19 August, 2014

The almost-obligatory August 2014 depression article

I promised myself I wouldn’t write anything that hadn’t already been written far better by other people.

Before I say any more, one of those things that hasn’t been said yet is that articles about depression, while insightful and helpful to both sufferers and those who love them (which, between them, ought to be everyone), can also sometimes act as triggers. So if you’re familiar with depression, you don’t have to read any further. I won’t be telling you anything you don’t already know. Go and read the Over the Hedge ’blog instead – it’s great!

I don’t have much to say that I haven’t already said in these two posts before. While the growing number of online articles explaining depression are very helpful – they certainly made me realise that there are other people who get it, and can put into words what I couldn’t for 20 years – none of them ever tell you everything about depression because they can’t.

Depression affects everyone who experiences it slightly differently. Or completely differently. Depression is not like the common cold, where you know that if you get it, you’ll probably sneeze for half a day, have a runny nose for a couple of days, cough for a couple more days, while talking like a movie trailer voiceover, but after that you’ll be back to whatever “normal” normally is for you.

We are all talking about depression now because of the terrible loss of the brilliant Robin Williams. As such,  much of our talk about depression is framed according to the link between depression and suicide risk. It’s important to recognise the connection but it’s also important to recognise that not all sufferers of depression are suicide risks. It’s a complex thing.

As usual, I can only speak for myself and I am not suggesting anyone else’s experiences are the same. Having said that, I have seen at least one other express similar thoughts. Even in my darkest moments, I would never harm myself for one simple reason: I’m too scared. I was once down enough to make my dearest wonder is maybe she hide all the sharp things and keep close watch on me. I assured her that she would never have to worry about that. I have never wanted to die, there have just been times when I wouldn’t have cared if I did. If anything should happen to me, do please suspect foul play.

Two lines from two songs, sixty years apart, sum it up:
“I’m tired of living and scared of dying.” – Oscar Hammerstein, Ol’ Man River
“And when I’m lying in my bed
I think about life and I think about death
And neither one particularly appeals to me.”
– Morrissey, Nowhere Fast
The reason I’m taking you on this tour of my darkest corners is to make the point that suicide is not necessarily a measure of the severity of someone’s depression. Just because a person hasn’t attempted self-harm, self-medication or other visible manifestations of a mostly invisible condition, does not necessarily mean they are suffering any less. As I said in the Monsters post, for a long time I survived largely because I didn’t know what else to do.

Awareness is important. Understanding is important. It’s also important not to regard the condition in a way that still trivialises it, just in a different way.

It should also be noted that being able to toss off 700 words on the topic is not a measure of how much anyone feels it either. And to those who don’t get it, that’s okay. We’re happy for you that you don’t get it. Sometimes, understanding depression or anxiety can be like asking a man to understand menstrual cramps or a woman to understand a kick in the balls. We can never fully understand how it feels, but we can empathise, knowing that we can’t fully understand. That is all anyone asks.

This is the bit where you’re supposed to give Lifeline’s number and link to Beyond Blue. I know they do good work, but having never availed myself of their services, I would only be being trivial passing on their details. If you read the earlier posts, you will know of an unfortunate experience I had with Lifeline, which was not their fault, but makes me wary of recommending them.

So if you need to talk, contact me. My email is thebillablog@gmail.com, or contact me on twitter. I am not a professional, I have no training in counselling, but I’ll listen, and we’ll scout out the best service to contact together.

17 August, 2014

Neither Christian nor Grown-up

I wrote recently about how, despite the initial worries of certain segments of the left, the Abbott government is demonstrably not a Christian government.

We are spoilt for evidence of this, but Joe Hockey’s latest effort deserves special attention. In a further attempt to convince both the public but more importantly, the cross-bench senators of the wisdom of his budget, Mr Hockey has been on what the media insist on calling a “charm offensive.” If this is Joe Hockey laying on the charm, I’d hate to see him on a tin-eared galoot offensive.

Mr Hockey tried to deny that the poor would be disproportionally disadvantaged by changes to fuel excise on the ground that the poorest don’t have cars or if they do, they don’t drive very far. (Gee, why do you think that might be, Joe?)

