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You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

14 Oct



We’re having dinner at the Molong pub on our way to Canberra, and then to the Snowy Mountains for a month.

We’ve been driving for nine hours on the back roads, avoiding motorways and highways and listening to Bob Dylan because today he won the Nobel Prize for Literature and we’re stoked, and we need to revisit everything he’s ever sung, which you can’t actually do in nine hours but we’ve given it our best shot.

There’s an entertainer at the pub, he’s a little stout and red-faced with silver chains round his neck and he’s singing stuff like The Proclaimers I’m on My Way, and Elvis’s Suspicious Minds, and Joan Jett’s I love Rock n’ Roll, and there’s a woman wrapped around the verandah post, leaning over the singer and going “uh huh” every now and then in relation to pretty much nothing. She’s a little pissed and pretty happy and the singer’s trying to pretend she isn’t there. The sun’s gone down, it’s getting chilly in the beer garden and I wrap myself in a woollen shawl, drink another glass of wine, and consider asking the act if he’ll sing some Dylan.

As stoked as I am by Bob’s win, I’m also sad because if there’s one thing my beloved husband would have wanted to live long enough to hear, it’s that Dylan won the Nobel prize. Babe, if you can hear me, you were right.

Dylan was part of the soundtrack of our decades-long love affair, and Arnie’s knowledge of the man was encyclopaedic. He did a radio show on Sunday afternoons on 2SER just about Dylan. We went to every concert we could, and we only ever walked out of one, at the State Theatre in Sydney when Bob’s performance was so excruciatingly late and then so excruciatingly bad, even we couldn’t hack it. Something to do with drugs in the dunny, I don’t know.

I don’t ask the performer at the Molong pub to sing some Dylan, instead we walk back to our motel and eat chocolate and drink green tea in bed. I’m trying to think of which song was ours, Arnie’s and mine, but that’s the thing about Dylan: there was a song for every shifting phase, even the dark ones, maybe especially the dark ones.

Arnie always came back to You’re going to make me lonesome when you go as his song to me. Which is ironic, because in the end he went and I’m still here and still singing:

I’ll look for you in old Honolul-a
San Francisco, Ashtabula
You’re gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

I know there’s all kinds of arguments against the Nobel prize for Bob Dylan. Some of them I probably even agree with. But I don’t care. What he wrote decades ago, personal and political, is as applicable today as it was then, his body of work is vast and varied, and I’ve never anywhere come across images of the kind Dylan comes up with.

As Mick Jagger said, Thank you Bob.



Truth to Power. Part Two

30 Sep

So, let’s go through this tweet, phrase by anguished phrase.

“MSM truthers.” A truther is “a person who doubts the generally accepted account of an event, believing that an official conspiracy exists to conceal the true explanation; a conspiracy theorist.”

There are 9/11 truthers who believe the terrorist attacks were perpetrated by the US government;  Sandy Hook Elementary School truthers who believe the massacre was a “false flag” government conspiracy, Holocaust deniers, Obama birthers and so on.

Di Stefano attempts to delegitimise any inquiry into the narrative choices made by MSM, describing those who question perceived bias as “truthers,” and implying that merely questioning media choices is the act of a conspiracy theorist. Whether you find MSM biased towards the right or the left of politics, in either case you are participating in a conspiracy and you wear a tin foil hat. Therefore your concerns are invalid, and deserving only of mockery.

When any institution takes this as its default position towards questioners and critics, it has lost sight of its purpose and its parameters. MSM is not now, never has been and should never aspire to be above critique. The tactic of reacting to criticism by denigrating the critic is inadequate and defensive, and only serves to confirm the suspicion that there is indeed something rotten in the fourth estate.

When your mainstream media tell you you’re unhinged (or biased) for questioning them, they’re presuming a privilege to stifle rather than evaluate criticism. This is the antithesis of the values of a liberal democracy. Fortunately we have blogs and social media through which we can contest mainstream efforts to quash disagreement. That the mainstream media has no business quashing criticism in the first place is a fact that must never be forgotten.

Aged-out tribal boomers.

“Aged out” usually refers to a young person who passes an age where he or she is eligible for certain youth benefits, or must leave foster care. Obviously the term wasn’t used in this sense when linked to “tribal boomers” and I took it to be a disparaging comment on people over fifty who are perceived by Di Stefano to be “aged-out” of well, life, really and of participating in or contributing to anything considered by him to be relevant or important.

(I’m not sure about fifty, maybe it’s sixty, but I don’t think that much matters.)

It’s a thing, to blame boomers for a swathe of social difficulties, and to perceive that group as particularly privileged: the hippies who grew up to be successful capitalists and bought up all the houses as investment properties (taking advantage of negative gearing) leaving younger generations struggling to put a roof over their heads.

There are no doubt many boomers who fit that stereotype, however there are many who don’t. For example, hundreds of thousands of older women are expected to become homeless in the near future, and many of these are, in Di Stefano’s terms, aged out tribal boomers.

This is the danger of isolating human groups who have in common only their age, and then pitting them against one another: the real culprits, rampant capitalism enabled by corrupt government supported by complicit media, remain unacknowledged and unchallenged. Responsibility is deflected and as long as the populace is busily engaged in wars against a particular group: boomers, asylum seekers, bikies, feminists, irresponsible whining generation whatever who just need to stop buying coffee if they want a home, those who are actually responsible for society’s ills and have the power to address them, are not held to account.

