Selective media


Petri dishes are often used to make agar plates, made up of nutrient materials, for microbiology studies. Agar plates may be formulated as either permissive (or undefined), with the intent of allowing the growth of whatever organisms are present; or restrictive or selective (or defined), with the intent of only allowing growth a particular subset of those organisms. Defined media can be precisely tailored to select organisms with specific properties.

Recently been having some work done in garden. A Bobcat with a wicked looking “Ripper” attachment (“Rip through tough, hard-packed, and frozen material with the powerful force of the ripper attachment. The single-point tooth design delivers optimum penetration through tough soil, frozen ground, and root systems with rugged force.”) has been turning over the ground, while soon a shitload of manure will arrive and be spread over and into the now loosened soil. Then the landscape will be ready for, receptive to, the planting of new trees which would have had no chance of surviving in the original growth medium of the garden. And the new medium will be permissive, ready for a diversity of trees and shrubs and flowers.
Looks like Tony Abbott has issued his merry men (and Julie) “Ripper” attachments for their political bobcats. Rippers designed to rip through tough social fabric, the roots of political networks, and frozen progressive beliefs with rugged force, their single-minded obsession providing optimum penetration. Rip – science destroyed; rip – chaplains in public schools; rip – Medicare co-payments; rip – bring back British honours; rip – high university fees; rip – 6 months with no support for unemployed youth; rip – increase GST; rip – create a right wing curriculum; rip – no minimum wage; rip – decimate tax office; rip – ban all protest; rip – smash public service; rip – remove oversight and regulation of white collar crime; rip – promote monarchy; rip – destroy all parliamentary conventions; rip – remove laws against discrimination and racism; rip – destroy public broadcasting. And so on – feel free to add others.

They have been working away (with the help of the media) since 7 September, turning over Australian society, creating a medium in which to plant their ideology. Adding a shitload of horse manure from the American Tea Party. Producing a selective medium precisely tailored for one ideology – defined as the Randian Hayekian Friedmanite neoconservative laissez-faire unregulated nineteenth century dog-eat-dog world of 21st century America. Ideology which could not have flourished in the old unripped Australia. No other ideology, philosophy, ideas, views, will be able to grow in this restrictive medium. No power source except corporate power will be permitted to flourish.

Welcome to Australia’s neoliberal garden.

RIP Australia.

Never the Bride


Has been often said that Aneurin (“Nye”) Bevin was the greatest Prime Minister Britain never had, and no one could argue with that. However I can’t think of any other Post War British Opposition Leaders who didn’t win election as PM about whom you would say that (can any of you dear readers?).

Got thinking about that when a reader responded, on Twitter, to the previous post with a question as to whether I agreed Kim Beazley was the best Prime Minister Australia never had. I do agree with that (with some reservation about religious influence) – his background, intellect, education, experience and big-heartedness (or is that “big-tickerness”?) made him ideally suited to instantly fit into the job. As he has into the role of Australian Ambassador to America.

But beyond that it’s difficult to think of any others that would have been a gain. I suggested Bert Evatt, but you’d have to restrict that to his earlier years in his prime. Probably not (with all due respect) Simon Crean, although he would certainly have done a highly competent job. And not John Hewson, but I’ll come back to him.

Any of the other possibilities are farcical – Sneddon, Peacock, Downer, Calwell (although Arthur would certainly have created a different Australia, by no means necessarily a bad thing) – why, you might as well suggest McMahon as foreman material. What? Oh.

But what about Hewson, you ask? Well, certainly a smart man. And since losing the unlosable election of 1993 has been solid on climate change. But he is what he is, something of a Malcolm Turnbull twin. Uncomfortable with the Billy Tea Party no-nothings of the Abbott Liberal Party, but at the same time big business to his conservative boot straps.

So my gut feelings at the time of Keating’s “Sweetest one of all” 1993 victory were mixed. I think I sensed instinctively that while the Left had won a battle it had lost a war. Keating and Labor were encouraged to believe that Liberal-Lite was a recipe for continuing success. And then were swamped so badly in 1996 when John Howard’s Liberal-Heavy Brigade rolled in that they would be out of power for a political generation of 11 long years of backwards clock-winding.