Of course, it didn’t take long for it to be shown that as a proportion of income, the poorest spend far more than the wealthiest on fuel. Even I would expect Mr Hockey to be aware of this fact, mainly because it was his party that claimed pensioners were going to freeze to death because of the carbon tax. Just you just imagine how they would have screamed if Wayne Swan offered an argument of convenience that the poorest spent less whole dollars on heating than the rich because they live in far smaller houses?

As a good Christian, Joe Hockey should have known better to attempt such an argument because he should be aware of the lesson of the widow’s two mites, mentioned in the Gospels of both Mark and Luke.

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
- Mark 12:41-44
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
- Luke 21:1-4
It would seem that by Mr Hockey’s calculations, your contribution is measured only by its comparison to other contributions and not, as Jesus suggested, by its comparison to what you have to give.

I’ve also written a few times about the government’s juvenile assertion that they are a grown-up government.

Again, evidence to the contrary is rife, but our prime minister’s comments on Scottish independence deserve special attention. He started out well, saying,
“What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots and not for a moment do I presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote.”
He should have left it at that. If he had, everything would have been fine, but then the Mr Magoo of international diplomacy couldn’t help himself, adding:
“I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom…”
Um… WHAT??
We know Abbott is a master of avoiding questions so why choose this moment to be so candid? Clearly monarchist Abbott’s reflexive love of all things empire kicked in. If he had been alive in 1900, he would probably have argued against federation too. And he’s perfectly entitled to hold those personal views but you never take sides publically in another country’s affairs, especially not an ally.

Here’s how a grown-up would handle it: Write this down, Tony, in case you need to refer to it in future.
“That is entirely a matter for the people of Scotland. Whichever way the vote goes, Australia will maintain a strong and fruitful relationship with Britain and also an independent Scotland, should there be one.”

Was that so hard?

07 August, 2014

Addressing the issue

There are many articles about the government’s new plan to force ISPs to collect and retain customers’ activity data written by people far smarter than me.  One that I particular recommend is by Geordie Guy here: You want my metadata, George Brandis? Get a warrant.

The government insists it is “only” collecting metadata, which Tony Abbott says is like the address on the front of an envelope.  Attorney General George Brandis repeated the analogy in a truly cringeworthy interview where he insisted that recording the “electronic address” of a website in no way reveals the content of that website.

To choose an analogy close to Senator Brandis’ heart, that’s like saying an ISBN doesn’t tell you the title, author, subject and edition of a book.

Mind you, the address on a letter, while still being a grossly misleading over-simplification, is perhaps more apt than Abbott and Brandis realise – and not in any way that supports their case.

We all have Google Street View. Give me a random address on an envelope and within two minutes, I’ll show you a picture of the house.

From that picture, we can begin to build a profile of the resident. We can get an idea of their socio-economic status; their habits, like how often they weed the garden; whether they have the curtains open at a particular time of day; what type of car they drive…  It’s not innocuous information. It tells you a lot, and more than it used to.

And if metadata didn’t contain any meaningful, identifiable information, why would anyone want to have it?

There is no doubt we are being governed by luddites.  A perennial question of mine when it comes to idiotic policy is: Are they stupid, or do they think we’re stupid?  This is one case where I’m certain of the answer, and it’s both.  They are stupid and they think we’re just as stupid as they are.

Kirribilli House earlier this year

Playing the platitudes
I heard a grab of Bill Shorten speaking at the MH17 memorial today saying, “Remember not how they died but how they lived.”

I know that a memorial should be as much a celebration of life as mourning death, and I know that’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to say at memorials, but this is really disingenuous.  As if we would be remembering these people in this way if not for how they died.  I’m sure they were all lovely people and I have the greatest sympathy for all their friends and families, but the truth is that we would not be honouring them this way if they had died differently, separately and at different times.

Yes, we should remember them for how they lived but that’s not why we’re remembering them.  Let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that we’re remembering them as victims of an atrocity.

04 July, 2014

Tony Abbott wins efficiency dividend

This is the article that’s all over social media this morning.

You have to hand it to Tony Abbott; it must take a special kind of talent to pack so much wrongness into such a small space.

According to the report, he quickly corrected himself to say “scarcely settled,” which was probably the best attempt he could make at digging up.

