March 22, 2017

New Blogger Templates

I've been on Blogger since - whew - January 2004, so long ago I was at least three or four years younger than I am now. The service had only just been bought out by Google, was still widely known as blog spot, and was so basic at the time it lacked a user interface for template design - you had to do so in HTML - and you had to use a third party service for comments. In May of that year, Google launched a major redesign, with lots of improvements to user functionality including comments and the ability to post by email. Further updates followed in 2006, including a WYSIWYG template editor.

And then that was pretty much it. Apart from some minor updates of functionality, Google has pretty much ignored Blogger since then. Whilst they haven't gone so far as to shelve the thing all together, like the much missed iGoogle, it's been abandoned so long, here are the up to the minute options for comment log in:



If that was anymore of a throwback, it'd be using a Razr and playing Hey Ya. There's no support to add a more up to date method of commenting, such as Disqus or Facebook plug ins, either (although at least I have a scapegoat for my lack of comments in recent years). The user interface hasn't changed, there's no technical support, and even someone as change averse as I can't help wanting a little more up-to-date functionality. 

But despite Blogger being the Tiffany Trump of the Google suite, I could never quite bring myself to abandon it, just give up and head to Word Press (or, God forbid, Tumblr - though Tumblr hardly seemed like the right place to post about politics or be born prior to 1994).  

So it was exciting to log in this week and see that we have, finally, been rewarded for our many years of patience with some snazzy new templates:



Nothing like the breadth of options on Tumblr of course; to me, the exciting thing here is not the templates themselves, but what they represent: the possibility that Google has realised what an untapped resource they have in Blogger (and its users and potential users) and decided to pay some attention. But what the heck, shiny new things to play with are fun, too. I haven't been quite satisfied with any of my template tweaks and overhauls lately, and am going to have a play around and see what I come up with. 

March 21, 2017

Want sympathy? You'd better be perfect

There's a strange and awful trend, in Australia at least, when we see people going through a hard time in the media: an insatiable desire, it seems, to rip them to shreds for any perceived lack of purity in their victimhood.

This week, Australian actress Melissa George went public with her account of how she suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her former partner. Now, Ms George has a somewhat spotty relationship with the Australian media, with ill-advised comments she made a few years back complaining Australians were fixated on her turn two decades ago as a teenage soap star, making it too stressful to come home when she could live a much more exciting life in New York or Paris. There was a predictable backlash at the time - I wrote myself about how petty her claims of distress seemed - but this is different. There's nothing, certainly not being a bit of a snob, that causes a person to deserve abuse; surely we would overlook Ms George's comments of the past and extend our sympathy for what she has been through. 

But apparently not; disparaging Australia a bit means Ms George deserved physical abuse then, vile verbal abuse now. Consider some of the comments following her TV interview on Sunday night:

“People say Men should treat women better ... I say a Lady should be more careful who she spends her time with ...”. “maybe he just had enough of your rot too ... he's human. we all have a snapping point..” "If you bag out Australia then you are not entitled to any empathy ever again in your entire life.” “Oh now she is sorry, how convenient.” “She was too good for Australia when all was going well with her … just deal with this yourself sweetheart. The rest of us are not interested” “Silly girl ...”

This vitriol speaks to a mentality that domestic violence is not serious, is the victim's fault. But it also shows a societal nasty streak that, instead of extending compassion when we see someone going through a hard time, wants to scrutinise, lose all sense of proportion, and rip them to shreds.

We can see this base instinct following the recent tragedy in Moama, NSW, where a woman has been charged with drowning one of her young sons and attempting to drown the other. It was an unspeakable crime, amid a turbulent family background of alleged drug use, custody battles and welfare concerns. And in all this, the estranged father of the boys came forward. He apparently hadn't seen the older of the two boys for many years, and had never met his younger son. Now though, he wanted to travel from his home in Queensland to Victoria to visit his older son in hospital and attend the younger one's funeral, and, claiming he needed to raise funds to do so, he or a family member launched an online fundraiser.

The comments caught fire; he was called a grub, despicable, not a father, told he should stay away from the funeral and hospital, an opportunist trying to make money off his dead kids. People went through his Facebook, arguing everything from that he was only in it for the money, if he wanted to get there he'd hitchhike, he shouldn't be crying poor when he's spent money on custom number plates. They cared not of any circumstances they knew nothing of; they were utterly convinced of their righteousness and unrestrained in their vitriol.

