The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

We No Longer Deserve Democracy

I know some people with right wing views. Obviously, they’re all bigots, homophobes, racists and Nazis. But that’s alright, because apparently, as a leftie, I’m a bleeding heart, elitist, Islam loving atheist. And a Nazi. As far as I can make out, both the left and right wings of Australian politics are made up exclusively of people who wish to push insidious foreign agendas in order to bring about the destruction of our great nation whilst simultaneously stamping on the faces of the poor. So we’re screwed, basically.

This presents a very big problem. On the one hand there is a bunch of power and money worshipping fascists who wish to abolish education, social security and, to judge from their online presence, spelling. And on the other side of the fence are people who wish to flood our country with foreign criminals arriving by boat and spend every cent of public money on people who refuse to work. Especially if they’re foreign. It’s very difficult to see a way forward, unless, of course we place our faith in the basic decency of human nature.

But even this is problematic. If I’m to believe what I read, nobody in the entire world is well-intentioned. Either they want to destroy our heritage and kill God, or they want to funnel all the world’s money into the hands of the world’s plutocrats. And they always have such dastardly reasons for wanting these things. Either they’re evil extremists, foreign agents, war-crazed capitalists or ultra-fascist monsters. Or, in a lot of cases, it would seem that they are mentally defective lunatics.

Give me a fucking break.

The only mentally defective lunatic in this particular situation is the one who thinks that this is how the world really works. Liberal, Labor, Greens (to a certain extent) – all these parties have one thing in common. They are run by people who entered politics because they wanted to help – to contribute to the running of the country and, in some cases, to correct perceived wrongs occurring in that process. I can hear the chorus of tinpot cynics now rambling on about corruption, gravy-trains and trotters in troughs, but that kind of rhetoric is just cheap. In any group of people we can and must accept a certain amount of deviance, and the amazing thing about our politicians as a group is not their corruption, but their astonishing general probity given the opportunities for malfeasance and embezzlement with which they are presented on a daily basis. Compare our pollies with the ‘governments’ of Tanzania, Libya, Sierra Leone, the local governments of Indonesia or the absolute bloody shambles that pose as the governments of Italy and Greece, and you’ll see that we’re actually pretty well off for principled, hard-working politicians and civil servants.

But no, we’re all on the brink of ruin because everybody is either a ‘leftard’ or a ‘teabilly’ and must be seen and judged by those terms and those terms alone.

Let’s please, if at all possible, just try to grow up a little bit. Our system of government, the way in which we attempt to find the balance by which optimal government can be achieved, is basically adversarial. This means that people of differing opinions, beliefs and ideologies, through opposition and compromise, work out a way forward. There is no room in this kind of system for zealotry, absolutism or hate speech. We need to remember that the people on both sides of politics are people. And that it’s impossible to persuade any person of anything by insulting and berating them. If we forget this, we play into the hands of real despotism. The more we carry on the way we are, the easier it is going to become for some clever dick to point at the electorate and say: “That’s not a polity, that’s just a screaming mob. We should remove all power from this dangerously stupid group as quickly as possible.”

Because democracy can only be effective when we, the people, are worthy of it.

INC – The Murky Line Between Church, State and Organised Crime in the Philippines

A few hours ago, a man called Isaias Samson Jr hastily called a press conference in Manila announcing that he had escaped from ‘armed detention’ in his own home and that at least 10 of his colleagues were being held in similar circumstances in homes and local prisons around the country. He attributed his detention to being accused of speaking out in public about his organisation’s financial dealings and leadership. He said that he and his family had been confined to their house by armed men, mostly corrupt army and police force officials, for over a week.

Isaias is not, as you might imagine, a high profile mafia witness or government whistleblower – he’s a minister in an evangelical church. One of his jobs is editing their newspaper Pasugo (God’s Message), which ran a story about possible financial misconduct in the higher echelons of his church. He denies knowledge of the articles which either makes him a very bad editor or a very ambitious liar. In any case, we need to take a breath and think about this for a second.

An internal conflict within a church organisation has led to the alleged unauthorised mobilisation of armed government officials and the (alleged again) abduction of at least 10 people and their families. How is this even possible?

