Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thank God someone's finally said it, and a man to boot

Take it away, Jonathan Green at The Drum:

Every 48 hours or so Kevin pops up to be dignified yet deeply pathetic. The Prime Minister is continually tackled, in almost every media appearance in recent days. Radio station 4BC this morning asks if she "feels guilty". A demur variant on "blood on your hands" I guess, the Hawke/Carleton confrontation that followed the shafting of Bill Hayden, a routine political machination.

Guilt, or blood on your hands... is there something of a semantic gender divide in the two concepts? Did people ask Kevin Rudd if he felt guilty for rolling Kim Beazley? Did the press pack hound Tony Abbott for some display of remorse after his rout of Turnbull? Did Turnbull have to offer hugs to Brendan Nelson?

Is it because we assume that being, you know, a woman, Gillard has not only a greater capacity for empathy but some sort of obligation to express it? Just wondering.

Somebody give that man a Balfours Frog Cake.

(Not too sure about the cost of pearl necklaces, though. I wouldn't have thought ... Oh, never mind.)

They just can't help themselves, can they

Okay, so this Spooner cartoon is, in its way, very funny. I particularly like the poignancy of the dead pot plant.

But Jesus H.Q. Christ on a rusty bicycle, WHY OH WHY do male commentators and cartoonists, even those young enough to know better (Spooner gets cut a bit of slack because he's too old to have ever really understood what the problem is here), feel compelled to ground their comment in dated, stupid, sexist stereotypes?

We have a woman for PM, a really exceptional woman at an historic moment, and all Spooner can do is draw her talking in Valley Girl speak about redecorating. If he absolutely had to make reference to the gender agenda, how about drawing her as Boadicea or Elizabeth I or Joan of Arc?

I don't spit all that much, not really. It's not, you know, ladylike. But ... *spit*. Like, totally. And somebody else can clean it up.

Family matters

Just had a text from my 83-year-old father, the latest in a longish exchange this morning, saying 'Point taken. xx' I had to stifle the impulse to text back saying 'Who are you and what have you done with my father?'

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Telling fortunes: Robert Manne on Rudd, before last week

I just scooped my copy of the July issue of The Monthly out of the mailbox and was mesmerised to see, on the cover, the words 'Rudd's Collapse, by Robert Manne'. I know for a fact that it takes longer to turn an issue of a monthly magazine around than five days, so what on earth could the story be here?

Turns out it's an almost-prescient article written, of course, well before the events of last Thursday; the piece is dated June 16, as though Manne or editor Ben Naparstek had the foresight to realise how fast things might change. I guess it's just possible they did manage to sneak that dateline in at the last minute of production. But no, surely not; not to get it labelled and wrapped and posted to Adelaide within three working days.

I've always had respect for Robert Manne as a commentator, even though often finding his style hard to read. But in the context of the events of last week this article is mesmerising, and it might give pause to some of the angrier anti-Gillard protesters to see just how much trouble Rudd was perceived to be in by a political commentator with a great deal more gravitas and cred than most of the people writing for the press.

Some highlights:
What was most remarkable about all this [ie the collapse of public support for Rudd and federal Labor, as measured in the polls] is that the strange and sudden collapse of the government's and the prime minister's fortunes was not a consequence of any external political crisis or sudden economic shock, or even of an upturn in the fortunes of the Opposition -- in both Newspoll and Nielsen, Tony Abbott remained even more unpopular than Kevin Rudd -- but a series of nearly inexplicable and easily avoidable government own goals.
But there is more to the sudden collapse of the government's fortunes than a failure of style and process. With Rudd there is also a deep confusion an unresolved tension between word and action. ... Rudd [has] found himself trapped in a hopelessly confused situation in which he argued that asylum seekers must be treated as human beings and the people smugglers who brought them here as 'vermin', and in which his government's policy was described as simultaneously 'tough' and 'humane'. ... Rudd rightly condemned the Howard government's addiction to taxpayer-funded political advertising as a cancer on democracy. He did not seem to understand that by the use of such language all future political advertising by a government he led was verboten. ... Rudd described climate change as the most important moral challenge facing humankind. He did not seem to understand that rhetoric of this kind, which allowed him to occupy the highest moral ground, would eventually seem ludicrously inconsistent with the feeble legislative compromise he negotiated with Turnbull.
The distance between his words and his deeds is not the Prime Minister's only problem. Equally disabling is his seeming incapacity to foretell the predictable consequences of his actions.

