Thursday, December 22, 2016

I used to be (more) racist.

I used to be racist.

Oh, not the overt sort of racist. I didn't call people the n word or think black people were inferior or anything. In fact, I thought everyone was the same and we should all be treated equally. I was the good sort of racist! One that doesn't think they are racist at all.

 When the first season of Australian Idol aired in 2003, with several of the contestants being people of colour, I thought "why are there so many non-Australians on it?"

When Aboriginal boy TJ Hickey died in 2004 when he crashed into a fence whilst fleeing from police on his bike, I thought "well, that's very sad, but if he hadn't been running away he wouldn't have died."

When I heard of high rates of disadvantage among Aboriginal people, I thought "well, that's very sad, but there are so many programs to help them".

When I first heard of white privilege, I got very indignant. I thought "how dare you, my life has been anything but privileged". 

Yep, I was racist. I had a lot of learning to do.

Some of it came when I moved from Newcastle to inner Sydney. Newcastle is overwhelmingly white, and if you turned on the TV, all you saw was white faces. (This is slowly getting better - it's now far more common to see, for example, people of Asian heritage in commercials, where their being Asian isn't the point). In Sydney I could see the real face of Australia, one that isn't always white. Eventually it got to where, when folks back home spoke of playing "spot the Aussie" in Sydney, I could say "they're all Aussies, mate". And that it wasn't fair that people whose families had been here for generations had their Austrailianness questioned, when I - who wasn't even born here - did not. 

A huge bunch of learning came when I enrolled in a youth work course at TAFE, with classmates from backgrounds all over the world, and the most wonderful teacher. I learned, from her and others, and visits to community centres in Redfern, of the appalling police harassment of Aboriginal people, the false accusations, the beatings, the seizure of people's legally owned property. TJ Hickey was fleeing from that, and no wonder. I thought that was all in the past. And it's people's belief that it's all in the past that allows this shocking treatment to continue. 

I learned to listen to the voices of people affected by all this casual and institutional racism. That the lived reality for Aboriginal parents is pervaded by fear; fear their young children will be taken away, fear their older children will be targeted by police

I learned that white privilege does not mean I personally, am privileged. It means that, all else being equal, my white skin has made life easier for me than it would have been otherwise. I turn on the TV and see people who look like me (well, they're thinner, but we'll leave that be). I have never been turned down for a job or a rental property because of my race. I've never had a customer refuse to be served by me because of my race. (For a better explanation of this, check out this piece, "explaining white privilege to a broke person". 

I know I still have so far to go. I know I can't fully appreciate the lived experience of racism in this country. But it's still going on, appallingly. Aboriginal people are still incarcerated at astonishing rates, disadvantaged, their children removed, their life expectancy lower. And if you really believe that "we're all the same", then it's difficult to attribute this to anything other than entrenched racism. It was extremely difficult to watch the footage of Ms Du, who died in jail after the disgusting treatment by staff, who refused to believe her cries of pain; failing to seek treatment until she died from staphylococcal septicaemia and pneumonia.

And she was in jail for unpaid fines. Compare this, if you will, to Kristina Hampel, convicted of cocaine trafficking, who avoided any jail time because it would "embarrass her family", her father being a retired Supreme Court judge.

These are not isolated cases. See the brutal images that defined 2016 for Aboriginal Australians.

Let's stop pretending we're all equal. Some of us are a lot more equal than others. Yeah, I was annoyed and embarrassed when first challenged on my racism. I'm sure I still have a tonne of views that need changing. But we all have work to do here. We need to admit we have a problem, then we can fix it. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ten days of distraction from a shrinking economy

Australia's economy shrank by 0.5% in the September quarter, the largest contraction since the GFC. Such things happen, but of course Prime Minister Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and the rest of the Government quickly and soberly announced plans to get the nation back on track.
Nope, I'm just kidding. The entire government, enthusiastically aided by the Murdoch press, launched a campaign of obfuscation and downright bizarre distraction, refocusing the national pique on issues so marginal, so trivial, that you actually might have to give grudging credit for a brilliant piece of political play. 

In ten days:



  • Immigration Minister Peter Dutton bought into the "War on Christmas", declaring Australia is a Christian country, that people want their kids brought up in a normal environment and that a lack of Christmas carols in schools is - what else? - "political correctness gone mad". 



  • Treasurer Scott Morrison fired up the barbie for a roast of Newstart recipients, condemning the 36,000 recipients of the payment had rejected job offers, apparently choosing "generous" welfare payments and refusing to work.




  • Never one to be left out, Tony Abbott got in on the act as well, sticking the boot in to those receiving the disability support pension for mere "bad backs, a bit of depression".



  • Completely non biased journalist Sharri Markson bravely informed us - I hope you're clutching your smelling salts - that Year 3 children are being brainwashed into becoming political activists by writing a petition protesting children in detention (both Dutton and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten got stuck into that one). 



  • And finally, Malcolm Turnbull brought it home this weekend by restarting the Republic debate for no apparent reason.

    I was planning to carefully debunk every atom of this nonsense. That Dutton's claim of a war on Christmas and schools abandoning carols was based on a single caller to the Ray Hadley show. That it's almost impossible to even get on the disability pension these days - your condition must be stabilised, so those with cancer, say, or deteriorating conditions don't qualify, so no doubt more than a few of those on Newstart who "rejected" job offers had to turn down jobs they could not physically do because of illness and disability. That my five year old son wrote a similar postcard in our local, mainstream Christian church, and that I'm sick of the politicalisation of compassion. That as Turnbull pointed out, there is no reasonable prospect of public consensus on a republic until Queen Elizabeth dies, which given her genes and constitution may be another decade or more. The numerous Muslim families I saw enjoying the City of Sydney Christmas concert and tree lighting. 


  • And I could go on, but enough. We need to call the government out on this rubbish. We're heading for a recession, house prices continue to grow far beyond income, we are not building the infrastructure needed to keep up with our continually expanding population. These are the issues we need to focus on, not whether a school somewhere had the kids say happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. I'm sick of the side issues. We should look after our own first? Okay, let's talk about the guy who ends up homeless after being kicked off Newstart for turning down a job his disability prevented him from doing. We have a flailing government and an ineffective opposition. Turnbull has been like a rabbit in the headlights since he became PM. He needs to get his shit together and start acknowledging the big issues. Yes, we need to look after our own. 

    Monday, December 12, 2016

    Australian Trump supporters betray those lost on MH17

    Newly elected One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts is off on his Christmas holidays. He and his family are going to the United States to visit relatives. And whilst I strenuously disagree with his politics, I wouldn't wish Senator Roberts and his family anything other than a happy trip.

    It won't all be fun and games, though:


    Because like pretty much all of Australia's new, and newly emboldened, alt right, Senator Roberts is just smitten with President Elect Donald Trump. From One Nation leader Pauline Hanson toasting Trump's victory with champagne in front of Parliament House (way to show you're in touch with ordinary workers there), to Cory Bernardi proudly wearing a Make America Great Again cap and saying the same sentiment should apply to Australia, to George Christensen, elated by Trump's victory and pondering the lessons to be learned for us, they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude. They believe he stands for what they believe they stand for: the triumph of the ordinary voter over political elites, refusal to conform to that ghastly political correctness business, a refusal to back down from your beliefs, and of course, opposition to the spread of Islam and the fervent belief that Islam is inextricably bound with terrorism.

    Yes, they absolutely hate terrorism. The threat of Islamic terrorism is so great that all Muslims should be barred from entering the country, any practice of Sharia law banned (does this include, say, aspects of Sharia such as observing Ramadan? How would this be enforced - does Senator Hanson plan to pop over to people's houses and force feed them?) Halal certification outlawed, and who knows what other measures to oppress and marginalise one of the world's major religions. There's a terrorist threat, you see. We cannot take any chances.

