The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'culture war'
LGBT+ Australians and their allies can breathe a cautious sigh of relief as one prolonged chapter of the national culture-war pantomime comes to a close, with 61.6% of Australians voting to legalise same-sex marriage. Sorry, did I say voting? It wasn't a referendum, or even a plebiscite, but a non-binding postal survey, whose sole purpose was for Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's Prime Minister to pander the alpha-males of the hard right, putting the human rights of part of the population to a survey and declaring a legal gay-bashing season, giving bigots carte blanche to gather their best arguments on why those people are disgusting and shouldn't be allowed, and shove them into every letterbox in the nation. LGBT mental-health help lines have, as expected, been busy.
Anyway, it turns out that most Australians are happy to let gay people marry. Which is to say, LGBT+ Australians can be somewhat reassured by knowing that, out of any five Australians they might see, statistically, more than three are happy for them to exist; which, one supposes, is progress. So now, a marriage equality bill will soon be debated in parliament. We can probably expect to see the LNP hard right, abetted by the Australian media's right-wing commentariat, use the fact that they have just under ²⁄₅ of the population opposed it to rationalise larding the bill with amendments effectively legalising all forms of discrimination and vilification against sexual minorities, as long as it comes from religious belief or deeply-felt visceral disgust. Hopefully, such amendments will get smacked down, as moderate Tories vote them down or abstain, though this is complicated by the fact that the electorates which returned majority results against marriage equality were predominantly Labor electorates with large ethnic-minority populations; and while this might not put them within easy reach of the (right-of-centre, big-business-oriented) Liberal Party, its more reactionary/traditionalist offshoot, the Australian Conservatives, not to mention the handful of religious fringe parties that cluster around the bottom end of Senate results, may be salivating at the prospect.
It is a good thing that the campaign is over, and that (hopefully) this issue will be sorted before the end of the year (after which, Australia may, slowly and painfully, have entered the civilised world where centre-right parties have realised that they have more to gain from affluent, established gay couples who can be persuaded that they should pay less tax than from a handful of burned-over religious zealots and the embittered and fearful). However, that is not the same as saying that this is a good result. For one, the legitimacy of a survey into whether a minority should be given fundamental human rights is, to say the least, deeply questionable. (Imagine, if you will, a survey on whether women should be allowed to own property in their own names, or if non-white people should be considered to be human for legal purposes.) Human rights should not be a matter of public opinion, and, if this has demonstrated anything, making them such serves only to embolden bigots.
Beyond the impact on the question, this episode may have other consequences. For one, the highly unorthodox way it was organised may have set a problematic precedent. Not being an election, a referendum or a plebiscite, the survey was not organised by the Australian Electoral Commission; instead, the Bureau of Statistics, until now a quiet, apolitical bureaucracy concerned with gathering data and tabulating it, was transformed by fiat into a parallel electoral commission, only without the responsibilities of one. From this, it is not hard to see it being used as a political football, and made to trot out an endless succession of surveys designed to bolster populist arguments and beat up on scapegoats. (Perhaps some year, to get One Nation's support at passing something in the Senate, there'll be an official ABS postal survey on whether Muslims should be allowed to enter Australia, and a 30% “no” result will be used to legislate for a ban on the sale of halal snack packs to under-18s, or something similarly idiotic?)
Secondly, and more immediately, in agreeing to this exercise, Turnbull may have inadvertently doomed his own party to losing the next election. While they have been polling badly recently, they have a history of scraping through with narrow victories. However, one thing that a
referendum plebiscite survey on whether gay people should have human rights has achieved is a record surge of younger Australians, who vote predominantly left-of-centre, registering to vote. Many of these young people will be living with their parents, in marginal LNP seats, what with the traditionally left-leaning inner cities becoming unaffordable; when the next election comes around, they will vote. The LNP has reasons to be nervous about this, and the ALP probably shouldn't sleep too easily, given how poorly its rightward triangulation on various policies (particularly Australia's harsh deterrence policies against refugees) plays with younger voters.
Australia's ongoing, rolling culture war has recently converged on the idea of gender and sexual orientation; this is perhaps inevitable, after the previous iteration of the country's conservative (“Liberal”) government used the threat of gay people being able to marry as a political football, and committed the country to a vaguely-defined plebiscite at some time in the future on how much of that sort of thing should be acceptable (possible question: “Do you hate poofters: ☐ Yes ☐ Maybe a little ☐ No, but they make me uncomfortable ☐ They're OK as long as they don't hold hands in public or anything ☐ Not at all, I live in Newtown/Brunswick"). In the Liberals' defence, the country needs a scapegoat to unite against, and with death-cult Islamist jihadists being a bit thin on the ground there and the public starting to feel awkward about sending babies to gulags, it'll have to be the gays, and the transgendered people, and boys who wear their hair long, and girls who play football, and trendy-lefty parents who let their daughters play football and their sons play with dolls, and other such deviants and transgressives.
Now the culture war has moved into the schools, with the Liberals' new “moderate” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordering a review of an anti-bullying initiative after MP Cory Bernardi (a star of the Liberals' Putinist wing, who had previously compared homosexuality to bestiality) raised concerns that the program, by teaching that non-heterosexual/non-cisgendered identities exist and are valid, “indoctrinates kids with Marxist cultural relativism”. (Bernardi was referring to the trope of “Cultural Marxism”, emerging from a McCarthy-era anti-Semitic dog whistle, once confined to badly laid-out flyers from the swivel-eyed fringe of the far right, but now gaining mainstream acceptance, not least of all in Rupert Murdoch's Australian flagship, The Australian.)
The programme Bernardi is attacking, Safe Schools, was brought in by the previous Labor government in response to the plight of LGBTI teenagers in an environment where being anything other than heterosexual and cisgendered was to be a legitimate target; the result of this is that LGBTI kids in Australia are six times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. And anti-gay bullying is not an isolated phenomenon in today's Australia: domestic violence is rampant, and heterosexual gender relations are defined by an almost Victorian paradigm of male forcefulness versus female resistance, where women who let on to enjoying sex on their own terms are “sluts” who “deserve what they get”. Australia has a long way to go, and it's not clear which direction it's heading in.
Anyway, it looks like Australia will now have an inquiry into this programme, and whether the poofters have it too good in Australia. At best, it'll turn out like the inquiry into “wind turbine syndrome” (a peculiar culture-bound syndrome affecting only conservative Australians), pissing taxpayers' money up a wall to come to the conclusion that, no, the Communists aren't
fluoridating the water supply trying to turn our kids gay (replete with exhaustive references to writings about the Frankfurt School of Marxist thought, carefully checked for proof of a conspiracy; in other news, it's probably a good time to be a German translator in Canberra). Though there's a real risk that it will result in changes such as bans on references to sexual orientation or gender identity, reducing the programme to a “bullying is bad, okay” motherhood statement, and once again allowing open season on gay kids (or those perceived, in the sadistic logic of the schoolyard, to be “gay”, an epithet having as much connection to sexuality as “Cultural Marxism” has to the writings of Karl Marx). Though one person's bullying is another person's “community-minded citizens' enforcement of shared cultural values” or something, and only a dirty commie would want to get rid of that.
Meanwhile in Newtown, one of the pockets of a bizarro-world progressive Australia, a school has allowed students to wear the uniforms of either sex without seeking permission to do so, much to the condemnation of religious bigots. I wonder how long it will be until the Christian Fundamentalist-dominated Baird government (which has recently strangled Sydney's nightlife with onerous regulation) tables a law mandating distinct male and female uniforms in all New South Wales schools.
The results of Eurovision 2014 are in, and, as reported here, the big winner was Austria's Conchita Wurst, a bearded drag performer, with a resolute and melodramatic torch song titled Rise Like A Phoenix. Wurst (whose real name is Tom Neuwirth) won a runaway victory, with 290 points and a string of 12s, including ones from countries who might otherwise haver found a bearded drag performer too transgressive. The runner-up was the Netherlands, 52 points behind with a rather nice piece of slow-burning Americana.
2014 was arguably the most geopolitically charged Eurovision Song Contest in years, if not decades; the kitschy music equivalent of the World Chess Championship of 1972, in that, within its formalised, tightly circumscribed arena, the tensions of an active geopolitical fault line manifested themselves. As back then, the fault line was between the West and Russia, only the ideologies and alignments were different.
One thing that was evident was a collapse of Russia's public image at Eurovision; no longer were they another country in friendly competition; they were the enemy, the face of oppression. Their performers (two teenaged girls who, to be fair, probably had little to do with the invasion of Crimea or anti-gay laws) were booed, as was their announcer during the voting, or the few instances of other countries, mostly former Soviet satellite states, giving Russia douze points. Also telling were the low scores which Russia got; whereas in the past, states bordering Russia or containing large Russian-speaking populations (as most former Soviet republics did, thanks to Stalin's population transfer programmes) could be counted on to give Mother Russia a solid vote, this largely seemed to collapse. This seems to support reports of a schism between ethnic Russian minorities in countries such as the Baltic states and the state of Russia, with many Russian-speaking citizens of other countries deciding that their feelings for their linguistic homeland don't translate into loyalty to an aggressive authoritarian regime.
An obvious proximate cause of this collapse was the Ukrainian crisis; within days of the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia annexing the Crimea and making threatening noises at the rest of Ukraine (and some to say Finland, the Baltic States or even Alaska may be next in the hungry Red Bear's sight). Finally, the half-hearted pretence that Russia was a democracy (albeit a managed one, like, you know, Singapore or someone) and a member in good standing of the community of peaceful, cooperative nations was discarded for good, and a more brutal, Hobbesian order asserted itself for all to see. And no longer shackled by the need to feign liberalism or tolerance, Russia has been moving as rapidly at home as it has abroad; just this week, a law requiring bloggers to register with the government has been passed.
Russia's anti-gay laws, and the tacitly state-sanctioned persecution of gay Russians by vigilante groups had already been on the radar, particularly in the context of Eurovision (which, whilst not specifically a gay event, has always had a strong gay following, because camp). The disproportionately harsh prosecution of Pussy Riot, whilst attracting less criticism in more conservative countries, didn't do Russia any favours either, and the gradual closing down of opposition media and occasional unsolved murders of journalists did not make for an optimistic mood. Recently, these elements have been converging to form an image not of a country struggling with democracy and pluralism, but one governed by an ideology which holds these ideas in contempt as signs of weakness, a country where closing itself off against the outside world. The ideology of Putin's Russia is what they call the Russkaya ideya (Russian Idea), or sometimes “Eurasianism” or “National Bolshevism”; explicitly anti-liberal, mystical rather than rationalistic, strongly authoritarian and hostile to foreign influences. The ideology is new, though it is synthesised from a strain of absolutism that has existed in Russia, in one form or another, since the time of the Czars: the State being at the centre of things (the “unique state-government civilisation” that is Russia, according to its ideologues), and all power flowing from it. Even the Russian Orthodox Church, with its enhanced influence in the new order, is subordinate to the state; in Russia, God serves the Czar.
It is not clear whether, had Russia kept its troops within its borders, paid lip service to liberalism and pluralism and not said anything about gays and “traditional values”, Conchita Wurst would have won, certainly by such a large margin; her song was good, in a Bond-theme sort of way, but not overwhelmingly superior to everything else. The Netherlands' entry (which came second), for example, was quite good, and there was a sentimental case for giving the gong to Sweden, it being the 40th anniversary of ABBA winning and all. (Sweden's entry was in the good-but-not-memorable Eurovision standard basket, which, geopolitics notwithstanding, might well have sufficed.) Undoubtedly some of the douze points Austria got were a vote not so much for the music but for what it represented and, perhaps more importantly, against what an endorsement of it represented a rejection of.
With liberalism as anathema to this new cult of Holy Russia, Eurovision has been in its sights for a while; Russian legislators have condemned it since last year, and there are calls to set up a rival one, one with firmly enforced “traditional values”. (This wouldn't be the first time something similar happened; during the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact countries briefly attempted to run a song contest to rival Eurovision; it was held in Poland, and was by all accounts a ramshackle affair. Interestingly, neutral Finland participated in both Eurovision and it.) In any case, Conchita Wurst's resounding victory will probably do little to calm the situation, but is likely to embolden those in Russia calling for restrictions on such foreign imports. (Their proposed solution, to omit the offending song in Russia, would be forbidden under EBU rules; some years ago, Lebanon ended up dropping out of Eurovision because the rules did not permit it to ban its citizens from voting for Israel.) It would be unsurprising if Russia (and perhaps some politically dependent states like Belarus) are notably absent from next year's contest, and the new cultural iron curtain becomes slightly more opaque.
Another interesting consequence may be that of Russia ending up owning a certain type of reactionary conservatism, making it less palatable abroad, and forcing conservatives in eastern Europe to choose between siding with the Great Bear across the border or siding with the gays and feminists within their own borders, establishing a geopolitical schism much like the Cold War one, only this time with elements of the Right rather than the Left being beholden to Moscow. We are already seeing admiration for Putin from the envious beta-males of the populist Right, from UKIP in Britain to teabaggers in America; if Russia succeeds in establishing a “Conservative International“ (along the lines of Stalin's Comintern) and drawing like-minded reactionaries and authoritarians abroad into its orbit, we may soon see Alexander Dugin's books on Eurasianism (in English translation, from a state-run publishing house in Moscow) alongside the Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises and Bill O'Reilly that fill the reading lists of the right-wing fringe.
The Australian government announced it is scrapping a section of the Racial Discrimination Act which had been added by the Keating government in 1995; coincidentally, the one under which right-wing demagogue Andrew Bolt was successfully prosecuted for insinuating that fair-skinned Aborigines were liars and benefits cheats. In defending the government's about-face on this issue, the Attorney-General declared that "people have the right to be bigots". And while the government is, of course, firmly opposed to racism, the dog-whistle is that, as a nation, we're perfectly relaxed and comfortable with a spot of casual racism between mates, as long as it doesn't escalate into a public order offence or anything.
As if to top that, a day later, PM Tony Abbott announced that Australia will be bringing back imperial honours, with those honoured being given the title Sir or Dame (based on biological gender, of course; there will be no funny buggers in Abbott's Australia), overturning one of the Whitlam government's key symbolic achievements; back-handedly, the first recipient was the immediately outgoing, and staunchly republican, governor-general, Quentin Bryce, who is hardly in a position to decline. It's not clear who will be next in line for honours, though there probably won't be a Sir Rupert Murdoch, given that he renounced his citizenship. It may well be that the editorial conference of The Australian will look like the court of Camelot by the time of the next election.
So there we have it; an Australia where the sentiment "haters gonna hate" is actually enshrined in law, and the respect Australians were once obliged to show to those from different backgrounds can now go to their social superiors.
On one level, this looks like a planting of the LNP's unapologetically conservative flag, and a slamming of the Overton window hard to the right; on another level, it seems almost calculated to create a lot of smoke. Which makes me wonder: is this a prologue to more substantial conservative legislation (perhaps a ban on abortion, the privatisation of the ABC, tougher censorship laws or something), or a distraction from something that's decidedly not culture-war red-meat and would give the Silent Majority of (Occasionally Casually Racist But In A Mately And Acceptable Way) Suburban Battlers little to celebrate? Like, say, harsh industrial-relations laws to go with the symbolic feudalism in the imperial honours system?
An article looking at the hypermasculine, testosterone-pumped vocabulary of Australian politics today, in the post-uppity-sheila age:
This past week, such figurative phalluses have been flying with particular prominence, with Tony Abbott suggesting that you don’t want a wimp running border protection (it is uncertain what that says about defence minister David Johnston), The Australian asking its readers to judge who is the “better man” between General Angus Campbell and Senator Stephen Conroy, and Conroy being accused of not being able to “man up” and apologise to Campbell for accusations of a cover up.
There is an element of conservative thinking that joins these dots. Professor of cognitive linguistics George Lakoff talks about the fundamental underpinnings of what he loosely defines as “conservative” and “progressive” mindsets. The conservative mindset is framed by the “strict father” model of thinking - that children learn through reward and punishment, and that the parent, particularly the father, is meant to mete out these. The idea of male, fatherly competence is central to this system of thought. It goes to the larger sense of the man as the strict, authoritative father figure, the competent provider. It goes to “adults” being “in charge”, being “fiscally responsible” and having “operations” rather than “policies”.
Manliness is no longer necessarily stoic and stolid, it must also be virile and athletic, preferably with explosions. Thus, when a naval error occurs near Indonesia, it’s a “missed tackle”, it’s why the process of dealing with desperate refugees becomes Operation Sovereign Borders, which couldn’t possibly be run by a wimp. It’s why the Abbott election pitch was all about “real action”, and the response to climate change is all about “direct action”. It is why, when a young kid gets whacked in front of a nightspot, it’s a “coward punch”, somehow implying that to punch someone square in the face is an ennobling act for all concerned.(Earlier: Australia, the steroid-soaked neighbourhood bully of the Pacific.)
Meanwhile, Australia's shift to conservatism in gender roles has extended even to the realm of ceremonial anachronisms, as Australia is the only Commonwealth country which has not yet passed amendments to royal succession laws favouring male heirs.
A piece in The Quietus about the rise of the “trollitician”, a type of gleefully objectionable right-wing populist whose shtick is that the “silent majority”—middle-aged straight white men, Christians, motorists, smokers, whatever—are now being oppressed by an all-powerful alien hegemony (variously defined as “the trendy Left”, “political correctness”, “health and safety” or “Cultural Marxism”) which is denying their God-given rights as straight, affluent white men, from smoking in the pub to spanking their children to slapping the secretary's bottom when she walks past or cracking racist jokes in public:
“Today, we throw off our chains. Today is the day that, finally, we can say 'no', and to mean 'no'. 'No' to speed cameras, 'no' to overgenerous maternity pay, 'no' to wheelchair ramps and to cushy holidays for juvenile delinquents! 'No' to trendy teachers and the Marxist curriculum! 'No' to new mosques and gay marriage and, especially, to gay marriage in new mosques! 'No' to endless apologising for the slave trade, and for the Empire: after all, everyone's been invaded at some point! And it was ages ago! 'No' to striking nurses and firemen, and 'no' to the union leaders who still – still, can you believe it? - have us by the balls! What's wrong with a bit of sodding common sense? Look, some of our best friends are black! If they can take a laugh and a joke, I don't know why that Owen Jones and Laurie Penny bloody can't. And we'll say 'yes', too. 'Yes' to the property ladder. 'Yes' to golf clubs, to kit cars and the neighbourhood watch! 'Yes' to new, better wedding vows: 'Do you take this fine piece of totty to be your lawfully wedded crumpet?' 'Yes' to the Royal Family – I'm not that bothered myself, but, let's face it, they bring the tourists in and older people like them. Think about it. Think about how happy they make your gran, you wouldn't want to take that away from her, would you? We'll celebrate the Best of British – Churchill and Brunel and Nelson. Dogged, determined, wouldn't take 'no' for an answer, cut through the red tape. Where's all that now? Where's tradition? Where's 'Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more'? What do we have instead? Communism! Great idea in theory, but it'd never work in practice; people are naturally competitive – Darwin proved this, but try telling that to the schools. All the kids ever hear these days is about how everything we've done is wrong. But it's stopping now. No more, we say, no more of this nonsense. Because today, Rugby Club Land dares to do more than whisper the word, and instead shouts it out loud, proud and British – 'INDEPENDENCE'.”
The altering of the dimensions of the argument is where the likes of Bloom become significant. Their work is twofold. On one hand, they consume the energies of the left through irritation: while we know what they're saying is essentially dumb and contradictory, we still feel obliged to respond (as I'm doing here). For conservatives – from the rabid right to the parish council – they serve to stoke a sense that it's the dominant sections of society (the white, the male, the heterosexual, the middle class) who are getting it in the neck. If one read nothing but the Daily Mail it would be easy enough to become convinced that Britain really was a country in which it was possible to be oppressed and persecuted for being a straight bloke with a Lexus. The new mythology states that the left are dictating the political sphere and, in doing so, hammering the "ordinary people in the rugby and cricket club."
Australia's community radio sector, facing the onerous costs of switching to digital radio, got a reprieve today, in the form of a $6M government funding package, passed in the last moments of the Gillard government's last parliament. The funding boost came after an earlier bill which left the stations several million dollars short, and following a campaign which attracted more than 43,000 signatories.
Which is just as well, because community radio cannot expect any sympathy from the incoming Abbott government; the best it could hope for is indifference, and the worst, active hostility. Community radio in Australia leans towards an urbane, university-educated and mostly left-leaning audience, all considered with deep suspicion by Liberal Party strategists and the predominantly right-wing commercial media; in the views of the Australian Right, it would be a nest of “un-Australian” opinions, such as empathy for refugees, support for depraved and immoral art, and anti-business sentiments verging on “Cultural Marxism” being part of the same neo-Whitlamite crypto-Communist conspiracy as the Greens. Indeed, its very existence outside of the purview of the Free Market is anathema; why should a bunch of latte-sipping trendies and subversive degenerates who don't share the values of the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers have a slice of the radio spectrum reserved for their esoteric interests, and protected by law from the democracy of market forces? Were community radio left to the Abbott government, any solution would probably look like a radical Thatcherite big-bang of deregulation, abolishing the distinction between community and commercial licences and “freeing up” community stations to sell advertising, enforce playlists mandated by advertisers, lose the uncommercial niche shows and chase the commercial mainstream, or just get bought up for their spectrum by existing radio networks. Such a move would, in the views of the Right, drain the stagnant pond of un-Australian opinion that has been fermenting in the inner cities since the Whitlam era, once and for all. (In fact, I wouldn't be too surprised if there had been an editorial in The Australian advocating that very course of action.)
More dispatches from Australia's culture war, where a raid on an art gallery, and pending charges of child pornography production against one of the artists, signal a new climate of rising censorship and a the return of a narrow-minded, provincial prudishness, now riding within the mainstream of the Liberal Party:
The opposition to Yore's work has been spearheaded by a group of local figures. Minutes from a City of Port Phillip council meeting on 28 May show that Chris Spillane, a Liberal party candidate for the council, "stated that while he hasn't seen the exhibition himself, from what he has heard about the exhibition it is offensive and pornographic in nature".
Spillane has previously claimed the council "wastes considerable sums of money" on projects that promote "socialism and multiculturalism". He has been supported in his stance against the Linden centre by councilor Andrew Bond, who called Yore's exhibition "complete smut", and by resident Adrian Jackson.As Australian historian Manning Clark (who himself has fallen posthumously out of favour in the new age of muscular conservatism, partly thanks to the Murdoch press's attempts to paint him as a Soviet agent of influence) said, Australian history has been a battle between the “enlargers” and the “straighteners” (a somewhat more nuanced paradigm than the “larrikin/wowser” nexus; after all, Australia has no shortage of rowdy, flag-draped xenophobes vigorously defending their freedom from the rules of decorum whilst attacking anything outside of their narrow view of what belongs in Australia). The straighteners were the wowsers, the provincial prudes and authoritarians, drawing the boundaries and punishing those who dare cross them, whereas the enlargers, the liberal-minded cosmopolitans, were those who aspired to push the boundaries back.
The enlargers were initially a minority but have had a home in the artistic and intellectual world of Australia's bohemian enclaves (as described by Tony Moore in Dancing with Empty Pockets) since the mid-19th century, gradually extended their influence as the nation's culture matured; this reached its peak during the great thaw, which began when the boundaries of the old conservatism, inherited from imperial administrators and shored up by the great patriarch of the Right, Menzies, broke, culminating in the sweeping in of the Whitlam government and a quarter-century of progressive change, creating the illusion of a forward-looking, broad-minded country. Now, after eleven years under the stern paternal gaze of arch-conservative John Howard and five more in an interregnum, governed by a Labor government keen to avoid breaking from the conservatism of the day and keeping the seat warm for the triumphant return of Howard's successor (Tony Abbott, a spiritual and cultural heir of Catholic ultraconservative Bob Santamaria), it becomes more apparent that that was an illusion; mere window-dressing over the small-minded authoritarianism of the penal colony and the military outpost of Empire. Leading the charge is a reinvigorated Liberal Party, having shed the ambiguity that its name suggests, sidelined progressive elements (such as deputy leader Malcolm Turnbull, who once led the push for Australia to abandon the monarchy) and firmly, unapologetically carrying the banner of a specifically Australian conservatism at all levels of government. Their Australia is a nation of God-fearing muscular soldier-sportsmen, standing proudly in the glow of imperial glories and singing in unison from the same hymn sheet, a nation in which there is no room for anything that is un-Australian, be it black-armband history, black-armband climatology, Godless Communism, uppity sheilas, uppity poofters or immoral or indecent art.
