Archive | November, 2015

After White Ribbon Day: put your money where your oath is.

28 Nov
Elsie. Australia's first women's refuge.

Elsie. Australia’s first women’s refuge.

 

November 25th is the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, known as White Ribbon Day after the organisation that works to prevent male violence against women, an organisation led by men with the aim of supporting women, and calling violent men on their behaviours as well as assisting them with change. Men are required to take an oath that they will protest violence against women, and the wearing of a white ribbon signifies that they’ve taken that oath.

FACT: Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women Project keeps a record of the names, lives and circumstances of all women in Australia who have died in incidents of violence against women in 2015. The total so far: seventy-eight.

FACT: Every three hours, somewhere in Australia, a woman is hospitalised because of injuries inflicted on her by her intimate partner. These partners are overwhelmingly male.

FACT: Every week, three women injured by an intimate partner in Australia suffer a debilitating brain injury.

FACT: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $101.1 million Women’s Safety Package designed to prevent and eliminate violence against women. This went some small way to replacing the $300 million in cuts inflicted on the frontline domestic violence service sector by the previously Abbott-led government.

This sector provides refuges, support and trauma counselling for women and children fleeing violence, and community legal centres where woman can obtain assistance with intervention orders, and the legal processes involved in obtaining protection from violent partners. Then Minister for Women Tony Abbott’s cuts seriously crippled the ability of these already overstretched services to cope with the increasing numbers of women and children attempting to escape violent domestic situations.

Less than 5% of Turnbull’s $100 million “restoration” of that Abbott- withdrawn funding will go towards the provision of those frontline crisis services

In spite of the White Ribbon Day hoo haa (which included, bafflingly, a fighter jet fly past over Canberra because nothing says let’s end violence like fighter jets) the Turnbull government has done practically nothing to restore frontline crisis services that will help save women’s lives, and help prevent injuries to women and children by actually giving them somewhere to go when a violent man violently erupts in their homes, and they have no choice but to flee.

While education, the raising of awareness, the provision of special phones, alarms and all the other measures the $101.1 million will fund are absolutely necessary, there is nothing, absolutely nothing as urgently vital as actually giving women and children somewhere to go in that terrible moment when they have to get out of their home. Yet this life-threatening urgency appears to be beyond the imaginative comprehension of politicians, both federal and state.

FACT: In NSW there used to be seventy-eight women’s refuges. Since the reforms of the LNP Baird government, some of which were necessitated by the federal funding cuts to states, there are now only fourteen specialist women’s refuges, the rest having been converted to “generalist” refuges under the umbrella of “homelessness.” This means women and children fleeing domestic violence can find themselves sharing a refuge with homeless men. It means that previously women-only refuges now must agree to accept homeless men in order to keep their funding.

FACT: Since the Baird reforms only half of the refuges in NSW have 24/7 contact and accessibility facilities, so make sure you get bashed between nine and five. If you go to the police in a crisis outside of these hours, there is nowhere for the police to take you.This does not help the police, apart from anything else.

After tweeting relentlessly on White Ribbon Day about the destructive “reform” of categorising those fleeing domestic violence as “homeless” (they aren’t: they have a home, they just can’t stay in it because of a violent co-habitant) I was contacted by Brad Hazzard, NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and Social Housing, who referred me to his media release on the topic.

This release tells me nothing I don’t already know about the Baird “reforms.” These “reforms” have led to many highly experienced refuge workers finding themselves ousted by faith-based organisation such as the Salvation Army, who, when the tendering process for DV funding was changed to the provision of “homelessness” services, were experienced in that field as specialist DV and trauma workers are not, and so neatly fitted the tendering criteria.

In case you don’t know and I didn’t, there are criteria for tendering so apparently it’s necessary to tender for the right to tender.

A study commissioned by the World Bank and published in the American Political Science Review — conducted over four decades and in 70 countries — details the context of violence against women. Its core finding: the mobilization of local grassroots feminist movements is more important for positive change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. 