    Except that the last major terrorist horror involving Australians was when 27 of them were murdered when flight MH17 was shot down with a Russian missile from Russian controlled territory in 2014.  If you don't hear much about it now, that's not surprising. No one on the alt right seems to care much about these Russian terrorists, the Russian president who is resisting all attempts to investigate or bring the perpetrators to justice, or that the new US President they just heart so much has such a cosy relationship with said Russian President he may well be said to be tacitly allowing terrorism himself. The alt right, so incensed by Islamic terrorism, seems to care not a whit about Australians blown from the skies by terrorists if the terrorists are white, Christian and friends of friends.

    Whatever else I'll say about Tony Abbott - very little of it good - at least he acknowledged that Putin himself must be challenged to take responsibility for the downing of MH17 and allow the process of international justice process to take place. The alt right don't do that. And every time the likes of Pauline Hanson or Cory Bernardi sing the praises of Trump - when Trump is at least aligning with the man ultimately responsible for the slaughter of their fellow citizens - they show the hypocrisy of their anti-terrorist agenda and a callous disregard for truth and justice.

    This may seem like a long bow to draw. It's really not. If Pauline Hanson can refuse to so much as share a takeaway snack with one of her fellow Senators because it's Halal, and Halal funds terrorism, then it is hardly spurious to question Senator Hanson's adoring regard for a President who is happy to let the terrorist deaths of her fellow Australians slide. If President to be Trump is to prove himself as an international strongman who is tough on the deaths of Americans and their allies, he needs to be making it clear in the strongest terms to Putin and Russia that they cannot cover up for the MH17 atrocity any more. There is no use claiming "well, Trump isn't even in office yet, we have to wait and see what he does, he'll raise the issue MH17 then". He won't though. Whether or not Russia rigged the election or what, there's something fishy going on, and Trump won't risk his Presidency by angering the regime that helped get him there.

    The wheels of international justice turn very slowly. It took many years for the perpetrators of the Lockerbie bombing to be brought to trial; countless other atrocities are never held to account. But there will never be any justice for those lost on MH17 as long as the international community is too cowed, complacent or controlled* to demand Russia cooperate with an international investigation. And the relatives of the Australians lost on MH17 deserve better than to watch their politicians' adoring support of a President who's just going to let this one slide.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2016

    Bi By Now


    I first had a crush on a girl when I was about 11, I think, in my first year of high school; she was a couple of grades above. But it was fairly innocent, as crushes usually are at that age, and in one of the ancient Advice To A Teenage Girl books still swimming through the school library system there was a healthy dose of homophobia, with some of the less noxious wisdom being that adolescent girls often have crushes on older girls, it's a harmless normal stage they'll grow out of. Considering the great big globs of weirdness I was saddled with in almost all other areas of my life, this was welcome news. Hooray! I'm normal!

    And this was a different time. It was years even before Ellen came out, and that was such big news on the cover of Time magazine. I knew there were lesbians, but I thought it meant you had to crop your hair short and ride a motorcycle. But I liked pretty dresses! And there were no visible bisexuals at all. Homophobic jokes abounded. I'm pretty suggestible, and the whole idea of not being straight just seemed like something best kept buried deep down, never thought of - in the closet, yes.

    I didn't think much more of fancying girls for another ten years or so, when after the worst of the craziness following the breakdown of the relationship with the guy I was absolutely certain I was destined to spend the rest of my life with, attraction to women roared into life. Could it have been I was a lesbian this whole time? I experimented. I dated. I hung around lesbian social groups. I worked myself out. No, not a lesbian. I still fancied guys. (Although my taste has always run to the more feminine, less macho types; at least two of my exes have been mistaken for women, and more than one has pointed out I was more masculine than he was). I never really used the word bisexual - it has so many connotations. (Still does). I wasn't interested in reclaiming the word. It was just known in my immediate social circles that I like boys and girls, and we all got on with our lives.

    Then I met a cute guy out one night, we got married and had a kid. That was it, then. I'd locked into hetero life; I could pass, I didn't have to worry. Except I knew I'm not straight. And times were changing. The culture was getting more accepting. I debated coming out, but it didn't seem right, and even kind of pointless. I thought of how my husband would feel - "yes, I love you and am committed to you for the rest of my life, but I want to announce to the world I'm sexually attracted to women. How would that be?". No. Even though he was always fine about it, I just couldn't do it.

    And then we separated amicably after 7 years, for reasons that had nothing to do with sexuality. And...after a suitable mourning period, you start to notice people again. And the time had come to be honest about who I am. A few weeks ago, my GP wrote me a referral to a psych to discuss all my (rather marvelous) hang ups. And on that referral, in the space for sexual orientation, he'd put "heterosexual". A reasonable assumption to make - I'd discussed my separation with him, after all. But it was the wrong one. I'm not heterosexual. I'm tired of passing. I am not just a straight ally who's been to a tonne of gay bars and was advocating for gay marriage when it was seen as a fringe position. I am bisexual. But what I really prefer to say is - I am queer.

    And now here I am. I'm not going through a phase, not sowing my wild oats or relishing my freedom, and I haven't been turned off men. I'm not even dating anyone. (I never meet anyone, which a sensible person would attribute to the fact I never go out, but I prefer to blame my hips).  It was always there and it always will be. And if I'm going to hell, it won't be for this.

    Sunday, November 27, 2016

    Greens aren't driving voters to Pauline Hanson - but we must reach out to them

    Crikey recently published an article by William Bourke, founder of the Sustainable Australia Party, claiming the elitism of the Greens and their disdain for the concerns of "ordinary" Australians is sending those ordinary Australians to vote for One Nation. It's a demonstrably false assertion - at the 2016 Federal election, the Greens gained slightly in their primary vote, alongside a large increase for the ALP - those switching their vote to One Nation were largely coming from the Liberal party, along with the Palmer United Party, touted as a new independent force in Australian politics following their gains in 2013, only to be wiped out in 2016, with their share of the national vote plummeting from 5.5% to zero.

    Let's be honest. I'm sure there are Greens voters of long standing who, seeing one reference to fascism too many, have suddenly shifted their allegiance to One Nation - but they could probably all fit around the same table to discuss it.

    And at the end of it all, One Nation's national primary vote stands at 1.3%, versus 10.2% of the Greens. In the face of the dull, inept Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull and his banality of his evil ministers, the media is instead hyping the soundbite friendly Hanson and her team for all they're worth, ascribing to them power and momentum they do not have leading a populist movement which doesn't exist.

    If labelling all those who veer to the right as Nazis is unfair, then it's certainly a bit shabby to call people who veer left as elitist. Unfortunately, it has long served the powers that be in the government and media to call us elites (usually along with the descriptor "inner city", not used in admiration). The so-called rise of right wing populist parties has done nothing to dissuade them; it suits the centre/centre-right to blame the shift to One Nation and independents on the Greens rather than do the necessary soul searching on why they themselves have failed these voters.

    In labelling the Greens as elites distant from ordinary Australians though, this article and others liked it point to an underlying truth. The concerns of many disaffected and disengaged Australians are legitimate; but unlike the febrile rantings of leaders who blame Muslims, immigration and climate change conspiracies - but no workable solutions - the Greens offer a plan for Australia that will especially benefit those marginalised voters; sustainable solutions to issues of housing prices and job security. But we need to get much better at getting the message out, engaging with them.

    Australia doesn't suffer from the massive blue state-red state/city rural economic divides that have been blamed for the ascension of President Donald Trump. (An aside - after the shock of David Bowie's unexpected death, for a couple months afterwards I'd suddenly find myself remembering and thinking "holy hell, David Bowie is dead". It's early days yet, but I suspect I'll be having "far canal, Donald Trump, really?" moments for months to come).

    There are however huge problems affecting the lives of millions of Australians that we just don't hear enough about - cost of living and housing prices, underemployment and unstable employment, real rural and regional disadvantage - that didn't seem, to your average punter, as being such issues a generation or two ago. I won't bore you all with yet another of my treatises on economic rationalism, but the fact remains that the neoliberal model of profit, especially short term profit above all, espoused by Thatcher and Reagan and beloved by western democracies ever since, has destroyed the social contract, what would seem to one's birth right in a safe and prosperous nation - that if you work hard and are a good person, barring calamity you will have a comfortable life.

