If you’re a bigot you’re a prick, no saying otherwise


I figured out about a month ago that anyone who opposes marriage equality is basically an arsehole. Or dumb. Or both. Being a well-brought up middle-class kid meant that I gave the benefit of the doubt up to then. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion after all. But truth is just as everyone is entitled to an opinion then everyone is entitled to disagree with it. You might think it a step too far name calling as a result of that, but I’ve got no time these days for well-mannered reticence. That describes pretty well who I’ve become in recent years. I’ve always been blunt, but these days it verges on the brutal – and I’m fine with that. Sometimes things just are and you have to call them for what they are.

And so I’m willing to proclaim it – anyone who believes that two people in love of the same sex don’t deserve the same rights and respect as two people of different sex in love is just a fucking narrow minded bigot, and I don’t care how they dress it up.

The no side of the equation throw up a lot of simple-minded and uneducated reasons why it should be opposed. Believe me I’ve listened to them and read their opinion pieces. I may not agree with what they say, but I’m always prepared to listen because I want to understand. I’m a rationalist, and I give them the benefit of that. I’ve yet to come across a single opinion of substance. Most of it is raw prejudice – be it based on religion or bigotry – dressed up in self-serving justification. The bottom line is that they don’t like the idea of two people of the same gender getting it on, and are prepared to impose their ugly worldview on society.

I’m sick of it, and want nothing to do with those people, simple as that. If someone stands up and tells me they’ll be voting no to the plebiscite then I’ll tell them what I think, and with some relish.

Now this is an attitude some in the no camp are using to justify their position. I read another opinion piece by someone this morning saying they would be voting no because the debate had been too one sided and in favour of yes. Well, there’s both a logical reason for that, and some wilful blindness.

If most of the commentary has come out in favour of marriage equality that’s because most Australians are in support of it. It’s simple arithmetic. There was also the inference that the debate had become tawdry, and this is just rank hypocrisy.

I may rail against those nay-sayers and I’m happy to call them a prick to their face, but it’s not the yes side of the argument perpetrating outright lies and misinformation, engaging in inflammatory bigotry by suggesting that same-sex relationships are un-godly, or will lead to child abuse, and it’s not the yes vote re-printing vile posters from neo-nazi organisations. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that this is a vile allegation that proves that anyone against equal rights is an utter prick.

Bigots I can understand. Religious nuts I understand. Morons I understand. Supposedly measured and intelligent people who claim to be indifferent to the result but will vote no for spurious reasons of discrimination I don’t understand. For someone to come out against something they claim to be sympathetic to for such narrow (and cock-eyed) reasons is deplorable. If I were to take it at face value then it’s hard to understand why someone would choose to cut off their nose to prove a point not worth making: it’s selfish to the point of idiocy. I doubt that. I reckon they’re just one of those people deep in their soul uncomfortable with the idea of gay love. It creeps them out, not that they would ever admit to it, to others, or to themselves. Easier to find an excuse to justify a reason to be out of step with society.

Well, you’re both dumb and a prick. You can tick that off as more justification, and burn for it.

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It’s our house


This week we’ve had the unfortunate spectacle of a couple of Melbourne inner-city councils deciding not to celebrate Australia Day because of the offense done to the indigenous of Australia, supposedly commemorated by that day. In response, the federal government has repealed those councils rights to citizenship ceremonies. Naturally, there has been much controversy and comment as a result.

I wish this wasn’t the case. I understand the argument put by the councils, though I don’t entirely agree. I’m sympathetic to a government who wants to maintain the integrity of our national day, though believe they’ve been typically heavy-handed. Above all, I wish this debate could have been conducted in an intelligent and thoughtful way, which is now impossible, as it probably always was. All of this makes it unfortunate. It can’t end well.

I understand why the councils have made this decision. Disquiet over Australia Day has been brewing for years, which is also known as Invasion Day by those who oppose it, which explains the rift. On the one side you have the conventional, traditional and officially endorsed view that Australia Day celebrates the founding of the nation, the day the first fleet sailed into Botany Bay. The contrary view is that this is the day the indigenous peoples were dispossessed of their land by white ‘invaders’.

