The profound nastiness of the Turnbull government

29 Aug

pyne box

 

It was inevitable that any opposition by the ALP or Greens to Abbott’s reeking legacy, the proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, would provide the Turnbull government with the ammunition to  claim (with confected indignation) that both parties are creating an obstacle that thwarts an opportunity for same-sex marriage.

There are bound to be those who accept this warped inversion, however they are likely to be the same groups and individuals that reject marriage equality anyway.

What this situation reveals yet again is the profound nastiness of the LNP. This nastiness (there really isn’t a better word for it, their attitude towards their fellow humans is as base as that) has been evidenced in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s decision to deprive the unemployed and pensioners in order to fix his budget, and the vengeful exercise of raw power as illustrated by Peter Dutton’s ongoing implacability over asylum seekers and refugees. It’s reflected in the image that heads this post: even the dead are perceived as new sources of revenue for the LNP.

I don’t need to go on, the evidence of their nastiness is everywhere we look, and it multiplies as we sleep.

Nastiness is the Turnbull government’s default position. From the apparent banality of nastiness all manner of evils flourish, and if you ever doubted that it is being enacted daily, for you to witness, in our parliament.

Though the Northern Territory can’t be ever be taken as typical, the carnage wrought on the CLP this weekend gives me small hope. Citizens can become sickened by nastiness, and they can wreak havoc on the party of nasty when they’ve had enough.

There is not one rational reason to deny marriage equality. We are a secular state: religious arguments ought not to influence our decisions. The unholy alliance of religion and nastiness currently hold sway.

It’s my hope that the ALP hold out against a plebiscite. No Liberal MP has any obligation to honour a yes result. Those who touchingly believe a plebiscite =marriage equality need to disabuse themselves of that belief, because it does not. We could well go through the torturous process and still have necessary amendments to the Marriage Act blocked by MPs who are not bound to accept a yes vote.

At the heart of the demand for a plebiscite is nastiness, and a poisonous hatred for anyone who doesn’t fit a narrow definition of “normal.” The influence of pure nastiness has been overlooked in our arguments yet it is a powerful driver of irrational behaviour and you’d have to go a long way to find behaviour more irrational than that of Turnbull’s government in just about any area you can name.

There are rumours again that Abbott is preparing himself to challenge Turnbull’s leadership. Not only are they nasty to citizens, they are exceptionally nasty to one another. I would take great pleasure in watching the LNP continue to cannibalise itself. I doubt it would affect our governance to any great degree: they aren’t doing much of that anyway.

It’s my hope that the fate of the NT CLP is the Turnbull government’s future. Barely enough seats left to form a party? I’d go for that.

 

 

 

Morrison’s ethics & the Taxed-Nots

26 Aug

 

Does God want you to be rich?

 

Treasurer Scott Morrison and I have very different understandings of what comprises a “Taxed-Not,” a term it was yesterday alleged on Twitter he plagiarised from a Fox News anchor who coined it some six years ago.

Leaving aside the curly questions of whether or not it is possible to plagiarise Fox News and the length of time it’s taken Morrison to allegedly do it, the term is an ugly characterisation of human beings. So I naturally assumed it refers to those who are ugly in their behaviours.

When I first heard Morrison use it (apart from an immediate association with Dr Seuss) I thought, oh, the treasurer is referring to the churches, the mining magnates, the media moguls, the corporations, and the many politicians who rort the public purse for their private and/or ideological gain.

Friends, I could not have been more wrong. It turns out the “Taxed-Nots” are welfare recipients, and Morrison seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that if he takes from them what little they have, he will restore the budget to surplus.

Now I am, outside of my own relatively simple budget, financially illiterate but even I can see that taking the price of a cup of coffee from people on Newstart and pensioners is unlikely to curtail the budget deficit. I tried to begin a conversation with Mr Morrison about this on Twitter, but he blocked me. There are none so deaf as those that will not hear.

Perhaps I unthinkingly insulted Morrison’s faith. He’s a Happy Clapper at Hillsong, a Pentecostal outfit that believes God wants everyone to be rich and if you aren’t it’s because God doesn’t love you and if God doesn’t love you, you deserve what you (don’t) get because you are morally deficient. Like a Taxed-Not.

The term encapsulates a powerful, deliberately false dichotomy of wealth with morality and poverty with immorality that appeals even to the non-religious.

There are surely many avenues available to the treasurer that would go some way towards addressing the country’s allegedly parlous financial state. It would, for example, cost us a couple of billion less to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island  in Australia, rather than continue to bribe less developed nations to shoulder our responsibilities at the cost of some $55 million for two individuals.

Then there’s the $160 million plus marriage equality plebiscite: totally unnecessary if only the parliament would do its job.

Then there’s the $1.615 billion VET FEE-HELP loans rort. Yes, that’s $1.615 billion gone up in Joe Hockey’s cigar smoke.

Plus the ideologically driven and/or vengeful Royal Commissions, tax concessions to the wealthy, really, it can’t be that hard to grub up a bit more cash, can it, Mr Morrison? Try the almost 600 companies who pay little or no tax, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, for starters.

There obviously are people who rort the welfare system. But I suspect their numbers are inconsequential compared to the rorting  wealthy.

In the LNP universe the wealthy don’t rort: they are entitled. In the LNP universe poverty equals immorality and therefore lack of all entitlement, indeed, in the LNP universe if you’re out of a job you don’t actually deserve to eat & they’ll take another $4 off you to make that even more clear.

Morrison and his multi-millionaire boss Malcolm Turnbull bullying the disadvantaged into deeper disadvantage while the wealthy flourish. What would Jesus say?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dutton’s message: torture works

20 Aug

Torture Works

 

Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have  described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees,southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate.Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

Australia, Vietnam & white male supremacy

18 Aug


Little-Pattie-Col-Joye-Nui-Dat-18-Aug-1966

 

I don’t know who came up with the macabre notion of recreating the concert at which Little Pattie was performing when the Battle of Lon Tân commenced fifty years ago.

I don’t know who came up with the even more macabre notion of ABC TV’s Australian Story filming the recreation.

I do know that it should be no surprise to anyone that the Vietnamese government, citing the sensitivities of the people in Lon Tân and its surrounds, have, at the last minute, baulked at the notion of Australia recreating the circumstances in which that battle took place and refused to allow planned commemorations to go ahead.

I find it difficult to imagine that Australians would permit similar commemorations being enacted in our country, had we suffered the large-scale destruction wrought upon the Vietnamese by the US and its allies in a filthy war from which we finally withdrew in so-called “honourable defeat,” leaving a napalmed, land-mined landscape behind us and the communist regime intact.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and his ministers have expressed their deep disappointment in the Vietnamese government’s decision, and are particularly outraged at the last-minute nature of it. Perhaps the Little Pattie concert was too much of a stretch for the Vietnamese.

…the gala dinner, concert and the expectation of more than 1,000 Australians at the Long Tân memorial cross was seen as an insensitive celebration.

Yes. I get that. I would have expected Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to get that as well, and nip it in the bud.

However, Australia doesn’t care much for the feelings of brown people. There’s an example of this almost daily: indigenous youth in Don Dale. Asylum seekers and refugees in atrocious conditions on Manus and Nauru. The bribing of those countries and Cambodia to take refugees off our hands because they’re all brown aren’t they, so they should get on. The death of yet another indigenous woman in police custody. The conservative white male outrage over Section 18c.

The dominant Australian attitude as expressed by politicians and media would seem to be one of white entitlement: our sensitivities are paramount in the Lon Tân situation, not those of the brown people who cannot escape the repercussions of that war. We are apparently entitled to restage the entertainment of our troops, and if the Vietnamese want to stop us they are ill-willed spoil sports who will further destabilise our veterans.

Australians should never have been conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. They were treated hideously when they returned. Successive governments have dark histories concerning their attitudes to and neglect of war veterans. Accusing the Vietnamese of destabilising them is hypocrisy.

In neighbouring Laos, the arms and legs of children and rice farmers are still blown off when they step on land mines, fifty years later. I’ve stood on the Russian airstrip in Phonsovan, Northern Laos where the CIA conducted its “secret war” and seen the napalmed jungles, and the bomb craters outside the caves to which the villagers fled when they no longer had anywhere to hide. I’ve walked the Plain of Jars on a narrow path marked by white-painted stones, on either side of which there remains uncounted numbers of active mines. This is the legacy the US and we, its allies, left in Vietnam and Laos.

So the Vietnamese government refuses to permit a gala dinner, concert and large numbers of Australians at the memorial cross? I’m OK with that. Theres nothing to prevent the veterans already in Lon Tân from holding their own ceremony of remembrance. They don’t need Australian Story to do that.

We have never been invaded.* It’s one of our deepest collective fears. The arrival of a few thousand boat people causes us to construct a fortress around ourselves, and a border force in black shirts to protect us. We spend billions on keeping invaders out. We torture them, children and all, to dissuade other potential invaders. Yet we believe are entitled to perform our ceremonies in another country where we slaughtered its people in the service of the US for seven years.

That’s privilege. That’s entitlement. That’s white male supremacy.

*Some objections have been raised to this sentence, on the grounds that it seems to imply a denial by me of European invasion of this country, and the ongoing trauma of that invasion for Indigenous people. Australia has two distinct overarching populations: Europeans who invaded and colonised and now call Australia home, and Indigenous peoples who were invaded, colonised and displaced. I’m speaking from the European position, one that has the privilege of never having experienced invasion in this country we call home.

There’s never been a better time for white men & Section 18C

16 Aug

Racist Google?

 

Oh, that David Leyonhjelm! What a scamp he is! 

As you probably know, he’s making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, after Fairfax journalist Mark Kenny called him an “angry white man,”

I don’t think Leyonhjelm, a staunch opponent of 18C, is being hypocritical: he’s perfectly open about this being an opportunity to “test” the law, rather than a genuine case of offence inflicted or taken.

And it will be most interesting to watch the arguments for and against unfold: will Kenny’s comment fall into one of the many exemptions provided by 18D? Did Kenny intend to racially insult Leyonhjelm, or was he making a contextual point by mentioning the man’s colour? How can Leyonhjelm make a complaint at all, ethically speaking, if he’s not insulted or offended?

I remain astounded that white people continue to fight for the right to offend and insult people of colour. I understand that these white people believe they are fighting for free speech and of course they are, if you are of the belief that free speech equals unrestrained speech.

It’s inarguable that Section 18C curbs free speech. Of course it does. So do the laws that make it an offence to use foul language in public places, or to call police officers cunts when they’re attempting to restrain you or move you on. Why isn’t anybody complaining about these restrictions on free speech?

Insult and offence are subjective concepts, as Leyonhjelm repeatedly points out. However, Section 18C specifies that the insult and offence must relate to race, ethnicity and religion before it is considered insulting and offensive. Its ambit doesn’t cover insults such as you’re an arsehat dickwad, and offensive statements such as all your family are loser thieving pisspots and always will be so fuck off you sad cunt. 

I’m still struggling to come up with a pejorative comment about someone’s race, religion and/or ethnicity that isn’t offensive or insulting. Can anyone help me? Please use asterisks.

There’s never been a better time to watch two white men duke it out in the racial discrimination ring. Popcorn.

Music (& politics)

13 Aug
Equus-Header-1038x500

Equus

 

I’m telling you, if you haven’t heard a Mongolian throat singer perform George Gershwin’s Summertime you haven’t lived.

Bukhu, who has just been granted a Distinguished Talent visa by the DIBP, performed this feat last night accompanied by John Robinson (oud, Turkish baglama) Peter Kennard (percussion) and Bertie McMahon (double bass). Together they comprise the group Equus and they make music, rather than just play it very well.

Aside: I was going to write a warning top of this post stating that it isn’t political, when I realised that in fact it is. The political and human point to be made is that as I sat in the audience last night freezing my bum off in the delightful but seriously cold Pelican Theatre in Grafton, I thought that we, (we being all of us who can go to concerts, all of us who can perform in them and all of us who can read about them) are amongst the world’s most privileged people. I don’t feel guilt about that, but I do think the least we can do is to acknowledge our good fortune, and send forth a passing gratitude into the cosmos in the hope of counteracting some small portion of the dark matter in which we are almost entirely engulfed. As well as using our voices and our votes.

Back to music. Equus conjures up images of vast Mongolian plains and wild horses, fused with Turkish melodies to which the western ear must accustom itself. Just when you’re lost in the world created by this fusion, up pops Gershwin, performed by Bukhu using all four of his throat voices plus one that comes entirely through his nose. You laugh, out loud, in joyous delight, because this extraordinary performer is making music with such intelligence and wit, and he’s teasing you as well.

You’re in an enriched world, one without borders, and it’s a deeply nourishing place to be.

The day before I’d had a tiresome drive  from Lismore, tiresome because the goat track that is the Pacific Highway is finally being fixed and it takes forever to get home but fortunately for me, the Australian Youth Orchestra was on ABC FM playing Mahler’s first symphony which is not my favourite, but as with Leonard Cohen, I’ll listen to anything Mahler wrote.

The orchestra recently returned from a tour of Europe and China. While away, the lead clarinet made a point of playing a cadenza adapted from a piece of music specific to the city in which they were performing. This broadcast was from Melbourne, it was their homecoming concert and towards the end of piece by Katchachurian, the clarinetist burst into a virtuoso rendition of I still call Australia Home. Stuck at the road works, I laughed out loud at the wit, the intelligence and the unexpectedness.

It was another moment of joyous delight, brought to me by music. It was another moment of experiencing the richness of a world without borders.

This is why conservatives loathe the arts, and withdraw funding from just about anything that holds a possibility of being innovative and interesting. The arts dissolve borders. The arts are not respecters of sovereignty. The arts threaten to render conservative politicians obsolete and make them objects of pity and scorn.

Conservative politicians are unmasked by the world of music, as the intrusive, sad and ignorant pests they have become.

They do have a place. They’ve forgotten what it is. They need to get back to it. It isn’t nearly as important as music or any of the arts, and they know it.

Next week I’m going to see the Bangarra dancers, and spend some hours studying paintings. So I probably won’t be posting much about politics. Or posting anything at all.  🎵 👀 🎨 👏 😀

 

 

 

No, we are not “better than this.” We are worse.

12 Aug

 

Elie Wiesel

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton seems to be of the opinion that because people fleeing their home countries pay “people smugglers” for passage to Australia, it is perfectly acceptable for them to be subjected to every imaginable kind of suffering. He includes children in this belief.

Dutton’s world view is mirrored by politicians such as Adam Giles in the Northern Territory, who share the narcissistic sense of entitlement that regards any perceived offence against them and their laws however mundane, however explicable, as a crime deserving of extreme punishment guaranteed to destroy the spirit.

In short, if you offend me I’ll destroy you. The crime here is offending these men, and both Giles and Dutton are profoundly offended by recalcitrant indigenous youth in the first, and waterborne asylum seekers in the second. You can see their indignation seeping out of every shining pore. They are incapable of seeing context: they can only perceive offence.

This overblown sense of offence and indignation, coupled with a sociopathic inability to imagine the conditions of lives other than their own, is the breeding ground for an extreme cruelty that ought never to be coupled with power, but unfortunately all too frequently is.

The manner in which successive immigration ministers, including those from the ALP, have treated waterborne asylum seekers beggars belief. They have been able to do this because enough Australians share the same narcissistic sense of entitlement and belief that being offended, personally, collectively and nationalistically, is a crime for which, unlike real crimes, punishment must be unrestrained and infinite. So kids in Don Dale don’t ever deserve a chance at life. So waterborne asylum seekers and refugees don’t ever deserve a chance at life. They’ve both offended white Australia in a variety of ways, and so they must die, metaphorically and sometimes literally.

It isn’t even so much what they’ve done. It’s the fact that they had the bloody gall to do it in the first place.

When outrages such as Don Dale and the Nauru files erupt, a lot of people get on social media to claim: “We’re better than this.”

Well, here’s the thing. We are not better than this. We’ve been torturing indigenous people since invasion day and we’re still doing it. We’ve been torturing waterborne asylum seekers for almost two decades, and we’re still doing it. We’re still voting in politicians who’ll continue the barbaric practices we don’t really want to know about as long as we feel we’re “being kept safe” from boats, or thieving black kids.

There are no innocent bystanders in these situations. We all know what’s happening. We’ve always known about our off-shore concentration camps. Keeping your mouth shut is enabling torture. These crimes are perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless because “good” people keep their mouths shut. Well, here’s another thing. You aren’t a “good”person if you keep your mouth shut. You’re an enabler of torment and torture.

As Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs pointed out yesterday, the only way anything will change in our treatment of asylum seekers is through public pressure. The government knows this as well, which is why they don’t allow anyone to see the camps and the suffering people in them. This is what every government intent on the torment and torture of a particular group do: they herd them into facilities where no one can hear their screams.