Local grassroots feminist movements first introduced women’s refugees in this country. Local grassroots feminist movements developed a model for the assistance and protection of women and children escaping violent men with whom they shared their homes. Decades of training, experience and specialist knowledge informed the provision of frontline specialist crisis services by feminists and others who followed the feminist model. The model has its faults, as do all models. But it unfailingly prioritised the needs and rights of women and children fleeing violence.

There was never enough funding. There were never enough refuges. There were never enough adequately funded community legal centres.

After White Ribbon Day 2015, the situation for women and children fleeing domestic violence is more parlous and tenuous than it has been for decades. At the same time, there are more and more women attempting to flee violent situations, only to find fewer and fewer services able to assist them.

To Prime Minister Turnbull, to NSW Premier Mike Baird, to the White Ribbon organisation and all it supporters: look at the facts, and put your money where your oath is. Because as long as you wear that white ribbon AND refuse us the crisis services we so desperately need to save us from injury and death, you have no credibility at all.

What will it take for politicians to grasp the urgency of the situation? Turnbull and many others have articulated what it will take: a cultural change.

That cultural change begins with acknowledging that all women and all children share equal rights to a safe environment, and when that is not our own home due to male violence against us in that home, it is a government’s absolute responsibility to provide an option, until such time as we  are enabled to provide our own.

If the law can be changed overnight  when a handful of men are king hit on a public street, yet women’s crisis services are not available and adequately funded, despite the appalling statistics that tell us of the intolerable violence visited upon us, this tells me everything about this culture and how it does not equally value me, and it does not equally value everyone else of my sex. It tells me that there is not the political will to change the culture, and therefore it is unlikely to be changed.

Change the culture: Put your money where your oath is. Then you can wear your white ribbon, knowing that every night and every tomorrow, somewhere in Australia a woman will escape injury and death, and a child will escape injury and death because they have somewhere to go, and all the assistance they need to begin a new life in which they can be safe. Then you will send the signal to all men that violence against women will not be tolerated.

If you can’t do that you will not even begin to achieve cultural change, and your shiny white ribbon will be forever stained with our spilled blood.

It’s not complicated.

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful Lie. Tolstoy, Anna and Foucault.

24 Nov

Tolstoy Quote

 

Warning: Long read, don’t moan at me, contains Foucault.

In a sense, I am a moralist, insofar as I believe that one of the tasks, one of the meanings of human existence—the source of human freedom—is never to accept anything as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile. No aspect of reality should be allowed to become a definitive and inhuman law for us. We have to rise up against all forms of power—but not just power in the narrow sense of the word, referring to the power of a government or of one social group over another: these are only a few particular instances of power. Power is anything that tends to render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to us as real, as true, as good
― Michel Foucault

The Beautiful Lie, ABC TV’s Sunday night serial for the past few weeks, is a reimagining  of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, set in the present day and with the Russian aristocracy transmogrified into Australian sporting elites, wealthy inner-city suburban parents, spendthrift and drunken relatives, and of course, landowners.

It’s an imperfect but nonetheless impressive production: a complex story of infidelity, betrayal, heartlessness and social shunning of yes, you guessed it, Anna the adulteress.

Tolstoy, like all the very best writers, is in the Foucauldian sense a moralist, and doesn’t accept anything as untouchable, definitive or immobile, or beyond his authorial remit. Anna Karenina is a forensic examination of the hegemonic myths of the reality, truth and goodness of family, and of love outside the social confines that are reified as normal, love which is inevitably perceived as transgressive and in the case of Anna, infinitely punishable, primarily by exclusion from her tribe.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, is how Tolstoy opens his narrative, giving some indication of the trajectory of his lengthy imaginings.

Anna’s brother, Kingsley in the ABC production, is also an adulterer yet the consequences of his crimes of the heart are as nothing, compared to those visited upon Anna after she falls recklessly in love with Skeet, who is engaged to Kitty, the younger sister of Kingsley’s wife, Dolly.

