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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”

 

 

Taskforce Integrity. Let’s start with politicians, shall we?

27 Sep

 

You may or may not be aware that in November 2015, the Turnbull government announced the formation of “Taskforce Integrity,” a unit set up specifically to address welfare fraud in the form of undeclared income and non-compliance.

WA Turnbull government MP Steve Irons tweeted his support of the innovation.

Yesterday we learned that Mr Irons charged taxpayers for flights from Perth to Melbourne for his wedding, and he also charged us for flights from Melbourne back to Perth for himself and his new wife, Cheryle.

Treasurer Scott Morrison also charged taxpayers for the cost of his flight to the Irons’ wedding. Both men have since repaid those monies.

Returning money you’ve stolen doesn’t mean you didn’t steal it in the first place. I am reasonably confident that neither thief would have repaid the money had their thieving activities not been exposed, or in danger of exposure.

Irons also charged the taxpayer for a trip he made to the Gold Coast to attend a golf tournament.

I have no problem with addressing welfare fraud. I do have a very big problem with politicians stealing taxpayer money to fund their personal lives, and can’t quite see why they are any different from those who seek to illegally and immorally benefit from the welfare system.

Even with my new glasses, I’m unable to see why those who defraud the welfare system should be charged and perhaps incarcerated, whilst those who defraud the taxpayer are given the opportunity to return the money, face no charges, and no jail time.

Integrity, much?

Yesterday I watched in weary disbelief as Attorney-General George Brandis claimed that his government is holding a plebiscite on marriage equality because the Australian people want a plebiscite, and we made this clear when we re-elected the Turnbull government, thus giving it a mandate.

The Turnbull government has a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives. This is hardly a mandate in anyone’s language.

Let’s quickly revisit the origins of this plebiscite. The notion was introduced by failed prime minister Tony Abbott to placate the rabid right-wing of his party who are incapable of rational thought on the topic of same-sex marriage, and appear to view it as a catastrophic threat to their own heterosexual identities and unions.

Abbott was also inspired by the Irish referendum. He disregarded the fact that Ireland was obliged to alter its constitution to accommodate marriage equality, while we are not. In Australia, it is a matter of a simple amendment to the Marriage Act, changed to discriminate against same-sex marriage in 2004 by the LNP prime minister who lost his seat after taking us into the Iraq invasion on entirely spurious grounds, and without any plebiscite, John Howard. But that’s another sickening story of lies, manipulation, immorality, death, despair and destruction.

Brandis concluded his litany of folded lies with the assertion that unless the opposition agree to a plebiscite, marriage equality will be delayed until the mid 2020’s, assuming the LNP wins the next election.

The Turnbull government is using the LGBTQI community for its own political purposes: delaying marriage equality as long as possible to placate the right-wing homophobes who permit Turnbull to play at being Prime Minister, and to wedge the ALP.

All that is required is an amendment to the Marriage Act, and Brandis made it clear yesterday that will never happen as long as the LNP are in power. This is not because we the people demand a plebiscite, and it is not because of any reasonable argument against marriage equality. It is because the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen are terrified of the gays and lesbians and bisexuals and queers and transgender and intersex peoples. We are going through all this expense and all this angst because some seriously unhinged men, obsessed with the sexuality of others, cannot cope with the idea of difference.

Personally, I think the Marriage Act ought to be abolished. There’s no place for the state in intimate relationships. However, as long as it exists, and as long as it remains the powerful cultural marker that it is, nobody should be forbidden access to its legal and societal privileges.

And on the grounds that some ignorant, terrified, dysfunctional men don’t like what other people do in bed?

Integrity, much?

 

 

Turnbull welcomes nice refugees who wait to be invited.

26 Sep

nice-people-only

 

Just when you thought the Australian government’s treatment of refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru could not descend any deeper into the slough of moral repugnancy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces that he will accept for resettlement refugees from camps in Costa Rica.

At the same time, the PM gave fleeting mention to the 12,000 hand-picked Syrian refugees we were supposed to welcome months ago, but who seem to have become terminally enmeshed in security procedures more stringent than those of any other western democracy because, well, we’re precious like that.