    These concepts are difficult to sum up in a slogan or soundbite, though. And when your average voter struggling with a rental increase and that after years as a casual, subcontracted employee their company has just announced massive job cuts and they'll struggle to get another role looks around at the state of their life and nation, they don't see the influence of the Chicago School of Economics at work. They see immigration causing increased competition for jobs and housing, Then they get home and turn on the news and there's young Islamic men arrested on terrorism charges again - and a Greens spokesperson condemning government treatment of asylum seekers, seeming to care more about these unknowns whom they're sure are just country shoppers, than they do about ordinary Australians.

    Who are they going to vote for - the party that has the good policies on their website, but the slogans about queer rights and asylum seekers - or parties that screech about Muslims, or for that matter promise to stop the boats they see as bringing the hordes of Muslim immigrants who are simultaneously taking all the jobs, bludging off welfare and plotting to blow us all up?

    But the right-leaning parties don't have the solutions to the woes of the disaffected voter. The employment policies on the One Nation website are contradictory and vague and contain no concrete strategies for job creation. As for the current Liberal National government, their dismal record speaks for itself. Some point to the Liberals' support for new coal mines as evidence of their commitment to job creation. But the LNP's support of coal is not because they're looking out for the Aussie worker; it's because they know coal is a dying industry, and they are determined to get every last lump out of the ground whilst there's still a market for it. There's no planning for the day when coal is no longer a viable commodity.

    A taste of what may be to come for coal miners when they no longer serve profit's purpose can be seen in the Federal Government's assistance package for the retrenched workers from Victoria's Hazelwood power station: a $3 million handout to private job agencies in the region, to "provide intensive career transitioning services" and "help reconnect with work as quickly as possible". In a region where unemployment is at 20% and there are more job agencies than supermarkets, this does nothing to create a single job (apart from maybe a job agency consultant or two), but simply gives more cash to the for-profit and resoundingly useless private employment agency rort, whose waste and incompetency would put a lifetime's worth of named and shamed dole bludging families on A Current Affair in the shade. If more proof is needed, just look what happened to Australia's steel and car manufacturing sectors, and the workers left behind, when they were no longer worth their keep.

    By contrast, look fro example at the Greens policies on job creation in Mackay, an area in Central Queensland heavily dependent on coal mining. The Greens plans include investment in the infrastructure of a clean energy economy, with job creation in design and construction, along with protection for the tens of thousands of jobs reliant on tourism to the Great Barrier Reef. The Greens have the policies that will fundamentally improve the security and quality of life of ordinary Australians - worker protection, an end to the profit at all cost motive, investment in infrastructure and social housing, better regulation of the banking sector, diversification of the economy to ensure jobs now and in the future. We have the answers. Not all of them, we're not perfect or visionaries, but we offer a way forward that is a darn sight better for "ordinary Australians" that the (non-halal) tripe they're being asked to swallow right now.

    So how do we tell them? How do we get the message across?

    The Greens have something of an image problem. We're seen as obsessed with trendy causes like gay rights and asylum seekers, detached from (and disdainful of) "ordinary Australians". Is it all our fault? Absolutely not. But is it up to us to fix it? Yes. We need to get at the heart of what disaffected voters want, and respond. Not by changing our policies in any substantial way. Not by trying to convince voters of the legality of asylum seekers. We need to bring to them the message that we are the party that has the solutions to the quality of life issues that matter - sustainable employment and housing affordability.  We need to do better.

    I say this not because I want the Greens to have power for its own sake, but because I think we offer a way to make things better, and I want to share it. I grew up just south of Newcastle. I was looking for my first jobs around the time BHP was closing. Several of my friends had parents involved with coal mining. I know the sort of people involved in industry and mining. They're good people and they don't deserve to be sold a lie by the Liberals or false promises and hot air by One Nation. I know what it's like to go to dozens of unsuccessful job interviews and feel hopeless about ever finding a gig. It sucks, it makes you feel terrible about yourself and your future, and I can see how it could drive people to look for easy if distasteful solutions. I want these people to understand that we're with them, not against them.

    My very humble suggestion would be to make this a priority - engage with middle Australia directly on issues of housing and employment. Make it a portfolio - spokesperson for Australian Development or some such (I don't know, I'm good at the long winded explanations, not the snappy nomenclature). Talk about it. Yeah, phrases like "working families" and "Aussie Mums and Dads" can be a bit cliched, but we shouldn't be afraid to use them - it's how working families, and Aussie Mums and Dads, see themselves. Let them know that we understand the cost of living pressures, the stress. Particularly focus on insecure and underemployment; it's a massive issue and not one the major parties want to address. Let them know the age of big companies avoiding their tax burdens and exploiting workers are over, it's time for people to stand up.

    I'm not a great one for slogans, but I'm sure we can get better ones. And use them. We can keep fighting for asylum seekers and protecting ecosystems - the party wouldn't be the Greens if it didn't, and I for one would quit my membership - but they're not what a voter is focused on when they rock up to the booth and see the coreflutes.

    We don't have to compromise our values or sell out - indeed, we must not. But we need to share with people that we share the concerns of middle Australia and have the policies to help. The backlash in the media will be enormous. Keep going. We will get haters. And get more friends. Fringe party? Not any more. Let's get in the middle, not of the political spectrum, but the middle of the political discourse and the barbecue stoppers across Australia. When we can convince the recently unemployed worker in regional Australia that we care about his or her plight just as much as trans bathroom rights and endangered sea turtles, we'll be well on our way.

    Photo: Greens Caravan of Courage

    Saturday, November 05, 2016

    How Scott Adams went nuts (and I'm sorry and it wasn't my fault and I won't let it happen again)

    False modesty aside, there are things I know I'm good at - cooking, writing essays, figuring out maps and timetables. Then there are things I am not so good at - driving, wrapping presents, following along in exercise classes (basically anything that requires a sense of spatial awareness). And I am not - to disastrous effect - a good judge of character.

    It might be from lack of ability to interpret facial and vocal cues, or an inability to read people combined with a naive tendency to take people at their word. How bad is it? Well, when Bill Clinton said, way back in 1998, "now you listen to me, I did not have sexual relations with that woman", I believed him. I know better now than to trust any politician lying about sex, but I've still been taken in and trusted people who turned out to be not what they seemed - or worse, exactly what they seemed, but I ignored the warning signs and thought the shitty things they did to other people, they wouldn't do to me, until they did.

    And then there's Dilbert creator, writer self proclaimed genius and latter day Trump supporting constant commentator Scott Adams. Adams, who has in recent months declared that the nomination of a woman for president represents for men "a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished"; that if there are no terrorist attacks before election day, it's because ISIS prefers Clinton; that the firebombing of an African American Church was a false flag operation;  that the polls were fraudulent in showing Clinton ahead, but had to pivot to reality to preserve credibility; that Hilary Clinton is a drunk; and - of course - that if Clinton wins, it's because Russia. He's also deflected all criticism of himself by stating that if anyone disagrees with him, it's cause their puny little minds are too feeble to understand.

    And I cannot help but feel like I'm in some way responsible for all this. You see, I used to be a Scott Adams fan. And I don't just mean I'd have a laugh when I saw Dilbert in the newspaper (or in later years, looked it up from time to time online). I mean I've read every last one of his books, bought more than a few of them, and greatly admired many of his ideas, even if a few - an actual proposal for a donut shaped universe, although my memory on this is a little hazy - I didn't quite understand. And Dilbert! I loved Dilbert, both the comic and the character. I'm a survivor of a decade in the cube trenches, and Dilbert provided solace, comic relief and (in Wally's blase attitude) inspiration.

    Some of my well-read collection

    I'm sure Mr Adams has made more money from the worldwide syndication for Dilbert than he has from his books. But by buying the books, I and many others have enabled him not to stick to drawing comics, monkey brain, but to expound on his esoteric brand of libertarianism. And somewhere along the line, the line became an edge he tumbled off. What I'm left wondering is how I missed the signs. Were they there all along, and I missed them due to my problems assessing people, or is he in some downward spiral of recent years? It was delightful when back in 1997, Mr Adams posed as a management consultant to see just how meaningless a nonsense company mission statement he could get an executive committee to agree to. But it's a long, long way from such satire to creating sockpuppet internet accounts to anonymously tell forums what a genius you are - let alone to thinking reality warps back and forth, controlled by a drunk, ill, incompetent, genius mastermind Hilary Clinton.

