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.

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.

An open letter to Israel Folau

Izzyyyyyy! Maaaaaaaaaate!

How’s it going, champ? I guess that’s a silly question though eh mate. It wasn’t that long ago that you were raking in the big bucks and you were loved by everyone and you’d helped us lose our 16th Bledisloe Cup in a row. Then a few short months later you’re out on your arse and only liked by Christians and Andrew Bolt and you’re reduced to begging for money and you probably won’t get to help us lose our 17th Bledisloe Cup in a row. I feel for you mate. That really sucks. What do you think has sucked the most?

I reckon it would have to be not being able to play for your country any more. They say there’s nothing quite like pulling on that Qantas Wallabies jersey and losing a Bledisloe Cup for your country. I wouldn’t know cos I never got the chance to lose for the Wallabies. Not because I wasn’t capable, mind you. I reckon I could lose a game of rugby like nobody’s business. No, I never played for the Wallabies cos my mum wouldn’t let me cos I don’t have any muscles and I’m a bit of a sook. She was right, of course, but it still hurt.

I would have loved to represent my country. Imagine being able to represent the country of ANZACs and Dame Nellie Melba and Cathy Freeman and Russell Crowe. How proud must you be to be given the opportunity to go into battle for us, your fellow Australians, who were one of the first people to give women the vote and decriminalised homosexuality and recently had over 60% of the population vote for marriage equality, despite religious opposition to all three of them. Oh I guess it also sucks to lose a $4 million contract.

Or maybe the worst thing was having to choose between representing your country and telling atheists and adulterers and drunks and gay people they’re going to hell. That’s gotta be a tough choice. I mean, not many people like the pious judgement of people they don’t know, but that’s not your fault, Izzy. And people need to know these things.

That’s why I told the new Jewish guy at work that his people killed Jesus and he’s probably going to burn in Hell for all eternity. Shimon got all butt-hurt about it, of course, but Shimon loves getting butt-hurt, and I was just stating facts. What am I meant to do? Keep my opinion to myself? How would he know he was going to Hell? It was all fine though. The next day he came to me and told me that he’d thought about it and he’d completely renounced his Judaism, accepted Baby Jebus as his Lord and Saviour, and regrown his foreskin. So I guess I did the right thing.

Then there was that time that I told the CEO of my company that he’d lied about our projected profits. He tried to say it was just an unexpected experience deviation, but that just made things worse. “Try telling that to Jesus!”, I said with a chuckle. Yes we were at the Christmas Party but a lie is a lie no matter what time of year it is. Then I took his drink off him because he’d had two already and Jesus doesn’t like drunks.

Anyway, Izzy, the point is that you’re amazing. Just imagine how many liars have stopped lying and drunks have stopped drinking and rimmers have stopped rimming because of your Instagram posts. I only saved two people from Hell, but you’ve probably saved millions.

That’s all for now mate. I lost my job at the last Christmas party so I gotta go finish my resume. Good luck with the fundraising, and don’t lose hope. You’ll be back losing games for the Wallabies in no time.

Yours sincerely,

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.

Let’s talk about… Quotas

No, not quokkas. That conversation has been had already, and everyone agrees that quokkas are the cutest marsupial-rat-type-thing going. I’m talking about quotas – the idea that equality can be achieved via the implementation of mandatory levels of representation in proportionally under-represented groups. In other words… more chicks, less dïcks. Not that it’s all about chicks and dïcks, but more on that later.

So, why talk about quotas now? Well, there’s a federal election just around the corner. And here in the previously-not-too-bad state of NSW, an election has just been had. I say “election”, but there wasn’t even a democracy sausage at my polling station, so it was more like “standing in line without food”. But it wasn’t just the polling station that was short on sausages – according to the Sydney Morning Herald, only 34% of lower house candidates were women. The statistic was even worse for the incumbent Liberal party, where less than one in four were women. And if we head to Canberra, which everyone loves to do, we can see a similar picture in the hallowed and very manly halls of Federal Parliament, where more than three-quarters of government seats are occupied by the pasty blue-suited bums of Liberal men. In fact, the situation is so bad that one analysis suggests the Liberal Party could soon have more Andrews than women. And if that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

To everyone’s credit, it seems that both sides of politics recognise that this is a problem. The Labor party has had a quota in place since 1994, when it was set at 30%. Meanwhile, some guy in the government, who’s not even called called Andrew, said that “parliament is better when there is more diversity, and there is a challenge on our side to make that happen”. Good on ya, Daz… change your name to Andrew and you could really go places. But Daz isn’t the only one. Even the current temporary Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, conceded that “we are, I think, under-represented here in our parliamentary ranks”. Sure, given the statistics, his use of the “I think” qualifier is a little bit like saying “we are, I think, on a planet”. But he at least seems to be trying.