The refugees we are accepting are the nice refugees, while those held captive in life-extinguishing misery are not nice refugees. That’s why they’re held in life-extinguishing misery: no punishment is too great for people who are not nice refugees, even death.

All those not nice people who wouldn’t queue.

Or people who are in general not nice, really. One should never underestimate the grip the white tribe’s middle-class value of niceness has on our juridico-political system.

We are now in the morally sickening position of torturing one set of displaced, stateless persons whilst offering sanctuary to another set of displaced, stateless persons, based entirely on the falsehood that we invited the latter and we did not invite the former. In fact, as signatories to the Refugee Convention we did invite the former, but that Convention is so last century I don’t know why I’m even mentioning it.

Australia, Turnbull assures us, is very generous in our acceptance of the world’s nice needy. This is undoubtedly true, however, it’s a bit like arguing that Hitler loved his dogs, or a serial killer was friendly to his neighbours. It’s the kind of cognitive dissonance seen in people who work hard to compensate for their dark side by convincing themselves and others that they’re really very caring. Turnbull strives on the world stage to talk up our humanitarian inclinations, even as human lives fester on his watch in steaming, fetid tropical dystopias.

This must be yet another blow for those on Manus and Nauru. If they needed further demonstration of their lack of worth in the eyes of their tormenters, which I’m certain they didn’t, they’ve got one, compliments of a prime minister with the principles of a bush pig.

The Turnbulls do not seem entirely at their ease, either hanging from straps on the New York subway or self-consciously posing for pics with the Obamas, Lucy clad in what appeared to be the shining black skin of a slain shark converted to a clinging sheath, more fitting in the wardrobe of the elegant Clare Underwood in the HBO production, House of Cards. Or perhaps she was wearing a wet suit. What do I know.

I realise I’m not being nice, but fuck it. It’s time to get the nasty on.

 

Shriver, Abdel-Magied, and writing fiction.

19 Sep

 

imagine

 

I’ve spent the last few days thinking about cultural appropriation and the writing of fiction, as a consequence of the controversial keynote speech given by author Lionel Shriver at the Brisbane Writers Festival, and the distress expressed by Yassmin Abdel-Magied that caused her to walk out of Shriver’s presentation.

Briefly, Shriver stated her hope that the concept of cultural appropriation will be a passing fad, whilst Abdel-Magied argued that the appropriation by white fiction writers of experiences they can only imagine and have not lived is a racist and silencing act of cultural theft, in a world in which the voices of oppressed people are far less likely to be published than are those of their oppressors.

As an example of cultural appropriation, British male author Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, in which his protagonist is a female Nigerian asylum seeker, written in the first person, is cited.

It’s the job of fiction writers to imagine and convincingly convey to the reader experiences the writer has not necessarily lived, just as it’s the job of actors to portray characters with lives very different from their own. The “authenticity” of the creative work of both writer and actor lies in her or his ability to first fully imagine, and then fully realise their characters.

I can’t interpret this creative work as an act of theft. I can imagine how it might be experienced as an act of theft, but I cannot conclude from my imagining that it is an act of theft. This seems to me a crucial distinction in an argument that has as one of its requirements that a fiction writer (or actor) seek permission from a particular group to construct and perform a story around events he or she has not directly experienced, in order to avoid committing identity theft and cultural appropriation.

From a writer’s perspective, the core of this debate is the freedom to exercise the imagination, and to realise on the page the stories and characters it produces. The writer’s imagination is nourished from all manner of sources, personal experience being but one.

That both the film and publishing industry are dominated by privilege and largely white, is beyond dispute, yet this is perhaps a separate argument, and a situation for which the imaginations and performances of writers and actors cannot be held responsible.

At the same time, a writer or actor has the option of refusing to portray the experiences of a minority to which she or he does not belong, and instead urge their industry to seek out the voice of experience rather than settle for the voice of imaginative empathy, or at worst, exploitation.

I think both Shriver and Abdel-Magied have crucial points to make, but I can’t agree that the solution is the regulation of the imagination, or perhaps more accurately, the regulation of the imagination’s output. If a fiction writer is forbidden through shaming and accusations of theft from writing stories that contain experiences not their own, we’ll have nothing left but memoir.