A Hewson victory in 1993 would have let people see what the modern Liberal agenda really is (as in Newman’s Queensland more recently), and Hewson couldn’t have carried off the Howard Battler vote, nor the dirty pool, of people like Reith, in order to stop the public strongly rejecting neoconservatism in 1996 for a win by Kim Beazley. Ah, these what-ifs of history are intriguing, are they not?

But mentioning Kim Beazley brings us naturally back to America. If Australia, like Britain, only had one great PM who never was, how has the American public treated its candidates? Well, remind yourself that this is a country that voted in Nixon, Reagan and GW Bush NOT JUST ONCE BUT TWICE! Giving Eisenhower, Clinton and Obama two terms goes nowhere near balancing those appalling decisions. And while it’s pleasing that Dewey, Goldwater, Humphrey, Dole, McCain and Romney never got to stand on the bully pulpit, a country which didn’t have Presidents Stevenson, McGovern and Gore (not to mention killing Robert Kennedy as well as his brother) is a country far more wasteful of leadership talent than the UK or Australia.

And all that of course is to leave aside the absence of potential female leaders who never got above the glass political ceilings. Just one each in UK and Australia. The one-off force of nature that was Thatcher couldn’t be held back, and Julia Gillard only made it in unusual circumstances. In America Geraldine Ferraro was restricted to number two behind the unimpressive Mondale, and Hilary Clinton just failed at the last barrier against the Obama unstoppable force for “change”, although hopefully she will get a chance to win in 2016. Sarah Palin of course was chosen as a token, not of her femaleness or intelligence, but of her ability to grunt speeches at the equally nutty Tea Party wing of the Regressive Republican Party. But how many talented women in all three countries have never had a chance to even seek the top job?

Now that’s a lot of best prime ministers (and presidents) we’ve never had.

The sphere of private life


When theocracy comes back to western civilisation it might begin with three young women protesting in a church and being jailed for two years. Or it will ride in on a wagon outlawing same-sex marriage. Perhaps it will come from small fundamentalist religious schools keeping their students isolated from any other thoughts, including Darwin’s dangerous idea. Or maybe it will come from leaders who pray to an imaginary being for guidance before making decisions on war.

Maybe “witches” being burnt will provide a spark. Or the loud voices demanding that women cover up their bodies, and art work be destroyed which depicts nakedness. Could it be hiding under the cloak of those who called a young Olympic runner a “prostitute”? Or of those who are certain that women must never be allowed to preach to men?

Perhaps it’s coming in that mob of wild-eyed young men brandishing AK 47s in the air and screaming “god is great” in triumph at having slaughtered other young men. Or in the ones screaming abuse about homosexuality at people attending soldier’s funerals. Or in the hands of the ones screaming at young women attending family planning clinics, or blowing them up or shooting “abortion doctors”. Or maybe it’ll be riding in a plane being flown into a tall building, or a truckload of explosives smashing into a girl’s school.

Maybe theocracy will begin on old battlefield sites being labelled as “sacred ground”. Or on pieces of burnt toast with an imaginary face. Or in a row of fence posts imagined as a woman’s figure. Or in the ancient monuments blown up as impure. Or perhaps in those places where gullible sick people are prayed upon and preyed upon by those promising miracle cures in return for a little money.

Its arrival will be speeded up by those determined to smash science. By those who preach the dominion of man over nature. By the tax exemptions for religious institutions. By the prayers at the start of parliamentary sessions. By the growing role of religious cadres in schools, in hospitals, in military memorial ceremonies, in political lobby groups. By the politicians flaunting their religious beliefs as an incentive to vote for them. By the preachers blaming a drought or a tornado on people behaving “sinfully”.

It will come from the children indoctrinated, and sometimes mutilated, at ages far too young to give consent. It will come from cults shielded from scrutiny by threats of legal action, shielded from criticism by laws limiting free speech. Will come from the poor devils refusing medical treatment in favour of prayer. Will come from big businesses with religious fundamentalist owners using their power. Will come from fearful people, made afraid by shock jocks serving political masters. Will come from the deliberate conflating of religion and race by unscrupulous leaders. Will come from words written by deluded people hundreds, thousands of years ago, believed by deluded people now to have come from one imaginary being or another.