And when we do finally hear their screams, as we have since the Don Dale revelations, Adam Giles blames those who bring their screams to our ears, and Peter Dutton blames the victims for screaming.

Think about that. I mean, really, really think about the mind sets of Giles and Dutton and those who support them, who shoot the messengers, and blame the victims for the suffering they inflict upon them.

Then get on social media and say “we’re better than this.” We aren’t. We could be, but we aren’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So they want to change 18c

8 Aug

Be Polite

 

Returned Senator David Leyonhjelm and new One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts both want rid of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Section 18c makes it illegal to carry out an act if: “(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group”.

There are those in both houses who support the removal or amendment of 18c, on the grounds that it collides with concepts of freedom of speech, though it’s slightly alarming to imagine what any of them want to say that requires the removal of 18c in order for them to be able to legally say it.

The section is a little over-written: a reasonable person can assume that if someone is humiliated or intimidated they have also been offended and insulted, and my understanding is that it is the words offend and insult that most aggravate the two senators.

Both Leyonhjelm and Roberts put forward the argument that offence is always taken, never given, and that each one of us has a choice as to whether or not we feel offended and insulted by the word or actions of another.

I find this notion particularly quaint coming from Senator Leyonhjelm: if indeed we can choose not to be offended and insulted, why does he so frequently choose to be angry and aggressive in reaction to others he feels have offended him? Especially on Twitter. He can get quite foul in that medium.

Leyonhjelm was apoplectic when The Chaser parked a van outside his house, and he threatened them with the police. Why did he choose that stressful and incendiary reaction if he’s in control of his feelings like he says we all should be?

Increasingly, this argument sounds like the justification of bullies for a perceived right to bully. I am tormenting you because I can, and you can choose not to be tormented so it’s your fault if you are.

What kind of person wants the right to behave like that towards another?

Of course it’s true that in theory no one can make us feel anything: we react and respond to others and those reactions and responses are influenced by all manner of prior experiences, and our degree of understanding of our own psychology.

Everyone is moulded by their individual experiences as well as by the social and economic systems in which we develop.  For example, if you suffer from, say, PTSD, you are less likely to be able to freely respond to distressing circumstances you encounter in the present, as one of effects of the illness is that it can make a present event indistinguishable from an event in a traumatic past.  Humans need models in our childhoods. We need to be able to learn how to choose our responses, this is not knowledge we acquire at birth. Some are taught better than others, some are not taught at all. The emotional life is by no means a level playing field, and saying we can all “choose’ not to be insulted or offended is like saying obesity is a choice, or poverty, or that we can all be millionaires if we only choose to.

Roberts and Leyonhjelm can take no credit for having being born white with the advantages that whiteness can bring, equally, those of ethnicities, race, colour and nationality that are frequently subject to hate speech had no choice in the matter of their birth either.

We are not islands: we are affected by others and we affect others. Leyonhjelm and Roberts’ argument is the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher’s belief that there is no society, there’s only individuals.

The question is not whether people should learn to be immune to feeling hurt and insulted when kicked by a donkey, but why do we tolerate donkeys who feel compelled to kick in the first place? The indigenous men and woman who took Andrew Bolt to court won their case, but Andrew Bolt has yet to adequately explain why he felt compelled to question their validity as people of colour.

This latter question would seem to me to be far more serious, and far more in need of urgent address than the removal or amendment of 18c. Why do these people want to amend or remove 18c? What will be gained from its removal, and who will profit?

I can see nothing to be gained, and a great deal that could be lost, unless it is your life goal to abuse those who are different from you, and if it is, you are the problem, not Section 18c.

By the way, we don’t actually have any constitutional rights to free speech in this country:

The Australian Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression. However, the High Court has held that an implied freedom of political communication exists as an indispensible part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution. It operates as a freedom from government restraint, rather than a right conferred directly on individuals. 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump & Clinton. Clinton & Trump

6 Aug

Clinton, Trump

 

I recently read a characterisation of the US presidential battle as a struggle between a neofascist catastrophe and a neoliberal disaster. This latter description of Hillary Clinton will not please those among us who believe, some ardently, that a US female president will be a triumph simply because of her sex.

It surely is worth noting here that there have been (and still are) female presidents and prime ministers in countries other than the US for some time, including our own Julia Gillard. The US is breaking its own glass ceiling, not the world’s. I don’t know that women have done much better than men at the task, and it is probably slightly delusional to expect or demand that we will: after all, female leaders have to work within the same long-established systems as do males, and no one person of either sex is going to smash those corrupt systems and make the world a better place.

This is not to say women shouldn’t be equally represented in politics: of course we must. However, I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t be better served fighting dysfunctional political orders, rather than pouring our considerable energies into the task of moulding women into the value systems of a hegemonic masculinity when once there, we can do little if our ambition is to keep our jobs.

On the question of entrenched and deadly systems of government, John Pilger argues in his Pilgeresque way that Hillary Clinton is a far more dangerous presidential prospect than is Donald Trump, partially on the grounds that Clinton is deeply embedded in a warmongering system whilst Trump is a maverick who condemns the Iraq invasion as a crime, and doesn’t want any trouble with Russia or China. Pilger continues:

Among Clinton’s biggest backers are the Israel lobby and the arms companies that fuel the violence in the Middle East. She and her husband have received a fortune from Wall Street. And yet, she is about to be ordained the women’s candidate, to see off the evil Trump, the official demon. Her supporters include distinguished feminists: the likes of Gloria Steinem in the US and Anne Summers in Australia.

Then there is the analysis of Trump as a self-saboteur, an outstanding example of someone who sets high goals while simultaneously working to undermine himself. Nobody in this narrative, not even Trump, envisaged his campaign coming this far, and the candidate’s increasingly successful alienation of significant supporters can be interpreted as the behaviour of a man who wanted the attention and publicity of the competition, but never really believed he could win it and is now in the process of finding a way out. Trump’s way, the author argues, is to behave so badly everyone rejects him, then complain that the electoral system is rigged and he is its victim. On the other hand, the author admits, Trump could simply be unhinged.

I’m grateful I don’t have to vote in the US election: it’s bad enough coping with our own. What I take from both situations is a sense that the old political order is in its death throes, a new one not yet born or perhaps not even yet conceived. What we have to work with are the dregs of democracy.

In the western world we’re desperately casting about for something better or at the very least, different. I can’t see Hillary Clinton as the answer, even though she has a vagina. She is solidly of the old order. Trump, like some of our maverick politicians, is different and difference is his appeal, even though he, like our mavericks, may be no better and could be worse.

I confess myself astounded at feminist support for Clinton. I have no desire to live under hegemonic matriarchy, anymore than I enjoy living under the constraints of hegemonic patriarchy. Neither improve the lot of women nor many men, other than those of the ruling class. I can only conclude we are living with the dregs of feminism as well as the dregs of democracy, and nobody seems to have any idea what might possibly come next.

 

 

 

Sexualise this

5 Aug

leopard print cardigan

 

I’ve just read a piece in The Conversation titled: Sexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers.

Who defines what constitutes sexualisation, and using what criteria?

Examples from the article: Highly sexualised clothing (a short dress and a leopard print cardigan) or a girl in a black bikini.

To the authors of this article a short dress combined with a leopard print cardigan is a signifier of a sexually easy female, and thus highly inappropriate when worn by a young girl.

I would not view any young girl wearing these garments (or any other garments for that matter) as a sexualised object. Would you?

If your answer is yes I think there might be something slightly askew in your perceptions, and you might like to ask yourself not why the young girl is wearing those outfits, but why you see her as a sex object because of them.

If as a consequence of perceiving that young girl as “sexualised” you decide she is less morally worthy and of lesser intelligence, you probably should ask yourself why, in your moral universe, a “sexualised” female (young or mature) is less worthy of moral consideration and inevitably of lesser intelligence, than a female you perceive as free from sexualisation.

In other words, why do you hold those views, and where do they come from? Are they any different from the views held by, say, racists? Are they even, perhaps, a tad misogynist?

The sexualisation debate as represented in The Conversation article is warped. Research criteria are based on the assumed authority of a male-centered gaze, introjected by women, that continues to define female sexuality in terms of how much flesh we display and the manner in which we choose to display it or clothe it. This bias remains unacknowledged and unquestioned, and ought itself to be the subject of investigation.

Somewhere in our history there developed the notion that women who are open about our sexual desire and the expression of our sexuality are correspondingly brain-dead, and undeserving of moral consideration. It’s from these notions the concepts of sexualisation and objectification evolve, not from anything women do or wear.

Obviously the signifiers of objectification and sexualisation vary with fashion and culture: a modest 2016 swimsuit would have caused its wearer to be objectified as less than morally human in 1816. The point surely must be that we have not evolved beyond our need to define ourselves as moral beings against women and girls identified as less worthy, because they are pejoratively perceived as overtly sexual, sexualised or objectified.

Concepts of sexualisation and objectification are constructed concepts and as such fluid, always open to interrogation and contestation. They are not a given, and they do not come from any transcendental exteriority. Because Collective Shout or anyone else declares a garment objectifying does not make it so.

Nothing can make a child a sexualised object other than the warped perception of an adult. As we know to our cost, warped adult perceptions of children as sex objects are rampant, and to be found in our most esteemed institutions.  If you choose to view children through that warped perception there is, in my opinion, something unexamined in your thinking.

The fact that some adults care less about the welfare of women and girls they consider sexualised and objectified seems to my mind a much more urgent topic for investigation than chain stores selling pole dancing kits and Playboy stationery. To draw an equivalence between female sexuality and worthiness is warped reasoning, and that so many people in our society do this is cause for serious alarm.

The problem lies not with the sexualisation or objectification of young girls and women. It lies with unexamined attitudes to female sexuality, fear of female sexuality, and the ongoing desire to control female sexuality. If you are seeing children as sexualised and objectified have a good look at your beliefs about female sexuality, because you are likely part of the problem, not of the solution.

 

 

 

 

A win for the citizens, a fail for the government

2 Aug

Turnbull zips it

 

There’s currently not much from which one might take heart in politics (is there ever?) however, the replacing of Brian Martin as the single commissioner in the Northern Territory Royal Commission into  atrocities against Aboriginal children, perpetrated at the Don Dale facility, is a flickering candle in the current dark night of the citizen soul.

What this development says to me is that there are individuals who will not bend to the will of the LNP federal government, individuals who will listen to discontent and outrage expressed in the community and respond to that, rather than lick the sticky fundaments of our liberal overlords.

Mr Martin had personal reasons as well, which is fair enough. It was clear from the announcement of his commission that he was the wrong man for the job, optically speaking, and Brian Martin is aware of the power of optics to bring a man entirely undone. No matter what, he was never going to come out of that gig unscathed.

I’m not going to do it, he informed Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis (perhaps not using precisely that arrangement of words, I wasn’t there) leaving them egg-faced, their decisive agile nimble and innovative solution to the Don Dale outrage steaming and useless as a puddle of piss in a snow bank.

There have been rumblings from various elites that no “eminent” Australian will agree to perform public service if this capitulating to the will of the masses keeps up. Cry me a river.

Compare the actions of Brian Martin with those of Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon, who led then PM Tony Abbott’s witch hunt of Bill Shorten via the infamous Trade Union Royal Commission. Heydon became and remains a laughing-stock (all those vacuum cleaner jokes) an obedient slave of the right-wing of the LNP. His Royal Commission produced little of note, and didn’t unduly trouble Shorten. Perhaps Mr Martin noted Heydon’s fate.

The Royal Commission will now be headed by Mick Gooda and Margaret White, a far more satisfactory arrangement.

We probably don’t need too much more evidence of Turnbull’s incompetence, but true to his long-term policy of giving us what we don’t need, the PM keeps up supply.

Social media must be given some credit for the reconstitution of the Northern Territory Royal Commission. Complain about Twitter all you like: there’s no getting away from the fact that public opinion is conveyed so widely and so forcefully through its use, that politicians and elites who ignore the platform do so at their peril.

The resignation of Brian Martin, and the appointment of an Indigenous man and a former Queensland Supreme Court judge is a win for citizens over the disastrously inadequate decision of the LNP government. Take heart.

Pell: nothing to see here, look over there

29 Jul

Pell on sexual abuse

 

Cardinal George Pell has, in the face of fresh allegations of sexual abuse of children aired by ABC TV’s 7.30 Report this week, demanded a “probe” into what he perceives to be a conspiracy between the Victoria Police and the ABC to “pervert the course of justice” using a “trial by media” to establish his guilt before the matters are afforded due process.

I’m calling bollocks. Everything aired thus far by ABC TV has come directly from the complainants, Pell’s alleged victims. We have watched them give excruciating accounts of their experiences, and the effects those experiences have had on their lives. There are no police “leaks” in these first-hand accounts.

Anyone is at liberty to speak about his or her experiences at the hands of another, and we have defamation laws that deal with false claims.

There is no indication that Victoria Police have provided the ABC with information other than that they are pursuing their inquiries into the allegations, and that the matters have been referred to the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions where it will be decided whether or not charges are to be brought against the cardinal.

There is no legal requirement to protect Pell from identification. There are no minors involved in the complaints: they are historical. The ABC has offered Pell every opportunity to respond, and have published his responses on their website.

As long as the law permits the identification of alleged perpetrators, media outlets are at liberty to name them. This may or may not be fair: it is legal.

Pell’s position is no different from that of any other alleged perpetrator of historical sexual crimes against children in this country. Such people are identified in the media, and their alleged victims are frequently interviewed by the media. Police announce that they are pursuing lines of inquiry, and charges may or may not be brought. The Cardinal isn’t being granted, and should not be granted, any special favours or protections, neither is he being unfairly pursued.

The fact is, people continue to make complaints about Pell, and these complaints have to be investigated. Our justice system does not require the complaints be kept secret until they are proven or dismissed.

Like any other alleged perpetrator, Pell has to endure public curiosity and judgement, not because of any conspiracy, but because that is how our society works.

There are no doubt many benefits that go with being a prince of the catholic church. There are also responsibilities and intense scrutiny. The Vatican has deep pockets and should Pell choose to bring a defamation action against his accusers, lack of money will be no barrier to that pursuit. The Cardinal has on more than one occasion threatened legal action of this nature. It is still an option open to him if he feels himself to be a victim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Four Corners sickened but did not surprise

27 Jul

 

Punishment in the Don Dale facility, Northern Territory

Punishment in the Don Dale facility, Northern Territory

In his 2014 book, Dark Emu, Bunarong, Tasmanian and Yuin man Bruce Pascoe challenges white man’s history of Indigenous people as hunter gatherers, and instead puts forward an absorbing thesis, well researched and documented, of systems of agriculture, aquaculture and governance recorded by early white settlers, but somehow overlooked by those who have insisted upon an ongoing account of this country’s Indigenous peoples that denies them as anything other than primitive.

Every time we discuss this book in our household I express my disbelief that evidence such as that so compellingly presented by Pascoe could have gone unnoticed, ignored, concealed, disregarded, disrespected by the legions of white writers and commentators, to whom it has been available, if only they had cared to seek it, for the last two hundred plus years. Many white careers have been built on this wilful ignorance.

Why aren’t we teaching Australian children about the successes and achievements  of Aboriginal culture? asks Pascoe.

Why indeed.

Of course the evidence gathered by Pascoe does not fit what remains the dominant white narrative, even after Mabo. Hard to declare terra nullius if the country is occupied by people who’ve devised successful and sophisticated system of farming and governance. Far easier if you frame them as primitive savages, flora and fauna.

The consequences of this cover-up, this conspiracy one might go so far as to suggest, have dominated white attitudes to Aboriginal people ever since invasion, and it should have come as no surprise to anyone when ABC TV’s Four Corners revealed on Monday night that Indigenous children are being tortured in detention facilities in the Northern Territory, and quite likely elsewhere in the country.

The Don Dale facility, and the horrors enacted within it, have not developed in a vacuum. They are the logical outcome of  a brutal and expedient racism that has existed in Australia since 1788, and continues to thrive. It’s excruciatingly apparent that the torments perpetrated on Indigenous children in this hell hole have been known to Northern Territory governments for the last few years. Absolutely nothing has been done to alleviate this suffering, inflicted in the service of “law and order.”

I would like to point out here that none of the offences committed by the incarcerated children come anywhere near the criminal acts perpetrated upon them by those who guard them, those who oversee the guards, and those who turn their blinded eyes away from the sight of the children’s suffering. There is nothing either lawful or orderly about the behaviour of the men in charge of these children, or the men in charge of the men in charge.

There is a deeply ingrained culture, the face of which is for today the Don Dale facility, that has its origins in the denial of Aboriginal people as capable of agriculture, aquaculture and governance, and the framing of them instead as primitive savages upon whom it is permissible to wreak any kind of havoc deemed necessary for the protection and furtherance of white society.

