23 August, 2021

Stories my father told me

Perhaps I’m getting old. After all, this will almost certainly be the last thing I write as an under-50. But one of the many unexpected consequences of the ongoing pandemic is it’s finally made me grateful for my father’s stories of hardship and deprivation growing up in the 1940s.

Like the times he would be upset about one of his pet rabbits running away, but at least there was a decent stew for dinner that night. Or the time my grandmother was almost arrested for having a tiny hole in the sheet of iron they covered the window with during blackout. And the guilt he later felt for constantly asking her when Uncle Bill would be coming home and not understanding that the answer was, Never.

Knowing what I know now about trauma, I feel terrible for internally rolling my eyes and thinking ‘Here he goes again,’ when the topics came up.

So what’s this got to do with a pandemic eighty years later?
Perspective. That’s what.

Hearing these stories from an early age, sometimes to the point of cliché, might possibly be the reason I have very little sympathy with anti-lockdown sentiment.

It’s not a stretch to take some of the bad-faith arguments against lockdowns and apply them to wartime efforts.

“The government is telling us what we can eat, what we can spend our money on, how much fuel we can use, what we can write in letters and even when we can have the lights on. They tell us this is to defend our freedom but they’ve already taken all our freedom away. This is already a dictatorship. The question is how long we’re prepared to stand for being treated like this by our own representatives before we just learn to live with a foreign occupation.”

The answer of course was, As long as it takes. And no-one in their right mind would suggest it wasn’t the right thing to do.

Then there are those who don’t deny the risk of letting the virus spread but ask whether life is even worth living without being able to go to the footy, have pint of craft IPA after work, or go out for a smashed avocado brunch. That would be the same smashed avo which in the pre-pandemic times, some claimed was the reason young people can’t afford a house. Turns out it was actually an essential service and a pillar of the economy.

The question of a life worth living is one I would be interested to ask the great uncle I’m named after. It’s not for me to say, but in the scheme of things I suspect he wouldn’t mind spending a few months or even a few years stuck at home without being able to go to the gym or the mall. We’ll never know because he was killed in New Guinea at the age of 23.

He shouldn’t have been there. As a conscript, he couldn’t be sent overseas but he volunteered on the promise of having better opportunies when he came home. He bet his life on a better future and lost. Even then, he should have been on leave at the time but had traded with a mate. A life worth living?

None of this is to minimise the very real trauma people are experiencing over lockdown. My wife is from the US. She hasn’t seen her parents in nearly four years and there’s no chance of that changing any time soon. If she goes to visit them, there’s a serious possibility she won’t be allowed back into Australia. Even so, she is considering it because they are not getting any younger. It’s a terrible choice to have to make.

Any interruption to life as you know it, or expect it to be, is traumatic. Even the ones which used to be tagged #FirstWorldProblems. No-one will come out of COVID unscathed and knowing that you’re not living through a war is of no real comfort.

What can be of comfort is practicing gratitude. Today, I’m grateful for the Afghan refugees I work with, and for the stories Dad would bore me with so often. Both offer some perspective.
   
 

 

27 June, 2021

I’ve had a gutful of Pauline Hanson

Rupert Murdoch’s main New South Wales masthead The Daily Terrorgraph published yet another puff piece with “controversial pollie” Pauline Hanson last Saturday. The headline promises she will speak to the media, again, about how terribly she has been treated by [checks notes] the media.


In other words, it’s just another weekend after 1996.

I haven’t read the piece. Why bother? She probably hasn’t. The headline and promotion tells you all you need to know. It will just be the usual slurry of denying she’s racist, whining about her treatment in the media, something about her love life (EEW! I cannot describe how little I care!), and an added splash of conspiracy theories – she has been flirting with anti-vaxxers since long before COVID. Nothing new.

There are plenty of coherent, fact-based arguments to rebut Poorlean’s outbursts but we all know that’s a fool’s errand. So I’m going to address Hanson in her own language.

Pauline, I’ve had a gutful! You’ve done nothing but whinge and moan for 25 years and I’m bloody sick of it.

Don’t give me any of this rubbish about it being because you’re white, or because you’re a woman, or a redhead, or a single mother, or from Queensland, or conservative or whatever. That’s got nothing to do with it. You’ve been given every opportunity for a successful career in this great country and if you’re still not happy, well you’ve got no-one to blame but yourself.

Yes, I’m a left-leaning (in the same way Malcolm Fraser was considered left-leaning), progressive Uhstrayan. And I’m sick to death of people like you blaming people like me for all your problems. How about taking some personal responsibility for once in your life? How about you stop looking for someone to blame, and start looking at how you can better yourself.

You were young and naïve once but if you can’t learn from your mistakes then stop expecting ordinree Straylans to do it for you. You’ve allowed yourself to be used by a bunch of spivs and carpetbaggers from John Pasquarelli, to David Oldfield and David Ettridge, to James Ashby, to Malcolm Roberts, to Fraser Anning, to Mark Latham.

It’s not my job to rescue you from your own bad decisions. Ornee hardworking Strines shouldn’t have to change just to make you feel comfortable.

