are taking all my computers, asking me questions about my local Imam, the people I go to prayers with on Fridays. They seem to find it impossible to believe that my attendance is mainly about community – about making friends in my neighbourhood and keeping my devout wife happy.

After a fun-filled few days in a white room with no windows, I’m turned loose. Everyone on my street looks at me like I’m Osama himself. The busted door and remains of police tape don’t help. Nor the plain van parked across the road day and night.

Obviously, all this makes me feel like an accepted and valued part of a community. Not, however, the one I grew up in. My completely understandable reaction to this kind of thing is clearly going to be along the lines of knuckling down and loudly proclaiming that I’m part of ‘Team Australia’. Mainly because I don’t want to be dragged to a paddy wagon in my underpants again. And possibly booking a flight to Syria, where there are people who really understand me.

This hypothetical is not all that far fetched. Okay, so the name I made up is ridiculous, but the circumstances are drawn directly from the experiences of people I’ve met, drank with (yes, alcohol) and worked with. From the Morroccan I knew who disappeared off the face of the Earth after announcing his intention to join Hamas to the Indonesian family who appear to have been raided on the strength of a lone anonymous call to a hotline and membership of an iffy mosque. Ordinary, hard-working people who spoke with Aussie accents and tried desperately to take more than ten years of suspicion, marginalisation and abuse with a sense of humour.

If any or all of these people become a threat to Australia, I know exactly who and what I’ll be blaming. Here’s a clue – it won’t start with ‘Is’ and end with ‘lam’. The real culprit starts with an ‘H’ and ends in ‘ysteria’. For as long as we are unable and/or unwilling to distinguish between radicalised and non-radicalised Moslems, we will continue to largely create the threat that we are currently most afraid of. Just as grinding poverty and police brutality creates gang culture, marginalisation borne of hysterical ignorance creates radicalism.

Shorty wanna be a thug in Compton. In Sydney, Moussa wanna be a Jihadi – in much the same proportions and for much the same reasons.