Sick of your car being stolen? Get out the canisters and fucking gas the fucking cunt kids who took it because your car and your right to not have it nicked trumps a young black life.

Don Dale may be closed down, there will be a Royal Commission, right and left alike will continue to express bipartisan outrage but unless Australia’s fundamental attitude towards Indigenous peoples is changed, the suffering will continue.

I leave you with the words of Nigel Scullion, federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs. He’d never taken any notice of complaints that reached him about the mistreatment of Aboriginal children in the Don Dale centre, he said. The reports had never sufficiently  “piqued his interest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#pray for the bigots?

22 Jul

free-speech-conditions-apply-graffiti

 

Psychologically speaking, it’s self-evident that bigots are frightened of the group or groups they single out for attention. 

This is one of the characteristics of bigots: they fear a challenge is being mounted to their way of life, their  ideology, their religion, their freedom to be who they feel entitled to be. The bigot’s reaction is to annihilate (metaphorically, but increasingly literally) that challenge, banish it from their landscapes, imprison it if it is already present, and in so doing, make themselves and their identities safe.

Waleed Aly, a thinker, writer and broadcaster for whom I have a great deal of time, argued on The Project that Sonia Kruger, a “celebrity” mother for whom I have no time at all, should not be pilloried for her opinion that Muslim immigration should be entirely banned in this country, a conclusion she arrived at on the basis that she’d seen a child’s body bag with a doll beside it after the Nice massacre and very little else, from what I can glean, other than because Muslims. Aly claimed that Ms Kruger is “afraid.”

Ms Kruger has also fallen foul of several employers such as Swisse, Porsche and Target, for whom she performs as “the face” of their companies. None of them wish to be associated with her anti Muslim comments and are reviewing her contracts. Capitalists have never liked mouthy women and Ms Kruger has apparently gone “off brand,” having been hired for her non-controversial personality as well as the stereotypical  appearance that I think of as the White Barbie look. Honestly, so many of those women all look the same you’re flat-out distinguishing one from the other.

(That companies seek out “non controversial women” is a story in itself, is it not?)

Aly made an impassioned argument for “forgiveness” of such bigotry, rather than the outrage that greeted Ms Kruger’s observations. I confess Waleed has me baffled. Kruger’s comments were outrageously ignorant, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable that those offended by them express that outrage. What better way is there to inform bigots about the unacceptable nature of their bigotry? Forgive them if you want, but tell them what they’ve done first, though I doubt the true bigot will give a damn about either forgiveness or being called, outside of how it affects their income and status.

I’d also like to know what Waleed means by “forgiveness.” It’s unlike him to use such a loaded word without first defining his terms. When does “forgiveness” become enabling? If the offence is serial and without consequence or accountability, why should the offender change his or her behaviour?

I don’t think we can afford to be silent in the face of bigotry. Silence is all too easily interpreted as acquiescence. Forgive the bigots if you want. Pray for them if it’s your thing. Recognise that their bigotry springs from fear. But never cease to loudly challenge it, confront it and contest it. Contestation is not incompatible with “forgiveness.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean being silent about the offences.

Confronting bigots isn’t silencing them, as they’d have us believe. It isn’t taking away their right to free speech. Ms Kruger can continue to espouse her bigoted views from whatever platform will host her: if none are offered she may have to contemplate why that might be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why rights and bigots do not belong in the same sentence.

20 Jul

 

talking arse

 

When Attorney-General George Brandis declared that everyone has the right to be a bigot, he was, strangely for him, speaking out of his arse.

A bigot is irrationally prejudiced against and intolerant towards individuals and/or groups, without requiring any factual evidence to support her or his bigotry. This excellent Guardian piece by Susan Carland spells out the proposition. My only quibble with Dr Carland is that she writes “facts no longer matter” whereas I would argue that for bigots, facts have never mattered, and never will.

Brandis’s declaration conflates human rights with ignorance, intolerance and irrational prejudice, surely the very characteristics those rights are designed to contest, how odd he doesn’t know that.

When the country’s Attorney-General invites the indulgence and expression of bigotry it’s hardly surprising that we find ourselves entering a period of deep prejudice, expressed by the likes of convicted racist Andrew Bolt, echoed by the likes of television celebrity mother Sonia Kruger (#all mothers are celebrities, I can see that hash tag coming) and Pauline Hanson is enabled to replatform herself in government.

This time around, the bigots are singling out Muslims. It has in the past been the turn of Aborigines, Jews, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, single mothers of all nationalities, dole bludgers, those of Middle Eastern appearance, boat people, women… must I go on? Bigots aren’t choosy: they need to hate somebody, it doesn’t much matter who. You have the “right” to do this, says the most senior legal figure in the land. It’s freedom of speech. So knock yourselves out.

Unfortunately, the exercise of free speech does not have as a prerequisite informed and intelligent utterance. If it did there would be a strangled silence from the government benches and all early morning television shows would cease to be.

As this happy fantasy is not likely to eventuate, what are we to do in the face of the ignorant, prejudiced drivel increasingly issuing forth from public microphones? Fight back?  March in protest? Invite consultation? Sit down with the haters over  tea and scones? Ignore them?

I’d argue that there’s no single solution to contesting bigotry, and that all of the above suggestions might be useful in specific situations. When the citizens of a democracy vote bigots into government it’s a tough challenge fighting them from the top down, and we have to get creative. Psychologically speaking, bigots are generally insecure personalities with low self-esteem: they make themselves feel better by denigrating somebody else: I am not that, therefore I am OK. Those of us opposing bigotry may risk falling into the same trap…it’s complicated.

Ignorance is in ascendence, globally. It’s going to be turbulent. As I think the Dalai Llama [sic] once said, you don’t get peace by hating war. Fasten your seat belts.

 

 

 

 

#As a mother

19 Jul

motherknowsbest_web

 

Look. If I see/hear one more woman claim privileged insight because she’s a mother I will puke, spectacularly, in technicolour, over everything because WTAF?

On the proviso that you and your partner’s parts are in working order, all you need to become a mother is a root at the right time. It doesn’t even have to be a good one. In the matter of becoming mothers we are animals. It’s biological. It doesn’t qualify women for anything: it doesn’t make us better prime ministers, and it doesn’t give us exceptional insight into race relations. It can bring out the best and the worst in us, as can very many other situations encountered by the human female during the course of her life on earth.

Motherhood teaches us above all how to survive drudgery. Unless you’ve got nannies who do that for you, of course. There’s nappies and reeking shit; there’s three-year-olds whose every sentence begins with why, twelve hours a day. There’s broken nights, oh my god the broken nights. There’s kids creeping into your bed at 2am only to wake you up at three to inform you they just dreamed they were on the toilet and have accidentally peed. There’s days of exhaustion, running into one another till you don’t know what you did and when, let alone why. None of this makes a woman any better equipped to run a country than does, say, Malcolm Turnbull’s ability to turn a modest dot-com investment into millions, or Sonia Kruger’s ability to host Dancing with the Stars equips her to comment intelligently on immigration policy.

I’m a mother. I’ll never underestimate the importance of my influence on my children, for better and for worse. But #as a woman, I believe we need to recognise that attempting to privilege our motherhood works against us far more than it ever works for us. Motherhood isn’t a sacred calling. It isn’t the pinnacle of female achievement. Personally, I don’t feel greatly improved as a human being because I spent years of my life wrangling the obstinate young, and didn’t sell them to the circus.

Women who aren’t mothers can care just as much about the future as women who are, and it’s disgraceful to imply otherwise. Women who aren’t mothers can weep for the slaughtered children of others just as keenly as women who are.

The worst aspect of this motherhood rot is its divisiveness. There’s an entirely unwarranted moral acclaim blindly attributed to motherhood that divides those of us who are from those of us who aren’t. It’s lovely if you want children and have them. It’s just as lovely if you don’t want children and don’t have them. It’s another situation if you want them and can’t realise that desire.  None of us should be valued according to whether or not we reproduce ourselves. Indeed, there may well be an argument for refraining from reproduction, given the future we face.

 

The Perils of Pauline

5 Jul

I'm not racist but

 

Pauline Hanson has re-emerged as mouthpiece for the nation’s racism, going where the dog whistlers dare not venture, vocalising “what ordinary people are really thinking and are too scared to say.” This time her bile is directed against Muslims as well as Asians and Indigenous peoples: anyone who isn’t white and Christian, perhaps?

In a rather surprising move, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Hanson is not welcome in the parliament, surprising because he has not said this about any of his right-wing colleagues, many of whom share Hanson’s views. Surprising as well because Hanson is an elected representative in a liberal democracy, and Turnbull has no choice but to accept her presence in the Senate because voters put her there.

In May 2016 journalist Malcolm Farr wrote that voters do not want Hanson in parliament, any parliament, but voters do, and Hanson is. Railing against Hanson is getting people nowhere: she’s come back even stronger than before.

This piece by Margot Kingston in the Guardian yesterday is interesting in that Kingston advocates a change of approach to Hanson, one of respect and conciliation rather than mockery and scorn. While I don’t agree that it’s productive to embark on the re-education of Pauline Hanson, I do believe Kingston is right to suggest that we pay attention to the circumstances of the people who have voted her, and possibly two more One Nation candidates, back into the parliament. I also agree that scapegoating Hanson only gives her and her supporters fuel.

Both major parties have used racist tactics to distract voters from their failures to adequately govern: the manipulation of waterborne asylum seekers is an outstanding example of this: the creation of non-existent threats from which both major parties have promised to deliver us has led to the criminal and inhumane indefinite incarceration of innocent people on Manus and Nauru.

Hanson has been far from alone in exploiting fear and ignorance for political gain. It’s only a few weeks since Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told the country that asylum seekers will simultaneously take our jobs and bludge off our social services.

Given that John Howard co-opted most of Hanson’s beliefs and made them fundamental tenets of his LNP, where they remain comfortably unchallenged, I’m inclined to wonder how much of the elite political and media animosity towards Hanson is to do with class, and gender.

Much of what Hanson espouses seems to me gibberish: a Royal Commission into Islam, for example? She seems at times inarticulate: a seething mass of inchoate prejudice, while the more sophisticated know how to convey a not dissimilar prejudice in a manner more covert. Indeed, the only positive thing to be said about Hanson is that she lacks all subtlety: there can be no doubt about her bad intentions towards those who are not her: what you see is what you get. Hanson doesn’t spin.

Kingston herself has expressed some views on Muslims that have been interpreted as racist. She recently tweeted: OK, I’m gonna blow myself up. I think Muslim refugees should seek refuge in Muslim countries unless they embrace western values.

Kingston explained that the western values to which she refers are respect for the rule of law, freedom of speech, women’s, gays’ rights.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting these values embraced and practiced: the problem is singling out Muslims as a group that particularly needs to embrace them. Many of our white Christian politicians have no respect for some of those values, and some don’t have respect for any of them. Presumably their electorates support their views, as Hanson’s do hers. The elites who sneer at Hanson and her electorate need to attend to the racist logs in their own eyes.

I have a visceral reaction when I see and hear of particular groups being singled out for no reason other than religious belief, ethnicity, and race. I feel sick with fear, not of the groups but of  the mindset that chooses certain groups as targets for “special” treatment, marginalisation and hostility. This may have something to do with my late husband being a Jew. We had friends who survived the camps. Their families were slaughtered because they were Jews. My husband and his family experienced prejudice and discrimination because they were Jews. They supported “western values,” but that didn’t save them.

I don’t like Hanson. I’m very sorry she’s back. I think it’s going to be a difficult and frightening time for members of the groups she targets, as her views are widely disseminated through her role as a senator, and parliamentary privilege.

Hanson is the head of the throbbing boil that is Australian racism. The discharge will be copious and vile. But let’s not fool ourselves that Hanson is our only problem: the racism and bigotry she extols is far more widespread than the ugly manifesto of One Nation. Hanson is right: she’s articulating what many think, however the many who think this way are not comprised solely of ignorant rednecks: they also dwell in very high places.

 

 

LNP: It’s not us it’s them

4 Jul

 

its_their_fault_1_inch_round_button-r9ce0010d8a4a4c73a129d267b7dfb73a_x7j12_8byvr_512

Caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday blamed an alleged “scare campaign” by Labor concerning LNP threats to Medicare, for the swing against the government in the election results thus far.

Caretaker Attorney -General George (Bookcase) Brandis blamed Twitter for the alleged denigration of political discourse that apparently contributed to the government’s disappointment. Which is a bit rich coming from the man who declared that everyone has the inalienable right to be a bigot and thinks meta data is the address on an envelope not its contents, but whatever.

Caretaker Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (known as the Brussel Sprout or Mr Potato Head, either way it’s a vegetable)  blamed unions for his slide in popularity in the Queensland seat of Dickson.

Several other ministers, including Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison, also blamed Labor’s “scare tactics” for the government’s fall from grace. Some have even blamed the stupidity of voters, a self-defeating attribution of responsibility one would think.

The complete absence of the media from the LNP’s jaundiced, wounded, blaming gaze is remarkable. It tells me that I was right to detect overwhelming bias in their favour from almost every media outlet including, unfortunately, sections of the ABC.

Tony Abbott, that desiccated piece of hyena scat, did obscene things with a sizzled sausage and left early to plot his next thrust for LNP leadership and deja vu all over again.

Such is the arrogance of these entitled drongos that it does not, for one moment, enter their drongo consciousness that they might have alienated voters all by themselves. It has to be somebody else’s fault.

The inability to listen to criticism is a boring characteristic in an individual. It’s boring because such people are in significant ways stunted. There’s nothing more valuable than a bit of criticism: in the emotionally mature it provokes thought and inspires the birth of change, and as I quoted a few days ago, he/she who isn’t busy being born is busy dying. The LNP is busy dying, and it has been for quite some time.

I’m struggling to recall a government that has made quite such a spectacular and total cockup as has this one. I’m not referring to unforgivable decisions such as taking us to war on the spurious platform of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, or taking us to an election based on the imagined threat of a few miserable, hounded and tormented people attempting to escape intolerable circumstances, but rather the internal clusterfucks that have rent the LNP’s fabric in ways that make the ALP’s internecine strife of a few years ago look pretty average, really.

And let us not forget that despite the ALP’s leadership debacles, they still got phenomenal amounts of legislation through. This cannot be said for the LNP, which has yet to resolve the 2014 budget.

However, the LNP is maintaining some consistency, you have to give them that much. They’ve blamed Labor ever since they took office, so there’s a three-year precedent. They’ve barely missed a beat in their blaming, making a smooth transition to blaming the ALP for the current election debacle and no doubt whatever the outcome, they’ll continue to blame Labor without so much as a hiccough.

This is, really, their area of expertise. Good governance? Not so much.

 

The Senator, the camper vans & The Chaser

30 Jun

fiat car ad

 

Some of you may remember back in May this year there was a swell of outrage against Wicked Campers, the organisation that spray paints its vehicles with slogans such as: A wife: an attachment you screw on the bed to get the housework done; Inside every princess there’s a slut waiting to get out; The best thing about a blow job is five minutes of silence, and so on.

The slogans are usually accompanied by cartoonish illustrations of disembodied breasts, Snow White sucking a penis… you get the picture.

Free speech advocate and libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm was scathing in his criticism of those who protested the vans:

“If you want to take offense that’s your choice and you’ve got to remember it’s a choice and other people make different choices. 

Most of the statements I’ve read from the vans are able to be interpreted in a couple of ways and they require a degree of sophistication to know what they’re getting at.”

Leyonhjelm told the ABC Wicked made funny statements, “which obviously have sexual connotations.”

“But surprise, surprise sexual connotations are part of life. You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person to not find them funny,” he said.

But surprise, surprise ABC TV’s The Chaser recently parked a van outside Leyonhjelm’s residence that bore the slogan The best thing about oral sex from David Leyonhjelm – 5 mins of silence, and the Senator has gone ballistic.

When called on his perceived hypocrisy by Melinda Tankard Reist, an anti-Wicked advocate, Leyonhjelm tweeted to her: If you don’t understand free speech STFU. This a problematic prescriptive if ever there was one: the right to free speech isn’t supposed to be contingent on whether or not you fully understand what you are saying about free speech, or anything else, for that matter.

It is true that the Senator didn’t call for the Chaser to be silenced, he merely complained vociferously about their intrusion into his street. He also claimed the slogan was “homophobic,” a complaint I find quite baffling unless of course he doesn’t know about men orally pleasuring women.

My Twitter friend Kate Galloway recently wrote this post on sexist language in public discourse in response to Eddie McGuire’s expressed desire to drown journalist Caroline Wilson. What is it with some men and their desire to drown us? Alan Jones wanting to send Julia Gillard in a chaff bag out to sea, and of course that legendary test to see if we’re witches, perhaps from which this obsession with drowning us stems: tie us to a stool and drop us in the river and if we drown we’re witches and if we survive we’re witches, so burn us. Yeah.

