The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Why I am an atheist – The first bit

It’s a sin to kiss girls for pleasure.

Or at least, that’s what the Catholic religious studies teacher said to his class of impressionable 13-year-old boys, on an otherwise uneventful day, at an otherwise unremarkable school, in Sydney’s north west. While most of the boys nodded their heads in solemn approval, and a few struggled to stifle their sniggers, one of the boys did neither. For that boy, something about the teacher’s pronouncement just didn’t make sense. So he sat for a moment in ponderous silence, until he was struck by a sudden realisation.

“Oh my god!” he blasphemed internally. “That means it’s OK to kiss them as punishment! And it’s OK to kiss boys for pleasure.”

Needless to say, Thomas went on to become a Catholic priest, and an expert in Canon Law. Funnily enough, I also happened to be in that class, but I was struck by a different thought.

Why else would you kiss girls?
_____

Now that I am an atheist, it’s easy to look back at events like that and say, in a Wonder Years voice, that that’s when I knew. That was the moment. That was the first, small tug on the thread of my religious belief, that led to the unraveling of my entire Catholic cardigan. It’s also easy to say that it was the reason I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 19, but if I’m being honest, it had little to do with either at the time. The truth is that I was an insufferable little holy child, up to my holy little eyeballs in Jesus. And my teacher’s idiotic pronouncement on kissing, while slightly puzzling when I was 13, didn’t announce itself as completely idiotic until much later.

Until that happy thought dawned on me, however, I had a religion to immerse myself in. So after being born, somewhat ironically, in the City of Churches (now known as Radelaide), I set about Catholic-ing the absolute shït out of it. I prayed. I learned my Catechism. I gave up lollies for Lent (well, sort of). I had my Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation. I went to confession and told a celibate old man that I was a really shït 13-year-old. I had that same celibate old man tell me that if I said three Hail Marys I’d be turned back into a not-quite-as-shït 13-year-old. I asked for, and was given, a missal for my birthday. I went to Mass. I capitalised the word “Mass”. I accepted the absolute, mind-mashing lunacy of transubstantiation. I went to Mass and believed that I was eating a thin, tasteless wafer made of actual Baby Jesus. And when I ate Baby Jesus, I made sure to have the priest put Him straight on my tongue, lest I get some Baby Jesus on my hands, and then put my hand in my pocket, and then put my pants in the washing machine, and end up drowning poor Baby Jesus in warm water and OMO (no, I’m not joking). I wore a scapula. I said the Regina Coeli every midday during Lent, and the Angelus every midday otherwise. I had a guardian angel, who I named Raphael. And when I went to bed, I prayed for my elder brother’s immortal soul – out loud – while he was trying to sleep on the bunk above me (he was very grateful for the help, and didn’t think I was an annoying, pious little shït at all).

You might wonder why I felt the need to pray for my brother’s immortal soul. I mean, let’s face it, Sydney’s North West is a long way from Sodom, even before Hillsong moved in. But chief amongst our Catholic duties was going to Mass every Sunday, so we went to Mass every Sunday, until one day my brother decided not to go to Mass every Sunday. This was, embarrassingly, quite big news at the time. “But… but… we have to go to Mass on Sunday!”, I protested. Now, you might think that, being a child, my protestations were of the “it’s not fair that I have to go and he doesn’t” variety. Looking back now, I wish they were, but the truth is much more naff.

You see, one of the Ten Commandments is to honour the Sabbath. And according to the particular brand of Catholicism that I was exposed to (Opus Dei), that meant going to Mass on Sunday. Not going to Mass on Sunday therefore constituted a mortal sin – a sin considered so heinous that, if left unforgiven, warrants an eternity in Hell. So, essentially, if my brother skipped Mass and then got hit by a bus before going to confession, he’d end up in Hell all because he hadn’t gone and pretended to listen to a celibate old man turn a cracker into a miscreant Jewish tradie. I’d then be sad because I wouldn’t get to see him for all eternity because I was definitely going to heaven on account of my weekly consumption of the aforementioned tradie. This was a problem. So I did what any little brother would do and told one of my teachers. He then suggested the one course of action that was absolutely guaranteed to not accomplish anything – prayer – and I thus found myself annoying the living shït out of my brother, by praying for his soul from the bottom bunk. He of course told me to shut the hell up. And I of course prayed that god would forgive him for telling me to shut the hell up. And if I could wish for anything right now, I would wish that none of this actually happened.

In any event, my prayers had little effect. My brother did not start going to Mass, and he did not start going to confession to confess the fact that he wasn’t going to mass. I, meanwhile, began to wonder why god would send a perfectly nice human to hell for all eternity, for the perfectly understandable crime of not spending an hour listening to a celibate old man turn a wafer into Baby Jebus and then not going to confession to pretend to be sorry about it. The whole thing seemed a little… well… silly. Not to mention mean.