Well, firstly, INC is not your average evangelical backyard outfit. It’s the third largest religious organisation in the Philippines, which is really saying something when you consider the extent to which the Roman Catholic Church dominates the country. The INC was founded in 1914 by a discontented visionary (or loony, depending on your perspective) called Felix Manalo who seems to have described a kind of low rent Lutheran arc through the religious establishment of the then US colony. Gathering followers on the strength of his denunciation of Catholic practice and theology, he slowly attracted followers and firmly established a family dynasty of front men for his ‘Iglesia Ni Christo’ (Church of Christ). Today, the INC has over 1200 chapels worldwide and a couple of Guinness World Records – one for largest gospel choir (close to 5000 strong), and one for largest mixed purpose arena, being a 55000 seat stadium constructed for the purpose of their centenary celebrations last year.

While the world records must be nice for them, the family dynasty side of things appears to be a little more problematic. A few days ago, relatives of the current ‘monarch’ of the church released a Youtube video pleading for help, claiming that their lives were in danger and that their supporters had been kidnapped by armed men. This was initially seen as a bit of a bizarre blip, but Isaias’ ‘escape’ seems to confirm that this might actually be happening. Some commentators are saying that the Manalo family members are making a power play, angry at having been marginalised by the current executive minister, Eduardo Manalo. Others are saying that recent revelations about financial misconduct and extortion have resulted in the excisement of those Manalos who have failed to keep quiet. It really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the INC congregation contains roughly 3% of the country’s electorate, votes in a block, and has a reputation amongst its followers for blind and total obedience. These people are a very big deal indeed – basically, if you want to run for president, you’re not winning without the endorsement of the INC.

What also matters is that nobody is even blinking at accusations that the INC could use its influence to extort millions of dollars from various local governments and commit fiscal malfeasance on a breathtaking scale. Sure, they’re denying it, but nobody has even suggested that such action would be improbable or impossible.

This is deeply, deeply worrying. In a state that purports to be democratic and secular, there is a religious organisation who can influence, intimidate and extort governments and (apparently) suborn the country’s armed forces into illegally detaining people who are inconvenient to them. Whatever the ins and outs of their internal squabbles, the real take-away from this is the potential power of rich, indifferently sane organisations if they are allowed to expand unchecked and infiltrate the mechanisms of the state.

This is not to say that we should immediately ban and patrol all church members. But it beggars belief that a church as crazy as this one could have been allowed to become so large and influential. INC is very much a restorationist and end-times church that believes all other denominations are apostates and that their first minister was Jesus Christ’s last messenger on Earth. In this country, believing crap like that would seriously limit your options in government employment, largely because we don’t hand out security clearances to cult members. In this particular case, we can see the tip of the iceberg of implications of failing to check and monitor what are, in effect, subversive, insidious and just plain whacky organisations as they form and grow.

And disturbingly, the INC is not a million miles away in doctrine, beliefs and power, from many of the church organisations currently operating in the USA. In fact, it’s pretty certain that the USA is where the first Manalo probably got his template for how to build a major church. One can only hope that the US, with even more at stake in terms of firepower and power in general, can get better at limiting the influence and operations of radical, apocalyptic and messianic lunatics.

Two Minutes Hate

I’m so angry!

The world is full of bigoted idiots who are beyond comprehension!

How could they do this to those poor people WHAT WERE THEY THINKING IS THIS 1950?!!!!!

And so on.

Such, such are the joys of the internet news cycle, deliberately outraging humans for over ten weeks, or however long some of these ‘publications’ have been around. Articles and headlines designed to pick up and amplify any departure from an arbitrarily set orthodoxy, regardless of how trivial or irrelevant the information is, appear to be the order of the day. Patiently working through articles about racist police, bigoted workers, ignorant politicians and sexist everything-on-the-face-of-the-Earth is not a rewarding activity. We find articles that are retracted as fabrications, articles that are clearly not even tenuously related to their headlines and, the most common, articles that entirely lack context, balance or research. A moslem person complains about discrimination and the right runs headlines like: MOSLEMS DEMAND CHANGES TO LAWS, while over on the left we get something along the lines of: SHOCKING MISTREATMENT OF MOSLEM WORKERS THAT YOU WON’T BELIEVE. In the tabloids, of course. Respectable broadsheets don’t sully themselves with this sort of thing. They just report that the tabloid stories have been reported, and that such reporting is outrageous.

I’ve heard it argued that this kind of crap is healthy – cathartic and ‘good for the blood’, whatever the hell that means. I can certainly agree that it is a lot of fun. Outrage is such a liberating emotion. It allows us to shed any notion of a multipolar world, turning everything into clear, easily comprehensible, binary black and white. Good and bad. Left and right. It’s a revival of the simple days of childhood when everything came down to goodies and baddies and when a facility for effective argument and a talent for name-calling were one and the same thing. So, okay – it feels good. But so does most childish idiocy.