I think I’m a woman with a sophisticated sense of humour. I can also laugh myself silly with a four-year-old. But I find absolutely nothing humorous in the Wicked van slogans, or in Eddie McGuire and his mates cackling hideously over the possibility of drowning Caroline Wilson. Nor  do I accept the apparently unassailable belief amongst some men and women that it is fine to say things about women that if said about any other human group would be thought crass, unacceptable, and even illegal.

There’s no right not to be offended, but there is the right to speak about what offends. A frequent response to expressed offence is an accusation of political correctness (gone mad, for added emphasis), or a judgement that one has “over-reacted.” These are  attempts to derail any discussion of the offensive nature of the commentary, and focus instead on the offended person’s alleged weakness and lack of humour. Such attempts at derailing should be treated with the contempt they deserve. As a general rule, people who make sexist comments don’t take kindly to being challenged and their first line of defence is attack.

Leyonhjelm is outraged that The Chaser’s stunt upset his wife, yet he was seemingly oblivious to the upset caused to women, girls, and men who had to attempt to explain to their children the slogans on the van next to their tent. One grandfather round these parts took to every van he saw with a can of black spray paint, so fed up was he with having to see the denigrating and misogynist garbage every time he went on the highway with his grandchildren. But according to the Senator, this man is an unsophisticated wowser with no sense of humour who has chosen to be offended.

Well, Senator, if the tiara fits…

 

 

 

The Marriage Act: what is it good for?

30 Jun

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In 2004, the Howard LNP government amended the Marriage Act of 1961 to read as follows:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the amendment in order to prevent any legal challenges to the concept of marriage as a solely heterosexual institution.

It would be useful if religious organisations opposing marriage equality took note of the origins of this amendment. It did not come from god. It was authored by Philip Ruddock and John Howard.

Then Greens leader Bob Brown described the amendment as “the straight Australia policy.”

There was no plebiscite held on the amendment, and no referendum.

I have yet to be convinced that the state has any role at all to play in the voluntary unions of its citizens, and would prefer to get rid of the Marriage Act altogether rather than just the 2004 amendment.

As it stands, the Act is discriminatory and has no place in a just society. It privileges traditional heterosexual marriage, an institution that functions more in its idealisation than its reality, and whose many and massive failings remain largely unexamined.

We do not need the state to define and control our expressions of love. Of all the situations in which we ought to be able to act with agency and autonomy, this must surely be the most fundamental. All citizens are entitled to enjoy this agency and autonomy, regardless of whom we love.

The fight for marriage equality is also the fight for everyone’s freedom, and our right to live without state intrusion, definition  and control of the most deeply intimate aspects of human life.

Do you really want politicians deciding what marriage is?

 

 

On Turnbull and stability

27 Jun

turnbull

 

Turnbull relying on Australians seeking stability during a time on [sic] unrest in Europe is the headline of Malcolm Farr’s précis of the LNP election campaign launch, held yesterday.

The problem with the word stability is that far too often, particularly in politics, it’s taken to mean “everything staying the same” regardless of whether that “same” is desirable or not.

According to Turnbull we need to avoid changing government at all costs, and we need to avoid a hung parliament at all costs. We need to stick with the stability (read sameness) of the two-party system, despite the profound lack of stability within both those parties, publicly demonstrated over the last six years.

Admittedly, the ALP seems to have pulled itself together and united behind its leader, achieving temporary internal stability. The same cannot be said for the LNP as Turnbull attempts to straddles the chasm between himself and the right-wing of his party. Revenant-in-waiting, Tony Abbott, continues to grimly stalk the Prime Minister and although he has been muted during the election campaign, it’s unlikely he’s relinquished all ambition to heal his pain by overthrowing Malcolm and reasserting himself as leader.

If it’s stability you’re looking for and you choose the LNP, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.

It takes strength of character to weather uncertainty and instability, which together are the very substance of change, and, as Dylan said he [sic] who isn’t busy being born is busy dying. A politics with which we have become very familiar is in its death throes: look at Brexit and look at Trump in the US. This isn’t a time of stability it’s a time of change, and if we don’t get busy birthing the change we’ll get busy burying the dead.

Turnbull’s call for stability is a cynical and opportunistic attempt to co-opt the Brexit decision to his very unstable cause: governance by a party that is cataclysmically divided, and therefore incapable of providing the country with that which the government itself so conspicuously lacks.

The LNP will undoubtedly ramp up the emotional manipulation with its faux assurance of stability in an unstable world: Brexit is the best thing that could have happened for them at this time. Brexit could well be Turnbull’s Tampa: create fear, then offer yourself as the only protection from the terror you’ve manufactured.

It’s not about the policies, stupid. It’s about the emotion.

 

 

 

The word that Turnbull dare not speak

13 Jun

Flag. Half Mast.

 

I’m at a complete loss as to understand why that rasping husk of compromised humanity we’ve had inflicted on us as Prime Minister decided to co-opt this morning’s hideous mass slaughter of gay people in Orlando, Florida to the service of his government’s pathological border protection policies.

Not once in his obligatory comments on the mass murder (this link has since been updated by SMH to include Turnbull’s third press release in which he refers to gay people) did Turnbull acknowledge the identity of the victims, rather he carefully framed his remarks within the “terrorist threat facing the Australian way of life” narrative, a threat for which the LNP, with the full support of the opposition, created for our salvation the paramilitary border protection force.

Turnbull stopped short of invoking “stop the boats” and I suppose we should be grateful that even he, apparently, was unable to draw his stinkingly homophobic bow that far.

Had the victims been children they would have been identified as children. Had they been black, they would have been identified as black. Had they been Palestinians, Jews, women, protestors, Australians, ISIS, students, politicians, doctors or the homeless, they would have been identified as such.

But these were members of the LGBTQI community and Malcolm Turnbull could not speak their name.

Other politicians, including Obama, Clinton, Shorten & Plibersek have made a point of speaking directly to that community in their commentary, acknowledging that this has been an attack that will affect LGBTQI people wherever they are.

The murderer’s motives are as yet not fully known. But what is unquestionable is that he targeted a gay venue, and that he has been described by his own parents as “not religious, didn’t pray or fast, was very angry when he saw two men kissing.”

It might behoove us to remember at this time that the most vocal opponents of LGBTQI communities in Australia are white Christian men, some of whom are in the LNP, and some of whom gave Malcolm Turnbull his job. Could this perhaps go some way to explaining the PM’s bizarre reluctance to acknowledge the Orlando massacre for what it clearly is? A murderous attack on a particular community because of that community’s sexual orientation.

Whether or not the murderer was informed by other political motives as well does not alter the fact of his choice of target.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull  recently bowed to pressure from Christian homophobes to gut a Safe Schools program that sought to educate, and protect LGBTQI kids from bullying, depression and suicide.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull has decided on a completely unnecessary and highly expensive plebiscite on marriage equality, an event that will permit all manner of hate and bigotry against LGBTQI people free expression.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull has firmly established himself on a vile homophobic continuum (making himself clearly part of the problem) that begins with playground bullying, and ends in the mass slaughter of gays who’ve just gone out dancing for the evening.

This is our Prime Minister, people. The man who denies the dead their identity. The man who dares not speak the word.

Since I wrote this post, and after a great deal of criticism on social media, Turnbull has made another statement in which he refers to the gay club and the deaths of gay people. 

All traces of his first statement, on which this post is based, have vanished from the SMH and other media. ABC Radio’s Patricia Karvalas tweeted that she’d never heard of an earlier statement, and I don’t doubt her. 

Extensive tweets remain, as proof of Turnbull’s initial presser. Unless the Libs own Twitter as well as the MSM

 

 

 

 

What Barrett’s explicit videos say about family values

12 Jun

family-values

 

Northern Territory Sports Minister Nathan Barrett resigned his portfolio last week after the Northern Territory News revealed he’d sent two videos of himself masturbating “with his left hand” (this detail seems to have captured the NT News collective imagination for reasons I can’t fathom) in his bathroom at home while simultaneously filming the events and sending the videos via Facebook to a female constituent with whom he’d had an online relationship for several months.

One of Barrett’s mates later remarked on Facebook, apparently without any sense of irony, that the man is “very tech savvy.”

There is, in my opinion, no moral value at all attached to the consensual exchange of intimate images and it’s nobody’s business what two people consensually undertake.

The problems for Barrett are that he’s married, and has campaigned on the strength of his “family values” and his “deep commitment to his local church.” The woman involved states that although they’d developed a close online relationship, she did not invite videos of him masturbating. She also states that he’d promised her a job, though he denies this.

Obviously Barrett has some significant problems, and has committed himself to “counselling” in order to help him work through them. He’s also apologised to his boss, constituents, wife, family, and the woman with whom he formed an “inappropriate relationship.”

He deserves some respect for fully owning his behaviour, without minimisation, excuses and self-justification. It takes some courage to do that, and it’s not something we often see in such situations where the demon drink is frequently invoked as an explanation, or the serious impact of the behaviour is flat-out denied.

The figure of the outwardly moral and committed family man with a secret sexual life is a cliché, and like all clichés, it reveals much about the warped and hypocritical nature of our “values.”  Frequently, the most important consideration is maintaining the appearance of morality while concealing the transgression. The transgression itself is not as bad as others finding out about it. This has been the position of the churches, for example, in the matter of child sexual abuse, as well as the attitude of many families in which abuse of children is perpetrated.

The ideal of the morally intact family dominates the more common reality of the morally compromised family in which everyone involved agrees, consciously or otherwise, to live the lie.

Betraying a spouse is emotional, psychological and mental abuse. Spouses who live in relationships in which there is infidelity are living in an abusive relationship. It’s abusive to subject someone you claim to love to such pain, shock, trauma and stress as is caused by betrayal. When it’s done serially, it’s similar to the cycle of physical violence: discovery of betrayal, regret expressed, promises to never repeat, reconciliation and honeymoon period, then return to betrayal. Both parties are living a toxic life in a regressive relationship in which one enables the other to continue the abuse by continuing to “forgive.”

But hey. As long as no one knows and we’re looking ideal, who cares?

Perhaps nobody does care, however, problems arise when such situations are held up as those to which we should all aspire.  When Barrett became the current public face of treachery and betrayal he exposed the fragile moral high ground of heterosexual monogamous marriage. He crapped all over its presumed sanctity.  He confronted us with an unfortunate truth, which is that these circumstances are far from uncommon, and people lie about them all the time while continuing to promote heterosexual and monogamous family values as the aspirational ideal.

We should actually thank him, and everyone like him, for inadvertently pointing out that the emperor has fewer clothes than he thinks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politics. What is it good for?

11 Jun

Shewee

 

I don’t know if there are people out there as fed up as I am with this interminable election campaign, with its interminable commentators making interminable commentary and engaging in interminable speculation in between interminable gotcha moments, and what in the name of all that is good and great and human, is the bloody point of it all?

Politics, the art or science of government, has become merely the art or science of winning and holding government, as is irrefutably evidenced by the last two leaders of this country whose overweening ambition was to become Prime Minister, without any idea of what to actually do once that personal ambition was achieved. I’m not partisan: there’s a persuasive argument to include Kevin Rudd in that narcissistic leader pool as well.

Caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently plumbed new depths of sog with his sepia video of himself as an infant astride the shoulders of his single dad, as if to reassure voters that loving his dad, who left him a property portfolio worth some $2 million, (he probably would have loved him even if he hadn’t: I’m not the one drawing false equivalences here) somehow qualifies him to lead the country.

This humongous non sequitur makes me question, yet again, Turnbull’s much-flaunted promise to treat the punters with respect as a means of distinguishing himself from his predecessor, that lunatic (to quote Turnbull’s father-in-law and former attorney-general Tom Hughes, even though the old man took it back last week) Tony Abbott. It is difficult to take back having described someone as a lunatic, especially when the original comment rings with far more truth than does the retraction.

Then on Friday morning I looked at Twitter only to find a photo of Pauline Hanson or her doppelgänger peeing into a cup at the football. Well, I thought, the day can only improve but I was wrong because election.

Hanson is not welcome in the parliament, thundered Turnbull, which is an astoundingly  stupid comment because if she’s elected she’s in the parliament: this is a liberal democracy and politicians can’t refuse entry to other elected representatives you’d think Turnbull of all people would know that and apart from anything else, he pissed off innumerable Hanson supporters who took the comment personally, as of course anyone would at the prospect of their elected representative being ostracised in a parliament where everyone is meant to be equally representing everyone outside of it.

Hanson retaliated by observing Turnbull to be arrogant and I, for one, find myself agreeing with her on this if nothing else. I don’t agree with her (or her doppelgänger) crouching on their haunches to pee into a cup in a football stadium: women can actually pee standing up (with or without assistance, see image above) and in such a situation it might be more seemly to do just that. Or there’s always bush wees, as we’ve taught the young ones in our family bush wees are good, until we realised they thought we meant peeing in any bushes anywhere anytime rather than peeing in the forest, but anyway.

It signals the end days of a society, said Aristotle or Plato, I can’t remember which and am in such a state of election-induced lethargy I can’t be arsed using my Google finger, when tolerance and apathy become the dominant public sentiments. Are we there yet?

There is so much one can hardly bear to see and hear: the unending violence against women, the cavalier destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, the determination to mine the country into eternity, the neglect of and disinterest in our most vulnerable citizens, the wicked scapegoating of waterborne asylum seekers, the increasing privilege and entitlement of the haves: how can my one vote possibly have any real effect on any of these sites of heartbreak?

As Bob Dylan observed, the only thing I know how to do is to keep on keeping on, a line I have on many occasions found useful and here we are again. Our politicians are a sorry-arsed lot on the whole, at least the ones who claw their way to the top. We have not yet created a Trump, but I don’t doubt it’s within our capabilities and neither does Jonathan Green in this gloomy piece.

But all is not lost. I can see some use for that Shewee thing, in the kayak, yes definitely. I don’t attend footy matches but there are traffic holdups on the Pacific Highway when you’ve forgotten to pee before you left home.

It doesn’t seem at all remarkable that a post on the usefulness or otherwise of politics should end up with commentary on urination, so I might just leave things here, wish you all well for the next few weeks of shameless propaganda, and take myself back to the couch to continue my binge re-watch of Mad Men. Ah, they knew how to treat women back then. No Shewee for you, sweetheart.

 

 

 

 

 

Victims, Trauma, Spinoza, and Butler

5 Jun

 

Trauma Narratives. University of Zaragoza

 

I’ve never met anyone whose ambition it was to be a victim, though I don’t doubt such people exist.

Victimhood is not considered an honourable state, rather it’s an abject one, shrouded in shame and often guilt: had I done something differently, been a better person, had more sense, (insert your favoured self-blaming admonition) this thing wouldn’t have happened to me and I wouldn’t be a victim.

Victims are frequently blamed by others and victims frequently blame themselves, so all in all, no one in a healthy state of mind would desire the experience. In the current economy of victimisation, the victim is always deeply in debt.

Being confronted by your own vulnerability isn’t an easy experience: many of us spend an inordinate amount of energy convincing ourselves we aren’t vulnerable, which is entirely unrealistic as we are, every minute of our lives, vulnerable to something or someone. Vulnerability is one of life’s inescapable conditions.

I suspect, though I have no proof, that one of the elements of victim blaming is anger at a being confronted by a victim’s obvious vulnerability that can’t help but remind us of our own precarious state in the world, a state many of us would rather not admit to. It doesn’t bear thinking about, the things that can happen to us, and victims can make us think about it.

If the injury can somehow be made to seem their own fault that makes us feel safer. We have control: we just won’t do what they did. These convoluted self-delusions are a sorry waste of psychic energy: denial is ultimately exhausting and it’s entirely unfair to project our own vulnerability onto someone else, rather than learn to live with it.

When I visited the doctor last week we got into a conversation about the 17th century Sephardic/Portuguese philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. I’m not sure why this topic came up but anyway, we talked about how Spinoza was banished from his Jewish community for what were perceived to be his heretical views. A cherem, or herem was declared against him, a form of shunning and ostracism employed as punishment for his refusal to accept god as some kind of divine human with emotion, intention, and desires. For Spinoza, god was Nature, and there was nothing beyond Nature and the laws of the natural world.

Spinoza also argued passionately for freedom of thought and speech: it is permissible to speak any thought, although not necessarily permissible to act upon that thought. Forbidding speech causes resentment and an inevitable backlash against the deciders, and only sends thought underground. No wonder Spinoza remains relevant hundreds of years after his time.