Anna initially resists Skeet’s advances, but then leaves her controlling husband and young son to live with him, and bear their daughter. She is heartbroken by the loss of her son, who, with his father’s encouragement, refuses to see her. She becomes increasingly concerned that Skeet is philandering, yet every time she confronts him he denies this. In the last episode we and Anna see that he is indeed betraying her, in his mother’s house and with his mother’s knowledge.

The reimagining remains faithful to Tolstoy’s story and what is striking is the realisation that over time, cultures, and continents societal attitudes to marriage and adultery remain, in the middle class at least, largely unchanged and unexamined. The contemporary characters in this unfolding drama unthinkingly assume married love and lifelong coupling as of inherently moral value, against which Anna’s actions are cast as bankrupt, threatening their concept of themselves and the perceived inherent goodness of their life choices.

Anna’s tribe is, to use Foucault’s analysis, rendered powerless and immobile, their values untouchable as they unquestioningly accept the orthodoxy’s definition of what is real, true and good. Anna is torn between her own conditioning, and the disruptive nature of her desires, a power struggle that together with the unendurable ostracism of her tribe, is ultimately unresolvable for her.

In Foucauldian terms, Anna undergoes what he identifies as a “limit experience,” an unanticipated opportunity to challenge the power of the imposed boundaries of her life. The limit experience is the experience of extremes, which can release powerful creative forces and produce intense joy. The limit experience is the opportunity to liberate oneself, by transgressing  limits so set in stone as to appear “natural.”  The limit experience can take an infinite number of forms and in Anna’s case, it takes the form of sexual desire and the overpowering impulses of passionate love that crash through her values like a wrecking ball, causing all the chaos one would expect in a violent boundary rupture.

This is precisely what I love and have always loved about Anna. Unlike anyone else in her tribe, she has the yearning and the courage to blow her deadly safe life to bits. Inspired by desire, she refuses to accept the restrictive governance of peer constraints, and this impulse is as much of a shock to her as it is to anyone else. Nevertheless, shocked and awed, she remains true to the tumultuous experiencing of disruption, understanding that her life before Skeet was unfulfilled, and that there is no possibility of her resuming it.

What goes horribly wrong for her is that the man she chooses as her partner in the limit experience is not anywhere near her match, but more of that later.

The viewer isn’t called upon to question the authenticity of the protagonists’ behaviours and their consequences: they are as emotionally and psychologically representative of the present day as they were in Tolstoy’s. The woman who transgresses dies, either figuratively or literally, while the male transgressors lose very little, and are only temporarily shunned, if at all. There was no need to costume this drama: its themes and the manner in which their morality is upheld, transcend the passage of time.

Though Anna deeply loves Skeet, he doesn’t appear to have the character or capacity to meet her on the same level, something I think she understands quite early in their relationship but can’t bring herself to acknowledge. This is where her loneliness and sense of isolation begin: the man for whom she’s given up everything doesn’t know her, cannot meet her, and never will. Her isolation is exacerbated by the rejection of everyone around her, all of whom feel she’s stolen Kitty’s fiancée, abandoned a perfectly good husband and fretting child, and pretty much deserves whatever she gets.

When Anna turns up uninvited at Kitty’s wedding to landowner Peter, she’s wearing a scarlet dress. Everyone else is, at Kitty’s request, clothed in white. Everyone other than Anna is represented as pure and belonging, even the men who’ve betrayed their wives, including her brother. It is Anna who bears the brunt of the tribe’s fear and disapproval. It is Anna who is cast out, in order that the tribe might bond, their animosity towards her and fear that she will embarrass herself and them, becoming the bonding agent. She is the scarlet woman, the bright red blood that stains the virginal white. She is, quite literally, the rupture. They get rid of her as quickly as they can.