    I'm not altogether sure how much impact Mr Adams has had upon the election; whether or not he is a prominent voice or a sideshow to the alt-right media, and god knows I am not going for a dip in that chilly, fetid swamp. Either way though, I'm a little bit sad. I'll never be able to take seriously anything Mr Adams says again. I still want to buy Dilbert 2.0, but I don't feel good about it. 

    Tuesday, October 25, 2016

    Apologia

    I've been quiet for a bit. And whilst I am keenly aware that there is a severe lack of opinion pieces on U.S. election, I've been a bit busy. For one, I moved house, and we all know how that can be (except for those lucky people who've lived all their lives in one house. I wish I was one of them. As long as it was a nice house).

     It's hard not to be fascinated by the U.S. election, especially given Australian politics is currently oscillating between dull and creepy. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, aware that former PM Tony Abbott was roundly criticised for just about everything he did, has apparently decided to avoid this pitfall by not doing anything at all. Meanwhile, Abbott is sticking his nose in everywhere, with speculation he might be angling for another crack at the top job. And then there's the business about Attorney General George Brandis, who got in a spat with the Solicitor-General over restricting ministers' access to legal advice from the latter - the core of the role of Solicitor-General - which ended with the Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson, resigning and much criticism of Brandis and questioning of the legality of his actions. Then there's Scott Morrison's crocodile tears over housing affordability (to wit this is what $2.8 million will get you in Sydney these days). Anyway I'm just sick of the whole lot of them.

    I've decided to do something completely different. Over the course of the next few weeks, in a series of posts, I'm going to be posting a slimmed down, souped up, unauthorised autobiography. I know it's customary to wait for some sort of accomplishment or achievement before writing a memoir, but I figure that once I achieve success, I'll be too busy. And per the (apocryphal) Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times", I've certainly had an...interesting life. Like its author, some of it won't be pretty. But I promise to keep it light hearted; I don't want anyone munching on Xanax to get through it.

    I'll be kicking off tomorrow or Thursday, and once I see how the first post goes, I'll try to set out a regular posting schedule.

    In the meantime, I've forgotten the little German I learned in primary school - can someone have a go at translating this?


    Monday, September 26, 2016

    Should I teach my son about female empowerment by shaving my head?

    When my small family moved to my hometown of Newcastle in 2012, I did a grown up thing I'd been wanting to do in the many years since I became a grown up: I got my own hairdresser. I mean a proper hairdresser where we knew each others' names, and I returned regularly, and she knew my quirks and didn't mind if I stared and my lap, and she didn't even make me feel squirmingly uncomfortable, like all the hairdressers I'd visited previously, from $10 cuts at Central Station to the time I spent $120 for a basic haircut in Newtown (oy vey, those were the days of plentiful disposable income - I want to go back in time and slap myself silly for not saving). Hair length went up and down. A fringe was acquired. I looked presentable - a small miracle.

    But at the end of 2014, I made the fateful decision to accompany my husband to Sydney to try and save our marriage. It didn't work, and as if that wasn't bad enough, I lost my hairdresser. And until I finally got the split ends seen to a few weeks back, I haven't had a haircut since. 

    My hair is now midway down my back, and with my sensory issues, pissing me off. I hate washing it. I hate brushing it. I hate turning over in bed and having my head yanked back by my plait. My sister is getting married this week, so I figured I'd leave my hair so as to look respectable in the photos, but then, well...

     It hit me. I was going to shave my head!

    A few reasons for doing this. I want to try everything once, and this has been in the back of my mind for many years. Also it would mean discarding my bleached-and-coloured-over-and-over locks for...virgin hair! Oh, the possibilities! Platinum! And all those gorgeous tints. (Of course this would create a fresh bleached mess, but we'll get to that). Alas my hair is too damaged to consider donating, so I was just going to do it at home, maybe filming the whole thing to post here.

    There's just one problem. Mister G, who is now five (can you fucking believe it), refuses to let me. He says my hair is pretty and if I shave my head I'll look like a monster. He won't be budged.

    I have mixed feelings on this. As a child, I hated when my mother got her hair cut, which she did a lot (it was the 1980s and like every other young woman, she was trying to emulate Princess Diana). My tears when she returned from the salon have passed into family legend. And I may or may not have - oh God, this is embarrassing - cried when my ex got his first haircut of our courtship. So I get it. I don't want to upset him unnecessarily. We practice respectful parenting. He has a voice. We respect his opinions. And he's still so young.

    Or am I just teaching my son, who will grow up to be a man*, that he has the right to control women's bodies? By meekly obeying his order not to shave my head, will he learn women's appearances are his to judge, monitor and control?

    Am I over thinking this? I'm over thinking this, aren't I. I'm leaning towards waiting a couple months and seeing if his view changes. Six months ago, he was so into Transformers the teachers and kids at preschool called him Bumblebee at his request; now he has moved on to a world of Mixels, the Transformers sitting in their boxes. And it could well be the same for my hair. Shaving my head to teach my son a lesson about empowerment seems a bit unnecessary. Growing up with two Greens voting parents with degrees in the humanities, I'm hoping he won't be exposed to misogynist views too much. But you never know. I don't know. Respond to the poll in the sidebar or leave your comments below (or be a devil and do both, treat yourself).

    * Despite his age, we're fairly sure he's cis.

    Thursday, September 22, 2016

    Tiahleigh Palmer - hard questions and heartbreak

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the failures of the child protection system, including the worrisome process of vetting and approving foster parents. I couldn't have imagined that those fears would be realised in such a heartbreaking way.

    Eleven months after her death, the former foster family of 12 year old Tiahleigh Palmer were charged with offences relating to her murder. The allegation is that her former foster father murdered Tiahleigh to cover the fact that his 19 year old son had sexually assaulted her and feared she was pregnant. Her former foster mother and the couple's other son have been charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. 

    Tiahleigh Palmer was in foster care because it was deemed her mother could not look after her, and she required protection. Protection. So how the hell was she sent to live with a family who did this to her? An adult son who allegedly raped a child, and a father who allegedly murdered that child to cover up his son's crime? Who made the decision that this was where Tiahleigh would be safe? What the hell happened here? 

    There are many people asking these questions, such as Hetty Johnson from the child protection group Bravehearts; so hopefully the answers will come out. The Queensland foster vetting system seems fairly thorough. Unlike NSW, where as I wrote vetting and assessments are performed by a private, for profit subsidiary, in Queensland the procedure seems to be carried out, in its entirety, by the governmental child protection department. It is a complex process, taking from three to six months. All adult family members must submit an application form, disclosing all criminal and child protection history, domestic violence and traffic offences. All adults must then successfully apply for blue cards, Queensland's equivalent of working with children checks. There is then a household safety assessment, health and well being checks, and referee checks. All adult family members are then interviewed before, finally, completing pre-service training. 

    So how - assuming the process was followed correctly by trained and experienced assessors - did the Thorburn family slip through? Were there no warning signs, no red flags, nothing to suggest just how very unsafe Tiahleigh would be there? Nothing to suggest she might be safer in the care of her mother, Cyndi, who after a troubled past was heartbreakingly trying to get her daughter back?

    Some commentators may opine that the solution to child abuse is to take children from their families at the earliest opportunity and place them with permanent carers - but this is fraught with difficulty. As well as cutting children off from their kinship groups, culture and community, as we can see, it does not guarantee a child's safety. This is especially difficult in the case of Indigenous children, who are removed from their families at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous children, and despite departmental regulations, are often placed with non-Indigenous carers when kinship carers and Indigenous foster families cannot be found. It's worth noting, perhaps, that Tiahleigh Palmer was Maori, whilst her foster family apparently was not - what connection to her culture was she able to maintain? 