As I haven’t read Cleave’s novel, I don’t know how successfully or otherwise he created the character of a female Nigerian asylum seeker, but I do know that the silencing of any writing voice is the privilege of publishers, not writers.

As Roland Barthes observed, any text is a tissue of all texts that preceded it: writers are also readers and nothing we produce stands in isolation. The text exists in a political culture of material relations that continue to produce ideologies, actions and beliefs.  As he also observed, the text is incomplete without the reader, and the reader brings to any text personal experiences and previous readings that necessarily influence interpretation.

Shriver’s acerbic reaction to charges of cultural appropriation are unfortunate and defensive, yet she is right to aggressively fight for a fiction writer’s freedom to imagine and narrate experiences that are not her own. If we cease to imagine the experiences of other, we become indescribably diminished. The oppression suffered by those for whom Abdel-Magied speaks can only become less penetrable, while the possibility of redress retreats even further.

Story is one of the most powerful weapons with which to crack the frozen seas of apathy and hatred. Without the imagination, we are as nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pot, Kettle

9 Sep

 

pot-kettle

 

The Coalition’s current explosion of self-righteous outrage is something to behold.

Compared to the excesses of, say, Bronwyn Bishop, or the personal gifts bestowed on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop by Chinese companies, not to mention the hundreds of thousands donated to her branch of the WA Liberal party by Chinese who have business interests in that state, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari’s few thousand dollars seem fairly insignificant.

The argument that Dastyari’s gift was “personal” does not hold water: so are Julie Bishop’s iPad, airfares and accommodation, and so were the $250,000 of Rolexes given to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and others by a Chinese business man. You don’t gift a Rolex to a party, you gift it to an individual. It’s personal.

Then there’s the South China Sea. This is what Dastyari actually said about the situation in the South China Sea, as quoted by Sydney-based Chinese media: “The South China Sea is China’s own affair. On this issue, Australia should remain neutral and respect China’s decision.”

This is not the position of either the government or the opposition, and left the Senator open to charges of “cash for comment.”

There’s no doubt Dastyari should have kept his trap shut on the South China Sea: nobody was likely to take notice of his views on this matter anyway. The chap can be a tad too ebullient, though I dare say he’s been cured of that characteristic for the foreseeable future.

Whatever benefits the Foreign Minister may bestow on those who’ve showered her with personal gifts and her party with money may not, at first blush, be as apparent as Dastyari’s allegedly paid support for China. That she will bestow benefits of some kind is certain: this is the way things work, interested parties donate and expect favours in return.

There’s no missing the government’s glaring hypocrisy. It’s now up to the media to hound the government as they have hounded Dastyari. Why is the Foreign Minister accepting personal gifts from the Chinese, or anyone else for that matter? In so doing, she is not meeting her PrimeMinister’s expectations, or at least the expectations he has of Sam Dastyari, and why should they be different?

Or is it one rule for the Coalition, and another, much harsher rule for everyone else? Because, you know, entitlement?

 

Opiates of the people

6 Sep

Mexican Cross

 

On Sunday September 4 2016, Catholic nun Mother Theresa was canonised by Pope Francis for her work amongst the poor and sick in Calcutta, and two miracles attributed to her involving the apparently inexplicable curing of cancers.

As part of the celebrations the poor of Rome were treated by the Pope to a lunch of pizza, which, as a few of us agreed on Twitter, can be deconstructed to loaves and fishes if it contains anchovies.

It was with some disbelief that I watched media reports of this event showing great crowds of people rejoicing. There are still so many enslaved by religious delusion? I had thought it largely replaced by reality TV.

My chain of association led me next to Karl Marx:

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.*

I don’t know that anyone has put it better: the demand to give up illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. How many situations are there to which that insight might be applied?

Mother Theresa did not always enjoy good press. The late Christopher Hitchens, for example, was scathing, claiming in a piece titled “Mommie Dearest” that it wasn’t the poor she was interested in but rather poverty itself, which she used as a vehicle for her extreme right-wing religious views. Her habit of ensuring the dying were baptised into her church, no matter what their religious beliefs or lack of them, did not endear her to many of the living.