I can understand both perspectives, and if it was left to me would happily shift our national day to another date. The day itself means more to me in popular culture than it does historically. It’s a day of barbecues and citizenship ceremonies and cricket. It’s a happy day when you look at it like that, which is the symbolic. I don’t think much about the historical significance of the day, and the fact that it marks the day when some leaky ships turned up is a matter of general indifference to me. What has happened in the last 20 years is that it has become less symbolic and more literal. As such I can perfectly understand the cultural insensitivity of the day.

Having said that, I think there is a lot of simplistic groupthink in those who choose to oppose the day. That local councils choose to embrace that groupthink is no surprise given the historical mediocrity of said administrators. Ultimately it’s more about appearance than it is about action.

I liken it in my mind to two rival families bidding at auction for a property. Inevitably one family will be successful and the other will miss out. Australia Day in a way is a celebration of the winning bid, but in so doing offends the losers.

Most of us are reasonable people. We might be thrilled to have the winning bid, but know better than to celebrate in the faces of the losers. This is what Australia Day does, however.

Now, of course, the indigenous will say, well wait a minute, that was our house! That’s the crux of their argument, and hence what has been historically viewed as a settlement is in Aboriginal eyes an invasion. And this is what the councils are supporting in their refusal to support the day.

Personally, I find this semantically tricky territory. I don’t think it’s as simple as a black ‘nation’ being invaded by a white people, but I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole today. And as a white person of Anglo-Saxon stock living in Australia, it is problematic and complex regardless. The very people who decry the day would not exist if that day had never happened. I would not exist. I may be sympathetic to those indigenous who see January 26 as a commemoration of dispossession, but as someone who has a personal stake in the historical record I’m glad it happened, and it would be hypocrisy to claim otherwise.

This is one reason I feel this is a simple-minded, feel-good gesture by the councils involved. This is a conversation we had to have, but this is not the way to have it. Ideally, this conversation should come from the top down. Our government should engage with this, in the same way it should engage with notions of republicanism. This, of course, is unlikely, even impossible in the current environment, but there was a time when it was a part of the zeitgeist, and it will be again.

Unfortunately, the government has doubled down on this issue with their punitive actions against the councils concerned. It’s pathetic really, and unedifying on all sides.

What we need is a national day that is inclusive of all. We know Australia Day is not. It’s a big leap for an Australian government to make that change, but it must and will happen, later if not sooner. My preference is that our national day is the day we declare ourselves a republic finally.

That’s a truly inclusive event, for all Australians, regardless of background or colour. Forget the posturing. This house is big enough for all of us to live in.

Cracked up world


Tell you what, in my lifetime there’s never been a crazier patch of politics than what’s going on now – and crazy is putting it kindly.

Trump continues to do his Trumpish things, but still manages to plumb new depths. It affects all of us, and the world sits in a precarious place now because of him. There was a patch of about 10 days when I’d wake up in the morning wondering if world war 3 might have erupted overnight. It didn’t, or at least hasn’t yet, but no-one’s going to feel safe until he’s out of the job. Nutters like Kim Jong Un are a fact of life, but we expect – and need – leaders on our side of the fence to be more measured and intelligent. That hasn’t always been the case, but never in my lifetime have we suffered such an incompetent, unpredictable and downright nasty leader as Trump. Not even close.

Then this week gone we have seen the eruption of very ugly racist violence in Charlottesville, condoned more than condemned by the president. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

As an Australian, I feel some existential threat knowing that someone as erratic as Trump has his finger on the button, but I’m probably safer than most. I really feel though for the great majority of Americans who are decent, compassionate and reasonable. They’ve had their country hijacked and their identity subverted by the values that Trump espouses and supports. They must ache with the loss and a sense of futility, but for all our sakes they must keep up the good fight. What it takes though is for Trump to be toppled. Until that happens the poison he preaches will continue to spread. All our best hope is that the Mueller investigation hits paydirt, but I no longer have faith that it will be a killer blow, even if it does. Even so, how much damage has been done? If he goes tomorrow, what damage has he done to the fabric of the nation? How much cannot be reversed?

I was shocked the other day to see footage of the ‘militia’ in Charlottesville patrolling the streets with semi-automatic weapons on their shoulders. These are basically racists, Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. How is it even permissible that any man, let along organised groups of them, let alone racists with guns, can walk the streets with impunity. That’s not a civilised society, but America started down that path many years ago and seem incapable from straying from it. Now, with Trump in the top job, it’s got a menacing edge. The extremes have been empowered, and are flexing their muscles.

