Tag Archives: Gabrielle Giffords

Tony Abbott, Freud, the death metaphor, and nannies

31 Mar

Bereft of anything resembling policy and driven by a singular obsession to become Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has to find a way to keep himself in the public eye. How better than to make offensive statements, sit back and wait for the outrage, then apologise publicly for your error in judgement? He’s on record as admitting a “slight tendency to draw attention to myself,” and BTW, I recommend this link: it will take you to an excellent blog on Abbott and women, a topic I cannot bring myself to address right now.

This is not a technique for the faint-hearted, but it can be carried off by someone whose sense of entitlement is so overweening, he believes he’ll be forgiven anything. Do it often enough and people can become inured to it. “Oh, that’s just Abbott, he’s always saying outrageous things and then apologising.” This can have the effect of minimising the offensive nature of his remarks, as one follows another with such rapidity the observer can barely keep track. I hope somebody is keeping a list.

Cynic I may be, but I see this as a deliberate strategy. I don’t think Tony Abbott is always making gaffes, though I admit he does that as well. In any case, it hardly matters – the gaffes also reveal a great deal about the man’s beliefs and mindset. A gaffe can be interpreted as a Freudian slip in its original sense:  the numerous little slips and mistakes which people make — symptomatic actions, as they are called […] I have pointed out that these phenomena are not accidental, that they require more than physiological explanations, that they have a meaning and can be interpreted, and that one is justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed intentions  [Freud, An Autobiographical Study (1925)] 

Yes. That. Especially the restrained and repressed intentions.

For example, I don’t believe for a moment that Abbott had forgotten the Sarah Palin crosshairs rhetoric and the attempted assassination of US Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords when he warned in Parliament that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her colleagues had “targets on their foreheads.” What Abbott revealed in making this threat (and it is a threat) is that he shares the Palin mindset, the “lock and load” vision of politics that inspires the metaphor of killing your opponents, rather than just winning an electoral contest. In the case of Giffords, the metaphor became reality. The degree to which Palin’s campaign influenced Giffords’ attacker is likely impossible to ascertain. However, if leaders use violent and murderous language against their opposition,they  set a violent and murderous tone for  political discourse that makes the possibility of violent and murderous action a little more thinkable. No amount of apologising from Abbott can undo the revelation that he thinks in these terms. This is not one of those sporting metaphors so beloved by some politicians. It is a metaphor of death.

Although here I must confess that I’ve argued against the viability of death as a metaphor as follows:

Initially the death metaphor appears to be a viable until one looks more deeply into the associations it claims to make. Unlike any other metaphorical associations, those made with death are entirely incapable of substantiation: we have no idea at all of death’s composition and qualities. Death denotes radical absence, both of the sentient being and of knowledge: it signifies radical ignorance, and the utter impossibility of knowing. There is nothing in life, it can be argued, for which death can be asked metaphorically to stand.

But that’s another story and I only refer to it in case somebody who knows pulls me up for using a figure of speech I’ve claimed at some length is unusable. This is known metaphorically as covering my arse.

And so to nannies. Let me say right off I have no quarrel with people employing nannies. Had I been able to I would have, because working full time and looking after little kids is no joke. For a brief period when I lived overseas I had an au pair and it was heaven. However, it never occurred to us that anyone else would help us pay for  it. Tony Abbott seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to extend the child care rebate to include families who employ live-in nannies. He proposes that this would be paid for “within the existing funding envelope,” necessitating big cuts in the rebates currently given to families who use day care centres and Family Day Care.

Given that a certain standard of housing and living is required to employ a live-in nanny or au pair (who receive wages plus room and board) this is not a viable option for families without spare rooms, and on a budget that cannot accommodate feeding and housing another adult. If everyone’s rebates are to be cut to service those families with the means to accommodate live-in nannies, this makes it even less likely that lower income parents would be able afford to employ live-in help. It will also put an unacceptable strain on those who are just making ends meet with the child care rebate to which they are currently entitled. All in all, it sounds like a plan to take from the less well off to give to the affluent. Why am I not surprised at yet another Coalition expression of universal entitlement.

Of course, this is quite likely another of Abbott’s attention-getting scams. And it has succeeded. The Opposition Leader is apparently in a place where even negative attention is better than none. Any nanny worth her salt would by now have sent him to the naughty corner to think about his behaviour.  For which she would likely receive this look:

Palin’s got them in her sights in the USA

10 Jan

by Ramon Duran via flickr

Twice a year I make the journey from Australia to the USA, to visit with my loved ones who live there.

I have other reasons. I also love America. I love its complexities. I love its idiosyncrasies. I love its ambiguities, its ambivalences; I love the impossibility of ever being able to define the country, or confine it in any particular categorical cage. No matter how hard one tries, America’s contradictions thwart all attempts at constraint.

And this I what love, in an individual and a nation.

When the American people elected Barack Hussein Obama as their president I was astounded, and filled with admiration. This brave new world that has such people in it, was what I thought, and said, though many laughed at me and called me naïve. What I was responding to was simply the fact that America had elected this man. I had no great expectations, he is, after all, a man and not a god, but that the country had chosen him seemed to me a wonderful and hope-filled thing.

Today, reading of the death and injury visited upon bystanders and participants in a political gathering outside a Safeway supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona, I’m sad again for another gun slaughter in America.

A few short weeks ago I was in the car park of just such a shopping mall in Nevada, a state that borders Arizona, and shares a geographical similarity. There I noticed an over-sized four-wheel-drive that bore the numberplate Jim Crowe. Jim Crow is not a neutral name in the USA. It refers to the racial segregation laws enacted in 1876 that were in effect until 1965. These laws mandated segregation in public schools, public spaces, transport and restrooms. Restaurants, drinking fountains and the military.