At first blush, it seems that Tolstoy is warning against illicit passion, his intention being to demonstrate that no good can come of it, and it will end, inevitably, in tears. The love may be real but the circumstances forbid its expression and to attempt to thwart those circumstances will cause only terrible grief and destruction. No more than in Tolstoy’s time do we currently appreciate the necessity of destruction as a pre-requisite for creation: the courage to disrupt, to permit limit experiences is framed in our times, as in Tolstoy’s, as madness and badness, and deserving of infinite punishment, never as much as when that courage is displayed by a woman, and expressed in a woman’s sexual and passionate desires.

But for mine, the core problem is that the lovers are mismatched: Skeet/Vronsky has nothing that comes close to the emotional depths Anna is capable of, and this is the heart of the tragedy. Anna’s desire for the limit experience is her desire for proof of life, however, her choice of lover is tragically misjudged. She has indeed lost everything, and for what?

When Anna kneels down on the train tracks, her expression as she awaits the oncoming locomotive is almost beatific. It is a weakness in the production, for mine, that Anna is portrayed as mentally unstable and under the influence of drugs as she begins her descent into suicide and the drug-fuelled instability is, it is implied, the cause of her almost orgasmic anticipation of death.

This representation feeds into the narrative that one must necessarily be of unsound mind if one wishes to die, implying that the only sane impulse we are permitted is the fight to stay alive. But should we ever accept any notion as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile, including the notion of how and when we should die?

That the desire to die indicates a pathological unsoundness of mind is as much of an apparently immutable “truth” as is the glorification of life-long coupling as a high moral ideal. It makes perfect sense to me that for Anna release comes in death, suicide, as Foucault would have it, being the ultimate limit experience. It is the ultimate act of agency, the ultimate rejection of external power-over, the breaking of the last possible boundary that holds us in place in this existence we call life.

Anna’s expression, as the train’s lights loom, is one almost of bliss: the end of her suffering is in sight and it is a thing entirely in her control. Everything else is lost to her, against her will and her wishes, but her life’s end is the one thing over which no one else has domination. They have abandoned and ostracised her: but Anna will ultimately be the one who abandons them in the most permanent of ways, and one from which there is no possibility of return and reconciliation.

In death Anna reclaims her autonomy, and for her, this is the only means available. The tribe will never fully re-admit her. She is not of them. She is the scapegoat against whom they measure their commendable morality. She has torn great rents in the fabric in which is wrapped the sanctity of family, and has failed to  redeem herself by repairing it with another, lasting coupling.

Anna remains, for everyone who encounters her, a tormented symbol of the clash of incompatible powers: the deadening powers of the institutions that govern our social arrangements, versus the life-giving powers of desire. Civilisation and its discontents. The sacrifice of desire that is deemed necessary to ensure ongoing orthodox social order. How telling that the symbol of this enduring battle should be a woman, and how telling that the resolution for the upholders of the definitive and inhuman laws  is that the woman must die.

I don’t understand him, complained a baffled Noam Chomsky after an encounter with Michel Foucault. It’s as if he belongs to another species.

Her peers did not understand Anna, either, wishing that she could be of a species other than theirs, and she has been misunderstood for generations since. Heck, I doubt her creator even understood her, but that he loved her there is little doubt. His exquisite and agonising observations of her every momentary mood convey his passion and obsession. As that other author of  the cautionary tale of an infamous adulteress who takes her own life, Gustave Flaubert, remarked of his creation: Madame Bovary c’est moi, so Anna is Tolstoy. The two women are very different, and for mine, Emma Bovary has none of the courage and fascination of Anna, yet the architectonics of both novels chart the traditional course of inevitable female ruination as a consequence of acting on illicit desire.

Were I to reimagine Anna Karenina, I would have her as a warrior. I would have her confront her tribe, and the useless Skeet, with her courage and her insight and her contempt for their comfortable acceptance of the comfortable orthodoxy. I would have her say no, the lie is not mine, it is yours, and there is little beautiful about it. I would have her choose life, and if necessary, dwell alone with her children until such time as she met a lover who would know her, and meet her, and be worthy of her.