You have (allegedly) just reached retirement age so go ahead and quit if it’s all too horrible for you. If that sounds too dull, you could open a B&B&B (bed, breakfast and bullshit) for other people who think everything was better before they started letting women in pubs.

Go and live in England if you hate Straya so much. This is the greatest country in the world and if all you can do is complain about it, then it’s high time you buggered off back to where you came from.
   
 
 



26 March, 2021

It’s even worse than we thought

I really don’t want to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist, but let’s put a few of this week’s clues together…

This week, we had the revelation that coalition staffers had a Facebook group where they posted photos of themselves masturbating and ejaculating onto the desks of female MPs. We also learned that other staffers used the parliament house prayer room for sex.

Under normal circumstances, it would be one of the most sickening things anyone working in parliament house could be accused of. But this is 2021, where a staffer has already been accused of raping another staffer in a ministerial office. Also a senior minister, later revealed to be attorney general Christian Porter, has been the subject of historical rape allegations.

It’s enough to make the idea of the former deputy prime minister, who had previously campaigned against same-sex marriage on the grounds of maintaining the sanctity of marriage, getting his media advisor pregnant and leaving his family for her seem quaint by comparison.

The story about the desk defiling and prayer room sex was broken by Peter Van Onselen. That would be the same Peter Van Onselen who is a close personal friend of Christian Porter. The same Peter Van Onselen who, having declared his conflict of interests in speaking on the Porter issue, continued to do so, long and loud, at every opportunity.

Curiously, unlike the rape allegations, the prime minister and his government were quick off the mark to denounce this latest behaviour.

Then a couple of days later, one of the Liberal party’s chief propagandists Peta Credlin used one of the Liberal party’s chief propaganda outlets Sky News to double down. She now alleges both staffers and MPs past and present hired sex workers for “gay orgies” during her time as chief of staff to the prime minister, and has only decided to talk about it now.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking, B2?

If this is the size of the dead cat they’re willing to throw on the table to distract from allegations of rape and cover-ups, things must be far worse than we think.
   
 



24 February, 2021

Trickle UP Economics

The government’s announcement that it will finally raise JobSeeker by $50 per fortnight, or $3.57 a day has been rightly criticised as being insultingly small. It continues the notion that unemployment is a personal failing which must be punished by living below the poverty line, without even the resources to find a job.

The myth of the dole-bludger has been pushed for as long as I can remember. People who are paid more in a month than you or I am in a year, keep telling us if unemployment benefits are too “generous” it removes the incentive to work.

If life was really so easy on the dole, I’m pretty sure a lot more people would be doing it. And at the front of the line would be the columnists, shock jocks and television talking heads who have been fomenting dislike and distrust of the unemployed for more than a generation. You don’t think these people do their jobs out of a heightened work ethic and sense of community service do you? No, they do it because it pays well. Bloody well!

And how hard can it be to sit on your arse in a studio talking out your armpit for a few hours a day about what you read in the papers that morning? And if you start to run out of puff, you can let the audience do the work for you by going to the call-in lines – provided your staff who do the real work have screened the callers to make sure they don’t call you out on your bullshit. Hell, I’d do that if I could. (Singo, call me!) As Robert Mitchum said of his profession, it sure beats working!

Meanwhile, the government continues to trot out the line that the best form of welfare is a job. It’s a fair point on face value, but it’s hard to believe they’re genuine about it when the best way to create jobs is to raise JobSeeker above the poverty line.

You can file the rest of this column under “I’m not an economist but I’m a real person who’s been around, seen a thing or two, and I’m not an idiot.”

Jobs are created by demand. Demand is created by spending power.

When the wealthy get a bit more money, they pocket it.
When the middle class get a bit more money, they might buy something nice or pay down debt.
When the poor get a bit more money, they spend it.

Those who hate the unemployed will follow up with the furphy that jobless people, being lesser beings not to be trusted with their own money, will spend it on The Wrong Things. This idea is not just ignorant and insulting, but also utterly irrelevant.

If you don’t believe the unemployed deserve to live dignified lives, that’s one thing, but let’s say for a moment that people on a fair JobSeeker rate don’t spend the entire difference on gaining employment.

Maybe some of them will spend it on decent cigarettes instead of black market chop-chop. That means three quarters of it will go back in tax revenue. Maybe some will buy a slab instead of a six pack. Maybe some will buy some nice clothes – they might be able to afford clothes made in Australia. Maybe some of them will shout the kids fish and chips for tea. Maybe some of them will put an extra $20 worth of petrol in the car (if they have one) and drive to the beach for a change. Maybe some will, God forbid, buy themselves a soy latte when they meet friends at a café.

Do you get it yet? The point is it’s all going straight back into the economy. They’re increasing demand and creating jobs. And it would be a steady stimulus, not the sugar hit of helping businesses to bring forward once in a decade purchases.

Poor people don’t hoard money. They can’t. That’s what poor means. When they have some extra, they spend it. Spending stimulates the economy and creates jobs. That’s before we even mention the increased dignity and self-esteem, and reduced stress and anxiety which may help people find employment

This is not a bleeding-heart argument, it’s a rational economic one. If we are serious about creating jobs, the simplest and most direct way is to increase JobSeeker above the poverty line – because the economy trickles UP.
   