In the early days of internet news I found this sort of thing amusing, but now, like most childish things that people fail to outgrow, it’s sinister. Sure, on a pragmatic level we know that outrage is one of the very best ways to drive traffic to a news website, along with titillation, sickly feelgood sentiment and humour. So it’s understandable that so much of our news content contains the words ‘shocking’, ‘naked’, ‘perfect’ or ‘hilarious’. The emphases on sentiment, skin and comedy are probably pretty harmless beyond their trivialising effect, but the outrage card is worrying.

What constant promotion of outrage does is to divide the world into mutually incomprehensible, incommunicado warring camps. The world sharply divides into a binary system of orthodoxies, constantly at war both with each other and themselves. The destructive impact is double-edged. On the one hand, people from the other orthodoxy are known to never say anything that should not immediately be ridiculed. It’s possible, for instance, for a right wing commentator to be mercilessly lampooned by the left for saying that welfare benefits should be increased. The pointy-headed, shouty solution is simply to accuse them of not wanting enough of an increase. And then be outraged by that. Internally, loud and verbally violent attacks are levelled at people who dare to have shades and nuances of belief outside the absolute partisanism that seems to be required by the online environment. Which means that for some reason, being in favour of interventionist government and social welfare comes, for no reason, with an expectation of virulent anti-hunting sentiment, atheism and organic living. Which is ridiculous for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that none of these ‘extras’ has anything to do with leftist or rightist politics.

While I am aware that a big part of this phenomenon is driven by a multilateral experiment with user-driven content, I also think that the time has come to pronounce findings. Basically, the ‘user’ as a collective entity is a hapless, brainless idiot. Letting it decide what it wants to read is like putting a puppy in charge of its own feeding regime. It’s time to experiment instead with professionalism and purpose, where journalists choose and research material based on their duty to inform and editors check and publish accordingly.

 

Creationism and End Times Thinking in the US Presidential Race

Iowa is known largely for possessing many reasons for not visiting it. Prominent amongst these reasons is the First Assembly of God Church, a statement of whose beliefs can be found below.

http://www.indianolafirst.com/new/believe/

For those who can’t be bothered poring over the witterings of crazy people, I will summarise. This is a church that believes literally in the Bible as a document to be used for everything from ethics to lawmaking to science. It believes in the end times and the rapture – that at some point in the future faithful Christians will levitate into the heavens leaving all us heathens behind to be ruled over by Jesus Christ in Israel for 1000 years. There are solid reasons to be worried about this belief from a geopolitical point of view (not to mention the mental health aspect). They also believe in speaking in tongues, Christian faith healing and other assorted lunacy.

Why should anyone care?

Well, aside from the fact that they have a large following and a significant role in ‘educating’ children to believe that the world is 6000 years old and made of cheese (I made up the cheese bit), no less than 3 of the Republican US presidential candidates are visiting the church and therefore seeking the endorsement of the group. A superficial examination of the situation will lead us to conclude that this isn’t really a serious problem. The three candidates in question are Tea Party crazies and outliers of the primary campaign. The church itself is widely lampooned in US mainstream media, largely receiving coverage for the same reason that well-to-do English matrons took their children to visit Bedlam. At a deeper level, however, is the underlying problem with the mere existence of such candidates and such churches.

A sufficiently significant minority of the US population to fund and support no less than 3 candidates in the most expensive political race in the world is apparently perfectly happy with this kind of thinking. This in itself is worrying but not especially dangerous. While we may spit and rail against silliness and superstition everywhere, there is no real harm in the fact that a majority of Americans believe in angels. There’s even some comedy value, which, on balance, makes the world a better (or at least a funnier) place. Where the real worry exists is in end times beliefs – the belief in rapture, apocalypse and, most importantly, the rise of Israel in the end times.

What this means is that current and potentially future serving members of the US government either believe or subscribe to the belief that the existence of Israel as a single state is key to God’s plan and therefore non-negotiable. The implications of this are bloody terrifying and hardly need explaining. In fact, in the context of recent history, far from needing explaining, this fact explains a great deal in itself. It helps to explain, for instance, the USA’s violent swings of policy with regard to hegemony in the Middle East, its seemingly schizophrenic attitude to the various Israel ‘solutions’ and the frankly bizarre attitudes of many of its lawmakers to Israel’s neighbours.