Well, quite.

Manne does not go so far as to actually foretell a challenge, successful or otherwise, from Gillard. But I bet he wasn't in the least surprised when it happened. In this piece Manne is doing what he does best: a lucid synthesis of events and themes in a rapidly changing landscape, and a deftly-made set of connections in which the many apparently disparate threads of the situation are pulled together into a coherent narrative or overview.

I hope lots of people read this piece, especially the people for whom the events of last week came as a surprise and/or those upset by the way it was done. It's sobering to realise just what magnitude of crisis Rudd was seen to be in before the challenge from Gillard. Obviously she was not the only person thinking that 'a good government had lost its way', and feeling very deeply alarmed by that thought.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Coup schmoup

I think Tracy at Adelaide From Adelaide will excuse me for quoting her at such length: this is a paragraph that needs to be disseminated as widely as possible.
And another thing: don’t use the word ‘coup’, just don’t. It’s completely inaccurate and it’s bloody disrespectful. We live in a democracy, and we get to vote without fearing for our lives, and no tanks rolled up to the steps of Parliament House, and Kevin Rudd got the opportunity to make a dignified farewell speech and no one got locked up, and no one has disappeared, and actually caucus voted on it, and whether you like it or not that is the way Australian politics works. And you know what? If you don’t like it, you can bang on about it as much as you like. You can write about it on your blog, you can ring talkback radio, you can start your own ‘I’d never backstab anyone’ party, you can even meet Kevin Rudd for a drink and discuss it with him if you like. You can do all those things because it wasn’t a coup.

Tracy is currently, though not permanently, living in Abu Dhabi.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 24th, 2010

(Photo: AAP via the ABC website)

Gutter journalism

Is anyone else who's lucky enough to be able to be glued to the telly being utterly appalled by the journalists who keep asking those present at the caucus meeting whether Kevin cried? What is it with the meeja and tears being regarded as the money shot? Does anyone know? Does anyone apart from them care? And aren't there just a few slightly more important questions to ask?

(Like, for example, what was Julia Gillard thinking at the point at which Rudd started sending his baby-cowboy advisors around to check on her loyalty, which up to that point had been iron-clad?)

You wait, the minute he fronts the press they'll be clamouring 'How do you feel?' How do they think he feels? If anyone who asks him that gets called a ratfucker then it'll be no more than they deserve.

UPDATE: well, in the event nobody needed to ask. That was, as Annabel Crabb said, hard to watch. (Or in my case hard to listen to, as the telly is borked.) But also very typical: he wasn't prepared to adjust his speech on his feet; he kept seeing things coming up that were going to make him cry and doggedly refusing to avoid them. It was like watching a very brave but not very canny showjumping horse going round a course of jumps that it built itself, jumps that were mostly too high and too hard.

Don't forget what happened last time we were all sitting round the telly

Abbott won.

Not the same situation, I know, and we are almost certainly about to get our first female Prime Minister. But nobody knows what might happen to her then. Caucus is meeting as we speak. If she becomes the next Prime Minister, all the cross-currents dominated by the masculine values grounded in the horrible combination of a will to power with short-sighted self-interest that we've already seen bring Rudd to crisis point -- the machinations of the factions that got her to this point, the Gotcha games of journalists, the insane behaviour of media giants, the general basic assumption that men are in charge, and all the various things we've already seen the Labor Party and the media do to the like of Joan Kirner, Cheryl Kernot, Carmen Lawrence, Kristina Keneally and all the other women that the ALP over the years has handed a poisoned chalice and impaled on a stick with which to face the future -- will toss her hither and yon on the high seas of politics.

She can swim, I think, and she looked as if she understands that you can survive if you stay calm and float. Only one way to find out and clearly we are about to.

I've got the telly on the ABC, which has been screening grabs from earlier profiles and news items, and at one point someone asked Gillard and Abbott whether they liked each other. Abbott did that forced, nervous braying laugh; Gillard smiled. 'I think I'm a much more normal person than Tony,' she said.