It is enabled every time the media calls it a “miracle” when someone is saved by the full application of five centuries of western science and medicine. Every time tv channels run “serious” programs about “psychics” or “near death experiences” or “ghosts”. Every time someone is said to have “passed” instead of died. Every time someone says they will “pray for you to get better” and you don’t say “how about donating to medical research instead?” Every time someone wears a “power band” or a “healing crystal”, or recommends homeopathy.

Brought nearer every time someone says “Oh, those New Atheists, so aggressive and rude, they really should respect the beliefs of religious people”.

The bible will arrive, everywhere, wrapped in the flag and carrying a gun. Theocracy is coming to a country near you, soon, and it will take you back to the Dark Ages. The only thing needed for religion to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

“Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life” (William Lamb, on hearing an evangelical sermon)

Twist and Shout


The other day, stepping out of my car in a car park, I heard a male voice screaming loudly. Looking around I spotted him yelling into a mobile phone clutched in his left hand while his right hand waved around in the air. Occasionally he kicked the tree he was standing under, or a car nearby, as he twisted and turned.

The language was, as they used to say, purple, though in his case it had moved beyond that into the ultraviolet. It very quickly became obvious that I had inadvertently arrived in the middle of a, shall we say euphemistically, domestic disagreement being conducted by phone in public. So much in public that, if the partner lived anywhere within a 100km radius, the phone was superfluous – she could have stepped outside her house and heard him roar. He was broadcasting to the world.

And roar in the nastiest possible way. The gist of his side of the conversation, repeated, with variations, over and over was “Why are you doing this to me you f#cking bitch I’ll kill you you c#nt?” Had any of the curious listeners, variously situated, unobtrusively, at safe distances from him, attempted to approach him it was on the cards he would have tried to kill them. Conversely, if he had been physically with his wife/partner, in a shop or restaurant, or indeed at home, and had been behaving the way he was, domestic violence charges of some kind would have been on the cards. Merely broadcasting to listeners in a car park left him safe.

Anyway, I went into the shop, glad to get away from the virulent misogyny, and when I returned he had gone. The end of one of the eight million stories in the Naked City. Except that it had left me thinking.

It came in a week when our Opposition Leader, and probable future leader, had told delighted right wing think tank cadres that in government he would be repealing the Racial Discrimination Act so as to prevent any restriction of “Free Speech”. Didn’t those wide-eyed Libertarians applaud until their hands ached. Standing ovation? I’m thinking yes.

Always causes difficulty for the Left, this “free speech” meme exploited so ably by the Right. The mere whiff of a hint of a possibility of a reservation about some of the effects of hate speech and Libertarian Think tanks and their political and shock jock friends are pouring shit on you from a great height as a hater of freedom and liberty

So effective has this tactic been that the rise and rise of hate speech, mainly but not only in America, and mainly but not only supported by Rupert Murdoch, has been a major factor in the rise of neonazi groups (under various names) everywhere, and the success of right wing political parties.

This strident garbage provides, like the first blowfly maggot hatching in a sheep’s wool, the perfect environment for the Right to flourish. In nurturing racism and misogyny (like our friend in the carpark) and anti-science, it promotes the steady drift Rightward of public discourse. So effective has this been that it is noticeable, unremarkable, that social democratic parties like the US Democratic Party, Australian Labor and other Labour parties, have policies and attitudes that would have once upon a time placed them far to the Right of conservative parties of the past.

The Libertarian proponents of absolute freedom of speech might sometimes stop short, like a fist almost reaching a nose, at the point of considering whether shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre (a metaphor taking on a new edge after the massacre at the Batman movie) should be allowed.