This conversation about Spinoza reminded me next of Judith Butler, American philosopher and gender theorist, who in 2002 gave the annual Spinoza Lecture at the University of Amsterdam. This lecture morphed into the book Giving an account of oneself, in which Butler examines, among other things, the concept of injury and victimhood, and what new ethical possibilities these experiences open up for a subject, what she calls…the moral predicament that emerges as a consequence of being injured…

From the traumatic and unpromising site of injury and desire for revenge or redress, Butler argues that …a model of ethical capaciousness… might emerge. This model of ethical capaciousness, she continues …understands the pull of the claim (for retribution) and resists the pull at the same time, providing a certain ambivalent gesture as the action of ethics itself.

As Spinoza’s thinking suggests, ethical capaciousness is permitting the thought without taking the action, a moral victory perpetrators outstandingly fail to achieve.

Much taken with Butler’s notions of un-willed injury as a site of ethical possibility, I wrote a paper that I gave at a conference at the University of Barcelona in 2008, titled The Experience of Being Injured: An Otherwise Perspective. The conference was about myth, history and memory, and I was exploring how traumatic injury and its aftermath, both societal and individual, are contained within these frameworks.

All of this has come  flooding back to me as a consequence of the last post I wrote on Sheep about memoir and trauma. There are, it’s alleged, too many people writing about their personal traumas; public accounts of private trauma will not bring about political change; must we have one more “misery memoir” and why aren’t these things kept private. These are some of the objections to what has over the last years become an outpouring of first person accounts of traumatised lives.

They are the objections of the very privileged, and they are both ignorant and pointless: trauma is not going away and one of the ways assaulted individuals attempt to deal with distress is to give their personal pain expression. This is a way of clawing back some of the agency lost when another exerts silencing power over you.

Criticising traumatised people for doing something that assists them is victim blaming. Unlike the victim, the consumer has the choice not to enter that world: it isn’t a victim’s obligation to stay silent in order to avoid disturbing bourgeois sensibilities.

Granted some media have seen an opportunity and set about exploiting it: take that media to task, not the authors of traumatic narratives.

The sheer volume of traumatised people on the planet is breathtaking: from stateless and displaced refugees escaping wars, to defence personnel, to paramedics and police, to those traumatised in childhood by sexual abuse; domestic violence, and sexual assault. Trauma and post traumatic stress shape and dominate societies and relationships. The effects of PTSD are crippling, not only on the sufferer but on everyone around him or her. The costs to society are astronomical.

Butler’s concept of the moral predicament anyone faces as a consequence of being injured can help shift one out of victimhood into agency. What actions does the injured party take or not take as a consequences of the injury? What does one do about the natural desire for revenge, for redress, for acknowledgement, apology? How far can one go before becoming a perpetrator?  What if the law will not assist you, or fails in its attempts?

The moral predicament that results from un-willed injury is an opportunity to regain the agency that is lost when someone is used by another as a means to an end. It is an ethical possibility that rises out of the ashes of an immoral act. Very often the first step on this alchemical progression is the externalisation of personal trauma through artistic expression.

It’s ludicrous to expect that a memoir or a thousand memoirs of personal pain will bring about political change, then complain when it doesn’t happen. What actually does change is that instead of one or a thousand people crippled and without agency, some will make a partial or whole recovery as they struggle with their moral predicament and give that struggle expression. Every victim experiences a form of cherem, of shunning, of banishment. Having no voice is one form such exclusion takes.  If we find a voice with which to paint the trauma, or write it, or compose it for piano, who cares, if the outcome is functional, productive people?

Expression of our personal pain is indeed a blow for justice: that it may not be someone else’s notion of what justice is and how it ought to be attained is irrelevant. Traumatised people have usually done enough of what other people want the way other people want it done. We don’t have to do it anymore.

And most of all we do not have to observe the bourgeois values of “privacy” that silenced many of us in the first place, and made our abuse possible.

 

 

The memoir police

2 Jun

Derrida Quote

 

A couple of years ago, British concert pianist James Rhodes succeeded in his efforts to have the English Supreme Court overturn an injunction granted to his ex-wife that prevented him publishing his memoir of a childhood in which he was sexually abused.

Hs ex-wife was granted the injunction on the grounds that the book would upset their son, should he ever read it.

Rhodes’ memoir has since been published.

Spectator journalist Brendan O’Neill thought this was a just outcome, however, as he argues in this piece titled Another child-abuse memoir: why can’t the past be private, the injunction should have been a personal one, applied by Rhodes against himself, because people should simply not write “misery memoirs” whose “take-home message is that humanity is ultimately wicked.”

A few days ago, SMH journalist Kath Kenny published this piece titled Our insatiable appetite for women’s tragic stories, in which she expresses her frustration with what she calls a “first-person traumatic complex” or as O’Neill would have it, the misery memoir industry. Apparently it’s virtually de rigueur to disclose traumatic events if you want to get ahead in reality TV or the published world, and people who don’t have anything traumatic enough to relate are being discriminated against.

Then Helen Razer published this piece titled Writers and artists your personal pain is not a blow for justice, in which she argues that the personal is no longer political and, puzzlingly, that we don’t need any more personal stories, we need more bulk-billing, as if one has any effect at all on the other.

Like O’Neill, Razer states her belief that some traumatic tales are too horrifying to be publicly told, and it would be better for everyone if they were kept private. There is, she argues, no longer a possible political outcome from  the writing of the self: that ship has sailed. Whether or not you agree with this statement depends entirely on your definition of the political.

Razer’s piece is more interesting than either of the others, and I believe that out of the three, she is the only one to have written her own memoir of surviving suicidal depression. I learned this from someone who took her on in the comments with barely disguised accusations of hypocrisy.

While none of these journalists have the ability to silence those who choose to write or speak about traumatic events they’ve survived, it is interesting that all three are making a bid to prescribe what our public narratives should and should not accommodate, and to determine what is suitable for public consumption and what ought to remain private. None of the journalists offer any evidence to substantiate their views: apparently they just feel it’s all gone too far, or to be specific, it’s gone too far for their comfort.

I’m not entirely sure how to respond to these complaints from the privileged about there being too many published accounts of private trauma. I think, certainly for women, it has only been possible to write the self at all for the last three decades or so, which in the scheme of things is barely a nano second so it seems a little premature for cultural critics to be telling us we ought to shut up about it.

There is also an enormous amount of scholarly literature on autobiography and memoir, that reveals the genres to be rich and complex. Indeed I wrote my Honour’s thesis on that very topic. For example, who is the “I” who writes? “I am spacious, singing Flesh, onto which is grafted no one knows which I…” exalts Hélène Cixous.

“Writing so as not to die,” observed Foucault “is a task as old as the world.” There are trauma survivors who write so as not to die, either metaphorically or literally. I find it extremely difficult to speak about my childhood trauma. Writing is my liberation, my mastery of what once governed me.

Nobody is forcing anyone to read our work.

To claim that work isn’t political is ridiculous.

To be sure, there’s some bad writing in the memoir genre, as there is in every other genre but that’s a matter of aesthetics and taste. I’m about to read Nick Cave’s The Song of the Sick Bag and after that there’s Patti Smith’s The M Train waiting on my bookshelf. There’s some memoir I wouldn’t go near, which doesn’t mean it ought not to have been written, but that this is a question of interest and personal taste.

It is, I think, mean-spirited and not a little ignorant to complain about others writing memoirs of trauma.

The division between public and private has always worked in favour of the powerful and the abusive. It’s not a little chilling to find our cultural critics calling for a withdrawal of traumatic stories back into the private from which they have so recently been liberated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s only one leader in the debate & it isn’t Turnbull.

30 May

Bad Leaders

 

If there is one piece of knowledge we’ve painfully acquired during the last few years in Australian politics, it’s that a leader of both major parties can be brought down by colleagues at any moment.

Voters may be witness to the stormy trajectory of a leader’s demise, as we were with Tony Abbott. Then again, it might come entirely out of nowhere as happened with Kevin Rudd, when we woke one sunny morning to find him slaughtered, and Julia Gillard dancing on his grave.

In a paradoxical correlation, the more insecure leadership in the ALP and LNP becomes, the more our elections assume a presidential quality in which public focus is steered towards leaders rather than policies. Logic would argue against this focus, given the proven temporary nature of leadership, together with the factions within both parties struggling for control. The leader and faction you voted for today may not be the leader and faction you end up with for three years, because unlike in a presidential system, the parties have been at liberty to oust a leader at any time.

Since the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd debacle, the ALP has put in place certain measures that make it more difficult for their leaders to be chucked out, and it’s astonishing to me that they aren’t making more of this thrust for stability in their election campaign. If you aren’t united how can you govern a nation, asked Mr Shorten before Abbott’s demise, a question all of us ought to ask before we vote.

If you vote ALP, you have the reassurance that their time and energy is less likely to be squandered on internal leadership battles. They are freed from those concerns to concentrate on actually governing, which is far more than can be said for the LNP.

As opposition leader Bill Shorten pointed out in the Leaders’ Debate last night, Turnbull is controlled by his party while Shorten is in control of his.  This may well be the best zinger we ever hear from Shorten, and it zings with truth.

You are a leader in nothing but name if your every move is orchestrated by those you ostensibly lead, and there is no doubt that Turnbull has compromised himself almost beyond recognition in order to soothe the slavering right-wing in his party and retain their support.

Turnbull demonstrates few, if any, political leadership qualities. He’s a man who wanted to be Prime Minister at any cost not because he wanted to steer a country wisely into its future, but because he wanted to be Prime Minister. In this, he is no different from the man he ousted.

Shorten is the leader of his party in every sense. He won’t be thrown out. He doesn’t have to submit to factional demands in order to maintain his leadership. He is at liberty to focus on good governance in ways that Turnbull is not.

If you’re voting for the man and not the policies, it makes no sense at all to vote for Turnbull. He could be gone, even if he wins, and your vote is down the dunny.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m over the leadership dramatics. We’ve been badly served by the major parties’ internal strife for long enough.

There is only one leader in the debate, and it isn’t Turnbull. There’s only one major party in the debate that comes anywhere near allowing real leadership, and it isn’t the LNP.

That being said, we should still weep for our lack of decent choice.

 

This is not a rape.

25 May

 

Monsters under the bed

Monsters under the bed

The representation and simulation of rape has existed in many cultures, from the time humans first learned to make art. Sadly, none of these thousands of years of representation and simulation have done anything at all to prevent sexual assault.

So it is with some cynicism that I read artist Sophia Hewson’s explanation of her latest work as an attempt to bring the rape of women to our attention in the hope of subverting patriarchal notions of female victimisation and self-sacrifice, thus turning the trauma of rape into the liberation of empowerment.

While it is true that a raped woman need not remain forever a victim, and that the recovery of empowerment post trauma is indeed a real possibility, I’m at a loss as to how a video of a simulated “rape” scene will in any way assist the difficult progression from victim to empowered survivor.

Titled Untitled (“are you ok bob?”), the work is a video Hewson “arranged and choreographed” featuring herself and a male stranger she invited to her home to “rape” her on camera.

Immediately we note the absence of rape criteria: this is a pre-arranged consensual act, not a sexual assault.

All that is seen of the “perpetrator” are his hands and arms: the camera remains focused on Hewson’s face throughout the act. In itself this focus is, according to Hewson, a transgressive act: raped women are frequently depicted with eyes downcast, in what is presumed to be avoidance, and learned shame. (It is also an effort to protect oneself from being further violated by the gaze of others at a time of great vulnerability, among other things). Hewson claims she is instead “looking back at us from the experience” and indeed she is. However, the experience from which she is looking back is one of consensual sex, not rape.

Hewson did not enjoy making the video, she states. Not enjoying consensual sex with a stranger you’ve choreographed to “rape” you differs considerably from experiencing an act of sexual assault.

I confess myself entirely dumbfounded by this latest feminist effort to expose the damage done to raped women through a depiction of not-rape that effaces reality. I think I ought to be angry, but I’m too baffled for anger. Who is the consumer for whom this work is created? Is it intended for the titillation of the safe? Is it rape porn? Is it as ethically bereft as poverty porn or disaster porn?

Is it co-opting suffering for personal gain? For the delicious thrill of not being one of the violated, for the guilty pleasure of being privileged enough to only pretend it’s happening, like children frighten themselves by imagining monsters under the bed, just for the euphoric sensation of discovering there are none?

For mine, this work marks an alarming low in the discourse of sexual assault. It is bereft of context. Its raison d’être is as a simulation of rape, entirely gratuitous. It will be viewed with appalled fascination, no doubt by many, but what it will do for women and our unenviable position in the patriarchy is not apparent to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, Beyonce’s sportswear does not empower me

16 May
This is an ironic photo from 1970's not Beyonce's sportswear LOL

This is an ironic (iconic as well) photo from 1970’s not Beyonce’s sportswear LOL

 

I do a fair bit of exercise. I go to Pilates, Feldenkrais, dance class, aquarobics, and in between I walk, run & swim, largely unsupervised.

With the exception of the water-focused exercise I wear the same clothing to every activity: leggings, comfy bra, tee-shirt, bare feet or runners. I’ve yet to enter a sportswear store in search of empowering work out gear.

The idea that the clothing I choose to wear when I put my body to work empowers me is, to be honest, elephant shite. What empowers me is using my body, and as long as I haven’t clothed it in something likely to result in strangulation or a bone-shattering fall, what I’m wearing while I work my sweet ass off is of no effin consequence at all.

True fact. We do not have to wear any particular garment in order to be empowered by exercise. Empowerment is to be found in becoming familiar with our bodies and what they can (and in some instances cannot) do. Empowerment is to be found in the enjoyment, the satisfaction, the gratification of using our bodies to the best of our ability. When my Feldenkrais teacher instructs me to “open those knees, Jennifer, wider, wider” I’m giving the finger to all those years the nuns told me to keep them closed.

Do not be tricked into outsourcing your empowerment: it can never come from an external source such as celebrity leggings, & Beyoncé is only after your money.

Neither does Beyoncé’s sports line empower the women who manufacture it: …a seamstress employed to make the clothes in Sri Lanka told The Sun newspaper: “When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners.

The disempowered seamstress is paid just $8.50 a day in her sweatshop to produce for foreign women garments described as “empowering.” Oh, the feckin, the heartbreaking irony.

In my experience, the process of self-empowerment is a long and gruelling one. It requires a woman to deconstruct all the disempowering shite she’s been told about herself, and replace it with the wondrous adventure of discovering who she can actually be and what she can actually do, without the toxic dictates of societal expectation that all too often require us to shrink our potential, rather than expand it.

Claiming we can get all this from wearing a designer sweatshirt and leggings  is actually adding to the burden of crippling shite most of us haul about every day. We can’t. We don’t. Telling us it’s even possible is an anti feminist act, and yet another example of capitalism’s co-option of women for profit.

Nobody is winning here, except Beyoncé. Not the women in sweatshops, not the women shelling out for promises of empowerment. It doesn’t matter what a woman wear while she empowers herself.  It only matters that she does it.

 

 

 

 

Let them eat toast

13 May

 

Class War

 

By now, you’ve probably all heard the tale of Duncan Storrer, the man on $20,000 a year who asked assistant treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer on Qanda why people much wealthier than him are getting tax breaks and he isn’t.

Let them eat toast, replied O’Dwyer, but those mofos can cost up to $6000 so two good people began a fund-raising campaign for Mr Storrer to get himself a toaster bigger than his very kitchen because this is class warfare and it’s time to pick your feckin side.

Newscorpse immediately launched a savage attack against Duncan, despatching Princess Caroline Overington to find Duncan’s estranged son who when found had nothing good to say about his dad so obviously, dumbo, Duncan had no right to ask his question because his son hates him. No, I’m not linking to Overington’s piece of trash.

Chris (doglover) Kenny’s son  has also publicly proclaimed his hatred for his father but Newscorpse doesn’t see that as an impediment to Kenny’s authenticity. Apparently earning over $80,000 a year restores any authenticity one might lose as a consequence of your children hating you.

(There are in fact very many impediments to Kenny’s authenticity: his son’s hatred of him is not one of them.)

According to another Newscorpse Princess, Rita Panhini and some of her followers, the ABC needs to be pilloried for allowing Duncan entry to Qanda in the first place, and no government minister should appear on that show again until the audience is subject to an income test.

Newscorpse then attacked Duncan for not paying any net tax, overlooking the fact that Newscorpse pays no net tax either but  that’s OK because Newscorpse has a $6000 toaster it uses to burn to a feckin crisp poor people who ask inconvenient questions so it’s exempted from tax which is only for poor people anyway who have to pay it as punishment for being poor because the doctrine of predestination teaches (read this, it explains a great deal about the LNP) that if God wants you to be rich you’ll be rich and if you aren’t it’s because you’ve pissed him off so NO TOASTER FOR YOU.