By comparison, Australian politics is just about comedic right now. You could run the Benny Hill music as a soundtrack to the ridiculous happenings in Australian parliament and it would be absolutely apt.

Any lingering doubts about the future of the Turnbull government have been dispelled in the last week. They’re done, and so they should be. Any credibility they had is long shot, and now their judgement has exposed as inept and totally divorced from reality.

Where does such a thing start? This government has been a travelling disaster zone for months now, perhaps years. No matter what he says Turnbull has proved he’s anything like a strong leader, and he’s the hostage of the party conservatives, afraid of doing anything constructive for fear of upsetting them. There’s an intelligent, sophisticated man inside Turnbull, but he’s disconnected from the man we see on our TV screens. The man we see has decided political survival trumps national benefit. The result is compromised policies and the promotion of initiatives against the will of the people, and counter to the national good. Effectively a hard right wing rump of the party dictate national policy according to their own conservative beliefs, and in just about every instance against what most people want. Our Parliament is representative only in that idiots now get a more than reasonable say.

This combination of terrible judgement, cowardice and intransigence has been on display in the last couple of weeks.

First, there was the pathetic decision to conduct a postal plebiscite on marriage equality. By itself, it’s hard to have respect for any government who chooses such a weasel approach. In the wider Australian community this is no longer a thing. We have long accepted – and supported – the concept of marriage equality. There is majority support in the community, and I would guess majority support in parliament. Unfortunately, the moral conservatives who hold the whip hand wish to dictate their will on the people, and Turnbull, as always, was cowed into supporting an inadequate, and ultimately non-binding plebiscite to determine the next steps. Rather than just getting onto it Turnbull has allowed the dinosaurs of the party to put every obstacle in its way. Any chance of me ever voting for Turnbull disappeared at that moment.

Then there’s been the ridiculous series of pollies discovering that they’re dual citizens. At first, it was a couple of Greens senators, who did the right thing and resigned. They were predictably mocked by the government until, surprise, surprise, that they had a few of their own in the same boat. Naturally, they haven’t done the right thing, and have continued on pending a high court ruling. It has now got to an absurd stage when daily it appears another government minister is in trouble. It does little for their reputation.

It hit a crescendo the other day when it was discovered Barnaby Joyce was a Kiwi citizen. In the wash-up Julie Bishop – a minister I had come to respect and admire – launched into both the Labor party and New Zealand, claiming conspiracy. It was funny. I know it was meant to some attempt at turning the tables, but it was pathetic, and the only damage done was to the Libs.

They made the mistake, and to get hysterical and begin to blame others reveals both desperation and an utter lack of political judgement. I doubt there’s a single reasonable voter who bought that spiel, and for most, it would only have confirmed the dire incompetence of the government. They can’t go on. They won’t go on. If they can survive that long the next election is still a while away, but if there is anything like a dead man walking then it’s this government.

And now, today, a terrorist attack in Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

And that, folks, is the cosy world we live in today.

None of your business


Big news last Friday when two AFL executives were basically sacked after having affairs with female subordinates.

It’s not a good look, and given these men are married with children, is pretty shabby – but since when is that sufficient to fire someone?

I can’t support these men, but I feel some disquiet over what’s happened because it sets up the employer as moral arbiter. More pointedly, it’s interference in personal lives.

In both cases the affairs were consensual. No-one did anything against their will. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, older executive with younger, more junior colleague, but that’s all it is. It may be questionable, but it’s not illegal, and it’s only vaguely immoral when the parties have other partners – but then, it happens all the time. What if we lived in a society whereby adultery led to instant dismissal? We don’t thankfully, yet these men have lost their jobs (but only because the media got hold of it).

The only possible justification I can see is if it directly impacts on job performance, in which case the reason for dismissal is performance. Otherwise it might contravene a code of conduct the employees have signed up to – but then I don’t think such a thing should be in a code of conduct. It becomes more understandable if it is part of a pattern and a broader culture of entitlement and abuse – which may be the case here. It’s not something that should be encouraged, and yet I’d bet if these guys chose to challenge their dismissal then the law would be on their side.