    And we see endemic racism rear its head, again, in the narrative of her disappearance and death. Police took six days to investigate her disappearance; she was, after all, a brown girl from a troubled background. Media report her as being "sexually involved" with her stepbrother; non-white girls are fetishised, seen as less pure, less innocent than white girls. The truth that a twelve year old girl was allegedly raped by a grown man who was supposed to protect her - who was sanctioned by the state to protect her - gets lost.

    Oh Tiahleigh you poor baby, you never had a chance. I'm so sorry you were failed in such a catastrophic way. I hope your killers are brought to swift justice. I hope those who allowed you to be placed in such peril are held accountable. I hope your family can find some measure of comfort from that. Rest in Peace sweet girl. 

    Photo: News Corp.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2016

    Shopping Mad

    So I went into a city outlet of a national health and beauty retailer. A staff member greeted me brightly at the door. "Hi! Welcome to national health and beauty retailer. Can I help you with anything today?" 

    "Uhh...I was just after some nail scissors."

    So she walked me over to a display of such implements and took a packet off the shelf. "We have these ones, they're twelve dollars. Was that what you were after?"

    Tired and grumpy, and expecting a pair of nail scissors to cost about four bucks, I replied with possibly less grace than was warranted, "not for twelve dollars I'm not."

    We looked at each other for several uncomfortable seconds.

    We then looked at each other for several even more uncomfortable seconds.

    I spoke first. "This is why it's for the best if I do my shopping on my own", I said before me and my long toe nails made our exit. 

    Am I the only one who just fucking hates this? I know from working in retail that a few customers will head straight for the service counter and want to be walked through the entire transaction, but most people are happy to figure it out themselves. Why can't shop staff just leave us alone? I'm not talking about small and specialised businesses here, but the large retailers who seem to think customer service involves herding you around like sheep. Or they have staff randomly standing around the store, and you have to awkwardly respond to their greetings as you consider your purchases. 

    As someone who is picky, cranky and broke, I need to do my shopping alone. If your stock is too expensive, or not what I was after, or just a bit shit, I shouldn't be forced to explain it to you like the problem is on my end. But how do I get staff to leave me alone? I've tried various tactics - headphones, looking like I'm about to burst into tears - but it doesn't work. And it's worse now that I'm well into my thirties, which makes me look, to a 19 year old, like I'm middle aged. Help.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2016

    Fighting Pauline Hanson with facts is just feeding the beast

    Following Pauline Hanson's appalling maiden speech to the Senate last week, there were those who, whilst abhorring Hanson's views, disagreed with the Greens' decision to walk out on her in protest. Don't walk out, they said - stay and fight her with the facts.

    This seems a reasonable thing to do, but we are not dealing with reasonable people here. You cannot fight them on the facts. It goes beyond that. Facts are not merely irrelevant to them; they see facts as a product of the left wing universities and socioeconomic systems that oppress them.

    Hanson supporters tend to be older, have fewer years of education, to be economically disadvantaged - and overwhelmingly white. Ms Hanson herself left school at 15. This was typical for young, working class Australian women at the time, and I don't mean to disparage her for that, but without further education she had missed the opportunity to develop logic and critical thinking skills, the ability to assess the validity of sources before reaching a conclusion. Reading the policies on One Nation's website, you see a grab bag of copy and paste from Wikipedia interspersed with Ms Hanson's own febrile rantings. 

    And so it is with her supporters, unable to distinguish the validity of a Facebook post from that of a research paper. So if a Hanson supporter posts on Facebook, for example, that Halal certification payments are funding chemical weapon manufacture in Syria, or that global warming is a scam run by the Chinese to make all Westerners wear knicker bockers, and you provide a link to a credible source showing it's all bunk - they take it as an insult. Their mind flashes "you think you're better than me?". You think your information is better than my information? Where's your information from? The ABC, which is full of lefties, universities, where you have to watch every word you say because PC, scientists, well aren't they in the pockets of the knicker-bocker loving Chinese? None of it can be trusted. And they become even more convinced of the righteousness of their position.

    As Tim Dick wrote in the Canberra Times, we are living in an age of unreason. It has been a long standing sentiment of conservatives that lefties are ruled by emotion, not fact. But these days it seems the alt-right have the lock on "feels before reals"; evidence of global warming can be dismissed because it's been a cold winter at their joint; same sex marriage must be harmful because they find the whole thing so icky.

    So what do we do from here? I'm in favour of teaching logic and reason in school (start with asking that, if global warming is a scam and 97% of the world's scientists are just making it all up for the money, why, since said scientists have no scruples, why wouldn't they get more money telling the truth on behalf of fossil fuel producers than lying for governments?). But what do we do with the grown ups? How do we underpin the national debate with the basic premise that you really can't have your own facts? I'm not sure from here. Laugh at Hanson, refuse to countenance her views, try to engage - no one seems quite sure what to do from here. But I've a feeling that saying "hang on, actually what you've said is incorrect - here is some peer reviewed research" just won't work.

    Friday, September 16, 2016

    Why The Greens' Hanson Walkout Meant So Much

    Wednesday afternoon I picked G up from preschool. He was finishing off a Lego creation, which his teacher deemed of such structural integrity as to merit being placed on the display shelf. And I was thinking of that lovely lady later that evening, who has taken my son under her wing since my husband and I separated a year ago; cheering him up on his sad days, gently integrating him into the group, always there for a cuddle. I was thinking how much this hijab wearing lady and my blonde son love each other, because that's Australia isn't it?

    I was thinking of her, and thousands like her, as newly elected Senator Pauline Hanson declared, in her maiden speech, that "we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims, who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own...Australia is now seeing changes in suburbs predominantly Muslim. Tolerance towards other Australians is no longer the case. Our law courts are disrespected and prisons have become breeding grounds for Muslims to radicalise inmates. Muslims are imprisoned at almost three times the average rate. The rate of unemployed and public dependency is two to three times greater than the national average. Muslims are prominent in organised crime, with associated violence and drug dealing. Antisocial behaviour is rampant, fuelled by hyper-masculine and misogynist culture. Multiple social surveys find that neighbourhoods of Muslim settlement are suffering from collapsing social cohesion and fear of crime. Australians, in general, are more fearful...There is no sign saying 'good Muslim' or 'bad Muslim'. How many lives will be lost or destroyed trying to determine who is good and who is bad?"

    I was thinking of her, and the Muslims I've worked with, studied with, talked and laughed with, and how they must feel listening to this, not welcome in their own country because of an elected representative who makes a living peddling hate, and I felt like crying.

    (Incidentally, I've never been told I should be blown up, burned alive, or had a picture of my then baby son posted with a caption calling me a dopey breeding cow by a Muslim. I cannot say the same for Hanson supporters).

    Is this what we have become as a nation? Recycling racism, views best left to alt-right blogs being proudly proclaimed in Federal Parliament and in the pages of national newspapers?

    Which is why it was so important that the Greens senators, in protest of what Ms Hanson was saying, walked out on her speech.

    Photo: Fairfax.

    In five years of Greens membership, I've never been so proud to be part of the Greens. They stood up and said we will not legitimise your views by sitting here and listening to them. They stood for decency, cohesiveness, an Australia of tolerance and diversity - an Australia I love. Disrespectful to Ms Hanson - no. They went in, prepared to listen to what she had to say. But they were prepared to leave if they had to. Ms Hanson disrespected herself, and millions of Australians, by her words accusing Muslims of being criminal terrorists, and accusing victims of intimate partner violence of being responsible for their own deaths,  (someone wiser than me said, should men who kill people out of frustration be given custody of their kids?). Disrespectful to one woman to walk out? It was disrespectful to many more to sit and listen.

    Some labelled the walkout childish, a stunt, but walking out is a traditional form of silent protest. The parliamentary Liberals do it all the time, such as during the apology to the Stolen Generations, or when Bill Shorten spoke of closing the gap, or the time Abbott and Pyne absolutely covered themselves in glory by sprinting out of the chamber to avoid accepting Craig Thompson's vote.

    But I was proud, proud to be part of the party that stands up against this bigotry; and I hope the people who were the targets of this venom felt some pride and comfort too. We are all Australians, you are not alone, and there are people, good people, who will not let this hatred stand. There's a nasty fight coming up in the next three years, we will not give up.