Not yet satisfied with the zillion buckets of their own stinking piss they’d poured over Duncan, Newscorpse discovered his rap sheet and plastered Duncan’s offences all over the Herald Sun’s front pages today. Duncan has a record, ergo Duncan may not ask a question on Qanda about income tax.

Yes. This is our country.

Let us not pay attention to the entirely legitimate question Duncan asked, a question many millions of us would dearly love to have answered by Treasurer Scott Morrison or, if we have no other choice, Kelly (let them eat toast) O’Dwyer. Let us instead go through the questioner’s trash cans in a mammoth effort to discredit and invalidate the perfectly legitimate question  he is perfectly entitled to ask from his seat in the Qanda audience upon which he is entirely entitled to settle his bum, even if he only earns $20,000 a year, because last time I looked, asking questions didn’t have a means test attached to it.

But wait. There’s more. Newscorpse chief political editor at one of its many sordid publications, Ms Samantha Maiden, will later this month appear in court to be sentenced for drunk driving and leading police not once but twice on a drunken car chase along the Hume Highway and surrounds. In spite of being found guilty of all charges, Ms Maiden has continued to write her regular column, indeed, in one of her first tweets after appearing in court she called a respected economist a dickhead, rather a reckless judgement from an individual who’d just been found guilty of drink driving and attempting to escape not one, but two police pursuits.

For reasons not immediately apparent to this writer, Ms Maiden’s criminal activities do not invalidate her opinions, while Duncan’s do.

Why have the frothing Newscorpse contingent gone after $20,000 a year Duncan like dogs in an advanced stage of rabies?  Because Duncan’s question threatened them so profoundly they have to try kill him stone dead, or at the very least, silence him and anyone like him, forever. This is a message from the LNP to the country: Stick your neck out and we’ll set our backers onto you, your family and your life till there’s nothing left of any of it. We will exterminate you.

This is a class war. Make no mistake about it.

In case you still have doubts, yesterday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took flight into the exclusive “gentleman’s only” Athanaeum Club for lunch, after being confronted by single mother, Melinda, on the matter of how hard it is raising her children after family tax cuts.  As the Huff Post reports it:

The visit [to the exclusive club] comes after the PM addressed a Business Women and Working Mothers Forum in Sydney on Wednesday, and not long after he was confronted on the street by a woman named Melinda who claimed his policies were hurting families. 

Class war. Gird thy loins.

 

 

How politicians force us to make a choice we should never have to make.

11 May
Ironic points of light

Ironic points of light

 

The phrase, Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite, frequently attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville but in fact coined by French counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre, is translated as “Every democracy gets the government it deserves.”

It’s not a sentiment with which I entirely agree: many factors are at work in a liberal democracy such as ours that bring into question the core assumption of informed choice, not least of which is propaganda distributed by media with vested interests, and its collusion with political and financial elites. This piece in Alternet makes interesting arguments against de Maistre’s maxim, describing it as a toxic idea that needs to be laid to rest. It’s worth a read.

I’ve listened carefully to all the pragmatic arguments of ALP supporters, as I have for the last seven years. I know that in almost every way an ALP government is far preferable to life under an LNP administration.

And I am enraged at finding myself yet again in a situation where I would have to endorse the torture of asylum seekers and refugees in order to have a government that we in a liberal democracy deserve. This is a choice no one has the right to force upon citizens and we need to get very angry about being put in this position. 

All my life I voted Labor, until in 2009 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got into a face-off with Indonesia over Tamil asylum seekers picked up by the Oceanic Viking, refusing to allow them to be transferred to Christmas Island for refugee assessment.

In 2012 the Gillard government reopened detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru that had been closed by the Rudd government in 2008, at which time Immigration Minister Chris Evans described the Pacific Solution as a “costly, cynical and ultimately unsuccessful exercise.”

In 2013, newly returned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced, “asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.”

The ALP lost my vote in 2009 and they’ve never got it back. It was a difficult decision: my local member was a woman I admired, and it was hard to imagine her supporting Gillard and Rudd, who appeared to be in complete harmony on the matter of torturing those who legally seek asylum in this country.

Refugee policy is one of very many issues to be considered when deciding on the government we deserve. For mine, it’s a fundamental issue: if we have as our government a group of people who take pride in destroying the lives of those who have committed absolutely no offence by arriving here on boats, indeed, who have done so in response to the invitation we continue to extend as signatories to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, we have as our government a group of barbarians who will not hesitate, should it serve their purposes, to take severe action against any other group who in some way threaten their hold on power, or can be used to shore up their grip on governance.

For the last sixteen years LNP and ALP governments have used asylum seekers as scapegoats, fuelling entirely unsubstantiated public fears about the stranger as terrorist, and pitting those fleeing the destruction of their homelands and in many cases torture and death, against disgruntled voters who are being let down and damaged not by asylum seekers, but by their elected representatives.

Asylum seekers have proved and continue to prove infinitely useful to both major parties, as distractions from their own failures, inadequacies and corruptions. This is the moral calibre of our politicians: that they will actively or passively engage in and perpetuate this torture of waterborne asylum seekers for their political gain. There is not one of them, LNP or ALP, that I wish to support in their vile exploitation of human beings.

The Pacific solution uses cruelty as a deterrent to asylum seekers, and in so doing, compromises every single voter in this country, and ensures we are complicit. Every time we agree to pragmatically compartmentalise, we agree to the ongoing torment of refugees and asylum seekers. In this sense we do get the government we deserve as we agree to the ongoing torment of human beings by both major parties, in order to create for ourselves the life to which we feel entitled.

This is a piece written by a young friend starting out on his career as a journalist. It’s his perception of Manus Island and Nauru, together with information on what can be done to assist refugees. Cameron’s article  brought to mind some lines from W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages…

There are among the young ironic points of light, exchanging messages in this stuporous world. In them I trust, because I have lost all faith in the adults who govern us.

 

Are you rational or self-interested, PM?

3 May

Self Interest

 

“We mustn’t let empathy cloud our judgement.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged the Australian people not to get all “misty-eyed” about the fate of refugees held in off-shore detention. He followed this urging with the above statement, after learning that the late Nauru refugee, Omid, had died as a consequence of setting himself on fire.

Turnbull urged us to stay “rational” when considering these matters.

However, if you think he’s only talking about the plight of refugees we continue to torture, think again.

Turnbull isn’t the first to expound the false dichotomy of empathy and judgement: determination not to allow empathy for raped and molested children to cloud their rational judgement is one of the factors that enables the Catholic church hierarchy to shelter perpetrators of these crimes.

Note how in these examples from church and state “rational” in both cases reflects the institution’s best interests.

It’s remarkable how the “rational” so frequently coincides with self-interest.

There’s nothing wrong with being rational. It’s a human attribute and a useful one. Like so many other useful and admirable human attributes, the rational has been co-opted by the self-serving to justify (rationalise) cruelty, and contempt for anyone considered “other.”

Empathy, on the other hand, rarely equates to self-interest. For a start, empathy asks that we imaginatively walk a mile in another’s shoes, an act entirely at odds with interest only in the self.

There is no either/or in the matter of empathy and judgement. No legitimate judgement can be made without empathy. Empathy is what tempers decisions that are otherwise entirely self-serving.

Turnbull’s attitude is a core belief of today’s LNP.  If you think it applies only to refugees you’re dreaming. It is the default position of the present-day Liberal towards anyone considered in some way less worthy. It’s why they won’t tackle negative gearing. It’s why they fund private schools and want to strip public schools of all assistance. It’s why they don’t care if you can’t afford private medical insurance and suffer horribly as a consequence. The LNP will not let empathy cloud their judgement not only of refugees, but of every citizen in this country who suffers as a consequence of their self-interested (rational) policies.

Rational or self-interested? You decide.

 

 

 

 

Senior DIBP official overrules medical experts yet again.

30 Apr

 

 

 

 

FOLLOWING ORDERS

FOLLOWING ORDERS

 

The case of an African asylum seeker detained on Nauru and known as S99 is currently before the federal court, in an effort to have her brought to Australia for termination of pregnancy as a result of sexual assault.

S99 suffers from epilepsy. Whilst lying unconscious after a seizure, she was raped.

S99 is currently in Port Moresby where one David Nockels, senior bureaucrat in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, insisted she be sent for an abortion.

Abortion is illegal in PNG, and Nockels has not sought legal advice as to the consequences for S99 of undergoing termination in that country.

Further, Nockels has been advised by no less than five medical experts, including a neurologist and a psychiatrist, that S99’s condition is such that the procedure is far from straightforward, and must be carried out in a hospital and by medical staff with far more expertise in their various fields than is available in Port Moresby.

David Nockels has refused S99 permission to travel to Australia. He admitted to the court that he would consider flying an entire medical team, including an anaesthetist and all necessary equipment to Port Moresby before he would agree to S99 being transferred to this country.

“That is why we have Manus and Nauru,” David Nockels told the court.

The Guardian also reports Nockels admitted:

that a phone call to an obstetrician at the Pacific International hospital, Dr Mathias Sapuri, who had no expertise in neurology, psychiatry or PNG law, had reassured him that the abortion could be carried out in Port Moresby.

Further:  In his evidence, Sapuri admitted he had a financial interest in the Pacific International hospital as a shareholder, and that his private obstetric practice merged with the hospital. He did not say what proportion of the shares he held, other than it was “small”.

Ron Merkel QC, representing S99, asked Nockels why he valued the opinion of one doctor with an interest in attracting patients to the hospital over the advice of multiple medical experts provided by IHMS and lawyers representing S99.

In response, Nockels reiterated his confidence in Dr Sapuri’s advice.

It has also been revealed that the refugee known as Omid, who died yesterday after self-immolating on Nauru, was not evacuated from the island for 24 hours after suffering serious burns. The explanation for this delay is that DIBP could not find a pilot.

Omid was denied pain relief for several hours, and there was no appropriate treatment available at the hospital, causing risk of serious infection.

Two days ago I wrote about the unnecessary death of refugee Hamid Khazael on Manus Island from a simple scratch on his leg that led to septicaemia. This is a story of yet another overreach by a DIBP official who took it upon him or herself to ignore medical advice and deny Hamid treatment that could have saved his life.

DIBP is a government department rapidly coming to resemble a bureaucracy out of Kafka. Its secretive, punitive and murderous culture has no place in a liberal democracy.

DIBP is apparently staffed by individuals willing to follow to the letter the obscene orders of their ministers. Its default position is that asylum seekers and refugees who’ve arrived here by boat are not entitled to be acknowledged and treated as fully human. Even when granted refugee status confirming the horrors from which they’ve fled, DIBP officials, following orders, still treat those in off-shore detention as dispensable, and unworthy of proper attention and treatment.

The pathology and psychopathy starts at the top in any organisation. But after Nuremberg, that no longer excuses those who carry out the obscene commands of their superiors. DIBP is full of bureaucrats such as David Nockels: if it were not, the system would collapse.

In an ideal world DIBP staff would stage a full-scale revolt against their criminal masters, however I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

In what world does a bureaucrat have absolute control over the medical treatment, and indeed, the survival of a detained person?

Oh, yes, we know all too well the precedent for that world.

 

 

 

 

 

Let us not forget

28 Apr

Asylum in Australia

 

As we are dragged kicking and screaming into interminable weeks of sickening electioneering that will, yet again, have asylum seekers and refugees as one of its core bones of contention, let us not forget these facts.

Australia is a signatory to the UNHCR Refugee Convention.

This is an invitation to asylum seekers to request sanctuary in this country. They are not breaking any law by responding to an invitation we extend.

The manner of their arrival is irrelevant. There is nothing in the Convention stating that those seeking asylum in this country or any other, must not be waterborne.

The UNHCR requires that signatories to the Convention ensure domestic legislation is compatible with the undertakings of the Convention.

Successive governments have justified the indefinite and off-shore detention of asylum seekers and refugees by claiming that refusing them sanctuary in Australia breaks a “people smuggling business model” in which those seeking to exploit asylum seekers take their money, in return for the false promise of resettlement in Australia.

Allegedly with the objective of discouraging asylum seekers from embarking on perilous journeys and so preventing them drowning at sea, successive Australian governments have accepted the physical, mental and emotional assault of asylum seekers and refugees, the rape of asylum seekers and refugees, including the raping, assault and complex deprivation of their children; the destruction of the mental health of children, the murder of asylum seekers and refugees, their indefinite detention, their self-harm, their severe mental deterioration, and their refoulement.

In short, successive Australian governments have justified torture by claiming it will prevent death.

The subjects of this ongoing legitimised human experimentation performed by successive Australian governments are people who have legally sought sanctuary in this country. Many of them have been assessed as refugees.

As the PNG Supreme Court has now decided, off-shore detention of refugees on Manus Island is illegal. This means that successive Australian governments have committed illegal acts against innocent people. We’ve always known this. It’s taken the PNG Supreme Court to articulate our criminality.

And let us not forget that on top of the billions already spent on detaining legal seekers of asylum, we face a possible $1billion in claims for false imprisonment now the Manus deal has so spectacularly collapsed.

It’s difficult to feel anything other than the most profound contempt for the politicians who are responsible for this situation. As we endure the endless weeks of their ghastly clamourings for our vote, let us not forget that they have brought us to this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death by bureaucrat: this is not a metaphor

26 Apr

DIBP-Large

 

On ABC’s Four Corners last night we heard a Department of Immigration and Border Protection employee make the chilling decision to override a doctor’s request that dangerously ill refugee, Hamid Khazael, be evacuated from the Manus Island hospital to Port Moresby, where he could receive antibiotics that were not available on Manus.

The bureaucrat is heard refusing the evacuation request, suggesting instead that the drugs should be sourced elsewhere and flown to Manus, rather than the much faster alternative in which the patient would be taken to the drugs.

Mr Khazael was suffering from sepsis, following a minor cut on his leg. Sepsis is treatable but time is of the essence. DIBP bureaucrats caused unconscionable delays in Mr Khazeal’s access to treatment, in direct and deliberate contradiction of medical advice, and DIBP bureaucrats are answerable for the circumstances of his death.

They should be named, arrested and charged with manslaughter.

As the story unfolds it emerges as one of rabid bureaucratic power. None of the public servants who contributed to the awful death of Mr Khazael is a doctor, and yet they took it upon themselves to question and ignore medical advice as to the seriousness of his condition. At one point it’s revealed that it was thirteen hours before a public servant read an email concerning Mr Khazael’s dire condition.

The Minister at the time was current Treasurer, Scott Morrison.

The culture of DIBP is toxic. Its bureaucrats are protected by a cloak of secrecy and lack of accountability, instigated by successive ministers whose dark ambition it is to create and maintain a government department with absolute power, answerable to no one.

The doctors who spoke out on Four Corners last night have now broken the law that forbids anyone associated with off-shore detention from speaking of the conditions they encountered. This law in itself has absolutely no place in a democratic society.

Some doctors are at risk of arrest and prosecution. I have no doubt that should Immigration Minister Peter Dutton decide to put his money where his mouth is and have them arrested, there’ll be legal teams lining up to defend them. Should Dutton not act, then he confirms the suspicion that the law is intended to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence, rather than be enacted against them.

As I watched  last night I inevitably thought of Adolf Eichmann, who has become the universal symbol of the bureaucrat who is just following orders. For such personalities what seems most unthinkable is that they disobey instructions. Their obedience can and does result in suffering and death, however, that is of little consequence compared with the personal repercussions of disobedience.

Listening to the  DIBP bureaucrat refusing to authorise Mr Khazael’s transfer to a hospital which could properly treat his condition on the sole grounds that the policy is to fly the drugs in, not the dying man out, I though immediately of Eichmann, of the banality of evil and how it flourishes when good men [sic] do nothing.

There is not yet a situation in this country that permits the scale of murderous obedience enacted by Eichmann. We are only beginning to travel down this road. The fact that we are indisputably setting out on this journey ought to terrify us into stopping right now, and taking stock.

At his trial Eichmann claimed: There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders. I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.

The toxic culture of DIBP nurtures Eichmann-like attitudes. This government department should not exist in its current form in our democracy. It’s time to shine a light into its darkness. It’s time to make bureaucrats accountable for just following the orders of their leaders, and to make the leaders responsible for the intolerable demands they impose on people who are, after all, servants of the public not agents of its persecution.

 

The Circular Ruins

24 Apr

Prince Quote

 

In an effort to rid myself yet again of the mother of all ear worms, Prince’s Purple Rain, I turned this morning to Jacqueline du Pré’s performance of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, which decision brought with it a whole other unanticipated spectrum of matters to do with grief and loss.

My late husband, Arnie, decided in his seventies to take up the cello. This was after the guitar and the ukulele, and contiguous with Hebrew lessons and teaching Shakespeare’s comedies at U3A.

His cello playing was excruciatingly awful, yet he bent to his task as if he were Yo-Yo Ma.