In the latest conflict between contemporary art and Australia's socially conservative morés, an artist is facing charges of producing child pornography after Victoria Police raided an exhibition and seized an installation titled Everything's Fucked, which allegedly depicted sexual acts with children's faces superimposed on them.
On Saturday Yore described the police seizure as "completely absurd". "The work, I feel, has been taken completely out of context because they're very small fragments of a collage of a much larger work that constitutes literally thousands of different objects I've found in society - basically junk I've been collecting,'' he said.If convicted, Paul Yore is likely to end up with a lengthy prison sentence (and one knows how much respect “rock spiders”—convicted paedophiles—get in Australian prisons) followed by life on the sex offenders' register. Possibly a better deal than Pussy Riot got in Russia, but not by much.
If the various tiers of Australian government are so keen to draw a firm line and authoritatively declare what is not allowed in our society, wouldn't it be cheaper for them to introduce a new series of arts grants, consisting of one-way tickets to, say, New York, Berlin or Amsterdam (or perhaps even New Zealand, which lacks the undercurrent of penal-colony authoritarianism that's never far from the surface in Australia), to be disbursed to potential troublemakers who have issues with our relaxed and comfortable way of life?
Nuke the whales for Jesus: In another example of how politically polarised the US culture war is, research from the US has shown that self-identified “conservatives” are less likely to buy lightbulbs labelled as energy efficient, for ideological reasons; i.e., because, even if such bulbs did save one electricity, buying them would be a treasonous endorsement of the liberals' world-view:
"Our results demonstrated that a choice that wasn't ideologically polarizing without a ("protect the environment") label became polarizing when we included that environmental labeling," Gromet said. "We saw a significant drop-off in conservative people choosing to buy a more expensive, energy-efficient option."
"So it makes that choice unattractive to some people even if they recognize that it may be a money-saving choice. When we asked afterward, those consumers identified the CFL bulbs as providing greater monetary savings over time. But they would forgo that option when that product was made to represent a value that was not something they wanted to be identified with." (See related: "Missing the Chance for Big Energy Savings.")
Recently, celebrity right-wing intellectual Niall Ferguson caused a stir when, during an investors' conference, he implied that economist John Maynard Keynes did not care about the future, on the grounds of being childless and gay. The comments seemed to have been an attempt to attribute Keynes' famous quote, “in the long run, we are all dead”, to an amoral nihilism that comes from neglecting one's duty to reproduce in favour of a decadent hedonism and aestheticism, and thus to tar Keynes' model of government borrowing and economic stimulus, popular amongst the left of the political spectrum but anathema to the neoliberal right, with the brush of this effete, degenerate nihilism:
Another reporter, Tom Kostigen of Financial Advisor, gave a longer account. Kostigen wrote that Ferguson had also made mention of the fact that Keynes had married a ballerina, despite his gay affairs. "Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of 'poetry' rather than procreated," Kostigen wrote. He added that the audience at the event went quiet when the remarks were uttered.Ferguson has apologised unreservedly for the remarks once they became public, calling them “stupid and tactless”; chances are that they've served their purpose as a dog whistle, and many of the sorts of people who see “Cultural Marxism” and decadent weakness all around them will agree wholeheartedly.
While Ferguson was rightly excoriated for the anti-gay tone of the remarks, there has been less comment on the other part of his statement, the assertion, still commonly held in many places, that childless people are selfish, amoral nihilists, who refuse to grow up and shoulder their responsibility:
There is, among many otherwise intelligent individuals, an assumption that those of us who make a positive choice to not reproduce are selfish, rootless and have no concern about future generations or the planet. But those who have their own children often forget about the world and just worry about their own ever shrinking one.
I have seen the most passionately committed feminist activists go gaga once they give birth. All the promises such as "I'll still come on that march/go to that conference/burn down that sex shop" disappear when they sprog. All those in my circle with offspring seem to become unhealthily obsessed with their own little world. Principles go out of the window ("I still hate the private education system/healthcare but I am not putting my politics before my children"), and socialising becomes impossible.Big families and the political Right have gone hand-in-hand for a while. Meanwhile, the white-supremacist British National Party, feeling the angry-white-people vote taken away by the less overtly fascistic UKIP, is encouraging its supporters to lie back and think of
"I know, by now you will be giggling over this suggestion. But think about it, nationalists need to buck the trend of 1.8 children per white household. We need to aim between 3 and 4 children each if not more," he writes. "And the bonus is that making babies is fun! So fellow nationalists, less TV and more fun! Let's do our bit for Britain and our race."
Matthew Collins, a former BNP member and now an anti-racism activist, said the post was an attempt by the party to get some attention after its poor election results. "It's tongue in cheek but there is a serious point. Griffin is always going on about being outbred and in the past he has said members need to put away their boots and go and meet women. The problem is that your typical BNP member is a social pariah who is more into pornography than starting a family," he saidA more frightening possibility would be if these people are successfully persuaded to do their duty, especially with the BNP's record on gender relations (they're not in favour of womens' rights; one of their MPs is on record as saying that women should be “struck like a gong”). I wonder in how many suburban culs-de-sac in BNP heartland, aspiring Josef Fritzls are now drawing up plans for soundproofing their basements and making notes on the movements and likely racial purity of fit-looking local shopgirls.
Spare a thought for the goths of Uzbekistan; once plentiful around the tranquil cemeteries of cosmopolitan Tashkent (and, for some reason, the city's one Roman Catholic church), persecution by the authorities and a hostility to Western youth subcultures seeping in from Putin's Russia (many Uzbeks speak Russian and watch Russian television) has caused their numbers to dwindle, with those who can seeking refuge in more liberal countries.
There has been a campaign in Uzbek media denouncing Western mass culture for encouraging "immorality" among the youth and for "damaging the country's national values and traditions". Rap, rock and heavy metal have been labelled "alien music" and some genres have been subsequently banned.
During one punk rock concert during the last two years, masked police turned up in large numbers and began rounding up the fans, detaining some for several hours.They're kettling them? It's almost as if they were anti-tax-evasion campaigners in London or something.
In any case, the rising tide of xenophobic nationalism and authoritarianism is taking its toll on Tashkent's once flourishing punk, goth and metal scenes.
At a well-known club on the outskirts of Tashkent, an event that in the past might have attracted up to 300 people, now only draws about 20 or 30. Most tried to avoid the camera.
"In the past there were lots of goths, punks, satanists and rockers around," says Gotya sadly. While Uzbekistan appears to be a less-than-hospitable place for such subcultures, Leticia and Gotya too are thinking about emigrating to other countries, like Russia or Poland.You know a country has problems when Russia is considered a more liberal country to emigrate to.
An argument that the Australian ideal of the “larrikin”—the unruly, mischievous underdog thumbing his nose at authority and propriety—has devolved into a US-style anti-intellectual right-wing populism, and a fig-leaf for mining oligarchs to claim to be “ordinary Australians” (i.e., of the people) and say that it's not they but rather the inner-city latte-hipsters and stuck-up university-educated book-readers who have inherited the mantle of "the elites" from the despised British penal-colony administrators:
It is on that basis that certain pundits claim anyone with a whiff of intellectualism about them is an ''elite'' and therefore opposed to the interests of ordinary Australians. It is also on the basis of the myth of larrikinism that a number of super-rich Australians are able to present themselves as egalitarian.
Forget about the fact that Singo is more notable for his support of Gina Rinehart than for society's underdogs. Because the larrikin ideal works the way it does, it allows powerful Australians like him to gloss over the fact of their own elite status and to pretend that the real elites are elsewhere.Ironically, the original larrikins weren't reactionary heroes of the ordinary battlers but violent, socially disadvantaged young men who drew the short straw during a period of precarity.
The first larrikins emerged at a time when the underdog was stigmatised in Australian society. No one would have dreamt of calling themselves a larrikin in the late colonial years if they wanted to be held in regard by the broader society. Now something that even billionaire mining magnates can make their own, our ideal of larrikinism has changed substantially since the era in which the term was coined.
The fact that its history was characterised by social inequity and violence, however, should make us pause before making too much of our ''larrikin streak''.Australia does not have a bill of rights; in its place is an informal piece of customary law known as the “larrikin-wowser nexus” that constitutes Australia's cultural system of checks and balances. This is the assumption of harsh laws and an equal but opposite contempt for authority, dating back to convict codes of honour in the penal-colony days, evolved to a system where, once the copper's One Of Us, there's a tacit understanding that the laws will be selectively enforced only against those who are not One Of Us—witness, to wit, Australia's tough film censorship laws letting through populist Hollywood entertainment untrammelled whilst cracking down mostly on poofterism with subtitles that only Green-voting hipster elites would want to watch anyway, or PM-in-waiting Tony Abbott's emphatic support for freedom of speech, but only when it is used against those who are not One Of Us—Aborigines, Muslims, the “un-Australian” and such. Maybe, just maybe, the larrikin-wowser nexus isn't a viable substitute for a more formal system of checks and balances in a mature democracy.
The Cold War isn't over everywhere: An article in Foreign Policy accuses the authors of travel guides of fashionable leftist sympathies, falling over themselves to praise anti-US dictators like Castro, Chavez and Ahmadinejad and enthusing about how gloriously free (of Coca-Cola and McDonalds, that is) Pyongyang is whilst trotting out the same old obesity/religion/guns/geographical ignorance stereotypes whenever America is mentioned.
There's a formula to them: a pro forma acknowledgment of a lack of democracy and freedom followed by exercises in moral equivalence, various contorted attempts to contextualize authoritarianism or atrocities, and scorching attacks on the U.S. foreign policy that precipitated these defensive and desperate actions. Throughout, there is the consistent refrain that economic backwardness should be viewed as cultural authenticity, not to mention an admirable rejection of globalization and American hegemony. The hotel recommendations might be useful, but the guidebooks are clotted with historical revisionism, factual errors, and a toxic combination of Orientalism and pathological self-loathing.
THERE IS AN almost Orientalist presumption that the citizens of places like Cuba or Afghanistan have made a choice in rejecting globalization and consumerism. From the perspective of the disaffected Westerner, poverty is seen as enviable, a pure existence unsullied by capitalism. Sainsbury refers to Cuban food as "organic" and praises the Castro brothers' "intellectual foresight [that] has prompted such eco-friendly practices as nutrient recycling, soil and water management and land-use planning." Meager food rations and the 1950s cars that plod through Havana's streets, however, don't represent authenticity or some tropical version of the Western mania for "artisanal" products, but, rather, failed economic policy. It's as much of a lifestyle choice as female circumcision is in Sudan.It may well be that the authors of the guidebooks are a cabal of Cultural Marxists, and that the Communists who (according to Margaret Thatcher) run the BBC, and thus Lonely Planet, are pushing the doctrinaire anti-US line. (I don't doubt that, among travel writers, there are some who subscribe to a romanticised, orientalist leftism, to the point of making apologies for the other side; I once read a somewhat myopic travelogue set in the two halves of Berlin in the 1980s, by an English author who delighted in contrasting the refreshing joy of the East (and dismissing as embittered hacks the dissidents who lost their jobs for criticising it) with the abject, junky-squat nihilism of the West.) On the other hand, a more economical explanation is in the nature of guidebooks and their function.
Guidebooks, by definition, are intended to be taken to the countries they describe as guides. If those countries lean towards totalitarianism, books which criticise their regimes, or reflect too strongly the point of view of the hostile state in which they were published, might not make it in through the border, or may cause trouble for the hapless tourist who buys them. As such, it makes sense that guidebooks to authoritarian states have, by definition, to be somewhat fawning, at the very least refraining from any criticism more than strictly necessary to be credible to a Western tourist and to leaven that with some praise of the President-for-life, explanations for why his secret police are not at all menacing and aspersions on the sorts who would criticise his beneficent rule. (I would venture that this wouldn't apply merely to fashionably anti-American states with iconically stylish martyred leaders: I'm guessing a tourist guidebook to Pinochet's Chile (which was, after all, a US-backed libertarian/authoritarian dictatorship) wouldn't have gone on about the death squads, human rights abuses and the optimism of the Allende years. Similarly, were the US to somehow roll back the First Amendment and criminalise hostile speech, I suspect that even the hippies in the Lonely Planet boardroom and the Communists in the BBC who control the purse strings would, from within their haze of funny-smelling cigarette smoke, decide to drop all superfluous references to guns, televangelists and junk food and stick to praising the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the prodigious variety of taco trucks.
The next front in the culture war for America's resurgent Christian fundamentalist movement may be set theory. That's right; some fundies find the mathematical theory of sets right down there with critical thinking, mainstream paleontology and Ozzy Osbourne records:
"Unlike the "modern math" theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute....A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory."Why do the fundamentalists find set theory so objectionable? It seems to be not because of what it says (unlike, say, evolutionary biology) but because of the kinds of thought it may encourage; set theory, you see, with its paradoxes and its heretical notion of there being different kinds of infinity (i.e., the set of all real numbers and the set of all integers are both infinite, but the former is greater than the latter) could subtly seduce even the most rigorously home-schooled children into modernist habits of thinking, not based in absolute truths and rigid, God-given hierarchies but in ungodly paradoxes. And if there is more than one infinity and the the set of all statements is either incomplete or inconsistent, they may start to wonder what other statements they had accepted on divinely-ordained authority are incorrect, and before you know it, you have atheism, Red Communism and buggery on the Sabbath.
They see modernism as the opposing worldview to their own. They are all about tradition (or, at least, what they have decided is traditional). Modernism is a knee-jerk rejection of tradition in favor of the new. Obviously, they think a very specific sort of Christian God should be the center of everything and all parts of society, public and private. Modernists prefer ideas like secular humanism and think God is something you should be doing in private, on your own time. They believe strongly in the importance of power hierarchies and rules. Modernism smashes all of that and says, "Hey, just do your own thing. Nobody's ideas are any better or worse than anybody else's. There's no right and wrong. Go crazy, man!"
More importantly, they know that [modernists] are subtle, and use sneaky means to indoctrinate children and lure adults into accepting modernist values. So the art, the literature, the jazz—probably the Scandinavian furniture, too, though I never heard anyone mention that specifically—are all just traps. They're ways of getting us to reject to One True Path a little bit at a time. (I should note that, up to this point, I am basing my analysis on what I was taught in Baptist school. After this, I'm speculating, and attempting to connect the ideas I know are present in this subculture with set theory.)
Set theory, particularly the stuff about infinity, has a bit of that wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey flavor to it. It doesn't make sense on the level of "common sense". It's dealing with things that aren't standard, simple numbers. It makes links between nice, factual math and floppy, subjective philosophy. If you're raised in Christian fundamentalist culture, all of that—every last bit—absolutely reeks of modernism. It's easy to see how somebody at A Beka would look at set theory and conclude that it's really just modernist propaganda. To them, set theory is just a step on the road to godless atheism.And so, the red line in the culture war has now ambitiously been pushed back to the 19th century, with a view to rolling back the Enlightenment and bring back the certainties of the mediæval age, when humanity knew its place.
(via Boing Boing)
The Bleeding Obvious: A sociological study from Australia has showed that people who fly national flags on their cars are more likely to harbour xenophobic attitudes, with both exclusionary views of who belongs in their society and hostility to those outside of the circle:
Professor Fozdar said 43 per cent of those with car flags said they believed the White Australia Policy had saved Australia from many problems experienced by other countries, while only 25 per cent without flags agreed.
A total of 55 per cent believed migrants should leave their old ways behind, compared with 30 per cent of those without flags.
"Very clear statistical differences in attitudes to diversity between those who fly car flags and those who don't, show that flag waving − while not inherently exclusionary – is linked in this instance to negative attitudes about those who do not fit the 'mainstream' stereotype'," she said.The study also revealed more young people flying flags than older people; perhaps a sign that a more liberal older generation who grew up in the wake of the cultural struggles of the Sixeventies and the Whitlam-era progressive consensus is being supplanted by the children of Howard, Hanson and Hillsong, whose views on what belongs in Australia are a lot narrower?
The study was done in Australia, surveying people flying the Australian flag on their cars in the run-up to Australia Day, though I imagine they'd find similar findings on people flying the flag in other circumstances (such as wearing it as a cape at Big Day Out), or in other countries (I imagine those flying the Cross of St. George in England are more likely to vote UKIP, have uttered the phrase "bloody Pakis" at some point in their lives, to have an aversion to eating "foreign muck", and complain about foreigners coming here and stealing our jobs and not working").
Since taking office, Victoria's conservative government has pursued a war on indecent language. First it instituted on-the-spot fines for swearing in public, and now, it has unveiled changes to the liquor licensing laws which allows venues' licences to be revoked for tolerating "profane, indecent or obscene language", or not promptly removing indecent graffiti.
“What this means is that if someone swears inside your venue Police can penalise your venue with Demerit Points. The concern … is that this gives Police unprecedented authority over an already over-regulated legitimate business sector that contributes strongly to the local economy. Vandalism is also mentioned. Does this mean that if someone has graffiti-ed in the bathrooms that police can issue Demerit points?”
In the US Right, repudiating The 1960s and its wave of social upheavals and looking to either 1950s America or the Victorian Era is so yesterday; the new thing is repudiating the Enlightenment and looking to the Middle Ages as a golden age of civic and private virtue, free of the heresies of secularism and egalitarianism, or so claim William S. Lind and William S. Piper:
Not surprisingly, after three centuries of “Enlightened” propaganda, almost everything modern people think they know about the Middle Ages is wrong. Medieval society not only represents the nearest man has come to building a Christian society, it was also successful in secular terms. Living standards rose, and with them population. That was true for all classes, not just the nobles. Monarchs were far from absolute—royal absolutism was in fact the latest thing in 18th-century fashion, a system for promoting rational efficiency—and subjects had extensive rights. Unlike the abstract Rights of Man, as practiced during the Jacobins’ Reign of Terror, Medieval rights were specific and real, established by precedent.
The alternate narrative’s view of what followed is selective. The Renaissance brought advances the High Middle Ages would have welcomed, including Christian humanism and the recovery of many texts from the classical world. But it also laid the basis for secular humanism, a prideful and subversive force that continues to do great damage to societies and souls alike. The Protestant Reformation pointed to some genuine abuses in the Church and also renewed the importance of Scripture. But the shattering of Christendom, the rise of an unsound doctrine of sola Scriptura, and the loss of the sacraments in much Christian worship were too high a price.The Enlightenment didn't immediately bring about the collapse of the virtuous old order, but merely weakened it and set the powderkeg, which exploded at the outbreak of World War 1:
As recently as the summer of 1914, less than a century ago, the world restored in 1814 was still recognizable. Kaisers, tsars, and kings reigned. The goodness and rightness of social classes, each with its respective duties, was acknowledged by all but Marxists. The Christian religion, if not universally believed, was generally respected. Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values,” in which the old virtues become sins and the old sins virtues, was regarded as the raving of a syphilitic madman.Then, the centuries-old, divinely-ordained system of monarchies fell, and the world lurched sharply towards the left, forever tainted by the original sin of Cultural Marxism (a marvellous catch-all which encompasses anything from women's rights to sagging jeans and, from what I gather, generally translates to "anything I, as a self-identified Conservative, object to"), leading directly to our present fallen world of rock'n'roll, drive-through abortion clinics and rampant Sabbath-breaking.
However, according to Lind and Piper, it need not have happened this way; had the central powers won, a balance of power would have been restored, the great monarchies shored up, the spectre of Bolshevism headed off, and the world could have shifted equally sharply to the right, and to recovering the lost virtues of the mediaeval world:
In this world, Professor Mayer’s spectrum shift to the left would never have happened. Conservative Christian monarchies would have triumphed. A spectrum shift to the right, while not inevitable, was possible; a defeated French republic might have been replaced with a monarchy. (Le Figaro: “The Estates General, deadlocked among the Legitimist, Orleanist, and Bonapartist candidates, today offered the throne of France to Prince Louis Napoleon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha…”) It is perhaps too much to hope that the 20th century’s grimmest reaper, ideology, would have found itself in history’s wastebasket. But it would have lost to its oldest opponent, legitimism, and lost badly. It might have been sufficiently weakened to give Europe and the world a century of relative peace, like that following the settlement of 1814.
The latest flashpoint of the culture war: whether or not a street or square in Berlin should be renamed after Ronald Reagan. Germany's conservative ruling party wants one, though the idea is not popular with Berlin's more left-leaning residents, or the city's Social Democratic local government:
That's why many in Berlin see Reagan, who would have turned 100 last Sunday, as a trailblazer for German reunification. Indeed, some would like to see the city do more to publicly honor the man. In December, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg tabled the idea on behalf of his party, the conservative Christian Social Union, of placing an official commemorative plaque honoring Reagan on Pariser Platz, the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Guttenberg's CSU is the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. The Berlin branch of the CDU, for its part, is calling for the renaming of a public square or a street in Reagan's honor. But so far nothing has happened.
And is there not a slight whiff of truth to claims that the city's leftist government has trouble with Ronald Reagan as a person? The Republican, who since his death from Alzheimer's in 2004 has become the most popular US president ever, was considered by the German left during his two terms in office from 1980 to 1988 to be the personification of the Cold War. Reagan's appearance in West Berlin in 1987 was not without risks. In adddition to the Cold War aspects, his message of Reagonomics was deeply unpopular with the city's anti-capitalism movement.They could always wait a few years, until the left-wing Berliners have been gentrified out, and replaced by affluent schmicki-mickis who are a bit more fond of winner-takes-all capitalism, by virtue of being the winners. Perhaps then, with the vanquishment of Communism as an ideology, and the second ongoing vanquishment of "poor but sexy" anti-capitalist Berlin by the forces of gentrification, they could rename various streets named by the DDR after famous Communists after NATO hawks and prophets of the free market. Karl-Marx-Allee could become Milton-Friedman-Allee, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße Reaganstraße and Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz Thatcherplatz.
Doing nothing to kill the stereotype of Australia as a spectator sports-centered society, seven footballers are running as candidates in the upcoming Victorian state election. Tellingly, six of them are running for the right-wing Coalition (four of those for the National Party, the coalition's more conservative party). Could this be another sign of the Australian Right having embraced anti-intellectualism (which could be argued to be a traditional Australian value) as a core part of its identity, and conceded the very idea of engagement with culture and ideas more sophisticated than a gut sense of tribal belonging (or, as John Howard called it, "mateship") to the leftward end of the spectrum?
The rumours of the Australian Labor government's mandatory national internet censorship firewall being dead may be premature: the government is still planning to put the legislation forward in parliament. Of course, the numbers seem to be against them: the independents who hold the balance of power in the lower house will oppose it, as will the Greens in the Senate.
The Coalition, which has among its number many social conservatives who would welcome such a scheme (not least of all its leader, an authoritarian paternalist of the first water), has opposed it, vowing to whip its MPs to vote against it as well. However, now that it no longer needs to woo Labor voters, there is the possibility of the party changing its mind, and either supporting the filter or leaving it to a conscience vote. In either case, a whipped Labor government plus a handful of Liberal/National social conservatives could be enough to get such a filter through both houses, regardless of what the Greens, those uppity independents and the majority of the Australian public have to say.
Of course, the question remains of whether Labor would keep its faith in censorship after it no longer had to deal with a religious fundamentalist in the Senate. One theory is that Labor's pro-censorship zeal is all an act to keep Fielding on-side and get its budgets through, though in this case, it's an act which is approaching its use-by date, if not past it already. (Fielding does not have a vote on any supply bills, which won't appear until the new Senate, with Greens holding the balance of power, is in place, and while he could be petulant and uphold other legislation, it would be a bit pathetic.) Others speculate that the Great Firewall of Australia has now got a purpose beyond placating a few cranky wowsers; one theory is that, while it's ostensibly going to block illegal pornography, suicide instructions and content banned in Australia, its real purpose is to block sites used for sharing copyrighted materials. Though given that the US Government, which is pushing for a War On Copying on the scale of Nixon/Reagan's War On Drugs, has criticised the filter might count against this theory. Any others?