So what can be done about it? It would be entirely wrong to prevent people from standing for election on the basis of their beliefs. It would be equally wrong to disenfranchise people on the basis of religion, tempting as this might be. It is, however, interesting to note that beliefs of this kind cut comparatively neatly down socio-economic lines. Basically, the poorer a person is, the more likely they are to believe this kind of nonsense, thus falling prey to cynical manipulation by televangelists and their ilk. So we can conclude that the prevalence of beliefs of this kind are a direct index of the wealth gap and poverty in a country like the USA, and that the key to eliminating or minimising the influence such beliefs lies in the promotion of equality and the spread of prosperity. In short, we should probably stop laughing at these people and try to improve their station in life so that they shed this kind of craziness on their own.

Ummm… is it Stop the Boats or Hire the Boats?

So the UNHCR and the Indonesian police have accused us of paying people smugglers to go back to where they came from. The response from various members of cabinet was “No we didn’t! Ur… I mean, um… no comment. Boats. Stopped. Us. Quack quack quack.” Which is up to our government’s usual high standards of communication, so nothing unusual’s going on there, clearly. Our response internationally was along the lines of “I know you are, but what am I?”. Ms Bishop, reacting rather like an angry life partner accused of negligence, or a Soviet era Foreign Minister, answered allegations of iniquity by passive-aggressively accusing Indonesia of being too messy to be worth discussing it with. And as for the PM, it’s business as usual. Quackspeak and vague comments about “on water” matters. “On water”, by the way, is meaningless. The only time any fleet unit isn’t on the water is when it’s in the graving dock, which would mean that the government should also refuse to comment on the ceremonies of Colours and Sunset and the operations of the ship’s welfare fund. Why oh why did we elect a government that doesn’t speak English?

As the allegations currently stand, we have some witnesses of intermediate credibility claiming that Australian Customs officials paid out over 30000USD in order to persuade a boat crew to turn back. Now, I don’t mean to cast doubts on the honesty of asylum seekers – it’s just that, in my experience, they’re generally very tired, sick, confused and non-English speaking: not the best qualifications for understanding exactly what is going on around them. But, assuming that the unanimity of their testimony and the supporting testimony of the crew and the Indonesian police add up to this allegation being true, what does it all mean?

Common sense would dictate that contributing money to an ongoing illegal enterprise must be against the law, but the fact that everybody is very carefully avoiding the word “illegal” would suggest that it is perhaps a little more complex than that. I don’t really see how, but there it is. What it tells us definitively, however, is that this country is being run by irresponsible, unprincipled cowboys. And that these same cowboys, when confronted with their misdeeds, will react with spectacular unintelligence. None of which is new information.

So no, I’m not particularly excited by this issue. Whether our egregious and embarrassing government paid people smugglers or not, the fact remains that our asylum seeker policy is xenophobic, inhumane, questionably legal, unjust and, viewing the issue of “boat people” in its wider context as an actual problem, deeply, deeply stupid.

 

Unprotected Transit

I catch public transport a lot. Over the years, I’ve developed a coping strategy which involves headphones and Rage Against the Machine playing very loud indeed. This blots out the ugliness and inanity of the world and allows me to view my fellow passengers with a kindly eye. Even weird beards in purple tracksuits attain a kind of grace when viewed with the right soundtrack. It occurred to me, however, that years of doing this had deprived me of quite a lot of incidental data, so I decided to try an experiment. For one week I did the trains and buses of Sydney shorn of my auditory armour.

Apart from the constant drone of petrol and diesel engines, the absolutely everything that beeps at disturbing intervals and the ever-present white noise made up of tyre roar, wind, footfalls on concrete and the tinny drumbeats of other people’s headphones, what I heard quite a lot of was other people’s conversations.

Two schoolgirls discussing some kind of political crisis within their tutor group:

“I’d be totally happy to do what she wants, but why does it have to be like just after recess? That’s like the worst time of the day. Noone can ever get back on time and there’s like a double free the next period. What the hell are they thinking?”

A shamble of junkies complaining about the iniquities of Centrelink requirements:

“How’m I s’posed to get a fuckin’ job when they keep hasslin’ us to prove that I’m tryin’ to get a fuckin’ job? I spend more fuckin’ time fillin’ in their forms than I’d spend at fuckin’ work.”