For me, the term “canon” refers to a patriarchal hierarchy of literary works, or, with two “ns” the final crescendo of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Associations here lead me back to the time when my sons were young and the 1812 was used by the defence forces in a recruitment drive. This didn’t fool those boys who sang in joyful unison whenever the advertisement interrupted their favourite shows: “Join the army get your balls blown off.”

I often think of this for comfort, when I torment myself about having been a bad mother. One way or another, I nurtured pacifists who from an early age could see through (some) illusions. I recall as well the time their father took them on an expedition to the public viewing of a warship and I refused to go. That ship was built to kill people, you know, I yelled as they went out the door, in an effort to counteract what I felt as an undermining.

The canonisation of humans as “saints” requires ” proof” of at least two “miracles” performed directly or indirectly by those “saints.” That the Catholic church persists in these delusions is hardly surprising, given its attitudes to priests who molest and sexually assault children in their care. Their entire system is delusional.

The emphasis on an after-life that validates suffering in real life, while not peculiar to Catholics, works in the service of the privileged who live off the efforts of those they exploit. Just as the glorification of war advantages arms dealers and politicians, who never set foot in its theatres of carnage.

In the same way that morphine lifts me above my pain so that I’m still aware of its presence but far less troubled by it, religion and other delusional beliefs lift people above the daily pain of an unfulfilled existence, without addressing the underlying condition.

There are many discouraging circumstances in the world, but I don’t know that I’ve felt quite the same sense of weariness about them that I felt at the spectacle of Theresa’s sanctification, which brought home to me the domination of opiates over human life, and I’m not referring to the chemicals.

Aside: As I wrote this a gaudy cross, part of my much-loved collection of Mexican kitsch, fell off the wall where it’s hung for years. However, a gaudy heart, part of the same collection and hung beside it, remains. Make of that what you will.

 

*Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

The government as sea lions

5 Sep

 

 

Pier 39 Sea Lions

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I’m reminded of that querulous and stinking marine rabble whenever I encounter the Turnbull government in my media. The sea lions are a nasty bunch, and they fight a lot.

I now can’t picture Malcolm Turnbull as anything other than a self-congratulatory pinniped in a top hat, barking and clapping his flippers at his own cleverness as Lucy throws him a fish.

While the PM hastened to reassure the country that he had “excoriated” his rogue MPs (including ministers) who left parliament early on Thursday afternoon, the real issue is not that the LNP have taken this event as  “wake-up” call for their one-seat majority government, but that such a call was needed in the first place.

Surely someone (a staffer, one of Dutton’s ninety, yes that’s ninety spin doctors) could have reminded the government that with a one-seat majority, everyone really needs to stay till the end.

That seasoned politicians holding powerful positions (and, apparently, their entire staff) need such a fundamental “wake-up” call is worrying indeed. What it confirms is what I’ve long suspected: the LNP perceive governing as a game weighted in their favour that they are entitled to win, without any particular merit, or even by actually playing it. Any challenges to these perceptions are dismissed as little more than the grumblings of opinionated upstarts.

Turnbull’s first sitting week after the election was woeful. First thirteen of his backbenchers defied him on the matter of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Next, for the first time in some fifty years, the government lost three votes in the House of Representatives because of the Thursday bunk-off. Thankfully, they’ve now gone home for a few days.

On the matter of Section 18C, it’s interesting that the cohort advocating a “watering down” of the section are those who are the least likely to ever need the protections it offers. Read this piece by Jeff Sparrow on the co-option of speech laws for their own benefit by those who have no skin in the game.

Similarly, those most vehemently opposed to marriage equality are those who can in no way claim to be, in reality, affected by it.

(If such people are seriously concerned about a perceived debasing of the institution of marriage, they urgently need to make infidelity illegal. Imagine that).

I think it’s safe to say that politics has ceased to be much to do with good and fair governance, and is now almost entirely to do with the furtherance of the interests and ideologies of largely (and sometimes large) white men. In this they differ little from the sea lion colony in which the dominant males rule in their own interests, biting great chunks of flesh out of dissenters and shoving them, bleeding, back into the sea. It’s every pinniped for himself.

They even savage the young, and the ones with the loudest bark win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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