He then shot himself in the other foot by trying to frame British settlement as foreign investment. Well, if arriving on Australian shores uninvited equates to foreign investment, why are we sending refugees home? After all, the convicts who were sent to Australia in the 19th century would have been hanged if they didn’t leave or tried to go back.

In fairness to Mr Abbott, Mark Sawyer argued last month that it’s not actually racism if it could otherwise be described as bog standard stupidity. Leaving aside the fact the one doesn’t negate the other, let’s give the the Prime Minister who brought Indigenous Affairs into his own office the benefit of the doubt that his comment was merely stupid and/or ignorant, and not actually racist.

No, you have to look at the preceding comment, which has had less attention, to find clear, overt racism:
“if I want to sell my place [then] foreign investment might make sense, but if my neighbour wants to sell his place [then] foreign investment might be the last thing we want”.

In other words, we don’t like foreigners but we sure like their money.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tony Abbott, Rhodes Scholar.

29 June, 2014

Another day at the office

In a doorstop press conference outside the Liberal Federal Council meeting yesterday, the minister for obfuscation immigration Scott Morrison denied any asylum seeker boats had arrived this week adding that the department only comments on “significant” events.

He then fell back on a disgracefully glib line that he’s been trying out for a while now: “This is another day at the office for Operation Sovereign Borders.”

I don’t think “Another day at the office,” means what Mr Morrison thinks it means.

He is using the phrase to effectively say, “Move along, nothing to see here,” and saying in as many words that nothing significant has happened. So we’re expected to believe that another day at the office involves sitting back in quiet satisfaction of what a good job one is doing.

A day at the office when nothing significant happens is a wasted day. I would have thought the party of enterprise, productivity and “real action” would understand that.

Alternatively, as the party of savings and efficiency, if there’s nothing “significant” going on in the department from day to day, the department should be abolished, the minister redeployed to a position befitting his talents, and the savings put back into helping the most vulnerable in society.

18 June, 2014

An excellent idea

I saw this retweeted into my stream yesterday morning:

Most of the comments I saw were mocking the notion of having a specially designated area for the exercise of constitutional rights, but I think this is a brilliant idea. In fact, I think it should be extended.

It would make things so much easier for everyone if all public spaces had areas reserved for the expression of constitutional rights. Every shopping mall could have a not-being-tried-for-the-same-offence-twice corner. Each park can have a bench reserved for those who don’t quarter soldiers in any house without the consent of the owner, while neither encouraging, discouraging nor endorsing such behaviour.

Obviously the best use of such areas would be for the second amendment.  For example, Chipotle could have a special table reserved for those who wish to exercise rights protected by the second amendment without terrorising the rest of the diners. Target could have a special second amendment department so that shoppers could rest assured that everyone there is a good guy with a gun because their paperwork checked out after they submitted their applications. It’s perfect!

I don’t know why someone hadn’t thought of it before.

16 June, 2014

Relax; this is not a Christian government

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me
 - Matthew 25:40

In the lead-up to the last election campaign – which is to say, ever since before the 2010 election campaign – a common criticism of Tony Abbott and much of his front bench centred around the fact that they are apparently devout Christians and many are specifically Catholic. In the rich seam of things to be critical of the Abbott cabinet for, it’s a fairly minor detail. It was, and is, cited most by the kinds of people who get an instant hate-boner at the mention of anything resembling faith. The fear was that they would not be able to separate their religion from how they manage government. I think we can safely say now that the government has absolutely no problem keeping their Christianity out of how they conduct the affairs of the nation.

Before going any further, it’s only fair to state where I’m coming from and my credentials for saying this. I’m a Catholic too. “Lapsed,” is probably too strong a word, but suffice to say our parish priest (who is a lovely person, you’d like him) might recognise my face from the funerals I’ve attended this year but wouldn’t remember my name. I was brought up Catholic and still identify as Catholic. This is why I say with confidence that the policies expressed by Tony Abbott in opposition bore no resemblance to anything I was ever taught, and in government, even less so.