It’s surely the job of MSM to bring us back to first principles, not to divide and set us upon one another for their amusement and the amusement of their masters.

While Di Stefano didn’t gender his aged-out comment, it is particularly dismissive of women. When did you last hear a man over fifty described as aged-out?

He also used a tweet from a  woman as an example, and it was me who started him off on his tantrum.

I suspect that when a man describes a woman as aged out, this is code for “no longer sexually interesting to me and therefore irrelevant.”

When challenged, Di Stefano responded:

Stinking up Australian politics

As I replied to Di Stefano when he posted his tweet: crap politicians stink up Australian politics, and I’d add to that, crap media who do a crap job are enabling the ongoing production of stink.

I think Di Stefano’s one tweet validates much criticism  of MSM: biased, inaccurate, pushing a bizarre and very personal agenda, defensive, arrogant, ill-informed, divisive click bait crap. I rest my case.


"sticks thumb under front teeth"

“sticks thumb under front teeth”



Truth to power. Part One.

29 Sep



The other evening I was musing on the mainstream media reporting and pursuit of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari over  the Senator asking a Chinese benefactor to cover his travel costs, and then making a supportive statement, contrary to both government and opposition positions, on China’s activities in the South China Sea.

I was comparing this to the relative lack of interest in pursuing Steve Irons, the WA Turnbull government MP who stole taxpayer money to pay travel expenses for himself and his new wife to their wedding in Melbourne and back to Perth. I tweeted this:

The first response was from a Fairfax journalist taking me to task for using the blanket term “MSM.” After hooting a little at the notion of a journalist complaining about the use of “blanket terms” I acknowledge that the term, like all blanket terms, is less than perfect, although most of us use it to signify traditional media as opposed to new media.

There are some very good journalists working in mainstream media, without whom we’d be even more in the dark than we already are. Fairfax, the ABC and the Guardian are home to most of them. Yes, the ABC. There are still some exceptional people there and one can only imagine how they survive.

However, I wasn’t about to list in my tweet every media outlet not pursuing Irons to the same extent it pursued Dastyari, and I stand by my initial impression that the two incidents were handled very differently.

I then received this tweet from Mark Di Stefano of Buzzfeed. I’ve never considered Buzzfeed to be mainstream media so I wasn’t referring to them, however…


It is true that Irons didn’t reward the taxpayer for footing his wedding travel bill, as Dastyari rewarded the Chinese. It’s also true that both major parties are significant beneficiaries of Chinese money, for which they are presumably expected to provide favours in return. So why single out and hunt down Dastyari when the Turnbull government Foreign Minister, for example, received an iPad, airfares and accommodation, and a bunch of government MPs scored Rolex watches? All of these people are far better placed to further their benefactor’s interests than was Dastyari (who after all said something nobody much bothered to listen to) and to do it far more covertly.

It’s also true that politicians thieving from taxpayers has become normalised, and without the added spice of potentially treasonous remarks, Irons’ theft was of comparatively little consequence.

This, for mine, is the heart of the problem. “Ordinary” thieving from taxpayers is par for the course in politics, meaning politicians are held to a much lower standard of honesty and punishment than the rest of us. I’d like to know why.

For example, if you are caught thieving items from a supermarket you are very likely to be charged by police, even if you put the items back on the shelf and say you’re sorry. Not so much when politicians rip-off taxpayers. If they are caught, they pay it back and that is the only consequence they face.  They’re still thieves, but they are protected thieves.

No answer to any questions from Buzzfeed, and I’d terminated my conversation with the Fairfax journalist who’d lost his head and started telling me I was “wrong and you can’t face facts because of your bias.”

Interesting, I thought. I’m perceived as biased because I’m questioning the difference in how two matters are handled, and he’s obviously assuming I’m a Labor fanatic because why would anybody who wasn’t politically aligned bother to ask such a question? This is what I mean about the normalisation of crime in politics. You can’t even ask about it without journalists assuming you are only doing so to create trouble for a party other than your own.

At this point several of my Twitter pals joined in to assure the traditional media representatives that I’m equally disagreeable to all politicians.

On Di Stefano’s subsequent points, 1) It’s cheering to see the MSM doing its job by breaking stories, but actually I was querying the subsequent pursuit, and 2) what???

Do you mean MSM don’t pursue unless a political party pursues first? I asked Buzzfeed.

I didn’t say that, came the reply. So what do you mean, I asked. Just trying to clarify because your tweet read as if you were saying that.


The notion that matters are not pursued by the media unless first pursued by a political party is unnerving. This is not what one expects from the fourth estate. This is not speaking truth to power, it is waiting until one power gives you the signal to speak a bit of truth to another power, and obediently refraining from pursuit when no permission in the form of guidance is forthcoming. Is this how traditional media decide what issues and personalities to pursue? Taking their lead from politicians?

Well, as you’d expect the conversation by now involved more people than just me and Mark Di Stefano. Many references were made to the “MSM” and I don’t think any of them were particularly favourable, demonstrating the frustration and disillusionment felt by some consumers. Di Stefano maintained his silence until this:


As you can imagine, there is a great deal to unpack in Di Stefano’s communication. And so I’m dedicating an entire post to its deconstruction, which I hope to publish tomorrow.

#pray for the bigots?

22 Jul



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.





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 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.










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