    I'll leave the last word to Greens leader Richard Di Natale:



    Tuesday, September 13, 2016

    Nothing Edgy in Opposing Safe Spaces

    I read the account of Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who had to walk out of an address given at he Brisbane Writers Festival by Lionel Shriver, who mocked the concept of identity. Shriver, author of We Need To Talk About Kevin amongst other books, proudly declares herself anti-authoritarian and a scandalising provocateur; she recently appeared at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas to peddle her notion of breaking a rule a day.

    But there's nothing dangerous about mocking safe spaces, trauma, PC culture or triggers. Everyone who who wants to appear "edgy" or show their version of "common sense", is posting on their blogs and Facebook pages, mocking safe spaces and microaggressions, and finding the whole thing hilarious. Tacos are cultural appropriation! Getting PTSD from Tumblr! I'm a straight white male, where's my safe space? (Shroedinger's shitlord: denigrates safe spaces whilst wanting one for themselves).

    It's an extremely simplistic view of extremely complicated matters. As Dameyon Bunson, a Mangarayi and Torres Strait Islander man, said in his acceptance speech for the 2016 Dr Yunipingu Award for Human Rights, "“When I hear about the suicides and I see the devastation that it leads behind, somewhere in that person’s history is an act of racism. Whether it’s because they don’t have appropriate housing, or access to healthcare. We’re not talking about racism because someone won’t sit next to you on a bus. We're talking about entrenched, systemic racism that is keeping our mob sick, and it’s killing them."

    Too many people still think racism means a simple dictionary definition. They think they, themselves, would have no problems sitting next to an Aboriginal person, or a person of any other colour, on the bus - and therefore they cannot possibly be racist. But racism is so much more complicated than that.

    When you know better you do better. We know now, for example, that blaming bad behaviour on a bad childhood is not simply a matter of making excuses; experiences of abuse, neglect and trauma and early childhood fundamentally alter brain development; neural connections that regulate emotions, attachment, impulse control, are impaired. And we know racism hurts. Homophobia hurts. Harassment hurts. Being made to feel lesser for who you are hurts.

    When you are secure in your identity, when you know society places a value on who you are, it is extremely hard to comprehend not feeling that way. No wonder it's easy to sneer at "identity politics", at attempts to reclaim what has been taken from you and repackaged for white consumption.

    Because why would one need a safe space? What are they seeking safety from? Safe spaces are not intended to provide safety from "challenging ideas" or "alternative points of view". They are safety from hurt. From harm, from risk. Real hurt, because just toughening up on the outside shreds people to pieces on the inside. The damage may be hidden, but it's there.

    People in vulnerable groups learn to automatically perform risk assessment, and it subconsciously informs our behaviour, if I get on a train at night, I'll automatically sit near another women, not near the guys who seem to have been drinking. Because I've been harassed on public transport more times than I can count, I've automatically tried to create my own safe space. If you've never been hassled, harrassed, or groped on a train, I'm sure you would think female only carriages are tokenism at best, bigotry at worst. Sexual harassment is all I have to fear. I don't have the fear that at any moment, someone could start to attack me for using my own language, wearing a symbol of my religion, or simply for my skin colour. It must be horrifying. Jesus I would like safety from that. Solange Knowles is one of many people of colour to have shared experiences of threats they face - in this case, herself and her son being pelted with garbage - simply for being in a predominantly white space. And heavens to Murgatroid, imagine being a scared and confused same sex attracted young person in the lead up to the marriage plebiscite.

    So...when straight white men, or any other group in a position of privilege, demand a safe space of their very own, I say safe spaces are safety from threats, not ideas, and what threats are you seeking safety from?

    Maybe instead of denigrating universities for offering safe spaces we should see them, as so often in life, as pioneers. Perhaps my perspective of this is slightly skewed because, despite being a undergraduate student myself (although I finally graduate soon!) I am not really part of university life; I can no longer pretend my fellow students are "just a few years younger"; they are a different generation, with different cultural references, different attitudes, and thanks to technology, different ways of connecting to the world - and can I just say, I think the millennials are great? By and large, they're more aware, thoughtful, plugged in to the world and respectful than my generation ever were.

    I fear this mindset will have trouble taking off though. In an era of Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump, everyone from Lionel Shriver to Andrew Bolt to the University of Chicago can get themselves some publicity by misunderstanding, mocking and banning safe spaces. The ironic thing is, if you want to see someone get hurt and offended by challenging ideas, mention white privilege to an alt-right type and watch them lose their minds. See this hilarious video on white fragility in the workplace:



    Sure, we can get rid of safe spaces, just as long as we start having a long, serious conversation about covert racism, street harassment, state-funded homophobia, and other attacks on human rights, and the harm they cause, and we condemn them whenever we see them in society. And in the mean time, if these alt right types really want a place where they can stand for the rights of straight white men with other straight white men and their allies, they can always join the Liberal party.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2016

    At Risk Kids - PROFIT

    We know the child protection system in Australia is a basket case. As Lisa Pryor reported in this harrowing article on child protection services, and the horrifying choices caseworkers are forced to make, there are simply too many children at risk of serious harm, and too few caseworkers to investigate and help them. Imagine a hospital emergency room where only a handful of cases deemed by the triage system as being in need of urgent medical attention got to see a doctor; the rest were simply sent home to an uncertain fate. Well, that's what happens to most children at risk of serious harm in NSW. Calls are made to the helpline, trained staff assess that a child is genuinely at risk, and then - di nada for most of them. Child protection knocking on your door because you post on Facebook that your child has a bruise? Forget it. Due to workloads, most children at risk of sexual, physical and psychological abuse will never get a visit from a caseworker.

    Of course, once kids are actually removed from abusive situations, you've got to find somewhere to put them. This can be tricky. Best practice says kids are best off staying with family members and in their own community if at all possible, but how do you make sure the kids will be safe? How do you work out where is the best place for them to live? Because life is messy, these are not simple questions. Deciding where to place vulnerable kids can require a great deal of careful consideration of psychological factors, physical safety, criminal records, substance use and lots more. But how do overworked community service caseworkers do this when they're flat out trying just to determine which kids are at risk?

    Enter Assessments Australia. The NSW government, amongst others, hires Assessments Australia to carry out assessments of the suitability of foster and family placements for vulnerable children. The problem here is, as the company announces on their site, they're owned by Max Solutions. Max Solutions have gained something of a reputation for questionable practices in their provision of employment services - bullying the unemployed by suspending payments for failure to attend "interviews" people were never notified about, demanding people attend their centres to search for jobs whilst offering no support, being rude, condescending and unhelpful, and claiming government bonuses for jobs service users found themselves without support from Max. The rort which is job agencies in Australia is a huge problem, and one for another post. But it shows the mindset we're dealing with here, the lack of respect, empowerment and dignity  for vulnerable people - and the lack of services to actually help people rather than punish them.

    So that's Max Solutions Australia. Max is owned by Maximus Inc., a US for profit corporation with the stated goal of "Helping governments achieve their goals with a dedicated team, proven processes and innovation" (emphasis mine). Governments - not the people they serve. And what do Western governments want in this era of neoliberalism? Efficiency, cost saving, self reliance - and Maximus delivers that in spades; proudly boasting that "We deliver business process solutions to improve the cost effectiveness, efficiency and quality of government-sponsored benefit programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Health Insurance BC (British Columbia), as well as welfare-to-work and child support programs around the globe". And it's working well for them; they have 16,000 employees and annual revenue of over $1 billion US. But they want you to know that, since 2000, they've donated $2 million to community organisations. Isn't that special?

    And what could possibly go wrong? Surely a corporation accountable to its shareholders will be driven to provide the best results? Well, actually, when you are making money in human disadvantage, things tend to go wrong. There's the depressingly predictable outcomes of poor service delivery, inefficiency, privacy breaches, racial discrimination, and in a bizarre irony, given the push to drug test welfare recipients, health professionals in Maximus employ failing drug tests.

