28 May 2010

Why Christians Are Wrong


Christian cultural commentators seem very alarmed by the rise in prominence of atheism in recent years. Alarmed perhaps inevitably, because it's obvious they have no clue what it's all about.

Christians speak of a rejection of God; in this review of The Rage Against God, Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher) story of his re-embrace of Christianity after a period of secular humanism, the reviwer writes that Hitchens' generation "...came to see God as a nuisance and religion as an embarrassment." It's not an uncommon sentiment. Christians, seeing their god as an absolute rather than one of many gods that a person can choose to believe in or not, seem to think that atheists believe in God, but have deliberately choosen to ignore him/her/it because it's all too hard.

It's not true. Atheist do not reject God. They don't rage against God. They simply do not believe in any god - they don't reject yours, Christians. But the Christians don't understand this. They think of their god like we think of the sun - "Well, it's just there. No need to believe it will rise tomorrow, it just will." They know their god is there, and if other people can't accept it, well they must be atheist because they don't like God's rules or something.

Of course, Christians are wrong about many things. But boy, they sure missed the mark on this one.

09 May 2010

Ten Things Wrong With The New Liberal Party Ad


So Tony Abbott has kicked off the 2010 election campaign with a nice shiny new campaign ad. He is to be admired, I guess, for packing so many weasel words, mistruths and scare tactics into a mere thirty seconds. Here are just some of the fundamental flaws the seep from every pore of this man's being (it may not be exactly ten - at least I can admit when things aren't quite right).

Strong action to reduce Australia's massive debt - Australia's debt as a percentage of GDP is the lowest in the OECD. What debt we do have is a result of the fiscal stimulus that kept Australia well shielded from harsh effects of the GFC. Kevin Rudd has taken a decisive step to reduce this debt - the tax on mining profits. Tony Abbott and his ilk are jumping up and down screaming about this. Okay Mr Abbott, what measures do you want to take? Would they by any chance involve the slashing of services and untold misery for Australian families - as per the early days of the Howard government perhaps? (You were reducing Labor's debt then, you say - by causing pain to the most vulnerable in our society, rather than raising taxes on business and industry.)


Real Action on Illegal Immigration - a picture says so many words about how wrong Abbott (and Rudd, pandering to fear) is; just look at this thing. For a start, it is NOT illegal to come to Australia seeking asylum. This graphic shows hordes of arrows sweeping onto Australian shores (drawing the connection in the public's mind with boat people, as the arrows all arrive on the north west coast). "We've got to take strong measures now" intones Abbott. Why? By world standards, a tiny number of asylum seekers head for Australia each year. We could afford to do much more, in all senses of the word. The journey here by boat is so uncomfortable and hazardous, only the most desperate and determined would ever attempt it. The vast majority of people in Australia illegally are tourists who have overstayed their visas. (For more on asylum seeker myths, I enthusiastically refer you here).

And please take one more close look at that graphic. Among the points of origin suggested for these terrifying illegal hordes is...Iraq. Iraq? Where, Mr Abbott, your party enthusiastically joined the invasion against the express wishes of the majority of the Australian people? Iraq, where the ongoing war your idol John Howard devotedly supported has caused at least 100,000 civilian deaths? You are now pledging action on asylum seekers from Iraq? Excuse the language, but are you fucking kidding me?

Local Hospital boards - Abbott first floated this proposal at the 2007 Federal election. If it's such a great idea, why not at least try to implement it during the 12 previous years the Liberals were in government? Maybe because it's not such a great idea. If you think "anonymous, faceless bureaucracies" were bad, just wait till your local hospital is run by a locally appointed hospital board, where local business interests and local government power-players are running the show. Do you want the decision of whether your mother should receive experimental cancer surgery in the hands of Jim Bloggs of Jim Bloggs Fine Motors? Welcome to cronyism, nepotism and time wasting. In any case, these local boards cannot be truly independent - where will they get their funding from and who will they be accountable to?

I am a man who believes in getting things done - well physically no one can deny this. Completing an iron man triathlon is an achievement to be admired. Heavy exercise can induce a euphoric state - which in Tony Abbott's case has lead him to make proposals with no connection to reality whatsoever - such as, oh, that poverty cannot be abolished because of base instincts of human nature, that Bernie Banton's attempt to present Abbott with a petition to include a mesothelioma drug on the PBS was a stunt, that homosexuality makes him feel "a little bit threatened" (could Abbott be displaying the new gay stereotype?) that climate change is "absolute crap", that...you just pick your favourite Abbott statement taken out of context/misstatement/off-the-planet nonsense! There are lots to choose from.