So… we can all see that it’s a problem. The issue, then, is what to do about it.

As I said above, the Labor party has already done something about it, by introducing a quota of 30% in 1994, and raising it steadily to a solid 50% as of right now. The Liberal party, on the other hand, has so far held off on an actual quota, preferring to… well… I’ll let ScoMo fill you in.

I am a merit person… Of course I want to see more women in the Federal Parliament. We have not done as well in that area as I would like us to do but the party members are the ones who have to take on that responsibility and they are the ones who have to make those decisions.

I have to admit, there is a certain logic to ScoMo’s reasoning, even if it is self-defeating. But we’ll get to that later. For now, we just need to ask ourselves one question – are quotas a good idea?

Through a purely outcomes-focused lens, we can see that, yes, they are a good idea. That is to say, if your aim is to increase the number of women in parliament, then making everyone increase the number of women in parliament will increase the number of women in parliament. And given that both sides of politics seem to be agreed that representative diversity is a great destination, quotas would be a quick and easy way to get there.

But is it the best way?

To answer that question, we need to look at why we’re having this discussion in the first place. Why are there so fewer women in our parliament, and in the parliaments of just about every other country on the planet?

Let’s go through the possible options.

1 – Chance

If we’re going to include all possible explanations, I guess we need to consider whether women and men are equally likely to be elected, but we just happen to be living in that one universe where a billion leadership coin tosses all came up males.

Thankfully, this explanation is ridiculously easy to dismiss. The plain truth is that for most of human history, if you were to randomly cast your gaze to one of the world’s cold thrones of power, you would almost always have found a couple of balls and a healthy sense of entitlement keeping it warm. And given the history of succession and property inheritance rules; rates of female employment; divorce law; attitudes to contraception, marital rape and abortion; and the need for a long and arduous universal suffrage movement, I think we can all agree that the current situation is less about chance, and more about the fact that kicking a four- or five- thousand-year-old habit can hurt like hell. Especially if you’re kicking it in the dïck.

In conclusion, I think we can safely ignore this one.

2 – Willingness

Given it’s not due to pure chance, another possible explanation is that despite being equally capable as men, women simply don’t want to be elected to parliament, so they don’t put themselves forward as candidates.

Historically, I think it’s difficult to argue otherwise. A woman’s place was in the home, you see. Men were perfectly suited to rule because they love to argue and yell and make laws about other people, and women were not suited because not only were they not even wearing suits but they were too busy looking after the kids and making doilies and being told what to do by men. Who on earth would take them seriously? It’s hardly surprising, then, that for a good long while women were a little reluctant to put themselves forward for public office.

And yet… quite a few of them did, and a story from my own family illustrates this quite nicely.

You may not be aware, but the first woman to be elected to the Federal House of Representatives (and Cabinet) was one Dame Enid Lyons, who was married to Joseph Lyons, the tenth Prime Minister of Australia, and also my great-grandmother on my father’s side. The first thing to note is that this means I’m kind of a big deal. The second thing to note is that, despite women being granted the right to be elected in 1902, Dame Enid’s trailblazing feat wasn’t accomplished until more than 40 years later, in 1943. But that’s not the family story.

In addition to being the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, and doing so while also raising 12 children, and being Commissioner of the ABC (created by her husband’s government), and living to a very respectable 84 years old, she was also kicked in the shins by my brother Daniel when he was three. But that’s not the family story.

The family story is that, when she first arrived at Parliament House, there were no female toilets. Yes, you read that right. Even more remarkable is that it’s not just a family story, it’s an actual fact, and even more amazing than that is that the first female toilet wasn’t installed until 1974. Given what I know about my family, I assume Dame Enid used to just go in Menzies’ filing cabinet, but that’s a story for another time. The main thing to take away is that it took us 50 years to give women the vote, 40 years to actually elect one, and 30 years to give them a toilet. And they still put themselves forward.

So, no, I don’t think a lack of willingness is the problem.

3 – People don’t vote for women

Of course, there’s always the possibility that no matter how many female candidates there are, people just won’t vote for a woman, because reasons.

In response, I would only suggest that if a bunch of 1940s Tasmanians managed to elect a ridiculously-named woman called “Enid”, who was a prolific baby-maker and married a man twice her age, then I don’t think the problem is with the voters.

4 – Ability

So… if it’s not due to chance, and it’s not due to a lack of willingness, and people have shown that they’re perfectly happy to elect a woman named Enid, could it just be that men are simply better at politician-ing than women?