    For all I know, and I sincerely hope, Assessments Australia have none of these issues. But am I the only one who is seriously fucking troubled by the idea that the fates of seriously vulnerable Australian children are generating profits for American neoliberals who want to dismantle the welfare state? Vulnerable children should not be outsourced to overseas, for-profit corporations. These are things we need to fix ourselves.

    Sunday, September 04, 2016

    Welcome Back (Breakdown)



    I've been a huge fan of gymnastics for years. I'm sure I could have been a top gymnast, apart from being too tall, uncoordinated, unathletic, having very little drive or determination, and not actually ever taking gymnastics. But I love to watch, so the recent Olympics were a treat, especially the  astonishingly good Simone Biles. And as ever, whenever the gymnasts made a mistake, a misstep, a stumble, a flubbed move, I reflected in pity that they'd no doubt performed that routine flawlessly, hundreds of mind-numbing times, in their home gyms.

    But it turns out gymnasts don't endlessly practice their complete routines. The individual elements, yep; but to try and reduce the punishing wear and tear on their bodies, elite gymnasts rarely practice the most jarring elements of their routines, the dismounts; what you see in competition isn't a routine they've practiced into muscle memorial; usually, it combines special skills they may only have accomplished a few times before, with it being dicey whether they'll pull it off again on the big day.

    Isn't it funny how things just aren't how they'd expect? How things aren't always how they seem?

    Over winter, I finished my most successful semester at university yet - studying social work, no less. Someone doing that would have to be pretty together, mentally, wouldn't they? Able to focus on scores of hours of mentally draining and emotionally challenging coursework, thousands and thousands of words of essays and policy papers. But I did it, and did it well, acing subjects on substance abuse and determinants of health and welfare policy and research methodologies and yes, mental illness.

    It all looked like it was going well, but all along I was just a very thin skin holding a big bag of misery together.

    It hasn't been a great couple of years for me personally. And whilst I won't go in to the details, there were a few things in those last few months that tipped me, along with my largely untreated depression and lingering PTSD, over the edge. Two weeks after picking up my HDs, I had a nervous breakdown. Yes, that is an expression that has fallen out of fashion, but it's one I've chosen to use for my own experience. I certainly felt broken.

    It was very odd. The night before was normal. I wasn't too sad, I wasn't too happy. I watched TV and went to bed like normal. But the next day I woke up at 4:30am (and I never wake up early; it's not one of the manifestations of my depression), with the darkest thoughts you can imagine. I was quasi-hallucinating; nothing like it has ever happened to me before, not since I stopped hanging around at clubs with people who assured me that I could trust them, this blue stuff is good shit. This was a lot less fun, though. Every time I closed my eyes, I was assailed with violent mental images of causing my own death in the most gruesome way possible. I wanted it to stop, and it didn't, no matter what else I tried to think about in those endless still pre-dawn hours. It was hard to think straight about what to do. Call an ambulance? Nothing was happening to me physically though, and I wasn't planning to physically harm myself, not then and there anyway; I just wanted my brain to knock it off.

    I probably did need to be in hospital though, especially being home alone. And to be honest a little part of me thought that at least now that things had gotten this bad, I could get some real help. On a relative's recommendation I called the local mental health crisis team and explained what was going on. Should I go to hospital, I asked, or is there some outreach team that could visit? I'll tell you, acute mental health services can be pretty crummy. The kinda detached, ticking-the-boxes, I've-been-doing-this-since-1977-and-I-ran-out-of-shits-to-give-sometime-when-Paul-Keating-was-still-Prime-Minister woman on the phone told me to go to hospital if I was going to try killing myself right that minute, otherwise, go see my GP after the (long) weekend.

    There was nothing to do but wait. It was a strange few days, until I saw the doctor then whilst waiting for the medication to kick in. I felt very detached from the world, still trying to do normal things like the supermarket shopping but feeling out of it, detached from the normal people, my little world in a strange soft focus. I made my way to my doctor, who boosted my medication and in light of my distaste of counselling, and given how long this has been dragging on for, referred me for possible electroshock (that's on the backburner, although part of me wants to go through with it for morbid curiosity reasons).

    Little by little, the medication began to kick in, which came with its own fun side effects. I thought about the two tier mental health system we have in Australia; had I the money (or insurance) I could have gone to a private clinic, and gotten the treatment and support I needed in a supervised setting. Lacking this, I had to take my chances with the public system. My GP referred back to the mental health crisis team for some home visits, but I couldn't get anything during the crisis weekend, when I really needed it.

    Now it's a few months on, and things are mostly under control, but it explains some of why I've not posted for so long (I missed the entire federal election, which is probably for the best). I'm sure posting this will lead to it being dragged up by some future troll who will gleefully use it as evidence I'm "crazy", but frankly those people have bigger problems than anything I have to deal with. I'm posting it, as I've posted other difficult things over the years, because when I do people comment or contact me to let me know they've been through similar, and we should be talking about this stuff, so I want to do my little bit.

    Anyway, I'm hoping to post a lot more regularly from now on. And speaking of over the years, I've added archives from my old blog going back to 2004. Knock yourself out, but please remember we were all young and foolish back then. I know no one would think less of me for a mental health crisis, but I'd hate to lose any friends or followers who learn I once quite liked Mark Latham.

    Thursday, May 19, 2016

    No McDonalds in Glebe? It's Not So Simple

    Now, I've spent a lot of time in Glebe over the years, including an 8 month stint living in the place. So when I heard about the proposal for McDonald's to set up a pop-up outlet in the old Valhalla cinema on Glebe Point Road, with a view to a possible permanent store, my first reaction was to think "no! No way! Glebe doesn't want McDonalds. Keep your rampant multinational commercialisation out of Glebe".

    So I went to join up with the opposition campaign on Facebook, and what I saw there actually changed my mind.

    Comments against the commercialisation encroaching on Glebe, sure. But there were also comments that McDonalds is just too downmarket. Glebe has a sophisticated café culture, wrote one poster. We don't want the likes of McDonalds in our suburb. Well, sure, a sophisticated café culture is great...if you can afford it.

    Glebe is a very socio-economically diverse suburb; or as the Sydney Morning Herald put it, "an almost schizophrenic mix of wealth and poverty". Glebe is home to some of Sydney's most expensive harbourview properties, and also to a large concentration of public housing. These people are often elderly, disadvantaged and living with disabilities; many of them have been living in the area since Gough Whitlam purchased the former church properties for public housing in the 1970s. A lot of them find it difficult to travel. And what they see, right under their noses, is Glebe's sophisticated café culture, enjoyed by people who come from all over Sydney to experience the good life that they themselves, the residents, cannot afford.

    There's a Dominoes on Glebe Point Road that does a roaring trade. I've often heard outsiders question how Dominoes can thrive in the area when there are so many better options for pizza close by. Well, it's simple; Dominoes charges $5 for a basic pizza, compared to around $22 for a pie at a traditional pizzeria. And a lot of people who could never afford the pizzeria like Dominoes from time to time. Poor people like treats too! (And Gary Johns can kiss my patootie.   "The poor in Australia are so poor that they can eat, drink, and smoke themselves to death"? How many packs of cigarettes do you think a disadvantaged person can give up for financial security? But that's a subject for another post).

    It's easy to say McDonald's would ruin the cafe culture of Glebe when you can afford the $22 for breakfast at one of these cafes. But the less well off might like a chance to go out for a meal, too. There's no loose change menu at Badde Manors or Well Co. Hipsters and gentrifiers can sneer at McDonald's for the terrible food, but there's a massive streak of classism in it too, and I wonder how much of the opposition to McDonald's will come from outsiders who think they know Glebe because they venture in on the weekends for brunch and the markets, and have no idea of the lived reality of the residents of the estates.

    Look, I'm not saying McDonald's should be built in Glebe. There are a lot of issues to consider - the all-pervasive rubbish the chain invariably leaves wherever it goes is a prime one for me. But there's a lot more going on here than just the cafe set turning up their noses at the encroachment of fast food; big questions about the fallout from  gentrification, the true cost of food and who owns a community. But I know that if a McDonald's was opened, whilst some locals would moan and denigrate, a whole different group of locals would be grateful. And which group should we privilege in the decision?