One of the things I find disturbing about this is the general acceptance that this is just. Officially these managers chose to resign, but only after a hefty push. There seem only a few who have questioned the justice of this, or pointed out that really this is nobody’s business but those involved. It feels to me that convention and public morality intrudes more and more upon our private lives. There is a gap – a necessary gap – between our private and public/professional lives that should be maintained, even if we choose to get hot and bothered with someone we work with.

Speaking for myself I’ve had multiple affairs with women I’ve worked with. Who hasn’t? It’s hardly unusual. I understand if it is frowned upon, but no corporation has the right to dictate my personal relationships. This is what has happened now though, these men have lost their jobs, the women humiliated, and the PR fallout very ugly – and for the most part we seem ready to accept it as fair. Why?

 

Our ABC


I was out for a few convivial drinks on Friday night at a local bar when I received a text message from an acquaintance. He was inviting me to a function on Sunday, all tickets paid for. After I got home later I ruminated on the invitation before messaging him back that I would attend. It interfered with other plans, but I agreed to go as a gesture of goodwill.

It was not that I was uninterested in the function. It was being held by the Friends of the ABC, of which I would consider myself a (non-ticket holding) member of. Furthermore Kerrie O’Brien was speaking, and a tribute to John Clarke was promised. I had my writing to do, household chores and cooking, plus the footy was on, but on this occasion it seemed fair enough.

The last couple of days have been classic Melbourne winter days. They start out near freezing and slowly warm, though never to the point that you can go out without a jacket. The day is clear though, the sky blue. From a purely aesthetic point of view they’re pretty days.

I did my cooking in the morning then put my jacket on and took the train to the city. The train was full of people heading to the footy, most of them in red and black, the colours of my team. On this day I wasn’t joining them. Instead I was met by my friend under the clocks of Flinders Street station and off we went to the event.

I’m sympathetic to the ABC. I think it is a grand institution, and an absolutely essential institution. We need a national broadcaster that caters for all and reaches to every corner of the continent. The ABC has a rich history of quality programming in general, but particularly in the area of current affairs. These days the ABC is under frequent attack, mostly on political and ideological grounds. Though the ABC affects impartiality it is accused (erroneously) of a left bias (an interesting sociological question actually – most of the audience would be of liberal disposition). As a result over the last 20 years the ABC has suffered attacks by conservative politics and had its budget much reduced and services foolishly constrained.

The Friends of the ABC are there to defend the ABC and uphold the tradition. In effect they resist the political tide looking to politicise, diminish, emasculate or eliminate altogether the reach of the ABC.

The function was held in an auditorium of the Fed Square complex overlooking the Yarra River. Probably 90% of the crowd would have been over 60. Most were – as the ABC critics would have it – well spoken, educated types from smart suburbs. Some had driven in from the country for the day. All were passionate about the future of the ABC, both TV and Radio National, which is such a lifeline for so many people.

Kerrie O’Brien is a bit of a legend. He comes from a long line of distinguished ABC journalists, intelligent, erudite, probing, thoughtful. He retired a few years back, which was big news at the time. Yesterday he spoke about leadership, and in particular the example of three recent leaders.

The first was Nelson Mandela, who he described as the greatest leader he had ever met. The next was Paul Keating, which was no great surprise. Keating is revered by many (including me), and O’Brien had a long professional relationship with him, culminating recently in a biography he wrote of Keating. It’s clear he admires him greatly, and in his speech he focused on the challenge of getting Mabo into law. The final example was at first blush surprising: John Howard. I’m no fan of John Howard, and I suspect O’Brien isn’t really either, but the point was well made. Much as I might disavow much of Howard’s government it took real courage to push through the gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre.

The counterpoint to all of this was the abject lack of leadership in recent times, and as an exemplar of that O’Brien spoke of the botched history of climate change policy and the doomed variety of policy initiatives to combat it. It’s a sad story of political intransigence and cowardice. No-one has been willing to take a true leadership position on the matter. In speaking of Mabo O’Brien had made the point that there were no votes in the fight for Keating, in fact, probably the opposite. He did it because it was right, and by strength of will and conviction he wrangled it into law.