I look forward to her normality at the microphone, where for the first time in thirteen years we won't have a Prime Minister sawing the air with his right hand like a fourteen-year-old Hamlet in the school play.

Word's coming through in Chinese whispers on the teeve is that the numbers are so lopsided that Rudd may have pulled out of the ballot. Spare a thought for him this morning, and for Gillard as she looks down the barrel of the next few weeks and mo-

Wow, it's through. Elected unopposed.

Now is the time for all good women to come to the aid of the Party leader, I reckon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Strange bedfellows

From this morning's Age:

Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile has succeeded in introducing a bill to ban the wearing of the burqa in the NSW Upper House.

Mr Nile introduced his private member's bill, seeking to ban the wearing of the burqa and other face veils in public, shortly after 8pm yesterday.

Last month, a debate on the same bill was voted down by the NSW Upper House.

Greens MP John Kaye said only the four Greens MPs and Family First MP Gordon Moyes voted against introducing the bill on Tuesday.

"Last month the coalition and the government did the right thing and said no, they would not allow the Upper House to be home to this kind of racist dog whistling," Mr Kaye said.

"This time they caved in."
The Greens and Family First, eh? Only the burqa could produce such a strange alliance, involving such very different reasons for making the same choice.

Last time the ban-the-burqa brigade was in the news, it was instructive and often entertaining to watch commenters on and offline scuttling and scrambling to adopt whatever they thought the correct line was, and being scuppered by the utter confusion into which the burqa debate will always throw those of us who'd place ourselves anywhere to the left of centre.

Only the libertarians, this time, knew exactly what they thought and said so. Feminists (including me, though for me the bottom line is always that women's rights trump cultural difference) grappled with this lose-lose question, for feminism is a broad church and the question, however vexed and vexatious, is clear: does one further restrict the rights of women by banning a garment oppressive to women, or does one exercise tolerance however repressive in the name of women's freedom to wear whatever they like? And does one continue to insist that the garment is oppressive when wearers of the burqa pop up and say Hello, excuse me, I'm doing this by choice?

And what, in the free west, is a feminist to do, if anything, about women complicit, usually unconsciously and usually for their own self-protection, in the furtherance of an oppressive ideology? Because Goddess knows this doesn't apply only to Moslem women, and indeed could as justifiably be applied to women of my mother's generation, assorted footy and cricket WAGS, and doting mums who are out buying Bonds' new bra for eight-year-olds. (And there, incidentally, go my favourite knickers; anyone want to join me in a Ban Bras for Babies Bonds boycott? What chance do you think we'd have of successfully introducing a bill to ban them?)

But those for whom unquestioning leftitude is a central plank of self-identification found themselves unable to discern what the correct line might be. The right-wingers went for the notion that the burqa is a threat to national security, which was, if I remember rightly, the issue that brought this question to public attention in the first place. Presumably hordes of Islamic terrorists could hide any number of bombs and guns under them and who knows, I suppose they could, though history has proved again and again that if you want to hide bombs and guns you don't need a burqa to do it. This case was strengthened by the opportunity for a little concern feminism, though that was clearly secondary, and I suppose it's a form of progress that wingnuts should feel some need to pretend to care about women's rights because Goddess knows they never used to.

But a certain kind of tribal left-winger, determined to take the correct line (and I actually saw a few people turning up on blog comments threads anxiously asking what the correct line was, so that they could take it), was torn in several different directions: reluctance to ban stuff; repulsion at a garment so oppressive to women; outrage at the racist dogwhistle in the 'national security' idea and the inherent ignorance behind the push to do this in Australia, unlike in France where there is a coherent and longstanding ideology behind it to do with the importance of maintaining a secular state.

And don't, she said sadly, underestimate the unacknowledged hostility of a certain kind of man, regardless of his political persuasions, to any kind of female appearance (up to and including not being acceptably hot) that seems to suggest that a woman is not desirable and available to him, even just for ogling. Next time you see a woman in any form of Islamic dress, even just a headscarf, being heckled in the street, listen closely to what is being said.

Because for some men, simply failing to conform to their porn-fed stereotype is enough to make them hate you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Early morning winter solstice rose

Click on photo to embiggen (recommended).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Don't you go writing what I said about those Abos."