    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    Labor vs Greens: This Can't End Well

    "Greens leader Richard Di Natale floats Greens alliance with the Liberals" proclaimed the headlines a week ago. The quote was all over twitter; Di Natale had said of an alliance "never say never". That doesn't sound right, I thought, so I did what I always do in these circumstances: go straight to the source - an interview Di Natale did with GQ magazine - to get the full quote, in context. Here's what Di Natale actually said about a possible Liberal alliance:

     "It’s a question for the party but I think it’s never going to happen. I don’t see a time when we can form a coalition with the Liberal Party, particularly this Liberal Party, because our views are so far apart. [Still], 'Never say never' is the quote I'd use about everything in politics."

     That's it, I thought? An alliance is nearly impossible, but taking a pragmatic view on politics generally? I could see why "Greens-Liberal alliance" would prove irresistible to headline writers, with it's "no, really?" clickbait allure but surely no intelligent person or observer of politics would actually believe it?

     It turns out that lots of people whose intelligence I respected believed it, or at least claimed to. For the next few days, Twitter and Facebook were awash with Labor supporters who endlessly posted hundreds of versions of "a-ha! Greens in bed with the Liberals all along! We are the true party of progress!"

    At first it seemed as incredulous as those who believe the hot days of their youth disprove global warming. But it went on and on. It didn't matter if the quote was given in full context, or it was pointed out that Labor votes with the Coalition six times more than the Greens (including just this year on government data retention and in favour of returning a group of asylum seekers including Baby Asha and her family to Nauru).

     Why were they doing this? You'd think Labor would have learned something from the saga of the carbon tax "lie" (which I and many other Greens supporters spent years pointing out was not a lie at all) about the importance of nuance and full context. So why were Labor and its supporters misquoting, distorting, so determined to insist that something that isn't and wasn't true was and is?

     It got pretty nasty, down to Labor senator Sam Dastyari calling the Greens a cancer over the weekend (delightful - I haven't seen any other Labor politicians or supporters condemn this). But it died down as these things always do, and I hoped it was a forgotten blip on the road to this year's election, until yesterday when Labor and their supporters on social media caught fire again. "Greens vote against same sex marriage!"

     If the notion of an alliance was founded on distortion and lack of context, the same sex marriage thing was a blatant lie. There was always a Senate debate on same sex marriage on the calendar for Thursday. Monday was scheduled for debate on Senate voting reform. Senator David Leyonhjelm attempted to bring the marriage equality debate forward to Monday, partially to prevent debate on the reforms which if enacted could well cost him his Senate seat. The Greens, spotting this as a stunt, simply sought to have both debates on the original intended dates.

     Not according to Labor. The line went forward that the Greens voted against same sex marriage (there was no vote) or at the very least, delayed discussion in order to impress their new BFFs in the Liberal party. Penny Wong, who I'd quite liked - in spite of that she was a prominent member of a Labor government that did nothing to advance marriage equality for six years - went off like a frog in a sock, claiming that she'd never seen "leadership without backbone like this" (umm...this is awkward). The Greens, who have supported same sex marriage since it was seen as a fringe issue of the far left, delayed a debate by three days, and Labor ran with the line that Di Natale was ditching the cherished belief of marriage equality to protect an alliance with the Liberals that doesn't exist. Claiming outrage and personal offence at something you know damn well to be untrue, well that's dirty politics. There's no nice way to put it.

     Some Labor supporters, when the truth of what the Greens actually said and did was pointed out, replied "well, it's still not a good look." Not a good look that they are being lied about? That's victim blaming, no more or less. Meanwhile, the actual debate is on Thursday. It would be awkward for Labor if any of their number voted against the bill, wouldn't it? Really darn awkward. Except that it would be dismissed with Labor's excuse for everything - pragmatism.

     Why are they doing this? What do they hope to achieve? One of two things I believe, and the first you can almost forgive them for. Being a left leaning Labor supporter means walking some pretty tricky moral ground. You have to reconcile yourself with that the party supports mandatory detention of children, takes donations from fossil fuel polluters, and was in government for six years without taking action on marriage equality, amongst much else; the usual coping mechanism seems to be reminding each other of "the big picture" and the need to be pragmatic and what Labor can achieve as a party with the ability to form government. Slandering the Greens gives Labor supporters the chance to reaffirm their own ideological purity. The Greens only care about their own self interest! The progressive policies were just for show! We're the real champions of the oppressed. 

    But the main motive would be fear. The Greens vote has increased in real terms since the 2013 Federal election; despite inner Liberal chaos, Labor's has not. Labor has decided an election winning strategy is to go after the Greens'. But what votes they can get from former Labor voters returning to the fold won't compensate for several negatives to their strategy. First, what Greens votes they might lose from hoodwinked and deluded supporters returning to vote Labor may well be countered by loyal Greens who are so angry at Labor's lies and distortions we no longer wish to preference them. I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet. If not preferencing was an option at the Federal election, as it is in NSW state election's, I think I would exhaust my vote after giving my first preference to the Greens. I used to be a Labor voter and volunteer, and if they were ever to win my vote back, it would be on policies, not lies. I could never preference the Liberals, but just don't want to reward Labor's deceit either.

     As it stands electorally right now, Labor would almost certainly need Greens support to govern if not pass legislation in the Senate - the same support Di Natale said is a far more natural alliance for the Greens. I know it should and will never happen, but it is amusing to imagine Labor needing this support after a tight election and Di Natale telling them to go piss up a rope.

     But the main reason Labor needs to knock this nonsense off is to remember who is the real enemy here - the Liberal-National Coalition - and take the fight to them. Labor needs to be calling the Coalition out on its dire economic record and austerity plans. But more than that, Labor have displayed astonishing hypocrisy in many of the things they've attacked the Greens for. Do they think the Liberals are just going to let it slide? At least with the Coalition you know where you stand - knee deep in dung. I think it's in their party charter. "Fuck you, we're arseholes". They won't care if their terrible record is pointed out, it's their whole point. But for Labor to be attacking the Greens over matters of principle, the Liberals will lose no time pointing out the inconsistencies. The Liberals won't waste time or money attacking the Greens; they'll go straight after Labor. And we'll be stuck for another three years of incompetence and bigotry.

     This fight has been bizarre and depressing. I really, really hope this ends soon. We need to fight the real enemy. Come on, ALP. Do you want Tony Abbott to come back?

    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    Let's do the decent thing and change the date of Australia Day

    Quite a lot of debate about the celebration of Australia Day on January 26 at the moment. There's little point trying to reason with the hard core nutters who think the invasion was good for the indigenous population, brought civilisation to primitive wretches. Those people are too far gone.

    But what about the moderates who object to the use of the term Invasion Day, who are proud to be Australian and see criticism of their day to celebrate being Australian as an attack on Australia itself?

    To them I say, sure we should have a day to celebrate all that's great about being Australian - and wouldn't it be great to have a day to celebrate freely, a day without negative connotations and a tragic history? Because for Aboriginal people, 26 January marks not a day to celebrate Australia by getting drunk in Australian flag boardies, but the day that began the slaughter, the dispossession, the loss of land and home and rights and children and culture and spirituality, the effects of which - the pain of which - are being felt to this day.

     Think about the worst day of your life, if you can. The day you lost a loved one, maybe, or realised with a sudden thump your marriage was over, or your business failed and you were going to need to declare bankruptcy and lose your house. And whilst you were mourning, your best friend announced they were going to mark the date with their huge wedding. A party! Yay! And when you said you were too sad and it's kinda insensitive to your pain, they told you to get over it and asked why you hate them.

    That would be weird and gross and most probably end the friendship.

    Well now imagine it's not your best friend being insensitive and uncaring, but your country. Every damn year. Wouldn't it be better to have a day to celebrate the didn't cause pain and sorrow to your fellow Australians, the first people of this nation? Wouldn't it be better to leave January 26 to reflection of the wrongs of the past and pick another day, a day when we can all celebrate peace and a tolerant society and iced vovos? 


    I think so anyway.