This brings us back to our current temporary Prime Minister, who, as you will recall, is a “merit man”. Apart from having the worst super hero name of all time, Merit Man also has as his super-power the ability to always seek out and employ the best person for any job you care to mention. So when a Liberal party branch is trying their darndest to figure out who they should put forward for election, they just have to get Chief Wiggum to send up the Merit Signal (basically a Cronulla Sharks logo), and Merit Man will be there in a jiffy to pick the absolute bestest candidate for the job.

It’s a fine ideal. Who wouldn’t want to employ the best person for the job? It does, however, create an interesting perspective on the lack of female representation.

Just think about it for a second. You set up a system where you are absolutely determined to pick the best person for every job. But you end up in a situation where around four in five of your positions are filled by men. What could that possibly mean? Merit Man is never wrong… so… that must mean that… wait a minute… OMG! It obviously means that men are better than women! Right?

Well as far as I can tell, no one from either side of politics has tried to claim that men are inherently better at yelling in Parliament or going on taxpayer funded junkets or lying to their constituents or knocking down stadiums or stopping boats, which is apparently what being a politician is all about. So if no one is suggesting that men are actually better politicians than women, what, for the love of all that is holy, is the reason for so few women in parliament?

5 – Something else

We’ve ruled out chance. We’ve ruled out a lack of willingness. We’ve shown that people are perfectly willing to vote for women, even if they’re called Enid. And we’ve shown that no one is even considering the possibility that men are simply better politicians than women.

So, it has to be something else. And there is literally only one option left.

It goes by a few names. Systemic prejudice. Unconscious bias. Rampant misogyny. But at the root of it all, is something so simple and so ingrained in our collective conscious that we are apparently only just realising its full effect and extent. Good old fashioned sexism.

As I said, it’s the only option left.

_____

So what do we do about it?

To my mind, there are only two options. We can either reverse four or five thousand years of ingrained bias, or we can enact a simple fix that will guarantee the right result.

I think we should go with the latter. Because, as I said, kicking a four- or five-thousand-year-old habit can be tough. Especially when you’re kicking it in the dïck.

– Tim

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.

On The Sudden Love Of Bush

(AP Photo/Dennis Cook) 

This is not an article about the demise of the Brazilian, but rather of the sudden outpouring of bipartisan love for George H W Bush. Now I’m definitely not saying that this is completely inexplicable. Former President Bush was an undoubtedly moral man, and an important one. The Bush family belong, though in a very different part of the spectrum, in the same space as the Kennedy clan when it comes to great American dynasties. And Bush’s life after office was arguably exemplary, with friendships that reached across the aisle, across class boundaries, and which he leveraged for various altruistic and civic causes. And when it comes to his flaws, his affection for political expediency when it came to negative campaigning and dog whistling, his antediluvian attitudes to race relations, drugs, and foreign policy, these are certainly being remembered as well. One of my enduring memories of Bush is of him waving a bag of crack at a camera in the oval office, Bush having mobilised the Secret Service to buy him an astonishing quantity in Lafayette Park. I remember wondering if those agents actually believed Bush’s explanation of why he wanted the stuff, and also, given how quickly and easily they made the purchase, how often they’d had to do this in the past.

Bush’s war on drugs was an utter catastrophe, and as far as that goes, his legacy is people who went to jail in his administration and are still there for crimes like possession, and an appalling body count. And then there’s the natural targets of any war on drugs in that region. It’s really not too difficult to draw a straight line from US interventionism in the cartel homelands to the caravan pressing up against the US/Mexico border today. Quite a few people are also pointing out his attitudes to abortion, birth control, gender equality, LGBTI rights, AIDS, and a raft of other issues which are hot button topics today. Actually, I can’t just let the AIDS thing go as a casual mention. Bush’s response to the AIDS epidemic was classically inept and moralising, and it’s very easy to describe his do-nothing prudishness as lethal to a great many people. But context needs to come into play. Bush’s attitudes on these issues were not actually that far from the median for the time. It’s an unpalatable truth, but for those of us who were alive and sentient in those days, it’s not too hard to remember that our current and highly laudable embrace of all things minority was, in fact, far from being a mainstream or median belief at the time.

And here we come to the nub of all this affection for his memory. Whatever else he was, George H W Bush was a gentleman, in the patrician sense of the word, and as such, while it was always possible to disagree with him, it was never really feasible to dismiss him as an insane bigot. For me, his service record, both military and civilian, softens the lens through which I remember him. His publicly known attitudes to what relationship there should be between a president and the state, a president and their government, and a president and their citizens, were highly admirable. This is a man who very clearly did the best he could to serve his country and his people according to his own lights, however dim or bright we might consider those lights to be. So it is definitely by contrast that we surround him with the halo he currently enjoys.