How is this even possible? Has Mal Brown been living in a big plastic bubble in an attic somewhere? Can he read?

I love Australia to death and I'm all too aware that this kind of attitude exists all over the world and in some places it's much worse. But still, sometimes living in this country simply fills me with shame.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Some of the rest of us are insulted as well

In all the endless masses of coverage of Andrew Johns' racist slur, Timana Tahu's dignified withdrawal, and all the other fallout in the leadup to the Great Big Rugby League Game on Wednesday night (apparently Johns is "shattered"; diddums), I've not yet seen anyone mention that "black cunt", used as a term of abuse, is not only a racist slur.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Are we being governed by people who haven't read 1984?

It's a question you have to ask yourself, when you read stuff like this, the gist of which is there in the opening sentences:
THE federal government wants your personal internet data, and they don't want to have to apply to a court to get it.
Revelations that the federal government wants Australia's 400-odd internet service providers (ISPs) to log and retain customers' web browsing data, so law enforcement can access it during criminal cases, have sparked alarm in the industry.
And not just in the industry, let me tell you.  Personally I'm not much of a libertarian. I am all for regulation in many instances, not so much because I have an overall gloomy view of human nature as because I think there are always one or two stinking, suppurating apples in any given barrel, and they're usually (to mix the metaphor) the ones who get the Darwinian upper hand when it comes to things like money and power. Witness the oil-drenched ocean life (and death) on the Gulf Coast, the crooked-cowboy home insulators and school-hall builders, the ludicrous spectacle yesterday of Gina Rinehart shrieking at her rent-a-crowd rally.

A few years ago my sister was hospitalised with a reasonably common but potentially grave condition: surgical adhesions from a childhood appendectomy were causing, in middle age, the sorts of appalling intestinal blockages that produce extreme pain and other symptoms you really don't want me to describe. In general, surgeons are loth to operate to relieve this kind of thing because of the risk that it will produce more adhesions, and her surgeon was playing a waiting game to see if the problem would fix itself. In the meantime she couldn't eat at all and was in increasing amounts of pain. My other sister and I went in there every day with Vegemite and Bickford's Lime Cordial to make her hot drinks to sip and get a bit of Vitamins B and C into her if nothing else.

It was all bit horrible and it got steadily more horrible. One day I went in to see her and she was in too much pain to talk to me, so I went in search of, and found, someone in a uniform behind a desk: a squat, dim-looking woman in fussy pussycat glasses, whom I asked for information about my sister's condition. By now I was what I have learned from Robertson Davies to call 'loaded for bear', so I may have been a tad more forceful than was tactful. The woman looked at me, I swear, with an expression of satisfaction. 'We can't tell you anything,' she said. 'Due to privacy.'

Further enraged by the inane formulation 'due to privacy', by which I assumed she meant that the privacy laws meant she couldn't divulge any information about my sister's condition, I succumbed to the red mist a bit. 'Here's my driver's licence. She's my sister. Have a look at my face, then come down the corridor with me [the woman was, I swear, literally doing her nails] and have a look at her face. Mind you, her face is so distorted with pain that you might be forgiven for not seeing a resemblance at the moment.'

The woman looked at me as if I were from outer space. 'Can't you ask her how she is?'

'No,' I said. 'I can see how she is. How she is is she is in too much pain to speak. I would like to speak to her doctor, could you give me his number please?'

I swear she smirked. 'We can't give you his number,' she said. 'Due to privacy.'

Got that? I can't get any information about the condition of a family member in hospital, but the government wants unchecked access to my browsing history. There you have the privacy laws. Due To Privacy, the individual is hog-tied but the government can do whatever it likes.

(What are they going to do, pounce on my links to Facebook's FarmVille game because they think it must be about bestiality? Given the degree of ignorance this government has displayed so far about the Internet and all its works, nothing would surprise me.)