While we're in Australia, News Limited (roughly one half of the oligopoly which controls the Australian media) has declared open war on the Greens, with the Australian vowing to destroy them at the ballot box; the culture war against the progressive elements in Australian society is on again, if Rupert Murdoch has his way. And, with a fragile minority government in power, some are predicting all sorts of hijinks, including possibly a Murdoch-sponsored Tea Party-style right-wing protest movement.
The Belgian government has proposed a law requiring all cats to be sterilised, with the exception of a few very rare (and expensive) breeds, from the start of next year.
Initially, all cats in shelters will be sterilised. The next phase imposes neutering on cats from breeders and sellers. Finally, all cat owners will be obliged to have their pets sterilised and registered, costing about €130 (£108) for a female cat and €50 for a tom. Breeders and owners of Siamese, Abyssinian and other special pedigrees will be exempted from the new regime.I can see such a law making sense in Australia, where feral cats are an ecological problem; Australia, also being far from other countries and having a famously strict quarantine system, could also prevent the importation of cats causing F. domesticus to become extinct within the country. Perhaps, if a government with authoritarian tendencies needed to burnish its green credentials and "cat people" fell on the wrong side of a politically expedient culture war (in the way that "inner-city latte sippers" and enthusiasts of foreign arthouse films did in the Howard era), it might happen.
Using Star Wars as a metaphor for the real world isn't merely for Microsoft/RIAA-hating Slashdot penguinistas; witness Star Wars Modern, an at once illuminating and slightly odd blog by Brooklyn-based sculptor John Powers. Keenly interested in art and culture and steeped in modernism (in the aesthetic and philosophical sense), Powers nonetheless uses Star Wars' good-vs.-evil dualism (which, he argues, came from the heavy mood of Nixon/Vietnam War-era America, with the new counterculture against The Man) to partition the world into Jedi and Sith.
And like Nixon, the Sith perfectly represent a particular strain of American authority: Cold Warriors. Not just the violence and paranoia of America’s anti-communist foreign policy, but their repressive and absolutist domestic policies: “Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the communist party?”
Even the world building efforts of the cold warriors were perfectly embodied by Lucas and his crew. The top-down Utopian art, architecture and urbanism of the Cold Warriors were elegantly re-imaged as the Deathstar.The Sith, we learn, are those who want control and chains of authority, and fear chaos above all. They include among their ranks Richard Nixon (obviously) and Le Corbusier (which stands to reason; he was a proponent of centralised architectures of control and dedicated his 1935 book/manifesto The Radiant City "To Authority"). The Jedi, meanwhile, are the dissenters, he lists them as "Phreaks and Yippies; draft resisters and Feminists; Diggers and Black Panthers", and places Martin Luther King and Rem Koolhaas among their number. So not too far from the Penguinheads' Jedi-Sith dichotomy (RMS and Linus are Jedi, while Darth Gates, patent trolls and the forces of Big Copyright are Sith; where Steve Jobs and Ayn Rand stand is a matter for lengthy, intractable flame wars), only with a better sense of aesthetics.
(It seems that what Lucas may have contributed to culture here is a catchy two-word name for the cultural schism of the second half of the 20th century, for the collapse of the power of authoritarianism from 1945 onwards, and the Empire striking back from the 1970s onwards, and the underlying motif of order vs. chaos, authority vs. freedom (which recurs in a lot of cultural artefacts of the time—Discordianism, for one, and the plots of much of the fiction of the time). Perhaps "Sith" and "Jedi" are catchier terms than "authoritarianism" and "freedom" or less bound to a specific time and milieu than "the Man" and "the freaks"—at least, in a world where science fiction and other geeky niches have broken into the mainstream.)
Anyway, Star Wars Modern has a number of interesting (and somewhat lengthy) posts on various topics falling in the area between Modernism and Star Wars, such as the portrayals of art and artists in Hollywood films, the Hollywood serial killer archetype as studio artist, and a three-part back-and-forth debate, triggered by an apocryphal account of Goebbels having designed the original Helvetica, about (small-f) fascism and modernist typography.
New York Magazine has an interesting piece on tensions between hipsters and hasidim in Williamsburg, which began when hipsters started moving to the staunchly Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Brooklyn in the 1990s and came to a head with a dispute over a bike lane which, the hasidim complained, funnelled a steady stream of immodestly-clad nonbelievers through the core of their devoutly observant community:
But after a while, says one Hasidic real-estate developer, “People started talking to the rabbis—‘Hey, something’s happening, all these young white people are moving in.’ ” When the Satmars realized that the Artisten—the Yiddish name they used for the bewildering newcomers—were there to stay, something like panic set in. Rabbis exhorted landlords not to rent to the Artisten, builders not to build for them. One flyer asked God to “please remove from upon us the plague of the artists, so that we shall not drown in evil waters, and so that they shall not come to our residence to ruin it.’’ Rabbi Zalman Leib Fulop announced that the Artisten were “a bitter decree from Heaven,” a biblical trial.While there is an element of conservative-old-timers-vs.-offensive-newcomers to the story, it is (as most things are) more complex than that. Most of the property rented out to the artisten was done so by Hasidic owners, who have mostly kept the hipsters out of the core of their community. Meanwhile, there is more interplay between the ultra-conservative community and the newcomers, with some fence-sitters putting a foot in both camps:
For South Williamsburg’s Hasids, Traif Bike Gesheft functions as a semi-secret window onto the larger world and a clubhouse of mild transgressions. Herzfeld rents bikes to Hasids at no cost, just to get them to venture beyond the neighborhood. (Among Satmars, bicycles are not specifically disallowed but are considered taboo nonetheless.) Inside the shop, otherwise righteous men let down their guard. Tongues loosen. “The men, they don’t know how to have a conversation with a woman,” Herzfeld explains, talking a mile a minute. “Whenever they come to the bike shop, the first thing they ask me to find them a prostitute. I tell them, look, you’re searching for answers. You’re not going to find them in the vagina of a woman you’re paying $200 an hour. If you want to meet somebody, you need to step outside of the community, you need to get a hobby. Come over, and I’ll teach you how to fix a bike. So the bike shop is a kind of outreach program.” A friend of Herzfeld’s also uses the shop to slip Hasids traif books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.
If hipster Williamsburg has a social architect, it is Schwartz. His first project, in 1999, became the mini-mall that redefined Bedford Avenue. The retail collection he developed was both a parody of the American mall and a startling improvement on it. It housed an artisanal-cheese shop, a wine store, a bookseller with Guy Debord window displays, a Tibetan tchotchke store, a vinyl-heavy indie-record emporium, a Mac-friendly computer shop, and, of course, a coffeehouse. Many of these businesses later grew to take up their own storefronts on what became the hipster side of Bedford. Schwartz followed it up with Opera House Lofts, another ambitious development targeted squarely at the Artisten. His latest and largest project—Castle Braid, a 144-unit complex so named after the factory in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—is borderline hipster pandering. The game room has foosball and air hockey. On my arrival, the PA system in the lobby was softly playing Beck’s “Nobody’s Fault But My Own.” The building holds its own film festival (the first prize is six rent-free months) and a tenant-compiled library with Erotica and Gay-and-Lesbian sections. “It is totally kosher,” explains Schwartz, a devout Hasid. “I’ve been joking that I do this to make sure the Artisten stay on the other side!”
(via Ian W.)
American web comic author Brian McFadden takes his country to task for not going metric:
Anyone with even a tiny math and science background will tell you that the metric system kicks the shit out of our current system, which is a bastard cousin of the long-gone British Imperial system. Dumb America’s stubborn refusal to adopt it is almost as embarrassing as their opposition to health insurance reform.
Only the United States, Burma, and Liberia aren’t on board. Antarctica is also gray, but only scientists are down there, and I’m sure they aren’t using pounds and ounces to weigh penguin shit.Once health care is sorted, could the next front line for America's progressives be adopting the metric system? Will we see teabaggers and right-wing talk-radio blowhards declaiming the Satanic nature of the metric system and spouting non-sequiturs about the Biblical foundations of pints and pounds (to paraphrase a Texas congressman, "if English measurements were good enough for Jesus, they're good enough for me!")?
Journalism researcher Nina Funnell recounts her encounter with Australian PM Kevin Rudd:
At that point one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the "excuse" that "all" young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families. Since then I've come up with numerous one-line retorts, but in the moment I just froze in shock.It would appear that, in post-Howard Australia, there is an increasing tendency to treat women who shirk their childbearing duties as demographic bludgers of sorts, freeloaders who are cheating society of what they owe it.
Similarly women who do not wish to have children should also not be punished or labelled non-maternal. As a young woman I find it frustrating to see women like Gillard constantly attacked and ascribed derogatory labels like ''empty fruit bowl'', as though her worth is a sole function of her ability and inclination to reproduce.This is not unprecedented across societies; other states have, in the past, rewarded fertile women and punished those who shirked their reproductive duty to society. Mind you, those other states have included Ceaucescu's Romania and Nazi Germany, and are probably not a club Australia should seek to join.
Tabloids and Tory politicians have been claiming that Britain is a "broken society"; The Economist looks at the figures and shows that, actually, that's a load of rubbish; while Britain does have its share of social problems, it had much worse before:
As for family breakdown, some commentators seem to think that sex really was invented in 1963. British grannies know differently. Teenage pregnancy is still too common, but it has been declining, with the odd hiccup, for ages. A girl aged between 15 and 19 today is about half as likely to have a baby in her teens as her grandmother was. Her partner will probably not marry her and he is less likely to stick with her than were men in previous generations, but he is also a lot less likely to beat her. In homing in on the cosier parts of the Britain of yesteryear, it is easy to ignore the horrors that have gone. Straight white men are especially vulnerable to this sort of amnesia.The perpetuators of the myth of "broken Britain", a society in violent decay, are building a narrative that strengthens kneejerk culture-war reactions, such as the Tories' tax breaks for married couples (read: "sin taxes" on the unmarried), whilst ignoring the cause of Britain's social problems: too little spent on education:
The waning of the manufacturing jobs that used to be the mainstay of the working class has created a generation of young males, in particular, who don’t know what to do with themselves. Britons have been boozers and scrappers for centuries, but self-destructive behaviour today in part reflects the perception that their lives are not worth much. As for children bearing children, there is evidence elsewhere that if girls are given better education—not just about sex, but also in areas likely to improve their job prospects—they are less likely to get pregnant at 16. Yet for all the official talk at home about ever-improving exam results, Britain is beginning to slide down the international league table of educational attainment.
(via David Gerard)
South Australia has led the fight in keeping Australia a censorious society; the wowser-state's Attorney-General's veto has been the main stumbling block to legalising video games unsuitable for children. Now, state laws have come into effect requiring R-rated films to be displayed in plain packaging, with nothing more than the title:
Adults aged over 18 seeking to buy or borrow a copy of Mad Max, the acclaimed desert war drama Three Kings, starring George Clooney, the Brad Pitt classic Fight Club or the 2009 Blu Ray release of Sasha Baron Cohen's fashion parody Bruno will now find them in plain packaging displaying nothing more than the film's title.
Under changes to the state's classification act, which came into effect on Sunday, businesses will face fines of up to $5000 for displaying a "poster, pamphlet or other printed material" for films classified R18+.
The law was announced by the office of South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, whose conservative campaigning is well known to the film industry.
Weren't the 1950s awesome? Exhibit (a): an American high-school marriage-education textbook (from 1962, though culturally part of the conservative 1950s, before the Communists successfully fluoridated the water supply and brought about what is commonly known as The Nineteen-Sixties):
Exhibit (b): a letter written in 1956 to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover by the editor of a Catholic newspaper, concerning the moral threat posed to America's youth by a young singer named Elvis Presley:
But eyewitnesses have told me that Presley's actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. One eye-witness described his actions as “sexual self-gratification on the stage," — another as “a striptease with clothes on." Although police and auxiliaries were there, the show went on. Perhaps the hardened police did not get the import of his motions and gestures, like those of masturbation or riding a microphone.
I do not report idly to the FBI. My last official report to an FBI agent in New York before I entered the U.S. Army resulted in arrest of a saboteur (who committed suicide before his trial). I believe the Presley matter is as serious to U.S. security. I am convinced that juvenile crimes of lust and perversion will follow his show here in La Crosse.
In the US, a group "conservatives" have decided that the Bible, for all it's worth, has too much of a liberal bias, and thus taken it upon themselves to rewrite it in a more acceptable form. This includes the obvious things (i.e., eliminating any namby-pamby politically-correct language or phrases that make Jesus look like a goddamn hippie, and peppering it with "free market parables"; I wonder how that'll change the story about Jesus and the moneylenders), as well as other principles such as "Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness".
The project page is here. Note that it is hosted by Conservapedia, previously noted for its somewhat obsessive focus on the mechanics and perils of homosexual sex.
However, there is nothing new under the sun; in the MetaFilter thread, a former seminary student revealed how he and a friend created, as a joke, a conservative reading of the Gospel of Luke by simply inverting the sayings. Behold, the National Gospel of Liberty:
8 "And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges the poor and the outcast will be acknowledged as an outcast; 9 but whoever denies the poor and the outcast will live in peace, because they are odorous and live in fields. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the poor will be forgiven, for this is right; but whoever speaks out for the poor and the oppressed will not be forgiven. 11 When they bring you before the magistrate, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12 for you are wealthy and the wealthy need have no fear of the courts."
27 Consider the lilies! They neither toil nor spin, and so I tell you, their life is but a season, and they have no wives. Solomon had many wives, and in his glory was arrayed in garments finer than any lily of the field! 28 They are but meager grasses, fit only to be thrown into the oven, but you are precious to your Father in Heaven and your prayers have brought you great wealth.
A new memoir by George W. Bush's former speechwriter sheds light on how the Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded:
Latimer, whose memoir was published last week by Crown in the US, says that the "narrow thinking" of "people in the White House" led them "to actually object to giving the author JK Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft".
The first 16 recipients of Barack Obama's presidential medal, handed out in August, included Stephen Hawking and Senator Ted Kennedy – who, according to Latimer's book, failed to receive the medal during the Bush administration because he was "a liberal".
Australia's government has rolled back some of the more ideological requirements in the citizenship test (which was set by the right-wing Howard government). People wishing to become Australian citizens will no longer have to know cricketers' batting averages or South Australian wine regions. However, they might still be asked about the "national gemstone" and the uniquely Australian concepts of "mateship" and a "fair go".
One piece of Australian tradition remains, though: the equation of sporting success with national identity. To wit, while regular immigrants have to live in Australia for four years to apply for citizenship, elite athletes only have to for two:
Minister Chris Evans recently defended lowering the residency requirements for elite athletes and others (to apply for citizenship) from four years to two: ''The revamped requirements will create a fairer system for people who, due to circumstances beyond their control, are currently ineligible for citizenship. These changes will lead to more gold medals for Australia at sporting events, as well as providing a real win for the national workforce.''Though, other than those points, the test (judging from the article) seems as practical as these things get, covering things like democracy, rights, responsibilities and basic English. This is in contrast with the UK government's "Life in the UK" test, which has questions like:
How much of Britain's population is under the age of 25?Which would be all very well on a TV quiz show, and acceptable (if a bit boring) at a pub trivia night, but is unfit for the stated purpose of the test, i.e., ascertaining whether the respondent is fit to be a British citizen. Unless, of course, Britain is trying to attract good quiz show contestants.
- 10 million
- 13 million
- 14 million
Some bad political news for Britain: while David Cameron may talk the talk of a new progressive, ecologically-conscious Conservative Party, most of his likely MPs have other ideas:
It finds that far from being a group of “Cameron clones” those most likely to be new Tory MPs are, in general, less concerned about climate change than terrorism, oppose green taxes and are hostile to gay adoptions. A majority oppose the party’s official policy of raising green taxes to reduce the taxation burden on families, according to a survey of 148 Tory candidates.
The findings suggest that it will not be long before the antiabortion lobby seeks to reopen the debate about the time limit if a victory by Mr Cameron sweeps in a new generation of Tory MPs. Fully 85 per cent of those polled support a more restrictive abortion law. Mr Cameron himself supported a reduction to 20 weeks when the issue was debated in May last year.
Repealing the ban on foxhunting, regarded as, at best, an unwelcome distraction by some modernisers, is supported by 119 of 120 Tory candidates in marginal seats, according to a separate survey by the Countryside Alliance. Mr Cameron has muted his support for foxhunting – for which he was a passionate advocate as a backbench MP – since becoming leader.The Tories are almost certain to get in with a landslide in the next general election, with New Labour having worn out their lesser-evil card in the eyes of the voters.
Which places those hoping for a reasonable government in Britain between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, there's New Labour, a party which spent the past decade or so tactically moving to the right to "outflank" the Tories, which forced through the Iraq war, and the core of whose platform seems now to be ID cards, internet surveillance and spending billions of pounds on Trident, i.e., the British-funded annexe of the US nuclear arsenal. New Labour's platform, once one gets beneath the layer of content-free marketing verbiage ("spin"), comes down to "we'll do this and more, and you'll vote for us, because otherwise,
the bogeyman Zombie Margaret Thatcher gets in".
On the other hand, there are the Tories. While David Cameron may walk around like Blair 2.0 (though he'd never call himself that), swear that the Tories are the party of environmental sustainability and progressive centrism, the bulk of the party seem to be steeling for a bitter culture war, similar to that fought by the Liberal/National coalition in Australia up to 2007. There are, of course, the Lib Dems, who seem more palatable (in the way that parties who can set their agendas unconstrained by the realistic prospect of holding power are), but because of Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, they have no chance of actually forming government unless one of the other parties spectacularly implodes.
Labour, in my opinion, needs some time in the wilderness to regenerate itself as something other than New Labour. However, this may come at the high price of a harshly right-wing government.
The American Humanist Association has taken a leaf from its British counterpart and run its own atheist bus campaign in Washington DC. Being in America, the message was somewhat milder; rather than telling people that "there is probably no god", it asked "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." Of course, as one might expect, it still aroused an explosive reaction:
It's a simple question: "Why not try Jesus?" Equally simple is an opposite: "Why believe in a god?" Yet in the United States the first question is widely viewed as positive, or at least ordinary, while the second can be perceived as offensive and even hate speech.
The sudden high volume of visitors to our special campaign website www.whybelieveinagod.org crashed our server twice. Soon, the conservative talkshow hosts were clamouring to give us air time so they could argue against us and further rouse their audience. And conservative Christian organisations not only denounced our efforts but encouraged their flocks to come bleat in our ears. All this before our bus ads actually started to appear one week later. By the beginning of December we'd received 37,742 hits on our campaign website, logged 638 new members and received over $6,000 in new contributions.
A few stories from the US elections:
- Barack Obama's acceptance speech. And here is McCain's concession speech; and a gracious and dignified one it is too.
- It seems that prejudice against less-religious folks no longer cuts it in the US; North Carolina Republican senator Elizabeth Dole lost to a relatively unknown Democrat challenger, Kay Hagan, after an attack ad accusing Hagan of being the choice of the "Godless" backfired spectacularly.
- Prejudice against gays, alas, is alive and well in California, with a ballot proposition amending the constitution to ban non-heterosexual marriage looking set to pass narrowly. I wouldn't have a problem with this, as long as couples civil unions had exactly the same rights and responsibilities as married™ ones—and such civil unions were available to heterosexuals. If religious traditionalists want to claim marriage as a trademark, that would be fine as long as those who don't agree with their agendas can opt out. At present, though, this discriminates against not only against gays but also against heterosexuals who don't wish to be lumped in with the bigots.
- It's not all doom and gloom in California, though, with the proposed high-speed rail link between LA and San Francisco looking set to win approval. The proposal to rename a San Francisco sewage plant after George W. Bush, however, didn't pass.
The latest salvo from the culture war: Canada's conservative government has scrapped a programme to help Canadian musicians and artists abroad because it was going to "fringe art groups that were unrepresentative or offensive", with one example being the electronica outfit Holy Fuck.
According to a new book, Americans are increasingly segregating themselves from people with different values or political views, mostly along the liberal-conservative culture-war faultlines:
In 1976 Jimmy Carter won the presidency with 50.1% of the popular vote. Though the race was close, some 26.8% of Americans were in “landslide counties” that year, where Mr Carter either won or lost by 20 percentage points or more.
The proportion of Americans who live in such landslide counties has nearly doubled since then. In the dead-heat election of 2000, it was 45.3%. When George Bush narrowly won re-election in 2004, it was a whopping 48.3%. As the playwright Arthur Miller put it that year: “How can the polls be neck and neck when I don't know one Bush supporter?” Clustering is how.
For example, someone who works in Washington, DC, but wants to live in a suburb can commute either from Maryland or northern Virginia. Both states have equally leafy streets and good schools. But Virginia has plenty of conservative neighbourhoods with megachurches and Bushites you've heard of living on your block. In the posh suburbs of Maryland, by contrast, Republicans are as rare as unkempt lawns and yard signs proclaim that war is not the answer but Barack Obama might be.The Big Sort manifests itself in where people live (another manifestation of Paul Graham's observation that cities reinforce different ambitions; neighbourhoods and communities also reinforce (positively or negatively) political and cultural values), but goes beyond that. Many Americans have retreated into cognitive gated communities; they watch cable news that reinforces their beliefs, meet their mates on dating websites exclusively for liberals or conservatives (the British equivalent would presumably be the Times/Guardian/Torygraph's respective dating sites; in Britain, newspaper preference is an ideological marker), and in some cases, homeschool their kids to protect them from "wrong" ideas such as evolution or homosexuality. (AFAIK, homeschooling seems to be more a religious conservative phenomenon.) According to a University of Pennsylvania survey of people from 12 countries, Americans are the least likely to talk about politics with those who disagreed with them. And then there was the survey of an online book-recommendation service from some years ago, showing clusters of books read by liberals and conservatives, with next to no connection between them.
“We now live in a giant feedback loop,” says Mr Bishop, “hearing our own thoughts about what's right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear and the neighbourhoods we live in.”The downside of this is that, when people segregate themselves, their own opinions become more extreme and uncompromising, and those of the other side become demonised, making workable political compromise difficult:
Voters in landslide districts tend to elect more extreme members of Congress. Moderates who might otherwise run for office decide not to. Debates turn into shouting matches. Bitterly partisan lawmakers cannot reach the necessary consensus to fix long-term problems such as the tottering pensions and health-care systems.
America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into “balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.” He has a point. Republicans who never meet Democrats tend to assume that Democrats believe more extreme things than they really do, and vice versa. This contributes to the nasty tone of many political campaigns.
The Rudd government wants to overhaul Australia's image abroad, ditching the traditional images of bronzed Aussies drinking beer on beaches and cheesy strine colloquialisms like "where the bloody hell are you?", so favoured by the traditionalist former government, in favour of a new campaign promoting Australia as "a mature, creative, innovative society". (Those drawing parallels between Rudd and the early days of the Blair government in Britain will see echoes of Blair's "Cool Britannia" here.) Anyway, a number of ad agencies and magazines have had a go at coming up with ideas:
The Sydney Magazine approached a few advertising companies for inspiration. One of them came up with the slogan "Sydney. Proudly UnAustralian".. It features that great staple of Australian tourist brochures, the Sydney Opera House, but with a twist - it's white-tiled roof is emblazoned with the words "NO WAR" in bright red paint. Another image features two butch rugby players locked in a passionate embrace.
"Sydney, it's a bit like London. Classic Museums, Rich History, Hyde Park, Paddington, the Queen on Our Coin. It's just lacking the miserable weather, miserable people, pasty faces, snobby bitches, soggy chips, warm beer, cold winters, teens pushing prams, lager louts, slappers, geezers, madcow diseases."
New market research has revealed that Mac users are snobs, upper-income-bracket elitist aspirational types who see themselves as better than the PC-using rabble, while, seen from the other side, PC users are cheapskates.