And that’s really it, isn’t it? In contrast to the current POTUS, even Dubya’s starting to look good. To be completely honest, a faeces-coated burning sofa on a garbage pile looks statesmanlike and intelligent next to President Trump. But I really don’t think this should take away from the essence or core of this outpouring of feeling for the last of the warrior statesman presidents of the USA. I personally deplored George H W Bush’s politics, and disagreed, often vehemently, with almost every one of his broad policy positions. Such is the right and prerogative of everyone resident in the western world, given that every one of us is directly impacted by the direction and character of any POTUS. But George H W Bush never once gave the impression that he’d forgotten or didn’t care about this. He operated with integrity, courtesy, and an earnest desire to serve something other than (or as well as) himself. And what this does is present a stark and deeply depressing counterpoint to the current ‘leader of the free world’. So yes, I’m happy to go with the love for Bush, because what it really signifies is my profound disapproval of Trump.

In which I am proven to be an amazingly prescient genius person and not just because I know the word “prescient”

Hi there. I’m Tim. Sometimes I make predictions. Sometimes they are hugely false, like that time I predicted Trump would resign after six months because he would get sick of working eight hour days. Silly me… I should have figured he’d only work a three hour day. But sometimes… sometimes I prove to be amazingly prescient. Like the time I predicted this:

Once marriage equality comes in, the objections [to it] will stop. The bigoted fear-merchants who fought for so long, and warned of such dire consequences, will put down their tooth and nail, pack up their placards, and fade into obscurity.

You see, today marks the first anniversary of that time the Liberal government made us all waste $120 million to spend a few months vilifying the LGBTIQ community to re-verify the results of countless already-available public polls and decide on an issue that wasn’t the public’s business and parliament could have voted on for free. So it’s a perfect time for me to reflect on my prediction and check in on how amazing I can be. And lemme tell you… all signs point to me being quite amazing.

You see, I have noticed a little bit of a trend in conservative objections to progressive ideals, which seems to be thus:

  1. An injustice is recognised.
  2. A proposal is made to correct the injustice.
  3. We are told that correcting the injustice will lead to the wholesale destruction of society.
  4. The change is made anyway.
  5. Society is not destroyed.
  6. All the people who said society would be destroyed forget about it and move on to something else.

This exact sequence of events has played out in a multitude of historic advances. Female suffrage, inter-racial marriage, no fault divorce, IVF, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, to name but a few. In each case, we were told that to make the change would be to ring the death knell of life as we knew it, and usher in a new era of calamity and universal suffering.

We know, of course, that in each case, no such calamity ever came to fruition. Instead, we collectively benefited from a society that was more accepting, more kind, and one step further along the long path to true equality. Every time these disastrous changes were made, we saw that, ultimately, life went on, and after a while, most people didn’t care.

I should point out that, logically speaking, this does not at all prove that their objections were unfounded (there are many other reasons that prove that). What it does highlight, however, is the perfidy of their professed sincerity.

Let’s just think about this for a second. Female suffrage, we were told, would be an absolute disaster. One poster that depicted the dangers of female suffrage showed “a grim-looking man arriving home from work to a scene of domestic chaos, with weeping children, a dangerously smoking lamp, and a casual note attached to a suffrage poster – ‘Back in an hour or so’”. My god, that sounds horrendous! Can you even imagine? If you can’t imagine, the people of the time were happy to produce gems like this to help out:

Yes, friends… if women were allowed to vote, it would definitely, definitely result in never ending nagging.

So, with so much on the line, what did such people do when women were finally granted the right to vote? Did they fight to their last breath to have universal suffrage overturned? Are they still fighting today? Or did they all die from incessant nagging? The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “No”. I wonder why.

Which brings me to my prediction about marriage equality in Australia. We were told that it would destroy families. We were told it would result in people marrying their cats. We were told that there would be another stolen generation, which was a rather oblivious objection, coming as it did from the sort of Christians who instigated the original. Even I can admit that, if true, that would be a high price to pay indeed.

History now shows that they lost, as they were always going to. That’s not particularly interesting, given the multitude of polls that showed that defeat was inevitable. What is interesting, is what happened next.

And what happened next was… nothing.

Sure, there were a few whinges on social media. Lyle probably cried, not there’s anything wrong with that. But apart from that… nothing. No extended campaigns to reverse the decision. No marching in the streets demanding the maintenance of the status quo. No bills introduced to parliament to prevent this catastrophic change to Australian society.

Which means one of two things. They’re just a fear mongering bag of dïcks, or they don’t really believe the shït they’re shovelling.

And just to be fair, I’ll let them decide which.