Such an ending was likely impossible for Tolstoy to imagine, or at any rate, write, and his objective was not to create a warrior woman, but rather the victim of a cult of love, who would be held responsible for her own victimhood. Had Tolstoy known Foucault, he might well have written a different story, a story that challenged received notions as to the ways things are, always have been and always must be.

Yet in some sense, this is exactly what Tolstoy has achieved, by accident rather than design, and for this, I for one am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Waleed is both right and wrong

23 Nov

This passionate plea from television personality and academic Waleed Ali, made in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, begins with the statement: ISIL is weak.

This is true. ISIL, like any other organisation, institution and individual that resorts to violence, intimidation and slaughter, is weak. There is no strength in terror. There is only moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional weakness. To use violence is to admit defeat on all levels, though rarely will any organisation, institution or individual recognise and acknowledge that psychological truth.

The problem is, however, that weakness does not equate to harmlessness. The morally, intellectually, psychologically and emotionally weak have been responsible for the worst atrocities this world has witnessed and endured, and they have come from the east and the west, from most religions you can name, and from the secular.

It’s counter-intuitive to correlate weakness with terrorists. Terrorists terrorise, causing unfathomable anguish and disruption, disabling cities, bringing down aircraft, destroying families, creating bloodied havoc, leaving in their wake a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, rage and grief that have little possibility of resolution: why would we imagine these people as weak?

Waleed Ali is correct to call them weak in the moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional sense. But they are dangerous, and they remain dangerous, because weak does not equal harmless.

Today the city of Brussels is in lockdown in fear of a terrorist attack. ISIL are weak, but they can lock down cities. Imagine the fear and apprehension felt by residents of that city today, yesterday and tomorrow, as they wait for the next attack. And if it doesn’t come, they won’t easily stop fearing. ISIL are weak, but they are also controlling a city, manipulating its citizens through terror, and the threat of terror.

The weak are the most dangerous people on earth, because their weakness is so often expressed as brutality. To describe ISIL as weak is both true and misleading, the latter because the term “weak” is synonymous with harmless, pathetic, contemptible,vulnerable, but never with dangerous, murderous and brutal.

We can think of ISIL as weak, as Ali urges, but only in the understanding of what weakness means in this context. They are weak and they are dangerous. This danger can’t be underestimated because they are weak.

 

 

 

 

The immigration ministers and the Grand Mufti. And torture.

21 Nov

global-terrorism-3-728

 

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, along with former Immigration Ministers Scott Morrison and Philip Ruddock, took to the media last week to voice their disapproval of comments made by Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

There’s little doubt that some of the Grand Mufti’s remarks appear to rationalise, even justify, the terrorist attacks, by pointing to increasing Islamophobia in the West, and its symptomatic widespread willingness to regard all Muslims as harbouring secret and not so secret desires to destroy ‘western values.”

Dutton et al demand from the Mufti not rationalisation, but an unconditional condemnation of terrorist attacks, which is not an unreasonable demand. There’s a fine moral and intellectual line: while it’s important to grasp context, that’s an entirely different matter from using that context as justification for acts of terror.

That the west has been the cause of untold death and destruction in its violent pursuit of its own interests in the Middle East is also suggested by the Grand Mufti as background to current terrorism, a narrative I find difficult to disagree with, while simultaneously refusing it as justification for terrorist attacks.

Such is the state of things at the moment, it’s almost impossible to discuss context and history without being accused of being a sympathiser of whichever faction carries the role of baddie, and that applies to just about every situation, not only terrorism. Nuance is not currently our friend. Hardly anybody has time for it and social media is generally not its advocate.