A suit quacking endlessly into his phone:

“Look, if that’s their take on it then I’d suggest that we just roll with it – we can’t be expected to pick up every little thing there is and the way they seem to understand the agreement would indicate to me that there’s a mismatch between their understanding of our deliverables and ours, and, at the end of the day, it’s ours that really counts.”

What all these people are saying, albeit in very different language, is: “It’s not my fault”. And it’s not just these people. Over my headphoneless week I heard the same motif, in different words, again and again and again. It’s not my fault because ‘politics’. It’s not my fault because ‘other people’. It’s not my fault because ‘the system’. This is all wrong. Always and forever, no matter what, everything in our lives is emphatically our fault and nobody else’s. Here, in the disproportionately affluent West, the fact that I’m not a super-rich rock star must come down to either a lack of capacity or a lack of effort – mine in both cases. The reason that after 25 odd years in the workforce I am still as poor as a church mouse has nothing to do with artistic temperament or arts funding or any of that guff. It’s simply because I have never once attempted to manage either myself or my money. It is my fault.

The same principle applies to the nation at large. If we do not have the economy, the laws or the government that we would prefer, we can’t really look to anyone but ourselves when it comes to laying blame. Assuming, of course, that we are interested in living in a reality untempered by self-delusion. Why we are so terrible at doing this is a mystery to me, and one which I intend to resolve as follows: Tomorrow, the headphones are going back in.

 

Nope Nope Nope

Yesterday, an Indonesian fisherman encountered a refugee boat just off Aceh, saw the state that the passengers were in and decided to take them ashore. That fisherman’s name is Muchtar Ali and, in the area of humanitarian aid and compliance with International Law, Fisherman Ali would appear to be better qualified for a leadership position than PM Tony Abbott.

When confronted with a boat jam-packed with desperate asylum seekers stuck in a game of border protection air hockey between three nations, Mr Ali assessed the situation, made some brief inquiries, and then made a decision that was in line with both SOLAS and the UNHCR. Mr Abbott, when confronted with the same situation, did nothing for several days and then said “Nope. Nope. Nope.”

Okay, to be fair, this was part of an answer to a question regarding Australia’s willingness to resettle some of these refugees. Mr Abbott did use several more words, some of which even contained more than two syllables, but the media have accurately (and gleefully) captured the essence of his response.

Leaving aside the breathtaking shambolic idiocy of making such a statement in such a context… no, actually, I can’t. This is just too consistent with the apparently deliberate foolishness displayed by this government both during their campaign for election and their time in office so far. The contemptible assumption that engaging in the grossest kind of mindless, ill-considered, subhuman, jingoistic, xenophobic populism is the most effective way to engage with the electorate is both insulting and infuriating. It is even more infuriating that, in the case of the last election at least, this assumption was correct. Australia – if this is the best that we can do with representative democracy, then I am afraid that it is definitely time for us to go straight to the naughty corner. Yes, I know I’m using childish idioms that don’t mean anything, but apparently this is how we do politics these days. We should be ashamed of ourselves. I know I am.

Given how effective this kind of imbecility has proven to be, though, I’ve decided to give it a try:

  1. The dudes on the green boat are refos.
  2. They can’t be sent home.
  3. We can’t yellow card them for getting on boats.

So, in the language spoken in Abbottostan, the appropriate legal response to our international posture, the entirety of our border protection policy as related to asylum seekers, and our utterly stupid response to the current situation is:

Nope. Nope. Nope.

 

P.S. For those of us who prefer to be treated as beings capable of reason, the relevant law is given below.

  1. “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it..” (UNCRSR Article 1)
  2. “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion” (UNCRSR Article 33(1))
  3. “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.” (UNCRSR Article 31, (1))

Sleaze On Our Beaches and Rocks in Our Heads

Today I want to talk about something quite big and complex. In order keep it light and easy, I plan to take a leaf out of the conservative playbook.

Basically, take any big idea and say it’s just like something else. So, when talking social policy, ethics and the law, I can say something like: “The nation: it’s like a family, right? We all just have to get along.”

This way I can not only complete two whole sentences (no mean feat for some of our public figures); I can also avoid having to discuss anything at all to do with social policy, ethics or the law. “The economy – it’s like chip-shop, yeah? And our relations with the rest of the world – well, they basically boil down to [insert sporting metaphor].”