But the hate merchants (also applauding Abbott’s speech loudly) are not just shouting fire, they are providing matches and petrol, blocking exits, removing light fuses, cutting emergency phone lines. The classic case of the effect of this sort of thing was the terrible shooting and near killing of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the killing of half a dozen people she was with, after the Palin camp produced a map with gunsights painted on a map showing offices of politicians who had dared to have a different political view to the appalling woman once a Diebold voting machine away from being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

In effect all shock jocks and populist politicians are painting targets on people who do not share their views. In Australia the people who said the Prime Minister was a “witch” or a “cheap prostitute whoring herself” who should be “drowned in a sack” or “kicked to death” were inviting violence in a way that should not be permitted in a civilised society whether applied to the prime minister or the unfortunate woman who was the partner of Car Park Man.

Bullying, in home, school, workplace is rightly taken very seriously these days. And it is clearly recognised that verbal bullying can cause as much distress and psychological damage as physical actions.

Yet we facilitate, protect, applaud, the bullying and incitement to bullying that takes place every day in out media. Target after target of helpless and/or vulnerable groups (Aborigines, gays, single mothers, unemployed, refugees, public housing tenants, environmentalists, unions) are chosen day after day by bully boy and bully girl shock jocks and politicians. And day after day there are attempts by the same people to denigrate, delegitimise, degrade, political and philosophical opponents. Day after day words are twisted, lies told, rage consequently incited.

This is not a political discourse that, say, Eisenhower, Menzies, or Churchill would have recognised, let alone accepted. It is however one that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot would have felt very comfortable with.

We have laws to try to protect people from poisons in water, air, food. Time to try, however difficult it might be in practice, to reduce the amount of poison in our airwaves.

And in our car parks.

Give the order


You all remember Old King Canute taking his throne down to the beach, right – “Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

Possibly true, possibly not. It was a thousand years ago, if it happened, and our media finds it impossible to recount accurately something that happened 1000 minutes ago. But if it wasn’t then it should have been. Should have been read out to every subsequent king and baron. Oh not the god nonsense of course, they did enough of that for themselves, but the idea that the most powerful person had no control over the natural world and its “laws”.

Certainly should be read out to Ms Gina Rinehart, richest woman in the universe, well, Australia anyway, and probably the one with the greatest hubris, now that Maggie Thatcher and Sarah Palin have left politics.

She was fairly private and low key until a couple of years ago. Then she emerged in the front of a crowd of well-dressed protesters, with professionally printed signs, bused in from a nearby office to stand at attention on astroturf. It was a very small crowd, but with the use of a camera carefully focussed just on the front row, managed to give the most inaccurate record of an event since US soldiers pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in a pretence it was a sign of popular support for the invasion.

But I digress. There was Gina (was she holding a sign? I forget) chanting with the others “Whaddawe want? No taxes for billionaires. Whendowe want it? Now”. No, I made that up a little bit, a rough translation but capturing the essence of the event.

Made so much noise that day and other days through the media they won the debate, tax essentially dropped, prime minister dumped from office partly as a result. Power, sure, but not much different to the power the very rich have been exerting in this egalitarian society for 200 years.

And then I read this and suddenly we were into much more sinister doings. Into the American world of the Koch Brothers, and PACs, corporations as people, and the Heritage Foundation.

So it has gone ahead. Last few days have seen Rinehart taking the major shareholding in Fairfax, Plimer appointed to her boards. And the IPA, apparently also supported by her financially has, over the last few years, become ubiquitous almost daily across all the media of the ABC. Some of the details about this are available here and here and here.

So we are reaching a situation where Murdoch controls 70% of the Australian commercial media, Rinehart in effect will control much of the rest, and the IPA is ensuring that the ABC takes a strongly right wing view of every issue and climate change is scarcely ever mentioned.

So expect over the next decades, that these powerful people will ensure the election of an ultra conservative Coalition government, the media will release only information it wants released and will tell you what to think about it, that no action witll be taken on climate change in any way, and environmental protection and regulation will be smashed. I can see no way of stopping this no matter how many of us blog away in our small corners of this brown land. Twenty billion dollars versus twenty million people in a democracy? No contest.

But then in ten years time I have a picture of this lonely woman sitting on a throne on a beach. Behind her a gaggle of shock jocks and climate change deniers and mining CEOs and conservative politicians. One of them is saying “Give the order, O great Queen, and it will obey”. She is holding out her hand to the sea and commanding “climate stop changing”, but then she gets drowned by the rising water levels and I can see her no more.