Meanwhile, a filmmaker has made a documentary about the intense loyalty Maccies feel to their brand, which bears out some of the findings:
Violet Blue, a popular blogger and sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, who also features in the film, says: "First of all, I've never knowingly slept with a Windows users ... that would never, ever happen."Anyway, back to the Mac-users-are-snobs thing: the description of the difference between Mac users and PC users reminded me a lot of (Mac user) Momus' recent paraphrasing of the right-wing anti-intellectual argument against liberal cosmopolitan elites:
The intellectual is not one of us. We are ordinary folks, he is a member of an elite. We gravitate around right wing ideas, he's left-leaning. We're family people, he screws men, women and children. We farm, he stays in the city, with his intellectual elite, or on campus, corrupting the minds of our youth. We're religious, but the intellectual is an unbeliever. We run to fat, he stays thin. We're patriots, he's a cosmopolitan, equally at home with foreigners as with his own kind. He puts loyalty to ideas before loyalty to his people. We have the church, he has the liberal media.I'm wondering whether Microsoft or Dell or whoever didn't miss a trick in the few years after 9/11 when Americans (and, to a lesser extent, other Westerners) fell into a right-wing populist groupthink, dissociating themselves from straw-man liberalism. Perhaps, had they run ads playing on the stereotypes of Mac users as potentially disloyal rootless cosmopolitanists, they could have converted some Mac sales into sales of PCs and copies of Windows. After all, when your country's under siege, you don't want to be seen to be distancing yourself from your compatriots, however symbolically.
The New York Times has an excellent piece by Steven Pinker on the human instinct for moral reasoning:
At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called “bums” and “tramps”; today they are “homeless.” Drug addiction is a “disease”; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a “sexually transmitted disease” and more recently a “sexually transmitted infection.”
This wave of amoralization has led the cultural right to lament that morality itself is under assault, as we see in the group that anointed itself the Moral Majority. In fact there seems to be a Law of Conservation of Moralization, so that as old behaviors are taken out of the moralized column, new ones are added to it. Dozens of things that past generations treated as practical matters are now ethical battlegrounds, including disposable diapers, I.Q. tests, poultry farms, Barbie dolls and research on breast cancer. Food alone has become a minefield, with critics sermonizing about the size of sodas, the chemistry of fat, the freedom of chickens, the price of coffee beans, the species of fish and now the distance the food has traveled from farm to plate.While what is considered a moral issue differs between cultures and societies (and, to an extent, periods of time), there appear to be five categories for moral judgment hardwired into the human psychology: harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity.
The five spheres are good candidates for a periodic table of the moral sense not only because they are ubiquitous but also because they appear to have deep evolutionary roots. The impulse to avoid harm, which gives trolley ponderers the willies when they consider throwing a man off a bridge, can also be found in rhesus monkeys, who go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock to another monkey. Respect for authority is clearly related to the pecking orders of dominance and appeasement that are widespread in the animal kingdom. The purity-defilement contrast taps the emotion of disgust that is triggered by potential disease vectors like bodily effluvia, decaying flesh and unconventional forms of meat, and by risky sexual practices like incest.
The ranking and placement of moral spheres also divides the cultures of liberals and conservatives in the United States. Many bones of contention, like homosexuality, atheism and one-parent families from the right, or racial imbalances, sweatshops and executive pay from the left, reflect different weightings of the spheres. In a large Web survey, Haidt found that liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five. It’s not surprising that each side thinks it is driven by lofty ethical values and that the other side is base and unprincipled.And, further down:
Though wise people have long reflected on how we can be blinded by our own sanctimony, our public discourse still fails to discount it appropriately. In the worst cases, the thoughtlessness of our brute intuitions can be celebrated as a virtue. In his influential essay “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, argued that we should disregard reason when it comes to cloning and other biomedical technologies and go with our gut: “We are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings . . . because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear. . . . In this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done . . . repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”
There are, of course, good reasons to regulate human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors’ repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.
As France's right-wing bête noire president Nicolas Sarkozy's image is softened by his romance with an ex-model, his son, a hip-hop producer under the name "Mosey", is working with militantly political rappers from the banlieues, including a rapper named Poison (of no relation to the 1980s hair-metal band):
Mr Sarkozy, as Interior Minister, ordered the prosecution of half a dozen rappers for insulting the police and became their bête noir with his drive to “clean out the layabouts” from the estates. His creation of a Ministry of National Identity further fired the anti-Sarko ire of the rap world.
“I’m not a Sarkozy guy, I don’t give a s***,” said Poison, whose name is pronounced the English way. “The guy brought me some music. He does good sh**. I didn’t know at the start that it was the son of Sarko. When I found out, I blew a fuse and phoned him. He said ‘Yeah, but Poison, I didn’t wanna tell you ‘cos you wouldn’t wanna hang out wid me no more’. I told him, hey, no problem. You never done me wrong. We’ll bust nobody’s balls, we’ll just do good stuff.” In an anti-Sarkozy video with other rap singers last year, Poison chanted: “Anti-Sarko, anti-right, Nicolas don’t you hear. We’re anti-you.”I wonder whether Poison's working relationship with Mosey, or his status in the French hip-hop underground, will survive the publicity; I suspect something may have to give.
As the Australian government prepares tests to ensure that prospective citizens conform to John Howard's idea of what it means to be Australian (rumour has it that there is a question on Donald Bradman's batting average, and that asserting that Australian values are based on secularism is officially wrong), The Age's Catherine Deveney has prepared her own citizenship test:
Are these terms related: chuck a sickie; chuck a spaz; chuck a U-ey?
Explain the following passage: "In the arvo last Chrissy the relos rocked up for a barbie, some bevvies and a few snags. After a bit of a Bex and a lie down we opened the pressies, scoffed all the chockies, bickies and lollies. Then we drained a few tinnies and Mum did her block after Dad and Steve had a barney and a bit of biffo."
Macca, Chooka and Wanger are driving to Surfers in their Torana. If they are travelling at 100 km/h while listening to Barnsey, Farnsey and Acca Dacca, how many slabs will each person on average consume between flashing a brown eye and having a slash?
The people to be granted citizenship are the ones who call it a crock and cheat.
Dispatches from the Australian Culture War: It turns out that Australia's Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews is a board member of a radical pro-life group, Life Decisions International, involved in boycotts of baby-murdering companies like Disney, eBay and GlaxoSmithKline. Is anybody surprised?
GlaxoSmithKline manufactures and distributes contraceptive pills and is involved with producing the so-called abortion drug RU-486.
The Howard cabinet has grappled with the contentious issue of allowing the prescription of RU-486 in Australia. As a member of cabinet Mr Andrews has also been involved in decisions relating to the multimillion-dollar funding of national and international reproductive health programs.
LDI is vehemently opposed to any organisation that provides abortion or sexual reproduction advice.
If the RRR morning news is to be believed, the Australian citizenship examination will contain a question that reads something like:
Australian values are based on:The government's correct answer is, of course, b), and all others are wrong; get enough wrong and you are ineligible for citizenship.
a) the Koran
Australia has been a secular culture; more so than, say, America; relatively few Australians attend churches, and religious dogma is more often mocked than revered. Religious debates of the sort seen elsewhere have little traction; Creationism isn't taken seriously, except perhaps in parts of Queensland, and attempts by rightwingers to make abortion an issue recently fell flat. But now, with the stroke of a pen, John Howard remakes Australia in his image, and secularism is now officially as un-Australian as Islamism.
The Australian government moves to extend its grip on internet content in Australia, introducing a new law which will require interactive forums to meet TV-style classification criteria. Which sounds like it could mean that forums (such as blog comments, chat rooms, and so on) will either need to employ Chinese-style chaperones to actively police content or be put behind an age verification firewall.
Providers of live services such as chatrooms must have their service professionally assessed to determine whether its "likely content" should be restricted.Were this enforced literally, it would mean the end of non-corporate user-generated content in Australia. (Joe/Jo Blogger, with a full-time job, would not be able to meet their obligations by themselves.) Which could be just what the government (who have been aggressively moving to aggregate the Australian media into the control of as few proprietors as possible) could want. Then again, they may not need to enforce it completely, only to drag it out to take down any troublemakers who step out of line, and/or occasionally beat up someone out of line with mainstream community opinion to score culture-war points.
Australia's state governments have unanimously condemned the government's decision to appoint a friend of the Prime Minister to run the Office of Film and Literature Censorship. The new head, Donald McDonald, is former head of the ABC, the now neutered and compliant state broadcaster:
Raena Lea-Shannon, a media lawyer and spokeswoman for lobby group Watch on Censorship, said the move was linked to the Government's desire to clamp down on literature that incites or instructs terrorism. "It fits into a fairly obvious pattern of a strong desire to take control over classification … we should be worried about this because it has a chilling effect on freedom," she said.Another fact that emerges from the article: the OFLC used to be an independent body, but has since been absorbed into the federal Attorney-General's Department. For which there could well be a perfectly rational explanation, though it certainly looks like a move to politicise the mechanism of censorship and media control in Australia. Given the government's equivocal stand on freedom of expression (banning or attempting to ban films which offend the religious right like Baise-Moi and Mysterious Skin and seizing and deporting anti-war activists, whilst stridently defending freedom of speech when it's the speech of sympathetic right-wingers like Alan Jones), it certainly looks troubling.
There's an opinion piece in The Age's blogs about how the rest of the world is sick of travelling Australians, who, after long years of being regarded as lovable, are getting a reputation as the "New Yanks":
Firstly, we're suffering from a serious case of overexposure. The fact that Australia is so far away from anywhere else used to mean that not many of us made it to foreign shores. Now, not only do we have air travel, but we have extremely cheap air travel, meaning that any wanker who can manage to scrape together a few hundred dollars can go and prop up the tittie bar industry in Phuket for a week or so.
We're now seen as the arrogant, loud twats who complain when everything's different to how it is back home. Australians always had a reputation for liking a party, but now we're the obnoxious drunks, abusing the bar staff because their English sucks, whingeing that we'd kill for a Carlton Draught instead of this crap we're being forced to drink.Though to be fair, crap Australian domestic beer is a notch above crap British domestic beer. A Carlton Draught or Toohey's may not compete with the best of the Czech Republic (or, for that matter, a pint of Samuel Smith's Old Brewery), though it's decidedly more drinkable than Carling (which has a monopoly on live music gigs over a certain size) or Foster's (which nobody in Australia actually drinks; much like various TV soaps, it's a product made primarily to be passed off to foreigners).
Another reason for Australia's declining image could be its politics. Whilst Australia has traditionally been such a minor player on the international stage to evade notice, the present government's determination to be a cheerleader for everything that pisses off liberals, from the Iraq war to blocking the Kyoto protocol, may have created an impression of Australia as the Big Red State Down Under. And then there is the rise of a rather ugly strain of muscular nationalism among young Australians these days (witness all the flag-waving, the stereotyped chants of "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi" — incidentally, is there a more aggressively mindless national slogan anywhere? — and other generally boorish behaviour), which may be a cultural artefact of the Howard Culture War and the vanquishment of the more thoughtful (if sometimes woolly) liberal/cosmopolitan Whitlamite values of the previous few decades by an atavistic right-wing jingoism — the values of idiot certainty backed with force.
But yes, here in London, the stereotype of an Australian about town seems to involve drinking vodka by the bottle, cracking onto every available-looking female, talking loudly about how much everything is better in God's Own Country, and passing out in one's own vomit in the gutter outside Walkabout at 3am.
Meanwhile, readers have posted their own anecdotes about Ugly Australians to the article:
As an aussie living in London, I find nothing more embarassing than walking past the pub on my local high street (the slug and lettuce in fulham for any fellow londonites- aka the 'sl*ts and legless') where any night of the week you'll find it packed by 8pm with slaughtered aussies singing along to ac/dc, bryan adams or - way too frequently- country roads drinking snakebite and black (lager, cider and blackcurrant cordial). You'll also find the aussie bar maids and mates will stand up on the bar with their tops off on regular occassions. And people wonder why we're getting a bad rep abroad...?
I agree completely... My friend from Montreal started calling us 'pigeons' because we are everywhere... not that like the comparison but I would have to agree with him.
As I read this article I was having flashbacks of living in the Lakes District and attending an Australians-only party (shows how good we really are at assimilating). One of the head honcho Aussie jocks was running around the village with an Australian flag draped over his shoulders and a plush crocodile under an arm, shouting 'Crikey!' to the unimpressed townsfolk.
As a long-term Londoner I have to fully agree with Damien that John Howard has done more to harm the image of Australians than any drunk in Earl's Court or Shepherd's Bush. He has made Australia so isolated with his unquestioning (and unthinking) blind allegiance to Gerorge W. and his attacks on basic human rights that Europeans now believe that Australians care about nobody but themselves. Until you guys vote John Howard out and rejoin the rest of the world nobody wants you!Which reminds me of a joke I heard. There's a Londoner, an Australian and a South African having a drink in a pub. The Australian finishes his drink, throws his glass in the air, pulls out a gun and shoots it. "In Australia, the lucky country, we're so rich from our natural resources, we never need to drink from the same glass twice", he says. The South African finishes his drink, throws his glass in the air and shoots it. "In Sarth Efriker, we're so rich from our diamond mines, we never need to drink from the same glass twice", he says.
Then the Londoner finishes his drink, and says, "in London, we've got so many Australians and South Africans, we never need to drink with the same ones twice." And with that, he pulls out a gun and shoots them.
Australian cartoonist and philosopher Michael Leunig confesses the extent of his involvement in the vast left-wing conspiracy against the values decent people hold dear:
Anyway, we are a homogenous group, all more or less identical, and we meet every Thursday night in a secret fairy dell that lies within a beautiful ferny glade in the old-growth forest - the moral high ground you might say, where we practise preaching and the double standards for which we are famous. We hug trees and skip about celebrating atheism and moral cancer, and indulge in the sublime pleasure of gleefully ignoring the human rights abuses of terrorists and certain fascist regimes. We achieve this state of rapture and denial by drinking chardonnay and losing ourselves in reminiscences about the '60s when we were all promiscuous hippies living on social welfare, smoking dried banana peel and making snide jokes about Vietnam War veterans.
Like normal people, leftists now have to get up in the morning and earn a living, seeing as the fascists have come down so hard on social welfare fraud, and this is the cruel reality. The good old days are gone and increasingly, leftists are to be found working in ordinary, proper jobs. For instance, it may surprise you to consider that a leftist appeaser could be feeding your mum tenderly with a little spoon in the dementia ward right at this very moment.
The remarkable thing is, that you wouldn't recognise them as classic anti-war leftists because mostly they don't look or sound like those educated, twee, dinner-party feminists - the ones who are often singled out by the rankled commentators as typical annoying leftists. At least not as far as I can discern, and I wonder if perhaps these new lefties I'm discovering have committed identity theft. They just don't seem like sickening, repulsive leftists.
Raging with stale conviction against the "moral cancer" of the left is like lashing out at the wind - apart from being futile, there's something forlorn, emotionally wacky and phantasmagorical about it. The only authenticity to it lies in the faint smells of guilt, personal resentment, eros-envy and bad liver.
This year in India, anti-Valentine's Day demonstrators (mostly from the Hindu religious right) have adopted the tactic of forcibly marrying couples found celebrating Valentine's Day:
A 'rath' (decorated vehicle) prepared by the protesters, mainly activists of the Dharam Sena, for "forcibly marrying couples found celebrating Valentine's Day" was seized in Jabalpur, Additional Superintendent of Police Manohar Verma told PTI.It is not clear whether any such forced marriages have actually taken place, or whether, in fact, they would be legally binding.
(via Boing Boing)
The Age has a piece on another cultural trend in Howard's Australia: the transformation of Australia's obsession with sport into an aggressive, militaristic conformism, intolerant of dissent from the majority view:
It was being used as "gang colours", the producer said; "racism disguised as patriotism". There had been reports of people the previous year, hot on the heels of the Cronulla riots, bullying others into kissing the flag and pledging their allegiance -- and shouting the sportscry "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi oi oi!". Not only the slogan but the whole attitude of barracking seeps across to other things. Eggheads (probably a less derisory term in Australia than intellectuals) are castigated for holding thoughts and attitudes divorced from those of the mainstream. Questionable, but isn't that what intellectuals and artists occasionally do everywhere? Tolstoy no more passes for a typical Russian than Shakespeare could pass for a typical Englishman.
But, as the barracking mood has spread across the country, there has been an exponential growth of the idea of something or someone being "un-Australian". Not part of the team. This idea has become so entrenched that people have been deported who have spent virtually their whole lives here but were infants elsewhere. Undesirable, not ours — although they may have been almost entirely shaped by an Australian upbringing.
The notion of being "un-Australian" is a silly one and should be sent back to the America of the Cold War, where it belongs. If we are truly a nation, then every citizen is a member, enriching it with the narrative, patterns and choices of their lives. Whoever heard of anybody being called "un-French", or even "un-English"? "Un-New Zealand" wouldn't even get to first base — not only because it's a mouthful, but because neither Maori nor Pakeha can claim the whole.Adding to this is a creeping militarisation of Australian public life:
The barracking mentality has become more prevalent at the same time as a deepening khaki tinge has entered our national life. We don't hear much now of Australia as a pioneer of democracy: it's Gallipoli, the Western Front, Kokoda. Our history has been militarised. Then there's our military Governor-General, who does quite a good job (when he's allowed to). There are also things like the recent advertisement for Boags, which has a soldier in uniform, saluting, with his glass of beer. Or The Australian deciding that the Australian of the year should be the digger — advancing democracy around the world. You would think it was 1942.
But now the link (between sport and the military) is much more explicit. It is used to fire up sportspeople. Cricket teams off to England to play for the Ashes have stopped off at Gallipoli. And at the Athens Olympics, one of the girls in the softball team enjoined the others to "think of the Anzacs". "It lifted us," commented another. "It really lifted us.""Think of the Anzacs" could also be a good motivational phrase to encourage Australians to knuckle down and accept the American-style working conditions being brought in as part of the government's industrial relations laws. When you're working longer hours, competing against your coworkers not to be dismissed, think of the diggers who had it much worse.
A military presence has become part of the scene at major football matches. Four days before last Anzac Day, a Hawthorn-Carlton match began with the two teams lined up before an enormous Australian flag, the crowd being asked to stand while two buglers played the Last Post. Then there is the special Anzac Day match: although only 13 years old, it is presented as being as traditional as Waltzing Matilda. War planes flew overhead, veterans were whisked around the ground in a lap of honour, while on television the army logo appeared throughout — along with an advertisement for recruitment. The risk is that sport and militarism are becoming increasingly aligned to produce a blunt equation: sport + patriotism = the military.This could bode ill for other aspects of the local culture:
With the virtual collapse of high culture, and the weakening of its local forms (which looked so promising 30 years ago), we may be left with little else, particularly as sport is so deeply Australian. Most of our popular cultural icons have been sold off. But in becoming more sports-obsessed, the country could also become increasingly illiberal and increasingly militaristic.If the article is true, Australia is in danger of turning into a latter-day Sparta, a muscular, militarised, fiercely conformistic nation with no place for those who aren't part of the team.
Attendees at the Sydney Big Day Out have rejected the organisers' call to leave flags at home; the festival was a nationalistic show of strength, with flags everywhere, and an underlying atmosphere of jingoism.
However, political leaders rejected his appeal, and today many fans on their way to the event appeared to be ignoring his request as well.
Rather than the flag being a victim, as it was portrayed in arguments about its use at the Big Day Out, academic Roger Bell believes it was used as a heavy hitting weapon by over-nationalistic aggressors at Cronulla, and that this mood carried through in the weeks leading up to BDO.Could this be more evidence for the hypothesis that today's youth have rejected the left-wing values of the 1970s and 1980s and shifted dramatically to the right (see also: Vice Magazine, Hillsong) and line up on the Howard government's side of the culture war, or even that Howard's Australia is developing a US-style culture of flag-waving jingoism, coupled with the intolerant, aggressive majoritarianism that has been on the rise?
"People I know were in the audience last year and witnessed people basically being made to kiss the Australian flag and if they didn't they would get their head beaten in," Ms Ashworth said.I wonder whether one could be beaten up for wearing one of those Dangerfield "Worst Prime Minister" T-shirts to Big Day Out.
The latest front has opened up in the Australian culture war; organisers of "alternative" music festival Big Day Out have banned the wearing of Australian flags after incidents of racism and redneckish behaviour on the parts of the sorts of people who came in with prominent flags.
"People were wearing the Australian flag and were a bit racist. There was a group of Middle Eastern people sitting down and they went up to them and said `you're not Australians'.
"I told them to bugger off and they started yelling at me, saying I wasn't Australian because I wasn't behaving like them.
"The Australian flag was being used as gang colours. It was racism disguised as patriotism and I'm not going to tolerate it," Mr West said.Some things, it seems, are universal.
Anyway, Australia's populist Prime Minister, John Howard, Hammer of the Latte-Left, who is not one to pass up an opportunity to be the voice of the silent majority, has called on the event to be shut down unless the ban is reversed.
After a recount in the Victorian state election, the DLP has lost one of its two seats to Labor, who, in turn, have lost one of theirs to the Greens. So now the upper house looks like:
- ALP: 19
- Liberal Party: 15
- Greens: 3
- National Party: 2
- DLP: 1
Meanwhile, political scientists are blaming the election of this bunch of fusty relics (who are rather unlikely to speak for the fabled Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers) on the above-the-line preferential voting system used to elect candidates. In short, this system works by allowing voters a choice: vote below the line, enumerating your candidates of choice in order from most to least preferred (and there's usually a good 40 or 50 there), or tick the box of one party above the line and automatically vote according to whatever preferences the party has chosen in its various deals. The political enthusiasts who keep up to date with the details of the preference deals are, for the most part, the same tiny minority of voters who can be bothered to vote below the line; meanwhile, the vast majority of voters tick one box and hope for a result with the flavour of their particular party.
IMHO, there is a solution: make above-the-line voting preferential, allowing voters to rank their parties of choice in order, removing control over the exact distribution of the preferences of above-the-line voters from party dealmakers.
It's December, Christmas sales are entering their third month, and Britain's right-wing tabloids are full of stories about politically-correct do-gooders banning Christmas to avoid offending minorities. The problem is, further investigation reveals the stories to be utter nonsense. Birmingham hasn't ordered Christmas to be rebranded as "Winterval" (the name was used for a three-month shopping promotion in 1998, and never since), the evil secularist LibDems in Luton haven't replaced it with a Harry Potter festival, and as for the millionaire who was banned from putting up a light display outside his home, that had nothing to do with enforcing secularism and everythign to do with the large illuminated snowmen, amplifiers blaring Christmas songs and increased traffic and crime.
So what's going on here? Well, it looks like the "war on Christmas" is a quite deliberate ploy by a loud minority of religious traditionalists trying to claim more cultural clout than today's largely secular society entitles them to.
"There's something very complicated going on here," says Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. "It has to do with the contest between Christianity and Islam: Christians are becoming very alarmed about the progress they see Islam making in this country, and they fear their own festivals will be overwhelmed. I was doing a phone-in the other day, and everybody who rang in was saying, 'They're banning Christmas!' So I said: 'Who? Where? Who's standing outside a church saying you can't go in? Who's coming and knocking on your door at 6am and asking if there's a nativity set in your house?' It's quite dangerous, I think, to incite this kind of resentment against a perceived enemy."