Brilliant! It doesn’t matter that, say, a chip-shop bears about as much resemblance to the economy of a medium-sized Nation State as a cap pistol to a thermonuclear warhead, despite the fact that they can be said to do roughly the same thing. What’s important is that people know what a chip-shop is. That way, when I stop talking, they’ve understood all the words I’ve used, and therefore believe I’ve said something which sensible.

So today I want to talk about our relationship with mass media, its effect on our perception of what we know, and, more importantly, what we actually end up knowing as a result of engaging with it.

Right. Here goes.

The Entirety of the Mass Media can now be understood if we say: “It’s like the Manly Daily, isn’t it? That’s a newspaper, right?”

The People (all of them) of the Commonwealth of Australia are reducible to whoever it is that gets the Manly Daily on a regular basis. People are all the same, basically, right?

Happy? Okay, neither am I – but let’s go ahead anyway.

For those of you who ended up in the wrong parts of Sydney, The Manly Daily is the organ of communication for ‘the beaches’. Whilst it rarely goes so far as to run an actual news item, it does do an excellent job of keeping us all informed about various happenings within our community. Council meetings, house prices, art shows, gigs, locals who have done well – all of it prompt, accurate and cheerful. This is seasoned with a bare minimum of court news and the occasional opinion piece. As a means of staying connected with the wider community, it really is a publication of considerable merit (no, really – I mean it).

There are however, some things at which the Daily has always been utterly crap. Like news, for example. Or social commentary.

Case in point – yesterday’s paper carried the front page headline “Sleaze on our beaches (videos of sunbathers uploaded to social media website)”.*

What’s basically happened is that somebody’s been recording and posting videos of women on the beach. Just like those blokes in Cancun, Ibiza, Ipanema, Miami – you get the idea. The videos go up under the tag line “Sexy Girls”. Mr Kay, the man behind the copy (or at least with his name above it), is outraged. He states that it is unacceptable to ‘secretly’ film people in a state of undress and then publish that footage without their knowledge or consent. In support of this contention, he even went so far as to consult an academic specialist in the area of social ethics. Unfortunately, all that he seems to have got out of her was a quote containing the words ‘creepy’ and ‘pervy’. Equally unfortunate is this person’s apparent lack of authoritative knowledge in the areas of ICT, philosophy of technology, media law, copyright law or privacy law.

Which I guess is just as well as, for some reason, the decision was made to print three screenshots from the actual video right next to an article complaining loudly about the existence and publication of these images. Sure, the Daily has made some effort to hide faces but, considering how much else of them I can see, this makes no sense either. As far as I can tell, this journalist has ‘secretly’ surfed the net to find these images and then published them without the knowledge or consent of the people who are in them. Which is an outrage, right?

Now, Mr Kay knows his stuff. He’s put in legwork and done his diligence, researching Youtube and looking at women in bikinis in a spirit of outrage. He spoke to a lawyer, who informed him that taking pictures of people in a public space and then publishing them online is probably not illegal. He also spoke to the Department of Justice, who pointed out that there are laws against filming people’s private parts and private acts. He also pointed out that it’s difficult to call voluntarily stripping half naked in order to loll about in a public place a ‘private act’.

So the more we think about this issue, the less it seems to deserve the name. This, in fact, is exactly why asking me how I ‘feel’ about an issue will get you a five minute rant. Issues are too important – they should be thought about first.

In this instance, thinking and proper research would have raised the following three points.

  • Every famous beach in the world has similar videos associated with them (and their women) on Youtube. In a twisted way, we could perhaps see it as a positive that we have joined a club that includes Cancun, Ibiza and Ipanema.
  • The article suggests we should ‘demand’ the removal of the material in question. This would indicate a lack of awareness with regard to what Youtube actually is. They will generally remove content on the basis of a single, pro-forma complaint. If there is to be a fight with anyone, it won’t be with them.
  • Most critically, he seems to fail to understand that the Youtuber is doing, albeit more crudely, what he himself has presumably been doing for a significant portion of his life. Getting pictures of stuff people like to look at and putting some words next to them in the hope of generating some interest.

These failures in understanding lead me to my point.

We talk airily about having ‘discussions’ and ‘conversations’ based on issues that are highlighted in the media. I contend that this simply isn’t likely, or perhaps even possible. So often, issues that arise in the media are being written about by people who don’t actually understand any more about them than you or I. And then, in order to generate interest, the tendency is to frame the entire issue, whatever it may be, in the strongest emotion possible.