State-sanctioned terrorist attacks perpetrated by the west are named more acceptably as “just war,” a term bandied about at the time of the Blair, Bush and Howard invasion of Iraq, that act of Christian crusading terrorism (the axis of evil, you’re with us or against us)  that left the country in ruins and some 700,000 of its citizens dead. This piece by John Pilger traces western state-sanctioned terrorism from the time of Pol Pot to ISIS, and it reveals us for the blood-drenched, murderous lot we are, despite the treasured “western values” used to justify so much of the horror we inflict on those who are not us.

The three immigration ministers who’ve complained about the Grand Mufti, Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, are responsible for the horrific indefinite incarceration of waterborne asylum seekers, even tiny young ones, in hellish conditions in off-shore camps on Manus Island and Nauru. These incarcerated beings committed no crime. It makes little difference, especially for women, that the Nauru detainees are now permitted to roam that island: they are likely safer in detention.

Conditions in off-shore concentration camps have been  described by the UN as violating the convention against torture. Think about that. Torture. We are torturing people. Yes. Us.

To which then PM Tony Abbott responded that Australians are sick of being lectured to by the UN. Well, what torturer ever liked having their crime named?

It is, to my mind, an act of terrorism to indefinitely imprison in vile conditions and without hope, a group of people who have committed no crime and with whom we are not at war. It is an act of terror to imprison and torture those who you know are innocent. These prisoners are subjected to torture in order to deter others from legitimately arriving in this country by boat, and requesting asylum. This is terrorism.

Their imprisonment is an act of violence. It is intended to intimidate a society of people who are unable to remain in their homeland for fear of persecution or death. Its goal is to achieve political, ideological and religious objectives. This is terrorism.

As I write this, there are reports that another boat has arrived near Christmas Island, and is apparently being towed out to sea again by our navy. To what destination? To what fate? Are there children on board? Pregnant women?

So it is with the barking laughter of contemptuous disbelief that I watch these three men take the high moral ground with the Grand Mufti.

It is not ISIS terrorists who will destroy our “western values.” We’re doing that all by ourselves. Yes, I would like to hear the Grand Mufti unconditionally condemn the Paris attacks. And yes, I would like to hear Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton admit to the torture they continue to support and perpetrate, terrorism that is inextricably linked to attacks such as those in Paris.

The three immigration ministers are as fond as is the Grand Mufti of citing justifications for their vile actions. Regrettably, I think we are far more likely to hear unconditional condemnation of terror from the Grand Mufti than we ever will from Ruddock, Morrison and Dutton, those valiant upholders of western values,  and steadfast protectors of the western purity of our borders.

 

 

Turnbull v Abbott: PM in an age of terror

17 Nov

Abbott v Turnbull

 

Insofar as personality is a signifier of leadership ability (and like it or not, it is probably the most important characteristic as far as the voting public is concerned) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was visited by the good fairy in his cradle while ex PM Tony Abbott was imbued with a Dickensian gloom by the bad one, who apparently took a set against him and threw in more than a dash of dark pugility as well.

Turnbull is a happy man who will likely smother us into an uneasy, baffled silence with his unrelenting affability and charm. Abbott is one of the more miserable public figures I can recall, who seems to feel it’s his duty to hector, lecture and create division amongst us, till we are choked by a miasma of exhausted despair.

However, Turnbull’s intelligence, good nature and charm works well for him internationally: sophisticated, urbane, accomplished, personable and wealthy, people take to him (if they don’t have to put up with him all the time, as do we) and likely open to him in ways it is impossible to open to Abbott, who never quite seems to get past the influences of the seminary, and his belief that he’s been chosen to bring us Truth.

If there is one thing we don’t need as we gird ourselves to deal with terrorist attacks at home and abroad, it’s a leader who believes he is the bearer of existential truths, and who sees the world in black and white with no inclination at all to investigate the grey zone.