This year, though, the defenders of Christmas aren't only invoking the fear that nebulous Muslim forces might be about to obliterate Britain's traditional religion. Simultaneously, they have also aligned themselves with Muslim groups, arguing that the real enemy is secularisation. It's a position well-crafted for the historical moment, and for the currently fashionable notion of Britain as comprised of groups defined above all by their faith (even though barely 10% of us regularly attend any kind of religious service).Unsurprisingly, the War-On-Christmas panic is not indigenously British, but, like many forms of religious chest-beating, imported from the Colonies, in this case, America and its culture war:
Then, last year, the War on Christmas received a massive boost when it exploded on to the American political landscape, thanks primarily to two Fox News anchormen, John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly. Gibson had a vested interest, having just published a book entitled The War On Christmas: How The Liberal Plot To Ban The Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. (A note in the interests of full disclosure: O'Reilly, as I enjoy telling people whenever possible, accused me of "spout[ing] incredible nonsense" earlier this year after I wrote a story about a speech in which he invited al-Qaida to attack the liberal stronghold of San Francisco; previously, he had speculated that the Guardian "might be edited by Osama bin Laden".)(Btw, has the atheists-are-taking-away-Christmas thing spread to Australia yet? I imagine when it does, the federal government will swing into action, using its expanded powers to come down like a tonne of bricks on any officials daring to take the Christ out of
An article in The Age talks about the role of pop lyrics in the cultural shift of the "1960s":
For a while they were a very effective form of mass media, communicating notions about authority, sex and drugs to kids around the world. This mattered because other media, such as newspapers, television and films, were still very conservative. Eventually they caught up, but until they did pop lyrics had an importance they have never had before or since.
But others, particularly those about sex, contained messages that were able to be played on radio only because so few people knew what they meant. In some cases, this was because few people paid close attention to the words. In other cases, it was because the words were obscure, at least by the standards of the time. (It was, let's not forget, a period when Ian Fleming could call a woman in one of his bestsellers Pussy Galore.) This meant lyricists could get away with sentiments that were pretty blatant, even by more recent standards.
For the markers of cultural change, I referred to my favourite book on the period, The Sixties, by American academic Arthur Marwick. He likes the idea that the decade was a "mini-renaissance" that actually ran from 1958 to 1974. In the first of those years, the forces that had been building through the 1950s (civil rights, affluence, the extension of adolescence through expanded higher education) accelerated. The latter date is when the end of the West's participation in the Vietnam War and the impact of the oil crisis hit home.
The BBC News has a piece on the Exclusive Brethren, who, aside from their love-in with te Tories in Australia, have been trying to get into bed with New Zealand's conservative National Party:
The group was then accused of seeking to influence post-election negotiations by aggressively lobbying minor political parties to form a coalition with Mr Brash's centre-right National party.
Most disturbingly, private detectives claimed they were hired by the group to dig up dirt on the private lives of senior politicians in the Labour party, including the Prime Minister Helen Clark and her husband.Apparently their political allegiances arise not just from the theocratic hard line they take (after all, if they isolate themselves from sinful worldly society, what's the point of electing governments to punish and straighten this sinfulness among the nonbelievers? It'd be like, say, an Orthodox Jewish group lobbying to ban pork or something.) as from their business interests:
Like all small business people, they need a world of de-regulation and lower taxes, he says, adding that their interests in the agricultural sector would naturally pit them against the Greens.Ominously enough, Australia's right-wing Prime Minister John Howard is on record as saying that he has no problems with the Exclusive Brethren's values, and that they're a lot more in line with mainstream Australia than a lot of other groups (by which, I'm guessing, he means those latte-sipping SBS-watching inner-city socialist cosmopolitanists).
As the Victorian state election approaches, shadowy extreme-right-wing religious group The Exclusive Brethren (whose religion prohibits them from voting, though apparently says nothing about exerting influence in favour of conservative parties) have beem taking out newspaper ads attacking the Greens.
A few interesting facts about the Exclusive Brethren: other than being staunch supporters of socially right-wing parties in various countries (though, seemingly, not in Britain, where they originated) and having a penchant for anonymous whispering campaigns against progressive politicians, the Exclusive Brethren are the sect into which the occultist Aleister Crowley was born.
So far, the SBS, Australia's second noncommercial broadcaster (specialising in international film and television and world news) has escaped the scourging that the ABC has repeatedly received from right-wing culture-warriors in the government. All this looks about to change, as the government, triumphant after its neutering of the ABC, announces that SBS is next in line for straightening out:
Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson said George Negus had expressed "pro-Arab" sentiments on international current affairs program Dateline and Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said SBS had "sided" with Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks and exhibited "a rather equivocal view of terrorism".
Fierravanti-Wells, who declined to speak to Green Guide, told the hearing that SBS broadcast "smut and pornography" by showing foreign films and adult animation programsSBS, with its cosmopolitan (and thus, by definition, "un-Australian") agenda, is an artefact of the Thaw, the three or so decades of liberalism between the collapse of the old wowser monoculture around the late 1960s and the rise of the new wowserism; I was wondering how long it would be tolerated in Howard's majoritarian new order.
Police in Italy have seized a toilet which plays the Italian national anthem when flushed from the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art. A court will now decide whether the museum is guilty of causing offence to the nation; the case for the prosecution is strengthened by a decree by the authoritarian Berlusconi government earlier this year defining the national anthem as an emblem and the property of the state.
The Australian government is planning to strip environmental groups and trade unions of their tax-deductible status, for campaigning against the government during the last federal election. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of revoking charitable tax-deductible status from groups that involve themselves in politics on the government's side, such as hardline evangelical Christian organisations.
International consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers has called on Australia to introduce an 18+ rating for video games, rather than the present system of banning anything not suitable for children. Given that it's a voice of multinational corporate capital (a force the Tories respect more than paternalist wowserism and populist culture-war politics) making the call, and not the despised inner-city refugee-loving latte-socialist elite, perhaps someone will give the censorious theocrat in South Australia who holds the veto a sharp push and get things changed.
This past Fourth of July, a megachurch pastor in Memphis, Tennessee, has given the Statue of Liberty a faith-based makeover:
As the congregation of the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church looked on and its pastor, Apostle Alton R. Williams, presided, a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and "Jehovah" inscribed on her crown. And in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross, as if to ward off the pawnshops, the car dealerships and the discount furniture outlets at the busy corner of Kirby Parkway and Winchester that is her home. A single tear graced her cheek.
In "The Meaning of the Statue of Liberation Through Christ: Reconnecting Patriotism With Christianity," he explains that the teardrop on his Lady is God's response to what he calls the nation's ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools and the country's "promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism and humanism." In another book, he said Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans's embrace of sin.On a tangent: I am amused to read that, apparently, atheists in the US are technically a "fringe religion" alongside Satanists, Scientologists and Druids.
In an attempt to remake the ABC in its own conservative, monocultural image, the Australian government has appointed a controversial right-wing historian, known for his ad hominem attacks on opponents, to its board:
Mr Windschuttle has been a fierce critic of the so-called "black armband" view of history and claimed in his 2002 The Fabrication of Aboriginal History that massacres of Tasmanian Aborigines had been exaggerated.
The eight-member board already includes right-wing columnist Janet Albrechtsen and conservative anthropologist Ron Brunton.Those on the "anvil" side of the culture war, of course, protest loudly.
Historian Stuart Macintyre, who has often crossed swords with Mr Windschuttle, said: "The whole point about a public broadcaster is to be a place of a plurality of views. A precondition for that is that the people who are directing it respect that role and don't try to declare other views to be illegimate in the way that Windschuttle has."It is unclear how much power the board will have over the ABC's day-to-day operation, though the day is getting nearer when the Australian national broadcaster becomes a big hammer in the culture war, the stern, paternalistic voice of the Howard government, dictating the official party line on issues, from current politics to history to culture, and consigning un-Australian views to the wilderness by omission or one-sided dismissal. Then, once it is a trustworthy organ of the government, maybe it will once again get some decent funding.
The Age looks at the Australian government's push to prevent official recognition of homosexual relationships, interviewing various prominent gay public figures, including Kerryn Phelps, Bob Brown and small-L-liberal columnist Margo Kingston, whose columns have been taking up the "anvil" side of the culture war for years:
Margo Kingston, a self-confessed Howard hater, argues it is a piece of executive arrogance. "Caesar Howard," she says. "Yes, it's a sensitive issue; yes, there are people of many opinions, but this is absolutely gutless and indefensible. The basic 'liberal' position is that whatever you do in your bedroom is private," says Kingston.Therein lies the rub. Kingston makes the mistake of assuming that Australia is a liberal society. Australia, as envisioned and reengineered by the Howard government, leans significantly more towards majoritarianism than libertarianism than most "liberal" societies (think Britain, Canada, the US blue states, and the northwest of Europe). The key distinction is that in libertarianism (not to be confused with Libertarianism, of the guns-and-Ayn-Rand stripe, but I digress), what individuals say or do privately is their own business. Under majoritarianism, there is one set of community/national values, in areas such as propriety, culture and sexual morality, and deviation from those values is seen as inherently corrosive and harmful and thus officially disapproved of and disincentivised. The majority of Australians are heterosexuals, hence tax breaks for having children, subsidised by higher taxes paid by non-breeders (both gay and straight) and official non-recognition of non-heterosexual lifestyles, making noises about "moral values" to pander to the reactionary heartland (and build up a US-style evangelical powerbase) whilst stopping short of outright persecution (as per Peter Costello's statement that gays in Australia are lucky because homosexuality is not a crime).
In Australia, there is no R rating for video games, and hence all video and computer games deemed unsuitable for children are illegal (either that or are shoehorned into the suitable-for-teenage-mooks MA category; after all, commerce is commerce); it is a similar situation to what existed with comic books in the US in the days of the Comics Code Authority and the red scare. 88% of Australians want a R rating introduced, recognising that video games aren't merely childrens' entertainment; however, it's not likely to happen any time soon, because a devoutly religious, ultra-conservative state attorney-general holds the power of veto:
In order to change the current regime by introducing a classification bill before parliament, all nine state and federal attorneys-general must agree unanimously to the proposal for an R18+ games rating.
South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson opposes the introduction of an R18+ classification for games which would bring interactive entertainment in line with other media like films and publications.
An R rating would give the OFLC a lot more flexibility when dealing with borderline decisions like the recent controversial banning of Marc Ecko's Getting Up as well as sending a much stronger message to parents that not all games are suitable for children.
Singapore is the only other Western country in the world not to have an R classification for games.I suspect that Atkinson isn't the only attorney-general who would veto a R rating. The federal government is quite close to the religious right, and I believe has previously opposed any moves that would Send The Wrong Message by legalising adults-only games.
(And is Singapore really a "Western country" by any criterion? It's in south-east Asia, more Confucian than European in philosophy, somewhat authoritarian, and not, strictly speaking, a functioning liberal democracy. Though, being also descended from the institutions of the British Empire, it could be a model for a more orderly, efficient Australia.)
Under new national-security laws in Australia, if the government doesn't like something you're likely to say, they can send teams around to raid you and smash your computers. And if you tell anyone about it afterwards, you go to jail.
CARMEL TRAVERS: Bear in mind that I was only one of many people whose computers were being cleansed and within the officers who came into my office, there was almost a boast. Because I apologised to them and I said, "Look, it's a bit cramped in here, I'm sorry you haven't got much room to work." "Don't worry, we're used to this. We do this every day." And I said, "Oh, really? How often have you done it?" "Oh, 70, 72 or 73 times." It was almost a boast and it was not a rare event, and I found that alarming.
ANDREW WILKIE: I think a lot of it was just theatre meant to put pressure on people, almost to bully them. I think it was intended to send a very clear signal to the media, to the publishing industry, to me that they needed to be very, very careful about criticising the Government. I think the Government's behaviour was intended very clearly to send a signal to my former colleagues that, you know, you don't cross them, you don't resign, you don't speak out.
DR DAVID WRIGHT NEVILLE: The sort of environment that many critics of this government now work under, many of us do feel that we are constantly surveilled, we do feel that we are constantly being harassed in some ways. One only needs to write an opinion piece for the newspaper and one can get a phone call from someone in the Government asking for clarification or pointing out things, and that never used to happen in the past.All this is made possible thanks to the powers in the anti-terrorism laws, which can be exercised without oversight, giving those at the reins of power the means to put the frighteners on anyone they don't like the look of like never before. The laws are due to expire next year, though ASIO, the national security agency, is calling on them to be made permanent. Given the iron discipline of Australian party politics, they stand a chance of getting this.
A new report might challenge Australia's image as a tolerant, easy-going society, at least as far as non-heterosexuals are concerned, showing that gays and lesbians suffer abuse and depression in Australia. The survey of 5,500 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people revealed that 90% curb public affection for partners, 60% have suffered verbal abuse, nearly half have suffered a major depressive episode, and 16% have had suicidal thoughts. I imagine that Family First and the outer-suburban evangelical megachurches can take heart in the Australian silent majority's true-blue, dinky-di, resounding disapproval of "deviant" and "immoral" sexual behaviour. Meanwhile, those who don't fit in with "mainstream Australian values" can always pack up and move to Berlin or somewhere where that sort of thing is tolerated.
It would be interesting to compare this to, say, 10 years ago, and to see whether this has always been the case, or whether things were more tolerant back then and this is a sign of a growing culture of social conservatism and intolerance in Howard's Australia, which some commentators have pointed out.
Victoria's (State) Health Minister Bronwyn Pike will release this report, along with a website dedicated to gay and lesbian health.
The Federal Government, meanwhile, is expected to announce its own solution to the gay depression crisis, in the form of Medicare funding for a range of faith-based programmes to cure homosexuality.
Since coming to power just over 10 years ago, Australia's unapologetically right-wing government has been at war with the culture of the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC (which, being a not-for-profit, government-funded entity, tends to attract people with left-wing ideals). Periodic purges of leftists and threats to its funding have kept it mostly timid and less than eager to make trouble for the government or question its agenda, though this is a less than permanent solution. Now the government's Communications Minister has announced plans to change its culture more permanently by introducing advertising.
If this goes through, Australia may soon lack a non-commercial broadcasting network funded on ideals of public service, with everything being turned into a colossal shopping mall of easily digestible mental junk food designed to attract the broadest possible audience, without the risk of challenging anyone's beliefs or requiring them to think. Those who dislike crass, loud, intelligence-insulting ads and programming designed for the lowest common denominator will be out of luck, but then again, such attitudes are fundamentally un-Australian, and have no place in a relaxed and comfortable society.
(As if by coincidence, The Soul Jazz Tropicália CD arrived in the mail today; the booklet, which gives a detailed history of the Tropicália movement and its suppression by the Brazilian military dictatorship, mentions at one stage that immediately after the military coup in 1964, the dictatorship encouraged a "television-based society" to reinforce social control. Television, it seems, is an ideal tool for instilling conformity and passivity, with its passive nature and narcotic pull; after all, why go out and do things in the mundane everyday world if you can involve yourself in the plot of Friends or Lost? And more channels of TV don't seem to be much of an answer; as has been claimed recently, all that replacing a few channels everyone watches with hundreds of niche lifestyle channels does is hasten social atomisation and encourage a sort of nihilistic solipsism and further withdrawal from any sort of social discourse. In short, the effects of television are great if one wants a passive, docile population delegating the consent of the governed to technocrats, not so good if one wants a vigorous social discourse. Discuss.)
And in other news from Australia: the country's political climate may be moving further to the right, with the Christian Fundamentalist Family First party set to win the balance of power in South Australia, getting the preferences of Labor ahead of the Democrats. Family First are the charming people whose policies involve reinforcing social discrimination against homosexuals, stepping up the War On Drugs, and installing a Saudi-style national internet firewall to protect Australians from seeing immoral content online. Now it looks like they may be leaping over the Greens and what's left of the Democrats to become the party of the balance of power for the Howard era.
The Sydney Morning Herald on what the recent lionisation of Kerry Packer as a "Great Australian" says about Australia today:
A decade ago we had a significant succession of truly inspirational governors-general; we looked to the ABC for excellence in broadcasting, to the universities to foster critical minds and to the CSIRO for scientific research of high integrity. If John Howard were a true conservative, he would have sustained those traditions. Instead, he has debauched them. Today we have an invisible governor-general, universities corrupted by their scrabbling for money, an underfunded ABC and a CSIRO where those who are genuinely concerned about global warming are expected to bite their tongues.
According to the latest polling, a majority of Australians accept that they are being governed by a divisive and mean-spirited leader, but apparently they no longer care. It's a "Whatever it takes" world we live in now. If it takes lies to stay in power or bribes to sell our wheat, no matter.
Packer in his lifetime was an icon for those who espoused the philosophy of whatever it takes. There was much to admire in his force of personality and in his exploits, but under no account should he be mistaken for a model citizen. He had utter contempt for politicians, for the arts, for idealism of any kind, for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and for those who did not share his world view. His ethics were defined simply as whatever the law allows.
It is truly appalling that our residual sense of sadness for his family should be channelled by the Packer interests and its claqueurs to raise him to the kind of heroic stature that his life doesn't justify. In some ways he unfortunately represents all that is wrong with contemporary Australia.
Australian treasurer Peter Costello to gay marriage activists (paraphrased): "Shut up and just be grateful we don't criminalise gay sex":
Mr Costello said: "I think we do recognise the rights of gay and lesbian people in Australia." "We do not criminalise conduct or behaviour."
"I thought that was appalling. It was offensive. I found it suggesting that we were lucky that we weren't being thrown in jail," Ms Stricker said outside the Sydney Institute meeting. Prof Phelps, also offended by the comment, said it would be like saying to Mr Costello at the Sydney mardi gras: "You are really lucky that we don't lock you up because you are heterosexual." "That's as offensive as his comment to people who are in a committed same sex relationship," she said.I wonder whether not criminalising homosexuality is a policy issue which will become negotiable as those outer-suburban evangelical megachurches grow in political influence, and the government starts looking for minorities to bully to retain their favour.
The Age ran a scathing commentary about the state funeral, and various other memorial services, held for deceased media baron Kerry Packer:
Has there been a more disgusting public spectacle in modern Australian life than the Packer memorial service? I was at the cricket on the day he died, and the ground announcer declared that a minute's silence would be observed in honour of Packer's "contributions" to cricket. My friends and I refused to stand, but everyone around us did, without a whimper of complaint, like those who are asked to march off and fight wars, and do.
So how did we come to the conclusion that a life spent turning an inherited fortune into an astronomically bigger one is a life well lived? We didn't. Rather, as Orwell showed in 1984, those who control the means of communication control the language itself, and can assert, and have a large enough number of people actually believe, that freedom is slavery, war is peace, or that a life spent gorging oneself, squandering amounts on blackjack tables that could help solve, say, the global malaria epidemic, avoiding one's civic duties and speaking to everybody with barely concealed contempt, is a life of generosity and grace.
Beazley and Hawke are both Rhodes scholars. It's more likely they know that their party now stands for nothing, and think it's better to be present at the memorial service of a devout enemy of working people (despite Packer's love of sport, pies and swear words), than risk offending the owners of a vast media conglomerate whose "opinions" hold more sway over elections than any well-formulated policy.
The memorial service was broadcast without advertisements. Thus viewers could experience, for once, what it is like to watch a program on Channel Nine for an hour without fools screaming at them for 15 minutes to buy things. The only people who protested against this disgraceful, taxpayer-funded event - four members of the noble Kerry Packer dis-memorial society - were arrested.Of course, Packer was a true-blue dinky-di Aussie, a great mate and a great Australian, and it would be shamefully un-Australian to say otherwise about the great man.
If this article is to be believed, the young people who grew up in John Howard's Australia have taken the Tory government's values wholly to heart:
The language of the Howard Government on religious minorities and refugees has resulted in a generation desensitised to the very human realities and manifestations of global inequity and ethnic difference. When Howard talks of "queue jumpers" and "illegals" to describe refugees, there is a knee-jerk tendency among young people to apportion blame rather than feel empathy. This is a state of affairs that Howard has personally overseen, a significant paradigm shift that entrenches a deep and pernicious ethos of social hierarchy and privilege.
Simultaneously, there is a tendency of young people to flock to evangelical religious movements in the past five years, particularly in the outer suburbs of our capital cities. Without wishing to speak disparagingly about young people seeking spiritual depth, we can say that within these new popular religious movements disengagement with mainstream political reality is fostered. To many of these groups, "family values" becomes a code for being anti-gay, anti-euthanasia and anti-abortion. It is alarming to hear how frequently young people today embrace this kind of neo-conservatism, almost like a race to see who can be more right-wing.
Moreover, with Howard's constant talk of a very white-bread brand of traditional family values being paramount to a good society, we have seen a sudden rush of young people to get married early, get a home loan and shift to the suburbs at the first opportunity. This obsession has even extended into the gay community, which after fighting for 30 years to keep the government out of the bedroom, now appears to be fighting for the approval of Howard for their relationships.
Coupled with this, we have witnessed in Australia a new kind of hyper-consumerism. The social centre of town on any given evening is now the local shopping centre. Young people are all too eager to get the biggest credit limits possible, and max their Visa cards out with the casualness of a walk in the park. Indeed, the Howard era has brought us closer to US style ultra-materialism, where "retail therapy" is the new buzz word. Feeling bored or depressed? Better get to Chadstone shopping centre. The so-called metrosexual male has become little more than a crass marketing ploy.The lack of empathy, hyperconsumerism and devil-take-the-hindmost mentality could be the same Hobbesian muscular nihilism witnessed in the United States. Though the rise of US-style right-wing evangelical churches and acceptance of conformistic ideas of "family values" is more alarming, especially coupled with the thread of intolerance for difference hinted at. Australia may be changing, on a deep level, into one large Red State, one in which nonconformity is something to be punished and straightened rather than embraced.
A judge in the United States has denied a woman custody of her child after seeing photographs of her participating in Church of the SubGenius events; or so she says, anyway:
On February 3, 2006, Judge Punch heard testimony in the case. Jeff entered into evidence 16 exhibits taken from the Internet, 12 of which are photographs of the SubGenius event, X-Day. Kohl has never attended X-Day and is not in any of the pictures. Rachel is depicted in many of these photos, often wearing skimpy costumes or completely nude, while participating in X-Day and Detroit Devival events.
The judge, allegedly a very strict Catholic, became outraged at the photos of the X-Day parody of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ — especially the photo where Jesus [Steve Bevilacqua] is wearing clown makeup and carrying a crucifix with a pool-noodle dollar sign on it while being beaten by a crowd of SubGenii, including a topless woman with a "dildo".
His Honor also strongly disapproved of the photos of Mary Magdalen [Rachel Bevilacqua] in a bondage dress and papier maché goat's head. The judge repeatedly asked, "Why a goat? What's so significant about a goat's head?" When Rachel replied, "I just thought the word 'goat' was funny," Judge Punch lost his temper completely, and began to shout abuse at Rachel, calling her a "pervert," "mentally ill," "lying," and a participant in "sex orgies." The judge ordered that Rachel is to have absolutely no contact with her son, not even in writing, because he felt the pictures of X-Day performance art were evidence enough to suspect "severe mental illness". Rachel has had no contact with Kohl since that day, February 3, 2006.Various SubGenii, Discordians, pagans and miscellaneous freakonauts are getting involved in mounting an appeal, a process which is expected to cost US$50,000. Some are concerned that, should this judgment be allowed to stand, it may set a precedent denying practitioners of non-traditional lifestyles equality before the law when it comes to child custody.
There is a discussion of this case on Metafilter, with some comments casting doubt on the SubGeniis' account of the case.
(via Boing Boing)
An interesting link from Momus: Market research firm Environics has conducted a survey of changing values in America, and come up with some disturbing conclusions. Over the past 12 years, their results show, the meta-values underlying American society have shifted away from engagement within society towards a paranoid, Hobbesian, every-man-for-himself world-view; this has fostered both libertinism and authoritarianism:
Looking at the data from 1992 to 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus found a country whose citizens are increasingly authoritarian while at the same time feeling evermore adrift, isolated, and nihilistic. They found a society at once more libertine and more puritanical than in the past, a society where solidarity among citizens was deteriorating, and, most worrisomely to them, a progressive clock that seemed to be unwinding backward on broad questions of social equity. Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that the father of the family must be the master in his own house increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that men are naturally superior to women increased from 30 percent to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the fraction that said they discussed local problems with people they knew plummeted from 66 percent to 39 percent. Survey respondents were also increasingly accepting of the value that violence is a normal part of life -- and that figure had doubled even before the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.The research was done by plotting survey responses on a rectangular "values matrix", with two axes: authority-individuality and fulfilment-survival:
The quadrants represent different worldviews. On the top lies authority, an orientation that values traditional family, religiosity, emotional control, and obedience. On the bottom, the individuality orientation encompasses risk-taking, anomie-aimlessness, and the acceptance of flexible families and personal choice. On the right side of the scale are values that celebrate fulfillment, such as civic engagement, ecological concern, and empathy. On the left, theres a cluster of values representing the sense that life is a struggle for survival: acceptance of violence, a conviction that people get what they deserve in life, and civic apathy. These quadrants are not random: Shellenberger and Nordaus developed them based on an assessment of how likely it was that holders of certain values also held other values, or self-clustered.