Think about it – how many of us are experts on Middle Eastern power politics and history? Very few. So think about the last conversation you had about Israel. I’m willing to bet it ended in a flurry of ad-hominem insults, some very dodgy history factlets and some even dodgier statistics. And, most importantly, lots of angry shouting. Every conversation seems to end up emulating, on a very small scale, the conflict. Why?

It’s simple – the data that is coming in to us is many things: brilliant, rubbish, insightful, idiotic, accurate and ludicrous. Which means we can’t really trust it. Problem is, though, that the sheer amount of it also means we’re generally disinclined to check it. So the end result of all this information input is that we are no longer certain very much at all. What we do know, however, is exactly how we felt about stuff. In the case of Israel, the emotion that sells is generally outrage, and that’s what we end up retaining.

Is this the media’s fault? Hell no. At no point in the history of the written word has a journalist’s role been to do our thinking for us. They record and interpret, and that’s that. Is it the government then? Once again, that would be an emphatic no. They’re supposed to speak for us – enact our will, so to speak. This doesn’t really work if they’re also telling us what that will actually is. So who, in fact, is responsible for keeping us informed? Whose job is it to ensure that we actually understand the world that we live in?

Or, to put it differently, who is ultimately responsible for the shape and contents of your mind? Obviously, it’s you. Mr Bryn Kay, fearless hack for the Cumberland group, is responsible for his own failure to view his story intelligently prior to publishing it and it is my responsibility – mine alone – if I decide to react as stupidly as he did.

* http://newslocal.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

 

 

So, We Wrote a Book About a Robot Dolphin…

0730 Sunday morning is a time when I am usually thinking about crawling home to sleep off whatever bestial excesses I have committed the night before. Last Sunday, however, was different. I found myself standing outside an office block with a crazy biologist while waiting for a bunch of women to let me in. Okay, so it wasn’t all that different apart from the fact that I was sober and ready to work.

The work in question was the Write A Book In A Day (WABIAD) Challenge. The idea is that some foundation I’ve never heard of challenges teams of writers and illustrators from around the country to write, illustrate, print and bind a children’s book in 12 hours flat. Those participating in the challenge spend a few weeks whoring around for sponsorship, then show up on the appointed day where they are given a set of parameters. If the project is completed successfully, the book goes in for awards consideration. Whether we write a damn word or not, all the money we’ve collected goes to the Westmead Children’s Hospital Cancer Unit. At 0800 sharp, the email came through with our parameters. I can’t remember them exactly, but the basic idea was that the book had to be for 13 year olds and had to include a dolphin, parliament, a waiter, an entertainer and crossing the country. We also had to use five random words. Our fearless leader, the Ditmar Award winning author Zena Shapter, has a much better idea of what the hell we were supposed to be doing, and has written about it here.

As for me, I was still disoriented by unexpected sobriety, and much of the early part of the morning is a blur. Suffice it to say that we brainstormed and came up with a kickass, knife-throwing circus grandmother, a junior hacker protagonist, a race across country pursued by sinister mercenaries dressed as waiters and the fact that ‘dolphin’, in certain circles, means underwater surveillance robot. I’ll leave you to guess where that little chestnut came from.

It was an amazing day. I’d never written collaboritively before, and it was a joyous surprise to discover that a room full of writers – arbitrary, precious, moody, self-involved and supercilious as we often are – were able to suppress ego, frustration, pride and all our other wonderful character traits in order to co-operatively create a cracking good story. It was a refreshing reminder of just what exactly this writing palaver is all about – the central goal is to create, and everything else takes a back seat, including one’s self.

It was also interesting to see other writers’ working rituals. Zoya, who was sitting opposite me, had the same habit of putting in headphones in order to blank out the world. I doubt she was listening to the same Wu Tang Clan album I was, but it’s the principle that counts. Kris, on the other hand, just went into a trance. I could see her on the other side of the room, hunched over and furiously storming at her keyboard like a mad scientist playing the pipe organ in a subterranean basement. Kylie, professional as always, leaned back ergonomically and tapped away, looking for all the world like someone who had nothing on her mind but her hair, whilst clearly punching out an astonishing volume of high quality, professional narrative. Leah, sitting over behind me, spent her time frowning intensely at her screen, clearly and inexplicably unhappy with everything appearing on it – a state of dissatisfaction that became even more mysterious when I read her pages. And let’s not forget Madi, lumped with the hardest chapter of the book – exposition – a ball of cheerfully nervous energy, cranking out the spine on which all our work would have to rest. Our fearless leader, Zena, took on the difficult and thankless task of opening the literary show with chapters 1 and 2, and sat quitely in her corner, tapping away at her laptop and patiently answering the stupid questions we would all fire at her from time to time.