Downhill Racers


Well, the presidential race is on again in America (astonishing that it takes well over a year to find out which of the few people rich enough to try is going to be “elected” to serve the corporations) and the Republicans have once again scraped together a motley crew of nutters, ideologues and religious maniacs from whom to choose their candidate.

The whole process of course is utterly alien to those of us in this simple bucolic political world of Australia with its primitive and platonic ideas of democracy. The candidates seem like creatures from another planet, or an alien society in which chanting shamans analyse the entrails of goats to decide their leader and policies. So let me translate what the race is currently about.

Imaginary being’s preferences
Candidate 1 – “god likes me more than he does you”; C2 “oh no he doesn’t he likes me best”; C3 “no, he wants ME to win, told me”; C4 “he was talking to me you moron, I am god’s chosen president”.

Living in shoebox
C1- All children will live in poverty in shoeboxes by 2013. Not rich children, obviously; C2 All children living in poverty and parents sold into slavery; C3 All children in poverty, slave parents, grandparents allowed to starve to death; C4 All children in poverty, slave parents, starving grandparents, no medical care for anyone. Except the rich, obviously.

Furriners (1)
C1 – I will build a brick wall 1000km long and 20m high along Mexican border to stop asylum seekers; C2 Build a wall, patrol with helicopters with machine guns with orders to kill; C3 Wall, helicopters, drones on Mexican side to shoot rockets at anyone walking towards wall; C4 Wall, helicopters, drones, and scorched earth for 100km on Mexican side of border.

Furriners (2)
C1 – Will bomb any country that has any terrorists; C2 Bomb any country with terrorists and who won’t sell resources to America; C3 Bomb any country with terrorists that won’t give resources to America; C4 Bomb any country with or without terrorists that won’t give resources to America.

This land is our land
C1 – More oil wells – offshore, onshore, north, south, national parks, everywhere; C2 More oil wells and remove all environmental protection laws; C3 More oil, no laws, ensure cheap disposal of toxic wastes in rivers, oceans, air; C4 more oil, no laws, toxic disposal, compulsory increase of CO2 production from all sources.

C1 – More guns; C2 A lot more guns; C3 Compulsory guns for every adult; C4 compulsory multiple guns for every citizen from birth.

C1 – No teaching evolution in schools; C2 No teaching evolution or environment; C3 No teaching evolution environment ethnic studies; C4 No evolution, environment, ethnics – only classes in religion permitted

C1 – All union leaders arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay; C2 Ditto; C3 Ditto; C4 Ditto.

Hmm, on second thoughts, is this really that much different to the process by which we got Tony Abbott as future Prime Minister?

Steeped in religion


As regular readers will know I got an iPad to give me something to do during treatment sessions and recovery periods. As a result I have done quite a lot of browsing on Amazon for ebooks. Something seemed odd about the range of non-fiction titles available, but for a while I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Then it came to me – religion. This American site with its emphasis on American books and American customers has a non-fiction list saturated with religion. Of 479,000 non-fiction titles 71,000 (15%) are “religion & spirituality” far more than any other category except history (73,000). This strikes me as a hugely disproportionate number – almost one book in every six. In an Australian bookshop the equivalent section would be tiny, and I guess the same would be true of Europe.

The other notable characteristic is indicated by the inclusion of this out-pouring of religion in the non-fiction section. These are titles (and don’t tell me I can’t judge a book by its title) that don’t treat religion in the way a civilised country does, a somewhat embarrassed tentative offering on a topic potential readers know is nutty and esoteric, but as if this is a fully fledged alternative universe where the bible is literally true, people live their lives by its rules, prayer works, and little boys (in a current best-selling title) visit a real heaven and come back to report. When Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann talk about teaching both creationism and evolution in schools they are really reflecting a more general view that there is a religious world alongside a real world and that both are almost equally valid (the religious one being preferred) and that children need to learn both.