We see people with no sense of proportion, people unable to distinguish between disagreeing with someone's life choices and sensibly keeping it to themselves; and joining an online lynch mob attacking someone who's just lost a child.

Maybe we can chalk this up to some good in people, that they are so upset by what has happened they have a desperate need to focus their grief somewhere, and this man is a convenient target. I'm not so sure, though. Perhaps, after cases such as Belle Gibson, who after an outpouring of sympathy were found to be frauds, people fancy themselves too clever to be caught out again.

But it seems like something nastier than that. And it happens all the time: Dylan Voller deserved hideous abuse in juvenile detention because of the crimes he committed that landed him there; asylum seekers facing hideous conditions, prolonged detention, illness, and violence are queue jumpers; anyone a victim of Centrelink, from fake debts through to being injured on unsafe and unhelpful work for the dole projects should just have gotten a job in the first place.

Australia is notorious for the tall poppy syndrome, the national past time of tearing down those who are successful. But we also have a national tendency to kick those who are already down, to play amateur detective finding anything about them we deem less than blameless and then use it as an excuse to pile on. It's ugly and demeaning to everyone, those who gleefully join in the abuse most of all.


March 18, 2017

Criminalising abortion hurts women who don't want one, too

The media has leapt on the story of "Miss X", the woman who became pregnant after a brief relationship with NRL player Bryce Cartwright, and was allegedly paid $50,000 to pressure her into having an abortion. No matter what your stance on a woman's right to choose, it must be a terribly difficult situation for the woman involved. Of course, the usual suspects of the "pro life" brigade have jumped on the story, eager to use it to push their line that abortion harms women and must be stopped. Now, I actually happen to agree with Ms Devine here; no woman should have to suffer this, being pressured into having an abortion she doesn't want. But criminalising abortion means there's no way to prevent it.

As with the legal status of abortion itself in NSW - with abortion still being technically a crime - women who are coerced, bullied or threatened into having an abortion against their wishes are in a grey area. The aforementioned pro-life campaigners use their stories to illuminate the supposed horrors of abortion; meanwhile, pro-choice campaigners, understandably nervous about a social climate where women's rights to control our own bodies are under constant attack, deny that women are ever coerced; that the vast majority of women who terminate their pregnancies do so with clear head and determined heart. 

But women are coerced, forced, threatened and bullied into having abortions. Not the majority of women who have abortions no, but some. Years ago, I was a support counsellor on a forum for such women. Some were young girls pressured by their parents, told if they did not abort their pregnancies they would be kicked out of home, cut off financially, even physically abused. Some were threatened by their partners; end this pregnancy or I will leave you, end this pregnancy or I will hurt you. Some were subjected to weeks of bullying; psychological abuse, threats to take the baby, tell the world you're an unfit mother, if you loved our children you'd not want another one we can't afford, if you keep it I'll leave you, if you keep it I'll take our kids and leave you.

And after the threats, bullying and abuse, they gave in. 

Some women, after this, got on with their lives. Some were wracked with grief, guilt, regret, PTSD. In one case a mother of a teenage girl whom she pressured to end her pregnancy, seeing the trauma it inflicted on her daughter, was herself para-suicidal with grief and guilt. Some mourned the children they lost, ten or twenty years on.

I'm not telling you all this to show how terrible abortion is. I'm telling you how terrible taking away a woman's right to say what happens to her own body is. 

But because abortion is not technically legal in NSW, it is not technically illegal to force or coerce someone into having one. 

That's why decriminalising abortion will help women who do not want to end their pregnancies, as well as those who wish to exercise their right to do so. By explicitly making a woman's right to an abortion legal, we can write into the law to make it illegal to coerce someone into having one. A woman who feels she is being coerced can then use this as ground to apply for an AVO, press charges or access other help. Yes, I see that the law would be difficult to enforce and prosecute. But so are sexual assault laws, and we still need those. We need to send an explicit message that it is a woman's right to control what happens to her body. To end her pregnancy or keep it, without fear.

I'm unabashedly pro-choice. I'm the mother of a new school starter now. If I'd had my right to choose, I'd be the mother of a teenager. I will always wonder what could have been. 

March 11, 2017

Bill Leak and Speaking of the Dead

Cartoonist for the Australian, Bill Leak, died suddenly yesterday, and in death as in life, he was a divisive figure. Leak was best known for his output of disgusting cartoons targeting whoever caught the fancy of his bile - he was particularly fond of directing his vile scribblings on Aboriginal people, the LGBTQ community and Muslims - which I won't link to here and which he continued to churn out within hours of his death.