I can’t hear a cello without seeing Arnie, lost in the joyous experience of wresting music from the instrument, so engrossed in his mission as to be entirely oblivious to the tortuously mangled sound he actually produced.

There is the manner in which we mourn for the ones we loved but did not know, such as Prince, Bowie, and for me James Gandolfini whom I still miss, and when Leonard Cohen leaves I don’t know what I’ll do. And then there is the manner in which we grieve for our partners. The former is a but a pale imitation of  the latter, nevertheless, it has the power to evoke the devastating loss of far more powerful and intimate loves.

Each of us finds our own way to live with our grieving, because what else is there to do?  Yesterday I found myself re-reading a story by Jorge Luis Borges, The Circular Ruins, about a man who dreams a man, only to understand that he himself is the product of yet another man’s dream. Borges begins with a quote from Through the Looking Glass VI : And if he left off dreaming about you…

I read this story again because it was one that delighted Arnie, he read it to me many times. I wanted to read it through his eyes, I wanted to understand why it so delighted him.

I wanted to be with him again. Which of course, I can never be.

The enormity of loss and grief makes itself evident intermittently. Were it otherwise, it would be intolerable. We must get through this thing called life.

But if we leave off dreaming about them…?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now cracks a noble heart / Goodnight, sweet Prince…

24 Apr

 

Thrilling deconstruction of Prince’s performance in the above video from Daniel Ralston here 

 

 

 

The most disrespectful question: why doesn’t she just leave?

22 Apr

Why doesn't she just leave?

 

The question “Why doesn’t she just leave” continues to be asked of and about women who live or have lived with domestic violence.

Aside from practical considerations such as ever-decreasing government funding to frontline refuge and legal aid services that make it difficult for a woman to find somewhere to go and access the trained assistance she needs.  Apart from the acknowledged fact that attempting to leave is the most dangerous time for women and children, as her desperate assertion of independence can incite a perpetrator to even greater brutality as he attempts to maintain control of her.

Aside from those considerations, there are the well-documented complexities of human reactions frequently demonstrated in situations when violence is inflicted by those upon whom we are in some way dependent. Even a rudimentary understanding of these complexities will expose the question “Why doesn’t she just leave” as the statement of monumental ignorance and cruel disdain it actually is. A question that reveals far more about the questioner than it ever can about the questioned.

What it reveals about the questioner is that they are ill-informed, simplistic in their thinking, lazy,and lacking the ability to imaginatively transpose themselves into the shoes of another. They are also likely living comparatively safe lives, and haven’t been unduly challenged. They are disturbed by domestic violence and wish it would just go away, or that the victims would just leave and then it would all go away and most importantly, cease disturbing them. It’s a question always asked with an undertone of exasperation and an overtone of blame: why can’t you take responsibility for yourself? What’s wrong with you?

It is an accusatory question that blames the victim.

In short, the question is utterly disrespectful.

It’s likely difficult or impossible to prove this theory, but I’ve been thinking for some time now that lack of concern for violence against women by governments (amply demonstrated in reduced funding, lack of refugees, denied access to legal assistance and the rest, in spite of many grand words about “respect”) is underpinned by the question “Why doesn’t she just leave?” In other words, violence against women continues with little and indeed lessening government alarm, because women are judged as not having the sense or the willpower to leave situations that are patently bad for themselves and their children, so why, if they won’t help themselves, should governments and taxpayers bother?

Do governments also secretly ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

People who ask this question have the emotional intelligence of a turnip. I’d like to know, though I probably never will, just how deeply this attitude is entrenched in politicians who make decisions about combating intimate violence against women. Do they secretly believe all a woman needs is to have the guts to walk away, to somewhere, into the sunset perhaps? And does this explain the lack of interest in assisting her?

There is no sensible explanation for the general lack of political will to do far more about intimate violence than has yet been done. The options for women attempting to leave violent partners are decreasing. Police have fewer refuges to which they can take victims. Specialist domestic violence services have been subsumed under the umbrella of homelessness. And the numbers of dead and injured women and children keep rising.

When someone asks “Why doesn’t she just leave” maybe it would be interesting to respond “Why are you asking that question?”

Women enduring domestic violence and its aftermath ought not to be subjected to such questioning, overt or covert and I suspect the question, and the attitude that makes it possible for such a question to even be asked, is somewhere close to the heart of an explanation of why governments will not act in ways commensurate with a crisis that, like it or not, affects everyone, even the complacent, in some detrimental way.

 

 

Not the full quid

20 Apr

 

Ceci n'est pas un chien. Image: Daniel Munoz

Ceci n’est pas un chien.
Image: Daniel Munoz

Barnaby Joyce is always saying something remarkable for its inanity, and the last couple of days he’s done nothing to cause me to reassess my low opinion of his tortuous thought processes.

I watched him on ABC News 24 as he descended into red-faced blather on the subject, yet again, of Johnny Depp’s damn dogs, free associating like a unicyclist careening around the pavement whilst juggling plates about at any moment to topple, on the dangers Depp’s canines presented to our biological security. Not that I wish to play down Depp’s arrogant offences but Barnaby in the mix can reduce almost any topic, however serious, to farce.

Barely recovered from that comedic interlude, I was almost immediately subjected to Barnaby’s strident claim that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should be returned as PM on the grounds that he, unlike Opposition leader Bill Shorten, has made a quid in his life.

I confess myself somewhat unnerved by this narrative newly entering our politics and seeking normalisation, that the only requirement for holding high office is the demonstrated ability to make a quid, or rather, millions of them. It matters not how the quid is made, indeed the less said about that the better, it’s merely the having of the quid that counts because having lots of quids equals substance and talent sufficient to run a country.

By this measure it is only a matter of time before one of the Kardashians runs for public office.

Those of us who have not made a quid, and I use the phrase as a metonym for wealth rather than the middle-class comfort that aspires to and imitates the shenanigans of the wealthy, are in this narrative called upon to respect the rich and accept the fact of their greater wisdom because after all, nongs like us are disqualified from power having not earned it, because we haven’t got the nous to acquire the requisite quids.

This attitude has been joyfully embraced by right-wing Christian fundamentalists, who have now incorporated as evidence of God’s love and favour the possession of wealth. You have quids because god wants you to have quids and if you don’t have quids it’s because god doesn’t want you to have quids because you haven’t been sufficiently subservient to him and you haven’t done his will.

This combination of politics and religion creates a powerful discourse in which having quids is normalised as a measure of  sacred and profane achievement. Ultimately it relieves both religion and politics of the burden of giving a damn about anybody with less quids: either you haven’t earned it when you should have, or god doesn’t love you enough to let you have it so why should we?

As we approach the next federal election, assume the crash position and kiss your arse goodbye, because barring a miracle, this poisonous narrative will have found the normalisation it seeks, and the majority, who continue to show themselves as being far from the full quid, will keep the conservatives in place, normalising inequality, normalising lack of health care and education, normalising draconian police powers and further normalising the outrageous privilege of those with quids.

It is astounding how some people most disadvantaged by conservative ideology continue to support its rhetoric.

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s head: don’t go in there, you might not get out

17 Apr
Trump's wisdom? Or trumps wisdom?

Trump’s wisdom? Or trumps wisdom?

Guest post by psychologist Dr Stewart Hase.  Stewart blogs here

Human Irrationality 102: The Trump Phenomenon

As a psychologist, it is difficult to resist exploring the Trump phenomenon. There are two aspects to what is happening in probably the most bizarre presidential race that I have seen in my lifetime. The first is the man himself and the second, probably more important factor is the support that has gathered around him.

Most psychological profiling is undertaken using a mixture of interviews and sophisticated personality testing tools. For me, the well constructed interview is the most effective means to understanding people, if you know what you are looking for and have the right interviewing technique. To construct a profile of someone from just watching them from afar is fraught with risk. You probably wouldn’t do this with most politicians, who show very little of themselves. In the case of Donald Trump, we have a gift that keeps on giving in terms of the showing of himself. Furthermore, there is a consistency to what you see, as well as a fairly well documented history of the man himself. So, I’ll have a go.

Trump is extremely narcissistic. As well as an inflated sense of his own importance, that is at odds with reality, he is quick to anger when criticised. We have seen his angry retorts towards his critics, as well as his tendency towards litigation in his many business failures in which he quickly blames others.

It is pretty clear he lacks empathy and is extremely impulsive. This combination is unfortunate because he fails to understand the behaviour of others, is not concerned about their feelings and does not think before he acts or speaks. Added to this is an obvious, ‘Do what it takes’ attitude to getting what he wants. Ordinary people lost lots of money investing in his ventures that he, without a second thought, abandoned. He sees these people as ‘losers’. Trump just doesn’t care much about people and, gives the impression that he is a bully both at work and elsewhere.

What does Trump believe in? I suspect that he doesn’t much believe in anything, given his about-face on so many issues and his business antics. He has probably never had any long-term goals-in fact he may not be able to set any. Trump has never run for any kind of political office before, has never trained himself. He was trained in the family real estate business but his ventures since then have been impulsive and, mostly ill-conceived. Apart from 4 bankruptcies, that he has been able to personally avoid, he has a string of huge business failures.

On the face of it, Trump is very confident and seems to lack anxiety. While there may be many insecurities in his deep unconscious driving this behaviour (I’ll leave it to Jung to sort this out), we see someone who believes in himself and believes that he is right. This lack of fear along with his impulsivity and inability to plan makes for an interesting combination.

I saw somewhere in the media the question of what is happening in Trump’s mind. I suspect that it is chaotic in there. He is an extreme extrovert, he thinks out loud and has a low attention to detail. There is a lot spinning around in his head and it just has to come out, verbally. Many people in public life are extraverts but Trump is completely off the scale. He just has to process information by speaking. Again this is linked to an inability to plan and to foresee consequences. I think he is probably cognitively intelligent (although I’m not totally convinced of this) but very low on social/emotional intelligence.

The support Trump has gathered is significant. Many commentators have pointed to the fear that the republican machine has gradually built up since the inauguration of Obama. He inherited an economy in a mess, two wars, social systems in chaos, high unemployment and so on, but this was sheeted home to him and his party by a cleverly orchestrated fear campaign. It is also clear that there are a lot of people suffering in the USA from a variety of causes but which can be attributed to long-term middle class policy failure and the darker side of capitalism. In short, capitalism has not delivered on its promises. Trump inherited an environment of fear and has used it to his advantage.

When people, and more so groups of people, become fearful they look around for someone to blame. In Germany in the 1930s it was the Jews and many governments around the world, including the Vatican, turned a blind eye to the systematic abuse of a whole ‘nation’. In the US of A at the moment it is vilification Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, the ‘soft’ government, drug abusers, women, Bernie Sanders and all other democrats, and so on-you’ve heard it all. But this time nations, thanks to social media, are taking notice.

So, we should not be surprised, given it has happened before, that someone like Trump is able to gather people around him. He has been able to appeal to the darker side of human nature-stereotyping, bigotry, racism, misogyny, narrow mindfulness, hatred, and the need to express discontent through violence. If it were France in the late 18th century we would hear the tumbrils clattering along the cobbled streets heading for Madame Guillotine.

Human irrationality is a fascinating phenomenon and we are seeing it in spades in the US of A right now. But, irrationality is around us all the time in everyday life and often has very unfortunate consequences. Perhaps the civilisation of the human species is a fantasy given the current state of our evolution.

Barcelona tonight

15 Apr

60 Minutes

 

Guest post by Paul Walter, a longtime friend of No Place for Sheep

Fans of Media Watch will recall from twenty years ago an episode where Channel 7’s TDT got caught out on a profound fraud involving the pursuit of Christopher Skase in Spain.

Now, why am I bought to mind of this?

At the moment a big story has broken involving the arrest of a 60 minutes team in Beirut during an episode about a “recovery” of children held by their father who had failed to return them to their mother after a holiday.

Now, my sympathies are deeply for this woman, but my real interest in the event is a growing unease in my own mind about what on earth possessed Channel Nine to pursue a risky and violent stratagem in pursuit of a story. In fact I am inclined to wonder to what extent the woman was exploited and now risks jail for such a venture, let alone the crew and highly paid rescue team

Did Nine choose the story in the hope of hope impressing their public or was this a genuine interest and concern in the issue of custody battles involving kids in different countries?

I believe what changes the issue is the use of Muslims as a subject at a time when an election is due and emotions have been high concerning what some term “Islamophobia”, as well as a crass faux conservative feminist aspect (I did say earlier my sympathies are with the woman and I bear no grudge against feminism itself, the point is the pretence of feminism as a means for reinforcing political and ethnic tendencies in an audience, as well as providing a cognitive pay-off for the continued watching of such reports; no nuances, just heroes and villains brought to book by 60 Minutes heroes.)

Now, what further arouses my reawakening of scepticism about what happens behind the scene with this sort of television comes from the old issue of chequebook journalism and the lack of much information about how these events are constructed.

What local msm seem not to have reported is the huge sum paid a mercenary rescue crew to do the snatch whist conveniently watched by cameras for a bit of drama. But the violence of the snatch caused a nasty incident, not a heroic moment for 60 Minutes and jeopardised this woman’s chance of getting her kids back.

No doubt a huge campaign will be launched further valorising 60 Minutes and worsening our relationship with mid-easteners, perhaps also ramping up emotion with local Muslim youth as well…cultural sensibilities.

My opinion is that this sort of thing is reckless and dangerous and done for a whole bundle of poor reasons, yet the truth must “out” as to the reliability of media and press as sources of information, these days.

Trump de l’oeil

14 Apr

Trompe de loeil

(Trompe de l’oeil is an art technique that creates the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. Literally “trick the eye.”)

That Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s appeal is one-dimensional hardly needs saying, however, what is worth remarking is his ability to deceive supporters into thinking he has depth. Trump makes astoundingly ludicrous statements, but he makes them with the faux moral authority of the extremely wealthy in a world in which the possession of wealth is in itself a signifier of moral substance deserving of respect. As with our own Malcolm Turnbull, if a man or woman manages to accrue enough money, it is assumed that he or she is capable of running a country.

Trump possesses the talent required of all successful propagandists: to make one-dimensional, exclusionary and divisive statements resound with the ring of deep truth, in the style of a painting intended to mislead with a convincing illusion of reality.

As Trump’s popularity rises and rises in the US , a woman can be forgiven for questioning the usefulness of a representative democracy that permits a blatantly disturbed majority the opportunity to determine a country’s governance.

Trump hates women, that is to say, he loves women until we cross him, sometimes entirely inadvertently by not physically presenting as he thinks women ought, and then he hates us. He has unresolved issues with menstruation: he thinks it makes us mentally incapacitated, homicidal, and disgusting as well.

It is actually possible to purchase from a US website panties, or what we more comfortably refer to as knickers to wear during our time of the month, that feature Trump’s face on the crutch so we can bleed on him. I’m conflicted. I get the satisfaction of bloodying Trump’s dial, but at the same time, having that dial nestled against my lady bits? I don’t know. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, she’s on the rag.

As a trompe de l’oeil politician Trump is, sadly, far from unique.  Failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott is an outstanding example of one-dimension striving for the illusion of multiplicity. This explains his bizarre use of three-word slogans, yes it does, one for each dimension, you know I’m right.

I doubt current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull varies greatly in his capacity for perspective, though he claims to be agile, innovative, and what’s the third one?

Trompe de l’oeil has largely fallen out of favour as an art form, except when used ironically on the walls of cramped inner city gardens. Unfortunately, it has become many politicians’ favoured method of operation,  as one after the other they abandon all remaining substance, replacing it with the illusion/delusion of eye-tricking depth.

As Baudrillard would have it, we live in the time of simulation, of references with no referents. Trump is the face of this hyperreality: bleeding on it may well be our only option.

 

 

 

Scott Morrison to speak at religious homophobic conference

12 Apr

 

Eric Metaxas Protest

 

Twitter just alerted us to the news that Treasurer Scott Morrison will be speaking at the Australian Christian Lobby’s 2016 conference at the Wesley Centre in the Sydney CBD on Saturday, April 23.

This piece in New Matilda reveals that the conference star turn is one Eric Metaxas, a Christian who believes there are parallels between the failure of church groups to resist Nazism in the 1930s and the growing acceptance by liberal US Christians of LGBTQI people. Metaxas has also backed gay conversion therapy.

We already know the ACL and its spokesman Lyle Shelton have campaigned, successfully it seems, to have the Safe Schools program gutted. We also know that the ACL has an inordinate amount of influence over our governments, including that of atheist PM Julia Gillard, whom Jim Wallace persuaded to keep the school chaplaincy program.

Why are our politicians beholden to this minority group of fundamentalist extremists?