It was at that point that my parents and I decided that perhaps Opus Dei wasn’t the most sensible version of Catholicism, and we thought it might be a good time to throw our luck in with the Jesuits.

So we did.

And that’s when shït got interesting. But you’ll have to wait for Part 2. So there.

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

Hillsong’s Not So Happy Clappy Underbelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Take (non-excisable) Drugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Utterly ineffective
  • Deeply irrational
  • Actively harmful

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

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

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

Nah, we’re not racist at all

Yesterday morning, as I was walking from Wynyard Station to Barangaroo, trying my hardest not to sweat and failing miserably, I saw a woman about 20 metres in front of me ask a man for directions. This was not a particularly noteworthy event in itself, except for the fact that the woman was brown-skinned and wearing a hajib, and the man was a tall, white dude dressed in skin-tight white pants, a pale blue polo shirt, a navy blue suit jacket, and suede loafers.

As I walked closer, the bright-eyed optimist in me couldn’t help but think, “Aww… good on ya’ Australia”. For, where once we had Stolen Generations and White Australia Policies and Cronulla Riots, we had now crafted a society where a brown Muslim woman felt comfortable enough to approach what appeared to be an utter douche-nozzle and ask for help.

My optimism was soon somewhat tempered by the fact that, as well as being completely devoid of socks, the man was also devoid of helpful directions. But, you know, at least he hadn’t just ignored her, and Sydney’s a big place, and no one knows everything, and we are still waiting for someone to invent some kind of device that has maps and helps you find things. So… partial credit.

I started to approach the woman myself to see if I could help, but an Asian man leapt into action before me. I was, however, now close enough to hear the woman’s request, and as I walked past I heard her ask the nice Asian gentleman if he knew the way to Barangaroo.

Yes, that’s right… Barangaroo.

This whole thing literally occurred on the walkway leading directly there. And as I saw the Asian man point 20m behind him and heard him say “It’s right there”, all I could think about was how the first man didn’t know the way to Barangaroo, despite knowing enough about its location to be in the process of leaving it.

Maybe he didn’t speak English. Or maybe he was in a rush. Or, given he was dumb enough to forget socks, maybe he really was dumb enough to not know the name of the suburb containing the three towering office blocks right behind him.

All I know is that it couldn’t possibly have been because he was a racist, entitled jerk, because this is Australia in the year 2018, and we’re all nice now.

Right?

Scott Morrison, Lilluputian Soldier Of God. And Strawberries.

scott morrison proves theory of evolution

Just now Scott Morrison has announced that he will kick off the new parliamentary year with a new religious freedom bill, based on the recommendations of the Ruddock Report, which has been deemed so uncontroversial and even handed that it’s not to be released until parliament ceases business. Both of these actions are, to my mind, equally courageous, and representative of just how representative this particular government has been in its long history of operation, stretching as it has over several weeks.

Now, I know the naysayers will dismiss Scott Morrison as a spineless, mindless populist, with a policy focus millimetres deep, but miles wide and covering everything in the path of this last hour’s prevailing political wind. Nasty satirists like Sean Micaleff have pointed out that Scott Morrison is routinely thrown to the ground and hopelessly pinioned when wrestling with the most basic of English sentences, and have made a string of cheap and unfunny jokes about this. I’ve included a link here, for your mature disapproval and censure. But I’m not one of those nay-sayers – I say nay to nay-saying, and in this kind of stance, I’m exactly like my role model, that admirable example of gratuitous Lilliputian aggression, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

I personally believe that our prime minister is a man of deep integrity and courage. I mean, we only have to look at the strawberry tampering case to see a prime example of this. No sooner had some disgruntled farm worker begun secreting needles into fruit then Scomo leapt bravely into action, publicly eating a carefully chopped and searched strawberry, and then announcing admirably harsh penalties for food adulteration and tampering. Never mind that these offences were already illegal, or that no judge in their right mind would actually apply the new maximum sentence, given the already extant and well used options for escalation already within the criminal code. No, what matters is that our national leader stood fiercely up in the face of adversity and courageously created a single law which doubled up on a collection of laws already in existence, as a symbolic way of showing us exactly how effective he could be.

And as if that weren’t enough, the intrepid Captain Scott Mark II is up to his old acts of derring do once again. This time, he is leaping to the defence of that poor and underprivileged minority, those 94% of privately funded schools which are religious. Now, of course, not all religious private schools are mega-rich elite schools. And it’s nonsense to suggest that the ones which are have a Christian duty to help their poorer brethren instead of foisting their support off onto us, the taxpayer. As Scott Morrison says – we may be secular, but we’re not a godless country. And I heartily concur. I may be an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in god. The logic there is simply unassailable, and a fine example for the children and educators whose rights he intends to impinge upon for their own good. It’s very simple, really – being simultaneously secular and ‘not godless’ is a classic example of doublethink, a concept from Orwell’s 1984, and Scomo is leading the nation in highbrow literary references by example and not, as some critics say, simply incapable of understanding simple sentence logic. Or words.