Government policy should never be based on religious doctrine but I honestly wouldn’t mind if the government were a bit more Christian. By that, I mean Christian in deed, not in dogma. Some of the most Christian people I know are atheists, and that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with reciting The Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of parliamentary sittings. I have more of a problem with the way members, especially those who believe, ignore their vow to be humble, to advance the true welfare of the people of Australia, and to forgive those who trespass against us, immediately after they dutifully say Amen.

There are many examples of how this government doesn’t remotely reflect any genuine Christian principles but for reasons of space and time, I will limit this piece to three, which will eventually bring us up to last week.

Firstly, and most obviously, there is the way we treat asylum seekers.
The last time Tony Abbott appeared on Q and A, which was months before the 2010 election, he was asked in as many words, What would Jesus do when it came to asylum seekers? Mr Abbott’s now famous response was, “Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean, Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

To anyone with the slightest hint of Christian training, this response is clearly the rambling of an idiot clutching at straws. Matthew 25:40, and the preceding verses if you care to look them up, clearly tell us that whatever we do for our fellow people, however lowly they may be in any way, we do for Christ. Therefore, it makes no difference if they are “genuine” refugees or indeed “queue jumpers.” If you’re a Christian, then what you do to them, you do to Jesus – Himself, a refugee. Would Mr Abbott or his fellow Christian, immigration minister Scott Morrison lock Jesus up on Manus Island? They probably wouldn’t if they knew it was Him, but if you follow Christian teachings, then they already have.

My next example is the view of many in the government that penalty rates be abolished. The reasoning behind this suggestion is that we have a 24/7 economy now and paying people extra on weekends is a relic of a bygone age. It’s a fair argument to make if you want to look at it that way. But I distinctly remember being told that same-sex marriage would go against Australia’s Judeo-Christian (whatever that means) heritage.

The Bible has a lot more to say about the Sabbath than it does about who can and can’t marry. The fourth Commandment is: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. The only part of the Bible to make a slight reference to homosexuality also forbids the wearing of dissimilar fibres. That would count out anyone who has ever worn a silk tie with a cotton shirt and wool blend suit – in other words, probably everyone who has ever sat in parliament. Even non-religious MPs on both sides of politics have cited this vague notion of a Judeo-Christian heritage as an argument against marriage equality. I believe this is mostly a way of trying to intellectualise the fact that they don’t like poofters, or want to be liked by people who don’t like poofters.

Secular society has adopted the idea of an institutionalised day of rest, to spend with loved-ones, far more than it has adopted any specific form of marriage, “traditional” or otherwise. Yet, when it comes to additional compensation for giving up this day of rest, those who claim to have Christian values turn around and say, “Bugger the Sabbath, stop living in the past. A day’s work is a day’s work and you should be grateful to have it.” Am I the only one who finds these positions somewhat contradictory?

Of course, there’s always some cognitive dissonance in politics and this is already plenty for the government to be able to say it is developing policy for its constituents (whoever they may be) ahead of their own professed faith.

For me, the final straw came with Treasurer Joe Hockey’s address to The Sydney Institute last week. Firstly, responding to criticism that the budget is unfair to the poor with a speech to a right wing think tank funded by business interests probably says it all about who you’re really governing for.

On the issue of fairness, Mr Hockey said:
This year the Australian government will spend on average over $6,000 on welfare for every man, woman and child in the country. Given that only around 45 per cent of the population pays income tax, the average taxpayer must pay more than twice this amount in tax to fund welfare expenditure.

In other words the average working Australian, be they a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher, is working over one month full time each year just to pay for the welfare of another Australian.

Is this fair?
It’s clear from his tone that Mr Hockey thinks it isn’t. And that’s fair enough, in isolation.

Some Christian denominations, although not Catholicism specifically, encourage people to donate 10% of their income to charity. Others actually require it. This government, however, not only resents making a less than 8.5% contribution to those less fortunate, it thinks you should too.

It’s clear there was never any risk of this government embedding any kind of Christianity into its agenda. The only kind of theocracy they are moving towards is a kind of right-wing social Darwinism beloved of those who never got over their Ayn Rand phase.

Mr Hockey, if you and your cabinet colleagues begrudge less than ten percent of your work going to help those who need it, that’s your prerogative, and you are entitled to argue your case by any and all means available to you. 
But please stop calling yourselves Christians.