No-one has shown anything like the same leadership when it comes to climate change. Every prime minister has failed. No-one has had the strength of character to make the unpopular call. Every one of them has looked to the polls, or to their political colleagues. No-one has – like Keating did, and Howard as well – stood up and said this is the right thing, and this is what we’re going to do come what may.

It’s depressing, but familiar. It’s not news to anyone, but to hear it from the lips of such a distinguished commentator made it seem official: there has been a deficit of leadership in Australia (and around the world, as he similarly made the point).

It was a strangely uplifting afternoon. It’s always refreshing to be among passionate, intelligent people. It was easy to believe that we were on the side of right, and reassuring to sense the resistance to those who would diminish our way of life. Near the end there was a moving tribute to John Clarke. Everyone there loved and admired what he stood for, as they did Kerrie O’Brien (who is revered by these cultured people).

I left for home glad to have gone, refreshed in a way and encouraged. Just as well I didn’t know the footy score.

Disunited Kingdom


Another interesting few weeks in international politics. Trump gets nearer and nearer the precipice, though if anyone ever gives him a push is anyone’s guess. Then there’s the UK. Jermy Corbyn gave Theresa May an almighty scare in the general election, to the point that to form government the Conservatives need to enter into a coalition with the uglies of the Irish Unionists, who don’t believe in same-sex marriage or abortion, and in general have a range of retrograde policies – and they hold the whip hand. Then came the awful Grenfell Tower fire in London. Last I heard there were 58 reported deaths, and bad deaths too – trapped in a burning building and succumbing to smoke or flame. The firestorm has spread far beyond the building though.

I don’t see how Theresa May can survive this. She got a very shaky mandate from the electorate after running a poor campaign. Her conduct and behaviour after the election inspired little, but it’s the Grenfell Tower fire that is her death knell. But let’s start at the start.

It’s not long ago that Corbyn was deemed unelectable, and May called an election in the expectation of a landslide. Corbyn improved his game, and May was diabolical on the campaign trail, and these in combination were a catalyst for reconsideration by the electorate. The elements were already there though – general cynicism, disenfranchised voters searching for something to believe in, and those disenchanted in general with the party system and the rhetoric that goes with it. Much has been made of the Conservative mantra throughout the campaign of strong and stable government and I agree it played a big part in the outcome – as a negative to the conservatives.

That’s not always the case. As mindless as these slogans may seem, it’s apparent that by the perpetual repetition of them something gets through to the electorate. In the past it proved a positive for like trained monkey’s we (well, never me) came to associate the proponents of the slogan with the message. That was in simpler times.

These days it’s a rowdy crowd. They’ve come angry, unwilling to be appeased by mindless drivel. Had May been better that sense may never have been activated in the electorate. As it was she was unwilling to engage and came off as being evasive and untrustworthy, while Corbyn was campaigning on simple sincerity. Get a load of this the punters thought, and just listen to the bullshit she’s spouting! The electorate became aware, at which point the repetition of empty phrases became a negative.

The move towards Corbyn was a rejection of political party machinations. All over the world voters have become jaded by cynical politics, faceless and cruel bureaucracy, and an utter absence of sincerity or ideals. May embodied that and in comparison Corbyn’s homeliness and home-spun wisdom was positively attractive. In the end I think the English electorate were drawn to Corbyn and what he represented, but were unsure whether they wanted him to govern. That was then.

Now it might be different. The disaster at Grenfell Towers is almost biblical in what it means. It feels as if a message from on high sent to expose the inequity and utter poverty of the Conservative movement. What is a human disaster has been proved to have been utterly preventable if not for corruption and shortcuts being taken by the ruling Tories. Added to that was the deplorable conduct of Theresa May in the aftermath – a more out of touch leader you won’t see.

Where do we start? Well, Grenfell Towers is public housing in a posh area, Kensington. The victims were working class strugglers. They had complained about the risk of fire and were ignored. The building itself had no smoke alarms or sprinklers – unimaginable (and illegal) in Australia. The cladding added to the building during a recent renovation was proven to he highly flammable, but chosen to save money. Then of course there were the cuts made by Boris Johnson when he was mayor to the fire service. And so on. Then, to add insult to injury, after this barely comprehensible tragedy Theresa May turns up shielded by minders and talks only to the firefighters – the homeless victims are ignored. (In comparison Corbyn, and even the Queen, showed normal human compassion. Corbyn has really shone throughout this).