The timing if nothing else of this new 'Ve haff vays of spying on your search history' development (nothing would surprise me there either) seems beyond demented, given that they are already tanking in the polls. Do they understand that that's largely because they've opened up a yawning chasm in the trust and support of their own heartland, what with the net filter proposals and the sidelining of the CPRS, and this will make it a million times worse? Who are this government's advisors, and what in the name of the Goddess are they thinking about?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Read, Think, Write

There's some new stuff at the new blog.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Uh oh

No doubt every word of this report on David Marr's Quarterly Essay on Kevin Rudd is true; I don't know what the stance of the child in the photograph says to you, but I know what it says to me, and I have in my time known a few chronically angry men very well. But you have to ask yourself whether the kinds of people who read (never mind write) the Quarterly Essay would allow even such a damning portrait to drive them in the direction of a conservative government. (Has anyone read it yet? What did you think?)

David Marr would have thought very carefully through all the possible consequences of this essay. But it's clear from all his work that his first commitment as a journalist is to the truth, based on evidence, as he sees it. So while it might be a matter of knowing that disenchantment with Rudd is far more likely to push his previous supporters further to the left (and into the waiting arms of the Greens; Bob Brown must be starting to think it's Christmas), it could also be a matter of letting the fallout fall where it may.

And it may, of course, fall into that empty fruit bowl.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Because it's all about boys and their bits, so it doesn't really matter which side you're on

In recent weeks there has developed on Australian political blog Larvatus Prodeo a fairly predictable Thread of Doom about calls from that well-known feminist and progressive champion of women's rights Senator Cory Bernardi to ban the wearing of the burqa in Australia, in a piece in which he argues that of course it's not really about women at all.

As is so often the case with issues around women and Islam, if you're any kind of progressive then you're looking at an interior car crash every time you try to think about burqas. There are four problems and none of them can be solved without exacerbating the other three, to wit:

1) Women (and indeed men) should be legally free to wear whatever they want, and to make that decision for themselves.

2) Cultural difference should be respected and should not be suppressed.

3) Women who have internalised oppressive rules should not be further oppressed by the well-meaning people trying to liberate them.

4) It's important not to join the anti-Islamic howlers for blood in the name of a cause that matters to you, namely the rights and freedoms of women. (Just as it's important not to join the anti-Jewish howlers for blood in the name of another cause that matters to you, namely the non-oppression of Palestinians.)

Most of the commenters on that LP thread are all too aware of this rectangle of tensions, and conclude that they dislike the burqa but they dislike the idea of banning it more. Not surprisingly, all but the most intrepid of women commenters there, of whom there were in the first place relatively few, dropped out of this discussion along the way or never joined it in the first place, and as with an earlier Thread of Doom about breasts, even the most reasonable of male LP regulars have become a little sullen and resistant in the face of arguments put by actual women, including at least one female commenter who herself wears a veil.

Not that there has not been back-channel and IRL muttering among said women. There has.

The idea of the burqa, as of the less absolutist 'loose coat', skirt and/or headscarf, is that the sight of a woman's body and hair inflames men's passions. For some reason, this is supposed to be the woman's responsibility.

Now: how different is this from the talks (standard, nay universal, wisdom for the time and place) I got from my late and much-loved Ma circa 1967 about how boys had terrible trouble controlling their sexual urges and therefore it was my responsibility to make sure no untoward hanky-panky took place? Or the still-all-too-common judgement that if a young woman was wearing that skirt then it was her own fault if she got raped?

Answer: not very.

Close on the heels of this extraordinary bit of urgent police work last week in the Indonesian province of Aceh, supplying all-concealing skirts to 20,000 women to replace their evil man-inflaming trousers on the spot (while the religious police watch, presumably), because of course that's the most urgent thing that needs to be done in Aceh, we have a mass resignation from Al Jazeera in Qatar on the basis of religious insistence that female news anchors should cover up more and present themselves more 'modestly', presumably for the reasons outlined above.

Now: how different is this from the groundswell of discussion a year or two back among Australian commercial television stations that female newsreaders and 'current affairs' presenters should be appointed according to their level of fuckability, because, you know, the ratings stats are, like, people, and people are men, and men like to be titillated?

Answer: not very.

Israel and the flotilla: a thought

The person who knows more about the military than anyone else I know was succinct tonight in his summary of the Israelis' attack on the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. 'If you board somebody else's boat and attack them in international waters,' he said, 'then either you're a pirate or you're starting a war.'