This is the scum floating on the surface, the bubbles emerging from the unhealthy depths, of a society in trouble. A society in which all except one of the contenders for Republican nomination for President are vying to see who can be the most fervent about teaching creationism in schools. A country where the ten commandments are appearing on walls, crosses in yards. A country where not only could an atheist never be president, but where increasingly only a rabid evangelical could be. A country whose armed forces, frighteningly, are increasingly subjected to fundamentalist religious indoctrination relating to “holy wars”.

In a fully-fledged theocracy (Afghanistan, say, under Taliban rule) I doubt that any non-religious books are available at all. In an effective theocracy (Spain at the time of the Inquisition) there will be a list of forbidden books which can not be read and must be destroyed. In a fully secular and civilised society few religious books would be wanted or available (I imagine, deliciously, religious books being sold, like cigarettes are about to be, in plain wrappers from under the counter).

We could then compile an index of the proportion of religious books for sale in a society ranging from effectively zero in a secular country to 100% in a theocracy. What proportion was sold in a country would be an indicator have how far along the road it had gone towards theocratic rule. On the evidence of America the danger point is somewhere around 16%. I wonder where Australia is up to, and which way the index is moving?

My enemy’s enemy


Political truism – the hatred one party holds for another is directly proportional to how close they are in their political philosophy.

Communists hate trotskyists hate socialists hate social democrats hate liberal democrats hate liberals hate tories hate fascists. Come a revolution and it’s the guys nominally on your side who get put against the wall first and shot – social democrats, mild-mannered and well-meaning, looking stunned as the communists set up the firing squad. “No no, not us, those are the bad guys” they protest, pointing at the fascists, but all to no avail.

The pattern is repeated right up to the present. In America the so-called “Blue Dog” (conservative) Democrats hate the liberal Democrats who hate the Naderites; while on the other mountain the standard Republicans loath the tea party nutters while both in turn are held in contempt by the Libertarians.

In the UK the ill-feeling between Lib-Dems and their most obviously close rival the Labor Party was so strong that the Lib-Dems formed an alliance with the Tories, a coalition that has not done well, Mr Clegg apparently not having a long enough spoon.

Similarly in Australia The Nationals hate the One Nation crazies almost as much as they hate the Liberals with whom they have been forming coalitions for over half a century. On the other side the hatred between the old Democrats and Labor was so great that the former facilitated the work of the Liberal government (much as Clegg has done in the UK but less formally), a decision that was to see the destruction of the party. Both Labor and Democrats hated Greens with a passion far exceeding anything they felt for the ultra-conservative Howard government. And so it goes.

You would think, on the face of it that these hatreds would balance out, leave a level playing field between left and right, but in practice they don’t. The Right seems to be much better at working together, issuing joint statements through gritted teeth, getting on with the business of seizing power and then retaining it for as long as possible. The difference, I guess, is that the Right are strongly united by their simple desires to make the rich richer and control the behaviour of the poor, whereas the Left tend to have this quaint old-fashioned view that policy is best determined by research, analysis and discussion.

So, the Left needs to get much much better at working together on its own side of the political spectrum, or, in America, Britain and Australia, we are staring down the barrel of endless conservative rule.

Starting now. There are elements of difference along the lines of whether to open the pointy or round end of eggs; or the debate between religious sects on the meaning of a single partial word on a torn manuscript from 2500 years ago, but with good will those differences could be turned around into questions of priority, of timing of implementation, and extent, like all political compromises. In Australia it is not impossible to see Labor and Green sitting down, accepting the commonalities in their policy documents, and working their way through the differences.

But, and this is a big but, the difficulty in working together is not so much related to policy as to party structure. One party has too much of a top down approach for its own good, the other has too much grass-roots control for its own good. Neither Bob Brown nor Julia Gillard could sit down at a table and make a firm agreement to compromise on policy platforms in order to reach a common platform. The Labor Party is rigidly ruled by faction bosses and the solidarity of caucus; the Greens are rigidly ruled by the individual votes of every single member in every single branch. In both cases the leaders would have to go to their parties to be given freedom to debate and compromise, probably within some defined limits. I don’t imagine for a moment that would be easy to obtain – the Greens have a great fear of hierarchy, Labor has a great fear of anarchy – but being faced with an Abbott government lasting longer than that of John Howard might concentrate some minds wonderfully. And those that don’t (like Michael Danby last week suggesting an agreement with the Liberals to keep preferences away from Greens in the seats of Melbourne and Melbourne Ports, a classic example of being happier working with an actual enemy than a potential friend) might have a political riot act read to them,