I pointed out the number plate to my son. He whispered that there is a great deal of racial tension in the state of Nevada.

A few days earlier I’d spent the day at a local public elementary school. At the end of morning assembly children and teachers placed their hands over their hearts, faced the flag, starkly outlined against the blue desert sky, and recited: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was moving, to hear the children’s voices earnestly piping these noble sentiments. It was remarkable to witness just how much they seemed to mean what they said.

The Nellis Air Force Base is just outside of Las Vegas, and as we stood in the playground with our hands on our hearts, squads of fighter jets flew over in formation, in rehearsal for another theatre of war. It was a numinous moment.

The Tea Party

On the website of the USA Tea Party movement, whose most famous member is Republican Sarah Palin, there is a map of the USA. Various congressional seats are highlighted in various states on this map, including the Arizona seat where the wounded Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, murdered Federal Judge John Roll, and a murdered a nine year old girl, were gathered with others injured and killed on an ordinary day, carrying out their ordinary daily duties.

The congressional seats marked out on Palin’s map are targetted with gun sights. They are the seats currently held by Democrats who voted for health care reform.

In states where the Democrats have recently retired, the rifle cross hairs are drawn in red.

Palin’s tweeted slogan is Don’t retreat. Reload.

Above the website map is the exhortation: We’ve diagnosed the problem. Help us prescribe the solution.

I hear Palin has since removed this from her website. But I found it at the Huffington Post.

It’s too simplistic to blame Palin and her followers alone for this most recent mass shooting. Yet in a gun culture such as that in the USA, where the right to bear arms is fiercely protected, it is but a short step from rhetoric to action when the weapon is sitting in your closet. The escalating vitriol towards politicians with whom one does not agree, the sense that anyone who is not with you is against you, the incitement to violence and killing such as that directed towards the foreigner Assange, for example, all speak to a culture that can quickly become murderously out of control.

The notion that if you don’t like something someone says you can and should kill them is promoted, and not only metaphorically, by conservative public voices in the USA such as Glenn Beck, employed by Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The notion is based in concepts of morality that conflate disagreement with heresy and blasphemy, punishable by death in a righteous political war.

There are consequences to a rhetoric in which voters are defined as soldiers, the opposition is portrayed as morally bereft, and the solution is prescribed in metaphors of war. It permeates the atmospheres. It makes possible that which should not be possible. It promotes a culture of violent action and reaction, because it makes the unthinkable thinkable, and therefore all too possible.

Words matter. Words both construct and describe the world in which we live. Words can kill.

Winter in America is cold

In San Francisco, the iconic Virgin store on the corner of Powell and Market has closed down. Riding the trolley bus down Market towards City Hall, we see store after store with boarded up windows covered in graffiti.

In the big Westfield shopping centre there’s hardly anybody looking in the up-market Nordstrum store. There are groups of homeless and disaffected people resting in comfortable chairs in the halls and lobbies outside the stores, their broken plastic bags of belongings in unsteady piles beside their legs. It’s warm in here, and dry. San Francisco is experiencing one of its wettest winters for some time. Every morning we wake to the steady drip of rain on the apartment windows. On the television news, vision of cliffs in danger of collapse down on Pacific Heights, of apartments at risk of plunging into the ocean show just how vulnerable this city is to natural disasters.

We spend a lot of time in the Museum of Modern Art, and in Golden Gate Park at the De Young Museum. After three days of thinking the rain will stop, I’ve abandoned my torn hardware-store blue plastic poncho, finally accepting that it’s going to rain for quite a while and I’d better get a proper raincoat. I trot down Union Square to Macy’s, where they’re having a permanent sale, it seems. On the top floor I find thousands of raincoats. I’m completely bamboozled, and wander round irritated, overheated, and confused by choice. I want a cream Calvin Klein, on sale for US$80. It’s glamorous, it’s a movie star’s raincoat, and I’ve never owned anything like it. Instead, thinking of my grandmother, I choose a black one because it won’t show the dirt.

The poor are everywhere. Some have dogs, cats or birds for company. I don’t have enough money to give to everyone I see. There’s a long line of customers outside the Apple store on the day they release the iPad. A few homeless people push their way in and get onto the public computers. Apple staff don’t send them away, but they do hover.

Soon I’ll be leaving the USA. As always, sadness gets the better of me at Los Angeles International airport, and I cry quietly across much of the Pacific. I don’t like leaving the ones I love, and I don’t like leaving the country I love more and more with every visit. In spite of it’s exasperating contradictions. In spite of the notice in the local park that reads: No profanities. Have a nice day. I have barely been able to restrain myself from sneaking back into that park in the middle of the night with a black Texta stolen from a child’s pencil case, and scrawling No fu**ing profanities! Have a fu**ing nice day! right across that sign.

Back in Australia I notice in the airport car park a large four-wheel-drive with a sticker in its window that’s a map of Australia. Across the map is the slogan F**ck Off! We’re full!

I’m not one of the cohort who think that what happens in the US may just as likely happen in Australia. Our societies are very different, in spite of the influences of US cultural imperialism. Nevertheless, if we have any sense we will learn from the American experience. We’ll cool down our political rhetoric. We’ll call a halt to the verbal ferocities in our parliaments. Mindless slogans, ill-thought out verbiage, ad hominem abuse. We have a chance to avoid what the USA continues to suffer. Let’s hope we take it.

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