Much was made in the press last week of Labor's slump in popularity in the latest Newspoll survey, the Liberals enjoying a gain on a two-party preferred basis. But for all the talk of dissatisfaction with Rudd, Abbott still received a 32% nod as preferred Prime Minister! I don't join with those who think having Abbott as Liberal leader is a blessing that guarantees a Labor victory in this year's election. If the man could get on message, he might do some real damage. At the moment though, he is just amusing, if you can ignore the very dark heart beneath his words.

05 May 2010

Feminsim Goes Again


Last Saturday's Good Weekend was the annual "women's issue". These things have thankfully moved on from the days of glossy fashion spreads and beauty tips - interviews with women in power on the status of women today, and a lengthy article on feminism, specifically women in the workplace. Or more specifically, how women are obstructed from the career fast track in the corporate world.

Can the mainstream media talk about something else please? Yes, it is good to see feminism at least being discussed. And yes, the way that the structure of the corporate/business world prevents women from achieving positions of power is an important issue; I would be bitterly frustrated if I were one of these women. But yet again, feminism risks alienating many women through it's elitism. Most women aren't on a corporate fast track, usually through choice - there are many other fulfilling careers which women pursue than chasing corporate success. Yet these career women are the ones we focus on, possibly because they make more rich, powerful and outrageous copy.

One hears little in the media about the less "sexy" issues affecting women - particularly the millions of women who work in retail or clerical work, or whom rely on government benefits. The Henry tax review recommended several changes to the tax system to reduce the tax rates for women with children who work part time whilst their partners are in full time work - these were ignored, and there's not enough childcare places if they do go back to work.

The inherent sexism and prudery of the Centrelink system isn't spoken of much either. A woman receiving the sole parents benefit who has a partner stay the night more than once or twice is liable to be investigated and have their benefits cut off. It's irrelevant whether said partner contributes financially to the household; you cannot have a partner and receive parenting payment. Centrelink argues that financially, they must assess people as couples; assessing individuals would place too great a burden on the system. There's some truth to this, but the policies also hark back to the days of church based welfare - a woman must be chaste, deserving of her subsistence payments. A hussy with a live-in boyfriend doesn't meet these criteria. Of course these laws apply equally to hetero and homosexual couples of both genders, but women are overwhelmingly the ones disadvantaged as the prime recipients of the sole parent's benefit. Women end up having to choose between greater poverty, and living in fear of being caught - mostly going with the latter. When, whilst briefly unemployed last year, I informed Centrelink my partner had moved in with me, more than one staff member was surprised I would actually admit to this.

Feminism rarely touches these issues - sometimes, sadly, the movement seems so caught up in the rush to be inclusive it overlooks the statistical majority. A correspondent wrote, and I include with permission:

Feminism, as a movement, is having problems because it stopped being about .. feminism.

It's a popular cause - supported by the majority of the sane population. Everyone can get behind equal rights, equal pay, right to vote and all the basic feminist issues.

The problem is the Left Movement latching on and trying to bolt as many transient issues onto the side as possible. Everything from immigration laws to legalization of weed to capital punishment to tax reform.

Worse, the dialog gets drowned in rhetoric. It starts with "Some women are black, so racism is a feminist issue". Inevitability, somebody follows up with "But some men are black too, so it's not a feminist issue". And the stock reply is "Stop being an egocentric man; stop being 'that guy'; etc, etc". At which point anyone who's not invested in all the current activist causes tunes out and walks away.

I think it's less the academic side that loses people and more the activism at all costs - when activists (for example, the Candy Bowers you mentioned) conflagrate the issues, people walk away.

As for the insular nature of the movement, that appears to be by design. When women comment without using the correct jargon, they're told to go away and educate themselves before speaking. When men comment, they're told that they can't hold an opinion on the issue. When transgender persons comment on the issues, they're usually either ignored or asked to stop hijacking the movement.

I would rate feminism as something relevant to everyone, just part of being human. But the feminist movement in Australia in 2010 is really giving me the irrits right now. I've had a look at a few feminist blogs recently, and I just end up feeling depressed and overwhelmed; I don't understand the language and subtleties, but get the feeling that everything I do and say is wrong. Feminism will never get anywhere at this rate, whilst bogged down in a student activist mentality. Maybe we need to start again - a new dialogue, focusing on the big issues, making feminism a mainstream electoral issue. Then we can start analysing gender neutral frameworks. But for now can we get feminism out of the lecture theatres and into the ballot boxes?

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