Also speaking at the conference are Miranda Devine, Noel Pearson and Dr Jeffrey J Ventrella, whom New Matilda describes thus: A Senior Counsel at the litigious Alliance Defending Freedom, Jeffery Ventrella argued in 2012 that the US government should divert funds from LGBTI health programs and instead spend the money convincing those in the communities to change their sexuality.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if Morrison speaks at the conference without challenging its homophobic slant, he is endorsing that perspective.

He is billed on the conference website as The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia, so we can assume from this he is appearing in his official capacity, and thus as a representative of the Turnbull government.

It is most alarming that the Treasurer of this country should support the extreme discriminatory views expressed by Metaxas and Ventrella. It’s extremely alarming that Morrison should represent the Turnbull government at a conference that seeks to disseminate homophobic perspectives.

There is probably an argument to be made that politicians, particularly those holding high office, ought not to publicly support any religious views in their official capacity. We are a secular country. Our governments are not vehicles for the furtherance of religious beliefs of any kind.

There is definitely an argument to be made that no politician and legislator should publicly support views that are contrary to our anti discrimination laws, such as those held by Metaxas and Ventralla.

As usual, I don’t support no platforming. I do support protest, and support for protesters if you can’t actually be there on the day.

 

On s*x work and freedom of speech

5 Apr

 

noplatform

On April 9 and 10, Melinda Tankard Reist is hosting a conference marketed thus: ” ‘World’s oldest oppression,’ the first ever gathering of sex industry survivors and abolitionists in Australia, will be held at RMIT University in Melbourne next weekend.” On Tankard Reist’s website it is further described as a “two-day conference for a world free of sex trade abuse,” and a “feminist human rights conference.”

Various parties have called for no platforming action against the conference, on the grounds that it offers an opportunity for hate speech, and the furthering of a religious/moral agenda against all sex work. This agenda intentionally conflates sex work with an international and abusive sex trade of women and girls. The two are not the same, and Tankard Reist et al do their cause no favours by this conflation. Given my knowledge of Tankard Reist and other participants in this forum, I’d be inclined to agree with the apprehension of conflation: these participants steadfastly refuse the possibility of sex work as a choice, and make no distinction between women who are the victims of sex trade abuse, and women who choose sex work as their career.

Reist, Caroline Norma and Julie Bindel have all at some time made the argument that women who choose sex work as their profession are victims of a kind of false consciousness, that is, they don’t actually make a choice because they have been abused to the point where choice is no longer possible, they just don’t know that about themselves. This seems to me a most presumptuous and offensive conclusion for anyone to arrive at, other than the women concerned, and it should be identified and challenged.

I need to disclose here my personal encounters with Tankard Reist, when she threatened to sue me for defamation after I’d written on this blog about her religious affiliations and their influence on her moral and political sensibilities . While it was a difficult period in my blogging career, and brought all manner of people from Anne Summers to Julia Baird to Miranda Devine down on my head, and made me for a nanosecond a global cause and the subject of a change.org petition to save me, it also taught me valuable lessons about efforts to silence a contrary point of view, and it is this learning that I’m drawing on in my argument that Reist et al must be permitted their platform.

After my experience of Reist attempting and failing to bully me into silence with threats of financial ruin if I didn’t shut up and retract, (supported in her efforts by some of the mainstream press) I’m highly sensitised to any form of censorship. As an academic committed to the deconstruction of controversial ideas rather than their silencing, I baulk at the current penchant for refusing a platform to those who hold a position with which I strongly disagree. I can’t support authoritarianism in any form, and withholding the right to express ideas is an authoritarian act. Who is to decide which ideas may or may not be expressed? And since when was it possible to destroy any idea by denying opportunities for its expression?

The fact that RMIT hosts this conference (which at first blush appears perfectly acceptable, after all, who wouldn’t like to abolish sex trade abuse) doesn’t indicate administrative support for views expressed during the conference. Permitting the expression of ideas does not indicate  acquiescence or agreement with those ideas. If ideas are forbidden expression on a university campus, we are in deep excrement.

Tankard Reist is adept at tailoring her marketing to fit her desired outcomes: in this instance she is using an understandable abhorrence for the trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery as an opportunity to attack all sex work. This approach needs not to be silenced, but identified and challenged.

Reist also states that survivors of sex trade abuse are speaking at the conference and I cannot, in any universe, agree to the silencing of the voices of survivors. Undoubtedly they are survivors who support Reist’s opinions: they ought not to be denied a voice because of this. I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse: is someone ready to instruct me that I may speak of this only within their terms of reference?

The weapon in situations such as this is not censorship but protest. Demanding that a third-party, in this case university authorities, step in and take action on students’ behalf is infantile. If you don’t want someone speaking on your campus get out there and protest and hopefully the academic staff who agree will support you. No platforming is the first resort of the weak.  You can’t no platform the world and everything in it you don’t want to hear. You have to learn to use your own voice for the whole of your life so you might as well start at university.

I’d like to add that Vixen Collective, who are protesting the “World’s Oldest Oppression” conference, have not called for RMIT to no platform. They have simply asked for an opportunity to have a voice in the discussions. That request has been ignored by the conference organisers. 

 

 

 

Hello??? Being in government isn’t a license to impose your privileged ideology.

4 Apr

Turnbul-l end support for govt schools

 

Look, you may already be across this but for various reasons I’ve only just caught up. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  actually proposed that the states take on the entire responsibility for funding public schools, while Turnbull’s own government, proposing nary a cent to the project of educating children who don’t attend private schools, is happy to continue its excessive fiscal support of educational privilege.

Aside: It’s usually against my personal code of not wasting time with click bait to read, let alone link to Mamamia, however I like to think I’m big enough to overlook that code under exceptional circumstances so I did.

I cannot see any sense, decency, respect, care or concern for the country’s future in such a move. It is pure ideology. It comes a mere two weeks or so after the appointment of new Liberal Senator James Paterson, who declared that public school kids lack a work ethic found in private school kids, an interesting indictment seeing as he is himself the product of the public school system.

Oh wait. Paterson probably thinks he’s exceptional. Believing yourself to be exceptional is a core requirement for membership of the LNP. Please read: public school kids with the notable exception of James Paterson, don’t have a work ethic as strong as private school kids.

These arrogant, privileged twerps are in need of a damn good smack down and some serious re-education as to what the role of government actually is. It isn’t a license to impose an ideology of privilege. It is the responsibility to ensure as far as is possible equal access across society to core necessities such as education. To do otherwise is to bring a country to its knees. Intelligence and talent are not restricted to postcodes. Any nation that limits the potential of its young is a nation in its death throes. If you don’t believe me, please note that the majority of this government was educated in private schools. Need I say more?

This is class warfare. Federal de-funding of public schools while continuing funding of private schools is a divisive and dangerous proposition. It perpetuates the myth that having money (no matter how you got it or where you hide it) is morally sound; that money in and of itself has a moral value that supersedes the manner in which it is obtained.

Good government isn’t divisive and dangerous, and it isn’t focused on ideology. It’s capable of  some semblance of economic literacy as well. Turnbull’s government is exceptionally agile with economic policy: it should be a star turn at Cirque du Soleil.

 

 

Bob Ellis

4 Apr

Bob Ellis has died after a valiant struggle with liver cancer.

His talent was enormous and wide-ranging. He delighted, entertained, alarmed, offended, confronted, infuriated, and spoke truth to all kinds of power. I will miss his work so very much.

Vale Bob.

Bob Ellis

Abbott can’t take rejection. Hide your onions.

28 Mar

 

Abbott Onion Meme

 

In what can only be inspirational news for the ALP, failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced his intention to embark on a DIY election tour of marginal seats. This piece by Paula Matthewson spells out the possible consequences of this decision, none of which are especially enticing from the LNP point of view.

Abbott, it appears, is incapable of dealing with rejection by his party. He simply cannot accept their decision to lose him as leader. He’s lately taken to informing the public that of course he supports the Turnbull government because it’s built on Abbott policies. This claim led in turn to Turnbull’s bizarre plagiarising of a line from the US television series Veep, to the effect that what he signifies as Prime Minister is “continuity with change.” Julia Louis Dreyfus, star of the show, is reportedly “dumfounded” at Turnbull’s appropriation of a slogan writers decided upon solely because of its utter meaninglessness.

Obviously, the continuity with change to which Turnbull refers is his appropriation of Abbott’s policies (continuity) delivered to the people by the new PM whilst wearing a better suit (change).

If the Veep people are ever short of material they could do worse than check out the LNP: Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce threatening to slaughter Johnny Depp’s dogs, Bronwyn Bishop’s penchant for helicopter rides, Tony Abbott’s strange compulsion to publicly consume raw onions, George Brandis and his electrifying description of meta data, please, somebody stop me.

Few would disagree with Abbott’s belief that Turnbull’s government has retained his policies. However, the most relevant question Abbott apparently declines to ask himself is, why did his party get rid of him if it wasn’t about his policies? There had to be a sound reason for them to resort to the trouble and embarrassment of chucking him out, and in the chucking risk the ridicule of being perceived as just like the ALP with its Gillard/Rudd musical chairs.

The LNP is a gift that keeps on giving. Abbott is a gift that keeps on giving. His inability to deal with rejection is a godsend for the ALP. Have you all got your popcorn?

 

Down among the women

22 Mar

Raising sons like daughters

 

Our family’s four-year-old had his tonsils removed last week. We didn’t have much notice, there was an opening in the operating schedule and by Friday the wretched body parts that have plagued him for most of his short life were gone.

His dad had a long-standing arrangement to be away for the weekend. There’s a three-year-old, and six month-old Mabel Jane. So Mrs Chook and I went to the mountain to help out.

It’s quite some years since I’ve been in a women and young children only situation such as that one. I don’t want to start a gender war but the reality is, there’s a different vibe. For a start, everybody knew what to do without being asked. If there was washing, it got folded. If there was shopping someone went to the supermarket when a child was sleeping. When food was needed, somebody got it together. There was one woman for each child, a perfect ratio especially when a child is as sore and sorrowful as Archie.  I don’t know where I am, Giddy, he wept, as I lifted him out of the car when he came home.

There was always a hip available for Mabel Jane if she got fractious. There was someone to distract Ted when he claimed to be poorly and needing the doctor like his brother. The sick child spent the nights in his mother’s bed, while I slept in Ted’s room with the baby and Mrs Chook next door, and the broken sleep was shared around.

I don’t want to claim that only women can manage these things, or that all women can or want to manage these things. Neither am I claiming that men can’t do this kind of caring. What I am saying is that there was a particular connection between us that I’ve never experienced between women when a man is present. What I’m also saying is that this is a powerful and significant connection, and I don’t want us to ever lose our capacity for making it with each other.

I remember this connection from the time when my children were little. Hardly anyone in my female peer group had family available to help, so we assisted each other with reciprocal child care, and time out just to be alone. We got through long days with babies and toddlers by spending them together, women and children, at somebody’s home, in a park, at the local swimming pool. This is where I first learned to bond with women, and at the heart of our bonding was our love for our infants and our shared anxieties about being good mothers.

For me, these times down among the women were and are profoundly feminist experiences. I remain appalled at any feminism that denigrates or dismisses these experiences.

The problem is not the experience itself, but that society demands women carry most of the responsibility for childcare and domestic affairs, without remuneration, without relief and at unacceptable cost to the rest of our lives.  The burden these demands impose on us erodes our capacity for pleasurable connectivity, while denying men the opportunity to enjoy similar experiences.

For mine, sharing the care is fundamental to our species survival. Being down among the women is an experience that teaches almost everything humans need to know. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.

You don’t have to be a biological parent. You do have to care. And of course you do have to imagine how things might be if sons were raised more like daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about s*x

21 Mar
George Christensen MP

George Christensen MP

 

…how is it that in a society like ours, sexuality is not simply a means of reproducing the species, the family and the individual? Not simply a means to obtain pleasure and enjoyment? How has sexuality come to be considered the privileged place where our deepest “truth” is read and expressed? For that is the essential fact: Since Christianity, the Western world has never ceased saying: “To know who you are, know what your sexuality is. Sex has always been the forum where both the future of our species and our “truth” as human subjects is decided. Michel Foucault

If you cast a quick eye over the events of the last few weeks you will find a common denominator – sex. Whether it’s religious/political controversy and manipulation over the Safe Schools program, speculation over the relationship between failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, the outrageous proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage, slurs used by a former NSW Liberal campaign manager against a rival ALP candidate, the attempts by his own party to smear Liberal candidate Tim Wilson’s sexuality, or star footballers shagging their best friends’ wives, sex, how it is performed, by whom it is performed on/with whom, and the perceived legitimacy or otherwise of its performance is at the heart of these superficially disparate events, a small selection from the plethora of examples available.

That this should be so seems to me breathtakingly and incomprehensibly stupid. How, indeed, has sexuality come to be considered the privileged place where our deepest “truth” is read and expressed?

Straight, white, conservative men and women are fighting to retain their privilege to define what is sexually “normal.” Anyone who fails this test of normality is pathologised, demonised, marginalised, ostracised, and othered, and because straight white conservative men and women have such a narrow definition of what constitutes “normality,” swathes of  humanity are inevitably excluded.

For people such as Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen to accept programs such as Safe Schools, they must first acknowledge the legitimacy of sexualities other than their own. Christensen, along with the rest of the conservative crowd, claims to attach a profound moral value to traditional sexual expression: anything other than hetero and preferably in a committed relationship is immoral, and so disturbing it must be stamped out. In this world view, any efforts to assist the young among us who are struggling with sexual identity will only encourage them away from the deepest truth of heterosexuality, and worse, will put ideas into the heads of children who were comfortably straight before they heard about the program.

In other words, if we don’t offer any assistance to LGBTQI kids, they’ll just get straight because.

Lyle Shelton, CEO of the Australian Christian Lobby, recently claimed on Twitter that same-sex marriage would deprive him of his primary signifier of normality: if same-sex couples are permitted to marry, went his argument, people wouldn’t know he wasn’t gay. This is a terrifying and likely unwanted insight into the self-obsessed mind of Lyle Shelton, but it does articulate a deep fear of conservatives about their heterosexuality, and how they use sex as a moral marker of privilege, creating a distance between us and them that allows conservatives the illusion of rightness and safety.

What is conspicuously absent from the claim of sex as a privileged place of deepest truth is the question of power. Conservatives currently hold the power to to determine an overall sexual “normalcy” in Australian society, and the repercussions for those who do not comply with their limitations is considerable.  Sexual difference is a useful conduit for the exercise of power, and this co-option of sex for the transmission of power is exactly what we are witnessing in the Turnbull government, as the right-wing faction brings the PM to his knees, and forces him to act against his own beliefs on the question of sexual difference in order to save his job.

The relationship between sex and power is complex and fraught, both in intimate relations and politically. The focus on sex and its expression  as the dominant concern obscures what is actually going on. If you manage to establish a discourse in which sexuality and its performance are markers of acceptance or rejection then you have power, whether you’re in politics, a cult, a football club, a school or a family. Our sexuality is perhaps our most vulnerable aspect: who controls our sexual expression by whatever means, overt and covert, has immense power over our self-regard and well-being.

It’s not about sex. It’s about power. But don’t expect the straight white moral conservative men and women to admit to that.

LNP plays gutter politics with Safe Schools

17 Mar

Erotophobia

 

The Safe Schools program currently at the centre of right-wing LNP angst was functioning throughout failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s governance, yet not one voice was raised against it until Abbott was ousted, and Turnbull took his place.

After capitulating to his party’s right-wing faction and instigating an inquiry into the program, Turnbull is now faced with the refusal of that faction to accept the inquiry’s findings. Demands for suspension of funding to the program until there is a full parliamentary inquiry into its substance have now been made.

Failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott today signed a letter in support of a parliamentary inquiry. This is in spite of having maintained  complete silence on the Safe Schools program while he was the country’s leader, and in a perfect position, one would think, to take action against a program he considered detrimental to children.

Indeed, one can only accuse the failed PM of dereliction of his responsibilities to the children of this country if he allowed, on his watch, the unquestioning continuation of a program he now claims is extremely destructive.

The LNP is buoyed in its political co-option of children’s sexuality by fundamentalist religious groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby. This group, and those like them, are pathologically afraid of sexual feelings they consider “abnormal,” and sexual questions such as those addressed by the Safe Schools program. This demographic can confidently be labelled as erotophobes.

In a confluence of interests that will have disastrous consequences for young people exploring their sexuality, the LNP and the erotophobes have joined forces to bring about a mutually satisfying result: the withdrawal of Safe School programs and the undermining of the moderate LNP.

None of these men, and I believe the groups are largely male, have the slightest concern for young people who are questioning their sexuality. They are entirely concerned with the promulgation of their own ideology, and they will see others, even children, suffer and die in their deranged pursuit of ideological domination.

No use looking to Turnbull to save us from these forces. The man has all the courage of a dead cod.

 

 

 

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