Abbott has all the characteristics of the religious zealot, and since the Paris attacks has found various platforms from which to peddle his hatred of other religious zealots because their zealotry threatens his. This will get us nowhere, or rather, it will see us in a whole lot of serious domestic turmoil as tribe turns against tribe, ignorant prejudices fuelled by Abbott and his nemesis Pauline Hanson, whom he landed in jail because she threatened his claim to the title of Australia’s Leading Incitor of Fear.

Turnbull, on the other hand, will appear as a voice of reason, though he lost it somewhat when he first heard about the Paris attacks, stating that though the killers claimed to have acted in the name of God, they were actually perpetrating the work of the devil. Such rhetoric is entirely unnecessary. There’s nothing in the least supernatural about terrorism: it’s perpetrated by humans upon humans. The ability to terrorise is one of our more undesirable characteristics.

The PM’s relentless charm and good will is likely just what we need at this time to keep us steady: he is unlikely to threaten anyone with a damn good shirt fronting, and while he’ll be criticised mercilessly as a pussy by those who would see us engage in world war three, at least he won’t be whipping up ill will and fear. For this relief, much thanks.

I am of the opinion that it is the intention of Daesh to turn us against one another, and have those of us they don’t slaughter permanently weakened by fear, mistrust and hatred. Abbott’s trajectory, and that of those who support him, will lead us to precisely the same place: severely weakened by fear, mistrust and hatred, bitterly divided against one another. Daesh could not find more suitable allies than Abbott, Hanson, the usual shock jocks, religious fundamentalists and those who in some way, material and egotistical, profit from war.

Turnbull’s biggest challenge will be to control those within his own party who thrive on fear and repression. They are supported by many media voices, and their platforms are assured.

There is little that can be done to control Daesh at the moment. The only certainty is that for communities to turn against one another will be to give Daesh what they desire. I am not in the least enamoured of Turnbull or his style, but I can’t help thinking he is a marginally better leader in these times, in terms of the terrorist threat, than his ousted predecessor.

As far as domestic issues are concerned, the image at the top of the post says everything. Polish it up all you want, it’s still what it is.

 

Solidarity

16 Nov
People light candles during a vigil at the site of the two explosions that occurred on Thursday in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban - RTS6U96

People light candles during a vigil at the site of the two explosions that occurred on Thursday in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital Beirut, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban – RTS6U96

 

I’ve read all I can read for now from genuine experts, armchair experts, bigots, racists, xenophobes, politicians, atheists, religious persons, and trouble mongers, on the Paris terrorist attacks.

I don’t have the knowledge, the expertise, the wisdom to add to the thousands of words already written.

This woman, journalist Ruby Hamad, born to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother, says, for mine, the most important things that need to be said. In her article titled Paris attacks: Is solidarity for white terror victims only ? Ms Hamad, without hatred, rancour or the desire for vengeance, says what needs to be said about who is and who is not considered fully human, what it feels like to not make the grade, and who gets to decide.

Please read her piece.

The Newsroom, politicians, reality and Annabel Crabb

10 Nov

the-newsroom

 

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve spent some time lately holed up binge-watching television series, the latest being a revisiting of the 2012-2014 HBO production, The Newsroom.

Written by Aaron Sorkin, it has many of the characteristics of The West Wing: engagement with complex issues in an at times tortuous, but honourable manner, and ongoing examination of the difficulties and costs involved in taking a particular moral perspective within the context of savage politics, and savage media, both of whose end game is to grab and hold onto power.

Both series can be irritatingly self-righteous and way too heart-warming but hey, Sorkin has a dream.

In his many monologic tirades against the dumbing down of news, and in particular the feeding of baser human instincts through the elevation of celebrity gossip to the status of journalism, anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) grieves the loss of intellectual and moral engagement between media and consumers that the culture of celebrity has inevitably ousted, to everyone’s detriment.

As an extreme example, McAvoy is obliged by his employers to replace a segment of information of national economic significance with the story of former congressman Anthony Weiner sexting various women images of his penis, as told on camera by one of the recipients of his favours.

And this brings me to the point of this post: ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by political journalist Annabel Crabb.