Whether similar Grande Detentes of the Left could be attempted in America and the UK I am not sure, given my lack of familiarity with the details of party structures and membership, but similar shudders at the prospect of a reborn Thatcherite rule, or a Tea Party dominated government, might just prompt some serious reflections on how well the antagonisms of the past have worked out.

Am I optimistic or pessimistic?

Born optimist, had pessimism beaten into me. Might be time to reverse that process.

If you have phone numbers for Bob or Julia give ‘em a call. Can’t hurt.

Monstrous regiments of men


Last week saw the announcement of the academy awards for misogyny. A survey of experts concerned with dangers to women considered health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking. Afghanistan came out the worst followed by Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia (in a sadly ironic statement “I’m completely surprised because I thought Somalia would be first on the list, not fifth,” Maryan Qasim, the Somali women’s minister said – hard to imagine how difficult her role must be).

The dangers include horrors such as female infanticide, rape, girl children as sex slaves, honour killings and maimings. In Somalia, “only” fifth worst remember – “The most dangerous thing a woman in Somalia can do is to become pregnant. When a woman becomes pregnant her life is 50-50 because there is no antenatal care at all. There are no hospitals, no healthcare, no nothing.”

Against all that horror (and bearing in mind that the next 5, 10, 15 countries would be just about as bad – note the brave attempts by Saudi women this week to protest their lack of freedom, eg to drive) the recent moments of misogyny in Australia seem tame indeed. A couple of weeks ago, there was Penny Wong, Finance Minister, number four in seniority in the Australian government, being met with “Miao” noises when she had dared to raise her voice to a man. This week that old charmer Don Randall spoke of the mining industry being “pussy-whipped” (apparently an expression he often uses he said) by the Prime Minister. Almost more sickening than that was that Julie Bishop yet again found nothing offensive in even the nastiest misogyny coming from her own party.

And speaking of the PM, there was that other old charmer the Dalai Lama referring to the PM several times as “He”. I guess to the leader of a misogynistic religion (that ancient tautology) it seemed inconceivable that a woman could possibly be a leader. As indeed it does to the Australian media – a year of criticism of every aspect of Gillard’s clothing, make-up, ear lobes, voice, hair, unmarried status, childless status, and a portrayal of her as liar and witch, culminated in a degrading segment on 60 Minutes last week where she acted out the charade of the dutiful little woman to her male partner and he was asked intrusive questions about when he would “pop the question”.

There is absolutely no point in pretending that having a female prime minister is some kind of women’s liberation breakthrough whan faced with this continual barrage of put downs. In fact the breakthrough seemed to be a signal for misogyny to increase. “You women think you’ve made it? Think that all positions are now open to you? Think again.” Australian women are not, in general, faced with any of the kinds of brutality and danger seen among the Nasty Five, but as long as this kind of nudge nudge wink wink “some of my best friends are women but” crap continues society seems to me never far from reverting to the 1950s in terms of the status of women.

But there is some subtlety needed here. Women like Sarah Palin have been known to play the sexism card – “oh you are only treating me like this because I’m a woman”. Well, no Sarah, we are treating you and your evil twin Michelle Bachmann (and some Australian equivalents) like this because you are ignorant, dumb, unqualified for any kind of high office, and have ideas and policies that would make Ghenghis Khan, that old liberal softy, cringe with embarrassment. If either of those two make it to the White House, and no, I don’t think it is beyond possibility in a US being driven mad from inside, then the rest of us better leave the planet. In fact criticism of these two shows as well as anything that the kind of treatment meeted out to the highly qualified and intelligent Gillard and Wong (and Hillary Clinton) is sexist.