But of course, everyone's a top bloke after death; and with Leak's passing, the usual chorus of banal reminiscence has swung into action Whilst some sections of the commetariat are valorising him as a beacon, even a martyr, of free speech, others in the media who really should know better are carefully stepping aside his legacy of spite by using the c word:

They are insisting that the people Leak targeted should pay him the respect in death he never showed them in life. That we should ignore that Leak was a racist, homophobic bigot and, in light of all the reports from those who knew Leak personally who say he was a lovely bloke, if we can't say anything nice say nothing at all.

Well, there's an argument to be made that Leak would have wanted us to remember him by saying offensive things, exercising our free speech; he would have wanted it that way. But considering the hurt Leak caused (and if Rowan Dean can say Leak was hounded by accusations of bigotry, we can all agree that words hurt), the response has been fairly restrained. The general consensus from those Leak delighted (oh yes) in upsetting was "I'm not glad he's dead, but I am glad he's gone".

Anyway, who's fault is it if many people had less than flattering things to say about Bill Leak - were even relieved that he won't be publishing any more of his awful cartoons? Leak did this work, he surely enjoyed the reaction he got, and now it is his legacy.

It makes me think, there's a lesson for everyone here. You can't control how you're remembered once you're gone. Bill Leak saw himself as a tireless advocate for "free speech", but he's no longer here to control the narrative, and he's being remembered as a racist Islamaphobic homophobe who made a lot of money out of being shitty to large groups of people. It's the same for any of us. You may think you're admired for your unflinching honesty, or your the frisson of excitement you brought to life for "stirring the pot", but there will ever be those who think you're just an arsehole, and will remember you that way.

It's often said we shouldn't live our lives caring what other people think. That is in some ways terrible advice; we all have to live together on this planet and we need to look out for each other, starting with being considerate of each other's feelings. How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be? And if you don't care, cause you'll be dead, what do you want those closest to you that you leave behind to hear about you?

There is a certain irony in all this; Leak referred to political correctness as ‘a means of imposing totalitarianism by stealth, perfectly suited to the cowardly', whilst attempting to impose the views of himself and his ilk on the world by making it unacceptable to object to the work he did. Well now he is gone and spare us from cries of outrage over the "disrespectful" reaction.

I've read numerous accounts from people who knew Leak personally - some of whom I know personally - speaking of what a great, generous, personable man he was. Does that make him a nice guy though? ...No.

It's easy to be nice to people you know. It's easy to see them as people, to want to delight a friend's small child, to counsel a colleague who has just lost a parent, to open your house to a mate in the throes of a fresh marital separation.

It's easy to care about the people you know and see, and easy to bask in the reaction of gratitude and admiration from those around you. "Oh, aren't you lovely, doing this!".

It's harder to care about the people you don't know. To realise they are as much individuals as your friends. To realise they love their families just as much. To realise the pains of life affect them just as much.

It's hard to care about these strangers, so it's easy to blame them for their own woes, easy to vote for government policies that will make their lot even more miserable. Easy to draw cartoons portraying them as feckless, evil, lazy, greedy, bad parents, bad people.

You might be the first to offer tea, sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. You might work the tuckshop at little athletics, be the first to volunteer at the school, run genes for genes day at the office, be described as a warm, generous, caring person who loves people and loves life. But if you're also arguing asylum seekers deserve to be locked up for queue jumping and Aboriginal people are drunken grifters with only themselves to blame for their disadvantage, you're not a nice person. You're just not. You've got the easy stuff - you care about the people you know. You do the work that gets you thanks and praise.

The hard stuff - the stuff that makes you a nice person - is how much you care about the people you don't know. How much you realise that they are people, too.

Bill Leak was generous and lovely to the people he knew. Revoltingly horrible to people he didn't. He wasn't a nice person. What about the rest of us? What about the legacy we will leave behind?

March 3, 2017

The Vacuous Millennial Right Rebellion

With the recent, inevitable downfall of Milo Yiannopoulos - self proclaimed “dangerous faggot” who, after the doxxing, baiting racist online attacks, sexism, and (self-hating) homophobia finally had the brakes put on the hate train after comments he made implying that he condones sex between older men and young boys, leading to the loss of his book deal with Simon and Schuster, the rescinding of the invitation for him to speak at CPAC, and his apparent jump-before-you’re-pushed resignation from the platform that brought him prominence, Breitbart - are we seeing the merciful beginning of the end of the self proclaimed Millennial alt right?