May copped a lot of criticism for this, and rightly so, but what I see is a woman totally out of her depth. She’s not a particularly attractive character, but this misjudgement I suspect is borne of complete confusion – not that that’s an excuse.

A government has yet to be formed in Britain, and Brexit looms. After Grenfell Towers great swathes of the population are outraged. If they had an election today I think it’s Corbyn who would win in a landslide. That’s not going to happen though. What will happen is hard to know. I think May’s leadership is now not sustainable; and I think there are too many questions about the proposed coalition which, after Grenfell Towers, contradicts entirely the mood of the nation.

I’m fascinated to see what will happen now. There must be victims – sacrifices – which is all a part of the political culture. May is dead, and I think Boris is terminal now too. Admission must be made, the sacrifices made public, and a conciliatory leader who promises to ‘bring the nation together’ will be found. How they resolve the political stalemate I don’t know.

As for Australia, if we’re watching then there’s a lot to learn – but I’ll get onto that another time.

 

Can’t ignore any longer


I can’t go on writing of trivial things when about me in the world momentous events occur. I think of Kafka who in his diaries made mention of WW1 commencing, followed up by a note that he ‘went swimming’. I understand that. A diary is personal, it’s not intended to reflect on the great moments of history. There comes a point though when those moments become personal, and to continue to disregard them is just impossible, and vaguely immoral. My issues may consume me, but in a time where innocents are targeted for brutal execution they are small things indeed.

Of course over the weekend there were terrorist attacks in London, a couple of weeks after the terrorist bombing in Manchester. On Saturday amid widespread panic and disruption 6 people were murdered by jihadists. It may well have been much worse. By memory 22 died in the Manchester bombing, most of them children and young people, and all of them much loved by friends and family. The damage goes far beyond a simple list of dead.

It might sound callous, but it’s not the lists of dead that I find most horrifying, but rather it’s the incomprehensible ideology that exults in this violence.

When the bomb exploded at the Ariana Grande concert I wondered at the mentality of people who set out to wreak destruction on the most innocent and vulnerable of our society. The audience for an Ariana Grande audience is always going to be predominantly junior – kids and teenagers for whom Grande is an idol. To attend a concert of this type should be the most innocuous and joyful of pastimes for people who have yet to hurt anyone. Yet it was these people who were targeted. How can you understand that?

The attacks over the weekend were more normal in the sense that there have been similar attacks in France, Germany and Denmark in recent times. The method was to create panic and terror, and in that it was a complete success. London was virtually shut down and all the news services carried it for hours on end. The death toll was modest considering the impact, but the tactical objective was achieved.

In the aftermath of these attacks there is widespread and justified outrage. It’s hard to deny that, but it serves ISIS objectives exactly. I cannot comprehend the ideology, but the strategy is clear. The death of infidels is a bonus, it’s the terror, fear, mistrust and violent reaction these attacks provoke which is the real purpose of them.

The people who commit these crimes are commonly described as evil. It’s an easy label and it seems an easy fit at first blush. Certainly these are evil acts, but I suspect that the schmucks who sacrificed themselves for this misplaced ideology are a mix of fools and tragically misguided, the easily led and readily corrupted. In the absence of anything more meaningful they have been drawn to the exotic appeal of the extreme, and a purpose in death they could never find in life.

The true evil is the corrupt ideology that justifies such heinous acts, and the cruel and sadistic leaders of this ideology who seek to manipulate, enslave and murder. They claim to act in god’s name, but that too is a corruption – no just god demands the death of unbelievers; and no true man of god demands – and so exults – the murder of so many innocent. This is a false ideology, the god they clamour to is not the true god of their faith, and those who seek to destroy will themselves one day find themselves called to a violent judgement.

For now, it’s a hard thing to get your mind around. It is so big now, and seemingly unending – and just so terribly wrong. For a moment you wonder what it is that allows this – but then you recall all those movements through history who have had a similar urge to righteous murder. It’s just the most recent form of extremist reaction, this time Islamist, but it’s nothing new, regardless of what the other extremes will tell you.

There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been better said by others, but I can’t stay silent any longer.