Over the past dozen years, the arrows have started to point away from the fulfillment side of the scale, home to such values as gender parity and personal expression, to the survival quadrant, home to illiberal values such as sexism, fatalism, and a focus on every man for himself. Despite the increasing political power of the religious right, Environics found social values moving away from the authority end of the scale, with its emphasis on responsibility, duty, and tradition, to a more atomized, rage-filled outlook that values consumption, sexual permissiveness, and xenophobia. The trend was toward values in the individuality quadrant.(If I recall correctly, fulfilment and survival are at the two opposite extremes of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, with individuals whose survival needs are met progressing to focus on fulfilment needs. Could the reversion of the focus to survival be the result of respondents perceiving that their survival needs are threatened?)
On a related note: here is a PDF file of a presentation analysing British political opinions along similar lines, and finding that, while the old labels of "left" and "right" are less meaningful, opinions are divided along two axes: the Socialist-Free Market axis of economics and, more significantly, the "Axis of UKIP", which sorts respondents on their opinions on crime and international relations. At one end are the Daily Mail readers, who believe in isolationism and capital punishment, and on the other end are "chianti-swilling bleeding hearts" and cosmopolitanists. The centre of gravity is a little towards the UKIP end, which is why xenophobic, fear-mongering tabloids sell so well. The presentation also has diagrams of the distributions of positions by political affiliation and newspaper choice, with some interesting results.
In this Australia Day edition*: John Howard claims victory in the culture war; in his personal aircraft-carrier-off-the-Californian-coast moment, Australia's conservative Prime Minister has asserted that the forces of relativism, debates about Australian national identity and the Marxist-Keatingist "black armband" view of history have been decisively vanquished; consequently, Australians are free to feel no guilt over the past, to not apologise for anything, and gleefully ignore the fact that effete, garlic-eating Euroweenies and latte-sipping traitors in their own ranks see them increasingly as ugly, gormless redneck cowboys. Howard also called for a "coalition of the willing" to fundamentally change how Australian history is to be taught; his view is basically centred on the Western cultural tradition, with, as one would expect, a lot of emphasis on "Judaeo-Christian values" and other things conservatives fawn over, as opposed to, for example, the post-Enlightenment liberal-secularist tradition or pluralism.
Another sign that, in Australia, the conservatives may have won the culture war: sales of Australian flags have increased by 300% in the past five years; perhaps Howard's campaign to socially engineer a US-style culture of flag-waving jingoism in Australia (witness the recent federal requirement for schools to have flagpoles and flag-waving ceremonies) has borne fruit?
* referring to it by other names, such as "Inv*si*n Day", may be seditious under Australian law.
Former Australian ambassador to the United Nations Richard Woolcott claims that Australia's reputation around the world is being diminished thanks to government policies of uncritically supporting the Bush government, restricting civil liberties and pandering to bigoted tendencies where expedient:
Australia today is not the country I represented with pride for some 40 years. This country of such great potential risks becoming a land of fading promise.
We have seen Australian democracy diminished by government hubris and arrogance, opposition weakness and a curious public detachment and apathy. Our national self-respect has also been eroded by our excessively deferential attitude to the Bush Administration's foreign and security policy, especially in Iraq. The revelations about the Australian Wheat Board's dealings with Iraq under Saddam and the Government's links with the Board, make its proper opposition to corruption and its demands for good governance, especially in the South Pacific, look hollow. Moreover, truth in Government has yet to be restored.
With our participation in the Iraq war, the Howard Government has also reinforced the image of an Australia moving back to the so-called Anglosphere, rather than focusing more on its future in its own neighbourhood.IMHO, it is not Australia's definition of itself in the "Anglosphere" that is the problem, but its position at the reactionary end of the Anglosphere. The United States, for example, has its famous constitution and Bill of Rights, not to mention an elaborate system of checks and balances which have done much to rein in the powers of radical governments. Britain has a diverse and independent media, which, at its best, is possibly the best in the world. Canada has extensive guarantees of human rights as well. Meanwhile, in Australia, there are no legal rights of freedom of speech, association or conscience (the only constitutionally guaranteed right is not to have a state religion imposed on oneself), the press is owned by a handful of media proprietors (who all supported the Liberal/National Coalition in the last election; even the liberal Age was coerced into running editorials telling voters to vote Tory). In a lot of areas, from treatment of refugees to sedition laws, Australia trails behind other "Anglosphere" countries. Australia could do a lot worse than look towards the other "Anglosphere" countries as models of good governance.
The treatment of Vivian Alvarez Solon, the injured Australian citizen deported to the Philippines, has also undermined the Government's credibility in protecting its citizens' rights. Again, a detached wider community does not seem to care too much about the principles involved in such cases.And public apathy is part of the problem. The famously laconic Australian "no-worries-she'll-be-right-mate" attitude, when extended into politics, does turn into apathy, and, sometimes, a belief that those who aren't apathetic and are "whinging" about these things are "ratbags" and thus suspicious. It's probably no coincidence that this attitude is something John Howard has lauded with his talk of a "relaxed and comfortable" Australia.
And in light of recent events, The Age looks at democracy, Singapore-style:
I was reminded powerfully of that one afternoon. Stepping out of Singapore's state-of-the-art subway system, I rode the escalator into a small park. There stood an unkempt old man with a small pile of books for sale. It was former opposition leader J. B. Jeyaretnam.
In 2001, JB was declared bankrupt after losing a series of libel cases to government figures from Lee Kuan Yew down. Now he was banned from Parliament and reduced to selling his own books to live.
It is a strategy routinely used by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party to shut up the opposition. The courts in Singapore are an arm of government. In this case, JB's final crime was to accuse the organisers of the Tamil Language Week of being "government stooges". He was penalised more than $A500,000 in damages and court costs. It ended his political career.
Lee and his successor, Goh Chok Tong, then sued another opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan. An American-trained neuropsychologist, Chee is already banned from the next election after suggesting that Malay schoolgirls should be allowed to wear headscarves to school. The courts ruled that that was speaking on religion, a forbidden topic.
One last example: in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made one of his occasional gestures of liberalisation, saying Singapore must become more "open" and "inclusive". Yet days later, the thought police ordered filmmaker Martyn See to hand over his video camera and his new documentary on Chee, Singapore Rebel for Singapore law bans films "directed towards any political end". See now faces a possible two-year jail term and an $A80,000 fine.One can imagine this happening in Australia after a decade or so of unchallenged Liberal-National rule. Between the sedition laws that the government's determined to push through despite growing opposition and Australia's severe defamation laws (which. as in Singapore, are derived from English defamation laws, designed primarily to protect the interests of the establishment from the rabble), suppressing troublesome opposition should not be too difficult, requiring only the political will and lack of concern for pluralism. Perhaps within a decade, we'll see a bankrupt Bob Brown or Buffy Stott-Despoja, recently released from a prison sentence, flogging their books or JJJ Hottest 100 compilations at a flea market somewhere. Meanwhile, the Labor Party will, by then, have morphed from the shadow government to the government's shadow: a "lite" version of the Tories, whose only difference from the government is a vaguely mumbled promise to "be nicer". So no difference there, then.
Melbourne's liberal-except-when-the-proprietors-pull-the-strings newspaper The Age is shocked and appalled that, on the day that convicted heroin trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van is hanged, the prime minister will be insensitive enough to attend a cricket match, rather than registering his outrage as a liberal Australian sickened by the very idea of the death penalty.
I'm not all that surprised. Could it be that one of the reasons that Howard did not protest too loudly is because, in his ideology, far from being a barbarically illiberal backwater, Singapore is a model for what a modern Australia could look like, reconciling the cherished authoritarian conformity of decades past with a dynamic economy and a place in the globalised world? Let's see: an extremely business-friendly regulatory environment, a work ethic that aggressively minimises threats to economic performance, strict censorship of the media and arts, criminalisation and marginalisation of political dissent, harsh penalties for conduct the leaders find inappropriate (such as chewing gum, for example) and the near-total power of the state over all aspects of public and private life. Add a good dose of Anglo-Saxon Christian moralism, suburban wowser ideas of propriety and traditional iconography to that and you have a perfect recipe for a "relaxed and comfortable" Australia John Howard could love.
In what The Age says is part of the hardline Christian conservative Assembly of God movement "gaining influence" across Australia, two Assembly of God councillors have won seats on the Shepparton council on a platform of banning a brothel. I wonder whether this is an isolated incident, or the sign of a larger trend of hardline religious moralists winning more power and reshaping Australia in their own image.
In the Red States of the US, there is now a conservative children's book, whose villains are those evil godless socialists in the Democratic Party:
Written by Katharine DeBrecht, a mother of three, it tells the story of two young brothers who try to make money from a lemonade stall but are thwarted at every turn by left-wing politicians who threaten to put them out of business.
Several of the characters in the book are instantly recognisable, including "Congresswoman Clunkton" who tells the boys to reduce the amount of sugar in their lemonade and forces them to add broccoli to every glass.
Later the boys are ordered to take down a picture of Jesus by the civil liberties lawyer Mr Fussman and eventually lose the stand when it is taken over by the government of "Liberaland", at which point it goes broke.
Their story turns out to be a dream, however, and the boys are able to pursue their free-market ambitions when they wake up.This book was apparently second only to Harry Potter on the Amazon children's book chart.
An Age piece on the Scott Parkin incident:
"For me, some of the really disturbing aspects of this situation have been the way that the authorities have come to conflate activism and terrorism," Dias says. "It basically means the end of freedom of expression, the end of being able to question the policy of the current government."
With state premiers preparing for the Council of Australian Government's summit on terror powers, Parkin's treatment led Victorian Premier Steve Bracks to sound a note of caution. "Without a proper explanation of why Scott Parkin was detained, there is the potential for the public to question the necessity of the law and whether it should be in place," Bracks said.
Joh Bjelke-Petersen would be proud, if not envious; compared to the present state of affairs, to say nothing of the new anti-terrorism laws being drafted as we speak, 1980s Queensland was a veritable Interzone of freedom.
And details have emerged of Parkin's extremist politics and dangerous history:
Too often physical confrontation becomes the story of a protest rather than the issue that drives the protest. Parkin teaches what Hollows calls "de-escalation techniques" to defuse potentially violent situations, and to avoid provoking police. He also advises on non-violent physical blockading methods.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said ASIO had not opposed the original visa application, but its understanding of his intentions had changed during his trip. Parkin was detained for "encouraging spirited protest".
It has been pointed out that the reason for this extraordinary action (which, incidentally, the Labor opposition fully backs; don't look for troublesome questions there) is that Parkin is a thorn in the side of Halliburton, who, as a contractor to the Australian military, are a matter of national security (a phrase Australians will be hearing a lot more of in future).
And more here:
Asked what advice he might give other travellers, he replied: "Be careful where you go and what you say, and look around at who's following you. We have to be careful, but we still need to stand up for what we're doing."Or, alternately, "don't let the sun set on you in Australia, hippie". Left-wing troublemakers are on notice that they and their politics are not welcome in Australia.
The bill for his Australian adventure will top $11,000, including $777 for his imprisonment, $4235 for his air fare to Los Angeles, and $6675 in fares and accommodation for his two minders, whose tasks included accompanying Parkin to the toilet. The account will be presented to him should he return to Australia, which he says he has been forbidden from doing for three years.Perhaps this is another sign that those of a liberal inclination should boycott Australia? Doing so would have an economic impact; for one, most of the Americans who travel abroad for personal reasons are towards the liberal side of the spectrum, and the cosmopolitanist trend is probably similar for other nations. If those who disagree with the present state of affairs boycott Australia, the tourism industry will take a hit, and I can't see an Australian Government ad campaign on Christian cable stations in Mississippi and Texas or right-wing satellite radio, promoting Australia as an ideologically sound destination for conservative holidaymakers, turning that around. Cultural exchange with the great redneck wonderland down under would also suffer, with the OFLC losing the opportunity to ban more arthouse films, progressive-leaning bands from abroad no longer stopping to play gigs at the Corner or Metro, and international arts festivals in Australia, stripped of first-tier international talent, looking increasingly parochial and small. Of course, such an action would hasten the destruction of the cosmopolitan inner-city culture and further alienate those latte-sipping refugee-loving tree-hugging vegetarian bicyclists Andrew Bolt and his ascendant ilk so despise; but for them, there is an alternative. To paraphrase Momus (substitutions in square brackets):
So just leave. [Australia] doesn't deserve you. Walk away. [Australia] doesn't need your talent, your creativity and your intelligence. Or rather, it needs them desperately, but it will never acknowledge that. It's too stupid to understand that. If it calls for you, it will call for you for the wrong reasons. It will call you up as a soldier. It will call for you as canon-fodder in some spurious and unnecessary war that serves the interests of 1% of its population and an even smaller percentage of the world's population. Even if it lets you live in relative peace as a mere civilian, it will force you to live in ways that destroy the world's weather systems and its environment. It will use your tax to fund pre-emptive wars of aggressive imperialism against impoverished nations with energy resources.
Get a passport, get a visa. Work a job, save some money. Come to Europe, come to Japan. Life is more civilised here. Come as you are, come to work, come to play, come to stay. Make love to foreigners, not [Australians]. Make non-[Australian] babies. Make your children world citizens, as you make yourself one.John Howard, the Methodist Mahathir presiding over this new age of repressiveness, has described those whose lifestyles, politics or beliefs he disagrees with as "un-Australian". Perhaps now it's time to take the hint and exit this Roman shell?
More details have emerged on the arrest of US peace activist Scott Parkin: it turns out that the government is holding him in solitary confinement, and billing him for it, until he renounces all claims against the government, a similar tactic to that used against asylum seekers. Also, it appears that he is being held on national security provisions, rather than character provisions, which entitles the government to block the hearing of his case. Meanwhile there have been protests outside the Australian embassy in the US, and Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has protested the decision.
Which demonstrates a reemerging ugly side of the Australian Way. The legal principles of Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland are alive and well. The government's message here is: if you don't conform to our model of relaxed and comfortable Australia, we have the means to make things very uncomfortable for you. The principles of pluralism and democratic debate are about as relevant in John Howard's Australia as they are in Mahathir's Malaysia.
And it looks like Australia is establishing itself as a global centre for the exporting of hard-right ideology; the New Zealand Labour party claims that Australian Tory strategists and a hard-line Christian sect are involved in campaigning for the conservative National Party.
A US peace activist visiting Australia has been arrested by the Federal Police as he travelled to a workshop on the US peace movement. The Immigration Department has stated that Scott Parkin, of Zmag, was arrested on "character grounds", and would be deported "as soon as practicable". (This is believed to be under provisions for cancelling visas where "a person's presence is, or would be, prejudicial to relations between Australia and a foreign country", which means that criticising US foreign policy is now officially an Un-Australian Activity.) Non-Government politicians, environmentalists and refugee-loving latte-leftist terrsymps are up in arms; the Herald-Sun-reading silent majority of suburban battlers, however, is on record as being "relaxed and comfortable".
Is the Australian government abusing its anti-terrorism powers to suppress opposing voices? Shortly after 9/11 in the US, Green Party activists found themselves banned from flying and feminists in San Francisco were investigated for al-Qaeda sympathies. Given the Australian authorities' fine tradition of creativity in defending the status quo (think Joh Bjelke-Petersen's police force), I wouldn't rule out that sort of thing being the unwritten law of the land.
The Australian federal government adds another ally to its culture-war Coalition of Willing, with the Special Minister of State addressing a dinner by a militantly anti-gay Christian group known as Salt Shakers:
The Salt Shakers website says it is time to stop pandering to the gay minority group, especially as homosexual sex is still the main cause of HIV/AIDS in Australia.
"By lending his credibility to a hate group like Salt Shakers, Senator Abetz is undermining the Howard Government's commitment to tolerance of homosexuals and religious minorities," Mr Croome said.("Commitment to tolerance"?)
And so, the courtship dance between the Australian conservative government and a rising US-style religious right continues. Which suggests that, far from being in decline, Australian wowserism is remaking itself in the image of the tremendously politically sophisticated US religious right and attempting to make the (increasingly misnamed) Liberal Party its own (much as happened with the Republican Party in the US).
The latest salvo has been fired in the Australian culture war: Treasurer and cultural conservative Peter Costello has denounced the influence of left-wing schoolteachers in creating a "dangerous" anti-American bias which could leave Australia vulnerable to terrorism.
Perhaps it's time for purges of known or suspected leftists from teaching positions and an ABC-style culture of self-censorship in the schools? They could have anonymous phone lines where students can dob in teachers making left-wing statements. Alternatively, the government could set up a quota system to stack the schools with Assembly Of God/Hillsong fundamentalist types; that would have the additional benefit of making it easier for Brendan Nelson to introduce his proposed Intelligent
Falling Design programmes into science classes.
In other news, Pope
Sidious I Benedict XVI has singled out Australia as a "faithless" country, claiming that mainstream Christianity is dying out there more quickly than anywhere else. I shudder to think how many millions of Australian taxpayers' funds will be redirected to faith-based programmes or even tax incentive schemes to remedy this (and help build up a reliable US-style religious power base for the Tories).
Australia's Education Minister endorses Creationism, or "intelligent design", calls for it to be taught alongside evolution. And so, John Howard's Australia slips closer to the parallel universe in which the Joh For PM campaign was successful. There is no word on whether flat-earth geography, geocentric astronomy or alchemy will also be taught along the Godless post-Enlightenment sciences to give students diversity and "reasonable choice".
The Australian federal government has failed in its attempt to have the film Mysterious Skin banned, with the Office of Film and Literature Classification deciding that it should keep its R rating. The government, along with various conservative Christian groups, requested a review of the film's rating.
I wonder whether the government will now move to tighten up censorship laws and/or
stack change the composition of the OFLC's board on the grounds that it is "too liberal" and does not represent "community values" (you know, of communities such as the Festival of Light and the Assembly of God).
The Howard government's fondness for censorship and kneejerk moralism strikes again: now they're pushing to have the film Mysterious Skin banned. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock ordered a review of the film's classification because the puritanical wowsers from the Australian Family Association and evangelical Christian groups read a summary of the film and decided that it could titiliate paedophiles or help them seduce children. Which, as anyone who has seen the film will tell you, is absurd. But it plays well with the Hillsong/Family First constituency who have the government's ear, so the rest of Australia have to make do with the cultural products our appointed spiritual leaders decide are appropriate.
(The film showed here in the UK some months ago, and there was no outcry whatsoever; to people here, it was just another small indie film. But for some reason, Australians cannot be trusted with the same amount of leeway they have elsewhere.)
Anyway, if you live in Australia and are displeased with small-minded petty theocrats from one-book households deciding what you can and cannot legally see, write a letter to a newspaper. It's important that someone lets the censors of Canberra know that they are answerable to people other than religious prudes. (Perhaps it's time someone printed stickers that said "I Watch Controversial Arthouse Films And I Vote"?)
As well as seizing control of industrial relations from the states, the Australian federal government will also use its new powers to unify the school systems. All Australian schools will have an emphasis on "values"; not much is said about what sorts of values, but there are hints in the other changes: all students will take 2 hours of mandatory physical education training a week (all the better to make fit soldiers for our future engagements, and/or foster a naturally conformistic and conservative jock culture), and schools will also need to fly the Australian flag at assemblies (to instill a US-style culture of jingoistic patriotism; perhaps a pledge of allegiance will be next). And so, the Australian school system becomes a weapon in the culture war, striking a hammer-blow to the degenerate un-Australian values of Whitlam/Keating-era latte-leftists and producing a new crop of strong, patriotic, God-fearing future Herald-Sun readers; or so it is hoped.
Electronic Frontiers Australia, Australia's equivalent of the EFF, are pushing to legalise adult-oriented computer games. Presently, the video-game rating system is written with the assumption that games are for children; it only goes up to MA (i.e., 15 years or over), and thus any games deemed unsuitable for 15-year-olds are illegal. This has resulted in some games being banned outright, and others (including some in the Grand Theft Auto series) being bowdlerised for Australia's tender sensibilities.
Of course, getting such a change of law passed by the social-conservative Tory government (which, after all, is responsible for tightening up the censorship system to its present level of Mary Whitehouse-esque prissiness and banning a fuckload of things Britons and most Americans can see freely) would be a difficult task at any time. And now, it may be even harder, given that a Tory senator's career of swashbuckling high adventure has come to light. If Senator Lightfoot, alleged to have been gallivanting around Iraq with a gun and smuggling money to an oil company, is found to have been a political liability, the government's Senate majority may disappear, and were that to happen, they would be forced to go into coalition with religious-right party Family First, who make them look like, well, liberals (they are the ones demanding a Saudi-style national internet firewall). With that looming on the horizon, it may be prudent for them to bulk up their wowser credentials, and developing a reputation for being open-minded, tolerant or otherwise "soft on filth" would be exactly the wrong thing to do.
John Scalzi claims that the great political divide of our time is not between liberals and conservatives, but between rationalists and irrationalists:
There's a more common name for irrationalists in politics: "wingnuts." But I think that particular word is both inaccurate and falsely comforting, since it suggests that irrationalists are marginalized on the edge of political discourse. A hint for you: When an irrational politician sleeps in the White House, irrationalism is not exactly marginalized. Irrationalists aren't wingnuts; they're not even the wings. They're the damned fuselage of political discourse at the moment, and I think that's pretty damn scary.
Bush's irrationalist tendencies have fundamentally little to do with his conservative tendencies, which is to say that the former are not spawned from the latter. God knows irrationalism lies on both sides of the conventional political spectrum; the irrationalists of the left who tried to expunge "dead white guys" from curricula back when I was still in school to my mind walk arm and arm with the irrationalists on the right who are now busily trying to expunge evolution. An irrationalist liberal in the White House would be no better than Bush, that's for sure.
Though was there ever a time when rationalism held sway over politics, as opposed to public discourse being buffeted by impulses, fashions, superstitions, waves of mass hysteria and the effects of human cognitive biases which probably made excellent sense on the hunter-gatherer savannah? This has been the case in Plato's day and Shakespeare's, and will probably be so throughout the future of humanity. When the post-singularity nanobot hives populated by the uploaded personalities of our distant descendants launch for outer space in 500 years' time, chances are their politics and public discourse will be just as dominated by prejudices, phobias, omens, superstitions and kneejerk reactions as they are now.
Nonetheless, while rationalism is, to some extent, a lost cause, it is one worth taking up. Sure, if you take up the rationalist banner, the multitudes may laugh at you, call you a crank and sometimes throw things at you, but with patience and perseverance, you can persuade a few people and make the heavily-armed madhouse that is the world slightly less psychotic. At least until the next wave of mass excitement sweeps through it, anyway.
On a tangent, Australian lefty cultural commentator Phillip Adams on politicians and other leaders embracing irrational beliefs, from Reagan's Apocalyptic Christianity and Blair's taste for new-age mumbo-jumbo to the Australian founding fathers' fondness for the Victorian spiritualist fad and Gandhi's reliance on soothsayers before nuclear tests.
It's certainly a recurring theme in politics. One wonders, though, whether it's a case of (a) everybody being a bit kooky, and the media amplifying this in public figures, (b) politicians being (for some reason) more irrational than the man on the street, or (c) successful politicians realising that it pays to pander to irrational beliefs, and that rationality is punished. (Look, for example, at Al Gore, and his image of being a heartless, calculating robot-like being. Never mind that he had embraced the whacko anti-technology mystical-primitivist side of the environmental movement some years before that; perhaps he just wasn't fluffy enough.)