 Milo was the consummate poster boy for this puddle of spit-up parading itself as a political movement. He was the attractive-on-the-surface face of an ugly reality; that the alt right is all style and no substance. They place themselves as the new rebels, the new cool; conservative is the new black. But what are they rebelling against? They haven't got much. They've a Freudian fixation with "free speech", which as they see it is the right to be racist, sexist, homophobic. Apart from that, they really don't care about the politics. It's hard to imagine a less inspiring rebellion than for the right to call people Muzzies and Trannies.

But those involved in this movement are desperately trying to convince us and themselves that their club is titillating, punk even. Millennial writer Daisy Cousens recently published a piece presenting conservatism as the new punk, describing her particular brand of politics as being the Millennial Right; whilst huge supporters of Trump, they could care less about his policies. It’s all about the message, the anti-establishment candidate coming in to shake things up. They don't seem to care what he does once he gets there - including surrounding himself with the same sorts of corporate and political insiders that so exercised them in the first place - doesn't matter. The point is they and their movement are triumphant now; the loathed left now vanquished.

Cousens describes with particular relish the crowning moment of her embrace of the alt right, buying a Make America Great Again hat from eBay. Okay, I'm not a Millennial and have no idea what "cool" (do kids even still say cool?) is these days. For all I know On Fleek topped the Hottest 100 this year and Kylie Jenner is head of an ethnographic study to document dying Southern European languages. But as far as punk goes, I do know that the original punks were rebelling against a stagnant economy, rigid class system and hopeless future by creating a legacy of music, art and fashion that resonates to this day, not protesting what they see as the tyranny of political correctness by sitting at home in comfort giggling to themselves about how naughty they were for buying a hat representing a six-month-old Billionaire's triumph. (Although Ms Cousens's purchase did have a genuine whiff of the illicit. But if you're that much of a fan of Trump and his movement, surely you'd shell out for a genuine Make America Great Again hat, available only on Trump's website for $USD25, not an eBay knock off. Or is buying counterfeit goods part of the rebellion?). 

There's nothing "conservative" about the alt right, however. Milo, when asked which of Trump's policies he favoured, replied he didn't care; he was all about burning everything down. Ms Cousens described the alt right as "socially libertarian, and unlike the Left, we’re not obsessed with what people do in their bedrooms, or who they marry". Well, that's admirable, but what values and principles are they actually conserving here? If we look at the conservative principles of Russell Kirk - the father of modern conservative thought - we find little that would be espoused by the millennial alt right.

In the end, their movement seems to be little more than a hatred of the left - their warped and distorted vision of the left, whose values they misunderstand and power they overestimate. The central principles of the left are social justice and equality - and if we’re the ones in power, it’s hard to understand why economic inequality continues to worsen. Likewise, there’s far more to Conservatism than loathing political correctness, and it certainly does care what people get up to in their bedrooms; the alt right may feel empowered by their apparent ascent, but they must realise they couldn’t have gotten there without an underpinning of very conservative Christians. And right wing women may see no use for feminism, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need for it; conservative writer Miranda Devine has written extensively against feminism, but seeing men as allies not the enemy did not stop her being the subject of vile sexist abuse when she came into a recent on air disagreement with fellow conservative Andrew Bolt. 

The point is that the left stands for things - and so does traditional conservatism, unlike this new alt right. It seems very odd to have as your core belief “words don’t matter”, then form a political movement with the core goal of thumbing your nose at the people who called you names. Can a movement based on a flimsy premise of spite persevere? It's a little hard to foresee. No matter how staunchly some still defend him, their figurehead has lost his power, and it is obvious to all but the most die hard fans the Trump administration is already in grave trouble. 

Things are in an even more perilous state here in Australia, with no Donald Trump style figure to take the message of nihilism all the way. Pauline Hanson sure isn't it - her twenty years of desperate attempts to get back into politics finally paid off at last year’s Federal election, but she is hardly likely to swell adoration in the hearts of millennials, at least not the pseudo-intellectuals who fancy themselves as the heart of the millennial right. There’s Senator Cory Bernardi’s new Conservative movement, but Bernardi’s religious ties don’t exactly mesh with the live it up ethos of the alt right. We may yet see some Pied Piper/Naked Emperor mash up swoop in, enchanting the young, but I doubt it; Australians are largely too pragmatic to fall for such a cult of personality. Besides, no movement as vacuous and shallow as the alt right can last. I'd advise its adherents to enjoy their Make America Great Again caps for as long as the counterfeit stitching lasts; they won't be cool for long.