Crabb has copped sustained criticism lately for her pleasant little program in which she dines with various politicians. Much of that criticism and an analysis of Crabb’s response can be read here, at the Politcally Homeless blog.

Basically, the show is perceived by some critics as a dumbed-down, albeit classily-styled interaction with politicians, and as offering nothing of significance (contrary to Crabb’s claims) other than providing “humanising” propaganda for individuals on the public broadcaster.

Which, if you think about it, makes it a show of great political significance in the most negative and undesirable way.

Crabb’s justifications for her program are interesting, and for mine, disingenuous, or perhaps I can be more generous and describe them as naive, though naivety doesn’t strike me as a Crabb characteristic.  For example, she claims that:

I don’t think you can possibly separate what people are like from what they do… Observing someone in their own environment offers – in my view – some useful information about how they might behave outside it.

Well. For a start, the dinner times with politicians are absolutely contrived, and definitely not an example of how they behave in their own environment. In much the same way as we can argue that there is no such thing as reality tv because the presence of a camera crew immediately imposes a context that, unless you are completely narcissistic, creates a reality that bears no resemblance to the reality in which one actually lives, we can also argue that Crabb’s interviewees are in as much of their own environment as are monkeys in a zoo.

The participants are under surveillance and like most human beings, pitch their behaviours and their projection of what they are like to their expectations of the outcome of that surveillance. Like most human beings and unlike monkeys, what they’ll reveal of themselves under scrutiny is what they perceive as their best. This is only one aspect of what they are like, and it is a highly sanitised aspect.

Ms Crabb has long experience in media, and must be more aware than most of how people adapt to the presence of cameras. So for her to make the claim that Kitchen Cabinet is politically necessary because it shows us what politicians are like and thus helps us better understand their policies, is, quite frankly, a steaming pile of monkey poo, and insulting to our intelligence.

As for what they are like…I think I could binge-watch Kitchen Cabinet for a decade, and still be no wiser about what any of its subjects are like. Indeed, I learn far more about what they are like from the policies they espouse, than I could ever learn from the personas they present at dinner with Annabel.

To be honest, I have zero interest in what they are like. I’m far more interested in what they do and if I don’t like what they do I’ll vote against them, no matter what they might be like. 

I don’t want to be entirely negative so let me say here that I love the frocks. I’m immensely fond of frocks and Annabel’s are divine. In fact, it’s been a struggle for me, deciding to turn off the show, because I really wanted to look at those frocks.

But for mine, Kitchen Cabinet is an excellent example of what Aaron Sorkin has his characters rail against in The Newsroom. It is presented to its audience as having educative political significance, when in fact it has none.  It will, its presenter assures us, inform us as to the characters and motives of our politicians, thus adding to our understanding of the decisions they make. No it won’t. With very few exceptions we already know what they’re likely to decide: it’s on that basis that we do or do not vote for them.

This is dumbed-down politics, masquerading as important and relevant because it’s on the ABC and presented by one of that organisation’s senior political journalists. Which is, actually, shameful, it really is.

Kitchen Cabinet is as dumbed down in its way as the Daily Telegraph. It’s celebrity journalism, though Sorkin won’t have that called journalism at all. It does not enlighten, it obfuscates. It distracts us from the harm many of these men and women have inflicted upon us, our country and others. It dulls us in ways we ought not to accept being dulled.

The show could have worked as entertainment, if it hadn’t been found necessary to infuse it with faux usefulness and faux meaning. It might have also worked better if Crabb wasn’t seen snuggling up to politicians, and letting them get away with not answering important questions.

Maybe not a journalist at all. Maybe a chef. That guy who says SBS won’t have him because he’s too white. He’d be good.

We’re funding our own demise as an engaged and critical polity. Kitchen Cabinet is bread and circuses. Do yourself a favour. Revisit The Newsroom, re-imagine the ideals and potential of  journalism, then tell me I’m wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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