Momus weighs in on the Michael Jackson trial, painting it as a tragic triumph of warlike Spartan puritanism over a future of limitless, polymorphous opportunity:
One of the reasons the Michael Jackson trial is so unfortunate is that the world of Either-Or will pass judgment on a creature of Yet-Also. The world of clear, unambiguous categories will pass judgment on someone who flies Peter-Pan-like over the binaries that confine and define the rest of us.
Jackson is what all humans will become if we develop further in the direction of postmodernism and self-mediation. He is what we'll become if we get both more Wildean and more Nietzschean. He's what we'll become only if we're lucky and avoid a new brutality based on overpopulation and competition for dwindling resources. By attacking Jackson and what he stands for -- the effete, the artificial, the ambiguous -- we make a certain kind of relatively benign future mapped out for ourselves into a Neverland, something forbidden, discredited, derided. When we should be deriding what passes for our normalcy -- war, waste, and the things we do en masse are the things that threaten us -- we end up deriding dandyism and deviance.
Mind you, from what I heard, the court case is not about Jackson's deviant refusal to fit into binary categories or to obey the stern laws of the joyless, unimaginative "Never-Fly", but about whether or not he buggered some children. And surely if he represents a viable future of humanity and is convicted or otherwise put out of action, some alternative, non-child-buggering manifestation of Homo Sapiens 2.0 will come along and carry on the Great Work. Surely Mankind's salvation from a soul-crushing dystopia of war, sexual puritanism and manufactured mass entertainment doesn't literally rest with one man.
Meanwhile, in the LiveJournal comments for this entry, there is an interesting tangent, quoting a New Scientist article on Michael Crichton's latest book (a thriller which paints the scientific basis of environmentalism as fraud and environmentalists as fanatical terrorists):
When I visited America during my time working for Greenpeace International in the 1990s, time and again people would say to me "we really don't approve of the way your organisation blew up that French ship", or words to that effect. It happened once at the end of a meeting with a lawyer in Philadelphia. He was defending Lloyds of London against a suit filed by Exxon after the Valdez oil spill. He wanted to thank me kindly for all the excellent free technical information I had furnished him with in support of his defence, but he really hadn't enjoyed having to talk to me because my people had murdered somebody in New Zealand.
How could it be, I used to wonder, that Americans got the French secret service's sinking of the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior the wrong way round so consistently? I encountered the phenomenon in no other country. I never knew why for sure and still don't. Whatever the explanation, it happened so many times to me and my colleagues that I had to conclude it was something cultural.
Which sounds like cognitive dissonance in action. Perhaps, to many people in the U.S., the claims that the French government blew up a Greenpeace ship jar so much with their beliefs about the nature of environmentalism (according to this New York Times article, 41% of Americans consider environmental activists to be "extremists") that they have to mentally correct the "error" in the reported facts, turning them around to make more sense.
More news on the Australian Liberal Party's project to establish a US-style religious-right power base: it now emerges that the Hillsong Church, a hardline, US-style Pentecostal church with links to the Liberal Party, has received almost A$800,000 in funding from various government agencies; this included funding for community programmes and "emergency relief", and more than $300,000 from the Department of Workplace Relations in the last financial year alone.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services has denied a Filipino man residency because his wife had had a sex change 24 years earlier, and thus was legally a man, making their marriage unlawful. The funny thing, though, is that the wife had been legally living as a woman in the United States for the past 24 years, and had been recognised as such on her US citizenship certificate.
Meanwhile, the CBS and NBC are refusing to air a church's television advertisement as it's "too controversial". The controversy has to do with the advertisement implying acceptance of gay and lesbian couples.
And in Alabama, a lawmaker has proposed a bill to ban novels with gay protagonists from public libraries, to protect children from the "homosexual agenda". The bill will also prohibit books which suggest that homosexuality, or any lifestyle prohibited by Alabama's sodomy laws, is natural.
Meanwhile, a recent report claims that abstinence-only sex-education programmes, as promoted by the Bush Whitehouse, are riddled with inaccuracies, including claims that touching a person's genitals can lead to pregnancy, AIDS can be transmitted in sweat or tears, half of gay male teenagers in the US are HIV-positive, condoms don't work, and a 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person".
The voice of Australia's much-vaunted silent majority, Andrew Bolt, now has a blog. (via Ben Butler)
Hold on - let me get this straight. Suddenly we're meant to feel sorry and apologetic for young women who use their sexuality as a tool and as a result become burdened with unwanted children? Suddenly we're meant to embrace potential terrorists and rapists simply because they're from a "minority group"? Never mind that our "homies" (street slang for homosexual pickpockets) are thieving money from the middle class average Australians to give to the depraved, like a posse of horrendous, drug-addled urban Robin Hoods - after all, they're "strugglers"!
As we enter a glorious new era of Australian politics, remember that the public's faith in John Howard and the conservative Coalition proves beyond doubt that the people of this country have had enough of violence, greed and stupidity. No more following the wannabe Islamic liberals of this nation into the proverbial vegetarian cafe of angst, and being peer-pressured to order soy lattes of hate. By putting our faith in a courageous Government and our beloved American allies, we are standing together and saying "No!" to conflict.
According to recent research from Bush's America, pornography is not communication but a drug; the technical term for this, according to the California Protective Parents Association, is "erototoxin". The implications of this are that material that induces an erotic response may not be protected under the First Amendment, but may instead come under the jurisdiction of the War On Drugs.
(And that goes fivefold for We're Not Sorry and its ilk; a finer collection of belligerent chest-beating yahoos you'll never see.)
The US religious right is up in arms about a recent film about sexologist Alfred Kinsey, because it does not demonise the man enough:
"Alfred Kinsey is responsible in part for my generation being forced to deal face-to-face with the devastating consequences of sexually transmitted diseases, pornography and abortion," said Brandi Swindell, head of a college-oriented group called Generation Life that plans to picket theaters showing the film.
"Instead of being lionized, Kinsey's proper place is with Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele or your average Hollywood horror flick mad scientist," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women of America's Culture & Family Institute.
Meanwhile, according this article (via 1.0), many Evangelicals believe (a) that God personally put Bush in the Whitehouse to give America another chance, and (b) if bad things happen on Bush's watch, it's not his fault, but rather divine wrath for the excesses of liberalism (i.e., America not being a proper Talibanic theocracy). (Which paints a rather unflattering portrait of the God of the Bible Belt; either He is a sadistic bully and a psychopath, or else His creation is of no more serious concern to Him than a game of The Sims is to computer gamer. As flies to wanton boys, indeed.)
And those reading this in California, and in the confidence that they're well outside those barbarous Red States, don't be so sure. Apparently, according to former Democratic strategist, the Republicans stand a good chance of picking up California, and its 54 electoral college votes, in 2008; this could turn the US into a one-party state; or perhaps it could be just what the Libertarians or Greens need.
Voting patterns have been steadily moving California back to the midwest in recent years - a trend that is likely to continue. Democrats can rely on Los Angeles county and the San Francisco Bay area, but these concentrations are now surrounded by Republican territory.
The same cultural conservatism that is reshaping America is also alive and well in California. Sixties-era liberalism may still radiate from the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco to the Bay area, but today's California is much more a capital for the Christian right than for the progressive left.
The twilight of secularism (an ongoing series): Australia's highest-ranking Catholic clergyman and leading conservative hardliner, Cardinal George Pell, gave a speech comparing Islam to Communism and saying that secular democracy has failed and must be replaced with what he called "democratic personalism", with paternalistic Christian government being the only hope of countering the spread of fundamentalist Islam.
"The small but growing conversion of native Westerners within Western societies to Islam carries the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the attraction which communism provided in the 20th, both for those who are alienated or embittered on the one hand, and for those who seek order or justice on the other," he said.
He asked: "Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? "What would democracy look like if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?"
Perhaps, after a few more terms of John Howard/Tony Abbott, we'll find out. Besides which, "democratic personalism" has a nicely euphemistic ring to it. Given how misleading it is for the Tories to call themselves the "Liberal Party", perhaps they'll take the hint and rename themselves the Democratic Personalist Party.
Dispatches from the Culture War: Intoxicated with their triumph, the Tories are blaming the legacy of the "permissive 1960s" for Australia's social ills, and implying that, had this decade of godless liberalism never happened, Australia would be a much better place. But what would Deputy PM John Anderson's ideal Australia look like?
We may have been serene but we were not widely read - more than 1000 books had been placed on the banned list. In the Western world, only Ireland, still straining under the power of the Catholic clergy, could boast a more rigorous record of prohibition.
The great American satirist Tom Lehrer also felt the lash of our moral arbiters. A ditty that exhorted a Boy Scout to "be prepared" upon meeting a Girl Guide was deemed too risque for our sensitive ears and thus found itself on the taboo list.
Well, the Howard government has already moved in that direction, with tightening of film censorship. Notwithstanding high-profile cases like Baise-Moi, many films shown in Australia are a few minutes shorter than their overseas releases because of cuts made by the OFLC. And book censorship is still around; the 18th-century bawdy novel Fanny Hill is among the books still banned in Australia.
That year the White Australia Policy was still the go, though the ALP federal conference insisted that in no way did it "represent racial prejudice". A further example of our enlightenment on such matters came from South Africa's Prime Minister Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, who claimed that Australia was "the best friend South Africa had". And this not a year after the Sharpeville massacre.
And we were four years away from the death of a young Lutheran, Errol Noack, who lost a bizarre lottery and became the first National Serviceman to die in Vietnam. He didn't want to go but he perceived a duty. He died months before we were to go "all the way with LBJ".
Again, we could very well see the return of national service before the next election. If the US brings in conscription (not unlikely, especially if the alternative is surrendering Iraq to become al-Zarqawi's personal jihad-state; after all, unmanned drones, satellite intelligence and high-tech communications can only make up so much for lack of troops on the ground) and requests more troops from Australia, it is inconceivable that the Howard administration would knock them back. And they'd have an argument for it, even if it does hinge on the circularity of Howard having made this "our fight" in the first place.
Fortunately a considerable part of the '60s generation understood that traditional values were worthless without coherence and that authority needed a core of integrity. The racism, censorship and aggression of the '60s was rightfully challenged and, to a considerable degree, overcome.
The brave took bus rides to the outback and organised lonely vigils on street corners, paving the way to mass protest.
Perhaps that's the real concern of social conservatives like John Anderson. It's not so much the sex, drugs and Pink Floyd that they fear, though these types certainly aren't much into fun. It's the challenge to orthodoxy and conformity. They are frightened of an outbreak of contrary thought, of debate beyond the set margins. Be they within government or without, they wish to determine what we think, say, write and do.
A good essay by Simon Schama on why America is now two nations: Godly America and Worldly America.
Worldly America is pragmatic, practical, rational and sceptical. In California it passed Proposition 71, funding embryonic stem cell research beyond the restrictions imposed by Bush's federal policy. Godly America is mythic, messianic, conversionary, given to acts of public witness, hence the need - in Utah and Montana and a handful of other states - to poll the voters on amendments to their state constitution defining marriage as a union between the opposite sexes. But then Worldly America is said to feed the carnal vanities; Godly America banishes and punishes them. From time to time Godly America will descend on the fleshpots of Worldly America, from Gotham (it had its citadel-like Convention there after all) to Californication, will shop for T-shirts, take a sniff at the local pagans and then return to base-camp more convinced than ever that a time of Redemption and Repentance must be at hand. But if the stiff-necked transgressors cannot be persuaded, they can be cowed and conquered.
And jwz makes a case for the US Presidential election having been rigged (though concedes that it is entirely possible that that didn't change the final outcome):
bellaciao.org has some graphs of the major discrepencies between exit polling and vote counts. They're pretty incredible! Now, maybe the exit polling methodology is just fundamentally broken, but isn't it funny when you see pictures like the one at the right, knowing that last year, Diebold's CEO swore that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to President Bush."
You don't steal an election with a landslide, you steal it with 3%. You stay within the margin of error across the board so that it's not obvious.
Artist/musician/pundit Momus, who has a fairly nifty blog, has some words of advice for all the Americans who have been talking about moving to Canada/Europe:
For those of you thinking of leaving America today -- and there are many, I'm sure -- I'd say just do it. Walk away. Leaving Britain is the best thing I ever did. I lived for years there feeling like a political and cultural exile, trying to fight back with satire and a thousand subtle forms of stubbornness and resistance. But being an 'internal exile' is not good for the soul. My struggle with attitudes which seemed toxic to me started making me as hard, cynical and corrupt as the people and the attitudes I was fighting.
I became a world citizen. I started to think in terms of cities, and even districts of cities, rather than nations. I made my own cut and paste environment, a place where I felt comfortable and valued. I selected its elements from the internet and the parts of the cities I loved and went to live in. I count the moment I left my incorrigible homeland as the moment my adult life really began. I am now a much happier and better adjusted person.
If enough talented people leave the US, and if it keeps running up gigantic budget deficits by fighting wars, it will shrink to a manageable size. America is clearly on an identity quest. Let it become a red dwarf, shrunk down to its rural red states. Uninventive, intolerant, unproductive. That's its way of discovering 'who it really is'. Meanwhile, somewhere nicer, you can be discovering yours.
Australia has made its choice, the Tories have been reelected with an increased majority, and look like gaining control of the Senate as well (current predictions show them set to have half the Senate in their own right, with a Family First senator giving them a majority, in return for a religious conservative legislative agenda). The Greens did well, but, with Labor having collapsed under them, they will be unable to do much with all their Senate seats. So, what can we expect in the next three years?
For one, we're likely to see a stepping up of the culture war. The election has shown that Australia is polarised, between a small, cosmopolitanist minority in the inner cities who voted Green, and the majority of Herald-Sun-reading suburban battlers who back Howard. Given the acrimony before the election (other parties directing preferences away from the Greens as if they were One Nation, and scare ads about the Greens standing for drugs and paedophilia), and the Family First factor, the prospects of a new, triumphant Howard government waving the olive branch of inclusion seems unlikely. What seems more likely is that the boot will come down hard, and the culture war will become uglier, dirtier and more brutal, with the full weight of a completely controlled legislative apparatus being used to instill "Australian" values and punish the deviants who resist them.
What will this entail? For one, more censorship. Under Howard, Australia had already become quite a censorious society (witness the banning of Baise-Moi in the cinemas a few years ago), and will do so even more as Family First push for children and adults to be protected from filth. Expect more controversial films to be denied classification, or film distributors to even stop bothering trying to get a rating for anything controversial in Australia, while many films which are shown will only be shown in expurgated editions. More internet censorship is on the cards. Family First proposed a national censorship infrastructure, like Singapore's, funded by a $10 annual levy on each user; it is not unlikely that the Howard government will borrow this idea. After all, the current censorship arrangement (as secretive and undemocratic as it is) still doesn't stop children from viewing filth at a few mouse clicks (as any tabloid journalist will be happy to demonstrate). And national censorship infrastructures have been shown to be workable; Singapore, China and Saudi Arabia have them, and Britain now also has infrastructure in place to block web sites (it is presently used to block a few child pornography web sites, but could be pressed into service to block the next equivalent of Spycatcher or David Shayler at the drop of a D-notice, but I digress). Some in the Liberal Party even suggested, some years ago, blocking all adult content from the mainstream internet, requiring those perverted enough to look at such content to register for access through a special proxy server. Registration would, presumably, limit one's career prospects in certain industries, just in case your Suicide Girls habit made you into a kiddie diddler.
With Australia's new family-friendly cinemas and internet, the country's reputation as a modern, cosmopolitan society will suffer. Film and arts festivals will lose any edge they had, attracting little in the way of anything controversial but instead presenting only comforting banalities. Sydney and Melbourne will once again give up their claim to be world cultural capitals and fall back to being big provincial towns. And don't expect anything like Piss Christ being exhibited in an Australian gallery; chances are, Andres Serrano wouldn't even get a visa. Welcome to relaxed and comfortable Australia, where decent people needn't fear having their sensibilities offended.
Other consequences of the Culture War could be loss of reproductive choice (current health minister Tony Abbott mentioned his opposition to abortion, and with Family First's new influence, it could be banned or restricted), institutionalised discrimination against homosexuals (they are, after all, deviants who have no place in Howard's idealised 1950s suburbia), continuing denial of indigenous rights, not to mention a policy of pure spite towards refugees.
And then there is the US-Australian Free Trade Agreement, in which Australia signed over vast swathes of economic sovereignty to the US in return for access to US markets for its sugar industry, only to find out that that wasn't part of the deal, but pressed on anyway out of loyalty. Since we're adopting wholesale the US software patent system, we can expect small Australian software companies to go out of business, unable to risk the cost of patent litigation, or be bought out en masse by multinationals with patent portfolios and cross-licensing agreements. Within a few years, the Australian industry will be little more than a branch office of US multinationals. Open source may not escape unscathed; given the broadness of software patents, anything without a multinational with a huge legal department behind it will be too much of a risk for anybody to use, distribute or support. And then there's our adoption of US copyright laws without actually having a Constitutional fair use provision, as the US does, which means that anyone with an iPod is committing a crime.
If there's one good thing that may come out of the new, repressive, paternalist Australia, it is the prospect of an underground culture flourishing in pockets of resistance. After all, it was the roiling undercurrents of resentment in Thatcher's Britain that gave us everything from alternative comedy to the explosion of British indie music and art. (Not that the Thatcherites took their credit for that happening on their watch; they were too busy promoting their view of proper British culture in the form of Lloyd-Webber musicals and insipid Merchant-Ivory costume dramas and the like, their own equivalent of "Relaxed and Comfortable".)
The extreme-right-wing religious-values parties seem to be sprouting like mushrooms in Australia; now John Abbott, founder of extremist neo-fascist "men's rights" group the Blackshirts (who dress in balaclavas and paramilitary uniforms and harrass divorced women as part of a "crusade" to defend marriage and the family) plans to start one. Abbott's exact policy platform is as yet unknown, though he has in the past advocated abolishing divorce and making adultery punishable by death, and keeps talking about "crusades" for "Christian values".
A look at John Howard-approved potential balance-of-power-holders Family First's internet policy:
Conservative political newcomer Family First wants an annual levy of $7 to $10 on all internet users to fund a $45 million mandatory national internet filtering scheme aimed at blocking pornographic and offensive content at server level.
via Road to Surfdom/Counterspin
Spiky-haired dude with a bozotic name goes on some reality TV show or other and stages a sit-in protest with a sign reading 'FREE TA REFUGEES'. People look away anxiously, as if he had started masturbating in public or ranting excitedly about giant lizards or something, or else raise an uproar about this humorless right-on radical-leftist tosser violating their right to feeling good about being apathetic. Nobody likes a smartarse, you know. Meanwhile, the paper of the elitist inner-city latte-socialist chattering classes decry this as a shameful indictment on Australia, tripping over Godwin's Law in the process:
Rod Cameron, chief executive of the Australian polling organisation ANOP, was quoted recently saying, "Those who think about issues, read the newspapers, discuss events, make up only about 10 per cent of voters." If you are reading this opinion page of a broadsheet metropolitan newspaper, relax. You may count yourself as one of that 10 per cent. But sadly, you are vastly, horrifyingly outnumbered. So was Merlin.
Isn't that the case everywhere? I'd be surprised, for example, if half as many Americans paid attention to the Abu Ghraib scandal as the last episode of Friends.
Discussing the plight of the Jews at tea parties in Nazi Germany would no doubt have produced reactions similar to those we saw on Sunday night; jeers, taunts and entreaties to stop all the depressing talk. "Please, mein herr, sit down. Have some more tea and cake."
The chattering classes on mono.net, however, say that that Merlin chap is a "fucking coolsie chat", i.e. a wanker, mostly because of his hair and wardrobe. Meanwhile, you can make your own Merlin sign here, by editing the URL (if you don't know how to do that, then y0re not l33t enough, beeyatch). (via Alex)
Tony Abbott's bold campaign of restoring 1950s-style paternal authority to Australian society through legislation has suffered a setback with the withdrawal of a bill giving parents access to their teenaged childrens' medical records, overriding doctor-patient confidentiality. The bill suffered a blow after a Tory backbencher, a former doctor, threatened to cross the floor over it. Dr. Mal Washer asserts that the bill would cause vulnerable teenagers in troubled domestic situations to avoid medical help and thus falling through the cracks, and recounted an incident of a teenaged girl who committed suicide because help was not available.
The values of the Howard government embody an authoritarian, paternalistic strain of Australianness, much like those embodied by numerous outback patriarchs in films from The Cars That Ate Paris to Welcome To Woop Woop. Ostensibly laid back, relaxed and comfortable, and if you're in the majority, you'll have it easy. However, if you don't fit in with the Herald-Sun-reading majority, you'll find things getting difficult for you. The sooner you get the message and learn to conform, the easier you'll make it on yourself. But it's for your own good; after all, father knows best, and a country, like a family, is best ruled with a firm hand. Or, as the convict saying goes, cop it sweet.
So what will the culture-warriors in Canberra do to follow up their anti-gay marriage bill? How about withdrawing the morning-after birth-control pill from prescription-free sale. All in the name of protecting young girls from the dangers of sex, of course. Presumably the need to get parental consent for a prescription will scare a lot of teenagers into abstinence, or so the theory goes. (Do the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers really vote for such reactionary gestures?)
Anyone want to start a book on when the Howard government's US-style abstinence-only sex education push will be unveiled?
An article from Helen Irving, associate professor of law at the University of Sydney, on why Australia's tradition is secular, not Christian, and all the Bushite culture-war bullshit coming out of the Liberal Party about Australia's religious foundations (including the "National Day of Thanksgiving" that has just been declared) and Australian law being based on the Ten Commandments) is just that. (via bizza)
A woman in Tennessee (a US state known for its cosmopolitan outlook and love of diversity) has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 80 million Americans over the Janet Jackson incident. The lawsuit, which names Jackson, Justin Timberlake, MTV, Viacom and CBS as defendents, claims that Jackson's exposure of her breast, and "other lewd and sexually explicit conduct" caused viewers to "suffer outrage, anger, embarrassment and serious injury", and demanded compensatory and punitive damages. The exact figure wasn't specified, but it could be in the order of billions; the lawsuit notes that punitive damages should not exceed the gross revenues of all defendants for the past three years.
It's a hard lesson, but let it serve as a warning to anybody else seeking to terrorise decent God-fearing American families and children with naked televised breasts. Now, back to your steady diet of morally wholesome televised violent murders.
An article claiming that the "creative class", ranging from scientists to artists, are avoiding or fleeing the United States, because of the harshly conservative and xenophobic zeitgeist that has taken hold, Which isn't a good sign for a country most of whose wealth comes from intellectual property:
When I visited [Peter Jackson's studio in Wellington], I met dozens of Americans from places like Berkeley and MIT working alongside talented filmmakers from Europe and Asia, the Americans asserting that they were ready to relinquish their citizenship. Many had begun the process of establishing residency in New Zealand.
"Over the last few years, as the conservative movement in the U.S. has become more entrenched, many people I know are looking for better lives in Canada, Europe, and Australia," a noted entymologist at the University of Illinois emailed me recently. "From bloggers and programmers to members of the National Academy I have spoken with, all find the Zeitgeist alien and even threatening. My friend says it is like trying to research and do business in the 21st century in a culture that wants to live in the 19th, empires, bibles and all. There is an E.U. fellowship through the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Amsterdam that everyone and their mother is trying to get."
The altered flow of talent is already beginning to show signs of crimping the scientific process. "We can't hold scientific meetings here [in the United States] anymore because foreign scientists can't get visas," a top oceanographer at the University of California at San Diego recently told me.
The graduate students I have taught at several major universities -- Ohio State, Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon -- have always been among the first to point out the benefits of studying and doing research in the United States. But their impressions have changed dramatically over the past year. They now complain of being hounded by the immigration agencies as potential threats to security, and that America is abandoning its standing as an open society. Many are thinking of leaving for foreign schools, and they tell me that their friends and colleagues back home are no longer interested in coming to the United States for their education but are actively seeking out universities in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere.
The article claims that this trend comes from the very roots of the rise of the creative class since the 1960s and the sorting phenomenon where like-minded people congregate in clusters; as the more creatively-inclined moved to cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle, the heartlands became more dogmatically conservative.