We need to be aware of the tens, hundreds of millions of women living in the horrible conditions brought on by religion, culture, tribalism and foreign invasion around the world. I don’t know what we can do, given that one of the fake rationales for the Afghanistan war, ten years ago, was to improve the status of women in that country. We might not accept it as a rationale for war ever again (women’s rights in Iraq, once one of the more enlightened middle east countries, were set back 100 years by that oaf George Bush) and we might also stop turning a blind eye to the disgraceful state of affairs in, say, India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, just because it doesn’t suit us politically.

But we also need to stay alert, call sexism for what it is in our own society. It’s not a joke, it’s not the hurly burly of politics (with women needing to “toughen up” as Gillard was told), and it’s not acceptable.

Still, there was a move in the right direction this week – women soldiers will soon be able to serve in combat roles in Afghanistan. Would love to be a fly on the wall when a Taliban regiment sees women with guns coming at them. And a fly on the Liberal Party wall if the men start making cat noises and “pussy whipping” comments about female soldiers. A shot against misogyny in both countries.

Books do furnish


Always bemused by the photos of conservative politicians, fresh from gutting environmental protection, or public education, or health care, or smashing unions (the one below, from HuffPo, is of the abominable Scott Walker of Wisconsin, determined, as his first order of business on election, to smash unions completely), sitting in front of a wall of books in a book-case. Would be nice if a journalist was to ask them how many they had actually read!

George Bush famously never read a book, I doubt that Reagan ever did, hard to see Tony Abbott dipping into something serious between media stunts or athletic events. Maggie Thatcher? Can’t see it. John Howard – well, biographies of Don Bradman, greatest Australian who ever lived, possibly, but beyond that?

I was going to say that they probably all read at least one book, their bible. No, not the other bible, I doubt many of them read that (the other day in America one of these people was handed a bible by some religious group in which they had highlighted the passages dealing with caring for the poor and needy, he refused to accept it), I am referring to Ayn Rand and “The Fountainhead”, arguably, with Mein Kampf, one of the two books with the greatest malign influence of the twentieth century. But when I thought about it I couldn’t imagine any of these people actually plowing through the hundreds of turgid pages.

No, I think even when it comes to the handbook of the neoconservative regression, these leaders of the right have relied on their advisers, and their think tanks, to provide them with potted snippets, one line desk calendar quotes – “greed is good” “the poor are scum” “private enterprise good, public evil” “pay taxes, me?”

These people go through life it seems (nature or nurture, who knows) with the single-minded belief, the fixed stare, the unshakeable certainty of their worldview, otherwise found only in the most lunatic of the evangelicals (Savoranola say, or Knox, or Calvin, or Luther).

Books would potentially shake that certainty. I don’t just mean non-fiction, although it would be so nice to see one of these people with some knowledge of history, of cultural diversity, science, economics, a familiarity with the life stories of people from all over the world, ecology, and so on, but also novels of some quality – “It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” (you know who). Novels that also broadened their understanding of the human comedy.

Oh it is possible they occasionally read an airport novel, one of those books by actual or virtual former military people, in which they have their views that vigilante action, by individuals or countries, is vastly preferable to all that namby-pamby wishy-washy innocent (as if!) until proven guilty malarkey. Possible, but I suspect they mostly just stare down at the Earth thinking how much better it would be if they totally controlled it.

No, our conservative leaders and wannabe leaders (like the sad crop of barely functional humans that are apparently the leading contenders for the Republican nomination in the US; or indeed the shadow front bench in Australia, soon to be turning this country into a neocon wasteland) have deliberately placed themselves in the position of the Arab world after the burning of the great library at Alexandria – wiping out all the thought and learning and knowledge that preceded them. They seem to believe, like the French revolutionaries, and the madmen of Pol Pot, that they have started history from scratch, that nothing of any worth came before. Not the end of history but the beginning of the brand new neoconservative dawn. No need for books in the brave new world either, since books imply differences of views, opinions, ideas, analysis, and what possible differences could there be come the dawning of the millennium?

I think it is great that George Bush had begun reading, working his way gently into the idea through “My Pet Goat” admittedly, but it’s a start. What a pity he didn’t go on. Could we start Tony Abbott on The Muddle-headed Wombat do you think?