Except me, of course. I was too busy bopping along to Rage Against the Machine and frantically deleting repeated occurrences of the word ‘fuck’ from my manuscript.

In the midst of all this, Mijmark, the crazy biologist, scribbled away at astonishigly good character portraits on photoshop, uncomplainingly chopping and changing as our various verbal vagaries morphed the characters miles and miles away from their initial, agreed physical descriptions. And then there was Sue, eminent art historian and academic, sketching and painting breathtakingly perfect scenes and objects, pointing at her extraordinary creations and complaining that she’d really ‘mucked’ them up. Not in any way I could detect, Sue.

So basically, I got to watch a crack team of creatives at work, united in a good cause and inexplicably taking a foul-mouthed, dissipated idiot like me along for the ride.

At the end of the day, we wrote over 12000 words and created an impressive portfolio of beautiful illustrations. Leah’s heroic work on the design software meant that we were able to submit electronic copies of the book bang on the 2000 deadline, while an elite unit of scissor wielders put the paper copy together. I was outside having a smoke.

We called it ‘A Dolphin For Naia’. It’s got car-chases, gungfu fighting, knife throwing, angsty teen psychological drama and, of course, a robot dolphin. What more could anyone ask for?

I feel privileged to have worked with so many distinguished and talented creatives, and to have been able to make my own small contribution to making the world a slightly better place. I also feel slightly astonished that I was able to put down 3300 words without a single sex scene, fatality or occurrence of the word ‘fuck’. Even if it was a very near run thing…

I want to sincerely thank all those who sponsored us for the day, and I hope this little insight into our particular madness is some small return for your investment, over and above the very real assistance and (hopefully) enjoyment you have been able to give to all the kids fighting cancer in one of Australia’s, and the world’s, best hospitals.

Big ups go to Australian Doctors International for donating their office space, and to Leah for asking them to. Equally big ups to all our anonymous sponsors – you know who you are.

I’m aware that many of you will be kicking yourselves at having missed out on the chance to chuck money at our masterpiece… I mean, Westmead. For you I have stirring and beautiful news: Sponsorship is open until the end of the month, so please feel free to jump on board this excellent cause by going to WABIAD and sponsoring us. Our team name is the Northern Beaches Writer’s Group. Every cent goes to the foundation and every little bit helps.

And for those of you who want to read the book – watch this space!

 

I Don’t Care About the Great Barrier Reef

Scrolling through my social media feeds recently, an item entitled: “If you care about the Great Barrier Reef, read this article…” popped up. I scrolled past it. This made me realise something. This was that, basically, when you get right down to it, I don’t give a flying toss about the GBR or the environment in general.

If you were to press me for an opinion, I would say that I am in favour of measures (even drastic ones) to protect, conserve and preserve. But if you were to ask me how I felt on the issue, I would honestly have to say that it leaves me cold and indifferent. It simply isn’t one of the things about which I have any deep or visceral feelings. Poverty, injustice, greed, violence, oppression – stuff that involves doing bad stuff to humans – that all makes me gut-twistingly furious. Outrage pours out of me in great, profanity riddled waves on subjects like ignorance, bigotry, racism and conservatism, reliably and instantaneously.

But I’m only one person. And one person can only truly care about so many things. By extension, then, a small group of people may be able to care about a few more things, collectively, but it’s going to be far from comprehensive.

And this is why we all need each other. If we want to live in a world that is moving as fast as it possibly can toward a solution to its many and varied burning issues, then the best likelihood for achieving this is if we all – every single one of us – participates, acts or contributes in some way to the various causes that we as individuals care about.

It is simply unacceptable to subcontract caring and activism to a few organisations and individuals. From a global point of view, we all live in the same house and it is therefore the responsibility of each and every one of us to take a hand in cleaning it. If we leave it up to just a few, things are going to get missed. This kind of communal covering of the bases is one of the key components of the grand experiment of civilisation.

This is why I find the insidious growth of slacktivism, learned helplessness or just straight up selfish apathy to be so disturbing. We can’t expect to concern ourselves only with filling our faces and pimping our investment properties and expect everything to just come up roses. Communities, cities, nations and civilisations are all made of only one tangible working part – the part that gets up off its arses and actually tries to do something to leave the world a better place than they found it.