And it’s these very critics whom Scotty is defying with his courageous courage in the face of the dire threat posed by people who insist on letting other people think what they like – a right, incidentally, which Scomo has never had a need to exercise, since this would involve that pernicious left wing practice of thinking. The fact is that the sneering liberal elites have directed a storm of utterly unjustified abuse at… well… Scott’s Liberal elites, for defying the will of the people and going against the broader values of the nation. How could our dear leader be a rank and spineless populist when he’s doing something so unpopular? And I agree. This is just like the great battle of the strawberry, fought so heroically in that distant epoch of seven minutes ago when another aggressive Lilliputian – I mean, Liberal – woke up to find himself in C-1 with his hands covered in his mate’s blood.

Nay-sayers may say what they like (presumably, it’ll be ‘nay’), but what Scomo is doing here is identical in terms of political courage, importance, and relevance to the population at large. In a nation where there is no specific prohibition on the provision of religious instruction in private schools, where each state has radically different views on religious instruction in public schools but not a single one bans anything short of single faith proselytisation, and where the law is sufficiently vague and undefined (NSW law, for example, doesn’t really even define ‘education’) that it’s very difficult to see how anything other than the religious protections already implied in the constitution could apply – it is in such a nation that our very own high priest of happy clappy tongue-speaking is proposing a bill to cover the freedoms that religious institutions already hold by de facto.

Now, while this might seem like a waste of time, I assure you it isn’t. You see, under the current system, the school and/or state is deemed to be in partnership with the parents (the children don’t really get a look in here) in the provision of education, with the state being the senior partner. Should a parent object or be dissatisfied with something like, oh, I don’t know, the teaching of young Earth creationism in the face of all reason, evidence, and sanity, then they can either remove their child or have their objection tested in court. This is obviously a gross injustice, and by formalising religious exemptions at a federal level, what Scott Morrison is doing is enshrining the right of any educational institution to program hapless children to think that dinosaurs were planted as a trick by angels, or that gay people will burn in hell forever. And for this, he is certainly a hero worthy of the kind of adulation people in that part of the religious spectrum reserve for great leaders like… well, I can’t actually think of anyone who’s done anything on this small and redundant a scale, so let’s just call him a trailblazer. Scott Morrison should be lauded for burning this path back to the fourteenth century, and I for one am astonished to live under leadership of this stature.

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.

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

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

Or have we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, so predictable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope that helps!

It’s Okay To Be (Far) Right

scott-morrison

I accidentally support far right causes all the time. Just the other day, I saw a friend of mine beating a black person across the road and I raised my hand to admonish him for his political incorrectness but, would you believe it, I forgot to actually wave it around and it ended up looking like a Nazi salute. And then there was a few weeks ago when I was walking through the city and, abstractedly whilst thinking of this and that, as you do, I suddenly realised that I had accidentally scrawled the Neo-Nazi ’88’ on every flat surface I had passed. I, of course, had been contemplating on infinity, but because of the curvature of the earth and parallax error I’d done my infinity signs sideways. And only yesterday I was teaching one of my students when she asked me if the holocaust was wrong and, being distracted by the sheer volume of non-white people passing up and down the street, I misspoke and said ‘no’. Could have happened to anyone. These little errors are so normal and natural, and I can only thank my weirdly Middle Eastern white male god that nobody with cameras was around, as that’s the kind of thing that can end careers and ruin lives for no reason at all in this PC gone mad kind of world.

And this is why I deeply sympathise with the senate amidst the spurious media beat up of their accidental support of a Pauline Hanson motion using a far right white supremacist slogan. How could these people, people whose business, by the way, is politics, have known that such a motion might have been racist? How could anyone have divined that a motion passed by one of the senate’s most eloquent and statesmanlike senators of sanity might be located at the gibbering and drooling extreme end of the far right? I mean, really, who could have known this?

This is just another of those unfortunate accidents. The government, worried that their crazy Christian fundamentalist pick for PM might not be far right enough for the far right silent majority we hear so much from, were innocently dipping their toes into the cesspit of race politics when they suddenly found that their hard right faction’s views on race and politics were not as popular as they thought they might be. Now some cynics might point out that these people have been consistently wrong, and some might even utter the libellous opinion that the conservative faction of the Liberals is a miscellaneous grab bag of bigoted lunatics, but they would be wrong. This is exactly the kind of innocent mistake anyone could make.

So we have a decision to make some time next year. Do we support these hard working warriors for the cause of the much marginalised middle class white male, or do we give in to the leftist extremists and let spurious considerations like slavish devotion to unrepresentative views on religion, a laudable but innocent tendency to discriminate along the lines of race, sexuality, and religion, and the natural and inevitable state of being bought and sold by their large corporate donors – are we going to let little things like this get between us and the kind of good government we used to get in the 1950s?

Well, I guess that’s up to you.