So, since "marriage" is only for a man and a woman who want to make babies, is staying childless a reason for the government to break up a marriage? What about people like myself and my partner? We're married, but have no intention of children. Worse yet, with three cats we're actually helping the survival of another species, which must make us some sort of traitor to the women-are-for-making-babies school of thought.
(You can never trust these cat-owner types; they dress funny, read too many books and have unorthodox ideas or lifestyles. I wonder whether keeping cats (or having cat litter/cat food in one's supermarket purchase records) would increase one's score in TIA-style dissident-profiling systems. But I digress.)
He also points out anointed successor Costello's opposition to gay marriage, a bit of a step back from his lofty speechifying about his visions for a tolerant, indeed, liberal, Australia. I wonder whether it has anything to do with him falling out of favour as the next PM (something Nick Economou mentioned on 3RRR recently). Perhaps he was put on notice that if he kept that sort of thing up, the succession would go to Tony Abbott or some similarly staunch hard-liner?
Colour me surprised. Our enlightened PM lines up alongside the Axis of Medieval, ruling out giving gay relationship status equivalent to marriage, which is "one of the bedrock institutions of our society" and "very much about the raising of children". Howard insists that this is not discriminatory, even though unmarried couples pay extra taxes and are not entitled to certain benefits, in effect subsidising those whose lifestyle meets the approval of John Howard's god. (Australia is a liberal democracy; you have the right not to be relaxed and comfortable, living in the suburbs in a state-sanctioned heterosexual breeding partnership, pumping out children to fight for God and Empire and spending your weekends polishing the Holden Commodore in your driveway or punting the footy to little Darren in the backyard, but you'll pay extra taxes if you do as that sort of thing should not be encouraged. Make it easier on yourself and conform.)
Increasingly many Americans are looking to move to Canada. The reasons range from dismay with the neo-conservative political monoculture since 9/11 to canny consumers shopping for a better social contract (i.e., health care, decriminalised marijuana, tougher gun laws and/or gay marriage), or just for more pleasant weather (and not everybody agrees that "good weather" means "hot and sunny").
Which makes me wonder: now that Howard is hell-bent on remaking Australia in his own image, transforming a formerly liberal, pluralistic social democracy into a warlike, xenophobic, censorious, paternalistic corporate cowboy state, are Australian small-L-liberals emigrating en masse to anywhere? Is New Zealand going to be full of left-leaning Australian expatriates in 10 years' time, for example? Or are those who don't fit in in Howard's Australia going to be either squatting in Earl's Court and pulling pints in pubs (in the hope that Phony Blair pretends to not be a complete and utter Tory) or else building some kind of neo-Whitlamite Port Watson somewhere on the beaches of Thailand or Papua New Guinea?
Fairfax commentator Margo Kingston on Australian PM Howard's road to absolute power:
Howard wants to go out on a high alright, but he wants the high to be higher than the one he's already on. He wants to transform Australia so completely that the old Australia can never be revived. His vision is so radical that only a man in complete charge of the political agenda could even dream of it. And the cross media legislation - the one I've been writing about in such despair for a week now - is central to his plans.
Kingston then describes how Howard's threat of a double dissolution election and proposed media deregulation laws would be used to give the government a power to reshape Australia that even the Bush Whitehouse doesn't have. And not surprisingly, the Australia that will emerge will be the worst of both worlds: repressively socially conservative and conformistic, and economically ruled by big business. All public debate, meanwhile, will be framed by the Murdoch/Packer press; which, by contrast, will make America (a country whose dissenters famously have to import their news from Britain) look like a model of pluralism.
And scarily, this is all within reach. (via Stumblings)
Police raid film festival screening, arrest Margaret Pomeranz. The SBS film critic was involved in an illicit screening of critically acclaimed US art film Ken Park, which was banned for offending the morés of the Liberal-voting Silent Majority. Meanwhile, while the censorious climate has irked film buffs, it has given hope in other quarters; a Jewish group is pushing to ban two films from the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. One is a film about discredited historian David Irving, and another is a history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is claimed to vilify Israel. (By the same token, when Senator Alston builds his national firewall, perhaps it'll be programmed to block Robert Fisk articles.)
The Howard government's back-to-the-1950s paternalism strikes again, as the OFLC bans a widely acclaimed film, which was expected to screen at the Sydney and Melbourne film festivals. Film festivals are normally exempt from the classification process, but are required to submit a list of films to be screened, and it just so happens that Ken Park, the film intended to be screened, had been found objectionable before:
The classification board, in a six to one decision, refused classification, finding Ken Park "deals with matters of sex in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality".
Bravo to the OFLC for defending Australians' right to not be offended, cementing Australia's status as a safe haven of traditional values, and bringing forward the day when this great country will be a place where one can live out one's entire days without ever being challenged by decadent "art" or made to feel uncomfortable. Who needs international film festivals anyway?
Authorities across the Middle East are cracking down on music subcultures: form heavy-metal fans in Morocco to gay disco-dancing "Satanists" in Lebanon to anything to do with Michael Jackson in Saudi Arabia.
Among the objects exhibited in court as being contrary to good morals was a black T-shirt with heavy metal symbols on it. This prompted the judge to comment that "normal people go to concerts in a suit and tie".
Lebanese devil worshippers are easily recognised. According to one security official, they are young men with long hair and beards who "listen to hard rock music, drink mind-altering alcoholic cocktails and take off their black shirts, dancing bare-chested".
What is probably the most bizarre heavy-metal-and-satanism case occurred in Egypt in 1997 when state security police, armed with machine guns and satanically clad in masks and black uniforms, dragged about 70 youngsters - some as young as 16 - from their beds in a series of dawn raids. They took away posters from bedroom walls, CDs and tapes ranging from Guns 'n' Roses to Beethoven's fifth symphony and, in one household, a black t-shirt with a Bugs Bunny design.
"In the 1980s," Mohammed continued, "Saudis started dressing like [Michael Jackson], copying his hairstyle and doing moonwalks on the roundabouts. This is the reason most people give me about why his stuff is not allowed here.
Senator Alston, that Savonarola of Canberra, has condemned the ABC for anti-US bias in its news reporting, possibly signalling a new round of political purges within the ABC.
The dossier of alleged examples is heavily critical of AM presenter Linda Mottram, instancing a series of reports in which the journalist referred to the US Government's "propaganda war" and described the death of three journalists as a "body blow" to the coalition's campaign that "undermined the Pentagon's claim that it is waging a compassionate war".
Of course, given the fact that left-wing idealists gravitate to state-run non-profit newsmedia (right-wing idealists are either Randian/Thatcherite free-market platygaeans who abhor the very notion of state-run media as interference in the perfection of the market or else religious moralist types who don't trust a Godless state interfering in their work), the effect of purges would be brief, unless Alston appoints a permanent office of witchfinder-general to keep hunting down those pesky Communists. Either that or bans the ABC from news/current-affairs reporting, restricting it to a mandate of "relaxed and comfortable" lifestyle programmes and those British comedies too crappy for pay-TV to buy the rights to. I know; perhaps they could cut the ABC's news budget to 0 and do a deal to licence content from FOXNews or someone.
A few years ago, Australia's conservative government gave the local censorship board sweeping authority to take down offensive web sites. Surprisingly, this has not impaired the availability of hardcore pornography. So they're looking at changing the law. And if you thought that means getting rid of the whole white elephant, you'd be wrong. Hard-line neo-conservative PM John Howard and "World's Greatest Luddite" Senator Alston are looking at a number of options, including a Singaporean/Saudi-style national filter and mandatory porn filters on all Internet connections at the ISP level (except for those who have signed a "pervert register" to get to download porn; though you may have trouble getting a job requiring "moral integrity" if your name is on the register). Labor has made noises about not supporting such legislation, though, so it may well get blocked in the Senate.
One possible side-effect of the recent France-vs.-Texas spat: more French villains in Hollywood films, replacing the usual British-accented bad guys.
The news from Beverly Hills is that producers are telling scriptwriters to 'think French'. This is a relief. For years, a British accent in a mainstream movie served as cinematic shorthand for shiftiness or downright evil. Now we can at least hope for a return to an older cinematic tradition in which the British are loyal sidekicks, chirpy corporals or colonels in the mould of David Niven.
For decades, the US love affair with France was sustained by admiration for its culture, food and wine. A visit to Paris has long been the ultimate stamp of sophistication among the US middle classes. It is hard to pinpoint when things began to change. It was certainly before September 11, as populist politics pursued by Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and now his son, sought to link liberalism with elitism and the hint of foreign conspiracy.
Social phenomena seen through American high school archetypes: A WSJ writer claims that public criticism of SUVs (that's American for big-arse personal monster trucks) is geeks against jocks, the bookish dweebs who got beaten up in high school dressing up their rage at their former persecutors' wealth and soulless materialism in the garb of moral outrage, out of sheer impotent spite.
This anti-SUV fervor strikes me as a classic geek assault on jock culture. Here are the geeks: thoughtful, socially and environmentally conscious. They understand that only spiritually shallow people could possibly get pleasure from a motor vehicle. Then there are those jocks. They cruise through life infuriatingly unaware of how morally inferior they are to the geeks. They make money, become popular, play golf and have homes that are too large. And they're happy! For all the wrong reasons! And so every few years the geeks pick on some feature of jock life (McMansions, corporations, fraternities, country clubs) and get all worked up about it. And you know what? The jocks don't care! They just keep being happy. The geeks write, protest and fume. The jocks go to St. Croix.
By the same token one could dismiss any progressive concern is the whining of sore losers (or, indeed, "Jealousy masquerading as Class Consciousness"). Though, even if there is some truth in it (pertaining to the psychological motivations of some progressive activist types), that doesn't invalidate the argument. (via Plastic)
Two articles on the America-vs.-Europe thing: Firstly, a Grauniad piece on the American cowboy elite's disdain for Europe and all the sissified, un-manly things it stands for:
When Bush's America disdains Europe, it also sneers at the American north-east. To them, "Washington, DC" is an insult, and "New York City" is where Europe begins. This counter-elite rules today as fervently and exclusively as in Reagan's 80s - more so, since they control all the branches of government. Rumsfeld is from Illinois, but his plain-spoken disdain speaks for the whole cowboy elite.
Even after his messianic State of the Union address, Americans at large are unconvinced of the need to rush to war. There's no evidence either that Americans overall enjoy riling Europe, Old or New. Just as John le Carré was wrong to declare recently that "88% of Americans want the war", there is little reason to fear that most of America sneers at the Kyoto protocol; or at the International Criminal Court; or at most of Europe's commitments - or, indeed, at Europe.
Meanwhile, the New York Times on those principled Europeans, putting forward the thesis that the Euroweenies are being anti-American out of sheer petulance rather than serious conviction.
Europeans, out of some romantic rebellion against America and high technology, were shunning U.S.-grown food containing G.M.O.'s -- even though there is no scientific evidence that these are harmful. But practically everywhere we went in Davos, Europeans were smoking cigarettes -- with their meals, coffee or conversation -- even though there is indisputable scientific evidence that smoking can kill you. In fact, I got enough secondhand smoke just dining in Europe last week to make me want to have a chest X-ray.
European journalist Timothy Garton Ash's survey of anti-Europeanism in America; Europeans are seen as "EU-nuchs" or "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"; cowardly, amoral, godless, unprincipled, weak, effeminate, petulant, hypocritical, anti-Semitic, of poor personal hygiene and monumentally ungrateful for America constantly saving their asses: (via Graham)
A study should be written on the sexual imagery of these stereotypes. If anti-American Europeans see "the Americans" as bullying cowboys, anti-European Americans see "the Europeans" as limp-wristed pansies... The sexual imagery even creeps into a more sophisticated account of AmericanEuropean differences, in an already influential Policy Review article by Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace entitled "Power and Weakness." "Americans are from Mars," writes Kagan approvingly, "and Europeans are from Venus"echoing that famous book about relations between men and women, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
Anti-Americanism and anti-Europeanism are at opposite ends of the political scale. European anti-Americanism is mainly to be found on the left, American anti-Europeanism on the right. The most outspoken American Euro-bashers are neoconservatives using the same sort of combative rhetoric they have habitually deployed against American liberals. In fact, as Jonah Goldberg himself acknowledged to me, "the Europeans" are also a stalking-horse for liberals. So, I asked him, was Bill Clinton a European? "Yes," said Goldberg, "or at least, Clinton thinks like a European."
(Meanwhile, Tony Blair is seen as a honorary American, or at least as a member of the US State Department, and trying to tow Britain across the Atlantic, as it were. Already the renowned New Labour spin doctors who created "Cool Brittannia" are working with the Whitehouse to sell "Brand USA" to a skeptical (and Europeanised) British public. The modest proposal of a few years back that Britain leave the EU and join the United States is looking somewhat less absurd.)
A piece in the Age about the Blackshirts, the militant "men's group" who want adultery to be punishable by death and seek to achieve this by intimidating women who left their husbands, and their founder, former fixture of the rock'n'roll scene John Abbott.
He now lives with his parents, attends church and plans Blackshirts' campaigns. He quotes the Bible, laments the loss of his children, but defends his decision not to see them. They will be reunited in heaven, he says. "The whole family will be reinstated. That's what heaven's about; there there's no pain."
The Blackshirts could be said to be the extreme wing of the reactionary wave washing through Australian culture, that started with One Nation and went on to the Howard government and its bring-back-the-Menzies-era paternalism. If they get sufficiently big and threatening, we could see the government co-opt some of their less insane policies (such as abolishing no-fault divorce laws, or "reforming" the family court system).
Someone should launch a class-action lawsuit against the federal Liberal Party in Australia for false advertising, on the grounds that there is no way in which their ideology can be said to be "liberal" in any remotely sane definition of the word. Case in point: this piece about our illustrious Prime Minister steadfastly refusing to criticise anti-Muslim comments by Australia's equivalent of Jerry Falwell. (If I recall correctly, Michael Kirby didn't receive this level of deference from the PM; it seems that you have to be a seething reactionary demagogue.)
Another (somewhat more detailed) article, this time in the Grauniad, about the Blackshirts, the adamantly non-racist, neo-fascist, extreme "men's movement". This time it goes beyond the scary uniforms and the this-is-not-a-swastika logos and actually gets these gents' opinions (which are, as one might expect, somewhat unhinged): (via Feorag)
The Blackshirts say that their only intention is to promote the sanctity of marriage, and they believe that to achieve this aim adultery should be punishable by death. Furthermore, they warn that if the law does not change they may resort to dragging adulterers from their homes and lynching them.
One Blackshirt, who gave his name only as Dominic, admitted that he had been refused custody of his daughter because of an unfavourable psychological report, but put the result down to bias in court.
Gee, I wonder why...
(It reminds me of the guy in the Bourke St. Mall with the signs about how The Simpsons and rock lyrics are full of Masonic codewords, who claimed that the Freemasons were trying to destroy him because he got in fights with the sons of Masons when he was a boy, and now whenever he gets a job, they deliberately set it up so that he gets in a fight and is dismissed.)
Mr Abbott claims that a fifth of Blackshirts are female and that a women's arm of the organisation is about to be established. But there were no women at yesterday's demonstration. "They do more the administrative work," he explained.
I'll bet they do...
Faith-based government: Florida, the state which gave George W. Bush the presidency, is leading the U.S. in its march towards theocracy. Case in point: the new Bush-appointed head of Florida's child welfare agency and his outspokenly fundamentalist views; among other things, he believes that ''biblical spanking'' that leads to ``temporary and superficial bruises or welts do not constitute child abuse'', that women should not work, and that husbands have ``final say in any family dispute.''
The essay also said Christians should not marry non-Christians, that divorce is acceptable only when there is adultery or desertion and that wives should view working outside the home as ''bondage.'' The ''radical feminist movement,'' the essay adds, ``has damaged the morale of many women and convinced men to relinquish their biblical authority in the home.''
(Notice the use of the word "biblical" there, seemingly to mean "atavistically brutal". Barbarism begins at home, folks.)
In other faith-based-government news, a woman in Nigeria has lost an appeal against a death sentence for bearing a child out of wedlock, and is sentenced to die by stoning (a slow and uncommonly unpleasant method of execution) as soon as her child is weaned. Her boyfriend was discharged.
So a woman who didn't harm anyone is sentenced to be tortured to death in a spectacle of bestial sadism, all in the name of an infinitely merciful God.
The Culture War strikes again. Evidence has emerged that, in early 2001, the Bush administration held up a plan to attack Al-Qaeda, because it was believed tainted with the Godless liberal politics of the Clinton administration. It got lost in the political sanitisation of the US public service, and put on the backburner while attention was diverted to a missile defense plan, crackdowns on pornography and the War On Drugs.
Whenever talk of fighting bullying at schools comes up, the religious right and their ilk get up to vigorously oppose it, as it would protect leftists, homosexuals, freaks, nerds, hippies, atheists, questioners and other undesirables from being set right by the crew-cut defenders of our values. Bullies, their argument suggests, are the unsung guardians of moral probity, the kids who draw the line and make sure everybody else toes it, without whom the values that make Our Great Nation great would be lost, and who grow into staunch patriots, the backbone of society. Well, perhaps this is the sort of righteously patriotic act they have in mind. (via one.point.zero)
Eric Raymond has written a smug Libertarian critique of Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod, rooted in the fundamental notion of the total bankrupcy of socialism and indeed the undeniable supremacy of the Free Market. No Ayn Rand quotes though. And here's Charles Stross' rebuttal.
(IMHO, the Randian/Propertarian argument of the supremacy of the Free Market is somewhat naïve, for the reasons Charlie describes (markets are good for some things but not all); the recent fashion of defining everything as being, in its basic sense, a market is rather daft. OTOH, I don't think the future belongs to any variant of Marxism (which was, after all, constrained by its 19th-century backgrounds).)
And then there's the "Cowboys vs. Eurotrash" subtext that usually emerges in the whole recurring argument, with predominantly American Libertarians making smug digs at the bankrupcy and impending collapse of Eurosocialism (usually coming down to how the ultimate oracle of the Market has shown that Big Macs and Britney Spears are inherently superior to baguettes and Johnny Hallyday, and any argument to the contrary is just the elitism of sore losers in the global cultural marketplace), and left-leaning Europeans pointing at rampant obesity, firearm deaths and other aspects of the Ugly American stereotype in response.
Aren't you glad we live in a liberal democracy? The director of Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification has revealed that there were no more than two complaints from filmgoers about the banned French film Baise-Moi, confirming that the unprecedented retroactive ban was a result of political pressure from busybodies in government and government-favoured lobby groups.
Isn't it about time someone sued the Liberal Party for misrepresentation and false advertising, because of their name. A party which stands for legislatively imposing a narrow set of moral values on everybody should not call itself "liberal".
The laughing stock of the cultural world: After Howard's morality police banned Baise-Moi, various agencies, from Melbourne's Lumiere cinema and the film's distributor to the premier of New South Wales, have announced their intention to challenge the ban. However, as the ban was the result of a final appeal, there is believed to be no legal means for overturning it, unless they decide to take it to the High Court or something like that, so it's exceedingly unlikely that the film will be legally seen in Australia for the next few decades; or until its anachronisms and quaintly two-dimensional format makes it a harmless curiosity piece.
Protecting Our Values: After pressure from the paternalist Liberal Government, Australia's film censors have banned Baise-Moi, overturning the R rating previously granted. More than 50,000 people have seen the film while it was legal; the ban is believed to be the work of a board stacked with religious conservatives and political appointees, and advice is being taken on how to challenge it.
(Wonder what they'll do next; how about bringing back the ban on the importation of electric guitars, just like in the hallowed Menzies Era, in case this rock'n'roll thing corrupts the morals of our youth.)
I saw Baise-Moi last week. I'm still not sure whether it's a work raising serious questions or an adolescent tantrum of sensationalist violence (more likely, it's somewhere in between; the question is whether the crux of its difference from all the by-the-numbers post-Tarantino films is in its message or in the fact that they have actual sex in it). I don't think it should be banned though.
The Bush administration vetoes a UN declaration on children's rights, refusing to sign it unless provisions for sexual health services are removed, replaced with abstinence-based programmes. The US is supported by the Vatican in this (and possibly the Australian government as well). It is predicted that if the US gets its way, it will exacerbate the AIDS crisis in the third world, not to mention the other consequences of unwanted children being born. But hey, think of all the souls that will be saved...
Scratch an atheist and you'll find a
Since the terrorist attacks, discrimination against atheists has increased in the US, with the Godless being shunned, denied jobs and vilified as traitors if they reveal their beliefs. As a result, many have retreated to the closet.
Mark Barnes of San Francisco says that revealing his atheism was as difficult as revealing his homosexuality in his native Oklahoma. Filmmaker John Mendoza, whose 2001 movie "Blasphemy" was shown at the meeting, says his mother, "who prayed on her knees in front of the sacred heart of Jesus every day, felt she had failed me and my older brother told me to stay away from his children." And Mary from Berkeley says, "My parents still think I'm going through a stage. Mom, it's been like, 15 years!"
Wonder if it will get to the stage of atheists pretending to be Christians (or indeed Buddhists or Unitarian Universalists or something), or of witch-hunts for "new Christians" who are just going through the motions and secretly teaching their children Darwinism and secular humanism. The more some things change, the more they stay the same. (via 1.0)
The promotion of virtue and the eradication of vice: The conservative Catholic archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, has proposed a punitive tax on divorcees, taxation benefits for married couples and linking old-age pensions to number of children produced. That will teach those inconsiderate non-breeders. Moderate religious leaders have distanced themselves from Pell's hard line. He may, however, have the Prime Minister's ear (Little Johnny is rather inclined towards legislating morality; witness his purging of moderates from the Drug War Council and his push to outlaw fertility treatment for unmarried women, for example), though whether he could push this through parliament right now is another story.
An old yet most interesting interview with Greg Egan, the Australian hard-scifi author.
Music is just as important to me, on a personal level, as literature, but any influence it has on my writing is usually pretty tangential. I did write a story called "Worthless" for In Dreams - a recent anthology on "the culture of the 7-inch single". I'm a big fan of The Smiths, so the first idea that occurred to me when I heard about the anthology was to try to write a kind of SF equivalent of a Smiths song - a story with the same ambivalent attitude to the whole idea of worthlessness, half-embracing it as a positive thing. That was a one-off, though. The only other story where music played a major role was "Beyond the Whistle Test", in which scientists use neural maps to design advertising jingles which you literally can't forget.
I don't want to write motherhood statements - feel-good stories that cave in at the end and do nothing but confirm everything you ever wanted to believe; I've done that in the past, and it's insidious. Stories like that should be burned. If I'm certain of anything, it's that understanding how the real world works - how human brains actually function, how morality and emotions and decisions actually arise - is essential to any kind of ethical stance which will make sense in the long term.
As Paul Davies has said, most Christian theologians have retreated from all the things that their religion supposedly asserts; they take a much more "modern" view than the average believer. But by the time you've "modernised" something like Christianity - starting off with "Genesis was all just poetry" and ending up with "Well, of course there's no such thing as a personal God" - there's not much point pretending that there's anything religious left. You might as well come clean and admit that you're an atheist with certain values, which are historical, cultural, biological, and personal in origin, and have nothing to do with anything called God.
Australia possesses thousands of subcultures, quite apart from any question of ethnicity. One of those subcultures consists of people who consider their nationality a vital part of their self-image; that's their right, but they should stop deluding themselves that everyone else thinks the same way. Nothing's more ridiculous than talking about the "unique Australian character" - unless it's talking about the "mystical qualities of the Australian landscape".
The latest craze among young men in Islamic Fundamentalist-ruled Afghanistan is the Titanic haircut, so named as it's modelled on Pretty Boy DiCaprio's hair in the eponymous blockbuster. The Taliban rulers (who have banned Western clothing and the trimming of beards) are not amused, and have arrested dozens of barbers. (via Rebecca's Pocket)
Pinkness and horror: Just saw a piece in the local murdoch complaining about the anti-mainstream bias in the media; about how this bias means that much-loved Australian crooner John Farnham gets very little radio play despite topping the sales charts, and how arts correspondents have little to say about Australian national storyteller Bryce Courtenay, whilst presenting lunatic-fringe culture like rap and grunge. I found it amusing.