 


03 January, 2021

Trump loses poker face

In poker, as they say in the classics, every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser.

You can be holding a fist full of nothing but if you behave confidently and/or aggressively enough, you can convince a player with three kings that you’ve got a full house. To minimise losses, that player then folds, forfeiting the money they have already bet and saving you from having to show your worthless hand.

There is one hand that cannot be beaten – the royal flush. A player holding a royal flush cannot be bluffed because they know there is no better hand. However, the perfect hand can still be beaten by a pair of twos if the player holding the twos has more in the bank than the player with the royal flush.

If the pair of twos makes a bet higher than the royal flush can match, and refuses to take an IOU, unless the royal flush can raise a loan, they have to fold. This means the royal flush loses everything and the pair of twos looks like the better player.

This brings us to Donald Trump.

Trump has been holding a pair of twos all his life. The very few figures which have become public confirm that he is not nearly as wealthy as he wants everyone to believe. His sheer braggadocio is enough to convince enough people enough of the time. Trump doesn’t have the typical inscrutable poker face but he does have the master bluffing tactic of actually believing his own bullshit. He doesn’t have to pretend he isn’t lying because in his alternate reality, he isn’t.

For those who call his bluff, Trump’s go-to option is legal action. The cases would be laughed out of court if it ever got that far, but it’s litigation the defendants haven’t the time, inclination or money to fight. So they settle. Trump wins, keeps the money and doesn’t have to show his hand.

Some might suggest this makes Trump very clever, both as a businessman and a poker player. However, I don’t think even the most devout of free market libertarians would argue that this is the way a capitalist meritocracy is supposed to work.

Trump’s response to his election loss is identical to his lifelong methods – first bluff, then sue. What he evidently fails to understand though, is he is now dealing with people and institutions who cannot be bluffed, intimidated or outbid. The way he is acting like a cornered wild animal shows he has no idea of how to process this.

For the first time in his life, Trump is finally being forced to show his hand. And now the best that he can hope for is to die in his sleep.


01 January, 2021

Be the anthem

Australia has updated the lyrics of its national anthem to say “we are one and free,” instead of “we are young and free.” This is intended to reflect the fact Australia has always been home to the world’s oldest continuous culture rather than just being the “young” nation the song was originally intended to represent.

Many have criticised the change as a token one-word acknowledgement of Australia’s Indigenous people, and it undoubtedly is. Some have also suggested the anthem should be changed to better reflect Australia. While happy to check my white privilege, I respectfully suggest we go the other way. Wouldn’t it be nice if Australia reflected the anthem?

Any nation’s anthem is a brochure, a slogan, a postcard. If any country’s anthem were honest it would say, “Look, we’ve done some really bad shit but we’re trying to be better about it.” At best.

Anyone who has ever had a dog will be aware of the old saying, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” How about Australia be the country our anthem says we are?

If we HAD wealth for toil, if we SHARED our boundless plains with those who’ve come across the sea, if we CARED for nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare, if we WERE one (but many) and free… I’d like that.

03 December, 2020

Your opinion is irrelevant

The problem with lawyers is they think all laws are open to interpretation, including the laws of mathematics. They think they can always get the answer they want if they just ask the question the right way.

They are wrong.

74 million is less than 80 million.

74 million has always been less than 80 million.

74 million will always be less than 80 million.

There are no circumstances under which 74 million could ever be more than 80 million.

This is not opinion. These are objective facts. 

When an electoral system states that the candidate with the most votes wins, then the candidate who received 80 million votes beats the candidate who received 74 million votes.

If anyone would like to lecture me about the distinction between the popular vote and the electoral college vote, then I simply invite you to go back to the top, replace the number 74 million with the number 232, and the number 80 million with the number 306.

That’s the beauty of maths. It always works. Even a Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich (this is a real thing by the way) will not change the answer.

Your opinion is irrelevant. Your feelings are irrelevant. Whether you believe it, is irrelevant.

The problem with people disputing the result of the 2020 US presidential election is their argument boils down to nothing more than, “I don’t believe it.”

Lawyers prosecuting the case that Donald Trump won the election keep trying to change the question in such a way as to achieve an answer they are comfortable to believe. But no matter how they try to interpret the law, they will never make 232 add up to more than 306.

There have been many credible allegations of electoral fraud in US elections in the past, but not this year. Even Trump’s lapdog Bill Barr has been forced to admit the facts are not on his side. Facts don’t take sides. Facts are facts. People choose whether to side with the facts. This decision is of course irrelevant.

Many years ago, I was in an OHS course where one of the students kept wanting to argue the legislation with the trainer. At one point, when he said, “Well, I don’t agree,” for the umpteenth time, our trainer just gave up and said, “I don’t care whether you agree or not. I’m telling you how it is.”

Although the modern world has allowed many people to create their own realities, there is still such a thing as objective truth. You may agree or disagree with the second part of that statement but it doesn’t matter.

Facts are facts. Truth is truth. Your opinion is irrelevant.